Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dying on a Hill: Martial Metaphors for Medieval Studies

by J J Cohen

I hope the following does not come out wrong. I do not know Michael Drout personally or follow his blog. I have read some of his work, but not much. I realize that by focusing on a single blog post I may be taking his words out of their widest context.

Drout recently published a rousing blog post on "Laying Down Markers." Drout writes of a colleague who suggested hiring a contemporary-focused scholar rather than a medievalist for a vacant position:
I decided not to let this go, as I'm sure everyone wanted me to. Instead, I laid down a marker: we are not going to make this decision without a debate about this idea on the merits of the argument and its philosophical structure. It will be a long, difficult, drawn-out debate, because I know my arguments very well and am happy to make them (and if they're not careful, I'll use rhetoric, I will...). But I am not going to do the typical thing, the medievalist thing (I'm sad to say), and make one gesture and then roll over. Instead, I'm going to be willing, as one of my colleagues put it in another circumstance "to die on this hill."
Drout promises to be henceforth unrelenting in his defense of the Middle Ages, whether at faculty meetings or at the Faculty Club: "Every single time people try to discount, denigrate or ignore the field, I am going to make them engage in a long debate from first principles."

Several in the blogosphere have cheered the post. I could have more enthusiasm for Drout's endeavor if he were offering the possibility of true debate -- that is, if both sides could be open to having their positions modified and their minds changed, if both sides could acknowledge in advance that what they learn might alter how they conduct their scholarship and the ways in which they conceptualize their fields. Drout writes, though, that the debate he has in mind is more of weapon than catalyst, foisted to erode the will of auditors: "Eventually, for many people, it will just be easier to take the study of the Middle Ages seriously so as not to have to lose 2/3 of a meeting on a long, tedious but impassioned rant from / debate with Drout." Content matters less than strategy, for here words do not persuade so much as bludgeon: the threat is that these words will be unleashed unremittingly ... and without the expressed possibility of an audible reply.

What if we medievalists had conversations with our colleagues rather than debates? What if we formed alliances rather than took last stands on lofty mounds?

I've been in academia long enough to predict that reluctance to trigger a predictable "rant/debate" from a colleague leads not to an increased respect for his or her values and seriousness, but to an increased marginalization of the would-be debater. Does anyone listen to the self-appointed gadfly? Do deployers of well practiced rants ever actually obtain what they desire? Do they ever die, like bloodied Roland upon his angel-touched hill? Or do they slowly fade and diminish within an isolation they have brought upon themselves?

I spend a great deal of time pondering how to ensure that medieval studies forms alliances that can enrich understanding of the past and complicate conversations about the present and future. I'd like to think that my colleagues who work in the contemporary Caribbean or in nineteenth-century America can learn as much from me as I from them, and that we can mean it when we say that we belong to the same intellectual community. I've been reading Michel Serres recently, and he has some interesting quotes about how debate drove him from academia: "I have never understood why one must be at odds with those who do not share one's point of view." "Since war is the most common thing in the world, it causes indefinite repetition of the same gestures and same ideas." "I'm not convinced that debate ever advances thinking." Conversation, Serres will allow, can refine and clarify, but for the most part Serres chooses the monk's cell over colloquia. He is so weary of the martial game of knowledge that he writes as if he were Saint Anthony in the desert.

I would not make Serres' choice. I am no good at solitude, crave it as I sometimes do. My own credo? Provisional alliance. Communities built upon interests regardless of time period. An absence of resentment. An exploration of scholarship that moves outside inherited or pregiven boundaries. Invention and creation. The downside: some people will declare that you are not a real medievalist (because to some scholars, real medievalists are those who do what they themselves do, a terribly small world to find oneself trapped within). The upside: conversation and alliance-building work. In the three years I've been chairing English at GW we've had an influx of very good graduate students in early modern and medieval subjects, founded a new institute devoted to early Europe, we've added a new medievalist to our TT faculty, and we've grown our enrollments in every early course. These achievements happened with the assistance and through the good will of my colleagues, not because I drew a line or offered to perish on a hill.

