Sunday, November 23, 2008

Upcoming Event: Cary Howie, December 5

Waiting for the Middle Ages
Cary Howie
Cornell University

What would it mean to wait for the Middle Ages? This talk is an exercise in a poetics of expectation; or, better yet, a poetics of attention, inwhich what we're looking at, what we're attending to, is also what we're waiting for. After all, the Middle Ages, like all the other kinds of middle age, are tough to isolate and quantify; their time repeatedly threatens to disrupt the time of criticism. This may be to ask, for example, what Marie Howe has in common with Tristan; or what the peasants of medieval pastoral share with Odysseus; but it is, above all, to ask what it means to have something in common, and how a past, no less than a future, is something that can all too easily be foreclosed.

Cary Howie is Assistant Professor of French Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature (Palgrave, 2007).

Friday, December 5, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.)
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Upcoming Event: Paul Moses, November 14

"Uncovering the Story of Saint Francis and the Sultan"
Paul Moses
Brooklyn College, The City University of New York

During a major battle in the Fifth Crusade in 1219, Francis of Assisi crossed enemy lines and met with Malik al-Kamil, sultan of Egypt and a nephew of Saladin. Francis did not succeed in his goal of converting the sultan, although, remarkably, he was permitted to preach to him and others in the Muslim camp near Damietta, Egypt for several days. The encounter has largely been presented as an attempt on Francis’ part to achieve martyrdom, a theme initiated in thirteenth-century Franciscan accounts. The enduring image of the meeting is found in a Giotto work in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Based on Bonaventure’s The Major Legend of St. Francis, it depicts Francis challenging the sultan’s religious advisors to an ordeal by fire that would prove who practiced the true religion. But this story, which did not surface until more than forty years after Francis and the sultan met, reflects Bonaventure’s need to portray Francis as highly orthodox, obedient and pro-Crusade at a time when the Franciscan order was under pressure from Rome due to a heresy scandal involving a group of rebellious friars.

To uncover what actually happened, it is necessary to view this event in the context of the larger stories of Francis and Sultan al-Kamil. Concerning the sultan, medieval Christian accounts imply or assert that the sultan secretly wished to be a Christian. But the sultan’s respect for Francis was authentically Islamic, based on passages in the Qur’an about Christian monks and on his interest in Sufism. Francis’ actions have to be considered in the context of his peacemaking; his conversion to a life of piety began in reaction to the trauma he suffered as a soldier and prisoner of war. The events in Egypt can be further understood by examining Francis’ own writings. In particular, his Earlier Rule included a revolutionary provision that the friars live peacefully among Muslims and “be subject” to them, avoiding contentious religious disputes. Francis, who taught largely through example, had approached the sultan unarmed to show Christians a peaceful alternative to the Crusades. He was not on a suicide mission but on a mission of peace.

Paul Moses is a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY and a veteran journalist who has specialized in writing about religion. His book, The Saint and the Sultan, will be published by Doubleday in 2009.

Friday, November 14, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.)
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Re: Longing

Despite the fact that the adjective longus can be used to express lack (longe esse ab aliqua re, i.e. distance as lack), there does not seem to be any Romance equivalent to Germanic and English long as verb meaning to yearn for (as across distance). BUT, there is the fascinating possibility that desire (de-sidero) is originally related to a sense of uncrossable distance in the sense of being away from the stars (cf. considerare). Elena Lombadi's Syntax of Desire goes into this.

Would love to hear more thoughts about how desire itself and in general may be con-sidered as containing a reference to distance, place, space. Or as Erin Labbie put it last night at the beginning of her paper: "Courtly love is always already elsewhere."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Upcoming Lecture - Erin Felicia Labbie - Oct 17

"The Long Drive of Courtly Love: The Distance/Time Ratio of Amor de Longh."
Erin Felicia Labbie
Bowling Green State University

Courtly love is always already elsewhere. Characterized by longing, the stubborn maintenance of the obstacle, sublimation, and the refusal of synthesis, the enigma of courtly love offers a stratified concept of history as well as a critical methodology that relies on distance and a particular queerness that is at the heart of temporal and historical play. What Jacques Lacan calls the ‘meteoric brightness’ of courtly love has the potential to offer a way of thinking about space as time and to extend a layer of temporality to the long history of poetic drives. In the context of a developing queer historiography that has become a refuge for non-linear histories, the long drive of desire and the play between the Middle Ages and instances of modernity that it performs offers a way of viewing the distance and proximity of the politics of literature. This paper seeks to contribute to dynamic conversations about the processes of becoming, textual and identity politics, the vicissitudes of reading the traces of Medieval poetics, the rise of the rules of love, and finding a way of knowing the unknowable elements of desire.

