Participants of ‘Methodology and the Middle English Text’ will 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.

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

  • 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?

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

  • Seminar texts: Fredric Jameson, ‘Totality as Conspiracy (1992)’ (from The Jameson Reader (2000), ed. Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks) [pp. 340-357],

    Jean-Luc Nancy, “Myth Interrupted” (from The Inoperative Community, ed. Peter Connor) [pp. 43-70], Vico, On the Study Methods of our Time (concentrating on I-IV; X; XII; XV), and Blumenberg, ‘Imitation of Nature’.

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?

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

  • 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?

For more information about the goals and organization of the conference, please see the full CFP here.