LITTLE REVIEWS Robert Mills, Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure, and Punishment in Medieval Culture (London: Reaktion, 2005), 248 pp. The cover of Millsâs Suspended Animation shows a panel from a fifteenth-century altarpiece depicting the life of St. Barbara in which the half-naked saint, her arms stretched over her head and tied to a column, appears unperturbed as a leering male figure wields a knife just poised to cut off her left breast. Historians, art historians, and scholars of literature such as Jeffrey Hamburger and Brigitte Cazelles have over the past twenty-five years paid attention to the paradox that such visual and literary images, although they appear both simply horrible and possibly pornographic, were also evocative of the triumph and ecstasy at the very heart of late medieval Christian piety. Mills wants to go further than these scholars have done. Beginning with questions about medieval violence and punishment also recently asked by Mitchell Merback, Daniel Baraz, and Valentine Groebner, Mills explores whether depictions of the torture of evildoers left open the possibility of empathetic identification with the body-in-pain of the victim; he then draws the more counterintuitive conclusion that torture in which the torturer fails, at least briefly, to inflict
Common Knowledge – Duke University Press
Published: Oct 1, 2006
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