Erin Felicia Labbie is Associate Professor of English at Bowling Green State University. She is the author of Lacan's Medievalism (University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

Friday, October 17, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.)
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Friday, September 19, 2008

NYU Medieval and Renaissance Center Events

Wednesday, September 24 at 6 pm
Auditorium, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò (co-sponsored with the Department of Italian)

"Performing Dress in Renaissance Italy"

Evelyn Welch (Professor of Renaissance Studies, Department of English, Queen Mary, University of London)

Tuesday, September 30 at 6 pm
Room 222, 19 University Place

"Noli me tangere: Cripple Aesthetic, Medieval & Modern Desires"

Christopher Baswell (Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English, Barnard College and Columbia University)

Thursday, October 30 at 7 pm
Room 222, 19 University Place

"Improvisation and the Genesis and Structure of the Quijote"

Roberto Echevarria (Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature, Yale University)

Thursday, November 20 at 6 pm
Room 222, 19 University Place (co-sponsored with CELCE and the Medieval Forum)

'Translating the Diversity of the Middle Ages'

Simon Gaunt (Professor of French, King's College, London)

Thursday, 11 December at 6 pm

Roundtable: "The Ethical and Political Responsibilities of the Medievalist: Iberia and Beyond"

Simon R. Doubleday, Organizer (Associate Professor of History, Hofstra University, and Visiting Scholar, NYU.
Celia Chazelle (Professor of History, The College of New Jersey)
Jerrilynn D. Dodds (Distinguished Professor of Art History and Theory, City University of New York)
María Rosa Menocal ( Director of the Whitney Humanities Center and Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University)
Amy Remensnyder (Associate Professor of History, Brown University)
Jesús Rodríguez Velasco (Visiting Professor of Spanish, Columbia University)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Upcoming Archaeological Events

The New York Society of the Archaeological Institute of America is glad to announce its first three lecture for this coming Fall 2008. We would like to invite you and any member of your Institutions to partecipate. Could you kindly post on your walls and local web site the following information? Thank you.
Sincerily Yours,

Michelle Hobart & Rachel Kouser
Co-chairs of the Lecture Program

September 25: Richard Hodges, U. Of Penn., on excavations at Butrint. Co-sponsored by the Archaeology Committee of the National Arts Club, at the Club, 15 Gramercy Park South. Reception 6:30 P.M., lecture at 7.

‘Butrint’ – at the Cross Road of the Mediterranean

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint – ancient Buthrotum – lies in south-west Albania on the Straits of Corfu. The lecture describes 15 years of excavations encompassing the Bronze Age, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods and how today a successful archaeological park has been created here. The lecture, illustrated with many slides, aims to show how modern excavation methods offers many new interpretations of familiar histories from the=2 0Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods.

October 16: John Pollini, Professor of Classical Art & Archaeology Department of Art History, University of Southern California, Co-sponsored by the New York University Center for Ancient Studies, at Jurow Hall, NYU Washington Square. Lecture at 6:30 P.M., reception to follow.

Christian Destruction and Desecration of Images of Classical Antiquity

In popular culture Christianity is remembered for the art, architecture, customs, rituals, and myths that it preserved from the classical past. It is rarely acknowledged, however, that Christianity also destroyed a great deal in its conversion of the Roman Empire. The material evidence for Christian destruction has often been overlooked or gone unrecognized even by archaeologists. Professor Pollini’s talk examines various forms of Christian destruction and desecration of images of classical antiquity during the fourth to seventh centuries, as well as some of the attendant problems in detecting and making sense of this phenomenon. This talk is based on Professor Pollini’s present book project, “Christian Destruction and Desecration of Images of Classical Antiquity: A Study in Religious Intolerance and Violence in the Ancient World,” for which he received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.

November 13: Brendan Foley, Research Associate, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Co-sponsored by the Onassis Center, 645 Fifth Avenue, entrance on 52 Street, 6:30PM.

