Sunday, February 11, 2007

Time out of Memory

I've just submitted this for a new collection on historicism in medieval studies. Since I've yet to write a word of the actual essay, I'm wondering: suggestions? bibliography? blind spots?

Time out of Memory: The Medieval Prehistoric
This essay examines how material objects that predate the known historical record were fitted into medieval British cultures and histories, and how the time before history was imagined in medieval historiography. The analysis will focus upon two objects that might seem capable of offering nothing but mute testimony, but which in fact speak quite eloquently: the fossil of an ichthyosaurus worked into the porch floor of the Norman church of St John the Baptist in Tredington; and Stonehenge, especially as embedded by Geoffrey of Monmouth into his History of the Kings of Britain. Both instances, I argue, do not petrify their objects into some unchanging historical moment, but encounter the alien materiality of the past in a way that gives new life to what might otherwise seem an inert materiality. I then look at the prehistory of Britain as imagined by Bede, Geoffrey, and Gerald of Wales, arguing just the opposite: that in all three authors we see an impulse to fossilize the past in order to stabilize the present. Using recent work on materiality and temporality by Rita Felensky, Gil Harris, and Manuel de Landis, I will then emphasize the inassimilable residue that such medieval historicization leaves behind, and the other stories that might be told from these histories' gaps.


Karl Steel said...

Huh. I thought for sure I had left a comment on this someplace on this blog in the last year: before I go hunting through the PL or the Acta Sanctorum, let me know if the following sounds familiar. The beginning of a Latin passion of Sts Alban and Amphibalus begins with the narrator claiming that have discovered the story recorded (?? is this right?) on a crumbling ancient wall: check Bob Stein's book, since I learned about this in one of his classes. If I remember this correctly, it's perfect for your work. Of course, if you want to play with dinosaur bones, there's the bit at the end of Des Granz Geantz about the bones of giants evidencing the history Gogmagog tells Brutus. Neither of these points need to be main points of discussion in your essay, but each merits at least a rich footnote.

Karl Steel said...

Ah. Wasn't that hard to find:

Cives quondam Verolamii, ob elationem cordis sui declarandam qualiter passus sit beatissimus Albanus in muris suæ civitatis sculptum reliquerunt: quam scripturam, longo post tempore, in muris eorum, jam ruinosis & ad ruinam inclinatis, inveni: vidique mœnia præ vetustate jam labi, infra quorum ambitum [Col. 0149D] B. Albanus graves in corpore pertulit cruciatus.

From Acta Sanctorum, "Albani, Amphibali & Sociorum anno DXC Anglice scripta. Interpr. Guilielmo monacho Albanensi," Jun IV. You may also wish to look at this, "Saints Alban and Amphibalus in the Works of Matthew Paris: Dublin, Trinity College MS 177," Florence McCulloch, in Speculum, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Oct., 1981), pp. 761-785.

If you're assembling 'talking ruins,' perhaps you could spare a footnote for Erkenwald as well.

Did anyone in England 8-15 c's say anything about Pictish pictographs?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

For comparison, the Royal Frankish Annals and Gregory have mythic past bits. Well, Gregory does. I think the ARF, does, too.

Eileen Joy said...

This sounds very, very cool. I have no references to share, only this comment: "cool, man, really cool." [But I *do* have some questions: were you into dinosaurs as a child? Was "Tha Land of the Lost" one of your favorite shows? Thoughts on "Puff the Magic Dragon?]

Anonymous said...

Rita Felski [sic] and Manuel de Landa [sic].

I would look at Lukacher's Time-Fetishes and Bahti's Allegories of History.

Good luck with it, Jeffrey.

Anonymous said...

I am at the beginning of sketching out something similar - but with a different approach and different exempla. I shall definitely have a look at your reading list. Here are some of the names on mine: Michael Shanks, Christopher Tilley, Daniel Miller and Ian Hodder.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks, Karl, for that very useful stuff. We had a discussion on a related topic here, spurred of course by YOU. And if anyone knows of Pictish pictographs or petroglyphs being read in the Middle Ages, I'd love to hear about it.

ADM: Thanks, will check this out. It's been a long while since I've reread Gregory.

Eileen: It's like you can read my mind. What would my childhood have been without pylons and Sleestack (sp.)?

Anonymous: Geesh, what a terrible speller I am -- I certainly deserved to have that sic lobbed at me. Proper spellings, along with books I had in mind:

De Landa, Manuel. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York: Zone Books, 1997; rpr. New York: Swerve Editions, 2000.
----------. "Deleuze, Diagrams, and the Open-Ended Becoming of the World." In Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, ed. Elizabeth Grosz, 29-54. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Felski, Rita. Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

N50: Thanks, will look into each of those. A bit more of my bibliography appears here, as part of a graduate seminar I taught.

Karl Steel said...

Pictish pictographs or petroglyphs

My whole life, I've been saying pictograph when I meant petroglyph. Woe to me for having misspent my youth!

Eileen Joy said...

What do we call this field of study: pre-postcolonial studies, or, post-prehistoric studies?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I'm not sure I would ever have gotten the difference if it hadn't been for a fascination with petroglyphs that started during a visit to Arizona many years ago.

There are worse (or, better) ways to misspend your youth, Karl.

Eileen: we have always been midcolonial.

theswain said...

the work of giants comes to mind....I can't think off the top of my head anyway of an actual reference to Pictish petroglyphs in medieval writers....ogam, yes, runes, yes. I would think though seriously that the OE poem The Ruin would be right up there for this.