Daniel Remein (New York University)

44th International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 2009

Western Michigan University

Sex, Theory, and Philology: Queering Anglo-Saxon Studies (panel sponsored by the Society for the Study of Homosexuality in the Middle Ages)

Eddies of Time, Licks of Language: Wulf and Eadwacer and the Queer Time of Old English Philology

Figure 1. page from the Exeter Book, from the Transliteracies Project

Everyone thinks they remember the story, but the voice is what really lingers.
—the Philology-friendly Americanist-comparativist Jonathan Arac on Huck Finn[1]                       

            What is philology?  philia of logos: a variety of love for logos.  Not as a question of knowledge, nor of method; not of science nor of Theory; not of editions, and certainly not of ‘data’; but as a question of orientation. But to what, and at what time? It must not be a question of any new ‘new philology,’ unless we cite a snide but nonetheless elegant remark of Lee Patterson from the famous 1990 Speculum issue on the so-called ‘new philology’ of the time, regarding what this new philology missed in its staged encounters with ‘Theory,’ failing to understand that “The question is now no longer “Is it true?” but “does is work?”[2] That is to say, it is a question of what philology does not in terms of knowledge-products, but rather as an event—in terms of what is happening in philology and what could be happening in philology, of what has perhaps always been happening in philology. It is thus a question of a latent orientation. 

That an encounter of a ‘new’ Philology with the movements of ‘Theory’ could have opened philology to self-consideration of its capacity that is at once most secret and most obvious should not surprise us.  One of the oldest of the several ‘new’ philological movements comes to us of course from the Italian secular critic Giambattista Vico, who insisted that “letters and languages were born twins”[3] and spends a good deal of his New Science worrying over the relation of philology and philosophy [permit me for the moment this elision of theory and philosophy] with statements like “Philosophy contemplates reason, whence comes knowledge of the true; philology observes that of which human choice is author, whence comes consciousness of the certain.”[4]

But, lamentably, the historical encounters of philology with theory seem to have been perennially determined by a drive to decipher the most appropriate and subtle methods for securing positivist or scientific knowledge as the results of philology. Americanist Critic Jonathan Arac has noted that “In the nineteenth century, the tension between philology and positivism is evident in Nietzsche,” a tension Arac sees played out more recently and generally in the divergent readings of Vico by the pleasure of close reading in Edward Said and the scientist ‘distant reading’ of Franco Moretti.[5]  The ‘New Philology’ of the eighties may have attempted a self-interrogation in the face of theory in moments such as the aformentioned Speculum issue,[6] but this may have been a spectacular failure in which philology was allowed to remain, for contributor Siegfried Wenzel, the “handmaiden” of positive knowledge to all of the work of the humanities.”[7] In 1999, Sarah Kay, reflecting back on the moments of self-theorizing in the ‘New Philology,’[8] heartbreakingly (and enigmatically) concludes that “Loving the past is all very well, and honouring its objects may have its compensations, but the bold ambition to explore its difference from and affinity to our selves, such as embodied in New Philological writings, is the only way to sustain out relation to the dead.”[9]

What I am trying to show is that too often[10] what philology has taken from opportunities to self-theorize is only an expansion of database or defense for the scientificity of its findings rather than a consideration of its actual orientation to language. Despite all of Vico’s genius, his greatest limitation was also present in proclaiming a desire for ‘knowledge of the true and consciousness of the certain,’ and hence a new science; when what had been latent in philology all along, available as its most theoretical of questions about itself, is that of its peculiar variety of philia.

