1st Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group

"after the end: the humanities, medieval studies, and the post-catastrophe"

4-6 November 2010

University of Texas at Austin


(Page 2)

Fridgehenge (Sante Fe, New Mexico)

Friday, November 5th

REGISTRATION: 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

AT&T Center @ Amphitheater

10:00-11:30 a.m.

Session 7. Here to A/Muse

AT&T Center Salon D

Co-Organizers: Irina Dumitrescu, Southern Methodist University and Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

Co-Chairs: Irina Dumitrescu and Anna Klosowska

A thought-experiment: the 9 Muses have come out of their celestial hiding places to offer ruminations, riffs, declarations, manifestos, laments, cris de coeurs, admonishments, laments, explications, resignations, stand-up comedy routines, fire drills, weather reports, late-night broadcasts, dry cleaning services, "duck and cover" training, belated condolences, and warnings about how to proceed at the end of everything. The following presenters pay tribute or play the amanuensis.

CALLIOPE (Epic): Julie Orlemanski, Harvard University

CLIO (History): Eileen Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

ERATO (Lyric/Erotic Poetry): Cary Howie, Cornell University

EUTERPE (Music): Tim Albrecht, Columbia University

MELPOMENE (Tragedy): Michael Johnson, University of Texas at Austin

POLYHYMNIA (Choral Poetry): Dan Remein, New York University

TERPSICHORE (Dance): Irina Dumitrescu, Southern Methodist University

THALIA (Comedy): Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

URANIA (Astronomy): Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Session 8. Thoroughly Modern Miscreants? Medieval Advice on Sex Offenders, Dictators, and City Governance

AT&T Center Salon A

Co-Organizers: Celia Chazelle, College of New Jersey and Felice Lifshitz, Florida International University

Chair and Respondent: Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin

This session examines the distinctive perspective that medieval European studies provide on a range of political and ethical problems in the present. Still today, in the popular imagination, the European Middle Ages is regarded as the quintessential period of darkness and irrelevance, and thus a period thankfully distant from modernity. As Michelle Brown has noted, “Anything we are forced to acknowledge as negative within our own past is often shunted into this remote age as a reassurance that it is something we have left behind long ago.” Many medievalists take refuge behind a similar notion that medieval is emphatically divided from modern in order to excuse themselves from addressing issues relevant to the present. Further, although medievalists are aware that it is impossible to be truly objective, the view persists among many specialists in this field that we must conduct research as if objectivity and comprehensiveness can be attained. And, what they fail to realize, is that the widespread distorted views of the period -- which they are in a unique position to correct -- do real “work” in the present to uphold certain values and foreclose alternative, progressive, developments. Such distortions should not, ethically speaking, simply be permitted to flourish and fester; they should be addressed head on. But other medievalists clearly think differently: the organizers of the proposed Austin session have been working over the last few years with a group of collaborators on several interrelated projects that share two broad characteristics. First, deliberately adopting and defending a presentist approach to history, we plumb medieval scholarship, our own and that of other specialists, for insights that we argue help in concrete ways to clarify specific political, social, and ethical concerns of today and to envisage better practices and policies for the future. Second, inspired by the writings of the late Edward Said, we seek to engage with these issues as not only academics but public intellectuals. Medievalists typically write and speak only for their professional peers or students. In contrast, one of our primary aims is to convey our ideas to the non-academic public as well, through teaching, speaking engagements outside academic circles, writings for non-medievalist audiences, websites, and other outreach. Some of us also offer our time and skills to various organizations and institutions working to alleviate the social problems discussed in our scholarship. Currently, one of our major initiatives intended to reach the wider educated public is a forthcoming volume of essays, Why the Middle Ages Matter, to be published by Routledge in 2011. The proposed session for Austin 2010 will bring together two contributors to that volume (one of whom is also, with Celia Chazelle, the co-editor) with two other medievalists also interested in exploring issues of modern social ethics through this distinctive lens. The first speaker, Felice Lifshitz, will explore some aspects of the broad justification for social activism as part and parcel of the role of the medieval scholar, by way of introduction to the goals of the enterprise. The three other panelists, Lisa Bitel, Leah DeVun, and Geoff Koziol, will discuss different modern social issues -- problems of poverty, political oppression, religious belief and practice, and sexuality -- in light of their expertise on medieval Europe.

