Eileen A. Joy
Myra J. Seaman
Kimberly K. Bell
Mary K. Ramsey
Through a Glass, Darkly: Medieval Cultural Studies at the End of History
Eileen A. Joy and Myra J. Seaman
A historical work. . .that recognizes
how the archaic, the past, the "primitive," the
medieval continues to inhabit the present as an inheritance of traumas unresolved
and still demanding resolution. . .might also recognize the possibility that
doing history can mean a commitment not just to excavating the past but to
considering how the past inheres in the present in such a way as to demand
that the present, and thus the future, be thought otherwise.
—Steven F. Kruger, "Medieval/Postmodern: HIV/AIDs and the Temporality of Crisis"
. . . the study of culture without politics is an inane undertaking.
—Françoise Meltzer, "Future? What Future?"
The End of History
On 29 April, 2005, The New York Times reported the
a showdown that featured inside–the–Beltway lobbying and bare-knuckle
boardroom negotiating, Donald J. Trump and President Bush effectively squared
off yesterday in pursuit of the same parcel of real estate—a piece of
the NBC-TV prime-time lineup. And it was the president who blinked first."1 The
day before the White House had scheduled a press conference for 8:30 p.m. and
NBC had requested it be moved to 8:00, so that it would not interfere with
their highly-rated reality television program The Apprentice, scheduled
to begin at 9:00. Other networks, such as Fox Broadcasting and CBS, had originally
planned not to run the president's press conference at all, because they did
not want to preempt their highly popular shows—The O.C. and Survivor,
respectively. In the end, the White House agreed to move the press conference
to 8:00 and all three networks decided to give it live coverage. Yet despite
the White House's capitulation NBC and CBS stopped their coverage at exactly
9:00 p.m. before the president was finished with his parley with reporters,
refusing to allow The Apprentice and Survivor to be preempted
for any amount of time, not even for the one minute that was all that was actually
left of the press conference. It was clear that President Bush himself was
both aware of and nervous about when the television networks might "cut
away" from him, because midway through the hour he delayed questions from
the print media, saying, "Let me finish with the TV people first." 2 And
toward the end of the hour, he called for the final question from the press,
saying, "I don't want to cut into some of these TV shows that are getting
ready to air. . . . For the sake of the economy." 3
The entire affair raises the question of whether or not the
press conference, a "real-time" (because it is aired live) historical
event, had entered into the realm of reality entertainment. That a presidential
press conference might not have been considered generically different from
other so-called reality tv programs, and furthermore, was judged ahead of time
to be less marketable than its prime-time fictional competitors, seems to have
already been well understood. In a Washington Post article on the
event the following day, media critic Lisa de Moraes referred to Bush's live
appearance as a "non-news
conference," and elsewhere in her article placed the word "news" within
quotation marks to underscore her view that the press conference was not, in
fact, news. While acknowledging that George Bush "runs the country," de
Moraes also wrote that, "Fortunately. . .wiser men run the broadcast networks,
men who know what it means to preempt 'Survivor,' 'C.S.I.' and 'The O.C.'" 4 Although
de Moraes does not, in fact, tell us what it means to preempt these shows (she
assumes, obviously, we already get that), her comments display a real comfort
with the idea that the press conference itself is no more real than what happens
every week on that distant island in Survivor, because
it is just as staged, yet infinitely less appealing. 5
In this scenario, a presidential press conference is not only
non-news, it is not even history–in–the–making, but just another media
commodity to be slotted into the time period that best suits its market, or
cancelled entirely for its perceived inability to produce an audience. The
televised speech of an American president is simply understood—by network
executives, reporters, cultural critics, and viewing audiences alike—as
just another cultural production to be judged (or appreciated), not on the
basis of its truth-value or lack thereof, or even on its relation to the pressing
concerns of a general public, but on its ability or inability to attract an
audience. And the question of its likelihoodto do such has already been decided
in advance, primarily because everyone has already agreed that, in a sense,
whatever the president has to say isn't real, much less compelling, even
as fiction. Has American politics finally entered into the realm (or is
it a temporal zone?) of the post-everything post-histoire? Francis Fukuyama
tells us that the twentieth century has witnessed "the end of history" precisely
because of the supposed triumph and universalization of a certain kind of modernization
that produces Western liberal democracy as "the final form" of human
government.6 If Fukuyama is correct,
does this mean that at the moment Western liberalism triumphs (or, let's say,
completes its mastery over, if not the entire world's political affairs, then
at least over the dominant consciousness percolating through a universal
consumer culture that touches in some fashion all parts of the world), is that
also when certain organs of that liberalism—the US government, let's
say—become secondary to the agents of free-market consumerism they have
According to Fukuyama, the triumph of one particular ideology—Western
liberalism—over all others also means "the end of ideology," and
therefore, of the struggles (national and international) over competing political
belief systems. Although Fukuyama (a neo-liberal who once worked as an analyst
at the RAND Corporation) clearly believes that political liberalism and a free-market
economy represent the progressive and happily inevitable end-stage toward which
history has always tended (in this respect, he is thoroughly Hegelian),7 he
does not deny the ambivalence, and even despair, he sometimes feels toward
what he views as the impersonality and vacuity that seems to inhere in liberal
consumerist societies, where "economic calculation, the endless solving
of technical problems. . .and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands" has
replaced the interior and cultural struggles over "big ideas" and
the spiritual self, and he sees in the post-historical world "neither
art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history."8 The "showdown" between
President Bush and the television networks would seem to mark a certain post-historical
moment when a completely free market consumerism has triumphed, and
everything has flattened into what we would call the real estate of
culture. It is as if Derrida's message were, finally, not only for the grammarians
or the literary critics: everything really is text, and the problem,
as Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt write, is that, "If an entire
culture is regarded as text, then everything is at least potentially in play
both at the level of representation and at the level of event. Indeed, it becomes
increasingly difficult to maintain a clear, unambiguous boundary between what
is representation and what is event. . . .[Further], if all the textual traces
of an era "count" as both representation and event. . .then it is
increasingly difficult to invoke 'history' as a censor."9
How to account for our peculiar moment in history when there
seems to be no end to the number of very real historical and political traumas
of the most highly shocking nature, from the events of 9/11 to the war in Iraq
with its suicide bombings to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to the
genocide in Sudan and beyond, while at the same time, there has never been
such a proliferation of fictionalized "reality" entertainments? While
the very real historical traumas are presented to us in every narrative form
imaginable, from live multimedia coverage to journalistic print accounts to
testimonial transcripts to memoirs to photographs to online streaming video
to radio documentaries to fictionalized movies, nevertheless, more Americans
are drawn to watching the pseudo-reality of television programs such as Fear Factor and Survivor than
they are to, say, downloading the thousands of pages of transcripts of the "Truth
and Reconciliation Commission" hearings from post-apartheid South Africa.
