Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture
Distributed for Reaktion Books
Just as in medieval times, Robert Mills argues, it is the threat of violence—not the reality—that continues to structure our lives. To illustrate this "aesthetics of suspense," Mills draws on extensive and disturbing examples from medieval iconography, contemporary philosophy, and even pornography, ranging from the vivid depictions of Hell in Tuscan frescoes to Billie Holiday's famously wrenching song "Strange Fruit". Mills reveals how these uncomfortable images and texts expose a modern self-deception, and he further explores how medieval images evoked a pleasure revealingly close to that found in modern depictions of sexuality. Suspended Animation also makes a fresh contribution to theoretical debates on pre-modern gender and sexuality. Mills's comprehensive analysis demonstrates that—as wartime prisoner abuse incidents at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have recently indicated—our notions of ourselves as not-medieval (that is, civilized) not only fail to prepare us for modern torture and warfare but also lead us into complicity with self-proclaimed moral and civic leaders.
Whether considering a medieval painting of a Christian martyr or the immense popularity of grotesque historical tourist attractions such as the London Dungeons, Suspended Animation argues that images of death and violence are as pervasive today as they were in the Middle Ages, serving as potent reminders of the link between the modern and the medieval era.
"Surveys an impressive range of visual, literary and theoretical material. Perhaps, because of its sensitive subject matter, this is, nevertheless, an exceptionally careful, tentative and nuanced book. . . . This gorgeous and learned book leaves the reader both stimulated and animated."
"A provocative and insightful meditation on human pain as a shared obsession in medieval and modern culture. . . . Mills writes as clearly as he thinks (the prose descriptions of the images that he examines are a special delight to read) and the one hundred color and halftone plates are finely reproduced. . . . A fascinating and utterly credible protrayal of medieval culture."
"Mills' book takes us into disturbing territory, but territory that needs investigation."