by EILEEN JOY
–William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
Myra Seaman, Holly Crocker, and I are excited to announce the launch of a new, semi-annual feature of postmedieval: an online, open-access Forum, to be directed and edited by Holly Crocker, and to feature short responses, as well as debate and dialogue, relative to essays, reviews, and topics featured in regular issues of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies. Our first forum, Forum I: Historicity Without Historicism?, comprises 5 essays written by Bettina Bildhauer, Brantley Bryant, Ruth Evans, Larry Scanlon, and Tara Williams, all responding to Paul Strohm's book review essay that was published in Volume 1, Issue 3: 2010 (available now to be read online, free of charge), and which has stimulated wide-ranging and lively discussions over the roles and shapes and ethics of historicism in medieval studies.
As Holly writes in her Introduction to Forum I,
In constituting this forum . . . I offer my own response to Strohm’s review essay: I asked scholars whose work comments on what I see as historicism’s unfinished business — from politics, to psychoanalysis, to presentism, to feminism — whose work challenges, and potentially even explodes, the disciplinary boundaries of older ‘new’ historicisms. These are scholars who refuse to ‘Ced[e] an interest in the past,’ yet who simultaneously remake what this commitment might look like through their active, creative reimaginings (Strohm, 2010, 380). As readers will see, contributors to this forum made the invitation to respond to Strohm’s review essay their own: while Brantley Bryant emphasizes historicity’s potential ‘to promote the value of our discipline in a time of catastrophic program cuts,’ Bettina Bildhauer reinvigorates terms we might have set aside, encouraging us to ‘Acknowledge Zeitgeister’ in her provocative reading of the past’s co-presence. Larry Scanlon throws down sage tenets that recall us to the political potential of historicism as an interpretive hermeneutic, and Ruth Evans offers an elegantly concise reading of the failed sexual relation at the heart of Troilus and Criseyde as a means to demonstrate the historical capacity of psychoanalysis. Each essay enacts some version of Tara Williams’s ‘enchanted historicism,’ which she develops as ‘a deep curiosity that is broader and more active than wonder . . . a state of being rather than a reaction.’It is hoped that postmedieval's online Forum will serve as a vibrant space for public, open, and spirited conversations relative to the content published in postmedieval and to pressing issues and questions circulating in medieval and early modern studies more broadly. Please watch, also, for Forum II: Open Peer Review, slated for publication in Jan. 2012, and featuring meditations on the state(s) of peer review and e-publishing in the humanities from Jen Boyle, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Martin Foys, Eileen Joy, Sharon O'Dair, Katherine Rowe, Sarah Werner, and Bonnie Wheeler.
These scholars evince deep theoretical attentiveness to the political implications of historicism, but there are no advanced declarations of what that might mean within any particular interpretive encounter. There appears to be a shared awareness that, to borrow a quip from Jacques Rancière, ‘If everything is political, then nothing is’ (Rancière, 1999, 32). Consensus is not automatic, but must be assembled from the specific, the concrete, the tangible. As Evans illustrates with respect to sexuality, complementarity is not just a myth, it is a disabling fiction that perdures through presumption. When Bildhauer observes, ‘Any person in 1243 was surrounded by concepts and objects that had persisted over generations as well as by budding new ones’ she calls us to notice the specificity of history’s multiplicity. If this unqualified resistance to abstraction resembles Wendell Berry’s situationist ethics, it is equally (un)naive about the unwavering intellectual and emotional demands that tangible involvement in the past requires. Whether it is the pedagogical expansiveness Bryant extols, or the analytic clarity Scanlon realizes, this combination of uncertainty and confidence takes its own time to develop.