"On Being a Philosopher-Historian: Social Engagement After the Ethical Turn"

Felice Lifshitz, Florida International University

"The Urgency of Religion, or, As Long as There's a Vatican, I'll Have a Job"

Lisa M. Bitel, University of Southern California

"The Limits of Sex: Hermaphrodites and the Uses of History"

Leah DeVun, Texas A&M University

"Phillip the Fair Meets Idi Amin"

Geoff Koziol, University of California, Berkeley

Session 9. The Transcultural Middle Ages I

AT&T Center Salon B

Co-Organizers: Laurie Finke, Kenyon College and Martin Shichtman, Eastern Michigan University

Chair: Laurie Finke

The participants in these two sessions will collaboratively explore what we are calling the “transcultural Middle Ages,” a project that would track the flow of ideas, words, people, goods, money, books, art objects, and artifacts across national boundaries. Through this project we hope to encourage collaborative migrations into conceptual territories mapped by geographical “middles,” by trails and routes. Our aim is to explore movement across and between medieval cultures generally understood as distinct and internally homogeneous, to reveal the hybridity and fluidity produced by cultural interaction: by commercial traffic, migration, nomadism, intermarriage, imperialism, and diaspora. Two border crossings are central to our purpose. First, we want to shift the focus within medieval studies from the uniqueness or distinctiveness of the national cultures that have defined medieval studies, encouraging scholarship that elucidates the mobility of cultures and the exchanges between them, ultimately decentering Europe as the locus of medieval culture. For this reason we are especially interested in work from outside of Europe or work that connects Europe to other areas of the world. Second, we want to encourage traffic between disciplines, fields, areas of expertise in the academy. We want to establish a place “in the middle” where scholars with different expertise can come together and create a common space and language for thinking more globally about routes that connect rather than borders that separate and define. And in so doing perhaps rethink their own expertise.

"The Transcultural Middle Ages: A Manifesto"

Laurie Finke, Kenyon College and Martin Shichtman, Eastern Michigan University

"Performance in the Middle Ages: Transmitting It Then and Now"

Nina Chordas, University of Alaska Southeast

"Persians, Indians, and Castilian Empires: The Libro de Alexandre"

Raúl Ariza-Barile, University of Texas at Austin

"Beyond Alexander's Gate: Defining the Medieval World Against Gog and Magog"

Michael Nayebi-Oskoui, Independent Scholar

Session 10. Transparent Things

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Co-Organizers: Maggie Williams, William Paterson University and Rachel Dressler, University at Albany, SUNY

Chair: Maggie Williams

“When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!” --V. Nabokov, Transparent Things (1972)

Visual objects entice us with the promise of experiences -- emotional, visceral, mnemonic, intellectual, spiritual. Abbot Suger spoke of the upward-lifting, anagogical potential of medieval stained glass, just as Vladimir Nabokov allows us to slip, helplessly, into the depths of an imagined history. As students of visual images, we sometimes step laterally, through the looking glass, into a boundless realm of unspoken artistic intentions and cultural memories demanding to be narrated. We see ourselves reflected in mirrored surfaces, and we pass back and forth through the membranes of viewer and scholar, historian and contemporary citizen. This session offers a dialogue on the question of how our encounters with material things spark a process, and how images might allow unique collisions between the past and the present, the human and the inanimate, the practice of history and lived experience.

"Tantric Art History"

Karen Overbey, Tufts University

"Encountering the Inauthentic"

Jennifer Borland, Oklahoma State University

"Anchoritic Encounters: Communicating with the Past Through the Touch of the Material Object"

Angela R. Bennett Segler, New York University

"Experiencing Stained Glass"

Nancy Thompson, Saint Olaf College

Abandoned Igloo Hotel (Cantwell, Alaska)


11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Friday, November 5th

12:30 - 2:00 p.m.

