Friday, July 31, 2009

Homeward Bound

[illustration: many things are better in Paris, but at least one thing is worse: the clowns are frightening. Always frightening. Here is one at the Paris Plages, the stretch of the Seine that has been transformed into a summer beach]

by J J Cohen

All good things ...

After a month abroad I return to the US tomorrow. Each segment of the journey went well: I was happy with my Leeds keynote and the conference itself; Italy (or the small portion I saw of it) was fantastic; and Paris has been ... well, Paris. Not an eternal city, but -- from the vantage point of our apartment here on the rue Claude Bernard -- a city of everyday lives, of easygoing camaraderie as well as people happy in their solitude. The café has allowed Parisians to perfect the art of beings at ease with oneself. I will miss it here.

Au revoir, et à bientôt.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

The BABEL Working Group is on Facebook

Figure 1. Tiny in his favorite position: upside-down in a pint glass [University of Leeds, July 2009]


Just a quick note to say that the BABEL Working Group is now on Facebook, and in addition to our regular website, this is just another way to keep track of the ongoing activities, publishing and other projects, and peripatetic wanderings over land and sea of the Group. Become a fan and we'll send you Tiny Shriner kisses, or Tiny high-fives, or coupons for half-off of Tiny sneers, if that's what you prefer. Plus, you'll be able to access all sorts of embarrassing photos of ITM bloggers, caught with Tiny in compromising positions all over the globe. Seriously, who doesn't want to see those?

Global Middle Ages: Where Supercomputing Meets Medieval Studies

by J J Cohen

Three interconnected websites that every medievalist should know about are:
All three can also be accessed through this elegantly constructed portal. Directed by Geraldine Heng and Susan Noakes, the project aims to create new collaborative spaces within which to map out new ways of understanding a geographically expansive and millennium-long Middle Ages.

The resources here are quite deep. Follow the links and see for yourself: these are sites to watch. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Greetings, Not From, But To the Anglo-Saxonists in Newfoundland


While Jeffrey is somewhere in Paris with his family [envy, jealousy, and splenetic fumes as I languish in the American midwest; well . . . not really, but . . .], and Karl is, perhaps, either lounging on a Bermuda beach, after having embezzled all of the money from the coffers at In The Middle [wait a minute, we don't have any coffers, just coffee], or lying underneath various tables at various bars in New York City, I thought I would take this opportunity to send a "hello" and a "wish we were there" to Mary Kate and all of the Anglo-Saxonists [and sundry others] gathered this coming week [Monday, July 27 through Friday, July 31] at Memorial University in St John's, Newfoundland for the 2009 biannual meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists. The conference program looks fantastic [the theme this time around is the maritime world of the Anglo-Saxons] and quite a few of the members of the BABEL Working Group as well as some of our favorite medievalist bloggers and postmedieval Board members will be in attendance, giving papers, and participating in the workshops. Perhaps if we're very lucky, Mary Kate will blog and/or live-tweet some of the sessions, but in any case, here are what I see as some of the highlights:

Monday, July 27th:

Daniel Donoghue [Harvard University] is giving a paper, "Reading Old English Poems with the Help of Cognitive Science" [9:15 am session]

Lisa Weston [California State University, Fresno] is giving a paper, "Sailing Seas of Ink: The Psychogeography of the Literate Imagination" [4:00 pm session]

Tuesday, July 28th:

Keynote Address: Allen Frantzen [Loyola University, Chicago], "Over, In, and Under Water: Connecting Food and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England" [9:00-10:00 am]

"Lexomics for Anglo-Saxon Literature," with Michael Drout (English), Mike Kahn (Statistics), Mark LeBlanc (Computer Science) and Christina Nelson (Computer Science), Wheaton College, Norton, MA [10:30 am session]

Martin Foys [Drew University] is giving a paper, "Of Yrlande mid scyphere: The Irish Sea Raids of King Harold’s Sons, and the Redoubling of History" [1:30 pm session]

Fabienne Michelet [University of Toronto] is giving a paper, "Sea-crossings and Memory in Old English Poetry" [3:30 pm session]

Wednesday, July 29th:

Robin Norris [Carleton University], "The Exile of Saint Theophistis" [10:30 pm session]

Friday, July 31st:

An entire session on whales [!]: Session 13, "The Anglo-Saxons and the Whale," organized by Haruko Momma [New York University], and featuring papers by Haruko [Hal], Ian David Riddler, Carol Neuman de Vegvar, and Caroline Esser [10:30 am session]

[Mary Kate is chairing Session 14, 2:00 pm, on "Vernacular Prose: After the Editions," featuring papers by Bruce Gilchrist, "Rethinking Alfredian Manuscripts" and Nicholas P. Brooks, "Anglo-Saxon ‘Chronicle’ or ‘Chronicles’? What's in a Name"]

More detailed information about individual sessions and papers can be found on the conference website, hyperlinked above, where abstracts, in addition to the programme, are also provided. And in the meantime, happy sailing!

Carte postale de Paris

by J J Cohen

My family is well ensconced in our Parisian apartment, not far from the market and restaurants of the Rue Mouffetard. We've spent long days walking the city. Today after the Cluny, Jardin de Luxembourg, and Tour de France, the kids finally reached their breaking point ... so after an early dinner (6:30 PM -- two hours earlier than most anyone else around here would consider sitting down to dine), everyone except me is engrossed in watching Belleville Rendez-vous. I'm a fan of the film, but have seen it too many times, and the inane song they play throughout tends to get stuck in my head. I thought I'd compose a blog post instead.

The last time I was in Paris was 1994, when New Chaucer Society met at the Sorbonne. I had organized a panel on the material body in Chaucer, and remember that the Aranye Fradenburg's inspiring but somber meditation on the subject yielded a far less mirthful session than I had anticipated (and I love it when events do not follow their given plan). There were also some nasty and not well researched remarks about queer theory and Chaucer from a senior luminary that made the high regard I had held him in vanish. Good times, good times.

I love being in the city now with my family. Wendy does not speak French, but she throws herself into ordering food and negotiating social exchanges with aplomb: if Spanish or Italian comes out, so be it. Alex has a year of French under his belt, but has had a harder time gathering the courage to speak up and practice what he knows. Katherine meanwhile doesn't seem to need any language skills at all to charm and bend to her will. Her smile and her good humor are enough to make the gruffest Parisians do unexpected things. Today, for example, the owner of the café where we were having an afternoon drink scooped her up and brought her behind the bar to show her the cash register, the washing machines, the workings of the restaurant that most people don't get to see. 

