Monday, April 04, 2011

NCS 2012 Portland: CFP is out

by J J Cohen

Yes, it's Monday, you're busy, the exams won't grade themselves, that dissertation has one hundred and twelve footnotes that require immediate tinkering, your essay is now twelve weeks overdue, the Angry Birds are expecting you to get a high score today. Yes, yes, yes.

But much more important than any such thing is the fact that the call for papers for New Chaucer Society 2012 has been published. I am on the program committee, so false modesty prohibits me from declaring it the BEST PROGRAM EVER. All of the threads look to be excellent ... but allow me to put a special plug in for the two I oversaw. I reproduce them below with a small correction to the official copy: Chelsea Henson's email address is


Thread: Ecologies

Thread Convener: Jeffrey Cohen

Organizer: Robert Stanton (
Paul Dutton has written that "'weather' is properly historical and stubbornly subjective, since it involves humans in time thinking about it and how it affects their lives." How were meteorological phenomena in the late Middle Ages observed, described, and interpreted? Recent work in ecocriticism has signaled the endlessly fluid and negotiable character of nature; can we reconfigure the notion of "natural phenomena" as a negotiated interaction among divine, human, and physical orders? Submissions to this panel might address the reception of storms, floods, earthquakes, or droughts across genres; a comparison of representations of weather in textual and visual sources; or the relationship between generalized and archetypal descriptions of weather events and their strategic deployment as narrative and rhetorical elements.

Organizer: Brendan O'Connell (
In his commentary on the Metamorphoses, Arnulf of Orleans assimilates the transformations of Ovid's text to the classifications of metaphor in the Poetria Nova, noting that these transformations involve changes from living thing to living things, from non-living to non-living, from non-living to living and from living to non-living. In Pearl, the maiden rejects the narrator's attempt to compare her bodily, living form to a pearl, insisting that it would more appropriately be compared to a rose, while her spiritual nature may be fittingly compared to the precious pearl. This panel will consider what the medieval theory and practice of metaphor reveals about the relationships between different forms of life as well as the boundaries between living and non-living. Topics might include: metaphor and metamorphosis; the comparison of the living to the non-living; organic and inorganic beauty; the via negativa and the use of metaphor in the mystical tradition (comparing God to living and non-living beings); metaphor and mortality; the eroticisation of non-living objects.

Organizer: Randy P. Schiff (
While the late-medieval forest is sometimes conceived as a legal formulation reserving land for royal use, it also frequently serves the radically different function of figuring wild, unclaimed space. The panel will offer a platform for work coming the wake of the ecocritical turn taken by a number of medievalists, who have sought to avoid exclusively symbolic treatments of medieval nature, and instead analyze cultural interaction with physical environments. Relevant questions might include: How does the legal discourse of the forest inflect literary conceptions of the woods? Does the post-Norman model of the forest dominate late-medieval British understanding, or can we speak of a transnational notion of the forest? To what extent is the modern notion of the forest continuous with the pre-modern? How does ecocriticism alter our understanding of legal or literary formulations of the late-medieval forest?

Organizer: Allan Mitchell (
What animates things? How do organic and inorganic things live together? Today thinkers are increasingly drawn to the nature of things in and of themselves, seeking material objects as they stand outside of the parochial, human subject. What can medievalists contribute? Our dialogue may turn on the following questions: How do objects, organisms, or environments become animated in late medieval literature? Where does Chaucer generate animate objects or ecologies? How do medieval writers (and how do we) draw the line between animate and inanimate presences? What is the source of the power of animation, generation, vivification, agency? What constitutes the environment outside of human use or cognition? How does imagining an "outside" open up new and productive problems or pathways? The panel will consist of several short pieces (10-15 minutes) that may take the form of brief analyses, position papers, talking points, field notes, or quodlibets.

