Medieval Round Table 2011

Image courtesy State Library Victoria
Image courtesy State Library Victoria

Papers for 2011

7 February

Venue: Theatre 4, Room 120, Level 1, Alan Gilbert Building

Ian Moulton, Arizona State University

The Way You Wear Your Hat: Sprezzatura in Classical Hollywood Cinema

Castiglione's concept of "sprezzatura" as manifested in classical Hollywood cinema of the 1930s-50s.

Ian Frederick Moulton, Faculty Head of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication in the School of Letters and Sciences at ASU, is a cultural historian and literary scholar whose research focuses on the representation of gender and sexuality in early modern literature. He was born in London, UK, raised in Winnipeg, Canada and received his PhD in English from Columbia University before joining ASU as an Assistant Professor in 1995. Dr Moulton's research focuses primarily on the cultural history of gender and sexuality in the European Renaissance. His first book, Before Pornography: Erotic Writing in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2000) addresses the place of explicitly erotic writing in early modern English culture, with a special emphasis on the relations between erotic writing and the politics of gender and national identity. More recently he produced the first English translation of Antonio Vignali's Renaissance Italian erotic dialogue La Cazzaria (Routledge 2003), a volume that has been acclaimed in the New Yorker, the L.A. Times and elsewhere. Dr Moulton has published on Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists and also on the history of reading and the interaction between manuscript and print culture. He is an active member of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, serving on the Center's Advisory Board and chairing the editorial board for the book series Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies. He has twice led the ACMRS summer study abroad program at Cambridge University. Dr Moulton is fluent in French and Italian, as well as reading Latin, Spanish and Ancient Greek. His other interests include Classical culture, Renaissance art history and film studies.

The book series mentioned here, Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies, is a co-operative venture between the Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Other editors are Fred Kiefer, Stephanie Trigg and Charles Zika.

7 March

Melissa Raine, University of Melbourne

“Al the welth of sowle and bodi”: Searching for Emotional Communities in Late Medieval England

A consideration of the historical development of emotional regimes in Western culture almost inevitably relies on written evidence. How successfully can we retrieve emotional experience from textual conventions, especially over the potentially distorting distance of a temporal gulf? John Lydgate’s “Dietary”, a widely preserved literal textual regime from late medieval England, provides a salient case study through its content, its material form and its modern reception.

My talk will be prefaced by some remarks about Barbara Rosenwein’s Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages. Also, some homework for anyone who is interested: I wondered if people would like to think about whether particular discourses shape/validate certain kinds of emotional regimes. I will be talking about dietetic discourse, which urges all kinds of moderation; however, we also have, for example, affective piety, courtly love and no doubt others that work towards different ends. I am curious as to what people think about the ways in which these discourses validate certain kinds of emotional experience.

4 April

Anya Adair, University of Melbourne

The Complex Aesthetics of Joy in Old English Poetry

This paper presents some of the major work of my Master’s thesis, which explores the ways in which joy is expressed and evoked in Old English poetry. I will begin by discussing the process (and problems) of creating a tentative taxonomy of poetic joy. This taxonomy serves both to demonstrate the massive variety in the wellsprings of joy for the Anglo-Saxons and to show some important points of difference between modern conceptions of joy and those of the early medieval period.

The paper will also explore the aesthetic of joyful expression in Old English poetry, by examining the poetic realisation of ‘domestic’ joy, ‘heroic’ joy and ‘religious’ joy. I suggest that we see, in the dynamic interplay of these aesthetics, a struggle for supremacy: the inherently conservative forms of the poetry encode ideological and emotional ‘truths’ which are often at odds with newer ways of making sense of the world. The shifts and tensions that play out in the verse provide fascinating insight into a changing culture.

And a final question is how far the role of poetry and its creators is affected by the cultural shifts that took place over the course of the early medieval period in England. Poetry and the poets who wrote and performed it are of course major creators of joy: as the function and ideology of joy changed, what became of the joy-producing scop?

2 May

Note change of venue: North Theatre, first floor, Old Arts (Room 239)

Diana Hiller, University of Melbourne

Refectories in Florence as Gendered Spaces: Implications for Visual Perception

Refectories in religious houses were important conventual spaces where the male and female incumbents dined as a community. However, while the refectory rituals, the partaking of meals and the listening to readings followed similar patterns in all religious communities they were also subject to gendered constructions. Even the refectory confines in male and female institutions were accessed differently by outsiders. In fifteenth-century Florence it was common for such refectories to be decorated with monumental frescoes of the Last Supper. The specific focus of the paper is not so much the images but, rather, the dining chambers as perceptual environment. Focusing on refectories in three female religious houses in Florence I will offer the view that these spaces – in concert with intellectual, cultural and spiritual contexts – contributed to a perceptual environment that was intrinsically gendered.

