Monday, January 31, 2011

More Happenings in Toronto: A Conference of Interest

by Mary Kate Hurley

Anyone who knows me knows how attached I am to the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium. And given the recent visit of Jeffrey to Toronto, it seems a good moment to call attention to the Seventh Annual ASSC Graduate Student Conference: Crises of Categorization, to be held at the University of Toronto on February 12.

Now, I'm always a little sentimental about this conference: after all, way back in 2005, it was the very first conference I organized. And what a long way it has come: in addition to now boasting a very nice Conference Website, this year marks the first time the grad conference has been held at an international location!

Organized by University of Toronto graduate students Peter Buchanan and Colleen Butler, "Crises of Categorization" will take place on February 12th at the Centre for Medieval Studies. This year's conference has three panels: "Transhistorical Anglo-Saxon England," "Storms Within and Without," and "Sex and Magic in Anglo-Saxon England." In addition to a number of really wonderful presenters (many of whom I know, some that I only know of), the conference has lined up respondents to each paper, which in past conferences has facilitated some really intriguing dialogue between presenters, responders, and participants in the event.

It looks to be a great event, and in the past has been a wonderful opportunity for graduate students and professors alike to discuss current work and new trends in Anglo-Saxon studies -- hope to see you there!

Friday, January 28, 2011

dark ecologies indeed

by J J Cohen

I mentioned that DC experienced a slush day. By the time I departed campus Wednesday, the heavens were micturating a heavy mixture of rain and ice. By the time the subway brought me to Friendship Heights, every road was slick with frozen precipitation. Friends who drove home were stuck for many hours, sometimes to cover no more than six or seven miles. In the evening around six the tree limbs began crashing. Our backyard fence fell victim around eight, and an hour later we -- like much of the area northwest of DC's center, lost power to our home.

As happened during the summer power loss, both Katherine and Alex have been troopers: nary a complaint as we spend much of our time around the fireplace, or outside in the snow. Today's third day off from school doesn't hurt. Fortunately our fireplace keeps the house warm enough to stay in our house: almost all of neighbors have departed for hotels or for friends with heat. I don't know when we'll be out of these unlooked for Pioneer Days. The men examining the downed power line last night stated without much conviction that we might be restored this afternoon. I haven't seen any progress, and they left without touching anything -- not even the branch about to bring down a second line.

I'm on campus now, putting up a quick post before I tackle the seventy emails that have accumulated and the stack of work on my desk. Drew Daniel is coming to speak at our MEMSI seminar this afternoon. He provided a stunning paper on political theology and the non-marriage of Elizabeth I. Later this morning I'll re-read it to a Matmos soundtrack.

[illustration: You saw this if you went to NCS Siena. I place it here because mean old Eileen Joy has been leaving taunting comments on FB about wolves approaching our home now that we live in a wild state. I wrote back that I had set some traps and hope to capture a she-wolf. I will milk her and feed the juices to my children, who will grow strong with lupine lactation in their bellies.]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

and maybe it will all come back to me

by J J Cohen

dark ecologies
Another snow day in DC, an early walk to Metro, a house still at rest. Today, though, no hush of traffic. No white transformation. Half frozen skyfall, sand mixed with salt. The sidewalks are slick with slush, but the squish of my boots is drowned by an alarm from an apartment building. Lightning pulses at the lower windows, cold residents stand in their pajamas, awaiting the firetrucks. Onto the subway, thinking about what Tim Morton calls dark ecology: the messy, melancholic, admixed and undigested slop that is as much an ethical ecology as any vital materialism. Last night in my Objects seminar we returned to the catalog-poem with which Jane Bennett instigates Vibrant Matter:
one large men's plastic work glove
one dense mat of oak pollen
one unblemished dead rat
one white plastic bottle cap
one smooth stick of wood
This refuse clinging to a storm drain could, perhaps, offer a dark ecology, the task of which is "to love the disgusting, inert and meaningless" (Ecology Without Nature 195). Yet Bennett's shimmering debris  is none of these things. Bennett's poem renders the dross of the world alluring, lively, saturated with significance -- a poetics for re-enchantment. Can we imagine a dark vibrancy? Would such an expanse constitute what Bruno Latour, in another essay we read in seminar last night, scandalously labels a kakosmos?

We began with the Breton lai Sir Orfeo, asking why all those bodies in pieces, alive even in their dying, populate the court of the Fairy King. How can kidnapped Heurodis slumber so peacefully beneath an "ympe-tree" while the dismembered, the mad, the strangled, the drowned, the burnt neighbor her dreams? These fellow sleepers have also been seized from the ordinary world; they likewise seem now to exist in a somnolence removed from time, preserved in the agony of their capture. Could the peacefulness of Heurodis arrive because she did not resist the advent of her taking? The Fairy King warned her that should she not appear at the appointed time at the ympe-tree in the courtly world, "thou worst y-fet / And totore thine limes al / That nothing help the no schall" (170-2). By surrendering to adventure, to the thing that arrives unwilled and sometimes undesired, she is transported out of time but not out of body. A future opens that otherwise could not have arrived.

She is in this way like her husband. Once Heurodis is taken by the fairies, he dons a pilgrim's cloak but seeks nothing. He wanders the wilds in a bare existence, a barren space of "snewe and frese." Nothing pleases ("seth he nothing that him liketh"). Whereas Thoreau discovered in the sunbathing of a serpent the appearance of "thing-power," the invitation that the world's materiality offers to "be surprised by what we see" (Bennett 5), Orfeo discerns only "wilde wormes," unsatisfying roots to eat, and "berien but gode lite" (berries of little worth). No vibrant materiality here. Yet through the music of his harp he allies himself with "weder ... clere and bright," with a forest yearning for resonance, with birds and wild beasts hungry for "gle" and "melody." The moment of being-together that he creates through his music seems to call forth the King of Fairy, who wanders the woods with his retinue on a hunt in which nothing is pursued. Orfeo, ten years in the forest and transformed now into an arboreal semblance ("He is y-clongen also a tre!" exclaim his subjects upon his return), has given himself over to adventure: an advent or coming that like the Fairy King's hunt moves without telos, without objective. Adventure is a surrender to a world in which the self is a non-autonomous part, an embrace of a cosmos larger than the confines of a single subjectivity.

