Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dissertation Fragments III: The Prospectus

For those who remember the first and second posts in this little series, I present the "final" installment of my dissertation fragments (just in time for the new year). The first post, "Two False Starts and an Abstract" saw me attempting to think through the idea of horizons as a way for me to make connections between texts and humans. The second post, "Horizons of History" was the opening to the lecture I gave at Wake Forest in late November. Now, I present you all with the fruits of my long labor: The Dissertation Prospectus.

I've felt reluctant to post it over the past few days -- it was provisionally approved (with necessary modifications) the day before Christmas, so I'm only just now re-reading it. Part of my reluctance to post it was, I think, my own discomfort with the prospectus genre. First of all, it is a genre that is made to be changed, so to speak -- everyone I've spoken to has said that their prospectus differed wildly from their final product. I would imagine the same will hold for me (particularly given how little I know Saints Lives at present), and there's a small part of me that would rather this early ambition-filled version of what I want to do gather dust silently, rather than continue to speak when its successor is a work in its own right. Further, it's hardly a perfected document. I think the major flaw in it is the terribly detached tone: then again, the prospectus seems a quite artificial writing project, if a necessary one. What I feel I've accomplished in this version is a coherent narration of my project -- in the end, I suppose, what one ought to have accomplished by writing it. I also think I've been forced to clarify my thinking, fit it into specific work that's going on in the field right now, and make it my own enough to hold weight. That said, there are a few flaws going in.

First of all -- there is no extended bibliography. I am working on that -- though I have one, it's not exactly typed up at present. Hopefully I'll get there, and when I do, I'll post it here. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly: I feel like I've lost a lot of the dialogue I was trying to establish with Latour, Deleuze and Guattari, etc. I think that's necessary -- I need to explore the texts in a way that allows them to speak first and fully, even if I have a critical or theoretical "hunch" that involves Latour, etc. In short: I have to let the Anglo-Saxon texts dictate the way in which I use theory, and not vice-versa. That seems obvious, and indeed it IS obvious. However, I wanted to articulate it here: most importantly, because it's something I struggle with in my work, in no small part due to my penchant for the philosophical and the conceptual. Thirdly -- and this one is the really important bit -- I'm missing an entire chapter or so. It's the one I'm going to write on Beowulf, which will engage the questions I began raising in the second of the Fragments posts. The reason I did not write it up as a chapter yet -- and the reason I'm still not sure it will be a proper "chapter" -- is that I think I want Beowulf to perform a kind of a linking function. That is to say, I want Beowulf to be present in my dissertation in each of the chapters. I don't know that that will work -- which is, of course, why I need to write up the summary as a nominal "Chapter V" to the dissertation and let it go at that.

At any rate, here it is: The Horizons of History: Writing (and Rewriting) Anglo-Saxon Collectivities in the Middle Ages. Thoughts, questions, comments, bibliographical additions are all welcome and indeed sorely needed.

The Horizons of History: Writing (and Rewriting) Anglo-Saxon Collectivities in the Middle Ages

In the wake of the theories of narrative expounded upon in the 1980s by Hayden White and Paul Ricoeur, the approach taken by medieval studies vis a vis the study of early “historical texts” has benefited greatly from the new ways of thinking through the relationship between narrative convention and the functions of history in society.[1] Monika Otter, for example, has used the relationship between fiction and history in the twelfth century to explore what she (following Ricoeur) has termed the referentiality of medieval Latin historical texts, or to put it plainly, the degree to which “fictionality, while not embraced as it is in vernacular romance, becomes a playful and (and sometimes alarming) possibility in Latin historical writing.”[2] In the introduction to their 2006 edited volume entitled Narrative and History in the Early Medieval West, Elizabeth Tyler and Ross Balzaretti draw on the narrative theory of White to argue for literary practice not as a way “to look through form to facts” but rather as a way “in which the form of the text itself becomes a way into our understanding the past,” and thus enable “literary and historical methodologies [to] meet as equal partners.”[3] The result of an interest in the ways in which form and content merge in the historical texts of the medieval past raises a number of questions, not least of which is “if early medieval historical writings were representations of the past made for present purposes,” how were these representations made, who made them, and what effect or influence did they have in the formation of early medieval identity?[4] Further: By whom were they used, and to what purpose?