Organizer: Brantley L. Bryant (
What new perspectives can we gain when considering the political narratives traditionally read alongside Chaucer, such as the role of the parliamentary commons, the struggles of Richard II's reign, or the coming of the Lancastrian regime, in the context of the relations of humans with nature? To what extent do imaginations of politics in literary or documentary texts imply or assume particular relationships with the environment? In what ways can various non-human actors, such as the weather, infectious disease, waterways, livestock, and crops be seen to engage with the textual discussion of society, law, royal power, and the common good in this period? In what ways do textual practices of imagining the political world intersect with those used to govern, describe, and regulate the environment? 5-6 presenters will provide a short text or passage relevant to the panel theme that will serve as the main topic of their comments. Presenters will speak from notes about their texts, providing interpretations, contextualizations, theoretical provocations, or other conversation-starting remarks.

Organizer: Joseph Taylor (
Medieval forests often act as sanctuaries to which humans flee from law, politics, and time altogether. Giorgio Agamben claims of the man who has reached the end of his political being that "there is nothing left but... the taking on of our biological life itself as the supreme political (or rather impolitical) task." For the outlaw, the leper, the werewolf, and the lunatic, medieval greenwoods act as luminal zones, threshold spaces by which these castoffs return to the bare life of their existence. The forest provokes the question of what constitutes "life"? This session welcomes short presentations (5-8 minutes) that explore a variety of inquiries into forests, including but not limited to: How do these natural spaces affect law, sovereignty, power, and religion? What becomes of the man/animal that reemerges to confront the polis once again? How does Chaucer, a former deputy forester, construct the greenwood space? How might the spurious second Cook's Tale of Gamelyn and related tales of Robin Hood convey an alternative society of outlaws intimately tied to the natural environment wherein they live and "work"?

Organizer: Kellie Robertson (
This workshop will be dedicated to thinking about theoretical and textual issues in teaching medieval writings alongside modern ecocritical works. Participants will share syllabi--either aspirational or already road-tested. We'll consider the challenges as well as the potentially synthetic payoffs of such courses.

Organizers: Jeffrey Cohen ( and Holly Crocker (
How do ways of knowing and forms of life intersect? This session culminates the "Sciences" and "Ecologies" threads, bringing them together for a shared conversation. We welcome papers that attempt any kind of synthetic work in these areas.


Thread: Oceans

Thread Convener: Jeffrey Cohen

Organizers: Chelsea Henson ( and Sharity Nelson (
Medieval oceans present a space on which identity changes or is challenged. Identity becomes fluid as subjects are translated from one location or element to the next. Papers for this session will examine how identities--human, national, social--undergo translation: literally changing as bodies of water are entered, crossed, and navigated. Topics might include Crusade narratives, the lady-at-sea motif in romance, travel narratives, or natural science texts. Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Continental language texts are welcome as sources.

Organizer: Jonathan Hsy (
This paper session would explore how medieval literary and cultural studies can be brought into conversation with cultures of the Pacific Rim. What is the "place" of Chaucer studies in Anglophone environments beyond Europe: Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the North American Pacific, Singapore, Philippines? In what ways might the polyglot British archipelago engage with island contexts in the Pacific (e.g., Hawai'i, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan)? Other possible areas for discussion might include the status of English language and literature instruction in non-Anglophone classrooms; connections between medieval and contemporary contact literatures; venues for trans-Pacific collaboration; cross-cultural or comparative approaches to maritime literatures and diasporic identities.

Organizers: Matthew Boyd Goldie ( and Sebastian I. Sobecki (
The main title of these two related session refers to the influential twentieth-century ideas of Epeli Hau-ofa, who reimagined the Pacific in terms of plentitude, networks, and routes. For the first panel, proposals are invited for 15 or 20 minute papers that use recent theoretical ideas about aquatic spaces to examine late-medieval texts and artworks, including Chaucerian ones. What does Britain, Europe, and the world look like from the sea? What shapes did medieval oceanic or inland water routes, vectors, and forces take? How did writers imagine (trans)maritime networks of exchange? What texts or topoi acted as agents of archipelagic and regional integration? What aquatic discourse were familiar to medieval writers, including Chaucer?