Orfeo speaks for the first time since his exile began when he beholds the falcons that the fairies bear. These effulgent birds remind him of his abandoned life ("Ich was y-won such wrk to se!"). Once he connects Otherworld and relinquished court he finds his opening. Adventure is an active surrender: you cannot seek it, it's not an objective, but you can train yourself to perceive its arrival, to recognize the dangerous invitation it offers. Once adventure arrives or is discerned you had better depart the orbit of your ordinary life. Orfeo follows the fairy retinue into a rock and across the flattest of plains. He rescues Heurodis with his music. The King fears the two are ill-matched, but offers no impediment to their return: no warning not to look back as they depart the Fairy realm, but a benediction ("Of hir ichil thatow be blithe," I hope that you are happy with her). He is.

We wondered again about earthly messengers, sublunary angels, those who make the world's vibrancy possible, those without whom some radiant future cannot arrive, but those who are left behind even at that future's advent.

We spoke of Marie de France's Guigemar, how aventure comes in the form of a doe-stag and a ship crafted from poetry. Guigemar surrenders to the invitation that the ship offers without seeking it; he is conveyed by this most material of metaphors to another realm, one in which he is the aventure for an entrapped dreamer. He is forced to depart his lover after eighteen happy months, while she remains for two years the prisoner of an elderly husband and a stone tower. On the day on which she decides to drown herself, she finds the door to the prison unlocked and the boat that has twice conveyed Guigemar awaiting, tied to the very rock at which she would have hurled herself into the sea. Was the door always unlocked, the ship always abiding? Or did it take her leaving the small circuit of her daily life and trusting the uncertainty of that which is to come (aventure, l'avenir)? The way is difficult (she is transported to another prison), but she and Guigemar overcome every impediment and end the narrative as Orfeo and Heurodis do, in lasting companionship.

Despite the ministrations of the ship, Guigemar and the unnamed lady would never have found their aventure without the help of the lady's maid, the niece whom she loves. This girl approaches the strange ship when her mistress flees. She discovers Guigemar onboard, then brings her lady to view him. She supports the wounded knight as he makes his way to the tower, washes him, and serves as the intermediary between the two. The maid discerns that both are in love; advises them; brings them both to union. Without her, the aventure would fail: she is the essential link.

She is left behind. Her lady sails to Brittany aboard the magic ship, departs immurement in the tower for freedom and a new future, but we hear nothing of this maiden. Like all sublunary angels -- the go-betweens whose near invisibility hides their absolute necessity -- she vanishes. Love in Marie de France's lais is a kind of vibrancy: it enriches one's very existence, and fills the world with enchantment. But it also depends upon another kind of love, that given by those who carry babies to their new futures on unnecessarily beautiful, moonlit nights; those who read the unfolding narrative for what it can most fully offer and push two lovers into deserved embrace. A mediator's love is unrequited. Ask the young maiden abandoned at the tower when her lady departs upon an eager vessel. What was it like to watch that ship set sail, to witness l'avenir in its intense and vagabond unfolding, and to know that that transport will never be your own? The ship and the lady have left you on a rocky shore. Without you their story cannot arrive, but their story is not yours.

Monday, January 24, 2011

by J J Cohen

This looks interesting.

Form the publicity materials sent to me this morning:
On behalf of the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany, I would like to inform you about, a new online review platform for European history, which launched on January 21st 2011. will create a Europe-wide, multi-language platform for reviews of historical literature. is a joint project of the Bavarian State Library (BSB) Munich, the German Historical Institute Paris (DHIP) and the Institute for European History (IEG) Mainz - funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). is committed to the principles of Open Access. All content will be permanently accessible free of charge. The reviews and publications on the platform focus on work published in Europe and featuring European topics, including many publications on Medieval History. The platform’s navigational languages are English, German and French, while the reviews may be written in any European language.
 Check it out yourself: although in its infancy, the site seems to me one replete with possibility. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Audiofiles Now Available: Speculative Medievalisms @ King's College London


After a whirlwind of 3-1/2 days in London, which included a side-trip to Cambridge, and then returning to Saint Louis to jump into teaching, I have finally posted, at the Internet Archive, the audiofiles of the talks and responses delivered at Speculative Medievalisms: A Laboratory-Atelier, held at The Anatomy Museum at King's College London two Fridays ago, Jan. 14th. The event represented a really interesting convergence (or collision) between medievalists (Kathleen Biddick, myself, Anna Klosowska, and Nicola Masciandaro) and scholars working in later periods in religious studies (Anthony Paul Smith, Univ. of Nottingham), economics and international relations (Nick Srnicek, London School of Economics), media and technology studies (Eugene Thacker, The New School), cultural theory and the audio unconscious (Scott Wilson, Kingston Univ.), philosophy of nature (Ben Woodard, European Graduate School), queer theory and continental philosophy (Michael O'Rourke), and Marxist theory and literature (Evan Calder Williams, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz). Many of the participants share an interest in speculative realism and object-oriented ontology, as well as in dark vitalism, nihilisms of various sorts, dark ecology, black metal theory, angelology, and mysticisms (medieval and modern), but it can not be said that all of the speakers share any one of these interests, and that made for a real encounter with new modes of thought for all of us.

Ultimately, through the launching of the Speculative Medievalisms project, we are hoping to open up new avenues for fruitful dialogue and creative, mutual cross-contamination between medieval ideas of speculatio, the cultural-historical position of the medieval as site of humanistic speculation, and the speculative realists’ “opening up” of “weird worlds” heretofore believed impenetrable by philosophy—as Graham Harman has written, “the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone,” to give just one example. We are also seeking, from divergent topical trajectories, to restore and enliven the epistemic potentiality and empirical poiesis of thinking itself. Who knows where this will all lead, but here, for now, are the opening lines:

Kathleen Biddick (Temple Univ.), "Toy Stories: Vita Nuda Then and Now?" (Joint Response: Eileen Joy and Anna Kloswoska)

Eugene Thacker (The New School), "Divine Darkness" (Response: Nicola Masciandaro)

Anthony Paul Smith (Univ. of Nottingham), "The Speculative Angel" (Response: Ben Woodard)

Nick Srnicek (London School of Economics), "Abstraction and Value: The Medieval Origins of Financial Quantification" (Two Responses: Michael O'Rourke and Evan Calder Williams)

Scott Wilson (Kingston Univ.), "Neroplatonism" [Scott has also graciously shared the full text of his talk on his weblog "Amusia" HERE.]

