I loved the phrase “nakedly competitive spiritual life” – I felt that it exemplified Margery well. As the author mentions, yes, competition is not one that is recognized as a saintly aspect of religious life, this is still something that keep Margery going. The author calls it part of her identity. After defining envy, and competitiveness with regards to Kempe’s book, the narrator then points out how early in the book Margery was envious of her neighbors. I do see envy in Margery, and even competition, but I would like to go a bit further and say that Margery had envy of Jesus himself. The author says envy is “ that of negotiating relative status as well as the expression of a desire to be the object of a particular kind of emotion.” I agreed with the way that the author stated HOW Margery seemed to navigate through her life: “Margery constantly negotiates her likeness with others — neighbors and saints — and her ultimate difference”
Monthly Archives: February 2015
Margery’s Agency of Envy
While in my previous post about Margery I was inclined to be very critical, Rosenfeld added a new perspective to how I view her Book. Rosenfeld first introduces the novel concept that envy is not entirely negative. In fact, Margery’s envy and her competitive nature enabled her to achieve the singularity she seemed to strive for. I’m not sure if I misinterpreted this particular part of the essay, but Rosenfeld early on in her essay establishes the idea that Margery’s very use of envy allows her to break from the male centered community and create her own community. As Rosenfeld later states, this was threatening to the male authorities of the time and the fact that Margery is able to pose such a threat shows she has achieved distinction. Rosenfeld also takes note of the nature of envy, “Among members of the same nation, the closest acquaintances and not strangers are objects of envy,” (108). This point of envy only through proximity implies that envy is only present when we believe the goal of our envy to be attainable. Her envy and competitiveness with others, even saints, with respect to religion set her apart from the community and in doing so groups her with Christ. She achieves this by her excessive shows of emotion, implying that if others aren’t capable of the same emotion they are not as affected.
The manner in which Margery talks about Christ, which Rosenfeld touches upon, is also significant. She is very familiar with him and suggests that her favor of him has a reciprocal effect. In fact based on the language she uses her relationship with Christ seems almost romantic. Based on our knowledge that people during medieval times were focused on the physical manifestation of religion, this follows logically. However, perhaps I am interpreting this with a modernized point of view and the language she uses is not out of the ordinary.
In her article, Envy and Exemplarity in the Book of Margery Kempe, Rosenfeld focuses on Kempe’s competitive nature in the secular community and the religious community. According to Rosenfeld, Kempe’s competitiveness is outlined in her behavior as she aims to have better material possession than her neighbors and in the religious community as she challenges religious leaders and compare herself to religious women. To further illustrate Kempe’s competitive nature, Rosenfeld reveals how the text is presented in a way that uplifts Kempe’s role as a saint even as this role is meant to be destroyed by others, their slander and scorn ultimately proving her to be the righteous, singular individual she aims to be. Though this may not be the purpose of Kempe’s structure, Rosenfeld’s presentation of it certainly holds up.
Kempe: A Complex ‘Creature’
I thought Rosenfeld’s article was pretty complex and a little hard to understand, but the content that I managed to digest was rather interesting. The point that stuck with me the most was Rosenfeld’s idea that Kempe “attempts the perhaps impossible task of performing exemplary singularity” – that is to say, she “contruct[s] a notion of exemplarity that preserves the…integrity of both imitator and imitated” (111). As I thought about this in relation to the text, I could see what she means. Especially with her example of how in the very beginning, Kempe describes herself as both a wretched sinner and an example for others. Throughout her book she makes clear that she is at a certain level of devotion most are unable to reach, a model God created – hence why they often mock her. It is their way, according to Rosenfeld, of trying to bring her back to their level. It is interesting that she tries to stand out, yet also looks to be imitated by others – hence why she wrote, or had a scribe write, her book. I also liked the idea that both private and social constructions of exemplarity are essential to the construction of one’s own identity. This, to me, is pivotal to Kempe – she thrives on what others think of her, whether it be the gift of scorn or admiration, as well as her personal strength through her devotion to Christ.
Ultimately, I am not convinced to like Kempe. This article did, however, allow me to appreciate her book more complexly. I hope class discussion tomorrow will help me understand it more wholly.
A New Look at an Old Emotion
Rosenfeld’s article takes a look at how envy is depicted in the Book of Margery Kempe. As Rosenfeld explains envy is usually thought of as a negative emotion, but in some ways in can be positive, motivating, and encouraging. What I found most interesting in the article, was the idea that Margery’s singularity both was reason for her neighbor’s envy and slander and reason for others’ worship. Furthermore, her singularity was encouraged by Christ and envy caused her to be competitive for Christ. Some people looked up to Margery because of her unique relationship with God and way of worshipping and other looked down at her differences. One of the most interesting examples that Rosenfeld brings up is the people’s reaction to Margery’s weeping. Rosenfeld deems their negative reaction to the idea that Margery was using up too much of the emotions. Rosenfeld explains that the people were irritated by Margery’s dramatic displays because she used such an “abundance” of emotions that she was “diminishing” the other peoples’ emotions (113). This idea, Rosenfeld states, suggests that “emotions…are not in infinite supply” (113). This is one of the many examples that Rosenfeld provides of the reactions of other to Margery and their envy. Rosenfeld also explains how Margery’s envy of saints, like Saint Bridget, triggered her to emulate them. The idea of the emotion envy being both negative and positive is hard to wrap my head around but Rosenfeld paints a pictures of how envy was productive in Margery’s life.