Organizers: Matthew Boyd Goldie ( and Sebastian I. Sobecki (
The second of these related sessions focuses on ideas about insularity in late-medieval texts and artworks, including Chaucerian ones. What were the correspondences between ideas of religious isolation and geographical insularity? How were islands imagined in relation to each other within archipelagos? What were the distinctions between islands and continents? How was the shoreline an interactive space? Proposals are invited for 15 or 20 minutes papers that examine how people thought about insularity in geographical, political, religious, and artistic discourses.

Organizer: Meg Worley (
In Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy rejects the margin/center notion of black identity in favor of one that is based in the process of physically traversing the ocean and the process of transnational cultural and intellectual exchange. Gilroy's argument might even be seen as getting medieval if we refigure space as time, if we read the physical seas as the ocean of perceptual time that separates the medieval from the modern. Gilroy agitates for a new understanding of modernity and its attendant practices; let us agitate for a new perspective of medievality and its practices--eternally transnational by many measures--using the Atlantic as our figure. Papers for this panel could set sail in a number of directions: survey new land in the global south by uncovering and extending similarities between the medieval and the modern Atlantic; use medieval specificities to unlock modern puzzles; develop the notion of the medieval as a faraway shore whose natives become critical to the empire of the modern. Contributions of both concrete and abstract, traditional and innovative approaches are welcome.

Organizers: Lowell Duckert ( and Dan Remein (
In the Knight's Tale Chaucer describes the statue of Venus in her temple: an emblem for an interface between poetics and the watery world of the ocean whose "wawes grene" ornament the bottom half of what may seem to some a human effort at sculptural making. This panel will try to take the measure of the roll of actual waves in poetics. How do physical oceans and seas infuse with the human in poetic composition? Landscape and seascape are creators of culture. Literature is a product of sensual contact with the physical world. And the ocean is certainly included. Steve Mentz has recently argued for a more "blue" cultural studies (or thalassology) in the early modern period. How is the ocean not simply a passive figure or a set of identifiable meanings in literature, not simply traceable networks or routes of exchange in history, but a way to examine our own fluidic relationships to and with texts? How might studying thalassologies create new ways of being in an oceanic world past, present, and future? What happens when writers visited and composed the sea?

Organizers: Jeffrey Cohen ( and Patricia Ingham (
How do watery spaces challenge us to think about propinquity and community? How does the neighbor invite us to reimagine what unfolds by means of the sea? This session culminates the "Oceans" and "Neighbor" threads, bringing them together for shared conversation. We welcome papers that attempt any kind of synthetic work in these areas.


Myra Seaman said...

What can you tell us about that image?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

The image is from the little known and infrequently studied Portland MS of the Canterbury Tales. It was discovered in the 1960s in a commune not far from the city itself. It is possibly a holograph ms.

Liza Blake said...

when is 2012 is the conference?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Monday July 23 to Thursday July 26.

Eileen Joy said...

I'm especially intrigued by the 2 panels dealing with forests, especially as my own thinking/work over the past several years has been preoccupied with the role of forests/woods in Anglo-Saxon law codes concerning un-domiciled foreigners/strangers, but also with the function of forests in Malory's work in relation to aesthetics.

I think we should also remember, too, how forward-thinking the so-called "Annaliste" historians were [Braudel, Bloch, Ladurie, etc.] in relation to thinking about histories of climate, weather, geology, "slow" and "semi-still" versus more sped-up registers of historical temporalities, etc. Oftentimes I reflect how certain contemporary theoretical preoccupations were also being chewed over by these earlier historians.

Ethan Knapp said...

Looks very interesting. I'll certainly be there.

Anonymous said...

I probably won't be there, alas--'the ocean doesn't want me today'--but it's always nice to see Paul Dutton being referenced, an underrated man of letters in my book.