We have already set the date for a "mirror" event, "Speculative Medievalisms 2," to be held at the Segal Theater, CUNY Graduate Center on Friday, September 16th. Speakers already committed to this event include our very own Jeffrey, as well as Graham Harman, Kellie Robertson, and Julian Yates. Plans are also underway to publish the proceedings of both events as the first book in a soon-to-be-announced BABEL book series.

And for those of you who have been following the various "speculative" movements afoot in the humanities at present, let me also direct your attention to a working/reading group on "Speculative Aesthetics," convened by Katherine Hayles and Priscilla Wald at Duke University for the 2010-2011 year. They have graciously posted their schedule and readings online, which are provided in downloadable form HERE [you will want to return often, since they add download links as they go along].

Friday, January 21, 2011

Medieval Congress Preview Schedule

A sneak preview of the schedule for the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies (aka, Kzoo, aka The Zoo) is available here.

We'd love to see you at the following sessions:

Thursday 10am, Session 21, Fetzer 1005
Objects, Networks, and Materiality (A Roundtable)
Organized and Presided over by Jeffrey, and Sponsored by MEMSI
"A Parliament of Things?" Laurie A. Finke
"Things without Faces" Julie Orlemanski
"Medieval Nets" Valerie Allen
"Passionate Matter" Elizabeth "Liza!" Blake
"Remediating Matter" Kellie Robertson
"The Ice Age Is Never One" Lowell Duckert

Friday 10am, Session 179, Valley 1, 100
Medieval Taxonomies
Organized by Emily Steiner. Presided over by Martha Dana Rust
"Beauty" Michelle Karnes
"Lithic Animation, or, Do Rocks Have Souls?" Jeffrey!
"Social Registers: Homily, Satire, and the Classification of Persons in the Thirteenth Century" Claire M. Waters
"An Encyclopedia of Kinds: Varieties of Knowledge in Schoolroom Learning" Christopher Cannon

Thursday 7:30pm, Session 164, Bernhard 204
On the Love of Commentary (In Love)
Sponsored by Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary
Organized and Presided over by Nicola Masciandaro
"The Grace of Hermeneutics" Michael E. Moore
"Love and Fragments: Medieval Aristotle after Barthes" Anna M. Kłosowska
"Vestiges of a Lost Pedagogy: Medieval Commentary and the Love of Reading" Valerie M. Wilhite
"I Will Restore to You the Years that the Locust Hath Eaten: Spencer Reece’s Addresses" Eileen!
"I Love It When You Call My Name" Karmen MacKendrick

Friday 10am, Session 217, Schneider 1360
The Transcultural Middle Ages
Organized by Eileen! Presided over by Laurie A. Finke and Martin "Marty!" B. Shichtman
"Chaucer, Graunson, and Juan Ruiz’s Libro de buen amor" Lydia Fletcher
"Caxton’s Betweenness: Polyglot Printing and Translingual Mediation" Jonathan Hsy
"The Traffic in Monsters: The Scottish Buik of King Alexander and the Malay Hikayat Iskander Zulkarnain" Su Fang Ng

Friday 1:30pm, Session 276, Bernhard 159
Madness, Methodology, Medievalisms (A Roundtable)
Organized and presided over by Eileen!
"What Looks Like Crazy: Margery Kempe and the Meanings of Diagnosis" Mo Pareles
"Transversing Our Soundscapes of Lunacy: Agoraphobia and (Un)Masking Madness" Elliot A. Jarbe
"Madness, Masculinity, and the Feminine Audience in Hoccleve’s Series" Jennifer Little
"Ni Wood for Sorow: On (the Necessity of) Being at One’s Wit’s End in The Cloud of Unknowing" Nicola Masciandaro
Respondent: Michael G. Sargent

Friday 3:30pm Session 332 Bernhard 105
Queering the Muse: Medieval Poetry and Contemporary Poetics (A Roundtable)
Organized by Eileen! Presided over by Anna M. Kłosowska
"Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan: The Serial, the Field, and the Medieval" Daniel C. Remein
"'Beowulf is a hoax': Jack Spicer’s Medievalism and Queer Translation" David Hadbawnik
"Jack Spicer’s Interlinear Death in the Translation of Beowulf" Sean Reynolds
"Anticipatory Plagiarism and the Ex Post Facto Garde in the Middle Ages" Chris Piuma
"A Basket of Fire: Anne Sexton’s Radical Mysticism" Christopher Roman
"'Timor mortis conturbat me': Death, Representational Making, and the Poetics of the Possible" Katharine W. Jager

Saturday 3:30pm, Session 471, Fetzer 1010
Beowulf and History (A Panel Discussion)
Sponsored by Oregon Medieval English Literature Society (OMELS)
Organized by Danna Voth, Marcus Hensel, and Diana Coogle. Presider over by Diana Coogle
A panel discussion with Eileen A. Joy, (“The Time of Beowulf Is Infinite in Every Direction: Redux”); Thomas D. Hill; and James W. Earl (“The Swedish Wars”)

Friday 10am, Session 175, Valley II 205
Problematic Pets in the Middle Ages
Organized by Peter H. Goodrich. Presider over by Kristen M. Figg
"'Neither Person Nor Beast': Dogs as the Liminal Human in Medieval Literature" Alison Ganze Langdon
"Ridiculous Mourning: Dead Animals and Lost Humans" Karl!
"Pets and Other Animals in Richard of Venosa’s De Paulino et Polla" John B. Dillon

You have five months, starting roughly now, to procrastinate on writing your papers. Please use the time as wisely as you can.

Postcard from Toronto

by J J Cohen

Sorry about not keeping up with comments: I'm in Toronto right now. I'm in awe of the Centre for Medieval Studies here: what a smart and lively group of faculty and graduate students. I'm impressed with the sheer number of languages being researched: at lunch we had Latin, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Catalans, Provencal, Norse, Welsh, Irish and Spanish covered. And that really was among three people.

