Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Beowulf in the Dark, Medieval Madness, and Blue: Some Items of Possible Interest


Readers of In The Middle may be interested to know that Blackwell's online journal Literature Compass, has just published a cluster of essays, "Beowulf in the Dark," edited by Francis Auld [Vol. 8, Issue 7: July 2011], that grew out of a 2008 MLA conference session on Beowulf and contemporary film:
Frances Auld, "Beowulf's Broken Bodies"

Bill Schipper, "All Talk: Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf, Wealtheow, and Grendel's Mother"

Eileen Jankowski, "The Post-9/11 Hero"

Robin Norris, "Resistance to Genocide in the Postmodern Beowulf"
As one of the Editorial Board members for the journal, I'm happy to pass on .pdfs of any of the essays for those who might be interested and whose institutions don't have subscription access to the journal.

Also of possible interest to our readers might be the recently-published volume of essays, edited by Wendy Turner, on Madness in Medieval Law and Custom [Brill, 2010], just reviewed in The Medieval Review by Michael Sizer who finds the volume a useful companion [and maybe also an historical corrective to] Foucault's work on the history of madness. I've been thinking about "madness" lately myself, partly because one of the sessions sponsored by BABEL at the Kalamazoo Congress this past May was on that topic, but also because there was a lively discussion on the topic recently across the speculative realist/object-oriented ontology/ecologies blogosphere:
I myself began thinking recently about depression and ecology in relation to Jeffrey's new book project, Prismatic Ecologies, a planned volume of essays that had its genesis HERE and whose final list of contributors looks like this:
1. Jeffrey J. Cohen: Ecology’s Rainbow
2. Kathleen Stewart: Red
3. Robert McRuer: Pink
4. Lowell Duckert: Maroon
5. Julian Yates: Orange
6. Graham Harman: Gold
7. Vin Nardizzi: Greener
8. Allan Stoekl: Chartreuse
9. Will Stockton: Beige
10. Steve Mentz: Brown
11. Eileen Joy: Blue
12. Stacy Alaimo: Bluish-Black
13. Levi Bryant: Black
14. Jen Hill: Grey
15. Ed Keller: Silver
16. Bernd Herzogenrath: White
17. Ben Woodard: Ultraviolet
18. Tim Morton: X-Ray
19. Afterword: Lawrence Buell
My own thinking on all of this is sketchy at best, and I just KNOW it will change as I go along, but I'll share with everyone here the abstract I sent Jeffrey last week for my chapter [all comments and bibliographic assistance are much welcomed!]:


At a recent conference session (at the 2011 Kalamazoo Congress) devoted to ‘madness’ and mental illness as methodology (as well as particular forms of ‘medievalism’), an interesting question was raised: is madness partly the product (or even, ingenitor) of various social collaborations -- between people, but also between persons and their environments, both human and non-human? Is madness, further, something to be located on the so-called ‘interior’ of sentience and biological physiology, or is it in the world somehow, with the ‘becoming-haptic’ of the human mind only one of its many effects? Is madness, in other words, ecological -- does it have, or signify, an ecology?

Following Timothy Morton’s argument that too much of current ‘ecological’ thinking hinges upon the spectrum of ‘bright,’ optimistic, ‘sunny’ greens that are ‘holistic, hearty, and healthy,’ often leaving aside ‘negativity, introversion, femininity, writing, mediation, ambiguity, darkness, irony, fragmentation, and sickness’ (The Ecological Thought, p. 16), this essay will focus on sadness and melancholy as forms and signs of deep ecological connections, as well as ethically valuable modes of ‘plugging in’ to ‘worlds’ as always already post-catastrophe. More specifically, through readings of the Old English poems Seafarer and Wanderer, this essay will trace the co-implicated and also affective relations between the human figures and the non-human ‘strange strangers’ of post-apocalyptic (post-war, but also post-human) medieval landscapes in order to formulate a ‘blue’ ecological aesthetic that might take better account of our world as both empty (alone) and full (intimate).


Steve Mentz said...

Been wondering what your kind of blue would turn out to be, Eileen. Glad to know it includes my two favorite Old English poems, among other interesting things. I've been mulling possible links between blue as melancholy and as ocean for a while -- connected by alienation? estragement? wonder? A discomforting element? Looking forward to the essay.

dtkline said...

I can confirm, Eileen, your observation concerning "sadness and melancholy as forms and signs of deep ecological connections" now after 10+ years in Anchorage, for the ebb and flow of light and darkness is of greater force than that of cold and warmth. It reminds me of what Levinas says about the 'il y a' of existence - that we are unalterably riven to it - in the same way the yearly rhythm of light and dark is unavoidable and non-negotiable here. There is something in living at high latitudes that straddles the line between the external environment and internal sensibility that can properly be called an ecology of the il y a - something that destroys categories of subject and object, human and nonhuman, personal and impersonal and on and on. As I think I've mentioned, I know why ancient cultures worship the sun.

Perhaps reading varies according to latitude as well as longitude?

Anonymous said...

will you have a soundtrack for your piece, a little tener duende perhaps?

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks, everyone, for these comments here. When I first started ruminating a color choice for the volume, I gravitated first to blue, partly because it happens to be my favorite color, but primarily because I thought it might be a good color to knit together: depression [the "blues"], oceans/the sea in literature, winter landscapes, cold, estrangement/loneliness, and valium [little blue pills]. Since both the Seafarer and Wanderer are cut adrift at sea in northern landscapes [at a certain "latitude," as Dan might say] and are also struggling with being something like "the last men on earth," they offer rich opportunities [I hope] for ruminating a "blue" post- [but never entirely beyond the reflective ambit of the] human ecology.

dmf: Oh, if *only* books could have soundtracks!

Anonymous said...

soon enuff i'm sure, maybe in the preface you could include a playlist, like a museum tour but for pages/sections instead of works.

Anonymous said...

Robert Rankin's A Dog Called Demolition (comedy horror) has a soundtrack listed in the endpapers, and instructs the reader not to compile it "because Home Taping is Killing Music".

Anonymous said...

blue triggers a down surge in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). two examples: 1. mink farmers use blue lights to calm the otherwise vicious and mean-tempered animals, and 2. the "blue plate special" (which appeared in the 1930s) uses the color of the plate to trigger decreased appetite and thus patrons eat less. thus the spectrum of blue runs from a kind of chill effect on the ANS to the depressive state. interestingly, pink is blue's opposite from an ANS perspective: prisoners in a pink cell become violent with ANS upsurge. the US Navy did studies on this.

andrea said...

Blue is also the colour of creativity, not just despair. There's some research going on at UBC which might be of interest: