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]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meine Freunde.

As the world stands in awe at the swimming phenomenon that is Michael Phelps (with whom I share a hometown!), I also wanted to draw everyone's attention to another important fight. While this one doesn't have the same glory or even gold medals, it's certainly an important one for medievalists. Below is the text of a forwarded email I have received:
The University of Heidelberg plans to close down the Medieval Latin Department. There are not many departments of this kind left in Germany --it would be wonderful if you could sign a petition against closing down the Medieval Latin Department where e.g. Walter Berschin taught very successfully for many, many years! It is always very helpful when scholars from abroad sign the petition, too.
You may link to the petition here. It had previously been hosted on the Department's website until the University Chancellor forbade it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Manning & the Politics of Touch: Aleatory Reading, Picky Reading

Over at the always interesting Larval Subjects [LS], there was a post that articulated precisely my own reading habits:
One should never read a single book at a time. In the act of reading multiple texts, aleatory encounters between texts are produced like sparks arcing across two separated wires. There is no method here. Where and when such a spark will leap is not subject to calculation or prediction. Rather, such sparks are purely a product of chance. And, of course, it is necessary to add the caveat that it is impossible to read a single book at a time. As Freud famously observed in his allegory of the Roman city, and Bergson in his cone of memory, the past co-exists with the present, such that any act of reading is necessarily saturated with all the previous texts one has encountered. Yet even here the points at which texts touch one another, the point at which virtual texts and actual text touch in singularities, is entirely aleatory and without calculation. It is always an event. Perhaps there must be an Idea, Problem, or Multiplicity at work– in Deleuze’s sense of the word: a problematic field –that presides over the genesis of such relations. The principles of auto-synthesis are murky.
Although I've read parts of Dinshaw's Getting Medieval for years now, I had surprisingly not read the entire text from cover to cover, which I finally did a little more than a week ago. After finishing Dinshaw, I found myself compelled to pull Erin Manning's recent book, Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty (University of Minnesota, 2007), off my "to read" shelf. Alongside Manning, I am also reading a number of works in medieval queer studies/theory, writings on temporality, and Seth Lerer's A Portable History of English, among other things. What LS calls the "aleatory sparks" that occur when reading multiple books simultaneously, the way different texts "touch in [their] singularities," seems particularly arresting in relation to Dinshaw. Despite the 'murkiness' of the "principles of auto-synthesis," I will attempt in my next post to read Dinshaw alongside and across Manning; to allow these two texts of very different historical moments to reach-toward one another. What makes such an experimental reading so suggestive is not only the obviously shared concern of both authors with a metaphorics of "touch" but also the ways in which Manning uses certain theorists (esp., Deleuze, Derrida, and Nancy) to complicate precisely what such a sensing body does. There are moments when I read Dinshaw's text where, despite my own profound affection for her project--I find Dinshaw utterly arresting in both her prose and her theoretico-political imaginings--I am left feeling empty. Something seems absent from the text, a something that I think Manning begins to help us reach-toward. My next post will formulate these ideas.

But first, I want to be a slightly picky reader. There is, to my theologically trained former self, an error at n13, p. 167. The text as printed reads:
"The Word: (o logoß). Logoß is from legw, an old word in Homer to lay by, to collect, to put words side by side, to speak, to express an opinion. Logoß is common for reason as well as speech. Heraclitus used it for the principle that controls the universe (Oxford English Dictionary)."
The note itself is glossing a discussion of the opening verse of the prologue from John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The error itself is typographical. Before commenting further, let me say that I find Manning's text to be theoretically astute, and so I offer the following correction in a spirit of charity.

Firstly, the phrase "o logoß" fails to take account of what in Greek are called "breathing marks." These, like accents (which Greek also has), affect pronunciation. In the Greek text, they appear as inverted commas standing either over the minuscules (lower case letters) or next to the uncials (upper case letters) at the beginning of a word. The letters requiring such a mark are: a, e, i, o, u, w, r. These marks are of two types: smooth and rough. Technically, the smooth mark has no real affect on the pronunciation, while the rough signals a required "h" sound at the beginning of the word. This may sound trivial, but there are certain words in Greek that are spelled identically and are only differentiated by a smooth or rough breathing mark. That scenario isn't present in Manning's text; rather, one of the most elementary words in Greek is the definite article "the" which is transliterated as "ho" and not "o."