Session 11. Metamorphoses: Intersections of Medieval and Transgender Studies

AT&T Center Salon A

Organzier: Masha Raskolnikov, Cornell University

Chair: Masha Raskolnikov

Respondent: Heather Love, University of Pennsylvania

“‘Trans-,’ a prefix weighted with across, beyond, through (into another state or place -- elsewhere), does the now familiar work of suggesting the unclassifiable. To be trans- is to be transcending or surpassing particular impositions, whether empirical, rhetorical, or aesthetic. Antony speaks of the affective force of his/her transformation in songs and in singing. Transformations -- not unlike transgenders -- are produced through emotive forces. Shards and pieces (again, of something broken) are reworked into meaningful integrities, but not wholes.” -- Eva Hayward, “More Lessons from a Starfish: Prefixial Flesh and Transspeciated Selves”

To acknowledge that the gender and sex of a given body is not a given, that the body’s maleness or femaleness is a site for interrogation and transformation, is a very medieval move indeed: even if the technology for sex reassignment surgery is relatively new, magical/miraculous sex reassignment is really quite familiar to those whose scholarship focuses on medieval bodies. In romances, a child’s “true” sex can be disguised according to the caprice of inheritance law. In saint’s lives, a monastery may find itself sheltering a monk who had passed his childhood as a girl. And, of course there’s always the medieval legacy of Ovid, whose writings took bodies through permutations that crossed quite a few lines beyond these, including but never limited to the boundary between human and animal. The BABEL Working Group’s passionate interest in the alterity and multiplicity of sexualities and bodies, its collective investment in enacting a messy entanglement with the past and its continuing engagement with the sentimentality of giving voice to those silenced (by death or difference, rank or metaphysical status), speaks urgently both to and about contemporary transgender studies. Ur-myths of possible trans ancestors fill the pages of medieval manuscripts, from Ovid’s Iphis and Ianthe and the medieval English case of John/Eleanor Rykener, to Pope Joan to Joan of Arc (and certainly beyond). These figures also appear in works like Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors, and as part of other narratives that seek to give transsexuality a longer historical arc than simply the history of technological advancement. This roundtable discussion will posit how and why the study of transgender/transsexuality and the study of medieval literature, philosophy and art might need one another, asking about the possibility of productive engagements as well as inquiring after important conflicts in the study of these fields.

"Nothing to recover: Transgender Relations in the Vie de Sainte Euphrosine"

Shanna Carlson, Cornell University

"The Phlegmatic Man as Transexual"

Elspeth Whitney, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"Transgender Effects and the Medievalist's Classroom"

Diane Cady, Mills College


Masha Raskolnikov, Cornell University

Session 12. Post-Moralitas I

AT&T Center Salon B

Co-Organizers: Allan Mitchell, University of Victoria and Julie Orlemanski, Harvard University

Chair: Allan Mitchell

Respondent: Christopher Bradley, University of Texas at Austin

What are the after-images and effects of medieval forms of moral discourse? This panel seeks to animate and assess the question of post-morality in pre-modern culture, taking stock of its ethical possibilities and liabilities. In our current interval of literary history, rumored to follow long after the moral didacticism of pre-modern literature, as well as after the demise of modernity’s discrete aesthetic sphere -- what transpires? For example, does post-catastrophic, post-human, postmodern, and post-medieval reading and writing participate anymore in the project of “aesthetic education”? Schiller, in his famous discussion Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, dreams of art that can address itself to the human “play drive” (Spieltrieb), changing and reforming our desires in accord with moral truth. Can such change still be countenanced in literature or in the readings we forge from literature of the past? Can we ever recover the “moral of the story”? And what happens now after the so-called “ethical turn”? Is morality a dead-end? Was it always a dead-end, cul-de-sac-ing in the post-moral? Does the post-moral consist in adopting another trope, turning away from the moral? Is post-morality really ethics? politics? ideology? critique? interpretation? aesthetics? literature itself?

