Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Memoriam: Derek Brewer (1923-2008)

One of the true revolutionaries in medieval studies, Derek Brewer, has died. Not only was he a scholar of impeccable credentials with an impressively long publication record, but his influence will continue to reverberate for many years to come through the founding of his academic publishing firm, now a part of Boydell and Brewer. A bibliography of his many writings is available in Toshiyuki Takamiya's contribution to Chaucer Traditions: Studies in Honour of Derek Brewer, Ruth Morse and Barry Windeatt, eds., (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 263-68. With "affectionate tribute," the editors rightly speak of Prof. Brewer's "range and energy," so clearly evidenced in his many important essays, books, and editions of medieval texts. In a peroration to this "modern Chaucerian, most generous of teachers, and an unfailing friend," Morse and Windeatt write: "It is a rare modern scholar who has done so much for his subject, both through his own work and through what he has encouraged others to do" (ix). Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday Florilegium

Despite that it is now technically Saturday, I still wanted to post the following under my titular alliterative. Sitting outside a coffee shop near my apartment on a cool Austin night, I write within view--and smell--of a courtyard populated with early twenty-somethings enjoying their late night hookah. But more than flavored aromas waft toward me, as snipits of their conversations and the sounds of nearby cars drift into/onto my fields of perception.

There have been a number of very interesting and important discussions, comments, and announcements that have bloomed around the blogosphere this week.
  • a still budding conversation, first initiated by Karl Steel, about St. Erkenwald
  • Eileen Joy's meditation on the face, which has generated much commentary
  • Susan Morrison's paradigm-shi(f)ting work on/in "fecopoetics and waste studies" (see here for Susan's new Palgrave book). After a very gracious headnote by Eileen, Susan's SEMA paper follows.
  • Jeff Cohen's wonderful announcement that the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, in collaboration with Harvard University Press, will be publishing a brand new series modeled on the Loeb Classical Library and I Tatti Renaissance Library to feature medieval Latin, Byzantine, and Old English texts (with facing-page original texts and translations). The first ten volumes will debut in 2010. A truly wonderful addition to an already fragrant garden.
  • Over at Mended Things, Cary's brief but profund meditation on the redemptive capacities of travel and of how sharing a planride can equilize its heterogenous passengers in their vulnerablity, from the flatulent to the first-class.
  • Two intriguing new book announcements: the first, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, which features a confrontation between sometime collaborators Slavoj Zizek and British theologian John Milbank; the second a title of more explicitly theological interest, Nate Kerr's History and Apocalypitc: The Politics of Christian Mission (see here and an excerpt here)
  • SUNY Buffalo's upcoming (10/31-11/1) Humanities Conference on the History of Madness
In other news, tomorrow/today, Saturday, October 25th, is the annual Head of the Colorado Regatta (a.k.a., "Pumpkinhead") sponsored by the Austin Rowing Club [ARC]. Regrettably, I won't be able to compete this year, since I've been so sick since returning from SEMA that I just haven't put enough water time in to warrant boating for a 5K. In fact, I haven't rowed at all since the end of September! Still, I'll be around the race volunteering and supporting my fellow rowers and past and present teammates at ARC and Texas Crew. Who knows, I might even be needed as a sub? I'll be prepared with my spandex in case.

I've also been much engaged in contemplating the possible trajectories my blog might begin exploring. Taking on board some well-regarded advice, I'm hoping to offer at least one substantial post a month (by 5th of every month). I will continually update/post information throughout the month, which will/might include CFPs, general announcements, florilegia, and other miscellaneous items. But my hope/desire is to produce at least one (if not more) postings/essays that go into more depth about a topic or issue related either to my current research or that has been much on my mind.

To that end, I already have several posts planned out. An imminently forthcoming post will focus on marginalia, including its ontological and biopolitical dimensions. Also, in honor of the above mentioned "Pumpkinhead Regatta," I'm finally putting down (or, in this case, up) my thoughts about sport and athleticism. I intend this latter topic to be explored in a planned series of 2-3 posts. I'm also hoping, sooner rather than later, to offer a post on Erin Manning's brilliant Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty, which is a book I suggested to several BABELers and which has found its way into a few posts by Eileen Joy and Karl Steel.

