Metamorphosis and Identity
The four studies in this book center on the Western obsession with the nature of personal identity. Focusing on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but with an eye toward antiquity and the present, Caroline Walker Bynum explores the themes of metamorphosis and hybridity in genres ranging from poetry, folktales, and miracle collections to scholastic theology, devotional treatises, and works of natural philosophy. She argues that the obsession with boundary-crossing and otherness was an effort to delineate nature's regularities and to establish a strong sense of personal identity, extending even beyond the grave. She examines historical figures such as Marie de France, Gerald of Wales, Bernard Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and Dante, as well as modern fabulists such as Angela Carter, as examples of solutions to the perennial question of how the individual can both change and remain constant. Addressing the fundamental question for historians—that of change—Bynum also explores the nature of history writing itself.
About the Author
Caroline Walker Bynum is Professor of Medieval European History, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, and University Professor Emerita at Columbia University. She is the author of Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion and Metamorphosis and Identity, both published by Zone Books.
—Peter Brown, Department of History, Princeton University