46th International Congress on Medieval Studies

12-15 May 2011

Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo, Michigan

I. BABEL Working Group panels:

1. Madness, Methodology, Medievalism (Roundtable)

Mo Pareles (New York University) and Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Co-Organizers

Eileen Joy, Presider

Historicizing madness produces two-fold definitions. On one hand, medieval literature and history is populated with those who were sometimes tormented by demons and beatified by visions. What we may now call schizophrenia, some medieval texts perceived as contact with the divine. Saints self-mutilated and starved themselves (“holy anorexia”), turned a supposed abhorrence of sex and the body into super-charged modes of holy eroticism, and were visited by wracking anxieties and irresistible compulsions, not to mention episodes of psychosis. On the other hand, madness was hardly an empty empirical category in the premodern period. Medieval views of madness, while not coextensive, do overlap with our own. They provoked doubt about the visions of some, generated compassion for the sick, and led to ruminations on (among other things) the consequences of sin. In our own time genius has been closely coupled with mental illness (Nietzsche to Eve Sedgwick) and even suicide (Woolf to Deleuze to David Foster Wallace), and scholars (especially in queer studies) have found in sorrow, depression, schizophrenia, trauma, and other forms of negative affect the grounds and inspiration for critique—and even new critical modes. Others reject the romanticization or valorization of mental illness, personally experience it as crippling and devastating to productivity, or embrace optimism and sanity in their scholarship.This roundtable discussion session will showcase debate and dialogue on various aspects of mental illness as both subject matter of and mode of scholarship on the Middle Ages, to include possible discussion of: new perspectives on “holy anorexia,” demon possession, fits, and visions in medieval hagiography; problems of historicizing madness; trauma studies and medieval studies; mental illness and feminism; transcultural mental illness/mental illness and postcolonialism; mental illness and deconstruction; “queer optimism”; the geography of madness; the ethics of historical compassion; negative affect as critical mode; etc.

2. Queering the Muse: Medieval Poetry and Contemporary Poetics (Roundtable)

David Hadbawnik (University at Buffalo, SUNY) and Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Co-Organizers

Anna Klosowska (Miami University of Ohio), Presider

20th-century poets have long used the medieval for inspiration, notably Ezra Pound, whose version of “The Seafarer” marked an important step in his poetic development, as well as being a superb contribution to the corpus of translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry in its own right. However, not enough thought has been given to the ways in which contemporary poets reuse, reinterpret, and otherwise engage with medieval poetic tropes and practices. How can formally experimental “translations” of Old English, which take into account recent poetic and translation theory, be beneficial to the contemporary avant-garde? Or, to turn the question around, how can quintessentially contemporary reading and writing practices -- such as the game-based approaches of OuLiPo, Conceptual Art with its ideas of “exhaustiveness” and boredom, and the use of factual/archival material—provide ways of reading or understanding medieval writing? Finally, in looking at an unpublished translation of Beowulf by poet Jack Spicer, recently discovered in the archives at Univ. of California, Berkeley (and which one of our panelists is helping to edit for SUNY's “Lost and Found” translation series), the roundtable participants will explore the ways such poetic practices constitute queer approaches to medieval translation, which results in a wilder, more experimental, and perhaps truer way of understanding and engaging with the medieval poem.

II. postmedieval Panel:

The Transcultural Middle Ages (Paper Session)

postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, Sponsor

Laurie Finke (Kenyon College), Martin Shictman (Eastern Michigan University), and Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), Co-Organizers

Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman, Co-Presiders

The Transcultural Middle Ages is 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, and 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. Laurie and Marty will be co-editing a special issue of postmedieval relative to this project, due to be published as Issue 2 of Volume 4: June 2013.