Excessive Love: Exploring Immanence as the Conceptual Condition for Reading Hadwijch of Brabant – Introduction

It is unexceptional to comment that mystical accounts in the medieval period produced something of significant difference to established or at least majority expressions of faith or theology. While preserved and revered by some, these expressions were often met with derision (if not persecution).1  This sort of reaction can be said generally of the movement but also specifically of the notable rise in accounts by women.2 While scholarship has moved some way past the easy modern dismissal of all things medieval there remains significant opportunity around the extent to which we can think or conceptualize the accounts of medieval woman mystics.3

The purpose of these posts is to articulate a conceptual framework for reading and understanding the conditions of thought in the works of Hadewijch of Brabant. Hadewijch was a 13th century Dutch beguine whose work is characterized by an extreme (perhaps exhaustive) notion of Love as that which informs and pervades all of life. While increased attention has been given to Hadewijch in recent times her work has not been brought into conversation with the concepts of Gilles Deleuze. It is particular elements of Deleuze’s thoughts on immanence that I will employ for reading Hadewijch.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to navigate the debates of how Deleuze is understood and deployed. Further, I am not interested in demonstrating an accurate reading of Deleuze as such or in total. Rather, I intend to direct my engagement primarily through the recent work and focus of Daniel Colucciello Barber and Eugene Thacker.4 While there has been some recent work published on the intersection of Deleuze and medievalism in general5 (as well as some engagement with mysticism specifically)6 I have come across no work that has considered the relationship between Deleuzian immanence and Hadewijch in particular or female mystics more generally.

I will continue these post by first orientating the question of immanence as it emerged in the medieval period and then how it was taken up and developed in the work of Deleuze. I will then highlight some of the elements that demonstrate how immanence can be understood in contrast to transcendence. After outlining a conceptual paradigm of immanence I will then engage the extent works of Hadewijch making notes on how her discourse relates to some of the key elements of immanence. I am not interested in suggesting or defending a position situating Hadewijch as a cause or practitioner of immanence. My interest is more basic in expanding the conceptual tools for engaging religious texts and thought and the extent to which Hadewich’s work resonates with such a framework. The bulk of this series consists of orienting the reader to the concept of immanence as it relates to the western medieval tradition and my engagement with Hadewijch should be considered an exploration with a more extensive treatment laying beyond the scope of the present work.

 

[1] Already by the 16th century Michael de Certeau notes a sustained attack on these accounts calling them ‘gibberish,’ full of ‘strange absurdities,’ The Mystic Fable, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 108-09.

[2] Luce Irigaray notes that the extent to which men enter this ‘madness’ it is by following ‘her’ lead. See Luce Irigaray Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 191.

[3] For a recent account of scholarship and conceptual approaches to religious medieval texts by women see Patricia Daily, Promised Bodies: Time, Language, and Corporeality in Medieval Women’s Mystical Texts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 2-5.

[4] See Daniel Colucciello Barber, On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-secularism and the Future of Immanence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2014). Eugene Thacker, After Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[5] See Peter Hallward, “‘Everything is Real’: Deleuze and Creative Univocity,” New Formations 49 (2003): 61-74 and Daniel W. Smith, “The Doctrine of Univocity: Deleuze’s Ontology of Immanence,” Deleuze and Religion, ed. Mary Bryden (New York: Routledge, 2001).

[6] See Patrice Haynes, “Immanence, Transcendence and Thinking Life with Deleuze and Eckhart,” Medieval Mystical Theology 22.1 (2013): 5-26 and Eugene Thacker, “Wayless abyss: Mysticism, mediation and divine nothingness,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3.1 (2012): 80-96.

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