Figure 1. Abandoned, Never Completed Hotel (North Taiwan)
1. Session 444: On The Question of Style (Roundtable)
Saturday, May 15th @ 1:30 p.m. (Fetzer 1005)
Eileen A. Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Organizer and Presider
In recent years we have had some provocative experiments in style in medieval studies. In her book The Shock of Medievalism, Kathleen Biddick stages an imagined conversation between the Venerable Bede, a Stanford dean, a professor of Old English, and a Chicana feminist critic in order to write a "historical poetics of mourning and rememoration." In his book Medieval Identity Machines, Jeffrey Cohen tells a personal story about the catastrophe of 9/11 and his son's anxieties over his father's travels that is intimately connected to the larger purpose of his book: to describe the "possible bodies" of both the Middle Ages and our own times. Cohen also re-tells the history of Alfred's struggles with the Vikings through Alfred's hemorrhoids. In her review of David Wallace's Premodern Places: Calais to Surinam, Chaucer to Aphra Behn, Jenna Mead terms Wallace's critical mode ficto-criticism, a "genre that inserts autobiographical self-realization into theoretically-conscious critical scholarship . . . rethinking the generic and thus intellectual boundaries of canonical criticism." In her book Getting Medieval: Sexual Communities, Pre- and Postmodern, Carolyn Dinshaw recounts her own history as a lesbian student at Princeton to partially describe her scholarly and personal orientation to the work of the gay medieval historian John Boswell, which then forms one of many openings to a newly fashioned affective, queer historiographical practice. And in Cary Howie's book Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure, Howie weaves together readings of medieval devotional texts and modern lyric in order to explore what might be called the poetics of intensification. This panel will explore what is at stake, and what might be lost or gained, when the scholar takes on the risk of telling personal stories, staging fictionalized encounters, and inventing new styles and modes of address in her work on the Middle Ages. Questions to be considered: what is style-in-scholarship, exactly, and why might it matter? what is the content of style in scholarship? how might scholarship be aesthetically performative, in what ways, and how does that add to or enhance disciplinary knowledge? is there a place for beauty in our studies and writing? how can we define beauty and style with any precision, and how to argue for them, if we think they matter? etc. etc.
Michael D. Snediker, author of the recently published Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions (Minnesota, 2009) and also the book of poems Nervous Pastoral (dove|tail Press, 2008), serves as our modernist interloper.
2. Session 494: On Collaboration (Roundtable)
Saturday, May 15th @ 3:30 p.m. (Fetzer 1005)
Eileen A. Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Organizer
Evan Hayes (Miami University of Ohio), Presider
Traditionally, within the field of medieval and also in other areas of humanities studies, the monograph has been the privileged, and even the sine qua non, of professional accomplishment. While we have many examples of edited volumes of essays by multiple authors and even whole books co-authored by two or more scholars, these texts are often not accorded the same sort of status as the monograph, and this calls into question: what makes collaborative forms of scholarship somehow "lesser" than the singular work? At the same time, we ask: what is gained through collaboration that isn't possible otherwise and which bequeaths to us even "more" than the singular work ever could (and "more" in what ways)? What, further, are the challenges of collaboration (its steep and thorny paths, to cadge from Hamlet), and what are its delights and surprises? How is collaboration like a gift, and who is giving what and to whom? How is collaboration like a challenge, and what and who are being challenged? How does collaboration cut through the thickets and small, silent rooms of our professional and personal lives, binding them (and us) together in, we can hope, a sweet utility? Through this roundtable, we hope to explore these questions in productive fashion.
In addition to featuring scholars with long histories of collaboration, this panel will also highlight the work of the Averroes Project, a small collective of faculty and students at the University of Michigan and Miami University of Ohio who are concerned with the translation and transmission of the writings and ideas of Aristotle from Greek through Arabic to Latin. More specifically, they are working together to re-assess the cultural interactions and exchanges among Greek, Arabic and Latin in the Mediterranean at critical points of contact, including al-Andalus. Investigating these transactions, their agents, and resulting documents and texts is their shared focus, and they are amassing important documentation that contributes to the current rewriting of cultural history, dismantling the previously accepted narratives of the rise of humanities in a way that escapes the long-standing East/West dichotomy. One recent publication related to this project is Karla Mallette, "Beyond Mimesis: Aristotle's Poetics in the Medieval Mediterranean," PMLA 124.2 (March 2009): 583-591, which is included in the important cluster in PMLA on "Theorizing Medieval Studies."
The Post-Abysmal (2 Roundtables)
postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, Sponsor
Anna Klosowska (Miami University of Ohio) and Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Co-Organizers
The concepts we work with as we read medieval texts — fragment, plenitude, anagogy, devotion, smallness, radiance, saturation, etc. — constitute for each one of us a way to think through a new step in theory, including queer theory. Our manifesto is: “Give us something that is more than nothing; we're tired of the abyss/death. What else is there?” Both theoretical and thoroughly medieval in our orientation, we draw the impetus for this session from our belief in the importance of theoretical work as it applies to our different disciplines. The panelists are united in their belief that: 1) the study of medieval texts is aided, clarified, and furthered by a serious inquiry into the conditions and modalities of theoretical frameworks; and 2) a serious engagement with theory today calls for a reassessment of the Continental tradition, including the primacy of death, the supposed inaccessibility of meaning, and the linguistic turn. We want to argue against the “lack” model of theory as it stands today. This session, thus, is resolutely “post”: post-post-modern, post-lack, post-humanist, post-Heideggerian, post-Blanchot, post-silence, post-death, post-speculative realism, even. With Michael Snediker, our Respondent, we create “epistemologies not of pain, but of pleasure; aestheticize not the abdication of personhood, but its sustenance” (Queer Optimism); with Alain Badiou, we want “a theater of capacity, not of incapacity” (Handbook of Inaesthetic), as we “return to the place of life” (Saint Paul); and with Giorgio Agamben, we want to speak the “language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring” (Language and Death).
1. Session 57: The Post-Absymal I: Exegesis, Ethics, Saturation
Thursday, May 13th @ 1:30 p.m. (Valley III, Stinson Lounge)
Anna Klosowska (Miami University of Ohio), Presider
This paper argues for the timeliness of anachronism. The title refers to Léon Bloy’s Exégèse des lieux communs (1902-1912). Against the grain of contemporary sensibilities, Bloy, the perpetual malcontent, claimed that the commonplace, like modern life itself, had fallen into dereliction. By definition, a clichéd phrase presumes to pronounce an everlasting verity. The task of the exegete, then, is to uncover a spiritual meaning in everyday discourse, a truth hidden to the vulgar. Historicism has a blind spot when it freezes the past and subordinates its creations to the present and passing concerns. Why should our day be more vital than earlier ages, which confronted problems that have hardly vanished with time? Is it not possible that our era of digital reproduction, automation, and mass-mediated spectacle is less alive than any other? The demarcation between “now” and “then” has been erected to hold events in place artificially. Only when the border is suspended can the future — whether “post-modern” or “post-medieval” — appear. The eternal (should it exist) is not lighted by a sun in the process of combustion and self-extinction.
What miracle is happening in your mouth? / Instead of words, discoveries flow out / from the ripe flesh, astonished to be free. // Dare to say what “apple” truly is. / This sweetness that feels thick, dark, dense at first; / then, exquisitely lifted in your taste, / grows clarified, awake, luminous, / double-meaninged, sunny, earthy, real—: / Oh knowledge, pleasure—inexhaustible. —Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus
The anagogic sense is totally post-abysmal by virtue of being an experience of significance as palpably crossing the gap between word and thing, as fulfilling signification by overcoming signifying as such. Being the sense that proverbially gives a foretaste (praegustus) of heaven, anagogy fuses in principle the sensuous and the transcendent, the temporal and the eternal, and is accordingly conceived in the medieval period as the mystical sense of textual understanding, that “which perfects through spiritual ecstasies and sweet perceptions of wisdom” (Bonaventure) and provides “the foreseeing of hoped-for rewards” (Richard of St. Victor). Anagogy is thus defined by a simultaneously double movement, a going at once beyond and more deeply within the terms of the present. This double movement is intelligible, as Henri de Lubac explains, as anagogy’s eternalizing trajectory, its entering into the place that holds everything, its finding of the something that includes what searches for it: “[anagogy] forms the total and definitive sense. It sees, in the eternal, the fusion of mystery and mysticism. Alternatively, the eschatological reality attained by anagogy is the eternal reality in which every other has its consummation.” Crucially, the mode, the substance, the how of anagogy is pleasure, the savoring of the sense itself, which is (typically) sweet, fragrant, brilliant, and perfectly subjective is an absolutely objective way: “Every person . . . is free to pursue the thought and experiences, however sublime and exquisite, that are his by special insight, on the meaning of the Bridegroom’s ointments” (Bernard of Clairvaux). The anagogic sense is deeply positive, good, a flavor from a wonderfully/terribly absolute perspective that precludes the possibility of not saying yes to it, of not tasting it for yourself. Who does not enjoy actually sensing the inevitability of her utmost bliss? Anagogy idealizes the real, preempts the abyss.
So the question I will pursue is: Where is the anagogic sense now? Where has it gone? Nowhere. The anagogic sense is always present. Every hermeneutic realizes some form of non-dualistic psycho-sensual fulfillment. Every thought and interpretation revolves around a taste for something immanent to itself. The issue is: what? In dialogue with medieval and modern authors (Rilke, Richard Rolle, Bachelard, Jacopone da Todi, Wittgenstein, Julian of Norwich, Agamben, Ibn Arabi), my paper will venture into the potentiality of this what beyond its traditional theological determination.
In light of the post-abysmal manifesto — "Give us something that is more than nothing; we're tired of the abyss/death. What else is there?" — I want to talk about Levinas's notion of the "Il y a," which is his answer to exactly this question. The "Il y a" ("there is") expresses the pulsating anonymity of being, a "there is a there is," and he develops this notion from the concept of hypostasis. I will link Levinas' notion of hypostasis to its medieval origins and connect this to his notion of the "general economy of being." I have always thought that medieval literature dramatizes a Bataille-Levinas coincidence (coinci-dance?) that too many readers find horrific. Perhaps I will turn briefly to the monastic utopia dramatized in "The Land of Cokaygne," which expresses both general economy (in Bataille's sense) and a general economy of being (in Levinasian sense).
Through a reading of the fucked-upness of Alcibiades in Plato's Symposium, this paper will ask us to consider the relation between philosophy and madness, between thought and affect, between "having it together" in terms or your methodologies, and being so fucked up and saturated with and disorganized by passion--for ideas, which are never entirely detached from persons--you can't think straight. This paper will further ask if it's possible to imagine a medieval studies in which "it's never enough," whatever it is, and where we are willing to risk together something like sex, or like affect, when we understand sex/affect as a "shared disorganization" (being "fucked up" together).
2. Session 152: The Post-Abysmal II: Optimism, Devotion, Radiance
Thursday, May 13th @ 3:30 p.m. (Bernhard 210)
Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Presider
In complicity with Samuel Beckett’s poem “Alba” and Dante’s Purgatorio, these remarks will explore the possibility of a poetics of vertiginously small places, whose radiant unreadability (re)produces a literary modernism with a medieval heart capable of flouting the lack which would prevent a certain queer mixing of persons, things, pasts, presents, literary spaces and ‘real’ places. Small, because of the formal elements of the poem; vertiginous and indeed optimistically radiant in the ensuing density and unreadability of its complicity with medieval material — what might have been appropriated as modernist purgatorial, paradisiacal, or alchemical (transformational) lack appears instead as the ease of giving-in to the allure of such a densely radiant place. In the place called to appearance by the poem, the reader is invited to plunge into a radiant black-hole where distinctions between medieval, modern, persons, things, language (and the lack supposedly governing them) are all replaced by the production of a small place.
Saturn, celestial body and pagan god with an euhemeristic past, had not yet given his name to a dark humoural disposition when he played the curious Chaldean prince in the Old English poems Solomon and Saturn I and II. Nor, indeed, did that English possess the word "melancholy" to adjoin to his name. Still, the Saturn of these poems returns compulsively to the problem of sadness, joining to it violent excitement and curiosity. His voracious appetite for wisdom and texts recalls the god's feasting on his own children and suggests a way of reading characterized and made possible by fragmentation and incorporation. In turn, the fragmented poetics of both poems offers a deliberately tantalizing solution to his curiosity: it is through the experience of sorrow, compunction and a sense of loss that deep reading — and laughter — may come.
This presentation begins with what Hans Gumbrecht might call “scars” on the surface of a medieval Spanish epic fragment, a tile containing verses of the Poema de Fernán González ("Eat your Fragments," Powers of Philology). These ruptures solicit various types of putting back together, or philological surgeries. At the center of these philological surgeries, particularly in the case of epic testimonies, is a desire for a heightened sense of proximity, which I call closeness, with the protagonists involved in the histories of these fragments, as well as with the writing and images they contain. By accepting the scars as potential sites of contact with the past and by permitting discussion of the fuzzy questions regarding their creation, a different sort of contact with the medieval, albeit not a cognitive or historical one, can be brought about.
The title comes from the end of the first novella in the Decameron, where the narrator asserts that, even though Ciappelletto was no saint, he serves as one if we pray to him as such, "as if we were having recourse to a truly holy man through the mediation of His grace." I want to use this as a chance to talk about the places where hope and cynicism meet, where the "as if" becomes not merely wishful but, in fact, effectual. Since so much of the basic wager of criticism relies upon treating things as if they were more than just what they are — and doing so in a way that, at its best, speaks of hope rather than cynicism, and finds that this 'more' ultimately inheres within those things after all — I'm finding it an especially evocative way of thinking the work, or, if you will, the devotion, of criticism these days.