Monday, April 19, 2010

For the Dreamers, the Mirror-Gazers, and the Sensuous Vicars: Speculative Medievalisms

Figure 1. Hieronymous Bosch, detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights (ca. 1504-1510)


The point of a theory of causation is not to reduce humans to the atomic or molecular, but to give an account of causation that is broad enough to embrace everything from neurons to armies of orcs from Mordor. . . . I would even propose a new philosophic discipline called 'speculative psychology' dedicated to ferreting out the specific pychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone.
--Graham Harman, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics

This is just a brief announcement to unveil, as it were, a new (and long-percolating) project, "Speculative Medievalisms," co-conspired by the BABEL Working Group and Urbanomic, and to-be-launched with a 1-day symposium in Falmouth, UK on 15 January 2011. In a nutshell, "Speculative Medievalisms" represents a (hopefully) creative experiment in mutual cross-contamination between a speculative medieval studies and the "speculative realism" associated with Urbanomic's journal Collapse and the "weird worlds" opened up by certain new "realisms" in the philosophical and ficto-theoretical work of thinkers such as Graham Harman, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Quentin Meillassoux, and Reza Negarestani (who, we might add, is on the Editorial Board of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies). More information on the project and symposium can be found here:

Speculative Medievalisms: A Laboratory-Atelier


LF said...

Wow. What an awesome project. I've got dreaming and mirror-gazing down, but I'll need to work on the sensuous vicar thing. :)

Karl Steel said...

Nice material, EJ, and I've downloaded a pack of speculative realism material for review, maybe in prep for Siena.

Curious: how does one break the mirror's incitement to narcissism?

Eileen Joy said...

As to working on the sensuous vicar, check out Graham Harman's article: "On Vicarious Causation," COLLAPSE II (March 2007): 187-221. I have a .pdf copy for those who are interested [just email me at:].

As to narcissism, I suppose that, to a certain extent, gazing in *any* mirror requires some sort of narcissism, but the key with speculative medievalism is actually to *bend* the images that stare back, so to speak, into other forms [plus, the mirror/speculum image is also an illusion: there is no *real* mirror, only the idea of one, or the idea of the past *as mirror*, which idea does not necessarily have to be discarded, but which can be reshaped].

Karl Steel said...

I'd like it.

I know this study exists somewhere, probably in various forms, but when did the image of the SPECULUM change from a reference work or guidebook ('Mirror for Magistrates,' e.g., or maybe the Speculum Stultorum?) to a tool in which one either saw only one's self (the vanity emblem of the naked woman holding a mirror) or one only captured more-or-less perfectly the world outside (the mirror as lens, as in optics, whether for telescopes or otherwise, with the whole weight of optical, spectative (shall we say) arrogance behind it)?

Long question, that.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

They don't call it the perilous mirror for nothing. And speaking of bending images, let's not forget Narcissus's tears, the 'other half' of the equation so to speak. This from the beyond the sphere commentary on "PIANGENDO METTE IN LUI, PUR SU LO TIRA":

. . . the homology between love’s tear and the ‘li miroers perilleus / Ou Narcisus li orguilleus / Mira sa face e ses iaus vairs’ [perilous mirror where proud Narcissus gazed at his face and his brilliant eyes].[1] Tear and mirror are twins, such that in weeping, one is on the inside of the reflection, or becomes reflection itself, the principle of in-sight.[2] So only in love’s weeping is there real self-love, the irreplaceable worrilessness of being in love (thank God I am weeping, thank me for loving). Only the blinding tear reopens and lights the world, re-se(e)izes it as mirror or poiesis-zone where love keeps turning into new intelligence. Only letting the tears pour in, praying for rain, is there chance of seeing through, of finding what Narcissus dies to see, how much the image loves him, how truly your reflection, mistaken for another, really loves you. One never weeps, is never crying’s secret agent. Weeping is the weather, the atmospheric condition, of love’s working, its limitless secluded labor. ‘Thus we are nothing, neither you nor I, beside burning words which could pass from me to you, imprinted on a page: for I would only have lived in order to write them, and, if it is true that . . .’[3]

[1] Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Ernest Langlois (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1914-24), lines 1571-3.

[2] ‘Truly, even though he had attained purity of heart and body, and in some manner was approaching the height of sanctification, he did not cease to cleanse the eyes of his soul with a continuous flood of tears. He longed for the sheer brilliance of the heavenly light and disregarded the loss of his bodily eyes’ (Bonaventure, The Minor Legend of Saint Francis, 3.3, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, eds. Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short, 3 vols. [New York: New City Press, 2000], 3.695). Cf. ‘Than had sche so meche swetnes and devocyon that sche myth not beryn it, but cryid, wept, and sobbyd ful boitowsly. Sche had many an holy thowt of owr Lordys passyon and behld hym in hir gostly syght as verily as he had ben aforn hir in hir bodily syght’ (The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Stanley [Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1996], ch.78). ‘Now if tears come to the eyes, if they well up in them, and if they can also veil sight, perhaps they reveal, in the very course of this experience, in the coursing of water, an essence of the eye, of man’s eye, in any case, the eye understood in the anthropo-theological space of the sacred allegory. Deep down, deep down inside, the eye would be destined to weep. For at the very moment they veil sight, tears would unveil what is proper to the eye’ (Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993], 126).

[3] ‘. . . they are addressed to you, you will live from having had the strength to hear them. (In the same way, what do the two lovers, Tristan and Isolde, signify, if considered without their love, in a solitude which leaves them to some commonplace pursuit? Two pale beings, deprived of the marvelous; nothing counts but the love which tears them both apart)’ (Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt [Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988], 94).