Chronic Bodies:
Trans Natures and Premodern Temporalities
Medieval Alchemical Rebis.jpg

"Alchemical Rebis" in Rosarium philosophorum, 18th c. adaptation of the medieval rosarium;

University of Glasgow, MS Ferguson 210

Chronic Bodies: Trans Natures and Premodern Temporalities explores the emergence of a literary scientific discourse around body transformation in medieval and early modern England. Balancing between pre-modernity and modernity, the period from 1300 to 1700 saw a surge in medical writing and scientific literature that asked not if but how the body acted as a site of transformative possibility. I argue that medieval and early modern medical and scientific writing - such as alchemical treatises, surgical manuals, and pharmacopoeia - originated a discourse on body creation and transformation that acts as an exordium to modern medical assumptions about transgender embodiment. I uncover the queer and trans logics of premodern "nature" by putting premodern scientific and medical literature in dialogue with contemporary theory and politics. Chronic Bodies considers how premodern scientific "body writing" interfaces with concerns made possible by transgender studies and disability studies about body autonomy, (re)productive justice, and medical ethics. By merging premodern literary interpretations of nature ("phisik") with modern ideologies of a "natural" body, I uncover a genealogy of medical and scientific literature that has consequence for modern debates about body autonomy for the transgender community.

Chronic Bodies engages with ideologies gender and embodiment across periods (in medieval and early modern English vernacular writing), across genre (literary, medical, and scientific textual traditions), and across time (premodern and modern conceptions of gendered embodiment). In this way, Chronic Bodies contributes to the fields of medieval and early modern studies, gender and sexuality studies, the history of gender and sexuality, the history of the body, and the history of science.

"Mind like wickerwork, crisscrossed

Baskets that hold nothing, gatherings

      That almost but not quite come together.

Though they may have, in the beginning,

     With each side of the gap

In the tender skull knitting itself to the other,

What governments, what grand cathedrals we have made

   And then abandoned."      

                                                         Patricia Goedicke, "Baskets that Hold Nothing" (1996)