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 3)

Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, Texas)

Saturday, November 6th

10:00 - 11:15 a.m.

Plenary Session: Heather Love and Michael O'Rourke

University Teaching Center 2.102A [Amphitheater]

Heather Love, University of Pennsylvania:

"After Such Forgiveness, What Knowledge?"

This talk considers the recent move away from depth hermeneutics in literary studies in the context of what French historian François Dosse has called "the descriptive turn." I argue that recent forms of "flat" or "surface" reading offer a significant challenge to the largely unacknowledged humanism of literary studies. While I survey a range of methods from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's reparative reading to Franco Moretti's distant reading, my focus is on the intersection of sociology and literature, with particular attention to the examples of Erving Goffman and Bruno Latour. I argue that their mapping of social interactions, connections, and networks offers a model for a form of literary criticism grounded in description rather than interpretation. Furthermore, I argue this "flat" view of social life models an ethics grounded not in empathetic witness but in observation and documentation.

Michael O'Rourke, Independent Colleges, Dublin:


Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in their most recent book Commonwealth, caution against a newly arisen apocalyptic tone in contemporary politico-philosophical thought, a tone which finds its fullest expression in Slavoj Žižek’s latest gloomy opus, Living in the End Times. We are, if we are to believe what we read, after the subject, the human, sex, God, finitude, theory, the humanities, and so on. To counter this preoccupation with, even fetishization of, ends, this paper traces the preposition “after” across a range of Derrida’s texts. If for Derrida, in Of Grammatology, the end of the book heralds an opening for the book to-come, then this paper seeks out a recalibrated futurity for the humanities which recognizes that its future will always have been its end, which, more affirmatively put, is to say that its future will have been always to begin its ending again.

Detroit Public Schools Book Depository (Detroit, Michigan)


11:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 6th

12:30 - 2:00 p.m.

Session 17. Bodies of Time

University Teaching Center 1.102

Organizer: Brianna Jewell, University of Texas at Austin

Chair: Brianna Jewell

In a recent blog post, Lauren Berlant writes that the purpose of fantasy is to make ambivalence bearable. As we approach the asymptote that is our fantasy, we see the always retreating, always disintegrating, and thus always desired body. As postmedieval, posthuman critics, we are pulled by a fantasy of being able to touch the body of a past, to access a place or object that lives, or has lived, or was born non-contemporaneous to us. Perhaps in our attempts to have an affective relationship to the body of the past we enact the same fantasy as the medieval person whose touch upon the relic summons an experience of being transported back to -- or enclosed within a scene of contact, atemporally, with -- a past body and place. It is, perhaps, not the touch or full access, but its impossibility that sustains our fantasy of reaching lost bodies. This is another way of saying that our fantasy might be sustained by our inability to escape our temporal present. Can we experience a body (a text, an object, a thing) without being subject to time’s ebbs and flows, without, that is, being subject to the tyranny of chronology, however queerly chronology may be conceptualized? In this panel, we consider how fantasy works to make both possible and exciting living in the wake of the past, with all the seemingly conflicting thoughts, feelings and experiences that such a life gives rise to. We ask how the tangibility and spontaneity of bodies haunt and propagate our desires to become through a medieval past and, by extension, how time relates to our understandings of pleasure and (its) moralizations. This panel throws into conversation medieval literary texts, medieval art history, queer theory, and affect theory to call attention to the accessible, fluid, and performative nature of medieval and postmodern bodies represented through texts and objects. In so doing, we hope to tell a deeper story about the attachments -- to fantasy, to bodies and to things -- that enable the reproduction of a life.