Perhaps the closest philology has come to radical reconsideration is in Cergiuglini’s Eloge de la variante.[11]  Cerguilini actually hints at a much more radical reconsideration of the space of philology’s orientation to the language it studies in his now famous polemic that  “ [the variance of the work of medieval romance (languages) is its primary character, a concrete alterity which founds this object.”[12] For Cerguilini “the medieval situation is an exemplary premodern one, it disorients all on its own a philology which takes its birth in the beginning of the 19th century when the text conquered ....”[13] Cerguilini’s philologist thus works and works with variations, which will not reconstruct a complete primordial and unitary piece,[14] but which are nonetheless “vivantes” [living].[15]  Such remarks reveal what is implicit Cerguiglini’s title, an attention to the orientation of philology.  For Cerguiglini, this proto-religious reverence is an orientation of praise to a historical-linguistic and material situation that thwarts the establishment of a scientifically certain text, not to mention sense, at very level of the word. 

I would illuminate this orientation not around the religious but and erotic philia with an analogous sense of the flux of language borrowed from Emanuel Levinas, for whom “To seize by inventory all the contexts of language and all possible positions of interlocutors is a senseless task. [because]  Every verbal signification lies as the confluence of countless semantic rivers.”[16]  Our corpus-searches and concordances might be infinitely limited, yet, we would retain (a fondness for) philology—what else would desire the texture of these streams thick with possibilities.  The praise of variance gives way to an inordinate love for the undecidability of certain manifestations of logos, a love wiling to wait infinitely in a thick confluence of time and significations.

And yet only recently has a claim about philology by one of its own appeared that truly opens along with such questions about philology’s orientation, with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s little treatise, Powers of Philology, wherein Gumbrecht finds[17] that in philology the awareness of the material existence of the manuscript alone “ties the sensual the tangible presence of objects to an inspiration of the mind and an activation of the body.”[18] He finds in philology “a type of desire that, however it may manifest itself, will always exceed the explicit goals of the philological practices.”[19] Philology does the work of conjuring up[20] in which “Historicizing means to transform objects from the past into sacred objects...that establish simultaneously a distance and a desire to touch.”[21]  Yet among this desire that “conjures up the philologist’s body along with a dimension of space that at first glance seems to be alien to any kind of scholarly practice”[22] is a phenomenon I would call less ‘sacred’ than ‘erotic,’ and queerly so, happening in this space and with a certain out-of-place-in-time time. 

So let us ask how the philia of philology orients itself to the logos.  In certain philological cruxes, what exactly is the logos that is loved? And what if what is loved is not varying but scarce? what happens in philology, in the love of the logos, when the logos manifests as follows, with the poem we currently call Wulf and Eadwacer?:

leodum is minum swycle him mon lac gife.....

I am reading this poem now not to interpret it, but to open two of the more enigmatic cruxes in the Old English Corpus and watch myself doing it: to consider what is there that one might queerly love.

Our love for this poem hinges entirely on the word swylce.  This as if in the first line sets everything else in the poem into a double register by way of a simile. Any love for the language of this poem can be understood as a love for something standing in, as if, and a reading of it would require the patient yet stimulating time to linger in the space of language’s ability to produce the virtual.   So, it is as if one gives a lac to my people. What follows is in the virtual simile of riddle and nothing else in the poem can be taken functionally stand in for a something for real, but only as if:  Wolves will be men and Wolves, but neither man nor wolf will stand in for actual men or wolves, gifts are sacrifices or offspring or wolf-cubs, all moving towards a tantalizing catachresis winding its way through and lending force to the intrigue of a riddle-elegy, or gied. It is a logos of parasitic and virtual substitution.  But things take another turn for the virtual when we read just what the ‘people’ of the poem will do, that is, willað hy hine aþecgan [they will aþecgan him].

