by EILEEN JOY
The subject lies at the intersection with external, relational forces. It is about assemblages. Encountering them is almost a matter for geography, because it is a question of orientations, points of entry and exit, a constant unfolding. . . . The sensibility to and availability for changes or transformation are directly proportional to the subject's ability to sustain the shifts without cracking.
—Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics
The new issue [no. 7] of Early Modern Culture: An Electronic Seminar is out, edited by Linda Woodbridge and Craig Dionne, and the theme is "Vagrant Subjects." You might recall that Jeffrey plugged this online journal once before, for Issue no. 6, devoted to "Timely Meditations," which featured a really interesting essay by Linda Charnes on wormholes and micro-periods from the future, and to which Jeffrey's colleague Jonathan Gil Harris contributed a response. Ever since Jeffrey initially told us about this journal I have been really enamored of it, especially for the way each issue incorporates multiple responses to the main essays and even responses to the responses and sometimes responses to the responses to the responses [hence, I believe, the moniker of "seminar" for the journal]! God knows, this must be time-consuming for all involved but what a great benefit for the rest of us, since the scholarly voices in each issue are always in productive flux and tension with each other and no critical issue is ever really "closed" or "settled" as a result--provocative questions are raised and re-raised in such a manner that invites further ruminations [and one would imagine, another set of essays somewhere else in time and place, and then another set, and so on and so forth]. it contributes, moreover, to an the "explcitly collaborative praxis," one that is never finished, that Jeffrey talks about here.
Craig Dionne, as some may recall, is the editor, with Steve Mentz, of Rogues and Early Modern English Culture [Michigan, 2004] and is also the Editor of the Journal of Narrative Theory, which devoted a special issue to BABEL's humanisms project. Craig is also a contributor to BABEL's new volume of essays [in progress], Fragments for a History of a Vanishing Humanism. On a more personal level, ever since I met Craig [through Marty Shichtman] a few years ago at the annual meeting of the Midwest Conference on British Studies [at Notre Dame], he has become a great friend and an important interlocutor for me, and he has profoundly influenced my thinking on a number of subjects. It was because of his suggestion about a year ago to read Patricia Fumerton's Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England, that I became interested in exploring whether or not not it might be possible to theorize certain structures of vagrancy, itinerant mobility, unsettled aesthetics, and "low" subjectivity in certain Old English texts, such as Guthlac A and B [go here for some of my initial musings on that].
The new issue of Early Modern Culture: An Electronic Seminar centers on the subjects of vagrancy, low subjectivity, and unsettled aesthetics in the early modern period and actually begins with an essay by Patricia Fumerton, "Mocking Aristocratic Place: The Perspective of the Streets," but not before Linda Woodbridge poses these provocative questions in her Introduction to the issue,
This issue of Early Modern Culture treats a constellation of themes -- poverty, vagrancy, mobility, idleness, work, crime, rogue literature, class disparities. I'll close with a question: is it a good idea to treat this spectrum of topics alongside each other, all as aspects of the topic "vagrant subjects"? All of us who have worked in this area have done this, yes; but is it a good idea? My recurrent fear is that in doing so do we buy into a Renaissance mind set that couldn't hear about poverty without thinking about vagrancy, roguery, crime -- as if they were a seamless whole. I thought about this recently when invited to contribute several pieces to an encyclopedia, and was asked which of them should be cross-referenced to the others. What would it say, I wondered, if one cross-referenced "poverty" to "vagrancy," "rogue pamphlets," "thievery," "beggary," or "the Elizabethan underworld"? As Sandra Logan subtly argues with regard to degrading punishments and the degraded living conditions of the poor, such confluences of category can influence our thinking subliminally. Ultimately I cannot think it was not a good idea to find occasion to bring together four such stimulating essays; but the issue merits thought. Let us work hard at this.For those interested in exploring the connections between poverty, working conditions, mobility, and aesthetics [both high and low] in any period, I recommend this issue highly.