Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bonnie Wheeler 2013 Summer Research Fellowship

by J J Cohen

If you are eligible, apply! If you are not, donate!

The Bonnie Wheeler 2013 Summer Research Fellowship is open to women medievalists below the rank of full professor, and for 2013 offers up to $10,000 in financial support. Candidates from previous years are welcome and encouraged to reapply. In the two years since our foundation, our recipients have been Lorraine Stock (English, U Houston) and Lois Huneycutt (History, U Missouri). Applicants should register at and see the Application Instructions <> for details.

The Bonnie Wheeler Fellowship Fund of The Dallas Foundation is designed to support the research of tenured women medievalists below the rank of full professor. This year’s financial award is to be used during the period of June 1–December 31, 2013. In the future, if more funds are available, Wheeler Fellowships will be awarded for full-year and half-year projects, but the Fellowship Committee recognizes the need in the current economic climate for the immediate support of women scholars.

*Eligibility* Applicants must be women who hold a Ph.D. in any area of medieval studies and who are full-time faculty in an academic department. Preference will be given to candidates who are “caught in the middle” in the promotion ladder, as described in the MLA report “Standing Still: The Associate Professor Survey.” <>

Budgets for Fellowship applications are simple: include not only your research costs, but also the costs of freeing up your time—for example, relief from summer teaching, daycare and/or eldercare expenses, and the like.

*Mentoring*: A special feature of the Fellowship is that it will always connect the recipient with a mentor in her scholarly field.

*Timetable*: Completed applications must be received no later than January 31, 2013. The award will be announced February 28, 2013.

*Application Procedure*: Please register at and see the Application Instructions <> for details.
On this site you will also find more information about the Fellowship, its rationale and goals, and contact information.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just in Time for the Winter Doldrums: Dark Chaucer


. . . you never know what you will discover in the dark.

. . . certainly our shared enterprise requires dependability, loyalty, generosity, hard work; those who employ us, take our classes, and read our work deserve our full engagement. But if we are to commit ourselves truly to the study of the past, to the study of the humanities, what can we really gain from the Thesian good man speaking well? Is the buttoned-down, impersonal professionalism suited to profit-driven business enterprises a good fit for our wider, stranger enterprise of shared inquiry? Our very strength, our very expertise, comes from darkness, indeterminacy, unmarketably disastrous historical realities, hanging, drowning, plague, ruin. Strange dark Saturnine knowledge, and all the unsightly darkness that goes with it. Let’s see with our flawed vision, be happy with less than enough, and work darkly and beautifully at the bottom of our game.

~Brantley Bryant & Alia, "Saturn's Darkness"

Myra Seaman, Nicola Masciandaro and I are pleased to announce that your box of Dark Chaucer: An Assortment has arrived, and just in time for some reading by the fireside in the wan light of a winter dusk, your cigars and bottle of whiskey at hand (or tea and crumpets? coffee and donuts? water and rye crackers? ale and chiknes with the marybones?).

This book had its genesis over a dinner shared with friends — Nicola Masciandaro, Öykü Tekten, Karl Steel, and myself — in a restaurant in Brooklyn on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the same day that saw the launch of punctum books. Nicola mentioned that over the years, as he has been teaching Chaucer, he has been taking note of how many dark moments there are in Chaucer [once you start looking and regardless of Chaucer's also-comic sensibilities], and he also remarked that the word "dark" shows up a lot in Lee Patterson's book Chaucer and the Subject of History [we've actually dedicated the book to Patterson]. It struck us that evening that in order to do justice to these moments, which are more numerous than you realize when you start looking for them, that you would have to be willing to fall into these abyssal passages without ropes and without worrying how everything ultimately turns out (this would be a rogue journey against the teleological tides of the narratives and over the beachheads of certain comforting scholarly “resolutions”). The idea would be to undertake something like soundings in the darker recesses of the Chaucerian lakes and to bring back palm- or bite-sized pieces (black jewels) of bitter Chaucer that could be shared with others — an “assortment,” if you will. It could be productive (and hell, interesting), we thought, to gather together some shipmates who would be willing to explore Chaucer’s darker topographies, and even get lost there, not so much making sense of these dark passages, or referring them to how things ultimately turn out, but rather, making them more rich, more ample, and more strange. Myra joined us as lead editor, and off we went.

We asked contributors to write short pieces (~3,000 words) in which they would focus on "dark moments" in Chaucer, without trying to craft any sort of sustained, scholarly "argument," but rather, to simply explore these dark recesses and tell us, like vagabond travelers, what they found there. What they returned with and what is assembled here represents an astonishing variety of styles, approaches, and "finds" -- from 9 scholars (1 named, Brantley Bryant, and 8 anonymous) confessing their own dark personal moments in relation to their chosen profession as medievalists and the darkness of Saturn in the Knight's Tale, to a 20th-century African American poet's appropriation of Chaucer (Candace Barrington), to Alcyone dreaming and the limbo of living death in Book of the Duchess (Ruth Evans), to Chaucer's "apocalyptic" afterlives (Gaelan Gilbert), to a sympathetic reading of the executioner in Cecelia's botched beheading in the Second Nun's Tale (Nicola Masciandaro), to a reconsideration of black crows by way of the Mancilple's Tale (Travis Neel and Andrew Richmond), to a re-telling of the Physician's Tale through The Story of O-as-palimpsest (Lisa Schamess), to an exemplification of 3 of Chaucer's most sad "heroines" (Custance, Virginia, Emelye) via Deleuze's maxim, "if you're caught in the dream of another, you're fucked" (Karl Steel), to Chaucer's Physician's Tale (again!) seen as a "disembowling of the corpus of virgin martyrs' passions" (Elaine Treharne), to the 'litel clurgeon' as zombie undead in the Prioress's Tale (Lisa Weston), and so on.