For, while aþecgan is not truly a hapax-legomenon, it is certainly scarce, and our path to read it is as best tenuous, through virtual experiences with reconstructed forms.  It is, after all, to begin with, as if they will hine aþecgan. Aþecgan is attested only three times, meaning either to feed (as in cause-to-receive-food) or to eat (recieve).  As an infinitive, it occurs only twice, here in this poem.  It occurs in the Leechbook as: “gife mon þung ete,  aþege buteran & drince.”[23]  The word has been taken here in the imperative, meaning, if someone eats poison, feed him (as in, cause-him-to-eat/receive) butter and drink—giving the verb a causative sense.[24] In a moment of prescriptive medicine the sense of ‘serve’ seems more likely than the alternate reading of the term in the subjunctive, let him eat butter and drink.[25] Anne Klinck asserts that the term ‘only makes sense’ as non-causative form of þicgan without semantic distinction, so that þe(c)g could be combined with the weak forms of þig(d) leaving the word to mean “take” or consume,” as if (with Peter Baker) to kill.[26]  Yet we could render it otherwise, starting from thegan, noted by Bosworth-Toller under þegan as what “seems the regular strong form for the verb which usually has weak forms in the present, þicgan” (technically, þegan is attested, aþegan is not). Starting from this strong verb with thæh as its first principle part, a non-causative verb, athecgan could then be seen as the result of the production of this verb in a causative form, taking,[27] and running it through the i-mutation and gemination-mill (the hcausing the breaking of ae to ea and the jan taking the ea up to simply e) to render thecgan, as a causative weak verb.  We thus get a verb that means to receive or take (food) that can be turned into a causative version (to cause to receive or take food) which look and sounds remarkably alike and perhaps easily confusable in script and in voice.

The word aþecgan may translate as eat/receiving—which bears its own ambiguities as receiving seems hospitable while eating may threaten to consume violently; or cause-to-receive/serve(food)—which seems both hospitable or positive in feeding but oddly creepy in its forcefully causative function.  To have philia for this word and this process of reading it, we must, on some level, love the word itself regardless what it is standing-in for, the possibilities of which are so easily confusable. And if it could be demonstrated philologically that these potential reconstructions are faulty, we would abandon them for ‘better ones,’ because, here, my philia is for the logos and in this case, a specific word, not for its ‘meaning,’ in a substitute and not a final semantic aim. 

Such an interest is to the “unacceptable substitute” of the fetish, preferred to the ‘proper’ sexual aim.  Freud reminds us in his notorious and fascinating Three Essays that “A certain degree of fetishism is thus habitually present in normal love, especially in those stages in which the normal sexual aim seems unattainable or its fulfillment prevented...[he quotes Goethe]...The situation only becomes pathological [queer theory might say, interesting] when the longing for the fetish passes beyond the point of being merely a necessary condition attached to the sexual object and takes the place of the normal aim, and further, when the fetish becomes detached from a particular individual and becomes the sole sexual object.”[28]  In this time now of our reading of aþecgan, the fetish logic is not so complete and in fact, remains fragmented by the constant tenuous reconstructions—not themselves wholly satisfying ‘answers’ that one can have as a final preference however ‘unsuitable.’ But in this expanding time that wells up around the lingering on words, aþecgan takes on the shape of a materiality in our bodily experience of time, with which one might want to be queerly intimate. There are thus two intertwined queer registers at work: one of a temporal dimension and another relating the impropriety of the erotic object. The experience of searching through lexicons and grammars, consulting with scholars more knowledgeable than myself, these acts keep expanding for me the time of reading aþecgan (as this whole time we are reading aþecgan together). This queer orientation to a fragment of language as erotic object allows the experience of a lingering preference for something standing-in for we-know-not-what, as my body experiences and moves through this queer eddy of time in which we are still lingering on this word), the desire for the word, which is emerging as a kind of queer fetish, is a philia of the body for the logos that cannot be limited to and version of philia emptied of erotic content (as we do, after all, say necrophilia).Such fetishism might even ring in as an inanimaphilia (as Karma Lochrie has called the devotion of certain late-medieval female recluses).[29]  To illuminate what I am saying here, recall Carolyn Dinshaw’s statement about the queer historian in her difference from Chaucer’s Pardoner: “The queer historian [is]...decidedly not nostalgic for wholeness and unity; but s/he nonetheless desires an affective, even tactile relation to the past as such a relic provides.  Queer relics—queer fetishes—do not stand for the whole, do not promise integrity of the body; they defy the distinction between truth and falsehood...”[30]

