Siria's Reviews > Holy Anorexia

Holy Anorexia by Rudolph M. Bell
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's review
Aug 15, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: european-history, history, italian-history, nonfiction, religious-history, womens-history
Read from August 12 to 15, 2010

Oh, this was... not good. There are some interesting parallels between modern anorexia nervosa and the disordered eating practices of medieval holy women, but the cultural contexts are so different that terming the practices of the latter 'holy anorexia' is illogical, and creates a false typology. Bell often treats the primary sources—mostly hagiographical texts—literally, and seems to display no awareness of the genre conventions and tropes which defined such texts in the Middle Ages. He also frequently makes psychoanalytical interpretations of these women based on descriptions of their behaviour and feelings written by other people for didactic purposes. There are so many reasons why that's... not really good scholarly practice, and there is not enough of an analytical framework to connect this individual psychological explanation for the emergence of anorexia to prevailing socio-cultural developments.

I also don't have enough background in psychology/medicine to gauge if Bell's description of modern anorexics is accurate, but the patronising manner in which he describes the 'typical' anorexic was enough to make me very wary. Note: describing women, in a non-ironic manner, as 'uppity'? Is rather a red flag. There are other things even more irritating, but they may well be triggering to relate. Avoid.
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