A few other memories of the trip so far:
  • I finally got to see the Musée de Quai Branly. The building was not nearly as innovative as I expected, mostly connecting the non-Western with the natural and the freeform. Its grounds, for example, are not far from the Eiffel Tower, but because they are enclosed by glass walls and filled with grasses and meandering paths and dotted with stereo speakers ineptly disguised as stones that emit insect and animal noises, the intended effect seems to be ... primitivism and nature. Are those the best associations for the les autres inside? Aren't we supposed to have moved beyond the denial of coevalness? Granted, the exhibits sometimes challenge that conflation: ancient Australian aboriginal art, for example, alongside art by a contemporary maker of aboriginal descent. The building is beautiful, except for the leaf decals on the windows, and the artifacts are nicely displayed, but all in all the place reminds me quite a bit of the prehistory exhibit at the Museum of London. It is easy to aestheticize objects when you feel little connection to the people who made them.
  • We watched the Tour de France today, live. We staked out a shady spot along the Seine, not far from the Jardins des Plantes. After waiting 45 minutes, the bikers passed in about three seconds. Seriously: blink, and they were gone.
  • Yesterday we made the trek to Mont Saint Michel, a location I've written about but never had the chance to visit. The journey through Normandy made a great impression on me, not so much because it is scenic, but more because I could finally place all those towns and cities connected to the eleventh century invaders of England.
  • On our first evening in Paris, weary from travel and wet with rain, we made our way to a nearby café for dinner. I asked the waiter, in my creaky French, peut-on prendre le croque monsieur sans jambon -- because Katherine really wanted a grilled cheese, not a ham and cheese sandwich. He arched an eyebrow and announced, in his perfect French, yes one could have such a thing, but one should not, because it would taste terrible. I ordered the sandwich anyway, and by the end of the meal Katherine's charm had finally worked. I think it was the enthusiasm she showed for dessert.
  • The apartment we've rented belongs to a professor of literature at the Sorbonne. She spends the summers in London, with her partner. Some of the books on her many shelves: Rabelais Oeuvres Complètes, Albert Camus Essais, Frédéric Nietzsche Le gai Savoir, Flavius Josèphe Histoire ancienne des Juifs, Robert Laffont La Légende Arthurienne ... I may never leave.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Italy Revelation: I am not Going to Kalamazoo in 2010

by J J Cohen

Although I mostly seemed to sit at a table at the Stables pub and drink (my new favorite is the shandy, half lager and half lemonade: thanks Josh!), the Leeds conference was quite a learning experience. I met many people whose work I have long admired, many others whose work I now admire, many bloggers whose work I follow (Jonathan Jarrett was especially good to meet, and so were Meli and Magistra, and ADM is always fun) and some very bright young in the field folk in whom I have great confidence. Plus I got to hang out quite a bit with Mary Kate and Eileen: what could be better than that? Mary Kate and I shared scones and tea together; Eileen slept in my bed at the Yotel. That isn't what it seems but that is all I will say.

In the days after the IMC, somewhere in the extinct volcanoes turned picturesque hills outside of Rome, when life had slowed down to a pace I haven't enjoyed in years and few people surrounded me besides family, I realized that once I stop being department chair on January 1 2010 I need to dial down the intensity of my life, first off by containing the ever-proliferating commitments I've been making. I'm giving a lecture in York in March, and have organized a panel for NCS Siena in July ... but my son's bar mitzvah is in April, I am tired of missing my daughter's events at her school, I have a book I need to begin to write, I have four essays due in the fall and a special issue of postmedieval I am co-editing, and on and on. Plus I am directing a little medieval and early modern studies institute.

I need, more than anything, to have some pause -- and lacking that, simply to undertake less.

The last week offered some of that, and the next ten days will offer some more. I'm in Paris right now. Getting here was tough, and featured a marathon sprint through Heathrow to catch a departing plane (how our five year old kept up with us I have no idea), but we had dinner at café near our flat as a thunderstorm swept the heat from the city. The windows are open on the Rue Claude Bernard, and city sounds and French conversations drift in. Will anyone miss me if I simply don't return to the States?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nicole Nolan Sidhu on Gender and Middle English Studies

by J J Cohen

The latest Literature Compass [6/4 (2009): 864–885] has a fascinating essay by Nicole Nolan Sidhu on "Love in a Cold Climate: The Future of  Feminism and Gender Studies in Middle English  Scholarship." Her argument, in a nutshell, is that while gender studies have increased steadily in the field of Middle English studies since the 1990s, such scholarship is not generally undertaken by those at the (US News and World Report determined) top 50 research institutions, and does not appear with frequency in top tier journals. Given the inherent importance of such work, the evident lack prestige of gender studies is deeply troubling, especially as young in the field scholars who undertake such scholarship move towards tenure.

The study is quite provocative, and well worth reading. I wish it didn't make so much of my offhand remark about a medievalist trifecta of journals way back when (at least not without bringing up the vigorous discussion that ensued: I was not making an ex cathedra pronouncement, mainly because I don't have a cathedra to sit upon). Highlight for me: the outline of the careers of Holly Crocker and Tison Pugh as scholars engaged in extremely important gender studies projects without sufficient institutional (in the large sense) support.

While I do wonder if much gender studies work hasn't become less visible simply because it is no longer named or called out (i.e. some of the topics that are being discussed right now really can't be analyzed without feminism, but feminism might not be a keyword that is called out in the work), Sidhu's essay, together with Liz Scala's recent essay on gender and historicism, suggests that a gulf exists between how much the field says it values feminism, gender studies, and queer theory, not enough of it is being published in the most visible journals and by scholars at elite universities. 

CFP for Kzoo 2010: The Glamour of Grammar

by Karl Steel, on behalf of Erik Butler and Irina Dumitrescu

CFP: The Glamour of Grammar (Kalamazoo 2010)

(With apologies for cross-posting)

If conventional, twenty-first-century thinking holds that grammar is a dull set of descriptions and prescriptions consisting only of skeletal schemes of morphology and syntax, it is worth remembering that these structures have crystallized out of a more dynamic mass of language. Grammar is theory—a way of seeing patterns and paradigms that only become visible when one steps back from mundane, everyday exchanges (which for the most part do not extend beyond immediate concerns—and can often be negotiated nonverbally) and seeks to comprehend the rules that permit more complex interactions.

Grammar, then, is not the province of pedants. Instead, it is a generative matrix for projects of inquiry. Just as mathematics and music have structures that provide the basis for more complicated operations (e.g., multiplication tables and scales), what the French call the “human sciences” (sciences humaines) and the Germans the “sciences of the spirit” (Geisteswissenschaften) rely upon grammar—elementary patterns distilled from the best exemplars of linguistic performance, literary or otherwise—to actuate their potential.