I gave a formal paper last night, with a lively Q&A following. This morning is a seminar that puts my work in Medieval Identity Machines in dialogue with Bruno Latour and Jane Bennett. We'll see how that goes. Meanwhile, I'm going to drink coffee, stand at my hotel window and watch the snow falling on the roof of the Gothic church across the way, and think of something coherent to say.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the heart that you call home

by J J Cohen

(read about an exciting graduate seminar about to launch before I blather about mine in progress)

Last night in my Objects seminar we took as a point of departure two unrelated, almost casual asides:
(1) Pondering a Bush-era "Culture of Life" that could in one breath decry stem cell research and support war in Iraq, Jane Bennett wondered how one could be at once committed to vitalism through a love of life, and yet be committed to lethal force through a love of violence. We asked, Isn't the real challenge posed by indifference, especially to the lives of others? When certain locations become the privileged spaces of vitality, who pays a price?
(2) In the Breton lays Sir Degaré and Lay le Freine, an extraneous passage appears:
The maide toke the child hir mide
And stale oway in an eventide,
And passed over a wild heth.
Thurch feld and thurch wode hye geth
Al the winterlong night -
The weder was clere, the mone was light -
So that hye com bi a forest side (Le Freine 145-52)

The maiden tok the child here mide,
Stille awai in aven tide,
Alle the winteres longe night.
The weder was cler, the mone light;
Than warhth she war anon
Of an hermitage in a ston (Degaré 219-24)
The scenes are uncannily similar: an unnamed maiden has intervened to save an unwanted infant (in one case a girl, in the other a boy) from a terrible fate, spiriting the baby into the care of strangers. The beauty of the evening -- cloudless; crepuscular; winter lucidity of the moon -- has nothing to do with the scene of rescue. Yet aven tide intrudes, twice, as superfluous as it is lovely. Does the moon care that it illuminates an infant conveyed from peril to an unknown life? Is the setting indifferent to the benevolence of the hermit or the abbess who will ensure the child's new life? Or is there some intimacy between maiden and winter night, so that one must accompany the other, that they are part of the same vibrancy or vitality?

We turned to Thoreau's Walden, since the work is among Bennett's favorite texts (Vibrant Matter is underwritten by American and British Romanticism as well as the philosophers it examines; there's as much Whitman and Coleridge in its underworkings as Spinoza and Deleuze in its citations). We looked at the beauty of this early passage, in which Thoreau pauses in the woods while constructing his cabin by Walden pond:
The ice in the pond was not yet dissolved, though there were some open spaces, and it was all dark-colored and saturated with water. There were some slight flurries of snow during the days that I worked there; but for the most part when I came out on to the railroad, on my way home, its yellow sand heap stretched away gleaming in the hazy atmosphere, and the rails shone in the spring sun, and I heard the lark and pewee and other birds already come to commence another year with us. They were pleasant spring days, in which the winter of man's discontent was thawing as well as the earth, and the life that had lain torpid began to stretch itself. One day, when my axe had come off and I had cut a green hickory for a wedge, driving it with a stone, and had placed the whole to soak in a pond-hole in order to swell the wood, I saw a striped snake run into the water, and he lay on the bottom, apparently without inconvenience, as long as I stayed there, or more than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life.
Great stuff, and almost irresistible, so stunning is the narration: just as the warming sun lifts the cold from the earth, lifts the snake into better communion with the woods that surround it, so Thoreau in his lucid solitude is lifted to empyrean life, to a perspective denied those men held by common society's chill torpor. Thoreau is proud of the retreat he constructs, and gives us every detail of its rising, even the total price. A bit later he informs us that the boards for his walls were purchased from an Irishman named James Collins, whose shanty he demolishes. Thoreau inspects Collins' house before taking possession, noting the scant but treasured possessions within -- a parasol, a gilded mirror, a coffee mill -- as well as a cat at the window and an infant "in the house where it was born." The next day he journeys to collect his purchased materials:
At six I passed him and his family on the road. One large bundle held their all -- bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens -- all but the cat; she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last.
It's an oddly dispassionate scene. We want Thoreau to have his experience of the Wild, want him to narrate to us the allure of serpents that bask in vernal sun and invite the mind to transcendence, but what about the Collins family? What about their cat? Does it matter that the material of his retreat arrives from the ruins of their life? That their pet comes to no good end? Or should we take the transaction for what it was, an economic exchange rather than a space for affect? Does Thoreau's discovery of his own vibrant materialism come at a cost, and should we hold him to account?

Spent in Fostering
Romances and lays typically ignore the economic exchanges that structure the worlds in which their authors lived and their actions unfold. Lai le Freine, a faithful English translation of Marie de France's "Le Fresne," describes how an infant girl is rescued from infanticide and delivered as a foundling to an abbey. The baby is abandoned with a rich cloth and a ring, tokens of her aristocratic origin. She is fostered with love (we know this because in the English version the Abbess's sadness at the departure of her adopted daughter is palpable, unlike in Marie), but this fostering seems to cost only emotion: that is, neither the ring nor the cloth are sold to pay for the expenses of raising the girl. Sir Degaré, however, is almost unique in its acknowledgment that the fostering of a child takes an expenditure of real, material resources. When the hermit who as an uncle raised Degaré reveals to the young man that he was discovered as a foundling, Degaré immediately leaves his functional family to find his biological one. To help him along on his quest, the benevolent hermit returns the money with which as an infant he had been conveyed into the world on that moonlit night:
He tok him his florines and his gloves
That he had kept to hise bihoves.
Ac the ten pound of starlings
Were ispended in his fostrings.
Degaré is given the coins and gloves his mother left with her abandoned baby, but the ten pounds worth of sterling that was expended in nurturing him for twenty years cannot be provided. His adoptive family (the hermit and his sister) have expended their resources upon Degaré, as well as their love. Does this passage invite us to wonder why Degaré so quickly turns his back upon them? In this lay that through potent objects strives to bring all its human relationships into a structure of belonging (a structure so tight that incest is perpetually a possibility), they are the story's loose ends, the people denied a happy ending -- or, really, any ending. They are, like the Collins family, nearly below notice. Except, perhaps, a little different, because we know that the care of Degaré cost them something, that their participation in his journey leaves them with less than they might otherwise have had. Not a loss of money, but a loss of expended regard.

The night-wandering maidens of these two Breton lays convey to safety but not to security the lives they nurture. Degaré, the Lost One, is the future knight's real name, not a temporary appellation. The nameless maiden, his guardian angel, helps Degaré to his lostness. His mistake in later life is to find himself too securely -- and thereby find himself married to his own mother, a lady whose father's love borders on incest and whose unlooked-for lover rapes her to engender Degaré. Can he live happily ever after in the wake of such relations?