Simultaneously, postcolonial thinking about the status of the nation in the formation of “modernity” has begun to question the conventions with which we approach the medieval past. Although some early theorists of the “nation” place its inception in the eighteenth or nineteenth century,[5] more recent critics have argued for an earlier date for the beginnings of nation-building, with the most far-reaching of these looking to Anglo-Saxon England for the beginnings, in protonationalism, of what would become the modern English nation-state. Adrian Hastings’ assertion of vernacularity as a key component in the beginnings of nationalist sentiment has found eager adherents in Anglo-Saxon studies, which, we are often reminded, boasts the first vernacular translation of the Bible.[6] Kathleen Davis’ influential work on the preface to the Pastoral Care emphasizes the rhetorical strategies of the text, which far from describing the world “as it truly was” was engaging in its own “nation-building” technique, attempting to set up a relationship between past and present which would allow for the continued growth of the political influence of the Angelcynn.[7]

My dissertation will explore the ways in which historical literature, broadly defined to include chronicles, world-histories and saints’ lives, functions in the construction of collective identities in the Anglo-Saxon period. My specific interest is in texts that were inherited from – or passed on to – cultures outside Anglo-Saxon England. By examining texts that were initially written by cultures predating the Anglo-Saxons, as well as texts which originated in Anglo-Saxon England but were passed on to later cultures, I will explore the ways in which these texts not only provided materials and models on which the Anglo-Saxons could base their own literary culture, but were themselves altered in the process of translation and transmittal. The texts I will examine are intricately linked to the process of nation building outlined by Davis, and though I am not as invested in the identification of protonationalistic tendencies in the texts, I will be focusing on the ways in which the nation-building process left its mark on the texts which were used as instruments for the imagining of ethnic and national identity.

Further, I will use both texts that were translated into Old English as well as texts which were generated in the period in order to explore the ways in which Anglo-Saxon culture interacted with texts more generally, not only altering them for their contemporaries (i.e., to be legible at the time of their reworking or composition) but also to present a certain textually based vision of the place of Anglo-Saxon England in the wider world. By examining these texts, which span a time period from the probable composition of the Old English Orosius, translated in the 900s slightly after the reign of King Alfred to the Matthew Paris translation of the Life of Edward the Confessor in the thirteenth century, I will examine the ways in which “Anglo-Saxon” culture was made both in and after the period traditionally assigned to Anglo-Saxon England, emphasizing the role played by the texts in question in thinking through what it means to be “Anglo-Saxon.”

I. Alfredian Temporalities: Time and Translation in the Old English Orosius

[The first chapter will examine the Old English Orosius, and the temporalities which intersect both in textual translation as well as the re-appropriation of generic convention across historical time, positing “the nation” as a network in which texts, peoples and generic forms play a role in the creation of identity.]

The “Alfredian Translation Program” in Anglo-Saxon England offers a particularly complicated view of translation as it relates to the issues of narrative history, national history, and time. Instituted during the reign of Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, the series of translations includes Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care and Dialogues, Boethius’ The Consolations of Philosophy, Saint Augustine’s Soliloquies, the Venerable Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, a prose version of the Psalms, and – my interest in this paper – a translation of Paulus Orosius’ Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII. Despite the sustained critical consideration of the prefaces to the Alfredian translations, however, the texts themselves – books described in the preface to the Pastoral Care as ‏‏ða ðe niebeðearfosta sien eallum monnum to wiotonne (“those which are most needful for all men to know”) are rarely the subject of much critical scrutiny, except where they diverge from their source texts in culturally significant ways.[8] That the prefaces – the locus of “originality” in the works in the sense of forming a clear boundary between the Latin and the Old English – have undergone such sustained critical inquiry to the neglect of the works they come before is significant to the study of the Alfredian program.

