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Discuss the relationship between language and the body in Julian of Norwichs A Revelation of Love

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Introduction

Discuss the relationship between language and the body in Julian of Norwich's A Revelation of Love A Revelation of Love relies on language, an ultimately human and physical mode of expression, to describe its spiritual experience. Julian's use of language draws attention to the very clear delineation between physical and spiritual modes of communication, while simultaneously existing as a metaphorical representation of the word becoming flesh. Julian both describes the spiritual in physical terms and uses physical metaphors to convey her spiritual experiences. This confusing relationship which swings between the literal and the metaphorical is synthesised in Julian's discussion of 'sight'. There is a clear distinction between 'bodily' sight and 'gostly sight', a spiritual way of gaining 'understondyng' and becoming closer to God through a communication that exists outside the confines of language as we know it. This attempt to describe in words an experience that is literally indescribable is perhaps what makes Julian of Norwich's writing so remarkable. The spiritual experiences she communicates are ineffable; it is a mode of knowing which 'transcends the normal faculties of sense and intellect.'1 Several characteristics of the language suggest that Julian dictated the work to an amanuensis: the rhythms and inflexions of a speaking voice inherent in the language, her repetition at certain points in the text ('Se I am in althing, Se I doe althing. ...read more.

Middle

The vision of the bleeding head prompts a response based in language from Julian: 'And as long as I saw this sight of the plentious bleding of the hede I might never stinte of these words: 'Benedicite domine!' But it is the connection of the visual images that is so fascinating. She understands 'vi things' 'from the shewing'. The first is 'the toknys of the blissid passion and the plentious shedding of his pretious blood' and having contemplated this moves to 'the maiden that is derworthy and moder', then 'the blissful Godhede'. The images get progressively less physical moving from the visible mortal body of Christ to his mother who conceived immaculately, to God himself. The next three images dwell on the creations of God, 'that he hath made althing', that he 'made althing for love' and that God 'is althing that is good'. Julian begins with the 'physical' 'seeing' of the body of Christ, and uses this as a platform from which to meditate on aspects of God and his relationship with his communications that have nothing to do with the bodily or the physical. This is perhaps related to the way in which seeing itself was thought to work in the Middle Ages. ...read more.

Conclusion

Ultimately the writings of Julian of Norwich highlight the complexity of describing, whether through words or through images, the relationship between God and mortals. The body is represented as the word incarnate, as a feeble vessel for God's love, as the focus and centre of Christ's sacrifice for us and as the medium through which we can attempt to express our connection from that which is so far removed from the physical, yet which can affect us in extremely intense and physical ways. Sight can be a direct path from what we look at to what we understand, or it can be involved in a much more complicated system of seeing and not seeing, bodily sight and gostly blindness or vice versa. Julian can only put across these ideas through an imperfect medium, but one which she handles skilfully. Ultimately, 'the very process by which words are understood may act as a metaphor for the experience to which they relate.'4 1 Marion Glasscoe, Introduction to Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love 2 Marion Glasscoe, Introduction to Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love 3 Marion Glasscoe, Introduction, Julian of Norwich A Revelation of Love 4 Marion Glasscoe, Introduction to Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love ...read more.

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