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Anorexia, Asceticism, and Autonomy: Self-Control as Liberation and Transcendence Author(s): Gail Corrington Source: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall, 1986), pp. 51-61 Published by: FSR, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25002041 . Accessed: 15/12/2013 02:07
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A full belly does not make for a chaste spirit. 1960). N. Eating Disorders (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1973). Anorexia Nervosa.. I felt I had to do something I didn't want for a higher to a new way of life.Y: Doubleday/Image. 98-99. 2Henriette A. Suzanne Noffke. Neither a sociologist nor psycholo saints of the early and later I am nevertheless relying upon the observations and analyses of both in gist. Select Letters of Saint Jerome. that I was molding myself into that wonderful ascetic pure image . trans. 1980). Wright. in Hilde Bruch.. The Dialogue.integrum than a woman.1 myself anddisciplined purpose .10-11 (Ad Eustochium)... Loeb Classical Library (New York: Putnam. Catherine of Siena..5 The first two passages above come from interviewswith modern women with anorexia nervosa. This content downloaded from 132.11. and ed. pp. Epistle 22. fasting restores. pp. trans. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .. AND AUTONOMY: Self-Control as Liberation and Transcendence Gail Corrington I-thought . The third comes from the autobiography of Teresa of Avila. only women have to do that. He is inviolate.. and control of another bodily appetite (sex) through abstinence. trans. preface by Giuliana Cav allini. The fifth statement is advice given the virgin Eustochium by the fourth-century Latin church father. All of these statementsmake a connection between control of one bodily appetite (eating)by fasting. 165. 1933). 1Gertrude. Classics ofWestern Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press. the so-called eating disorder.A man is more Integer.. FA.3 .66. inHelmut Thoma.4 Those whom satiety drove from paradise. 3 Teresa of Avila.ANOREXIA. The Life of Saint Teresa of Jesus. 4 Catherine of Siena. 1967). A man remains himself. he does not have to be pregnant. p. p. I createda new imagefor myself comes tomind.2 untouched This soul would fain see itself free and eating is killing it . including linguisticmetaphors. the fourth from another female doctor and saint. trans.integra. the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and doctor (outstanding teacher) of the Catholic Church. . Gillian Brydone (New York: International Universities Press. does not have to assimilate. which are common to modern-day anorexia nervosa and to the asceticism practiced by the female Middle Ages. Both are forms of self-control. Allison Peers (Garden City. ASCETICISM. . 16-17. 243.212 on Sun.This studywill trace certain phenomena. re nounce.Jerome. E. Untouched. 5 Jerome.. Eng.
52 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion describing these phenomena." in Immaculate and Powerful: The Female in Sacred Image and Social Reality. their bodies.66. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . sociocultural. or limited to. Miles. Holy Anorexia (Chicago.11. Atkinson."which she allows to define her identity. Rudolph Bell. 20-21. facedwith a "culturalmandate" to deny the traditional roles and even body shapes ofwomen in order to focus upon male competi tiveness and power. pp. Not only is there a strong resemblance between traditionaldescriptions of female asceticism. University of Chicago Press. 8Rosemary Radford Ruether. a discipline of the body for the sake of a "higher purpose. 9 William Davis. anorexia is described by anorectics them selves as a form of askesis. and psychological continuities between the two groups ofwomen and to show how both strive for identity and autonomy. forms of holiness in the period from 1200 to 1500. 7Bell. if not identical. ix). but the two are frequently connected in accounts of holy ascetic women of the patristic.9 Eating and noneating thus become symbols of power and control: refusal to eat is a refusal of any authority over the body other than one's own. It enables women to resist the prevailing values of societies which they do not control. Clarissa W. ed." in Bell. medieval. . p. anorexia is a formof control. In the patristic and medieval periods. and the extreme form of fasting referred to as anorexia nervosa. and Margaret R. and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food toMedieval Women. Constance H. . "anorexiabegins as the girl fastens onto a highly valued societal goal . but at the same time she transformsand transcends the limitationsof that identity by becom ing "a champion in the race for perfection. whose death by starvationwas seen as amark of saintliness. In his study of 261 Italian Catholic "holywomen" from 1200 to the present. Rosemary R. Caroline Walker Bynum also points out the connection between fasting and abstinence as similar. 