22 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

My worry: that I have caricatured or misapprehended Drout's position. Was his blog piece some steam release rather than a serious assertion of intention? Have I made a mountain from a hill? I hope someone who knows Drout's work more intimately than I do will correct me if I've misrepresented his own post.

Janice said...

A colleague in the English department and I have spearheaded a "Pre- and Early Modern Studies Group" which is drawing people in from many disciplines on campus. So far, it's been heartening just to know that other people can find some commonality of purpose even if they're in modern languages or classical studies or history, studying different places, eras and topics.

We hope to use this group to promote the visibility of pre-modern studies across campus and we're trying to draw that subject as broadly as possible with some more scholars working on pre-industrial topics across the globe. Building bridges can be useful, but it is a lot of work!

theswain said...

As one of those who cheered Drout's post on the subject, I am both bothered and chastened by your comments. Chastened because you raise a very good point, one that I myself tried to raise last summer.

At the same time, I am bothered. Too often out there, the field of medieval studies, or more specifically medieval literature and languages, are dismissed out of hand. There is a firm, if erroneous, belief among many administrators that no one is interested in such things anymore. Positions that should be open when a medievalist retires (or otherwise leaves) are often not filled at all and we see across the board fewer job opportunities. Unlike Shakespeare, Victorian, or Modern literature studies or theory for that matter, in too many institutions Medievalists are forced to defend their field or else face possible cuts and reductions. No one would think of getting rid of Shakespeare (yet!) or the resident Miltonist or Dickensian. But not continuing to teach medieval literature? Who needs it anyway?

And therein lies my bother. I'm not certain in such a situation that conversation is an adequate response. Now don't get me wrong: I am for chatting and learning and teaching my colleagues who focus on other periods. I am for bursting and even breaking down our arbitrary periodizations and compartmentalisms. I am for conversing, team teaching across fields, etc. When the geologist says that back in those medieval days, people were ignorant and didn't know the world was round, I'll gladly, gently, and even quietly set said geologist on the straight way that leads to life...or something like that. But unlike the geologist, my field of study is constantly beleaguered and threatened with marginalization, with in fact, a kind of dearth and death. And in that situation, I will rail against the dieing of the light!

I suppose what we're talking about here, to borrow terms from yet another field, is soft vs. hard diplomacy. I think we need to have the wisdom to know when to use soft diplomacy and when to use hard diplomacy, when reaching out and conversing and teaching one another is an appropriate response, and when being a bit more martial makes the grade and gets the goal made. I don't think we should jettison one or the other, but judiciously use both as needed.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I get that, Swain. Hence my fear about taking the post out of context: is Drout talking about last stand maneuvers, or is this to be a typical mode? The context of the post was short term, field-open hires, I believe.

And don't get me wrong: I am fully capable of hard diplomacy when the need arises and the last hour arrives. Sometimes such stands are necessary, I do believe that. It's a question of when and under what conditions and with what at stake.

prehensel said...

Swain makes a fine point, but I think an argument, a conversation necessitates both sides engaging on the issue. If it does become a pro forma debate/deathmatch in which the same arguments, accusations, and recriminations are trotted out, there's nothing really happening. It's almost a tacit acknowledgment that the matter has been decided.

On the other hand, I never see my Early Modern, Victorian, or Film Studies colleagues having to provide a rationale for their existence. Perhaps Drout is correct in defending the Alamo to demonstrate how important the issue really is.

JJC, I think part of the issue between your view and Drout's may be the variation within the discipline on what medieval studies is and should do. In the typical raison d'etre the Middle Ages are painted as the root of Early Modern (and therefore all other) British and American lit. You must know where you come from to know where you are. But it's a double-edged sword because it tends to isolate medieval lit. from PoMo theory, eco-criticism, psychoanalytic crit., etc. It begins to look static, stagnant.

