Monday, November 30, 2009

CFP: Disney's Medievalisms

Call for Papers: Disney's Medievalisms

From medieval fairs to modern films, the industries of popular culture continually revisit and reinvent the Middle Ages, entertaining audiences while generating a profit.  And Disney's--both Walt's and the Corporation' s -- contribution to this field is virtually unparalleled. From its many "medieval" films (Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, A Kid in King Arthur's Court) to its re-creations of fairy-tale romances (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted), from its architecture of iconic castles to its renovation of outmoded identities (princesses, pirates), Disney¹s multifaceted medievalism is America's most culturally visible monument to the western Middle Ages -- a monument that, like all of Disney's products, has been globally disseminated. However, since Disney's Middle Ages spans from his pre-Mickey retellings of fairy tales, through the studio's early princess films and into 're-writings' of the company's own traditions in more recent films, this monument is itself continually under reconstruction.

Our proposed essay collection "Disney's Medievalisms" will tackle this cultural legacy from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including literary, cinematic, architectural, and sociological. It will address such questions as: How do the Middle Ages figure in Disney's essentially American historical narrative? What do Disney's turns to medievalism reveal about twentieth- and twenty-first-century cultural concerns, and why are the Middle Ages a preferred setting for modern's children entertainment? How do the child and the medieval intersect, and to what end?

Potential contributors should contact Susan Aronstein ( and Tison Pugh ( with 200-word abstracts of their proposals by May 1, 2010. Professor Aronstein is the author of Hollywood Knights: Arthurian Cinema and the Politics of Nostalgia, and Professor Pugh is the author of Queering Medieval Genres and the co-editor of two collections addressing 'medieval' cinema: Race, Class, and Gender in "Medieval" Cinema and Queer Movie Medievalisms.

E. Jane Burns, Sea of Silk

by J J Cohen

Just saw this reviewed by Laura Hodges in TMR. Here is the description from the U Penn Press website:
The story of silk is an old and familiar one, a tale involving mercantile travel and commercial exchange along the broad land mass that connects ancient China to the west and extending eventually to sites on the eastern Mediterranean and along sea routes to India. But if we shift our focus from economic histories that chart the exchange of silk along Asian and Mediterranean trade routes to medieval literary depictions of silk, a strikingly different picture comes into view. In Old French literary texts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, emphasis falls on production rather than trade and on female protagonists who make, decorate, and handle silk.

Sea of Silk maps a textile geography of silk work done by these fictional women. Situated in northern France and across the medieval Mediterranean, from Saint-Denis to Constantinople, from North Africa to Muslim Spain, and even from the fantasy realm of Arthurian romance to the historical silkworks of the Norman kings in Palermo, these medieval heroines provide important glimpses of distant economic and cultural geographies. E. Jane Burns argues, in brief, that literary portraits of medieval heroines who produce and decorate silk cloth or otherwise manipulate items of silk outline a metaphorical geography that includes France as an important cultural player in the silk economics of the Mediterranean.

Within this literary sea of silk, female protagonists who "work" silk in a variety of ways often deploy it successfully as a social and cultural currency that enables them to traverse religious and political barriers while also crossing lines of gender and class.
Looks great, and I intend to add it to my list. Has anyone read it?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flash Review: King Artus


Once you come out of your food coma, and once you've read Michael O'Rourke's review below, you may have to start compiling next semester's syllabi. If you're teaching comp lit, particularly if you're at a school like mine, where a fair number of students read Hebrew and know Rabbinic exegesis, consider teaching King Artus, a late thirteenth-century, Northern Italian fragment of the Arthurian legend written in Hebrew (for a preview, see here). I did a few weeks ago, and I think I can call it a success. We'll see once the research papers come in. More details after the fold...

I had thought that Arthurian scholars already knew this work well, but judging by the available body of criticism--perhaps 5 articles, several of them from the past few years--there's a world of work to be done. The plot itself treats Uther's trickery of Igraine (here called Izerna), Lancelot's lust for Guinevere (here called Zinerva), and the quest for the Holy Grail (here transformed into a Jewish tamchuy, or charity dish).

More fascinating than the lengthy opening apology for secular literature (although this is wonderful) is the translator's many conversions of the story into Biblical and Rabbinic language. Our translator and editor, Curt Leviant, might have followed his own footnote and rendered "This is the history of Sir Lancelot" as "These are the days of the generations of Sir Lancelot"; the text gestures towards the meaning of Lancelot's name with "is it not written in the book concerning him?"; Lancelot swears by "ha-shem," the Name, during a lascivious conversation with Guinevere; and knights during a tournament shout "Praised be the living God!." I'm a little less certain, however, about Leviant's translation of the odd ending of the work: "[there:] fell many knights, one after another like lambs, and [Lancelot:] cut throats of horses like pumpkins." Pumpkins? I'm not qualified to judge Leviant's translation (give it a shot, folks, right here), but pumpkins seems unlikely, since I doubt that pumpkins would have been known to our anonymous author.

The edition comes with a wealth of supplemental material in which Leviant discusses the Judaizing work of the translator, proposes that Malory and this work drew on a common, now lost, source for certain scenes, and, especially, argues against the clever scholars who have traced motifs in the Arthur and Tristan legends to Celtic prehistorical Gods, to subcontinental folk tales, and to classical myth; instead, he says, look closer to home, in the Bible (Uther and Igraine as David and Bathsheba, Tristan and Mark as David and Saul, Tristan and Morholt as David and Goliath, etc.), and in the Midrash, which Christian scholars would have known in the twelfth century through the work of Andrew and Hugh of St Victor and Siegebert of Gemblous (the short essay on likely Christian knowledge of Jewish exegesis in the twelfth century is worth the book itself, and a great place to direct students, since Beryl Smalley's Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages can be intimidating for undergraduates).

Leviat makes a strong case for Biblical roots of several of these "Celtic" legends, noting that details in the David story specific to the Midrash, to Rashi's commentary in particular, appear in the stories of Arthur and Tristan. In some cases, I think he strains his case, but I think a bit of scholarly bomb-throwing is always necessary to shift the paradigm. No doubt scholarship in the 40+ years since Leviant's edition first appeared has refined his point, but I doubt the Celticists--particularly the badly disguised 'white pride' Celtic hobbyists--can ignore the evidence that Jewish storytelling and scholarship at least had something to do with the shape of these tales and their supposed preservation of the 'authentic' pre-Christian past of Europe.

I'd be happier with the edition, however, if it appeared in a larger volume of Jewish medieval narrative and lyric writing. There are fabliaux, fables, and love stories, all of which could be collected in one volume that might cost as much as this one ($25) and thus be more suitable for classroom use in a good Comp Lit course. In the meantime, though, teach it, and keep teaching it, as this might be the best way to realize my dream of the good Jewish anthology necessary for any medieval comp lit survey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkeys and so forth

by J J Cohen

I'm not a big fan of the stench of cooking birds. I also don't love pumpkin pie. You will think I'm being a fundamentalist when I tell you that vegetables do not belong in desserts. Zucchini bread and carrot cakes are listed among the abominations in Leviticus for a good reason: placed within something sweet as a repast's final course, they become matter out of place. To eat them renders one unclean. And don't even get me started on beets, the only vegetable that, because it oozes blood, is actually a meat.