And then we read that the speaker wulfes ic mines widlastum| wenum dogode,” and with dogode, we are pulled into another eddy. Dogode registers, as Anne Klinck writes, as “a hapax legomenon of uncertain provenance and meaning.”[31]  Attempting to read the term opens a kind of spatiotemporal vacuity behind this manifestation of the Old English logos. We only have a substitute.  The Dictionary of Old English Corpus and Jess Bessinger’s Concordance of the poetic corpus both affirm that the form dogode occurs only once. Bosworth-Toller glosses the verb dogian as meaning “to bear, or suffer,” which the Cambell Addenda deletes.[32]  The Dictionary of Old English affirms it as “of uncertain meaning” not recognizing the Bosworth-Toller postulated dogian as a word, even as Clarke Hall (on which the DOE’s list is based) includes dogian in its word list (as “to endure?”).[33] It is telling of our possible relation to this manifestation of logos that both Bosworth-Toller and Clark Hall’s citations of the lead us to Wulf and Eadwacer under the moniker “Riddle 1” according to Thorpe’s original assignment.[34] Wesley S. Mattox read the word, in connection o the Dutch duwen (squeeze) as to be bound.[35] Less commonly noted, the verb was also glossed speculatively as a sub-point of a larger argument in an aritcle by Ruth P. M Lehmann in an article from 1969, as “to lose brightness or freshness; to fade...”[36]  Of course, as the DOE notes, the word is often emended to hogode from the verb hogian as “to employ the mind, think,”[37] especially in student texts.[38] Yet, this leaves us with the syntactic problem of the dative objects of the line, as hogian is only attested to take a dative in one case of what Klinck calls a ‘very literal rendering” from Latin.[39] 

Klinck then comes down on the word in relation to OE docga (dog), seeing dogian made in analogy with fyl(g)ian and meaning 'to follow like a dog' or more simply 'to dog.'  She translates the line "I followed the far journey's of my Wulf in (my) hopes."[40] A reliance on the word docg comes up delightfully tenuous in leading us to yet another hapax legomenon—as the word occurs only once, as gloss in the genitive plural docgena for the Latin canum (canis) being used by Prudentius, according to the DOE, metaphorically for torturers or curs[41] (which might lead me to gloss dogian as ‘torture’ though this leaves the dative object to be dealt with). Still, as recently as 2000 Marijane Osborne argued for the retention of dogian as a reference to a “larger hunting dog used for tracking” and as integral to the animal metaphor of the poem, suggesting that poet may even have “invented” it. [42] Even here, however, we need to be careful of the poem’s greatest trick, its as if around which hinges a certain level of virtuality even in advance of any of our speculation, complicating any reading of a hapax.

Given the DOE assertion of ignorance, it does not seem unlikely that Bosworth-Toller and Klinck both are simply looking for homonymic verbs that take dative objectives with which to relate a potential dogian, Bosworth-Toller perhaps latching (desperately) onto þolian.   Yet, our reading continues to take into a space-time of lingering—a vacuous thing that we cannot show to be conclusively standing in for anything extant and which we doggedly pursue anyway—a loving which, in the end, cannot be teleologically oriented if only because no ‘appropriate aim’ is even available to us: queer lingering in an eddy of times, syntactic and semantic rivers, past and present.

