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Subjectivity and the role of the heart in Ancrene Wisse: cognitive and psychoanalytic perspectives.

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This paper will focus on the image of the heart in Ancrene Wisse, and its bearing on discourses of subjectivity, desire, and religious experience. A sustained analysis of the polysemic usage of the single lexeme heortewith its multiple signification: of centrality and concentricity; emotion and rationality; regulation and desire; embodiment and containmentwill enable a multifaceted and multidirectional exploration of the mappings of religious selfhood made possible by this text.1 The word heorte is one of the most significant and, notwithstanding pronouns and prepositions, one of the most prolifically distributed words in Ancrene Wisse, occurring, with its cognates, over twohundred times; thus working its way, on a medial average, onto virtually every folio of the text, recto and verso.2 In its coherence of qualia determining the self-definition of the Subject the heart can in some wise be seen as the latent zero point field of selfhood: orchestrating a fundamental set of conditions that cannot by definition be removed, for the being of the Subject to occur, much less aspire to divine knowledge.3 In tracing out

See OED s.v. heart, n. 1.a, 2, 5.a, 5.b, 6.a, 7, 8, 9.a, 10.a, 11.a, 12, etc. for examples of its central and wide semantic availability for medieval discourse. On the relation of the discourses of selfhood and the heart to textuality itself, see Eric Jager, The Book of the Heart, (Chicago, 2000). 2 See Potts, Stevenson and Wogan-Browne, Concordance to Ancrene Wisse, (Cambridge, 1993), 335-38. 3 Qualia are subjective representations of the is-ness of things, whether sensory, phenomenological or emotional. See OED, s.v. quale, n.2; also the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at The zero-point field is a term used in quantum field theory to designate the lowest energy state of a field, otherwise known as the ground state or vacuum state; always non-zero. Zero point energy has effects that are measurable, furthermore it is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty void, Christopher Ray, Time, space and philosophy, (London, 1991), 205.

the networks and levels to which the heart belongs and subtends in Ancrene Wisse, this paper will open the field of anchoritic subjectivity to the domain of Psychology.4 Of all the theoretical discourses to have developed during the twentieth century, those unfolding from the premises of psychoanalysis are the most firmly rooted in questions of identity and subject-formation; particularly as they are channelled through discursive practice and semiotic process. In this paper, then, I hope to bring two branches of psychological theory to bear upon the emergence and permutation of selfhood in Ancrene Wisse, as it pertains to the image of the heart; namely Continental post-structuralist psychoanalysisassociated with Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva and Slavoj iekand cognitive neurosciencewhich since the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has emerged as the sine qua non for psychological discourse in recent years.5 In methodological principle I concur with Fraser Watts in that one of the attractive things about the psychology of self [is] that it provides a meeting point for various different strands of psychology, social and individualistic, cognitive and psychoanalytic.6 In view of which I will seek to co-ordinate a complementary relationship between these broadly discrete disciplines, each of which achieves value in significantly different ways that each relate to different aspects of the perplexities of this text. While the analytic discourse, which is predicated upon the

Ancrene Wisse and ancillary texts in the AB group have been the focus of much interesting work on notions of selfhood in recent years. For some of the best examples see Linda Georgianna, The Solitary Self, (Cambridge MA, 1981); Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Chaste bodies in Framing Medieval Bodies, (Manchester, 1993), 24-42; Christopher Cannon, Form of the Self in M, 70 (2001), 47-65 and his Place of the Self in The Grounds of English Literature, (Oxford, 2004), 139-71. Theoretical approaches informed by psychology are surprisingly underrepresented in this field; a deficit this paper hopes to address. 5 On the emergence of cognitive neuroscience see Kevin Oschner, Social Cognitive Neuroscience: Historical Development, Core Principles, and Future Promise in Kruglanksi and Higgins (eds.). Social Psychology: A Handbook of Basic Principles (New York, 2007); on its implications for the psychology of religion see Andrew Newberg and Bruce Lee, The Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena in Zygon vol. 40 no.2 (June 2005), 469-89; on its implications for the study of selfhood, see Antonio Damasio, Descartes Error, (London, 1994) and The Feeling of What Happens, (London, 2000). 6 Theology and Psychology, (Aldershot, 2002), 74. See also Drew Westen, Self and Society, (Cambridge, 1985) for a study that integrates analytic, behaviourist and cognitive theories.

operation of the unconscious, and which teases out the intricacies of the triadic interrelationship of the Borromean Knot of the imaginary-symbolic-real, is a powerful tool for examining the manner in which religious subjectivity is constructed and carried out. Conversely, the cognitive approach will enable a dissection of the particularities in which the functionality of the heart is thought to consist, in its operation subtending the very making of religious selfhood. The complexity of selfhood and of the human brain, as well as the ramifications proliferating from the infinite potential of God, suggest the merits of a multilayered analysis. Such premises would seem intrinsically to require a holistic and complementary approach, for it is via holism and complementarity in which the Subject achieves its relationship with God. By induction the particulars of anchoritic ontology might be seen to align and cohere into the general condition of acceptance. If God is posited as a fundamental unity underlying and constituting the abundant diversity of experience then it follows that the knowledge of His or Its existence should proceed from an integrated contemplation and harnessing of Its or His many manifestations.7 In Ancrene Wisse the somatic combines with volition and emotion in the rhythmicity of language to stimulate surrender to the totality of oneness with the divine mens. The terms of this trajectory are predicated on desire, and it is desire, in both the theological and the psychoanalytic senses, as they are organised by and distributed through the heart, which will guide this paper. An essential premise for both psychoanalysis and religious vocation is that a recuperative transvaluation of the Subject proceeds, in the first place, from selfknowledge. Accordingly the first section of this paper will address itself to this inward aspect, situating Ancrene Wisse within a long tradition of writings in which the heart is

For an eloquent account of this idea see Daniel Hardy, The God Who Is With the World in Science Meets Faith, ed. Fraser Watts, (London, 1998), 136-53 (144-7).

an organon of fundamental centrality: physically, phenomenologically, and mentally.8 This builds on Christopher Cannons architectonic model of concentricity, in which selfhood is patterned by a structure of interiority that provides the form of the textual object as well as determining the ontological structuration for anchoritic enclosure in itself.9 The heart is the ontic fulcrum of this essentially Ptolemaic structure and it is through the custodianship and solicitation of the hearts vital functionality that a radical unfolding into the numinous infinite becomes possible.10 A process thus commencing with scrupulous self-awareness culminates in a holistic state of grace that embraces the universal generality. The first section of this paper, then, situates Ancrene Wisse within a long tradition of mystical literature and analyses contextual precedent for the manner in which the heart is employed in the primary text. It then studies a range of higher cognitive functions, as they are mediated by the heart in the primary text, before adducing a cognitive theory which may help to illuminate the heart in its holistic capacity for the generation of religious subjectivity. Finally, this section treats of the cognitive liminality in which the heart in its relational aspect to the sensory matrix can be seen to operate. It addresses the issues of containment and centricity and seeks to understand the way the heart is posited as a product of a specific anxiety. The second section then draws primarily on the psychoanalytic theory of abjection, developed by Julia Kristeva (1980), and recasts the themes of the first section in this light. It