"Blessed Dust: Transforming and Transporting Materiality in a Pilgrimage Token of Saint Symeon the Younger"

Shannon Steiner, University of Texas at Austin

"Grendel, Identity, and Sexual Politics: Reconsidering the Representation of Grendel in Beowulf"

Daniel F. Pigg, University of Tennessee at Martin

"But Love Has Pitched His Mansion in the Place of Excrement: Dystopia in The Land of Cockaygne"

Abigail Bristol, University of Texas at Austin

"Caught in the Middle: Becoming Medieval Bodies"

Brianna Jewell

Session 18. FAULT I

University Teaching Center 1.116

Co-Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY and Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

Chair: Anna Klosowska

These two sessions lay the fault-lines for a special issue of postmedieval, to be published in 2013 and co-edited by Nicola and Anna. FAULT: It is yours, the one to blame, for everything. FAULT: Tellurian fissure, index of the means of mountains, earthquakes, islands. FAULT: Deep opening, essential accident, the only way for lovers to whisper: “The wall their houses shared had one thin crack, which was formed when they were built and then was left; in all these years, no one had seen that cleft; but lovers will discover everything: you were the first to find it, and you made that cleft a passageway which speech could take” (Ovid, Metamorphoses). FAULT: Lack, defect, shortcoming, mistake, error. FAULT: Exactly where you are at.

Take these sentences as invitation and incitement for post-medievalist work that willfully shares, practically and theoretically, in the significance of fault. The purpose of FAULT is to rigorously practice fault as the way of purpose, as the inevitable space of method. FAULT = to take things too far, to follow and seduce error rather than evade it, to fall hard for something, to creatively stray in the “sylvan wandering that allows itself to become lost enough to find what cannot be deliberately traced,” to pursue and persist in the identity of strength and weakness (“for when I am weak, then I am strong. I have been a fool!” 2 Corinthians 12:10), to corrupt, deform, perforate, decay, infect, disease, and totally lead to wonderful decline a text or other form of debris from the past, to colonize a little crumb into a vast continent, to studiously enjoy the fact that life is already over and you have/are lost, to do what you must do, what you will do anyway, but now to do it openly and fully, to a fault. This is not frivolity, but serious folly. Only the desperate, the perversely imaginative, and the fatally flawed should attempt the crossing.

FAULT I & II will feature 7 presenters who will split their papers between the two sessions (see Session 22 below) across various crevasses of thought and image.

"How an Old Book Tells Time"

Heather Bamford, University of California, Berkeley

"Quod geminorum partum disterminat: Augustine's Hermeneutics of Fault"

Jordan Kirk, Princeton University

"Come cosa che cada: Habit and Cataclysm"

Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Barthes' Fragments: The Ghost of the Non-human"

Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

"Boustrophedonic Reading: Irresponding to J. Hillis Miller"

Michael O'Rourke, Independent Colleges, Dublin

"The Grace of Philology"

Michael E. Moore, University of Iowa

Session 19. The Transcultural Middle Ages II

University Teaching Center 1.118

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

Chair: Martin Shichtman

"How to be (Alfons the) Magnanimous in Three Easy Steps! Using Diplomacy, War, and Dante"

Daniel Hartnett, Kenyon College

"After the Catastrophe: The Images of Jean Thenaud's Triomphes des Vertus and the Virtual Landscapes of Ottoman Jerusalem"

Anne F. Harris, DePauw University

"Infernal Migrations, the Iconography of Hell, and the Cultural Conquest of Mexico"

John Warrick, University of Birmingham

"Ruinous Monument: Sir Thomas Herbert's Translations through Persepolis"

Nedda Mehdizadeh, George Washington University

Session 20. Calling Time Out: Style and Scholarship

University Teaching Center 2.102A [Amphitheater]

Sponsor: BABEL Working Group

Organizer: Anne Clark Bartlett, DePaul University

C0-Chairs: Marjorie Curry Woods, University of Texas at Austin and Eliza Glaze, Coastal Carolina University

Respondent: Neville Hoad, University of Texas at Austin

“I think the question of style, as it applies to medievalism, is precisely the overcoming of that dichotomy between Nature and Man: a third element. And when the critique proceeds through the denunciation of the inimitability of someone's style, as if it was the third sex, ungenerative, queer, sterile, sodomitic, lesbian, etc., the critic unconsciously puts his finger on exactly what style is; but that critic is mistaken about the style's generative powers. In fact, style, neither fact nor theory but facilitating the transition between the two, is . . . the generative principle itself.” --Anna Klosowska, "Is Style a Historical Method?"