But why not see the entire Table of Contents for yourself, and download the open-access e-book for FREE, or purchase a handsome print edition for a mere $15 [not $100!], by going HERE. And while you are at it, please also notice the "PLEASE DONATE" button on punctums's website: the good work of open-access publishing, and punctum books in particular, is kept aloft by 3 primary factors:
  • an incredible, global network of students (and also post-students with no real or only a tenuous foothold in the academy), humanities faculty, creative designers, and technologists who have all donated their valuable time to review, copy-edit, proofread, format, and design each one of our books, journal issues, e-book platforms, etc., and you really have NO IDEA not only how time-consuming all of this is (especially if you still believe in the book as a beautiful and well-designed art object, as well as in maintaining high standards of scholarly rigor and presentation) but also how generous these donations of labor are, all on behalf of the cause of a more radically open and creative intellectual commons;
  • YOUR purchase of the print editions, the proceeds from which all go back to foster, cultivate, and produce more work; and
  • YOUR donations of either actual cash or labor to open-access initiatives.
And while you are trying to [maybe?] take a rest amidst the hectic hurly-burly of the so-called holiday season, remember: the punctum workshop never takes a day off. We think the future vitality of academic publishing might depend on this, and we hope you do, too.'Tis the season for giving and all that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Against $100 Books

by J J Cohen

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that in my arsenal of axes kept handy for frequent grinding is a publishing related twibill: the pricing of scholarly books. Check out this doozy from Oxford University Press: $299 for Henry of Huntington's Historia Anglorum. At least this 12th century history of England doesn't break the $300 mark; that would be market suicide.

Then again, Gervaise of Tilbury (also at OUP) does just that. I wonder, do they keep an ancient bottle of sherry at Oxford University Press Headquarters and break it out every time someone buys a copy of Gervaise? I'm guessing that at $325 per book the sherry bottle is still rather full. I admit, in a world where bookstores have special sections dedicated to "Teen Paranormal Romance" editions of Latin historiography with excellent translations count as somewhat obscure. They are also wonderful. I can imagine the occasional interested nonscholar wanting to read through both Henry and Gervaise, who are vivid writers, and I am certain more specialists would buy the books if it were not necessary to choose between them and a month's rent. I understand the business model on which the pricing is based, since it has been honed so well by Palgrave Macmillan, Brill and others: have a low print run (200 copies and under) and sell at a very high price ($80-$300) to research libraries, making a significant profit via small investment. Yet OUP is a not-for-profit entity. On what grounds can such a price be justified, especially because its effect is to place within a vault texts that ought to be out in the world? Maybe this is the Object Oriented Ontologist in me but you know, books actually want to be read.

Last night I was back on the subject of overpriced books and did a little research on my own works. I was shocked to see that the price of Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain has now reached $100. This rise into the triple digits is especially galling because the book is print on demand, with all the degradation of quality you'd expect to come with that process, and the website does not warn you of the fact. Needless to say, neither an e-text nor a paperback version is now or likely ever will be available. This book has sold out its small print run twice but at $100 and POD it is now essentially dead. That triple digit price is a padlock. I should be happy the little book is being kept safe from scurrilous readers. It's better for Hybridity to be in the loving custody of a research library. I pray only that someone dusts its binding every now and then.

Now compare a book I published at the University of Minnesota Press, Medieval Identity Machines. It's $26 as a nicely produced paperback, and $14.04 for the Kindle version. Monster Theory and Of Giants are similarly priced -- and quick to download via Amazon or Google. (Cf. Ohio State University Press, which despite having a small Open Access initiative sells electronic versions of most books for about $15 ... but on CDs that get mailed to you. Does anyone even own a CD player any more? Neither my laptop nor iPad has one. You may as well put the books on video tapes). I've published three books with UMP, with my fourth under contract and out in 2013. Each one has sold at least 1000 copies, and sometimes twice that, compared to the 200 at which Hybridity flatlined with Palgrave. Those numbers mean something.

I had sworn never to publish another $90 book again -- before Palgrave Macmillan upped the price of my last one to $100. I understand very well that not every scholar has options when it comes to publishing, especially early in the career. But when there is a choice it makes very little sense to support a system that keeps books out of the hands of potential readers. Ideally, if scholarly publishing is not going to be immediately open access, then a book should appear with a not-for-profit press at a reasonable price ($50 or under in hardcover, $25 or less for paperback). It should also be instantly downloadable in an affordable and well formatted e-form ($15 or less and available via Amazon). Last, it would be great if after a certain amount of time the book became open access so that those who want to read it in the future may do so and the book will stay alive.

If you have a choice -- if you have good alternatives -- please join me in refusing to publish any more $100 books. As scholars I hope we are not so removed from the world that we are content to allow our words to vanish into a small number of libraries. I hope we are no longer bound to think of books only as hardcover physical objects that must cost a great deal to hold value (especially because despite the high price they may well be poorly constructed: books should be beautiful, but that doesn't mean they have to be conventional). The publishing system will not change unless we pressure it to do so: it ought to serve the interests of the writing and reading community, not of the profit margin

A book wants to be read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

E-Medieval: Teaching, Researching and the Net

by J J Cohen

Don't miss E-Medieval: Teaching, Researching and the Net, a cluster of electronic essays published by Literature Compass (sadly: PAYWALL: what is up with Lit Compass and its self-immurement?). ITM's contribution is an essay called Why We Blog: An Essay in Four Movements -- a relic of the time Way Back When this blog had a mere four co-bloggers.

I reproduce the ToC below. Check out Brandon Hawk's smart reflections on the issue at Modern Medieval.

Technology in the University and the Death of Socrates (pages 1010–1015)
Wendy Marie Hoofnagle

Why We Blog: An Essay in Four Movements (pages 1016–1032)
Karl Steel, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Mary Kate Hurley and Eileen A. Joy

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NOW PUBLISHED: The Intimate Senses [postmedieval]

Figure 1. Ann Hamilton, body object #5 sagebrush [1986/1991; more about cover image HERE]


. . . sensation is an intimate threshold of knowledge that emerges in the fragile and ephemeral space that exists between our futures and our pasts. It beckons for a more sensuous connection with the past that can resonate in the present, even as it builds on the material ways in which we are already interconnected. And it hopefully inspires us to feel differently about those.

~Holly Dugan and Lara Farina, "Intimate Senses/Sensing Intimacy"

As we are having this really engaged discussion, here at ITM and elsewhere, over the subject of Stephen Greenblatt's award-winning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern [and how that book gets the medieval period all wrong ... again!] and also over the subject of the perils and possible benefits of what we call "periodization," especially in literary and historical studies, I would like to put in a shameless plug for the ongoing work of the journal postmedieval to call certain temporal and "period" boundaries into question and to also keep in continual motion and friction the question of the relations between the medieval and modern as well as their supposed differences and/or similarities, OR, as as Ruth Evans, Helen Fulton, and David Matthews argue in their Introduction to Medieval Cultural Studies: Essays in Honour of Stephen Knight, to place “medieval” and “modern” side by side, not to “simply give 'cultural studies' a diachronic dimension or make the middle ages relevant to today. Rather, it is about continuous provocation.” It has also been the aim of the journal, from the very beginning, when a medievalist [myself] and an early modernist [Craig Dionne] joined hands to tackle the subject of the premodern post/human with a whole fleet of collaborators working in medieval and early modern studies, but also in contemporary studies, to craft new spaces for a a more broad "premodern" studies in which the lines between "medievalist" and "early modernist" would be less visible, and where we would "merge" and "converge" upon each other's so-called "periods." 

