Writing, Race, and the English Nation
Prof. Eileen Joy

Fall 2007

Mondays 6:00-8:45 (Peck Hall 2410)

Figure 1. Medieval manuscript illustration of Christians fighting Muslims

"As part of our medieval inheritance we often speak as if groups such as the Normans, Britons and English persisted from time immemorial, continuous and unchanged. Typically, however, the peoples in question were heterogeneous solidarities that changed radically over time, both in composition and self-definition. Such mutable groups possess no stable or core essence. They are not reducible to genetic inheritance or biological descent. Their enduring status as a collective belongs to the realm of fantasy, where it nonetheless demonstrates a powerful ability to give substance and historical stability to what is ultimately impalpable. Community has to be imagined, to use Benedict Anderson's useful phrase, because it never arrives preformed. Such communalization is typically a process of sorting difference, establishing boundaries, and separating the world's disorder into peoples held to be patently discrete." [Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles, p. 4]

"It is in the emergence of the interstices -- the overlap and displacement of domains of difference -- that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationess, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated. How are subjects formed 'in-between,' or in excess of, the sum of the 'parts' of difference (usually intoned as race/class/gender, etc.)? How do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claims of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual, and even incommensurable?" [Homi Bhaba, The Location of Culture, p. 2]

"What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?" [Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon]


In this course, we are going to explore how race belongs, in medieval England but also today, to what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has termed the "realm of fantasy, where it demonstrates a powerful ability to give substance to what is ultimately insubstantial." We will further explore (again, following Cohen) how race is also, paradoxically (given its phantasmic character), "an identity system that anchors difference to the flesh" of real, material persons. We will be interested, therefore, in investigating together, through medieval and more modern texts (literary, historical, and theoretical), the ways in which race is the result of systems of power that purposefully intertwine cultural identity and embodiment--embodiment, moreover, which is always more than simply the shape and color of bodies, for as Cohen also writes, "race is not some lifeless residuum, some essence discernable through the observation of faces and skin. Writing about race -- medieval and modern -- tends to be obsessed with race in action, race as performance. . . . Race is therefore evinced in such highly visible actions as the choice, preparation and consumption of food; patterns of speech and use of language; customs and ritual; the practice of sexuality." Our investigation of race in going to be grounded in a study of how a supposedly homogeneous nation called "England" emerged in the Middle Ages out of a long struggle to define itself (through myth, the law, war, education, and other means) against a variety of Others: the Romans, Irish, Scots, Welsh, Picts, Danes, Jews, Normans, and Saracens (Muslims), and also against the "barbarian," the "monstrous," the "local," the "feminine," and the "queer." By way of crafting a conjuncture and inter-temporal leap between the medieval and the modern, we will conclude the course with a reading of Toni Morrison's novel Paradise.

As this is a graduate seminar-style course, preparing for and participating in class are vitally important to your ultimate success, and therefore, your contribution to in-class discussions as well as your attendance record will be factored into your final grade. Although I will provide much guidance and commentary, the students are essentially the discussion leaders of this course. As this is also a reading-intensive course, not keeping up with the reading could be extremely detrimental to your progress and final evaluation.

REQUIRED TEXTS (available at University Bookstore in Morris University Center)

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Trans. R.M. Liuzza. Broadview Press, 2000.

Gerald of Wales. The History and Topography of Ireland. Trans. John J. O'Meara. Penguin Classics, 1982.

The Book of Margery Kempe. Trans. Barry Windeatt. Penguin Classics, 2000.

Toni Morrison. Paradise. Plume, 1999.

The Song of Roland. Trans. W.S. Merwin. Modern Library Classics, 2001.

SUGGESTED TEXT (available at University Bookstore in Morris University Center)

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Trans. C.W.R.D. Moseley. Penguin Classics, 2005.