And even when some of us do find ourselves drawn to, for example,
the online video of the beheading, in Karachi, Pakistan on 31 January 2002,
of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, how do we watch this
real act of terror without letting it slip in our minds into some kind of recursive,
spectral performance that we are already intimately familiar with through horror
films and our own nightmares?10 When
we look at the digital photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American
soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison, how do we separate in our minds the real event
being photographed from the sadomasochistic fantasies and stock pornographic
images that inspired their staging? For the photographs were, after all, staged,
and arrived to us belatedly, not as documentary evidence of torture and abuse,
but as the theater of that abuse and the dark psychology underlying it.
The public outrage over the incidents at Abu Ghraib—what little outrage
there was—may have had less to do with what actually went on within the
prison's walls and more to do with the perceived tastelessness or obscenity
of the perpetrators turning it into entertainment, even pornography. As Susan
Sontag wrote about the photographs, there was a "displacement of the reality
onto the photographs themselves. The administration's initial response was
to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs—as
if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict."11 It
would appear that the perpetrators themselves unwittingly touched upon something
else for which they did not require the insight of cultural critique: the life
not mediated by the images of the semblance of itself is not worth living,
or, is not yet real. Or, as Sontag wrote, "to live is also to
pose. To act is to share in the community of actions recorded as images. The
expression of satisfaction at the acts of torture being inflicted on helpless,
trussed, naked victims is only part of the story. There is the deep satisfaction
of being photographed, to which one is now more inclined to respond not with
a stiff, direct gaze (as in former times) but with glee. The events are in
part designed to be photographed. The grin is a grin for the camera. There
would be something missing if, after stacking the naked men, you couldn't take
a picture of them."12 This
state of affairs may have something to do with what Guy Debord noted in The
Society of the Spectacle, that all that "once was directly lived
has become mere representation,"13 which
also calls to mind Daniel Boorstin's famous commentary, that Americans live "in
a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity
than its original. We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous
experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived
reality is so thoroughly real."14 But
how to understand this state of affairs (if, indeed, this is our state
of affairs) alongside the contemporary "passion for the Real," whether
in the form of shock memoir, "end of the world" disaster movies,
confessional talk shows, or reality television? At what point did reality become
a culture industry unto itself, and for what reasons? And what happens to Debord's
idea that "[c]ulture is the meaning of an insufficiently meaningful world"15 in
such a scenario?
In Welcome to the Desert of the Real! Slavoj Zizek
discusses many different instances throughout the twentieth century, in both
political and cultural life, of what he terms a "passion for the Real"—a
type of human desire for touching reality through its semblances that Zizek
argues creates a "fundamental paradox" culminating "in its apparent
opposite, in a theatrical spectacle."16 Zizek
traces the manifestations of this passion through a broad range of "reality
simulations" from Stalin's "show trials" and purges to Hollywood
disaster movies and beyond. According to Zizek, after we have spent a certain
amount of time chasing after the virtual experience of the Real—whether
through digitalized special effects or pornography or reality television or
anything else—"at the end of this process of virtualization. . .we
begin to experience 'real reality' itself as a virtual entity."17 As
Zizek writes, "For the great majority of the public, the WTC [World Trade
Center] explosions were events on the TV screen, and when we watched the oft-repeated
shot of frightened people running towards the camera ahead of a giant cloud
of dust from the collapsing tower, was not the framing shot itself reminiscent
of spectacular shots in catastrophe movies, a special effect which outdid all
others, since—as Jeremy Bentham knew—reality is the best appearance
of itself?"18 Ultimately,
in Zizek's mind, "it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance of
real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality—in late-capitalist
consumerist society, 'real social life' itself somehow acquires the features
of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in 'real' life like stage actors
and extras" and "the ultimate truth of the capitalist utilitarian
despiritualized universe is the dematerialization of 'real life' itself, its
reversal into a spectral show."19 And
the dilemma we face in this situation (if, indeed, this is our situation)
is not the difficulty of separating "fact" from "fiction" or
the "real" from the "unreal," but in discerning "the
part of fiction in 'real' reality" and "in what we experience in
fiction, the hard kernel of the Real that we are able to sustain only if we
The essays collected in this volume are concerned, on one level,
with how we might begin to trace and possibly unravel some of the intersecting
and tangled relations between politics and culture, between reality and fiction,
and between the supposed beginnings and endings of history, especially in relation
to issues of identity and self-formation, morality, statecraft, justice, historiography,
and the de-materialization of "real life." We are interested, moreover,
in asking: if we are in the midst of a kind of crisis of post-histoire,
how to historicize such a moment? At the end of history, does history reappear,
and how? And how might medieval studies be ideally situated to write a new
history of modernity, one with an avowed commitment to the ehical well-being
of our contemporary polis, and that would also, in the words of Glenn Burger
and Steven Kruger, bring "the medieval into proximity with the postmodern," while
also "disturb[ing] traditional historical understandings of the Middle
Ages as either a time of 'quiet hierarchies' or of squalid, antimodern disorder?"21 This
would be a "queer history" that would "enable us to think history,
and hence our own contemporary moment, otherwise," and it would call into
question the ways in which "the postmodern has often been too easily proposed
as a radical movement beyond a history thought somehow to have come to an end."22 The
history of modernity, for the most part, has been written by postmodern
theorists who often use the Middle Ages as the stand-in for everything that
was once whole (when a past that possesses totality is crucial to the narrative),
or crudely barbaric (when a past still in need of progress has to be posited).23
In a talk he gave in 1995 at a conference at Georgetown University, "Cultural Frictions: Medieval Cultural Studies in Post-Modern Contexts," Paul Strohm asserted that "postmodernism is preoccupied with history, endlessly obsessed with history, and with the nature of the claims the past exerts upon us; it might almost be called a way of thinking about history and representation, provoked and endlessly refreshed by its refusal to allow final understanding." Moreover, "Postmodern theory has always needed us—that is, needed the past—in the sense that it has never not had designs upon us." Strohm further noted the way postmodernism fundamentally restores "the variegation, the fully contradictory variety of the historical surface"—which it does, however, by insisting on a "medieval organicism24 which secretly nourishes the illicit relation between most postmodern culture analysis and the idea of the social 'totality or whole.'" Strohm urged medievalists to give back to the postmodernists "their honesty. . .by refusing to allow them to employ the Middle Ages as a kind of Jurassic Park where they stow an ideal of totality which they disavow for their own periods but still need, as an absent guarantor of the homologizing critical procedures they want to employ."25 Because they know something about the complexities and messy heterogeneities of the Middle Ages, and because they possess certain anxious concerns about current affairs, the authors of this volume of essays have some hope for the formulation and practice of a medieval cultural studies where the Middle Ages can disturb and disrupt the present's sense of itself as wholly modern, and where Fukuyama's age of post-histoire will not become the site of the "perpetual caretaking of the [static] museum of human history," but instead will be the place of history's irruption as the still–to–come enclosed in the what–has–not–yet–been–thought about the past and the present.
