Sarah Salih
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Writing performed lives
Margery Kempe meets Marina Abramović
in Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe
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The Book of Margery Kempe records a life of spectacular, embodied performance of devotional eros; Margery Kempe was a performance artist. Medieval holy women meet contemporary performance artists through the bridge of the nineteenth-century hysteric. The spectacle of women’s shame and suffering challenges and divides its audiences, requiring interpretative supplements. The mystic and pilgrim Kempe (c.1373–after 1438) and the performance artist Marina Abramović (1946–) both look back on their lives as performers, becoming critics and archivists as they take control of the meanings of their controversial performances: the comparison between them reveals Kempe’s artistry and Abramović’s reinterpretation of Christian ascetic practice. The documentary records they create permit future readers not only to study but also to re-enact their performances.

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