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*

*co-sponsored by the BABEL Working Group, University of Texas at Austin, College of Charleston, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Palgrave Macmillan


[for information on how to register, where to stay, how to get around, where to eat, etc., go HERE]

Abandoned Mining Town (Kolmanskop, Namibia)

*all images in program are from artificial owl: the most fascinating abandoned man-made creations

*Thursday and Friday sessions @ AT&T Center; Saturday Sessions @ University Teaching Center

Thursday, November 4th

REGISTRATION: 11:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

AT&T Center @ Amphitheater

* * * * *

1:00 - 2:30 p.m.

Session 1. Technologies of Narration

AT&T 102

Organizer: Scott Garbacz, University of Texas at Austin

Chair: Scott Garbacz

“Technologies bombard human beings with a ceaseless offer of previously unheard-of positions -- engagements, suggestions, allowances, interdictions, habits, positions, alienations, prescriptions, calculations, memories. Generalizing the notion of affordance, we could say that the quasi-subjects which we all are become such thanks to the quasi-objects which populate our universe with minor ghostly beings similar to us and whose programmes of action we may or may not adopt.” --Bruno Latour, “Morality and Technology: The End of the Means”

It has long been recognized that reading acts and processes are both culturally produced and culturally productive. Yet as we move further into the 21st Century, “New Media” technologies are changing the array of possibilities for storytelling -- and in the process, as Latour points out, violently reshaping the array of (now clearly interdependent and non-rational) subject positions available. Modes ranging from blogs to guerilla marketing to ratings-driven television to massively multiplayer video games are taking on new cultural prominence, challenging the previous dominance of the printed word (the prime constitutive technology of the so-called “modern” period, driving productions ranging from Shakespeare’s sonnets to Joyce’s Ulysses). As we consider life and consciousness “after the end” of print culture’s methodologies and verities, it is worthwhile also to consider pre-modern technologies of cognition and visual imagination, whose explicit intertextuality and alien cultural matrix may shed new light on potentialities for the intersection of narrative and consciousness.

"A Window Between Fabliau and Courtly Love: Genre Theory and Cognition in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale"

Mike Widner, University of Texas at Austin

"A Triptych on the After-Image of Everything"

Jen Boyle, Coastal Carolina University

"Mass Effect and the Evolution of the Literary in the Digital Age"

Chris Ortiz y Prentice, University of Texas at Austin

"Internalizing Pagan Spaces: Theodulus, Eneas, and the Memory of Roman Ancestors"

Scott Garbacz, University of Texas at Austin

"At Home and Beyond: Chaucer's Postnationalism?"

Susan Nakley, St. Joseph's College, New York

Session 2. Apocalypse, Humanism, Language, Thought

AT&T Center 106

Chair: Paul Bowman, Cardiff University

"Reading for the End: Apocalypse and Humanism"

Marina Leslie, Northeastern University

Using the Anabaptist revolution as a point of departure, this talk considers the investments of humanism in the interpretive apocalypse or “rending of the veil” the early modern humanists both helped produce and disavowed. I hope to explore this in both historical and present contexts. How does the formation and identification of early modern humanism and the studia humanitatis relate to the present investments of the humanities to engage with the world and reach non-academic audiences and yet to retain a priestly authority as readers and interpreters of culture?

"Speaking the Ineffable Word: The Names of God in Anglo-Saxon England"

Mary K. Ramsey, Southeastern Louisiana University

Through translation theory and an attention to Anglo-Saxon translations of religious texts written in Latin (which were themselves translations), this talk will examine the paradoxical desire to express the ineffable -- to name and thereby define and contain God -- while simultaneously asserting God’s transcendence.

"I Feel the End is Near: Thinking in Emotional Time"

Christian Beck, University of Central Florida

Since Fredric Jameson has declared “the ‘death’ of the subject,” what role do the emotions play in our current world-view? Do emotions come to an end (are we post-emotional?) and what happens emotionally in the face of this end, other ends, and The End? This talk will attempt to address the issue of emotions and how we are, or maybe should “get,” “medieval” in our posthumanity -- emphasizing the “post” of the humanity. What happens, further, when we begin to measure time in terms of collective emotional experiences?


Ruth Evans, Saint Louis University

This talk will discuss Michael Landy's 2001 artwork Break Down (in which he destroyed all his possessions) as a way into discussing our contemporary relationship with our possessions, and how medieval discourses of possession and dispossession (e.g. Franciscanism) can be read alongside and in dialogue with later discourses, with some mutual illuminations about ourselves and objects we own.