The Semi-Stillness of Historical Time
It is the aim of our collection to bring together in medieval studies two
important streams of contemporary humanities scholarship—cultural studies
and presentism—within the context of the historical view that the Annales School
historians termed "la longue durée" [the long wave, or the
longest duration of historical time], in order to demonstrate that "[e]ach
'current event' brings together movements of different origins, of a different
rhythm—today's time dates from yesterday, the day before yesterday, and
all former times."26 Their
interest in history lay in its claims upon the present and in the present's
need for it, a notion that has some resonance with Walter Benjamin's idea that
to "articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize 'the way
it really was'. . . .It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at
a moment of danger."27 A
hallmark of these historians' work was the search for "conjunctures"—trends
(intellectual, economic, social, psychic, cultural, etc.) that would illustrate
connections between diverse yet simultaneous phenomena over time. Fernand Braudel
contributed the idea that historical time moves at different speeds, and he
conceived of history as moving between two poles—that of "the instant" and
of "la longue durée." Braudel wanted to examine what he called
the structures underlying all of history that exist as constructed realities
that "time uses and abuses over time": "Some structures, because
of their long life, become stable elements for an infinite number of generations:
they get in the way of history, hinder its flow, and in hindering shape it.
Others wear themselves out more quickly. But all of them provide both support
and hindrance. As hindrances they stand as limits ('envelopes,' in the mathematical
sense) beyond which man and his experiences cannot go."28 Braudel
urged his fellow historians to get used to the "slower tempo" and "semi-stillness" of
the longue durée, to free themselves "from the demanding
time scheme of history, to get out of it and return later with a fresh view,
burdened with other anxieties and other questions."29
Similar to Braudel's thought, Edward Said has argued that texts
are significant forms in which "worldliness, circumstantiality, the text's status as an
event having sensuous particularity as well as historical contingency, are.
. .part of its capacity for conveying and producing meaning," and further,
that the work of cultural criticism itself bears a special responsibility because
it embodies "in writing those processes and actual conditions in the present by
means of which art and writing bear significance."30 It
is the contention of the authors of this volume that when certain medieval
and contemporary cultural texts, such as Robert Mannyng's 1303 penitential
manual Handlyng Synne and the reality tv show Survivor (Ho
and Driggers), or Chaucer's "Tale of Sir Thopas" and Spike TV's Joe
Schmo Show (Bell), are placed alongside each other, they reveal mentalities
and social conditions that persist over long durations of time as well as certain
sensuous particularities and historical contingencies unique to their respective
times of production and reception. We believe, moreover, that by spending some
time delineating the persistence (or reappearance) of certain mentalities and
social conditions over time, that we can begin to recover (and even,
repair) what Said describes as the "human cost" implicit in texts
that are always, at the level of their textuality, "a system
of forces institutionalized by the reigning culture."31 Many
of the essays in this volume, such as Daniel Kline's study of the aporia of
legitimacy at the centers of the Bush and Lancastrian regimes, or Steve Guthrie's
account of medieval and more modern legal justifications for torture, work
to demonstrate that when we return to the past with questions framed by the
present, the present can be re-thought—critically, ethically,
and politically—in such a way that the future opens differently as well.
For that reason, we have to admit that the essays in this volume are more concerned
to elucidate and even intervene, intellectually, into present problems—social
and political—than they are to illuminate the past. Differing slightly
from the aims of the editors and authors of Queering the Middle Ages,
who sought to "preposterously" rethink the Middle Ages "as the effect of
a certain self-construction of the modern," and, by "queering" certain "stabilized
ideas" of the Middle Ages, "to see the Middle Ages. . .in radically
different, off-center, and revealing ways,"32 the
editors and authors of this volume are more interested in rethinking, from
the long perspective of a postmodern medieval studies, the radically different
and preposterous present.
This brings us to our affinities with presentism, a critical
strategy most often associated, in literary studies at least, with the Shakespeare
scholar Terence Hawkes, who has argued that, yes, "we should read Shakespeare
historically. But given that history results from a never-ending dialogue between
past and present, how can we decide whose historical circumstances will have
priority in that process, Shakespeare's, or our own?"33 As
opposed to Stephen Greenblatt, who is famous for having begun one of his books
with the line, "I began with the desire to speak with the dead," Hawkes
desires a criticism that will aim "to talk with the living."34 Presentism
is a critical project that "scrupulously seeks out salient aspects of
the present as a crucial trigger for its investigations" of the past,
and it is obviously political for Hawkes, who believes strongly that one of
modernity's imperatives is a criticism that will undertake "a kind of
principled and self-inventing betrayal of. . .[scholarly] tradition," and
instead of merely prosecuting "facts," will actually execute "a
material intervention into history" itself.35 Hawkes
asks us to consider that "none of us can step beyond time. It can't be
drained out of our experience. As a result the critic's own 'situatedness'
does not—cannot—contaminate the past. In effect, it constitutes
the only means by which it's possible to see the past and perhaps comprehend
it." Further, "[t]o reduce history to a series of isolateable, untheorized
'facts,' or neutrally analyzable 'texts,' is in any case unproductive. Facts
do not speak for themselves. Nor do texts. . . .unless and until they are inserted
into and perceived as part of specific discourses which impose their own shaping
requirements and agendas. We choose the facts. We choose the texts. We do the
inserting. We do the perceiving. Facts and texts, that is to say, don't simply
speak. We speak, we mean, by them."36
Ultimately, presentism, like Said's worldy criticism, desires to see what an
older text might say and do in the here and now against the idea that
it can only "speak" in the terms of the world to which it more pointedly
refers. One result of this approach is the reversal of what Hawkes calls "apparently
immutable conceptual hierarchies," such as primary/secondary and past/present,
as well as the calling into question of certain underlying assumptions about
the relationships between those concepts. The idea is not to distort our understanding
of the past as it really was by viewing it through overly contemporary
sensibilities, but rather, to bring the past and present into creative tension
with each other in order to reveal what James Earl has called "the residues
of history stored in the metaphors of cultural life."37 Often,
this will involve making what may seem at first to be tenuous (or outright
bogus) connections between apparently incongruous items, such as between a
medieval dream vision and PBS's reality tv program Manor House (McCormick),
or between a suicide bomber in contemporary Russia and Grendel in Beowulf (Joy).