For bilateral applications of organon, as both somatic and rational, see OED, s.v. organon, 1, 2. See also Kant, Opus postumum, trans. Frster and Rosen, (Cambridge, 1993), 21: 91-93, for whom the organon is an instrument for transcendental philosophy. 9 For Cannons model and its development see, Form of the Self in M, 70 (2001), 47-65 (51); Enclosure in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Womens Writing, (Cambridge, 2003), 109-23 (112-113); and his Place of the Self in The Grounds of English Literature, (Oxford, 2004), 139-171 (153-170). On structuration see Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society, (USC, 1986), whose sociological theory links up binary dichotomies between subject/object, agent/structure and the microsocial/macrosocial domains. 10 On the relation of body to cosmos in the Ptolemaic universe see Michael Camille, The image of the self in Framing Medieval Bodies, eds. Rubin and Kay, (Manchester, 1993), 62-68.

addresses the way in which the opposition of abjection : nourishment, structures the ethical paradigm inscribed in Holy Writ, and is mediated by Ancrene Wisse. It furthermore draws on various other dimensions of Lacanian theory to demonstrate how this opposition relates to the split nature of the Subject. The analytic process in which the text is made to participate in this section, assumes the significance of the heart that is developed in the first, and carries that thesis forward as an implicit principle.

The notion that self-knowledge preconditions wisdom, and hence the knowledge of God, was inscribed for our culture at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and has reverberated throughout the Western tradition ever since, in variations of the lemma: (know thyself).11 It is an injunction especially germane to the principles both of psychoanalysis and mystical experience, for both proceed from inward contemplation in the recognition of a higher power, and lead to the transvaluation of the Subject. In the early Platonic (or pseudo-Platonic) Alcibiades I, Socrates reasons that he who enjoins a knowledge of oneself bids us become acquainted with the soul; further that if the to know herself, she must surely look at a soul, and especially at that region of it in which occurs the virtue of a soul [ ]wisdom []. In that this part of the soul is the seat of knowledge and thought it resembles God, and whoever looks at this, and comes to know all that is divine, will gain thereby the best knowledge of himself.12 The priorities of this trajectory would undergo reversal during the transition to the Christian Middle Ages however, so that by the time of the medieval mystics knowledge of self


For examples from post-Athenian culture: see Juvenal Satire 11.27 (l1st/e2nd C AD); Abelards Ethica or Scito te ipsum (<1140); Sir John Davies Nosce Teipsum (1599); Pope, Essay on Man, (1734); Emerson, Gnothi seauton, (1831); The Matrix (1999). 12 LCL 201: 203, 211-13

would subtend knowledge of all that is divine [ ] rather than vice-versa. Thus, in the Benjamin minor of Richard of St. Victor:
Ascendat ergo homo ad cor altum ascendat in montem istum, si vult illa capere, si vult illa cognoscere, quae sunt supra sensum humanum. Ascendat per semetipsum supra semetipsum.Per cognitionem sui, ad cognitionem DeiMontis ascensionpertinet ad cognitionem sui, ea quae supra montem geruntur, provehunt ad cognitionem Dei13

The hierarchical priority here inscribed, demonstrates how in the medieval period the mystical trajectory is predicated upon and springs from a paradigm of scrupulous selfexamination, and regulation, which in turn gives place to the contemplative mode. The Byzantine theologian, Nicetas Stethatos of Studios (d. c1090) observes a similar trajectory in his tripartite model of contemplation, citing
three degrees among those who are engaged on the ascent towards perfection: purificatory, illuminatory, mystical, which is also the one making perfect; the first is of beginners, the second of those who are at half-way, the third of those who have reached the end, perfection.14

The higher stages of this model may only follow on from a catharsis made possible through self-examination, enabling the subject to disabuse itself of its worldly attachments. This is a fundamental preoccupation, and guiding principle, of Ancrene Wisse, in which the reading Subjects relationship with God, as described in the seventh section, is predicated upon a pure disposition, that is, of schir heorte (M 144). The formal, textual, expression of the trajectory from inward to onward in Ancrene Wisse is adapted from the Cistercian, Aelred of Rievaulxs (d. 1167) De Institutione Inclusarum


Cap. LXXXIII, in PL 196: col0059b-0059c; cited by and translated in Zaehner, Standing on the Peak in Studies in Mysticism and Religion (Jerusalem, 1967), 386: Let a man rise up to the hearts high place, climb up the mountain if he desire to attain and know what is above the human mind. Let him rise up by himself above himself, and from self-knowledge to the knowledge of GodThe ascent of the mountain belongs to self-knowledge; [whereas] the things done upon the mountain tend to the knowledge of God. 14 Chapters about Gnsis, III, 41; cited by Carl Keller, Mystical Literature in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, (London, 1978), 75.

(c1160).15 The earlier text is tripartite in structure, comprising, firstly, a Rule for the Outer Man; secondly, a Rule for the Inner Man; and finally, a Threefold meditation on the past, the present, and the future. The threefold structure of the third section, thus reflects the structure in toto, as well as the Trinitarian pattern. Its chronological sequence furthermore enables Aelred to render the structuration between the Christological narrative and the earthly preoccupations of the anchoress, by observing an eschatalogical trajectory, beginning with the incarnation and culminating in the contemplation of the Final Judgement. As well as to move onward through time, the structure of the threefold meditation moves inward through human experience and upward through the hierarchy of the universe. The historical narrative of Christs life on earth gives place to an intimate, familial register, in which Aelred subordinates his fallen, unchaste condition to the virgin purity of his sister in the present. The contemplation of the Day of Judgement, in the future, juxtaposes the abjection of sinners with the joy and security that is the reward of the chaste. So the anchoress is encouraged to proceed from cognition of Christs exemplary life to meditation upon an ethics of chastity leading to contemplation of the divine mens as it is unfolded at the end of time. In soliciting the transition from cogitatio, to meditatio, to contemplatio, Aelred forms part of a tradition of mystical literature that flourished during the twelfthcentury renaissance.16 The contemplative model of Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1141), for further example, assumes the relinquishing of the world as a precondition of the mystic vocation; his model, also threefold, proceeds in the first instance from an inward aspect and determines [t]hree...modes of cognitionbelonging to the rational soul:


On the relation between the texts see Cannon, Form of the Self, M 70 (2001), 47-65; also Gopa Roy, Sharpen Your Mind with the Whetstone of Books: The Female Recluse as Reader in Women, the Book and the Godly, eds. Smith and Taylor, (Cambridge, 1995), 113-122. 16 On this see Charles Homer Haskins, Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge MA, 1927).

cogitation, meditation, contemplation.17 The common thread of mystical literature is thus an experiential arc with aetiology in the self and teleology in the divine. The culmination of this trajectory is predominantly described as a unitive state involving abnegation of self and absorption, or transvaluation, into the infinite. The Dominican Neoplatonist Meister Eckhart (d. c1328) describes this ultimate union as a moment in which
breaking through [all limitations] I perceive what God and I are in common. There I am what I was. There I neither increase nor decrease. For there I am the immovable, which moves all things. Here man has won again what he is eternally (what he is in principio) and ever shall be. Here God is received into the soul.18

