Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#palefacesmatter? (Wan-Chuan Kao)

a guest post by Wan-Chuan Kao

[Over the next few weeks ITM will be publishing as blog posts some of the presentations from the New Chaucer Society congress session "Are We Dark Enough Yet? Pale Faces 2016." Cord Whitaker offered the first post, here. The roundtable was meant to honor the long wake of Carolyn Dinshaw's 2000 Biennial Chaucer Lecture ("Pale Faces: Race, Religion, and Affect in Chaucer's Texts and Their Readers"), especially because the NCS was returning to London for the first time since she delivered it there. This collaboratively shaped roundtable pondered the ways in which literary medieval studies has both changed and resisted some profound challenges to its self-identity over the past decade and a half. Returning to the theme of Carolyn Dinshaw's lecture, presenters wondered about diversity among medievalists, the place of the personal, the matter of race, and the decolonization of medieval studies as a discipline.  Please share and add to the discussion! It is our hope to formulate an action plan out of the event and its aftermath. -- JJC]



#palefacesmatter?


In my Arthurian Lit survey earlier this year, I decided to include Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant—just to change things up a bit. At the end of the term, a student wrote in their course evaluation: “Ishiguro = What was the point of reading this again?” Many of us are familiar with immature and snarky student evals. And it is perhaps easy to dismiss this individual as another “problem student,” part of the generation with a consumerist attitude toward education. We have seen worse.
Curiously, this student never complained about having to read chronicles. The complaint about Ishiguro is beyond another case of microaggression in the classroom; it is not about matters of taste but relevance, about what matters. It is symptomatic of a cultural logic that has turned the Middle Ages and subsequent medievalisms into a racialized heritage under siege. A distorted and ill-informed notion of the past has thereby authorized this student to defend the Arthurian canon from me. In this universe, Ishiguro does not belong. The matter of my body and thoughts do not belong. I have wasted the student’s time.
In the past two decades, Carolyn Dinshaw has returned repeatedly to questions of time.1 In place of modernity’s linear temporality, asynchrony marks the nature of the human condition past, present, and future. Temporal heterogeneity allows for a more intimate and queer understanding of the interconnections among objects, persons, and events. Asynchrony structures much of her work; her scholarship is an expansive record of her time travels that defies sequential desires and readerly expectations. Going East, Dinshaw reminds us, is going into the past.
            Increasingly, I find myself thinking about other directional markers and their entanglements with time. As a North-American queer medievalist of color, I think about the American South, an region oversaturated with the rhetoric of heritage. In our current global moment, when what goes by the name of populism has unleashed the political fringes, the Ku Klux Klan distributed recruitment flyers in the little Southern college town where I teach, in the same semester as my Arthurian Lit course. Political misappropriation of all things medieval, of course, is nothing new. Tison Pugh and Angela Wisel, for example, have examined how the Klan invokes and distorts medieval chivalry to defend race-based privileges and to justify violence.2 My college town, especially members of my home institution, responded to the Klan with an anti-racism rally. There will never be a hip-hop musical about a Confederate general, one would hope. Going South is going back in time. We have seen worse. Some of us.
            Critical inquiry, Dinshaw suggests, is a performance. The critic is a professional performer in desperate need of a healthy dose of amateurism. But I wonder if amateurism is affordable for some but not others. Reading Dinshaw reading Mandeville’s Travels, I recognize certain historical and personal ironies. As Dinshaw points out, the pale folks mentioned in the Mandeville’s passage are not modern-day Indians:
From these isles, in passing by the sea ocean toward the east by many journeys, men find a great country and a great kingdom that men clepe Mancy. And that is in Ind the more . . . And they be full fair folk, but they be all pale . . . In that land be many fairer women than in any other country beyond the sea, and therefore men clepe that land Albany, because that the folk be white.3
In fact, Mancy (Manzi 蠻子) was a derogatory term meaning “barbarians” used by medieval Mongols to refer to both the region and the people in southern China, where I trace my ancestry but have never been. I am the pale manzi marked by southerness. But to my student who resented reading Ishiguro, I am a Chinaman in the South, neither black nor white; an amateurish medievalist seeking authenticity and authority; a crypto-pale, postcolonial subject performing some versions of the medieval past and present.
Ours is the neo-liberal age of Black Lives Matter and White Fragility. According to Robin DiAngelo, white fragility is “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves” (54).4 Some of the defensive counter-moves include: confusion, indignation, refusal to continue engagement, penalization, retaliation, isolation, and ostracization. White tears. Sounds like some of Chaucer’s pilgrims, or some of our students.
            DiAngelo’s notion of White Fragility is useful in our thinking through the volatile complexities of identity markers in our classroom, our scholarship, and our profession. Manifestations of white fragility range from blatant racist acts to microaggression. More importantly, DiAngelo critiques liberals’ resistance to meaningful engagement with politically fraught contents because they “already had a class on this” or “already know that” (55). Been there; done that. Yet, when faced with persistent counter-moves of white fragility, it is not enough to say, “We have seen worse.”
What does white fragility look like in the Middle Ages? in Chaucer? Dinshaw points to imbrications of medieval paleness, especially that of the face, with matters of race, religion, and sex. Paleness is a slippery signifier that can denote whiteness, but can also oppose whiteness. Chaucer’s characters turn pale at crucial narrative moments. Paleness is an affect, based primarily on a humoral conception of the body. Rather than white fragility, it might be more accurate to speak of “pale fragility” in something like Custance’s drained face in the Man of Law’s Tale, where paleness marks the cultural anxiety over the fullness of conversion and the instability of Christianity.
            But I wonder about white fragility and non-humoral-based materialisms in the Chaucerian corpus. White fragility allows us to re-read many intertextual moments in the Canterbury Tales, especially some of the interruptions. Consider Sir Thopas, in which the mock-romance hero is marked by his “white leere” (857); and “Whit was his face as panyndemayn” (725). Not a pale face, but a white face. Not humoralism, but hylomorphism. The tale is unbearable not simply because it is a parody, but because it sublimates the violence in the Prioress’s Tale into an absurd confrontation between a cute toy knight and a giant named Sir Olifaunt. “Namoree of this” (919), the Host lashes out. “What was the point of listening to this again?” he asks. The “elvyssh” Geoffrey makes everyone uncomfortable. Or consider the Franklin’s interruption of the Squire. The Squire’s Tale is insufferable not only because of its projected length, but because it bestows gentillesse upon a pale-looking people not quite white enough. What better way for the Franklin to assert his social standing than to defend a fragile gentillesse? Put differently, the Squire is Ishiguro; the Franklin behaves like my student.
Pale and white faces foreground an ideological fragility at the heart of the social wrangling over difference, then and now. And this perceived fragility legitimates claims of precarity and stewardship, which in turn dictate what matters and what doesn’t. Here, I want to consider the Middle English mater as meaning both physical substance and immaterial activity.5 DiAngelo notes that white fragility is a state of reduced, or the lack of, stamina to sustain meaningful engagement with issues of race and diversity. And Sara Ahmed has drawn attention to the state of depletion that many minoritarian academics have found themselves in. 6 Everyone is looking drained, but not all of us are fragile and pale, or can afford to be.

