Sunday, December 28, 2014

About _The Year's Work in Medievalism_ 28

On 15 December 2014, the International Society for the Study of Medievalism released Volume 28 of its journal The Year's Work in Medievalism online.* The volume is a special issue, Medievalism Now, one that seeks, in the words of editor E.L. Risden as he introduces the volume, to bring "marginalized medievalism into the center of our [scholarly] vision." In doing so, it deploys articles from Valerie B. Johnson, Amy S. Kaufman, Elena Levy-Navarro, Nickolas Haydock, Kevin Moberly and Brent Moberly, E.L. Risden, Karl Fugelso, Carol L. Robinson, Jesse G. Swan, Helen Young, and Richard Utz to argue for an expansion of medievalism's formal concerns and the body of scholars, professional and amateur, who contribute to the still-burgeoning field.

Valerie B. Johnson's "Ecomedievalism: Medievalism's Potential Futures in Ecocriticism and Ecomaterialsim" argues convincingly that medievalist study will benefit from deploying the tools common to ecocritical approaches. The article offers a useful list of readings that engage intersections that can be termed "ecomedieval," helping ease entry into their study and pointing out the contested nature of both ecocritical approaches and medievalism. The reminder that the environment is a long-standing socio-cultural concern is useful.

Amy S. Kaufman's "Lowering the Drawbridge" lays out (again) the tensions between the academic humanities and the "useful" world and between proximal disciplines. The article posits that medievalism itself remains a marginal, liminal space, partaking of multiple disciplines but welcomed by none, and finding itself marginalized in part because it is liminal not only within academic but also between it and the "regular" world. That it is one of the few disciplines in which amateurs are welcomed and even embraced vitiates against it for those who occupy the more traditional ivory tower. Medievalist studies are optimally poised to break down the barriers surrounding that tower, or at least to open additional gates in them through the resurgence of the medieval in entertainment culture and social structures.

Elena Levy-Navarro's "A Long Parenthesis Begins" argues that medievalist study needs to be more open to and accepting of non-professional scholars as a means to keep itself fresh and identify and explicate the connections--sometimes seemingly tenuous--upon which it depends. Opening up medievalist inquiry to more minds also allows for a richer historiography, one that rejects the absolutes of periodic and disciplinary boundaries to create a living understanding of how the world continues to use what it has used before.

Nickolas Haydock's "Medievalism and Anamorphosis: Curious Perspectives on the Middle Ages" points out how recapitulations of medieval figures and tropes in succession serve to highlight the unattainability of medieval ideals and of the ambiguous nature of those ideals themselves. In the article, refigurings serve to obscure, not only among receptions of the medieval but in the medieval itself. It is a useful reminder of the continuity of cultural fixtures, although the fixtures themselves are perhaps not ideal for continuation.

Kevin Moberly and Brent Moberly contribute "There Is No Word for Work in the Dragon Tongue," which explicates the manner in which The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim reinscribes the removal of medievalist treatments from the material conditions of the medieval. It also likens that removal to current first-world concerns of removal from production. Manual labor is distinctly non-privileged in the game as in the cultures of which it ostensibly partakes and among which its intended player-base is. It, along with other medievalist popular works, reflects the tension between nostalgia for "good, honest work" and the non-desire to actually do that work, and it calls for a better reflection of the actuality of that work in future medievalist works. (Notably, the Moberlys' article can be read against Johnson's to good effect.)

E.L. Risden's "Miyazaki's Medieval World: Japanese Medievalism and the Rise of Anime" notes that medievalism in Asia is insufficiently examined by scholars of medievalism. Miyazaki's 1997 film Princess Mononoke is used as a case study for how Japanese medievalism might function and be explicated; other works are suggested for further study. Risden's comments speak to something that this webspace has also addressed, and they could well serve as an impetus for treatments of other works entirely.

Karl Fugelso's "Embracing Our Marginalism: Mitigating the Tyranny of a Central Paradigm" reminds readers that any kind of centering motion necessarily implies a fluidity of categorization that vitiates against the effectiveness of categorization. The article highlights the liminality of medievalist study that derives from its disciplinary heterodoxy, but notes that even within the field, there is a centralizing push that unfortunately excludes too many. Some is structural; Fugelso makes the telling comment that "There is simply not enough time, space, energy, and money to air everyone's work, much less give it equal billing, much less make it easily accessible" to highlight that structural limit. Some, though, is merely the result of habit--and that habit is a dangerous thing to maintain for medievalism as a field.

Carol L. Robinson, a valued Tales after Tolkien Society member, contributes "The Quest for a Deaf Lesbian Dwarf (or Anyone Else that Might Have Been Excluded) in Medievalist Video Games: A Response to Karl Fugelso's Manifesto." In it, she argues that the exclusionary and oppressive practices seen in medievalist video games parallel and reinscribe those in medievalist studies as a whole, and that redress of them needs to be "radical, dramatic, abrupt, and thus acutely innovative." The reinscription derives from earlier receipt of benefits from the inscription, and the duty incumbent on medievalists is to reclaim those benefits in the service of a greater inclusivity and diversity of treatment.

Jesse Swan's "Relazation and Amateur Medievalism for Early Modernity: Seeing Sir Henry Yelverton as a Woman in Love and a Bureaucrat Threatened in the 1621 Parliament" takes the uncommon approach of explicating earlier medievalisms, likening the treatment of Yelverton to the treatment of Spencer and Gaveston in then-popular media. Although an elided preposition distracts, the explication of an earlier medievalism is of interest and serves as a reminder that the Middle Ages have long served as a lens through which to examine current culture. The article's early comments about relaxation enabling inquiry are also helpful, recalling Asimov's "The Eureka Phenomenon."

Tales after Tolkien Society founder Helen Young's "Place and Time: Medievalism and Making Race" continues her project of explicating the multiracial nature of medieval Europe and arguing in favor of reflecting that multiracial nature in medievalist works. The article references the common assertion of the Middle Ages as a generative time for racial and national identities, marking nation-building as an iteration of medievalist practice, and argues that the purported lack of a medieval, or of an interesting medieval, among non-European peoples accounts in part for the drive to subjugate them. The implication is one Young has made explicit before (here and elsewhere): medievalist scholars have a duty to correct the abuses perpetuated by medievalist materials.

The volume concludes with Richard Utz's "Can We Talk about Religion, Please? Medievalism's Eschewal of Religion, and Why It Matters." The article contrasts the notable lack of religious discussion in medievalist scholarship with the wide range of materials it tends to cover. Utz posits that the lack stems in part from uncertainty about how to treat religion, informed by disciplinary and periodic divisions as well as an undercurrent of anti-theistic thought (evoking Michael-John DePalma's December 2011 CCC article "Re-envisioning Religious Discourses as Rhetorical Resources in Composition Teaching: A Pragmatic Response to the Challenge of Belief"). It is, in Utz's view, a lack that needs to be redressed.

The eleven articles combine to present an impressive collective call to expand medievalist studies and will certainly undergird no small number of projects that aim to answer that call. The Year's Work in Medievalism 28 (2013) presents excellent scholarship, well worth deploying in further expansion of human knowledge.

*All comments are taken from the volume as it appears online as of 27 December 2014, at which time I printed out copies of the articles for reading and comment.

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