Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In case you're wondering what I look like ...

and haven't caught me in, say, this little cheesefest, here I am in all my medievalist glory. In a bar.

Via the inimitable JKW.

On a different topic, does medieval studies possess futures other than those imagined by Kellie and Kofi?


Eileen Joy said...

Ohmigod, you're so cute! I knew it! The black t-shirt under the oxford shirt is a nice touch. And now we also know: you're a blond. Figures.

Eileen Joy said...

I have posted separate comments to both Kofi's and Kellie's talks, but just to be playful and respond to JJC's question here: what if post-colonial studies, however skewed geographically/ethnically differently by Kofi and others, and Kellie's desire to confront "nostalgic medievalizing" in Marxist critique, are both intellectual dead-ends? In other words, in what ways are our scholarly inquiries framed *ahead of time* by pre-existing fields of inquiry, whether in premodern *or* modern studies? I've been thinking about this a lot lately in relation to work a fellow BABEL-er, Betsy McCormick, has been doing on the history of Chaucer scholarship on "The Legend of Good Women" viz. Pierre Bourdieu's ideas re: habitus [where she has discovered that, for all the supposed "newness" of various approaches, the same questions, albeit slightly reframed, keep getting asked over and over again; the same "debate," in different get-up, slouches from the nineteenth century into the future and beyond]. What lies beyond the already demarcated, disciplinary "fields" of our vision? What if we had no "starting point," no body of already existing scholarship within which we either wanted to insert ourselves as innovators, or, [supposedly] more valorously, bring the temple down around our [and others'] heads? How do we avoid the trap of always answering TO, revising, arguing WITH, decomposing something else that is already out there, that is itself always attached to something else? How, in other words, can we step outside of our own intellectual history, and really, truly do something different? How can we frame new questions that have nothing to do with anything anyone else has ever asked of the Middle Ages? For myself, I would start with something like, "what if time doesn't exist at all?" What are the Middle Ages in *that* scenario?

Anonymous said...

HAHA - that's a great picture Jeffrey.
I hate the damn papparazi too!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Eileen: I am not a blond, I just have shimmery hair.

Kofi: Our graduate student who made the "Futures of the Field" poster combed the web for photos of you and found none (though you do have a student admirer who writes about how handsome you are in her blog).

Eileen: I share your suspicion. It's extremely difficult to "think the new" (as Elizabeth Grosz phrased it) when you are drowning in what has always been. As to thinking about medieval studies in the absence of time, Brian Greene forced me into that thought when I read his detailed account of how time is really a loaf of bread that can be sliced in many ways (to give variable velocity effects) but which itself remains pretty much unchanged, immobile. That means medieval studies is, like all things, frozen forever ... but we do have the illusion that it chugs steadily along because we are conditioned by our perception that everything is moving ahead in time. Zen, man, really Zen.

I also get annoyed at how in venues like New Chaucer Society panels dedicated to the future of medieval studies often present trends that are well on their way to venerability as if they were brand spanking new. This tendency is especially grating when the presenter acts as if significant work has not already been done in the area being detailed ... it's the senior scholar syndrome of walking into the room and announcing "J'arrive!' -- as if that announcement instigates the inquiry. What it really does is obliterate the work of others, very often people more junior in the field or less able to keep a spotlight on their work.

A less cryptic way of putting this: Postcolonial medieval studies is evident in the work of Roger Sherman Loomis. It didn't begin with the various collections of essays that started to circulate in the late 1990s, etc. Bruce Holsinger makes this point quite well in his Speculum article (and makes a similar argument for theory in general in The Premodern Condition).

Anonymous said...

It is actually brown (and "great") hair.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

You would know better than anyone, WSC.

Check out the Margaret Soltan extract above, where it looks like she calls you a harridan.

N50 said...

wow - doesn't look like the 'you' I saw at NCS at all - which raises interesting questions about temporality (after schrodinger's cat).

Another point about temporality - a venerable scholar once told me that it takes about seven years for work to be really 'noticed' (in the sense of cited much in other publications and so start to have a measurable impact on the field) - which can account for the strange time-lags in what outsiders to your field think is 'new'. There must be a tipping point (calculated in some multiple of this 7?) when enough outsiders 'discover' the new idea and it becomes 'established' - as poco seems to be now.

I didn't notice anybody declaiming anything very much as 'new' at NCS - but then (a) we went to different sessions and (b) I was there in the capacity of an alien to be over- or under-whelmed by the hoped-for strangeness it all.

As an alien - I was struck by the institutional tramlines in which so many agendas were expressed. People really wanted to be in the club - they were either lit critics or text crits (or historicists) and anything else much was damned. Sometimes this was badged up as great intellectual endeavour - but a lot of the time I got the impression that people identified with the source of their pay check or next grant check (and the institutional structure imposed by their boss University or funding council) and were pretty servile to the administrative structures in which they found themselves.

Sadly I never found any free peasants singing songs and plotting rebellion in the bar (as an alien no doubt I found such secret societies too difficult to penetrate) - so I ended up forming my own hanse of aliens who lived by our own rules in a parallel conference. It remains to be seen whether our attempts bear any fruit in the opening up of new trade routes within the humanities and new cultural exchanges. Guess it depends whether the insiders want a regulated or a free market in ideas.

And with such impenetrable metaphors bred of one class of beer after no time to eat anything at all, all day ... I slip back into the gloom.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

N50 you are too funny! Perhaps you should have been fomenting those rebellions, not seeking them out. I know I had my pitchfork ready and was just waiting for the call to arms.

Or at the very least joined us in The Hudson Hotel library bar.

It is possible that you saw my twin brother at NCS, also named Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. He looks unnervingly like me.

N50 said...

class of beer ... now that would be funny. Glass, glass - and one more glass - ah well.

I heard VERY strange tales of the Hudson Hotel - and had been sworn off the place. Had I known that Jak 'JJC' Straw and his fellow tares were there, it could have been so, so different

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Slipping back into the gloom with a class of beer is about as good as the professorial life gets, N50.

At least for me.

N50 said...

It is now 00.30am and I am just finishing a long night of marking and mayhem (details over at my place). Your blog has got me through the night. Every 4k words I read another bit of blog, then back to the marking. Well it is more slimming than chocolate, less addictive and sleep inducing than alcohol. Now it is a large G&T, a bit of bad TV and bed. And just think there is a world out there - of elections, suicide bombings ... you name it ... all I have added to the grand total is a bit of instruction in critical thinking and good writing. Though the kids probably think it is about something entirely different - like the middle ages for example. Right now that feels more like the medium than the message - guess the trick is to turn it into the message if you're feeling foxy. Well that is for tomorrow (oops actually ... later today). Good night.

Eileen Joy said...

Wow--N5o reads this blog, in bits, to get through the night. Fantastic.