Monday, April 10, 2006

Fantasies of the Aboriginal

Here is that syllabus I promised for a graduate seminar I taught last autumn. My current research project pulls from these materials, so any comments and bibliography are most welcome.


This course will examine how "deep time" and the prehistoric have been narrativized by those who have little access to such lost times and places. The materials examined will be mostly medieval, and include texts like Beowulf, some saints' lives, Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (the text that "invented' King Arthur) and its translations. Some texts, though, will feature dinosaurs and other creatures from more modern Lost Worlds. Much of our time will be spent exploring how anterior peoples (aboriginal or not) who occupy colonized land are represented, and what kinds of stories they are allowed. Contemporary postcolonial theory and theorizations of First Nations, nativism, and the indigenous will form our secondary readings. We will also look closely at the life of objects like Stonehenge that, once the stories of people who created them become inaccessible, develop fantasy histories that reimagine the past. Finally, we will keep circling back to how stories of the distant past are always stories of the present, whether these narratives are medieval or modern.

An asterisk indicates the book is on reserve at the Gelman library. Copies of essays not at the library can be found in the folder on my office door. Remove only to xerox.

Sept. 6 Comparative Prehistories

  • Chris Gosden, Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction
    For Further Reading
  • Martin J. S. Rudwick, Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World (University of Chicago Press, 1995)
  • Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (Free Press, 1999)
  • Paul Semonin, American Monster: How the Nation's First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity (New York University Press, 2000)
  • Peter D. Ward, Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History (Viking 2004)

Sept. 13 The Writing of Stones

  • *Aubrey Burl, Prehistoric Avebury Introduction, chapters 9 ("Purpose") and 10 ("Avebury after Avebury") [library reserve]
  • Aubrey Burl, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany chapters 4 ("Function: Calendars, Cults and Sex") and 18 ("Stonehenge") [folder]
  • *Elizabeth Hill Boone and Walter D. Mignolo, eds. Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes "Introduction: Writing and Recording Knowledge" (Boone) and "Signs and Their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World" (Mignolo) [library reserve]

    For Further Reading
  • Roger Caillois, The Writing of Stones (University Press of Virginia, 1985)

Sept.20 In Principio: Contested Instigations

  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People Book 1 & 2
  • Gildas, On the Ruin of Britain [folder]
  • Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism, "Bede's Blush" [folder]
  • Nicholas Howe, "From Bede's World to 'Bede's World'" [folder]
  • *Nicholas Howe, "Anglo-Saxon England and the Postcolonial Void" in Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages, ed. Kabir and Williams [library reserve]

    For Further Reading
  • Uppinder Mehan and David Townsend, "'Nation' and the Gaze of the Other in Eighth-Century Northumbria," Comparative Literature 53 (2001) 1-26
  • Kathleen Davis, "Nation Writing in the Ninth Century: A Reminder for Postcolonial Thinking about the Nation." Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 28 (1998) 611-37
  • "Special Issue: Gender and Empire," ed. Clare A. Lees and Gillian R. Overing, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34 (2004), especially the introduction by Lees and Overing ("Signifying Gender and Empire"), Fred Orton "Northumbrian Identity," and Nicholas Howe, "Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England"
  • Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History(A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton University Press, 1988).
  • Sarah Foot, "The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity Before the Norman Conquest." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society,6th series 6 (1996) 25-49.
  • Patrick Wormald, "Bede, the Bretwaldas and the Origin of the gens Anglorum." Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society, ed. Patrick Wormald, Donald Bullough and Roger Collins (Oxford, 1983) 99-129.

Sept. 27 Is the Subaltern Heard?

  • Felix, Life of Saint Guthlac [folder]
  • Gayatri Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" [folder]
  • *Stephen Greenblatt, "Invisible Bullets" in Political Shakespeare, ed. Dollimore [library reserve]
  • Ed White, "Invisible Tagkanysough" [PMLA 120.3 2005, folder]

    For Further Reading
  • Elizabeth A. Povinelli, "The State of Shame: Australian Multiculturalism and the Crisis of Indigenous Citizenship," Critical Inquiry 24 [Winter 1998]: 575-610. See also the response by John Frow and Meaghan Morris in CI 25 [Spring 1999].

Oct. 4 No Class (Rosh Hashanah)

Oct. 11 Instigating the English Canon

  • Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heany (Norton edition)

Oct. 18 The Monster and the Aboriginal: Reading Grendel

  • J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Monsters and the Critics"; Jane Chance, "The Problem of Grendel's Mother"; Roberta Frank, "The Beowulf Poet's Sense of History"; Fred C. Robinson, "The Tomb of Beowulf" (reprinted in back of Norton edition of the Heaney translation)
  • Alfred Siewers, "Landscapes of Conversion: Guthlac's Mound and Grendel's Mere as Expressions of Anglo-Saxon Nation-Building" [folder]
  • *Seth Lehrer, "'On fagne flor': The Postcolonial Beowulf, from Heorot to Heaney" in Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages, ed. Kabir and Williams [library reserve]

Oct. 25 Native Knowledges
Please visit the National Museum of the American Indian prior to attending this class

  • Ganeth Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook
  • Marshall Sahlins, How 'Natives' Think

    For Further Reading
  • W. Richard West, The Changing Presentation of the American Indian: Museums and Native Cultures (University of Washington Press, 2000)

