Voice and Voicelessness
“The Demoniac Speaks: Affective Disorders in French Mystery Plays”
The voice of the possessed has traditionally been studied in terms of a “shuttle” between two hegemonic discursive registers: namely that of ecclesiasts or doctors and the domain of the devil. In my paper, I will demonstrate that the space of late medieval French mystery plays as secular cultural artifacts of religious inspiration staged in the Northern part of France provides room for a lot of agential activity on the part of the possessed. I will investigate how this agential mechanism works by analyzing possession scenes from hagiographical mystery plays such as Mystère de Saint Remi, Mystère de Saint Martin and Passion Plays like Mystère de la Passion by Arnoul Gréban and its re-writing by Jean Michel. Drawing insights from Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and the emergent field of affect studies, I argue that the possessed definitely performs his/her identity within the boundaries of certain theological registers concerning the notion of demonic possession. However, this performance simultaneously produces an excess of meaning through the contingent irruption of a series of tactile, sensorial, and visceral reactions that the demonic idiom produces on the human body. Additionally, I show that by focusing on the agential activity of the possessed in the mystery plays we can investigate how the epistemological contours of the notion of demonic possession change when shifting from more institutionalized contexts (such as the monastery and/or saint shrines, for instance) into quotidian instances. Such an enterprise enables us to analyze how the voice of the possessed insinuates within the formation of what Michel Foucault designates as “subjugated knowledges”, that is, knowledges that, despite their own belonging to historical knowledges, fall outside any disciplinary and institutional regime. The persona of the possessed has been considered by a series of thinkers, including Foucault himself, as part of naïve, inferior knowledge that cannot be captured. Yet, with theatre we have direct access to the return of the subjugated knowledges of the possessed and, implicitly, to the validation of its own value of truth.