Monday, November 28, 2011

Glenn Burger

CUNY Graduate Center, English Department (Rm 4409)

Friday, December 2, 7:30

“‘Ful lik a moder’: The Affective Circuit in the Griselda Story”

In Boccaccio’s version of the Griselda story, not only does Walter insist on his right to choose Griselda, but he offers Griselda the chance to explicitly and freely choose him in turn. In doing so, Boccaccio underscores how the bonds of marriage construct authority by virtue of an affective contract agreed to by both partners. And it is this affective contract, as much as Griselda’s obedience that is threatened by Walter’s excessive testing of Griselda’s obedience in the later action of the tale.

Boccaccio’s account of affect and emotion, however, remains a largely biologic one of “doing what comes naturally.” In his humanist Latin translation of Boccaccio’s story, Petrarch develops a much more complex representation of Griselda’s affective contract with Walter, one that explores how steadfastness functions as an emotion that is made rather than simply called up from within a pre-formed self. Petrarch’s reworks the Griselda story in order to construct an affective circuit that not only links author and reader with Griselda, but also the humanist author with his masculine audience. The performative acts of reading and displays of affect management made possible by this affective circuit thereby allow these masculine subjects to register a level of self-knowledge and agential wisdom that their “betters” do not always display.

Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale on the one hand echoes and intensifies Petrarch’s focus on an affectively understood ethical subject position. On the other hand this very intensification of affect forestalls the Petrarchan impulse to “read like a man” and move to socialize affect in appropriately authoritative ways. In moments such as Griselda’s final swoon, feeling here operates as a more powerful, creative, and disruptive force than Petrarch’s affective circuit would allow for. As such, rather than working to construct the kind of emotional community Petrarch’s affective circuit attempts, the Clerk’s emphasis on Griselda’s embodiment of a pre-social, pre-individual affective remainder works to produce what Sarah McNamer has called “an upheaval of thought” on the part of the tale’s audience.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Upcoming MCNY Panel

Sex in Muslim and Christian Marriage Law

Friday, November 4, 2011

CUNY Graduate Center • 365 Fifth Avenue
English Department Lounge • Room 4409

Wine and cheese reception following the talk

The abstracts for the panelists talks are below:

Marion Katz, New York University
Sex as a Marital Right and Duty in Islamic Law
It has long been widely argued, by Muslim feminists as well as academic historians, that Islamic law recognizes a woman's right to sexual intercourse as an entitlement of the marital relationship. More recently, it has been demonstrated that in early Islamic legal texts, marital sex is conceptualized as a male right and a female duty within a asymmetrical and gendered set of marital obligations. This paper examines the arguments of some later Islamic scholars, working in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries C.E., who offered interpretations of the marital relationship newly emphasizing that the entitlement to sexual contact was gender-neutral and reciprocal. This conceptual reconfiguration involved rethinking the roles of sex and domestic labor within a marital relationship that they continued to envision as gendered and hierarchical, a shift that affected their understanding of the roles of concubines as well as wives.

Sara McDougall, John Jay College
In medieval western Europe rules for the sexual conduct of married Christians included both prohibitions and requirements for lawful sexual activity. Canon law demanded that husbands and wives alike have sexual relations only with each other. If prohibited from extramarital relationships spouses were not only encouraged but required to have sex whenever a spouse asked for what is known as the marital debt or duty. Canon law condemned adultery and required the marital debt largely in gender-neutral terms. If some canonists and especially theologians considered female adultery a worse offense than male adultery, other canonists urged the contrary, arguing that men, as the responsible sex, should be held to higher standards. When addressing the marital debt, canonists presented this obligation in starkly equal terms. Gender played no role in the rules for how and when the debt should be rendered. We might expect that these gender neutral principles, when applied, treated men and women quite differently. My paper will address the application of these rules by the bishop's court of Troyes, in Northeastern France.

