Sunday, November 18, 2007

Medieval Studies, Unsettled Subjectivity, and the Thousand Tiny Itinerants of Saint Guthlac's Body

Figure 1. St. Guthlac en route to Crowland

At the prodding of Craig Dionne, an early modernist and editor of the book, Rogues and Early Modern English Culture, who is also currently editing a special issue of Early Modern Culture on "Vagrant Subjects," I recently read the brilliant book by Patricia Fumerton, Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England, which has prompted me to think about how we, in early medieval studies especially, might start wrapping our brains around the problem of how to account for the "low" or "mobile" subjectivity of medieval persons who might have been the "working" or "displaced" or "vagrant" or other type of "poor" in early English culture. It is the understanding of many in early modern studies that the project simply wouldn't be possible in our field, partly because the type of exploitive commodification more prevalent in the economies of early modern England [and beyond] had not yet emerged, and partly because, well, you know . . . there is no subjectivity in early English literature that can be readily accessed and analyzed [such that we might also ruminate not only "low" subjectivity but also the ways in which more privileged classes might have appropriated that subjectivity for their own aesthetic and social ends].

I am just returned from the annual meeting of the Midwest MLA [in Cleveland, Ohio] where I participated on a panel on this very subject with Martin Shichtman [medievalist who most recently has written on the cultural capital of the Arthur myth in medieval England and also on depictions of the Middle Ages in contemporary film], Craig Dionne, and Joseph Csicsila [co-editor, with Craig, of the Journal of Narrative Theory, and a Twain scholar], and let's just say we had many heated discussions [um, arguments] about this over multiple beers and martinis [with the help, thank god, on the medievalist side, of Laurie Finke and Christine Neufeld]. As someone who thinks and writes a lot about Old English literature, especially in relation to the question of what constitutes or "counts as" a [somehow inviolable or sacred or "human"] "person" in Anglo-Saxon England, I think the more recent discussions in early modern studies on vagrancy, mobility, low subjectivity/low aesthetics, and the working/displaced poor provide an excellent point of departure for how we might consider these same categories in early English history and literature. The best book thus far that hits very close to these themes, in my mind, is David Gary Shaw's Necessary Conjunctions: The Social Self in Medieval England, a book I've plugged so many times on this blog I think I've lost count [but go here for one of those plugs].

For myself, I've decided to approach the question, first, by way of Fumerton's book; second, by way of Jeffrey's deleuzoguattarian approach to the Old English and Anglo-Latin Guthlac narratives, "The Solitude of Saint Guthlac," which forms a chapter in his book Medieval Identity Machines; and third, by way of recent work in post-colonial and deleuzoguattarian-inflected cultural studies on "embodied others" and "nomadic ethics" [by Sara Ahmed and Rosi Braidotti, respectively, with some work by Iain Chambers on migrancy and identity thrown in for the heck of it]. I don't know where I am ultimately going with all of this, except that I plan to make this a primary writing project over the next year or so and will be presenting different stages of my thinking, vis-a-vis the Guthlac narratives, at conferences and in other venues over the next eight or so months, partly in relation to the other question that's been nagging me for a while now: is a queer Old English literary studies possible, and if so, what would it look like? In any case, I share with you here a draft of the brief talk I gave in Cleveland, "The Thousand Tiny Itinerants of Saint Guthlac's Body," and any suggestions for further reading, thinking, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

The Thousand Tiny Itinerants of Saint Guthlac’s Body
If we consider the great binary aggregates, such as the sexes or classes, it is evident that they also cross over into molecular assemblages of a different nature, and that there is also a double reciprocal dependency between them. For the two sexes imply a multiplicity of molecular combinations bringing into play not only the man in the woman and the woman in the man, but the relation of each to the animal, the plant, etc.: a thousand tiny sexes. And social classes themselves imply “masses” that do not have the same kind of movement, distribution, or objectives and do not wage the same kind of struggle. . . . Yes classes are indeed fashioned from masses; they crystallize them. And masses are constantly flowing or leaking from classes.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

In her book Unsettled, Patricia Fumerton explores the literal (material) as well as the literary (metaphorical) status of the itinerant laborer in early modern England in order to, in her words, trace “the emergence of a new kind of secular subjectivity in the period, one that was not solely God-based but that could . . . sense a more modern notion of singularity and disconnection.”[1] While this subject, in Fumerton’s view, would always be “socially determined, and in this sense, ‘subjected’ . . . the notion of such a subject also posits the possibility of a ‘free’ individual or detached self, even in the case of its actual or felt impossibility.”[2] But in order to map “the topography of lowly mobile workers,” we have to “liberate our thinking from the insistent critical dialectic . . . of ‘low’ versus ‘high,’ ‘margin’ versus ‘center,’” because

