Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Morpheus Database: Thinking with Computers


"Learn how to program a computer, learn a computer language, because it teaches you how to think"

The Lost Interview
Steve Jobs

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The Morpheus Database (Mark 2) represents a second stage in the development of an interactive archive of transformation in literature. At this point, I begin Beta Testing the database by allowing online access to the information in order to assess the viability of the program. 

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Progress Report 

Since the announcement of the Morpheus Database for Critical Theory last month, the data-entry has been ongoing. Currently over 120 individual monograph chapters and articles have been entered. This provides [1] general information (titles, author, date), [2] an outline of the entry's argument (thesis, antithesis, quotes), [3] and coding to designate its relevance to other entries.


The basic structure of the archive has been based on the Morpheus Database for Literature, initiated during Mark 1 development and currently ongoing. The general data-collection has been relatively straightforward. 

The outline of the arguments is an innovation specifically geared towards the actancy of a critical theory text as opposed to a narrative that runs on characters, events, etc. This section has been very effective at capturing a snap-shot of a large quantity of information allowing for a map to be made of discourses on change within and between texts. It has however proven to require a lot of pithy summary and transcription of quotes can be time-consuming but critical to later work.

Particular difficulty has arisen in the final phase of coding: inter-connections. 


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Thinking Like a Computer

The way a database is coded will reflect and determine the types of questions that it is asked. As a result, a developer must simultaneously thinking like a theorist (what do I want to know from these texts?) and also like a computer (what limits and sensors do I want to program?). 

Once these tagging mechanisms are formed, the database will go to work behind the scenes creating maps while I am working up front inputting the data. This is why it is important to consider the coding early and frequently. Working with a computer is like working with another brain. It will do things you asked it to do but you may forget down the line what your specific instructions were and what the consequences of those commands might be down the road.

In many ways, queer and disability studies prepare a digital humanist for the complicated and multiple ways of thinking required to develop a useful database. I've elsewhere quoted Disability Theorist Robert McRuer saying, "Every way of knowing is also a way of not knowing something else." This holds true for code. Despite what Science Fiction will have you believe, there is and will never be such a thing as a "Master Code" that will give you access to all computers everywhere (Sorry Neo). Likewise, no method of tagging or coding will give you all the possible information from database. Broad architecture can be built in to allow for a variety of options later, but what senses you give the mainframe determine what it sees, hears, or feels. 

It is true that certain methods of coding will work well across many hardware and software projects, but computers, like the people who use them, are all made differently. People will use source code in strange ways. They may introduce anomalies,  "glitches," into the programming. Then, as with everything else, over time things transform.


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Theory v Literature

While the literary database tracing the transformations of bodies has functioned on general codes (e.g. types of change, gender, relevance to a variety of fields of study) many of this tags are either not transferable or no longer relevant.

For instance, it is less useful to try to interconnect entries based on its relation to general fields of study (such as thing theory) because the topic of a monograph will tend to lump all the chapters of a text together rather than noting distinctions. 

Furthermore, because the critical theory texts have been selected specifically for their relevance to a project on gender, sexuality and disability, nearly all the text fall into all of these three or else some combination. 

A tagging system that worked well with a general, somewhat arbitrary collection of texts and transformations is no longer useful in a more specialized study. New methods of coding must be developed.


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Questioning the Database

Moving forward, the questions will arise primarily from the basic lines of thought that lead to the theory database's creation. The gender and disability focus bring together a medieval historiography on transgender within a wider theoretical framework. This will serve as a general guide for the reformatted tagging.

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, especially when digital composition is concerned. Although coding-it-yourself is a great motto and (as stated) there are no master-codes, the digital world is highly adaptable. Borrowing and tweeking old structures are a great way to get what you want done while leaving your time and energy on the specifics rather than redeveloping the system itself.

Is this case that means adapting less useful tagging methods to make them better serve the purpose of creating connections between the entries. Previously, I installed text-boxes where a summary of the article's relevance to other research interests can be written. This data-entry form was perfect for thesis writing where each entry had a unique aspect. These connections however became largely formulaic.

