Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year, Old Traditions

by Mary Kate Hurley

Anglo-Saxonists spend a lot of time thinking about tradition. Just ask John Miles Foley, Michael Drout, or John Niles.

In case you haven't guessed, dear readers, this is a small link to medieval studies to validate a more modern focus: The end of 2008, and the beginning of 2009.

I write this from the living room of the house in which I grew up, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My family is pretty big on traditions, particularly around the holidays. It's not really Christmas until we watch the Muppet Christmas Carol, which my sisters and I know well enough to recite whole scenes from. We still "fight" (emphasis on the quotations) over whose "baby's first christmas" ornament is highest on the tree. But the best tradition of all is New Year's Eve.

Even though the Wake Forest library is open today, I find myself drawn towards working from home -- and all to keep with a tradition that lasts a full 24 hours on New Years. If it's New Year's Eve at the Hurley household, you see, we must be watching the Twilight Zone.

I could sing the show's praises, recite the litanies of how it exposed the contingencies of ideas of beauty, the dangers of mass-thought processes, or the danger of obsession. But I want to ask you, ITM readers -- what are *your* favorite holiday traditions? It can be anything from working in that library in your parent's hometown to the annual re-watching of Frosty the Snowman.

And, on behalf of everyone here at ITM, Sǽlig Niwe-Gear*!

*NOT authentic Old English. If you find yourself in a particularly medieval Twilight Zone, I'd suggest a more authoritative source.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Green Children: Faeries, Transporter Mishaps, and/or Characters for your RPG

by J J Cohen

Remember the Green Children? They've been a scholarly talk and a scholarly article. They've figured in a reply to Lee Edelman's saying no to Annie and Tiny Tim. They offer an enticement to tourists to visit a nondescript English village (check out Woolpit's town sign, left). They've been spotted off Broadway. A version of their story was stolen by Disney.

Now you can use them in your role playing games, because they have stats.

I don't know where the Kobold Quarterly (my new objective: publish something in the Kobold Quarterly, because I want that title on my CV) obtained its version of the story, but find the addition of a dissection narrative intriguing ... and as to theories that the green kids are the product of a transporter accident or Flemish, I say: what if they were both Flemish and the products of a transporter accident? Because I think that in medieval Flanders, transporter technology probably wasn't so advanced as it is now. Stats and special abilities below. Thanks, Rob!

Str 8, Dex 21, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 15
Base Atk +3; Grp –2
AP 0; Rep 0
Feats Alertness, Weapon Finesse (claws), Wild Talent (daze)
Skills Handle Animal +12, Hide +19, Knowledge (arcane lore) +11, Knowledge (earth and life sciences) +11, Listen +8, Move Silently +15, Ride +7, Sleight of Hand +15, Spot +8
SQ Healing touch

Healing Touch (Su): A green child has the ability to perform limited healing with her touch. This ability functions exactly like a paladin’s lay on hands ability, granting the green child an amount of healing per day equal to her Charisma modifier multiplied by her level. She may spread this healing out over any number of uses, deciding before activating the ability how much she wishes to use.
Screech (Su): A green child has the ability to alter the sub-harmonics of her voice, causing unattended glass, ceramic, and similar objects in a 10-foot radius to break, as though affected by a shatter spell. In addition, creatures within the area must make a Fortitude save (DC 14) or suffer 1d4 points of sonic damage. Using this ability requires a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Identities and Impurities

[illustration: Winter Shack with Child, photo by author]
by J J Cohen

The close of December is a difficult time of year for anyone whose identity is pure. The holiday that looms tomorrow is too secular; is being warred against; is too Christian; is too commercial; carries with it too much paganism; distracts from Easter; doesn't matter; matters too much; carries a weight it does not merit; should be replaced by the ten days of Newton; and so on.

I was going to compose a long post about hybridity versus purified identities, modern and medieval, Christian and Jewish. Some notes (or at least some URLs) towards that post are collected here. I thought I had the duration of The Care Bears Movie to get those words assembled, but a series of phone calls involving an unexpected saving of a stranger's life and the complications of a surgery have conspired to leave me with about three minutes before those polychromatic ursines save the day. Then I've obligated myself to construct a house out of frosting, graham crackers, and leftover Halloween candy.

So I'll say this. Over the past year I have been engaged in two simultaneous reading projects, some small fruits of which have appeared on this blog: surveying new work in the history of Jewish-Christian identities (e.g. Boyarin, Yuval, Elukin, Horowitz), and researching contemporary [youth] reinventions of Jewishness via media old (Heeb, Nextbook) and new (Jewschool, Jewdas, Jewcy and the like). The two projects have much in common, though I'm not certain that the scholars from group one would agree that they have fellow travelers in group two. Both movements redefine what Jewish identity means in the past or the present (and in Boyarin's case, both at once, especially in Border Lines. If Gloria Anzaldua read Talmud and patristics, she'd have composed Border Lines). Both groups have seen strong public reactions against what they propose: Boyarin condemned as anti-Jewish, Yuval having been informed it would have been better had he never published his research, contemporary movements feeling a backlash as in this article from n+1 or the predictable identitarian comments to this story. Two common emphases within this criticism are (1) the border line must be drawn somewhere in order to provide coherent identity, so why not draw the line where it has always been drawn? (2) those who refuse the inherited identity paradigm are actually rejecting the hard work that it takes to merit such an identity.

Neither of these seem to me particularly cogent critiques: if the identity border is arbitrary, then why retain the same-old same-old after all? This same-old same-old is typically NOT the timeless and unchanging identity it has passed itself off as being. A longer historical view provides effective counter arguments to both. And what could be more labor intensive than forging an identity out of inherited and new pieces? Nothing facile about that process...

You'll hear more about this history of hybridity and mutability in the future (though in a way you've heard quite a bit about it from me already, here and here). For the time being, though, I simply offer this thought, appropriate to the ending of the year and the completion of another twelve months of this blog.

The medievalist identity advocated at ITM, often implicitly, always with passion, is an impure one: practicing a contingent rather than a known-in-advance Medieval Studies, touching present and past, embracing the creative potential of both. We've never argued that codicology or paleography or philology or any other -gy ought to be denefestrated from the House of Medieval, but we do want to keep our doors open wide enough to welcome whatever rough beast, Tiny Shriner, Muslim punk, mestizo, or monster slinks our way. We want -- I want -- not so much to change the field, but to acknowledge that medieval studies has already been deeply and enduringly transmuted. If it ever had a stable and well bounded identity, that went out the window some time in the 1980s, when feminism changed its rules, made it a space more welcoming to strangers. Maybe the welcome arrived even before that, when atheist Marxists were grumbling against allegory-mad Robertsonians (or maybe that was just one doctrine replacing another; it is hard for me to tell). I've suspected that sometimes in my own work I've imported new shibboleths, turns of phrase and schools of theory implicitly necessary to belong to the reconfigured field: if you can't say extimité you can't drink mead in this hall, buddy. On this blog and in my work, I've now attempted to submerge the theory somewhat rather than cite it as frequently as I did in some of my earlier publications. I have worked towards a more congenial prose style, one that invites rather than simply sorts its readers, one that develops that lingua franca et jocundissima that I mentioned in my Kzoo paper.

This blog is an ongoing part of that project, and I thank you for being among its community this year. Whether you are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah, or hanging your stocking for Christmas, or festivating at the solstice, or doing the Saturnalia or holding a Molochmas or even if you are just enjoying the trickling away of the last month of 2008, Wæshail.