Happy thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unfinished Business: The (Sin)field of Early Modern Queer Studies

by Michael O'Rourke

MOR was kind enough to forward this book review to me. Because it touches subjects we've discussed in the past at ITM, I thought I'd share. The review appears in the spring edition of Sixteenth Century Journal 40.1 (2009): 264-266. [JJC]

Unfinished Business: The (Sin)field of Early Modern Queer Studies

Michael O’Rourke, Dublin.

Queer Studies, both (post)modern and early modern (however problematic those temporal designations and divisions may be) has been turning its attention more and more to questions of temporality, historicity and futurity in recent times. One book in particular, Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004), has sparked a debate which has divided many who work in queer studies (across all periods) into two radically opposed camps. For convenience, we could designate those who have an affirmative faith in the future as the queer optimists and those (following Edelman) who eschew, indeed say ‘fuck you’ to, the future as queer anti-socialists. The problematic as a whole has been dubbed the ‘anti-social thesis’ but might more productively be called the ‘anti-political thesis’ for what matters (and I’m activating all senses of materiality and materialization here) most in this dereliction (or cleaving to) the future is nothing less than the politicality of politics itself. Before posing an alternative (from an early modern queer theorist) to this aggressively negative turn in queer studies it is worth very briefly rehearsing Edelman’s argument. No Future asserts in coruscating prose that queers ought to reject the coercive and inescapable logic of ‘reproductive futurism’, by which he means that the cult of the Child becomes ‘the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention’. The queer, as opposed to the Child who is on the side of life, falls on the side of death, sterility, non-reproductivity. Edelman argues that queers should reject this political logic which privileges the Child as guarantor of a better future (the child Annie is symptomatic here) and embrace a kind of political futility. Queerness for Edelman can only ever disturb or disillusion identity and figures ‘the place of the social order’s death drive’. This position outside of social and political viability is one which queers are urged to positively embrace, to accept this socially unviable position by saying a ‘constant no’, by refusing ‘the coercive belief in the value of futurity’. 

This anti- or non-politics has proved tenacious for queer studies and also been widely ‘embraced’ and ‘accepted’ by many in early modern queer studies (Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon’s work for example) who stubbornly refuse the ‘the insistence of hope itself as affirmation’. Of course, this sense of the queer being associated with death has been there since the very beginning, most notably in the work of Leo Bersani and Jonathan Dollimore and the fact that Edelman has recently been writing about Shakespeare is sure to further insinuate this political negativity into the field.

One viable alternative to this trend is to reinvigorate the ethical and political project of cultural materialism which is most associated with Dollimore and with the founder of the field Alan Sinfield, who has recently argued that cultural materialism has much ‘unfinished business’ left to do. Before moving to the arguments outlined in his book Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality: Unfinished Business in Cultural Materialism (2006) it is worth considering Sinfield’s own response to both Edelman’s book and to the broader anti-social turn in queer studies. In a Radical Philosophy review wittily titled ‘Am I bovver’d? Do I look bovver’d?’ (in which Sinfield is mimicking the English comedienne Catherine Tate) he worries over both the wholesale rejection of the Child and the desertion of the future and political goals: ‘Some queer readers[ that reading is at stake here is what I will go on to demonstrate is of the utmost importance] may suppose, nonetheless, that there is a place for us with children and the future. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals may bear offspring and take part in the rearing of them; they may contribute distinctively’. This, Sinfield avers may be ‘an end in itself’. He goes on to say that ‘The future, meanwhile, though it must include cross-gender coupling, may be focused on other goals too, such as the development of freedom, equality, and justice; we might add artistic accomplishment and the scientific study of nature. Such aspirations may be equally experienced as good in themselves; many people are prepared to die for them. But to Edelman, such negotiations are futile; they buy into heteronormative ideology’. Sinfield is most troubled by what he sees as a ‘reassertion of a defiant anti-assimilationism, rendered ineluctable through an attempted embrace of the so-called death drive’. But in a counter-move Sinfield suggests that we ‘might turn the argument around, however: perhaps reproductive futurism is capturing and abusing other political aspirations and they should be reasserted’.  This contortion of Edelman’s argument, finding its fault line and twisting it away from negative refusal toward an aspirational politics contains all the symptoms of classic Sinfieldian argumentation. Sinfield’s queer readings have always been dissident readings and they share with Edelman an oppositional stance to the status quo, to the hegemonic. But Sinfield’s cultural politics are determined to question that status quo (to question ‘agency and the dominant ideology; author; reader; interventions; and gender and sexuality’) and to intervene so that things might get better. 

Above all Sinfield is a hopeful theorist. In Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality he calls this dissident reading practice ‘reading against the grain’. Drawing most obviously on Foucault, Barthes and Macherey (but also on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick) Sinfield describes this resistant reading practice as breaking with ‘the dominant, affirmative habit of literary criticism’ by engaging in ‘strenuous readings’. Cultural materialist critique, reading against the grain of the text, shares with Edelman’s anti-heteronormaive approach a concern to expose the affirmative habit and a provocation to thought. This differs from Sedgwick’s queer reading practice which Sinfield interrogates here, for Sedgwick ‘resists heteronormative assumptions by refusing marginalization’. Steering a course between Edelman and Sedgwick, Sinfield posits that it is a ‘mistake to regard the grain as a property of the text, for in practice, what Macherey calls the intended meaning is very often the meaning that is consecrated in the hegemonic critical tradition, which has claimed the text for its ideology’. However, despite his de-emphasizing affirmativity what Sinfield is really engaged in here is what Sedgwick has called ‘reparative reading’ a non-paranoid, non-gloomy reading practice anxious to foment a better future.  This model for reparative reading resonates with what Sinfield performs in his review of No Future and provides the tools for what he calls a ‘good, gay reading’ and we might call reiterative reading. Such a queer reading practice would question Edelman’s ‘alternative or oppositional reading’ which works through its ‘tone of self-conscious refusal’. But Sinfield also cautions that the aim is not to ‘replace one reading with another, but to expose the conditions of reading. The aim is to dislocate and disturb, laying bare the implicit ideological assumptions of established practices’. Both Edelman and Sinfield can agree that queerness and queer reading are disturbing and perturbing forces. However,  Edelman’s reading practice is closed to the future while Sinfield’s is perpetually open to it. Far from embracing or blindly accepting anti-sociality Sinfield prompts a ‘critique of patriarchy—its display of oppressiveness and its inability to accommodate a range of human relations—and explores the scope for dissident interpersonal intensities’. That the work of cultural materialism is ‘unfinished’ means that the revivification of cultural materialist criticism is urgent and timely, but that the project is an open one. And at this point it is worth recalling that queer studies was influentially shaped in the 1990s by early modern theorists such as Jonathan Goldberg, Carla Freccero, Carolyn Dinshaw, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stephen Orgel, Jonathan Dollimore, and of course, Sinfield. In the recent writing on temporality the queering of history has paid a great deal of attention to the past and the equally contested present but there has been a dangerous and unethical swerve away from the future. What we can learn from Sinfield’s work past and present is that we need to do justice to the past but also remain open to the unimaginable future. No less than a more equitable, just and democratic future is at stake in such careful, strenuous, and pressured readings. And Sinfield’s ‘unfinished business’ is something early modern queer theorists should be ‘bothered’ about. To paraphrase Slavoj Zizek, the legacy of cultural materialism is very much worth fighting for.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: A Brief and Personal History of In the Middle

by  J J Cohen

[An installation in a noncomprehensive series on the history of medieval-focused blogs. I invite you to leave your ruminations on this history in the comments, especially if you experienced ITM's development differently. I also invite my co-blogges to leave their own accounts, or add to my own.]
During my last sabbatical, I accidentally wrote two books and started a blog. Too much time on my hands.