Session 3. Nature Post-Catastrophe

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Co-Organizers: Lowell Duckert, George Washington University and Alfred Siewers, Bucknell University

Chair: Lowell Duckert

Natural catastrophes are common. We live in a time of melting ice, volcanic plumes, earthquakes, and (ongoing) oil spills. Yet how has our theoretical engagement with nature -- ontologically, epistemologically, phenomenologically -- changed during/after/because of these events? Many arguments have been put forth: Timothy Morton describes ecology without nature; Michel Serres’s natural contract stipulates that we forget the anthropocentric word “environment” altogether; and Bruno Latour believes that the modern view of Nature renders politics impotent and demarcates what can and cannot be discussed, what is and what is not allowed to speak. Indeed, as Latour asks in a recent article, “What is the successor of nature?” This panel asks why our complicated relationship with the environment is often reiterated in catastrophic -- and hence negative -- terms. How can we not just forget “environment,” then, or supplicate ourselves to a hostile nature, but rediscover our positive alliances with the material world? Our panel’s ecocritical inquiry is thus two-fold: (1) how we engage with nature after catastrophic events (relative to memory, trauma, history, and so on); and (2) the various ways of engaging nature after (that is, beyond) catastrophic discourse. In short, what kinds of creative (non)human connections and futures can be forged by thinking post-catastrophically? How is medieval and early modern literature contributive to this inquiry? Panelists may address, amongst other topics, the pronounced “end” of nature as a distinctively outside world; the place of the humanities/the human in post-humanism; the difficulties of anthropocentrism; the temporality of post-catastrophe; ecomaterialist approaches to the environment which describe landscape as an actor-network of coconstituitive, (non)human actants; the philosophy of science; redefinitions of catastrophe ("sudden turning") and naturalism; pedagogical and political praxis; and the role of ecocriticism in general as it searches for the common/collective in a catastrophic world.

"Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree: Ecological Metamorphosis and the Cult of the Author"

Todd Borlik, Bloomsburg University

"Walter Ralegh's Hydrography of Desire"

Lowell Duckert, George Washington University

"After Something: Lost and Invented Ecologies"

Kathleen Kelly, Northeastern University

"Man After Catastrophe in the Vita Haroldi"

Hannah Johnson, University of Pittsburgh

School, Post-Chernobyl (Prypiat, Ukraine)

Thursday, November 4th

3:00-4:30 p.m.

Session 4. The Scholarly Object: Input and Output

AT&T Center 102

Organizer: Meg Worley, Pomona College

Chair: Meg Worley, Pomona College

“They must still be around here, those old things.” --C.P. Cavafy

The object of scholarship can refer to both input and output: that which we think about, and that which emerges from our thinking. They may be commensurate (we study a codex and write a book about it), but they need not be. In a panel at the most recent International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, Anna Klosowska uttered the phrase “after the object,” suggesting a long-seen longing in contemporary literary studies to move beyond mere things -- to intangibles, abstractions, processes. This preference for verbs over nouns predates us, though; Hegel critiqued objectification as a key aspect of the master-slave dialectic. Since then, reification (which is a metaphorical shift, like the forming of gerunds from verbs) has become an accusation, a fault, a lapsus. Fast-forward to the final stages of a scholarly project. Suddenly our most ardent desire is to convert all our intellection into a tangible object -- a book, or at least an article in a print journal. One need only observe that postmedieval -- certainly one of the more forward-thinking and beyond-thinking journals in literary studies -- debuted in physical form, in great towers of issues at the Palgrave booth at the 2010 Kalamazoo Congress. Meanwhile, publishers insist that medievalists (the first subdiscipline to grasp the relevance of computer processing in the 1960s) are greater purchasers of monographs than other humanities scholars. How can we reconcile our pulling away from the object as input for the black box of intellection with our cleaving to it as output? What can -- what must -- medieval studies add to the ongoing discussion of the future of the “book” (whatever that is)? Will different avenues of inquiry pull our (theoretically) unified field into different modes of scholarly output? How do issues of possession and intellectual property color our study of the past and, indeed, our thought processes?

A round-table discussion, with pre-circulated readings (see below), between: Meg Worley (Pomona College), Ashby Kinch (University of Montana), Sean Pollack (Portland State University), Jen Boyle (Coastal Carolina University), Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), and Martin Foys (Drew University).

Pre-Circulated Readings:

Session 5. Twelfth-Century Subjectivites

AT&T Center 106

Co-Organizers: Michael Johnson, University of Texas at Austin and Chris Taylor, University of Texas at Austin

Chair: Michael Johnson

What enduring critical value might the notion of subjectivity have for scholars working on twelfth-century Europe in the wake of various critiques and deconstructions of the subject? If the unitary, autonomous subject of Western metaphysics is, and has always been, inadequate to describe medieval notions of the self and if, indeed, the medieval has contributed in some way to the postmodern deconstruction of the subject (Heidegger reading Duns Scotus, etc.), a multitude of “subjects” have risen from the ruins of the autonomous Subject, which may be said to be more adequate to the medieval: the subject as a social construction; the Lacanian split subject; the subject as an effect of power; etc. In effect, the twelfth century saw the rise of new definitions of the grammatical and political subject as well as new modes of subjection. The vast social upheavals of the period, including (among others) the Crusades, the rise of Church orthodoxy (and the attendant preoccupation with heresy), Scholasticism, the nascent university, enabled new modes of relationality (between the subject and its various constitutive “others”), which could be said to found a new subject of the Christian West. The papers in this session all examine the construal of the subject in twelfth-century Europe in light of recent metacritical reevaluations of subjectivity “after” the Subject.