Shipwrecks in the Deep Mediterranean

Sea borne trade fueled human development since the Bronze Age, but some constant fraction of sea voyages ended in shipwreck. Working with colleagues in Greece, Italy, Egypt, and Algeria, Dr. Brendan Foley leads an interdisciplinary research team to study ancient civilizations through deep water Mediterranean shipwrecks. New robotic technologies rapidly document wrecks regardless of water depth, as highlighted by investigations of a Classical Greek wreck in the Aegean Sea. The teams' method of extracting ancient DNA from ceramic objects allows unprecedented views of agriculture and early economies. Combined, these advanced techniques provide new understanding of critical moments in human history.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NYU English Department Medieval Forum, Fall 2008 Events

We are pleased to announce the list of events for the NYU English Department Medieval Forum. The Medieval Forum meets fortnightly on Thursday evenings at 6:30pm. All events will be held in 19 University Place, room 224, unless otherwise noted (visitors from outside NYU should bring photo ID to sign into the building). All are welcome!

If you have questions, contact Liza Blake, elizabeth[dot]blake[at]nyu[dot]edu.

NYU English Medieval Forum
Fall 2008 Events

September 11
"'Variety': a study in pre-modern aesthetic values"
Mary Carruthers
(NYU and All Souls College, Oxford)

September 25
"Exempla and Authority in Fifteenth-Century England"
Amanda Leff

October 9
"A Taxonomy of Creatures in the Second-Family Bestiary"
Susan Crane

October 23
"Informing Poetics: Soul, Body and Gender in Chaucer's Rhyme Royal Tales"
Elizabeth Robertson
(University of Colorado, Boulder)

November 6
"Embodied texts, entexted bodies: performance and performative poetics in and of Beowulf"
Mark Amodio
(Vassar College)
Co-sponsored with the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium (ASSC)

November 20
"Translating the diversity of the Middle Ages"
Simon Gaunt
(King's College, London)
Co-sponsored with CELCE and the Medieval and Renaissance Center (MARC)

December 4
"Convert Identity in the Late Middle Ages"
Steven Kruger
(Queens College, CUNY)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Schedule of Events 2008-9

Friday, October 17, 2008, 7:30 PM
The Long Drive of Courtly Love: Amor de Longh and the Object of Desire
Erin Felicia Labbie
Bowling Green State University
The Nineteenth Annual Rossell Hope Robbins Lecture

Friday, November 14, 2008, 7:30 PM
Uncovering the Story of Francis and the Sultan
Paul Moses

Brooklyn College, CUNY

Friday, December 5, 2008, 7:30 PM
Waiting for the Middle Ages
Cary Howie

Cornell University

Friday, February 6, 2009, 6:30 PM
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Choirs of Angels: Painting in Italian Choir Books, 1300–1500
Barbara Boehm

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, March 6, 2009, 7:30 PM
The Antipodes: Maps and Travel Literature about Another World
Matthew Goldie

Rider University

Friday, April 3, 2009, 7:30 PM
Vernacular Verse Encyclopedism in Medieval France: System and System-Failure
Sarah Kay

Princeton University

Friday, May 1, 2009, 7:30 PM
Information by the Way: Townspeople and Cultural Networks in Later Medieval England
David Gary Shaw

Wesleyan University

Unless otherwise noted, all lectures meet at the CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.), Room 4406. Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First NYU English Medieval Forum Event: Mary Carruthers

"'Variety': a study in pre-modern aesthetic values."

Mary Carruthers

Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature, NYU; Professor of English, NYU

Thursday, Sept. 11, 6:30 pm
Room 224 of 19 University Place
(non-NYU visitors, bring a photo ID to sign into the building)

Professor Carruthers will deliver the inaugural talk in the NYU English Department's Medieval Forum. The Medieval Forum will meet fortnightly on Thursday evenings, and all are welcome (a full schedule of speakers and events will follow).

If you have questions, please contact Liza Blake, eab429[at]nyu[dot]edu.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Medieval Club Sponsored Sessions at Kalamazoo

The Medieval Club is sponsoring three sessions at Kalamazoo next year:

Glosynge is a Glorious Thyng: Medieval Studies and the Future of Commentary
(organized by Nicola Masciandaro, not to be confused with CUNY conference with similar theme)

Animals and Ethics
(organized by Karl Steel)

Visibility, Presence, Voice: Theorizing Gender and Authority in Late Medieval Writing
(organized by Katharine Jager)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Glossing is a Glorious Thing -- Call for Papers

Glossing is a Glorious Thing: The Past, Present, and Future of Commentary

The Graduate Center, City University of New York
April 9-10, 2009

Keynote Event
The Future of Commentary, a roundtable discussion with:
David Greetham (CUNY)
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford)
Jesús Rodríguez Velasco (Columbia)
Et al.

