Monday, July 25, 2016

CFP: MAMO 3 (the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference) in Manchester, 2017

by J J Cohen

Friends who like medieval things! I am one of the keynote speakers at MAMO 3 (The Middle Ages in the Modern World conference) in Manchester, June 2017. PLEASE consider proposing a panel or session; I would love to see you there. For complete information about the conference will be integrated into the city follow the link below.

Dear all,
Following an earlier call in April, we are now making a second call for papers for the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference (MAMO) in Manchester in summer 2017. Please circulate widely. For full details, see MAMO's website, The conference email address is:
Confirmed keynote speakers at this stage include Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (George Washington University) and Chris Jones (St Andrews). The poets Jane Draycott, Lavinia Greenlaw and Matthew Francis will also be participating. A programme of cultural events associated with the conference is taking shape, including a season of medievalist films at the independent cinema, HOME Manchester, and a full dramatic production of Lavinia Greenlaw's A Double Sorrow in Manchester Cathedral. There will be a celebration of the work of the author Alan Garner, featuring an in-conversation event with Alan. As a city Manchester offers a wealth of neo-gothic architecture, much of it under the direct influence of Augustus Pugin. There will be opportunities to visit the sumptuous neo-gothic John Rylands Library, and the Ford Madox Brown murals in the Alfred Waterhouse-designed Manchester Town Hall. More information will follow on the conference website in the coming months.
all best,
David, James, and Anke

The Middle Ages in the Modern wOrld
After successful editions at St Andrews (2013) and Lincoln (2015), MAMO III will take place in Manchester between 28 June and 1 July, 2017. We invite submission of proposals for panels, roundtables, or individual papers by 30 September 2016. Panels can consist of three short papers (20 minutes) or four of fifteen minutes’ duration; roundtables should consist of four to six speakers.For a panel or roundtable proposal, panel chairs should send a brief (4-5 sentence) rationale for the panel along with proposed paper titles, speakers' names and institutional affiliations, and abstracts.
Individuals may send proposals for papers: please include a title, your name and institutional affiliation (or independent status as appropriate). Abstracts should not exceed 250 words and should be sent, as attachments in Word, to

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“It snewed in his hous of mete”: A Nicholas and the butchers capital from Narbonne


[what follows is a light piece, quickly written; for a real post, see below, from Cord Whitaker, whose paper I had the great honor of witnessing at the recent London meeting of the New Chaucer Society. All the papers in that session, which will be appearing sequentially here, were superb, and the crowd, I'm happy to say, was large. Read Whitaker first, I insist.]
In the visual arts, it’s not so easy to portray anthropophagy as anthropophagy. Guts are guts, and flesh is flesh, so much so that the corpus/porcus pun was standard in medieval writing, even far outside works like the Anatomia porci manuals, which used pig bodies to teach human anatomy. The anthropophagy artist has to make sure to include a head, some feet, some hands, some hint of bipedality, some formal echo of the living bodies on the other side of the cleaver: otherwise, how can we be certain that what’s being prepared had at least once been human?
As I’ve written before – in an agonized psychoanalytic manner that befitted my anxious interests of those dissertating days -- few medieval stories are as aware of this slippage between human and other fleshes as the story of Nicholas and the butcher (lighter version here). In the most widespread version of this ur-Sweeney Todd story, three traveling scholars are put up for the night by a butcher, who decides to rob them. When he finds they have nothing of value but their own bodies, he kills them and turns them into sausage. Saint Nicholas, the special object of the scholars’ piety, soon turns up, and, in one version of the South English Legendaryasks the butcher for his best meat, eliciting a confession, and then a miracle, as Nicholas (un)renders the scholars whole.
12th-c. font, Winchester Cathedral, photo by John Cook
The visual depictions I know, like this twelfth-century font, tend to show the butcher looming over the scholars in bed.
 Or they show three young, naked men emerging from a salting barrel, as with this churchfront statue from Porto. 

Igreja Paroquial de São Nicolau (18th c.)

Few show the butcher at work, because care’s needed to ensure that we know the butcher’s cutting up people.
Hence my excitement at coming across this capital (below) at Musée des Augustins in Toulouse a few weeks ago. The capital, dating to the second half of the twelfth century, comes from Narbonne’s Saint Paul basilica, and show the butcher amid a hodgepodge of body parts: a torso perhaps, but mostly extremities -- hands, feet, and a couple heads -- so we know what’s being stuffed into the barrel, so we know something's gone awry, while also reminding us, again, that, professionally speaking, flesh of whatever sort is mostly a matter of joints to a butcher, who can make money from us even when we feel certain we carry none. And that what's needed for us to be more than flesh is the care, the mourning, the outrage, the obligation, of some passing saint -- here, seated, brandishing his crozier at the butcher -- another body of flesh, so holy that they refuse to eat us, even just a little.

Notably, not far from this capital, the Museum displays another twelfth-century carving, from a church in , of a woman being consumed by a snake, or suckled, or straddled by one, which runs from a breast to her genitals, which perhaps as a whole -- as the Museum suggests -- represents luxury. Luxury here is the female flesh, fed on itself, delighting in itself, the form that flesh takes in its mutability, its putrefaction, in its loving itself the wrong way. As if clinging to the flesh could ever be anything but excessive, unjustifiable, an unwarranted vanity in this world of fleshes that have no more right to be here than we do. Some bodies, like hers, are bodies of flesh, made to stand in for all that's wrong; and some, like the three clerks, are given the chance to be a bit more.

