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Books and Bodies, Bound and Unbound


Tom Pettitt (, MA University of Wales; PhD University of Southern Denmark. Associate Professor, Institute for Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, University of Southern Denmark. Research interests in folk traditions of narrative, song and drama.


A recent trend in literary history, cultural studies and folkloristics has been a ‘corporeal turn’, which focuses on how bodies are constructed and understood in texts and other cultural productions. A significant contribution from Guillemette Bolens identifies two distinct corporal constructions in medieval narrative: the contained body (an envelope vulnerable to penetration) and the articulated body (limbs and joints designed for motion). This perception is here extended to include narrative constructions of the environment (enclosures versus avenues and junctions). Furthermore Bolens’s suggestion that articulated and contained bodies are mainly to be found, respectively, in oral tradition and textual culture, is elaborated to the thesis that the contained constructions will be particularly at home in the printed book, whose dominance is associated with cultural containment from a variety of perspectives. And a shift from predominantly articulated constructions to predominantly contained is indeed discernible in the wonder tale ‘Red Riding Hood’, as it modulates from oral tradition to printed fairy tale. Concluding speculations suggest that if the cultural dominance of the printed book has been a (‘Gutenberg’) parenthesis, the tale should now be reverting to articulated constructions as it escapes from books into the digital media and Internet technology.