Therefore, I am especially pleased, too, to announce the publication this week of the most recent issue of postmedieval, a volume of essays, co-edited by an early modernist, Holly Dugan, and a medievalist, Lara Farina, on "The Intimate Senses," in which medievalists and early modernists investigate together how "sensation is an intimate threshold of knowledge that emerges in the fragile and ephemeral space that exists between our futures and our pasts." Further, in their Introduction to the issue, where they hone right in [if even unconsciously] on some of the issues that have been recently percolating, in troubling or at least vexing ways, concerning so-called period "divisions" + disciplinary "divides" and the various "field" routes by which we orient and "collect" ourselves, they write:
Sensory experience, past and present, is for us anything but determined or detrimental to a future-oriented optimism about relational embodiment. We have, therefore, sought essays that increase our understanding of the ways that people, places, and things became intimates in the medieval and early modern periods. Literally overlooked in favor of recent attention to visual culture, past habits of smelling, touching, and tasting emerge here to challenge the reign of the gaze as determiner of subjectivity, power, and pleasure in/with the other. Visual culture continually earns pride of place in humanistic and posthumanistic study, and cultural history too often repeats the story of vision's ascendancy and its triumph over the other senses during and after the Enlightenment. Many scholars working on sensation in contemporary culture and in the past have demonstrated how this assumption is simply untrue. Our issue thus draws from this work and the multiple fields in which the primacy of vision and the limitations of the ‘visual turn’ in scholarship are under new scrutiny. The five essays here each offer their own substantive contribution to this broader project of sensory recovery. To draw out the potential of their work on the non-visual past for new stories about intimacy, however, we have followed them with responses written by scholars of present-day cultures. We hope this pairing of past and present suggests ways in which intimate relations can resonate across time to join a broader conversation about how we feel together.

Such a project is as embodied as it is scholarly. The very term ‘intimate’ renders the self as a being in space, one with an ‘inner’ dimension that is both separate from the world at large, yet at times, remarkably close to it (Oxford English Dictionary). The designation of taste, touch, and smell as senses more ‘interior’ than others located them close to the core of personhood. But their operation simultaneously suggested that the human body was open, porous, and vulnerable to its environment. Associated with fleshly forms of knowing rather than enlightened reason, these ‘intimate senses’ rooted a body in its material environment even as they defined its boundaries. Mapping the sensing body spatially, we might say, gave us intimacy. Yet intimate sensation is not idiosyncratic. The alternative definition of intimacy uses spatial proximity as a metaphor for affect, suggesting that sensory history provided a language for describing the collective social body as well the individual one (Oxford English Dictionary). The ‘closeness’ accorded to intimate sensations came to describe both abstract and material sets of social relationships in the early modern period. We still rely on these metaphors when we designate others as ‘close’ to us (Bromley, 2012, 6).
It is noteworthy as well that Holly and Lara include in the issue 5 essays by scholars working in more contemporary periods in a rich diversity of fields -- anthropology, disability studies, cultural geography, theater and performance studies, medicine/neuroscience, and rhetoric -- who wrote essays that respond directly to the work and thought undertaken by the premodernists in the issue, thus modelling a more capaciously cross-temporal and cross-disciplinary analytic framework for thinking about the senses across time and in different places, one in which scholars working in different periods and fields are directly engaging each other and not just talking past one another. 

It occurs to me, especially after having just spent 3 days at a "collaboratory" on the "Faces of Emotion" at the University of Melbourne, where presenters attempted to respond to some pretty big questions about the medium of the face [as the site of actual encounters, but also as representational screen, as performance, as the plane of ethics, and so on] in relation to issues of historical change, that we can't really talk about changes over time [whether in cultural climates, intellectual life, individual and group identities, beliefs, mentalities, etc.] without massively collaborative approaches that are not restrained in advance by notions of disciplinary "difference" or temporal and cultural and linguistic boundaries, while at the same time, of course we should be working to try to bring certain differences [cultural, historical, mental, whathaveyou] into some sort of relief in our work, because the emergence of "change" in any given moment or place is always significant: it highlights transformation, without which, there is no real history, nor future that is not static and "dead." But as Steve Mentz has also usefully reminded us
Any narrative about historical change-and-continuity must, in order to be a narrative, do some violence to the plenitude of the historical record. Some narratives  are better than others; some work and others do not. . . . History overfills all human narratives; that’s why in addition to “facts” we need poetry — and geometry, statistics, economics, plasma physics, interior design, geoclimatology, the Hubble Telescope . . . Objects and alliances of all sorts, human and not.
We need these narratives, of course, even when we recognize what they occlude or simply neglect to address. For example, in this post about the new issue of postmedieval, I want to tell a story about how medievalists and early modernists have worked together to productively tackle complex historical-cultural subjects [such as the "senses" or the "post/human"], the "lives" of which extend [in often surprising and unexpected ways] across disciplinary and temporal boundaries, and in order to do that, I reinscribe the temporal markers "medievalist" and "early modernist." I make the so-called period "division" palpable again.

