Professor and Chair Jeffrey Cohen has published a new collection of essays on the uneasy co-existence of multiple cultures in medieval Britain. Details are here and below. The book is in harmony with the English Department’s desire to explore how most literature emerges from within multilingual and culturally mixed contexts. The book is also related to the themes of the new GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, which has its own blog.
Through close readings of both familiar and obscure medieval texts, the contributors to this volume attempt to read England as a singularly powerful entity within a vast geopolitical network. This capacious world can be glimpsed in the cultural flows connecting the Normans of Sicily with the rulers of England, or Chaucer with legends arriving from Bohemia. It can also be seen in surprising places in literature, as when green children are discovered in twelfth-century Yorkshire or when Welsh animals begin to speak of the long history of their land’s colonization. The contributors to this volume seek moments of cultural admixture and heterogeneity within texts that have often been assumed to belong to a single, national canon, discovering moments when familiar and bounded space erupt into unexpected diversity and infinite realms.
“This intriguing collection of essays sets out to trouble the myth of the English nation, calling into question the wholeness, autonomy, insularity, and inevitability of the political entity we now call the British Isles. Cohen’s ‘infinite realms project’ recasts the island (the symbol of totality and autonomy) as an archipelago (a symbol of fragmentation and interdependence) whose current political configuration can in no way simply be read back into the past. The essays, on texts both familiar and arcane, not only invite us to rethink the textual canons of Great Britain’s four main ethnic groups, but more radically to interrogate the fictiveness of political identity itself. This is not just another collection touting ‘cultural diversity’ among hypostasized identities; these essays invite us to reimagine political collectivities, rethinking the ways in which they encounter one another, clash, assimilate, and reform around new identities.”–Laurie A. Finke, Kenyon College and co-author of King Arthur and the Myth of History
About the Author
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is Professor and Chair of English, George Washington University. He is the author of Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain; Medieval Identity Machines; Of Giants; and the editor of The Postcolonial Middle Ages; Thinking the Limits of the Body; Becoming Male in the Middle Ages; and Monster Theory.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Infinite Realms–Jeffrey Jerome Cohen * Between Diaspora and Conquest: Norman Assimilation in Marie de France’s Esope and Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis–Suzanne Conklin Akbari * Reliquia: Writing Relics in Anglo-Norman Durham–Heather Blurton * Cultural Difference and the Meaning of Latinity in Asser’s Life of King Alfred–David Townsend * Green Children from Another World, or The Archipelago in England–Jeffrey Jerome Cohen * Beyond British Boundaries in the Historia regum Britanniae–Michael Wenthe * Arthur’s Two Bodies and the Bare Life of the Archives–Kathleen Biddick * The Instructive Other Within: Secularized Jews in The Siege of Jerusalem–Randy P. Schiff * Subversive Histories: Strategies of Identity in Scottish Historiography–Katherine Terrell * Sleeping with an Elephant: Wales and England in the Mabinogion–Jon Kenneth Williams* Chaucer and the War of the Maidens–John Ganim * The Signs and Location of a Flight (or Return?) of Time: The Old English Wonders of the East and the Gujarat Massacre–Eileen Joy
On Thursday April 24 Kathleen Biddick will be coming to GW as part of our Medieval and Early Modern Studies Seminar. She will be speaking on “THE POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF THE ARCHIVE: REFLECTIONS ON A PROJECT.” All are welcome.
A professor of history at Temple University, Kathleen Biddick is the pathbreaking author of The Shock of Medievalism and The Typological Imaginary: Circumcision, History, Technology as well as numerous essays and articles. Her work matches a sophisticated use of theory to a probing analysis of the postcolonial Middle Ages.
Here is the tentative schedule for the spring meetings of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Seminar (or GW MEMS, as we like to call it). The seminar is open to anyone who is interested in attending. Anyone not on our email list who would like to be may contact the seminar’s rapporteur, Lowell Duckert < email@example.com>.
All meetings take place in the conference room of the GW English Department (801 22nd St NW, Rome Hall 771). The seminar starts at 9 AM and concludes by 11. A breakfast of coffee and pastries is served. Papers circulate a week in advance. We look forward to your participation.
Feb. 15 Lindsay Kaplan (Georgetown University), Augustine’s doctrine of Jewish inferiority and the medieval development of racial thinking
March 14 Jonathan Hsy (George Washington University), Margery Kempe and travel literature
April 11 (afternoon meeting) Panel on the archive, with special guests. Details soon.
April 25 Four graduate students from Gil Harris’s “Becoming Indian” seminar will present their work
The Medieval and Early Modern Studies Seminar was launched last month with a terrific paper by Professor Gil Harris, “The Writing on the Wall: Old Jewry and John Stow’s Urban Palimpsest.” During its initial semester the seminar will focus upon faculty work in progress, with papers circulating two weeks in advance of each meeting. The second meeting will be held on Friday, October 26th from 9-11 AM in Rome 771. Coffee and refreshments will be served. Holly Dugan will be presenting her paper entitled “Queer histories of sexual violence and the role of wonder: r(ape) in late medieval and early modern England.”
An abstract is provided below. The paper is ready for distribution. RSVP to the seminar’s rapporteur Lowell Duckert [lduckert[at]gwu.edu] and he will send you a copy. Please also contact Lowell if you would like to be added to our email distribution list.
This paper explores that which is rarely included in historiographies of rape: tales of animal ravishment. In this article, I examine two such examples in great detail: the late medieval romance of Alexander and its staging of rape as a test of humanity and an early modern natural history’s mining of this tale for ethnographic data. Both tales assume that animals desire women and that, if given an opportunity, animals will violently act on such desire. As such, both are tales of-and tales that inspire-wonder. They neither serve as stable historical evidence, nor solely as literary embellishment. Because they flout categorical distinctions, these examples seem both monstrous and mundane. Are these accounts of rape, sodomy, or buggery? Do such categorical distinctions matter to the logic of the tale? What do literary tales about sex with animals have to do with sexual practices in the period? When is a sexual act violent and when is it pleasurable? How do feminist and queer methodologies change the answer to this question? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what might it mean to examine the heteronormative structure of rape as a queer narrative effect? Using these two examples, I theorize how Alexander’s tale of r(ape) underscores the usefulness of wonder to understanding a queer history of sexual violence.
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