Lastly tonight, I'm also mulling over the idea of a mini/quasi-blog conference on "the event," which I anticipate would feature guest bloggers that might post on the topic with reference to some of the major theorists of the event today: Deleuze, Derrida, Badiou, Zizek, Caputo. This has been especially on my mind, since next week I'll be heading to Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (think MLA for religion scholars). It's always an exciting and very pleasant experience for me, since I can reconnect with many friends and keep at least one body part firmly planted within the fields of religion scholarship (as if my work is ever not connected or explicitly about religious discourses/practices?). Sure to be a particularly rewarding session will be the one featuring both Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek as panelists/presenters, both of whom have been making increasingly interesting connections wtih theologians as part of the wider turn toward religion within contemporary critical theory. Zizek has spoken at AAR before (Derrida did, too), but this will be the first time Badiou has (and my first time hearing him). There's also a session devoted to Jean-Luc Nancy's recent work, Dis-Enclosure.

Look for this and more from AAR in the coming weeks and months!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

BABELers, Come to TEMA 2009

While it's a year away, I thought I'd let everyone know that next year UT Austin will host--for the first ever--the annual conference for TEMA. Planning is very much in the paleolithic stages, so I don't know anything about programing theme(s) or keynotes. Still, I think it would be great to organize a BABEL panel or two. The tentative (read: probable) dates for next year's conference are October 22-24, 2009. If any BABELers might be interested, feel free to let me know. Of course, as more information (e.g., a CFP) becomes available I'll post updates here and elsewhere (I'll send the CFP out to the BABEL list).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Blogging as Practicing with a Sharp Tool

Of late, there have been a few very interesting discussions about the very nature of blogging. Mary Kate Hurley discusses "Blogging as Practice."

I've also come across the following posts from a few years ago that I think speak to many of my own and others' concerns about the profitable aspects of research blogging. See here and here. See also the following:
Of course, while I believe one should take all possible care in both composing and publishing posts, one cannot always control what others think or do with that post. Blogs are, perhaps, the paradigmatic example of the "purloined letter."

While searching for the very meager listings of links above, I came upon a late 2007 post over at The Kugelmass Episodes, in which its author set out to discuss the "best and worst" of the academic blogosphere for 2007. Setting aside how I might feel or respond to any of the specifics in Kugelmass's blogging, I did/do find the following passage remarkably provocative and poignant, and so I close this entry with his words:
So, what’s ahead for 2008? I can’t predict trends, but I can say what I hope for, and that’s a renaissance of words in their essential loneliness. Intellectual blogging is a medium that thrives because it captures the quietude of those moments when we seal ourselves off from our surroundings in order to consider the printed words of another person. The tremulousness of the word, the expectation of an answer, the abjection and shamelessness of writing for self-publication: in order to be honest, a blogger has to be vulnerable, more so even than the author of a book. What she is writing apparently had to be blogged to be written at all. Given the voluntarism of the blogosphere, polish is merely comic; risk is the only thing worth admiring. The risk of saying too much, the risk of being unread, the risk of being misread — intellectual blogging must change from an indifferent exercise of dignified exposition into the willing practice of risk.

Announcing ... [drum roll, please]

The new blog presence for the newly established graduate student collective in medieval studies at the The University of Texas at Austin, Convivencia.

I volunteered to put a blog together for the group, but it's still very rudimentary. Per the group's desires, this will be a space primarily to disseminate information about upcoming gatherings and/or events, along with other more general announcements (e.g., CFPs, conferences, student awards, etc).

Matrices of Progress: An Auto/Report

Well, my previous post on SEMA seems to have generated some very nice commentary amid some controversy. I'm planning a few other posts for the coming days, including a recap of three visitors to UT-Austin last week, among other topics. I hope to be able, in addition to disseminating information, to make at least one substantial post a month. Things have been especially busy this fall, and I've been struggling since SEMA to get even minor tasks done amidst fighting a very nasty cold. One piece of good news is that this week my advisor and I established a dissertation project. So, I'm now officially writing a prospectus, and will sit for the my next series of exams (hopefully) in the late summer (or early fall). The goal is to be in candidacy by Fall 2009. Yippie!

