Thinking through the (Catholic) Body!

Once again, Rosie will lead us in this discussion, however a few discussion questions follow:

1.  What does the author mean when she uses the term “incarnational” thinking?

2.  We have discussed the “schizophrenia” induced by the counterpoint of Eve and Mary. However, the Virgin Mary is also rich in contradictory messages.  How did the Medieval thinkers deal with the Virgin’s dual nature?  The Catholic thinkers? The Protestants?

3.  How did Feminists of the 1970s interpret Mary’s dual persona?  And does this change in the 1980s and later?

4.  I was so excited to see Bernard of Clairvaux in this article!  What ingredient does he add to the Virgin?  And how does Christian theology get around it?

5.  “In Catholic imagination, women’s roles exist along a continuum suggested by Mary….and Mary Magdalene.”  Discuss.

6.  The positive reading of the female body had numerous fans in early Feminism from Woman House to goddess cults.  What happens in the next decade to alter this?

7.  Is the debate between the “essentialists” and “deconstructionists” over?

8.  Consider the works by the artists discussed in this article (Hannah Wilke, Barbara Kruger, (briefly), Renee Cox, Kiki Smith, Janine Antoni, Petah Coyne, and Lisa Yuskavage). Is there a “Catholic” sensibility that unifies these artists?  Whose work resonates the most with you?  Does Catholicism provide the “visual language for reimagining oppressive roles and assumptions?”

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6 responses

  1. Once again, I wonder if connecting artists by biographical content is valid. Is it essentialism once again? I had never thought about the virgin mary’s virginity in any other way than a literal one. I like the idea of metaphorical virginity being virginity of the mind. While I agree that Mary is an icon deprived of her sexuality, I would like to know if there is anyone comparable of her status (jesus, joseph, etc) who is known to be a sexual person? Is this a matter of status (the more important people are virgins?) or gender? I would like to further discuss the nursing Mary figure. I know that Lilith does not fit into the Catholic doctorine, but she should fit into the continuum somehow.

    1) I think that incarnational is used in this way to describe the opposite of Protestant dialectical thinking. It implies that god can be in everything rather than only in certain places at certain times. I think.

    2. Medieval thoughts of Christ’s flesh as female…very interesting. wait a second, are we saying bleeding stigmata= menstruation? If so, woah.

    8. In Kiki Smith’s quotes, she mentions the vulnerability of Mary’s pose. I wonder if a c/c could be made between mary and jesus’ pose. I really enjoyed the analysis of Antoni. Love the imagery of the room of discarded virgins.

    I would like to discuss the conclusion of this article in class. To me it seemed that the author equated the female body with female sexuality in the end. Is that a suitable argument for the end of this essay?

    • There is so much to discuss in this article. Your comments are particularly thoughtful—so many of these artists’ works touch on issues of essentialism vs. gender as a cultural construct. The metaphorical interpretation of virginity is so useful…in fact, metaphor is queen in my book. So elastic, yet so perceptive —truth of mood versus strict verbal truth.

      Donna L. Sadler, Professor of Art History Agnes Scott College dsadler@agnesscott.edu 404-471-6245 http://artagnesscott.wordpress.com/

  2. One quote that really bothered me early in the article was “Protestants, on the other had, assume that God is radically absent from the worlds and discloses himself only on rare occasions.” I feel that this is, itself, making a lot of assumptions about protestant thought. In my understanding, Protestants, generally, believe that there are no more prophets, that no one can preform miracles, and so on, however, there is still the active belief that God is omnipotent and omnipresent, that the Holy Spirit is actively anywhere where two or more Christians are gathered, and so on. I feel that the use of the word “assumption” in this quote is also problematic in that it states that the Protestant has no foundation for this belief, this it is just what they blindly think. Both the Catholic and Protestant lines of thought have scriptural support and so neither can be said to be an “assumption.” I know that this is a bit of a rant but this at the beginning of the article threw off my thinking for the rest of it.

    • I see what you are reacting to as the statement taken out of context (or even in context) seems wildly hyperbolic—but I believe she is just setting the stage for incarnational theology as a Catholic phenomenon, not ruling out Protestants’ direct line to God, etc. I think if you can get beyond the framing of the article, which I agree is problematic, there is more to discuss within the context of this class.

  3. Though I enjoyed reading about contemporary musical artists like Madonna and the Beatles, I felt that including examples of visual art, either medieval or contemporary, would have been more effective.

    Bynum’s argument about the association of women and flesh was fascinating. I’m not totally convinced that this gave women a privileged position, however I think it shows that there are other interpretations of this equation besides misogyny.

    “As might be expected, however, feminists did not speak with a single voice. In fact, feminism has proved as contentious in its own way as Christianity has been over the centuries. By the 1980s it was possible to discern an iconoclastic split between different approaches to feminism that in someways echoes the divisions created by the Reformation when it sundered the Christian world into Catholic and Protestant camps.” hmmm (10) –> Essentialists v. Deconstructionists

    Like Lola, I think it would be worthwhile to unpack the conclusion.

  4. I’ve never heard religion and art talked about in this way yet, (religion as a fundamental frame for how artists create/see), and it was fascinating.

    “The positive connotations of the female body first expressed in medieval theology resonate powerfully with aspects of contemporary feminism” (4). If the author did in fact prove her point this is powerful stuff.

    Mary is a busy bee! She’s a mother, intermediary with God, queen, bride, protector, etc. (5). Sounds like she went to Agnes Scott.

    “For women like me, it was necessary to reject the image of Mary in order to hold onto the fragile hope of intellectual achievement, independence of identity, sexual fulfillment” (6). Wow. That’s powerful.

    Let’s unpack this Mary – Mary spectrum of femininity.

    Wait, Christ as a gender-bender? Crucifixion and menstruation? (10) WHAT?

    Heartney did an excellent job describing and using examples of artist’s work.

    “Knowledge through the body, as both feminists and female Catholics concur, is knowledge that celebrates our sexual, sensual nature” (21). Damn.

    If I didn’t already have a paper topic this would be it.

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