Sunday, June 24, 2007

ITM Book Club: Heather Blurton on Cannibalism

Oprah can do it. Why can't we medievalists?

Announcing the first meeting of the In the Middle Book Club for Discerning Scholars of Medieval Arcana (ITMBC4DSoMA, for short). As voted upon below, we will be conducting a group read and communal blogging of Heather Blurton's brand new book Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature. Details of the book below. Secure your copy now, lug it to the beach all summer (what could be tastier than reading about cannibalism while surrounded by all that flesh?), and check back with us in about a month as we start discussion.

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From Beowulf through the literature of the crusades and beyond, cannibals haunt the texts of medieval England. Cannibal Narratives attempts to explain their presence. It explores the relationship between the literary trope of cannibalism and the emergence of national identity in medieval England. If England suffered three centuries of invasion - beginning with the Vikings and continuing through Danish and Norman conquests of the island – it also developed a unique and uniquely literary response to these circumstances. This book reads the representations cannibalism so common in English medieval literature through cannibalism’s metaphoric associations with incorporation, consumption, and violent disruption of the boundaries between self and other. The result uncovers the ways in which these representations articulate a discourse of cannibalism as a privileged mode for thinking about English cultural, and ultimately national, identity in the face of the social crisis.

Author Bio
Heather Blurton is Lecturer in the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of English at the University of York

Praise for Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature
“Organized around the unsettlingly frequent appearance of the figure of the cannibal and scenes of cannibalism in a wide assortment of texts produced in England between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, this book deeply explores the connections between literary representation and the processes of imperial conquest, territorial consolidation, and internal colonization that marked the continuous history of medieval England both before and after 1066. This book will immediately establish Blurton as a major voice in one of the most interesting conversations taking place in contemporary medieval studies. Blurton's study joins the ranks of those medievalists whose work is currently effacing the sharp divide that has separated the early from the later Middle Ages and ‘medieval alterity’ from modernity.”--Robert M. Stein, Purchase College and Columbia University

Table of contents
Cannibal Narratives * Selfeaters: The Cannibal Narrative of Andreas * Eotonweard: Watching for Cannibals in the Beowulf-manuscript * Cannibal Kings: Communion and Community in Twelfth-Century England * Tartars and Traitors: The Uses of Cannibalism in Matthew Paris’s Chronica majora * The Flesch of a Sarazeyn: Cannibalism, Genre and Nationalism

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hate to be whiny, but I'm going to have to whine about this one. For future meetings of the ITMBC4DSoMA, I suggest that we find books that aren't quite so hot off the presses. I was really looking forward to a book discussion (as an ABD in exile who misses going to class and talking about books I have just read with other similarly geeky people). However, since this book has just been published, only 3 libraries in the US have it (and what's really really ironic is that one of those three libraries is actually my home institution; I just happened to move 3000 miles away from my home institution because I got tired of that coast). As a still-starving graduate student, I can't afford to buy the book for $50 (or, if I'm going to spend $50 on a book, it should be for something dissertation-related). So I won't be able to participate in the first discussion of the ITMBC4DSoMA.

That's not to say that I want you to change the selection, or that I won't eagerly read your discussion of the book, but it is to say that perhaps for future selections, the book's availability should be considered, so that considerations such as price and distance from libraries won't prohibit lots of people from participating.

Sorry for whining, but I felt it needed to be said. Back to lurking.

--Morgan.

Karl Steel said...

Great points, Morgan, and hardly whining.

Michael O'Rourke said...

I agree completely as someone who doesn't work in academia or have access to a library. This is one of the main reasons I didn't offer any suggestions, simply because I could not afford any of the new books being touted for discussion. The elitism of having a book club is rather ironic given Oprah's recent reclamation by socialists in the blogosphere.

J J Cohen said...

Yikes! Thank you, Morgan and Michael, for that sobering reality check. Here we are striving to be democratic while choosing an expensive book that isn't easily available.

Perhaps we could delay the group read a bit to give everyone more time -- how about the second week of August? The book, I should add, is not very long (under 200 pages) and not especially dense. We should also ensure that our next book is something far cheaper, maybe out in paperback -- e.g., how about re-looking at Carolyn Dinshaw's Getting Medieval, now that we have some temporal distance on it?

Eileen Joy said...

I like the idea of re-appraising an earlier-published book like Dinshaw's "Getting Medieval" very very much. I did something like that a couple of years ago when I wrote an essay for "Heroic Age" about James Earl's "Thinking About Beowulf" that I intended to coincide with the ten-year anniversary of the book's publication [1994].

Palgrave's books are too expensive--if they want scholars and students, and not just libraries, to buy their books, they need to get a reality check, but they have their reasons for only wanting to sell to libraries; nevertheless, it is unfortunate, especially since so many important books in medieval studies come from their New Middle Ages series [thank you Bonnie Wheeler!].

Michael O'Rourke said...

Reappraising Dinshaw is a super idea JJC especially since the queering of temporalities is rather *hot* in queer studies right now. The most recent double issue of GLQ which I posted about here at ITM before has Dinshaw on a roundtable where she retrospectively discusses GM and her contribution to the queer temporality debate.

Michael O'Rourke said...

P.S. I got a letter from Palgrave today to say that my collection Love, Sex, Friendship and Intimacy Between Men, 1550-1800 (co-edited with Katherine O'Donnell) is coming out in paperback in a few weeks time. The hardback (published in 2003) was prohibitively priced but the paperback is under £20 I think. This should ensure that the book gains a wider readership and makes its way onto more courses. But EJ is right, they need to rethink their pricing.

sylvia huot said...