We puzzled in seminar over epistemology, ontology, causality. So long as we are narrative-dependent, our ways of knowing are driven by story, our effects will find their causes through the accounts we narrate. Bennett's Vibrant Matter is more performative than argumentive: to enter the book, to enter a Breton lay, is to suspend what you know of how the world works and open both mind and body to excitation, intensification of cognition and affect. It is also to cast a wide glance. If the vibrancy of the world is to be discerned, it clearly cannot be at the cost of those reduced to mere resources -- no matter whether that reduction happens to displaced Irish families, forgotten hermits or abbesses, abandoned cats, or matter considered only as raw, inert, passive. To repeat some words differently, vibrant materiality demands a vitality in which all lives matter. It demands messengers, sublunary go-betweens, those who move from one place to another in order to change both. These are literally angels, messengers (as Michel Serres insists), perpetually conveyed, becoming and traveling without necessary destination, always mindful that a retreat into heaven leaves too many abandoned on the rubbish heaps of the earth.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Animals, Saints, and Monsters in the Middle Ages: Spring 2011 Version

Brooklyn College starts its Spring semester in two weeks. For those of you already teaching, you have my sympathy, which I expect will be returned to me (with interest?) in the last week of May, when my Spring will have done with me. Today's task? Retool my graduate "Animals, Saints, and Monsters" course. Last year's version is here.

In the spirit of sharing Spring courses (see Jeffrey, here, and Eileen, here, especially if you want to see who I'm ripping off):

This time around, in response to student complaints that I was teaching too many things, I'm dropping, among other texts, Yvain and Guillaume de Palerne, the first because I'd rather spend half a semester on it, and the second because of its price and because so much of it tends to all-too-familiar medieval battle scenes, perhaps interesting to my students but dull, dull, dull to me. I also dropped Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, because I very much want to teach it with Timothy Morton's The Ecological Thought, and because I don't feel comfortable assigning my students a $40 hardcover that runs less than 200 pages. I'll teach the Vita again when Morton comes out in paperback.

In response to student requests for, I kid you not, more werewolves, I'm providing just that (thank you, Liverpool Online Series: Critical Editions of French Texts). I'm keeping the Melusine legend from Geoffrey of Auxerre, adding in Chaucer and Marie de France (because, well, I just should teach canonical texts from time to time) and, as well, Raymon Llull's fables because they're good...and because I don't think my students want to finish their semester by fighting through Henryson's Middle Scots, despite Henryson's highly peculiar sympathy for the violence he has his fable figures suffer (for a tantalizing discussion of this, see Jill Mann, From Aesop to Reynard); see lines 1874-1880.

The schedule follows:
  • Introduction: Background to the Middle Ages and Critical Animal Theory; “The Wolf Child of Hesse,” from The Chronicle of Saint Peter of Erfurt
  • Critical Animal Theory: Foundations: Jacques Derrida, “And Say the Animal Responded?” The Animal That Therefore I am, 119-40; Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” Écrits, 3-9; Genesis Chapters 1-3; Psalms 73:12-17 (DRV)
  • Critical Animal Theory: Foundations II: Judith Butler, “Introduction: Precarious Life, Grievable Life,” Frames of War, 1-32; 'Canis Legend' from Killis Campbell, ed., The Seven Sages of Rome, lxxviii-lxxxii, 26-32, ll. 775-944, Sidney Herrtage, ed., Early English Versions of the Gesta Romanorum, 98-99, “The Queen of France and the Unfaithful Husband” (from Medieval German Tales in English Translation), and Stephen of Bourbon, on “St. Guinefort,” from De Superstitione
  • Critical Animal Theory: Foundations III: Donna J. Haraway, “When Species Meet: Introductions,” When Species Meet, 3-42; Marie de France, Lays, “Bisclavret”
  • Monsters: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, 3-25; Melion and Biclarel
  • Monsters II: Luce Irigaray, “This Sex which is Not One,” This Sex which is Not One, 23-33; Ovid, Heroides XIV, “Hypermnestra to Lynceus”; Ruth Evans, “Gigantic Origins: An Annotated Translation of De Origine Gigantum,” Arthurian Literature 16 (1998): 197-211
  • Monsters III: Geoffrey of Auxerre, On the Apocalypse, Joseph Gibbons, trans., 139-57; Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland, John O'Meara trans., 69-77; Ratramnus of Corbie's “Letter on the Cynocephali” (from Paul Edward Dutton, trans., Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, 2nd Ed., 452-55); Cursor Mundi on the “Conversion of Monsters,” lines 8069-8132
  • Inventing with Animals: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Inventing with Animals in the Middle Ages,” Engaging with Nature, 39-62; Marie de France, Lays, “Guigemar,” “Yonec,” “Laüstic,” "Milun,” and the anonymous “Lay of Tyrolet”
  • Into the Wild I: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, 43-115; Vibrant Matter, i-62
  • Into the Wild II: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, 116-190; Vibrant Matter, 63-finish
  • Talking Animals: Susan Crane, “For the Birds,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 29 (2007): 23-41; Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Parliament of Fowls”
  • Saints: The Little Flowers of St Francis
  • Talking Animals II: The Owl and the Nightingale; Monica Brzezinski Potkay, “Natural Law in 'The Owl and the Nightingale,'” The Chaucer Review 28.4 (1994): 368-83
  • Talking Animals III: Raymon Llull, “The Book of the Beasts”
  • Review: Cary Wolfe, “Human, All Too Human: 'Animal Studies' and the Humanities” PMLA 124.2 (2009): 564-75; Bruce Holsinger, “Of Pigs and Parchment: Medieval Studies and the Coming of the Animal,” PMLA 124.2 (2009): 616-23: Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155.3767 (1967): 1203-1207.
(image, f 28r, from here, Robbins MS 005)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Nature"; also Guigemar's Hermaphroditic Cervid


1) Point the First: saw an excellent paper ("Lost Geographies and The Awntyrs off Arthure") by Kathleen Coyne Kelly at the MLA in the "Alliterative Romances" session, where something struck me: When did "nature" become a place? When did it become possible to go out into nature? When did nature cease to be, primarily, a synonym for "kynde," or a word meaning "all of creation"? The Middle English Dictionary, the OED, the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, and Glossa aren't helping me here.