One would like to imagine a future in which university scholars and others outside of the university proper who do cultural-intellectual work would simply collectivize and work together over affectively shared interests in particular objects and subjects that do not necessarily sit still in traditional disciplinary and/or temporal frameworks. These objects and subjects would draw us "in" together and give us new fields of play and thought. But "location" will always matter, and time periods are objects of fascination, too: things and places that attract us and that we desire. But they also don't "sit still." And that's something to think about, too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve and the MLA's James Russell Lowell Prize

by J J Cohen

Alongside the lively discussion that recently unfolded over periodization, a related conversation commenced in the same social media about an essay in the LA Review of Books by Jim Hinch on Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — and Why It Matters. Hinch's piece is bracing, and important, but not for its corrective power. Detailing the factual errors and shallow history in Stephen Greenblatt's prizewinning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern is not new. Kellie Robertson did it before the book was even published (see her excellent essay "Medieval Materialism: A Manifesto" in Exemplaria 22 [2010]). Of Greenblatt's thesis that Lucretius inaugurated modernity after a long period of medieval darkness John Monfasini, for example, observed that "the problem is that Greenblatt has virtually no evidence to justify this assumption, while a massive amount exists for constructing a different story." After pointing out its numerous methodological errors Monfasini concludes that The Swerve is "an entertaining but wrong-headed belletristic tale." Jim Hinch documents several more of these errors but prefaces them with this prescient plea:
as American book lovers gear up for another awards season — the National Book Award this month, followed by the PEN/Faulkner Award in March, then the Pulitzers in April — the acclaim showered on Greenblatt’s book about the discovery of an ancient poem raises profound questions about just what these awards really mean. Simply put, The Swerve did not deserve the awards it received because it is filled with factual inaccuracies and founded upon a view of history not shared by serious scholars of the periods Greenblatt studies. That such a book could win two of America’s highest literary honors suggests something doesn’t work in the awards system itself.
And now comes the news that the MLA, the scholarly organization which represents those of us who teach language and literature at the college level, has awarded Stephen Greenblatt the James Russell Lowell Prize for excellence in literary or linguistic study. This is the third time the MLA has awarded him the same prize (he earned an honorable mention in 1973 then received the prize for Shakespearean Negotiations in 1988).

There's been much shock expressed on Facebook and Twitter about the award. It's discouraging. When Greenblatt was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the book I thought: OK, it's a general audience, and maybe any attention on the past is good attention. But now that the MLA has given a work so devoid of nuance in its account of a long span of human history -- a book that in its relentless reductiveness and lack of complexity (or even humane impulses towards those who find themselves locked in 1000 years of unremitting and untextured darkness) offers a negative example of how to form an ethical relation to history -- well, I just wonder about what the prize really means. Is it OK to compose caricatured history that reaffirms common prejudice and conveys factual errors rather than work that might make the past more unstable, variegated, intricate, alive?

Check out Elaine Treharne's smart post, Swerving from the Straight and Narrow: Greenblatt's Fictional Medieval Period
Medieval Meets World (Swerving into the Fray)
In Romaunce as We Rede (Musings of an InterSwervist)
Bookfish (Swervin': Modernity Is Not History)

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Periodization Collation

by J J Cohen

The discussion on "early modern" quickly became a colloquy on periodization more generally, and has been quite vigorous across different modes of social media. If you'd like to catch up and join in, here are some highlights:

The conversation also proceeded via FB (that link brings you to my profile's public links) and Twitter. See especially @jeffreyjcohen, @ETreharne, @burnablebooks, @jonathanhsy, @RickGodden.

That's a start. Have I missed any links?

Friday, November 30, 2012

early modern

by J J Cohen

Dan Vitkus asked me to compose a very short piece on the uses and problems of the term "early modern" for a forum ("What do we mean by 'Early Modern'?") in a forthcoming issue of the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies. I'm already up against the 2K word limit, so adding the nuance that this project really requires wasn't an option. My assumption is that because this is a position piece readers will know that I am stating things rather too starkly and will know that critical praxis is typically more complicated.

Well, it's a draft at least. Let me know what you think.

 “Early modern” is sometimes deployed to indicate a bounded and distinct span of human history. This alterist approach to periodization emphasizes that whatever years the term brackets will be understood to differ substantially from the centuries that precede and follow. Or “early modern” might signify a commencement, the time during which institutions, epistemologies, and subjectivities familiar today found their first articulation and burgeoned, an inaugurative and continuist mode of temporal partitioning. Though in critical practice these temporal frames tend to blend quietly into each other, neither serves the period very well -- and not simply because both begin by abjecting the Middle Ages. Medievalists learned long ago that when you carve your scholarly habitation out of time’s wilderness of flux and declare this secure home exclusively yours, you may as well have retreated to the monastery. Or if instead of attempting to live apart from modernity you enter its conversations by insisting that "All your base are belong to us" (or AYBABTU, as the kids write) -- that it all started c. 750 or 1200 or 1500 or whatever -- you will be the person in the corner attempting to be cool by citing old internet memes while really just give those nearby an excuse to step quietly away. I’ll say a few words about each approach, alterist and continuist, both of which are as familiar in medieval as they are they are in early modern studies, before offering a third possibility.

Derived from the Latin word modo (“just now”), modern demarcates a temporal break as well as a changed way of being, a distinct mode of cultural and subjective existence. If time is a forward moving line, then “early modern” is in the alterist framework an autonomous segment cut from that vector and stabilized into self-containment. The detritus of a surpassed history will, of course, remain visible, as will some seeds of a future to come (early modern intimates a more modern modernity yet to arrive), but when time is cut into supersessionary periodizations each section of history will also stand as fairly discrete.[1] Each well-delineated temporal expanse must then be approached through the precision of historicism, with its insistence upon the contextual and relational determination of meaning. At its worst, historicism’s discontinuist method of interpretation can freeze a period into potential stasis. Historicist pronouncements of inherent rigor and the singularity of truth have made life rather difficult, for example, for feminists, queers, those who believe a text might demonstrate a polychronicity irreducible to inscription of the present, or those who hold that no temporal moment is an ethos. Newer historicisms may be friendlier to scholars who once had been outliers, but historicism is in its foundational acts exclusionary. The early modern is not medieval, and so a great deal of what becomes legible or earns the esteemed label of emergent is going to depend upon what gets sloughed into the Middle Ages. Dissolving text into context or human subjectivity into disciplinary discourses is also, in the end, a rather impoverished way of apprehending how a work works. As Graham Harman has recently written of New Historicism and its “fiesta of interactivity,” relational readings of texts imagine that works are exhaustible through emplacement into context.[2] Yet like any object a text holds reserves of unplumbed relations that ensure its resistant vitality.

