Monday, November 17, 2014

Medievalism + Trans-Medievalisms


[There has been much bloggery at ITM about BABEL in Santa Barbara: see here, here, and here. I'd like to touch on a few BABEL-related matters here through a post with two keywords: Medievalism and Trans-Medievalisms.]


Medievalism: Key Critical Terms, eds. Emery & Utz (Brewer, 2014).

Medievalism: Key Critical Terms, edited by Elizabeth Emery and Richard Utz (Boydell & Brewer, 2014) has just been released! My chapter on "Co-disciplinarity" reworks my earlier ITM posting after the BABEL conference in Boston in 2012. The editors kindly asked me to contribute a chapter after reading that blog post, and in the expanded/adapted chapter in this volume I turn to queer theory to think about the fluid and nonlinear approaches to temporality that discussions of medievalism invite. I also suggest how approaches to medievalism can create experimental spaces that unbind academic disciplines and domain-specific approaches to knowledge. The chapter (like my original ITM blog post) ends with a utopian call for us to work together across our respective bailiwicks and to open ourselves up to the risky, unanticipated possibilities that emerge in the process.

What makes me so very excited about Medievalism: Key Critical Terms is precisely networked quality of its chapters. Here's the blurb from the publisher's website (and click through to see the names of the contributors full table of contents):
The discipline of medievalism has produced a great deal of scholarship acknowledging the "makers" of the Middle Ages: those who re-discovered the period from 500 to 1500 by engaging with its cultural works, seeking inspiration from them, or fantasizing about them. Yet such approaches - organized by time period, geography, or theme - often lack an overarching critical framework. This volume aims to provide such a framework, by calling into question the problematic yet commonly accepted vocabulary used in Medievalism Studies. The contributions, by leading scholars in the field, define and exemplify in a lively and accessible style the essential terms used when speaking of the later reception of medieval culture. 
The terms: Archive, Authenticity, Authority, Christianity, Co-disciplinarity, Continuity, Feast, Genealogy, Gesture, Gothic, Heresy, Humor, Lingua, Love, Memory, Middle, Modernity, Monument, Myth, Play, Presentism, Primitive, Purity, Reenactment, Resonance, Simulacrum, Spectacle, Transfer, Trauma, Troubadour.
This volume in a certain way stands in for an entire networked community. The book has a lively Facebook page and many contributors in this volume have been actively involved in the "Medievalism" series at University of Rochester Press, Studies in Medievalism, and the medievalism studies community more broadly. Recent onferences such as The Middle Ages in the Modern World (MAMO) in St. Andrews in June 2013 (see my posting on ITM and Candace Barrington's posting on the Global Chaucers blog) and much more recently Medievalisms on the Move at Georgia Tech (October 2014) are just two examples of how medievalism studies is increasingly bringing many different kinds of people together in a shared space of exploration. *

Left: Karl Fugelso's "Continuity" features Dante in visual medieval and modern art.
Right: Carol Robinson's 
"Gesture" discusses medieval practices and contemporary ASL scholarship.

I'm learning so much from the other contributions in this volume, and I appreciate the surprising reconfigurations of knowledge and perception that emerge when we no longer "segregate" different kinds of media or artistic traditions into separate chapters. For instance, Karl Fugelso's chapter CONTINUITY showcases how medieval and modern visual traditions interlace over time through Dante. Carol Robinson's chapter GESTURE bridges medieval practices and contemporary scholarship on American Sign Language (ASL), concluding with a discussion of a nonspoken adaptation of "Gawain and Dame Ragnelle" by acclaimed Deaf storyteller Peter Cook.


My view from the moderator's chair. "Trans-Medievalisms." BABEL conference at UCSB, October 2014.