It would be fruitless to argue that, on one level, the connections between
past and present texts crafted in this volume are not tenuous, or
even arbitrary in certain respects, but they are also attempts to explore what
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has called the "traumas, exclusions, [and] violences
enacted centuries ago" that "might still linger in contemporary identity
formations," and also to explore a past that "could be multiple and
valuable enough to contain (and be contained within) alternative presents and
futures."38 As Cohen writes
in his Afterword to our volume, in our "insistence upon the intimacy of
the medieval within the modern and the modern within the medieval," our
essays "collectively argue for a theory of intertemporality, of an interpenetration
of remote times and histories," that, again, helps us to think history
otherwise, as Nancy Partner does when she locates the origins of the realist
novel, not in the philosophical epistemologies of the Enlightenment, where
it is usually located, but in the "incorporated fictions" of medieval
historiography, which also "reappear" in the simulated "reenactments" of
the evening news.
Examples of critical work in medieval studies that read past historical texts and mentalities through the trigger of "salient aspects of the present" are rare in our field, although the list of published titles is growing.39 Nevertheless, presentism is often considered a dirty word in medieval studies, where many believe that trying to understand the past on its own historical ground is the only authentic work that can be done. There is much contention in our field over how the kind of present-minded historical scholarship, first formulated by the Annales historians and later developing into area studies, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies, might best be developed in medieval studies, and along what lines.40 Caroline Walker Bynum provides one tentative answer with which the editors of this volume would concur, when she writes that "the past is seldom usefully examined by assuming that its specific questions or their settings are the same as those of the present. What may, however, be the same is the way in which a question, understood in its context, struggles with a perduring issue such as, for example, group affiliation."41 Jeffrey Cohen's oeuvre also provides other tentative answers, and it is precisely because so much of his work has been devoted to the idea of the Middle Ages as both "alluringly strange" and "discomfortingly familiar" to modernity that we asked him to write the Afterword to this book. In his Introduction to the edited volume The Postcolonial Middle Ages, Cohen argues that medieval studies "must stress not difference (the past as past) or sameness (the past as present) but temporal interlacement, the impossibility of choosing alterity or continuity (the past that opens up the present to possible futures)."42 While Cohen has insistently asked medievalists to consider the place of the modern in the medieval and the medieval in the modern—their "temporal interlacement," or "temporal interplacement," as he puts it in his Afterword here—he has also questioned contemporary cultural studies' marking off of the past as irrelevant to its concerns.43 And this brings us, finally, to the question of what we mean when we say that our work in this volume is "medieval cultural studies."
The Question of "Being-Together"
One of the chief objectives of our book is to demonstrate the value of medievalists doing cultural studies. But what do we mean when we say "cultural studies"? On one level it simply entails, in this volume at least, studying artifacts of contemporary popular and political culture—whether those artifacts be reality tv programs, films, photographs, White House propaganda, legal memos, or the reports of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—and bringing to the analysis of those artifacts the longest historical perspective possible. It also entails something Richard Johnson discusses in his much-cited essay "What Is Cultural Studies Anyway?", where he wrote that the object of cultural studies is not the text itself (whether that text be a book or another cultural object such as a television program), but the "social life of subjective forms at each moment of their circulation in the text."44 Nevertheless, we understand that "cultural studies" is ultimately a much-vexed phrase, as well as a set of often disparate intellectual practices and fields that have developed over time, and there are many debates over what, exactly, cultural studies is. In its first incarnation, in Britain in the 1950s, it had, according to the cultural theorist Simon During, two characteristic features: "It concentrated on 'subjectivity,' which means that it studied culture in relation to individual lives, breaking with social scientific positivism or 'objectivism'," and it was "an engaged form of analysis" that "worked in the interests of those who have the least resources. In this it differed not only from the (apparently) objective social sciences but from the older forms of cultural criticism, especially literary criticism, which considered political questions as being of peripheral relevance to the appreciation of culture.45 Early cultural studies in Britain was very much rooted in local and communal forms of working-class life, and when that began to fragment, especially in the 1970s, theorists began to see culture as a form of hegemony, and culture was therefore "thought about less as an expression of local communal lives and more as an apparatus within a large system of domination, [and] cultural studies offered critiques of culture's hegemonic effects."46 The dominant theorists in this period were Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeau, and Michel Foucault, whose work often concentrated on individuals living in settings constituted and ordered by various institutions in symbolic and hierarchical ways. More recently, cultural studies has become a site for the study of marginal and minority discourses, especially those outside the West or those that are migrant or disasporic within the West, and there has even been, in some quarters, a "celebration of commercial culture."47
according to During, "cultural studies is a discipline continuously shifting
its interests and methods because it is in constant and engaged interaction
with its larger historical context and because it cannot be complacent about
its authority."48 As to
the future direction of cultural studies, During looks forward to an "engaged
cultural studies" that will examine "its temporal border: the separation
of past from present (asking, what the role of history is in contemporary cultural
studies)."49 It is precisely
to this question of history's role in cultural studies, and to the temporal
borders that supposedly mark off the "field" of inquiry in cultural
studies from the past, that our book partly addresses itself. We are still
left with the term, engaged, by which During means, not just a cultural
studies engaged with examining its own history, but also politically engaged.
More specifically, During writes that engaged cultural studies is academic
work "that aims to produce knowledge from perspectives lost to and in
dominant public culture, and to listen to far-off and marginalized voices" and
is also "a way of shoring up differences and counter-hegemony inside the
humanities in an epoch of global managerialisms."50 This
question of the political nature of cultural studies, especially of a North
American yet also medieval and Anglophile cultural studies, which
this volume mainly expostulates, requires, we believe, some further elaboration
Our brief summary of During's overview of the history of cultural
studies attends mainly to how this history has unfolded in Britain. According
to Jonathan Culler, in Britain, "the very fact of studying popular culture
was an act of [political] resistance [against high culture], in a way that
it isn't in the United States, where national identity has often been defined against high
in the United States, "it is scarcely self-evident that shunning high
culture to study popular culture is a politically radical or resistant gesture."52 And
since it is generally agreed upon that "the production of national subjects" is
no longer the central aim of the university,
"it is perfectly all right for academics in universities to analyze and to teach all sorts of cultural materials and practices. This is not necessarily subversive. It feeds right into the culture industry and even constitutes something like its exotic arm. The American press is amused by cultural studies and likes to run stories about academics writing about Madonna or cereal boxes. Cultural studies is a continuation of journalism, on the one hand and, on the other, a contribution to the general disdain for academics, who are thought to make a complicated fuss about things that really should simply be consumed."53
Somewhat less damning, but still attuned to the dangers inherent
in academic work done in North America under the rubric of "cultural studies," are
Paul Strohm's remarks that, "[i]n exchange for the relative freedom gained
by separating itself from the materialist premise [in favor of a focus on textuality].