In the Middle began as on Wednesday January 18 2006. During these somewhat early days of the e-frontier, I had been enjoying reading some blogs medieval in focus (Quod She, Ancrene Wiseass, Blogenspiel, Old English in New York, Unlocked Wordhoard, among others), and some that were not (Michael Berube, University Diaries, Bitch PhD, Dean Dad, Savage Minds, again among others). The sabbatical came at a good time. I'd received my terminal promotion, I did not yet know I was going to be forced at gunpoint to become the next chair of my department, the rest of my life stretched before me without objective or goal. I had a whole semester with no class to teach and no one to advise, so I thought, why not try something new.

Blogger made setting up a new site easy. At first I did little more than cut and paste some obscure publications, hoping to offer them to a wider audience: the blog as Open Access delivery system. Early posts therefore include dictionary and encyclopedia entries as well as fragments from books. My most popular post ever was a work in progress on erotic animals. To this day that piece drives more disappointed Googlers to ITM than any other. Looking back on them now, I don't discern much personality in the posts. They are simply scholarly publications pushed into the world through a novel mechanism, but without a significant change of voice or mode.

But then the comments started.

One of the first people to respond to my posts was Karl Steel, then writing as "Karl the Grouchy Medievalist." He mentioned my infant blog at Quod She, prompting the generous Dr Virago to send many readers my way. My blog took off from there: having people respond, even via pseudonym, to what I e-published prompted me to write more, and to take more risks with what I was disseminating. I quickly christened the blog with its current name to ensure that the focus was on the discussion as much as the posts: it was not my desire to make the site all about me, but to use electronic communication to help envision and maybe even bring into being new kinds of scholarly community. I was especially interested in fostering an interdisciplinary space where hierarchies (grad student versus professor versus interested member of the public) and other sortings endemic to the profession (institutional prestige, geographic location, rank, number of publications in peer reviewed journals) were simply beside the point.

What I posted at ITM continued to be fairly professional in focus and tone. Works in progress were my staple, but every now and then I placed something that contained a shard of biography with its scholarship. On February 8 2006 I mentioned my son Alex for the first time, though not by name. Mostly I focused on what he was reading. Soon, though, fragments of his own writing appeared, and he was joined by his pink-obsessed sister. Though ephemeral, these posts remain among the most important to me. The tone of ITM has changed over the years, becoming a good deal more professional again, so I have moved much of the personal material over to Future Lost Archive and Facebook. But I still enjoy writing about -- and am obsessed with -- the moment of interpretation and those carried in its wake. That is, ficto-criticism.

I was uneasy at first about bringing much that is supposed to be segregated into private life onto ITM. To a degree the weblog form demands it; scholars do not live in disembodied isolation; my friends and my family are my constant collaborators, whether they know that or not; and for reasons I have a hard time articulating, exploring the relation between scholarly practice and lived experience is simply important to me, and a blog offers the ideal form for such exploration.

Eileen Joy made her first appearance on Feb. 24, but only because I was writing an essay for a book she was editing. This afterword turned out to be the first essay I ever composed via the blog. Many other such essays would follow (e.g. here and here). In 2006 many academics were worried that blogs were a distraction from the real work of scholarship. A month after starting to blog I knew that the form could be a catalyst to productivity, as well as a new mode of doing engaged work. I was hooked.

I have worried repeatedly, even tediously, about ITM becoming just another stodgy arm of the discipline.

I've never felt a strong sense of ownership over ITM -- meaning that, I have always wanted it to offer a communal space. That's one reason we've had so many guest bloggers: Daniel Kline, Michael O'Rourke, Greg Carrier, Justin Brent, Geoffrey Chaucer. Three of these guests became co-bloggers: Karl Steel, Eileen Joy and Mary Kate Hurley (four, if you count the Tiny Shriner). Working with these three conspirators and friends has been one of the best results of founding ITM. Together we've experimented with what the blog can accomplish: book reviews, syllabi, conference reviews, book clubs, advance notices of publications, accounts of the profession, ephemera, fun links, manifestos, rants, raves, appreciations of lives well lived...

It's been pleasing as well to watch ITM's readership steadily grow. At the moment we have 228 subscribers via Google Reader alone, 51 fans via Facebook, 434 additional visits to the blog each day ... In the Middle reaches many more people than any book or essay I could ever compose.

Not all the sailing has been smooth. Sometimes someone googles himself and doesn't like what he sees. Sometimes having to face the author I am speaking about makes me realize my own failings, especially in tone (I rewrote a snarky part of this essay after an email exchange). From time to time I've taken a post down because it misfired so badly (that doesn't bother me: my mantra is that if you don't sometimes fail, you are playing too safely -- and what is gained by such circumspection?). Longtime readers of In the Middle know that I have had a recurring problem with a commenter. The best I can say is that these troubles resulted in some statements of belief that were good for me to write. Yet I considered ceasing to blog. I'm happy I didn't, but the experience continues to trouble me, even if it seems to have come to its end.

I don't want to end on a negative note. I'd like to think that what I've learned through the blog I've put into practice in the other communities where I've found myself in a leadership position: as chair of my department, as director of MEMSI. I have often stated that much of my pre-blog scholarship has been a series a letters written to unknown receivers. That's a lonely position from which to write. What I love about In the Middle is that the blog reminds me every day of the community for whom I compose, a community of which I am proud to be a member.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Claustrophilia Seminar e-archive

by J J Cohen

I've just posted the presentations from the recent GW MEMSI seminar on Cary Howie's Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature at the institute's website. For a complete list of participants with biographies, go here.

Here are the papers:
Enjoy ... and feel free to leave your comments here or at the MEMSI site.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages:

by Peter Konieczny and Sandra Alvarez

From our ongoing series, a history of electronic medieval studies.

Perhaps its best to begin by saying that is not a blog, or least not a blog like the others on this list. Parts of our site are like a blog, such as the Medieval News section, but it might be best to say we are the media of the Middle Ages.

Peter: My online footprint goes back to 2001, shortly after I decided that I was not going to pursue a PhD program in medieval history, but become a librarian.  I still wanted to remain active in the field of medieval studies, since it is something I really love, and I was looking for a way that I could contribute. The opportunity came when at the business meeting of De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History, we discussed the need to have a website.  I eagerly volunteered for the job, and went home to open Microsoft Frontpage for the first time ever. 