(for more on me and anthropophagy, see, most recently, my contribution to the recent anthology Fragments for a History of a Vanishing Humanism (ed Seaman and Joy), just out from Ohio State University Press)

(hi gang - yes, before you get all in my business, I know mete means "food" in the Chaucer, but you'd have gone with that title too if it had thrust itself upon you like it did on me.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pale Like Me: Resistance, Assimilation, and ‘Pale Faces’ Sixteen Years On (Cord Whitaker)

a guest post by CORD WHITAKER 

[Over the next week or two ITM will be publishing as blog posts the presentations from the New Chaucer Society congress session "Are We Dark Enough Yet? Pale Faces 2016." Please share and add to the discussion! It is our hope to formulate an action plan out of the event and its aftermath. -- JJC]

Pale Like Me: Resistance, Assimilation, and ‘Pale Faces’ Sixteen Years On

African Americans of at least average height are supposed to play basketball. This kept me from learning to play ball until I became an adult. For as long as I can remember, I have been about doing what everyone else is not doing. I have been about going against the grain. This is probably a trait I share with many of you.
There is sanctuary in being different, but it can also cause you to need sanctuary. This was the case for Texas journalist John Howard Griffin. In his 1961 book Black Like Me, Griffin writes that “In medieval times, men sought sanctuary in churches. Nowadays, for a nickel, I could find sanctuary in a colored rest room” (140). It didn’t occur to Griffin, trained in the reporting and analysis of current events as he was, that some nowadays might find sanctuary in the Middle Ages. To address today’s question—are we dark enough yet?—is also to ask how medievalism and the identities of persons of color can and do intersect. 
Griffin’s book was groundbreaking. From October through December 1959, Griffin, a white man, assumed the identity of a black man through a combination of skin darkening medication, tanning, and staining his skin brown. He travelled through the American South. One might say he masqueraded—and a number of news outlets used exactly that term—but the masquerade no doubt seemed very real when he was being chased down the street and bombarded with racial epithets. One might also claim that something of his black experience—and the extreme media attention it received—marked him for the rest of his life. Griffin writes: “Both Negroes and whites have gained this strange certainty [that] because I was a Negro for six weeks, I remained partly Negro or perhaps essentially Negro” (175).
Griffin’s experiment shows that a masquerade can have very real implications. It can reveal very real truths. For Griffin, it revealed that there is a wall between the experiences of blacks and whites—a wall that usually makes experiences mutually unintelligible. In “Pale Faces,” Carolyn Dinshaw writes of her father’s conversion to Christianity:
The Parsi religion of his family, so vague and so strange, as he put it, with its rituals and prayers in an indecipherable language—my father left all that behind…But his conversion, like the medieval ones I mentioned earlier, left a residue…There was a racial/religious remainder in the household. (39)
She goes on to say that she “picked up and lived out” this unassimilable remainder, and that it informs her queerness. Dinshaw offers us stark realities—some real truths—about the walls that disrupt even familial relations across axes of geography, time, and social acceptability. Her comportment toward the world and her medievalism are realities born of and revealed by her father’s—and to some extent her own—masquerade.
Dinshaw turns to Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale to study what the unassimilable remainder looks like. The tale also offers another bridge between masquerade and reality. In it, the remainder appears in the Syrian Muslims who convert to Christianity in order that their Sultan might marry the Roman Christian princess Custance. Famously, the whole thing fails when the Sultan’s mother and her co-conspirators feign conversion in order to murder everyone except Custance, including her Roman retinue, the Sultan and the converted Syrians, during a wedding feast. But in the end, the Romans have their revenge and the remaining Syrians are slaughtered, too. There seems to be no difference between the falsely converted Saracens and the real converts. All die horribly because, in Dinshaw’s words, “the Saracen will always be a Saracen, even if baptized” (26-7).
The Saracens, Dinshaw’s father, and Griffin have all been dark in one way or another. And the reality is that darkness, interpreted as essential, seems to stick.
  Today I consider my own position in this game of masquerading and tainting. I am an African-American and a medievalist. And to many, these are incommensurate roles. I must be masquerading in one or the other. The accusation is nothing new. Growing up the son of a public relations professional, I was taught to speak only the Queen’s English outside the house. African American Vernacular English was fine only at home. The result was that I was regularly accused of talking and acting white. Well before medieval studies came into view, I was already juggling incommensurate roles.
When I started to fall in love with Chaucer and medieval literature in college, it was in part because Middle English made me a much better reader of modern literature—including modern African-American literature—and in part due to the defamiliarizing wonders of medieval literature in its own right. Still, there were some who believed my interest in medieval studies could be nothing more than a passing fancy. That I was merely playing around. These included one of my senior thesis advisors. (It was a good thing I had more than one!) When, several years later, it was clear that I was going to grad school, he admitted that he had never taken me seriously. He apologized.  
In my second year of grad school, a prospective student visiting my program—a fellow person of color—learned that I am a medievalist. Her face drooped and her eyebrows rose. She looked me up and down. With disdain, she said, “You’re a medievalist?”
Even now, I take care when I tell people what I do. Sometimes, fellow persons of color light up when they learn that I’m a professor—but when they learn my subject, their faces become like Custance when she is on trial for murder: pale, as pale as the face of a man being led to the gallows [II.B.645-648]. They exhibit what Dinshaw calls “a mark of loss: sudden loss of blood, loss of family, even…loss of purity” (23). I have broken faith. I am no longer family. No longer pure. Perhaps they fear the taint of my medievalism, my expertise in things too white. Surely the scene was similar when Griffin’s experiment was revealed to his white neighbors during a nationally televised interview. Only the skin colors of those who feared being tainted and those who represent the tainting were reversed.
I work on the history of race, too, I add hastily. In this claim, I seek sanctuary from the pallid storm caused by another sanctuary: my medievalism. The claim is my colored restroom. Some of my interlocutor’s color is restored. Only some. But it is enough that I will be sure to add the caveat more quickly next time.
            Personally, to be dark enough would be to embrace the taint until it is no taint. To no longer give into the desires to massage my professional and personal identities to fit present company. To refuse to assimilate. I’m working on it.
            But the question of today’s roundtable is meant—first and foremost, I think—for our field. And I propose that, for the field to be dark enough would be to embrace our subject as a kind of taint. (And I don’t mean adopting a pose of lowliness: Oh, I’m just a medievalist, nothing I have to say is relevant to the modern world.) Instead, I mean to embrace that in our field inheres the ability to criticize modernity, to pick apart and expose the dynamics that make modernity comfortable and allow it to appear monolithic, to utterly annihilate narratives of interminable progress. When medieval studies takes these stances, it is necessarily seen as a dark stain on the supposedly glimmering, above-the-fray, modernizing face of the neo-liberal university. But, here we have a choice. We in medieval studies can all too easily adopt the pose of those who study a most venerable subject and are the most non-threatening of professors—who would never rock any boats because we practice in a field that is by its very nature conservative. Neither approach is a masquerade, even as each masks the other mutually.
If we have learned anything from the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Or before them, Walter L. Scott. Or going back further, Trayvon Martin. Or in 1999, Amadou Diallo. And on and on and on through the history of slavery and conquest. If we have learned anything from these ongoing terrors, it’s that to be dark is to be taken as a threat. Medieval studies can choose to be dark.