. .North American cultural studies has dealt away its principal means of maintaining
itself as a practice separate from the larger range of available poststructural
theories and rationales against which it seeks to define itself."54 In
Strohm's mind, there is a danger in cultural studies aligning itself too closely
with postmodernism since postmodernism's power, as an explanatory critical
model, is partly derived from its "status as the cultural aspect of a
triumphalist, transnational, market-oriented, late capitalist hegemony."55 The
dilemma, especially in medieval studies that claim to also be "medieval
cultural studies," is in determining how to embrace the postmodern insight
regarding the messy, heterogeneous, and multi-perspectivist nature of social
experience "without ceding our right to an ethical self-positioning." Although
we can certainly decline the role of "authoritative observer" that
postmodernism has so successfully dismantled, Strohm argues that "we need
not remain bored, serene, or indifferent," because "history (past
and present) is full of people placed in circumstances that require care, full
of people who can't not care. Such historical actors can neither be
everywhere nor be nowhere; they have no choice but to be somewhere." Strohm
suggests we position ourselves "provisionally, precariously, temporarily,
maybe sometimes bemusedly—but always somewhere. And wherever this somewhere
is, that it be an invested place, a place that knows things are at stake."56
We are aware of the fact that much cultural criticism that
calls itself political (or "engaged") is only tangentially so, and
it will be clear from the subject matter of this book, which includes, for
example, the highly-charged subjects of suicide terrorism and the abuse of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that we are very concerned to position
ourselves in an ethico-critical place "that knows things are at stake." But
we are not willing, either, to simply claim our work is political because its
subject matter is political or because we express politically invested viewpoints.
We know we have to think more deeply about how it is, in writing this book,
our work is engaged,
and in what way? In 2003 the editors of Critical Inquiry organized
a symposium to address, among other matters, the future of literary criticism
and theory as well as the question of whether or not contemporary critical
thought has "backed
off from its earlier sociopolitical engagements."57 W.J.T.
Mitchell, one of the journal's editors, asked: "What can criticism and
theory do to counteract the forces of militarism, unilateralism, and the perpetual
state of emergency that is now the explicit policy of the U.S. government?
What good is intellectual work in the face of the deeply anti-intellectual
ethos of American public life?"58 Stanley
Fish raised the troubling argument (or is it a fact?) that politics "does
not need our professional help; texts do."59 Other
participants, however, expressed a great deal of anxiety over the idea of a
literary or cultural studies shorn of any kind of political raison d'être,
and they also worried about a future where critics don't pay enough attention
to how culture (and cultural thought) shape that future. J. Hillis
Miller worried especially over what the role of the university can possibly
be now that "those in power no longer think universities—their students,
faculty, and administrations—are worth bothering much about, so little
social influence do they have." In response to Fish's charge that literary
criticism can only ever be about texts, while Miller conceded that scholarly
writing may have no actual influence in the political realm, he also stated
that "it is difficult these days to just stand by doing nothing, to go
on. . .teaching within the parameters of our disciplines, doing 'what we do
around here'."60 This
sentiment was echoed by Françoise Meltzer who asked "what it tells
us about the humanities that they can seem like a luxury in the face of impending
What the editors of this volume believe we can say about the role of cultural studies in relation to current affairs is that all times in history are, in one way or another, times of crisis and catastrophe, and as Danielle Allen argued at the symposium, criticism "has generally been an instrument for coming to understand political orders and phenomenon and then for intervening in them." More to the specific purposes of our collection, Allen further commented, "If one wishes to know how language is working and shaping our world, one needs to know not just how it plays, obscures, reveals, and subverts, but also where human social orders are explicitly (and not just implicitly) held together by words: the realms of law and punishment, of value and the division of labor (gender and sexuality come in here), of religion, of organized strife (from athletic events to war), of membership in imagined communities like 'the people,' and of generational transition."62 Many of the essays in this book explicitly address overtly political subjects, such as the Bush administration's policies on torture (Guthrie and Moore), the absence of legitimate authority in the Bush White House (Kline), and female Chechen suicide bombers (Joy), while other essays attend to the ways in which certain "real-life" fictions and social imaginaries have overdetermined our understanding of our history, our current moment, and ourselves (Partner, Bell, Weisl, Ho and Driggers, McCormick, and Seaman and Green).
It may be naïve to say so, but we do believe our work here represents a collective intervention into histories, medieval and modern, in order to expose time(s) differently, and it is by doing so together that we locate the center of our political engagement. This is the engagement Bill Readings partly outlines in his book The University in Ruins, where he argues that, even though the university has lost its imprimatur as an institution that authorizes culture, or that serves as a model of the "ideal society," it has become "one site among others where the question of being-together is raised, raised with an urgency that proceeds from the absence of the institutional forms (such as the nation-state), which have historically served to mask that question for the past three centuries or so."63 As medievalists who are, whether we like it or not, the inheritors of a humanist tradition, we bear a special responsibility to the idea that the life devoted to reading, reflection, and letters retains some power in the matter of how history "turns out." In the setting of the university, however ruined, and which has been given to us as a kind of gift, we might recall the words of the poet Czeslaw Milosz: "The fabric of language has a constant propensity to come off from reality, and our efforts to glue them together are in most cases futile—yet absolutely necessary."64
* * *
The first half of the book, "Part I: Medieval Reality Television," comprises
essays that explore connections between medieval texts and contemporary reality
programs. In Chapter 1, "Models of (Im)Perfection: Parodic Refunctioning
in Spike TV’s The Joe Schmo Show and Geoffrey Chaucer’s
'Tale of Sir Thopas'," Kimberly Bell analyzes how a reality tv dating
series and a medieval pseudo-romance both offer, through parody, metfictional
critiques of their respective genres and stereotypes of masculinity, while
also demonstrating the power of fiction to instantiate social realities. Chapter
2, Angela Jane Weisl's "'She appears as brightly radiant as she once was
foul': Medieval Conversion Narratives and Contemporary Makeover Shows," demonstrates
how—often through rituals of public humiliation, pain, and self-abnegation—both
medieval and more contemporary conversion narratives reinscribe social norms
on the bodies and minds of individuals (typically, women) who are seeking change.
Analyzing the process of individual transformation in medieval works such as
the plays of Hrotstsvit of Gandersheim, the epic Prise d'Orange, and
the Auchinlek "King of Tars," and in reality makeover programs such
as What Not To Wear, Extreme Makeover, and The Swan,
Weisl examines how the process of conversion is ultimately "a means of
controlling what appears dangerous or threatening to the social order," and
almost always benefits the dominant community more than it does the individual.