Secondly, the typography of both the nominal and verbal forms of logos are incoherent. The sigma ( an "s") that ends the nominal form isn't the German letter "ß"; rather, in Greek there are two minuscules for sigma, employed depending on where in the word the letter falls. The most common form is "σ," and occurs in all letter positions except if the sigma concludes the word, at which point the alternative form, "ς," is used. Similarly, in the verbal form the final letter is written "w," when in transliteration it should appear as a long "o," since it is in Greek an omega (ω) and not an omicron (ο). [Note that the Greek alphabet differentiates between long and short vowels for certain letters.] As it stands, typography for the verbal form appears to be some kind of hybrid, neither really a transcription nor a transliteration.

Ok, I know, maybe this is TOO picky. I apologize if this comes off as unwarranted nagging. Thoughts? Am I just being, well, a you know what? .... I will confess that my Greek is fairly rusty, but that I was still able to notice these errors even on a first glance.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reading Abbreviations

So in the course of following various links, I came across something that all us medieval geeks should appreciate: Karl Maurer, a classicist at the University of Dallas, has assembled a list of the most common abbreviations used in the apparatus of a critical edition. I'd also recommend reading Eric Knibbs, "How to Use Modern Critical Editions of Medieval Latin Texts," History Compass 5, no. 5 (2007): 1521-49.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Briefly Noted

Just a few quick announcements

CFPs -- as we all continue to prepare abstracts to meet the deadlines for Kalamazoo and Leeds next year, here a few other conferences that have come to my attention.
  • Locating Gender, the theme for the annual conference sponsored by King's Collge, London; 9-10 January 2009 (CFP due 1 September 2008).
  • Deleuze2008, a conference marking the 40th anniversary of Deleuze's Difference & Repetition; 7-8 November 2008 in Stavanger, Norway (CFP due 12 September 2008).
  • Glossing Is a Glorious Thing, sponsored by The Graduate Center, CUNY; 9-10 April 2009 (CFP due 1 October 2008).
Also, a new and exciting venture from the cutting-edge folks at GW, the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, or MEMSI

And lest I forget, a new collection of essays, edited by Jeff Cohen, is now available for purchase: Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages: Archipelago, Island, England. You can read the introduction here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Summer Days, Drifting Away...

Since concluding my recent UK trip, I now have three major projects that require my attention.
  • The entry on "Queer Medieval Studies" for the forthcoming Handbook of Trends in Medieval Studies, edited by Albrect Classen and being published by Walter de Gruyer. (due end of August)
  • Editing my review of Marilynn Desmond's new book, forthcoming in GLQ (due September 15 or before; I'm editing based on Beth Freeman's very helpful comments)
  • Reviewing Reading the Medieval in Early Modern England for Sixteenth Century Studies (past due ... mea culpa!)
The queer studies entry is my first priority, and much of this will be bibliographical assembly. I anticipate sharing that bibliography on this blog next week (hopefully), and seeking suggestions for under-represented areas. The entry is suppose to discuss/cover multiple disciplines in medieval studies, and not only English literature. I feel confident about my coverage in several areas (e.g., Middle English, romance languages, Latin literatures, musicology, history), but certainly welcome any and all suggestions! I've already been aided by Michael Johnson, of UT-Austin's French & Italian Department and a BABEL member, and am expecting an email from Bob Mills of King's College, London, on art history resources other than some of the more obvious items (e.g., Michael Camille's work).

I'm also planning posts on (the) queering (of) medieval disability studies, responses to a few articles I've recently been working through, and a detailed post related to the retrospective discussion of Carolyn Dinshaw's Getting Medieval happening over at ITM.

