The online Oxford English Dictionary defines a book as a written treatise or a set of written sheets put on various surfaces, including skin. Although modern readers might be far removed from the idea of living words on dead flesh, in the Middle Ages, it was common knowledge that books were the product of words punctured on the skin of dead animals. Additionally, Medieval piety was the epitome of the puncture/punctuating of the flesh, where religious followers, and more so mystics, specifically practiced the mortification of the flesh literally or figuratively, in order to control their carnality and to tell their religious stories. In this paper, I will trace the medieval idea of writing on the body and investigate this idea of writing on dead flesh, while connecting it metaphorically and also literally, to demonstrate how medieval religious bodies were scarred and punctured via an epistemology of the self. I will further link these medieval actions and emotions to the modern idea of self-harm or cutting the body, to surmise that, in both cases, medieval and modern, the act of cutting, scarring, and writing, now on living bodies, give its “sufferers,” agency and allow them to control their bodies by making it into a book, that is a site to be read, publicly or privately, and to tell their stories.
|Keywords:||Body, Book, Cutting, Cutter, Self-cutter/s, Medieval, Mystics, Self-harm, Self-mortification, Self-affliction, Control, Empowerment, Agency, Materiality of Writing, Memory, Passion of Christ, Write, Writing|
Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English and Communication, Potsdam, New York, USA
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