Sponsored by:
The Graduate Center and the Ph.D. Program in English, CUNY
Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary


Il y a plus affaire à interpreter les interpretations qu'à interpreter les choses, et plus de livres sur les livres que sur autre subject: nous ne faisons que nous entregloser. Tout fourmille de commentaires; d'auteurs, il en est grand cherté—Montaigne

[There is more to-do interpreting interpretations than interpreting things, more books on books than on any other subject: we do nothing except gloss each other. Everything swarms with commentaries; of authors there is a great lack].

Montaigne’s critique, which does not exclude his own Essais, is emblematic of the ambivalent status of commentary in modernity. Commentary is both an outmoded form of textual production tied to premodern constructions of authority and an indispensable dimension of scholarly work. This ambivalence is most conspicuous within the humanities where the commentary genre, like a popolo minuto of the academic city-state, holds an explicitly subordinate position beneath the monograph, the article, and the essay, however much, and maybe all the more so when, work of these kinds is constituted by commentarial procedures.

But there are clear signs, both intellectual and technological, of return to and reinvention of commentary. Several humanistic auctores of the last century have worked innovatively within the genre: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Martin Heidegger’s lectures on Hölderlin’s “Der Ister,” Roland Barthes’s S/Z, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of Sexual Difference, J.H. Prynne’s They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, et al. In The Powers of Philology, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has described the material situation in which commentary may become ascendant: “The vision of the empty chip constitutes a threat, a veritable horror vacui not only for the electronic media industry but also, I suppose, for our intellectual and cultural self-appreciation. It might promote, once again, a reappreciation of the principle and substance of copia. And it might bring about a situation in which we will no longer be embarrassed to admit that filling up margins is what commentaries mostly do—and what they do best” (53).

This conference proposes a dialogue about the past, present, and future of commentary, not only as an object of intellectual and theoretical inquiry, but also with regard to commentary’s practical potentialities, to its place within the evolution and becoming of academic labor in the lived present. The prospect of a “return” to commentary, whatever forms it may take, renders conspicuous and questionable some of the most hallowed and taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of scholarly practice, for instance: the distinction between primary and secondary text; the primacy of noesis over poesis, or thinking over making; the synthetic, thesis-driven, and polemical character of understanding; and so forth. Presentations that engage with such implications are particularly welcome. Please submit 250-word abstracts by October 1, 2008 to Word attachments preferred.

Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro (, Karl Steel (, Ryan Dobran (

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Heart and Head at Kalamazoo, or, The Displacement of the Entirely Out of Place

“Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man. ‘Gravity, a mysterious carriage of the body to conceal the defects of the mind’—Laurence Sterne” (Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, p.13).

Jeffrey Cohen's recent disembodiment, Karl Steel's counting of tears, Eileen Joy's profession of love, and Dan Remein's shimmering essay on being-together as theoretical practice and communistic labor recall to me the truth of these lines which, in a fit of shy humanistic terrorism, I once wrote on the chalkboard of an empty classroom about 20 years ago in the hopeful fantasy of their affecting unknown others in a manner that would create and confirm our invisible friendship. Now (not just now, but now including all the nows up to now), this note, which shared in the logic of Eileen's ethical "as if" and Anna Klosowska's insights about the posthumous futurism of non sequitur at the Place of the Present and Why Am I Me? panels at Kalamazoo, respectively, seems to be taking effect, or rather, is finding its way back to me, like Macarius's grapes, back to my future, or rather, is being revealed to be not my note at all, but ours, or rather everyone's and no one's, an index and instance of the possession of what can not be possessed, the proverbial treasure that increases when shared, or rather . . .

