Thursday, June 03, 2010

New Critical Modes (postmedieval 2.3)

by J J Cohen

As announced and discussed here, here and here, Cary Howie and I are co-editing a special issue of postmedieval entitled New Critical Modes, to be published late next year. We thought you'd enjoy a preview of the essays that we are bringing together. Comments welcome.

New Critical Modes
postmedieval 2.3 (2011)
ed. Jeffrey J. Cohen and Cary Howie

This issue examines and embodies some of the new critical modes that are emerging among contemporary medievalists. Critics have often been content to adopt the voice, citational practices, textual apparatuses, forums and ambit of those who trained them, leading to a great deal of continuity in published scholarship over the years. Others, however, have become restless with such modes and models, choosing to disseminate their work and perform its content differently. This special issue will examine new modes of writing, new media, and the very idea or possibility of critical novelty. Possible topics include the reinvention of scholarly and authoritative voice; the affective turn in critical practice; performativity and embodiment; amateurism; popular medievalisms; anachronism; and hybridity of critical investments, genres and identities.

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction (Jeffrey Cohen and Cary Howie)
  2. Rick Godden, “"Getting Medieval in Real Time”
  3. Brantley Bryant and Carl Pyrdum, “On Medieval Blogging”
  4. Catherine Brown, “The Writing on the Wall”
  5. Eileen Joy, “Shafts or Freight Tunnels Constructed Between Objects that Otherwise Would Remain Quarantined in Private Vacuums: Chaucer’s Griselda and Lars von Trier’s Bess McNeill
  6. Dan Remein, “A Critical Poetics of Allure: 10 Antiphons for the Bringing-to-Appearance of the Place of Allure as a Complicity of Human And Non-Human Matter In Writing, Or, The Physis Of the Whale In Anglo-Saxon England”
  7. Karmen MacKendrick, “Always Already New: The Possibilities of the Enfolded Instant”
  8. Anna Klosowska, “Alcibiades and Sartre's Bad Faith”
  9. Jeffrey Cohen, “An Abecedarium of Vertu”
  10. Cary Howie “Uncritical”
  11. Book Review Essay by Sharon Kinoshita

Abstracts of Essays

1. Jeffrey Cohen and Cary Howie

2. Richard Godden
“Getting Medieval in Real Time”

From making it easier to collaborate and share work to making manuscripts available through digital imaging that once would have been only available through costly and time-consuming travel, the emergence of new technologies such as email, digital media, Facebook, and Twitter have radically re-shaped what it means to do academic work. This essay explores the timeliness of these new technologies. Firstly, by “timeliness” I do mean a sense of fortuitous timing. As an academic with a physical disability, the advent of email and electronic databases full of searchable journal articles could not have been more timely. Without tools like these, pursuing a PhD would have been far more laborious than it already was. But by “timeliness” I am also asking the following question: How do we describe the time of the academic? Using my personal experiences as a starting point, I consider the intersection of Disability Studies and recent work on time and temporality in order to provide the beginnings of an answer. Rather than conceiving the time of the academic as that of working in solitude in our own pockets of time, I suggest that we consider how the social capabilities of new technologies produce a sense of being-together, of working at the same time.

3. Brantley Bryant and Carl Pyrdum
“On Medieval Blogging”

It is no great stretch to say that Carl Pyrdum and Brantley Bryant run two of the Internet's most successful medieval interest blogs -- so long as one defines "successful medieval interest blogs" as "blogs read by people not typically interested in medieval things." Got Medieval and Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, their respective endeavors, occupy a middle space between the academic middle ages and the rest of "teh internets," and in this paper, Carl and Brantley will attempt, through a collaborative mutual mock interview, to chart the dimensions and extent of this middle ground. Among the questions they will entertain are the following: 1) To what extent do the two blogs act as points of entry into the more serious academic medievalism on the web? And to what extent are they a barrier to entry? 2) How do the blogs manage to remain "in the middle" without becoming In the Middle or The Medieval Comedy Hour? In a sense, 3) Does their comedic discourse magnify or obscure their academic discourse? Over the next few months, Carl and Brantley intend to correspond via email about their blogs and about blogging generally, and the mock interview will be constructed out of these email exchanges. In other words, while the finished product will not be the transcript of any actual interview, it will take the form of one, a dramatized interaction between the two bloggers that attempts (with jokes!) to get at some meaningful truth about medieval blogging.

4. Catherine Brown
“The Writing on the Wall”

Imagine a graffito in Pompeii. Imagine it says this: Meet me here tomorrow and bring a stick this big with you. Since we’re imagining, it can say this in any language you like. What matters is that it says it, and you think, Here I am. Or: Imagine you’re at Belshazzar’s feast: “In the same hour there appeared fingers, as it were of the hand of a man, writing over against the candlestick upon the surface of the wall of the king's palace: and the king beheld the joints of the hand that wrote. Then was the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him” (Daniel 5:5-6). Ephemeral writing as artifact and trope: the reading present articulated by figure and interpellation. And what is the reading present, anyway?