[t]his sometimes nuanced but ultimately dead-end dialectic is dependent on a placed universe (that is, one in which the voices of the low must be measured relative to the voices of those who have a “place” in society). But to truly understand the “low,” we must track them in their own space—a spaciousness of itinerancy, fragmentation, disconnection and multiplicity that produces a very different topographical mapping of societal relations than those determined by place.[3]
Fumerton is especially interested in investigating “the extent to which the straightforward ‘facts’ of lower-class mobility might result in a subjective interiorization of unsettledness,” or what she terms “unsettled subjectivity.”[4] And she is also interested in how this subjectivity is represented—in the public legal records (the official “clerk-ly” narrative), in the private journals of the landless seaman Edward Barlow (the “low” autobiography, as it were), and perhaps most importantly, in the “lowly street literature” of broadside street ballads centering on the lives of seaman which offered to their “lowly” audiences both the assurances of “placed constancy” as well as “inconsistency and unsettledness at ‘no cost.’” Ultimately, these ballads marketed “multifarious, dispersed, and provisional identities” and “point us to a future study of lowly street literature [the spacious voices] . . . of early modern England, as much as to a new class of unmoored and global workers.”[5]

It is partly my aim here to say that the so-called modern romanticization of itinerant or wayward identity as a form of freedom, as well as the interiorization of “unsettledness,” is not by any means uniquely modern, although the Anglo-Saxon period from which I draw my thinking will not readily reveal to us a mobile working class of itinerant wage laborers such as the button-makers and tinkers who populated early modern England, much less private journals kept by the “lowly” denizens of these ranks. Indeed, pretty much the entire corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature can be considered, for the most part, as the remnants of a “high” or “official” culture, and that means also, a culture that was decidedly not secular. Which is not to say there is no way to track what might be called the figuration of low subjectivity (the Old English elegies Wanderer and Seafarer, or saints’ legends like Mary of Egypt, certainly provide good places to start)—only that when we do find it, we have to understand that it is always constructed, always appropriated, always literary. Nevertheless, in the Anglo-Latin and Old English narratives of the life of the eighth-century Mercian Saint Guthlac (674?-714) we have a figure who possesses a certain contemporaneous versimilitude, and who also battles demons that, in one regard, are merely stand-ins for the lowly Celtic or British fen dwellers whom Guthlac displaces when he decides to transpose himself from aristocratic warrior to Christian monk and then to hermit saint—all of which requires moving from the interior circles of Mercian-Anglian political power through the regula and doxa of Christian monasticism to an abandoned earthwork on a small island (Crowland) in the swampy frontier land between East Anglia and Mercia. This is the geography of the “midlands” where, in the narratives of the saint’s life, Guthlac’s body is subjected to continual assault by “terrible and strange old fiends” who are also the former “inhabitants” of “settlements” where Guthlac now lives (Guthlac A: ll. 140-41).[6] At one point, in the Anglo-Latin Life, the conflation between devils and “Britons” (who may themselves be stand-ins for the Welsh with whom Mercia was continually tilting against) is made starkly clear when, in a troubled dream, Guthlac confronts a host of demons in the form of “British troops” (Brittanicaque agmina) whose “barbarous speech” (strimulentas loquelas) he recognizes from having once lived as a prisoner-exile among them. In his dream, these “British”-appearing demons lift him in the air on the “sharp points” of their spears, at which point God causes them to vanish (Life, sec. XXXIV).[7]