Arguing for the absolute difference of one’s time period is also an excellent way of requesting that those outside its parameters ignore work conducted within. Why enter a conversation with someone who assumes you have little to say to the texts they study, who propounds that the world is not shared? Alternatively, “early modern” might declare that “It All Starts Here,” that modernity commences around the time of Shakespeare and those who study his plays are as au courant as scholars whose research focuses upon global literature, ecological theory, disability studies, and the critique of neoliberalism. “Early modern -- modern -- postmodern” neatly align into a progressive narrative so that everything today familiar may be spotted rising into view in some early modern text or other. The problem with such a culminating story is fourfold. If it is narrated to capture the attention of those who work in modernism or postmodernism, it is doomed to fail: no one cares about the scholar who insists “It all started in my time” – medievalists have learned this lesson the hard way. Second, this version of “early modern” commences by obliterating the millennium that precedes. The Middle Ages become a long span of intransigent piousness that obstructs classical learning from making its transformative and affirmative return. Third, “early modern” quietly subscribes to a Eurocentric timeline, since modernity never gets evenly allotted. Narratives of cultural progress like those implicit in both “early” and “modern” possess an invidious colonial history – and what does early modern look like when viewed from Beijing, Mumbai, Ankara? Last, now that modernity has been abandoned for a series of designations which bear the prefix “post” but do not necessarily deploy that designation as a temporal marker, the reasons for hooking the flourishing of Milton or Cavendish to them have dwindled. Postmodernity, the postcolonial, and the posthuman have each been critically redefined nonlinearly as an “always already” rather than an apex or temporal rupture.

Those who study the Middle Ages face a rather different situation. Manuscript culture can be strikingly different from print, demanding an account of the varied time of objects rather than of anthropocentric history. An inherent multitemporality ensures that medievalists can seldom dissolve their texts into historical relations. Medieval works typically survive in multiple manuscript versions that postdate their putative origin by decades, even centuries. Some like the fourteenth-century travel narrative known as the Book of Mandeville arrive as a polyglot plethora.[3] We are fairly certain the Book was first composed in Anglo-Norman French, but a variety of English Mandevilles also erupted, leading to a tangle of versions from which no urtext can be reconstructed. We do not know who composed the “original” book (other than its author was unlikely to have been John Mandeville) or where the work first found words (France has been guessed, but there is no way to know for certain). Manuscript history suggests the third quarter of the fourteenth century as its date of composition, but the cultural conditions under which it was produced cannot be excavated – and would not, at any rate, enable us to know why Walter Raleigh was citing Mandeville when describing his adventures in Guyana. The text is not anchored in a moment of origin, and continued to reproduce, mutate, and proliferate itself for several centuries. Its narrative is a collage of borrowings, rendering its imagined peregrinations from the start a temporally thick archive. We have a profusion of Books of Mandeville, each of which brims with the pasts it condenses and gestures towards the futures it is opening up as it moves restlessly through the world.

Because they work in the “Middle Ages” (a plural and imprecise designation for the times left behind so that our Now could arrive), medievalists are not responsible for explaining modernity. They can ignore it, if they wish. This temporal disconnect has made it far easier for them to ally with the critical “post-,” especially posthumanism. The new journal postmedieval, for example, makes the vitality of these confederations across time clear. If the Middle Ages mark a kind of non-teleological middle, more possibility inheres in the medieval than, say, describing the period as the “very early modern” or “extremely late classical.” What if the medieval were not middle to anything? Instead of a historical lacuna sandwiched between the fall of Rome and the rise of the early modern, what if the medial adjective in the Middle Ages does necessarily signify as intended? In the introduction I composed for the edited collection The Postcolonial Middle Ages (“Midcolonial”), I traced the transformation of post-colonial to postcolonial, “an intermediacy that no narrative can pin to a single moment of history in its origin or end.”[4] What if the “middle” of the Middle Ages were likewise a nontemporal designation? What if, “both ‘in and of themselves’ and through their constitution as a distinct object of study, the Middle Ages in their mediacy confront the modern with powerful trauma conjoined to the possibility of transhistorical alliance and mutual transformation” (“Midcolonial” 5)? The past is not past, is not an absolute difference; nor is the past conjoined to the present in continuity, in sameness. Past, present, and future are a temporal knot, thick with possibility even while impossible to fully untangle. Time is irregular, history is queer. A medieval that is middle to nothing in particular suits many of the scholars who work within its designation just fine.

[1] On the reduction this linearization of history demands and the explosive temporalities that might still inhere within, see Jonathan Gil Harris, Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). I’ve also written about various modes of conceptualizing temporality in the first chapter of Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
[2] See Graham Harman, “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism,” New Literary History 43 (2012): 183–203, quotation at 192.
[3] On the Book of Mandeville’s multiplicity see Iain Macleod Higgins, Writing East: The ‘Travels’ of Sir John Mandeville (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). For an excellent translation that surveys the recent scholarship on the Book, see Anthony Bale, The Book of Marvels and Travels (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
[4] “Midcolonial,” in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) 1-17, quotation at 3.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Medieval Manuscript Images and Copyright

by J J Cohen

By now you've heard the news that British Library manuscript images are open access. (And just after I paid them for use of an image for my next book. Can I get my £80 for worldwide rights back?). This announcement is tremendously cheering to those of us who have had to deal with the sometimes unhelpful BL permissions management staff -- and who have wondered why it should cost so much to share an image that really ought to be out in the world as much as possible.

The British Library is playing catch up with more visionary institutions, such as the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore under curator William Noel. Let's hope other institutions quickly follow. For now, though, check out this great interview with Noel at the TED Blog, where he makes an eloquent plea for Creative Commons licensing of all medieval manuscript digital images. My favorite portion of the interview:
"Libraries containing special collections of medieval materials are normally very careful to write restrictive copyright on their materials. Part of this is historical; that is to say, when images of these manuscripts were published in books, it didn’t have to behave like digital data, and it didn’t have to be free for people to use in all sorts of ways and in different contexts. The images were just reproduced in other books. But those days are fast running out, and digital images need to be free, so that people can do what they need to do with them and what they want to do with them. That’s the great thing about digital data!

So part of that is historical: You used to restrict the use of your books to try and make money off reproductions in other books. It was expensive, but it wasn’t crippling. Today these copyright restrictions are now crippling scholarship and access by the general public. The other thing is that a lot of these collections are in national institutions, university libraries, and they are the prized cultural heritage of these institutions. The policymakers in those institutions don’t like the idea that reproductions of these images can be available for free. It feels to them like you are denigrating your greatest asset. That’s a state of mind that belongs to my grandfather — for whom I have great affection, but to whom I don’t listen much anymore."
Read the whole thing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

NCS Reykjavik Call for Thread Sessions

by J J Cohen

Many ITM readers will be interested in this call for proposals for sessions within the various threads. A general CFP comes in the spring.


