Maimed Limbs and Biosalvation: Rehabilitation Politics in Piers Plowman
What emerged in the early modern period as the "law of maims," the criminal act of maiming another or oneself, was present in the literary theology of late medieval England. This article examines the use and abuse of bodily injury in a Christian soteriology, specifically in the dream allegory Piers Plowman. Merging concerns articulated in transgender studies about the medical-industrial complex's obsession with health and wholeness with medieval ideologies of salvation (from salvare 'to heal, save') as a health-making regime, I show how the fiction of body wholeness trumps the necessity of body autonomy. When Piers Plowman presents bodies with maimed limbs, the poem weaves debility into a salvation schematic which awards some maimed bodies salvation (in the imitation of Christ) while rejecting others. The essay contributes to the complicated relationship between transgender and disability studies as it uncovers a premodern literary critique of institutionally controlled embodiment.
"Maimed Limbs and Biosalvation: Rehabilitation Politics in Piers Plowman," Trans Historical: Gender Plurality Before the Modern (Cornell University Press, 2021)