Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just in Time for the Winter Doldrums: Dark Chaucer

by EILEEN JOY

. . . you never know what you will discover in the dark.

. . . certainly our shared enterprise requires dependability, loyalty, generosity, hard work; those who employ us, take our classes, and read our work deserve our full engagement. But if we are to commit ourselves truly to the study of the past, to the study of the humanities, what can we really gain from the Thesian good man speaking well? Is the buttoned-down, impersonal professionalism suited to profit-driven business enterprises a good fit for our wider, stranger enterprise of shared inquiry? Our very strength, our very expertise, comes from darkness, indeterminacy, unmarketably disastrous historical realities, hanging, drowning, plague, ruin. Strange dark Saturnine knowledge, and all the unsightly darkness that goes with it. Let’s see with our flawed vision, be happy with less than enough, and work darkly and beautifully at the bottom of our game.

~Brantley Bryant & Alia, "Saturn's Darkness"

Myra Seaman, Nicola Masciandaro and I are pleased to announce that your box of Dark Chaucer: An Assortment has arrived, and just in time for some reading by the fireside in the wan light of a winter dusk, your cigars and bottle of whiskey at hand (or tea and crumpets? coffee and donuts? water and rye crackers? ale and chiknes with the marybones?).

This book had its genesis over a dinner shared with friends — Nicola Masciandaro, Öykü Tekten, Karl Steel, and myself — in a restaurant in Brooklyn on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the same day that saw the launch of punctum books. Nicola mentioned that over the years, as he has been teaching Chaucer, he has been taking note of how many dark moments there are in Chaucer [once you start looking and regardless of Chaucer's also-comic sensibilities], and he also remarked that the word "dark" shows up a lot in Lee Patterson's book Chaucer and the Subject of History [we've actually dedicated the book to Patterson]. It struck us that evening that in order to do justice to these moments, which are more numerous than you realize when you start looking for them, that you would have to be willing to fall into these abyssal passages without ropes and without worrying how everything ultimately turns out (this would be a rogue journey against the teleological tides of the narratives and over the beachheads of certain comforting scholarly “resolutions”). The idea would be to undertake something like soundings in the darker recesses of the Chaucerian lakes and to bring back palm- or bite-sized pieces (black jewels) of bitter Chaucer that could be shared with others — an “assortment,” if you will. It could be productive (and hell, interesting), we thought, to gather together some shipmates who would be willing to explore Chaucer’s darker topographies, and even get lost there, not so much making sense of these dark passages, or referring them to how things ultimately turn out, but rather, making them more rich, more ample, and more strange. Myra joined us as lead editor, and off we went.

We asked contributors to write short pieces (~3,000 words) in which they would focus on "dark moments" in Chaucer, without trying to craft any sort of sustained, scholarly "argument," but rather, to simply explore these dark recesses and tell us, like vagabond travelers, what they found there. What they returned with and what is assembled here represents an astonishing variety of styles, approaches, and "finds" -- from 9 scholars (1 named, Brantley Bryant, and 8 anonymous) confessing their own dark personal moments in relation to their chosen profession as medievalists and the darkness of Saturn in the Knight's Tale, to a 20th-century African American poet's appropriation of Chaucer (Candace Barrington), to Alcyone dreaming and the limbo of living death in Book of the Duchess (Ruth Evans), to Chaucer's "apocalyptic" afterlives (Gaelan Gilbert), to a sympathetic reading of the executioner in Cecelia's botched beheading in the Second Nun's Tale (Nicola Masciandaro), to a reconsideration of black crows by way of the Mancilple's Tale (Travis Neel and Andrew Richmond), to a re-telling of the Physician's Tale through The Story of O-as-palimpsest (Lisa Schamess), to an exemplification of 3 of Chaucer's most sad "heroines" (Custance, Virginia, Emelye) via Deleuze's maxim, "if you're caught in the dream of another, you're fucked" (Karl Steel), to Chaucer's Physician's Tale (again!) seen as a "disembowling of the corpus of virgin martyrs' passions" (Elaine Treharne), to the 'litel clurgeon' as zombie undead in the Prioress's Tale (Lisa Weston), and so on.

But why not see the entire Table of Contents for yourself, and download the open-access e-book for FREE, or purchase a handsome print edition for a mere $15 [not $100!], by going HERE. And while you are at it, please also notice the "PLEASE DONATE" button on punctums's website: the good work of open-access publishing, and punctum books in particular, is kept aloft by 3 primary factors:
  • an incredible, global network of students (and also post-students with no real or only a tenuous foothold in the academy), humanities faculty, creative designers, and technologists who have all donated their valuable time to review, copy-edit, proofread, format, and design each one of our books, journal issues, e-book platforms, etc., and you really have NO IDEA not only how time-consuming all of this is (especially if you still believe in the book as a beautiful and well-designed art object, as well as in maintaining high standards of scholarly rigor and presentation) but also how generous these donations of labor are, all on behalf of the cause of a more radically open and creative intellectual commons;
  • YOUR purchase of the print editions, the proceeds from which all go back to foster, cultivate, and produce more work; and
  • YOUR donations of either actual cash or labor to open-access initiatives.
And while you are trying to [maybe?] take a rest amidst the hectic hurly-burly of the so-called holiday season, remember: the punctum workshop never takes a day off. We think the future vitality of academic publishing might depend on this, and we hope you do, too.'Tis the season for giving and all that.

2 comments:

Adina Miles said...

Just purchased the assorted dark choco... I mean, Dark Chaucer: An Assortment. Can't wait to read this on my plane ride next week. Happy Holidays Professor Steel & Professor Masciandaro! Thanks in advance for what I know will be wonderful reading material.

Karl Steel said...

Adina, thank YOU. We're proud of it, and we hope the Dark Chaucer Chocolate goes down well. Safe travels!