In some ways, this plays right into to sort of things that I've seen being worked out by BABELers and this blog. I know some folks who think we're re-tasking medieval lit. and history to make it either more popular with our students or to (re)shape it in our own images and make it reflect contemporary concerns. I don't see a problem with this (because I do it), but some certainly do.

I don't know that this disagreement will be resolved any time soon. But I feel a sense of urgency to come up with some response. As the economy tanks, the first to suffer cut are the least valued. I think more and more medievalist spots will be lost to attrition because it's too hard to hire someone new to teach classes that don't always "fit" into the department's vision of itself.

Perhaps it's time to begin to change and rearrange (who says the Brady Bunch can't teach you something) the way we do things. Maybe we should let go of the name and concentrate on the overlaps with other areas in the department. I've been trying and trying to be taken a bit more seriously for my theme/approach than my time period: I'd rather be known as "the monster guy" rather than the "medieval guy." (This has not gone well.) But there are others who have done this successfully--eco-critics are a good example. It might enmesh medieval studies with everything else (Beowulf and Film Studies, the madness of Lancelot and British Romantics, the Church and ISAa); the scary thing is that then there's no "medieval studies" anymore. It entails a (at least partial) loss of identity.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

I think more and more medievalist spots will be lost to attrition because it's too hard to hire someone new to teach classes that don't always "fit" into the department's vision of itself.

The scarier version of the same observation could run:

I think more and more humanist spots will be lost to attrition because it's too hard to hire someone new to teach classes that don't always "fit" into the university's vision of itself.

It's not just medieval studies that is under stress right now. Early Modern, Victorian, Film Studies colleagues: they share our boat, and they are being asked to provide raisons d'être to unsympathetic ears. All the more reason for medievalists to join with those outside their temporal field to ensure that the university's vision of itself isn't a short-sighted, preprofessional or utilitarian one.

irina said...

Oooh, such a good discussion topic.

Prehensel, I'm tempted to say I'm ok with there not being "medieval studies" anymore, as long as people who make a study of medieval literature (history, culture, religion, art, etc.) are still hired and get to teach courses. I'm not particularly interested in shoring up medieval studies except as a structure and excuse for rigorous study across disciplinary boundaries. But when that structure means we can no longer speak across period boundaries, its value to me diminishes.

Having recently been through the invigorating experience of talking to groups of mostly-non-medievalists about what I do, I've found that other scholars are excited to hear about the quirkiest, most obscure little texts from the forgotten corners of the MA if you're willing to show them what's interesting about these weird works.

I'm going to be brutally honest here: when I talk about my field to those not in it, I view my role as being a mixture of evangelist, prostitute, drug dealer and salesman. I'll wheedle, seduce, and pull out any number of miraculous relics if it'll get people hooked. I have no shame.

I mean, seriously, why should anyone find Anglo-Saxon literature important or worthwhile unless I've made a case for it? I've heard that some people live quite happy and fulfilling lives without knowing anything about Beowulf, Solomon and Saturn, or Byrhtferth's Enchiridion. God forbid, but this is what I'm told. So it's up to me to make the case.

Eileen Joy said...

First let me just say: sigh.

While I take Larry Swain's comments to full heart here, I do not think Jeffrey mis-represents or caricature's Drout's somewhat militaristic language and metaphors in his post about "laying down markers" when it comes to fighting and doing battle, as it were, on behalf of medieval studies. Of course you sometimes have to *fight* for things you believe in--that's all to the good and I would never say that there are no occasions on which *fighting* for medieval studies as a valuable discipline within the the more broad humanities is desirable or necessary, although I have to admit that I also believe those kinds of "battles" are mainly efficacious in the short term but do not necessarily secure the long-term future or health of our field. Further, if we believe the future of our field relies on various pitched battles, or even on conversations across certain sedimented "lines," then we kind of buy in to a version of the humanities in which different fields, areas, and periods are always already somehow cordoned off from each other, when it might be better to work a little harder to see all the ways in which they are always already intimately connected [through language, cognitive processes, certain types of material culture, intellectual & pedagogical concerns, "big" philosophical questions about history, subjectivity, sociality, and the like].