So, a couple comments:

First, about place. The framing of the question of the presentness of scholarship in terms of place is more than rhetorical or metaphorical. I.e. it does not mean role, much less topic in the weak sense, but has everything to do with the present as the topos of our work in the fullest sense, as the placeless, always present place where we and it take place. This was confirmed in the shared vocabulary of the presentations at the Place of the Present session (wandering, restless, affective, performative, presence, peripatetic, mendicant/monastic, communal, beside) which nearly took on the structure of a fugal composition on the theme of Sufistic Medieval Studies, with Nancy Partner's opening remarks serving as the generative countersubject, if I understand my music theory correctly (which I don't). For the place of the wandering scholar, in all the senses that this figure had meaning at the panel, is precisely the place of effective and affective embodiment, the ongoing present of our own taking place. To recognize this is not for one second to deny--clearly the obvious is what most needs repeating--the real specific material ends (public, political, pedagogical, philosophical, etc) for which scholarship can and should "most rigorous[ly]" work, as Steven Kruger's comment about good work made clear. Rather, to recognize the academic's performative, communal, brushed-up-against body as the placeless place of scholarly practice, is precisely the opposite, namely, the finding of the very space and means and opening for the actual realization of those ends. But this is not something that criticism or rather the critical subject, enthroned in the tomb of its Cartesian detachment, subsisting in the dungeon tower of 'if only' rather than wandering in the paradise deserts of 'as if,' is comfortable with. Such comfort belongs rather to the third area of the proto-discursive and the post-civilized:

"The localization of culture and play . . . is neither within nor outside of the individual, but in a 'third area,' distinct both 'from interior psychic reality and from the effective world in which the individual lives'[Winnicott]. The topology that is here expressed . . . has always been known to children, fetishists, 'savages,' and poets. It is in this 'third area' that a science of man truly freed of every eighteenth-century prejudice should focus its study. Things are not outside of us, in measurable external space, like neutral objects (ob-jecta) of use and exchange; rather, they open to us the original place solely from which the experience of measurable external space becomes possible. They are therefore held and comprehended from the outset in the topos outopos (placeless place, no-place place) in which our experience of being-in-the-world is situated. The question 'where is the thing?' is inseparable from the question 'where is the human?' Like the fetish, like the toy, things are not properly anywhere, because their place is found on this side of objects and beyond the human in a zone that is no longer objective or subjective, neither personal nor impersonal, neither material nor immaterial, but where we find ourselves suddenly facing [like Karl Steel before an animal, and the animal before you] these apparently so simple unknows: the human, the thing." (Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, p.59).

Second, about torture and philosophy. At the Place of the Present panel I unsuccessfully posed or perhaps poorly articulated a question about what I perceived to be the philosophical agon "behind" the presentations, namely, the contest between the Cartesian subject (o the misfortune of nominal adjectives) which by believing in its rational transcendence of the world only ends up reducing itself to another, 'mere' thing in the world (cf. Agamben's definition of evil in Coming Community) and the phenomenological subject which sees itself as an inexplicable presence whose inherent wonder attends to and inhabits every act of world-making and understanding, as the place of the never ending beginning of philosophy. That my question was answered by an intentional non sequitur to the issue of torture is, now that I think about it, the best possible and the most telling of answers. For just as torture intends to disclose, materialize, prove the tortured subject only to destroy it, so is concern for torture the perfect place for the critical subject to hide (not that it might not do good work while it is there, caveat, bla bla, etc.) most intimately and unconsciously from itself and others.

So, lastly, it was lovely to see (and feel and know and witness) the displacement of the entirely out of place by the taking-place of medieval studies. All told, it was like being in several places at once, being antipodally (Cf. Matthew Boyd Goldie's wonderful paper on the antipodes), with and without a globe between. Je est un autre. Which of course is the work of love, the philia that forever haunts philosophy from the inside.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

See You in Kalamazoo

The Medieval Club is sponsoring the following sessions at Kalamazoo:

Why Am I Me? On Being Born in the Middle Ages I (Session 280)
Sponsor: Medieval Club of New York
Organizer: Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Presider: Richard H. Godden, Washington Univ. in St. Louis

"The Sorrow of Being in the Cloud of Unknowing"
Nicola Masciandaro

"Being Silly: On Non Sequitur"
Anna Klosowska, Miami Univ. of Ohio

"Losing Anthropocentrism: Folcuin’s Horse, Yvain’s Lion, and the Two Trueloves"
Karl Steel, Brooklyn College, CUNY

"Dying Is an Art, like Everything Else: The Lowly, Unsettled Aesthetics of Guthlac-Becoming"
Eileen A. Joy, Southern Illinois Univ.–Edwardsville

Why Am I Me? On Being Born in the Middle Ages II (Session 333)
Sponsor: Medieval Club of New York
Organizer: Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Presider: Nicola Masciandaro

"Contradictions towards Identity in Wolfram von Eschenbach and Meister Eckhart"
Claire Taylor Jones, Univ. of Pennsylvania

"The Shifting Example of Knighthood in Ywain and Gawain"
Debbie Killingsworth, Univ. of Colorado–Boulder

"'Ce que Christine dit': Self-Scrutiny in Christine de Pizan’s Le livre de l’advision Cristine"
Julie Fifelski, Fordham Univ.

The Global Middle Ages (Session 587)
Sponsor: Medieval Club of New York
Organizer: Matthew Boyd Goldie, Rider Univ.
Presider: Nicola Masciandaro, Brooklyn College, CUNY

"William of Rubruck’s Mission to Asia: Travel Writing and the Medieval Contact Zone"
Rebecca Campbell, Univ. of Western Ontario

"Windows on the World in Fifteenth-Century Venice: Geography, Cartography, and the Eyewitness Traveler"
Marianne O’Doherty, Univ. of Southampton

"Earthly Motions: The Antipodes and Antipodeans"
Matthew Boyd Goldie

See you (whoever you are) there!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Upcoming Event: Denis Renevey

"Out of Darkness, or Why and How the Fifteenth-Century Middle English Doctrine of the Heart Matters"
Denis Renevey
University of Lausanne

Friday, May 2, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.)
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Denis Renevey, Professor of English (UNIL), is the author of Language, Self and Love: Hermeneutics in the Writings of Richard Rolle and the Commentaries on the Song of Songs (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2001) as well as numerous articles on medieval mystical texts. He is also co-editor, with Christiana Whitehead, of Writing Religious Women: Female Spiritual and Textual Practices in Late Medieval England (Cardiff: University of Wales Press; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Upcoming Event: Maria Rosa Menocal

"Remembering Medieval Spain in the Twenty-First Century"
Maria Rosa Menocal
Yale University

Friday, April 4, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.),
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

Maria Rosa Menocal is Sterling Professor of Humanities in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale University and Director of the Whitney Humanities Center. She is the author of The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage (1987); Writing in Dante's Cult of Truth: From Borges to Boccaccio (1991); Shards of Love: Exile and the Origins of the Lyric (1994); and The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Christians, and Jews Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nutus Divinus, or, Everything Depends on Seeing Each Other

I am teaching The Life of Christina of Markyate tomorrow and this passage catches my eye as incredibly relevant to much that was said at the friendship panel:

"The virgin of God lay prostrate in the old man's chapel, with her face turned to the ground. The man of God stepped over her with his face averted in order not to see her. But as he passed by he looked over his shoulder to see how modestly the handmaid of Christ had composed herself for prayer, as this was one of the things whic he thought those who pray ought to observe. Yet she, at the same instant, glanced upwards to appraise the bearing and deportment of the old man, for in these she considered that some trace of his great holiness was apparent. And so they saw each other, not by design and yet not by chance, but, as afterwards became clear, by the divine will [divino nuto]. For if they had not had a glimpse of each other, neither would have presumed to live with the other in the confined space of that cell: they would not have dwelt together : they would not have been stimulated by such heavenly desire, nor would they have attained such a lofty place in heaven. The fire, namely, which had been kindled by the spirit of God and burned in each one of them cast its sparks into their hearts by the grace of that mutual glance [gratia mutue visionis]: and so made one in heart and soul in chastity and charity in Christ, they were not afraid to dwell together under the same roof" (ed. and tr. Talbot, 101-3, my italics).

Cf. a passage Eileen cited here: "Claustrophilia . . . names the love that lights up a body, building, or book, from within, acknowledging what is discrete and irreconcilable in the beloved as the effect of one's own appropriative, organizing gaze. Relinquishing that desire for appropriation, one sees each former object in light of another, and thus beyond the logic of objectification: a light, hermeneutic and mnemonic, always refracted, always coming from elsewhere" (Howie, Claustrophilia, 151-52).

Claustrophiliac friendship, the love of/in enclosure, is ocular, a mutual dwelling housed in the projection of the eye's, our eyes', containment of the world.

In Memory of Elaine Block

Elaine Block passed away on Friday. Judith Bronfman has kindly sent along this notice:

"I know that many of our Saints' group and the Medieval Club knew Elaine Block, who passed away last night. The funeral service will be private, but a memorial service is being planned for later in the spring.

For those who didn't know her, Elaine was an amazing woman, who probably knew every misericord and choir stall in Western Europe (and had photographed all of them). Her projected five-volume Corpus of Misericords, published by Brepols, was underway; two volumes (France and Iberia) were out and a third was in its final proofing stage. With Frederic Billiet, she had just published the Lexicon (also Brepols), a dictionary of the terms for misericords and choir stalls, regularizing usage among languages.

If anyone wishes to make a donation in her memory, checks should be made out to Misericordia International and mailed to Randall Block, 45 Lafayette Road, Newton, MA 02462. The funds may be used to help with the Misericordia International colloquium scheduled for June in France.

Thank you for helping to communicate this sad news to those who knew and loved Elaine."

Here is a link to the Misericordia International website.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Friendship, Continued

Eileen, Franco, Yoshihisa, thanks again for a very enjoyable conversation last night. As a response, some prose: "To live in intimacy with a stranger, not in order to draw him closer, or to make him known, but rather to keep him strange, remote: unapparent -- so unapparent that his name contains him entirely. And, even in discomfort, to be nothing else, day after day, than the ever open place, the unwaning light in which that one being, that thing, remains forever exposed and sealed off" (Agamben, The Idea of Prose, 61). And a poem.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Upcoming Event: The Subjects of Friendship, Medieval and Medievalist

Friday, March 7, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.)
Room 4406.

Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

The Subjects of Friendship, Medieval and Medievalist
Panel presentation and discussion

"Thomas Aquinas on the Ontology of Amicitia"
Yoshihisa Yamamoto

"Between What is Ours, and What is Not Ours: Claustrophilia, Anachronism, Friendship"
Eileen Joy

"Notes on Dante's Poetics of Friendship"
Franco Masciandaro

Yoshihisa Yamamoto is Associate Professor of philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Chiba University (Japan). He is currently Visiting Scholar at the School of Philosophy of The Catholic University of America. He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tokyo. He was also visiting scholar at the Warburg Institute (University of London). He has published on Aquinas's ethics and metaphysics as well as on medieval Arabic Philosophy.

Eileen Joy is Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and her main interests are in Old English literature, cultural studies, embodied affectivities, and ethics. She has published articles and book chapters on: "Beowulf" and suicide terrorism; Tony Kushner's play "Homebody/Kabul" and the Old English poem "The Ruin"; eros and the Old English legend "The Seven Sleepers"; the Anglo-Latin "Wonders of the East" and the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, India; and the intellectual history of early modern bibliography. She is the co-editor of "The Postmodern Beowulf: A Critical Casebook" (West Virginia University Press, 2007), "Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and "Premodern to Modern Humanisms: The BABEL Project" (special issue, Journal of Narrative Theory 37.2 [Summer 2007]), and is also working on two monograph projects, tentatively titled "Postcard from the Volcano: Beowulf, Memory, History" and "We Must Speak What We Feel: Eros, Love, Regard and the Humanities."

Franco Masciandaro is Professor of Italian and Director of the Italian Program at the University of Connecticut. A specialist in Dante and medieval and Renaissance literature, he is the author of La problematica del tempo nella Commedia (Longo, 1976), Dante as Dramatist: The Myth of the Earthly Paradise and Tragic Vision in the Divine Comedy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), La Conoscienza Viva: Letture fenomenologiche da Dante a Machiavelli (Longo, 1998), as well as many articles on Dante, Machiavelli, Ariosto, and Boccaccio. He is currently writing a book on the poetics of friendship.

p.s. a pre-event conversation is already well under way over at In The Middle.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

. . . and the Baby-Chopper

Thank you Laura Smoller for a very interesting lecture. Here is a continuation of some post-lecture thoughts.

I was particularly struck, as I mentioned last night, by the consistent withholding of judgment on the wife's butchering of her baby in the narratives. Following the lead of the symbolic/allegorical significance of the dismembered and reintegrated body in light of the Schism, one possible reading is that this withholding has to do with the preservation of the literal as a mere container for the symbolic, or more simply, with maintaining the proper hagiographic focus on the miracle. In these terms the woman is very simply the means of getting the baby chopped up so that it can be healed and in a sense spiritually birthed by the saint (Gloria Steinem gave a nice description of this patriarchal function in a recent lecture recorded at Yale, listenable here).