5. Eileen Joy
"Shafts or Freight Tunnels Constructed Between Objects that Otherwise Would Remain Quarantined in Private Vacuums: Chaucer’s Griselda and Lars von Trier’s Bess McNeill"

In their essay “Getting Post-Historical,” which serves as the introduction to their edited collection The Post-Historical Middle Ages, Sylvia Federico and Elizabeth Scala acknowledge that “historicism has become the Jamesonian ‘cultural dominant’ of our field,” and they call for a reexamination and redefinition of historicism’s dominant status, even suggesting that the Freudian, Marxist, and Lacanian approaches to the Real that have founded both the materialist and psychic historicist enterprises are ultimately inadequate to the task of a scholarship that might seek in medievaltexts a type of knowing “unavailable to their ‘original’ readers and beyond the intent of their writers” (pp. 1, 7).

My essay will entail a purposefully historically inappropriate (mis)reading of sacrificial ethics in the “lives” of the fictional characters (and queer saints of a sort) Griselda in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and Bess McNeill (played by Emily Watson) in Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves. I will follow the thought of Walter Benjamin, in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, that the work of art possesses its own history, one that is not readily reducible to the time period in which it was produced nor to the intentions of its maker, and further, that the goal of criticism might be to apprehend the historicity of the artwork that is not part of historical life, per se. And this would be best accomplished by considering the artwork as an object among other objects, all arranged in a non-linear constellation that does not privilege the place of one work over another and which produces certain dialectical images that give to historical time a particular shock. The work of interpretation, in this scenario, is the thinking — necessarily creative and non-teleological — that gives rise to the constellation, which is also formed when temporally disparate objects are seen to be in tactile and affective proximity to each other. Cadging from Deleuze and Guattari, my essay will also argue that texts do not form images of the world, but rather, they assure the world’s deterritorialization, but only if we can properly shake ourselves loose from the hegemony of the ways in which we usually read the signifiers of these texts, and for which enterprise we must get out of history proper through a process of
critical hallucination and what the philosopher Graham Harman calls “vicarious causation”: what happens when “objects [Griselda and Bess as textual and visual networks; language; filmic image] confront one another only by proxy, through sensual profiles found only on the interior of some other entity [the reader-viewer-scholar-me]”? Therefore, this paper also aims to show that the “side-by-side proximity of real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intention [my desire to be absorbed by these objects] and another real object lying outside it. In this way, shafts or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remain quarantined in private vacuums” (“Vicarious Causation,” Collapse : Philosophical Research and Development, vol. II, March 2007: pp. 184, 185).

6. Dan Remein
“A Critical Poetics Of Allure: 10 Antiphons For The Bringing-To Appearance Of The Place Of Allure As A Complicity Of Human And Non-Human Matter In Writing, Or, The Physis Of The Whale In Anglo-Saxon England”

A truly new critical mode in the humanities might be considered as an act with illocutionary effects resulting in actually new structural and formal alternatives for the human to certain tyrannies of thought which have perhaps contributed to the need for a volume on new critical modes in the first place. Such a new critical mode—perhaps most importantly within medieval studies—could no longer prohibit critical writing from the production of poesis as its primary orientation, and perhaps should, without giving up close reading, consider how to move beyond constative statement. I attempt to ask, with the critic Walter Benjamin not only of the attitude of one’s work towards the relations of production of the time, but also of the work’s place within them, in terms of technique—and how to intervene or alter these relations (“The Author as Producer”). To alter and not just describe such relations we should consider attempting to produce writing we would not know how to read, which does not mitigate the difficulty of reading it with supposedly transparent self-explanatory framing. Given the current important discussions of the ‘posthuman’ and the ‘posthumanities’ (within Postmedieval, for instance) as one possible site of a current attempt to alter the above-mentioned relations with increasingly pressing consequences, I have explored the possibility of a new critical mode in relationship to the question of how a still-human poetics can maintain a commitment to history, the human, finitude, secularity, et. al. while operating as a collaborator to, or in complicity with, non-human matter. This essay names the place of allure as the place of complicity between language, human-matter and non-human matter, and attends to this allure in an operation of writing in complicity with whale-bone from Anglo-Saxon period England and the Old English ‘Whale’ Physiologus poem from the Exeter Book.

7. Karmen MacKendrik
“Always Already New: The Possibilities of the Enfolded Instant”

Friedrich Nietzsche considered himself an inverse, generally taken to mean anti-, Platonist. But in the admittedly strong interpretation of Pierre Klossowski, the eternal return shows affinity with the thought of Neoplatonists Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa: for all, the newly emergent and the recurrent beyond origin curiously coincide; no thing, and no time, is only itself. Eckhart demands an infinite birth of an already-crucified God; Nicholas mutually enfolds all possibility and all actuality in a God who is neither simply (actually) a being nor not. And Klossowski’s sense of affirming the return demands that we affirm not only the “tremendous moment’ in which Nietzsche comes upon the thought, but also every possible mutation of that moment, because
everything returns, every possibility is unfolded from any actuality. For all of these thinkers, a revelation appears as the astonishingly new which is precisely the same as the old without a first.