This question of how medieval material moves across media brings me to the BABEL conference in Santa Barbara. Candace Barrington and I organized a session on "Trans-Medievalisms," and we set out to consider what happens when "the Middle Ages" (whatever we mean by that term!) traverses cultures, languages, material forms, and media. Our call for proposals and/or manifesto was as follows:
What happens to the Western Middle Ages when it crosses into diverse, concurrent times, languages, and cultures? How does “medievalism” take shape in multiple spaces across the planet—including cultural habitats where the Western Middle Ages are no longer the “‘zero point’ of orientation” (to reroute a phrase from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology)? What cultural work do “the Middle Ages” perform as they infuse modern-day modes of global media and cultural production—textual, visual, musical, performative, cinematic? Our session is inspirited by our work on the Global Chaucers project, a utopian scholarly endeavor that seeks to gather, back-translate, and analyze all non-English translations and adaptations of Chaucer’s work. Our scheming with scholars around the world has so far revealed Chaucerian adaptations in places as far-flung and interconnected as Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia), East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), Europe (Denmark, Flanders, Spain, Hungary), the Middle East (Israel, Iran), and Africa (Nigeria, South Africa), as well as works in re/invented languages (Esperanto, Neo-Latin).

For this session we aim to gather participants working on Chaucerian adaptation in non-English contexts or any aspect of medieval appropriation in “global” contemporary culture (however conceived). How might plurilingual, transoceanic, and intercultural orientations provoke new modes of engaging with the past? How can we create a dynamic, multi-site community of cross-temporal scholars and enthusiasts, a fluid collective that thrives across disciplines and borders? We welcome non-medievalists, amateurs, and enthusiasts, including creative work by poets, playwrights, musicians, and/or interpretive dancers. We highly encourage collaborative submissions.

The session resulted in four strikingly divergent yet enticingly intertwining presentations.

  • Raúl Ariza-Barile: Chaucer’s Spanish Accent: Impossible Poetry? Raúl's paper offered a brief background of Chaucerian translation into Spanish, suggesting (among other things) how a careful consideration of Latin American contexts might shift our conversations about the aims and practices of modern translators; the presentation ended with a debut performance of his own translation of the opening lines of Chaucer's General Prologue into rhymed Spanish verse.
  • Shyama Rajendran: The Impossibility of Locating The Ramayana. Shyama's presentation traced the movement of the ancient epic Ramayana across many cultural traditions and performance contexts beyond South Asia, attending to a plurality of reception histories across time and space; she ended with a careful consideration of the political implications of the Ramayana's narrow appropriation for the purposes of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India.
  • Carol Robinson: Expressing Loathly Ladies—Explicitly Noncompliant. In this presentation, Carol featured the work of two of her former students who created a collaborative video adaptation of the Wife of Bath. Each student had recorded a dramatic monologue: one performance used ASL to engage with Deaf culture, relating the episode when the Wife is rendered deaf; a "political dramatization" by a queer student (in drag) incorporated contemporary debates about polygamy and marriage.
  • Elaine Treharne: TEXT Technological Transformations: the Inexactitude of a Medieval Unreality. Elaine's talk suggested the possibility of cross-cultural comparative analysis across seemingly disparate contexts including medieval Western and East Asian (Chinese) texts. Her reflections not only considered the rich materiality of textual production but also suggested its importance as artistic performance.

These presentations richly showcased the heterogeneity of cultural/artistic/linguistic materials that we might call "medieval" (thinking expansively beyond the contours of Latin-speaking Europe). At the same time, these perspectives collectively invited us to think more creatively about what new modes of medieval appropriation and comparative analysis actually might enact and enable.

Medievalism studies has certainly "arrived" in the academy and it is also clearly breaking down the boundaries between what lies within and outside of institutional and traditional academic structures. The ITM blog is one such community among many, including other digital spaces like Medievally Speaking, Global Chaucers and the Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO). We're in a very exciting time for medievalism studies now and I hope that these networked communities will continue to thrive, grow, interconnect, and adapt.

[EDITED November 22, 2014] The next MAMO conference will be held in Lincoln, UK, from June 29-July 2, 2015. Deadline for the call for proposals is December 12 (see this site for the details)!

* NOTE: In our MAMO 2013 presentation, Candace and I drew upon our experience working with many collaborators on the Global Chaucers project. A roundtable and polyglot performance at the New Chaucer Society Congress in Reykjavík, Iceland, brought together scholars, translators, and poets (and scholar-translators and poet-translators!), and a chapter drawing from our various collaborations will appear in our "Global Chaucers" chapter in Gail Ashton's Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2015); more here.

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