160. pp. 260-282. 1974). "Misogynism and Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church. 1985). As Rudolph Bell has pointed out.6 Further. Bell finds that late medieval holy women described themselves and were described by others "in terms that were similar in important ways to clinical descriptions ofmodern-day sufferers of anorexia nervosa" (p." Representations 11 (Summer 1985): 1-25. and even modern periods." in Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and Christian Tradi tions." Like asceticism.212 on Sun. ascetic and anorectic women refuse either to be defined as. to become a "new ascetic ideal. "Fast."7 Thus. while at the same time making them acceptable to those societies. My aim is to suggest some historical. "Epilogue. women adopted a rigorous self-denial orig inallypromoted by and formen. 1985). exhibited anorectic patterns in her life and writings: "Simone Weil's Religious Imagery: How Looking Becomes Eating. especially where it involves fasting. Judith Van Herik shows that Simone Weil. The Harvard Women's Studies in Religion Series (Boston: Beacon Press. These observationswill supplement thewords of women themselves and my own adolescent experience of anorexia ner vosa. Buchanan."8Similarly.. p. modern anorectics. Feast. Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster. ed. 6 This content downloaded from 132. 185. resistwhat they see as attempts to impose authority on them from the outside.
cf. Guze. "Some Provisional Ideas Concerning the Psychologic Structure in Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia."14 to is self females related in anorexia of especially young preponderance historical Both for and drive both and the autonomy acceptance. 1981).Garfinkel and Garner note that "a major predisposition to anorexia nervosa relates to The difficulties in autonomous functioning and sense of personal identity. it is called cachexia. a disorder requiring psychiatric aswell asmedical treatment. Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies 4:4 (December 1983): 278-279.10 It is not surprising that the latter studies come out of a period which was particularly oppressive forwomen. recent articles in Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1:3 (Fall 1983): p. 15 Regina Casper." Anorexia Nervosa: Re cent Developments in Research. p. Gull and E. med." Transactions of the Clinical Society 7 (1874):22-24. which he believed to have been caused by lesions of the hypothalamus ("Uber Hypophysisschwund mit todlichem Ausgang.11. Paul E. anorexia. or "wasting. (New York:Alan R. Wochenschrift 40 :322). J. p. nor that these physicians should have called the phenomenon "hystericalanorexia." Archives generales de medicine 21 (1873): 385-403. 71-76 (from a Freudian viewpoint).W. pp. Olmsted. eds. eds. Cf.212 on Sun. means "loss of appetite. Padraig L. 4. 13 Nevertheless.. William W. Psychosocial Medicine 13:2 (May 1983): 231-238. Jonas. 387-393. "De l'anorexie hysterique. "Diagnostic Criteria forUse in Psychiatric Research.J.P." and was first described as such by Morton in 1689 and again by M. 14 Garfinkel and Garner. Darby et al. Asceticism. and has centered on the relationshipbetween anorexia and self-image. anorexia nervosa has reached such proportions among predominantly white. "TheMultidimensional Nature of Anorexia Nervosa. Christie. upper-middle-class young women."11 In the past decade. 11 The term. "An Overview of Sociocultural Factors in the Development of Anorexia Nervosa. Robins.Corrington: Anorexia. Anorexia Nervosa. 12David M. B. 1981. Toronto. Simmonds in 1914. Phthisiologia seu excertationem de phthisi (Ulm: David Bartholomae. and S. for a review of recent journal literature. Charles Lasegue. and Autonomy 53 The eating disorder today called anorexia nervosawas first described in 1684 by the English physician Richard Morton. it is being called an epidemic. 