Sunday, August 31, 2008

On Categories

Sorry to have been away and not posting, but Ive been a bit preoccupied trying to finish a few writing obligations and prepare for the new term. More on all that later -- including my promised post on Dinshaw/Manning. For now, however, I would like to solicit opinions on the following outline.

I noted in an earlier post that I'm composing the 5000-word entry on "queer studies" for the forthcoming Handbook of Trends in Medieval Studies (ed., Albrecht Classen). Be aware that my aim is to present something like a history or summary of scholarship on the topic, and not to discuss in detail and particular texts. That said, it does seem to me that much of the literary (and historical?) scholarship emerges around key textual artifacts: e.g., Chaucer, Roman de la Rose, Libro de Beun Amor, the Latin writings of Peter Damian and Alain de Lille. The texts, then, might be described as nodal points for the field's discursive energies. In fact, one way I've been thinking about a queer[ing] Middle Ages is as itself an aleatory point. There is something beautifully and thrillingly rhizomatic about queer medieval studies, something that reminds why I so love being a medievalist. Or, as Ive sometimes been "accused" of being, a theorist who uses the medieval as an archive -- an accusation in whose wake I would happily self-narrate. Still, this something is an aleatoriness that is irreducible to interdisciplinarity, and I'm coming to think more about the materialities of such academic undertakings. Perhaps a vitalist medievalism?

Anyway, back to my topic at hand. I do have a bibliography that I'll post soon. While I've been doing much research, reading, and summarizing -- and accepting the fact there is a necessary violence that must be done to the topic for this type of project -- I'm still trying to be as thorough (but not exhaustive) as possible. This means that I'm attempting to cover a range of sub-disciplines in medieval studies, since the intended audience of the project isn't just scholars of literature nor only English speakers.

So, I've been laboring over how to best organize the information in way that both makes sense and is helpful. Being pragmatic and economical are, of course, forefront in my mind. I'd would welcome any feedback and questions on or about the outline. I'm especially interested in knowing if anyone thinks I've missed anything glaringly obvious, and/or if anything in my section on "emerging issues" [anybody got a better subtitle?] seems not to belong. Note that some of these latter issues I've culled not only from what medievalists are writing about now but also from where certain trends in queer studies more generally are headed. In some ways, I suppose I'm availing myself of the performative rhetoric that such a section enables: my analysis of such emergent scholarly trajectories is as predicative as it is summarative.

Entry Outline

Overview [very brief]
• What this entry aims to do and its sections
• Introduce concept of sodomy

• Boswell Thesis [project of CSTH and its reception and continued importance]
• Queer/ing [Foucault, queer theory] -- need a better subtitle

• Whirling overview of selected scholarship for England [including Anglo-Saxon studies], France, Italy, Iberia [including Arabic/Islamic issues], Germany. The section is more heavily focused on the vernaculars, but will include certain important Latin writings (e.g., Peter Damian, Alain de Lille).

• Nonconformities [discursive overlappings of heretics, Jews, Saracens w/ sodomites]
• Visual and Aural Cultures [scholarship from art and music]
• Law, Pedagogy, Medicine [yeah, sort of a catchall, I know]
• Godly Eros [religious desires/erotics] -- better title?

Between Women
• Historiographic issues in the study of female same-sex eroticism [I think this is important enough to deserve a separate treatment]

Emergent Issues
• Hetero/sexualities
• Temporality
• Eccentric Bodies & the Otherwise Gendered [disabilities, eunuchs, trans]
• Senses [esp., aural and olfactory erotics; fecopoetics/"waste studies"]
• Animals
• Being Alone [singleness, anti-sociality, solitude]


Nic D'Alessio said...

So, I neglected to mention that I've been on the fence about including a category on "medievalisms," focusing on how both critics and queer novelists appeal to the medieval. I have some sources here (mostly culled from Dinshaw and Kruger's essay in the Queer MA volume), but others would be greatly appreciated. Unless, of course, people think that this isn't a category worthy including (but I'm starting to think it should be, especially since I can't recall there being any category in the Handbook at all on medievalisms). Of course, I would cite the work of Trigg and Pendegast from NML.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

It's great that you have 5000 words, but even that amount is going to feel extremely constricted for the project you've outlined. So while on the one hand I'd love to see medievalisms included (perhaps in that wonderful closing section), my guess is that quite a bit of what is here might not make it into a final version: it is so much to cover.