8. Anna Klosowska
“Alcibiades and Sartre's Bad Faith”

I juxtapose two canonical scenes of flirtation: Alcibiades's drunken confession in Plato’s Banquet, and Sartre's bitter unveiling of feminine artifice that serves as the illustration of bad faith, one of the key insights in Being and Nothingness. The two scenes of flirtation not only help define and sustain philosophical arguments but, as if bound to demonstrate the functioning of a deconstructive dynamic, also disrupt them. However, while Alcibiades is supposed to disrupt the banquet, Sartre's scene of flirtation belies his demonstration of bad faith. The scene, as Sartre records it, undoes Sartre's reading of it, and undermines the concept it is supposed to illustrate. Alcibiades scripts his confession as a dialogue, with stage directions and a sublime sense of comic pacing. His interruption in the Banquet is analogous to a commentary: it is both in (with respect to the structure) and of (with respect to the theme) the text that hosts it. And yet, it is distinct from its matrix: like a commentary, it is an incursive vein cross-secting the matrix. Sartre, meanwhile, creates a distance from the scene of cafĂ© courtship as a third-person omniscient narrator. For Freud, shame is a proleptic twinge of pain that directs the ego away from a risky trajectory that may result in an even greater pain. While this description fits Sarte's vignette of bad faith, Alcibiades's story cannot be subsumed to it. I would argue that a different mechanism is in play. I analyze it closely, and propose it as an alternative to shame as a both a seductive and critical modality.

9. Jeffrey J. Cohen
“An Abecedarium of Vertu”

Inspired by ludic and deconstructive alphabet books for children (Chris Van Allsburg, The Z Was Zapped; Edward Gorey, The Gashlycrumb Tinies) and biblical, classical and medieval abecedarian poems (Psalm 118, the “ABC of Aristotle,” Chaucer’s “La Priere de Nostre Dame”), this essay explores the polysemantic Middle English word virtu. An assemblage rather than word, vertu brings together the life force of animals and flowers; sidereal radiation and pull; cognition and the brain at war with itself; communicative and translational devices employed by the humors to bend the body to their desires; chivalric virtue; materiality as a matter-energy flow. Although some of its meanings are spiritual and theological, vertu also yields a way for medieval texts to frame a secular or at least non-teleological world where the only constants are strivings for movement, newness, and change. Virtu is more than life-force: it is an aesthetic impulse inherent in materiality, a creativity or generativity with irresistible allure for human, but in excess of anything the merely human world or even the divine world can contain.

10. Cary Howie

This essay attempts to think an uncritical relationship to its--to our--objects. Specifically, what value could there be in reading uncritically, where this kind of uncritical reading would be understood in light of other practices of unsaying? An uncritical reader would not, in this way, escape criticism (understood in its various modes as dialogical, interpretative, professionally-based, evaluative, and generally invested, overtly or covertly, in authority) any more than, for example, the practitioner of medieval apophasis would escape affirmation. But the coordinates would shift: if my drive to affirm is shaped by the ultimate excess of its object (in a certain tradition, God; in another, the world) to each of these affirmations, so too might my drive to critique (to criticize: and notice the ugliness of these verbs) be shaped by the ultimate excess of its object to the process and procedures of criticism. The uncritical reader might attempt to give voice to something that criticism is too hoarse (or, perhaps, too busy speaking) to express, something uncaptured by criticism: namely, the sense in which objects, even and perhaps especially literary objects, elude our capture. To read uncritically would, in this way, be to read attentively, but where attention waits, where scholarly scrutiny goes a little unfocused, reaching out without grasping (or grasping many things at once, or grasping only to let go). If crisis designates, in at least one etymological register, a kind of separation, this kind of uncritical practice would be a bringing-together, not exactly a unification but, perhaps, a drawing-close, a binding, a becoming-unseparate. (And this is where uncritical reading and uncritical loving have something else in common.) There is no sense in which I can ever 'be' uncritical (or 'be' uncritically); I require you, or something in your place, to be uncritically 'with': the uncritical gesture is unthinkable--but here is another puzzle: what would unthinking amount to?--in isolation.

11. Book Review Essay by Sharon Kinoshita

1 comment:

Jemren said...

Personally I'm really looking forward to the essays from Godden, Bryant/Pyrdum and most of all Joy as the relationship between the Middle Ages and Film/contemporary iconography cast a spell over me. For my master's thesis I've been arguing with Assmann's theory of the cultural memory, which might be another interessting concept to consider.
As for Godden I'm working for a project which is considered with digitization and accessability of resources, and I'm really worried about scholarly reclusiveness.