What really distressed me about Drout's blog post was not as much the militaristic tone as the asides that popped up regarding how, while on the one hand, we have to argue we're just as valuable and relevant or as "important" as any other field, on the other hand, "We" [capital W here implying all medievalists] know something else: we're actually better, more important, more valuable, etc. One aside [in parentheses] from Drout, while making the argument about how important it is to vigorously counter any argument that medieval studies is not as valuable as other studies in other [and one can assume, more modern] periods, was,

"we all know it's actually more valuable, but I'll throw them a bone"

A little further on, in a type-font considerably smaller than the one used for the rest of the post [in order to signal, I assume, that this is another aside, almost a kind of whisper], Drout writes that other fields, like sociology or urban studies or political science, are not

"even *as* important as medieval studies, but we'll keep that amongst ourselves."

This distresses me a little, because if one of our objectives, as practitioners of medieval studies, should be to convince our colleagues of the value of our field then why would we want to do this from a position of smug [if even silently or secretly smug--wink wink] superiority? Does this make any sense to anyone? This stance, whether signalled in parentheses or a tiny type-font appears, in my mind to pull the rug out from the entire argument Drout seems to want to make in his post--at the very least, it evacuates any spirit of collegial amity, good will, and mutual respect upon which any defenses of medieval studies will have to be made to our colleagues, both within and outside of our departments. At the same time, it adopts the very posture that has Drout himself fuming [that others, working in other periods in an English department, could believe later periods to have more value over or be more important than medieval studies], so why on earth would we want to strike a similar pose with regard to other periods, fields--that, in fact, *we* are superior, etc.? I confess some despair over the striking of such a posture.

God knows, this subject is always on my mind as I consider it the raison d'etre of all my work to demonstrate the relevance of medieval studies, not only to other fields and periods within the humanities, but also to contemporary life and thought [while at the same time, I would say I am equally as passionate about arguing for the relevance of everything non-medieval to the medieval--hell, I think everything's connected and thinking about that gives me a lot of pleasure and joy, and if that sounds silly . . . whatev!], and I've ranted on this subject so many times on this weblog that maybe someone should take me quietly into a corridor somewhere and tell me to calm down. Whoever wants to volunteer to do that should also bring a bottle of bourbon with them and some quaaludes.

But all kidding aside, I spent most of the past four days making final revisions to a prospectus for a new journal in "medieval cultural studies" [which some of our readers know about, some don't, and everyone will know about in about 2 or so weeks], and I have been thinking a lot about all of the ways in which we could do a better job of increasing what might be called the intellectual "traffic" between different periods, fields, and disciplines, while also maintaining certain grounds for medieval studies to continue to develop what might be called field-specific knowledges. It can't just be about making arguments, either [I must admit, like Michael Serres, I became weary of academic, Hegelian-style, agonistic haggling a long time ago, but I don't want to be an intellectual hermit, either, and there is some benefit to be gained when ideas struggle against each other a little bit], but rather, and ideally, it might be about developing new "working group" relationships [that would go beyond, say, conversation groups, although I think the conversation group is often a necessary first step] that would be driven, not so much by, who has the largest and most valuable intellectual capital bank account, but rather, by a concerted collective effort to tackle big, pressing questions *together*, in which all intellectual capital is pooled, and there is a kind of "no holds barred" attitude as to what might work, or not [methodology-wise, disciplinary- or inter-disciplinary-wise, etc.], in response to any given questions [such as: what does it mean to be human? are human rights still possible? why do feelings matter? does the individual still count, and which individual? how many different times are there? is the past really over? how do new digital cultures affect the work we do? what is sensation and how does it work? does love exist as a tangible reality? etc. etc.]. This relates, as well, to Jeffrey's idea of communities built, across periods, upon areas of common interest--these alliances don't have to be strangulating; they can always be provisional.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, instead of making arguments to each other about what we do and why we think it's valuable, we need more of a mutual regard--across periods and disciplines--and a common understanding that such arguments should be moot by now. There will always be those, on various sides of various "fences," who will remain unconvinced, which just means the onus may be on some of us [in different periods and fields] to come together and show how it can be otherwise, and maybe even to demonstrate [wish wish hope hope] how medieval studies can be a cutting-edge agent for change in the "business as usual" of the academic humanities. A new journal [similar, I believe to Jeffrey's Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at GWU] could be one mechanism whereby medieval studies could be such an agent [thereby also securing for itself, but also for other fields, a better future within the university--and let's recall here, too, that collectively working on the health of the *humanities*, more broadly speaking, and not just medieval or any other studies, ought to be our concern; otherwise, we're all just fighting over smaller and smaller plots of turf], and I will conclude by sharing here two bits from the journal prospectus:

"It is partly our objective with this journal to develop an inter-disciplinary, cross-temporal, and socially interventionist (and therefore, also publicly intellectual) medieval cultural studies that would bring medieval studies into mutually beneficial critical relations with scholars working on a diverse array of post-medieval subjects, including critical theories that remain un- or under-historicized. It is also hoped that a concerted focus on the question of the relations between the medieval and modern in different times and places will help us to take better stock of the different roles that history and various processes of historicizing have played in the shaping of various presents and futures. Thus, we will develop, with scholars working in other periods and fields, critical engagements with the question of periodization itself and of the ways in which the production of disciplinary knowledges is bound up with historical chronologies and teleologies that have become sedimented over time. It is our aim to problematize these teleologies and to also work toward innovative modes of temporal thinking that would be productive of new critical theories for better understanding the relations between past, present, and future. At the same time, we are also concerned to further develop new methods for approaching and articulating all of the ways in which the medieval past remains both intransigent and silent, yet is also voluble and variable (in terms of how many of its material artifacts, textual and otherwise, still surround us), and therefore, the question of history and what it ultimately can and cannot account for as regards the 'realism' of the medieval past remains as a pressing concern."

The journal would also, in addition to the aims articulated above, "advocate for and support the continuing development, from any and all disciplinary directions, of historicist, materialist, comparatist, and theoretical approaches to the subjects of the Middle Ages."

Eileen Joy said...

One other thing: I never clearly understood what Drout meant by "first principles" in his post--it would be important, in his mind, to insist on arguing from first principles, by which I assume he means some sort of foundational principles that cannot be deduced [or inferred?] from any other principles or propositions? Now, when talking about, say, the "value" of a field of knowledge which has been historically shaped, how does this work exactly? Again: sigh.

It's interesting to see in Marcus's and Irina's comments both the willingness to let go of one's so-called scholarly identity, as that might be defined only within the narrow plot of "medieval studies," as well as some anxiety over what that might entail, job security-wise. I love Irina's description of herself [when talking about her work] as a combination of evangelist, salesman, prostitute, and drug pusher--that's simply hilarious but also rings true to my own experience, but in any case, the idea that "medieval studies" might have to cease to exist as field in order to free up medievalists to do all sorts of different and interesting jobs [while they would still be medievalists, and thereby, medieval studies still exists and is supported] does, indeed [as both Marcus and Irina note], raise the issue of identity and a possible "loss" of identity, and I think we all understand what an incredible lag time exists between the most radical intellectual and disciplinary innovations [on published paper, and even in the classroom] and what actually happens in a department, hiring- and curriculum-wise, and this always leads to some uncertainty with regard to having an economic purchase within the university that could be said to be *sustaining* of one's livelihood and life-projects. Medieval studies will always exist as long as there is a critical mass of medievalists out there to publish journals & books, convene at conferences, etc., but if we are willing to re-envision how we might describe ourselves and our work within the setting of the more broad humanities and university, we may well increase the types of jobs that medievalists can do, rather than decrease them.

prehensel said...

Irina: I, too, am OK with not being a "resident medievalist" (well, after that panicky moment in which I realize "ohmagod, I might not be a medievalist like I always wanted"). Because sometimes, dammit, I just want to write and think about Alien or Dark Knight.

