Layla’s Questions Please

My project explores the personification of the uterus on ancient magical womb amulets and adjacent medical and magical sources from the Greco-Roman and Egyptian traditions. I attempt to define that personification by delineating what the womb can do, its agency, and what it can affect within the medical and magical texts and on the amulets themselves. I will then go on to discuss the relationship between the amulet user, the womb, and illness as defined by magical amulets and adjacent textual sources. This will include a look at the agency of the uterus, the agency of the amulet user, and the agency of the amulet, using theories of medical anthropology, object agency, and affordances. With this in mind, I have asked the following questions:

Question #1: How is the womb personified on these amulets and in adjacent textual sources? What are the agencies of the uterus? How do the agencies of the uterus fit within its personification?  

Question #2: What is the relationship between self, illness, and womb on these amulets and adjacent textual sources?

Question #3: How does object agency affect the relationship between the self, illness, and womb?

Question #4: How does the othering of the organ (womb) also define the self? Is this something that can happen? Does the act of personification give the womb a self? Does the material (the amulet) which defines the interaction between the amulet user and the womb also define the self of the amulet user/womb (especially if we say that the interaction also works towards creating parameters of agency and structures of power/control for the amulet user and the womb)?

Question #5: What were the general trends for carving in the ancient world and how do the amulets fit into this tradition? What information can be discerned about how these amulets were constructed from the research I collected in Michigan given that they have no archaeological context? How does this affect their agency?

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  1. Your questions are so well-developed and interesting! I know that I personally don’t know a lot about the theory of object agency, but I find the idea of trying to understand how an object itself can affect interaction and mediate use to be really interesting. I also think your question (#4) about how personification might affect sense of self to be interesting. It would be interesting to think about how personifying body parts creates them as separate from oneself (I know that’s something lots of us do, especially with misbehaving limbs/joints/etc.), and how that affects what a person sees as “themself” vs. an outsider actor. I know you are looking at materials and text, and I wonder if there is any difference between how often healthy body parts are personified vs. how they are treated when the body part is ill/not working “properly” in medical texts (honestly, I don’t know much at all about the texts you’re using, so that could be irrelevant! sorry if it is!).

  2. I love this project. As Marion noted, you’ve obviously done a lot of work and thinking about this so far. I wonder if you’ve given any thought to incorporating some feminist theory here, as you’re dealing with body parts that are specific to women (excluding consideration of genderqueer people just for simplicity). Alienation from one’s body was a big topic for Beauvoir and a lot of other first/second wave feminists, as well as for Marxists and existentialists more generally… It also might be interesting to consider womb agency in the context of productivity/labor and relation to society (this again draws on the Marxists): who is asking the wombs to be productive, in what ways are the wombs separated or not from the products of their labor, etc.
    There’s a lot of really cool theory you could draw on for this if you choose to! If not, a set of readings grounded in ancient theorization could also be really productive as far as understanding the way these amulets functioned in context.

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