This panel takes its inspiration from the learned and stimulating explorations of medieval grammatical culture by scholars such as Martin Irvine, Vivien Law, and Rita Copeland. The session will be open to a variety of approaches: inventive readings of grammatical texts, discussions of medieval literature about grammar, literary analyses that are particularly attuned to questions of grammar, philosophies of grammar, and the relationship of 'grammatica' to literary theory, composition, and pedagogy. We hope for careful, reflective, and playful approaches to "la grammaire, qui sait régenter jusqu'aux rois!"

Please send your abstract and the Participant Information Form to Erik Butler (hbutle2 – at – and Irina Dumitrescu (idumitrescu – at – by September 15, 2009. Papers will be a maximum of twenty minutes long.

Participant Information Form

Monday, July 20, 2009

Postcard from Pompeii

by J J Cohen

Immediately after the Leeds conference ended, I departed for Italy. My in-laws live not far from Segni, and I met the rest of my family in Rome to visit with them. We're staying in Colleferro, a town without much history ... but proximity to much that is both historic and beautiful. 

I was invited to give a paper in Salerno six years ago, so I know the Amalfi coast a little bit, but Rome is new to me. My Latin has proven, for once, to be a useful language. Today we visited Pompeii, and the rebuilt ruins far exceeded our expectations: you behold something that seems frozen in time (the moment the town was engulfed in volcanic ash), but which at a longer regard is an accretion of two centuries of wanting the place to seem as if it existed in such timelessness. That is, visiting the ruins is as much about nineteenth-century Grand Tours and desires for a unsullied classical age as it is learning about life in a Roman seaside city. And of course this city shows (if you look hard enough) its former lives as a Greek, Samnite, Etruscan space -- as an impure, cosmopolitan, ever-changing settlement.

Pictured at left are two aspiring archeologists, who were in bliss as we wandered the ruins. Each would from time to time glance nervously at nearby Vesuvius, to ensure that it wasn't about to erupt again, and turn us into cavities in the ash into which future explorers would pour plaster to create an unwilling memento mori.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alexander Penetrated and Undone: Queer Orientations in the Old English "Letter of Alexander to Aristotle"


As indicated in an earlier post, I still owe ITM readers a second installment on my impressions of and reflections upon the seminar on the life-work of Leo Bersani, "Reading Leo Bersani: A Retrospective," organized by Th(e)eories: Critical Theory and Sexuality Studies, and that really is coming [for real; no more lies], but in the meantime I want to share with everyone here my paper from the International Medieval Congress [University of Leeds; 13-16 July 2009], "Alexander Penetrated and Undone: Queer Orientations in the Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle," which, in many respects, was heavily influenced by the time I spent at University College Dublin just a few weeks before with Leo Bersani and queer company. Please forgive its somewhat pell-mell nature/organization, as it represents my first stab at this text, which I might remind everyone is contained in the British Library, Vitellius A.xv manuscript, Nowell codex, where it is situated with five other texts: a fragmentary life of St. Christopher, the Wonders of the East, Beowulf, and Judith. I do not think the placement of this text alongside Beowulf is at all capricious or accidental, and would even go so far as to argue that there is a connection, via this text, between Beowulf and his Geats and the Scythians of Herodotus's Histories, but I leave that more full argument for another day. Herewith, the paper, as read at Leeds, with just a few emendations:

Alexander Penetrated and Undone: Queer Orientations in the Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coming Twitterific Attractions: Leeds Live Blog IV and V


Just a quick note here to say that there will be two more Leeds Congress sessions live-blogged by me today and tomorrow:

Session 1201, New Voices in Anglo-Saxon Studies, I: Bodily Matters and Material Ruins in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Culture

Session 1501, Pagans and Sexuality, I: Exemplars

Leeds Live Blog III: Unorthodox Beings Inhabiting Liminal Moments and Spaces

Figure 1. The Swamp of Sadness


In yet another Twitterific installment of live-blogging sessions at the Leeds Congress, I give you my Twitter posts from yesterday [Tuesday], when I attended the second session sponsored by the Mearcstapa group [Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application] and the Glasgow Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies:

Unorthodox Beings II: Inhabiting Liminal Moments and Spaces
Organizer and Moderator: Asa Simon Mittman [California State University, Chico]

"Torture and Orthodoxy in Late Medieval Hagiography"
Larissa Tracy [Longwood University, Virginia]

'The door immediately gave way': Heroes, Monsters, and the 'Contested Doorway' in Beowulf and Medieval Northern Literature"
Justin Noetzel [Saint Louis University, Missouri]

Teratology and Gynecology: Menstrual Fluid and Monsters in Pseudo Albertus Magnus's De secretis mulierum"
Sarah Alison Miller [Duquesne University, Pennsylvania]

And now Kat Tracy and torture and late medieval hagiography. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Kat [Larissa] is interested in the interest in torture in hagiography and its relation to medieval law. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Torture may have backfired and invited dissent against the Church. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

The images of the torture of saints at the hands of pagan inquisitors was deeply embedded in the medieval psyche. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Vernacular hagiography may have established dangerous precedents of resistance which heterodox Church dissenters could have exploited. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

In other words, these narratives of torture could have provided models of heroic resistance which might have sustained accused heretics. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Authority of Church versus heretics therefore becomes a fluid concept. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

This extended to the sphere of civil government. From romance [hagiography] to the political sphere, so to speak. Literature provided models of resistance. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Waldensians, and Cathars, for example, could emulate the steadfastness of the saints. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

The use of real torture against heretics only reinforced their symbolic/real connections to early martyrs that they themselves claimed. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Abuses of the actual legal rules on torture only further emboldened the populace in its distrust of judicial authority. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Kat is drawing upon Daniel Baraz's work on medieval cruelty, which really is excellent work. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

And now Justin Noetzel on doorways as contested spaces in Beowulf and in medieval Scandinavian literature. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Begins by recounting a saga ghost story about a woman in the larder--a ghost--who served food to visitors who were not treated well by the hosts. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

The doorway in this literature possesses power. This is related to ancient folktales where the door represents the last line of human defense against the outside world, including monsters. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Since both humans and monsters possess houses with doors, they serve as uncanny doubles to each other. [about 20 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Do these doorways represent a form of nostalgia for a convivial domesticity that is always an object of violence and destruction? [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

The victory of the good guy is always uncertain in these fights that take place in domestic spaces. Hence, the grappling and wrestling [intimate/extimate combat in intimate spaces]. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