I agree with the comments about high-priced academic books, and it isn't just Palgrave. Personally, I feel bad even publishing such expensive books--aside from the fact that not many people on earth actually WANT to read a book about the 'Roman de Perceforest', of those few that do, how many of THEM will be able to lay hands on a book that costs £50 or $85? Even a lot of libraries can't afford these things. Trouble is only a very specialised press is willing to consider a book proposal on something like that, and they do have to make enough to stay afloat--I hardly think anyone at Palgrave, Boydell, etc, is getting rich off these books. I wish there was something we could do about this, but what?

J J Cohen said...

I certainly would not say that they are getting rich from such books, but publishers like Palgrave are canny about the bottom line: notice that the volumes have become slimmer as the price has increased. In many ways a not-for-profit (such as a university press) is a better vehicle for disseminating scholarship, since they often do simultaneous soft cover and do not inflate hardcover prices so much. The downside is that it can take two or three times as long for a book to appear when you go this route.

Karl Steel said...

SH: I also can't imagine anyone's getting rich at Palgrave &c. I imagine Academic publishing is (increasingly?) expensive because academic labor costs, including editing, can't be radically reduced, nor can academic labor be made radically more efficient (I can't remember from whom I'm (mis?)remembering these points: Bérubé? or me? (#19)): we can't teach any faster, we can't edit any faster, we can't grade any faster. A little faster, but not much faster. So it gets more and more expensive to use our services. This is true for lawyers, too, but, unlike lawyers, we're not making (anyone) increasing amounts of money.

One solution is to question what John Holbo (and others no doubt) have called "the tyranny of the monograph." Here's Bérubé:

"For one thing, the press directors and librarians are not wrong: regardless of the fact that the campuses are not strewn with the bodies of young scholars turned down for tenure, the system of scholarly publishing is under severe financial pressure, and no one imagines that library and press budgets will be increasing significantly anytime soon. New monographs in the humanities now face print runs in the low hundreds and prohibitive unit costs. At the same time, over 60 percent of all departments report that publication has increased in importance in tenure decisions over the last 10 years, and the percentage of departments ranking scholarship of primary importance (that is, more important than teaching) has more than doubled since the last comparable survey was conducted in 1968: from 35.4 percent to 75.8 percent. Almost half — 49.8 percent — of doctoral institutions (which, because of their size, employ proportionally more faculty members than any other kind of institution) now require progress on a second book of their candidates for tenure....
The Task Force report recommends that departments and colleges evaluate scholarly work in all its forms, instead of placing almost exclusive emphasis on the monograph. We have nothing against monographs; in fact, a few of us have written monographs ourselves. But our survey suggests that an increasing number of institutions expect more publications for tenure and promotion — and substitute measures of quantity for judgments about quality. Most important, we believe there is a real and unnecessary disjunction between the wide range of scholarly work actually produced by scholars in the modern languages and the narrow way in which it is commonly evaluated."

Would B's suggestions make books cheaper? No. But they would make us less reliant on books.

There's also John Holbo (warning pdf), who remarked at the last MLA:

"A simple normative principle. Every scholarly book published in the humanities should be widely read, discussed and reviewed. Because any scholarly book incapable of rousing a modest measure of sustained, considerate, intelligent discussion shouldn't have been published as a book. Turning the point around: in the information age, any book worth the time and expense of publishing, that fails to be read, discussed and reviewed—-has been catastrophically failed by the mediating function of the academic culture in which it was so unfortunate as to be born....

We need three kinds of things....

First, new media, made possible by new technology. New publication forms. If anyone complains that this mucks up the credentialing process, tar them as vanity publishers....

Second, new mediation, made possible by new media. Not every book event is brilliant, but the form is just fantastic. Every author wants one. And should get one. Keep battering those institutional benchmarks until they reward this stuff in proportion to its vital importance to the conversation.

Third... [t]he loss of peer-review and other mediating functions of academic publishing as we know is pretty intolerable, even in exchange for great circulation. But now: suppose we ‘event’ this author. What do we have now:? Post-publication peer review. Of a highly rigorous sort—-and transparent-—although it’s highly unconventional, admittedly. "

It other words: book events.

It seems silly to me to require scholarly presses to produce physical books. They should produce pdf's, which can be distributed in several ways. We wouldn't save any money on editing, but we would save money on the wasteful production of a physical object. This is a bit far-minded, but I don't see any reason why libraries shouldn't have presses on site and print books on demand (for a fee of course). Does this hurt browsing? Yes. Does it save money? Yes. Is it environmentally preferable to the production and distribution of books that may never be read? Yes. So there's a tradeoff.

Michael O'Rourke said...

I'm with you on this Karl. I was going to suggest (and I will now) that the book club selections be provided as pdf files so that everyone--or almost everyone since I'm assuming everyone who reads ITM has access to a pc--can read them.

Sceopellen said...

Great idea Michael - I would love to take part if that's the way forward... I can attempt to get hold of some texts, but this one has been rather impossible to cheaply get.

Karl Steel said...

The Ohio University Press has taken some steps in this direction, but it seems they're not doing things published recently.

Sceopellen said...

Unfortunately, the cheapest I could find Heather Blurton's book is £40, which is rather out of my price range. Couldn't find it in the London libraries or in Uni. of London either. Shame... I will, however, pick up Dinshaw and have a good read of that - that sounds fun!