35th Annual Southeastern Medieval Association Meeting

15-17 October 2009

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

Figure 1. Bruce Nauman, Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain

BABEL Working Group panel:

Session 33: Knowing and Unknowing Pleasures

Saturday, October 17th, 9:00-10:30 a.m.

Stevenson 1431

Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) and Anna Klosowska (Miami University of Ohio), Co-Organizers

Panel Description:

Building on BABEL's panel at the Kalamazoo Congress (2009), “Are We Enjoying Ourselves? The Place of Pleasure in Medieval Scholarship,” and continuing the line of questioning that emerged in the discussion at the conference and beyond (for example: at the medieval studies weblog In the Middle), this panel will address some of the questions we have raised. Foremost among them are: what is useless pleasure, what is essential pleasure, what might be dangerous pleasure, and who or what decides? Is there class in pleasure—or, as Roland Barthes might say, “Einstein on one side, Paris-Match on the other” (Mythologies, Oeuvres complètes, p. 700)? What are the ethical conditions of pleasure? While some of the presenters will focus on fascist specters that haunt the ethics/aesthetics borderlands (Finke and Shichman), others (Klosowska and Joy) propose an optimistic “coexisting multiplicities” reading where pleasure is “between everyone,” like a “little boat used by others” (Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues, pp. 2, 9). Further, is the question of pleasure best approached tangentially as the question of intensity (Julie Orlemanski, via medieval conceptions of pleasure and harm)? Collectively, we also ask: what are the temporalities and localities of pleasure, that “small weak thing that empties closed economies so they can be emptied and emptied again, not by being there but constantly passing through” (Dan Remein)? What relationships, constellations, or astronomical charts (Nicola Masciandaro) can be drawn between medieval definitions, practices, regulations of pleasure, and contemporary philosophy, for instance as articulated in the speculative realism of Graham Harman and in his definition of allure (see his essay “Vicarious Causation” in the journal Collapse, vol. II, Mar. 2007)? And, returning full-circle to the question of the Kalamazoo 2009 panel, what is the part of pleasure in medieval scholarship more particularly: as we locate ourselves between “enjoying the past, judging it, curating it, and reviving it” (Julie Orlemanski), what parameters of pleasure do we declare or silently draw? How do specific ways of thinking about pleasure shape our present and future scholarly community, the nature and modalities of our collaborations, and our care for medieval texts and artifacts?


Eileen A. Joy, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
“I Wanted to See the Innermost Part of India: The Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle

Anna Klosowska, Miami University of Oxford, Ohio
“Occitan Love Poetry”

Laurie Finke, Kenyon College and Martin Shichtman, Eastern Michigan University
finkel@kenyon.edu and marty.shichtman@emich.edu
“Fascist Pleasure: Masculinity and Medievalism”

Julie Orlemanksi, Harvard University
“Pleasure in the Leper”


Kathleen Coyne Kelly, Northeastern University (k.kelly@neu.edu)