So, how are you celebrating? And if you feel like answering a much harder question, for what [medievalist] identity do you yearn?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Stonehedge!, Or, Ye Shul it lerne wher so ye wole or noon.


It's once again the most glorious time of the year: exam time! In a tradition much beloved by me, I'm posting my final exam, as it's finally safe to do so. The interminable CUNY semester ends this week, and today my grads and undergrads turned in their final papers, and the undergrads took their final exam, which covered The Romance of Arthur, The Complete Works of Hartmann von Aue [if your syllabus doesn't have "Poor Heinrich" on it, you are seriously missing out] and Aucassin and Nicolette. Even as I write this post, they're industriously writing, trying to answer the following questions:

Part 1: Identification and Short Answer (answer 5. Each correct answer is worth 2 points. Partial credit is possible. Extra Credit: Each additional question answered correctly is worth .5 points. Partial credit is possible.)
1.In the following quotation, who is the man? Who is the woman? “When he had heard what she told him, he said, 'Enough of that.' He immediately ordered her to get up, dress well, and to put on the best garment she had....He armed himself secretly and wore his armor hidden under his clothes. ”

2.Towards the end of "Poor Heinrich," Jesus “freed them both from all their suffering.” Clearly Hartmann means that Jesus cured Heinrich of his leprosy, but who is the other character he frees from suffering, and what was the character suffering?

3.What is ironic about Arthur's defense of Iseult when she is accused of adultery?

4.In what work is a king giving birth while a food fight rages outside his castle?

5.List two knights who live in the forest for a while and are helped by hermits.

6.This medieval image to the left illustrates a scene from which work we read this semester?

7.What does Gawain wear for the rest of his life as “a token of the untruthfulness that trapped me”?

8.What is so tragic about Lancelot killing Gaheris and Gareth?

9.Who rescues his beloved lady from a group of lusty lepers?

10.This medieval image to the left illustrates a scene from which work we read this semester?

Part 2: Essay Questions (choose 2 of the 6 questions below and answer the question. Most good answers will be about 3-5 pages long. Each answer will be graded as follows: 1 pnt: grammar; 2 pnts: structure and argument: do you have an argument? Is your essay ordered logically (that is, could I rearrange the paragraphs without affecting the build-up of your argument?); 2 pnts: evidence: have you supported your argument sufficiently by reference to the text and by making points that make sense logically?)
1.Iwein fights and defeats a giant, Harpin, who is also a knight (Hartmann, Iwein, 284, 289-90). In what other ways is the giant like Iwein, and what is the significance of this resemblance? You may wish to concentrate on the transformations Iwein undergoes through Iwein. [extra credit if you can identify whose argument I'm plagiarizing here and your name isn't Jeffrey Cohen]

2.When Iwein hears the story of the women forced to make clothing, they say “We are the tribute and we have a terrible life, a miserable youth, for those to whom we are subject are terribly corrupt, refusing to let us keep any profit at all from our work” (303). They are vague about whom they are subject to: what is the significance in their refusal to identify whether the demons or the nobles are responsible for their terrible condition?

3.The “Green Chapel” in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in fact is a rough hill with three holes in it (IV.2180: note that your edition mistranslates the line). It resembles an entrance to the “Otherworld,” the land of magic and good and bad spirits, but in having three entrances, it also resembles a Christian Cathedral. Bertilak's full name is “Bertilak de Haudesert”: desert can mean either a scary wilderness or the holy wilderness where hermits live. Why does the poem mix Christian and dubiously Christian, even demonic, symbols in this scene?

4.Wace tells the story of Merlin's paternity quite briefly (97), but Robert of Boron includes a great many more details, including a story of Merlin's youth in which he defends his mother from the charge of adultery. Why do you suppose Robert of Boron changed the earlier story of Merlin?

5.The Romans are Arthur's enemies in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. They are foreign, as their army partly comprises Libyans and Saracens (87-88). Yet Arthur married a woman who is partly Roman (71-72) and is himself descended from Trojans (see the reference to “the ancient custom of Troy” at 76), and, moreover, Caerleon looks like Rome (74). Why did Geoffrey simultaneously represent Arthur's Roman enemies as so foreign while stressing the many connections between Arthur and Rome?

6.Why does Beroul so often go out of his way to tell us how little he likes the barons (234, for example) and/or the dwarf (231 and 234)?

Good luck! You have 2 hours. Open book. Open note. I notice that at least 3 of my 15 students didn't bring their books. What gives?

If that grabbed you, perhaps you want to take the extra credit quiz, which I sprang on them on the antepenultimate day in answer to a worried question, "Do you offer any extra credit?" I guess I long as the students have done the reading and show up on time. In other words, so long as they've been doing the things that wouldn't make extra credit necessary, they should do well on the extra credit. Funny, that.
  • What does Guinevere do when Mordred tries to marry her? (2 points)
  • In what work we read this semester is there a character who imagines God as being a rich peasant who oversees a pleasant farm?
  • Who waits to see a ship with either white or black sails? (1 point)
  • On the map of Britain, identify the locations of England, Wales, and Cornwall. (2 points, partial credit possible) [what I learned from this? My rough-hewn, duckshaped board-drawn maps just don't cut it. Either that, or Cornwall = Scotland]
  • What is this set of stones called? (1 point) [What I learned from this? Although I decided to make the quiz open book 2 minutes into it, although the question is a gimme because there's a picture of Stonehenge in The Romance of Arthur, students are no better spellers than I am. How many wrote "Stonehedge"? A lot. "Stonehedge, where the demons edge, and the banshees trim, and they do trim well..."
  • This medieval picture illustrates a scene from which medieval romance? (1 point)

No, you are not time traveling

by J J Cohen

If you've glanced at our "Recent Comments" sidebar, you've probably noticed that -- as insightful as these comments are -- they are about six months out of date. The problem appears to be with Blogger, which has run into a glitch publishing the comments of blogs that have crested the magic number of 5000 comments (yes you are THAT verbose, beloved readers).

We hope that the Powers That Be will be fixing the comment feed soon. In the meantime ... we're all on vacation anyway, so you are not really missing anything. Other than the scandalous revelation of what the Tiny Shriner has been doing with Kate Moss.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Impending Solstice Celebration

by J J Cohen

Whatever celebration of the winter solstice you choose to embrace, we the writers of ITM wish you a very festive one indeed.

In the Middle is on Facebook

by J J Cohen

We know readers access our news stream in various ways: sixty of you via Google Reader, for example, and many more via services like Bloglines, email, even direct access to our site ... Now you can also browse ITM via Facebook, here.

And did you know that FB also boasts a Tiny Shriner Adoration Society? ITM is the new media: medieval studies skulks where it has never skulked before.

Nominate your favorites ...

by J J Cohen

... for the PEAA awards.

Maybe some day ITM will give awards for dissolute scholarship and call then The Shrinies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exhibit on Medieval Jewish Artifacts at the Wallace Collection

by J J Cohen

(a press release forwarded to me by S. Rees Jones)


Treasures of the Black Death: 19 February – 10 May 2009
Press view: 18 February, 9.30 – 11.30am

Two extraordinary hoards of jewellery, medieval silver vessels and coins, one discovered 650 years after it was concealed, probably by Jews at the most perilous time in their history prior to the Holocaust, go on display in Britain for the first time in ‘Treasures of the Black Death’ at the Wallace Collection from 19 February.

The two hoards include the three earliest known examples of Jewish wedding rings, inscribed in Hebrew with the words ‘good fortune’ and in the form of miniature houses, symbolizing both the marital home and the Temple of Jerusalem. They were discovered in the Jewish quarter of Colmar, France, in 1863 and in Erfurt, Germany, in 1998, close to the town’s 11th-century synagogue, the oldest in Europe. This treasure would have continued to lie hidden if it had not been for archeological excavations for a block of flats.