Having said that, I do admire your ambition in undertaking such an overview! If push comes to shove (or choose your favorite metaphor), 'Orientations' could be cut since so much work already exists here. Geographies, Vectors, and Emergent strike me as the most exciting sections.

Nic D'Alessio said...

Thanks for the feedback, and I think you're exactly right. I did work up that outline in a far more ambitious state than what is going to be practically achievable given the limits. I think there's still need to keep the Orientations section, although I'm keeping it much more constricted than originally thought. Again, I think you're right about this matter. Plus my first inclination was always to nod in the direction of the founding works, but not to make the entry about them, since, as you so rightly note, much exists about them already. Still, the entry is *supposed* to suggest where the field has been and where it's going. I tend to think that the "where's it going" strand is much more interesting and exciting than the other.

As for medievalisms, my thinking now is to include a *brief* blurb about it under temporalities, since I think it's an important part of how queer studies has been making those "affective connections" for which Dinshaw so beautifully calls.

One other aspect that is certainly important, I feel, is to indicate, however much I can, in this entry the multiple and sometimes conflicting approaches to "queer." That is does have a relationship to the "earlier" gay/lesbian studies approach of someone like Boswell, but seems misread by someone like Frantzen.

Anyway, thanks so much for the comments! The constrictive nature of the entry is also part of the pleasure, I suppose.

Eileen Joy said...

Nic: it's great that you're doing this and the only thing that really jumps out at me that might be missing, is "the affective turn," and I think I would put that under "Vectors" [Dinshaw, obviously], and then Dinshaw would appear again under "Temporalities." But since you put "Temporalities" under emergent issues, you also really need the "affective turn" as part of the "Vectors" section, I think. Where are you putting, I wonder, the controvery coming out of the combined work of James Schultz and Karma Lochrie that there is not such thing as heterosexuality or homosexuality in the Middle Ages--is that an "emergent issue" keyed by "Hetero/sexuality"? Finally, I would note as an Anglo-Saxonist that complete *dearth* of any queer studies in Old English studies [I am making some stabs at it now, but nothing will be published by me on that front for about another year or two], but I would just draw your attention to three scholars, non of whom are, strictly speaking, Anglo-Saxonists, but all of whom have published recent work on:

a) same-sex/affective desire between women in Anglo-Saxon England,


b) queer/erotic reading practices.

These are Diane Watt (her book on the Paston Letters), Lara Farina (book: "Erotics Discourse in Early English Religious Writing"), and Lisa Weston (various articles on same-sex/affective desire between Anglo-Saxon religious women). Clare Lees and Diane Watt are currently collaborating on a book project on GenderQueerTrans spaces in Old English texts, but again: still a ways off from the publishing front.

Nic D'Alessio said...

Eileen: Thanks so much for your feedback and bibliographic suggestions. As for the Schultz and Lochrie work, I had designed the emergent "hetero/sexualities" as precisely to key into that debate. I think your point about the "affective turn" is good one. I always had intended to discuss notions of affect, and of course Dinshaw's absolutely vital work in this area, but I had anticipated that it would come up within other frames [e.g., orientations, temporalities]. Still, let me ponder about how it might work as a separate vector. I think the your second comment about "queer/erotic reading practices" might prove especially helpful in thinking the "affective turn" as a vector for medieval queer studies.

As to Anglo-Saxon scholarship, I'm glad to have my own sense confirmed of a "dearth" of such work. Still, I wanted to make mention of what little has been down [e.g., Frantzen, Cohen, Weston] not only out of a desire for thoroughness but especially because Anglo=Saxonists, by and large, seem so isolated from the larger questions/debates/conversations within medieval studies. Some -- if not most -- of this is certainly self-inflicted. That's why I much prefer work that integrates Anglo-Saxon into a wider discourse on the early middle ages. I'm so intrigued by what your "stabs" at this might be, as well as the collaborative project between Watt and Lees.

Generally speaking, I think several works will be mentioned multiple times because they have been foundational and wide-ranging in their discussions.