While most entries had some variation in their interconnections, most drew from a general vocabulary of key terms (e.g. transvestite, prosthetics, transsexual, operation, transgender, madness, etc). A redesign could look to the terms that emerged and change the text-boxes into tabs (with yes/no options). This would allow later inquires to be ran where all texts that connected with the "eunuch" node to be selected, or all critical theory that may be applicable to a reading of "the Book of Margery Kempe."

By choosing to adapt rather than create a whole new method of tagging (at this juncture), I will save time and energy. Revisions can be made to each page in relatively short order because I would not be re-reading and re-entering data but rather looking at the information in the text-box and selecting the appropriate yes/no tabs that correspond. With these tabs in place, future coding will easily slide among the other entries and later this summer larger trends can be mapped.

That's all for now, let me know what you think!


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Explore the Theory Database!

Sign up to be an authorized Beta-Tester! Add to the conversation about transformation and critical theory!


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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mad Turn to Medieval Disability @ #NCS14


"What exactly does a medieval disability studies investigate?"

@EileenAJoy

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The following is a transcript of "Crip Christianity"
in Reykjavik, Iceland 16 July 2014 - 20 July 2014
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Many Happy Returns

In this paper, I respond to the pre-circulated papers for Reorienting Medieval Disability Seminar (including my own: Mad for Margery), a collection of shared readings, and attempt to provide comments and questions that might help articulate what this burgeoning field has been and what it might become. In the process, I will contextualize my own participation as a medievalist in the trans-historical work of crip theory, trans studies, and liberation theology.

After the transcript, I have included a Storify of Tweets from the NCS Congress (#NCS14) that concentrated on the Seminar (#7D) or on themes of #Disability in general. Note: Don't forget to press "Read Next Page" in order to get the whole story. Please feel invited to read through the conversations as they unfolded and to investigate on your own by using the hash-tags for the conference and sessions.

Special thanks should be given to Jonathan Hsy and Julie Orlemanski for organizing and moderating the seminar. Praise should be given to all the participants and their papers, including: Brantley Bryant ("Wild Words: Disability and Truth Telling in Late Medieval England"), Leah Pope ("Spiritual Prosthesis: Bodily Aberrance in Medieval Hagiographical Narrative"), John P Sexton ("By Any Other Name: Negotiating Difference in Medieval Disability Studies"), and Haylie Swenson ("Attending to the 'Beasts Irrational' in Gower's Vox Clamantis"). Also, as Twitter and the Storify will attest, the seminar would not have been such a success without the invested interest and critical contributions of its many attendants.


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Return to Madness

The disability turn in medieval studies does not signal the creation of an entirely new creation (ex nihilo), but a return to who we are and what we have been doing for a long time. The critical difference is that by bringing the insights of disability studies to bear on our work, we discover madness where we never thought to look for it and mad houses where we never thought of making them. By attending to bodies and contexts (wholly or partially) damned to be locked away and forgotten, we discover the potential for better relations, greater creativity, and wider liberation. 

Let’s return to two women in a madhouse. The first woman may once have worn a white dress. The year is perhaps 1938. Diverse doctors would call her a "schizophrenic," a "narcissist," a "psychopath," a "hermaphrodite," a mad woman, a string of disorders that have come to be classified by the term: transsexual ("Pyschopathia Transexualis," David O Cauldwell, 1949; "Transvestism and Trans-sexualism," John B Randel, 1959; "The Transsexual Phenomenon," Harry Benjamin, 1966). While trans* identities have since tried to put some critical distance between the gender identity and the psychological diagnosis of "gender dysphoria" (DSM 5, 2013) as a form of madness, there remains critical slippage. Historically and politically, transgender remains a part of the long history of madness.

