Wan-Chuan Kao
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Stretched white leather
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This chapter considers the intersection of whiteness, precarity and late medieval representations of the Passion. In medieval representations of the Jews, whiteness connotes not salvation but their veil of spiritual blindness. Through his characterisations of Christ and the devils in the Harrowing of Hell episode that evoke those in medieval Passion plays, Langland engages directly with late medieval theatrical culture. Of particular interest is the use of masks and leather costumes in the performance practices; devils were in blackface and black masks, and Christ in a white leather body-suit. The material and devotional practices of whitlether straddle the animal-human-divine continuum; the literal animal skin denotes the vulnerable flesh of God Incarnate and the charter of human redemption. If Christ’s body signifies the whole of Christian society, then Langland, by alluding to the material and devotional practices of white skins, steps outside of an imagined community organised on the basis of clothing and reconfigures the body politic as skin. I then read the whitlether suit through Didier Anzieu’s concept of the Skin Ego, arguing that the whitlether indexes the Passion and the distorted sense of precarity shaping Christian self-victimhood. At the interface of whiteness, leather and faith, the whitlether costume and the Christ Charter tradition figure Christian salvation as a theology of precarity; precarity defines the borders of a community. The shared sense of Christian precariousness, as a mode of governance, is premised on the precaritisation of the Jews as Europe’s internal Other that must be disciplined, ‘stretched’ and eradicated.

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