Friday, August 01, 2008

The Time of Medievalism

At the NCS congress in Swansea, it was clear that there was a renewed interest in medievalism. There were a couple of panels on the topic, echoing the series of panels organised by David Matthews at Leeds, the previous week, while Carolyn Dinshaw's paper on Michael Powell's 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale, as a meditation on time and spatiality in our connections with the medieval, really gave the field a new impetus, though David Wallace's Presidential Address at NCS in New York two years ago, had similarly made a strategic point of affirming the interest of medievalism to medieval studies.

Of course there is already a journal, Studies in Medievalism, devoted to the subject, and an annual conference, and all; but work in this field has tended to take place adjacent to, rather than in much dialogue with, medieval studies. It's interesting to see this new wave of interest.

On a more personal note, during one of the medievalism panels at Swansea, my co-author and I were both in the audience, dithering in different parts of the room as to whether we should stand up and draw attention to an essay we had recently published, that rehearsed some of the moves being presented in that panel. We maintained our scholarly modesty, and did not do so, though it is by no means an unheard-of thing to do. Just seemed a bit unseemly, is all.

But what the hell? A blog is different; and I'll self-promote here if I want to.

In the latest issue of New Medieval Literatures (volume 9, for 2007), Tom Prendergast and I have an essay, "What is Happening to the Middle Ages?" It derives a little from the talk I gave at NCS in July, 2006. We talk about the opposition between medieval studies and medievalism studies, and argue that medieval studies often abjects the latter as involving too much pleasure to be taken seriously. The real "work" belongs to medieval studies proper. "Contemporary medievalism is now tarred by the same brush that in conservative circles continues to dismiss cultural studies as mere chat about television, cinema and the Internet; that is the accusation that there is too much pleasure, too little work in its study." We also suggest that while the opposition between the medieval and the post-medieval is a crucial component in the formation of the modern subject "who thus emerges as capable of both forgetting and remembering the past," this dynamic also characterises the relationship medieval men and women had with their own past; that the medieval is just as often medievalising, as it is not. That is, that the opposition between medieval and post-medieval, medievalist or even, we might say, the non-medieval, is never as crystalline as the strictest medieval scholars might like to maintain. That in fact, the medieval is always being made, by medieval scholars, as well as by popularising medievalists.

And, what's more ... the essay is followed by a response from Carolyn Dinshaw, which in part takes up some of her paper given at the New York NCS, on Rip van Winkle, engaging with the pleasure of this text, and its "temporal heterogeneity", courting the dangerous threats to one's professional identity as a medieval scholar that might ensue from engaging with popular fiction. What's not to like about that?

I'm just saying...

7 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

Nah, you should have screamed and kicked.

I mean, either they'd read your essay or not read it. Either they weren't keeping up with their field, or they were doing something Much Worse.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Oh, you're tough! I don't know: it's pretty hard to read everything, isn't it?

Pavlov's Cat said...

I guess. Harder now than of yore, too.

Karl Steel said...

it's pretty hard to read everything, isn't it?

Well, yeah, but it's not as though you published it in Gdansk College's Journal of Applied Obscurity....

Rick Godden said...

Stephanie, I'm quite looking forward to reading yours and Tom's essay in NML when I can get my hands it. I've been intrigued by some of these questions for a while concerning medievalism (as you know), and I'm currently, well, obsessed would be the right word, with the way that medieval men and women relate to their own past. I think the double move of remembering and forgetting is the central move of relating to one's past. At least that's what I'm exploring right now.

And, it sounds like you've been quite the globetrotter of late. Hope to see you again in the near future.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Karl, great name for a journal! Reminds me of a talk that was once advertised in the Philosophy department at Melbourne: "Something about Vagueness".

Nice to hear from you, Rick, and to know you are still working on this fascinating topic. I like very much to think about temporalities, etc. being a topic of equal interest to scholars of medievalism as of medieval studies.

Globetrotting? I like to think I have cut down a little, but I see I am going to be in the US, at Riverside, in November, and again next May. Hmmm. Would be good to catch up, though.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Better the Journal of Applied Obscurity than the Journal of Pure Obscurity.