Sacred Bodies
: Reading the Female and Queer Divine in Mina Loy, Kathy Acker and Maggie Nelson

  • Chiara Amoretti

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis investigates the depiction of a female and queer divine in the work of 20th and 21st century women writers Mina Loy, Kathy Acker, and Maggie Nelson. Using an interdisciplinary lens combining feminist theory, embodiment studies, and feminist/queer theology, this thesis adds to existing knowledge by highlighting the authors’ alignment with feminist and queer theology through their vision of embodied divinity.

The thesis develops through six chapters, with two chapters dedicated to each author, in chronological order. The first two chapters analyse Mina Loy’s work, focusing on her early and mid-period poetry (Chapter 1) and her only published novel, Insel (Chapter 2). I argue that her work envisions a divine mystical embodiment, which destabilizes male divinity’s centrality and foregrounds female creation. I then analyse Kathy Acker’s novels The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by the Black Tarantula and My Mother: Demonology (Chapter 3) and Pussy, King of the Pirates (Chapter 4). Drawing on archive material, I argue that Acker queers certain aspects of Christianity, and draws on diverse extra-European spiritual languages to imagine a divine through the lesbian or bisexual female body. The last two chapters focus on Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts and Bluets (Chapter5) and The Argonauts (Chapter 6), which I understand to develop a relational queer divine through relationships, sexuality, grief, and queer family-making.

The thesis shows Loy, Acker and Nelson envisioning female and/or queer bodies as sacred, as sites of divine encounter. Starting from Loy, whose conception of divine embodiment remains largely heteronormative, I trace the concept’s expansion by looking at the queer iterations of Acker (lesbian/bisexual body) and Nelson (gender-fluid, queer bodies). The thesis affords new insight into modern and contemporary women’s writing, highlighting a sustained use of experimentation to imagine new spiritual horizons for women and queer people.

Key Words: divine, embodiment, feminist, queer, body, contemporary, experimentation, Christianity, sexuality, theology, modernist, avant-garde, spiritual.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorHester Jones (Supervisor), Rowena Kennedy-Epstein (Supervisor) & Maria Vaccarella (Supervisor)


  • divine
  • embodiment
  • feminist
  • queer
  • body
  • contemporary
  • experimentation
  • Christianity
  • sexuality
  • theology
  • modernist
  • avant-garde
  • spiritual

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