In his essay “The Solitude of Guthlac,” Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is concerned with showing how, “[t]hrough Guthlac’s body,” there “courses a specifically eighth-century formulation of Anglo-Saxon unity constructed against a British inferiority, a fantasy of corporate integrity with vast colonialist utility for contemporary Mercia.” At the same time, however, “Guthlac never quite achieves the celibate solitude for which he yearns, for the saint is throughout his life persecuted by a throng of demons who lift him, unwilling, into their own identity machines, into their own perverse becomings.”[8] In Cohen’s mind, the Guthlac legends have been “inscribed by their Mercian emergence with a dual trajectory, an inward movement toward self-definition via the envaluation of homogeneity and an outward vector of dilation and assimilation.”[9] As Cohen notes,

the tribute list known as the Tribal Hidage . . . depicts Mercia as a land amalgamated from much smaller units (regiones, kingdoms, tribes), some consisting of several thousand households, like Hwicce, and others containing only a few hundred. . . . Cohesion was attempted coercively, juridically, apostolically, ideologically. Mercian kings obliged subject rulers to provide labor, materializing a sense of corporateness and shared territory via a call to defense against outsiders. The building of fortifications like Offa’s Dyke can therefore be seen as instrumental to the project of building an ambitious ethnic and political collectivity.[10]
This was an enforced collectivity, one that may have circumscribed certain limits upon the movements of un-domiciled individuals. Anglo-Saxon law codes of the ninth through eleventh centuries make this very clear, and further study of their proscriptions concerning domicile and travel, and who is a “foreigner,” would lend a deeper historicization to Fumerton’s analysis of the mobile poor in early modern England.

Ultimately, in Cohen’s words, “[p]ossible bodies never exist in a pure state, can never escape the markings of history even as they struggle against historical constraint. Only through concrete relations with time and with the material world do bodies of any kind ever become solid,” and desire—whether the desire of a saint to remain celibate and untouched and unpenetrated or the desire of a demon to penetrate that celibate body—pace Deleuze Guattari, is always a “volatile, ‘molecular’ phenomenon that can never be fully caught into anthropomorphic representation,” as well as a “perpetual motion of shifting contiguities.” [11] This body encloses and disperses, as it were, a thousand tiny sexes, which “constantly construct and dismantle themselves in the course of their communication, as they cross over and into each other, beyond, or before a certain threshold.”[12] Indeed, in the Anglo-Latin account written by Felix, there is one arresting and extended scene which strikingly illustrates the horror of the mixing of thousands of bodies as well as the inevitability of their schizoid inter-penetrations: intent on disturbing Guthlac while he is praying in his barrow, a multiplicity of demons (so thick that the “whole space of the skies” is darkened with their “dusky” and “cloud-like” shapes) enters shrieking through the floor-holes, doorway joints, and spaces in the “wattleworks” of Guthlac’s lowly home where they bind him and carry him “through the wildest part of the fen,” then drag him “through the dense thickets of brambles, tearing his limbs and all his body.” They then wing him “through the cloudy stretches of the freezing skies,” where even more squadrons, or thunderstorms, of demons are met, all of whom then drag Guthlac down to the “jaws of hell” (Life, Sec. XXXI). As Cohen writes, “the demonic invasion of Guthlac’s cell stages an encounter between a saint who, although an amalgam of disparate pieces himself, has unified these fragments into a totality, and a swarm of demons who resist any settled harmony, any figuring of the body as stable,” and at this “nexus where sameness seeks to obliterate difference, at this place of suture where a saintly Anglo-Saxon face is produced, Guthlac temporarily disperses himself across his own demons,” who, through Felix’s descriptions of them as both amorphous clouds but also as “great heads” and “scabby thighs” and “swollen ankles” and “fierce eyes” and “horse’s teeth” and “throats vomiting flames,” are “multiplicity enfleshed, molecular and conjunctive.”[13]
Ultimately, as Cohen argues, when “Guthlac is read with his fiends rather than against them, when monster, man, fen, beorg, church, nation, text, God, hell are mapped as pieces of an identity machine consisting of ‘provisional linkages of elements, fragments, flows, of disparate status and substance: ideas, things—human, inhuman, and inanimate,’ then Guthlac becomes something other than the saint who ascends to a celestial throne to escape time and change.” For Guthlac—whoever he might be or of what or whom he may be composed—“is the assemblage formed by a sacred body battling demons who are bound, like him, to an intense and contagious desire for a fenland beorg, who are bound to an audience who are in turn bound to them.”[14] This also raises the question, for me, of how the Guthlac narratives function(ed) as art for, regardless of their possibly regulative and disciplinary and ideological intentions rooted in a politics of Christo-nationalist place, they open a path to the sensorium of the unregulated, displaced, and wildly mobile “flows” and “intensities” of the extreme, transformational processes of what Deleuze and Guattari termed “de-territorialization,” in which, I would argue, reader, author, and text together form a “becoming-world, carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible itself, asignifying, makes its rupture, its own line of flight, follows its ‘aparallel evolution’ through to the end.”[15]

