Speaking as a woman: Female bodily transformations and the divine
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis explores French feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray's articulation of the divine as a means of the reinscription of female bodies in "western" culture. According to Irigaray, the physical excess constituted by female bodies in the patriarchal "west" is denied specific expression through the symbolic function of the Christian God as man's transcendent, disembodied representative. And yet Irigaray's work implies that the "excess" of both female bodiliness and the cultural construction of the divine is ultimately uncontainable and open to symbolic transformation and political use. In this study I read Irigaray as a visionary theorist and supplement consideration of her own reworking of the concept of God in the ~'west" with a reading of The Book of Margery Kempe, a fifteenth-century mystical text by an English woman. In Kempe's Book the mystic's body, understood by her culture as dangerously excessive, is the primary agent of her representation of God, whereas Irigaray rereads the divine as the means of rearticulating female bodiliness. The Introduction connects Irigaray's writings .with the discourse of late medieval female mysticism and the psychoanalytic category of hysteria, in terms of the destabilising representations of female bodiliness present in all three discourses. Chapter One pursues this connection in more depth, while Chapter Two focuses on The Book of Margery Kempe and considers the presentation of the female body in Kempe's text. In Chapter Three I read Kempe and Irigaray together as "hysterical" writers in terms of the interaction of female body and written text which is highlighted in their work. Chapter Four explores in more depth the ethical dimension of the Irigarayan reworking of the divine as an agent of symbolic exchange between sexually specific subjects, and Chapter Five (re )approaches this topic from the angle of women's experience of mothering and "madness" in patriarchal culture, returning to the conjunction of the divine, mysticism and hysteria set out in the beginning.