In this chapter of my dissertation, I examine the Old English version of Orosius’ Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII. I argue that a more sustained reading of the text, incorporating not only the “original” additions of the Old English translator but also the interests and execution of the text as a whole allow a more nuanced understanding of the multiplicity of temporalities that exist in the space of the text. This is not to say that the “original” parts of the Old English Orosius are not important. The additions to the geographical preface are instructive as to the scope and imagination of Anglo-Saxon England concerning both the northern geography and the peoples who inhabited it. The alterations to other portions of the text are instructive as the extent to which classical mythologies were known, and important to the cultural imagination, in Anglo-Saxon England. However, as a text in translation, the Old English Orosius is itself home to competing temporalities that are, I argue, instructive as to the ways in which that translation functions in terms of time. The Old English Orosius, in its translation and transformation of the Latin text of the Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII becomes a kind of hybrid space in which different temporalities interact and compete. These temporalities inhere in the problem of voice within the text. The hybrid space of the text – part Latin source material, part Old English invention, but with no specific delineations between the two (geographical preface excepted)--plays host to a variety of tensions and difficulties resulting from the anachronistic aspect of the text as what Malcolm Godden has described as a “monument to a fallen world.”[9] By reading the contexts of the two works, I will provide a sense of the tensions between the two texts in terms of the situation in history into which each falls. In the examination of a specific phrase—the cwæð Orosius (“Orosius said”)—I will position the time of Latinity and the representation of Orosius as indicators of a connection being made across times, as it were. In my reading, the Latin Historiarum Adversum Paganos and the culture which generated it become active participants in the shaping of an Old English identity through the text of the Old English Orosius. Drawing on Latour to argue for the Orosius as part of a collectivity formed in and by the different cultures and times represented in the various texts of the Alfredian corpus of translations, in this chapter I will raise questions about the status of this text “most needful for all men to know” vis a vis Jakobson’s formulation of translation in “Some Linguistic Aspects of Translation: as “translator of what messages? betrayer of what values?”[10]

II. The “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”: Narratives in the Winchester, Canterbury, and Peterborough MSs

[Chapter two will examine the Winchester, Canterbury and Peterborough manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in order to explore the ways in which group identity changes across time and textual traditions, and will more specifically address the alliance of different genres in the creation of collectivities in the singular “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.”]

In her recent work on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Alice Sheppard notes the specifically pedagogical aims of the texts, making the assertion that “they teach their readers what ‘makes’ and Anglo-Saxon and what defines Anglo-Saxon kings and kingdoms.”[11] In thinking through the ramifications of this kind of a “writing of an Anglo-Saxon identity and the creation of a people who are known as the Angelcynn,” Sheppard’s main interest is in the narratives of kingship which are found throughout the various MSs, and for the most part, she limits her considerations to specific narratives in each MS. My interest, in choosing the Winchester, Canterbury and Peterborough MSs is to examine the ways in which narrative as a whole changes across the period during which the greater “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” was being composed. The motion forward in time from the early Winchester MS to the post-Conquest Peterborough MS suggests what Hayden White has identified as a major difference between annalists and chroniclers, in which “annals represent historical reality as if real events did not display the form of a story, [while] the chronicler represents it as if real events appeared to human consciousness in the form of unfinished stories.”[12] Working with ideas of narrativity, I wish to demonstrate that the alliances (over time) of different generic materials (including Saints Lives and later chronicle literature) had a profound effect on the composition of the later MSs of the Chronicle, suggesting that in the presentation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as we see it in the most recent edition (by Swanton) is perhaps more telling than we think. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself forms a collectivity of materials that differ in not merely their genre but also their composition, in that the representation of the Angelcynn that the work as a whole gives is very much influenced by the composite structure in which it is articulated.