After a few weeks of learning what I had to do to create a website, was born. At first, the site was only going to post information about the society, but I wanted to use this opportunity to create resources for our members, such as articles and primary texts. Back in 2001 the amount of online resources for medieval military history was sparse - sites like the Medieval Sourcebook and the ORB had some material, but it was really rare to find academic articles.  So I started prodding my fellow scholars and asking publishers for permission to republish their stuff - and surprisingly nearly everyone said yes.  Over the next two or three years I did quite a lot of work on the De Re Militari website, scanning articles and texts (and sometimes retyping this stuff one keystroke at a time).  The site grew to include hundreds or articles, primary sources and book reviews, and has received a little praise along the way.  In April 2006 I created the Medieval Warfare Blog as an easier way to post news and updates, but I quickly started posting newspaper articles that mentioned stuff about medieval warfare, or just medieval history in general.

It occured to me that no website or blog existed that regularly posted news about the Middle Ages, and every day there was something going on such an archaeological discovery or a report on some new research.  Being a reference librarian, I have great access to online resources, so I basically can read from thousands of newspapers and magazines every day.  So I started up News for Medievalists (later renamed Medieval News), which just posted any articles and news that I came across. We have now posted close to 1400 items over the last three years, which just shows that medievalists do make a lot of news.  Now, while it is a blog in the strictest sense, it does not share some of the characteristics of other blogs - first, my own voice is almost completely absent in these posts - I dont add any of my opinions to these stories, even if it is about the discovery of the Holy Grail again.  Secondly, no one ever adds their own comments to these posts.

As I started this blog, I came to notice that all of the large medieval websites that I regularly used had stopped posting new material.  This included the Medieval Sourcebook, ORB, NetSerf - they have basically become dead because no one updates them anymore.  Instead, we now had scholars and historians creating their own websites where they posted their own material, Journals with open access were sprouting up everywhere, and lots of great medieval videos were being made available on youtube.  As a librarian, I see a major problem in this - there was a lot of great content out there, but it is incredibly difficult to find and keep track of it.  A website like the ORB could have served this role, but since that was not going to happen, I decided to start up, and I turned to a close friend for help:

Sandra: I met Peter back in 1996, when we were both studying at the University of Toronto. Most of the people in our class were just taking a course to fill their history requirement whereas, almost all my courses were medieval. I was taking medieval history and minoring in English and I believe Peter was taking poli-sci and medieval history if I remember correctly - anyhow, it was nice to find someone else who loved the Middle Ages as much as I do.We remained friends throughout university and attended the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo several times. I think I was the only undergrad there!

After university, we went our separate ways - I entered the workforce and Peter proceeded with his Masters and became a Librarian. I wanted to pursue and academic career but after graduating, I simply didn't have the money to continue school and to be perfectly honest, the stomach to handle more debt. Some days, I regret not going to grad school; mind you, the fact that I'm STILL paying off my student loans (I graduated in 2001), stops me from regretting that decision.  Still, in the back of my mind, I always dream of winning the lottery and running away to dig up medieval ruins and the bones of monks.

Peter and I stayed friends after university and one day he approached me a little over a year ago with the idea of starting a website devoted to all things me
dieval. I was excited by this because it gave me that option of doing something with my degree without being forced to go the academic route. There is nothing wrong with academia, I have immense respect for the people who go all the way and become professors; I just think there should be more than one pathway into the medieval world. I'm not a professional scholar and I won't pretend to be. I have an Honours Bachelor of Arts and that's where it ends. If I ever win that dream lottery, I'll add more letters behind my name, but for now, I'm happy with the way things stand :)

I LOVE medieval history and want to share this wonderful period with the world. I'd like to make it interesting and relevant for everyone, not just pretentious academics hiding behind their books, titles and accolades. Lastly, I'd like shed some of the misconceptions/stereotypes people hold about this period in history. Peter offered me a fantastic opportunity to engage myself in something I truly love and offered me my "in" into the rather insular world of medieval studies.

From both of us: So what exactly our we doing with  We mentioned earlier that we are the media of the Middle Ages - the goal is to keep everyone informed about what is going on with the world of medieval studies. This means both medieval academics and those with just a keen interest in all things medieval. We want to promote the research and writings of medieval scholars to their colleagues, students and the wider public, and get people interested in all the wonderful and insightful aspects of the Middle Ages.

The site consists of a lot of sections, bur we will mention just a few - we have a medieval articles database, where we post a glorified link to any medieval academic article we can find. We add a little summary or piece of the article, and include some tags to serve as subject headings  At this point, we have done over a thousand articles, with another 10 000 (at least) to go. That way, if you are looking for something about on onomastics in Ireland, we would be the place to help you find it.

We also try to do a lot of interviews with scholars and writers - usually to discuss their new books.  So far, we have about 30 interviews online, and the people we have talked to have very gracious in giving detailed and insightful answers to our questions.  Most of the interviews are done via email, but we have filmed several and posted them up on Youtube - please forgive us for it being horribly amatuerish, but we hardly know what we are doing.

We also want to point out that unlike most bloggers or medievalists doing websites, we actually hope to make money at this. If the site is going to be successful in the long run, we need to really devote a full day's work to it.  At this point, we can put in one or two hours a night, but if the website grows like we think it will, we will be able to earn enough money that we can make it our real jobs - our dream jobs - and then be able to do a lot more, like report from conferences, do better videos, and provide more resources.  So when you go on our site, you will see various ads, or links to books on  At this point, just over a year since we started this together, we have gone from 15000 hits a month to over 50 000, but we are still far away from making this a viable website.  Until then, we are promoting ourselves on Facebook and Twitter, and figuring out ways to get noticed.  Like the other bloggers here, this is an experiment in bringing out ideas and information, and serving as another voice for the community of medievalists. Our most popular section so far is on Castles for Sale, which might say something about medievalists are really interested in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Postcolonial Medieval Studies: Simon Gaunt's Account

by J J Cohen
(read Karl first)

The latest issue of Comparative Literature (61:2) has an excellent review essay by Simon Gaunt entitled "Can the Middle Ages be Postcolonial?"

Touching nine monographs and edited collections, Gaunt begins his account with a volume I put together in the late 1990s, The Postcolonial Middle Ages. I'd like to think that the quiet assertiveness of that title is in fact the answer to Gaunt's interrogative, but I do realize that (as Gaunt notes) "postcolonial approaches to the Middle Ages have proved controversial." I'd point out, though, that those who have argued against PoCo medieval studies typically employ a version of the argument "Because postcolonial theory was developed to account for historical conditions specific to the disintegration of contemporary Western empires, importing its methods to the Middle Ages is inherently anachronistic." Such a blanket statement assumes that PoCo modes of interpretation are simply applied to medieval materials in ways that attempt to squeeze round pegs into square holes. Even a quick skim of how medievalists have staged conversations with postcolonial theorists would reveal, however, that their work creates an encounter between the two in which both are transformed.