 Wan-Chuan Kao is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University. He is currently working on a monograph titled White Before Whiteness.









Notes
1  See Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999) and How Soon is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).
2  Tison Pugh and Angela Jane Weisel, Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present (New York: Routledge, 2013), 140-43.
3  Dinshaw cites from the Cotton Manuscript version of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Available at Project Gutenberg.
4  Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 3 (2011): 54-70.
5  See Kellie Robertson, “Medieval Materialism: A Manifesto,” Exemplaria 22, no. 2 (2010): 99-118.
6  Sara Ahmed, “Feeling Depleted?” feministkilljoys (blog), November 17, 2013, https://feministkilljoys.com/2013/11/17/feeling-depleted/

Monday, July 25, 2016

CFP: MAMO 3 (the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference) in Manchester, 2017

by J J Cohen

Friends who like medieval things! I am one of the keynote speakers at MAMO 3 (The Middle Ages in the Modern World conference) in Manchester, June 2017. PLEASE consider proposing a panel or session; I would love to see you there. For complete information about the conference will be integrated into the city follow the link below.

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Dear all,
Following an earlier call in April, we are now making a second call for papers for the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference (MAMO) in Manchester in summer 2017. Please circulate widely. For full details, see MAMO's website, themamo.org. The conference email address is: mamo.conference@manchester.ac.uk.
Confirmed keynote speakers at this stage include Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (George Washington University) and Chris Jones (St Andrews). The poets Jane Draycott, Lavinia Greenlaw and Matthew Francis will also be participating. A programme of cultural events associated with the conference is taking shape, including a season of medievalist films at the independent cinema, HOME Manchester, and a full dramatic production of Lavinia Greenlaw's A Double Sorrow in Manchester Cathedral. There will be a celebration of the work of the author Alan Garner, featuring an in-conversation event with Alan. As a city Manchester offers a wealth of neo-gothic architecture, much of it under the direct influence of Augustus Pugin. There will be opportunities to visit the sumptuous neo-gothic John Rylands Library, and the Ford Madox Brown murals in the Alfred Waterhouse-designed Manchester Town Hall. More information will follow on the conference website in the coming months.
all best,
David, James, and Anke


MAMO III
The Middle Ages in the Modern wOrld
After successful editions at St Andrews (2013) and Lincoln (2015), MAMO III will take place in Manchester between 28 June and 1 July, 2017. We invite submission of proposals for panels, roundtables, or individual papers by 30 September 2016. Panels can consist of three short papers (20 minutes) or four of fifteen minutes’ duration; roundtables should consist of four to six speakers.For a panel or roundtable proposal, panel chairs should send a brief (4-5 sentence) rationale for the panel along with proposed paper titles, speakers' names and institutional affiliations, and abstracts.
Individuals may send proposals for papers: please include a title, your name and institutional affiliation (or independent status as appropriate). Abstracts should not exceed 250 words and should be sent, as attachments in Word, to mamo.conference@manchester.ac.uk.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“It snewed in his hous of mete”: A Nicholas and the butchers capital from Narbonne

by KARL STEEL

[what follows is a light piece, quickly written; for a real post, see below, from Cord Whitaker, whose paper I had the great honor of witnessing at the recent London meeting of the New Chaucer Society. All the papers in that session, which will be appearing sequentially here, were superb, and the crowd, I'm happy to say, was large. Read Whitaker first, I insist.]
In the visual arts, it’s not so easy to portray anthropophagy as anthropophagy. Guts are guts, and flesh is flesh, so much so that the corpus/porcus pun was standard in medieval writing, even far outside works like the Anatomia porci manuals, which used pig bodies to teach human anatomy. The anthropophagy artist has to make sure to include a head, some feet, some hands, some hint of bipedality, some formal echo of the living bodies on the other side of the cleaver: otherwise, how can we be certain that what’s being prepared had at least once been human?
As I’ve written before – in an agonized psychoanalytic manner that befitted my anxious interests of those dissertating days -- few medieval stories are as aware of this slippage between human and other fleshes as the story of Nicholas and the butcher (lighter version here). In the most widespread version of this ur-Sweeney Todd story, three traveling scholars are put up for the night by a butcher, who decides to rob them. When he finds they have nothing of value but their own bodies, he kills them and turns them into sausage. Saint Nicholas, the special object of the scholars’ piety, soon turns up, and, in one version of the South English Legendaryasks the butcher for his best meat, eliciting a confession, and then a miracle, as Nicholas (un)renders the scholars whole.
12th-c. font, Winchester Cathedral, photo by John Cook
The visual depictions I know, like this twelfth-century font, tend to show the butcher looming over the scholars in bed.
 Or they show three young, naked men emerging from a salting barrel, as with this churchfront statue from Porto. 

Igreja Paroquial de São Nicolau (18th c.)

Few show the butcher at work, because care’s needed to ensure that we know the butcher’s cutting up people.
Hence my excitement at coming across this capital (below) at Musée des Augustins in Toulouse a few weeks ago. The capital, dating to the second half of the twelfth century, comes from Narbonne’s Saint Paul basilica, and show the butcher amid a hodgepodge of body parts: a torso perhaps, but mostly extremities -- hands, feet, and a couple heads -- so we know what’s being stuffed into the barrel, so we know something's gone awry, while also reminding us, again, that, professionally speaking, flesh of whatever sort is mostly a matter of joints to a butcher, who can make money from us even when we feel certain we carry none. And that what's needed for us to be more than flesh is the care, the mourning, the outrage, the obligation, of some passing saint -- here, seated, brandishing his crozier at the butcher -- another body of flesh, so holy that they refuse to eat us, even just a little.