Suffice it to say, we as a field are not dark enough yet. And neither am I.

Cord J. Whitaker is a professor of English at Wellesley College and a critic of medieval literature and modern race. He blogs at and edited Making Race Matter in the Middle Ages. He tweets @ProfCWhit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Where to Find Me, 2016-17 version

Caisteal Maol, Isle of Skye, sunset (10:30 PM)
by J J Cohen

A pleasure of being active on social media is the opportunity to meet people (both virtually and in the flesh) I would not otherwise have had the chance to know, especially in distant cities. London last week, for example, was filled with such encounters, both at the Chaucer conference and the Object Lessons reading at the Bloomsbury Institute. I am hoping that by sharing some of the travel I am doing in the academic year ahead I will have the opportunity to meet some more ITM readers along the way ... and to gather some friends who might not know I will be nearby. It's going to be a busy year, and some of the details below are sketchy, but I'll fill them in as they arrive.
  • Sept. 1: Gallery Talk at the New Museum for the (amazing!) The Keeper exhibit
  • Sept. 13: Lecture for the Sculpture + Extended Media Department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia
  • Late November / early December: Poland (Poznań) for some medieval goodness
  • January 5-8: MLA in Philadelphia (with Julian Yates I organized a session on "Extro-fictions from the Middle Ages to the Anthropocene," and with Shannon Gayk a session on "Ecological Catastrophe: Past and Present")
  • January 26-27: Rice University for the Camden Lecture
  • March 10: Yale for a seminar sponsored by medieval studies and the interdisciplinary Literature, ​the ​Arts and the Environment Colloquium (yay!)
  • Feb. 25-26: keynote at Illinois Medieval Association conference at Northwestern University on “Medieval Environments”
  • April 5-9: SAA in Atlanta (seminar respondent) 
  • May 11-14: Kzoo!
  • June 20-25: ASLE Detroit (I hope)
  • June 28-July 1 MAMO (Middle Ages in the Modern World) conference keynote in Manchester UK
  • and in the fall thereafter ... Melbourne. Pretty happy about having the chance to return.
That's a full schedule. See you soon?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

a home to distant wanderers

by J J Cohen

I realize that I have been using Facebook to microblog the New Chaucer Society conference (#NCS16), among other things, and that not everyone has or wants access to that gated community. Here's a post I published there to sum up the feeling of being London in the wake of Brexit. I attempted to remain hopeful; you will let me know if I succeeded.

On my last full day in London I decided not to undertake the Canterbury pilgrimage with my conference friends but to create some quiet within a busy week. In the morning I walked around Shoreditch, Spitalfields, and the East End, fascinated by the street art -- as well as by the young people from around the world attracted to that art. I met Anthony Bale for a celebratory post-conference detox of mint tea at a Redchurch St coffee shop, and he observed that this area (now the Brooklyn of London) has changed so much from when some of his family lived there. A sense of connectedness, it struck me, would be difficult to maintain to its trendy incarnation, with its overwriting of the past -- often through beautiful spray paint. I know I feel this way about Cambridge MA, where my great grandfather built staircases in Inman Square but no one in my family could now afford a home.

