Christ's Subversive Body

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3600-7

E-book – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3601-4

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3599-4
Publication Date
November 2017
Page Count
328 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Christ's Subversive Body

Practices of Religious Rhetoric in Culture and Politics
Olga V. Solovieva; Foreword by Haun Saussy

Christ's Subversive Body offers a fascinating exploration of six historical examples of politically or culturally subversive usages of the body of Christ. Shining a light on the enabling potential of religious rhetoric, Solovieva examines how in moments of crisis or transition throughout Western history the body of Christ has been deployed in a variety of discourses, including recent neo- and theoconservative movements in the United States.

Solovieva’s survey includes the iconoclastic polemics of Epiphanius at the moment of struggles for supremacy between the Roman state and the Christian church, the mystical theologico-political alchemy of an anonymous treatise circulated at the Council of Constance, Lavater’s counter-Enlightenment visions of the afterlife expressd through physiognomy, Dostoevsky’s refashioning of ethical communities, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s attempts to provoke the “scandal” of Jesus’s mission once more in the modern world, and the elaboration of a political theology subordinating democratic dissent to the higher unity of a corporately conceived “unitary executive” in early twenty-first-century America.

Solovieva presents her findings not as an entry into theological or Christological debates but rather as a study in comparative discourse analysis. She demonstrates how these uses of Christ’s body are triggered by moments of epistemological, political, and representational crisis in the history of Western civilization.
About the Author

OLGA V. SOLOVIEVA teaches comparative literature at the University of Chicago.


"This book is an important and original contribution to the investigation of the subversive uses of the body of Christ. Solovieva reads various textual and visual works in a brilliant new constellation, and in so doing adds fresh perspectives on texts that continue to engage scholars of diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds." —Soelve I. Curdts, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

"This is a shockingly brilliant book. What I find especially beautiful about it is the way that the philosophical and cultural-historical intricacies of its theme emerge in tandem with a series of profoundly erudite close readings, so that over the course of the chapters, the theme itself—which does not exist prior to the book—fades in slowly and gradually increases in intensity and visibility. It is as though it were itself a kind of face on a shroud, a slow emerging of an idea and an image of culture that was not, but now incontrovertibly is, here, in front of you." —Eric Hayot, author of On Literary Worlds 

“Anyone who was raised, as I was, in the Roman Catholic religion, will recall those weekly ritual moments when the priest intones the words, ‘the body of Christ,’ as a wafer is placed gently on one’s outstretched tongue. Olga Solovieva’s masterful study of Christ’s ‘subversive body’ reveals just how much mystery, complexity, and magic was baked into those words and that wafer. Deeply learned, beautifully written, and strikingly original, Solovieva’s book will remain an essential text for the study of Christianity in its theological, literary, and political dimensions.” —W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Seeing Through Race and What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives And Loves of Images
"By tracing… various historical ideologies to the Pauline origin of their rhetorical formation Solovieva re-exposes the shape of the subversive discourse that both triggered their emergence and was covered over by them. —Eyal Peretz, Indiana University Bloomington

"To think that there is a body of Christ is an always-already assumption of religion-based political unification—a mono-cultural certainty that is and has always been an illusion. Showing the vastly different appearances of that alleged body through their non-continuous history is turning that 'is' into a variable becoming, which is already a subversive act. Christ’s body can only be subversive, since it cannot be. The sheer variation of the instances of that body, its different manifestations, undermines any attempt to use it for the wrong cultural politics—as a bad-quality glue that becomes unhinged as soon as one comes closer. Solovieva’s gripping analyses undermine the fixity, replacing it with a keen eye for the rhetorical use of what is not a body but a topos—hence, pliable, adaptable, and overtly meandering through history, dressing up in the many different costumes of the time, place, and rhetorical agent. This is a rare study that takes a traditional theological subject to become an object of cultural analysis." —Mieke Bal, author of Loving Yusuf: Conceptual Travels from Present to Past
"Persistently analytical, ingenious in its selection of evidence—textual, iconic, cinematic—Olga Solovieva’s book is a remarkable work of scholarship. Deeply reflective over a range as impressive as it is improbable of what is too seldom acknowledged today as the enduring project of Christian rhetoric, Solovieva’s prose sustains the reader with an energy impressive in its learning and forensic in its pursuit of the telling analogy…Olga Solovieva teases out the trajectories of the rhetoric of the Body of Christ latent in text, image, frame, to identify the continuities that hold us still—whether in their thrall or for saving our coherence." —Charles Lock, University of Copenhagen