In the 14th century, Erfurt was an important Jewish settlement with a Jewish community well integrated into town life. Members of the community held important positions and were protected by the local bishops and kings. Despite this, as the plague known as the Black Death approached, old associations were quickly replaced by mass paranoia.

As the Black Death laid waste to vast swathes of Europe, wiping out a third of the population, terrified local people, unable to find a cause for the suffering, searched for a scapegoat. Suspicion and fear immediately fell upon the Jewish population, who were accused of poisoning the wells. Many Jews buried their most precious belongings, hoping to return later, but poignantly, as a result of ensuing large-scale pogroms throughout Europe, never returned to reclaim them. 1000 were killed on a single day in Erfurt, 2 March 1349.

As well as shedding new light on another dark chapter in Europe’s history, the objects illuminate both the lives of the Jewish communities who buried them and the wider picture of medieval fashion and craftsmanship. Many pieces are very intimate and extremely personal. As well as the wedding rings, the exhibition will include ‘double cups’ used in the wedding ceremony and betrothal gifts. These add an even more poignant and tragic perspective to the story.

Aside from the pieces of jewellery, the coinage and silverware tell us a great deal about the society of the time. The diverse coinage from all over Europe found in Erfurt, reveal the town to be at the centre of a fluid, integrated and thriving economy. The silverware is vital in elucidating the work of the secular medieval silversmith. Created for fashion and regular use, these objects were not meant to last. Whilst we retain an important collection of religious silverware, this exhibition will provide a perfect time capsule of secular pieces of the period. One fascinating object is the only surviving medieval toilet set in the world. The silver bottle once contained three beauty accessories, but the only one surviving is an ear cleaner. It is totally unique, bearing a long chain so it could be worn around the waist.

The exhibition will illustrate the grandeur of medieval fashion and craftsmanship and tell the story of the tragic circumstances that led to the hoard’s concealment. Following the Wallace Collection’s exhibition the works from Erfurt will go on permanent display at the former synagogue in the city.

The Wallace Collection owns one of the richest and most interesting collections in Britain of art from this period, making it an ideal venue for the exhibition. It was Sir Richard Wallace who extended the Collection’s chronological range back to medieval times when, during the 19th century, there was an enormous growth of interest in medieval and Renaissance art.

PRESS INFORMATION: Jeanette Ward / Theresa Simon & Partners Ltd
020 7734 4800 / 07729 930 812 /

1. The major sponsor of the exhibition is J Leon Group.
2. The exhibition is curated by Christine Descatoire of the Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes et hôtel de Cluny, Paris. It was shown in Paris as ‘Tresors de la peste Noire’, in a similar form in 2007.
3. A full illustrated catalogue (ISBN 0900785950) is available to accompany the exhibition, with essays by Christine Descatoire, Karin Sczech and Marian Campbell, among others.

When: 19 February – 10 May 2009
Opening Times: Open daily, 10am – 5pm
Where: The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
Eating: The Wallace restaurant is open on Friday & Saturday evenings until 10pm.
How to reach us: Tube: Bond St., Baker St. and Oxford Circus Bus: 2, 10, 12, 13, 30, 74, 82, 94, 113, 137, 274

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Animals and the Resurrection


In my conference paper on meat and the resurrection, I quickly treated the question of animal resurrection in mainstream Christian doctrine: the answer? They don't. Since then, I've been caught in a kind of research loop....

In between bouts of teaching and grading and committee-meeting [but, happy to say, not job-hunting: I hereby offer my support and encouragement to any of our readers interviewing at the MLA in a couple of weeks. All best!], my blog post-cum-book section swelled up into what could have been 3,000+ words: more an accidental conference paper than food for the blog. I realized I needed to limit myself, in part out of consideration for your time, but also to rein in this material. Even so, it's probably too long for the blog. My apologies.

In Genesis 1:31, having finished his work, God gives his creation one last approving look. According to J. Edward Wright, this look inspired “a longing to return to this 'very good' mythical place, the place where humans existed before evil, pain, and suffering were introduced into our existence” (189); hence, as Wright suggests, the popularity of the conception of heaven as a garden. Yet something is missing: the renewed creation can scarcely be called a "garden." Where are the animals? Where are the plants? They might be saved, but nowhere does Wright indicate that animals or plants ever found a place in heaven. I do not mean to single out Wright: his work, otherwise excellent, is typical of celestial studies in his non-acknowledgment of animal or other worldly nonhuman life (e.g., Peter Toon, Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview; Clifford Davidson, ed.,The Iconography of Heaven; Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, eds, Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages; Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History; Carolyn Muessig and Ad Putter, eds, Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages).

But regardless of what Aquinas might say (see here and, for the Latin, here), regardless of the gaps in celestial studies more generally, plants and animals do sometimes appear in the future paradise. Verdant, bucolic heavens appear as early as 2 Enoch 8:1-3 and, in more mainstream works, in Jeremiah 31:12 and Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25 and in Revelations 22:2, which finds a place for the tree of life in the Eternal City. The twelfth-century De contemptu mundi of Bernard of Cluny pictures a heaven in which the saints will “stroll and dance amidst holy lilies and blooming flowerbuds” (21); the Elucidarium pictures a world freed of the postlapsarian curse, in which “odoriferis floribus, liliis, rosis, violis immarcessibiliter” (PL 171:1168D; unfading, sweet-smelling flowers—lilies, roses, violets) bloom in a world without thorns; and Pearl famously imagines the afterlife as a garden thronged with the souls of the saved. There's also this painting, which, if you're feeling generous, can stand in for any number of sylvan depictions of paradise.

Giovanni di Paolo's painting takes the floral luxury of the Elucidarium one step further by granting animals a place in paradise. They find a place, too, in Savonarola's Compendium of Revelations, where “mild animals, like white sheep, ermines, rabbits, and harmless creatures” frolic in a meadow, although Savonarola effaces their animal existence by glossing them as representing "Christians engaged in the active life." However, in a much earlier work, Irenaeus's Against Heresies 5.33.4, actual animals resurrect to live again as they did in Eden:
the resurrection of the just [shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is rich in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth. But some other occasion, and not the present, is [to be sought] for showing that the lion shall [then] feed on straw. And this indicates the large size and rich quality of the fruits. For if that animal, the lion, feeds upon straw [at that period], of what a quality must the wheat itself be whose straw shall serve as suitable food for lions?
To the best of my current knowledge, Irenaeus's point here had little effect on medieval Christianity. Various apocryphal stories (discussed ably by Christopher R. Matthews in this anthology) were as uninfluential: in a version of the story of Androcles and the lion, the apostle Paul is saved in the arena by a lion he once baptized (Jerome, who himself records talking centaurs and all manner of pious animals, sniffed at the story: what nerve!); in the Acts of Philip, Philip and his entourage baptize a goat and a leopard, both of which eventually transform into humans in order to receive the Eucharist and thus, presumably, become suited for the resurrection. As stillborn as were these stories, tantalizing evidence of hope for animal life occasionally appears in later texts. Students of Middle English will remember the church founded at the end of Bevis of Hampton to pray for the souls of Bevis, his wife Josian, "And also for Arondel, / Yif men for eni hors bidde schel" (4616-7). In Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (in a version of a tale also told by Rutebeuf), a poor village priest buries his beloved dog in a churchyard (and manages to dodge the avarice of his bishop by convincing him that the dog had set aside a fund for its own burial).

