Friday, August 14, 2009

More CFPs -- Columbia Medieval Guild and Kalamazoo

by Mary Kate Hurley

Hello all! I've finally returned from my whirlwind of world travel, and have plenty to post about. First, however: A few CFPs have been posted in the past few weeks (and of course the listservs are positively teeming with them), so I thought I'd add a couple to the list. First off, a CFP for a special session at Kzoo organized by yours truly, with Bruce Gilchrist rounding out the ticket, on "Beowulf, Bakhtin and Beyond: Literary Theory and Old English Texts." Then, another Kzoo CFP for a panel organized by Jennifer Garrison (St. Mary's College, Calgary), "Between Thinking and Feeling: Reading Devotionally in Medieval England," a topic that I think might be quite interesting to a number of readers of this blog. And finally, from my home institution, a CFP for 2009's Columbia University Medieval Guild Conference, focusing on "Approaches to the Medieval City." I have to highly recommend the MedGuild Conference -- it's a great opportunity to A. come to New York, and meet the awesome NYC medievalists and B. present in a well attended graduate student conference.

Find the info after the break!

I. Kalamazoo 2010: Beowulf, Bakhtin and Beyond: Literary Theory and Old English Texts

“The epic world is an utterly finished thing, not only as an authentic event of the distant past but also on its own terms and by its own standards; it is impossible to change, to re-think, to re-evaluate anything in it. It is completed, conclusive and immutable, as a fact, an idea and a value. This defines epic distance. One can only accept the epic world with reverence; it is impossible to really touch it, for it is beyond the human realm, the realm in which everything humans touch is altered and re-thought. This distance exists not only in the epic material, that is, in the events and the heroes described, but also in the point of view and evaluation one assumes toward them; point of view and evaluation are fused with the subject into one inseparable whole. Epic language is not separable from its subject, for an absolute fusion of subject matter and spatial-temporal aspects with valorized (hierarchical) ones is characteristic of semantics in the epic. This absolute fusion and the consequent unfreedom of the subject was first overcome only with the arrival on the scene of an active polyglossia and interillumination of langauges (and then the epic became a semiconventional, semimoribund genre).”

Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” in The Dialogic Imagination ed. Holquist. 17

Bakhtin’s description of the epic, reproduced in part above, characterizes the genre as a static object, susceptible to distillation down to a single idea, a single, fixed voice whose distance from the modern cannot be breached. As one reads Bakhtin’s essay, Beowulf, perhaps distressingly, seems to fit Bakhtin’s profile of the epic rather too well, with its valourization of the heroic past and its definitive sense of being an elegy for a lost world. However, is there a way that Beowulf can escape or elude such apparent fixedness? Indeed, can Beowulf, if it even is an epic, serve notice that reformulation of Bakhtin’s theory is needed? And if so, does Beowulf then project into the modern world, Bakhtin’s world of the novel, more decisively, and more unsettlingly, than we have realized?

For Anglo-Saxonists know that reading Beowulf—or any Old English literary text—is never a simple task. The historical and cultural setting of the text must be considered, and even those massive contexts cannot even be approached until the language itself has been mastered. The work of the Old English literary critic, then, can seem as laborious and ambitious as defeating a giant, or a dragon—all the moreso when the very texts can seem exercises in poststructural defeatism, in just making sense of them at a primary level.

For this session, we therefore propose papers on topics which embrace both Old English literature and modern literary theory. We seek both to build on the excellent collection The Postmodern Beowulf: A Critical Casebook and to extend these theoretical practices to Old English texts at large. So, by situating Old English texts in discourses such as those initiated by Bakhtin, Barthes, Jakobson, Iser, Jameson, Jauss and Scarry (among others), this panel will explore the way in which modern literary theory speaks to, if not always about, the Old English text, and what can be gained through the juxtaposition of the two.

Abstracts: 250 words, send to, with a participant information form attached (available on the congress website), by Sept 15.

II. Kalamazoo 2010 CFP: "Between Thinking and Feeling: Reading Devotionally in Medieval England"

Over the past two decades, medieval literary scholars have largely embraced the term 'vernacular theology' as an alternative to the previous term, 'devotional literature,' in order to describe the diverse array of English religious writings which sought to intellectually engage their readers in theological debates. This opposition between 'theology' and 'devotion,' however, creates a division between thought and affect that is not representative of the diversity of medieval religious writings. By questioning this division, this session will seek to contribute to the growing body of scholarship on medieval reading practices and to expand the ways in which we think about so-called 'devotional' reading. Papers could explore such topics as: the intellectual work of affective piety; the ways in which an Old English or Middle English text depicts and/ or invites a particular model of devotional reading; differences between orthodox and heterodox reading practices; gendered reading practices; religious allegory and affect.
Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a Participant Information form (available at to Jennifer Garrison ( by Sept. 15, 2009.

III. Medieval Guild Conference: "Approaches to the Late Medieval City"

The Columbia University Medieval Guild with the support of Columbia Department of English and Comparative Literature is pleased to announce its 20th Annual Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference, "Approaches to the Late Medieval City," taking place on 30 October, 2009.

The aim of this conference is to explore the place of the city in late medieval life and thought. Medieval cities were spaces of exchange, conflict and creativity, drawing together multiple ways of acting in and thinking about the world. Medieval scholars have approached the city in a variety of ways ? through the interconnections of literatures, performances, political contexts, modes of defining identity, and forms of authority. We invite papers from a variety of critical perspectives, methodological approaches and disciplines in order to develop a multi-dimensional understanding of the late medieval city. How does the city shape late medieval social life and forms of creativity? How do cultural imaginings of self, community and nation, and the social organizations that are their practical counterparts, shape the city in turn? What continuities or fissures can we map in the spaces, times, ideas and practices of late medieval cities?

Topics of inquiry may include, but are not limited to:

-Institutions: religion; education and universities; kingship; the state and national identity

-Associational Polity: social contest and revolt; factions; guilds; religious
fraternities; emerging and obsolete identities or classes

-Intersections: mercantile, literary and global connections between cities;
cosmopolitanism; translation; conversion; trilingual England

-Performances in the City and of the City: court ceremonies; ritual; city genres and narratives of the city; Corpus Christi and other city entertainments

-Documents and Manuscript Culture: uses of the archive; reading practices; textual production; textual communities; patronage

-Spatial Configurations: city geography and the city in geography; city versus country;architecture and space

-Temporality: relationships to a real or imagined past, present and future; clock time;chronicles

Please send your proposal (no longer than 300 words) for a 15 to 20-minute paper to the organizers at by August 15th 2009. Proposals should include the title of the paper, presenter's name, institutional affiliation (including department), email address, mailing address, and telephone number. Please also indicate if you would be willing to moderate a panel.


Another Damned Medievalist said...

I've been wondering where you were!

Karl Steel said...

The Bakhtin is interesting, since, from what I know of him (only through Rabelais and His World), MB seems to need a strawman closed off past (or vice versa) into order to advance his theses. But was the premodern body really as open as all that, and is the bourgeois body really so closed off? It's interesting, then, and I'm sure others have remarked on this, that the trajectory in Rabelais, with its corporeal theory, is from more to less freedom, whereas in Dialogic, with its more literary theory, is from less (epic) to more (novel) freedom. (okay, "freedom": insert whatever word works for you in its place).

I'm really struck by the devotion/theology affect/thought division in the 2nd CFP. Among other things, it dovetails nicely with a podcast I've been enjoying lately. Sounds like great stuff!

Also, on the MedGuild City conference: who's your plenary speaker this year?