... Oh those summer days!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Baswell, NCS, & Eccentric Bodies

As promised in my previous post, I am sharing my notes and thoughts about Chris Baswell's passionate NCS plenary. Many will already be familiar with discussions about medieval disabilities. But if not, one should consult the excellent guest blogging of Greg Carrier and Alison Purnell on ITM, along with Greg's own lively blog and the recently established Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages. I'm planning an additional post about medieval disability studies and queer theory, but for now I present my summary of Baswell's talk from my trusty, compulsively annotated moleskin. I confess, however, that I was so moved by Baswell's passionate identification with his "med-crip images" that my notes are more rudimentary than usual. When stock is taken of "med-crip" theory's emergence as a critical modality, as Jeff Cohen has already predicated, Baswell's talk will surely take its place as a field-altering moment. It was nothing short of arresting.

Titled "Before the Pardoner, Before the Cook: Eccentric Body Cultures Prior to Chaucer," Baswell's talk came at the conclusion of the NCS plenary session on "Before Chaucer," which featured brief, often entertaining, presentations by Valerie Allen, Clare Lees, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne and Baswell himself. A key terminological difference marking Baswell's work is signaled through his titular preference for "eccentric bodies" rather than using the term "disability," which only emerges into English language and culture in the 17th century. For Baswell, "odd bodies were all over the place in the Middle Ages." Such "eccentric bodies" were often also hypersexualized bodies. Baswell describes the effects of these and other abjecting rhetorics evocatively as "melting toward[s] non-being." He also made mention of how attention ought to be given to the wider "social care group" that surrounds and enables the med-crip, as illustrated above in the Luttrell Psalter, an image Baswell also used in his talk. Another area of attention that Baswell encouraged was a focus on what he termed the "trope of miracular cure." He concluded with an ethical summons: "To recover premodern eccentric bodies is to recover possibilities of identity."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Swansea Recap

While there have already been a number of posts elsewhere on the recent gathering of the New Chaucer Society in Swansea, Wales (see, e.g., here, here, and here over at the medieval group blog ITM, along with several on the Humanities Researcher), I wanted to add my own reflections before too much time elapsed. I came to NCS immediately after the major Gower conference in London -- even traveling with a buss load of Gowerians from London to Swansea! The Gower conference itself was an amazing success thanks to the extraordinary work of Bob Yeager, John Hines, and Bev Stewart. Bob mentioned to me that a volume will be produced from this conference, which I think will be an important contribution to Gower scholarship. I gave papers at both the NCS and Gower conferences, and will comment on those experiences and their content later. Now onto Chaucer.

This was my first NCS, and I enjoyed it very much. I was able to meet a number of very interesting people, many of whom attended the earlier Gower conference, so that it felt like I was vacationing with a large group of great friends. I generally felt that the atmosphere was convivial, but can understand how some might feel that there was posturing going on, although anytime you bring academics together in such an intimate setting I think such posturing is inevitable. I also feel, along with Jeff Cohen, that many of the papers seemed not very (or at all!) rehearsed. This certainly added to much frustration. Other major conferences I attend supply printed or online abstracts that make it more helpful in determining whether a paper is worth attending or not, since titles are so amorphous and often altered.

Since I'm a compulsive note-taker, I had my trusty moleskin with me. What follows are summaries, based on my notes, along with my some interjected commentary. Much attention has already been given by bloggers to the amazing papers by Carolyn Dinshaw and Chris Baswell. I will deal with Baswell in a separate post, but I do want to say something briefly about Dinshaw's paper and her session as a whole.

Carolyn Dinshaw's "The Lay of the Land: Queer Love in A Canterbury Tale," used the 1944 Powell and Presburger film referenced in her title to consider the questions: "What's so strange about a man who loves his land? What makes this so traditional of affections queer?" With characteristic elegance, she attended to the manifold ways in which the "down-hearted antiquarian" Culpepper is a "queer conservative coopted for nationalist" by unpacking the relations between person, place, and perversion. The film's operative companionability, as described by Dinshaw, was one of an "interdependence of the human social world and the natural world," where such "nature [was] animated by the touch of the human." This haptic quality is also a bounded temporality, since the "land as touched by humans" is also "what remains from that earlier touch into the future." To this end, the "mutual love of place isn't individual but social," and from this Dinshaw teases out how the materiality of place is an affectional, even erotic, preference. The title character, Culpepper, wants to bring men to love of land, and he does this through extremely misogynistic acts of nocturnal discipline. Here, to me, the "ugly disenchantment of war" seems to coalesce with the maniacal energies of a queer national imagining. Still, with her most seemingly of innocent opening questions, Dinshaw asked us to think deeply about the possibilities of "queer love of place," even and perhaps especially when such love finds itself in the negative grip of nationalist longings. But Dinshaw also demonstrated how what she termed this "most traditional of affections," the relation between person and place, resists and even repels absorption into any liberatory scheme. Despite his seemingly conservative desires, Culpepper's love of and kinship with place so exceeds and transgresses the properly objectal relations of place and person. So, Dinshaw helps us, once again, to see the operative perversity within the ostensibly normal. There can thus be something enabling about contemplating the disruptive perversions of local desires for place.