III. Saints and Soil: Inscribing English Sanctity in Ælfric’s Lives

In writing his Lives of the Saints, Ælfric translates a number of hagiographic texts out of Latin, emphasizing in his preface not only his fidelity to the original but also issuing a warning that any copyists are not to alter the texts in question when they are further copied down. Among his chosen saints are not only traditional saints of Late Antique origin, but saints of England: both the saints and the cults of their veneration originated in the British isles. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the cult of certain saints, the ground on which the saints died (usually through their martyrdom) maintains a certain connection with their holiness: it often is capable of curing illness or disability. Examples of this from the Latin tradition include that of Saint Maur, and Saint Martin, among others. Most often this is through the presence of their relics, and churches or shrines are built in the place at which the saint perished. In the case of Saint Æðeldryð, the body of saint itself becomes the conduit and locus of miracles—further, the fact of its incorruptibility becomes a point of connection for religious belief through time, a proof preserved from before the time Bede wrote of it, git oð ‏þisne dæg (yet until this day). Saint Alban, too, becomes a point of gathering for pre- and post-persecution Christianity in the area of England: the place of his interment connects Christians across time, both before and after the reign of Diocletian (the emperor whom Ælfric cites as the perpetrator of the persecutions) as well as after the re-institution of Christianity by Augustine after it had once again fallen away.

Æðeldryð and Alban suggest a connection of faith across time which inheres in the body of the saint. Saint Swiðun, the last of the trio of Anglo-Saxon saints I will examine, represents a kind of special case. Although his body is interred in the cathedral at Winchester, his vita proper is forgotten by the time of its inscription into Ælfric’s work and there is no body featured in the text. The fact of Swiðun’s existence is known only in miracles, and it appears throughout the text that there is a certain degree to which Swiðun’s sanctity is constituted not by the preservation of his earthly body, but by the works done through him in the world. Swiðun, termed in the text se‏þe nu niwan com (he who newly came), breaks down traditional ways of understanding the sanctity of saints in England, and in so doing, suggests a different model for connection with them. By looking at these three saints of England, I will argue that the community formed through them extends in time not only in their stories and in Anglo-Saxon England, but moreover with the stories of other saints in Ælfric’s Lives.

IV. A King’s Life: Pre and Post Conquest Narratives of Edward the Confessor

Edward the Confessor, the last king of the line of Cerdic and so of the “Anglo-Saxons” proper (succeeded only by the Harald Godwinson before the “Norman” conquest), occupies a distinctive role in the history of Anglo-Saxon England. A “holy” king (not unlike the earlier King Alfred, whose vita was written by Asser in the tenth century), Edward’s function as regards “England” – both pre and post conquest – changed considerably through time. In her 1988 dissertation (unpublished), Martha Blalock focuses on what she calls the “legend” of Edward – literally, a reading of his life. She separates the historical materials from the hagiographic materials in so doing – classifying such works as the “Anglo-Saxon” Chronicles and the chronicles of Florence of Worcester in the former category and the various Latin and vernacular lives of Edward in the latter. In her analysis of the lives she suggests that “his legend can best be understood as a body of “accurate” or “inaccurate” historical facts which has been made to conform to saintly models” 13; thus, in assessing the hagiographical material, Blalock finds that the later, vernacular works show the influence of the “new historicity” she argues characterize the twelfth century renaissance, as opposed to the Latin lives, which are more traditional in form.

In re-examining the lives of Edward the Confessor, I will argue that in order to understand the interaction between genres in the lives which are composed about him, scholars must turn to earlier models of “saintly” kings, and open the scholarship to the possibility that hagiography also – and at an earlier date – influenced the recording of history in Anglo-Saxon England, most particularly in the portrayals of Kings Alfred, Oswald, Edmund and Edgar. The saintly life of Edward the Confessor might then be best understood as a reading of the historical text already molded into the traditions of hagiography at the time of its inscription; the result is a composite image of a king whose power waxes and wanes with his holiness.