In the afternoon I spent some time sitting outside a pub, nursing a pint and sketching the road map to a review essay. London's public spaces are wonderful, created for lingering. DC is too busy to encourage anyone to sit anywhere for two hours just to think. On the way back to my flat I walked over (literally, because you view it from above on sidewalk replaced by glass) a subterranean artwork by David Teager-Portman called Choosing the Losing Side (2014), placed next to the remains of a Roman wall excavated at the making of the current market. Two figures in a tableau of death and discovery, the installment reminds me of the uncovering of Spitalfields Woman, a young Roman who had been buried with objects and oils connecting her to the Mediterranean and a wide world. London has always been bigger than itself, a home to distant wanderers.

This errant theme was made palpable after a Brick Lane dinner with an assortment of favorite people: Kathy Lavezzo, Dorothy Kim, Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James, Tom White, Dan Remein, Julie Orlemanski. The meal was pure serendipity. I'd simply placed a note on Facebook that I was reserving a table for friends and strangers to join, and this collection of people who did not all know each other (some medievalists, some not) coalesced and, I hope, are now fast friends. Over curry Farah told us what it was like to grow up in the East End, and afterwards took us on a walking tour of some its buildings and homes. Intermixed with its Jewish, Irish and Bengali histories is a French tale of Huguenot refugees weaving silk in specially designed buildings, which you can now spot for their huge windows and multistory layout. I admit we peered into strangers' houses on quiet roads and imagined what it was like to live and work in these spaces. Farah stressed throughout her impromptu tour the long history of the area to protest and dissent. Nearby for example Oswald Mosley thought he would lead a Saturday march of his fascist supporters down Cable Street, but the Jews did not stay in their synagogues as he planned, flooding the streets to block his Blackshirts and deal his antisemitism and toxic nationalism a rather stinging blow. We ended at the magnificent Christ Church Spitalfields, where Edward told us about the excavations that yielded lead-lined caskets ... with bodies so well preserved in them that the archeological teams needed trauma counseling after their opening. Not every message from the past is a story affirming to tell, but resonates all the same with something of the moment into which it arrives.

I don't know what a post-Brexit London will offer. If this little slice of the radical East End excavated mainly through the passions and memories of friends is a small indicator, I can predict that impurity, coalition, dissent, and alternative stories are going to endure. Struggle is a synonym for future. Walking back to my flat last night, thinking about the friends and strangers in whose company I passed the long day -- and the people with whom I spent a week at a conference devoted to an author who well knew that the world is full of difference (even if he was at times oblivious to the violences that he reinforced in telling stories of that world) -- then the persistence of challenge to easy narratives and resistance to homogenizing force seems to me clear. Surely there are some neighborhoods like the East End where better visions of living together are being advanced through protest and alliance. But surely also we possess wide communities of conscience, alliance, affinity, and resistance that are also working (in multiple registers) to ensure that the present does not betray the boisterous heterogeneity of the past, that the future is better (more affirmative, more queer, more inclusive, more diverse, more difficult) than the reduced prospects we have been told to expect.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Pre NCS London 2016: Things To Do + Events


Bedside reading: guide to Pride in London (festivities just ended in June).
Patience Agbabi's Telling Tales, Lavinia Greenlaw's A Double Sorrow.

The International Medieval Congress in Leeds has just concluded, and the New Chaucer Society Congress in London is approaching!

Here's a quick post with a few items of note ahead of NCS (ITM readers will surely notice that many of these items are responding directly to current events and geopolitics).

The #femfog roundtable at the IMC in Leeds was an animated and productive venue that explored strategies for building a more inclusive and ethical medieval studies. Such conversations are sure to continue at NCS, whether through official sessions or informal venues. Fore more on the Leeds session:

Topical reading list for medievalists. See Jeffrey's list of "reading for sustenance" (compiled on 2 July) including Brexit- and femfog-related items by medievalists. See also my posting on refuge and welcome (20 June), and two new items published yesterday (7 July):
Things to do in London before NCS:
  • Chaucer's London Today. A guide to site of interest to Chaucerians around London (document posted by Lawrence Warner).
  • Protest march in Brixton. For people following ongoing developments in the US, consider this rally to be held in solidarity with victims of police brutality (Saturday).
Events associated with NCS:
  • Queers & Allies. Informal social gathering for queer (LGBTQ+) medievalists and allies. Tuesday (12 July) starting 9pm at the Royal Oak (at 73 Columbia Road; this is about a 30 minute walk or 2 minutes by taxi from Queen Mary). [h/t to Anthony Bale and to the #QueerMSS crowd especially Diane Watt and Roberta Magnani]
  • Safe(r) Spaces Conversation (moderated by Helen Young). “A Pilgrimage to Safe(r) Spaces: Classroom Crossroads of Identity,” Thursday (14 July) at 9-10:30am, Bancroft 1.13a. This event was created to center crip/queer experiences (e.g., issues relating to disability and sexuality), but will no doubt expand to incorporate many other identities.
Some events of note on the NCS program(me):
  • The “Corporealities” thread explores facets of identity and experience in the medieval past and the present; note the highly topical "Pale Faces" session interrogating whiteness and medieval studies (Monday 11 July, 2pm, Arts 2 Lecture Theatre).
  • Global Chaucers roundtable exploring translation, adaptation, and comparative literary approaches: "Translating Global Chaucers" (Wednesday 13 July at 9-10:30pm in PP1).
  • Readings by neo-Chaucerian poets Lavinia Greenlaw (Tuesday 12 July at 5:30pm, People's Place Theatre) and Patience Agbabi (Wednesday 13 July at 8pm, Arts 2 Lecture Theatre).* [note also Jeffrey's post on other events that night]
*A brief blurb for the Patience Agbabi reading (not in the online version of NCS program):
Patience Agbabi is former Poet Laureate of Canterbury. Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014), in which she disperses Chaucerian narratives in present-day multiethnic London, was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Her work appears also in the anthology The Refugee Tales (Comma Press, 2016). She will  deliver an interactive reading “Herkne and Rede” that explores poetry performance as dynamic adaptation.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Object Lessons Reading in London: Wednesday 13th July