For Weisl, the popularity of makeover shows suggests "a persistent fascination
with conversion that reflects gaps and fissures in contemporary society, as
medieval grace is replaced by normative standards of appearance." In Chapter
3, "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast: Moral Lessons from Handlyng Synne and Survivor," Cynthia
Ho and James Driggers show how Robert Mannyng's early fourteenth-century medieval
penitential manual and a highly popular reality competition series both utilize
reality-fictions in order to catechize their audiences regarding supposed cultural
or moral "truths." While Handlyng Synne and Survivor are
radically different cultural productions with different intentions—the
former is a Christian handbook for confession and the latter a corporate game
show—Ho and Driggers delineate some of the ways in which both texts illustrate
the perils of trying to reconcile economic gain with moral status, as well
as individual desires with community mores. While Handlyng Synne ultimately
places the emphasis on community health and the "truth" of salvation
over individual success, Survivor "enacts a version
of capitalism obsessed with validating its own power in spite of the needs
of any given individual, social community, or larger moral arbiter." In
Chapter 4, "Back to the Future: Living the Liminal Life in the Manor House
and the Medieval Dream," Betsy McCormick compares the dream visions of
Christine de Pisan and Chaucer (in the Book of the City of Ladies and Legend
of Good Women, respectively) and the PBS historical reality show Manor
House as examples of liminal game spaces within which individuals can
perform alternate and experimental social roles. Although liminal game spaces
offer the promise of radical experimentation with certain cultural realities
supposedly left behind, the "individual performances within these reality
experiments reveal the power of rigid cultural and social stereotypes to attract,
to overwhelm, or even to subsume the individual." But the liminal experience
also allows us, finally, "to live in the real."
Between Parts I and II of the book we have included a clasp,
or hinge, titled "Entertaining
Histories/Historical Entertainments," that includes two chapters: Chapter
5, "Medieval Histories and Modern Realism: Yet Another Origin of the Novel," by
Nancy Partner, and Chapter 6, "Sacrificing Fiction and the Quest for the
Real [in] King Arthur," by Myra Seaman and John Green. Partner's
essay is actually a reprint of an article that appeared in Modern Language
Notes in 1999, but which has been so influential upon much of the work
behind this volume, that we felt we had to republish it here. Long before the
editors and some of the authors convened at the 2004 meeting of the Southeastern
Medieval Association in Charleston, South Carolina to deliver papers on "remaking
the Middle Ages on reality television," Partner had already made the connection
in her article, where she writes that an evening news "simulation" of
a domestic violence incident reveals "the conventions of medieval history-writing
reincarnated in electronic communications on the cusp of the twenty-first century.
. .like a ghost in the machine." According to Partner, "the imaginative
gratifications involved in what we might call the fictions of the real, which
were eventually banished from generic nonfiction were, in various degrees,
part of the medieval historian's obligation to his readers and to his own reputation.
It is easy to forget this because the later crisp generic separation between
fiction and history which marks modern literary production and reception, awarded
the prize of reader satisfaction entirely to fiction." Partner's essay
provides an overview of the truth–in–fiction techniques of medieval
historiographers in order to investigate the questions: "what sort of
linguistic thing is it that claims to be a true representation of human reality–in–time?
And what does it mean that this truth-claiming literature, until very recently,
was routinely inflated with counter-factual, anti-evidentiary, unverifiable
depictions? Is history, qua history as cultural artifact, substantially
changed by its incorporation of fiction?" Ultimately, these are significant
questions about genre, "grounded in historical literary culture, with
transhistorical epistemological implications." In their essay that follows
Partner's, and to whose thought and scholarship on fiction and truth in historical
narratives they admit a great debt, Seaman and Green analyze the visual texts
of the 2004 film King Arthur and the History Channel's documentary The
Quest for King Arthur, in order to document a lingering positivistic desire
to authorize history by removing the fictitious and leaving only the archaeologically
verifiable. Despite this desire, an analysis of both texts reveals a dependence
upon the very fictions that have been supposedly rejected by the filmmakers
who continually assert that their productions reveal the “real man” behind
the legend. In their accommodation of chronicle and romance, medieval historiographers
displayed less anxiety over the use-value of historical fictions about Arthur,
perhaps because they understood better than modern artists, or modern historians,
that legendary stories are already closer to the "real" man than
history, which comes later, ever can be.
The second half of the book, "Part II: Medieval Reality Politics," is composed of essays that address contemporary political crises from the perspective of medieval history, or literature, or both. Chapter 7, "The Crisis of Legitimation in Bush's America and Henry IV's England," by Daniel Kline, analyzes the "politics of an eternal present" that traverses the gap of authentic legitimacy that Kline asserts forms the blank center of both the Bush and Lancastrian regimes. Legitimation follows, and doesn't precede, the creation of fictive pasts that authorize present administrative rules, and history is thereby removed as a problem. Both the Bush White House and Henry IV's rule are actually postmodern in their reliance on performativity, Derrida's "logic of the supplement," blurring the distinctions between fact and fiction, and ethical relativism. But the Bush White House is also medieval, similar to Henry IV's administration, in its blending of theology with politics, its crusading mentality, use of prophecy, and demonization of political opponents. In Chapter 8, "Torture, Inquisition, Medievalism, Reality, TV," Steve Guthrie examines the history of torture in classical law, the Inquisition, and Tudor England, in relation to the practice of torture as authorized by the infamous White House legal memorandums regarding the treatment of "enemy combatants," and he argues that these memos "justify practices consistent with late-medieval and early-modern definitions of torture in the prosecution of religious and political crimes" while also making "no reference to these precedents" and refusing "to identify the practices as torture." Ultimately, there is an important distinction that needs to be made between "judicial torture" and a type of "village games" sadism—a difference that was firmly set in medieval law but "hedged to the vanishing point" in current American law and practice. Continuing in this vein is Chapter 9, "Wolves, Outlaws and Enemy Combatants," where Michael Moore compares US policies regarding the imprisonment and treatment of "enemy combatants" with medieval practices of banishment and outlawry. Whereas "Tocqueville once described the old Prussian State as a strange monster, having a modern head [tête moderne] sitting uneasily atop a gothic body [corps gothique]," in the period beginning in 2001, the US has appeared to do the reverse, adopting "a number of pre-modern legal concepts and practices, among which are torture, clandestine prisons, lettres de cachet, and outlawry, thereby giving the impression that the American State, atop its vibrantly modern social and economic body, had placed a crude medieval head, une tête gothique. Primitive aspects of early medieval law (banishment and outlawry) have been revived, marking a retreat from the highest achievements of medieval law (due process and legal humanism)." In Chapter 10, "Exteriority Is Not a Negation But a Marvel: Hospitality, Terrorism, Levinas, Beowulf," Eileen Joy compares the situation of the female Chechen suicide terrorist in contemporary Russia and Grendel in the Old Engish poem Beowulf in order to examine the ways in which terroristic violence (whether the anthrophagy of a Grendel or the belted bomb of a suicide terrorist) simultaneously summons and accuses us as those who are irreplaceable. While Joy acknowledges that the correlation between the suicide bombers and Grendel is an overly tenuous one, she argues that, "while both the Chechen women and Grendel are viewed in their respective cultures as figures of exorbitant exteriority, nevertheless, they are mainly terrifying for the ways in which they bring to vivid life (and death) the obscene violence at the interior heart of States that mark the place of a supposedly more ethical community."In addition to the brief Foreword by Nancy Partner, "Medieval Presentism Before the Present," that opens the collection and a brief Afterword by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Intertemporality," that closes it, we have also included an "Otherword" by Michael Uebel, "Opening Time: Psychoanalysis and Medieval Culture." Although this chapter may seem at first to not somehow fit with the other chapters in the volume, it has been included precisely because it performs a function intimately related to our subject matter here (medievalists practicing an engaged cultural studies) but not articulated anywhere else in the volume: it formulates a theory of psychoanalytic medievalism that is particularly well suited to "advance the terms by which temporality can be understood as a vital (cross)-disciplinary concern." Directly confronting the "tone of defeatism" and conservative rigidity in medieval studies' general attitude toward cultural studies, Uebel argues that many medievalists "tend to indulge themselves in a knowledge of the past that they make little if any attempt to translate to the present, let alone the future. The vast majority of medievalist scholarship is tragically myopic, failing to see the deep and vital connections between past, present, and future épistêmes, actions, and affectivities." In Uebel's view, psychoanalysis, especially in its "grappling with the dialectical role of the future in the presently existing personality structure," represents "a crucial way of avoiding both intellectual rigidity and political sterility."