[1] Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative (vols. 1 & 3) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

[2] Monika Otter, Inventiones (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996) 19.

[3] Elizabeth Tyler and Ross Balzaretti, eds. Narrative and History in the Early Medieval West, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006) 7.

[4] Yitzhak Hen and Matthew Innes, eds. The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 1.

[5] Cf. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991); Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[6] Cf. Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Hastings’ (extremely western) examination of nationalism places a great deal of emphasis on the translation of the Bible as a step on the (all too teleological notion of) the road to nationhood.

[7] Kathleen Davis, “National Writing in the Ninth Century: A Reminder for Postcolonial Thinking about the Nation,” JMEMS 28.3 (Fall 1998)

[8] e.g., Davis. See also Nicole Discenza, The King’s English: Strategies of Translation in the Old English Boethius (New York: SUNY Press, 2005). Culturally significant divergences in the Old English Orosius include not only the geographical preface, which adds entire sections on the Northern geography related (purportedly) to King Alfred himself, but also certain extensions of mythological stories that would not have been familiar to Anglo-Saxon England.

[9] Godden, "The Anglo-Saxons and the Goths: Rewriting the Sack of Rome," Anglo-Saxon England 31 (2002) 61.

[10] Roman Jakobson, “Some Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida, ed. Schulte and Biguenet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) 151.

[11] Alice Sheppard, Families of the King, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004) 11-12

[12] Hayden White, The Content of Form, 5.

[13] Martha Graham Blalock, The Vita Sancti Edwardi Regis et Confessoris and the Vernacular Lives of Edward the Confessor (unpublished dissertation), 108.

cross posted at Old English in New York


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Mary Kate, this looks terrific.

I know you want the theory to come second (emerging from your engagement with the medieval materials) ... but can you say a bit (1) how this might be a deleuzoguattarian project [I have a suggestion or two about Deleuze and translation, but I'm wondering what you're thinking) and (2) what Bruno Latour -- an obsession of mine -- might have to say to your dissertation as framed? Are you thinking of his thinking on agency, or temporality?

Happy new year!

Karl Steel said...

Seconded on the terrific thing. And happy new years. I'm especially pleased by your discussion of discussing the whole of the AS Orosius translation: that examination of material outside the "original" inclusions is a very smart idea.

What follows is not meant for inclusion or alteration to your prospectus, as that thing just needs to be turned in. So:

My dissertation will explore the ways in which historical literature, broadly defined to include chronicles, world-histories and saints’ lives, functions in the construction of collective identities in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Could I suggest 'collectivities' instead of 'collective identities' (as you do in your discussion of Chapter 1, e.g., "Drawing on Latour to argue for the Orosius as part of a collectivity formed in and by the different cultures and times represented in the various texts of the Alfredian corpus of translations" and elsewhere)? The problem with "identity" is its suggestion of "self-identical," and thus--here I put on my Lacanian hat (chappeau)--its occlusion of the inevitable misrecognition in any (claim to) identity. Moreover, "identities" might tend to freeze the mobility of collectivities (and subjects) into some core "Anglo-Saxon" "present" quality that can be arranged too neatly, even if dialectically, with a core "Latin" "past" (and here another caution: what Latin works being (re)produced contemporaneously with Aflredian translation project &c? Presumably the same scribes doing the translations are also continuing to generate Latin mss: in other words, I don't think Anglo-Saxon collectivities should be thought to inhere only (or even primarily) in the vernacular). So: knowing you and your work already, I know your project is going to be more complex than this: so my cautions about the word "identity" (borrowed, I should say, from our mutual PD) are only cautions against accidental drags on the precision of your project.

And could you maybe remark on what distinguishes a "nation" from other kinds of collective identities?

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Finally getting back to this post after finishing up that essay I've been working on (but more on that later). I'd actually started writing this at home but left my laptop when I decided to come over to Wake's library. So here's what I can remember.