The ultimate efflorescence and end-state of the mystical trajectory, then, is a zero sum in which the binarity of the finite self to the infinite Other is resolved by the disclosure of the human soul to its limitless holistic potential. The alterity of God is revealed as a syntagmatic construct shimmering, dissolving, as the paradigmatic truth of His immanence is laid bare. In a moment of joyous anagnorisis the Subject delightedly embraces this mysterious Other as that which was always already a part and parcel of her very own being. Ancrene Wisse enjoins with the Neoplatonist tradition in which the soul itself is bodied forth as an archetype of the imago Dei: a microcosmic, finite image of the infinite totality of God as macrocosm; placing monnes sawle as the heste ing under Godd, and identifying ure deorwure gast with Godes ane furme (M 55).19 Thus introspection and the contemplation of the soul proceeds of course to the contemplation of God. If the soul is that entity, or aspect, in the human most divine in form and

Nineteen Sermons on Ecclesiastes, trans. H.O. Taylor in The Library of Christian Classics, vol. XIII, The Late Medieval Mystics, 90. 18 Cited by Rudolph Otto in Mysticism East and West, trans. Bracey and Payne, (London, 1932), 15. Specific citation of original not given. 19 EETS OS 325: 55; all further references to this edition cited as M with page-number in text.

nature, then the heart is understood as its vector, or the vessel of its life. The Wisseauthor, glossing the Scriptures, repeatedly admonishes his reader wite wel in heorte; for sawle lif is in hire (M 20).20 Kallistos Ware observes that in the Old and New Testaments [there is] no head-heart contrast, but rather [t]he heart is the seat of memory, of the conscience, of thought, wisdom and intelligence; and that the centrality of the heart, as both somatic organ and spiritual organon, forms a tradition in Christian literature stretching back through the writings of the early Church Fathers.21 In the fourth-century Macarian Homilies, for example,
the heart...directs and governs the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the pasturages of the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts. For there in the heart, is the intellect (nous) and all the thoughts of the soul and its expectation; and in this way grace penetrates throughout all parts of the body.22

This conception of the heart, as attending to the multiple networks and levels constituting selfhood, is reflected in Ancrene Wisse, where it also consists in a holistic capacity. It is figured as a site for the cathexis of a range of higher human functions, and also as the vulnerable negotiator of the perils of sensory experience. As such it forms an essential, ineradicable, nexus for the complex of modalities by which the perpetually self-reconstituting state of consciousness comes about and is sustained.23 In the Proslogion, Anselm treats divine knowledge as that which emerges from a euphonious and synthetic co-exertion of the activities of the heart, the spirit and the mind, from which emerges the disposition to the divine which exceeds all human frames of reference:


Citing Proverbs 4.23: Omni custodia serua cor tuum, quia ex ipso uita procedit | [With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it], Vulgate and Douay-Rheims texts. 21 See The Soul in Greek Christianity in From Soul to Self, ed. M. J. C. Crabbe, (London, 1999), 56. 22 Ibid, 57. 23 On this notion see Damasio, for whom consciousness emerges from interplay between bodily and brain function, and is constructed anew, moment by moment, in Descartes Error, 158; and also his Feeling of What Happens, 217, 224.

si Deum sic diligent "toto corde, tota mente, tota anima" ut tamen totum cor, tota mens, tota anima non sufficiat dignitate dilectionis: profecto sic gaudebunt "toto corde, tota mente, tota anima", ut totum cor, tota mens, tota anima non sufficiat plenitudini gaudii.24

Assessment of the Wisse-authors treatment of the higher functions of the heartviz. volition, compunction, emotion, memory and cognitionand their interpenetration, will help us to understand the hearts profound significance and centrality to the making of religious selfhood in this text. Throughout Ancrene Wisse subjective volition is stimulated by and answers to the operation of the heart. In the fourth section the reasoning faculty must work together with the volitional heart to resist temptation: wi consens of heorte, wi skiles ettunge (M 87); and yet the volitional aspect is itself fraught with danger, for sone se u eauer felest et tin heorte wi luue falle to eani ing eawt ouer mete, ananrihtes beo war (M 112). Yet significantly more perilous than volitional misapplication is its lack altogether in an apathetic heart, as exemplified by the bear cubs of Sloth:
Torpor is e forme: et is, wlech heorte (vnlust to eni ing) e schulde leitin al o lei i luue of ure Lauerd. e oer is Pusillanimitas: et is to poure heorte ant to earh...e ridde is Cordis Grauitas. is haue hwa-se wurche god, and de hit tah mid a dead ant mid an heui heorte...e fifte is Heorte Grucchunge.

(M 77)

A powerful sense of volition is the basic criterion of anchoritic self-definition. The paradigm of Ancrene Wisse is to guide the anchoress in shaping the mode of her volitional agency, so that she inclines in her heart, to the spiritual domain, ant beon in heorte gasteliche ihehet toward heouene (M 60). Through the exegesis of the treasurehunter, the anchoritic vocation is construed as a laborious struggle toward the riches of

if they love God their whole heart, mind and soul, while as yet their whole heart, mind and soul is not equal to the dignity of that love, truly they will rejoice with their whole heart, and mind, and soul, so that their whole heart, mind, and soul will not suffice for the fullness of their joy, trans. Sister Benedicta Ward, Prayers and Meditations, (London, 1973; 1979), 265.


heaven, with the volitional engagement in this endeavour structured around the hierarchical trajectory of ascent:
e delue efter golt-hord, eauer se he mare nahhe hit, se his heortes gleadschipe make him mare lusti ant mare fersch to diggin, ant deluen deoppre ant deoprre aet he hit finde. | Ower [hord] nis nawt on eore; for-i ne urue e nawt deluen dunewardes, ah heouen uppart e heorte. For et is e uprowunge aein is worldes stream[a a heorte walde lihten lihtliche adun mid te stream] is e deluunge: beon bisiliche ant eornfulliche eauer herabuten, wi anewil irnunge, wi heate of hungri heorte.25


43-4) Correlative to this sense of volition manifested as the desire of a hungry heart subserving the religious vocation, the anchoress is later exhorted to take guidance from the examples of pilgrims and holy men who ah ha beon i worltlich wei...ah habbe hare heorte eauer toward heouene (M 132). The volitional heart is thus figured an aspectual property guiding the self, as well as an entity in which selfhood coheres, and in which the abstract is concretised. Even should the anchoress falter in this path, the heart itself becomes the directive for and catalyst to confession, in which absolution is wholly predicated upon a moment of genuine volition: et tu segge to e presot, Ich habbe studefestliche i onc in heorte is sunne to forleten ant do penitence (M 129). Primarily, in his framing of volition as a capacious determination of the heart, the author stimulates autonomous engagement with the anchoritic vocation. Thus the reader is exhorted, in the first section on prayers and meditations, [e]uchan segge ase best bere hire on heorte (M 18), implying that the fervour of her inclination determines the co-extensive limits of devotional reciprocity.


Deriving from Job 3.21-2: qui expectant mortem et non venit quasi effodientes thesaurum | gaudentque vehementer cum invenerint sepulchrum; [That look for death, and it cometh not, as they that dig for a treasure: | And they rejoice exceedingly when they have found the grave?], Vulgate and Douay Rheims texts.