by J J Cohen

If you happen to be in London next week -- say, because you are attending the New Chaucer Society Biennial Congress, or because you live there, or because you need an excuse to spend some time in the city -- please know that you are cordially invited to a public reading by four authors of Object Lessons books. A webpage with complete details is here and you must register for a ticket in advance, but the event (conveniently located in Bloomsbury) is open to all. The presenters include:
Martin Paul Eve (Password) is Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck College, University of London, UK. He is the author of Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (2014) and Pynchon and Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Foucault and Adorno (2014).
Alison Kinney (Hood) is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, USA. Her writing has appeared online at Paris Review Daily, The Atlantic, Hyperallergic, the New York Times, The New Inquiry, New Republic, Narratively, and other publications.
Joanna Walsh (Hotel) has written for Granta, the London Review of Books, n+1, The White Review, The Guardian, Narrative Magazine, The European Short Story Network, Tate, and others. She is the author of collection of short stories, Fractals, and a visual diary of London, London Walks!, now on its third printing. Her writing has been selected for Best British Short Stories (2014, Salt Publishing). 
I will be reading from Earth, the book I co-wrote with Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU and all around awesome person). The book itself will be available early in spring 2017. Although at this point in my life I'm well practiced at delivering academic talks, I've never done a reading from my work per se so I am a little nervous about how it will go. Lindy also cannot make the event but she will be present in spirit, and I will do my best to rise to the eloquence of Martin, Alison and Joanna.

I realize that this reading is up against many New Chaucer Society evening functions the same evening, and for that I'm very sorry. There is a small charge for tickets (with a discount for students, including graduate students), but refreshments are included if that helps. And if the price is a bar to your attendance email me please and we will work something out.

Registration and complete information, including the address of the venue, may be found HERE. Hope to see some friends on July 13th!

Monday, July 04, 2016

IMC Leeds 2016: Brexit and femfog convos

Info on the new #femfog session as printed in the addenda/corrigenda for IMC Leeds 2016.
Click to enlarge (full info provided below in this post as well).

[Note: UPDATED July 6 with contextual #femfog links, at the end of this post]

Happy Independence Day to readers in the US! For some timely readings on this day (directly related to Brexit and femfog conversations), see this excellent reading list of medievalist perspectives compiled by Jeffrey.

The International Medieval Congress in Leeds (twitter hashtag #IMC2016) is about to begin!

A reminder for two timely items not listed in the printed program:

Tuesday 5 July 2016: Informal Post-Brexit Chat (6pm, Terrace Bar).

Kathryn Maude and Kate Weikert are hosting a chat on how to move forward post-Brexit. Meet at the Terrace Bar at 6pm. The hashtag for people who wish to follow these convos on twitter is #IMCAntiBrexit.

Wednesday 6 July 2016: Embracing the #femfog (1pm at Michael Sadler Building: Rupert Beckett Theatre).
Abstract: The misogynist invention 'of femfog' and the racist praise of medieval 'white men' had unintended positive consequences: an online surge of willingness to name and act against abuse and unethical behaviour in medieval studies, not just in Anglo-Saxon studies, not just against women. Continuing these discussions, we want to expose the structures that enabled and enable unethical behaviour in universities, and aim to make medieval studies more fully inclusive, collegial, and ethical. We want to explore ways of working against emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, gate-keeping, exploitation, and bullying especially of students and younger scholars, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ablism, and misogyny in medieval studies, and affirm the openness, collegiality and inclusivity of our fields. 
With David Bowe (Oxford), Liz Herbert McAvoy (Swansea University), Jonathan Hsy (George Washington University), Dorothy Kim (Vassar), Christina Lee (University of Nottingham), Robert Stanton (Boston College), Elaine Treharne (Stanford), and Helen Young (University of Sydney). Chaired by Diane Watt (University of Surrey).
The hashtag for this convo will be, of course, #femfog. It's listed as Session 1198 so if you are doing any tweeting at IMC about this one, it's good to provide the session hashtag too (e.g., use #s1198).

This blog post at ITM has the full information for this #femfog session.

UPDATE July 6 - for reading directly relevant to #femfog convos, some links:

Saturday, July 02, 2016

After Europe, After Brexit

a guest post by DAVID WALLACEJudith Rodin Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

                                                After Europe, After Brexit                                    

This talk was given at the Centre for Medieval Studies, York, as part of the conference 'Theorizing Medieval European Literatures', organized by CML (Centre for Medieval Literature, York-Odense), on Saturday 2 July 2016. It may serve ITM readers as a brief and preliminary guide to likely impacts on UK Higher Education, and on Medieval Studies, following the Brexit vote of 23 June. It may also help set the mood music for those about to attend the New Chaucer Society meeting at QM, London.