Call for Thread Sessions

The NCS 2014 Program Committee for the 2014 Congress in Reykjavik has determined that this program will comprise three major elements: sessions tied to a particular thematic thread (see below), independent sessions, and independent seminars. This message is about the first of these: we are inviting proposals for sessions within threads, with a deadline of December 15, 2012. Such proposals should be sent to the thread convener(s), whose names and email addresses included with the descriptions below.

After these sessions and their organizers have been established, a general call for papers (for independent sessions, sessions within threads, and independent seminars) will go out in early February, 2013.

Sessions within threads may be proposed in the following formats:
 ·        Paper Panels (either 3 papers @ 20 minutes each or 4 papers @ 15 minutes each)
·         Roundtables (discussions by 5-7 speakers on a topic of common interest; speakers do not deliver papers, though they may speak from notes.)
Glenn Burger, Co-Chair, NCS 2014 Program Committee
Holly Crocker, Co-Chair, NCS 2014 Program Committee



Organizers: Anthony Bale ( and Sif Rikhardsdottir (

A large amount of critical work has been accomplished on relationships of East and West during the age of Chaucer, but much less has been done on the north-south orientation of late medieval literary culture. These two linked threads will begin to address this subject, one especially apposite for our meeting in Reykjavik.


This thread seeks proposals for sessions addressing the representation of northern Europe, the Nordic region, the North Sea and the North Atlantic, and the Baltic in Chaucerian and medieval English literature. What, for example, was the influence of the north-south axis of medieval cosmography in the age of Chaucer or of one’s self-identity as ‘Southern’ or ‘Northern’? What was the inheritance of Scandinavian folklore and language and the relationship of Nordic forms such as the saga to late medieval English literature? How are the qualities of the north, such as maritime culture, dark and cold, insular and peninsular identities, manifested in late medieval culture. What might be said about the unique features of the book crafts and manuscript arts of the Nordic Middle Ages, manuscripts and books of Chaucerian and Middle English texts in collections in the Nordic countries, and post-medieval collections of Nordic medieval manuscripts?


This thread seeks proposals for sessions addressing comparative studies of the North. What are the relations of the North to the East, West, or South, to dominant medieval discourses of orientation, or to ‘global’ and provincial cultural geographies. What emerges from comparative studies of Nordic and late medieval British culture, for instance Icelandic artes poeticae and those of late medieval England; conceptions of aristocracy and courtliness in Iceland and England; saints’ lives in England and the Nordic region; or different relationships to foundation myths, such as those of Troy or King Arthur? What can be gained from a study of cross-cultural contacts between Nordic and Baltic communities and those of late-medieval Britain, or of the border-crossing taking place in the North Atlantic and North Sea in the age of Chaucer? What is learned by considering the development of Middle English in relation to Scandinavian languages or the linguistic and textual communities active in the North?


Organizer: Alexandra Gillespie (

This thread hopes to bring together scholars working in any of the following areas - codicology, palaeography, book history, material culture, historical phenomenology, object-oriented philosophy, thing theory, the "descriptive turn," ecocriticism, philology (old and new), formalism (old and new), aesthetics, and historicism "after historicism". The goal is to initiate - or in some cases continue - new and innovative conversations about medieval books. We seek proposals for papers/panel and paper sessions that consider the status of the evidence that books bring to medieval studies; that imagine new uses for critical theory in book history; and that stage critical interventions using textual objects - manuscripts and early printed books, but also a broad range of medieval writing materials and technologies, from tablets to epigraphs, from parchment bookmarks to brass book fastenings. This thread will also include an innovative “poster session,” designed for delegates to speak to a specific artifact or example. Further details will follow in the February call for papers.


Organizer: Laura Ashe (

This thread explores periodization and its scholarly teleologies: the meanings and implications of being “early” or “late,” in literary, linguistic, and cultural development; the intellectual shaping of divisions and watersheds, “before” or “after” Chaucer, or Conquest, or renaissance/s, or R/reformation; nascencies and afterlives, hauntings and foreshadowings, the absence and presence of the past. It thus includes both medieval and modern historiographies, and the formation of intellectual fields as they have been constituted both in (medieval) chronologies, and over time in the academy. Sessions might consider new, old, and anti- and un- historicisms, both as critical practice and condition of understanding, or reassess the contribution of our changing theoretical frameworks, and of canonicity and the uncanonical. The place of Chaucer, and of Chaucer criticism, within historiographical contexts is key – as is the broadening of perspective which can make the Ricardian English efflorescence appear both belated and precocious. Such questions are fundamental to our understanding – or creation, or interpretation – of a national literary tradition, and sessions might interrogate the occlusions and losses of such narratives as well as their productive creativity.


Organizers: Rita Copeland ( and Karl-Gunnar Johansson (

Papers on translation and literacy as an intra-cultural, inter-cultural, and pan-European phenomenon are invited. This thread aims especially to feature literary (and other textual) engagements between Scandinavia and Continental Europe and/or Britain and Ireland, including textual adaptation and genre imitation, the transformation of epic and romance in saga literature, European reception of Scandinavian themes, the movement of learned Latinities, Scandinavian reception and transformation of classical antiquity, and the movement of manuscripts across cultures. Proposals on this featured subject are warmly encouraged. We will consider proposals for papers dealing with the earlier Middle Ages as well as the later Middle Ages. Please send proposals to both Rita Copeland and Karl-Gunnar Johansson.


Organizers: Ethan Knapp ( and Matthew Boyd Goldie (
We invite session topics and descriptions for a thread on the movement, networks, and economies of people, objects and information. Sessions might address: networks of exchange on the economic and cultural levels; movement as a narratological and economic category; the spatial imaginary in medieval narrative and cartography; intellectual networks as constituted through relations of coterie composition, reception and source affiliation.


