Between silence and speech : mystical experience in contemporary women's writing

McCaffery, S 2008, Between silence and speech : mystical experience in contemporary women's writing , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the representation of mysticism and female mystics in contemporary women's writing, with specific reference to fiction by Michele Roberts, Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood and Janet Frame. Drawing upon a core mystical problem (the question of how to articulate the ineffable divine), women's mystical experience is seen as paradoxical and contradictory, with the female body and psyche divided between the two competing forces of silence and speech. The ineffable silence associated with the classical mystical experience is challenged by alternative female expressions and visions. Drawing upon the psycholinguistic theory of Luce Irigaray, other modes of female "divine" speech are identified in contemporary women's writing; these articulations are explored through an analysis of specific images that evoke theoretical and bodily "openings": the imageries of apocalypse, iconoclasm and wounding. The thesis begins from the inspiration and legacy of the medieval women mystics, and identifies the classical tropes and movements that are employed in contemporary reflections upon mystical "lives." The medieval biographies of female saints are echoed in fictional encounters with Victorian spiritualism and in Janet Frame's model of "postmodern sainthood." Mystical imagery (such as darkness and light, or the bottomless well) is employed to articulate the revealing "contradictions" of female experience and lesbian and feminist identity, and to dismantle the patriarchal theological language that has traditionally constructed women's relationship to the divine. Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Biblical references are taken from the King James Authorised Version of the Bible.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Armitt, L (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences
Depositing User: Institutional Repository
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2021 07:20
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:57
URI: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/61632

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