Thursday, March 06, 2008

Some random items

  • I didn't know Karl very well when I read his animals essay for Exemplaria a few years back. At that point he and I had lunched together in Leeds, but otherwise were electronic acquaintances. His essay struck me as a major intervention into the rethinking of identities that has preoccupied medieval studies over the past decade. I stand by that judgment ... this is compelling work, Karl, and augurs for you being a molder of the field in the years ahead.
  • A recent correspondence with Eileen has made me realize something -- or at least articulate an implicit knowledge. At this point in my life I've authored or edited or co-edited eight books and a circus of articles, book reviews, encyclopedia entries. All of that is fine; writing is something that I enjoy as much for process as product. Yet when I reflect upon what of importance I've accomplished in my career, it isn't this torrent of verbosity that comes first to mind, but instead the tangible way I've been able to touch the lives of others who write, and teach, and wonder: reviewing essays and books as an "anonymous" reader, for example, and being able to support projects that might otherwise not find the attention they deserve [do I need to remind any of our readers that we work in a cruel field, and that too often anonymous review -- like pseudonymous postings on the internet -- can bring out the very worst? Do scholars really need secret clubs?] I've also been asked to evaluate many tenure cases, a task that never seems a chore, because I know this process will likely have a lasting effect on medieval studies as some bright young-in-the-field scholar gets a job for life.
  • For an independent study I'm leading, I've been re-reading Sharon Kinoshita's Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature. It's a great book, with lots to recommend, especially its savvy analyses of texts that once seemed familiar but end up quite transformed (Chanson de Roland as Crusade catalyst and re-writer of history rather than mere reflection of pre-existent reality; Marie de France's Welsh preoccupations). I wish, though, that when she discusses postcolonial medieval studies she would be more specific. Her introduction, for example, speaks about medieval postcolonialism in general, but mainly doesn't engage with particular works, other than to footnote them. This allows Kinoshita to make some wide characterizations and then differentiate her own project from this corpus ... a necessary move, perhaps, in order to sell a project. Yet I typically find such maneuvers unconvincing, mainly because it is often difficult to discover specific texts and critics who actually put forth the claims argued against. Kinoshita isn't the only one to do it: I'd put Bruce Holsinger, Ananya Kabir, and Deanne Williams on the list as well (this in no way devalues their work: all four of these people are excellent, excellent scholars). The medieval PoCo is a subfield that I'd like to think I'm well versed in, so here is my pet peeve exposed.
  • Lastly, for your amusement, I reproduce below an electronic interchange that demonstrates why you should not allow your ten year old to open his own email account.
ALEX: u stink ur bad and mad in the brain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ME: no U STINK and ur bad in the brain so there hahahahahaha
ALEX: sikes thats not true smart one (sarcastic laughter)
Soon my family will revert to grunts and other inarticulate noises. Via email, of course ... and I must point out that my study and Alex's room are all of ten feet apart from each other, so why we were emailing such barbarisms to each other when we could have shouted them I have no idea.


Karl Steel said...

instead the tangible way I've been able to touch the lives of others who write

Yes, yes, yes. Why not be sappy: your generosity here and elsewhere is a model of what a decent scholar (or, why the hell not, person) should be. Barring, of course, your pushiness about triple-crownage...

Chanson de Roland as Crusade catalyst and re-writer of history rather than mere reflection of pre-existent reality

But who does this as a reflection of pre-existent reality anymore? Maybe they do? I've taught it only once, and read it only a few more times than that, so I don't really know the lit, but doesn't, for example, Haidu do the C. de R. as a shaper of politics too? Or can we say that Kinoshita sees the Roland as an active text, and Haidu limits the intervention the Roland makes to the working out of the problems of centralized authority vis-a-vis an individual warrior ethos?

Karl Steel said...

major intervention into the rethinking of identities

Either that or it's just boilerplate poststructuralism + an unacknowledged appropriation of feminist thinking on violence, Reason, and (dis)identification, where the human:animal::man:woman. One of my projects this summer is to determine what distinguishes the human:animal from other, argh, otherings.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Re: Kinoshita, boy I did flatten the nuance out of her, didn't I? She builds upon Haidu's notion of the text as politically engaged, arguing that the text is out to smash the culture of parias (accomodationism, really) that enables Muslim-Christian coexistence and calls into being a "crisis of nondifferentiation."

I would also say that specifically my objection to her characterization of postcolonial medievalism isn't simply that she accuses PoCo medievalists of simply moving the origins of nationalism, antisemitism, etc. to an earlier period ... it's that she neglects the fact entirely that PoCo medievalists have rendered ANY such search for origins immediately suspect, have argued against progress narratives of all kinds, and have rendered time itself a problem. None of that in her brief review of prior work.

Thanks for the kind words Karl and no need for you to be so modest.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

IM exchanges between rooms between parent and child? Funny! Good for learning the appropriateness of different kinds of language in different settings! When done by members of departments whose doors are no more than 10 feet apart...?

Anonymous said...

Karl: Sorry for a really terrible pun, but do you think animals could be the one othering to rule them all? You can find examples of pretty much any other Other being compared to animals, which kind of takes othering to a whole new level: "they" are not just different kinds of humans, they're not human at all. You might well have said that already but I haven't had time to read the article yet.

On the other hand I had this idea (which I haven't done much with yet) of looking at whether gender ideology influences how animals are perceived. So maybe it's more complicated than just trying to put all the otherings into a hierarchy and seeing which one comes out on top.