The Performative Book in the film The Ocean in a Thimble

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Image courtesy Bloomlight Productions

The exhibition at the Lilly Library, The Performative Book from Medieval Europe to the Americas, deals with the interaction between the world of medieval manuscripts and the world of new media at the interface between the Middle Ages and the early Modern era. On February 26, 6:30 PM, the Indiana University Cinema will screen a film that stages this dynamic of media confrontation by combining and bringing into contact with one another materials from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—including some from the Lilly Library—as well as from the twentieth century.

The film, The Ocean in a Thimble, brings together four strong women, all crucial to the European history of spirituality, and takes the viewer on a meditative journey. Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch, and Etty Hillesum lived in very different worlds and times and yet have one thing in common: self-determination is the key to their lives and works. They dealt with and overcame obstacles placed in their way by society and established patterns of thought.

Mystics of all ages and religions are explorers of other worlds, of spaces beyond time and matter. Hence, from their perspective time is an illusion. Hildegard Keller, one of the co-curators of the exhibition, takes this concept literally and plays with time as an author and a filmmaker. Did these four figures know one another? Could they ever have met one another in reality? No, says Keller, but that is the magic of fiction. Her film brings the four women back to life and makes them visible to one another, a fictional device that requires no justification. The film’s liberties with history offer an independent heuristic approach to its materials, enabling a special, artistic freedom.

Keller wrote the script and directed the film, which she co-edited with Russell Sheaffer, a doctoral candidate at the Media School. Julia Karin Lawson provided the English subtitles; Tony Brewer, a sound effects artist, will provide live accompaniment on stage. This multilayered film with its live sound component brings out the fascination found in the fabric of life—actually of interwoven lives!