Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John D. Caputo


Cixous, Dostoevsky, hell, love, Marguerite Porete, parrhesia

Subject Categories



This dissertation is an historical examination of a medieval mystical tradition known as the resignatio ad infernum (willingness to be damned), which expresses a preference to be damned to hell out of love and solidarity for those the church had deemed lost.

The work has six chapters and a conclusion and is divided into two parts. In the introduction to part one, I frame the discussion of the resignatio ad infernum in terms of contemporary trauma theory and Foucault's late lectures on the concept of parrhesia. In the first two chapters, I explore the scriptural antecedents to the tradition (ch. 1), along with post-biblical 'tours of hell' (ch. 2).

In the third and last chapter of Part One, I read Augustine's doctrine of hell, which becomes the normative one, as deeply embedded in his political battle with the dissident Christians known to us as the Donatists. His hell is seen as an attempt to indemnify both God and the godly self from the trauma/hell of this life.

This sets the stage for the second part of the dissertation, in which the flowering of the resignatio ad infernum tradition is seen as a theo-political gesture of resistance to the theodicy of hell developed in the Augustinian context. Part Two begins with an introduction devoted to Foucault's early lectures on governmentality and the medieval practices of what he calls 'counter-conduct'. Chapter four is a detailed look at the flowering of the resignatio ad infernum tradition in the 13th century beginning with Hadewijch of Brabant. Chapter five looks at two more thirteenth-century mystics, Jacopone da Todi and Marguerite Porete, and analyzes their deployment of the resignatio themes as exemplifications of Foucauldian 'counter-conduct'. Chapter five concludes with a brief discussion of the subsequent domestication of the resignatio tradition within Catholic and Lutheran thought. Chapter six shows the resignatio tradition returning, via Dostoevsky, to the postmodern scene through the work of Levinas, Derrida, and especially Hélène Cixous. Finally, in a concluding chapter, I argue that this tradition, though residing until the twentieth century primarily in a theological register, has much in common with two political theorists influenced by Levinas and Foucault, Judith Butler and William Connolly.


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