Although the hermetic life is one in which a hard and closed singularity is prized over a loose and open multiplicity, Guthlac’s hermitage is not possible without adopting the habitus of those who, historically, have been multiply displaced and un-housed across the landscape of a middle-land that is itself always migrating (from, for example, the arable farmsteads of the post-Roman period to the labyrinth of black streams and reed beds of Guthlac’s time to the drained green plains of today). These are the migrants and exiles who, always on the move and perhaps legally undomiciled, become the strangers and foreigners, the impressed laborers but also the “illegals” (the “devils”). Strikingly, in the Old English poetic version of the legend (where the watery and cave-like barrow of the Latin narrative has been transposed into a desolate and hidden mountaintop), this is made explicitly clear when the poet tells us that Guthlac’s hermitage is a “secret place” (dygle stow, l. 215) where God once allowed the “fiends” to live when, “tired from their wanderings, the accursed came to rest for a stolen moment” (Guthlac A: ll. 212-13). And in the first extended confrontational exchanges between Guthlac and “exiled kinsmen” (wræcmæcgas, l. 263), certain “spokesmen” for the “fiends” excoriate Guthlac for wresting their “home” (ham, l. 271) from them, and also warn him that he has chosen an impossible and even animal life, one in which no one will ever give him sustenance (Guthlac A: ll. 273-78). In its descriptions of the demons, who are also displaced kinsmen, the language of the Old English Guthlac A slides back and forth between the idea of Guthlac’s harassers as apparitions from an otherworldly hell whom God appoints as the saint’s torturers and as exiles recently evicted from their marginal dwellings who appear on their own initiative to claim their landholding rights and to warn Guthlac of the hardship of the e/stranged life (their life) he has chosen.

To be a saint living in the wilderness—to be Guthlac—is to be literally strange in the sense that Sara Ahmed gives to that term in her discussion of the relationship between identity, belonging, and home in her book Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality, where she writes that, in the construction of the figure of the migrant, historically, “the strangers are the ones who, in leaving the home of the nation, are the bodies out of place in the everyday world they inhabit, and in the communities in which they come to live.”[16] And the “drama” of the stranger, following the thinking of Iain Chambers, is one in which the stranger is “cut off from their homelands of tradition” and becomes an “emblem” or “figure” that “draws our attention to the urgencies of our time: a presence that questions our present.”[17] But it is Ahmed’s feeling that “to take the figure of the stranger as simply present is to overlook and forget the very relationships of social antagonism that produce the stranger as a figure in the first place,” and this view finally “fetishizes” the stranger, in much the same way, I would argue, that the authors of the Guthlac narratives and Guthlac himself, as a fictional character, fetishizes the demons and outcast “Britons” who haunt and torture him. This ultimately produces what Ahmed terms an “ontology” of the stranger “as given in and to the world,” and finally “conceals how ‘the stranger’ comes into being through the marking out of inhabitable spaces, bodies and terrains of knowledge. To talk of the migrant [then,] is not sufficient. It cannot deal with the complexities of the histories, not only of the displacement of peoples, but the demarcation of places and spaces of belongings” or “dwellings.”[18]

Here, then, is where I see the possibility of beginning to suture some lines of thought from Fumerton’s account of “unsettled” or “lowly” or “landless” subjectivity in early modern England—which also gestures toward the possibility of considering the “lowly modern subject” of global capitalism—back to the “incorporated” and utlah (“outlaw”) bodies and minds of a more God-based Anglo-Saxon England and forward to the work of Ahmed, Rosi Bradotti, Iain Chambers, and others on nomadic subjectivity and ethics in a late, transnational capitalist culture. Such suturing of these disparate discourses into what I would call a “deep” or “long” history might be necessary if we believe that what Braidotti calls the “embodied and embedded” nature of subjects is directly proportional to the ability of those bodies to aim for affirmative and joyful and not nihilistic and destructive processes of becoming, and if we believe further, in Braidotti’s words, that the “capacity to endure is collective, it is to be shared,” and further, “[i]t is held together by narratives, stories, exchanges, shared emotions and affects. It is neither equal to itself nor does it guarantee self-perpetuation.”[19] Or, in the words of Virginia Woolf in her novel The Waves (and thinking again of Guthlac merging with his demons), “But when we sit together, close . . . we melt into each other with phrases. We are edged with mist. We make an insubstantial territory.”[20]