1714). for a list of symptoms of clinical anorexia nervosa. E. when used alone.l5 image. Garner." Praxis der Psychotherapie und Psycho somatik 28:2 (March 1983): 67-71 (for a view counter to the prevailing one). Wingate and M. p. For book This content downloaded from 132.B." Journal of Psychosomatic Research 22:3 (1978): 202-204. much of the recent research on anorexiahas gone beyond clinical psychiatric andmedical descriptions of symptoms and cures. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "Aus dem Rahmen iblicher Erklarungen fallende Syndrome der Anorexie. Cf. but it did not receive its name or reputation as a psychosomatic disorder until the studies ofW.66. Lasegue in 1873. Liss. 21." inDarby et al.D. "Ego Strength and Body Image in Anorexia Nervosa. International Conference on Anorexia Nervosa. Garfinkel. ed.. and Marion P. Western." inDarby et al. that it is Despite the rise in the incidence of anorexia.C. A." Archives of General Psychiatry 26 (1972): 57-63.. 12 still being described by many psychoanalysts as a pathology. Gull. "Apepsia Hysterica. andmodern anorectics are presented with an image theymust imitate at all 10 Richard Morton." Deutsch. 67.. Feighner." When this loss is of organic origin. 13 Thoma. who gave his name to the "hysterical" form of cachexia. E.
the anorectic's desire to be a "pure. as an invasion of her body. particularly fasting. and The Golden Cage (Cambridge. Susie Orbach argues thatwomen. 1978). is a the further for and food. This content downloaded from 132. 71. fantasies sexual "unthinkable the for anorectic. sought asexuality to be attained through asceticism. Both groups of women are resisting a male image of women (passive. cited by Davis in Bell. I am much freer when I eat nothing . the refusal to eat as a length studies. because she saw oral reception. Eating Disorders. asserted both her desire for autonomy and for asexuality by means of non-eating: "I am afraid of being a woman . 135. p. trained by a male dominated society to nurture others rather than themselves. a nineteen-year-old studied by Thoma.. The Owl Was a Bakers Daughter.with obvious feminine characteristics) in favorof an image men promote for themselves (stringent self-denial. 62. the only solution-to the need to take control of one's body out of the hands of society and to exert it oneself Modern anorectics are frequently conscious of practicing a kind of as ceticism. 1980). lustful. like sexual penetration. bodily being. a blob. Starving Women: A Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa (Dallas: Spring Publications. a patient of Hilde Bruch's. charged by desire for religious girl. SimoneWeil also saw eating as a form of sexual dominance and the acceptance of power. another of Thoma's patients. starvation . 101." reflects the association of Woodman observes with saintliness." Gertrude. with sinfulness. modern women." presented at the third annual conference of the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia. Angelyn Spignesi." The twentieth-century French mystic.wanted "tobe completely sexless. New York. Mass. Susie Orbach. see Marion Woodman. Gertrude D. with the image of asceticism." Anne. "The Construction of Femininity: Some Critical Issues in the Psychology ofWomen..66. "I don't want to be a sexual. Studies in Jungian Psychology 4 (Toronto: Inner City Books. Hilde Bruch suggests that anorexia becomes the means through which women refuse to accomodate themselves to prevailing cultural expectations. complex union with God as an escape from aworld with which she cannot cope. 1983). Hilde Bruch. slimness and fitness). p. 213. Eating Disorders. Iwant to be a zero. apparently even completely bodiless." From the analysts' point of view also.molded herself into an "asceticpure image. with an ideal of leanness that is frequently translated into asceticism. theremay be two definitions of the struggle forbodily control through anorectic behavior. stated. an adolescent anorectic studied by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. p. pp. . sexless being. an adolescent girl described by Janet in 1908." "eating ..212 on Sun. Nadia. ."denying herself the food shewanted in order to pursue a "higher purpose. Thus.54 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion costs: early and medieval Christian women. 16 Bruch. . 1984. choose anorexia rather than less acceptable forms of assertion.: Harvard University Press. esp. esp. Eating is as burdensome forme as having children is for other women. 16 I prefer to see anorexia as a creative solution-in some cases. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . esp.11.." Henriette A.displaced onto are. that.
