Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Welcome Acephalous Readers

The post that made
Scott's nose itchy
is below.

A picture of a true medieval acephale (called a Blemmyae) is at left.

You can be certain that if it is intriguing to think with in a postmodern kind of way, we medievalists had our hands on it first. We don't mind your borrowing it for a while, Mr. Scott Eric Kaufman, just like we don't mind you copying the medievalist practice of deploying your middle name to sound more prestigious, but please be careful with it or we will take our headless figure back.


Karl Steel said...

What's going on w/ the genitals of our headless friend? Maybe I shoudn't be staring, but something looks odd.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Um, maybe it is a she? Here's a bigger version. The only thing I can comapre is the Donestre, another monster from Wonders of the East, whose naked penis is drawn in bright red and is in no way ambiguous genitalia.

It makes me feel all dirty to be staring so intently at her/his/its nether regions.

Eileen Joy said...

Finally, we get to the genitalia of the monsters of the Latin/Old English "Wonders of the East"! All kidding aside, you should know that there is a really great unpublished dissertation out there by Dana Oswald, "Indecent Bodies: Gender and the Monstrous in Medieval Literature" (Ohio, 2005; directed by Nicholas Howe), that has a chapter that deals directly with the genitalia [including the *erasures* of genitalia] in the Latin/OE illustrated "Wonders" texts [in the Tiberius, Vitellius, and Bodleian MSS.]. I am going to use part of this diss. in my chapter for JJC's "Infinite Realms." I try to plug Dana's dissertation whenever I can--it's very good, and other than Asa Mittman and Susan Kim, no one has really done the kind of serious theoretical work on this text that it really deserves [and much of what they are doing--all three--is still in progress]. Susan Kim, in fact, will be leading a winter 2007 Newberry Library consortium seminar from Jan. 5-Mar. 16, 2007, titled "'Unworthy Bodies': The Other Texts of the Beowulf Manuscript." Hopefully, I will be attending that seminar!

Karl Steel said...

You know, JJC, the whole point of my comment was to say, "made you look!" (although I know you've been looking at Donestres forever, so don't play coy). Now, the only reason I'd say 'not a she' is because there's no breasts, and naked women, so far as I can recall right now (since my copy of John Block Friedman isn't by me), tend to be identified as women through their breasts. I'm sure Dana Oswald's diss deals with this, but it strikes me that sexual characteristics in art tend to be either breasts or the absence of breasts (with penises much rarer: this is true in modern cinema too, Borat excepting), which I'm sure has something to do with the various mastectomies in hagiographic torture.

So, right, I'm sure Oswald's dealt with all this. Go get her (him? himmer?) EJ if you have the chance and if Oswald's willing to visit with us.

And your wife's more welcome to come by, too, SEK. I'd like In the Middle to be the most crowded medieval site on the Internets.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

You are right Karl -- the femininity would be otherwise marked. Perhaps it is an erasure? Though other figures in th ms have full genitals.

Ahhh, medievalists and their genitals.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

My guess about the monstrous genitalia and the often equally prominent monstrous belly buttons in manuscript illuminations is that they're meant to be a reminder that these creatures are part of the natural order and the usual cycle of generation, birth, and death, rather than apparitions, demons, or spirits of some sort. I'm really interested to know whether that's the approach Dana Oswald took.

But I am not allowed to think about any this right now because it falls in the category of Not My Dissertation, which must rapidly become my raison d'etre, despite my raging "fox" tendencies.

In fact, I am not allowed to be reading this blog or typing this comment right now.

Karl Steel said...

Someone takes a break from writing a novel to harass her medievalist:

ALK: "you guys are all on crack. It's got a penis."

KTS: "what?"

ALK: "go to the bigger picture. See? It's got a little red penis. It's even got a head on it."

KTS: "oh..."

So, yeah. Not as unambiguous as the donestre, but maybe there, hanging to its left. Pubic hair all around it, maybe.

AW: sounds interesting.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Closer examination does suggest the existence of what my son would call a "tiny weiner" and two tiny testicles.

We can now stop wondering over the use of blogs, cooked and uncooked: they were clearly invented to resolve pressing questions about the gender of headless medieval monsters.

Eileen Joy said...

SEK--just a quick message to say that Dana Oswald is a very approachable and friendly person who would likely be more than willing to send your "womedievalist" a copy of her dissertation. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and her email is Dana.Oswald@uwp.edu. And as they say in the biz, tell her I sent you. Cheers, Eileen