"'Moral Causality' in Henry Medwall's Nature and Werner Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy"

Liza Blake, New York University

"Communitas, Immunitas, Cupiditas"

George Edmondson, Dartmouth College

"Post-Moralitas and Crusade Lyrics"

Maria Galvez, Stanford University

"The One is the Many"

Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia

Session 13. Cognitive Alterities: Body-Thinking

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Organizer: Jane Chance, Rice University

Chair: Jane Chance

Co-Respondents: Aranye Fradenburg, University of California, Santa Barbara and Noreen Giffney, Trinity College Dublin

Recent postmodern work in psychoanalytic theory and gender studies has opened windows into how early literatures processed and manifested concepts of subjectivity and the personal on the one hand and cultural difference (sexual, gender, racial, class, national) on the other. This panel on cognitive alterities will draw upon the current medical and theoretical research into neurobiology and how the brain functions (and dysfunctions) to shed light on how the Middle Ages incarnated an understanding of diversity in cognitive processes. Contemporary neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio (The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, 2001; Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, 2003) have examined the diverse effects of emotion and the personal, particularly after injury or other impairment, on the brain's processes of decision-making and judgment, modes of consciousness, language, memory, and the creative. A continuation of two panels on the same subject at the 2010 meeting of the New Chaucer Society in Siena, Italy, this panel will explore how the mind thinks differently in the Middle Ages, and how medieval cultures imagined in such differences the individual and personal, through various forms of subjective media. All three panels (at Siena and here) serve as the launching pad for a special issue of postmedieval, co-edited by Jane Chance and Antony Passaro, forthcoming in 2012.

"Neuromedievalism: What It Might Look Like, Why It Might Matter"

Ashby Kinch, University of Montana

"Being Now The Ox: Meditation as Re-Education for the Post-Historical Humanities"

Sara M. Ritchey, University of Louisiana

"Monstrous Knowledge: Privileging the Unknowable in Alchemical Discourse"

Kathleen Long, Cornell University

"Rusted Me(n)tal"

Julie Singer, Washington University in Saint Louis

Tank Graveyard (Asmara, Eritrea)

Friday, November 5th

2:30 - 4:00 p.m.

Session 14. Humanism and Poetics Caught in Posthuman Enfoldings

AT&T Center Salon A

Co-Organizers: Sarah Bagley, University of Pittsburg and Daniel C. Remein, New York University

Co-Chairs: Sarah Bagley and Daniel C. Remein

It is perhaps now commonplace to regard Humanism as nothing more than a failed project of the Enlightenment. Various conceptions of posthumanism have been offered as alternatives, but this ‘post’ implies a relationship to time that requires a still-unrealized concept of history. We do not have a concept of history adequate to the work of Humanism, and how can we possibly undertake the work of posthumanism without first working on this concept of history? This panel begins from the idea that we need to work towards a concept of history adequate to the demands of the connections that would have to be made, across time and language, by a viable posthumanism. Such a concept of history would need to engage imaginatively and willingly with previous humanisms, languages, and literatures across time. From this assumption this panel would propose a series of specific questions: Is there a moment of folding that conjoins the Heiddegerian theories of language as what speaks us historically and the Vichean theories of language as the field produced by the human in which we form ourselves and our history? How can scholarship that traditionally focuses on the medieval and scholarship that focuses on the post-medieval collaborate with and co-inform each other in their mutual responsibility to the accomplishments of Humanism in the ‘after-the-end’ milieu? Benjamin claims, “Our life…is a muscle strong enough to contract the whole of historical time;” part of this panel’s work will be to ask what the posthumanist looks like who lives this life, or even whether Benjamin’s assertion holds for our time. How might certain strands of the history of and practice of Philology help us to think such a concept of history and such connections across time? What might humanism and its early Philology accomplish when caught in the posthuman fold? Alternately, to what extent might poetics enfold the field in which we can mine previous conceptions of the human? To provoke such a difficult but needed discussion, this panel will bring together a unique arrangement of scholars of both medieval and post-medieval literatures and cultures, as well as a visual artist, who attempt to locate their work within the historiographical demands of the above conversation.

"Philology--World: World--Philology"

Haruko Momma, New York University

"James Baldwin's Critical Affect"

Rachael Wilson, New York University

"In Search of Lost Nostalgia: Proustian Critique and Responsible History"

Sarah Bagley, University of Pittsburgh

"Afferent/Efferent Reciprocities: Systems Approaches to Affect in Animal Studies"

Ada Smailbegovic, New York University

"I can't go on . . . I'll go on: Repetition and the Unrepeatable"

Anna Moblard Meier, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

"Lust in the Library: Philology and the Time of Ornamentality"

Daniel C. Remein, New York University

Session 15. Post-Moralitas II

AT&T Center Salon B

Co-Organizers: Allan Mitchell, University of Victoria and Julie Orlemanski, Harvard University

Chair: Julie Orlemanski

Respondent: Christopher Bradley, University of Texas at Austin

"Ontogeny Before Ontology -- or, Posthuman Ethics?"