My title 'After Europe' has obviously taken on quite different valence since the Brexit vote of 23 June. The original idea was for me to reflect on what next steps might be taken following the completion of a particular editorial project, namely Europe:A Literary History, 1348-1418. A number of contributors to that project are here at this conference, and the project benefitted immensely from previous workshoppings at York, and in a range of CML venues. But we are now 'After Europe' in a much more immediate way if the United Kingdom really is to leave the European Union. Melancholy Narcissism might drive me to ask whether I've been wasting my time, and other people's, over the last eight years in gestating a giant white elephant? But since Narcissism is by definition solitary, I will pick my head up to notice that I have plenty of company in misery.  Many other projects ongoing or completed now find themselves in a world at odds with the logic of their own self-conceiving : one could start with Simon Gaunt's Medieval Francophone Culture Outside France, an AHRC-funded project that ran from 2011 to 2015, and that lives on as a web resource. Most of all, however, I think of the Interfaces group, specifically the core members Christian Høgel and Lars Boje Mortensen, of Southern Denmark, and Elizabeth Tyler, of York. These fine scholars have poured a decade of their lives into what might be regarded as a 'greater Europe' project, or 'Eurasia' project.  They and many others across Europe have been extremely generous in working with English as the privileged lingua franca of collegial discussion. I hope that the Danes will stick with us, but I cannot resist quoting a recent post by Lars, as he reaches for his fellow Danish author, Saxo Grammaticus:
They saw doom ahead, fear was in their hearts, and you would have imagined that the misdemeanours of a single member were recoiling on all their heads" (This is Saxo grammaticus iii.4.9, on the false gods realizing that their whole scam was falling apart because of Odin's behaviour).
Before essaying any turn to the positive, I think it worth registering just how bad things are-- just how destructive an effect Brexit promises to have on British participation within European scholarly initiatives. Our best correspondent here, as many of you will know, is Graham Caie of the University of Glasgow. Graham represents the UK Academies in the Federation of European Academies. Here's what he had to say in a FB post from earlier this week:
The UK academies which at present take the lead in giving advice on EU funding to the UK government (BIS) will not have a say in future EU funding decisions. The UK will now have limited access to EU research funding and at a greatly reduced amount, as do Switzerland and Norway -- and the US. The UK at the moment receives over €1bn annually. In 2007-2013 UK received €8.8bn and contributed €5.4bn. This will now cease or be greatly diminished and universities will suffer greatly. The UK per capita receives the largest EU research amount -- but this will go. At the moment the UK can only fund large research projects such as the Space Agency with EU collaboration -- that will stop. One commentator stated, when the Leave folk were pointing to Switzerland's success: "Switzerland now pays more and gets less [from EU research funding], co-ordinates almost nothing internationally and has no control over its scientific budget or which topics to fund." Sad days for UK research, and I've not begun on EU student and staff mobility....
We might set this, however, against the more positive approach taken in a newspaper article from earlier this week:
I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, and on improving the environment. EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.
The good news here is that this is very good news. The bad news is that the bringer of it is Boris Johnson, writing in the Daily Telegraph. Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, assesses it as 'a string of confident assertions that are likely to fall foul of the facts. Universities, for example, stand to lose significant income if EU students-- including Irish people-- are less able to come to the UK to study'.

Further spurs against Narcissism were supplied by Sarah Rees Jones and Nick Havely, both of this [York] parish, and by Lee Spinks of the Edinburgh English Department, by way of Essex. Sarah says that 'we have all been way too complacent about the 'Londonisation' of the economy and of politics for way too long. Too much of England and Wales has been written off as redundant and irrelevant as London has gone from strength to strength... I have colleagues who have travelled all over Europe and the world but never been to Bridlington, Pontefract or Hartlepool'. Lee Spinks notches this up several degrees: 'to be confronted', he says, 'with the blistering, paint-drying-at-20-metres metropolitan contempt for the Leave voter, fetishistically addicted to its fixed and already established subject-positions (the "racist", the "old", "the uninformed", the "delusional" and so on) without any real sense of the internal drama or deep history of the way these identities or plural subjects were formed ...'

Nick Havely modulates from rage and despondency to thoughts of reparation: 
Amongst other things, too, the decision is a gross betrayal of a whole generation: nearly three quarters of 18-24 year olds... voted to remain. . . we have to work through the rage and despondency and try to get not mad but even. Having canvassed for the Labour Remain campaign in Oxford over the past week, I’m even more convinced that one of the few things those of our age can do is to try in some small way to mitigate the damage being done to the prospects of the younger generation. . . Perhaps modern linguists, beleaguered as they already are, can help to contain a further outbreak of insularity'.
Peter Scott, of UCL's Institute of Education, concludes his piece in Tuesday's Guardian by reminding us that 18-24 year olds have been paying the price for bad educational policy for quite some time:
'In 2000', he says, 'going to "uni"' was still, as it had been for generations,      about optimism, an opening-up for individuals, communities, our whole       society. Today it is more associated with high fees, crippling debts, bogus       'value for money' and spurious 'satisfaction'. None of this is really higher   education's fault. But we are paying the price.
This certainly resonates with me, since my years at York in the 70s, on a government grant, were absolutely a time of optimism, experiment, and 'opening up'. What I see in my own American university, given concerns with high fees and crippling debts, is an ever-increasing obsession with grade point average, and associated mental health issues. In Texas, where I taught for six years, it will become legal to carry a concealed weapon on campus from 1 August.