2) Point the Second: On the topic of Nature: I recently read Timothy Morton's The Ecological Thought (for a hit-and-run review, see here). Enjoyed it enormously, not least of all for his take-down of heteronormative, hearty, unironic "nature." Morton says, for example:
Rugged, bleak, masculine Nature defines itself through extreme contrasts. It's outdoorsy, not 'shut in.' It's extraverted, not introverted. It's heterosexual, not homosexual. It's able-bodied--'disability' is nowhere to be seen, and physical 'wholeness' and 'coordination' are valued over the spontaneous body (81)....Masculine Nature is unrealistic. In the mesh, sexuality is all over the map. Our cells reproduce asexually, like their single-celled ancestors or the blastocyst that attaches to the uterus wall at the beginning of pregnancy. Plants and animals are hermaphrodites before they are bisexual and bisexual before they are heterosexual. Most plants and half of animals are either sequentially or simultaneously hermaphorditic; many live with constant transgender switching. A statistically significant proportion of white-tailed deer (10 percent plus) are intersex (84)....The ecological thought is also friendly to disability. There are plentiful maladaptions and functionless phenomena at the organism level (85)
Follow the link, the source for Morton's observation about the frequent intersexuality of white-tailed deer. If you're a medievalist, and this doesn't remind you of something, I recommend you reread my post's title.
En l'espeisse d'un grant buissun
vit une bisse od sun foün.
Tute fu blanche cele beste;
perches de cerf out en la teste (89-92)
In the densest part of a great thicket, he saw a doe and her fawn. this animal was completely white; it had a rack of antlers on its head. (5)
Morton, via Joan Roughgarden, talks of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), not native to Europe, and certainly unknown to Marie (but not unknown in their intersexed form to American hunters). But Roughgarden goes on to speak about several other species essential to the high-class hunting culture of twelfth-century Northern Europe:
a male morph in black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) called cactus buck may be a form of intersex as well. Elk (Cervus elaphus, also called a red-tailed deer), swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli), Sika deer (Cervus nippon), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and fallow deer (Dama dama), all have a male morph with velvet-covered antlers, called a peruke, that is described as nonreproductive. (36-37)
Now, Marie's white deer with a fawn doesn't quite correspond to the so-called male morphs of Elk or red-tailed, fallow, or roe deer; but the mixture of secondary sexual characteristics (at this point, would you please turn in your hymn-book to hymn #25, "All Sexual Characteristics are Secondary (Praise J. Butler)") in/on a cervid would not have been entirely unknown to Marie. It would not have been purely fantastic, nor purely symbolic. However, my sense from my dipping into Marie criticism is that this hermaphroditic deer's characteristics tend to be taken this way. If we take this as a known variant in cervid bodies (again, thanks, this time with the hymn book, "All Bodies Are Variants"), if we accept that what we tend to think of as "nature itself" "will not be pitched into binary assignations" (thanks Richard Maxwell, via Amy Hughes), then we, and Guigemar, ought not to take this critter as being as much a wonder, or monster, as we perhaps have been prone to do. Please do more with this if and as you like.

(image via the post "Something is missing on this 10-point 'buck,'" here)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not Dead Yet: Richard Burt, Medieval and Early Modern Film and Media


We don't often talk about film here on ITM: for exceptions, see my discussions of Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois, here, and Roberto Rossellini's Francesco, giullare di Dio, here, and the Holy Hand Grenade, here, and also have another look at our brief plugs for Marty Shichtman/Laurie Finke's Cinematic Illuminations and for Kathleen Coyne Kelly/Tison Pugh's Queer Movie Medievalisms. Another entry today: Richard Burt--my Facebook cinephile interlocutor extraordinaire--has delivered into my hands his Medieval and Early Modern Film and Media, which Palgrave wisely, generously decided to release in paperback. It's not a cheap e-book (PLEASE weigh in), but it's something.

The relationship between paperback and hardcover, between analog and digital film, between cinematic release--framed by a publicity machine and the supposedly authentic experience of being alone in the dark with a crowd of cineastes--and packaged and repacked DVDs--which provide us with a supposedly derivative experience of starting/stopping, of exploring the paratextual material of the fancier DVDs [the commentaries, the film stills, the documentaries, the essays]--all of these "uncanny doublings" (158), these hauntological things and thing-relationships (to speak pleonastically) (or perhaps not), resonate with and through Burt's book.

Films treated include Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mad Love, Anamorphosis (and The Cabinent of Jan Svankmajer), Se7en (!), Day of Wrath, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and, more sustainedly, El Cid, Kingdom of Heaven, and The Return of Martin Guerre.

For a short sense of how Burt does his thing: his engagement with the credits of Walkabout, here.

For a longer sense of how Burt does his thing, see his taking Monty Python seriously (my emphasis):
A problem of arriving at interpretive closure follows from the erosion of the paratext’s authority and related policing functions: in a radical manner even more avant-garde than Eric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978), the film repetitively deconstructs and reinscribes (and reanimates) a distinction between meaning and nonsense, logic and illogic, parody and its policing; even more radically, it deconstructs a generic distinction between the film as medieval historical film and a documentary about the making of such a film. The shot of the police car entering the frame near the end of the film is followed by handheld cinéma verité shots of the police that continue to the end, making it seem as if we are witnessing a documentary about reenactors of a medieval battle. Yet this tension between historical film and documentary is present even in the historical sequences, made manifest through pointless but immediate point of view shots from inside the Green Knight’s helmet as he fights the Black Knight, the handheld shots of the mob rushing to burn the “witch” and the knights charging in the final battle, to take only a few of many such examples. What counts as the death of film, the cut from the policeman’s hand blocking the camera to the end of reel footage to the black screen and carnivalesque organ exit music that plays as if from a separate source in the theater (the same as the intermission music), amounts to a full-scale dismantling of the production and reception of the historical film. We get a deferral of closure rather than the dialectical sequence from documentary (profilmic real) to its fictionalization as diegesis and finally to simulation of documentary through excessive spectacular supplementary details, often in the form of extras, that according to Rosen (2001, 160–99) define the historical fiction film and differentiates it from the documentary film (to which Rosen tellingly devotes a separate chapter). If the historical film, in Rosen’s words, lets us conclude “what we see is not actually what was, but what it would have looked like” (182), Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s self-reflexive serialization of its narrative, subversion of its paratext’s authority, and use of extras playing knights who appear out of nowhere for the final and aborted battle estrange and confuse us, provoking us to wonder again and again about just what kind of film we are watching: a film parodying films about the Middle Ages such as Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957)? A documentary about making such a film parody? Or a documentary about a film about reenactors making a film about the Middle Ages played by actors who are acting as reenactors? One of the film’s many recurrent and hilarious tag lines—“Not dead yet”—may serve as a tagline for the problem of interpreting the film’s staging of its continual deferral of meaning, its refusal to deliver a narrative sequence of its own life and death.
HAVE A LOOK: For students of psychoanalysis, of desire, of presence and disappearance and ineradicability.