1. Jacques Steinberg, "How the President's News Conference Ended Up Live on Four Networks," The New York Times, 29 April 2005: A23.
2. "Press Conference of the President," 28 April 2005, Office of the Press Secretary, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050428-9.html.
3. "Press Conference of the President."
4. Lisa de Moraes, "The President's Preemptive Strike," The Washington Post, 29 April 2005: C03.
5. Even earlier, in 2003, de Moraes apparently already took for granted that the line between reality and fiction in a presidential press conference was hopelessly blurred when she wrote, "Who says viewers have no appetite for scripted programming? A whopping 56 million of them watched President Bush's prime-time show last week [6 March 2003] in which the president exchanged glib, well-rehearsed lines with a select cast of press corps members" (quoted in Jack Shafer, "Straight From the Spleen: The Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes Gives the Entertainment-Information Industrial Complex Hell," Slate, 8 Aug. 2003, http://www.slate. com/id/2086810).
6. See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992), which has been described by Louis Menand as "a meditation on world history—via the influential lectures of the French-Russian philosopher Alexandre Kojève, given in Paris in the nineteen-thirties—in the tradition of Hegel, Marx, and Weber" ("Breaking Away: Francis Fukuyama and the Neoconservatives," The New Yorker, 27 March 2006: 84 [82–84]). It should be noted that Fukuyama sees this "triumph" of Western liberalism as having mainly occurred in the world of ideas, and as such, has yet to still fully conquer the material world. Indeed, Fukuyama readily admits that many parts of the world are still held in the grip of ideological, sectarian, religious, and other sorts of violent conflict, but he also maintains that, for the most part, all of the supposedly viable alternatives to economic and political liberalism that have advanced themselves at one point or another in the twentieth century (i.e., fascism, communism, absolutism, and socialism) have essentially exhausted themselves, and the tendrils of Western consumerist culture can be seen in the most unlikely places, such as China and Cuba. But it is worth reemphasizing, too, that Fukuyama has been distressed that many readers have interpreted his book as being about the triumph of a particularly American liberalism, when in fact, he is making an argument about the progress of modernization in general. For another perspective on the supposed "end of history," see Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, trans. Chris Turner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); for an overview of the various historiographical discourses of "the end of history," as well as a refutation of that discourse, see Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire: Has History Come to An End? trans. Patrick Camiller (London: Verso, 1992).
7. It should be noted here that, more recently, Fukuyama has distanced (even, removed) himself from the neo-conservative circle in which he has played such an influential role, in part, because of his disenchantment with the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. On this point, see his book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neo-Conservative Legacy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
8. Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History," The National Interest (Summer 1989): 3–18. Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man (cited above) represents an expansion and refinement of his ideas about the end of history first articulated in this essay, which received wide attention and was much debated when it first appeared.
9. Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, "Introduction," Practicing New Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 15 and 16 [1–19]. Gallagher's and Greenblatt's commentary, in its original context, is addressed to the problem of the challenges posed to literary criticism in the wake of the insight, partly drawn from the Geertzian anthropology of the 1970s and partly from the contemporary "pantextualism" of deconstruction, that "all culture is text" (p. 14), but the challenges Gallagher and Greenblatt outline are equally applicable to the problem of how to analyze the intersections of politics and culture when "everything is culture" and "all culture is text."
10. This is apparently the trap Bernard-Henri Lévy fell into when he created his stream–of–consciousness narrative reconstruction of the last moments of Pearl's life in his book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? (Hoboken, NJ: Melville House, 2003), pp. 31–43.
11. Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others," The New York Times Magazine, 23 May 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/23/magazine/23PRISONS.html.
12. Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others."
13. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), p. 1.
14. Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (New York: Vintage, 1961), p. 37.
15. Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, p. 131.
16. Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (London: Verso, 2002), p. 9. Žižek borrows the term "passion for the Real," or "la passion du réel," from Alain Badiou, who identifies it as a "key feature" of the twentieth century; see Alain Badiou, Le siécle (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2005).
17. Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, p. 11.
18. Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, p. 11.
19. Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, pp. 13–14.
20. Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, p. 19.
21. Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger, "Introduction: History and a Logic of the Preposterous," in Queering the Middle Ages, ed. Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), pp. xiv and xvi [xi–xxiii].
22. Burger and Kruger, "Introduction," in Queering the Middle Ages, pp. xx and xiv. For representative examples of the practice of the queer history Burger and Kruger describe (in addition to the individual contributions to their volume), see Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998); Carolyn Dinshaw, Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), especially Chapter 3, "Margery Kempe Answers Back" (pp. 141–82); and Karma Lochrie, Heterosyncracies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn't (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
23. See Bruce Holsinger in his book The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), where he writes that "the critical discourse of postwar France be reconceived in part as a brilliantly defamiliarizing amalgamation of medievalisms" that "reaches across a millennium to embrace a distant epoch as a foundation for its own intellectual work while elaborating a diverse and often perplexing self-contradictory vision of the Middle Ages and their legacy to modern theoretical reflection" (p. 4). Ultimately, in Holsinger's view, the European Middle Ages and European medieval studies have had a "deep, sustaining, and constitutive role. . .in the last half-century's theorization of language, culture, and society" (p. 12).
