“Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture” by Robert Mills

"Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture" by Robert Mills

"Hanging, flaying, beating, anti-Semitic violence and the torture of sodomites: the darker side of life in medieval Europe has fuelled the imagery of many books and films. We know exactly what is meant in the film Pulp Fiction, when one character declares 'I'm gonna get medieval on yo' ass'. But the stereotype of uncontrolled violence inflicted in the distant past is not only historically misleading, it also tricks us into believing that there is an unbridgeable gulf between modernity and the Middle Ages.

In Suspended Animation, Robert Mills tackles this misconception head on, confronting these uncomfortable medieval practices on their own ground. He exposes the reader to a host of challenging, sometimes shocking texts and images—from the graphic punishments of Hell in Tuscan frescoes to the ‘debreasting’ inflicted on St Barbara—and shows how these relate in disturbing ways to the elements of pleasure and pain in modern sexuality and even pornography. His wide-ranging work takes in a great variety of material, from fifteenth-century French poetry to the Billie Holiday song Strange Fruit, and through these sometimes startling juxtapositions he reveals that the ties between the modern and the medieval age are both closer and stranger than we might imagine.

Suspended Animation also makes a fresh contribution to theoretical debates on pre-modern gender and sexuality. Drawing on a rich mix of thought from Lacan and Foucault as well as contemporary theorists, he proposes a new concept for understanding the medieval imagination—the aesthetics of suspense."