*MANY of the readings for the course are literary texts and articles that have been placed on Electronic Course Reserve (these are indicated on "Schedule of Events" below)


1 CRITICAL PAPER, 15-20 pages (60%)

A two-part project: an annotated bibliography [due by mid-November] and a critical research paper. You are expected to develop your own topic and approaches; introduction of secondary texts, critics, media, and ideas is encouraged. This critical essay should deliver an original critical perspective and argument that takes up a question of "race" or "national identity" in relation to one or more of the primary texts we will have read this semester. Ideally, this paper should draw inspiration from the context of intellectual ideas encountered in course readings and class discussion, supplemented by additional secondary research. If you are interested in taking up a comparative approach that would entail analyzing a medieval text alongside a modern one, that is allowed (and even encouraged). To help you get started, go here for a working bibliography of sources relevant to the subjects under discussion in this course [and also check out here my short bibliography for primers on critical theory].


To facilitate class discussion, you will write short responses (roughly in the neighborhood of 2 typed pages) to weekly readings. It is up to you to decide which reading (or readings) to respond to, and in what manner. These short reading responses don't begin until after we've acclimated ourselves (typically in the third or fourth week of the course--see Schedule of Events below), and they are not due in the last few weeks of the course, in order to give you more time for your paper research and writing. For more detailed guidelines on these short papers, go here.


Each student is responsible for making an appointment with me before the annotated bibliography is due [ideally in early November] is order to discuss possible ideas and research avenues for the critical paper due at the end of the term. I expect each student to come to this conference already having perused and skimmed secondary readings included in this course's working bibliography in order to generate ideas for the paper. Some notion of a topic and focus should also be in hand [these could be formulated in the shape of interesting questions you would like to pursue relative to primary and secondary readings encountered in class], and the ultimate purpose of this conference will be for me to help you craft a research agenda and map based on your interests and questions.


I do not accept late assignments. Period. If there is an extraordinarily good reason for needing an extension on a due date, let me know in advance, and we will work it out.


Attendance, promptness, and participation are essential to success in college courses. Faculty members recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class, but my general attendance policy is that if you are absent more than the number of required class sessions per week (in this case, that would be more than 1 session), I have the option of lowering your final course grade by one letter grade for each additional session missed. Furthermore, if absences become excessive (more than two weeks' worth of sessions), the SIUE Registrar, at my request, reserves the right to withdraw you administratively. For more information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Class Attendance Policy. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in or administrative withdrawal from the course.


Any student found engaging in an act of academic dishonesty will be promptly dismissed from the course with a grade of "F." By "academic dishonesty," I mean PLAGIARISM (the act of representing the work of another as one's own), which the University considers a grave breach of intellectual integrity. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and given credit in any essay or exam you write--whether it be for the English department or any other department. For more detailed information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Plagiarism Policy.

Figure 2. Still image from the film King Arthur (2004)

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (subject to revision as semester progresses)

ECR=Electronic Course Reserves

Monday Aug. 20 Introduction to Course
View: Dirty, Pretty Things (film)
Jeffrey J. Cohen, "On Medieval Race"
Entry for RACE, Dictionary of the Middle Ages
Monday Aug. 27 <The In-Between "Join">
the Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle (handout)
Homi Bhaba, "Introduction: Locations of Culture" (handout)
Kathy Lavezzo, "Modern Motherland and Ancient Otherworld," from Angels on the Edge of the World (handout)
Mercator Map Projection
Monday Sep. 10 <Bede's and Gregory's Angles>
A Brief History of Anglo-Saxon England
selections from Bede's Historia, chapters I.1-25 & II.1 (handout)
Pliny, Orosius, Gildas , AElfric

Mark G. Thomas, Michael P.H. Stumpf, and Heinrich Harke, "Evidence for an Apartheid-Like Social Structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England"

