Diverse folk diversely they demed;
As many heddes as manye wittes there been.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Squires Tale

Friday, 3 May 2013

Going to the (Kalama)zoo

In less than a week I'll be off to the Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress - my second visit. It's been a very busy lead-up in the month between when I got back from my last trip and now. I re-visited a couple of the Middle English romances I worked on in my thesis for an undergraduate course, which was great. Looking at Of Arthour and of Merlin and Guy of Warwick - both in the versions from the Auchinleck MS - was, I think, a challenge for the second-year students who hadn't read a lot of Middle English before, but they seemed very engaged. When I asked a couple who were whispering in the lecture if they had a question, it turned out the two of them were arguing about whether the translations of "hores stren" I'd put in my Powerpoint slide was correct. They were right that it was a loose translation not a literal one on my part. After not doing a lot of teaching last year as I was getting my research project really up and going, it's been great to get back into it. I'm also supervising a PhD project - on Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy and Frank Herbert's Dune - which is different to Middle English romance, but a lot closer to the research I'm doing now.

But Kalamazoo is on the horizon now - not quite literally until I'm on the Amtrak next week - but close enough. I'm really looking forward to it. There are the two panels I organised on "Tales After Tolkien," and all the panelists I don't know yet to meet, as well as some medievalism panels, the roundtable I'm in, and the general round of sociability that is Kalamazoo.

My paper, as they are often wont to do, has developed from what I originally had in mind. Perhaps evolved would be a better word. With some focus on my part, it will still fit the session though. I've been thinking a lot about medievalism, and neomedievalism, and if there are really differences that can be pinned down. And about what 'the Middle Ages' really means, not just to scholars, but in popular culture, and in which sections of popular culture. Is it the same to fans and authors and publishers and game-makers? Or to the different groups within those groups? The obvious answer is no, culture is just not that homogenous. But if that's the case, how can medieval references possibly be so powerful and omnipresent right now? If there aren't some core similarities, certain 'things' (and I really do lack a better word right now) that are common to all invocations of 'the medieval' wherever they occur and whoever uses them, how can those invocations have any meaning? 'The Middle Ages' is like any other linguistic sign - it can have multiple overlapping and sometimes contradictory meanings. But are there constant denotations among the connotations? Or vice versa? My paper at Kalamazoo (8:30am on Sunday morning for anyone attending) will try to answer these questions.

Medievalism - neo or otherwise - never happens just for its own sake. It's always attached to, or deployed in the service of, some other discourse. My research focuses on racial/ist discourses, but there are multiple, multiple others. Medievalism is so adaptable, and so are the Middle Ages.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to seeing you in K'zoo.

    One possible underpinning of the present resurgence of medievalism is the idea (not entirely tenable upon further study, but present even so) that the medieval was "simpler" and so offers a clearer view of right and wrong. The audience knows whom to support in such cases.

    Another, less optimistic, view is that the world is slipping into a neo-feudalist socio-economic system, in which labor is devalued and made contingent upon the whims of increasingly hierarchical and generationally aristocratic coroporate culture far removed from the plebian existence of the working classes. Much medievalist narrative focuses either on the reassertion of "proper" feudal relationships (the old idea of noblesse oblige among them) or on the overthrow of tyrannical systems of power.

    It is, perhaps, a plea for what we want to see, even if our towers are of steel and glass rather than timber and dressed stone.