Recent scholarship in medieval studies has offered some provocative experiments in style. Authors such as Kathleen Biddick, Carolyn Dinshaw, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Cary Howie, and David Wallace have blended the conventions of academic writing with those of fiction, drama, memoir, and lyricism. As these registers merge, they can produce what has been called a queer historiographical encounter (or in Elizabeth Freeman’s terms, “an erotohistorography”), a “poetics of intensification,” and even a “new aestheticism.” This panel will explore what is at stake, and what might be lost or gained, when scholars take on the risk of telling personal stories, staging fictionalized encounters, and inventing new styles and modes of address in their scholarly work. Some questions to be considered might include: what can be said about the “style” of academic discourse at the present time? Is style merely supplemental to scholarly substance? As scholars, are we “subjects” of style? And what is the relationship between style and theory? Is style an object, a method, or something else?

"The Aesthetics of Style and the Politics of Identity Formation"

Gila Aloni, Centre d'Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), France

"Always Accessorize!"

Christine Neufeld, Eastern Michigan University

"Queening the Two Bodies: Styling Medieval Self and Role"

Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist University

"The Unceasing Call of Style: A Novelist's Perspective"

Valerie Vogrin, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

"The Renegade Style of Philip Massinger: Fashion and the (Non)Modern Subject-Object in The Renegado"

Jessica Roberts Frazier, George Washington University

Abandoned Tube Station, Archway Road (Highgate, London)

Saturday, November 6th

2:30 - 4:00 p.m.

Session 21. In/Animate: The Thing II

University Teaching Center 1.102

Sponsor: MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: the Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application)

Co-Organizers: Laurynn Lowe, Independent Scholar and Asa Mittman, California State University, Chico

Chair: Asa Mittman

"Ephemeral Rings: Anglo-Saxon Bells and Immaterial Media"

Martin Foys, Drew University

"Impolitical Verticalities in the 'Bellicose Constellation' of the Kingdom: The Spectral Totality of Occupatio Bellica and Hyper-Humanity"

Elliot A. Jarbe, University of Western Ontario

"Tool-being in the Riddles of the Exeter Book"

Laurynn Lowe, Independent Scholar

"Thing Theory and the Early Medieval Idol (Is Meat a Thing?)"

Mo Pareles, New York University

Session 22. FAULT II

University Teaching Center 1.116

Co-Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY and Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

Chair: Nicola Masciandaro

This session represents the leap over various crevasses of thought and image from Session 18 to here. Version 1.1, as it were. Redux. Rewind. Fast forward. Again. One more time. Finish that thought. What were you saying again? Once more into the breach. Only fools rush in. A sucker born every minute. Hope springs eternal. That sort of thing.

"How an Old Book Tells Time"

Heather Bamford, University of California, Berkeley

"Quod geminorum partum disterminat: Augustine's Hermeneutics of Fault"

Jordan Kirk, Princeton University

"Come cosa che cada: Habit and Cataclysm"

Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Barthes' Fragments: The Ghost of the Non-human"

Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Ohio

"Boustrophedonic Reading: Irresponding to J. Hillis Miller"

Michael O'Rourke, Independent Colleges, Dublin

"The Grace of Philology"

Michael E. Moore, University of Iowa

Session 23. Exploiting Constraint: Reiterative Textual Authority and the Subject of Exchange