JJC> In answer to the first question...I'm not entirely sure. I think part of what I've been thinking of using is in A Thousand Plateaus. I'm interested in the structure of the rhizome, and perhaps in the ways in which the process of translation could be considered "rhizomatic" in some ways -- partially because I'm trying to break down the distinctions between what is "original" and what is "translation," arguing for a more complex interrelationship between the two. At some point in the project I was referring to something I was articulating in "shorthand" as a "Becoming Old English," which I think is the process by which certain texts and even the cultures that produced them get connected to a group (or network) of other texts and cultures by virtue of their inclusion in the same "framework" of translation into Old English. By trying to think through what it would mean for translation to be considered creative and generative -- i.e., not derivative -- I'm wondering what happens to these texts when considered in the networks they form with both contemporary texts as well as texts from cultures that both pre and post-date the Anglo-Saxons, if something more complex than emulation or simple (if that's possible) translatio studii et imperii is going on.

That's where the Latour comes in. I'd imagine what he would say about my dissertation as currently framed is that it assumes a certain linearity -- it moves forward in time and is clearly invested in chronological relationships. I think what I was hoping to do (and this is the pie-in-the-sky version of the Dissertation I Would Write Were there but World Enough and Time) by thinking through Latour with some of these texts is to actually break down the temporal relationships between texts in translation and their "originals". Part of how I want to do that (if it works, which I'm still not sure it will) is to allow for a "democracy of objects" as regards the creation of the idea of "Anglo-Saxon England" and "English". To take the long view, of course, it would mean examining the records for weather patterns, settlement remains and agricultural patterns for the period -- things I'm not sure we still have, or would even know how to get (although I know Kenneth Addison does a lot of work with a sort of "historical" geology and climateology, because he's a colleague of one of my former advisers). For the current phase of the project, though, I'm trying to think through what might happen if texts were given the same agency as human forces, and if they worked in ways that were not strictly bound to chronological succession. The rest is for if/when it becomes possible/necessary. So (to make a VERY long story short) I think I finally am more interested in his work on agency -- but I'm not entirely sure it's a wise move for my project to separate the two until I've done a more thorough reading of his work (am in the midst of Aramis, and am picking up the Pasteurization of France today, I hope, as well as whatever else we have here at Wake. And some Merleau-Ponty for good measure).

Does that make any sense?

Karl -- will have to answer you in another comment, as the library's to close fairly soon and there's other work to be done before I go!

Thank you both for your comments and encouragement. It's really useful to be talking about this stuff, rather than going over it repeatedly in my head.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Karl> “Collectivities” is actually the word I’m planning to use, quite possibly in the prospectus version – I think at the last minute I felt awkward about using terminology I’ve clearly garnered from Latour in the description of the project as a whole. An act of cowardice on my part.

re: Anglo-Latin texts in ASE, you’re entirely on-target there with something I always conveniently manage to forget. I have a lot to learn about it, really, not least of all because it would complicate the nationhood-vernacular connection Adrian Hastings is so reliant on. Duly noted. Even if I end up limiting the discussion to vernacular texts, it’s something I definitely need more familiarity with.

And could you maybe remark on what distinguishes a "nation" from other kinds of collective identities?

Very good question. I’m not entirely sure how to answer that. My instinct is to say that if I introduce the idea of a “nation” it is more to break it down into component parts, examine the way in which different actors – human and non-human, so I’m relying somewhat heavily on Latour here) – interact in such a way that produces a network linking language, genetics, mythology, land, etc., into a formation we might call a “nation”. I’d imagine it’s not linear in terms of chronology as well – as Kathleen Davis and others have pointed out, a lot of the work in establishing a concept of Anglo-Saxon “nation” was done after the fact, in the totalizing work of later writers who created from some of King Alfred’s “finer” aspirations (if indeed they were) and later chroniclers and biographers, who were also working with a different conception of politics and social structuring, some of which is, I think, predicated on Roman models that Anglo-Saxon writers claim to be following (but aren’t). The trick, as usual, is to think about how this particular network functions – which actors are involved, and what they do, and then perhaps how they move about in the plane we’d call time...