Notably, not far from this capital, the Museum displays another twelfth-century carving, from a church in , of a woman being consumed by a snake, or suckled, or straddled by one, which runs from a breast to her genitals, which perhaps as a whole -- as the Museum suggests -- represents luxury. Luxury here is the female flesh, fed on itself, delighting in itself, the form that flesh takes in its mutability, its putrefaction, in its loving itself the wrong way. As if clinging to the flesh could ever be anything but excessive, unjustifiable, an unwarranted vanity in this world of fleshes that have no more right to be here than we do. Some bodies, like hers, are bodies of flesh, made to stand in for all that's wrong; and some, like the three clerks, are given the chance to be a bit more.


(for more on me and anthropophagy, see, most recently, my contribution to the recent anthology Fragments for a History of a Vanishing Humanism (ed Seaman and Joy), just out from Ohio State University Press)

(hi gang - yes, before you get all in my business, I know mete means "food" in the Chaucer, but you'd have gone with that title too if it had thrust itself upon you like it did on me.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pale Like Me: Resistance, Assimilation, and ‘Pale Faces’ Sixteen Years On (Cord Whitaker)

a guest post by CORD WHITAKER 

[Over the next few weeks two ITM will be publishing as blog posts the presentations from the New Chaucer Society congress session "Are We Dark Enough Yet? Pale Faces 2016." This collaboratively shaped roundtable pondered the ways in which literary medieval studies has both changed and resisted some profound challenges to its self-identity over the past decade and a half. Returning to the theme of Carolyn Dinshaw's 2000 Biennial Lecture in London "Pale Faces: Race, Religion and Affect in Chaucer's Texts and Their Readers," presenters wondered about diversity among medievalists, the place of the personal, the matter of race, and the decolonization of medieval studies as a discipline.  Please share and add to the discussion! It is our hope to formulate an action plan out of the event and its aftermath. -- JJC]