I hope to post more about the prospectus process as I get more into the writing/researching, but I will say that the project aims to revisit the "book/body" relationship. So, more to come on that front. What most pleases me now, however, is having a clear sense of what I need to do and when. One unique facet of my department's graduate program (at least under the matrices of progress governing my degree advancement, since these matrices have now been changed for the incoming 2008-09 class) is that there is no clear, absolute "cut-off" date for coursework; rather, one can (and very frequnelty will see) students still taking courses up until the time they complete the PhD. Of course, I find that option immensely useful, but I can also see where it might cause some students to forget the forrest for the trees.

For now, readers might be interested in scanning the updated blog roll and links listing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SEMA, Redux

I thought I'd take a few minutes and offer a some musings about the recently passed SEMA conference. Generally speaking, and here I'm echoing comments already made on ITM (see here and here), I must say how grateful I am to Eileen Joy and all the local organizers and sponsors for putting together not only an intellectually stimulating but, most impressively, a truly convivial conference. Mille grazie!

I was unable to attend as many sessions as I had hoped -- not least because I was so beat with lack of sleep and flying in on Friday morning. I did hear Jeff Cohen's amazing plenary/meditation on rocks and Mandeville's "boundary denying ethnography." Regretablly, I missed the other plenary by Steve Kruger; I just needed some "me time" (mea culpa!). Also, due to travel plans, I completely missed the first of two BABEL sessions on "Eros and Phenomenology" -- sorry Eileen, Nicola, and others. Gratefully, however, Nicola has posted his paper as has Karl, whose paper appeared in a different session on "excrement/waste studies/fecopoetics" (which I also sadly missed!). Eileen has promised to do likewise (once she recovers).

I was involved in two sessions on Saturday, one where I presented and another where I chaired. After some rather annoying technical difficulties, the session I chaired went very well, with some amazingly interesting papers dealing with devotional literature and objects. Although all the papers were stimulating and very enjoyable, I particularly enjoyed Elina Gerstman's presentation.

My own paper was the first of four in a session devoted to Patience and Pearl; or, as I like to call it, "me and everyone else." Obviously, I mean that the other panelists were focused on Pearl, and their work gave me some very good insights into how I might connect my own arguments for a liturgical reading of Patience to certain similarly animating concerns of Pearl. Oddly enough, the panel outnumbered the audience (3 attendees; 4 panelists), but it was still a good session. My paper (see the abstract) was very much a work-in-progress, and, sadly, no one there seemed too interested in my project. That said, the best feedback I received was during a discussion with Karl Steel that Saturday evening. But I remain worried about one thing: he said it'd be great if I could make Patience an "interesting" text. Certainly, I much appreciate the support and encouragement. My worry, however, stems from the fact that this is a common judgment of the varied nature of my work on Gower, Chaucer, and others. In other words, I don't want to be--or at least just be--that guy who makes difficult or dejected texts "interesting." Anyway, as I continue to formulate a dissertation project, I'm becoming very inclined toward having Patience be a chapter. But more on that prospecting adventure later.

I was able to attend the second of the "Eros and Phenomenology" panels, which featured truly stunning papers by Lara Farina, Cary Howie, and Tony Hasler. I really enjoyed all of them, although the first two spoke most directly to my own research interests. Lara spoke about a "materialist history of reading" that would attend to the "intimate senses [of] touch, taste, smell." She further commented on how these issues are part and parcel of the "cultural management of eros in reading." But it was, above all, Cary's paper that made me shudder! I had neither heard Cary speak before, nor been much acquainted with his work other than being aware of his book Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature. No summary would do justice to his elegant, moving meditation on the "phenomenology of the body (in) waiting," about "redeem[ing] our appendages," about the impact and vitality of "undesirable proximities." Regrettably, I was unable to speak with him at the conference, but have since had a very generative email correspondence and very much look forward to meeting at Kalamazoo, if not before. His paper resonated with my own thinking about Patience, and my own ultimate desires to speak about that text's phenomenality. I find Cary's notion of a phenomenology of the "expectant body" alluring, and I think it connects nicely with my own leanings toward Jean-Louis Chretien's "phenomenology of call and response."

