Volume 5, Issue 1: Comic Medievalism

Editor: Louise D'Arcens (University of Woolongong, louised@uow.edu.au)

This issue aims to explore the role of laughter and humour in medievalism. Medievalism — the creative interpretation or recreation of the European Middle Ages — has had a major presence in the cultural memory of the modern West. The medieval period has long provided a reservoir of images and ideas that have been crucial to defining what it is to be 'modern'. For today's audiences viewing medievalism via the body of heroic and fantastic texts emerging out of the nineteenth-century tradition, it would seem that it is a very serious business. Yet from the earliest parodies of medieval chivalry such as Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas, through to the scatological humour of Terry Deary's Horrible Histories children's series, it is clear that as long as there has been medievalism, people have been encouraged to laugh at, and with, the Middle Ages. Comic affective engagement with the Middle Ages has had a vital role in the postmedieval imaginary of the Middle Ages, and thus warrants serious attention.

Despite this, to date it has not received any sustained analysis. While there has been no shortage of scholarship mentioning popular comic texts like the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this has not led to the development of a critical language to understand the 'affective-historical' responses they generate. Work on medievalism in children's and YA fiction also avoids a close analysis of the affective role of humour in attracting young readers to medievalist content. Furthermore, laughter is a neglected area in the existing scholarship on affect in medievalism, which has so far focused on longing, nostalgia, and historical melancholy. This special issue will move beyond, but also supplement, this more sombre emotional spectrum by focusing on the emotional and affective states generated by humorous medievalism, exploring how these foster, or, conversely, block attachments to the medieval past.

The issue will begin with an introductory essay by Louise D'Arcens, and then will be followed by 6-8 essays by a range of contributors, who are listed below. This issue emerges out of a symposium on comic medievalism sponsored by the Australian Research Council's Centre for the History of Emotions.

Contributors include:
Louise D'Arcens (University of Wollongong)
David Matthews (University of Manchester)
Andrew Lynch (University of Western Australia)
Kim Wilkins (University of Queensland)
Stephen Knight (University of Cardiff & University of Melbourne)
Brantley Bryant (Sonoma State University)

Issue 5.1 (Spring 2014)


Volume 5, Issue 2: Open-Topic with Essay Cluster on Comparative Neomedievalisms

Cluster Editor: Daniel Lukes (New York University, daniel.lukes@nyu.edu)

“The Middle Ages are the root of all our contemporary 'hot' problems, and it is not surprising that we go back to that period every time we ask ourselves about our origin,” writes Umberto Eco in his 1973 essay “Dreaming of the Middle Ages,” which popularized the term “neomedievalism,” and acts as urtext to this growing sub-field. “All the questions debated during the sessions of the Common Market originate from the situation of medieval Europe,” Eco states, anticipating the socio-economic and global political turn taken by cultural and theoretical neomedievalisms in the decades since his analysis. Neomedievalism refers to a cultural, literary, aesthetic, and theoretical mode which seeks to continually re-affirm the Middle Ages, in every post-medieval era, as both an antithetical term of comparison to ongoing “modernities,” and as an enduring and foundational presence within them. Neomedievalism accomplishes this double function through parody, pastiche and nostalgic re-evocation of medieval styles, concepts and values, but also through acts of cultural fantasy, speculation and simulation.

Recently neomedievalism has been theorized along two complementary directions. The first is as socio-political critical tool, applied to theories and practices of neoconservativism (such as Bruce Holsinger's Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism and the War on Terror) and also to the purported crisis of the nation state in the era of networks, multinational corporations, supranational unions (such as the EU), and international law. The second direction in contemporary neomedievalism studies, evinced by Karl Fugelso's collection Defining Neomedievalisms (2010), finds seemingly endless theoretical mileage in neomedievalism as a conceptual space for rethinking simulated realities through cultural, literary and aesthetic platforms: (live action) role-playing and cosplay, videogames and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), amid more traditional literary, cinematic, and television fantasy and speculative fictions. Most recently, HBO's Game of Thrones' neomedievalist world-building appears to confirm the American public's hunger for simulated Middle Ages.

This essay cluster seeks to forge new paths in neomedievalism studies between the material, the critical, and the speculative approaches.

Cluster contributors include:

Donald D. Palmer (College of Marin), “Don Quixote à la Recherche du Moyen Age Perdu”
Tina Kelleher (Towson University), “The Real and Ideal: Nineteenth-Century Neomedievalism and Victorian Steampunk”
Krystyna Michael (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “Neomedievalism and the Modern Subject in T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral”
Daniel Lukes (New York University), “Neomedievalist Gender Dystopia”

Open topic contributors include:

Jonah Westerman (Graduate Center, CUNY): "Boundless Restraint: Performance, Reparation, and the Daily Practice of Death in the Life of Daniel the Stylite"


Volume 5, Issue 3: The Middle Ages and the Holocaust

Editor: Hannah Johnson (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and Nina Caputo (University of Florida)

Issue 5.3 (Fall 2014)


Volume 5, Issue 4: Philology and the Futures of Humanism

Editor: Michelle Warren (Dartmouth College)

This proposed special issue will feature essays by classicists, medievalists, and cultural critics of the contemporary. Most broadly, the issue seeks to examine relations among language, culture, and humanism. As a nineteenth-century discipline, philology stabilized cultural origins by stabilizing language forms, thereby securing purified genealogies of the European “human.” When language study belonged as much to anthropology as to literature and linguistics, “philology” could encompass the study of anything and everything related to “culture.” At present, by contrast, interdisciplinary “cultural studies” are often defined in explicit opposition to language- and text-based studies. How did philology move from synonym to antonym of culture? What does this history say about contemporary divisions between the humanities and the social sciences? Humanism, moreover, has followed a similar trajectory: in sixteenth-century Europe, “humanist” scholars pioneered modern western philology, while contemporary humanism as conceptualized by Said and others means something quite different. And in what is increasingly being called the era of the “posthuman,” culture itself is no longer defined in anthropocentric terms.

Contributors to this special issue will be asked to consider the intersections of philology and humanism from their respective disciplinary and philosophical formations. Together, the essays will propose new dialogues among humanist scholars around language, textual forms, and the broadest potential of the humanities in contemporary society. As Sheldon Pollock has written recently, at stake is the “the survival of the very capacity of human beings to read their pasts and, indeed, their presents and thus to preserve a measure of their humanity” (935). As a “global knowledge practice” (Pollock 934), philology conditions textuality and reading in settings ranging from papyrus to stone to animal skin to paper to digital media. It encompasses a range of attitudes toward the constructedness of texts in a transhistorical perspective. Decoupled from the study of particular historical periods (especially, from Antiquity and the Middle Ages), philology can mediate between the most specialized procedures for producing texts and the broadest critical concerns, between words and their multifarious social situations. Simultaneously descriptive and creative, philology enacts cultural critique at the micro-linguistic level. In this mode, philology can rejuvenate connections between culture and humanism, even on the “posthuman” moment.