Yet the mainstream exegetical reaction to Romans 8:19-23 is telling. Paul writes:
For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.
Paul is otherwise scornful of animal life (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-10). But here, if “the creature” that groaningly awaits delivery from “corruption” into another more perfect existence is understood as distinct from the “ourselves” and “we” awaiting the “redemption of the body,” then Paul is suggesting that nonhuman life will resurrect. The possibility, only a possibility because of Paul's typically obscure prose, becomes glaringly apparent in the reactions of medieval exegesis. Rabanus Maurus feels compelled to assert that “creaturam, ut pote rationabilem, habere exspectationem quamdam” (PL 111:1454C; “the creature,” insofar as it is rational, has this expectation). A late antique commentary on the Epistles (ascribed by the PL to Jerome but likely by Pelagius) explains that Paul's promise of redemption could apply only to humans and then reemphasizes the proper dominance of humans over the worldly creation: “Exspectatio creaturae, de rationi creatura sermonem fecit, et non sicut quidam existimant, de irrationali, vel insensibili, quae ad servitutem hominum creata est” (PL 30: 683A; "The expectation of the creature": he said this about a rational creature, and not as some think, about an unreasoning creature, or an insensible one, which was made to serve man). Augustine's exegesis in the Refutation of the Priscillianists and Origenists and in question sixty-seven of the Miscellany of Eight-Three Questions proved to be the foundational approach to the verses (see the commentaries by Lanfranc, PL 150:132A-B; Hervé de Bourg-Dieu, PL 181: 710D-11C; Hugh of St. Victor, PL 175:481D; William of St.-Thierry, PL 180:634D-635A; and Peter Lombard, PL 191:1442B-1444C). Countering the purportedly Origenist notion that the stars and other celestial bodies might resurrect, Augustine argued that Paul referred only to humans. As he explained, all creation may be understood as present in humans, since humans are a microcosm: they are rational, like angels; they can sense, like animals; they have life, like trees, which, like our hair, can grow without being aware of its own growth. Moreover, the four elements are present in humans: they are made from earth, heat is required for bodily life and “light shines forth from our eyes”; the lungs are filled with air; and the flow of blood is evidence of the presence of moisture. Haymo of Auxerre (in a commentary the PL ascribes mistakenly to Haymo of Halberstadt) directly asserts what is only hinted at by other exegetes, namely, the gross error of any reading of the passage that “comprehenderit...bestias” (PL 117:432B,; understood it as being about beasts) rather than as about men, who can stand in for all creation. For, in Haymo's citation of Gregory the Great wrote, humans “esse cum lapidibus, vivere cum arboribus, sentire et [0432D] vivere cum animalibus; intelligere, id est rationabilitatem habere, cum angelis” (PL 117:432D; have being as do stones, live as do trees, sense and live as do animals, understand, that is, have reason, as do angels).

To sum up: the most doctrinally orthodox Christianity reserved the afterlife for rational beings only: humans, God, and angels. Only animals and other worldly nonhuman life, as I have argued elsewhere, could be said to die; humans suffered, at worst, an interruption. Nonetheless, we can still glimpse witnesses to the love of humans for at least individual animals; in a point I hope to talk about further, we can also witness the difficulty of imagining human life unworlded. The gardens of paradise, I think, are not just returns to Eden; they are not just fantasies of an elite in love with their own Springtime. Ralph Acampora has argued that the primacy of being "always already caught up in the experience of being a live body thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people" (5). It requires a vigorous effort, the effort of high, professional doctrine, to sustain the imagination of a future in which humans exist as themselves, with their God and with the angels and with each other, but without anything else; it requires an effort as vigorous as any effort, Cartesian or otherwise, of "dissociation and nonaffiliation" (5) with the world. Failures of that effort, or what might better be called refusals to unrecognize being a worlded (human) creature, can be witnessed in those visions of paradise that are worlds, like this one, but better, of humans and plants and animals and rocks and wind and the smell of flowers, all with each other. To fail the philosophical project of Aquinas and others is, as Acampora might write, to sustain oneself in the hope of the presently existing paradise that we could make paradise if only we knew our place in it.


by J J Cohen

Spend enough time in academia and you'll find your office cluttered with those tchockes that kindhearted souls sometimes give to thank you for some kindness, to bribe you, or to bid you good riddance as they depart. The ledge around my windowsill features -- in addition to a Tiny Shriner -- a soap shaped like a shell, a soap with a picture of a moose, two gargoyles, a mug, a small skull, a stack of postcards, some bookends fashioned from polished chunks of blue stone, a Kenyan antelope, a tea box from India, and a tiki idol. Several of these items are gifts from former students; others are payback from colleagues whose travel authorization forms I signed. Today, though, I received an offering that is now my all time favorite: a plastic container filled with Grendel gingerbread men. Yes, one is arm has been lopped off each. You can glimpse five six of them doing a little dance on the napkin on my desk above. Thanks, Lowell!

Here's hoping your grading is going well, and that offerings that bring great cheer are likewise wending your way.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jewschool: multifaith, Jewish, impure

by J J Cohen

Related to this and this, there is this. An excerpt:

We mixed feel sorry for those who lack the self-confidence to be proud of their combined heritages and instead run panicked into the arms of religious fundamentalism. Chabad may be welcoming, Aish may posit answers, but their communities are founded on the same thing as “straight camp”: denying a part of you. They offer false absolutes. Our own lives speak to life’s intertwined, betwixt and between reality. Nothing is pure, nothing is clean, nothing really is kasher.

We are not their the community’s “problem” — we are your solution, for a society dying and dwindling, starved of new ideas. Contrary to Jewish communal in-speak, cultural fusion is the only way out of stagnation. Judaism is shot full of Christian ideas and precepts the same way that Jewish food is a stew of local foods sometimes adjusted for kashrut. There is no such thing as purely Jewish and we’re the new model. (Except maybe matzah, only we would invent that.)

Flash Review III: Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God

by J J Cohen

The thesis of Daniel Boyarin's Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism is simple yet breathtaking: Rabbinic Judaism did not precede Christianity, but the two were twin births, two versions of the same religion, Judaism. Until the end of late antiquity, Boyarin argues, it was possible to be both a Christian and a Jew. Separation of the faiths was a retrospective process engaged in by both communities, after both religions had ceased to be new and were settling into comfortable orthodoxies that projected keen difference into a past actually filled with interpenetration, ambiguity, messiness:
for at least the first three centuries of their common lives, Judaism in all of its forms and Christianity in all of its forms were part of one complex religious family, twins in a womb, contending with each other for identity and precedence, but sharing with each other the same spiritual food, as well (6)
Judaism and Christianity are as a result not differentiated religions, but ongoing and vexed "conversations":
Without the power of the orthodox Church and the Rabbis to declare people heretics and outside the system it remained impossible to declare phenomenologically who was a Jew and who was a Christian. At least as interesting and significant, it seems more and more clear that it is frequently impossible to tell a Jewish text from a Christian one. The borders are fuzzy, and this has consequences. Religious ideas and innovations can cross borders in both directions (15)
You get the idea: acts of separation tend to be retroactive, and are never as clean as they make themselves out to be. Though Boyarin argues that "definitive schism" is evident by the fourth century (114), medievalists will likely pick up on his frequent mention that successful differentiation likely never occured in a full sense: "a tangled process of innovation and learning, competition and sharing of themes, motifs, and practices" keeps these twins bound, "jostling." "Sometimes," Boyarin observes in closing, "partings can seem more like encounters" (126).