FA. died from prolonged fasting. 7-21. 27.Ep. Wright. However. and the bodily image of the anorectic-pale. Ep." Traditio 12 (1956): 1-64. 22. and praising those of his aristocratic female associateswho made their "whole life a fast" (Ep. introduction. This content downloaded from 132. "The Problem ofAscetical Fasting in the Greek PatristicWriters. 201-202. cf. Van Herik. "Les obsessions et la psychoasthenie (Paris:Alcan. Letters of Saint Jerome.11.11. the Desert Fathers. 45. p. However. bodily nature and a way of achieving an asexual. pp. 21. the young Blesilla. because eating is a bodily appetite: "Nothing so inflames the body and excites the genital members unless it be undigested food and convulsive belching" (Ep. esp. 18. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . was influenced by the strict Egyptian form of asceticism (Ep. is known forher own fasting (Jerome. Bruch. Paula's fasting becomes legendary: in the thirteenth Janet. 19Like Jerome. 39.). Ep. the elder Paula. 20Cf. the founder of the circle.Corrington: Anorexia. Asceticism.488ff. 155-157. without Jerome's particular emphasis. 127. p. Woodman. the Greek fathers tend to praise female asceticism in the same terms as male.. 22. ix. PG 52. particularly Anthony. 1908). Rollo May et al. and the privations practiced by the members of her group could be so severe thatone of their number." inExistence. we cannot know. ed. SLG (Oxford:SLG Press. also Jerome. Translations of the Latin are mine.19 Jerome saw fasting as especially necessary forwomen.15). judging from the writings of Jerome and others. Food is associated with lust. from direct accounts. andAutonomy 55 deliberate refusal of power so that one may be totally consumed (eaten) by Weil's "anorexic stance"was a form of recogni God. 54. pp. cf.Woodman. As we do not possess anywritings of thewomen from this ascetic Roman circle. Christ)-the only formof dominance theywould spiritualunionwith God (or The link between eating and sexuality. VanHerik suggests that tion of and protest against "woman'ssymbolic edibility . p. 18See TheWisdom of theDesert Fathers. (New York:Basic Books.212 on Sun. 62.10. 44. anothermember of the circle (Ep. 278. men.17).45. pp.. 78. For a discussion of the Greek fathers' various motivations for fasting. 24).66. 8 Jerome promoted it particularly strenuously. in the fourth century. since the female sexwas prone to inconti nence (Ep. p. Marcella.6.20Blesilla'smother. Eating Disorders. and praises Olympias as an example of a "dead body" in this world (Ep. skeletal. 253 and Spignesi.17 The association of fastingwith asexuality. except a letter of Paula on her visit to the Holy Land (Ep. how they felt about this connection between fasting and continence. 2.21).3). 28. cf. advocating abstinence as an ideal for both men andwomen. however. PG 63. 22. 17P. p. 1981). Benedicta Ward.561).3). by refusing to treat anything else as food. had been made by accept. Thoma. the women had perhaps made this connection them selves. Ep. Thoma. and since "chastity cannot be safe by other means than fasting" (Ep. see Herbert Musurillo. p.8-10). 1957). Chrysostom praises the ascetic virgins who practice self-mortification (De studio praesentium 3. nearly "bodiless"-are reminders of those earlier female ascetics forwhom severe fasting and other austeritieswere ameans of erasing their female. 45). ed. 79. as isAsella. p. "The Case of Ellen West. cited by Ludwig Binswanger.
