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234 × 156 × 20 mm
248 pages
100 illustrations, 10 in colour
01 Oct 2005
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Suspended Animation Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture Robert Mills

Hanging, flaying, beating, anti-Semitic violence and the torture of sodomites: the darker side of life in medieval Europe has fuelled the imagery of many books and films: we know exactly what is meant in the film Pulp Fiction, when one character declares ‘I’m gonna get medieval on yo’ ass’. But the stereotype of uncontrolled violence inflicted in the distant past is not only historically misleading, it also tricks us into believing that there is an unbridgeable gulf between modernity and the Middle Ages.

In Suspended Animation, Robert Mills tackles this misconception head on, confronting these uncomfortable medieval practices on their own ground. He exposes the reader to a host of challenging, sometimes shocking texts and images - from the graphic punishments of Hell in Tuscan frescoes to the ‘debreasting’ inflicted on St Barbara - and shows how these relate in disturbing ways to the elements of pleasure and pain in modern sexuality and even pornography. His wide-ranging work takes in a great variety of material, from fifteenth-century French poetry to the Billie Holiday song ‘Strange Fruit’, and through these sometimes startling juxtapositions he reveals that the ties between the modern and the medieval age are both closer and stranger than we might imagine.

Suspended Animation also makes a fresh contribution to theoretical debates on pre-modern gender and sexuality. Drawing on a rich mix of thought from Lacan and Foucault as well as contemporary theorists, he proposes a new concept for understanding the medieval imagination - the aesthetics of suspense.

‘This gorgeous and learned book leaves the reader both stimulated and animated.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘The study is fluid, open, generous and expansive . . . all medievalists will benefit from his approach and methodology and find his contributions an important addition to understanding history.’ — The Historian

‘A highly evocative and fascinating read that will appeal to scholars from divergent fields . . . will undoubtedly open many more lines of inquiry into the visual culture of violence in the middle ages.’ — The Sixteenth Century Journal

‘With its interdisciplinary and lively approach to an array of sensational images and texts, Suspended Animation will provide provocative material for scholars, students and even nonacademic readers interested in the history of sexuality.’ — Modern Philology

‘a provocative and insightful meditation on human pain as a shared obsession in medieval and modern culture . . . Mills writes as clearly as he thinks (the prose descriptions of the images that he examines are a special delight to read) and the one hundred color and halftone plates are finely reproduced . . . a fascinating and utterly credible portrayal of medieval culture.’ — Comitatus: Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies

‘The book reads as a cohesive whole, returning to and reevaluating the theme of temporal and visual suspense in an engaging manner that questions traditional assumptions about the medieval and modern understanding of pain. Indeed, it is Mills's very attempts at pushing the discursive limits of pain that makes this volume a valuable tool for medieval and modern literary critics, art historians, and historians alike.’ — The Medieval Review

‘Mills book takes us into disturbing territory, but territory that needs investigation.’ — Group Analysis

‘With suspended animation Robert Mills is out to rattle the discursive cages of medieval studies . . . drawing upon a dazzling array of primary sources, visual and textual, and synthesizing the best recent research and theory’ — Mitchell B. Merback, Associate Professor, author of The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel

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Robert Mills is a lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature at King's College, London, and co-editor of (2003) and Troubled Vision: Gender, Sexuality and Sight in Medieval Text and Image (2004).

Introduction:  Speculum of the other Middle Ages
1.  Betwixt Heaven and Earth
2.  Skin Show
3.  Eliminating Sodom
4.  Invincible Virgins
5.  Of Martyrs and men
6.  Hanging with Christ
Afterword:  Heaven Bent
Select Bibliography
Photographic Acknowledgements