And I’m degenerating into babble at this point. Does that makes sense?

Eileen Joy said...

Mary Kate:

your prospectus looks wonderful. I can see how "Beowulf" could, indeed, be brought in to several of these chapters, and while five chapters would likely overwhelm you, time-wise and otherwise, "Beowulf" could certainly warrant a separate chapter, but it is also very different from all of the other texts you want to look at: it is, in other words, pure fiction [with only a very few "events" or "persons" that could be called tangentially "historical"]. Obviously, all of your primary texts are "fictionalized" in some manner--that is part and parcel of your point here. So, the Orosius, AElfric's "Lives of Saints," the Chronicle, and the Lives of Edward all participate in fictional techniques but they purport, on the surface at least, to be historical "accounts" [as opposed to fabulous narratives], and so they seem very well-suited to your project's aims. "Beowulf" would add the dimension of poetry to your primary focus, but it might also pull you in theoretical directions that would be very different from what you set up for your other chapters. I guess that's why I like your notion of using it *within* the already-projected chapters as a kind of "linking function."

I also wanted to say that I like very much the idea you raise in one of your response comments to responses to this post by JJC and Karl of a history of Anglo-Saxon England that would allow for a "democracy of objects." Whether or not you could ascribe "agency" to texts outside of their contact with human writers and readers, I don't know, but I think you mean more that texts, once written & in the process of being read [and I imagine, even in their physical movements--in translation, from library to library, etc.] actually "do" things in the world. Of course, this would accord well with the notion put forward by many historians of nation that nations only really begin to emerge with a clerk-driven bureaucracy [paperwork, forms, files, etc.]: on this point you might look at the recent book by a geographer, which includes a chapter on the Middle Ages:

Rhys Jones, "People/States/Territories: The Political Geographies of British State Transformation" [Blackwell, 2007]

Also, for your chapter on the A-S Chronicle, you will find extremely useful [if you haven't already]:

Christopher Cannon, "The Grounds of English Literature, 1006-1300" [Oxford, 2008]

He devotes a lot of space here to the Peterborough Chronicle and his work will help you immensely with what you are wanting to do vis-a-vis the intersections, through the process of translation & writing, of different temporalities, especially in relation to a notion of collective "Englishness."

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Eileen> Thanks for the fantastic comments. Your point on using Beowulf with the other texts I'm planning to address is well taken -- on the one hand, I don't want to leave it out (given that it's a major text I'll be teaching in a few years, hopefully...), but I also don't want to pull myself in too many directions at once. If my current reading and work on the Orosius chapter is proving anything to me, it's that I do see the ways in which Beowulf might function connectively in the dissertation as a whole. The connections are there -- I just need to articulate them clearly within each chapter.

The bibliography you give me is fantastic -- thank you for that. I've been meaning to get Chris Cannon's book for awhile now, and this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

I think you mean more that texts, once written & in the process of being read [and I imagine, even in their physical movements--in translation, from library to library, etc.] actually "do" things in the world.

I think that's at least a part of what I mean -- I guess the other part has something to do with how books -- and particularly historical books -- have lives beyond their proper time, in that histories go on not only to do things in the world, but to function as representatives of their history, then, actually rewrites the ways in which a culture long past can continue to function in the world.

If that makes sense. My brain is a bit slow from lack of use over this break...

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for the clarification, MKH, and I think, also, that if, as you say,

"histories go on not only to do things in the world, but to function as representatives of their history, then, actually rewrites the ways in which a culture long past can continue to function in the world,"

then this raises certain ethical questions, too, about how to approach "original" texts through their re-writings, while at the same time, since in our period, we are often only left with rewritings or copies or transcriptions, it's tricky. But then, there's the fun of the work you will be doing!