[1] Patricia Fumerton, Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. xiii.
[2] Fumerton, Unsettled, p. xiii.
[3] Fumerton, Unsettled, pp. xiii–xiv.
[4] Fumerton, Unsettled, pp. xviii.
[5] Fumerton, Unsettled, pp. xxi.
[6] Citations of Guthlac A are from Jane Roberts, ed., The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979). Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
[7] All citations of the Anglo-Latin Life are from Bertram Colgrave, ed. and trans., Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956). All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
[8] Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 117 [116–53].
[9] Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” p. 121.
[10] Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” p. 145.
[11] Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” pp. 141, 147, 148.
[12] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 33.
[13] Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” pp. 150, 151.
[14] Cohen, “The Solitude of Guthlac,” p. 152.
[15] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 11.
[16] Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 78.
[17] Iain Chambers, Migrancy, Culture, Identity (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 6.
[18] Ahmed, Strange Encounters, p. 79.
[19] Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (Cambridge, Eng.: Polity Press, 2006), pp. 160, 199.
[20] Virginia Woolf, The Waves (London: Grafton, 1977), p. 11.


Adam Roberts said...

This is a really interesting paper, Eileen; full of fascinating and thought-provoking stuff of the kind that needs mentally to ferment for a while before a proper response can be formulated. In the interim, two trivial points:

[a] Is it ‘deleuzoguattarian’? I always thought it was deleuzeguattarian.

[b] Guthlac strikes me as an interesting figure to use as a means of discussing nomadic figuration, because he’s so forcefully associated with only one part of the world; the eastern fens of England. Looking at the fellowship of Saint Guthlac on wikipedia [] 11 churches that share a dedication to the saint, most of them in Lincolnshire –- which, incidentally, I wouldn’t call the midlands (‘This is the geography of the “midlands”’) … I'd say rather it’s the east coast. See,s to me that the churches are interesting, though. They stand-in as the material residuum of Guthlac’s holy life, the rhizomatic spreading out of his ‘cell’ … and English churches make excellent ‘holey-spaces’ in the deleuzeguattarian, Mille-Plateaux sense, although maybe the holy/holey pun is a bit distracting. My point is that churches are surely grounded, not nomadic; and medieval saints often are (as Guthlac is) localised, associated with certain specific areas … no? Churches are also places where scores and perhaps hundreds (although probably not thousands) of bodies can coexist.

Actually, if I think of it, I suppose I’m a bit torn as to whether churches, as the materialisation of Guthlac’s body, are essentially rooted, stationary items that rather contradict the nomadic flow you talk about in your paper; or whether the fact that Guthlac churches spread from Lincolnshire into Leicestershire and Northamptonshire is indeed evidence of a slow migration of sorts. Although they haven’t migrated very far.

Karl Steel said...

Actually, if I think of it, I suppose I’m a bit torn as to whether churches, as the materialisation of Guthlac’s body, are essentially rooted, stationary items that rather contradict the nomadic flow you talk about in your paper

Don't we think of them instead as intensities or coagulations or even places to try to imagine a rootedness? Only because I've been teaching a Bible as Literature class, I think here of the Temple Cult in old Israel/Judah and the efforts by the Temple to manage, centralize, and supervise the worship of YHWH, which seems to have been a great deal more various than the dominant narratives of the Hebrew Bible prefer to admit.

Eileen, more great work from you, thanks.

Have you read Sharon Farmer's excellent Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris? Chapter 1, "Wealth, Migration, and Poverty" sounds like it would be very useful for revisions to Fumerton. It's clear that 13th- and 14th-century Paris attracted crowds of migrants, equally men and women, and that women's labor also moved between the "home" and the "streets." If we lack records or the subjectivity of these people, the problem is probably not as simple as a difference in subjectivities but rather in technological differences (and the same holds true for the eighth century, and yup, I know that different technologies can produce different subjectivities and collectivities, but we must not mistake an absence of records for an absence of being. Not that I'm accusing you of this, Eileen!). In other (tediously trapdooring) words, capitalism's got something to do with it, but we have to either drop capitalism back a few centuries or decide that dislocated labor is a rule rather than the exception, and that the exception is in fact the few centuries, if that, in which most of the poor tended to be tied to particular plots as serfs (but here I'm talking outside my paygrade).

