Bynum, Introduction [T 21 Oct]

Choose a sentence or two from Bynum’s introduction that you found most provocative, intriguing, confusing, disturbing, or in some way potentially useful for us to consider specifically in our discussion in class Tuesday. Quote the material in your post, and let us know what your response to it is, and why.

6 thoughts on “Bynum, Introduction [T 21 Oct]

  1. Right before she goes into her section on materiality, Bynum states that “[b]ehind both the enthusiasm for material change and the hostility to it lay a keen sense that matter is powerful, hence dangerous, because [it can be] transformative and transformed” (25). In terms of the religious environment she invokes in the introduction (and what I can gather from texts we’ve already read from the era), the idea of transformation is one that inspires all kinds of unease and is, to me, really fascinating.

    Especially in terms of Catholic religious tradition where the central ritual is based on transformation (the Eucharist’s transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ), one would imagine that transformation would be welcomed. But the instability of form implied by metamorphosis draws parallels to others sorts of transformations: werewolves, mortal decay and other things which are considered contrary to the unchangingness of the “sacred”. There is a blurring of the line between sacred and profane in these sacred material objects, which the Catholic Church is still having a hard time walking.

  2. In the section entitled “Matter as Paradox,”Bynum states that she “aruges here that understandings of matter themselves focused on both controlling and unleashing its power” (Bynum 34). This all is in reference to some of the examples Bynum gave in the above paragraph, of “the possibillity of human/animal metamorphosis, spontaneous generation, and manipulation of matter by magic and witchcraft” (Bynum 34), which all play into the idea of matter that acts and causes change, sometimes outside of the control and out of the hands of people. I felt that this related well with Emily’s comment about the unease surrounding the idea of transformation and change. Bynum suggests there was a focus on gaining control over transformations, most likely as a result of feelings of tension and uneasiness towards the subject. Concering the same quote, Bynum suggests the desire to “unleash” it’s power, which takes on an entirely different feeling than that of fear suggested by the need to control.

  3. “To take a well-known early modern example: the Virgin of Guadalupe in the New World became to many adherents the supposedly miraculous picture of her that appeared on the cloak of the peasant who received the apparition in 1531.” (p. 20) The concept of an object taking on the miraculous qualities of the event or person it was seen to represent really interested me. I have had a difficult time connecting with non-human object theory so far, but Bynum really seems to be addressing the relationship between humans and objects. I think the fact that the same picture, that was once just a picture, transforming into an object of power is something I’d like to explore more deeply. Was the object given power once people started believing it had power? If, for example, people believed that the object healed them, and that belief stimulated positive, healthy reactions in their body which led to overcoming some illness, wasn’t their belief valid?

  4. I am slightly confused by Bynum’s opinion on the human body versus the “self.” On page 32 under the section labeled Beyond “The Body” – Bynum says “The materiality I study here includes human bodies, but body is in no way the equivalent of — although it is integral to — what we call “self.” Resuscitating body in matter, however, helps us to far more complex understanding of how medieval persons responded to other persons and the world of which they were a part.”

    I think I am just confused about this based on the religious practices that alter the body and how the medieval persons related this to the psyche of the “self” that lives within the body. I am confused about the logistics of the separation and how she defines “self.” Where do emotional impulses of the self that are based on physical nerves – such as pain – become separate between mind and body?

  5. To (maybe?) help clarify for Aubrey what Bynum is saying, I will share how I look at the body and the self. First, there is the physical sense of your body. Second, there is the physical capacity of your body (brain, hormones,etc) to produce a consciousness which then defines its(self). Selfhood is reflexive in that-developmentally-the self occurs only after the body is present.

  6. Bynum writes that stigmata in the late twelfth century were “often described and depicted as carvings or inscribings into the bodies of the devout, not by Christ but by the crucifix” (21). The power to inflict these stigmata is in the material crucifix, but this does not mean that the power is not perceived as coming from Christ or God by the devout person. “Matter is powerful” because “matter is is God’s creation,” and “that through and in which he acts” (35). I am confused as to whether the matter can be said to have this power as an actant or if the matter would have been perceived as an instrument through which God works. I guess it is the paradox that confuses me: that “Miraculous matter was simultaneously– hence paradoxically — the changeable stuff of not-God and the locus of a God revealed” (35). Would medieval Christians have perceived matter through a sort of pantheistic lens in believing that “the entire material world was created by and could therefore manifest God” (17)?

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