The acid test of anchoritic volition is codified in the doctrine of imitatio Christi. The Christological narrative provides the ultimate example of constancy of heart throughout the harrowing sacrificial ordeal: se eauer e lust beo, se hit meadluker is, wrinni aein festluker, ant wisegge e grant rof anewile heorte...eo e us do beo Iesu Cristes feolahes, for ha do as he dude honginde o rode (M 90). The discourse of imitatio was profoundly influenced by Anselmian theology and especially its preoccupation with the ontological paradoxes of the Incarnation and the Trinity, with Anselms Cur Deus Homo (1097) looming large among Ancrene Wisses twelfthcentury contexts. In the Homo,
Anselm treats of the historical fact of the Incarnation, and not of the metaphysical reality [implying]...that the line between metaphysics and history is to be drawn somewhere in the area between do...with the Trinity as a whole, and matters involving Christs coming to earth as a man at some specific time in the past26

With inductive rigour, then, concrete Christological detail provides a launching point for contemplation of the immanent metaphysical reality to which it is always already referred. For Elizabeth Robertson, the Homo is a seminal work in the development of attitudes toward the physical, because, in its celebration of the humanity of Christ, it newly legitimizes all human experience.27 In this way, Anselm contributed to a wider movement that was shifting away from rational, abstract conceptions of God, mediated through a communal and organic program of pastoral care to discourses centred on Christ as a manifestation of divine grace in human form and a more sentimental, individual and personal model of contemplation. This issued in a range of religious

26 27

G. R. Evans, citing R.W. Southern in Anselm and Talking About God, (Oxford, 1978), 135. Early English Devotional Prose, (Knoxville, 1990), 184.


practices we now group under the umbrella term affectivity or the affective movement.28 The paradigm of compunction which is at the heart of the affective movement in general and which is so central to the ascetic doctrine of the AB-group in particular, was the fundamental expression of this cultural shift. The emphasis on introspection and self-scrutiny was channelled toward harnessing emotion, with the effect that compunction (the pricking of ones conscience) would lead to penitence through a sympathetic identification with Christs Passion. Compunction stimulated by the contemplation of Christs suffering thus conditions the anchoritic identity in terms of a humble and meek heart: twa eadi eawes...eorne e limpe ariht to ancre: olemodnesse i e earre half, i e leatere eadmodnesse of milde and meoke heorte. For olemod is e uldeliche abere woh et me him de (M 61).29 To privilege humility in this manner is to undergird the foundations of a theory of abomination and abjection that has a totalising, and internalised, effect upon the identity and ontology of its participants.30 Returning later to this structure of abomination as an expression of extimacy I wish for the moment briefly to mark its significance to the discourse of compunction, particularly as it is worked through in the cathartic Passion imagery: 31
ench hwuch pine he olede on his flesch wiuten, hu swote he wes iheortet, hu softe wiinnen, ant u schalt driuen ut euch atter of in heorte ant bitternesse of i bodi. For i ulli


See Nicholas Watson, Middle English Mystics, CHMEL, 539-65 (545); also Mark Amsler, Affective Literacy: Gestures of Reading in the Later Middle Ages in Essays in Medieval Studies, 18 (2001), 83110. 29 There is a morphosyntactic tautology here, in that the dispositions olemodnesse and eadmodnesse always already have their seat in the heart. The stem noun mod means heart as well as mind, thought, feeling and will, among other things, in OE, ODu, OS, and OHG, and has a modern cognate in mood. See the many OE cognates and derivations in Bosworth and Toller, 695; also OED s.v. mood n1. 30 See Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 90-132. I will return to this in some detail. 31 extimacy Anglicises a neologism coined by Lacan, extimit, which problematises binary opposition between inside and outside for psychoanalytic theory. Its topological structure is defined by the figures of the Moebius strip and the Torus.


oht, ne beo hit be eauer se bitter, pine et tu olie for e luue of him e droh mare for e schal unche e swote.

(M 54)

The logic of sacrifice informs the paradoxical imperative that value may only be achieved through its very exhaustion or negation: is beo eo e neauer ne beo gleade iheortet bute hwen ha olie sum wa oer sum scheome wi Iesu on his rode; for is is e selhe on eore, hwa-se mei for Godes luue habben scheome ant teone (M 134). The heart is thus repeatedly figured as both the focus and the object of compunction; it is where compunction happens, and in achieving the transvaluation of the heart, from bitterness into sweetness, compunction in turn has its effect. The centrality of the heart to the discourse of compunction, and affective literature in general, is coherent, to be sure, with its perceived rle as the seat of emotion; a rle that would eventually insist itself, beyond all others here outlined, upon the modern psyche.32 The Wisse-author sustains an intense emotional register that intertwines the tragic glamour of the passion with the libidinal charge of romance, spurring the heart to its mystical objective in the knowledge of God.33 At the cognitive level it has recently been suggested that heightened emotionality in a context of surrender increases the possibility of self-transformation.34 In her supplication to God, the anchoress is exhorted to gred luddre wi hat heorte (M 110), and also to eoue Godd ower heorte i softnesse, i swetnesse, in alles cunnes meoknesse, ant softest eadmodnesse (M 44). Through the allegory of the birds, she is set up in the expectation of delight and mirth that is the reward of a life of good works: ant sitte o is grene singinde murie (et is, reste ham i ulli oht ant, ase eo singe, habbe


Examples are virtually limitless. Its use in the adornment of I NY T-shirts, in their extravagant superfluity perhaps exemplifies the ubiquity of this image and its rle for modern consciousness. 33 On the relation of Ancrene Wisse to romance, see Cannon, Form of the Self. 34 Eugene dAquili and Andrew Newberg, The Neuropsychology of Religion in Science Meets Faith, ed. Watts, (1998), 90.


murhe oh heorte) (M 53).35 Yet the characteristic arborescence which structures the rhetoric of Ancrene Wisse means that the text is perpetually alert also to the negative potential of emotionality; of the threat posed by unregulated passion to the cultivation of (agap). Just as divine grace is figured, in the first sequences of the text, as a healing corrective that smoothes and soothes the hearte riwle e heorte, ant make efne ant smue wiute cnost and dolc of woh inwit ant of wreiende (M 1)so, conversely, anger and hatred are construed as disfiguring physical pathogens, hideous and abhorrent to the omniscient mind of God: et is, heatunge oer great heorte...e bret hit in breoste, al is attri to Godd et he eauer wurche (M 76). So much so in fact that the Subject is desacralized, and effectively excommunicated, during the experience of these negative emotional states:
ef e feond bitweonen ow toblawe eani wreae oer great heorteet Iesu Crist forbeode!ear ha beo iset wel, nawt ane to neomen Godes flesch ant his blod ne wure nan se witles, ah et (et is leasse) et ha eanes ne bihalde er-on, ne loki i ful wreae toward him e lihte to mon in eore of heouene

(M 98) Anger and hatred, then, not only obstruct progress on the mystical trajectory, thus obviating the possibility of divine union, they are actively retrogressive and destructive to the anchoritic ontology, causing the Subject to backslide through the animal continuum:
Wreae...hwil hit least, ablinde swa e heorte et ha ne mei so icnawen.....Hwil et eauer wreae is i wummone heorte, versaili, segge | hire Vres, Auez, Pater Nostres, ne de ha bute eote. Naue ha bute, as eo et is iwent to wuluene i Godes ehnen, wuluene steuene in his lihte earen.