6 June

Note change of venue: Large Seminar Room (216B), second floor, John Medley West

Louise D’Arcens, University of Wollongong

Humouring the Middle Ages: Comic Medievalism

Medievalism - the citation, interpretation, or recreation of the Middle Ages - has been vital to the cultural memory of the modern West. Whether the medieval period is evoked as a superseded age of ignorance and cruelty, a venerable origin of national cultures or a lost age of beauty and social unity, it offers a reservoir of images and ideas that have been crucial to defining what it is to be 'modern'. Within this larger tradition, comic representations of the medieval past have abounded, dating from the end of the medieval period itself through to the present. In this talk I will explore the dynamics and social functions of this medievalist humour. By examining a range of comic forms including eighteenth-century verse, Victorian burlesque, political cartoons, Marxist farce, heritage tourism and popular children¹s history books, I aim to isolate what has been perceived as uniquely funny about the Middle Ages in different times and places and how this has influenced modern ideas about the period.

4 July

Emotions and Mysticism

For this meeting of the Medieval Round Table we will read and discuss two essays on emotions and mysticism:

Fiona Somerset, 'Emotions', soon to be published in the Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, ed. Hollywood and Beckman.

Elena Carrera, 'The Spiritual Role of the Emotions in Mechthild of Magdeburg, Angela of Foligno, and Teresa of Avila' in The Representation of Women’s Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, ed. Lisa Perfetti (University Press of Florida, 2005).

1 August

Note change of venue: North Theatre, first floor, Old Arts (Room 239)

Heather Dalton, University of Melbourne

The Parrot in the Picture: A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in Fifteenth-century Mantua

In the Louvre in Paris hangs a painting by the Italian artist, Andrea Mantegna. The altarpiece, known as the Madonna della Vittoria, was commissioned by Francesco II Gonzaga to celebrate his victory over the French army of Charles VIII at Fornovo near Parma in July 1495. In the painting, Gonzaga kneels before the seated Virgin and Child in full armour. They are flanked by saints and enclosed within a verdant trellised pergola featuring coral and pearl hangings, flowering citrus and exotic birds – all of which were employed in Renaissance paintings to symbolise victory and purity, as well as to evoke magnificence.

One of the remarkable things about this painting is that it features a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo - the earliest European image of this Australasian parrot. In my paper I explore how and why this bird from beyond the edge of the known world appeared in a painting made in fifteenth-century Mantua. Moreover, I consider how its colour, or rather lack of it, appears to have given it the edge over other parrots when it came to symbolising holiness.

5 September

Helen Dell

Handmade Women: Feminine Emotion in the chansons de femme

My paper considers the status of emotions expressed in the chansons de femme. This genre is a French 13th-century phenomenon, part of a song-system whose makers called themselves trouvères. They were counterparts of the troubadours of Occitania (now southern France). Most chansons de femme are anonymous, many are attributed in the manuscripts to men and a few to women. The feminine voice in this repertoire usually functions as a counterpoint to the masculine voice. The masculine-voiced genres present a lyric subject (depending on the genre) who is intelligent, witty, capable of intense feeling, learned. The feminine lyric subject is usually the reverse. This woman of trouvère lyric, by virtue of her voice, her speech and what she expresses, is spontaneous, foolhardy, sensual, down-to-earth, unlearned, simple-minded and/or devious (again depending on the genre). There are a range of feminine voices in the repertoire. Across the repertoire these gendered voices say things about each other, usually to the advantage of the masculine voice.

My question is: What can we say of this woman of the chanson de femme? Certainly we cannot take her words as any kind of direct expression of emotion. Her emotions are manufactured, literally made from words, as she is herself. The music is different too, usually simpler, as are the poetic forms employed. Her songs have a particular work to do in the corpus: they (generally speaking) uphold the superiority of the masculine. He is constituted as superior on the basis of her inferiority. My second question is: to what extent does the writing woman alter that arrangement? What happens when women write their own songs? This is difficult to answer because of the difficulties of establishing attribution. The manuscripts frequently don't agree. The troubadour tradition can help out here because there are more songs attributed to women in that corpus.

One thing that can be said of the songs that were probably written by women is that they trouble the neat gender binaries referred to above. My paper analyses the songs, mainly textually, to consider how this is achieved.

3 October

Katrina Burge

(In)Expressions of Emotion in the Old Norse Sagas

The Old Norse Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders) are famous for their laconic understatement. In the sagas, emotion is seldom expressed through speech; it is represented inarticulately by involuntary somatic responses and through acts of violence. Yet at the same time in the same culture, poetry of sublime emotional force was composed, including a lament that is one of the most powerful in early Germanic literature.

My presentation will not be a formal paper followed by discussion. Instead, I will give a general outline of the spectrum of emotions found in the Old Norse Sagas of Icelanders, then illustrate them by providing short extracts for us to read and discuss. I will include a couple of short, simple pieces in Old Norse that we’ll walk through (absolutely no prior knowledge of Old Norse necessary) so that you can get a feel for the original texts.