As for the language of the "undeserving poor" (here looking to the Hansen's review of Fulmerton), well, mendicant defenses of their begging, iirc, operated in part by dividing deserving poor from the lazy. I think we might even find something like that in reform monks' call for labor, and the reaction that defended monastic study, prayer, and copying (traditional monastic activities) as already labor. I also think of a sermon by the 12th-century Regular canon Raoul Ardens that argued for his brethren as being the poor of the parable Dives et Pauper in order to promise himself of the future infernal punishment of people insufficiently generous to his order.

This was an enforced collectivity, one that may have circumscribed certain limits upon the movements of un-domiciled individuals.

Although we must be careful not to get caught up in a top-down model of political power. At the least, regardless of how many people lost out in the homogenization that formed 'Mercia,' certain groups or individuals could profit as collaborators. But even this 'correction' is still too vertical in its conception. How about this: perhaps certain groups or individuals could profit by taking advantage of the shifts from the tensions and flows in their past alliances and self- and corporate-conceptions to the new tensions &c. of the coming hegemony.

And here we might look for further thought, as you do, in present-day migrant experiences and cultures (which are records of dispossesion, oppression, of homelessness (including in their so-called 'home' nations) but also of opportunity, including opportunities of new identities (and here I abjure this song). We can also look to medieval pilgrim and mercantile and perhaps even Levantine, Iberian, and Sicilian subjectivities. Or the difficult middles of the British marches.

We might think that relational spaces of such complexities do "open a path" to something, but I think it's not to a "sensorium of the unregulated." I would suggest instead a place of clamorous contradictory regulations so varied that they could resemble mere anarchy. Is Guthlac being pulled apart for a while by too many, too noisy rules? Is that what I'm saying? I'm not sure. For now, let me just say that we must not let ourselves get so swept away by the shiftiness of D&G that we forget material relations.

Maybe it's not all that bad to do this with Guthlac, who, after all, willfully took a drop in class and (certain kinds of dominant) social power to become a hermit; but I think there's something more troubling--something a bit pastoral--in stressing (only?) the 'new' possibilities for people who economically don't have much choice but to do what they do. Sounds like Ahmed and Chambers are getting at this; you are, absolutely, when you point out how Guthlac A figures G's tormenters through the un- and dispossessed. It seems also that Guthlac A's figuration through these people is also the discursive exploitation and occlusion of these people.

With this last point in mind, we might well imagine the terrifying 'freedom' of these fendemons not as a Deleuze/guattarian freespace but rather as a symptom of the pastoral, populist fantasy that seems always to have tempted the minds of the dominant, including those who wrote and preserved this saint's life. Those responsible for the saint's life presumably had something to do, or quotidian sympathies with those responsible for, expelling or entrapping some laborers into a migrancy that simultaneously suited the migrants for forming the stuff of anti-identitarian dreams preserved in the Guthlac vitae.

That's all I have for now. I think this is really promising work.

Anonymous said...

Eileen, thank you for this essay, which reminds me of the similar experiences of St. Mang in Bavaria, who seems to have engaged in his battles against demons in order to make the land habitable and friendly. Thus he also serves as a kind of culture hero.
Then again, there is a complex theme here about wetlands: and of course Americans may have inherited from ye olde English a horror of wetlands, but might they not have been perfectly decent country and rich places to live?
Finally: I wonder if you know about Muir and Ruggiero's book Microhistory & the Lost Peoples of Europe?

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks so much, everyone [thus far] for such rich responses. First, Karl, you have given me so much provocative food for thought that I barely know where to begin, but I can tell you that I am going to be taking many of your points into account as I expand and revise [too rushed right now with pre-Thanksgiving madness to respond in "slow" and detailed kind, but will soon], but what I *can* say now is that your most useful and important caution, I think, is that

"We might think that relational spaces of such complexities do "open a path" to something, but . . . not to a "sensorium of the unregulated." I would suggest instead a place of clamorous contradictory regulations so varied that they could resemble mere anarchy. . . . we must not let ourselves get so swept away by the shiftiness of D&G that we forget material relations."

Thanks for Sharon Farmer book reference as well, Karl: I did not know of it and will definitely get my hands on it.