Allan Mitchell, University of Victoria

"The Wound Man and Morality's Mimesis"

Julie Orlemanski, Harvard University

"Emotions after Morality: Envy and the Problem of Pleasure"

Jessica Rosenfeld, Washington University in Saint Louis

"Death and Ethics: Levinas's 'Murder in the Night' and Love in The Man of Law's Tale"

Cord J. Whitaker, University of New Hampshire

Session 16. Humanity in Crisis: East (of) Europe

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Organizer: Irina Dumitrescu, Southern Methodist University

Chair: Zrinka Stahuljak, University of California, Los Angeles

Respondent: Karen Engle, Director, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

For a conference asking us what comes "after the end" of catastrophes both political and academic, this session explores the role of art and scholarship during the catastrophe, a catastrophe that does not necessarily end when the political crisis is over. The papers in this session examine the creative responses of artists and intellectuals to Central and East European tragedies, and the ways they used the humanities for the work of memory, for cultural criticism, in the attempt to express the inexpressible, and in the desperate struggle to maintain their very humanness. In other words, these papers ask what role the humanities (conceived here as including both scholarship and artistic creation) have outside the academic context and in those moments when the "post-human" is not a theoretical construction but a dangerous reality.

"Atom Egoyan and the Seductive Dangers of Diaspora"

Lisa Siraganian, Southern Methodist University

"Atempause and Atemschaukel: The Post-War Periods of Primo Levi and Herta Müller"

Tim Albrecht, Columbia University

"Poems in Prison: The Survival Strategies of Romanian Political Prisoners in the 1950s and 1960s"

Irina Dumitrescu, Southern Methodist University

"What Book Would You Never Burn? Books as Fuel in Besieged Sarajevo"

Denis Ferhatovic, Bilkent University, Turkey

Abandoned Train (Okha, Sakhalin Island, Russia)

4:30 - 6:00 p.m.

Plenary Session: Noreen Giffney and Aranye Fradenburg

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Noreen Giffney, Trinity College Dublin

" . . . "

What thoughts come to mind when you see the title of this talk?

The conference title, ‘After the End,’ sets us an impossible task: to symbolise that which is unsymbolisable. Our musings can only ever be fantasies, projections of our own hopes or anxieties, prospective rather than retrospective. ‘After the End’ will always, can only ever be, ‘Before the End’. How then to consider a time, a space, a thing in its absence? In this talk I will turn to the work of the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, little known in academic circles but enormously influential in clinical psychoanalysis, in an effort to explore what is entailed in meaning-making, focusing particularly on the matter of thinking through thoughts deemed to be unthinkable.

Aranye Fradenburg, University of California, Santa Barbara:

"The End(s) of Living"

[stare really hard at this title and wish for one of the best talks you've ever head; we guarantee good results. Signed, The Management]

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Reception & Launch Party for Issue 3 of the Inaugural Volume of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies

Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex: Leisure Pool

10:00 p.m. until Edith Piaf shows up, mad as hell ... again

drinks (cash bar) and an outdoor screening of The Conqueror (1956)

Dramaturge: Anna Klosowska

Cheer Up Charlie's, 1104 East 6th Street, Austin, 78702

*for those interested in good dinner/drinking spots close by to Cheer Up Charlie's, check out:

Eastside Showroom, 1100 East 6th Street

The Good Knight, 1300 East 6th Street

Buenos Aires Cafe, 1201 East 6th Street

Uncorked Tasting Room and Wine Bar, 900 East 7th Street

Parkside, 301 East 6th Street

East Side King, 1618 East 6th Street

Justine's Brasserie, 4710 East 5th Street [okay, this one is a cab-ride away, but you won't regret it: they serve dinner until 2:00 a.m.; for real]

*the Tiny Shriner sees everything and knows all, so please misbehave on his/her behalf

Thursday Schedule

Saturday Schedule