Organizers: Alastair Minnis ( and Daniel Wakelin (
Literary criticism long ago steered away from “mere chatter about Shelley,” renouncing a deeply-entrenched biographical bias; and its “intentional fallacy” was confronted nearly seventy years ago. Yet biography remains one of the scholarly genres with the greatest readership, and historicist criticism often draws on biographical information. This thread will explore different uses of biography in Chaucerian Studies. We seek proposals for sessions about such questions as: What shape should Chaucerian biography take in the 21st century? Do we dare to read Chaucer’s works for signs of biographical life? What do we now know about Chaucer’s friends, patrons and enemies, and does this benefit literary criticism? Does Chaucer look any different when viewed within the wider European context which recent scholarship has opened up? Is the ongoing investigation of Chaucer’s scribes throwing any clear light on his life and early afterlife? What evidence is there for Chaucer’s writing processes or indeed for the very fact of his authorship in some cases; is everything in the current canon secure? How has Chaucerian life-writing changed over the centuries, and what value do such developments have for present-day Chaucerians?


Organizers: Robyn Malo ( and Nicole Smith (

Confessional narrative and its branches--virtue and vice, mercy and forgiveness, conduct and catechism--are fundamentally rooted in a set of practices that range from the sacramental and doctrinal to the secular and communal. While it is clear that confession provided a relatively uniform way to address issues of sin, evidence suggests that categories of conduct were continually under revision. For instance, laypeople and clerics alike modified the emphases of ecclesiastical doctrine to reflect their own lived concerns. Confessional narratives in late medieval literature serve as witnesses to both the wide influence of penitential theology and the desire to adapt it when and where necessary, even in what might be termed "secular conduct writing." Our thread, "Handling Sins," is designed to explore these very issues. We seek proposals for sessions that might address genre and the form of confession; sin in works by Chaucer and his contemporaries; catechism and codicology; or remedial virtues and their sustainment of communities. Session proposals with creative and broad conceptions of "handling sins" are most welcome. Please submit them to both thread conveners.


Organizers: Seeta Chaganti ( ) and Daniel Wakelin (

This thread will explore medieval words on the page as they have been shaped and reshaped through pre- and postmodern readerly response and theoretical discourse. Such shaping can occur through means as diverse as book production, theories of poetics, readers’ responses, and modern critical method. The thread will combine different varieties of attention to the textual surface, from poetic formalism and media theory to philology and palaeography. How might we newly theorize late-medieval poetics beyond the language of aureation, looking instead toward demotic, comic, or strategically plain language; toward writers’, scribes’ readers’ and critics engagement with etymology and vernacular language history; toward material culture’s intersections with poetry? What are some ways of rethinking medieval scribes’ and readers’ experiences of literary language and form, or of rethinking what form meant to medieval audiences? What roles did form play on the page? Off the page in aural encounters with texts? How did readers perceive language and form across different pages, in interactions among manuscript versions? In the textual space between poets and readers are scribes – how might we reconceive our interpretations of scribal response to literary language, form and occasion? Finally, how might current engagements with critical discourses such as new formalsm, media studies, performance theory, or post-historicist inquiry inflect all these questions concerning the encounter with the medieval text?


Organizers: Andrew Cole ( and Maura Nolan (

This thread will focus on the rich and often neglected category of medieval sensation: how medieval artists represented sensory perception, what was perceptible to their audiences, and how these categories illuminate literary, theological, and historical texts, as well as medieval manuscripts and books. It will consider the fullness of the medieval sensorium and the plenitude of perception medieval artists enjoy in their synaesthetic experiences—the sounds they see, the colors they hear, the words they touch. We ask panelists to think through the categories of knowledge, sensation, and perception to learn more about what people of the past are telling themselves, each other, and us about their engagements with the world. Our challenge is to open ourselves to the category of experience in the Middle Ages, to learn what is touching about abstraction, what is tasteful about material culture, what sensation meant then and means now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Asceticism, Eroticism, and the Premodern Foucault: Newberry Seminar Now Open


[FIRST: see Jeffrey's post here on FIRE ROCKS and Jonathan's on GLOBAL CHAUCERS.]

Last December, I shared here at ITM a preview of an advanced graduate seminar on the "late Foucault" that Anna Klosowska and I had proposed to the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library, and I am happy to report that that seminar was approved and will be running at the Newberry Library in Chicago every Friday afternoon from January 11 to March 15, 2013. The course is available for registration HERE, and if you are a student at an institution that is a member of the Center's consortium, tuition is free and there is even travel funding available.

We are really excited about this course as it interrogates materials in Old English, Middle English, and medieval and early modern French, in direct relation to seminars, lectures, and interviews of Foucault's that were related to his plans for an unfinished fourth volume of his History of Sexuality. As such, the students will be reading seminars and lectures Foucault gave late in his life in Vermont, Berkeley, and at the Collège de France, as well as interviews in which he sketched out his most current and still-developing (and tragically never completed) thinking on ascesis, subjectivity, sexuality, friendship and what he called "an improbable manner of being," which serves as the touchstone phrase for the entire course. The primary texts will include the Old English lives of Mary of Egypt and Martin, Bishop and Confessor; Felix's Anglo-Latin Life of St Guthlac, the Old English Andreas, Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, the Lais of Marie de France, and the queer poetry of Renissance figure Madeline de l'Aubespine. We will also be undertaking readings in classical, medieval, early modern, and contemporary queer/sexuality studies: Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani, James Bromley, Virginia Burris, David Halperin, Robert Mills, and Marc Schachter, and Lauren Berlant herself [herself!] will be visiting the seminar on the last day to discuss the future of desire & love in America.  Other guest speakers already confirmed and to-be-invited include: James Bromley, Laurie Finke, David Halperin, Peggy McCracken, Eric Ruckh, and Carl Springer.

I will share here our most recent version of the seminar's Syllabus, for those in the Chicago area [or not too far away] who might be interested in enrolling in the course:

Course Title:
Asceticism, Eroticism, and the Premodern Foucault: Revisiting Foucault’s Late Writings on the History of Sexuality and Self-Government through Medieval and Early Modern Sources

11 January - 15 March 2013

Short Course Description:
The course is focused on re-reading sections of Foucault’s History of Sexuality (Vols. 1 and 3, and additional published materials intended for a fourth volume), as well as some of his late interviews and lectures at the Collège du France, in relation to hagiography-romance narratives from the Late Antique, Old English, and Middle English traditions (Eileen Joy) and to medieval and early modern literary texts on love written in French (Anna Klosowska). The central guiding concept for the course is Foucault’s notion of an “improbable manner of being” -- a notion that Foucault sketched, somewhat elliptically, in his late lectures and interviews in relation to his thinking on asceticism and techniques of the “care of the self” that he had explored in classical and early Christian texts, but had no time to more fully develop. This course will explore medieval and early modern texts to imagine what the inclusion of particular representations in these texts of “improbable” modes and techniques of the self would have contributed to Foucault’s history of sexuality and his late thinking on ascesis, with an eye toward the consequences Foucault’s readings of these texts might have had upon his study of sexuality and care of the self in the premodern period.