Nov. 1 Colonial Systems and Their Exteriors

  • Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland
  • Patricia Ingham, Postcolonial Moves ed. Ingham and Warren, "Contrapuntal Histories" [folder]
  • Gloria AnzaldĂșa, Borderlands/La Frontera [folder]

    For Further Reading
  • Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland, ed. and trans. A. B. Scott and F. X. Martin (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1978)
  • Robert Bartlett, Gerald of Wales, 1146-1223 (Clarendon Press, 1982)
  • James D. Cain, "Unnatural History: Gender and Geneaology in Gerald of Wales’s Topographia Hibernica," Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002) 29-43.
  • Rhonda Knight, "Werewolves, Monsters, and Miracles: Representing Colonial Fantasies in Gerald of Wales's Topographia Hibernica." Studies in Iconography 22 (2001) 55-86.
  • David Rollo, "Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hibernica: Sex and the Irish Nation." The Romanic Review 86.2 (1995) 169-90.

Nov. 8 Counter-History

  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain

Nov. 15 "The British"

  • *Patricia Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, "Introduction," "Arthurian Imagination and the 'Makyng' of History (chapter 1), "Arthurian Futurism and British Destiny" (chapter 2) [library reserve]
  • *Michelle Warren, History on the Edge "Prologus historiarum Britanniae," "Arthurian Border Writing" (chapter 1), "Geoffrey of Monmouth's Colonial Itinerary" (chapter 2), "Resistance to the Past in Wales" (chapter 3) [library reserve]
  • R. R. Davies, The First English Empire [folder]

    For Further Reading
  • Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (University of Wisconsin Press, 1987)
  • John Gillingham, The English in the Twelfth-Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values (Boydell Press, 2000).
  • Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia University Press, 2003)
  • Postcolonial Moves: Medieval Through Modern, ed. Ingham and Warren (Palgrave Macmillan 2003)
  • Kellie Robertson, "Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Translation of Insular Historiography." Arthuriana 8.4 (1998) 42-68

Nov. 22 Translation, History and Loss

  • Wace, Roman de Brut / A History of the British
  • *Finke and Shichtman, King Arthur and the Myth of History chapter 1 ("'To Mend the Interrupted Sequence of Time'"), 3 ("Romance of Empire") and 4 ("Discontinuous Time") [library reserve]

Nov. 29 Hybrid Futures?

  • Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture
  • *Antonio Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island, "Introduction" and "From the plantation to the Plantation" (3-81) [library reserve]

Dec. 6 Paper Presentations


Dr. Virago said...

Can I come take your class, please?

I'm interested in your reading of the Life of Guthlac. The OE poems are freshest in my mind (and btw, someone somewhere needs to have two similar pets named Guthlac A and Guthlac B) but I always thought that Guthlac's battling the demons for his little hill in the fens was obviously a colonization. But the question is: a colonization of whom? Of East Anglians by Mercians? Of remaining Britons by Anglo-Saxons (that late??)? Or am I being too literally historicist? Is it just, as you suggest in the formation of this class, an imagined aboriginal? My problem is that when I discuss it in a class, I get to that battle and say something along the lines of "hey look - colonization" but then can't get to the "so what?" except to talk about Christianity in general being a force of colonization. (And maybe that's all there is to the "so what?" question.) Or maybe I'm just thick. But I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Dr. Virago said...

Oh, and of course you must dicuss This is Spinal Tap, right? Kidding! (Sort of.)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

How could we have Stonehenge on the syllabus and NOT discuss Spinal Tap, authors of the best little song ever written about that monument? (Not that the competition is especially severe).

As you guessed, Dr. V., the reason I put the Guthlac materials on the syllabus was to provoke postcolonial reading. It's interesting to note that Guthlac won his pre-monastic military honors in war against the Britons. Held hostage among thesed enemies (or dwelling in exile as their ally?), he even learns their language. Surely these battles involved Mercian expansion into lands held by British-speaking peoples (or more likely, a mix of British speaking and immigrant "Anglo-Saxon" -- I do think we scholars have a tendency to project a cleanness of separation upon the period that likely didn't obtain). The fight for the mound that preoccupies Felix and the author of the OE Guthlac poem(s) surely refigures Mercian conquest -- why else would the demons who are the mound's aborigines speak to Guthlac in "the sibilant British tongue"?

I've written a little on this in Medieval Identity Machines. Alf Siewers does a much better job in "Landscapes of Conversion: Guthlac's Mound and Grendel's Mere as Expressions of Anglo-Saxon Nation-Building."

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Oh yes, and "Guthlac A" and "Guthlac B" are brilliant names for pets. Or children.

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks so much for your response. Not being an Anglo-Saxonist and not having work on the period in any concentrated scholarly way, I get a little fuzzy about the particulars. (And I'm definitely guitly of projecting a "cleanness of separation" onto the period.) And having not read anything Guthlacian (yes, I just made up that word)in some time, all I could remember was that scene in general and the fact that he was formerly a Mercian warrior. I'd completely forgotten that line about the demons and "the sibilant British tongue." Am I right that the poems edit out some of those details?

And thanks for the citations -- yours and Siewers' work both. Now I want to add Guthlac to my syllabus next time I do the saints' lives section of my general medieval lit. course.