Boyarin's method is to proceed via historically contextualized close readings of select texts. His careful exegesis typically reveals the double meanings and the contemporaneity of works that have often been taken as straightforward and faithful to the history they narrate. Having been reading quite a bit about over the past few years about the inherent mestizaje of most cultures, I can't say that I learned anything new about cultural hybridity per se, but the book was an excellent spur to rethinking the story of Christian-Jewish origins.

Just sold at Sotheby's: A Big Chunk of British History

by J J Cohen

The Courtenay Compendium has been sold at an extraordinary price and appears headed out of England.

A small movement seems to be rising to stop the progress of this 14th C manuscript across the Channel. Listed at the auction site as having been sold for 937,250 GBP (!), the miscellany contains a previously unknown version of the Encomium Emmae (a work possibly commissioned by Emma herself, daughter of the duke of Normandy, wife first of Ethelred and then Cnut); a full version of Gildas; the travels of Marco Polo; William of Tripoli on the Saracens; and a collection of prophecies (none of which accurately predicts that the manuscript they appear within would someday be more valuable that the endowment of most US universities).

If anyone has any more information, please post!
[via Donald Maddox and the IAS/NAB email list]

Between Christian and Jew

by J J Cohen

So the abstract for my IMC Leeds plenary is due, an obligation complicated by the fact that grading and end of the semester student meltdowns have conspired to reduce my number of functional neurons to three (half the number I am used to working with).

Please let me know what you think of this first stab. As you will see, I am interested in an interrelated series of questions: how did medieval and how do contemporary interpreters use Jews to tell stories of Christian-Jewish separation? What spaces in between such narratives of segregation can be discerned in which keen division yields to messier interpenetrations? (Daniel Boyarin calls them "lines of influence and dialogue [that] go in both directions").

I don't want to assume in advance that we know what Christian or Jewish orthodoxy consists of: that is, orthodoxy tends to be a retroactive positing of some undifferentiated and homogenous identity that belies the mixed, impure realm of lived belief. Scholars have done quite a good job of emphasizing the diversity of Christian practice in medieval England, arguing against a monolithic orthodoxy ... but Judaism still tends to be defined as if it enters Europe unchanged by its surroundings, that lived Ashkenazic Jewishness in, say, thirteenth century Lincoln is rather similar to fourth century rabbinic Judaism, that medieval Jews don't acculturate. I'm following the line of thought established by Boyarin, Yuval, Ivan Marcus and others to postulate a more adaptive mode of Jewishness, a hybridity with counterparts in many contemporary formulations of Jewish identity. I'm attempting to do this by looking at Christian-Jewish interaction as glimpsed within texts that typically are analyzed for their strong separations: the Book of John Mandeville, Matthew Paris on the Hugh of Lincoln. Are there any texts (especially British ones) where glimpses of a Christian-Jewish middle space exist that I might not have thought of?

Between Christian and Jew:
Orthodoxy, Violence and Living Together in Medieval England

For medieval thinkers, Islam might constitute a heresy rather than a separate religion: Muhammad had deviated from a Christian path. Judaism, on the other hand, was the source from which Christianity traced its origin, and yet it was unthinkable that Christianity should be a Jewish heresy. Though possible for “Jew” to function as a synonym for “heretic” (as Margery Kempe learned during interrogation over her own orthodoxy), Jews were usually seen as temporally other to Christians: locked ever into an anterior time, long ago superceded by Latin Europe. Yet Ashkenazic Jewish communities came to cohabitate with Christians in cities across France, Germany, and England. Extant literary and historical texts suggest that these Jews offered through their rituals and their words a sharp challenge to Christian self-assurance. From the time they first begin to live among the English, they become a community intimately involved in deliberation over proof and religious belief.

Much scholarship on medieval Jews examines how they functioned in the Christian imagination, typically as unreal (spectral, hermeneutic or virtual) figures who enabled Christianity to envision itself as distinct from its Judaic source. The real life extension of such excision is physical and property-directed violence: negative representation cannot be divorced from the pogroms of 1190. Yet medieval texts provide ample evidence that Jews and Christians lived for long periods simply as neighbors. This paper will discuss what happens in the lived spaces between Christians and Jews, where there existed a potential for amity (beneath the story of Hugh of Lincoln is a tale of friendship across faiths) as well as complexity within hostility (a famous lapse in tolerance in The Book of John Mandeville might reveal more about Christian-Jewish interrelations, and the possibility of actually listening to contemporary Jews, than has previously been acknowledged).

This emphasis upon lived, middle space enabled the medieval Jew to cease to be a monster, an allegory, or a lachrymose martyr, becoming instead an embodied and culturally impure being whose temporality is not determined by the past (an Old Testament remnant) or future (as proto-Holocaust victim). The Jews of medieval England, I will argue, are so troubling to Christian orthodoxy for their very modernity.

A missing book on William of Norwich

by J J Cohen

From the blog Front Free Endpaper, a small post on a volume that seems never to have come into being: The Story of S. William, the Boy Martyr of Norwich, by the Rev. Frederick William Rolfe (AKA Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe, AKA the Baron Corvo).

Of course, the book listed afterwards is Oblivion's Poppy: Studies of the Forgotten by Richard Le Gallienne, so ...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New Resource for Medievalists: Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts

by J J Cohen

Matthew Fisher passed this along to me, and I am very happy to share what looks to be an important new resource for medievalists engaged in manuscript studies. I've been browsing the site and admire how much material has been collected. Bravo for creating the resource, UCLA CMRS.

Search under authors for Matthew Paris, for example, and you'll pull up three links, one for quick and full access to an Anglo-Norman verse life of King Edward the Confessor likely authored by Paris, then two links that will pause you at a registration page for the Parker Library (the fault of the Parker Library for making browsers register, not of the UCLA site). The search box at the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts makes helpful keyword suggestions, and a researcher can browse its links in multiple forms. Enjoy!

It is with great pleasure that we would like to draw your attention to the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts. Hosted by UCLA's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Catalogue seeks to provide a technological solution to a simple and rather delightful "problem": the breathtaking increase in the number of medieval manuscripts available on the web in their entirety, but in a bewildering range of venues and formats.

Currently, almost one thousand manuscripts, digitized and available in their entirety on the web, have been entered into the Catalogue. Users can search the Catalogue on basic information about manuscripts, such as the location, language, or date of a codex, or browse through the complete Catalogue.

We welcome feedback on your experience using the website, and particularly welcome suggestions for sites not currently represented in the Catalogue.

The Catalogue can be accessed at:
More information about the project:, or by contacting Matthew Fisher at fisher[at]humnet[dot]ucla[dot]edu

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flash Review II: Israel Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb

by J J Cohen

Israel Jacob Yuval's research has for a long time been -- paradoxically -- both influential and cited mainly at second hand, since relatively few scholars have the facility in Hebrew to read his work in its original. Most of these citations at one remove involve an article published in Zion (1993) in which Yuval argued for a relationship between the Jewish choice of mass suicide and the murder of loved ones during Crusader persecution, and the later circulation of the myth that Jews killed Christian children in mockery of the Passion. Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (trans. Barbara Harshav and Jonathan Chipman) offers in lucid English the author's patient exploration of a thesis that has proven extraordinarily controversial -- challenging as it does the received idea that medieval Jews were the patient victims of an antisemitism bearing little relation to the realities of Jewish medieval life. Scholars had assumed, in other words, that no Jewish story could be discerned in narratives like Thomas of Monmouth's twelfth-century account of the boy-martyr William of Norwich. Such fables were the hateful dreams of a society that wanted no real knowledge of its Jewish other. The Blood Libel consolidated Christian community through fantasy; the host desecration myths had nothing to do with matzoh or Pesach. As a result of such analysis, medieval Jews in much contemporary scholarship seem to inhabit the frozen timelessness that Christians ascribed to them. But shouldn't they be just as eligible for voice, modernity, the possibility of affects both positive and negative (i.e. a life as something more than a holy, docile and long suffering people)? Can the truth of medieval Ashkenazic Jewry amount to something a little more full than an early version of Fiddler on the Roof?