Each of the 10 meetings pairs excerpts from Foucault’s works with readings in relevant medieval or early modern texts as well as in contemporary critical sexuality studies. Prerequisites: Reading knowledge of French, Latin, Italian, Old English, Middle English is desirable but not required. Original texts and English translations will be made available. Some background in courses in medieval literature, at the undergraduate or graduate level, is desirable.

Schedule of Events

Week 1. January 11
(a) Improbable Manners of Being

Michel Foucault, “Friendship As a Way of Life” [interview], in Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984), ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989), pp. 308-312.


Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, eds. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), pp. 16-49.

Michel Foucault, “Sexuality and Solitude (1980),” in Michel Foucault, Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (New York: Routledge, 1999), 182-187.

The Old English Life of St Mary of Egypt, ed. and trans. Hugh Magennis (Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 2002), pp. 58-121 [facing-page Old English/modern English edition].

Clare Lees and Gillian Overing, “Figuring the Body: Gender, Performance, Hagiography,” in Clare Lees and Gillian Overing, Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp. 110-151.

Week 2. January 18
Biopolitics/Sacred Violence

Michel Foucault, “Right of Death and Power Over Life,” in Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), pp. 133-159.

Michel Foucault, “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom” (interview), in Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984), ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989), pp. 432-449.

Ælfric, the Old English “St. Martin, Bishop and Confessor,” in Ælfric, Lives of Saints, ed. Walter W. Skeat, Vol. 2, EETS o.s. 94, 114 (1890, 1900; reprint Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 218-313 [facing-page Old English/modern English edition].

Virginia Burrus, “Hybrid Desire: Empire, Sadism, and the Soldier Saint,” in The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 91-127.

Week 3. January 25

Michel Foucault, “Self and Others: The Political Game,” in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1988), pp. 81-95.

Michel Foucault, “The Battle for Chastity” (1982), in Michel Foucault, Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 188-197.

Mark Vernon, “Postscript: ‘I am not what I am’ — Foucault, Christian Asceticism, and a ‘Way Out’ of Sexuality,” in Michel Foucault, Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 199-209.

Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac, ed. and trans. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), pp. 60-172 [facing-page Anglo-Latin/modern English edition].

Robert Mills, “Of Martyrs and Men,” in Robert Mills, Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), pp. 145-176.

Karmen MacKendrick, “Asceticism: Seducing the Divine,” in Karmen MacKendrick, Counterpleasures (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), pp. 65-86.

Week 4. February 1

Michel Foucault, “3 March 1982: First Hour,” in Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982, ed. Frédéric Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Picador, 2005), pp. 331-353.

David Halperin, excerpt from Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 79-112.

Anonymous, Andreas [Old English poem], trans. Aaron Hostetter: http://oe-andreas.

Leo Bersani, “The Power of Evil and the Power of Love,” in Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips, Intimacies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 57-87.

Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, “‘One Big Soul’ (The Thin Red Line),” in Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Forms of Being: Cinema, Aesthetics, Subjectivity (London: British Film Institute, 2004), pp. 124-178.

Week 5. February 8
‘Life Itself As a Test’/Abjection

Michel Foucault, “17 March 1982: 2nd Hour,” in Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982, ed. Frédéric Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Picador, 2005), pp. 437-452.

David Halperin, excerpt from What Do Gay Men Want? An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), pp. 69-85 [Part V].

Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Man of Law’s Tale,” in The Canterbury Tales, 3rd edn., gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987); online interlinear translation available here:

Robert Mills, “Invincible Virgins,” in Robert Mills, Suspended Animation: Pain, Pleasure and Punishment in Medieval Culture (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), pp. 106-144.

Week 6. February 15
Marie de France

Michel Foucault, Résumé des cours, trans. Karen Ann Hudec (Binghamton: SUNY Press, 1991). [French: Michel Foucault, Résumé des cours, 1970-1982 (Paris: Julliard, 1989), pp. 9-166.]

Marie de France, “Prologue,” “Guigemar,” “Equitan,” “Le Fresne,” “Bisclavret,” “Lanval,” “Yonec,” and “Eliduc,” in Marie de France, Lais, 2nd edn., ed. and trans. Glynn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 41-81, 86-93, and 111-126.

Week 7. February 22
Fearless Speech

Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2001), pp. 11-23, 75-173.

Paul Allen Miller, “Truth-Telling in Foucault’s ‘Le gouvernement de soi et des autres’ and Persius 1: The Subject, Rhetoric, and Power,’ Parrhesia 1 (2006): 27-61; available online:

Week 8. March 1         
Historicising Foucault/Historicising the Subject/Historicising Same-Sex Love           

Michel Foucault, “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act,” “How Much Does it Cost for Reason to Tell the Truth,” and “History and Homosexuality” [interviews], in Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984), ed. Sylvère Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnson (New York: Semiotext(e), 1989): pp. 322-334, 348-362, and 363-370.

Michel Foucault, “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self,” from Religion and Culture: Michel Foucault, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999), pp. 158-181.

Madeleine l’Aubespine, Selected Poems, ed. and trans. Anna Klosowska (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Week 9. March 8
Montaigne on Friendship (with Foucault and Derrida)

Marc Schachter, “Introduction: Voluntary Servitude, Governmentality and the Care of the Self” and Chap. 5, “The Erotics of Friendship and the Politics of Love,” in Marc Schacter, Voluntary Servitude and the Erotics of Friendship: From Classical Antiquity to Early Modern France (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 1-21 and 145-182.

Michel de Montaigne, “On Friendship,” in The Complete Works of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1957) [standard edition]; PLEASE READ the 17th-century translation by Charles Cotton, widely available online (via Early English Books Online or EEBO, or here:

Jacques Derrida, “‘For the First Time in the History of Humanity’,” in Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005), pp. 271-308.

Week 10. March 15
The Future(s) of Desire/Love/Improbable Manners of Being Redux

Invited Lecture: Laurent Berlant, George M. Pullman Professor, University of Chicago

Lauren Berlant, “Cruel Optimism,” differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies 17.3 (2006): 20-36.

Lauren Berland, Desire/Love (Brooklyn: punctum, 2012).