I'll end this post by recalling a comment that Eileen made to several of us at the pub that Saturday evening. She remarked about feeling as if "something has changed in medieval studies." Earlier (and often), Jeff Cohen had already noted that this was a conference during which one could (or retroactively would) identify a seismic shift in our field. Both Eileen and I drew on such stoney metaphors in our conversation about the "geological time" of academic work--a time that seems so utterly slow until it's so suddenly altered much as a slow but continuous river alters the rock formations and land masses through and near which it flows until it erupts through a long placed blockage to chart a new course. I think Eileen is correct: something has changed, is changing. Among other things, I find the ethically charged and phenomenologically enriched work of BABEL members to be but one of those vibrations that our disciplinary seismographs might register. We might recall that the temporality of a seismograph is always already "out of sync," for its predicative value is posited on its delayed ability to register past tectonic vibrations. However minescule or imperceptible the delay, the seismograph is never simultaneous or co-incident with that which it measures; its grammar is always that of the future anterior, the "will have been." The felt change and the hope of its continued rhizomatic movements subsists in that mutuable, fluvial interplay between (with bows to Lara) enveloping gestures of touch and/in/through pressure. If we are to continue our surface excitations, we ought to continually ask, with Cary, "What's at stake in our tact?"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SEMA Bound

The overnight bag is nearly packed, and final touches are being put on my paper. My flight to St. Louis leaves Austin at 6am, so I should touch down (after a brief stop in DFW) around 9:30, at which point I'm making my way directly to the St. Louis University campus' Busch Student Center. I'm sad to have had to miss the first day of the conference, but I'm excited to get there tomorrow and connect with so many interesting folks! I'm particularly excited for the panels on "Eros and Phenomenology," that also feature a response by Amy Hollywood. I'm the first paper in my Saturday panel, which is also the only paper on Patience while the other three are on Pearl. Below is the abstract for paper. The argument remains the same, but I'm also taking this opportunity to try out a few theoretical ideas about the phenomenologies of urban flesh and prayer. See ya'll at SEMA in St. Louis!

Abstract: "Beating the Bounds": Reading Patience Liturgically
This paper builds on and extends the recent efforts of Bruce Holsinger and Katherine Zieman to examine, in Holsinger’s words, the “dynamic and dynamically changing” affiliations between liturgical cultures and vernacular writing by suggesting an alternative scenography for reading the Middle English Patience. Whereas much existing scholarship contexualizes the poem’s didacticism as sermonic exempla, this paper resituates the poem within the liturgical context of Rogationtide.

Celebrated immediately before and leading into Ascension Thursday, Rogationtide consisted of three days of pageantry and penitence amidst Easter joy and springtime harvest. Drawing on original archival research, this paper links Patience and Rogationtide in two ways. First, both poem and ritual share a body politics: just as Patience’s Jonah travels around the biblical world to escape his prophetic calling only to reveal the all-embracing reach of divine power, so too the participants of Rogationtide circumambulate their cities in processions to mark out, like dogs, their territory for divine favor and protection. In both cases, the body is more than its limbs and organs, registering its permeability by way of technology, social structures, and ritual prostheses. Here, prophet, people, and place flow into each other. Second, there is a structural correlation at the level of poetics between Rogationtide and Patience. Not only does the prophet Jonah figure prominently in each, but just as the poem retells and elaborates its biblical source, so too does Rogationtide’s longest and most ornate processional chant, Timor et tremor, trope Jonah’s story.

Reading Patience within the scenography of Rogationtide reveals a multidirectional pedagogical discourse between vernacular and liturgical cultures.