Yet the possibility that the narratives’ withholding of judgment on the mother is more deeply a way of preserving something significant in the literal act of butchering her baby is hard to ignore, especially in comparison to the Mary of Jerusalem story where cooking your baby equals self-condemnation in an irreversible and extravagant way. Even to speak of this and notice it as “withholding” seems to acknowledge that there is something else going on, that the intention to serve up one’s child may be following a logic that the meaning of the story somehow requires. One possibility, to follow Karl Steel’s paper last Kalamazoo on the (mostly virtual) deliciousness of manflesh as an index of the discursivity of the human (available to read here), is that the baby butchering has to do with a transgression of the animal/human boundary which only serves to maintain it, precisely because the intention to transgress it acknowledges in a profane/literal/material way that very superiority, namely, through the fact that the dead human body is not only meat but the choicest meat and that the serving of baby flesh, whether as sacrifice or gourmandise or an interrelationship of the two, is really the perfect way, in the sense of an impossible limit (like death), to follow your husband's meal orders or honor the saint who is coming to supper.

Which means that I am now fixated on the ape in the painting (see previous post, source?), who is placed above the regeneration miracle narrative and opposite the human in the other window, who is above the kitchen. Where the ape is looking downward and eating, the man is looking upward at/through something (anybody know?) and, maybe, knowing. I will resist the historicistically irresponsible temptation to spell out a detailed reading of this painting as representing a kind of factory for the production of transcendent human identity, but I think it could be captioned very productively with this statement from Agamben's The Open: "The anthropological machine of humanism is an ironic apparatus that verifies the absence of a nature proper to Homo, holding him suspended between a celestial and a terrestrial nature, between animal and human -- and thus, his being always less and more than himself" (29).

In these terms the miracle story, as about the unmaking and remaking of a human, has interesting similarities to the late medieval story about the origin of the apes, which later made its way into Grimms' Tales. The story goes, according to Janson's paraphrase: "Christ and St. Peter stop at a blacksmith’s shop, where they were hospitably received. To show His gratitude, Christ took the blacksmith’s old and ugly wife and placed her in the fire of the forge, from which she emerged young and strong as a girl of fifteen. As soon as the two travelers had taken their leave, the blacksmith tried to rejuvenate another old woman by the same procedure, but when he thrust her into the flames she screamed so pitifully that he had to take her out again. Two pregnant women, who witnessed all this, were so shocked when they saw the old woman hideously blackened and shriveled like an ape that shortly thereafter they gave birth to two apes. These escaped into the forest, where they multiplied and thus became the progenitors of the entire simian tribe" (H. W. Janson, Apes and Ape Lore, 97). Here the craftsman's labor is a medium of likeness between man and the divine Artifex as well as a means of transgression that, when it overreaches its limit through an impossible copying of what is beyond it, produces the greater unlikeness of the hyper-mimetic hybrid as a secondary, grotesque creation. Does the Ferrer story incorporate a comparable principle regarding the differently structured domestic labor of the wife who, rather than doing what she wants without understanding, which is the manner of the blacksmith, does what she must with a kind of superb animal rationality?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Upcoming Event: Laura Smoller

"The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: Shaping the Image of St. Vincent Ferrer"
Laura Smoller
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Friday, February 15, 2008, 7:30 PM
CUNY Graduate Center (365 Fifth Ave. @ 34th St.),
Room 4406.
Reception, with wine and cheese, follows.

In 1453, a woman testifying about the miracles of Dominican preacher Vincent Ferrer reported that the potential saint's intercession had restored a baby who had been cut to pieces by his meat-craving, pregnant mother. Even at that point, the story had something of a folkloric life of its own. After Vincent's 1455 canonization, this miracle was frequently depicted in art and hagiography. In this talk, Smoller explores how this single, bizarre miracle tale became crucial to the emerging image of the new saint, addressing nagging doubts about the holy preacher's career and loyalties.

Laura Smoller received her Ph.D. in History from Harvard University in 1991 and subsequently taught 6 years at Stanford University before returning to her native Arkansas to join the faculty at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is the author of History, Prophecy, and the Stars: The Christian Astrology of Pierre d’Ailly as well as numerous articles on late medieval astrology, eschatology, and miracles. She is currently working on a book entitled The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer and the Religious Life of the Later Middle Ages, work that has been supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A future book project, Astrology and the Sibyls: Routes to Religious Truth in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, arises from work she did on the Bolognese lawyer and amateur astrologer John of Legnano in 2003-06 in conjunction with the research group “Knowledge and Belief” sponsored by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.