These struggles are physically intimate: Justin now narrates Grettir's fight with the troll/ghost Glaumr, and of course Beowulf's two Grendelkin fights. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

But we should be cautious in equating all of Beowulf's fights to each other, or to Grettir's. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Glaumr, for example, straddles an entire house, struggling to destroy the entire human edifice and everyone inside. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Beowulf and Grendel, however, straddle each other on the inside of the house. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

In Beowulf, there is great emphasis on Grendel's violence to the hall's door. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Grendel literally pulls open the hall's mouth, which is like a predatorial ripping apart of the jaw of human culture. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

But Grendel also tries to get through that same door when Beowulf has Grendel's shoulder in his grip. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

In a sense, the monster has a better fighting chance on the outside. Grettir knows that Glaumr is more powerful outside. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

This is why the mere is a more dangerous space for Beowulf than Heorot. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

In one saga, a man asks to be buried standing up in his kitchen doorway where he can still control entry to his house and the larder after death. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

There are actual door-courts in some sagas, where domestic property suits could be settled, but we have no evidence of these in reality.about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific

The dead are subject to the same legal statutes as the living in door-courts, which involve disputes with ghosts [typically about entry back into the house]. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Here is some "doorway wisdom" from Grettir's Saga: "peril waits at a man's door, though another goes in before.... [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

.... You should consider what fate you yourself will meet in the end." [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

And now Sarah Alison Miller and teratology and gynecology. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Menstrual fluid and monsters in Pseudo Albertus Magnus's De secretis mulierum. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

This and other treatises like it purported to describe women's secret body parts/areas that were technically "out of bounds" and monstrous but also peculiarly attractive. E. Grosz: women's bodies encapsulate modes of seepage. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Women's bodies, similar to other monstrous bodies, escaped normal boundary markers-- they could not be contained. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Menstrual fluid demonstrated [to these medieval medical writers] how the woman's/monster's body threatens other bodies. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

So-called monstrous births revealed the woman's body's potential to broach territories in frightening ways. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Menstrual fluid was seen as something that, if retained in the body too long, threatened the supposed "balance" of women's physiology. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Pseudo Albertus warns men against intercourse with menstruating women. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Commentators A and B go further and even accuse women of sometimes mutilating themselves with iron instruments in order to bleed from the inside and thereby poison their genitals and sexual partners. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Okay--seriously, this is difficult to listen to. Let's pause to consider my Hermes tie. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Okay; breathe. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Pseudo Albertus appears to be more generous in his commentary than the commentators A and B. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Fetal deformities are associated with women's unnatural sexual practices. Again: this is Commentators A and B, not Psuedo Albertus. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific ].

Commentator A recommends women lie 100% still during and after sex in order to not disturb the proper position of the man's seed. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Yay: my favorite position. Lying still, like a corpse. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

These hysterical responses/reactions to women's bodies is a reaction to the abjection of ALL bodies and subjectivities, and maternal bodies especially threaten the splitting of the self [pace Kristeva]. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

And therefore, in these treatises, what is most familiar [our bodies, and even our mothers' bodies] becomes, by a strange conversion, monstrous: the monster is YOU. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Q and A: Mary Kate Hurley asks Justin if a doorway says that, on the outside, is chaos. Invokes role of Janus on Roman doorways. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Mary Kate: Is the classical figure of chaos a kind of precursor to later medieval monsters? [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Some really interesting dialogue with Sarah on abjection and whether or not we can ever say we could be BEFORE or after abjection. Likely not. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Julie Orlemanski asks Kat if torture was less of a problem in England than on the Continent? [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Kat says torture in South English Legendary is horrific, likely because real torture was not allowed under English law until Henry VIII. [about 19 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Monday, July 13, 2009

Leeds Live Blog II

by J J Cohen

My talk is over (hooray!) (what will I obsess about now?) (don't worry I will think of something). 

Other than my accidentally hurling a microphone at the audience, I think it went well. You can catch the telegraphed version via Eileen Joy's Twitter feed. Yes, she sat in the front row and reduced my talk into a series of 140 character tweets. I've never seen a digit move so swiftly: it was like finger ballet.

Leeds Live Blog II: "Between Christian and Jew"

Figure 1. Medieval Lincoln


The way I see it, if Irina Dumitrescu wants something, you do it for her. Absolutely. Every. Time. In Jeffrey's previous post, "Leeds Live Blog I," where Jeffrey detailed some of his pre-Leeds Congress plenary jitters, Irina asked, "Can I convince anyone to facebook/tweet-blog the talk? Because that would be amazing." Oh yeah, Irina, we can do that for sure. Below is my Twitter feed from the University of Leeds, Weetwood Hall, at approximately 9:45 a.m. onwards, when Jeffrey stepped up to the podium to deliver his talk, "Between Christian and Jew: Orthodoxy, Violence, and Living Together in Medieval England":

And now: here comes to the podium our beloved Jeffrey Cohen. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

We begin with Gerald of Wales and his Jewish miracle tales. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Especially Jewish doubting stories. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

The story about a Jew who mocks St Frideswide's miracles in a parody of orthodoxy, then hangs himself. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Stories such as these, regardless of their rhetorical intentions, challenged Christian self-assurance. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

For Gerald, Jew = mocking unbeliever. A Christian fantasy. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

"The Jew is an intrusion into modernity of a superceded past" (direct quote). [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

But Christians and Jews also lived side by side in large cities and were domestic intimates. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific; a later aside: Jeffrey also reminded us, though, that for the Jews, the fact that Christians could always come in and take away, and even destroy their home, was always an omnipresent threat]

Can we then find alternative narratives that would free Jews from their "typological amber"? [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Jeffrey now turns to Matthew Paris's account of the boy-martyr Hugh of Lincoln. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific]

This is the prototypical mocking/heretical Jew story. [about 6 hours ago from Twitterrific; a later aside: which of course always ends in the confession/shaming of the Jew who will die a horrible, self-inflicted or other kind of death]

The "guilty" Jew confesses to a Christian fantasy. But this reading is a typical lachrymose historicist narrative that connects Lincoln ... [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

... to the Holocaust. What else is there? Now we turn to Mandeville. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Mandeville is such a cosmopolitan he finds a way to praise children-eating islanders. Buy as to the Jews... [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific] we have the story of the Jews trapped/hidden in the mountain who will come out in the end-days to try to kill Christians. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific; a later aside: the Caucasus Mountains]