Kathy Lavezzo, "Another Country: Aelfric and the Production of English Identity," from Angels on the Edge of the World (handout)
John Moreland, "Ethnicity, Power, and the English," from Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain (handout)
Monday Sep. 17 <Cannibalism/Conquest/Conversion>
*reading response due the Old English Andreas (ECR)
Heather Blurton, "Self-Eaters: The Cannibal Narrative of Andreas," from Cannibalism in High Medieval Literature (ECR)
Eileen Joy, "Cannibalism Runs in My Family"
Clare Lees and Gillian Overing, "Before History, Before Difference: Bodies, Metaphor, and the Church in Anglo-Saxon England" (ECR)
Monday Sep. 24 <Excursus: Nonlinear Histories & Repeating Islands>
*reading response due Manuel DeLanda, "Flesh and Genes: Biological History, 1000-2000," from A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (ECR)
  Antonio Benitez-Rojo, "Introduction: The Repeating Island," from The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and Postmodern Perspective (ECR)
  Deleuze & Guattari: desiring-machines, assemblage, Rhizome
Monday Oct. 1 <King Alfred and England-Becoming>
*reading response due Asser, The Life of King Alfred
  Alfred the Great (Wikipedia)
  Jeffrey J. Cohen, "King Alfred's Hemorrhoids"
Sarah Foot, "The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest" (handout)
Robert Bartlett, "Race Relations on the Frontiers of Latin Europe (1): Language and Law," from The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (ECR)
Robert Bartlett, "Race Relations on the Frontiers of Latin Europe (2): Power and Blood," from The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (ECR)
Monday Oct. 8 <Beowulf/Humano-wolf>
*reading response due R.M. Liuzza, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (sections I-XXIII)
  Jeffrey J. Cohen, "The Ruins of Identity," from Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (ECR)
    Rosi Braidotti, "Transactions: Transposing Difference," from Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (ECR)
    local/global, zoe and bios
Monday Oct. 15 <Arthur of Britain & the Romance of History: Part I>
    View: King Arthur (film)
Geoffrey of Monmouth, "Part VII: Arthur of Britain," from The History of the Kings of Britain (ECR)
Monday Oct. 22 <Arthur of Britain & the Romance of History: Part II>
*reading response due Heng, "Cannibalism, the First Crusade, and the Genesis of Medieval Romance: Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain," from Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (ECR)
  Laurie Finke and Martin Shichtman, "Profiting from the Past: History as Symbolic Capital," from King Arthur and the Myth of History (ECR)
  Pope Urban II's Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095
    Andrew Scheil, "Anti-Judaism and Somatic Fiction," from The Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England (ECR)
    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "The Flow of Blood in Norwich," from Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain (ECR)
Monday Nov. 5 <Gerald(s) and Ireland-Becoming>
  *reading response due Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland (Parts II & III)
    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "In the Borderlands: The Identities of Gerald of Wales," from Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain (ECR)
    Kathy Lavezzo, "Gerald De Barri and the Geography of Ireland's Conquest," from Angels on the Edge of the World (ECR)
Monday Nov. 12 <Becoming-Margery>
The Book of Margery Kempe
Lollard Movement
"Calling Margery Kempe Crazy--And Why It Matters" (Dr. Virago)
Carolyn Dinshaw, "Queer Relations"
The Questioning of John Rykener, A Male Cross-Dressing Prostitute, 1395 (Medieval Sourcebook)
Carolyn Dinshaw, "Margery Kempe Answers Back," from Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (ECR)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "The Becoming-Liquid of Margery Kempe," from Medieval Identity Machines (ECR)
Monday Nov. 26 <An Inter-temporal Leap: Toni Morrison's Paradise>
    Toni Morrison, Paradise
    Rosi Braidotti, "Met(r)amorphoses: Becoming Woman/Animal/Insect," from Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (ECR)
    haeccity, "On Thrownness", Gilles Deleuze
    Nomadic Philosopher: A Conversation with Rosi Braidotti
    Interview with Toni Morrison (Charlie Rose Show)
Monday Dec. 3 Toni Morrison, Paradise
    A Brief History of the USA (Bowling for Columbine)
Monday Dec. 10 (by 5:00 p.m.) Critical Paper Due (paper must be dropped off at my mailbox just outside Peck Hall #3206)