Envy and Competition
In hopes of not using up everything I plan to say tomorrow when presenting Rosenfeld’s article, I’m going to try and keep my comments on here brief. First of all, once I managed to unpack this article, (it is quite dense, or at least I found it to be) I really enjoyed it and thought Rosenfeld made some very interesting points. I wouldn’t necessarily say that she changed my mind about Kempe- I still think she is a somewhat insane- but she did cause me to look at the emotion envy in a different light. In the very beginning of the article, she states that envy has usually been seen as a negative emotion, which I completely agree with, and depending on the situation, still do. But after reading the article, I was able to see envy in a different light- a more productive light. Rosenfeld explains how envy encourages emulation, but how it also goes beyond that and can encourage someone to build on that emulation by improving it in the way they see fit, which in turn “can serve as a means to signify one’s own difference” (107). I’m going to cut myself off here- I look forward to discussing this article in class tomorrow!
Over the Top
The Book of Margery Kempe an autobiography of spiritual nature, and not what we would expect in an autobiography as there seem to be two main characters – her and god. It begins with her life before she ‘knew” god. her emotions seem to be very sad. the words that she uses make me think of her as coming down on herself about her life, not simply reflecting upon it – “lost her reason” “great bodily sickness” misdeeds” “great bodily penance” “tears of contrition”
Kempe found “solace” in the suffering she experienced because of her love for God. She found it pleasing to god to write down her experiences, which is how we get this text.
It is supposed to read as a story, but, as we have discussed in class and as others have mentioned so far on this blog, it is supposed to be a bit off the wall. I agree that Kempe is a bit off the wall in the way she devotes her life to god – it is as if she is taking others down with her. She tries to get her husband to become celibate, for one.
This is supposed to be a very emotional piece, and I see that. I do agree that Kempe herself is quite emotional about the entire ordeal of her life. I find evidence for it in the fact that she desired so to become a nun that she tried to be a celibate wife. This is an emotionally charged choice. Additionally, she is full of emotion when she, many times in the book, weeps for god or laments for him (641). She is over the top.
Feminism in The Book of Margery Kempe
There are so many things to talk about when it comes to The Book of Margery Kempe. The text is filled with interesting perspective on religion, religious institutions, and affect of piety, but I am going to focus in on Margery Kempe as a precursor to the modern feminist. Although she does not stand up for women’s rights in an outward and straightforward way, she does resist the patriarchal rules of men. To begin, she often gives men advice or asserts her opinion onto them. For example, in Chapter 50 when a priest speaks and swears at Margery when she does not answer him, she reprimands the priest to “keep the commandments” (645). She is not afraid to speak up about her religious convictions, which she often must do to powerful men who look down on her. In Chapter 52, a clerk tells Margery that women are not allowed to preach according to the Bible, but she asserts “I use only conversation and good words, and that I will do as long as I live” (648). Yet again in Chapter 53, she is put down for being a women when she is told that she should give up the life she is living and “go spin and card as other women do,” but again Margery refuses to give up her convictions or conform to gender rules (649). All of her convictions are through her religious beliefs, and not through a want for women’s rights, however, she does stand up for herself as a women in a time when women were expected to conform to one role.
God, our Friend
I found The Book of Margery Kempe to be interesting and even humorous at times, if a bit redundant (as other students have pointed out). If I understand correctly, she sort of rambles about England, causes an uproar with her incessant crying (that is meant to inspire faith in others), gets in trouble with officials, and then talks her way out of it. It seems that many people condemned her as a heretic and Lollard while others blessed her. As far as I could tell, she never seems to suffer that much, other than initially, and claims to enjoy suffering, because it is for Christ who suffered much more.
My favorite moments were the scenes with her (poor!) husband and those where she talked her way out of trouble (such as with the bear story) because these seemed the most personal and most reflective of everyday life. One thing that struck me while reading was how “personal” Christ was to Margery. When “our Lord spoke to this creature when it pleased him” in Chapter 86, God is very in touch with Margery and speaks to her pleasantly and almost un-God-like. He is not a stern, angry God but a comforting one. Was this a common way of depicting God at the time or another of Margery’s antics?
Kempe’s spiritual journey seemed to be a troublesome one as she struggles with being a committed saint. One thing I question is the reference to Kempe as a creature. Was that how she referred to herself or had the scribe chosen that terminology to describe her.
Unlike Julian of Norwich, Kempe lead a troublesome life as she internally struggle to live righteously, all the while going back and forth between sinner and saint until she made a vow. Even then she gave in to temptation. Weather Julian experience this constant struggle is not revealed but according to her text she made a vow and kept to it.
Kempe represents the everyday person who may desire to live righteously but gives in to temptation as quickly as it comes. She outwardly reflects the internal battle many of us have to do the right thing or do what makes us happy for the time. In this, Kempe ‘s behavior is more realistic to me than Julian. Not to say Julian’s is not believable, just that it takes a great deal of will power that the average person does not posses.
Kempe’s peace in the midst of chaos and slander is remarkable and proves her to be changed in her ways. She was previously reckless in her comments to her loved ones but becomes calm, patient, and wise in her response to her enemies.