24. On the contemporary turn to alterity, the marginal, the suppressed, and the grotesque in medieval studies, partly as a reaction to postmodernism's "organicist" conception of the Middle Ages, see Paul Freedman and Gabrielle M. Spiegel, "Medievalisms Old and New: The Rediscovery of Alterity in North American Medieval Studies," Speculum 103 (1988): 677–704. It should be noted here that Freedman and Spiegel are somewhat concerned about this contemporary turn to Otherness in general, partly because they fear the very idea that the Middle Ages can be represented as intelligible at all is being "undone": "The goal [in studies of the Middle Ages that emphasize the "pathogenesis" and suppressions of medieval culture]. . .is not so much an expansion, enrichment, or even complication of our understanding of medieval culture but rather its 'undoing.' In focusing on what is excluded from both medieval representations and our representations of the Middle Ages, representation itself is rendered a 'phantasm' and is undone" (701).
25. Paul Strohm, "Cultural Frictions: Conference Commentary," Cultural Frictions: Medieval Cultural Studies in Postmodern Contexts Conference Proceedings (1995), available at http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/conf/cs95/papers/strohm.htm. This commentary was later revised into the book chapter "Postmodernism and History," in Paul Strohm, Theory and the Premodern Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 149–62. Unless otherwise noted, we are citing the original version.
26. Fernand Braudel, "Histoire et science sociale: La longue durée," Annales ESC 13 (1958): 725–53; reprinted, trans. Sarah Matthews, in Histories: French Constructions of the Past, ed. Jacques Revel and Lynn Hunt, Postwar French Thought Series, Vol. 1 (New York: The New Press, 1995), p. 124 [115–45]. The Annales historians were less an official "school" than they were a loose affiliation of scholars with some shared aims who emerged in France in the late 1920s and were grouped around the journal titled Annales d'histoire economique et sociale, founded in 1929 by Lucien Febvre (1878–1956) and Marc Bloch (1886–1944). Their work was partly a reaction to and break with the positivist historical method inherited from Leopold von Ranke that focused primarily on short periods of history from a political-military perspective (with an emphasis on "great men" and the "significant event"). They developed instead a comparative, interdisciplinary, and sociological model of history that looks at the "conjunctures" between ephemeral structures, such as collective beliefs and mentalities, and "harder" structures, such as geography and architecture, that persist and also change over long periods of time. Historians influenced by this new model included Febvre and Bloch in the first generation, and later, Braudel, Jacques Le Goff, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Phillipe Aries, Michel de Certeau, Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault. For important histories of the Annales movement, see François Dosse, New History in France: The Triumph of the Annales, trans. Peter V. Conroy, Jr. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), and Peter Burke, The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School, 1929–89 (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1990).
27. Walter Benjamin, "Theses for a Philosophy of History," in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken Books, 1969), p. 255 [253–64].
28. Braudel, "Histoire et sciences sociale: La longue durée," in Histories: French Constructions of the Past, p. 122.
29. Braudel, "Histoire et sciences sociale: La longue durée," in Histories: French Constructions of the Past, p. 124.
30 Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 39 and 53.
31. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic, p. 53.
32. Burger and Kruger, "Introduction," in Queering the Middle Ages, p. xiii.
33. Terence Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 3.
34. Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present, p. 4. See also Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
35. Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present, pp. 22 and 20.
36. Hawkes, Shakespeare in the Present, p. 3.
37. James W. Earl, Thinking About Beowulf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), p. 136.
38. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Midcolonial," in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), p. 3 [1–17].
39. See, for example, Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism; Burger and Kruger, "Introduction," in Queering the Middle Ages; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ed., Monster Theory: Reading Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) and The Postcolonial Middle Ages (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000); Allen J. Frantzen, Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from Beowulf to Angels in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) and Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice, and the Great War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Allen J. Frantzen and John D. Niles, eds., Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997); Karma Lochrie, Heterosyncracies; Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schulz, eds., Constructing Medieval Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Claire Sponsler, Ritual Imports: Performing Medieval Drama in America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004); Stephanie Trigg, Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Form in England and Italy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999) and Premodern Places: Calais to Surinam, Chaucer to Aphra Behn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2004); and Angela Jane Weisl, The Persistence of Medievalism: Narrative Adventures in Contemporary Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
40. On these issues, as well as on how the term "medieval," as a conceptual and historical category, has been under-theorized within postcolonial studies, see Bruce Holsinger, "Medieval Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and the Genealogies of Critique," Speculum 77 (2002): 1195–1227. Interestingly, as this volume was going to press, we were made aware of a pamphlet-length study written by Bruce Holsinger that does exactly the kind of presentist-minded, and even avowedly political, scholarship that that our collection is attempting: Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007). As do Steve Guthrie and Michael Moore in this volume, Holsinger undertakes a careful reading of the Bush White House "torture memos," although he reaches different conclusions.
41. Caroline Walker Bynum, "Why All the Fuss about the Body? A Medievalist's Perspective," Critical Inquiry 22 (1995): 29 [1–33].
42. Cohen, "Midcolonial," in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, p. 5. For Cohen's further thinking on the issue of temporality and medieval studies, see also chapter 1, "Time's Machines," in his book Medieval Identity Machines (Minnesota: University of Minneapolis Press, 2003).
43. See Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Preface: In a Time of Monsters," in Monster Theory, p. ix [vii-xiii].
44. Richard Johnson, "What Is Cultural Studies, Anyway?" Social Text 16 (1986–87): 62 [38–80].
45. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During, 2nd edn. (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 1–2 [1–28].
46. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, p. 4.
47. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, p. 15.
48. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, p. 17.
49. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, p. 26.
50. During, "Introduction," in The Cultural Studies Reader, pp. 25 and 28.
51. Jonathan Culler, "What Is Cultural Studies?" in The Practice of Cultural Analysis: Exposing Interdisciplinary Interpretation, ed. Mieke Bal and Hent de Vries (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 337 [335–47].
52. Culler, "What Is Cultural Studies?" in The Practice of Cultural Analysis, p. 338.
53. Culler, "What Is Cultural Studies?" in The Practice of Cultural Analysis, p. 345.
54. Paul Strohm, Theory and the Premodern Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 150.
55. Strohm, Theory and the Premodern Text, p. 160.
56. Strohm, Theory and the Premodern Text, p. 161.
57. W.J.T. Mitchell, "Medium Theory: Preface to the 2003 Critical Theory Symposium," Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 330 [324–35].
58. Mitchell, "Medium Theory," 327.
59. Stanley Fish, "Theory's Hope," Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 378 [374–78].
60. J. Hillis Miller, "Moving Critical Inquiry On," Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 417 [414–20].
61. Françoise Meltzer, "Future? What Future?" Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 468 [468–71].
62. Danielle Allen, "On the Sociological Imagination," Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 340, 340–41 [340–41].
63. Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 20.
64. Czeslaw Milosz, "Coming Unglued," in Czeslaw Milosz, Road-Side Dog, trans. Robert Haas (New York: Farar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 164.