EJ and JJC: Would this change be better implemented in the pages of a journal or the classroom? It seems to me that class offerings would be a long-term change (more like a tectonic shift) and the work done in the pages of journals would allow that change, would pave the way for it. But I'm a grad student and don't see the whole picture like people with honest-to-God offices ;)

Eileen Joy said...

Just a quick answer, Marcus, to say that curricular change is perhaps *the* most important site for securing better toe-holds for medievalists in *and* across various departments. I've written on the blog before about some of the massive changes my department made to its BA in English curriculum, partly to create new courses that would cross periods, genres, provenances, etc. and that would *have* to draw upon the expertise of a variety of faculty in different periods. My university has also been really innovative in developing university-wide interdisciplinary "seminars" that are team-taught and also "linked" to other courses and are purposefully designed to highlight faculty from different departments working together on a particular subject.

Steve Muhlberger said...

I think that anyone who has spent an hour or two in Michael's humorous intelligent and broad-minded company, as I have, would find it difficult to believe that he has not already made friends and allies of anyone willing to to talk to him on the basis of mutual respect. I have read his blog for a long time and he loves his University and almost everybody connected with it (and this is a small and very personal place). I see this post as aimed at a few very specific people, not at the world at large.

Mike Smith said...

Remember this moment in Serres, Jeffrey? "When two people are together, as we are today, debate already begins to clarify things. So, you see, I'm beginning to evolve, on the question of discussion" (_Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time_ 76).

Even Serres opens up a little to the value of debate. But debate on his own terms, terms that are closer to what you're asking for Jeffrey, so he's really not alone anymore: discussion, peace, collaboration, invention.

I agree with those terms, too. It will take a lot to convince me that anger and contentiousness has a lot of value in academia, at least when aimed at colleagues. But I'm only speaking personally.

Mike Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eileen Joy said...

Steve: thanks for the qualifications of Drout's position--there may be some humor in those asides that I am missing and I would not doubt for one minute that Michael loves the university and almost everyone in it, as you say, but I also want to take his comments and argument somewhat on their face merits, and having read other of Michael's pieces devoted to the marginalized and/or imperiled position of medieval studies within the American university, I don't think he believes that only a very few specific people are the problem [although granted, this specific post *is* directed to perhaps just one or two persons in his own department, but they are also likely symptomatic of lots of other persons in lots of other department, or at least that would seem to be implied]. Either way I interpret, or possibly misinterpret Michael's *tone*, I still don't believe in arguing for the value of medieval studies or the liberal humanities or the relevance of the past "from first principles" [not exactly sure what that means, either]; at the same time, I admire Michael's department for creating interdisciplinary-type positions [if even temporary] and Michael for advocating the *fact* that a medievalist can contribute something of value to such positions [even if they are not strictly labeled "medieval studies"]. Also, Michael is chair of his department, so I imagine he has some influence there--it's all good for medieval studies, but I'm not particularly enamored of the terms by which he frames his approach to the issue of how to advocate the relevance/contemporaneity of medieval studies to our colleagues, that's all.

Peter said...

I feel like Drout gives voice to a very real frustration for a wide range of medievalists and Anglo-Saxonists in particular, given how few courses are offered in introductory Old English at an undergraduate level. I do think that the criticisms of his point offered thus far have been valid. However, I can't help but feel like interdisciplinarity is occasionally over-invoked at the expense of multi-disciplinarity. Whenever I intellectually engage with anything, I find I can fruitfully apply it to my study of medieval literature (my approach to 10th century Anglo-Latin is colored by my experience of Ezra Pound and Hart Crane more than anything else), and I feel like the authors of this blog are right to push for more interdisciplinary approaches. However, I worry sometimes that the invocation of interdisciplinarity seems to lead to the imposition of methodological hegemony, especially as I rarely see the authors here extolling the value of, say, bibliography, textual criticism, diachronic linguistics, etc. The practice of these fields, which all extend beyond medieval studies, often feels marginalized, and I worry that we too often assess their value based on how readily scholars make them accessible to other scholars who have little interest in their methodological concerns. These examples are all fields which often seem marginalized throughout the field (often with medieval studies as an exception), and it seems to be the medievalists' obsession with things like source study, book and manuscript history, and linguistics which has led to its current marginalization. Perhaps the best way we could strengthen the value of medieval studies is to work to rehabilitate these fields across periods. Push for more hires, not only in medieval fields, but also in book history and historical linguistics. It would perhaps be too much to hope that all university's had a palaeographer, but it shouldn't seem out of line to have people wearing multiple hats as both literary critics and bibliographers or linguists. And, of course, the only way to make these changes is to teach your undergraduates to value multiplicities of approach.

