Call for Papers

The Graduate Medieval Colloquium at the University of Virginia, along with organizers from the University of Pennsylvania and UC Berkeley, invites submissions for a graduate student conference and colloquium:

Method and the Middle English Text

April 8-9, 2016

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville

Keynote speakers: Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto), Patricia Ingham (University of Indiana, Bloomington), Steven Justice (UC Berkeley), Russ Leo (Princeton University), Kellie Robertson (University of Maryland), Emily Steiner (University of Pennsylvania).

The study of Middle English literature has long been characterized by methodological debate. In the 1960s, E. T. Donaldson’s medievalist new criticism contended with D. W. Robertson’s exegetical criticism; in the 1990s, the relative merits of psychoanalysis and historicism were repeatedly weighed in the pages of Speculum. Today, though the camps are more fluid and the range of methods more diverse, a similar division obtains between the practitioners of “old” and “new” methodologies. On the one hand are the more traditional practices of philology, codicology, paleography, lexicography, biography, and forms of historicism, materialist and other. On the other hand are the newer methodologies, such as ecocriticism, object-oriented ontology, new materialism, affect studies, new formalism, disability studies, queer theory, and the digital humanities.

Advocates of methods both old and new have not hesitated to argue for the merits of their respective approaches. Missing from these discussions, however, is a sense of how these different methods and intellectual investments can operate together as a scholarly praxis. How, for instance, can one combine an interest in codicology with an interest in ecocriticism, biographical readings with affect studies, materialist historicism with the new materialisms, philology with new formalism? This conference aims to produce just such scholarship. Our goal is not to correct or affirm any specific view or theoretical model. Rather, we desire a scholarly disposition of both/and, rather than either/or.

The conference will address these questions through three thematic strands led by the plenary speakers: Modes of Knowledge (Alexandra Gillespie and Patricia Ingham), History and Literature (Steven Justice and Emily Steiner), and Philosophy and Form (Russ Leo and Kellie Robertson).

Submissions addressing one of these three thematic strands are sought from graduate students for:

  • Abstracts for twenty-minute papers that combine at least one old and one new methodology, to be organized in sessions.
  • Abstracts for roundtables centered on one or two set primary texts. Instead of using these texts in order to apply some theoretical method, we ask that roundtable presenters treat these texts as theoretical works in themselves. What methods, in other words, do the texts themselves ask us to consider? What can they teach us about medieval or modern theoretical methods?

Presenters will also be invited to participate in seminars, conducted by the plenaries and conference organizers and dedicated to discussion of a selection of critical texts. These seminars are designed to complement the roundtables and panels, addressing the methodological questions, cruxes, and problems from the theme of each strand.

Please submit abstracts of one page in length to by November 1, 2015. Preliminary inquiries and expressions of interest are most welcome. 

Modes of Knowledge (plenaries: Alexandra Gillespie and Patricia Ingham)

  • Roundtable text: Geoffrey Chaucer, Parliament of Fowles
  • Seminar texts: Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (specifically the lectures “Creation Ex-Nihilo” and “Courtly Love as Anamorphosis”); Derek Attridge, The Singularity of Literature; Max Weber, “Science as Vocation”

1)  In what ways do the knowledge claims of “data” and those of “art” or “literature” differ? How might we consider the relation of each to a category like “truth”? What might the very distinction between “knowledge,” on the one side, and “truth,” on the other, offer for an understanding of our scholarly work?

2) New methods in big data “scale up” the kinds of evidence deployed for textual interpretation. This seems a departure from earlier histories of reading built via an intimate encounter between the critic-as-reader and the text. What are the implications of these differences of scale? Are some modes of scaling up or of scaling down more proper to the Humanities than others, and on what grounds could we say so? Is there something specific to the medieval case here?

3) How might the understanding of “new” works (in Chaucer, in Lacan, in Attridge) help us to rethink contemporary assumptions about innovation current in today’s university? To what ends?

Philosophy and Form (plenaries: Russ Leo and Kellie Robertson)

  • Roundtable texts: Julian of Norwich, Showings; Geoffrey Chaucer, House of Fame
  • Seminar texts: Erich Auerbach, Mimesis; Fredric Jameson, Antinomies of Realism, Giambattista Vico, On the Study of Methods of Our Time; Akeel Bilgrami, “Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on Enlightenment and Enchantment” (Critical Inquiry 32 [2006])

1) How does philosophy influence literature? Does a work of literature necessarily have to be read within the intellectual currents of its time? How can we measure the influence of philosophical concepts on imaginative labor?

2) How is literature philosophy, and philosophy literature? How do our reading practices change when we we deal with imaginative texts rather than texts in the register of reasoning, debate and assertion? Where does this generic boundary lie, and how closely guarded is its border? What happens if we refuse to accept this distinction?

3) What is the relation between writing and thinking? What is the role of criticism in describing or explaining that relationship? Do certain kinds of writing engender a specific kind of thinking? Is writing only ever a pale imitation of thinking? How do writers attempt to bridge this gap?

History and Literature (plenaries: Steven Justice and Emily Steiner)

  • Roundtable text: St. Erkenwald
  • Seminar texts: Prologue to Cursor Mundi; John Trevisa, “Dialogue Between a Lord and a Clerk”; St. Augustine, City of God

1) What is the relationship between formal literary analysis (of genre, of verse) and intellectual or religious history? How does an understanding of form contribute to broader conceptual histories, and what do those histories contribute to the particular study of literary works? What does style disclose about the history of thought?

2) What is the relation of historical to interpretative reason, especially at the points where they seem incommensurate? What forms does this relation take in medieval devotion, exegesis, history-writing or imaginative writing? What do particular methodologies of Middle English studies offer to bridge – or exploit – this philosophical divide?

3) How can one articulate the question of “the literary” as a historical and suprahistorical category?