(M 48-9)

The image of the delighted heart abounds in the vivid ecphrastic texts of the Wooing Group; for example, see EETS OS 241: 1, 5, 15, 17, 20, 21, 37.


Ancrene Wisses regulatory paradigm is always thus alert to emotional liminalityis cautiously aware that its reading Subject is a borderline caseand so to the precariousness of that heightened emotional state from which mystical union must in all cases spring, as ever-threatening to tip the balance into passionate deregulation. In its multilayered orchestration, then, of the higher functions of human agencyvolition, compunction and emotion in particularthe heart is employed in a holistic capacity, negotiating the complex multiplicity from which consciousness, in its excessive totality, emerges. In this, Ancrene Wisse would seem to anticipate the findings of a recent generation of theoreticians of consciousness, who have discovered in the empirical data made available from studies in cognitive neuroscience, that the self, which emerges to endow our experience with subjectivity is a complex coproduct of numerous brain systems with numerous body-proper systems.36 Despite its authors conventional assertion of mind-body dualism, then, in that u art of twa dalen, of licome ant of sawle (M 105), the text en masse demonstrates a subtle sensitivity to the manifold interconnectedness of the levels of experience, which would seem to tangle the line across which this opposition is staked. As Fraser Watts observes, [r]eligion is clearly a high-level aspect of human functioning that involves a broad array of cognitive processes. 37 Recent research suggests that the mystical state of Absolute Unitary Beingthe ultimate fulfilment and fruition of the contemplative lifeemerges when the sympathetic-ergotropic system [is driven] to maximal capacity with intermittent spillover and simultaneous activation of the parasympathetictrophotropic system, resulting in a progressive activation of certain parts of the nondominant parieto-occipetal region of the brain...creating an increasing sense of wholeness progressively more and more dominant over the sense of multiplicity of
36 37

Damasio, Descartes Error, 227. Theology and Psychology, 84.


baseline reality.38 The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems may usefully be characterised, respectively, in terms of flight or flight, and rest and digest responses and this brings out the peculiar synergism described by Newberg and dAquilis observations. This in turn helps to illuminate the oft-iterated paradoxicality of the mystic state, in which fervid intensity manifests itself in coherence with tranquil repose, as the multiple becomes one, and the self is assimilated to the Other.39 The privileged situation, and operation, of the heart in Ancrene Wisseas bestriding the somatic and cognitive domains, administering equally to the thrill of the visceral, the clarity of intent, and the ebullience of feelingis thus revealed as the critical node through which the transformative mystical process is cathected. The heart is repeatedly described in totalistic terms. For example, as when the reading Subject is exhorted, hwa-se haue eos eahte ing: ofte in hire heorte, ha wule schaken of hire slep of uule slawe (M 57). The eight-part catalogue referred to here, although summarily dispatched, describes the anchoritic ontology in its complete relation to Christian eschatology and enjoins the heart to comprehensive cognitive agency ratiocinative, mnemonic, volitional, and emotive.40 The heart, then, functions like a membrane between introspective contemplation and the outward exegetical aspect. It may be of value here to consider heorte in a psychoanalytic capacity as standing for the concept, coined by Kristeva, of the thetic membrane: the thetic is the nexus between the semiotic (for Kristeva this means the unregulated drives, consisting in the extra- or pre-linguistic domain) and the symbolic (the signifying architecture of

Newberg and dAquili, The Neuropsychology of Religion in Science Meets Faith, (London, 1998), 83. 39 Cf. Gregory of Nyssa, On the soul PG 46.29ab; Macarius, Spiritual homilies, II, 7. 8.; Augustine, Confessions, IV.15; Anselm, Proslogion, 25. 40 (i) is scheorte lif; (ii) is stronge wei; (iii) vre god, et is sunne; (iiii) vre sunnen, e beo se monie; (v) dea, et we beo siker of, ant unsiker hwenne; (vi) et sterke dom of Domesdei, ant se nearow mid alle, et euch idel word bi er ibroht for, ant idele ohtes e neren ear her ibette....(vii)...e sorhe of helle. er bihald reo ing: e untaleliche pinen, e echnesse of euchan, e unimete bitternesse. (viii) muchel is e mede i e blisse of heouene, world buten ende (M 57).


language-as-social construct qua the Law of the Father). If we map the drives (pulsions) onto the non-linguistic processes implicit in emotion, compunction, volition etc., and accept that the Symbolic, as it conditions anchoritic subjectivity, derives its authority from the Scriptures, then the heart in this instance can be seen to operate precisely in this capacity as thetic.41 The heart, furthermore, has a unitive dimension that exerts a centripetal effect upon the extrasubjective (or intersubjective) domain of the social. It becomes not only a source of spiritual strength in the individual [n]eome god is anrednesse of luue ant annesse of heorte (M 95)but also as a cohesive force for the burgeoning anchoritic subculture at large: et e beon aa wi annesse of an heorte ant of a wil ilimet togederes (M 96). The holistic multiplicity subtending, and proliferating from, the heart thus enshrines it with ultimate value and it therefore assumes preciousness as a vessel to be jealously protected: [h]alde ow feaste innenawt te bod ane, for et is e unwurest, ah ower fif wittes, ant te heorte ouer al ant al er e sawle lif is (M 67). This concentric sequencefrom the fleshly body, via the penetrations of the senses, to the heart as the vessel of the soul articulates the contours of enclosure and defines the limits in which the activity of selfhood is carried out. The process of defining and reinforcing these limits is repeatedly described in Ancrene Wisse in terms of conflict and struggle; the sensory matrix forming a bulwark against the temptations of the world. The author devotes the entire second section, of e heorte warde urh e fif wittes (M 20), to the negotiation of this differential. The senses (wittes) are enjoined in a protective capacity, e beo se wardein[s] wiuten of e heorte, et sawle lif is inne (M 47), guarding the enclosure of the body, as the domain of the heart, from the iniquities of worldly experience: Omni custodia custodi

See Kristeva, La rvolution du langage potique (Paris, 1974). I have worked from Margaret Wallers translation, Revolution in Poetic Language, (New York, 1984); for the thetic, specifically, see 43-5, 48.


cor tuum mine leoue sustren, wite ower heorte. e heorte is wel iloket ef mu ant ehe ant eare wisliche beon ilokene (M 41).42 The heart is thus figured as a sort of treasure-hoard, locked in a castle keep and guarded over by the senses qua wardens.43 The elaborate symbolic structures (and ideological superstructures) of feudalism are implicit in the tropes of custodianship and service through which the regulation of the heart is formulated. In the preface, the text presents itself al nis bute uften to serui e leafdi to riwlin e heorte (M 5). This obeisant deferral to feudal authority describes a hierarchical structure in which the service and rule of the heart is tiered between the paradigmatic rule (the Lady qua caritas qua inner rule) and its syntagmatic expression in the rituals of devotion (the handmaiden qua praxis qua outer rule): for al et me eauer de of e oer wiuten nis bute forte riwlin e heorte wiinnen (M 2). The priority thus inscribed in the feudal allegory structures a differential predicated upon the mutual obligations of service and protection. Moreover, just as the outer rule serves the inner rule, so the Subject administers through the nature and direction of her very ontological presence to the needs of her innermost spiritual life, et is, alle mahen ant ahen halden a riwle onont purte of heorte, et is cleane ant schir inwit (M 2). For the heart to subserve the contemplative trajectory of the anchoritic Subject, it must be governed by her protective custodianship. In Ancrene Wisse this proceeds in the first instance from the scrupulous regulation of the senses: e schulen urh ower fif wittes witen ower heorte, et ordre ant religiun ant sawle lif is inne (M 4). An intriguing convolution in the relationship between the inner heart and the conduits of the senses, however, turns on the ascription of sensory agency to the heart itself. It is imbued with sight and thus assumes an autonomous capacity for vigilance, as well as insight, which is potentially imperilled by the possibility of neglect ablinde

Proverbs 4.23, With all watchfulness keep thy heart, (Douay text), describes the guiding principle of the text here. 43 For an extended analysis of the castle allegory, see Cannon, Place of the Self, 150-67.


e heorte, ho is ea to ouercumen (M 24). This recurs in the section on confession where sin is allegorised as a scrim of dust that blinds the heart and so must be cleansed with purgative tears, ne schulen ha nawt enne ablende e heorte ehnen (M 119). The ultimate object of anchoritic regulation is the cultivation of the riht ehe of god heorte (M 81), so that the Subject may look upon God, and habbe briht sihe wi ine heorte ehnen. Bihald inward, er Ich am, ant ne sech u me nawt wiute in heorte (M 36). Thus the inner vision is privileged over sight trained on the objects of the subcelestial world, the referents of which are construed as sensory white noise, spiritual interference:
[n]ur ne kime in heorte bute of sum ing et me haue oer isehen oer iherd, ismaht oer ismeallet, ant utewi ifelet. Ant et wite to soe, et eauer se es wittes beo ma|re isprengende utward, se ha leasse wende inward. Eauer se recluse tote mare utward, se ha haue leasse leome of ure Lauerd inward, ant alswa of e ore. (M 36-7)

The opposition between divine grace and spiritual abjection is furthermore determined in polyesthetic terms, not only visual but also olfactoryas when et fule breaet is, of leccheriestinke swie feoret Ich am sumdel ofdred leste hit leape sumchearre into ower heortes nease (M 83)and gustatoryas in the sustained opposition of sweetness to bitterness (M passim). The imperative of custodianship over the heart seeks to regulate a dynamic which discloses anxiety about the porosity of the liminal and the vulnerability of the heart amid the filth and tumult of the mundane, fleshly, worldthe author urging the Subject, e leaste et e eauer mahen luuie ower urles (M 20). And yet, in its tortuous description of the hearts interaction with the sensesbeing both passive and active, and in both voices as of inward and of outward aspectthe text affirms and yet simultaneously destabilises the limits of interiority itself. It may be useful to conceptualise these complexities in terms of their extimacy. The Lacanian notion of 20

extimit blurs [the line between interiority and exteriority pointing] neither to the interior nor to the exterior, but is locatedwhere the most intimate interiority coincides with the exterior and becomes threatening, provoking horror and anxiety.44 The author of Ancrene Wisse is acutely aware that physical enclosure, whether that of the heart within the limen of the skin, or that of the Subject within the anchorhold walls, is an insufficient regulatory limit of itself, and that the Real of the spiritual life is fraught with the potential for catastrophic abstractionef ha entremeate hire of inges wiuten mare en ha urfte, ant hire heorte beo utewi, ah a clot of eore, et is, hire licome, be inwi e fowr wahes, ha is iwend wi Semei ut of Ierusalem (M 66). In this sense the Real is as much inwardly as externally determined. On the other hand, the nature of anchoritic subjectivity is itself not a hermetically-sealed ontic state, but an aspectual, processual development of being which unfolds within an intersubjective structure: posited by and emerging from the doctrinal matrix.45

I wish now to recast several of these dimensions in light of the psychoanalytic theory of abjection as developed by Julia Kristeva in Pouvoirs de lhorreur (1980), making special reference to its fourth and fifth chapters, which respectively address The Semiotics of Biblical Abomination and the doctrine of original sin codified in the proverb [Agnus Dei...]...Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi.46 Kristeva begins by powerfully evoking the peculiarly visceral reflex in which abjection has its operation, describing the horror evoked in the confrontation of that which is improper/unclean:

44 45

Mladen Dolar, Lacan and the Uncanny, in October 58 (1991), 5-23 (6). On the social ramifications of the self, as a product of its relation to others see Cannon, Place of the Self, (2004), 164-69; my point, after Lacan, is that the self is always already constructed in an intersubjective relation to the Christian Law: the zero-point field is not a vacuum. 46 All references to the English translation by Leon Roudiez, Powers of Horror, (New York, 1982); cited as K with page-numbers in parenthesis in text.


Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste or dung. The spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck. The shame of compromise, of being in the middle of treachery. The fascinated start that leads me to toward and separates me from them.

(K 2)

The principal relation that structures this dynamic is the binary, I/Not I. The abject, then, consists in all that is noxious, excessive, injurious to the Subject, all that cannot be contained and so must be excreted, vomited, projected: I do not assimilate it, I expel it (K 3). Kristeva notes that [f]ood loathing is perhaps the most elementary and most archaic form of abjection (K 2), and later draws the opposition between the abject and that which nourishes, that which we do assimilate, that which we ingest (K 108). Ancrene Wisses regulatory structure is founded upon precisely this opposition between abjection and nourishment. Duplicitous language is figured as a type of vomit, originating in a bitter heart: the backbiter sei uuel bi anoer, ant speowe ut his atter se muchel se him eauer to mu kime, ant culche al ut somet et te attri heorte sent up to e tunge (M 35). By contrast the purgative effect of confession is given literal expression in the conceit in which guilt arising from past sin must also be vomited up: [c]ulche hit i schrift ut utterliche as ha hit dude e fele hire schuldi, oer ha is idemet urh et fule brune cwench to et eche brune brune of helle (M 79). Indeed, the intensity of the feeling of abjection cultivated by the text summons a violent ejective (abjective) response in the anchoress, appropriate to the intolerability of her shame:
ah to hire anhe schrift-feader, oer to sum lif-hali mon ef ha mei him habben, culle al e pot ut: er speowe ut al et wunder er wi fule wordes et fule efter et hit is tuki al to wundre, swa et ha drede et ha hurte his earen et hecne hire sunnen.

(M 130)

Further levels of sinful discourse are figured as the abject products of bodily waste, with flatterers and slanderers portrayed in excremental terms:


[h]a beo e doefles gong-men, ant beo aa in his gong-hus. e fikeleres meoster is to hulie e gong-url; et he de as ofte as he wi | his fikelunge ant wi his preisunge wri mon his sunne, et stinke na ing fulre; ant he hit hule ant lide swa et he hit nawt ne stinke. e bacbitere unlide hit ant opene swa et fule et hit stinke...ulliche men stinke of hare stinkinde meoster, ant bringe euch stude o stench et ha to nahi. Vre Lauerd schilde et te brea of hare stinkinde rote ne nahi ow neauer. Oer spechen fule, ah eose attri bae e earen ant te heorte.