Prof. de Breeze said...

For some reason, this conversation puts me in mind of that great scene in Manhattan, where Woody Allen is talking to a group of friends about an upcoming neo-Nazi march in New Jersey. When Woody suggests that they get "some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to 'em," a friend points out that there was a "devastating satirical piece in The Times about the issue. Satirical pieces are one thing, Woody avers, but bricks and baseball bats tend to get straight to the point. The friend objects, saying that biting satire is always better than physical force. Woody stands firm, suggesting that, with Nazis, physical force is always better.

I'm not trying to cast our erstwhile colleagues as Nazis (or to advocate bricks and baseball bats), but maybe Larry Swain is right. Maybe there comes a time when conversation just doesn't get the point across effectively.

Ingenuity Arts said...

I think that the debates Serres references in a negative way are the pre-determined positions that belonging to this or that academic tribe rather than the kind of exchange that seeks understanding. These are settings were the preoccupation is defeating an enemy who is such only because they happen to like this philosopher rather than that one.

I think Serres has also pointed out that some forms of true insight come in a flash and aren't the result of some sort of consensus. Masterpieces aren't painted by a committee (though some of our most remarkable achievments are a result of many people working together over long periods of time - centuries even - to solve a particular wicked problem).

Eileen Joy said...

Peter: thanks for your comments here, which are important, and they are precisely what I was getting at in my original comment when I wrote that

"we could do a better job of increasing what might be called the intellectual "traffic" between different periods, fields, and disciplines, while also maintaining certain grounds for medieval studies to continue to develop what might be called field-specific knowledges."

In other words, yes, I'm for interdisciplinarity *and* multidisciplinarity [in other words, for the widest possible pluralism of approaches to the study of the Middle Ages, whether through paleograophy, codicology, linguistics, psychoanalysis, gender studies, whathaveyou--in some cases, these approaches can be combined in productive fashion, whereas in other cases, we need to also secure space for the scholar interested in studying pottery shards and nothing but pottery shards, with the aim of simply fixing their most probably date and provenance, to do just that].

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Steve, if Drout was talking about a specific situation the context of which is a local happening at his own place of employment, then I took him out of context as I feared.

Prof. de Breeze, I agree with you: sometimes you have to (threaten to) go nuclear, and sometimes it works. My department almost lost a TT position last year and I employed the strategy because I had no choice. BUT the longterm strategy has to be: how can I make the study of the distant past thrive within an economy stacked against the humanities? Through what alliances can I broaden my own intellectual horizons while inviting those outside my field to do the same? There are long horizon and ad hoc situational strategies: the aim of the former should be never to have to resort to the latter.

Mike and Ingenuity Arts: THANK YOU for your Serres reminders.

N.E. Brigand said...

Drout does team-teach interdisciplinary courses such as "Math and Science Fiction" and "Logic and Language"; his book How Tradition Works (summarized by Drout here; reviewed [by a non-academic] here) applies principles from evolutionary biology to medieval studies; and his research includes what he calls the "crazy sheep DNA project".

prehensel said...

Interesting article in the Chronicle:
http://chronicle.com/news/article/6141/whos-your-academic-buddy-new-study-suggests-how-fields-are-intertwined