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).


The Spirit of Creative Writing said...

This is very cool. (It goes without saying, I think, that you're right about the imperative of digitising all our books).

I started reading through the first chapter and, man, but that three-part illustration of the Donestre is fantastic! I'd say you rather underplay the physique of the traveller (you describe him as thin and weedy; but he has arms and shoulders of which a javelin thrower would be proud); and unless I haven't read far enough you don't discuss just how sexualised that second image, of the devouring is. Or you do discuss that and I'm an inattentive reader. Or there is no sexualisation in the second image, and my mind is a foul sewer of filth.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks, Adam.

While I do want to leave open the possibility that your mind is a foul sewer of filth, I (in my defense) also want to say that I tried to convey at least implicitly how sexually charged the manuscript illustration is, with its monster's genitals painted bright red and the display of raised bare buttocks in a rather sexualized pose (homosexuality and cannibalism are as intertwined here as they are in every narrative ever spun around Jeffrey Dahmer). In all honesty though I don't think I went far enough, and could have used words like "humping" and "fellatio" to describe some of what might be suggested in that image.

When it comes down to it, I was so invested in the book in telling a cultural tale that I didn't dwell enough on the very physicality of the acts depicted. I think I got to be better at acknowledging and running with the appeal of sexualized content of some manuscript illustrations in later work, like the essay in this volume. Of Giants is an oeuvre de jeunesse: it's my dissertation, after all. I was just a kid. And did I mention how much fun it was to lose myself in Old English, Latin, Middle English, Old French AND psychoanalytic theory AND Deleuze to write that thing? What could be better?

The Spirit of Creative Writing said...

Yes: the buttocks, the fellatio and the intertwined limbs. Which, now that I look at what I've typed, looks rather like the title of a porn remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

"Oeuvre de jeunesse", eh? Don't do it down: the bits available to read, that I read, are fascinating and excellent.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

"The Buttocks, the Fellatio and the Intertwined Limbs" is definitely going to be the title of my plenary at the medieval conference at Leeds next July. Thanks for that, Adam!!