Remember when this blog started a few years ago, and it was filled with musings on medieval animals, art and invention? Like this one? Or this one? Or this one? Maybe this? This? Et voila. Etc.
The essay that emerged from the earliest of these posts is called -- surprise! -- "Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages." The piece explores how medieval artists of both texts and images used animal forms to explore identity outside of human or historical circumscription. The essay is mainly about animals as catalysts to "thought experiment" modes of art, and so is rather different from the kinds of ethical and philosphical analysis we've seen on animals here from Karl. The piece is also partly about antisemitism, race, medieval erotica, and the limits of historicism as an interpretive method. It includes a very nice illustration from the Aberdeen Bestiary of a hermaphroditic Jewish hyena. Here, in case you are interested, is my closing paragraph:
Culture and context conspire to delimit the animal's meanings and relegate it to a state of being that is subordinate, silent, still. Though at times an excellent vehicle for the expression of human meanings and stories, though at times a body that seems too easily reduced to context and anthropomorphic determination, the animal – no matter how intimate it becomes to human worlds – remains apart, persists as strange. The animal that (as Derrida would say) therefore I follow leads us to a middle space where allegories and moralizations seem insufficient in their power to contain, a place of dispersal, multiple agency, and intercorporeality. Leaving the human less confident of integrity and dominion, the animal goes its own way, inviting us to see what happens when the species line fades, when the inhuman inside of us invites us towards unknown horizons: the liminal space of the human and the posthuman, of the ancient and the utterly new -- the threshold called the medieval.
I'll reproduce the University of Notre Dame Press information on the book below. The volume in its entirety looks to be quite interesting.
“ Engaging with Nature is a collection of impeccable scholarship that will make a highly original contribution to the emergent field of medieval and pre-modern studies on the history of nature.” —Claire Sponsler, University of Iowa
Historians and cultural critics face special challenges when treating the nonhuman natural world in the medieval and early modern periods. Their most daunting problem is that in both the visual and written records of the time, nature seems to be both everywhere and nowhere. In the broadest sense, nature was everywhere, for it was vital to human survival. Agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, and the patterns of human settlement all have their basis in natural settings. Humans also marked personal, community, and seasonal events by natural occurrences and built their cultural explanations around the workings of nature, which formed the unspoken backdrop for every historical event and document of the time.
Yet in spite of the ubiquity of nature’s continual presence in the physical surroundings and the artistic and literary cultures of these periods, overt discussion of nature is often hard to find. Until the sixteenth century, responses to nature were quite often recorded only in the course of investigating other subjects. In a very real sense, nature went without saying.
As a result, modern scholars analyzing the concept of nature in the history of medieval and early modern Europe must often work in deeply interdisciplinary ways. This challenge is deftly handled by the contributors to Engaging with Nature, whose essays provide insights into such topics as concepts of animal/human relationships; environmental and ecological history; medieval hunting; early modern collections of natural objects; the relationship of religion and nature; the rise of science; and the artistic representations of exotic plants and animals produced by Europeans encountering the New World.
“ Engaging with Nature is a deeply pleasurable volume to read. Using an incredible range of primary and secondary sources, the authors richly realize the methodological promise inherent in the emergent field of medieval and pre-modern studies on the history of nature.” —Kathleen Biddick, Temple University
Barbara A. Hanawalt is King George III Professor of British History at Ohio State University.
Lisa J. Kiser is professor of English at Ohio State University.
CONTRIBUTORS: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Susan Crane, Barbara A. Hanawalt, Julie Berger Hochstrasser, Richard C. Hoffmann, Joel Kaye, Lisa J. Kiser, Pamela H. Smith, Marjorie Swann