by EILEEN JOY
Some ITM readers might recall that last winter I wrote three posts [here, here, and here] on the published essays and "erotohistoriography" of Elizabeth Freeman, an Americanist, cultural critic, and queer theorist at UC-Davis, whose thinking on affect, temporality, bodies, and historiography shares much in common with some of my favorite premodernist scholars, such as Carolyn Dinshaw, Aranye Fradenburg, Bob Mills, Virginia Burrus, Karmen Mackendrick, and Carla Freccero. As I shared in those earlier posts, Freeman's erotohistoriography names a practice of tracing histories written on queer bodies--more precisely, it traces “how queer relations complexly exceed the present,” and “against pain and loss” [predominant tropes in contemporary queer studies], it “posit[s] the value of surprise, of pleasurable interruptions and momentary fulfillments from elsewhere, other times” ["Time Binds, or Erotohistoriography," Social Text 23.3/4 (Winter 2005): 57-68], calling to mind Dinshaw's recent call for a "postdisenchanted temporal perspective" [“Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion,” ed. Elizabeth Freeman, GLQ 13.2-3 (2007): 177-95]. It is because Freeman's work, moreover, is so generous in its engagement with work by other scholars working in diverse and earlier historical periods that BABEL invited her to Kalamazoo last May to participate on a panel on the question of pleasure-in-scholarship with Dinshaw, among other medievalists.
Freeman has a book forthcoming from Duke University Press, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories, which I am very much looking forward to reading; in the meantime, she tells me that she will soon be giving a talk at NYU, "Historicizing Erotohistoriography" [Feb. 23rd, for the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality], and while she will be focusing on Romantic-era sentimental historiography [primarily via Mike Goode's work: Sentimental Masculinity and the Rise of History, 1790-1890], as well as commenting on Frankenstein and Virginia Woolf's Orlando [in relation to modernist thinking on Benjamin's "constellation"], Freeman would also like to "at least introduce the question of medieval erotohistoriography, more for conversational purposes than for claiming any authority over the domain." Freeman has been thinking more specifically about relic worship in the Middle Ages [we might say, late antiquity through the Middle Ages], partly because the two novels she will discussing include all sorts of scenes involving the veneration and even violation of bodily parts, and the questions she has for us here at ITM are:
Is there a divide between the kind of relic veneration that traffics in sacred/eternal time and the kind that traffics in what we might think of as a more properly event-centered "historical" time, i.e., pieces of the true cross? Is there any work on the erotics of relic worship (I know a bit about reliquaries, but not much else)? Is it just stupid to even want to think of reliquary practice as having anything to do with history?Of course reliquary practice has much to do with history, but it also has its own peculiar temporal [and bodily] schemes, and I am hoping that our readers can maybe jump in here and point Freeman in some fruitful directions. I have already recommended Caroline Walker Bynum's work to her [especially Fragmentation and Redemption and The Resurrection of the Body], and I will now recommend also Karmen Mackendrick's Word Made Skin: Figuring Language at the Surface of Flesh [especially the chapters on Biblical resurrection stories and touch, "Word Made Flesh" and "Touch," and the conclusion, "Figures of Desire"]. Any other suggestions or ruminations upon her questions above would be greatly appreciated.