I'd also point out that limiting postcoloniality to occidental postimperialism impoverishes a rich field. Postcolonial theory derives not just from English India but from around the globe: Africa, the Caribbean, the New World encounter, you name it. It's not that postcolonial theory is a one size fits, discrete methodology. Rather, postcolonial studies is, like medieval studies, a capacious, heterogeneous, and ever burgeoning discipline. Gaunt writes "For the Middle Ages of all periods, we need to move outside the Anglophone world if our own intellectual moves are to avoid uncannily replicating the very colonial gestures we seek to critique." I agree wholeheartedly, as will be seen below -- but would add that this injunction should be applied not just to the medieval geographies and materials examined but to the provenance of the postcolonial studies included. Surely Antonio Benítez-Rojo and Gloria Anzaldua can inspire as much as Homi Bhabha and Dipesh Chakrabarty (follow those four links to see some PoCo work I did in the wake of Postcolonial Middle Ages).

Gaunt rightly takes The Postcolonial Middle Ages to task for its Anglocentrism. I admitted as much in my introduction to the volume ("England looms disproportionately large in the shared critical imaginary of this volume"), tying this dominance to the "tight grip [England exerts] on the critical imaginary of North American medievalists (and post- colonial theorists)" (8). Still, I was dissatisfied that the volume should replicate the very thing it argued against. That unease motivated my editing a companion book. I called it the Infinite Realms Project, but the volume was published as Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages: Archipelago, Island, England. These essays collectively argue that Englishness is a fragile historical construct, and can get in the way of seeing the cultural heterogeneity beneath the seeming monolith of the nation (whatever a nation might mean within a medieval arena: Gaunt rightly insists throughout the review that the nation is a problem rather than a pre-existing collectivity).

But I disagree with Gaunt's assertion that a problem arises "when Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Patricia Clare Ingham cast England’s incursions into Wales and Ireland in colonial terms; or when the “virtual Jew” is taken by Sylvia Tomasch to be a marker, after the expulsion of Jews in 1290, of “England’s colonial past.”" Gaunt writes:
Robert Bartlett makes clear in his seminal The Making of Europe (167–96) certain “cultural symptoms of colonialism” need to be present for it to be useful to discuss medieval phenomena in such terms (185). Whereas the expansion of the Normans into England after 1066 and the subsequent moves of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy on Wales and Ireland are part of the same general expansion of the Frankish “aristocratic diaspora” that Bartlett describes (24–59), seeking to take over a neighboring territory with a shared Latinity, a shared religion, and shared borders (even if maritime) is not analogous to implanting “small immigrant élites with close ties to the metropolis” in distant lands, amid “large discontented populations of a different language and religious affiliation” (Bartlett 185),
Except, it is -- at least when it comes to Wales and Ireland. Bartlett's superlative work needs to be read alongside that of R. R. Davies, the patron saint of the Infinite Realms project (we dedicated the volume to his memory). What I love about Davies' work is that he always asked what history looks like from both sides of encounter: not just the Normans (the cultural source of those whom Gaunt labels Europeans, by which he usually means francophone transnational élites), but also the diverse indigenes like the Welsh and Irish, varied groups who embrace their own collectivity sometimes only through invasion's force. While I take very seriously Gaunt's observation that the "Francophone diaspora" and the hybridities which it engendered deserve careful analysis, I'm less satisfied with allowing francophone and latinate dominating culture to function as Europe itself. Getting transnational doesn't mean leaving the postcolonial behind; Europe is a story to be narrated not only in French and Latin but in Breton, Welsh, Irish, Icelandic, Basque, and every patois and creole that arose between.

As to Jews, Gaunt argues that their importance is not unique to England; and it is not. But the fact of their national Expulsion in 1290 makes that nation's relation to Jewishness rather different from (not completely different from, but rather different from) what unfolded in France and Germany.

To offer a more comprehensive history of postcolonial medieval studies, Gaunt would have had to include journal issues and essays. Bruce Holsinger's Speculum essay, for example, isn't mentioned, nor are the JMEMS issues on "Decolonizing the Middle Ages" and "Race and Ethnicity in the Middle Ages." But given that the review deals only with books, Gaunt does an admirable job of bringing together almost a decade of diverse work.

I am going to close with Gaunt's vision of the postcolonial future for medieval studies, because I find it eloquent, and compelling:
I have implicitly been sketching here a blueprint for postcolonial medieval studies: they need to work outside the framework of a single literary tradition, since few texts in the Middle Ages were produced solely within the context of a single literary tradition; they need therefore to work across different languages and to understand the dissemination and use of different languages in the Middle Ages; they thus need also to return to manuscripts and/or to revise the canon, rather than rely on critical editions produced in a tradition of modern national literary histories that is bound to occlude important evidence of cultural contact and hybridities. But postcolonial medieval studies also need theoretical sophistication in that the insights afforded by postcolonial theory give us a better understanding of how “Europe” came into being, how it related to the rest of the world, and how the medieval history of contact between Europe and Asia or Africa is in fact an important element of the longer history of which colonialism and post-colonialism are part. With few young people in the Anglo-Saxon world now graduating with the background in Latin and several modern languages that might have been expected several generations ago, training as a medievalist today is not for the faint-hearted, particularly given the training in critical theory we now also expect of our graduate students. But however much my blueprint for post-colonial medieval studies sounds like a rather traditional and retrograde model of medieval studies, I would like nonetheless to make a pitch for giving higher priority to the traditional skills in which medievalists were trained (in languages, philology, codicology, and paleography), since without them we remain hide-bound by our own, largely monolingual, culture, as well as by the scholarship of past generations, rather than being able to build creatively but securely upon that scholarship.
Philology with your philosophy? Comparative studies as a dominant mode? Multilingual, multicultural proficiencies? Sounds like a recipe not just for medievalists, but for the world we inhabit now.

[You may download a PDF of the full review here, until someone tells me that I souldn't be sharing the review like this]

Cinematic Illuminations

by J J Cohen

We at In the Middle love collaboration. We love Marty Shichtman. We love Laurie Finke. So we therefore want you to know that these two longtime collaborators whom we love have a new book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Will Wonders Never Cease: St. Erkenwald with Claustrophilia


First! More zombies!

Second, thanks very much to our guest bloggers (and to Jeffrey's organizational moxie) for what's become a brief history of large chunks of the medieval blogworld.

I'd like to think everyone at last Friday's Claustrophilia seminar believed it a success. Thanks much to Jeffrey, George Washington University, and MEMSI for the chance to participate in it. For the interested, my paper follows:

The events of the late fourteenth-century Middle English alliterative poem St. Erkenwald take place in seventh-century London during the rededication of England's pagan temples to Christianity. Deep in the greatest temple, which would become St. Paul's, workmen unearth a gothic tomb, carved with mysterious letters.1 Prying it open, they discover an immaculate body, royally dressed. The bewildered citizens summon their bishop, Erkenwald, who speaks to the corpse, which confesses itself an ancient pagan judge, buried as a king for his righteousness, but barred as a pagan from heaven. Erkenwald weeps, accidentally baptizing the corpse, which promptly rots while its spirit ascends to paradise. Then Erkenwald and the crowds parade through London, while the bells of the city ring out about them.

