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Bookmark: "Full-body Reading"

"Full-body reading: Literary criticism taught me to scrub my feelings out of my reading, but a medieval mystic showed me how to put them back in" by Anna Wilson

The Book of Margery Kempe challenges what it meant to critically engage with a text. Amid Kempe’s loud weeping and marriage ceremonies with Jesus, there was her rebuke to the priest about his closed-mindedness, her challenge to the Archbishop of York about his hypocrisy, and an assertion that she – an illiterate woman – had the right to teach others what the Bible meant.
Reading The Book of Margery Kempe alongside fanfiction makes it clear that physical, imaginative reading is still associated with women, still considered embarrassing, and still employed as a form of resistance to mainstream narratives. People, in short, are still using this style of reading to elbow their way into texts from which they are restricted, just as Kempe and other women did with religious texts.

Just as important, Kempe’s Book argues that writing is also reading – transforming other texts, enriching them for readers – and it evidences a long intertwined history of women’s education with alternative literacies of power and resistance. Through Kempe, I came to realise that fanfiction, qualitatively so different from the literary criticism I learned in the classroom, is itself a powerful critical tool. My fanfiction community gave me a healthy disrespect for the ‘author’ in ‘authority’, teaching me to notice where a text dissatisfied me and to dig deep into my own feelings to work out why. I learned that identifying with characters can be valuable. Indeed, my identification with Kempe helped me notice something about her mysticism that hadn’t previously been studied: the importance of ‘Mary Sue’-style self-insertion into Bible stories, which formed the starting point of my PhD dissertation.

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