Pale Like Me: Resistance, Assimilation, and ‘Pale Faces’ Sixteen Years On

African Americans of at least average height are supposed to play basketball. This kept me from learning to play ball until I became an adult. For as long as I can remember, I have been about doing what everyone else is not doing. I have been about going against the grain. This is probably a trait I share with many of you.
There is sanctuary in being different, but it can also cause you to need sanctuary. This was the case for Texas journalist John Howard Griffin. In his 1961 book Black Like Me, Griffin writes that “In medieval times, men sought sanctuary in churches. Nowadays, for a nickel, I could find sanctuary in a colored rest room” (140). It didn’t occur to Griffin, trained in the reporting and analysis of current events as he was, that some nowadays might find sanctuary in the Middle Ages. To address today’s question—are we dark enough yet?—is also to ask how medievalism and the identities of persons of color can and do intersect. 
Griffin’s book was groundbreaking. From October through December 1959, Griffin, a white man, assumed the identity of a black man through a combination of skin darkening medication, tanning, and staining his skin brown. He travelled through the American South. One might say he masqueraded—and a number of news outlets used exactly that term—but the masquerade no doubt seemed very real when he was being chased down the street and bombarded with racial epithets. One might also claim that something of his black experience—and the extreme media attention it received—marked him for the rest of his life. Griffin writes: “Both Negroes and whites have gained this strange certainty [that] because I was a Negro for six weeks, I remained partly Negro or perhaps essentially Negro” (175).
Griffin’s experiment shows that a masquerade can have very real implications. It can reveal very real truths. For Griffin, it revealed that there is a wall between the experiences of blacks and whites—a wall that usually makes experiences mutually unintelligible. In “Pale Faces,” Carolyn Dinshaw writes of her father’s conversion to Christianity:
The Parsi religion of his family, so vague and so strange, as he put it, with its rituals and prayers in an indecipherable language—my father left all that behind…But his conversion, like the medieval ones I mentioned earlier, left a residue…There was a racial/religious remainder in the household. (39)
She goes on to say that she “picked up and lived out” this unassimilable remainder, and that it informs her queerness. Dinshaw offers us stark realities—some real truths—about the walls that disrupt even familial relations across axes of geography, time, and social acceptability. Her comportment toward the world and her medievalism are realities born of and revealed by her father’s—and to some extent her own—masquerade.
Dinshaw turns to Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale to study what the unassimilable remainder looks like. The tale also offers another bridge between masquerade and reality. In it, the remainder appears in the Syrian Muslims who convert to Christianity in order that their Sultan might marry the Roman Christian princess Custance. Famously, the whole thing fails when the Sultan’s mother and her co-conspirators feign conversion in order to murder everyone except Custance, including her Roman retinue, the Sultan and the converted Syrians, during a wedding feast. But in the end, the Romans have their revenge and the remaining Syrians are slaughtered, too. There seems to be no difference between the falsely converted Saracens and the real converts. All die horribly because, in Dinshaw’s words, “the Saracen will always be a Saracen, even if baptized” (26-7).
The Saracens, Dinshaw’s father, and Griffin have all been dark in one way or another. And the reality is that darkness, interpreted as essential, seems to stick.
  Today I consider my own position in this game of masquerading and tainting. I am an African-American and a medievalist. And to many, these are incommensurate roles. I must be masquerading in one or the other. The accusation is nothing new. Growing up the son of a public relations professional, I was taught to speak only the Queen’s English outside the house. African American Vernacular English was fine only at home. The result was that I was regularly accused of talking and acting white. Well before medieval studies came into view, I was already juggling incommensurate roles.
When I started to fall in love with Chaucer and medieval literature in college, it was in part because Middle English made me a much better reader of modern literature—including modern African-American literature—and in part due to the defamiliarizing wonders of medieval literature in its own right. Still, there were some who believed my interest in medieval studies could be nothing more than a passing fancy. That I was merely playing around. These included one of my senior thesis advisors. (It was a good thing I had more than one!) When, several years later, it was clear that I was going to grad school, he admitted that he had never taken me seriously. He apologized.  
In my second year of grad school, a prospective student visiting my program—a fellow person of color—learned that I am a medievalist. Her face drooped and her eyebrows rose. She looked me up and down. With disdain, she said, “You’re a medievalist?”
Even now, I take care when I tell people what I do. Sometimes, fellow persons of color light up when they learn that I’m a professor—but when they learn my subject, their faces become like Custance when she is on trial for murder: pale, as pale as the face of a man being led to the gallows [II.B.645-648]. They exhibit what Dinshaw calls “a mark of loss: sudden loss of blood, loss of family, even…loss of purity” (23). I have broken faith. I am no longer family. No longer pure. Perhaps they fear the taint of my medievalism, my expertise in things too white. Surely the scene was similar when Griffin’s experiment was revealed to his white neighbors during a nationally televised interview. Only the skin colors of those who feared being tainted and those who represent the tainting were reversed.
I work on the history of race, too, I add hastily. In this claim, I seek sanctuary from the pallid storm caused by another sanctuary: my medievalism. The claim is my colored restroom. Some of my interlocutor’s color is restored. Only some. But it is enough that I will be sure to add the caveat more quickly next time.
            Personally, to be dark enough would be to embrace the taint until it is no taint. To no longer give into the desires to massage my professional and personal identities to fit present company. To refuse to assimilate. I’m working on it.
            But the question of today’s roundtable is meant—first and foremost, I think—for our field. And I propose that, for the field to be dark enough would be to embrace our subject as a kind of taint. (And I don’t mean adopting a pose of lowliness: Oh, I’m just a medievalist, nothing I have to say is relevant to the modern world.) Instead, I mean to embrace that in our field inheres the ability to criticize modernity, to pick apart and expose the dynamics that make modernity comfortable and allow it to appear monolithic, to utterly annihilate narratives of interminable progress. When medieval studies takes these stances, it is necessarily seen as a dark stain on the supposedly glimmering, above-the-fray, modernizing face of the neo-liberal university. But, here we have a choice. We in medieval studies can all too easily adopt the pose of those who study a most venerable subject and are the most non-threatening of professors—who would never rock any boats because we practice in a field that is by its very nature conservative. Neither approach is a masquerade, even as each masks the other mutually.
If we have learned anything from the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Or before them, Walter L. Scott. Or going back further, Trayvon Martin. Or in 1999, Amadou Diallo. And on and on and on through the history of slavery and conquest. If we have learned anything from these ongoing terrors, it’s that to be dark is to be taken as a threat. Medieval studies can choose to be dark.

Suffice it to say, we as a field are not dark enough yet. And neither am I.

Cord J. Whitaker is a professor of English at Wellesley College and a critic of medieval literature and modern race. He blogs at whatisracialdifference.com and edited Making Race Matter in the Middle Ages. He tweets @ProfCWhit.