are 21 This content downloaded from 132.191).25Although Bell refers to this anorectic behavior as Jacob of Voragine. the daughters of aristocraticRoman women of the fourth century refused to accept their social roles (marriage. "the nourishment of crime" (I. 1902).B.23 If thismotive seems toomuch a form of accommodation to a male ideal. as a means of escaping the limitationsplaced by men upon women as "daughtersof Eve" (cf. motherhood) and defied their parents by adopting the ascetic life-style. Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York: Simon and Schuster. The first is that asceticismwas a valued goal and fasting ameans by which women could achieve the new ascetic ideal of the fourth century. Marcella and her circle deliberately chose the ascetic mode of life on their own initiative. while St. 1979). suggested by Ann Yarbrough." in Women of Spirit.g. "Mothers of the Church: Ascetic Women in the Late Patristic Age. Roze (Paris:Edouard Rouveyre.. offers a second motive for the asceticism whose hallmarkwas fasting. "preferring the health of their souls to that of their stomachs. the younger Melania). As Rosemary Ruether has pointed out.M. and that she made the virgins of her Bethlehem community imitate her strenuous fasting. tr. that they fast in order to gain thatpraise. Anastasia refused food." Church History 45 (1976): 149-165. and not have tomarry an earthly suitor (I. two things should be noted. Blesilla. English translations are mine. Certainly neither the elder Paula nor the elder Melania fit the contem porary model of anorexia. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . First.24This point. in the face of threats and tortures. particularly inyoungerwomen of the patristic age (e. 108. described by Anna Freud as the "asceticism of puberty. Agnes referred to marriage as food. because these ascetic women are praised by men.212 on Sun.11.daughterhood. trans. 22Anna Freud. 24Ann Yarbrough. It offered women possibilities which departed dramatically from their tradi tional roles under patriarchy. ed.1: Eng. "The ascetic way was one of the most interesting options open to women in the fourth and fifth centuries. 23Ruether. inNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.66. La legende doree de Jacques de Voragine. p. Second. "The Christianization of Rome: The Example of Roman Women. (into French) J. 93.56 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion century The Golden Legend. so that she would starve to death. St. Yet the evidence does suggest twopossible motivations which might show an anorectic stance. "The Psychoanalytic Study of Infantile Feeding Disorders.79). 6:196). JacobofVoragine relates thatPaula never ate in the presence of a man." Psychoana lytic Study of the Child 2 (1946): 119-132." in that it allowed women control over their own bodies and their own destinies. specifically through refusal to eat."21 Jerome quotes her as saying that her motive in fasting so severely was to provide an example of self-control for others: "I keep under my body and bring it into subjection" (Ep. 22. Rosemary R. The Golden Legend relates examples of virgin saintswho defied parents' plans for their marriages.24). Ep. Jerome. 25The numbers in parentheses refer to the volume and page numbers of the French translation of The Golden Legend (La legende doree)."22 nor can we assume that. see note 21. Tales of young women's extreme aversion to marriage or intercourse.
heavenly union with the "bridegroom." in The Roles and Images of Women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance." inMedieval Women Writers."Christ. 12. and Chione. Wilson (Philadelphia:Westminster. Radcliff Umstead [Pit tsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. inMedieval and Tudor Drama. 28Cf."27The practice of starvation for sainthood is also accompanied by "desire forunionwith God (orChrist) as an escape" from the unacceptable desires of the flesh. This content downloaded from 132. "disorderlymales. the unacceptability. it can be seen in amore positive light. As An gelyn Spignesi has commented.212 on Sun. "Dulcitius. pp. the kitchen is "the symbolic abode of the Devil on earth. . trans. as a struggle to gain back control over the destiny and definition of the body. 18." and food is associated with carnality. "Epilogue." trans. Katharina M. 26 Bell. but which had not been possible for women. Herbert Musurillo. even desperate conformity. Robert McL. cited inWilson. they are transformed into more acceptable spiritual appetites. In popular tales of the saints. JohnGassner (New York:Bantam. p. In the stories of the saints from The Golden Legend. bodily nourishment with sexuality. "Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. personal initiative. moreover. an autonomywhich was possible for asceticmales. formodern adolescent anorectics. p. Lust is once again associ ated with food. 1984). ed. 1971). of fleshly desire is caricatured in the figures of the monstrous male tormentors of the virgin "brides of Christ. "illusionary ideal of perfection" is perceived as the only way to transcend a dilemma: society's demand for perfection. Davis. Wilson (Athens: University of Georgia Press." and religious authorities. Irene. 29 Casper. for outward.11. the ascetic woman links "starvationwith saintliness . versus the personal need for "a sense of identity.Corrington: Anorexia. Hroswitha of Gandersheim. 12. p." Bell. 3-12. andAutonomy 57 "manipulative"of families. Asceticism. p. Wilhelm Schneemelcher."29 As bodily appetites are conquered. p. RSM. reproductive roles"ordained for them by society. 27 Spignesi. ed.66.' 'ethereal' world. 1965). Agape. English translation ed. for example." An interesting version of the familiarpattern is offered by the tenth-century playwright. for the original account of the martyrdoms. as well as the tyrannical nature. ed. and there he isdeluded intokissing and fondling the pots and pans instead of the women. Dulcitius has the women locked into a serving pantry. who portrays the torment of the third-century martyrs. pp.26 Fasting also provided women with a means of transcendence. 149. . Acts of the Christian Martyrs 22. such as The Golden Legend and theApocryphal Acts of theApostles. 44) points out that. by the prefect Dulcitius as an attempted seduction in the kitchen. Hrotsvitha (her name is variously spelled). 389-391. Acts of Paul and Thecla. 1975]. who were limited to the "passive. In TheDialogue of common to the popular Apocryphal Acts of theApostles: cf. to an 'angelic.28 As Casper has shown. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .. Mary Marguerite Butler. New Testament Apocrypha. 53-60. ed. D. and an emotional equilibrium. Sandro Sticca ("Sin and Salvation: The Dramatic Context of Hroswitha's Women. the earthly "foodof crime" (sensuality) is avoided through a mystical. the pursuit of this saintly. p. in Edgar Hennecke. to the medieval mind.
22-53. see note 4. she told her confessor.while spiritual fatness is a sign of the victory of reason over the body.11. having gained the victory over her bodily hunger. This content downloaded from 132. because sufferings increase and strengthen virtue" (147). Catherine then satisfied her spiritual hunger by communing so frequently that she caused a scandal. the savorand fragranceof the body and blood of Christ crucified . Catherine of Siena. sustained by no more than a few glasses of cold water.When she first began to avoid other kinds of food. But." 30The numbers in parentheses refer to the page numbers in the Noffke translation of The Dialogue. She determined to give up eating meat. p.Thus bodily fatness is a sign of corruption. References to Raymond in this paragraph come from The Life. 32Raymond of Capua.212 on Sun. when it was served she fed it to her brother or to the cat. which is also the body of Christ.66.The "gentle and gloriousmartyrs. was accompanied by a nearly obsessive hunger for another kind of food. pp. however. Raymond tells us. which thus becomes "the instrument for proving and exercising virtue" (105). 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Images of feeding (especially breast-feeding) and food recur throughout TheDialogue." which she received in Communion. 31 See Bell.31 From the breasts of the Church. however.. Catherine's refusal of bodily nourishment in favor of spiritual refresh ment began at an early age. "Imyself have seen thatpoor body.." on the other hand. Kennedy. Those who are "falseministers" of the Church.She describes her soul'sextreme satisfac tion after having communed: "She sensed in awonderful way. pp. trans.J. the infant soul "takes into themouth of her holy desire the flesh of Christ crucified" (179). but their suffering is described as a "fattening sadness. 33. 1960). deny themselves bodily pleasures. p. forwhich the soul is continually hungry.32Her strenuous fasting. for a discussion of the imagery of food as related to sexuality in the writings of medieval women.30and the mystic body of the Church. reduced to such a state of exhaustion. that fattens the soul in loving charity. there is a striking contrast between the earthly body. tells us. for a thorough discussion of the imagery of food and fasting in Catherine's writings. As her biographer. 1-25. see also Bynum. 156. the body of Christ. life-giving food" (192). "The little disciple of Christ began to fight against the flesh before the flesh had begun to rebel. "I feel so satisfied by the Lord when I receive His most adorable Sacrament that I could not possibly feel any desire for any other kind of food.58 StudiesinReligion ofFeminist Journal the fourteenth-century saint and mystic." that her friends and family feared shewould die. the "flawless. which must be "mortified"and "put to death" (43). George Lamb (New York: P." (295). leading to occasions on which the sacramentwas denied her until Christ miraculously intervened to change the celebrant's heart (295). are bloated with "inordinate eating"which leads to "firingup the weak flesh and corrupt[ing] youwith perverse desire" (300). The Life of Saint Catherine of Siena." and. Oral satisfaction is thus achieved without fear of unholy desire or invasion.Raymond of Capua. "the body and blood of Christ. in her bodily taste.