Yuval's thesis is in many ways profoundly commonsensical, allowing that a story involving blood and sacrifice and children might travel across religious boundaries and become something different, yet connected. Medieval Jews and Christians did not inhabit closed spheres. They learned from each other and even borrowed beliefs, rituals, eschatology. Much of Yuval's work demonstrates the ways in which these Jews were not passive victims to Christian violence, but possessed a well developed mythology of a Messiah King who would take vengeance against Christian violators. Jews could even dream of an End Time in which Christianity would be cleansed from the earth ... and imagine that one way to precipitate this apocalypse might be through spectacular acts of communal self slaughter.

Two Nations in Your Womb
is a provocative, compelling book. In my own work I've been interested in how every cultural/social/racial/whatever barrier erected to segregate difference into discrete categories always ultimately fails. Yuval's research demonstrates how Jewish and Christian thought interpenetrated, and how in the end a Jewish story can be discerned in ritual murder and host desecration narratives. His closing chapter on the millennial hopes of the thirteenth century (the Christian year 1240 marked the year 5000 of Creation for Jews) made me see a troubling episode from Mandeville's Travels in an entirely new way -- about which more later. For the time being, though, let me say that every medievalist interested in Jewish-Christian relations during the Middle Ages ought to read this book, offering as it does a complicated view of stories that have too often been treated as not much more than yet another lachrymose segment of the road leading towards the Holocaust.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For your further reading pleasure

by J J Cohen
  • Norris J. Lacy's plenary address to the International Arthurian Society meeting (Rennes, 2008) on "Arthurian Texts in their Historical and Social Context" is online. Much on contemporary Arthurian narratives that will interest anyone who is following the recent critical efflorescence on medievalism (via Judy Shoaf and IAS/NAB's email list)
  • is up and running (h/t Unlocked Wordhoard)
  • Congratulations to Martin K. Foys. His book Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media, and Early Medieval Studies in the Late Age of Print (Univ. Press of Florida, 2007) received an honorable mention in the MLA first book prize competition (h/t Heroic Age)
  • Stephanie Trigg blogs her conference paper on Bruce Holsinger, The Premodern Condition.
  • This will show how old I am. I used to be a big fan of cybertheory and cyberpunk: N. Katherine Hayles, William Gibson ... Back in the day I even taught Neuromancer in a class on something or other (it was the 1990s, I don't really recall that decade very well ... and hey the book IS a romance, and did you know it was composed on a typewriter? And that Gibson didn't even have an email address at the time? I tell ya.) Anyway, I see via BoingBoing that Gibson's self-immolating poem/event Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) can be viewed online. I was fascinated by the idea when the "package" was first released: an artifact so ephemeral it faded during first encounter. I don't often refer people to Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia article on the legends surrounding the Agrippa project is actually very good. If you watch the video, take note of the fact that the poem is read from a floppy disk. See, that was another way of ensuring the piece would vanish ... And I should also mention that the concept is better than the execution. There is nothing tremendously riveting about a silent scroll of Geneva-font text that you have to squint to see. Still, I like the idea.

Flash Review I: Jim Simpson, Troubling Arthurian Histories

by J J Cohen

So here is the thing about being department chair: I don't possess as much time to read as I did in days of yore, and what I do read I frequently don't have the leisure to blog about. It's a tough life. But since 2008 is coming to an end, and since every literary outlet uses the long empty space when the year is on life support and when we're all waiting for it to just terminate already to publish "Best Books of Year XXXX" lists, well, I've decided to do a series of flash reviews of books I meant to blog about this year.

So I'll start with one of my favorites, James R. Simpson's Troubling Arthurian Histories: Court Culture, Performance and Scandal in Chrétien de Troyes's Erec et Enide. To say that Simpson's work is the best book on Erec et Enide out there doesn't say enough: though a copious number of scholarly articles and sections of monographs examine the romance, very few books devote themselves entirely to the work. A meditation on (among other things) gender interrelations, homoerotism, desire, uxoriousness, aventure, the weight of history, aristocratic power and its performance, scandal and mischief, Erec et Enide is a complicated work -- and therefore a fitting first attestation of French Arthurian romance. Like other theorists of chivalry (Richard Kaeuper, Roger Sherman Loomis, Aranye Fradenburg are among those cited, but Larry Benson and Joachim Bumke would also have been appropriate), Simpson sees romance as offering a script for aristocratic behaviors in the real world: its "indebtedness to elsewheres and elsewhens" (28) cannot mask an abiding interest in reconfiguring the present. This performative notion of romance allows him to move quickly to Judith Butler and performative gender, but always with historical nuance intact: Simpson is a good excavator of the courtly context for the production and consumption of Chrétien's work.

This will not be a flash review if I dwell upon how Chrétien's depiction of Erec's recreantise might resonate with the military underachievement of Henry II's son (Henry, Duke of Normandy), or how the "salacious tang" of Eleanor of Aquitaine's family history might intersect with the romance's interest in scandal. But allow me to quote Simpson putting some of this together:
By incorporating or encoding family histories of Eleanor's kin and the Plantagenets into vernacular revisionings of the ancient past, romance texts arguably strengthen a historical and genealogical 'middle ground,' reinforcing the compositional weave of what might otherwise seem like a more distant relation in which there would be nothing between the immediate present's foregrounded mime of a remote background past. The gesture is both one of projection (they are intimately contextualised in, or translated into that history) and appropriation (because they are in it, it belongs to, or is 'carried across' / translated to them). As with Erec's relation to the court, they do not just 'love' History, abjectly waiting on its regard: History 'loves' them, too. This context emphasises both lineage and seriousness of their cultural claims. (25)
Such analysis is clearly sensitive to the text's ambitions within the work's generative context. Yet Simpson's work is not so historicist that the only possible explanations to Chrétien's highly aesthetic text are those provided by an extensive knowledge of political shenanigans in Northern France towards the end of the twelfth century. The book concludes, for example, with a powerful (if implicit) argument for the power of presentism: invoking the funeral of Princess Diana, Zizek on Coca Cola, the film The Queen, Cicero, and Napoleon's condemnation of the Directoire of the young Republic to point out the necessity of illusion, spectacle, and performance to both terror and "the rational life of the polis." That is complicated when I type it all out: trust me that Simpson does a far more lucid job of explicating the nexus between absolutist claims and the danger of the bloodless bluff far better than I can ... and in his reading, it all comes down to the troubling figure of Arthur.

Simpson's writing style is clever, playful, creative -- and for that reason supremely appropriate to an analysis of Chrétien de Troyes, surely one of the most ludic and innovative writers of the Middle Ages. Who says that hardcore philology, continental philosophy, and history-minded literary analysis should not when combined also be great fun? Simpson is as hilarious as he is insightful, a perfect match between writer and subject.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Personals for the Fictionally Forlorn


[a short story written expressly for In The Middle]

for Heather Love

“I do dream about being with Foucault, but I imagine joining him in the underworld, after the moment he has turned away. I want him in that darkness—bearing the marks of power's claw. How to explain such perverse, such intransigent desires?”
—Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History

I was in the crowd on the beach when you were pouting over dog-faced Menelaus’s theft of your girlfriend. I like men who strut and storm and rage, but when you cried over Patrocles’s corpse, I was a little embarrassed for you, but you still had me, not at “hello,” but at “I have no mind to linger here disgraced, brimming your cup and piling up your plunder.” That really gets me, even now. It doesn’t bother me that you hooked up with Medea after death—finally, someone to match your ferocity. Sometimes I imagine the two of you, lying together in some crevice of the underworld, eating out each other’s hearts. But when you get tired of that, write me some time. I hear hell is nice this time of year. Of course, I’m speaking of winter. Box 45K98.