Mandeville's urbane generosity toward foreign peoples seems to disappear in his narrative on the Jews in the mountain. But is there another way... [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific] read this episode via Gil Harris's idea of polychronicity? [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Jeffrey wants to think of near-dwelling and neighbor-ness in a context of thick temporalities. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Amazingly, Jeffrey finds brief glances of domestic nearness betwen Christians and Jews in Gerald and Matthew. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific; a later aside: these are only glimpses and even less than brief moments, or perhaps "views," as if seen through a narrow window, but their existence is telling as regards the "other" lives Christians and Jews were experiencing *beside* each other]

What happens between Christian and Jew in these small, domestic interspaces (2 boys playing together) when orthodox differences break down? [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

How do these lived, domestic spaces help to make the strange familiar and open onto the possibility of amity? [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

Urban adjacency may have led to neighborliness. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

But there was also Jewish ire against the Christian neighbor, even fantasies of an end-apocalypse in which all Christians would be destroyed. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific; a later aside: the ground-breaking work of the Jewish scholar Israel Jacob Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb, is instructive on this much-neglected point in Jewish-Christian history]

In this scenario, the anti-Christ marks a place of betweeness/sameness in which we can see a complex, intimate tension between Christian and Jew. [about 5 hours ago from Twitterrific]

I did not get to tweet Jeffrey's conclusion, mainly because I was really trying to hear everything at that point without looking down too much at my iPhone, but in short, it was something like, "perhaps these fantasies, however violent they may have been, in both the Christian and Jewish imaginary, may have provided some kind of release of tension. In this scenario, the future holds out a space of a different relationality-to-come."

It was terrific fun to do this, and if ITM readers wants more of it, I'll do my best to try and accommodate. Cheers, Eileen in Leeds

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leeds Live Blog I

by J J Cohen

The good news: I have arrived safely in Leeds. The bad news: I deliver my keynote tomorrow, so readers who have enjoyed my prolonged agonizing over the talk here at ITM, on Facebook and on Twitter must now face the fact that all good things come to an end.

I ran into a fellow American medievalist at Bodlington Hall who bragged that British Airways had offered her a $99 upgrade to Club World, where she was given her own sleeping cube. I was not offered such an upgrade by the airline, but by way of recompense they did give me an aisle seat next to a woman who gyrated her hips in her sleep in a way that perpetually crossed into the personal space of the college professor to her right. The passenger by the window meanwhile rang for the flight attendant every thirty minutes to request apple juice. Oddly enough he never peed, but to make up for it the hip gyrating personal space violating passenger awoke shortly after each juice delivery to head for the lavatory.

The hotel room that I have been given in Weetwood Hall is, in two words, quite nice. The bed is huge, the room is huge, and there is a tea kettle, a French press coffee maker, and more biscuits than even a glutton like me can devour. On Saturday afternoon I took the local bus into Leeds proper and walked around the arcades and Cornmarket. It was too late in the day for the art museum, but watching the people of the city on their Saturday errands was pleasure enough. I ate dinner, had some pretty good beer, and returned to my room to call home and head off to slumberland early.

Jet lag usually manifests as a mixture of homesickness and insomnia for me, so before I climbed into bed I popped the Ambien that my kind wife had given me from her stash. I know some people sleepwalk or bake cakes while under that drug’s influence, but not me: at some point late in the night I turned on my computer and made edits to my Leeds lecture. I lost consciousness holding down the return button and added about twenty pages of spaces to the speech. I then turned off the computer without saving anything. The next day I remembered EXACTLY what edits I had made (the holding of the return button, the changing of “chewed out” to “scolded,” some shortening of paragraphs). In a coffee shop later in the day I made the actual changes and saved them. Despite the sleep-editing I did wake up refreshed, and even took a run around Headingley, a village that it would be difficult for a medievalist not like: "In Viking times, Headingley was the centre of the wapentake of Skyrack, or "Shire Oak". Or so Wikipedia tells me. Two pubs are named after this oak, and I ran by both this morning: I will return and report if anyone with a horned hat lurks inside.

Tomorrow at 9 AM my “Between Christian and Jew” finally gets delivered. I’ve been living with the project so long that it will feel good to release some form of the project into the world. Wish me luck. Wish the audience luck as well.

Eileen just phoned that she has arrived, and that I should buy a pitcher of vodka and meet her at a nearby pub. That’s where I’m headed, but I will substitute tap water for her vodka because I really don’t think she can tell the difference.

If I can, I will try to blog some more of the conference as it unfolds.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Personals for the Fictionally Forlorn Redux: Sou'wester (Spring 2009)


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?

Some readers may recall a short story I wrote expressly for In The Middle just this past winter, "Personals for the Fictionally Forlorn." The story has been revised and expanded [to include entries for Edmund from King Lear and Anna Karenina] and is now published in old-fashioned print in the Spring 2009 issue of the literary journal Sou'wester. The fiction editor, Valerie Vogrin, is extending a free copy of the issue, which she will happily mail by the antique method of postal conveyance, to any readers of In The Middle or members of the BABEL Working Group who might be interested. Any and all requests can be sent to her at:

Leedsward Bound

by J J Cohen

Four of your intrepid ITM Bloggers are on their way to the IMC at Leeds (clicking that link brings you to an overview interview with Axel E. W. Müller).

At Leeds this year: Eileen Joy, Mary Kate Hurley, moi, and Tiny Himself (he doesn't know it, but he isn't traveling first class: I am stowing him with my toiletries).

Hope to see some readers there.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Inevitable Result of Being a Medievalist's Child

by J J Cohen

Your offspring will one day surprise you by having purchased a miniature Neolithic chambered tomb for our spiny tailed lizard, Spike.

Peer closely at the picture at left and you can see Spike dozing contentedly in his new domicile.

OK, enough procrastination: I need to pack for Leeds.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Congratulations to our winning poster

by J J Cohen

John Chapman's design won, by popular acclaim. Thank you to everyone who participated!

All were thoughtful and inspiring entries ... and thank all who submitted for their labor, creativity and time.

CFP: Theorizing the Borders: Scotland and the Shaping of Identity in Medieval Britain

by J J Cohen

I met Katherine Terrell a few years back when she invited me to give a paper at Hamilton College. She contributed a terrific essay to Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages, on "Subversive Histories: Strategies of Identity in Scottish Historiography." Now she and Mark Bruce are assembling their own collection, on Scotland and Britain. Interested? Email Katherine and let her know: The collection looks like it will be a very important one.
One of the most fascinating current conversations in medieval studies concerns the application of post-colonial theory and border studies to the literature and culture of medieval Britain. Since the 2000 publication of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s The Postcolonial Middle Ages, several studies have addressed the creation and manifestation of bordered identities in medieval texts. However, while these studies have tended to couch the question of liminal identities in terms of England’s relationship with neighboring others such as the Irish and Welsh, internal others such as England’s (present or past) Jewish population, and more distant others like Muslims of the Middle East, there have been few studies of England’s nearest and arguably most contentious other: Scotland. Texts that originate in the Anglo-Scottish marches, as well as texts that actively seek to negotiate Anglo-Scottish cultural and political relations, offer some of the most fruitful occasions for the exploration of medieval borders, nationalism, and identity formation.

