The woman writer as language-maker: Authority, textuality, and the creative process in the works of Hildegard of Bingen

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Mihoko Suzuki - Committee Chair


Whatever facet of her complex legacy the reader finds most compelling, Hildegard of Bingen's (1098--1179) works are as impressive as they are idiosyncratic. Rather than excuse or dismiss her eccentric voice, however, I have chosen instead to examine how it reveals her often intense preoccupation with language issues that can best be described as postmodern: a fascination with the role of language in defining the self; a reappraisal of perception and expression as gendered; an appreciation for the dynamics of textual interplay; a reassessment of speech and writing according to the body's experience of bliss, or jouissance.When read using the vernaculars of feminist historical theory and poststructural analysis of discourse and semiotics, Hildegard's texts reveal a curiosity about the nature of language itself that is far from casual or incidental to any larger theological purpose. More than an inspired language user, Hildegard is a language-maker, fashioning novel linguistic expression in response to her creative concerns as a woman writer. To address the subjugation she was compelled to endure, Hildegard cultivated a poetics of exile, a practicum of literary expression that drew its inspiration from a condition of intellectual, spiritual, and physical marginalization. To manage the inexorable fact of her female body, with the sensuality and physical grounding inherent in the experience of being gendered female, Hildegard devised a corporeal grammar---complete with metaphoric patterns, syntactic conventions, and imaginary formulations---that would enable her to take flesh within her texts, Finally, in elaborating a creative methodology that would satisfy her inclinations towards both art and sacrament, Hildegard developed a rhetoric of sacred ritual encoded in the languages of words, music, and mimesis.


Literature, Medieval; Literature, Germanic; Women's Studies

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