* * * * *

I first saw you walking hurriedly down the street in Yonville-l’Abbaye, on your way to the apothecary. Of course you’re beautiful; this is beyond saying, but not inconsequential. Bliss, passion, ecstasy: can it be that these are, in the end, only words? Darling, although I don’t know you, I can show you differently. I have something else to show you: a small box, filled with little pills, mood enhancers, designed just after your time—deep feelings are overrated, and if you like, we’ll just skim the surfaces of things. When you were dying and asked for a mirror, I wanted to slap you—that was me outside your window, the blind beggar, singing to you—but of course I still want you. I can only imagine your aversion to gardens, so we don’t have to meet in one, and I don’t require extravagant gifts. It doesn’t get more low maintenance than me, and I’m hoping you’re feeling the same, although granted, as my friends often tell me, I have unrealistic expectations. So if that combination of qualities interests you, give me a call some time. I won’t go “all Rodolphe” on you, but if you like love notes concealed in baskets of apricots, I’m amenable. Box 67G54.

* * * * *

I was in the crowd of virgins in the temple at Aulis when your father plunged his dagger into your heart. My therapist tells me I have a thing for sacrificial victims, but I can’t help myself. Is this so wrong? If it’s true that Artemis replaced you, at the last minute, with a doe, and somehow I missed that, then I’m hoping we might still be able to meet. There’s a rumor going around that the women in your family like a little violence with their marriages, and this can be arranged, if you like, although, technically, I’m a pacifist. It must get boring sometimes being a high priestess and for all the kisses your father refused you at your dispatch, I will give you a thousand more. As to that snow-beat glen in Phrygia and the hills of Ida you wished had never existed, let me make them disappear for you, and in their place, I’ll conjure up a continual daylight, for I’ve heard you’re afraid of the dark. If you like this sort of magic, drop me a note. Box 89D34.

* * * * *

I have a thing for men without illusions, and I already know your head was severed from your body, so that is not an issue: the head or the trunk and limbs, I can take one, or the other, or both. I’m easy. I don’t think you can really know a person until they’ve lost everything, and if that was a dagger you saw before you, I believe it, you don’t have to trouble yourself to convince me, although I do think you need to lighten up a bit. I know you have trouble sleeping and I have some good pills for that, or we can just stay awake all night and engage in a different sort of forgetting. As you can see, I try not to over-think things. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, in the end, it was your ability to finally shed all thought of the hereafter that drew me to you: when you refused to yield to Macduff, that made me want to yield to you. The soldier’s life can be a little dull, as you know, but I like this little cemetery where they laid you to rest, buried upside down like a traitor—this position works for me, and if it also works for you, let me know some time. Box 72U63.

* * * * *

I was sitting under the willow on the riverbank, resting before continuing on my way to conquer other countries, when you drowned yourself, and I would have stopped you, but I have a thing for women in watery graves with violets in their hair. Unlike Hamlet, I have some art to reckon my groans and I can show you some of that, if you like. I won’t take your gifts, then give them back, and I won’t treat you like a child, unless you like that sort of thing, but what I have in mind, actually, is showing you the other way to heaven, the path that is neither thorny nor steep, and if I tell you the stars are on fire, by god, they are on fire. You’ll forgive me if I get a little excited sometimes, but it seems I’m always showing up after everything has happened already, and I didn’t even stop to ask, what brought you to this place? Your sadness shakes the very root of me, and yet, I would beg its explication. I’m a good listener. Box 82X34.

* * * * *

I was hiding behind a tree in the Odenwald forest when you were bent over, drinking water from the spring, and Hagen slipped up behind you and thrust his spear into you. You are so beautiful like that. I like a man whose wounds never stop weeping, and I promise not to cover them up if you agree to meet me in a hotel some time, preferably in Berlin, near the discotheque. I like to have crowds of people around me, even when I’m alone, or, all my hopes realized, with you. I understand you’re betrothed, so I won’t ask for much—perhaps we could just spend some time wrapped in that cloak of yours, invisible to the rest of the world, and you could wrestle my girdle away from me. I heard you’re good at that. I won’t ask you to play the role of Pandarus to my or others’ desires; in short, I won’t place you in harm’s way, unless that’s how you get your excitement. I’m open to negotiation, but let’s keep this temporary. Box 90F38.

* * * * *

I was one of the people who helped to roll the stone across the entrance to your cave, sealing you in, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. I doubt you even noticed me, as I’m one of those persons whose name or title doesn’t even warrant a mention in the personae dramatis. I have a thing for teenage girls who stand up to kings and I’m hoping this fling of yours with death is only temporary. A lot of people in my generation like to claim how fucked up they are because of their fathers and mothers, but they don’t have a thing on you. You’re the real thing, the original hopeless cause, and I have a weakness for hopeless causes. I think I know something that might help you: there is no higher law and most brothers aren’t really worth the trouble, nor are there any gods living below us, nor are the statutes of heaven unfailing. But you, Antigone, you’re a law unto yourself that I think I could really follow, or break, if that’s your preference. Drop me a note some time. Box 62V58.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Look what's on Google Books

by J J Cohen

If the key phrases are Galehaut, Mont Saint Michel, Gogmagog, Beowulf, Aliscans, Bevis of Hampton, cynocephali, Guy of Warwick, Grendel, incubus, Saracen, Anglo-Saxon England, Slavoj Zizek, Alliterative Morte Arthure, Robert Mannyng, Gowther, Corineus, Middle English, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Green Knight, then it must be Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages.

It's so strange to see this tome's snatch-n-sniff grape cover at Google Books, but of course electronic nonmateriality is the future survival form of all scholarship. Medieval Identity Machines makes more sense as an ebook, even a partial one: it's about all that solidity melting into air, after all. Google has rather random keywords for the volume (Margery Kempe, Saracen, Mercia, Gilles Deleuze, Chivalry, Lancelot, Chretien de Troyes, chansons de geste, Anglo-Saxon England, Aliscans, sche, Middle Ages, Thousand Plateaus, masochism, Middle English, queer theory, Guenevere, Beowulf, Felix Guattari -- the list reads like a fragmented poem about some BABEL party) ... but Google has also nicely decided to feature the pages with illustrations in the preview. I knew my time at the Bibliothèque nationale would pay off somehow. Scroll all the way down on the Google MIMs page and you'll also see a map of places mentioned in the book, most of them apparently culled from the bibliography. How did Nigeria get in there?

Monster Theory is up at Google Books, too, but not the volumes I've done through the New Middle Ages series -- at least not as spiffy previews with hyperlinked keywords and maps. See? See? Ok, there is one. Palgrave Macmillan needs to get digital: your book may as well not exist if search engines can't gobble it down and spit it out for the undergraduates composing their research papers (like the twenty five I still have to read).

Stonehenge. Also, Woodhenge.

Went to see archeologist Mike Parker Pearson speak last night at the National Geographic headquarters here in DC. Pearson supervised one of the two digs that took place at the site last summer (Geoff Wainwright directed the other).

