Laura Kalas
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Laura Varnam
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Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe in the twenty-first century
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This introduction theorises and problematises the through-line of ‘encounters’ as full of dynamic, multiple, reciprocal, and disruptive potentialities for Margery Kempe studies. Harnessing the infamous ‘Pike Gate’ episode in the Book – as the editors term it – the introduction explores the ways in which Kempe transcends time and space as an un/popular, unruly holy woman always already everywhere. Arguing that Kempe encounters and refashions herself in order to reclaim her identity in an environment in which she is often reduced to a figure of mythology, the editors consider her fluctuating status as both legitimate and infamous; existing in and out of ‘truth’ as at once real and fictionalised. The asynchrony of the Book makes ‘something out of joint’ about Kempe, as Carolyn Dinshaw posits; the space of the feasting room in the worshipful lady’s house functions as a heterotopia where she exists, in Foucauldian terms, as ‘simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’. Elucidating the volume’s four categories of encounter – textual, internal, external, and performative – the introduction explores the way in which The Book of Margery Kempe energetically and deliberately resists categorisation. In considering the volume’s chapters as dynamic, and often collaborative, encounters themselves across time, text, theory and mode, Kempe’s Book is brought into conversation with modern and medieval worlds to offer new, critical opportunities. The multiple encounters inside and outside of the Book gesture towards the very slipperiness of who we might deem Margery Kempe to be, and what our own encounters with her Book might mean.

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