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Date & Time

Monday, February 18, 2019
4:30 PM


Harper Memorial Library, Room 130




Comparative Literature Department


Bernard with Butler, or Spiritual Bodies that Matter

Bernard of Clairvaux’s (1090–1153) sermons on the Song of Songs are oft-noted both for their abundant literary style and for their excessive eroticism despite the Cistercian austerity enjoined by Bernard’s very own proclamations against excessive art and architecture. How, then, do we reconcile these divergent responses to excess? Or do twelfth-century architecture and art, on the one hand, and literature, on the other, occupy entirely distinct domains? By situating Bernard’s texts within the Cistercian practices of lectio divina—the prayerful reading of scripture—and the Divine Office—the daily singing of the Psalms in community during the eight canonical hours—this paper reads the sermons on the Song of Songs with theories of performativity and argues that the spiritual bodies populating Bernard’s prose, their excessive eroticism, and figurative language itself, indeed, do matter.