(M 34)

Later, in the burlesque of the devils court, the personification of lechery is portrayed as a fcal incontinent, exploited by the coprophilic devil who delights in the stench of shit:
[]e lecchur i e deofles curt bifule him seoluen fulliche, ant his feolahes alle; stinke of et fule, ant paie wel his lauerd wi et stinkinde brea betere en he schulde wi eani swote rechles....Of alle ore, enne, habbe eos e fuleste meoster i e feondes curt, e swa bido ham seoluen; ant he schal bidon ham, pinen ham wi eche stench i e put of helle. (M 82)

The limits of the sinful, as all that is abject from the doctrine of Holy Writ, thus simultaneously describe the limits of bodily abjection. All that is foul and stinking, and thus all which is excreted or thrown up and vomited out of the body is structured as an analogue to the transgression of the Christian ethic. By contrast, all that coheres withand leads to obedience tothe paradigm of Holy Writ is portrayed as savoury, nourishing and sweet to the heart:
[h]ope is a swete spice inwi e heorte, et swete al et bitter et te bodi drinke....Hope halt te heorte hal, hwet-se e flesch drehe; as me sei, ef hope nere, heorte tobreke.....For-i, as e wulle halden inwi ow hope, ant te swete brea of hire e eue sawle mihte, wi mu itunet cheowe hire inwi ower heorte. Ne blawe e hire nawt ut wi mealinde mues, wi eoninde tuteles.

(M 32-3) 23

Nourishing hope is thus to be ingested and retained, chewed over, digested, assimilated through the person, medicating the heart and empowering the soul. In contrast to the foul bitterness of lecherous desire, the grace of divine love is described as superlative sweetness, but its availability is strictly delimited to those who are obedient, monogamous, to the Christian Law:
e schulest i in heorte bur biseche me cosses, as mi leofmon et sei to me i et luue boc, Osculetur me osculo oris sui; et is, Cusse me mi leofmon wi e coss of his mu, muene swetest. is coss, leoue sustren, is a swetnesse ant a delit of heorte swa unimete swete et euch worldes sauur is bitter er-toeines. Ah ure Lauerd wid is coss ne cusse na sawle luue ei ng buten him.

(M 41)

In addition to hope and caritas, wisdom is also allegorised as having a nourishing and savoury potential. Furthermore, it is not only opposed to the abject, but acts as a preservative against abjection:
Salt bitacne wisdom, for salt eue mete smech, ant wisdom eue sauur al et we wel wurche. Wiute salt of wisdom, | unche Godd smechles alle ure deden. On oer half, wiute salt flesch gedere wurmes, stinke swie fule ant forrote sone. Alswa wiute wisdom flesch as wurm forfret hire ant waste hire seoluen, forfeare as ing e forrote, ant slea hire on ende.

(M 55)

The pleasant, admissible, ingestible dimension of the nourishing provides the ultimate characterisation of a pure and charitable heart, so that in the exegesis of the three Marys, the attainment of grace is exemplified by a transesthetic shift, which mirrors the logic of compunction in its alchemical transmutation of bitterness into sweetness:
efter bitternesse kime swetnesse. Bitternesse bu hit; for, as et Godspel tele, eose reo Maries bohten swote smeallinde aromaz to smirien ure Lauerd. urh aromaz e beo swote is understonden swotnesse of deuot heorte. eos Maries hit bugge; et is, urh bitternesse me kime to swotnesse.

(M 67)


The differential of the abject and the nourishing thus predicates, and is itself inscribed by, the ethical paradigm of Holy Writ which mediates its very contours of obligation through the most primal drives, of desire and disgust. As the horror of the abject is repeatedly opposed to the solace of grace, the relation of the two betrays a profound anxiety that ab-jection, of all that is proscribed by the Law of Holy Writ (to wit, principally, the sin of lechery), can never fully be achieved. The anxiety is well-founded, for the codification of the abject in this text functions precisely to articulate and perpetuate its existence in the Symbolic: [t]o the extent that the Temple is the Law, one is biblically pure or impure only with respect to social order (K 91). The Subject constituted by this Symbolic architecture is always already conditioned by the abject and divided against her self:
[d]uring that course in which I become, I give birth to myself amid the violence of sobs, of vomit. Mute protest of the symptom, shattering violence of a convulsion that, to be sure, is inscribed in a symbolic system, but in which, without either wanting or being able to become integrated in order to answer to it, it reacts, it abreacts. It abjects. (K 3)

Ancrene Wisses defrayal of the discourse of violent struggle must thus be considered in light of this split nature in the Subject. In this text the conflict between the will-tojouissance or enjoyment in fulfilling the libidinal drives and the normative Purity codified in Holy Writ is specifically stretched across the battleground of the heart. Thus werre Lecherie, e stinkinde hore, vpon e lauedi Chastete, et is Godes spuse. Earest scheot e arewen of e licht echnen, e fleo lichtliche | for ase flaa et is iuiered ant stike iere heorte (M 24).47 This once more turns, then, on the ex-timate predicament: for the reality of selfhood is constructed intersubjectively: the Subject only comes into being, as such, upon her entry into the Symbolic order, by which she is


On the prevalence of martial tropes in Ancrene Wisse, see Cannon, Place of the Self, 147-8.


always already conditioned, and as a result of which she is always already split, alienated from her self:48
[a]n essential trait of those evangelical attitudes or narratives is that abjection is no longer exterior. It is permanent and comes from within. Threatening, it is not cut off but is reabsorbed into speech. Unacceptable, it endures through the subjection to God of a speaking being who is innerly divided and, precisely through speech, does not cease purging himself of it (K 113).

The libidinal drive is constructed as traisun inwi e gale heorte (M 26), an infraction of the Law codified by Holy Writ. In terms of her abjection from the normative, the Subject is thus perpetually a threat: defiling and defiled. Kristeva, referring to Mary Douglas, notes, filth is not a quality in itself, but it applies only to what relates to a boundary and more particularly, represents the object jettisoned out of that boundary, its other side, a margin (K 69). The Wisse-author, who repeatedly demonstrates an obsessive preoccupation with the liminalin its formal, ontological, and psychological manifestationsis unsurprisingly highly sensitive to the liminal dimension in which the projection of filth qua the abject is carried out. The lecherous impulse is described as an invasive, puncturing, violation: e feond urhstiche e schere hwen delit of leccherie urle e heorte (M 103), moreover temptation itself, as a discursive practice, is similarly framed as a type of invasive language:
[h]wen e alde unwine si slepi ure skile, he drahe him anan toward hire ant fele [enters] wi hire i speche....Ant speke us e alde sweoke toward hire heorte wordes et ha are


On subject-formation and the Mirror-Stage, see Lacan, who describes how the jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage...would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores it, in the universal, its function as subject in crits, trans. Alan Sheridan, (New York, 1977), 1-7, (2).


fulliche iseide, oer sihe et ha seh, oer hire ahne fulen et ha sumhwile wrahte. Al is he put for biuore e heorte ehnen forte bifulen hire wi oht of alse sunnen

(M 104)

The incursion of the sinful impulse leaves a wound which remains vulnerable to infection. It persists as a negative space, wherein the memory of sin can be reactivated:
Weilawei! Mine wunden, e weren feire ihealet, gederi neowe wursum, ant fo on eft to rotien. Ihealet wunde enne biginne to rotien hwen sunne e wes ibet kime eft wi | licunge into munegunge, ant slea e unwarre sawle.

(M 104)

Sinful violation is thus figured as a suppurating gash (a wound, a breach, an orifice, a void) in the protective limit of the body; simultaneously admitting of penetration while issuing in pus as a symbolic excretion of guilt. This powerful trope secures its horrific purchase by referring a trope of bodily emission (guilt) stimulated to heal the rupture (wound/violation) caused by a hostile foreign body (sin); the inertia of its rank abjectness thus consists in its very disclosure of bodily violation, that points both to the inward and external limits of selfhood, from a locus on the very cusp between them. For Kristeva the Symbolic of Judeo-Christian monotheism coerces the female principle, projecting the threatening dimension of woman into the domain of the abject:
biblical impurity is permeated with the tradition of defilement; in that sense, it points to but does not signify an autonomous force that can be threatening for divine agency...such a force is rooted historically (in the history of religions) and subjectively (in the structuration of the subjects identity), in the cathexis of the maternal functionmother, women, reproduction...[and]...performs the tremendous forcing that consists in subordinating maternal power (whether historical or phantasmatic, natural or reproductive) to symbolic order as pure logical order regulating social performance.

(K 90-91)

It seems relevant to acknowledge, in light of this statement, that the inward aspect and trajectory cultivated by Ancrene Wisse, always stands in negative relation to the outward exemplarity of the life of enclosure, which is essentially carried out and settled


as a social performance for the benefit of the local community.49 The curious paradox of anchoritic ontology, of course, is that the recluse becomes an absence in her very presence, an opaque, inscrutable object at the heart of society, present only before the presencing of God. In several instances Ancrene Wisse frames the female principle in terms of a purely negative space, and as such, as excavating e deope dich of sum suti sunne (M 87). The lure of the anchoress consists in her presence-as-absence. A passive, engulfing void, she
[b]itacne bi eo et vnwri e put. e put is hire feire neb, hire hwite swire, hire lichte beo hire word put, bute ha beon e bet iset. Al [et] e feae hire, hwet-se hit eauer beo, urch hwat machte sonre fol [luue] awacninal vre Lauerd put cleope. (M 23)

To some extent, this blazon can be read as a conventional projection of the male gaze that sublimates anxiety about the limitless potential of female sexuality, simultaneously disclosing the deathly dimension with which jouissanceas pure libidinal driveis perpetually interwoven.51 For Lacan,
sublimation takes on aesthetic as well as moral value; and the starkness and awesomeness of the Kantian sublime are harnessed to [his] view that the drive which is sublimated is not just our friendly old sex urge but the far more alarming death drive....Sublimation then, takes on a much more precise, if abstract, meaning: it involves putting an object in the place where we sense the [the pressure of the real] in such a way as to block it out, and so dam up the real of the drives, in particular the death drive, behind it52

The construction of female sexuality, and subjectivity, as a pit, a maw, a gap which threatens to engulf, thus provides an exemplary manifestation of the traumatic anxiety,


On this dynamic, see Geraldine Heng, Pleasure, resistance, and a feminist aesthetics of reading in The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory (Cambridge, 2006), 61; and Cannons Form of the Self, (2001), 47-48. Also Cannon, Place of the Self, 164-9. 50 Cf. R. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny, (Chicago, 1991), 241-42. 51 On the blazon as a strategy whereby the male gaze verbalizes itself see Copplia Kahn, Lucrece: The Sexual Politics of Subjectivity in Rape and Representation, eds. Higgins and Silver, (New York, 1991), 142. 52 Sarah Kay, Courtly Contradictions, (Stanford, 2001), 261-2.


concerning the limits of the Real, in which male fantasy originates and is worked through.53 In a radical reversal of this somewhat overdetermined feminist discourse, however, Slavoj iek demonstrates how the feminine principle-as-void in fact points to her primacy within the Christian ethic. Citing the paradoxical dialectic of the Limit and its Beyond, which for Lacan, demonstrates how the incomplete causes the complete, [and how] the Imperfect opens up the place subsequently filled out by the mirage of the Perfect,54 iek goes on to argue (pace Elizabeth Robertson (1990)) that
[f]rom this perspective, the seemingly misogynist definition of woman as truncated man actually asserts her ontological priority: her place is that of a gap, of an abyss rendered invisible the moment man fills it out. Man is defined by the dynamic antinomy: beyond his phenomenal, bodily existence, he possesses a noumenal soul. If in opposition to it, woman has no soul, this is no way entails that she is simply an object devoid of soul. The point rather is this negativity, this lack as such, defines her: she is the Limit, the abyss retroactively filled out by the mirage of soul.55

The anchoress is thus privileged by her very capaciousness and facility in breaking down the mind-forged manacles of experience. The cultivation of schir heorte, which is the primary object of Ancrene Wisses regulatory paradigm, might consist not so much in the accretion and development of range of discursive and cognitive practices, as in the purificatory elimination of the attachments signified by the representational matrix of the subcelestial world: Auerte oculos meos ne uideant vanitatem...went awei min echnen from e worldes dweole (M 25). To set oneself at this vocation is a


For an extensive treatment of this topic see Klaus Theweleit, Floods, Bodies, History, in Male Fantasies, trans. Conway, (Minneapolis, 1987), I, 229-438. Originally published as Mnnerphantasien, (1977). 54 c.f. Anselms ontological proof: Ergo, Domine, non solum es quo maius cogitari nequit, sed es quiddam maius quam cogitari possit. Quoniam namque valet cogitari esse aliquid huiusmodi: si tu non es hoc ipsum, potest cogitari aliquid maius te; quod fieri nequit., Proslogion, 15. 55 Tarrying with the Negative, (Duke, 1993), 58.


daunting and traumatic endeavour and its rewards intrinsically resist discursive explanation, for the mystical frontier, ultimately, is beyond the potential of the signified. This is so difficult,
because as human speaking subjects, we can only sense the real from the perspective of language, as a kind of hole on the edge of language or, more frighteningly, as the traumatic otherness of language itself, as a terrible machine imposed on us by outside: an outside, in this case, that is right inside us, because without language in our minds we couldnt even conceive of our own existence56

Given what we have seen of the hearts symbolicity in Ancrene Wisse, as a type of organon for the ineffable, non-linguistic dimensions of experience, and as an essential kernel of subjectivity somehow extrinsic to and yet emerging from the signifying apparatuses of the reading Subject, we might ultimately locate its operation as a function of the objet petit a; a symbolic provision of the fantasmatic stuff of the I...that which confers on the split subject, on the fissure in the symbolic order, on the ontological void that we call subject, the ontological consistency of a person, the semblance of a fullness of being.57 In its perpetual definition, and redefinition of the limits of subjectivity and in its inhabiting of the porous margin between the cognitive and somatic realms (as well as the traumatic boundary between the abject and the nourishing), Ancrene Wisse weaves a discursive skein that gives contours, a surface, and a planisphere to the unsignifiable, and yet endlessly signified, object that masks over and occludes the self-abnegating Real of the spiritual life and the zero-sum of Absolute Unitary Being. Over and again, the shape taken by the objet petit a, at the centre of the ontology referred to and conditioned by this text is more or less coextensive that of the heart itself.

56 57

Kay, Courtly Contradictions, 262. Tarrying with the Negative, 48.