Wednesday, July 12, 2017

David Wallace on Europe: A Literary History

by J J Cohen
Writing cultures continue to matter, even as they become ever more intricately involved with digital, video, and other technologies and less exclusively associated with the paper page.
So observes David Wallace in a recently published interview at Romanische Studien in support of the publication of the massively collaborative (83 scholars!) two volume project Europe: A Literary History 1348–1418 from Oxford. The book is indeed a paean to what working in collaboration can achieve, and is well served by its multivoicedness. And the endeavor makes a problem of Europe in ways that have become only more useful post-Brexit:
“Europe” is indeed a complex, permeable, and uncertain term; in ancient Greece it indicated more of a direction than a specific, locatable territory. Europe is not a continent: as previously suggested, north-western Eurasia might be a more appropriate term. So yes, the folly and contradictoriness of the European-Song-Contest speaks or sings to this muddled (but creative) state of affairs quite eloquently.
The Europe project is incredibly wide ranging, and the interview well captures the capacious ambit of its two volumes plus digital presence. Let me close with David's words about why Damascus should be a part of the book's scope as an inspiration to more wide-ranging work from all of us.
And why include locales such as Damascus? Two of the greatest literary men of our period, and two of its greatest travellers, made their way here along the Maghreb from the western Mediterranean and then north along the region known as the Levant. Ibn Baṭūṭah travels through Jerusalem to Damascus, and on to Mecca. Ibn Khaldūn, born in Tunis from an Andalusian family of Arab descent, was one of the great intellectuals of the age: the father, we might provocatively say, of European sociology. His genius was acknowledged at, or just outside, Damascus by Timur (Tamerlane), Mongol conqueror, during weeks of intensive intellectual debate. The work of Shams al-Dīn Ibn al-Jazarī, who was educated at Cairo and Damascus and died in Shiraz (Iran), found its way to a translator in Aragon. Christian pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem were sometimes inspired to continue their journey south along the Mediterranean to Cairo—thereby, they thought, following the path of the Holy Family. Mamluks ruled the sites of the Holy Land, ruled Damascus, and ruled Cairo: without some knowledge of their crucial literature-producing centers the experiences of westerners pushing east, if we are to adopt such a circumscribed view of “European” experience, cannot be made intelligible.
Read and enjoy the interview in its entirety here.

1 comment:

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Wow. Just wow. This convinces me even more that we need to have an interdisciplinary talk. Many of the texts that Wallace mentions are things that have been used by medieval historians for years, when teaching the MA. They are regularly included in the medieval sections of World History textbooks and sourcebooks -- included by historians whose specialty is the MA. The conceptual stuff he discusses, including understanding and critiquing the role of the 19th C, and the emphases he decries as dying out, are alive and well, practiced by medieval historians -- especially those working on the early MA. They have been doing so since well before I got my PhD.