University Teaching Center 1.118

Organizer: Myra Seaman, College of Charleston

Chair: Myra Seaman

Respondent: Lara Farina, West Virginia University

This session will investigate a range of strategies developed by those living in medieval, early modern, and contemporary moments to construct alternative identities and subject positions by deploying ostensibly prescriptive, restrictive, and ideologically conservative textual authorities. The authorities addressed by the panel range from fourteenth-century English legal discourse and fifteenth-century English conduct verse to sixteenth-century New World oriented cultivation narratives and twentieth-century American children’s opera and social conduct literature. Each of these moments appeared to its inhabitants to offer a break with the past, one often read in terms of new possibilities and at times in terms of new threats. The strategies exhibited in and performed through these texts are understood by the panel as conducive to the production of a collective subjectivity, one that tends to operate in networks of exchange, typically economic or sexual, and in specifically moral terms. In the process, we will be engaging a number of the issues highlighted by Teresa de Lauretis in a quote central to the the conference’s CFP: together, we will help “reopen . . . questions of subjectivity, materiality, discursivity, knowledge”; we will consider how these particular communities seemed to imagine themselves in a temporal cleft and will seek what lies beyond periodization -- at different moments in our past, and in our present -- and what kinds of new insights might be gained through a post-temporal historically-attuned orientation.

"Cultivating Fantasies: Engendering Virtue in a New World"

Holly Crocker, University of South Carolina

"Love and Taxes"

Brantley Bryant, Sonoma State University

"Wyse men & wyttye: Creating and Questioning Masculine Textual Communities"

Christina Fitzgerald, University of Toledo

"Integrating Economies in the Fifteenth-Century English Household Anthology"

Myra Seaman, College of Charleston

"Wife, Widow, and Artist: The Love Triangle in Barab and Richards' Chanticleer"

Candace Barrington, Central Connecticut State University

Session 24. Public Feelings/Political Emotions

University Teaching Center 2.102A [Amphitheater]

Organizer: Ann Cvetkovich, University of Texas at Austin

Chair: Heather Love, University of Pennsylvania

The Public Feelings project, begun in 2001 in the shadow of 9/11 and its ongoing consequences, comprises a collective of scholars at the University of Texas and elsewhere (such as @ Feel Tank Chicago) who aim to explore the role of feelings in public life. The project initially emerged from collective meetings on the future of gender and sexuality and the question of how to give feminism greater impact in the public sphere. In addition to being a stealth feminist project, Public Feelings is also implicitly queer and many of its members are veteran AIDS activists who come to the project with various forms of political depression in the face of an ongoing and too frequently normalized health crisis of global proportions. The project's interest in everyday life, in how global politics and history manifest themselves at the level of lived affective experience, is bolstered by the role that queer theory has played in calling attention to the integral role of sexuality within public life. Public Feelings also seeks to foster a more expansive definition of political life -- that political identities are implicit within structures of feeling, sensibilities, everyday forms of cultural expression and affiliation that may not take the form of recognizable institutions or organizations. And just as AIDS activism has done, Public Feelings holds out for a queer political agenda that moves beyond gay righs and is attentive to the linkages between sexual politics and other issues, such as war, migration, and racism.

This panel will bring together members of the Public Feelings project at the University of Texas at Austin: Ann Cvetkovich (English), Sam Baker (English), Ann Reynolds (Art and Art History), and Neville Hoad (English), who will provide us with "news from the front," as it were, which includes the recent publication of the book Political Emotions (Routledge, 2010), edited by Janet Staiger, Ann Cvetkovich, and Ann Reynolds.

Concrete House (Logan, Ohio)

4:30 - 6:00 p.m.

Plenary Session: Unending

This panel presents four different perspectives on time and timelessness. Through Augustine, Blanchot, medieval colophons, and contemporary lyric, these presenters will be talking about the supplements and alternatives to time that nonetheless make time possible: apocalypse and memory; oblivion and heaven; the end of the line in the poetic if not necessarily the ontological sense. They will try, moreover, to speak and think in ways that are committed to not having the final word on any of these things.

Catherine Brown, University of Michigan: "The Memory of the End of the World"

Virginia Burrus, Drew University: "Why Heaven is 'After' Hell"

Karmen Mackendrick, LeMoyne College: "Oblivion, Hope, and Infinite Suspense"

Cary Howie, Cornell University: "The Breaks"

Figure 1. builders fleeing the Tower of Babel (The Brick Testament)

9:00 p.m. until ... yes, you guessed it: Edith Piaf's back and really mad this time

After the End After-Party @ Mike Johnson's House

1211A Walnut Avenue, Austin, 78702

Thursday Schedule

Friday Schedule

Abandoned, Never-Completed Hotel (North Taiwan)