And yes, Adam, I know it should be "deleuzeguattarian" and not "deleuz-o-guattarian," but I like to put that "o" in there to indicate the shift/elision between the two names [just my quirky wierdness, I guess]. As to Guthlac's supposed status as a nomad/hermit and the ways in which churches later anchor him in situated place, so to speak, I think the figure of the hermit saint [whether Guthlac or anyone else] is always problematic in this respect. Obviously, to be a hermit, Guthlac has to "wander," as it were, to supposedly uninhabitable and wild & wayward places: he has to be, quite literaly, "wayward." But once he settles in, he takes hold of a particular spot and lends to it his sanctified name; he becomes rooted there, as do the churches that take his name [or imprimatur] that follow afterward. Also, in the narratives, especially the Old English poetic narratives, it is clear that others have lived there who refuse to simply leave now that Guthlac is present [these are "fiends," or demons, but also "exile-kinsmen," who at one point even refer to other "others" who live nearby who they would be willing to rile up against Guthlac if necessary, so it is clear that the so-called desolate or "secret" space Guthlac claims as his hermitage is contested property [of a sort], both within the spiritual/otherworldly and also more earthly realms. Thanks for the note re: iffy use of "midlands"; I'll correct that.

And M. Moore: I did not know about the Muir and Ruggerio book, so I will definitely check that out. Cheers, friend.

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for the thanks, EJ. If I can be of any help to your work, it's a pleasure. My cautions on D&G I'm pretty sure are filtered through my memory of comments on D&G in Volatile Bodies, which themselves are piggybacking on some fading workingclass consciousness from recent dsicussions. Looking forward to seeing how this thing develops.

And all best with your Thanksgiving!

Adam Roberts said...

Eileen, I've a hunch (though maybe I'm misreading the cool politeness of your response) that my comment came over as snippy or cavalier; sorry if so, I really didn't mean it to ... you can of course spell D&G any way you want; and I really do think it's an excellent paper.

Eileen Joy said...

Adam: this is why online communication can be so tricky sometimes--there's often no way to read tone. Believe me when I tell you that my response was not meant to be "cool" and I was in no way offended by your comment on how to spell out the D&G hybrid adjective. Seriously. It's pretty much impossible to offend me [no. 1], and I am never so wedded to my own thinking that I won't change it in a heartbeat when a better suggestion comes along [no. 2], and I don't take myself too seriously, ever [no. 3]. Cheers, Eileen

Adam Roberts said...

I am rubbish at reading tone, particular online; you'd think, given my professinal training, I'd be better. Still, relieved I didn't piss you off.

J J Cohen said...

Eileen, I am so looking forward to having the time to carefully read your rich post. For the moment, though, having only skimmed it, I offer the following.

Last week, somewhere near Grand Cayman, I was relaxing with some fruity beverage or other and reading Bruce Holsinger's Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror, a book he'd been kind enough to send me just before I departed. I was struck by this quotation from an article in the Naval War College Review:

States today represent only one level of this power structure, becoming more diffuse, internally split, and enmeshed in wider complex webs of power. This structure is fluid and fungible, feeding back and undergoing continual adjustments and ad hoc responses to a rapidly changing environment...

The article continues with much similar language, wording reminiscent of Foucault on power and (even more) Deleuze on assemblages and flows. Of course, as that notion entered my mind, I also thought: how much rum do they put in these fruity beverages anyway? The Defense Department does not read Deleuze.

Holsinger says nothing about such a connection, either ... at least not here. Towards the end of the book, though, he writes:

Indeterminacy, unknowability, deferral, différance, the fluidity of sovereignty, the border-transgressing promise of the transnational: we have laid claims to these tropes as our own critical stock in trade. It is no small measure of the shock accompanying recent proliferation of neomedievalism that neoconservatism has begun to recruit these same tropes for its own continuing process of reinvention. To hear Donald Rumsfeld speaking this pomo idiom ... to recognize that neomedievalism has devolved from intelelctual paradigm to justification of torture -- these should serve as chilling reminders that, as Edward Said recognized, theory travels, and those involves in any theory's institutional emergence and consolidation may end up having little or no say over the ethics of its extra-institutional deployment.

I am disturbed by those lines; I take that to be their intention. Implicitly they make me feel guilty -- though I'm not sure of what. Abetting torture via Deleuzian readings of Guthlac's demons? Holsinger has written a careful and insightful book, laying out the deep connections among the various nouns that make up his title. I'm just a little unsure what we're supposed to do about the resonance between torture memos and Deleuze -- other than write the kinds of books Bruce Holsinger has done, books that erode the intellectual and ethical support for much of what the US Justice department has argued.