Peter Scott begins his article with a statement that flatly contradicts Boris Johnson, he who so blithely stated, as you just heard, that 'Britain is part of Europe, and always will be'. 'The unthinkable', Scott says, 'now has to be thought. The UK is abandoning Europe, which-- let's be honest about it-- is what leaving the EU amounts to'. So this brings us to alternative points of inertia: to relax with Boris, because Britain is always already part of Europe, so no effort is required; or to relax with Peter Scott, because Europe has now already definitively disappeared beyond the horizon. Inertia, or at least a form of depressed paralysis, has gripped many of us this week, and it might seem besides the point to ponder, as medievalists, how (or even if) we might bestir ourselves. But it's worth noticing that this very Centre for Medieval Studies at York predates the UK's joining the EU in 1973, and has hence developed habits of thinking and working within and as part of Europe that are not going to vanish overnight. So some thoughts about what we might do.      

Support for Modern Languages, as Nick Havely suggests, should be high on the agenda of any English-based medievalist. CML's online journal Interfaces publishes work inFrench, German, Italian, Spanish, and English, and it is salutary for we Anglophones to read work in 'other' languages. Indeed, immersion in languages other than English would be a good and worthwhile act of penance, beginning this summer, for those of us who have benefitted most from English being the privileged language of international scholarly exchange.

Commitment to younger scholars can be made in many ways, including through international summer schools of the kind organized by CML this summer in Istanbul (see pic). The commitment of these students, many of them from tricky locales such as Jordan and Syria, Moscow and Venezuela, is truly inspiring. Their pursuit of knowledge is often at odds with their chances of getting a job, or even (in some places) inversely related to it. Subjects such as Vladimir Putin's devotion to St Vladimir, in the Crimea, or the relocation of the Crown of St Stephen to the Hungarian parliament are sensitive, to put it mildly.

Rewards for those of us currently on the teaching side are immense. My tutorials in Istanbul saw us move from Erich Auerbach's 'Dante' chapter in Mimesis to Emily Apter's Translation Zone to Kader Konuk's East West Mimesis. Apter critiques Edward Said for modelling himself as a critic-in-exile on Auerbach, rather than on Leo Spitzer, since (Apter says) Spitzer mixed with locals and learned Turkish, whereas Auerbach worked only with masterpieces of western literature. Konuk shows that Auerbach's claims about not having access to secondary literature and scholarly apparatus were bogus, but she argues that in focussing upon western works, Auerbach was upholding the modernization program defined by Attaturk: the same program that abolished Ottoman script, and that turned Hagia Sophia from mosque to museum. All this can be learned from the books of Apter and Kader, as produced and published within American academe. But one of our summer-schoolers from Moscow, formerly a journalist and now studying into an uncertain future, pointed out something that American scholarship had overlooked: that Attaturk's revolution was in part funded by the Soviet Union. The suggestion that Moscow saw Attaturk as a kind of mini-me Lenin is not something I had ever heard before, and would not have heard outside that remarkable CML summer school, held in the Swedish compound in Istanbul 50 metres away from the Russian embassy, itself subjected to a noisy protest by Palestinians on the last night.

Gathering awareness of such complexities had long inspired and sustained my editorial work on Europe: A Literary History. It was evident from surveying the field, such as it was, that the man who moved into Spitzer's job once Spitzer had been chased off to Istanbul still exerts powerful and indeed normative influence. I speak here of Ernst Robert Curtius, author of the magisterial European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, published in German in 1948, in English in 1952, and lauded by T.S. Eliot as 'this magnificent book'. Europe certainly needed some sense of a unifying culture to rally round after World War II, and Curtius, buoyed by the salutary and wholistic effects of his own Jungian psychoanalysis, gave them the tropes and figurae of Latinitas. The cult of T.S. Eliot was very strong when I arrived at York in 1973, the year of EU entry and the year after the Department of English and Related Literature had combined collectively to celebrate the fiftieth publication anniversary of The Wasteland.

The enduring allure of Latinity and Rome is further indicated by Chris Wickham's contribution to The Penguin History of Europe, covering the period 400-1000, from 2009. In opening his 'Introduction' Wickham makes remarks that might seem trenchantly anti-European, or un-European, or pre-European:
Europe was not born in the early Middle Ages. No common identity in 1000 linked Spain to Russia, Ireland to the Byzantine empire (in what is now the Balkans, Greece and Turkey), except the very weak sense of community that linked Christian polities together. There was no common European culture, and certainly not any Europe-wide economy. There was no sign whatsoever that Europe would, in a still rather distant future, develop economically and militarily, so as to be able to dominate the world. 
And yet Wickham's volume is called The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. The talismanic name of Rome deploys here to cohere what might otherwise appear fragmentary, dispersed, or ruinous, and Latinity still continues to exert magical powers. In December 2015 I shared a podium with Chris Wickham and other medievalists at the Taylorian, Oxford, as part of the launch event for an integrated, cross-disciplinary, un-siloed program in Medieval Studies. Numbers were huge, spilling over to the upstairs of the auditorium. Conversations ranged broadly, but the only comment that led to wild applause from the audience was the suggestion that we must teach more Latin. I'm always happy to support Latin, but there was no applause at mention of the magnificent exhibition of Armenian manuscripts then on display just down the road in the new Weston gallery of the Bodleian. Armenian literary production was staggeringly precocious, with liturgy and Scripture from the fifth century, and highly individualized: scribes do things in Armenian colophons, throughout the Middle Ages, seen nowhere else.

Armenia is just one of many locales across the territory of medieval Europe that are in literary terms alternative to Rome. In the 'General Introduction' to Europe I adopt Osip Mandelstam as one of my revisionary muses, remembering his Journey to Armenia, and Seamus Heaney as the other. Heaney was an admirer of Dante, like Curtius and Auerbach, but also of Osip Mandelstam, convinced that unlikely places such as Armenia or Ulster may surprise or outflank the European centre. Heaney rediscovers his Dante at Lough Derg, a medieval site of pilgrimage that drew visitors ranging from Hungarians to Neapolitans. Lough Derg lies not far from Lecan and Ballymote-- where great texts of a resurgent Gaelic world were being compiled after 1350 by scribes showing little knowledge of Latin.

The recent resolution to decouple Britain from greater European concerns should not, then, discourage us from pursuing Europeanist (and global) work-- which, in my opinion, is the only kind of work that makes sense for medievalists, English or otherwise. It may be that British medievalists have to try developing direct relations and exchanges with particular European institutions, rather than chasing free-floating pots of EU money. It's encouraging to see that York's Vice Chancellor, Koen Lamberts, is from Belgium; and that he is already putting his mind to preserving European ties, with his ten point plan of action. The trans-territorial, cross-lingual complexities of the Middle Ages, early and late, that our scholarship already articulates already resonate with the complexities of our own time. I'm thus less inclined, in this company, to despair of our future. The optimism with which I signed off the 'General Introduction' to Europe two years ago now seems irrecoverably peppy. But I would, in this company, stand by the optimism and conviction of its final paragraph:
Europe ... apprehending diminished standing in the world, is falling out of love with itself. Our project affirms belief in Europe as a compelling and inspiring subject, and in philology, practiced with urgent care by that post- war generation, as vital to its articulation. The Latinity honoured by the centripetal imagining of Curtius remains vital as one literary force field among many in a Europe divided by papal and East-West schisms, by more radical faith divisions, by Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Slavic, and Armenian literacies, and by burgeoning vernaculars. Geography here supplements philology, as space supplements time: topoi are to be seen not only as literary figures, rooted in classical antiquity, but as places on the ground. The space of this new Europe, expanded and interconnected, has no hard and fast borders but rather sites of cultural negotiation producing literatures of extraordinary variety, ingenuity, and regenerative power.
I'd like to conclude here with a few words about what I've actually been doing 'After Europe', which is to say writing a Very Short Introduction to Chaucer for OUP. Next week, manyof us will gather with the New Chaucer Society in London, and Chaucer is a poetoften invoked to demonstrate foundational and insular 'Englishness'. So here's my attempt at saving Chaucer from recuperation by the Little Englanders:

Born in London, Chaucer died at Westminster some time in October 1400. His burial place in the Abbey eventually became poet’s corner, and admirers from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries never tired of hailing him as ‘the father of English poetry’. As such, it was reasoned, he must surely embody those qualities of Englishness most admired at the time of writing.  In 1946, Marchette Chute published a book called Geoffrey Chaucer of England, as if our man is about to lead out the national football team for the first post-war international friendly. All this is understandable, especially in the context of 1946, but quite wrong. Chaucer was hardly English at all: that is, his home base of operations was an area taking in the south-east quadrant of England, the Channel, which he crossed many times, and the English-controlled continental region bordered by Flanders, Artois, and Picardy.  Since he seems never to have travelled in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, or England north of Yorkshire he might more plausibly be known as ‘Geoffrey Chaucer of Logres’, the region south of the Trent as demarcated by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.  And also by Arthurian romance, although this would not have pleased Chaucer since, following contemporary Italian fashion, he regarded Arthuriana with affectionate contempt. He knew of Italian literary fashions because he had travelled in Italy, owned at least two Italian texts, and translated brilliantly from Italian. French he knew as the most prestigious of English vernaculars, vital for life at court, diplomatic exchange, legal debate, pillow-talk with his wife, and badinage with his sister-in-law, Katherine Swynford, née de Roet, mistress and later wife to John of Gaunt. Latin, beaten into him as a boy, was the language of Church and Bible; Englishers of the Bible were criminalized during Chaucer’s lifetime and, shortly after that, faced death by burning.

Chaucer, then, was no ‘little Englander’. He understood many languages, and also how one language or dialect along any given route modulates into another-- much as accents change between Bristol and Cardiff, or Philadelphia and Boston. He also heard tongues combining to form inter-languages, much as Scandinavians today pool their Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and even Icelandic to fashion working idioms.  His boyhood and then manhood on Thameside quays formed a perfect linguistic testing ground as goods from Francophone, Flemish, Dutch, ‘Deutsch’, and Italian locales were exchanged. From such poly-vocalities Chaucer fashioned his English. His choice to put all writerly eggs in one English basket remains remarkable: his friend and fellow poet John Gower, across the river at Southwark, chose otherwise, spreading himself between Latin, French, and English. But the English that Chaucer chose to write, one might say invent, opens out to Europe, rather than withdraws from it. His aim is to make English illustrious by European standards as a European language. The notion of an un-European England would, for Chaucer, make no sense at all.