Recall Gumbrecht’s note in his more recent Production of Presence that philosophers associate his notion of presence-effects with what he calls “conditions of ‘extreme temporality.’”[43]  And here we are, pushing my paper to the material time-limit for this session, feeling the texture of the Old English logos lap us up into its eddy of this time of our reading two words that expands and expands: registered both by our inability to read the term for its meaning paired with our insistence on reading it anyway—out of place in the time of the term and out of place in the time of our reading the term (both of which, by the way, are now—as we are the readers of the Old English poetry...).   The time of any erotic giedd or song-riddle of two (or more) together that’s worth its weight in queer pleasure. Hapax-legomenon, the queer philological fetish par excellence, dogode may not in fact stand in for anything at all, or may have been meant to appear as something else, may not succeed (and we may not even want it to) as substitute.

Philology does not then just work from a space of desire inspired by the fact of a material manuscript,[44] it is erotic also in the potential of this queer-time of possibly a-telic lingering that willfully fixates on an improper substitute of an insubstantial substantiality, a queer-fetish. And this thinking owes something to the thinking of texture by the late and missed Eve Sedgwick— these desires are for an erotic feeling of the texture of the logos itself,[45] an inanimaphilia that happens in a queer eddy of time happening around and produced by these very mundane and very bodily practice that open up the time of reading.  

Dear philologists, what do we love, and how do we love it?

1. Jonathan Arac, in conversation and also, forthcoming in il romano, lezione ed. Franco Moretti.

2. Lee Patterson, “On the Margin: Postmodernism, Ironic History, and Medieval Studies,” Speculum 65 (1990), 89. 

3. Giambattista Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, transl Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), 21.

4. Ibid., 63. Or alternately, in considering the principles of why his science must be new: “For on the one hand the conceit of nations, each believing itself to have been the first in the world, leaves us no hope of getting the principles of our Science from the philologians.  And on the other hand the conceit of the scholars who will have it that what they know must have been eminently understood from the beginning of the world, makes us despair of getting them from the philosophers.  So, for the purposes of this inquiry, we must reckon as if there were no books in the world,” (96).

5. Jonathan Arac, “Anglo-Globalism?” New Left Review 16 (2002): 8.

6. In the same volume, Suzanne Fleishman attempted to “revitalize philology” in an attempt to maintain legitimacy by, “adapting its praxis to the challenges of postmodernism,” Suzanne Fleishman, “Philology, Linguistics, and The Discourse of the Medieval Text” Speculum 65(1990) 19, 37. 

7. Siegfried Wenzel, “Reflections on (New) Philology” Speculum 65 (1990), 18.  Philology is to slavishly, though indispensibly busy itself with  “furnishing the material basis on which they [the humanities] must stand.”

8. This is notably in an early issue of New Medieval Literatures—journal whose commitment to a willingness to radically reconsider the ‘point’ of medieval studies is, for the most part, highly admirable.

9. Sarah Kay, “The New Philology” New Medieval Literatures 3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 320-321.

10. Even more recently, a paper in a volume on Changing Philologies from a conference in Denmark considers what it refers to as “The Cultural Turn of Philology” but only in the limited terms of an expansion of philology’s database, though this time in terms of “the specificity and cultural role of the various means of media of representation,” and takes pains to link philology with the social sciences of sociology and anthropology.  See Herbert Grabes, “The Cultural Turn of Philology,” Changing Philologies: Contributions to the redefinition of Foriegn Language Studies in the Age of Globalisation, Ed. Hans Lauge Hansen (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press University of Copenhagen, 2002) 56-57.

11. Bernard Cerguiglini, Éloge de la Variante: Histoire Critique de la Philologie (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1989), It is printed in a series selected by Foucault until his death, and subsequently dedicated “to his memory.”

12. Ibid., 62, trans. mine (having no current access to the English transaltion), “La variance de l’oeuvre médiévale romane est son caractère premier, altérité conrète qui fonde cet object.” Lamentable, this book has been occasionally mistaken by the New Philology as a mandate to simply expand the database of philology to a more complex ‘matrix’ of manuscript data to secure more accurate results. See Fleishman, “Philology, Linguistics,” 25-27 and Stephen G. Nichols, “Introduction: Philology in a Manuscript Culture,” Speculum 65(1990): 8.