However, despite the recent growth in medieval Scottish studies, the last book devoted to a general exploration of cross-border literary influences was Gregory Kratzman’s Anglo-Scottish Literary Relations 1430-1550 (Cambridge University Press, 1980); Rhiannon Purdie and Nicloa Royan’s collection on The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend (Boydell Press, 2005) only begins to fill the gap. Anglo-Scottish relations have received more comprehensive attention from historians: for example in the work of Robin Frame and of Rees Davies, and in Andy King and Michael Penman’s recent collection, England and Scotland in the Fourteenth Century: New Perspectives (Boydell Press, 2007). Yet scholarship on cross-border literary relations, as well as work that addresses the interrelations between the literature and history of the two nations, remains scattered and underrepresented.

The proposed anthology, Theorizing the Borders: Scotland and the Shaping of Identity in Medieval Britain, will explore the roles that Scotland and England play in one another’s imaginations, addressing such questions as: How do subjects on both sides of the border define themselves in relation to one another? In what ways do they influence each other’s sense of historical, cultural, and national identity? What stories do they tell about one another, and to what ends? When do texts produced on the Anglo-Scottish border reify or critique mainstream notions of Scottish and English identities? How does the shifting political balance—as well as the shifting border—between the two kingdoms complicate notions of Scottishness and Englishness? When do hybrid categories come into being? We envision this as an interdisciplinary collection, bringing together literary scholars and historians working on both Scotland and England, with the goal of advancing scholarship on medieval Anglo-Scottish relations and the formation of identity.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hidden Treasures at the Met Museum

by Irina Dumitrescu

Tucked into a fold of the cavernous Metropolitan Museum of Art, a three-room exhibition of medieval manuscript drawings entitled “Pen and Parchment: Drawing in the Middle Ages” is on display until August 23, 2009. Despite the exhibition’s flowery review in the New York Times, these faded books draw few visitors in comparison with the epic Francis Bacon retrospective on the same floor of the Met. Still, medievalists will find unexpected, and unexpectedly breathtaking, treasures among them.

The collection is a particular treat for the Anglo-Saxonist. Saint Dunstan’s Classbook is on display, opened to the well-known image of the tiny monk Dunstan bowing to a brobdignagian Christ. Byrhtferth’s computus diagram fills an entire page of Oxford, Saint Johns’ College MS 17. A tenth or eleventh-century English copy of Prudentius’ Psychomachia is illustrated by eighty-nine stately images. The Arenberg Gospels, the Sherborne Pontifical, and the Bury Saint Edmonds Psalter offer examples of the dynamic and finely-detailed line drawing we know from the Utrecht Psalter. (Looking at these images I realised what the strange grace of slouching angels in undulating robes reminded me of – the “broken doll” look of a Vogue editorial model!) As if that weren’t enough, the Harley Psalter is also here in New York, unbelievably fine and brilliantly coloured. I had only ever seen enlarged black-and-white reproductions of Harley Psalter images, and thought them rough and unimpressive. Seeing the Harley in person, I realised that the exquisite lines of its drawings simply do not survive magnification, and that much of the dynamic quality of the figures results from their vivid, almost playful, colouring. Ironically but perhaps unsurprisingly, the occasional reproductions and magnifications of manuscripts on the exhibit walls were never as vibrant as the real thing.

I fell in love with other pieces as well. A ninth or tenth-century copy of the First Book of Maccabees from St. Gall features energetic battle scenes, with orange, yellow, blue, and green shields popping like bright Easter eggs from the manuscript page. A long scroll of Peter of Poitiers’ The Compendium of History through the Genealogy of Christ demonstrates that medieval artists would have appreciated flow charts and Power Point. The Sawley Map lets us imagine a world in which Europe is not at the top. And a twelfth-century English copy of Terence begins with an author portrait of the playwright and a drawing of thirteen theatrical masks waiting for use in a cupboard. While Terence looks expressionless at the reader, the masks practice a ghoulish variety of grimaces.

It is probably a mistake to follow up an exhibition on the glorious but quiet achievements of early medieval art with a Francis Bacon retrospective. Bacon’s paintings, overwhelming in both size and traumatic force, have a tendency to push anything else out of my consciousness. (And as they do so, they prove Mary Carruthers’ point about violent imagery and memory much better than any medieval manuscript could.) Still, looking at the ways in which Bacon painted people and people-parts in cages, seeing how one version of Bacon’s Pope Innocent is trapped in interlocking cages and bars, I understood some of the strange, subtle power of medieval images. Among the diagrams in the “Pen and Parchment” exhibition are a German consanguinity chart, entirely contained within the body of Adam, and a diagram by Opicinus de Canistris in which the universal church is drawn within one man’s body. These diagrams are curious to the modern eye, but they offer us a radically optimistic vision of a universe in which lines and boxes create order within the human, rather than fencing him in. In Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Francis Bacon opens up the human body and forces us to examine its grotesquely confused innards. In his diagram of the church, Opicinus places the crucifixion within a whole and unblemished body; he acknowledges human suffering, but shows us a way to find the meaning beyond it.

[thank you, Irina, for this fantastic guest post -- JJC]

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Postcard from London, via Reykjavik

by Mary Kate Hurley

[Iceland -- the best layover ever]

One of the myriad things I'm doing this summer is researching Aelfric's Saints Lives in London at the British Library. Yes: I am actually consulting manuscripts, which is a new and exciting research prospect for me. I've been extremely lucky in terms of funding the trip: the Medieval Academy of America generously awarded me the E.K. Rand Dissertation Grant, one of several dissertation grants which they award each year.

Of course, I'll have a lot to say about the actual process of consulting the manuscripts (and I hope to blog a bit about Leeds, which I'll be attending next week, as well). But for now I have a quick question that I'd like to put to all you Norse specialists out there.

On my way over to London, I had a 10-hour layover in Reykjavik. Just enough time to trek all over the city (I was there mostly for the landscape -- museums and manuscripts are always interesting, but I was more intrigued by the land than the stuff from those who've lived on it), and then to head back for a short stay at the unofficial waiting area for Keflavik Airport travelers.