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for your comments, Jeffrey; I have still to read Holsinger's book but plan to do so in advance of our Kalamazoo panel on the place of the present in medieval studies. Also, two of the chapters in our Palgrave book ["Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages"], by Michael Moore and Steve Guthrie, hopefully do the kind of scholarship you hope for with reference to the U.S. governments recent justifications for torture, anyway. Anything--any idea--is always potentially up for grabs by the wrong party, as it were; this has been made starkly clear in the debates over global warming as well.

But there isn't [I don't think] a line of stepping stones from Deleuze to, say, the Defense Department, because I think a lot of scholars and intellectuals in different times and places often hit on the same ideas, albeit situated in markedly different contexts. So, for a long time now, "systems theory" in business, psychology, sociology and other realms of academic-but-also-more-"applied" thought has been holding some sway, and is very similar to Deleuzan-inspired "assemblage" theories [in, say, the work of Manuel De Landa or Rosi Braidotti or Elizabeth Grosz], but is not necessarily rooted there [in Deleuze or his "ilk"]. And both of these ["systems" and "assemblage" theory] is also tangentially related to theories of "emergence" and "connection" in more scientific fields, such as microbiology or cybernetics. This is why, though, I sometimes wish the humanists could also have, in addition to English departments and the like, policy institutes, because otherwise, their more liberal, and let's say, *humane* ideas will, indeed, get trampled over or simply mis-appropriated by the huge sucking capitalist or nationalist-bureaucratic machines that are always so good at deploying any idea that helps to advance a particular agenda, no matter how pernicious or destructive. I don't think our scholarship, per se, can really affect change at that level, but we could be the careful custodians [or historians] of what always gets misused, abused, etc. But what is the *force* [if that is the right word] of such work: how does it elbow its way into the world and make demands that can be answered? I don't really believe anymore, though, in big changes wrought by braniacs, only in small, personal acts of defiance. Or maybe it's late and I'm tired. Yes, that's it.

J J Cohen said...

True enough, Eileen, and that was the first thought to hit me: descriptions of actual existing reality are not copyrighted by theorists and critics; the Defense Department is simply recording a truth that others have recorded. Yet is that is true, what is Holsinger cautioning us about?

One more complication: I ahd heard once that Manuel de Landa, after publishing War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, was asked to come to the Pentagon to brief some military strategists on his findings. I haven't been able to verify that fact, but it does stick in my memory from a Deleuze discussion list I used to subscribe to.

Eileen Joy said...

And interestingly enough, I just finished reading a passage in Rosi Braidotti's book "Metamorphoses" that cautions theorists to not let biologists have the last word on material determinism(s), but rather, to enter into actual co-work with them, or else corporations will run off with, well, our very "selves" and agency. The more I think about it, the only real solution to people at the Pentagon or in certain corporate corridors or policy institutes from skimming from certain philosophies for not-so-ethical ends would be to actually enter into some kind of partnership[s] with them. I'm not sure how, but certain relationships would have to be constructed, as they already *are* anyway between, say, social scientists, economists and legislators, between, say, humanists of a certain bent and legislators or foreign policymakers, etc. It seems kind of absurd, but why not. Remember when presidents used to have historians hanging around the White House?

Karl Steel said...

On academia and the military industrial complex, did you see this article on anthropology and the US war in Afganistan?

The executive board of the American Anthropological Association has released a statement that “expresses its disapproval” of a year-old U.S. Army program known as the Human Terrain System, which sends anthropologists and other social scientists to advise military units in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The statement asks whether anthropologists affiliated with the military can uphold a commitment not to harm the people they study. Because anthropologists in the program “provide information and counsel to U.S. military field commanders,” the statement says, there is a danger that the data they provide “could be used to make decisions about identifying and selecting specific populations as targets of U.S. military operations either in the short or long term.”

The statement also expresses worry that the program will cast suspicion on anthropologists around the world, forcing them to struggle to persuade people that they aren’t working for American military or intelligence agencies.


Remember when presidents used to have historians hanging around the White House?

Well, Bush did give a medal to nutjob historian Victor Davis Hanson. And certainly Bush has made use of, or been made use of by, certain academics.

Finally, I think I'm with Zizek here, although I don't want to throw out infinite responsibility with the engaging with the state bathwater:
The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Eileen - way behind with ITM - but you should seek out David A. Postles, Social geographies - Engalnd 1200-1600 (2007) - all about mobility and perceptions of space. Both theorised and critical of theory.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Also next January's pre-modern towns conference, Institute Historical Research London is on Migrants and Minorities - 4 medieval papers and 2 early modern.