Wounds, Torture, and the Grotesque
To date, studies of the medieval Japanese fictional genre known as otogizōshi (companion tales) collectively emphasize the didactic and recreational value of these vernacular works, often to the exclusion of considerations of the broader implications of the transmission and transformation of narratives which were produced largely outside of the realm of “official” literary culture. In an attempt to reconsider medieval Japanese popular prose beyond the rigid system of categorization according to which such works have been evaluated, this essay examines the Muromachi period warrior tale Morokado monogatari (The Tale of Morokado), deploying a Bakhtinian framework to illuminate the text’s deployment of grotesque corporeality as a mode of rendering intelligible alternative conceptualizations of Japan’s past, present, and future literary practices and social relations. In doing so, this analysis suggests that Morokado monogatari testifies to the capacity for medieval Japanese popular fiction to engage with—and call into question—dominant literary and cultural discourses by articulating an astute historical consciousness on the part of medieval Japanese storytellers and their audiences.
Though the relationship between Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel’s ancestors has begun to be explored by scholars, there is further work to be done to understand the importance of the entire Cainite family to the development of Beowulf’s character. This paper argues that throughout all of Beowulf’s encounters with Grendel and Grendel’s mother, he is forced to take on Cainite weapons and a Cainite identity in order to overcome. By doing so, he inscribes himself into a familial tradition of kin-slaying that is drawn from the numerous Latin and Old English sources discussing the manner of Cain’s death at the hand of his kin, Lamech. This history of violence and combat also surround the legends pertaining to Lamech’s children—Jubal, Jabal, and Tubalcain—providing one resolution only to any one of Cain’s kin. This paper thus argues that the narrative of Beowulf must reconstruct the hero as Cainite in order for him to destroy the Grendelkin and that it is this reconstruction that also helps to explain Beowulf’s heirlessness at the conclusion of the epic.
This article offers a fresh interpretation of an overlooked episode in John Mirk’s Festial, a collection of sermons written in English in the years immediately following the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Sermon 34 includes the tale of a dying merchant who, despite the warnings of friends and priest, refuses to confess his sins. When Christ himself begs the merchant to confess, the merchant still refuses. Christ puts his own hand into his side and casts his blood into the man’s face, condemning the man to Hell. In medieval literature and imagery, Christ’s blood-relic is usually salvific. In this episode, however, Christ’s use of his blood goes beyond its function as a relic. Instead, it acts as an ‘anti-relic’: a material object that, while sharing some characteristics with a ‘relic’, nonetheless differs crucially in that it has the power to condemn a soul to Hell. René Girard’s theory of sacrifice and violence, as presented in Violence and the Sacred, offers a convincing explanation for the behaviour of both Christ and the merchant, and for the ambiguous role that the material, gendered manifestation of Christ’s blood plays in this narracio. Mirk presents the merchant as a victim on whom the community imposes the violence of the social and religious upheaval it suffers.