What caught my attention, however, was on the bus rides to and from Keflavik, where I found myself intrigued by these bizarre rock formations:

Now, I've tried googling them, and although I've found a few references, finding something specific about the structures is a bit difficult. So: anything strike you, dear readers? Some half-remembered fragment of a story from graduate school days past (long past or recently past...)? These seem like a lovely addition to the many other stones we've discussed here at ITM.

cross posted to OENY

Saturday, July 04, 2009

York 1190 Poster Contest

by J J Cohen

As announced previously, we are running a poster contest for the conference York 1190: Jews and Others in the Wake of Massacre. The conference will be held at the University of York in March 2010.

Please take a moment, follow this link, and choose which poster you prefer (some are in multiple versions: choose the version you like best). They all have much to commend, but you can vote for only one. Fell free to leave your reasons for your choice in the comments to this post.

Voting is completely anonymous and the poll closes Wednesday July 8 at 5 PM Eastern Time. Thank you to everyone who submitted a poster!

Queer Movie Medievalisms

by J J Cohen

Out (so to speak) this month. I blurbed this a while back so I got to read the galleys: it's a solid collection of essays that accomplishes innovative work. You'll also notice many ITM favorite writers here as well.

From the Ashgate website, where you can download the introduction and ToC:

How is history even possible, since it involves recapturing a past already lost? It is through this urge to understand, feel and experience, that films based on medieval history are made. They attempt to re-create the past, but can only do so through a queer re-visioning that inevitably replicates modernity. In these mediations between past and present, history becomes misty, and so, too, do constructions of gender and sexuality leading to the impossibility of heterosexuality, or of any sexuality, predicated upon cinematic medievalism. Queer Movie Medievalisms is the first book of its kind to grapple with the ways in which mediations between past and present, as registered on the silver screen, queerly undercut assumptions about sexuality throughout time. It will be of great interest to scholars of Gender and Sexuality, Cultural and Media Studies, Film Studies and Medieval History.

Introduction: queer history, cinematic medievalism, and the impossibility of sexuality, Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh; The law of the daughter: queer family politics in Bertrand Tavernier's La Passion Béatrice, Lisa Manter; Queering the Lionheart: Richard I in The Lion in Winter on stage and screen, R. Barton Palmer; 'He's not a ardent suitor, is he, brother?': Richard the Lionheart's ambiguous sexuality in Cecil B. DeMille's The Crusades (1935), Lorraine Kochanske Stock; 'In the company of orcs': Peter Jackson's queer Tolkein, Jane Chance; The Eastern Western: camp as a response to cultural failure in The Conqueror, Anna Klosowska; 'In my own idiom': social critique, campy gender, and queer performance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Susan Aronstein; Performance, camp, and queering history in Luc Besson's Jeanne d'Arc, Susan Hayward; Sean Connery's star persona and the queer Middle Ages, Tison Pugh; Will Rogers' pink spot: A Connecticut Yankee (1931), Kathleen Coyne Kelly; Danny Kaye and the 'fairy tale' of queerness in The Court Jester, Martha Bayless; Mourning and sexual difference in Hans-Jürgen Syberbergs's Parsifal, Michelle Bolduc; Superficial medievalism and the queer futures of film, Cary Howie; Afterword, Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger; Index.

About the Editors:
Kathleen Coyne Kelly is Professor of English at Northeastern University, USA; Tison Pugh is Associate Professor of English at the University of Central Florida, USA

'Through readings of films familiar and obscure, foreign and domestic, recent and classic, Queer Movie Medievalisms challenges us to think deeply about how heterosexuality works and how it inevitably fails, about how a film offers not just multiple points of audience identification but multiple cohabitating times. A superb collection of essays, with an especially provocative afterword by Glenn Burger and Steve Kruger. I commend Tison Pugh and Kathleen Coyne Kelly for producing so valuable and timely a volume.'
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, George Washington University, USA

'Queer Movie Medievalisms stands alone in the intense and far-ranging (pink) spotlight it deploys to examine cinematic encounters with the so-called "Dark Ages." Combining impeccable scholarship and enthusiastic engagement, the essays in this volume consider how "the medieval" becomes a destabilizing queer space for a range of American and European stars and films.'
Alex Doty, Indiana University, USA

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

postmedieval: cover design


EDIT Thursday, 7/2: I have replaced image at left with the "real" final cover, and this is a much higher-resolution image than the previous one [so click on it and check it out!]. Again: thanks so much to everyone who helped with this.

[FIRST: please don't miss Jeffrey's post on the new book in Ashgate's Queer Interventions series, Jewish/Christian/Queer]

Thanks to everyone who helped us with the cover designs for postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, we are now edging closer to the design for volume 1 [issue nos. 1-3]; the overall template will stay the same but different images will be dropped in for the separate volumes [possibly for each issue--haven't quite decided that yet]. But in any case, click on the image on the right to see the fullest possible resolution of the image. We want to give special notes of gratitude to Karl Steel and Anne Clark Bartlett [suggested making the cathedral or sky pink], Anna Klosowska [suggested the punk, bleeding, unevenly-edged manual typewriter font], Christina Fitzgerald [warned us against designs that screamed clove cigarette-smoking graphic design students who are too cool for themselves], Michael O'Rourke [suggested, via Reza Negarestani, a pink that comes "after red," and via Kristen Alvanson, simply urged deep, rich pinks upon us with these words of Alvanson: "Pink magnolias, NYPL, NYBG, cherry blossoms in DC more pink...a fleshed out nipple, a bleeding heart, little girls' pink velvet ribbons, pink spaces, pink lights, my entryway and upstairs foyer bright pink glaze, a pink cashmere sweater set, Christos' pink, pink blush, or the lack of need for blush cotton candy Pink poodles or pink cats pink cover... Read More of Laches the most perfect shade of pink lipstick pink cd holders pink pearl necklace pink pearl earrings pink camisole pink highlighter pink Christmas lights and pink flowers- peonies, tulips, Christmas Cactus in bloom in my room, pinkish lilac, pink hydrangea, pink rose of sharons, rare pink poppies, carpet roses, spinning in pink flowers...begonia, spider flowers, cosmos, sweet peas, toadflax, moonwort, petunias, phlox!, butterfly flower, sun moss, wax pink, lilies, caprifloiaceae, pink wisteria, malvaceae, oyster plant in pink, foxglove, caryophyllaceae, heather, theaceae, magnolias, chinese crab apple flash by my eyes, Pink torrent"], Martee Edwards Davis [not a medievalist but a friend from elementary and junior high school who has experience in graphic design; suggested we put our thematic question on the cover and to also go for an edgier pink/red], and finally, Liza Blake [suggested that the pink used to color in cathedral or sky be a lighter shade of border color]. And if I missed anyone: my apologies!