Let’s return again. The second woman once wore a white dress. The year is perhaps 1438, or then again, perhaps it is 1938. Diverse authorities would call her a "schizophrenic," a "narcissist," a "psychopath," a "mad woman," a string of disorders that one doctor classified by the term "transvestite" (Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval, pg 148, 1999). 
We do not know the name of the first woman, she is lost to us, but we all may know the name of the second. While few scholars have taken up Margery Kempe as trans or celebrated her madness, these two marginalizing terms resonate with a critical appropriation in present scholarship and with an intermeshed history of inconstant, dysphoric, and artificial bodies. To return to return to the madness of Margery Kempe is to open up critical space for a turn to trans studies in the medieval period. Together, this crip-trans alliance allows for a new investment in our co-extensive, co-creative, co-liberation. 


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Return to Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe returned to the modern world amidst a eugenic war on madness. Within a couple years of the re-discovery and re-publication of the Book of Margery Kempe in the early 1930’s, the creature of the text immediately begins to be defined in contemporary terms of disability and madness. 

In 1934, in a letter to the Times, medievalist and feminist scholar Hope Emily Allen described the newly rediscovered Margery Kempe “neurotic” and subject to an “unconscious humour” (Quoted in "Reading and Re-Reading the Book of Margery Kempe," Barry Windeatt, pg. 2, 2004). The early 20th century was a period of intense eugenic interest in science, government, and the burgeoning fields of psychoanalytic and psychiatric studies. By knowing what makes a thing and what things are mad, eugenics promised to sort of the higher men from the "feeble-minded" (Eugenics and Other Evils, GK Chesterton, 1917). There is then an ominous subtext describing Margery in the terms of disorders being used in the 1930s and 40s to identify, collect, sterilize, and exterminate thousands of lives across Europe and America with the same technologies that were being adapted in German extermination camps (Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon L Synder and David T Mitchell, pg.100-129, 2006). 

Having just been resurrected, Margery finds herself at risk of imprisonment and death yet again. While she never met our first woman, the transsexual and transvestite find each other sharing the dwelling space of the madhouse. Granted these dangers, it may be little surprise that scholarship on the Book of Margery Kempe by feminists and queer academics has since tried to shed claims of madness and disability. Yet despite the flight away from the mad body, the ground seems to ever move beneath us, revealing the crippling contingencies, dependencies, and inconstancies of bodies that refuse to become immaterial signifiers. The material making and remaking of the body, the monster that is disability discourse, continually returns.


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Return to Medieval Disability

The disability turn in medieval studies is thus in many respects a return to disability, but on and with new terms. In some respects, this move follows a script.

Following in the wake of late 1980s and 90s gender studies (Example Questions: Can we talk about medieval gender? Where are women in medieval literature? What defines a woman? What does gender do?), then the late 1990s and 2000s queer entre into medieval studies (Example Questions: Can we talk about medieval sexuality? Where are the queers in medieval literature? What does queer mean? What does it do?), disability studies in the last few years is working out the process of identifying who and what can be thought of in terms of disability and how the terminology of impairment, disability, as well as specific diagnostics or sciences can or cannot be adapted, analogized, or historicized.

Margery Kempe has been a part of this movement already, such in Tory Vandeventer Pearman’s book on Women and Disability in the Middle Ages, where the creature’s inconstant body works with established models of gender in the period that took women as the defect to men’s perfection. 

In this mode, Margery becomes a site for what Tobin Seibers in Disability Aesthetics calls the threefold contribution of disability studies: (1) critiquing the norm’s naturalness, (2) critiquing the marginalization of disability, and (3) looking for alternative structures that disability offers up. This identity based methodology remains for many a model that medieval disability studies can embrace, where formerly stigmatized categories are contextualized and embraced. The hope is that disabled bodies, like mad women and lepers, may be freed from mad houses even as they remain defined by them.