The last day of the conference featured an interesting panel on "Gender vs. Sexuality." I offer below some thoughts, comments, and summaries of some of the work its panelists presented.

Bob Mills, "Back to the Future, or Temporal Drag"
  • "What's queerest about the category of sodomy is its tendency to overlap with other categories" (e.g., religion, nature)
  • "What does it mean to feel the backward tug of certain critical terms?" In asking this, Mills pointed us toward Beth Freeman's work on the potential productivity of the temporal tug backward.
  • In an aside, Mills noted how medievalists have much to contribute to the history and theory of transgender.
  • Reminded us anew that sexual modes of dislocation are not isomorphic with sexual activity; that it's "not just a field of love objects but an intersectional field of bodies, objects, and spaces/times."
Catherine Sanok, "Temporal Virgins"
  • Invoking Butler's work, Sanok asked us to consider anew rather than assuming whether gender is an effect of sexuality in the Middle Ages. In Sanok's reading, the medieval is a crucial period during which gender becomes an effect of sexuality. The suggestion here, as I understand it, is to consider gender as detached from sexuality.
Glenn Burger, "Becoming Undone"
  • Burger pointed how "thinking in terms of oppression and resistance has lead to the recovery of marginal voices but [that] it also obscures what might be asked of this evidence."
  • So, rather than operate according to the "binaristic logic of the 'versus'" Burger suggests "turning to a logic of the 'beside'" (as this is articulated in Sedgwick's Touching Feeling).
  • Much of Burger's talk was taken up with his current project on the "good wife" within the theater of marriage. In his analysis, the "good wife" and the "good man" are co-articulated regimenting principles; that the wife's body is an extension of the husband's such that there is a transgendered dynamic inscribed within the gendered logics of male-female desire; that masculine authority is always articulated in conjunction with femininity; that we see the "good husband" within wider discourses.
  • Her concluded by invoking Butler's recent work on being "undone" as a way of rethinking/remaking the human.
Diane Watt and Clare Lees, "Queer Talking: Sex, Gender, and Collaboration"
  • This co-delivered paper seemed principally focused on what's at stake in collaborating on projects about gender and/or sexuality where what is critical is the creation of "place where disagreements can be productive rather than threatening." These presenters wanted to resist that assumption that "underlying the act of collaboration [is] an imperative to concur."
  • Lees pointed how how Old English studies is slow in discussing the affectivity of/in religious texts
  • Asked us to consider not only where but whose are the Middle Ages.

There's so much more than can be noted, but I will leave that for other posts. What strikes me most about these papers, as I look over my moleskin notes, is how much they coalesce around thematics of affect and time. More to come on this....


Welcome, and thanks for visiting my new blog!

My hope is contribute to the ongoing intellectual activities that have emerged in the blogosphere by offering another place to discuss issues in cultural studies, medieval and early modern literatures, continental philosophy/theory, gender/queer studies, affect and public feeling, and postmodern religion, among other topics. What this blog will not do is engage in divisive political, socio-cultural, or ad hominem attacks or commentary. The blog roll lists what I consider exemplary models for my announced blogging hopes; I hope to add many more links, so please suggest others (or your own!). In the future, I hope also to engage guest bloggers.

Forthcoming posts will focus on recapping and unpacking my recent U.K. conferencing and research trip. I will also be participating in the annual book discussion over at In The Middle. This year we're discussing Carolyn Dinshaw's vitally important, beautifully crafted, and ethically resonant Getting Medieval.

Please come back often and comment frequently!