One thing left to do will be to smudge out the tiny bit of another building that you can see poking out behind the modern Selfridges building in Birmingham. I will note here, because I didn't before, that the location of this photograph is of great symbolic importance in relation to the journal's vision and mission. The reason is that, first, Birmingham, as I'm sure everyone already knows, is where cultural studies was first founded as an academic discipline in 1964 when Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall, and others helped to found and direct the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. Second, the skyline of downtown Birmingham, from many angles, includes striking contrasts between the past and the present, the gothic and the sleekly modern, the feudal and the industrial. Third, because the Selfridges building was designed by Future Systems, who described the exterior design scheme this way:
The skin is made up of thousands of aluminium discs, creating a fine, lustrous grain like the scales of a snake or the sequins of a Paco Rabanne dress. In sunlight it shimmers, reflecting minute changes in weather conditions and taking on the colours, light and shapes of people and things passing by - an animate and breathing form.
Id est: the human and the machine and the animal combined. And finally, because the cathedral spire you see in this photo belongs to St Martins, a church in downtown Birmingham that has a rich, multi-layered architectural history, we could not think of a more appropriate architectural "site" for a journal that wants to emphasize inter- and post- and "middle" temporalities. Here is how the photographer, who goes by "richardr" on flickr. com, describes the church's building history:
St Martin’s is the ancient parish church of Birmingham and historically it is the Mother Church of Birmingham. It is generally considered that a church was built on this site in the mid 12th century. In the 13th century a large sandstone church was built which was only about fifty feet shorter than the present building. It had a central nave and two aisles with three altars at the East end and a tower. The spire was built a few years later. By 1690 the stonework was crumbling and the whole church was consequently encased in red brick, with the exception of the spire. Various attempts were made to restore the church but the most successful was 1873-75 under the direction of J. A. Chatwin, who had been one of Pugin’s assistants in the building of the Houses of Parliament. His plan was to retain the recently restored tower and spire and build onto them a new church, with north and south transepts, in the Gothic tradition. The interior is faced with red sandstone from Codsall Quarry, the exterior of the building being of Derbyshire and Grimshall stone.

In 1950, during Canon Bryan Green’s rectorship, in order to rectify bomb damage sustained in World War II, a significant restoration scheme was implemented under the supervision of Philip B. Chatwin, son of the architect who built the 19th century church. The chapel of the ancient Guild of the Holy Cross was restored. The building has some outstanding features including a unique stained glass window by William Morris designed by Edward Burne-Jones in 1877, their first in Birmingham, and a magnificent hammer-beam roof weighing 93 tons, which is believed to be modelled on the medieval Westminster Hall.
And one last thing: when everyone gets "back to school" in August, please tell your university or college library that you simply can't live--indeed, will throw yourself down on the ground and cry and scream--if they don't purchase a subscription to postmedieval. More information on how to make that happen can be found here. [I might also point out that a special discount will be offered to all members of the BABEL Working Group, so if you haven't gotten around to joining BABEL, why not do so now by sending an email to me at]


by J J Cohen

The amazing Queer Interventions series at Ashgate (ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O'Rourke) has just published a collection of essays entitled Jewish/Christian/Queer: Crossroads and Identities. Edited by Frederick Roden, the volume
investigates three forms of queerness; the rhetorical, theological and the discursive dissonance at the meeting points between Christianity and Judaism; the crossroads of the religious and the homosexual; and the intersections of these two forms of queerness, namely where the religiously queer of Jewish and Christian speech intersects with the sexually queer of religiously identified homosexual discourse.
If you follow the link above, you may browse the table of contents and download Roden's excellent introduction. MOR was kind enough to send me a copy of the "Series's Editors Preface." "Cross-Identifications" is short but quite rich, with observations like this, about openness and neighboring:
What Jewish/Christian/Queer shows us is that the deconstruction of seemingly mutually exclusive identities need not necessarily be a violent operation. Rather, it can make generous and generative space for a kind of openness, to others, to alterity, to racial, gendered, sexual and religious difference. If the Jew, the Christian, and the queer can be shown to neighbour each other, as each of the essays which follows demonstrates, then we can begin to foster ways in which it is possible, in the current politico-historical conjuncture, to love one’s neighbour. The very ethical stakes of the encounter the title of this collection stages hinge upon nothing less.
Cross-identification can foster a "non-assimilating openness to alterity." But the move is not without risks: "Such critical and identificatory porosity is a huge risk, of course, because it gives up on what seem like hard-won identities in favour of impure, mongrel, hybridised identity positions." Following Jean-Luc Nancy, O'Rourke and Giffney call this process dis-enclosing: an "opening up, a blossoming."

I want to quote the ending paragraph of the Preface because it captures eloquently how neighboring might be thought in terms larger than those of mere spatial adjacency. In my current research I have been exploring how the region between Christian and Jew can become in the Middle Ages a space (however volatile, however fragile) of interchange and mutual transformation, a place where heteropraxis undermines orthodoxy. O'Rourke and Giffney write of the necessity of such spaces for neighboring today:
For both Judaism and Christianity the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is canonical and an ethico-moral imperative. Alain Badiou has reworked the question of the neighbour in terms of what he calls ‘neighbourhood’. As Kenneth Reinhard explains it ‘rather than a definition based on topological nearness or shared points of identification, Badiou describes neighbouring in terms of “openness”. A neighbourhood is an open area in a world: a place, subset, or element where there is no boundary, no difference, between the inside of the thing and the thing itself’. For Badiou we choose, we decide, for the sake of universality, to construct a common open area, a ‘new place of universality’. This forcing open, this love, is ‘the decision to create a new open set, to knot two interiorities into a new logic of world, a new neighbourhood’. Roden’s knotting of the Jew, the Christian, and the queer creates an even more expansive open set and for Reinhard ‘an unlimited number of open sets can be united without being closed or totalized. Hence, the neighbourhood opens on infinity, endlessly linking new elements in new subsets according to new decisions and fidelities’. Jewish/Christian/Queer’s refusal to solidify identities, to promiscuously mix disciplines, theories, positions, is a subjective act in the Badiouian sense, a decision to create a new logic of world, one which has never been so urgent as today.

Short piece on Zotero

by J J Cohen

Scott McLemee has an overview of this useful tool for organizing and annotating what you browse on the web. A personal endorsement: the free program has been indispensable to me in sorting and tagging various bits of digital information for both my prehistory and Christian-Jew projects.