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Return to Christian Liberation

In Mad for Margery, I begin by examining the Book of Margery Kempe by working the diagnostic offered by Kempe when she calls herself a “mad woman, crying and roryng” and the framing mechanism of the Lazar House, what Michel Foucault (Madness and Civilization) and Lynne Huffer (Mad for Foucault) identify as a foundational marker of the genesis of madness and "the Great Confinement," by taking the marginalized figures and putting them in the center of our thought. In other words, Huffer writes, madness reveals “thought thinking itself.” (103)

When Margery prays to see the Imago Dei, in response Christ “drow hys creatur unto hys lofe and to mynde of hys passyon that sche myth not duryn to beheldyn a lazer er an other seke man, specialy yyf he had any wowndys aperyng on hym. So sche cryid and so sche wept as yyf sche had sen owr Lord Jhesu Crist wyth hys wowndys bledyng” (Staley, 74.4178-4182). She asks to see the image of God and is shown the faces of lepers and the sick, she begins a ministry that turns her world’s value system inside out, seeing Christ in the poor and marginalized. Receiving her revelation, Margery “went to a place wher seke women dwellyd whech wer ryth ful of the sekenes and fel down on hir kneys beforn hem” (Staley, 74.4292-4193). This initial move in the paper historicizes the term “mad” as an active hermeneutic of social discipline and potential resistance in the 15th century, thus speaking to the medieval disability studies project of identity formation for subjects within the period and for scholars within a newly developing field. 

The "Mad" of Margery and for us in this sense functions as an adjective (“uncontrolled by reason” or “carried away by or filled with enthusiasm or desire; wildly excited” OED), qualifying the persons they describe and allowing for generative, alternative, liberating associations and slippages to be drawn: between past and present, between man and woman, between God and human.

When these intersections take a more active turn, moving from the ontology or epistemology of terms like impairment or disability to critical transformations, suddenly an unexpected agency and actancy begins to reveal itself in our medieval relics. That is the point that I argue in stressing the more pervasive meaning of “mad” for Margery: the act of making. 
With 135 instances, the creative use of the “mad” is the primary way the word is used in the Book. The story of “the creature” is a story of creation, with a litany of things “mad” for Margery or “mad” by her.

While disability comes from terminology from the 20th century that tacitly finished the statement: able- or disable- with the imperative “to work,” madness in Margery engages the pun, the double-meaning, the resonance between madness as unreasoning and madness as creative to suggest that in the Imago Dei we see a creator bound up in creation with a diversity of results that exceeds reason’s ability to predict and madness’s disability from limiting. 

Mad (like Crip or Queer) becomes a verb (participating in the act of creation, i.e. being “made,” OED), an imperative to make with a creativity exemplified by Margery’s vision that adds Christian Genesis back into our texts on madness, but disturbs Christianity for medieval and contemporary liberation theologians. Margery articulates a vision of the Imago Dei proposed by Thomas Reynolds’s Vulnerable Communion“To be created in the image of God means to be created for contributing to the world” (177). The Book is a mad machine, “thought thinking itself” but one that gestures beyond the image of a “mad woman,” through devotional acts mad for the Imago Dei (Huffer 103). The Book, draws us to glimpse God’s “madness” making itself.


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The Turn to Transgender

Let’s begin again in the mad house. Disability shall always return if ever we try to shut the case or close the book, a recursive act that always turns away from the expected, resisting logics desire to close the loop of widening gyre with a center that could not possibly hold, where things do not simply fall apart but where things transform. Madness turns back on itself but always includes more than it had. The encounter of these differences fundamentally breaks open new possibilities for co-creation, how things are mad and what they may make. In this way, madness extends creative opportunities through co-liberation. 

At this point of inconstancy and trans formation, unreasonableness and making, I call for a turn towards the history and creativity of madness in the middle ages that offers possibilities for trans lives and politics. Carolyn Dinshaw called Margery as "transvestite," desiring to change into the clothes of a virgin body society insisted she could not have, but we might see in her madness the makings of a transsexual with the lepers falling apart body, or the hermaphrodites mystical co-extension across body genres or genders (Dinshaw, Getting Medieval). 

Margery challenges the exclusionary logic of the Lazar House by crossing its threshold with a gesture of community. Seeing madness from the inside, Margery offers no rational answer to the woman’s ills, but remains with her, “Comfortyn hir ” (74 . 4204 ). We all might make such a move by identifying madness not as a repressed internal defect or a deviant body to be excluded, but to see Creation as a mad house. Margery points us to see one another (even God) as co-creators in an unreasonable process of becoming where everything becomes implicated in the makings of everything else. Comfort heartens madness as community making that defies the limits of reason. “Creative power,” writes Reynolds “is essentially a relational power.” (180). 

Yet before we lay down the prayer mat in the mad house, a critical difference exists between our two women. Margery enters the Lazar House, prays there, finds comfort and leaves. In this instance the unnamed transsexual will never leave. In this year, this mad was a gas chamber, where the German government had accelerated the extermination of disabled, mad, and trans bodies. The mad house is at once a church and a hell hole, interiority and exclusion, a hospital and prison from which the only escape may be death. My question then as we turn to a mad Christian alliance for medieval trans bodies: when is it enough to identify and sit with disabled bodies, a liberation of the spirit and when do we need to change our systems of incarnation so as to liberate the body? 

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mad for Margery: Insanity, Creation & the Imago Dei


“Dixit Dominus ad eum: 
Quis fecit os hominis? 
aut quis fabricatus est mutum et surdum, 
videntem et cæcum? nonne ego?”

The Book of Exodus 4:11

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The following is a transcript of "Crip Christianity"
in Reykjavik, Iceland 16 July 2014 - 20 July 2014

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In the seventy-fourth chapter of the Book of Margery Kempe, Margery asks God how she might come into His divine presence. In response, Christ “drow hys creatur unto hys lofe and to mynde of hys passyon that sche myth not duryn to beheldyn a lazer er an other seke man, specialy yyf he had any wowndys aperyng on hym. So sche cryid and so sche wept as yyf sche had sen owr Lord Jhesu Crist wyth hys wowndys bledyng” (Staley, 74.4178-4182). She asks to see the Imago Dei, the image of God, and is shown the disabled. Through the “lofe” and “mynde” of Christ, Margery comes to read lepers and the other unreasonable bodies of the Lazar Houses as images of God’s presence.

After the transmission of Aristotle’s texts during the twelfth century, there was renewed interest in Europe for classical philosophy. Evident in the work of scholastic theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, Faith had to make room, as Reason became the measure of all things; including what it meant to be made in the image of God (Imago Dei). By the fifteenth century, the Middle-English word “Mad” had developed into two distinct but not incompatible concepts. The older meaning of “mad” was to be “made,” the state of being a creature in a process of creation with social contexts (OED). The newer meaning of “mad” was to be “uncontrolled by reason” or “carried away by or filled with enthusiasm or desire; wildly excited” (OED). Madness in the latter sense marked differences through exceptions rather than histories, then isolated rather than contextualized these differences from communion with humanity or God.

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In Mad for Foucault, Lynne Huffer contends that neither madness nor rationality is a personal state of being but a social product. Huffer credits the development of the Lazar Houses, where lepers specifically and “mad” persons generally were isolated from civilization, propelling the idea of individual subjectivity and sovereignty by inscribing the association of internalized madness and exterior rationality. Reason becomes a byproduct of suppressing private “Unreason” within public thought and government. As such, madness is not the exception but the foundation for Reason. To dwell within the Lazar House or within madness allows for the possible resistance of lying bare the means by which common unreasonableness (e.g. desire, dependency) turns into exceptional thought. In other words, Huffer writes, madness reveals “thought thinking itself.” (103)

While adeptly critiquing the implications of the Lazar House and madness for later human social relations in the Age of Reason, Huffer’s Mad for Foucault does not account for how the workings of “madness” point towards a medieval past with critical, contentious relationships with God. While madness in the fifteenth century not only threatened disability in this life, but damnation in the life to come, with worldly isolation prescribing eternal confinement in Hell, I argue that the self-conscious work of madness in the Book of Margery Kempe not only challenges the rationality of the world but the cosmological order. 


The implication that the mad were Imago Dei, made in the image of God, and that to go to a Lazar House was to enter into the presence of Christ turns the value system of rational society inside out. Subsequently, I contend that Margery breaks open of madness as being “mad,” i.e. both “made” and “unreasonable,” in the Imago Dei through the making of a spiritual treatise and comforting the poor and marginalized by entering into community, constituting an early form of liberation theology.
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With 135 instances, the creative use of the “mad” is the primary way the word is used in the Book. The story of “the creature” is a story of creation, with a litany of things “mad” for Margery or “mad” by her. A few such works include images of God (Staley, 30.1789), vows and prayers (3.270; 13.656; 27.1472; 33.1918; 41.2333; 43.2587; 52.2927; 54.3092; 66.3834; 76.4253; 76.4255-4256; 83.4754; 85.4962), seats (8.459), abbeys (84.4839), and money (23.1230; 37.2145). If Margery is, as she is called, a “mad woman, crying and roryng,” it is a madness enraptured with its own makings, reflecting the Imago Dei proposed by Thomas Reynolds’s Vulnerable Communion (Staley, 80.4589). The Imago Dei, Reynolds argues, is not the inscription of God’s Reason, but the revelation that the “mad” are also makers: “To be created in the image of God means to be created for contributing to the world” (177). In this way, this image serves as a call for “mad” creatures to imitate God in Creation, “The Imago Dei is a Imitatio Dei” (175).

The power to create may beg the question the Lazar House attempts to answer: what is the goal of creation? The demand for an end is essentially a product of Reason. The end serves as the rational justification for the work of creation. When Reason is the standard measure, assessing all things in terms of reasonability, only the reasonable serve as sufficient tools or products. The Lazar House is one such attempt to determine whether or how one contributes to the world. It then isolates the “mad” as those bodies operating beyond Reason’s ability to understand or govern. The problem with this is that reason becomes what G.K. Chesterton calls a “perfect circle” (21). By rejecting all that does not fit into itself, “what a great deal it leaves it out ! ”  (Chesterton 21). “No conditioned reason exists,” determines Reynolds, “that could justify or account for the fact that we are loved into being” (175). Anything or everything may turn out to be unreasonable.

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If Reason is not the standard of Creation but the product of denying its “madness,” then the Imago Dei is unreasonable in its totality. Creation’s unreasonableness, argues Bruno Latour, is seen in the surprising existence of all we cannot account for or justify.

"Modernists believe they make the world in their image just as God made them in His. This is a strange and impious description of God. As if God were master of His Creation! As if He were omnipotent and omniscient. If he had these perfections, there would be no Creation... God too, is slightly overtaken by His Creation, that is, by all that is changed and modified and altered in encountering Him. Yes we are indeed made in the image of God, that is, we do not know what we are doing either. We are surprised by what we make." (Latour 287)

As a metaphysical sign, the Imago Dei does not govern but creates and revels in madness. Creation in this sense testifies against Reason. “No Creation” is reasonable because it is a closed loop. A self-sufficient perfection does not need to create. Our surprise in what is mad testifies that the Imago Dei is not Reason alone, but the work of creative community.

If the Imago Dei makes and makes without reason, it is most reflected by co-creative “madness” and not self-governing reason. The Book acts as such a self-conscious Imago Dei, opening and closing with descriptions of its making, proudly proclaiming, “this boke was mad” (Staley, 17.873; 89.4245). This recursion deepens in the only two instants in the Book where madness explicitly means unreason. The Book quotes the Pryke of Life’s author confessing to being “ovyrcome thorw desyr, begynne for to maddyn, for lofe governyth me and not reson… thei seyn 'Lo, yen wood man cryeth in the stretys,' but how meche is the desyr of myn hert thei parceyve not” (Staley, 62.3638). Likewise, Margery admits that “crying and roryng” for God makes her a “mad woman” (80.5489). In both cases, the writers testify that their madness arises from acts of making that exceed reason. The Book is a mad machine, “thought thinking itself” but one that gestures beyond the image of a “mad woman,” through devotional acts mad for the Imago Dei (Huffer 103). The Book, draws us to glimpse God’s “madness” making itself.

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The difference between the circular logic of Reason and madness’s recursion is critical. Reason functions by maintaining the exclusivity of what is inside and outside its parameters. It is fundamentally conservative. Madness functions by the creation of difference (i.e. that which is not reducible to the terms of what is already known to exist) and so affirms what Huffer calls “co-extension” (29). Madness turns back on itself but always includes more than it had. The encounter of these differences fundamentally breaks open new possibilities for co-creation, how things are mad and what they may make. In this way, madness extends creative opportunities through co-liberation.

Turning again to Margery’s prayer for God’s presence, readers stand witness to how the Imago Dei in the “mad” bodies of the Lazar House inspires acts of liberation. Receiving her revelation, Margery “went to a place wher seke women dwellyd whech wer ryth ful of the sekenes and fel down on hir kneys beforn hem” (Staley, 74.4292-4193). Margery challenges the exclusionary logic of the Lazar House by crossing its threshold with a gesture of community. Seeing madness from the inside, Margery offers no rational answer to the woman’s ills, but remains with her, “Comfortyn hir” (74.4204).

Coming from the Latin, “comfort” means: “to strengthen (morally or spiritually); to encourage, hearten, inspirit, incite” (OED). Comfort is an act of community making, as the pre-fix suggests the strengthening be done “together, together with, in combination or union” with others (OED). “Comfortyn” incites a collective act “To confirm, corroborate” our togetherness (OED). By comfort, Margery confirms that they are “mad” together and “steryd hem to mekenes and pacyens” as corroborators in the Imago Dei (Staley, 74.4196). Comfort heartens madness as community making that defies the limits of reason. “Creative power,” writes Reynolds “is essentially a relational power.” (180).

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The encounter with the madness of the Imago Dei breaks a barrier for Margery that prevented her, like the walls of the Lazar House, from finding comfort. “In the yerys of werldly prosperitĂ©,” Margery regarded “no thyng mor lothful ne mor abhomynabyl …than to seen er beheldyn a lazer” (Staley, 74.4186-4187). The Book uses “abominable,” according to a biblical hermeneutic of pathologized bodies or acts, as in the Book of Leviticus and elsewhere, to mark things excluded from the community. It aligns the logic of exclusion with “worldly prosperite,” suggesting that the Imago Dei could not be present until she accepts her own madness. Only then could she find and give comfort.

Rather than committing an act of charity, where Margery remains fundamentally separate from the leper, the Book emphasizes the likeness of the “seke women” (Staley, 74.4192). The likeness of their sex reveals further likeness in their madness. According to humoral science, the women were already impaired by the inconstancy of their sex. This is compounded by the likeness in their minds. Margery finds herself most drawn to a woman “labowryd wyth many fowle and horibyl thowtys, many mo than sche cowde tellyn” (74.4201-4202). Subject to visions of her own, the woman Margery ministers to mirrors herself in body and action, “a mad woman, crying and roryng” (80.4588-4589). Entering the Lazar House, Margery not only finds comfort for the leper, but for herself.

The drive to comfort does not excuse the violence and isolation governing madness but seeks co-creation and co-liberation by a communal sharing of strength (physical, social, spiritual). Disability, writes Reynolds, marks how all things are mad “contingent in an open universe subject to elements of unpredictability, instability, and conflict” (177-187). As things are formed as disabled, they get pushed to the margins, but the Imago Dei of the Book of Margery Kempe gives a call to seek each other and make a co-creative community. Instead of being mad in isolation, we become mad for each other.

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Works Cited

"com-, prefix." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 3 June 2014.

"comfort, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 3 June 2014.

Chesterton, G. K. "The Maniac." Orthodoxy. Ed. Sheridan Gilley. South Orange, NJ: Chesterton Institute, 2008. Print.

Huffer, Lynne. Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.

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