With few exceptions, criticism of Erkenwald splits into political-historical or doctrinal-historical explanations, which variously locate the poem within conflicts between the City of London and Richard II, or within debates about Pelagianism, Donatism, Wyclif, and so on.2 As necessary as such critical efforts are, they defer the 'decision' of reading onto the text and its historical situation. Such efforts preserve the critic as just an observer, watching the text do its work; they preserve the critic from responding to the poem. Let us have an irresponsible reading practice, in the sense of refusing to let the text and its history make our decisions for us, or, in a Derridean sense, let us have a responsible reading, in which we do not feel we've done our duty to the poem by situating it in this or that historical struggle.3 Our response should seek to preserve the wonder that drew us and still draws us to the poem; to be just, our response should not leave us untransformed; we should be thrown by what we read.

Claustrophilia is among my allies in the hope that, in reading Erkenwald, we might not unlock it but rather lock ourselves up with it, and to it, as hands or eyes lock together, fascinated and enraptured in their meeting. Howie decries the substitution of “epistemology for phenomenology,” and insists that we need not be constrained by what he calls “the cult of the evidentiary, which would separate 'imaginings' from 'reflections'” (15). Following Claustrophilia, let us intensify rather than explain,4 especially with Erkenwald, since there is perhaps no poem in Middle English that better offers itself to a Claustrophiliac reading.

Howie joins other thinkers who reconceive time as embedded instead of as a sequence in which the past is neatly and continuously swapped out for the present.5 For Howie, moments touch on one another and become moments through this touch; moments drag others behind them; they are in networks around each other in which no moment will ever quite be abandoned or ever simply be itself. In Erkenwald, we need not struggle to rethink time as topographical and interfolded—to recall Michel Serres—rather than geometrical.6 Its time is piled up, mixed, all moments touching:7 it takes place “noȝt fulle longe” [not very long] (1) after the crucifixion, yet somehow in the seventh century; the judge, asked when he had lived, answers enigmatically, interweaving dates,8 and the “New Werke” [New Work] (38) at St. Paul's took place in the thirteenth, not the seventh, century. The alliterative christening of London's temples preserves as much as it converts: although those of Jupiter and Juno become the churches of Jesus and James (22), the temples persist in or with the churches poetically, through the stressed J that sustains the past as a point of contact, as an echo.9 In their co-presence and non-assimilative contact with the London of Erkenwald's day, the temples recall Howie's “metonymic understanding of which contiguous terms come to participate, not just semantically but also in a sense ontologically, in one another without losing their distinctness” (15).

Nowhere is Erkenwald so available for Claustrophilia as in its architecture.10 First the people of London, and then Erkenwald, penetrate into the foundations of St. Paul's. They are enclosed within a space that receives them. In the depths of the temple, a tomb emerges into their midst, drawn up from the ground.11 Bordered with letters whose sense will never be deciphered, enclosing and giving up a judge whose name the poem never reveals, the tomb reserves the fullness of its own being to itself. It is paradigmatically a space that, to quote Howie, “resist[s] the gaze of its public even as it offers itself to this public” (13).12
Erkenwald arrives and locks himself away to pray “to kenne / Þe mysterie of þis meruaile þat men opon wondres” [to know the mystery of this marvel that men wonder upon] (124-25), and, his prayer granted, he leads a Spiritus Domini mass. His increasingly agitated questioning, however, suggests that Erkenwald has not in fact been granted knowledge; there is a miracle here, but it is not one of knowing. The miracle is like this one, from the Acts of the Apostles, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.” For the Spiritus Domini is a a Pentecost mass, or a Votive mass,13 associated with the visitation of the Holy Spirit, and the miraculous traversal of linguistic difference. “Þurghe sum lant goste lyfe” [through some lent ghost life] (192),14 the corpse can speak, and through the ghostly investment of Pentecost, Erkenwald can speak with the dead: speak with, become open to, know himself in the presence of, but only in the sense of knowing himself to have been “summoned...into a more concrete, ecstatic relation to what lies not just beyond but within these boundaries” (Howie 4). This is a figure for our responsible encounter with poetry, we might say, especially as Erkenwald, having intended to know all by absorbing more and more about the judge's life and history, is instead stricken with more intense wonder, and finally is brought to where he “hade no space to speke so spakly he ȝoskyd [had no space to speak so violently he sobbed]” (312).

As for the crowd, they have already joined with the tomb itself. When the judge begins speaking, “Þer sprange in þe pepulle / In al þis worlde no worde, ne wakenyd no noice / Bot al as stille as þe ston stoden and listonde / Wyt meche wonder forwrast, and wepid ful mony”15 [there sprang in the people in all this world no word, nor wakened no noise, but they stood as still as stone and listened, seized with much wonder, and very many of them wept] (217-20). D. Vance Smith remarks that “this apparently miraculous scene extends—and even displaces—the crypt outwards to the site of the living, who gaze back at the judge's corpse with a marmoreal quiescence. The work of metaphor transforms the living into memorial stone.” Yes, I say, to the crowd enclosing the tomb with their own bodies, yes, as well, to the tomb itself joining with the crowd, yes I say to what's implicit here, namely, that it is as if the crowd lends its speech and motion to the corpse, who in turn lends his immense stillness to them; but, pace Smith, this is not a metaphoric substitution. This is metonymy, as Howie writes, “contamination by contiguity” (19), “catching, in both senses: grasping even the most rigorously exposed unlikeness,” a stony and alien pagan tomb at the heart of frenetic Christian London and a speaking, singular, and honored corpse amid a motley assemblage of Londoners. To repeat, this is metonymy, “grasping even the most rigorously exposed unlikeness and making of it, of that momentary contact with it, a new creature: a monster or a miracle” (107). Not substitution, not assimilation, but transformative contact. The tomb has emerged into their midst, emerged, not unconcealed.16 From Howie again: “In order for other people and things to 'emerge' we must in a sense 'merge with them: not in an appropriative fashion, nor in the sense of a reductio ad unum” (33).17As Howie urges, drawing on the language of Kaja Silverman, we must participate. The crowd has not only seen the tomb, marked its edges, wondered at its being while considering how it holds its mystery to itself. They are, in the heart of St. Paul's, within the tomb, stone themselves in the moment and space of this contact, where the tomb itself comes to speak and move; they are, I must emphasize, with-in the tomb, at once with it and in it, around it and a part of it, enclosing it and being enclosed by it.