she also urges them to "forget the body a little and cultivate the spirit" (139). a patient of Hilde Bruch's. 36 Bell. exercise) provides the anorecticwoman. who perceives herself as otherwise powerless.and Corrington: Anorexia. p. another of Bruch's patients. 132. and again in her Life. Eating Disorders. "the food of life. pp. is to be strictly guarded against.66. satisfies its hunger in such a way that "the soulwould rather die than eat any other food" (218). by the page number in the Peers translation. As Hazel."34 Any invasion of the body." is linked with severe fasting. when she was "nothing but bones. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . While her spirit is "growing fat and taking strength. Gertrude. aggravatedby her constant priva tions. Teresa of Avila. Hereafter citations from the Life will be referred to in parentheses. Teresa admired the ascetic Peter of Alcantara. as in those cited above. who would often go for aweek without food if engaged in prayer (256). The soulwhich is becoming close toGod through spiritualunion. Life. where you are the tyrant. also describes her soul's progress in terms of eating. she did not "offendGod very much" (78-79). because she believed that. my body suffers . see note 3.11. moreover.whether oral or sexual. Teresa describes her soul as hungry for spiritual repletion. 35Teresa of Avila. Despite the fact that the soul is itself constantly "dying of hunger" for that food. Even if Teresa could not 33Bruch. but my soul is completely mistress of itself" (392). so she might receive the host. with a sense of control over her own self. 62. This content downloaded from 132. "You make out of your body your very own kingdom.35Although in her mystical classic. sexuality is connected with eating as an appetite which is to be strictly controlled by thewoman herself."33 In both Catherine's and Gertrude's cases. Like Catherine. Asceticism. the absolute dictator." her body suffers from ill-health.Although therewere times. while spirituality. who aimed at the ascetic's "pure" image.. She regarded her own sufferings as a source of happiness. The Interior Castle.212 on Sun. . Autonomy 59 We may hear a striking echo of the words of the ascetic intellectual Catherine in the words of themodern ascetic. She also forced herself to vomit in order to have her stomach empty. put it. 16-17." however. she forbade the eating ofmeat. while power iswrenched away from others and asserted over oneself. the "new image.The soul'sprogress towardGod. presumably). but eating and other indulgences of the body are "killing it" (165. 34 Ibid. cf. The sixteenth-century mystic. 205). particularly in her youth. disciplining herself to a "new way of life." she did not regret them: "When I am undergoing persecutions. it can receive nourishment by "merely nibbling at it" (169). enjoined upon her sisters fasting and other forms of asceticism (351). she warns her sisters against fasting to extremes.36 She describes the spirit as yearning for transcendence. and.p. in order to reduce the power of the body's appetities. like Paula. This askesis (discipline. 18.when shewas ill.. p. save "in cases of necessity" (sickness. can feed others with its own spiritual food. In her own community.