Books and Access

by J J Cohen

Back in October I posted that Medieval Identity Machines is available for the Kindle. I was pleased to see its electronic release, considering its subject matter. Oddly (as you'll see via Amazon), MIMS is my only book you can read in this format -- a nuisance, because the electronic version is substantially cheaper than its tree-wasting sibling. (If you just want a lowish tech preview of the book, I have the introduction and the first two chapters in PDF here; download and enjoy).

Now, some good news for United States readers: the University of Minnesota Press has through the Google ebookstore released downloadable, for purchase versions of much of their stock at fairly reasonable prices. Monster Theory is $14.10, Of Giants is $14.45 (take it from me, there really is thirty-five cent difference in quality of writing), Medieval Identity Machines a mere $14.04 (no comment on quality). You'll notice NOTHING listed from Palgrave Macmillan's New Middle Ages series: you still have to pay $90 and get the dead tree version, unless your school is one of the few that subscribes to Palgrave Connect (proof that many of their books already exist in downloadable form). When will Palgrave catch up to the rest of the industry?

I don't know enough about the publishers' agreements that enabled the Google ebookstore to come into being, but for reasons that defy logic the books can be purchased only in the US. Tough luck if you live just a little north in say, Canada. Just as tough if you live overseas. Wasn't the internet supposed to erode boundaries like these, not reinforce them?

If you've read this far in the post, you're obviously either bored or interested in e-books and digital publishing. I have a question that has been on my mind for a while. The institute I direct, GW MEMSI, is thinking about initiating a modest series of short publications that we'd like to make widely available. My initial idea was that these publications would be inexpensive downloads published via Google and Amazon and the like, since the Institute can't do its own file hosting, and these sites give moderately good and I hope burgeoning access. Each e-pub would cost perhaps one to three dollars, with proceeds offsetting the costs of publication and supporting the mission of the institute (which I hope means the mission of theory-engaged, socially conscious medieval and early modern studies more generally). If Prickly Paradigm Press were e-savvy, you'd have an idea of my idea. Another model is that offered by, which publishes in Open Access and hard copy at the same time -- but that kind of partnership would be much more difficult to put in place.

What do you think?

Friday, January 14, 2011

patience (ye shul it lerne)

by J J Cohen

Today is day five of my struggle to live with an object that places impossible demands upon me. Partly due to your encouragement, I am learning to play acoustic guitar. Or perhaps more accurately, I am learning to learn how to play the instrument.

My hunch that Craigslist would be replete with unwanted instruments proved wrong, so securing one took some time. Last week a friend gave me his to borrow, a guitar he bought while in Japan many years ago. He'd been keeping it in storage, having decided that he could play with precision, but not passion. I like learning on an instrument with a history, with an object that has been loved. A neighbor suggested a teacher for me, a man she hired last year when her husband died suddenly. She decided in the sorrow of his absence to learn to play the acoustic guitar he'd left behind, and has been making a progress I'll never match.

My first lesson was Sunday. I learned immediately the clumsiness of my hands: I would try to arch them, curve them, attempt to hold the strings singly and tightly near the frets, but my digits weren't so keen on taking these orders from my brain. My teacher, Jamie, is patient. He insists that it'll work only once I have a muscle memory of how to produce the chords, and the only way to gain that knowledge in the body is repetition. He tries to be encouraging, and on the rare occasion when I get something right he gives me a heartfelt yeah. You can hear one of these moments at the end of this video I made with my iPhone to help me to remember how to position my fingers.

Despite my iPhone and finger placement charts and YouTube resources, though, reproducing the positions for the various chords has been a challenge. Each evening I work at chords for a long time and then I get it, but the next day I'm almost starting from scratch, frustrated because I can't remember that Jamie taught me to make a kind of triangle with three fingers for an A chord rather than a straightforward line. But I persevere, and I notice that my fingers are becoming more dexterous, that I create fewer humming noises, that sometimes I actually get a chord right and it is powerfully beautiful. Then I fail at the next chord, repeatedly. I know: it's like learning a language, and I have to give my body time to master new skills so that I don't have to think before acting. A lesson in patience, a virtue in which I am sometimes sorely lacking.

You would think that as a medievalist I'd have nothing but patience. I didn't learn Old Norse, Latin or ancien français in a week, after all. I'm still learning to allow myself my mistakes. It's a lesson I'm trying to bring into other parts of my life. I am that annoying person who makes most every deadline, often early so that I can have time to work over the "final" product one more time or to move on to the next thing I've committed to (the best way to be efficient? Overcommit; you'll have no choice). I'm also an inveterate plotter and planner: that's why MEMSI exists, that's why New Critical Modes and Ecomaterialism are coming into being, that's why my schedule of public talks actually runs well into 2012. I'm impatient with myself, and at my worst impatient with others when they don't keep up with me. I felt this intensely during the past few weeks as I've assembled the funding application for MEMSI for the next two years. I've tried to be thorough, to prevent any possible problem from arising, to have every person within the university who might question an assumption or slam on a brake to buy into the proposal before it is delivered. It's hard work, and I'll be happy to have it out of my life: but because it's been so time consuming it's also made me weary with handling details related to all the other things going on as the term begins. It is possible that on Facebook I even threatened to shoot rubber bands at my graveyard-quiet Chaucer class to liven them up. So, an addendum to my resolution, a resolve that must go hand in hand with my baby steps on guitar: patience.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A fiction writer (objects, wonder, lies)

author's rendering of "Laustic"'s end
by J J Cohen

Early morning and snow dust has brought white roads, white boughs, and a two hour delay for small children's school. I've left early since I need to be on campus, the house still asleep. No wind, and the snow has brought its quiet even to morning traffic. I'm walking to Metro and "Engine Driver" is playing on my iPod. The world as it is seems a world in which I've never walked before.

I am thinking of my evening class, my first Objects seminar. We introduced ourselves through the things that possess us. I'd brought a small rock, speckled granite, perfect round like an egg, the gift of waves in Maine. How could I resist this offer of earth and water on last summer's beach? Each of us spoke of our object, some with a vulnerability and a love that made me envious, too cherished to story here.

