Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, May 22, 2016


This morning there was a great conversation started on Twitter about medievalists and tattoos.
We have this conversation a lot actually. We were not consistent about using #medievalisttattoos as a hashtag so I can't Storify it, but you can check it out. @izzybeth chimed in that she was willing to start a tumblr for it. So we started to email her our images.
Then we started to have conversations about medievalists with medieval tattoos, medievalists with other tattoos, and the way these narratives worked.

And people started to share their images on Twitter- manuscript images, Old English texts, English saints, early modern texts, Shakespeare tatttoos. 

I took some initial doodles based on the conversation.
There's also a parallel between how we can read the narratives of tatttoos on people's bodies and how hagiographies portray saints' narratives as written on their body, usually through torture, but also as a witness, a visual narrative to others, much the same way tattoos are.

It reminded me of a class I took with Bruce Smith, Poetry <--> Body <---> Self during summer at Bread Loaf. I made the video below as my final project. I lost a lot Bread Loaf files when my laptop crashed in December, old stuff that never made the shift to Dropbox or Google Docs, so I was happy to find it.
There was a lot of interest and it was suggested that it would make a great conference panel.  So there was some interest, and I started writing a proposal, "Medieval(ist) Bodies and Boundaries."

I had a very clear image in my head of what presentations for this topic would look like. The visual would be as important as the discussion. Some ideas I had:
  • How the presentation could counter norms
    • What if I wore something that was NOT the norm for a conference presentation? What if I wore something instead that displayed my tattoos? What if my body became part of the canvas, the conversation?
  • The intersection of scholarly paper presentation and visual images
    • How can we have two parallel narratives? Paper and images? What if we ran a slideshow of the tumblr images in the background as accompaniment? What if I presented a movie, or slideshow, of my tattoos or tattoos related to my topic, in the background?
  • The idea of meta-text, medievalists who get medieval tattoos, particularly manuscript images
    • How do we read these layers of texts?  
For me, I immediately started to think of medieval hagiographies about female saints who fought or faced off against the devil. In many cases these battles did not have physical consequences. In many the devil's appearance coincides with the often pagan lord/king torturing the saint. So the devil is shown as bearing witness. Yet in images we see the visual rhetoric of the saint overcoming the devil.
St. Marina beats the devil (can't find attribution, help me out!)

St Margaret emerging from the dragon (detail of f°165v) -- Book of Hours, Troyes? (France), 1460-147 [BL Harley MS 2974]
Yates Thompson 49 v.1, f 60
St Juliana and a demon- Codex Bodmer 127 044v 1170-1200

The female saint is shown in a power of position, clearly dominating the devil. We don't see the torture, the narrative, the journey. Instead we see the end result, the victory.

But Google medieval female saints and torture and you see something else.

So for me, this became very interesting. How is this narrative shown? What is gained or lost by displaying or not displaying the torture narratives on the body? How are the rhetorics different? 
Layering this, how can I overlay these ideas of pain and narrative over my own tattoo experience? My 13+ hours to get my back piece?
So I have an idea to write a piece that examines the bodies of female saints in narratives where they face off against the devil. In a conference presentation I would then layer this, support it, with images of my tattoos in the background.

So those are my initial thoughts.
I'm hoping to have a conference panel or roundtable to announce soon, and we'll see where we go from there.
So pay attention!  

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