Tuesday, January 31, 2006
More on PoCo Medievalism: RSL
Between the cannibal pigs and the panicked dominatrix who suddenly popped up in the comments to that last entry, it's been easy to lose the PoCo thread. Then again (to return to the porcine disposal devices of that clever serial killer) there must be something potentially glimpsable via a postcolonial lens whenever it comes to the regulation of eating practices. Karl the Grouchy Medievalist observed that Irish penitentials mandated pigs consuming human flesh had to be starved and refattened before they could become holiday hams. Am I correct in remembering that those same Irish penitentials likewise imposed rather severe penalties for eating horse meat? A fair amount of energy in the early Middle Ages went into keeping the horse off the Christian dinner table, helping to draw a line of distinction between the converted and those who remained pagans. Dining on horse was also one of the practices Anglo-Saxons gave up as they became Christians.
To return to the theme of postcolonial medievalisms more broadly, it does seem to me that Roger Sherman Loomis was in many ways the pioneer of the field. An American (and descendant of THE Roger Sherman), Loomis wrote a book (Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, 1927) that argued for the centrality of Wales, Scotland and Ireland in considering medieval high culture. No big deal these days, perhaps, when we would never think of Arthur as anything but a British/Welsh hero, but Loomis's theory of Celtic origins was denounced by many, and with passion. After all, weren't the Celts little more than barbarians? Hadn't the elegant French -- true fathers of the West -- really been the inventors of Arthur, courtliness, forks, and everything else that is good in the world? Loomis's edited volume Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History (1959) -- along with his many other works -- were for their time the equivalent of today's postcolonial readings. True, there was a way in which such work -- especially as carried out by the numerous graduate students he trained at Columbia -- was too gentle, speaking mildly of "Irish influences on the Wife of Bath's Tale" and remaining blind to the violence, blood, and political maneuvering that enabled such "influence" to occur. Yet his vision of a wider, more polyglot Middle Ages and his focus on cultural mingling opened ways of viewing the period that are still being realized.