If I could, I would freeze the poem here, stop reading, arrest its and my progress amid the crowd and the tomb; this would be a sacred without a telos, an apocalypse without an eschaton. But the poem moves on; the judge is baptized; and “sodenly his swete chere swyndid and faylide / And all the blee of his body wos blakke as þe moldes / as rotten as þe rottok þat rises in powdere” [and suddenly his sweet face wasted away and failed, and all the color of his body was black as grave-dirt, as rotten as decayed matter that rises in powder] (342-44). London, faced with a gap in the foundation of its civic consciousness, assimilates the threat; but the horror of the judge's transformation suggests that London, having satisfied its desire, has arrived inevitably at the nauseating Real. Is this what their desire wants? Perhaps, if it is a grasping desire, an explaining desire, driven by lack. But Howie gives us another model: “Between mine and not mine, what intervenes is close to mine, neither appropriable nor wholly other: within reach, without ever being fully grasped” (15). With this, we might ask what the crowd lost by gaining its desire's object, when it ceased to remain with it, where it might have let itself be and be had in its desire. With the judge gone, the crowd goes out, and “meche mournynge and myrthe was mellyd to-geder” [much mourning and mirth mingled together] (350): in closing, we might ask what they are mourning, when, happy to believe that they know what has happened, thinking that the past is finally shut up, they leave nothing behind in St. Paul's except an empty tomb.

Works Cited

Bugbee, John. 2008. Sight and Sound in St. Erkenwald: On Theodicy and the Senses. Medium Aevum 77, no. 2: 202-21.
Chaganti, Seeta. 2008. The Medieval Poetics of the Reliquary: Enshrinement, Inscription, Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Chism, Christine. 2002. Alliterative Revivals. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Derrida, Jacques. 1990. Force of Law: The 'Mystical Foundation of Authority'. Cardozo Law Review 11: 921-1045.
---------. 1995. 'Eating Well,' or The Calculation of the Subject. In Points: Interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber, trans. Peter Connor and Avital Ronell, 255-87. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Grady, Frank. 1992. Piers Plowman, St. Erkenwald, and the Rule of Exceptional Salvations. The Yearbook of Langland Studies 6, no. 1: 63-88.
---------. 2000. St. Erkenwald and the Merciless Parliament. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22: 179-211.
Harris, Jonathan Gil. 2009. Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Howie, Cary. 2007. Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nissé, Ruth. 1998. ' A Coroun Ful Riche': The Rule of History in St. Erkenwald. ELH 65, no. 2: 277-295.
Otter, Monika. 1994. 'New Werke': St. Erkenwald, St. Albans, and The Medieval Sense of the Past. Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 24, no. 3: 387-414.
Scattergood, John. 2000. St. Erkenwald and the Custody of the Past. In The Lost Tradition: Essays on Middle English Alliterative Poetry, 179-99. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Schwyzer, Philip. 2006. Exhumation and Ethnic Conflict: From St. Erkenwald to Spenser in Ireland. Representations 95, no. 1: 1-26.
Sisk, Jennifer. 2007. The Uneasy Orthodoxy of St. Erkenwald. ELH 74, no. 1: 89-115.
Smith, D. Vance. 2002. Crypt and Decryption: Erkenwald Terminable and Interminable'. New Medieval Literatures 5: 59-85.
Turville-Petre, Thorlac. 2005. St. Erkenwald and the Crafty Chronicles. In Studies in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Texts in honour of John Scattergood: 'The Key of all Good Remembrance', ed. Anne D'Arcy and Alan J. Fletcher, 362-74. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Whatley, Gordon. 1985. The Middle English St. Erkenwald and Its Liturgical Context. Mediaevalia 8: 277-306.
---------. 1986. Heathens and Saints: St. Erkenwald in Its Legendary Context. Speculum 61, no. 2: 330-363.

1 MED s.v. “rūnish,” (a) “mysterious, strange.” Turville-Petre 2005 at 373 ingeniously suggests that the tomb might correspond either to the St Paul's Rune Stone, discovered in the 19th century, or some earlier find of the same sort (for image, see here); at 371, he also observes that the MED correctly suggests “that the meanings of renish and runish have here become confused, for in these quotations the sense is that derived from the common Middle English noun roun (from Old English run), which has a semantic range that includes 'voice, utterance, secret' as well as 'written character.”
2 The better examples of such readings include Bugbee 2008; Chism 2002; Grady 1992; Grady 2000; Nissé 1998; Sisk 2007; and Whatley 1986. Otter 1994 and Smith 2002 are rare exceptions to “closed” readings of Erkenwald. For example, at 408, Otter writes that “The searching and digging, the guessing, deciphering, and questioning, begin to stand all by themselves, and even for themselves: the poem, itself part of the questioning and deciphering of the past, at one level mirrors itself.”
3 Derrida 1995, 286, “responsibility is excessive or it is not a responsibility. A limited, measured, calculable, rationally distributed responsibility is already the becoming-right of morality; it is at times also, in the best hypothesis, the dream of every good conscience, in the worst hypothesis, of the petty or grand inquisitors”; also Derrida 1990, 252, “A decision that would not go through the test and ordeal of the undecidable would not be a free decision; it would only be the programmable application or the continuous unfolding of a calculable process. It might perhaps be legal; it would not be just.”
4 “Intensify” and “intensification” appear frequently in Claustrophilia; for example, at 18, “This ethics of intensification has distinct ontological consequences: intervention within the compromised appearance of enclosed bodies and texts amounts to participating in these appearances’ being-apparent. Interpretation, or aesthetic reception, is thus not entirely discrete from aesthetic production: it reaches across the aporia between seer and seen, to make something more visible, contingently, approximately, and thereby also offers itself to sight. This movement also makes something more hidden, deepening the artwork’s depths even as it intensifies the surface. Claustrophilia thus, beyond readerly “response” and deconstructive supplementarity, makes singularity more apparent through participative intensification."
5 Among others, see especially of Harris 2009, 2, which critiques the “national sovereignty model of temporality”, where “each moment [has] a determining authority reminiscent of a nation-state's: that is, firmly policed borders and a shaping constitution”; Harris writes against the notion of a moment “as a self-identical unit divided from other moments that come before and after it” (5) to disrupt the old binary of synchronic versus diachronic study (10).
6 At 174, Harris 2009 quotes Michel Serres' Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time (with Bruno Latour), “Classical time in related to geometry, having nothing to do with space, as Bergson pointed out all too briefly, but with metrics. On the contrary, take your inspiration from topology, and perhaps you will discover the rigidity of those proximities and distances you find arbitrary. And the simplicity, in the literal sense of the word pli: it's simply the difference between topology (the handkerchief is folded, crumpled, shredded) and geometry (the same fabric is ironed out flat).”
7 This is not an uncommon observation about the poem: Schwyzer 2006, for example, writes "Wreaking havoc with the temporal equivalent of depth perception, the queasy fascination of the preserved body consists not only in making what is far away seem near, but also in robbing the near of its wonted security and familiarity. Thus, the Londoners in the poem experience not simply the simultaneous failure of living and historical memory but also a collapse of the distinction between these two modes of memory" (7).
8 “Hit is to meche to any mon to make of a nombre. / After þat Brutus þis burgh had buggid on fyrste, Noȝt bot fife hundred ȝere þer aghtene wontyd / Before þat kynned ȝour Criste by Cristen acounte: / A þousand ȝere and þritty mo and 3 thren aght” (205-210). Scattergood 2000, 196, provides a model from 1269 shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster abbey, made by Peter of Rome, 'ANNO MILENO DOMINI CVM SEPTVAGENO ET BIS CENTENO CVM COMPLETO QVASI DENO HOC OPVS EST FACTUM QUOD PETRVS.”
9 Other commentators have also noticed the effect of alliteration, but have read it as either an anxious inability to suppress the past or as metaphoric substitution. Chaganti 2008, 67, is a rare exception: “Particularly in this visual and material sense, alliteration reinforces a pattern of vestigiality: letters are repeated in pagan and Christian names, so that the past not only prefigures the present, but it also leaves behind pieces—letters, like statues and buildings—which are adapted in the present and incorporated into newly cleansed Christian structures and words. The poem uses the narrative capacities of material objects and the material capacities of letters and language to demonstrate the trope of vestigiality, the reliquiae, that which is left behind. The inscriptional aspect of alliteration thus provides a defining temporality for the poem; the recursive return to what has been left behind,” so suggesting “ceremonial temporality.”
10 To a different end, Chaganti 2008, 69, also finds the poem interested in enclosure, “At the level of the poem's explicit narrative...exist many self-enfolding layers of enclosure, establishing the role of enshrinement in the text's imagery.”
11 I echo Otter 1994, 410, where the tomb “unexpectedly surfaces—literally—and is simply there, a fait accompli, 'fourmit on a flore,' as the poem solidly puts it.”
12 See also Chaganti 2008, 56, where the runes “both embellish and obscure the meaning of an enshrined object. And in this capacity, their illegibility symbolizes the mystified nature of the late-medieval shrine in English churches and cathedrals. The runes speak through their very impenetrability, their resistance to being read as language, about the nature of ceremonial encounters with shrines as decorated objects, a mystery at once challenging and suggestive.”
13 Whatley 1985, especially 295 n10.
14 Note that I follow the manuscript reading here rather than Peterson's tendentious emendation to “Þurghe sum Ghoste lant lyfe.” See Whatley 1982, 294 n9.
15 Smith 2002, 66. Vance's reading is, in essence, an epistemological one, concerned with our inability to know, whereas mine concerned with our ability to be touched: in sum, the very fact of being moved by the tomb is itself a presence. Other critics have remarked on the stone image: Nissé 1998, 289, “In this way, the memory of the Trojan past is reinscribed in a collective historical consciousness: 'Bot al as stille as þe ston stoden and listonde'”; Chaganti 2008, 53, “The poem defines the judge not only as a bounded material object, but also as an occasion of performance and performative self-constitution. In the above simile, 'as stile as the ston,' the transfer of the stone's materiality from the judge's tomb (and static body) to the people looking at it makes them interactive participants in a scene of performance blending spectacle, ceremony, and architecture....the language of the poem renders indeterminate the boundary between the stone tomb and the astonished audience, so that both fill the positions of either a material thing or an occasion of spectacle.”
16 Howie 2007, 33, which explains his preference for emergence over unconcealment: “I prefer the latter term inasmuch as it consolidates both moments better than 'unconcealment' can. To be sure, 'unconcealment' presents itself as the constitutive negation of the hidden, but 'emergence' speaks forth an even greater, and more spatial, paradox: literally e-mergere, emergence plunges, immerses, engulfs not into but out of: it is enclosure figured as disclosive opening, approximation as distance.”
17 See also Sara Ahmed Queer Phenomenology, “What touches is touched, and yet 'the toucher' and 'the touched' do not ever reach each other; they do not merge to become one,” quoted in Harris 2009, 149.