13. Cerguiglini, 58, “La situation médiévale est exemplairement prémoderne. Elle désoriente par suite une philologie qui prend naissance en ce début du XIXe siècle où le texte conquiert la reproduction immuable et presque parfaite, une teneur attestée, une paternité légale.”

14. Ibid. [the scribal work is a commentary, a paraphrase, a surplus of a sense and of language, brought to a letter essentially unaccomplished/incomplete], “L’oeuvre scribale est un commentaire, une paraphrase, le surplus de sense, et de langue, apporté à un lettre essentiallement inaccomplie.”

15. Ibid., 100.

16. Emanuel Levinas, Humanism of the Other, trans. Nidra Poller, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006, 11. This is a possible thought for a philosopher who believes that ““Words would already be without isolatable significations of the kind found in dictionaries that could be reduced to some sort of contexts and givens.  They would not be frozen into a literal meaning.  In fact, there would be no literal meaning...” (11).

17. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Powers of Philology: Dynamics of Textual Scholarship (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003).This ‘find’ is in the context of a more generalized search for “noninterpretative ways of dealing with cultural objects” (8).

18. Ibid., 18. “...our imagination that triggers movements either toward a total union with those objects (aggression: eat your fragment!) or toward a separation (flight: escape your fragment!).”

19. Ibid., 6.

20. Ibid., 12. Philology “generates desires for presence,” a complex sense of presence, that heeds the Derridean understanding of the non-contemporeneity of the present with itself. This is why Gumbrecht is interested in presence, as in the Medieval experience of the Eucharist, that may not “pertain to the dimension of time but contains a claim of spatial proximity” see also pg. 18: “but we of course do not posit its existence in our present.”

21. Ibid., 7.

22. Ibid., 6.

23. Bosworth-Toller, sv. aþecgan.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Anne L. Klinck, The Old English Eledies: A Critical Edition and Genre Study (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992, 170.

27. See Bruce Michtell and Fred C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English 6th Ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, reprint 2002), Appendix B, 160, according to the way of these things for class V strong verbs from Mitchell and Robinson, thaeh­+jan.

28. Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on Sexuality, trans. James Strachey (USA: Basic Books, 2000), 20.

29. See Karma Lochrie, Hetersyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 51-60.  

30. Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities Pre- and Postmodern (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 142.

31. Anne. L. Klinck, The Old English Elegies, notes to “Wulf and Eadwacer,” 171.

32. Bosworth-Toller, sv. dogian.

33. J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, sv. dogian.

34. Benjamin Thorpe, Codex Exoniensis: A Collection of Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: Society of Antiquaries of London: 1842), 380.

35. Wesley S. Mattox, “Encirclement and Sacfrifice in Wulf and Eadwacer,Annuale Medievale 16 (1975), 38.

36. Ruth P.M. Lehmann, “The Metrics and Structure of ‘Wulf and Eadwacer,’” Philological Quarterly 2 (1969), 166-167.  The gloss is perhaps less convincing perhaps because of its philological reliance on later attested forms—like a1502 citation from Scots later—rather than a more primordial evidence. 

37. Bosworth-Toller, sv. hogian.  The emendation was first suggested by Hicktier in 1888.

38. See Peter Baker, Introduction to Old English, 2nd ed. (Malden Mass: Blackwell, 2007), 244-245; Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, A Guide To Old English, 6th ed. 298-299.

39. Klinck, The Old English Elegies, 172. 

40. Ibid.

41. Dictionary of Old English, sv. docga.

42. Marijane Osborn, “Dogode in Wulf and Eadwacer and King Alfred’s Hunting Metaphors,” ANQ 13 (200): 3-9.

43. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 58.

44. Gumbrecht, Powers of Philology, “...cultural artifacts from the past can trigger a real desire for possession and for real presence, a desire close to the level of physical appetite” (8).

45. See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Introduction in Touching, Feeling (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).