Miriam Shadis, Ohio University
Protected Sex: secular concubinage in theory, contract, and practice in Medieval Iberia
Scholars have written at length on the theory and practice of medieval concubinage, especially when it comes to the early middle ages, and when it comes to clerical concubinage (and its fraught cousin, clerical marriage.) I turn my attention to what I call “political sex work,” and examine the actual practice of barraganía, or concubinage at the royal courts of twelfth and thirteenth century Iberia, considering the legal expectations surrounding the relationship of the king and his concubine, and the protected status of their real and potential offspring. In particular, I am considering the idea of a “contract” related to this practice, and thinking about it comparatively to the Iberian arras, or dower agreement, given to Iberian women by their husbands well into the thirteenth century.

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Speculative Medievalisms Aftermath

Speculative Medievalisms Aftermath

This is a brief and belated post re the Speculative Medievalisms conference last Friday. Thank you, Eileen Joy et alia, for a wonderful and lively program.

For those of you who missed it, or, like me, had to run in and out, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen presents a colorful overview over at In The Middle (and even shares his paper here).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Medieval Club of New York Schedule of Events 2011 - 2012

All lectures (with the exception of the museum visit) take place at 7:30 p.m at the:

CUNY Graduate Center
English Department, Room 4409
365 Fifth Avenue

Events are followed by a wine and cheese reception.

Friday September 16
Speculative Medievalisms Conference
CUNY Graduate Center
For more information see:

Friday October 14
RUBIN MUSEUM VISIT (*Please note date and location change)
"Pilgrimage and Faith : Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam"
159 West 17th Street

Friday November 4
PANEL: "Sex in Muslim and Christian Marriage Law"
Marion Holmes Katz, New York University
Miriam Shadis, Ohio University
Sara McDougall, John Jay College

Friday December 2
"'Ful lik a moder': The Affective Circuit in the Griselda Story"
Glenn Burger, Queens College and CUNY Grad Center

Friday February 3
"Post-Anglo-Saxon: Early Saints in the Later Middle Ages"
Karen Overbey, Tufts University

Friday March 2
"The Golden Age of Anglo-Norman Historiography—or What Connects the Works of William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon and Geoffrey of Monmouth"
Paul Hayward, University of Lancaster

CANCELLED Friday April 6
"Writing, Numeracy, and the Poetics of Reckoning in Late-Medieval England"
Martha Rust, New York University

Due to terrible scheduling on our part, Dr. Rust's talk was scheduled for both Good Friday and the first day of Passover. Unfortunately, we were not able to reschedule her for this year. We encourage all of our members to attend the "Digital Middle Ages and the Renaissance" conference that will be held at NYU on the following Friday, April 13. We will be sure to get Dr. Rust's lecture on our fall schedule! Our February, March, and May talks will all proceed as scheduled!

Friday May 4
The Twenty-Second Annual Rossell Hope Robbins Lecture
"The Medieval, the Pagan and Us"
Sarah Salih, Kings College, London

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2012 Kalamazoo Call for Papers

The Medieval Club of New York is sponsoring two sessions for the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, 2012 (May 10-13) on the subject of Medieval New York.

These sessions engage with medieval artifacts and medieval-inspired themes in New York City. We invite papers for one session that deals both with permanent collections and structures in New York, such as the Pierpont Morgan collection and the Cloisters, and with passing exhibitions such as the medieval fashion exhibit at the Morgan Library or the Rubin exhibition on Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim pilgrims. We invite papers for a second session that deals more broadly with medieval-inspired themes and medievalism -- films that deal with the medieval in modern New York (e.g.The Fisher King) or the ways in which the medieval is incorporated into the modern city (e.g. in architecture). These sessions will appeal to an interdisciplinary body of scholarship (art history, literature, film, popular culture), and are open to all scholars regardless of New York affiliation.

Please send an abstract, along with the paper proposal form (found at, to Jennifer N. Brown at by September 10, 2011.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We are currently in the process of planning our 2011-2012 series of lectures. Please check here for updates soon. If you would like to be on our email list, please send an email to with your information.

Thank you!

Jennifer N. Brown, President
Valerie Allen, Vice President
Sara McDougall, Secretary
Emily Tai, Treasurer