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Jubilee of the Heart: How Monastic Song Became Mystical Poetics

  • Author(s): Trujillo, Kris Jonathan
  • Advisor(s): Hollywood, Amy
  • Boyarin, Daniel
  • et al.
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Abstract

This dissertation describes how the proliferation of “song” as a trope in the vernacular poetic tradition that Michel de Certeau calls “mystic poetics” arises out of the monastic practice of singing the Psalms. Through close readings of John Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hadewijch, and John of the Cross, it reveals that the ethical formation of the “mystic-poet” is as much a product of theological devotion as it is an attempt to craft a figure of literary exemplarity in the vernacular. Against the characterization of mystical poetry as spontaneous, immediate, and singular, this project argues that mystical poetry and the contemplative life to which it is bound are not removed from the world, but rather firmly grounded in the ritual, embodied, and communal practices of devotion that shape monastic and semi-monastic life. Ultimately, I propose a genealogy of mystical poetics that is not opposed to, but indeed contiguous with the repetitive and ritual reading practiced in Christian monasteries.

An interdisciplinary endeavor, this project brings together the study of religion, literary studies, queer theory, and critical theory. In addition, it contributes to a growing body of scholarship that bridges premodern and contemporary theory and attends to the growing fascination that humanistic inquiry has with religion and religious traditions. By tying the rhetorical force of “song” to the lived reality of Christian piety, the project espouses a performative theory of metaphor that takes seriously its material conditions and effects. By undoing the conventional distinction between literal and figurative language and by drawing from contemporary queer theory, it also intervenes into the conversation about religion and sexuality, which, I contend, includes the spiritual bodies and erotics of mystical union. Finally, the project traces the translation of Greek theōria into the medieval Christian contemplative life and, as a consequence, complicates any secular narrative of critical theory’s development.

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This item is under embargo until November 7, 2021.