We spoke of Latour, and actants, and Bennett, and her regard for wonder, enchantment, and the naiveté of children, "a perceptual style open to the appearance of thing-power." We thought our limit case: Marie de France, "Laustic," a lai of insufficient passion, of a nightingale murdered to become an empty art. I sketched the dead bird on the board, wrapped in the samite which is its story, enclosed in the box that was supposed to be a reliquary but seems an inert coffin. I asked, what vitality remains in this thing no longer alive, in an emptiness around which beauty but not love is built? We found its movements (into Brittany, into French, into English, into our classroom) and we found the life of objects in the stories they provoke.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Back to Chaucer

by J J Cohen

Though he died in 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer trumps any contemporary zombie in his ability to persevere beyond death: 610 years postmortem and still going strong. I'll be teaching his works at 12:45 today, for the 16th time since I arrived at GW in 1994. Fortunately for both me and my students, I've yet to become bored. The course always proves quite popular as well, generally closing at 25 on the third or fourth day of registration. That means that the majority of students seated in my class want to be seated in my class.

Below is my syllabus. A few changes have taken place since last I taught the course: it's no longer a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) class. The reason is simple: the course still mandates writing (it's in an English Department, after all), but I realized the WID designation did nothing to help those who enrolled in the class, since the vast majority had already fulfilled that requirement before they registered. Now I've retooled the course slightly for greater emphasis upon language work, and for thinking about interpretive techniques. I've cleared more space for close reading by not adopting a secondary text (in the past I've often used Chaucer: An Oxford Guide to good effect). I had considered taking David Wallace's excellent suggestion at NCS Siena and teaching the Physician's Tale first, but just couldn't part with pairing the Manciple's Tale with it in a "failed stories" day right after spring break.

As a late addendum, I also gave my students a link to this useful post by Derrick Pitard on Computer Common Sense.



This course examines Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in all their complexity, perversity, and artfulness. We will be especially attentive to Chaucer's explorations of identity and the ways in which his texts envision various kinds of community. This course stresses the importance of language work to comprehension and explores the scholarly modes through which Chaucer may be analyzed. All primary readings are in Middle English.

The mission of this course is fourfold:
  1. to enable you to read Middle English fluently
  2. to hone your critical, linguistic and persuasive skills through careful, text-based analysis of literature within its historical context
  3. to introduce you to contemporary scholarly methods of studying Chaucer and the medieval period
  4. to explore the relation between narrating the past and bringing about a desired future, paying close attention to who is excluded from this emergent community
Code of Courtesy
Arrive on time with your cell phone silenced. Read the assigned work before class and bring the text with you. Give the professor, the TA, and your fellow classmates your full attention. Be present: do not chat, text, or surf the internet. Remain in the room until the class ends. Conduct yourself in a manner respectful to all present. Never hesitate to ask a question, to express a doubt, or to request clarification.
Learning Objectives
If you are diligent in keeping up with readings, lectures, and discussions, by the end of this course you will be able to:
  1. translate Middle English into a contemporary idiom
  2. identify key literary concepts and apply them to medieval texts
  3. apply techniques of critical analysis (especially close reading) to a variety of genres, including scholarly essays
  4. understand contemporary approaches to literary and cultural studies
Class attendance and participation; four writing exercises; two midterm exams; final exam. Missed assignments cannot be made up; late assignments are not accepted. These assessments will count towards the total of your grade in these proportions:
Participation            10
    Ex. #1 (translation)        3
    Ex. #2 (trans. + analysis)    5
    Ex. #3 (close reading)        7
    Ex. #4 (critical essay analysis)        15
    Midterm I            15
    Midterm II            20
    Final                25

You will also have the opportunity of earning two points of extra credit by attending a special lecture on Friday March 11. Details will be announced in class.

Policy on lateness and extensions: Plan carefully. Except for a documented medical reason, late work is not accepted. You may not take an incomplete for this course.

Academic dishonesty: Academic dishonesty of any kind is a serious offense and is always reported to the Academic Integrity Office In most cases you will fail the course. According to the GW Code of Academic Integrity, “Academic dishonesty is defined as cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one's own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information.” You can find more on the Code of Academic Integrity at The best way to avoid a violation of the Code: do not use the internet for this class; if you do, cite your sources.

Disability statement: If you require accommodations based on disability, contact Prof. Cohen. Disability Support Services (Marvin Center 242, 994 8250, is available to assist you as well.

Suggested Electronic Resource: METRO (Middle English Teaching Resources Online). In its “Chaucer” section this website offers pronunciation, comprehension and vocabulary drills that will enable you to master Middle English quickly.

Schedule of Readings: Readings are from Canterbury Tales are in the Riverside edition, ed. Larry Benson. You should not purchase a translation of the tales. It will impede your ability to work with the Middle English original.

10 Jan        Introduction: Chaucer's Life, Language and World
12 Jan        The General Prologue
Writing exercise for January 19: Today you will be assigned five lines of the General Prologue to rewrite (1) in a faithful translation into Modern English, then (2) in Modern English but with no poetic language (no similes or other figures of speech).
17 Jan        no class (MLK Day)
19 Jan    Wife of Bath's Prologue
    Writing exercise #1 due in class.
24 Jan        Wife of Bath's Tale
Writing exercise #2 assigned: translation of short Middle English passage with analytical paragraph on themes and context.
26 Jan        Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
Writing exercise #2 due in class.
31 Jan        Knight's Tale (parts 1 & 2)
Writing exercise #3 assigned: two passages of Middle English for close reading and thematic analysis.

2 Feb        Knight's Tale (parts 3 & 4)
Writing exercise #3 due in class.   
7 Feb        Miller's Tale       
9 Feb        Midterm Exam I   
14 Feb        Reeve's Tale, Cook's Tale
16 Feb      Man of Law's Tale
21 Feb        no class (President’s Day)
23 Feb        Workshop: How to Evaluate a Scholarly Argument
Writing Ex. #4 assigned (evaluation of scholarly argument within a critical essay, 3pp, due in class March 9)
28 Feb        Clerk's Tale
2 March    Merchant's Tale
7 March    Squire's Tale
9 March    No class. Writing Ex. #4 due by 2 PM.
11 March    GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies (GW MEMSI) Conference “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods” at the Marvin Center. You will have the chance to earn extra credit by attending one of the sessions. Details announced in class.
14-16 March    Spring Break (read Chaucer on the beach)
21 March    Physician's Tale, Manciple's Tale
23 March    Franklin's Tale
28 March     Midterm Exam II
30 March    Shipman's Tale
4 April        Prioress's Tale
6 April        Monk’s Tale, Tale of Sir Thopas
11 April    Nun's Priest's Tale
13 April    Second Nun's Tale
18 April    Canon's Yeoman's Tale
20 April    catch-up day, if needed
25 April     Chaucer's Retraction and Course Retrospect   
TBA    Final examination