Michael Johnson, University of Texas at Austin

"Troubadour Technics in Time"

Erin Labbie, Bowling Green State University

"Lex Mahumet and the Subject of Christianity"

Chris Taylor, University of Texas at Austin

Session 6. In/Animate: The Thing I

AT&T Center Amphitheater

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: Laurynn Lowe

"No medieval stone exists alone, but is an actor in a narrative that exceeds any use value, any practicality, a gem of aesthetic efflorescence that conveys conventional histories and received traditions beyond any border that they would ordinarily cross." --Jeffery Jerome Cohen, "Stories of Stone"

Following Jeffery Jerome Cohen's meditation on stones and Susan Signe Morrison's call for a fecopoet[h]ics in the inaugural edition of postmedieval, this panel is an exploration of the boundaries of the inanimate. How do we understand the inanimate objects that make up our world as: (1) stones, bridging the gap between our frailty and their seeming eternity; (2) waste products to be eliminated from consciousness; and as (3) tools, whose existence would seem predicated upon the use of man? In what ways does our relationship with things define our relationship with ourselves and others? How do we define the inanimate objects in our environment, and how does this definition in turn restrict or expand our understanding of the human? How might the brass horse in Chaucer's Squire's Tale or the Mechanical Turk be understood as bridging the boundary between the inanimate and animal studies or "Orientalist" perspectives? How might Graham Harman's tool-being be understood in terms of the speaking objects in the Book of Exeter riddles or the "Dream of the Rood"? If things are simply part of the architecture of our environment, invisible if functioning correctly, why then do the tools come to have voices? If an object is only genuinely visible to us when broken, why does the fantasy of magical objects persist in romances and epics? Finally, how can these examples from medieval literature shed light on our present relationships with things?

"The Gift of Good Land? Settled Lands and Wastelands in Anglo-Saxon Thought"

Marcus Hensel, University of Oregon

"Bones and Memory: The Book as Saint"

Anna Lisa Taylor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"Writyng nowe memorial: Material Mythology and John Lydgate's Troy Book"

Leigh K. Elion, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Frightful Things: Inanimate Wonders in Marvels and Maps"

Asa Mittman, California State University, Chico

School, Post-Chernobyl (Prypiat, Ukraine)

5:00-6:15 p.m.

Plenary Session: Paul Bowman and Zrinka Stahuljak

AT&T Center Amphitheater

Paul Bowman, Cardiff University:

"The Age of the Whirled Target: Post-Babel-ism"

This talk will relate narratives about the plight of academic aspirations to the story of Babel. It focuses on the well-worn topic of academic language, primarily the controversies about theoretical languages such as those of poststructuralism, although it argues that this theme is intimately connected to the problematics of (crisis or catastrophe in) the very possibility of a common humanity/ies. The talk will discuss the reasons why the usual suspects have so frequently been singled out and blamed not only for the apparent destruction of Enlightenment projects organised along the lines of reconstructing the Tower of Babel but also of irreverently dancing in the ruins of this project. The usual suspects include, of course: "the" theorists, postmodernists, postcolonialists, multiculturalists and poststructuralists; those now-familiar bugbears and scapegoats, whose erstwhile "controversial" status is coming to seem rather dated and perhaps even decrepit; so much so that with the waning of the discursive shock-waves of all of these once so-threatening "post-s," it may seem that we are now, perhaps, post-catastrophe. So, the paper asks after the after of the two catastrophes of the post-: the shocks of post-structuralism's irruption and the ripples of its receding. It asks after what is happening and what could happen, in the post, in/to the humanities, post-catastrophe.

Zrinka Stahuljak, University of California, Los Angeles:

"Posthuman Fidelity"

Whether in contemporary or medieval situations of conflict, the communication dimension of the interpreter’s job calls for an approach to human exchange that focuses on networks of interconnectivity and intersubjectivity, and transmobility (the cross-linguistic, cross-confessional, cross-cultural), that are both human and posthuman. The interpreter’s transmobility reintroduces the notion of fidelity into human networks, but also rewrites it. In short, I will be reading the “trans” of the “post,” and specifically how fidelity plays out in the networks of exchange in medieval Mediterranean conflicts.

Neon Museum Boneyard (Las Vegas, Nevada)

RECEPTION: AT&T Center Courtyard

6:15-7:45 p.m. (cash bar)

After-Dinner Drinks and Then Some:

The Dog & Duck Pub

10:00 p.m. until Edith Piaf shows up and starts accusing us of ditching her

Friday Sessions

Saturday Sessions

School, Post-Chernobyl (Prypiat, Ukraine)