7 November

Ann Sadedin

Let me fele what ioy hit be: The Spiritualisation of Emotion in the Middle English Religious Lyrics

In the later Middle Ages, several factors came together to bring about a change unprecedented in European cultural history. Under the auspices of the most powerful institution in Europe, the Church, ordinary Christians were won to ever more intense devotion through performative texts which used the most compelling rhetorical techniques available: lyrics which offered the subjective experience of pure and intense emotions through the immediacy of first person accounts or dramatizations of the feelings of Mary and Christ. And such accounts were just one theme in a vast range of lyric poetry which utilised emotion, image and speaking voice in a variety of ways to privilege awareness of the spiritual world in the minds of believers. Different medieval emotions are expressed in the large extant corpus of religious lyrics, and such is the vividness and skill with which they are presented that it is generally impossible to tell to what degree the poet writes from the heart, from visionary personal experience, or with homiletic purpose for an intended audience.

The first section of my paper looks at the lyrics to explore the medieval understanding of affect as non-personal, as arriving from out there, as a divine or other-worldly influx. This way of apprehending emotion, a view comfortably supported by humoural theory, is one of the preconditions for its spiritualisation, and implicit in its transcendent quality. Secondly, I consider the emotions expressed by Mary and Christ and their roles in shaping the experience of affect for medieval people. Lastly I turn to analysis of some examples from the lyrics in which particular emotions are depicted, and in conclusion I suggest some implications of this spiritualisation of emotion for the subsequent history of emotion and the evolution of an individuated sense of self in western civilisation.

1 December (Thursday - note change of day)

Note change of venue: Large Seminar Room, second floor, John Medley West

Eileen Joy, Southern University Illinois

'It would be hard to say exactly what I felt': Vibrations in the Archive

It would be hard to say exactly what I felt when I read these fragments and many others that were similar. No doubt, one of these impressions that are called “physical,” as if there could be any other kind. I admit that these “short stories,” suddenly emerging from two and a half centuries of silence, stirred more fibers within me than what is ordinarily called “literature,” without my being able to say even now if I was more moved by the beauty of that Classical style, draped in a few sentences around characters that were plainly wretched, or by the excesses, the blend of dark stubbornness and rascality, of these lives whose disarray and relentless energy one senses beneath the stone-smooth words.
Foucault, 'Lives of Infamous Men'1

The aim of this talk will be to share how, over the past two years, I have tried to take seriously Foucault’s question, repeated by the medievalist Carolyn Dinshaw in her essay, ‘Temporalities,’2 of how the ‘vibrations’ of the dead Others felt in the archives might not ‘enter into the orders of reason at all,’ and how then, are we to analyze these ‘feelings, these experiences’? Is this a spiritual experience (Dinshaw herself hints that it is, in another essay, ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?’),3 and therefore beyond rational analysis? Or could it be analyzed hermeneutically, and also phenomenologically? 4 It has been my hope for some time now that certain new trajectories of thought - Claude Romano’s ‘evential’ hermeneutics as well as Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology (especially his theory of ‘vicarious causation’) - might point us in certain fruitful directions with respect to this question, and with respect as well to how we might begin to investigate new modes of reading (beyond, but also in combination with, the modes of reading most prevalent in the humanities at present: new historicist, psychoanalytic/symptomatic, and skeptical) that would pay better attention to the unruly ‘aliveness’ of texts. Related to all of this, and also raised most urgently in the oeuvre of Dinshaw, is the question of whether or not it is possible to ‘touch’ and be ‘touched’ by the figures and objects of the past - for me, the question becomes: how can we reckon the ‘weird realism’ of textual figures and objects that refuse to cede completely to the grasp, or touch, of any hermeneutics we might apply to them, and yet, are still available for ‘relations’ (but what kind)? Through a reading of Chaucer’s ‘Clerk’s Tale’ alongside Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves, I experiment with some of the ways we might get closer to this ‘weird realism.’

1. Foucault, M. 2000. 'Lives of Infamous Men'. In The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1974: Power, Vol. 3, ed. J.D. Faubion, trans. R. Hurley et alia, 157-175. New York: The New Press
2. Dinshaw, Carolyn. 2007b. 'Temporalities'. In Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Middle English, ed. P. Strohm, 107-123. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press
3. Dinshaw, Carolyn. 2007a. 'Are We Having Fun Yet? A Response to Prendergast and Trigg'. New Medieval Literautures 9: 231-241.
4. It might also be an experience of embodied cognition related to the collision of cognitive objects (texts and readers), but I leave that route of investigation to those more interested than I am in cognitive literary studies

After the meeting we will be having our annual Christmas Dinner. This year we’re going to Il Cantuccio in Lygon Street. We’ll have the a la carte menu so those with particular dietary preferences will be able to choose accordingly. Wine will be supplied at no charge.