Friday, May 16, 2008

Karl's performative interspace, or, 'I want to...'

Karl's Kalamazoo paper was a work of art, riffing on the Gowtherian Idyll post he'd placed here a while ago and deploying his lexical trademark phrase (see the comments here) of "I want to ..." in order to open up what I now dub a performative interspace.

Briefly -- and correct me if I am misrepresenting you, Karl -- his Kzoo paper attempted to imagine what it would be like to stop Gowther before he could leave the idyllic hillside, before he had to exit that space where for the first time he has experienced a generosity existing outside the demand for reciprocation. Karl went further, and spoke of his own desire to co-inhabit that space, to be with Gowther and the greyhound in a realm where charity is divorced from telos.

I've been thinking about Karl's paper quite a bit, especially as it touched the other presentations in the panel. Eileen, especially, forged such a middle space while detailing the impossible desire of a demon to touch, to love, to be with a solitary saint. In a moment filled with anguish and desire, she lingered over the sadness of this demon forced to become fugitive, a demon hesitating with yearning even as he is compelled to depart. I think, too, of Nicola wandering the sadness of the dispersive "cloud" he described, and Anna errant in the worlds she evoked. What made all four of these so impressive was their performative force: they brought into being the interstices they imagined. Another way of saying this is that these four scholar/performers found in their texts moments of generosity, of invitation: they accepted their provocations, formed an alliance with what was offered, brought themselves and their texts to a space where both could meet, mingle, change. It was a wonder to behold ... or, as audience member, to be caught up in the becoming, even to participate unawares.

We've been talking quite a bit on this blog about new critical modes. I happened to watch an important one performed* at Kalamazoo.

*and yes I keep using that word intentionally, since I seem to have performance theory on my mind


Karl Steel said...

Thanks JJC. No, you don't misrepresent me. I'm just glad to be remembered as part of a Kzoo panel that exceeded my every expectation.

One question--but given that so many of our readers don't read the comments (!!)--who knows who will step in. In my Gowther bit, I talked about Gowther being "under" the Hill. "He seyt hym down undur a hyll" (l. 310, National Library of Scotland Advocates ms, edited in TEAMS The Middle English Breton Lays and Maldwyn Mills, Six Middle English Romances) [notably, the BL Royal ms, edited in Thomas C. Rumble The Breton Lays in Middle English reads "He set him down uppon a hill" (l. 298]: TEAMS characterizes the Royal ms as later and intended for a "more..refined" audience).

Here's what I said about that word "under": "For a time, Gowther is trying to do nothing; he is out of doors, out of all civilized organization of space—perhaps even “under” a hill, the chthonic place, as Jeffrey Cohen reminds us, of possibility, of other pasts that offer other futures..."

Can I do this? Well, the Royal ms doesn't support me, but it's not the version I use, and, anyway, it's later (if I'm feeling foolheartedly originary). Second, there's the MED, s.v., "under" (prep.). 1b, "at the base or foot of (a vertical structure)" or "(c) beside and at a lower elevation than (a hill, mountains, etc.); alongside (a forest, an island, a city, etc.); at, in, or on the side of (a cliff, riverbank, etc.)" are most likely; but perhaps I can still activate the possibility of there being something cavelike? Maybe?

Perhaps I'm pushing too hard.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

My own guess is that under means beside, at the base of here. But you know, that's the place of expectancy: you seek wonders at hillsides in Welsh and Irish texts, not necessarily in them. Beside the hill is where the entrance to the Other World may open.

Karl Steel said...

that's the place of expectancy

My better spirit! I'm totally ripping this off (with appropriate citation).

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: thanks for highlighting Karl's paper here, which I thought was a marvel. I will have much much more to say about it in a separate post. Thanks also for highlighting here the idea of scholarship/criticism as a performative interspace: it strikes me that that would be an excellent description for all sorts of things I am trying to do right now.