My Next Movie Project

by J J Cohen

Maybe it was last Friday's GW MEMSI Claustrophilia seminar, but I woke up this morning knowing that my next project will be a film adaptation of a book that I have yet to write, Revelations of Divine Love and Zombies.

Judi Dench will play Julian of Norwich. Helen Mirren will have a surprise cameo as Margery Kempe. Quentin Tarantino will direct. In a climactic scene the two kick-ass dames of medieval East Anglia will martial arts an army of the undead into a crimson mess, only slightly staining Kempe's white clothes.

The movie's tag line, destined to be repeated by adolescents all summer long? "All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. In HELL."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blogging the Middle Ages: Muhlberger's Early History

by Steve Muhlberger
[#8 in our series of blog histories]

Blogging the Middle Ages and the whole beautiful blue world and spaces beyond
My involvement with the Internet goes back to the early 90s, soon after I obtained my first permanent job – at Nipissing University, where I still teach. The university was very small and obscure and it felt quite remote. It was hard to maintain a research agenda. E-mail and then the web made a tremendous difference for me, many colleagues, and the institution as a whole. It was not so much that we could benefit from distant resources, although that was great, but the fact that we could contribute on a much more equal basis. In my case, because of my early research in late antiquity, I was asked to be editor of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity section of ORB, and I got a great deal of satisfaction in constructing a survey of themes and resources. Also, like many others who used e-mail, I helped raise the profile of our university considerably.  This was a general phenomenon: It was no harder for a smart person to communicate a good idea or an apposite comment from North Bay Ontario than from Manhattan or Berkeley.
Since those days my research and intellectual life have been entwined with the march of communication technology.   I posted bibliography and translated source material to my websites, for instance, because it was no more work and it might benefit someone else -- indeed, I know it often has.  And of course from early on I began posting lecture notes and other class materials to the web.
I got into blogging in late 2005, when I was teaching first-year world history, Early Modern Europe, and Ancient Civilizations.  I had lots of students and was covering lots of time and space. I often want to say a bit more, or direct students to a resource, usually but not always online. I had no illusion that announcing something before the lecture – perhaps a special talk or a good article in an online newspaper -- would get students to follow up.   But if I put a comment, announcement, or a link on a blog that was always available and easy to update, maybe...
So my blog was first of all for my students in specific classes, none of which was focused on the European Middle Ages. If it had a focus, it was on connections around the world, with an emphasis on showing that Early History that students had never heard of could easily be shown, just from the news, to be relevant to their lives.   I was also trying to show them that the subjects I taught were even bigger and more lively than they might have seemed in the lecture alone. (A selection of pictures and maps sure helped there.)
Some of my students in 2005-6 are still reading my blog today. I keep students in mind when I write the blog, which means doing my best not to be some old guy ranting about his personal obsessions. I don't tell people that I am sick and tired of zombies.  (Sneaked it in! But hey, I saw the Night of the Living Dead in the very early 70s.) On the other hand, friends and strangers who are not my students have been coming to the blog since early days, and I try to interest them as well. I do not strictly stick to my academic subjects, I just usually start with them. I continue to take the long view and the wide view, showing connections are important things that I think are important, but are under discussed.   Two distinctive features of my blog are the inclusion of pictures of astronomical discoveries and space exploration (worlds' history), and my continued coverage of Islamic affairs and the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia (since I regularly teach History of Islamic Civilization). I'm not the great expert, but if I feel that someone has to say something of a certain subject, and it relates to the history of democracy, Islamic history, or world history, I will do it.
Finally, I am on sabbatical this year, privileged to spend long periods of time thinking about my research on chivalry. I know lots of people are interested in this stuff, and few of them live close to me or have much of a chance to talk to me face-to-face, so the best insights and discoveries find their way onto the blog.
Two brief posts that may convey the flavor of Muhlberger's Early History: