Thursday, February 06, 2014

REMEDIAEVAL: Proposal for a New Minigraph Book Series

Liz Glynn, On the Possibility of Salvage.

This week Karl and I have been working together, in Brooklyn, to compose a proposal for a new shorter-form, minigraph book series that would represent an alliance of medievalists, early modernists, and cultural theorists working in more contemporary periods who might be interested in collaborating on the question of contemporary theory's relations to an historical past that is often either completely overlooked or badly-shallowly historicized. In addition, we're eager to create a space for new shorter-form [and multi-modal] work that desires to place texts and objects from so-called "premodernity" into [para-textual, adjacent, etc.] contact with texts and objects of what we are calling "the contemporary scene," and in a fashion that would supplement and/or move somewhat beyond the traditional cultural-historical and hermeneutic frameworks.

Two days ago we asked all of our Facebook and Twitter friends to help us come up with a title for the book series [which we plan to pitch to a university press that would be willing to offer these book in paperback and also in Kindle and other e-reader formats at very affordable prices], and we received an amazing array of suggestions, from Chronick to In The Middle to Meddling to Media Res to Ligatures to Palinopsis and beyond. Thanks to Marty Shichtman, we settled on REMEDIAEVAL. A huge THANK YOU as well to everyone who helped to crowd-revise our initial stab at a vision statement for the series, also on Facebook. This morning, we want to share the newly revised vision statement and ask again that everyone help us to continue to refine it, and thus we can say, we did this together!

REMEDIAEVAL: A Minigraph Book Series

Currently, the Middle Ages serve as a sort of “hot” contact zone in a wide variety of cultural, social, and political scenes, events, media, and disciplines. From fantasies of origin to the desire to escape from the present into the past, and from social, political, racial, and sexual caricatures of the Other as “medieval” to historical reenactors and what some have termed a new resurgence of “living history” attractions (Bede’s World, Jorvik Viking Centre, Provins, etc.), the Middle Ages inhabits a space of intimate exteriority with the modern. It can be argued, further, especially with regard to the development of theory in various fields — philosophy, sociology, political science, literary studies, cultural studies, history of science, etc. — that the Middle Ages occupy a sort of “black hole” position that stretches from the fall of the Roman Empire all the way to 1700.  

For example, most contemporary theory skips the Middle Ages and Renaissance altogether, often taking leaps from Kant or Hobbes to Plato, or from Heidegger to Heraclitus, or from Carl Schmitt to Cicero, and so on. And yet, there has been much work done within medieval studies to unsettle the philosophical narratives that imagine the Middle Ages as the abjected past of a modernity that exists only in the contemporary, capitalist West and that refer exclusively to a very small subset of classical and Enlightenment thinkers. Thus, in recent years, journals like postmedieval (an editorial alliance of medieval and early modern researchers with cultural theorists in various fields), scholars such as Kathleen Biddick, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Aranye Fradenburg, Bruce Holsinger, and Steven Kruger (to name only a few), and a host of specialized conferences and symposia hosted by the BABEL Working Group, George Washington University’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe: 1100-1800) have brought premodern subjects into vibrant contact with contemporary theory. In addition, both medieval and early modern studies have led the field in taking up some of the most exciting recent innovations in humanistic practice and thought, including new media studies, the digital humanities, new materialisms, eco-studies, the descriptive turn, post-humanisms, critical animal studies, the geological turn, and speculative realism.

Thanks to various open-access and other publishing initiatives (such as Minnesota’s Forerunners series, Stanford Briefs, The Atlantic and Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons, and Palgrave’s Pivot series), academic writing is poised to capture a broader public audience. Moreover, the traditional monograph is not the only, nor necessarily always the best, mode for disseminating scholarship that aims to speak to and even create the contemporary scene. And finally, an emerging para-academic movement using new technologies to give rise to presses such as Zero Books and punctum books, journals such as continent. and Speculations, and groups such as the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, The Public School New York, the Dublin Unit for Speculative Thought (D.U.S.T.), and the Department of Eagles (Albania), provide an ideal moment to reach out to different and globally-networked publics for cultural studies.

Therefore we propose a minigraph book series (of works between 30,000 and 60,000 words), REMEDIAEVAL, that will revise and renew contemporary theory by salvaging the missing texts and objects of the premodern archive (500-1700), bringing those into contact with various currents in contemporary life and thought. The idea of a premodernity that comprises both medieval and early modern periods is critically important here for pushing back against theories that imagine modernity simultaneously as exceptional and/or as emerging inevitably from narrowly conceptualized and shallow historical chronologies.

It will be the objective of REMEDIAEVAL to invite short-form work in a variety of disciplines, formats, genres, and delivery platforms, that would assemble a wide variety of premodern texts and objects — such as, relics, illustrated manuscripts, architecture, music, law codes, historical chronicle, chivalric romance, bestiaries, Books of Hours, textiles, astrolabes, encyclopedias, cosmographies and atlases, and the like — and put them into mutual conversation with contemporary theory, texts and objects, such as video games, films, television series, political theater, graphic arts, fashion, architecture, toys, landscapes, and so on. In recent years, there has been a renewed attention to the question of the meaningfulness of cultural texts and objects, whether the novel or a painting (and so forth), and how the disciplines of the humanities should best approach their respective subjects at a moment when many are looking for ways to supplement and also to question cultural-historical methodologies and traditional hermeneutics. It is the aim of REMEDIAEVAL to encourage experiments in bringing together culturally and temporally disparate objects (a sort of temporary “working group”) — whether through practices of paratext, adjacency, neighborliness, collage, assemblage, network, ontography, mapping, performance, and so on — to produce novel relations that would not only give rise to new forms of critical thought and intellectual communities, but would also help to reshape the more narrowly-defined disciplines in which these disparate objects are located.


Jonathan Hsy said...

YES YES YES! So exciting. Yet another example of the great things that happen when the hive mind is activated on Facebook. I'm so glad "textiles and astrolabes" made it into this, by the way.

Profesora said...

Great proposal. I would encourage you to extend the boundary to 1800. The entire "Age of Enlightenment" framing for the century 1700 to 1800 is ripe for unsettlement, and many texts, practices and phenomena are excluded from the teleology of the modern.

medievalkarl said...

Profesora - I hear you on that, but I'm reluctant to do so because so many Enlightenment thinkers and thinkers of that era -- Rousseau, Pascal, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, &c (and an even stronger &c the deeper we get into the 18th century) -- are VERY well traveled when it comes to theory.

if, however, we could get these thinkers not to look forward to the present as its origins but rather to the disdained, primitive, thoughtless, prerational, etc etc 'medieval', THEN I think something quite interesting could happen

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Karl: That's great, there needs to be a "Thinking Backward" that does to Enlightenment philosophy what Heather Love did to modernist literature and queer affect.

ricutz said...

Check out Alicia Montoya's MEDIEVALIST ENLIGHTENMENT: FROM CHARLES PERRAULT TO JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (MEDIEVALISM), and you will find a fresh look at enlightened medievalism.

Anonymous said...

A great project. linked to it here, with a few thoughts -

Anonymous said...

Definitely, on track; the audacious marginalisation of this vast and important stretch of time is often beyond comprehension... get this off the ground, please.

Lupton said...

Exciting project. I look forward to seeing what titles and conversations come out of this.