Why are Holy Anorectics So Plump? Pathology & Culture Among Female Penitents in Medieval Catholicism


A critique of any attempt to reduce the symbolic formations associated with female penitential fasting in medieval Catholicism to a pathological infrastructure, especially as a form of anorexia nervosa. The strategy adopts the model of the author’s previous book Medusa’s Hair that deals with the psychic lives of Sri Lankan Buddhist female ecstatics and introduces the idea of Òpersonal symbols,Ó those symbol formations that operate on the level of the culture and the psyche at the same time. Along with this is the employment of Paul Ricoeur’s notion of the two movements of Freudian theory, the regressive and the progressive, in his Freud and Philosophy, the latter idea being a development of Freud’s notion of sublimation. This paper deals with the sublimation and transformation of Òdeep motivationsÓ or unconscious motivations into publicly acceptable symbolic formations that in turn permits the inter-subjective or public validation of penitent trances, visions and rapture as culture rather than as pathology.

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis