• The Old English Seven Sleepers, Eros, and the Unincorporable Infinite of the Human Person

    Eileen Joy (see profile)
    Anglo-Saxon / Old English, Historical theory and the philosophy of history, Medieval Studies
    Hagiography, English literature--Old English, Psychoanalysis, Violence--Religious aspects, Collective memory
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    the seven sleepers, Kevin Brockmeier, resurrection, saints, Old English literature, Religion and violence, Cultural memory
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    Although the ultimate theme of "The Seven Sleepers" can be located in its medieval Christian doctrine—the bodily resurrection is real, and therefore it is in the afterworld where one finally, really “lives,” with shining body and soul together—I would like to argue that, in the Old English version's emphasis on the highly individualized emotional affect of its characters and even of its human world (in this case, the city of Ephesus), the legend also touches upon the development of a certain thick subjectivity through eros, without which no interest or investment in the world is possible for individuals. The Old English legend can be viewed as a kind of creative attempt on the part of the anonymous author to individualize, through an atypical exploration of the psychic interior, a sacred history that locates itself, not in the tombs of those whom Peter Brown has called “the very special dead for whom mourning was unthinkable,” nor in an abstract world of disembodiments, but in the living and very human world of embodied subjects. As a result, the Old English legend also grapples with, and even tries to answer, in my view, a certain problem of memory’s relation to history—in this case, of how to render an account of a sacred history that does not lapse into an undifferentiated narrative structure in which all saints lives are, in the end, essentially the same, but instead retains a material and heterogeneous particularity that affirms the sanctity of the unique human soul, or person, who passes through the vector of a particular historical moment and is both changed by, and changes, that moment.
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    Last Updated:
    5 years ago


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