Friday, May 15, 2009

Another K'zoo 2009 Report

Lowell Duckert's report of the GW MEMSI panel. I see some provocative stuff:
Stephanie Trigg spoke about strategies for funding ("grantsmanship" as the Aussies call it), a chronic process which led her to question the difference between privileging "early European" over "medieval." What would happen, she asked, if we let go of the term "medieval?" Is it a matter of silencing?
This is the very question I have been asking lately as I work through what my dissertation, ideally, will cover.
Eileen Joy of BABEL passionately argued for more "feeling" in the field, urging the audience to embrace honesty, service to others, poethical wagers, and above all, friendship; to reconsider the ideas that move us -- things at stake as we write, learn, and collaborate; to highlight our positive experiences, pick our failures, even re-encounter childishness. If we are, indeed, enmeshed with one another, what happens when we think *for* each other and not just *with* each other?

I'm not sure I understand the context of Eileen Joy's argument, at least as it's presented here. Do we not already embrace things such as honesty, service to others, etc.? As I said, I'm missing something. But I suppose what Joy is getting at involves the community of medievalists and the communities of medievalists and all scholars together. If she's remarking on having we medievalists work to reach beyond "medieval" in our departments and beyond "English" in our institutions, then I'm all for it. Of course, the actionable strategies are the difficult formulations. Already I see inter- and cross-disciplinary projects, such as Michael Drout's Lexomics. My use of concepts from anthropic reasoning and observation selection effects matches the spirit, I think, that Joy articulates.
Carolyn Dinshaw described three institutional sites at NYU: the department, research center, and the club. She described the club as a curious, yet invigorating blend of the popular and scholarly, a place where playfulness and anachronistic spirits can thrive. In this sense, Dinshaw's club is a place where the "medieval" can be explored. But can theory inhabit this hang-out? Or is theory's "messiness" turned away at the door?

Theory is indeed "messy," but by design. This is to suggest that messiness is not disorder. My observations from afar are that theory is entering - has been entering - by the rear and side doors, if it has been turned away at the main entrances.

More theory thinking from old friend Ethan Knapp:
Ethan Knapp urged us to rethink the role of theory in the field, focusing specifically on the project of phenomenology (the likes of Husserl and Heidegger). Theory, he put it memorably, offers us an "investigation of the conditions of possibility."

Fortunately, my former dissertation had a nice chapter already using phenomenology - Ingarden. Brian McHale had a lot of good insights on this area, as he had good insights on most everything.
Lastly, in the midst of all these vectors of creativity, Bonnie Wheeler asked important questions about the routes we have already created: What parts of medieval studies do we wish to keep alive that are already there? What do we *want* to hold on to?

I certainly have sympathies with the sentiments here. I would have liked to hear the reactions and responses to this question and the others raised.

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