Medieval and Postmodern Virtual Realities: Purgatory, Disembodiment, and the Ends of Experience from Marie de France to Dante to Merleau-Ponty
This study considers the status of the body and its absence in three cultural objects: the Old French poem Espurgatoire seint Patriz by the medieval poet Marie de France, the Purgatorio of Dante Alighieri, and the virtual reality artistry of the contemporary Québécoise artist Char Davies. Drawing on a range of philosophical interlocutors from both medieval and contemporary discourses, this project elaborates a tradition of virtual experience shared between the sources studied here. Specifically, it is argued that medieval poetic conceptions of Purgatory present extraordinary visions and dreams as experiences that challenge the material body as the basis of power, control, and knowledge in the human subject. It is further argued that this shared feature of Marie de France's and Dante's finds contemporary resonance in a similar experience of bodily displacement on display in the virtual artistry of Char Davies. Through a comparative approach that crosses cultural media and historical time periods, this interdisciplinary study charts fresh directions for the study of medieval purgatorial poetry, contemporary virtual reality, and bodily ecstatic experience in both medieval and postmodern cultural contexts.