To an auditorium filled with about two hundred people he delivered news from the field, stressing how archeologists now see Stonehenge as one among many interconnected sites along the River Avon. Pearson argues that Stonehenge must analyzed as a counterpart to Woodhenge. The perdurable stone was a place for the dead (so far sixty cremation interments have been discovered there, mainly in or near the Aubrey holes that used to house megaliths), and the rot-prone but enormous tree-derived structure was a place for the living. He showed us slides of what remains of the plaster floors of wattle and daub houses from the period. The hearth often endures as a kind of ghost image. In one dig an imprint left by two knees is discernible just in front of where the fire would have been, an impression left by years of careful tending.

Pearson stressed the importance of discovering antlers fashioned into the digging tools that were used to transform the earth. When these remnants survive, they enable fairly precise carbon dating of the structures nearby. He also emphasized the tediousness of using stone tools to dress the megaliths, and the price paid in the body by those who employed them (osteoarthritis especially). In an aside, he also mentioned that a ribbon-like band of rock unearthed near Stonehenge naturally points towards the winter solstice (the ribbon effect the product of glacial runoff). He ventured that this stone band may have rendered the place sacred, triggering Stonehenge's solar alignment (an alignment unique among henge monuments).

I left the auditorium full of admiration that human lives could be imagined from such scanty leavings. My son Alex came with me, and was even ready to ask a question (though they never got to him). He fills me with wonder as well: that someone at age eleven can sit through an archeology lecture on a day that also included homework, Hebrew school and piano practice ... and love it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Against All England: An Excerpt

by Rob Barrett

[I want to begin by thanking Jeffrey for the generous opportunity to post part of my book here at ITM—I'm finally taking him up on an offer to contribute to a "project" of his, an offer that dates back to the 1994 Interscripta discussion of Medieval Masculinities. I also want to thank Barbara Hanrahan and the University of Notre Dame Press for permission to excerpt Against All England in this venue. The passage presented below is taken from my introduction, where it follows a discussion of local Cestrian traditions that destabilize nationally-oriented models of literary history. Enjoy! I'm looking forward to your comments.]

The specifically Cestrian nature of my longue durée approach differentiates it from the new literary history exemplified by scholars like David Wallace and James Simpson. Wallace locates the end of the Middle Ages in Henry VIII’s assault on the monasteries, “the single most important institutional framing for the collection, copying and preservation of medieval texts.” Simpson’s reversal of Whig periodization concentrates instead on Henry’s reorganization of the English polity, arguing “that the institutional simplifications and centralizations of the sixteenth century provoked correlative simplifications and narrowings in literature.” Both agree, though, that the 1530s and 1540s are the decades that see out the English Middle Ages. Much of my analysis agrees with theirs: for example, the transition between chapters 1 and 2 relies on Henrician reformations of Cestrian space (the 1506 transformation of the city into a county in its own right) and spirituality (the 1539/40 dissolution of St. Werburgh’s).

Wallace and Simpson’s critiques of traditional periodization nonetheless rely more on concepts of nation than on those of region. They focus on the ways in which powerful centers force subjection upon unwilling peripheries. My regional focus concentrates instead on the irregular distribution of periodization across English space: the historical changes we identify as period markers do not take place inside a single homogenous space, but within a heterogeneous England divided into an assemblage of “parcellized sovereignties.” Ralph Hanna’s recent argument for a new attention to “the polyvocal and individuated voices of discrete local/regional literary cultures” relies on a consciously ironic dislocation of London, transforming the metropole into another of fourteenth-century England’s “vernacular backwaters.” In spatial terms, Hanna turns England inside out, exposing its center as one periphery among many. I take an opposite tack, demonstrating peripheral Cheshire’s claims to central status. As [Tim] Thornton points out, Cheshire’s marginal position “just beyond the core territory of England” is simultaneously “at the interface—in many ways the centre—of the influence of the various core territories which made up the British Isles in the late medieval and early modern period.” Lucian describes three of the “core territories” meeting at this “interface” in De laude Cestrie: “Hec igitur Hibernis receptoria, Britannis vicina, Anglorum sumministratur annona[m]” (“This place is therefore a port of receipt for the Irish, a neighbor to the Welsh, and is served grain by the English,” p. 65). William Smith adds Scotland to this list when he asserts in his portion of Vale-Royall that centuries of military recruiting have made “The name of a Scot, odious in Cheshire” (p. 19).

Put another way, Cheshire is a crucial test case for the study not only of medieval and early modern Englishness but of the early modern Atlantic Archipelago as well. Originating in J. G. A. Pocock’s call for a “new British history,” this emergent field locates what Philip Schwyzer calls its “essence” in its “willingness to challenge traditional boundaries—boundaries, that is, between the histories of different nation-states, and also between academic disciplines.” David Baker is more specific: “What drives the British history, I would say, is the demand that apparently distinct entities—call them ‘nations’—be considered in their constitutive inter-relatedness.” Schwyzer's and Baker’s references to “nation-states” and “nations” testify to the implicitly (and traditionally) national focus of archipelagic studies. The field is not intrinsically hostile to regional analysis: three of the essays included in Schwyzer and co-editor Simon Mealor’s Archipelagic Identities concentrate on specifically regional communities. However, its programmatic assertions reflexively treat the nation as the default unit of analysis. The “hitherto neglected peripheries” that archipelagic specialists like Baker and Willy Maley restore to academic attention turn out to be Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. As for Englishness, it is first (and promisingly) identified as “not a self-generated but rather a relational identity”—but is then immediately redefined as “a matter of complex and often bitter negotiation among the nations of the Atlantic archipelago (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales).”

Similar elisions of the regional are present in medieval postcolonial studies. When Geraldine Heng investigates England’s “consolidating itself as a nation,” she contrasts “national rivals across the sea or ethnic antagonists sharing a border with the English polity—the French, Irish, Welsh, Scots” with English Jewry, “a resident alien community within England.” The point is well taken, but an opportunity is missed: Heng’s concept of “internal others” could just as easily apply to Cestrians and other regional communities subject to “English manipulation.” Patricia Clare Ingham makes precisely this point in a discussion of fifteenth-century North-South conflict within England, insisting that “a policy of ‘internal colonialism’ has consequences for intra-English relations as well as for Anglo-Scots, or English-Welsh, ones.” But even Ingham conflates region and nation. At different moments in her work, she refers to “relations between medieval England and the regions of its insular neighbors” and “Regions of the so-called ‘Celtic fringe.’” As I show in chapter 4, these are not mere slips of the pen: Ingham’s reading of SGGK, one that explicitly acknowledges the role of regional Cheshire identity within the text, nonetheless identifies Sir Gawain’s passage through the county’s hundred of the Wirral as an encounter with colonized “Welsh wildness” and treats it accordingly.

Each of these examples demonstrates the intellectual attraction of what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen calls “big designators like the nation.” Region either goes unnoticed as a category of analysis or finds itself transformed into one of many available “big designators” (a group that includes class, ethnicity, race, religion, and sex/gender in addition to nation). The multi-regional character of these otherwise crucial categories eclipses the equally necessary concept of the local. England maintains its national coherence because its intranational spaces escape sustained analysis. According to Thornton, the “new British history” ironically “tends . . . to display the same certainties of unity within each of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland which it criticised in the old historiographical elision of England with Great Britain or the British Isles.” The same is frequently true of medieval postcolonial studies: here Englishness may be put under analytical pressure, placed into dialogue with hitherto neglected identities, but English space emerges largely intact.