Tuesday, August 11, 2009

March 2009 PMLA: Best Ever?

by J J Cohen

Though the MLA website is so poorly maintained that the January 2009 issue of PMLA is listed as the most recent -- and information there about the journal's contents is, to say the least, skimpy -- medievalist will want to ensure that they grab a copy of the March 2009 issue (volume 124 number 2). Mine just arrived at my office, and for once I think I'll be reading most of the thing.

A guest column on "Why Animals Now?" by Marianne DeKoven kicks the issue off. Then comes a Victorian Cluster which looks quite interesting ... followed by a Theories and Methodologies cluster on Animal Studies with contributions like "The Eight Animals in Shakespeare; or, Before the Human" (Laurie Shannon); "Zoos, the Academy, and Captivity" (Nigel Rothfels), "Literary Animal Agents" (Susan McHugh); "Animals, Anomalies, and Inorganic Things" (Rosi Braidotti); "Postcolonial Critique in a Multispecies World" (Neel Ahuja) -- and many more, as the saying goes. The Changing Profession column features Cary Wolfe on animal studies and the humanities.

Next a second Theories and Methodologies cluster devoted to "Medieval Studies in the Twenty-First Century." Contributions include Peggy McCracken (on the crusades and romance narratives of captivity); Karla Mallette (Aristotle and the medieval Mediterranean -- the ocean that seems to be this cluster's "In" destination); Karma Lochrie (Mandeville, cosmopolitanism, and provincializing Europe); Sharon Kinoshita ("Medieval Mediterranean Literature"); Steven Justice (on D. W. Robertson's critical fate); Bruce Holsinger (animals and the material conditions of medieval writing; Karl Steel makes an appearance in this one); Christine Chism (medieval Arabic); Jessica Brantley (the book's "prehistory"); and Josiah Blackmore (melancholy and desire in the Coita d'Amor). Immediately evident to the Anglo_saxonists among this blog's readers will be the utter absence of their field: the Middle Ages of the issue is temporally not very deep, even if geographically capacious.

I've done no more than skim the issue, but can hardly wait to spend some time with the essays. That doesn't happen for me all that often with PMLA.


irina said...

Here was my train of thought when I got this issue of the PMLA and flipped through it:

Oh, it's the PMLA. It's too bad I never find anything in it particularly compelling. Medieval manuscript as cover though -- cool. Oh, they're doing things on animals... hunh. Guess that's why they have that cover. Still neat that it's medieval. Wait, what's this theories and methodologies section...? WAIT A MINUTE!

Suffice it to say, I'm really excited about the issue, and have been reading it in bits and pieces... even brought it with me as my only reading material for a cross-country move (well, ok, that and a novel by Gabriel Matzneff), which is saying something.

And congratulations, Karl, for being all over that thing!

Ana said...

I was skimming through the issue today and had to stop to read Kinoshita's article. I am not done yet, but I find it very compelling. Indeed, this issue is great!!!

Bruce Holsinger said...

Jeffrey, you write the following:

"Immediately evident to the Anglo_saxonists among this blog's readers will be the utter absence of their field: the Middle Ages of the issue is temporally not very deep, even if geographically capacious."

You'll want to read the issue more carefully: Karla Mallette includes a gorgeous discussion of Syriac and Arabic translations of Aristotle's Poetics from the ninth through the twelfth centuries; Sharon reaches back brilliantly through the Cid (eleventh century) and Digenis Akritas (@twelfth century) to a seventh-century legend surrounding the Muslim conquest of Egypt; and my own piece concludes with a close and appreciative reading of the twenty-fourth Exeter Riddle (written, of course, in Anglo-Saxon) for its perspective on the ethical complexity of animal slaughter. I don't want to sound pedantic here, and I mean this as a friendly corrective to your post, but this is just the sort of quick-and-breezy generality (read: erroneous representation of others' scholarly work) that can breed distrust of academic blogs among many who (like me) occasionally lurk around in them. I hope the many early medievalists who read your wonderful blog won't be turned away from this issue of PMLA due to this unfortunate representation of its content.

Karl Steel said...

As my PMLA was a long time coming to me, I've only now started to work my way through it: but I've read enough to be able to second BH's commendation of the Karla Mallette piece.

While I'm thrilled by the idea of Aristotle's Poetics being especially popular in among late medieval Christian scholars because of its snatches of Arabic poetry (!), I was especially captivated by Mallette's observation, via (I think) Earl Miner, at 590 n3 (and 585), on the links between, on the one hand, lyric poetry and ethics and, on the other, drama and representation. Of course, 'representation' and ethics have been put together (in postmedieval thought) in considerations of being a witness, and I do wonder if we can put them together in premedieval Xian poetics if we sweep Ignatius of Antioch up into our consideration, but, well, there's something in this Miner/Mallette observation that isn't letting go of me.

Eileen Joy said...

Bruce: as someone who identifies herself primarily as an Anglo-Saxonist, I would say that Jeffrey's representation of the PMLA issue is mainly in the right. YOU are right that it is temporally deeper than Jeffrey perhaps implies, and you write on an Exeter Book riddle, which is great, but it has generally been the case for a long time now that in clusters of essays such as these ["state of the field"- or "new methodologies"-type collections], whether in PMLA or elsewhere [such as the "Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies"], Anglo-Saxon literature and culture is often under-represented or not represented at all or present only in token fashion. I have written about this at greater length here:


This is just to say that I don't think Jeffrey was mis-speaking when he said Anglo-Saxionists might be disappointed. As always, I was.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Thanks for the comment, Bruce. Should have been clearer: I was talking about England / Anglo-Saxonists specifically -- your cool reading of a riddle aside, of course. I think my comment and its assumptions reveal my own abiding anglocentricity (try to shake it as I may), and my longterm concern with the disappearance of OE in such wide-ranging clusters and volumes -- often replaced by a more self-evidently multicultural expanse. The Mediterranean as a culturally complex space gets its geotemporal depth, definitely. And the Mallette essay is superb.

Sorry if I've bred distrust of academic blogs. I definitely can be breezy here; like overly complicated writing, it is always something for me to watch our for -- especially because the genre of the blog is built upon quicker writing frame and response time than, say, a PMLA article, which takes its time in its genesis. Here it's more about the ongoing conversation, I think. Thanks for the contribution, and for decloaking from your lurk.

Bruce Holsinger said...

Points well taken, Jeffrey and Eileen, and thanks for the generous response to my grumpiness. I agree entirely about the antianglosaxophonia (!) of ME studies--it creates all kinds of head-scratching characterizations of medieval English literature more broadly.


Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Well, I am prone to overstatement, and rereading the post can see that I should have been more careful in my wording, which was scold-y.

I want to stress the post's title, though: this really was for me the best PMLA ever. There was not an animal or medieval (and in your case, Bruce, animal-medieval) essay that I did not enjoy reading. Really great stuff. I wish every PMLA were this exciting.