appear to be absorbed in nothing more than a fanaticaldevotion to self-image. we should be aware of two things.66.. 78. p. asWeil's case shows."38This drive towards autonomy through self-control/discipline/askesis. and vice versa.42 37Garner. p. Eating Disorders. 186. 71. Peter of Alcantara. parents. 135." refusing to eat as a refusal to be "eaten" (symbolically devoured).41 The second point to be remembered is that. she has mystical experiences born of (or accom panied by) severe asceticism. white. finally. the roadof themodern anorectic may be even harder than that of her earlier counterpart. to "the rule of force." Bell. The current "epidemic" of anorexiaamong young. Garfinkel. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . she has the images of the ascetics. 19. 38Bell. ismotivated by a dominating image of herself as a perfect (integra). is able [through anorectic behavior] to set for herself a daily.212 on Sun. She will be mistress of her desires by becoming mistress of her appetite.11. . Davis.60 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion strictly be described as anorectic. although the path of mystical union with Christ still lies open. to be liberated from something (definition as a body) but for nothing (such as a transcendent union with God). and. Thus. the more the anorectic resists this form of outside control in an effort to achieve "control. Hence." the rapturousunionwith Christ. 57. and thus gain self-acceptance. The first is that anorec tics are seeking autonomy and self-definition in a society inwhich women are subordinate. This content downloaded from 132. . 40 Bruch. it is not a course valued by society as awhole. . resembles patterns of early and medieval asceticism. 278. in SimoneWeil's terms. phys ically torturing challenge. which she sees as "imprisoned" within it (205). she expresses herself in anorectic terms: she is fasting fora "higherpurpose. 41Van Herik. in thather society regards her behavior as aberrant.40 If modern anorectics.39The more others try tomake her eat. pp. the modern anorectic. 250-251. 42Cf. pure being." but on her own terms. grounded in the body. unlike their earlier counterparts. p. has been replaced by spiritual repletion. "Epilogue. resistance." in a time of conflict over the proper expression of female sexuality. competence. What can be made of these examples? In the first place. . characterized by a refusal to eat. relentless. p. 39Bruch. Jerome. one over which she alone has control. she deprives her body for the sake of the freedom of her soul. pp. predominantlyWestern (and largelyAmerican) women has been described as the result of a drive for "sexual and social freedom. inwhich she describes her state as "bodiless": "Aftera rapturemy body often seemed as light as if all weight had left it" (196). the first step is liberation from external definition. p.37According to Bell's profile. and the repentant Magdalene before her asmodels worthy of imitation. "raised to strive forperfection and to seek approval from . and effectiveness. the modern phenomenon called anorexia nervosa. Spignesi. and Olmsted. for themodern Christian ascetic. a sense of identity. Sensual satisfaction.
212 on Sun. This content downloaded from 132.66. In both cases. refusal of food is seen by anorectics and ascetics both as a rejection of dominance by others and. a "holy hatred" of themselves.Hence. are rejected. askesis is not experienced as self-destructive.Corrington: Anorexia." Striving towards the ascetic image is a source of satisfaction. determined to create one satisfying to themselves. dissatisfied with the feminine image theirworld gives them. but as self-liberating.and a source of liberation from imprisonment of the body (or from its definition by others) and its bondage to an unacceptable world. Food and sex. andAutonomy 61 Both ascetics and anorectics strive for perfection. as symbols of male power. are subdued. Asceticism.11. in Catherine's words. but at the same time experiencing. paradoxically. or impediments to transcendence. The body becomes the realm inwhich flesh and spirit battle. as a source of power for themselves. and in which desires felt to be unholy. 15 Dec 2013 02:07:14 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . in favor of a higher or inner form of "nourishment. since food is seen by others as a source of power and strength. a triumph of thewill over bodily limitations. and the forging of a new identity.
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