Atemporal musings

I suppose I've fallen off everyone's blogroll, since I post so rarely, but I do keep up with what the neighbors are saying. Today, for instance, I read a fascinating post by Eileen Joy over at ITM. Responding to comments on medievalism made by Stephanie Trigg at this year's Leeds conference, Eileen implies that the false medievalism/medieval reality dichotomy leads us to believe that any presentism in our scholarship is medievalism and therefore not rigorous scholarship. This notion, in turn, blinds us to the force that our scholarship can (or at least should) have:
It seemed to me then [at the Leeds session] and now in our present moment when human [and other] rights are under terrible assault in a country--the United States--that calls itself an historical democracy and that supposedly believes in historical due processes of law, and which has no problem calling its enemies "medieval," that medieval studies has a great responsibility, indeed, and one that must never forget its location in the [troubling and troubled] present.
Remembering that schoarship is always-already presentist (or in our particular jargon, a "medievalism") leads her to argue that we can and should act "as if" our scholarship has meaning in a wider world—because it does:
I cannot see that we have any other choice but to proceed "as if" things could be better if only we were to believe they might be emended, recuperated, attended to, saved, ameliorated, healed, touched, moved, affected, changed, etc. by our labors--labors, moreover, rooted in a fierce attention to and regard for others, wherever they might be, past, present, or future.
This engages directly with the project of locating the utopian in medieval studies because, on the one hand, the "utopian medieval" is not a misnomer, despite the "Renaissanciness" of "utopian" (pardon the Colbertism)—something that I have argued here before and in my work on the discourse of the utopian medieval (coming soon to a oral defense near you me). On the other, it is a reminder that ultimately what matters in scholarship is the generation of new ideas, whether those are scientific, pedagogical, literary, historical, sociological, home economical, agricultural, or (for better or worse) mercatorial. Looking for past utopian traces allows us to reexamine our own present, and provides ways for us to imagine outward from the present moment.

If this is a medievalism, then so be it. It's a good medievalism. As Utah Phillips used to say of Amon Hennesy's song "I Will Not Obey,"
I told him, "Singing a song like that will get you into a lot of trouble."
"That's okay," he said. "It's good trouble."
It's good medievalism.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks for this thoughtful response to my post, Jacob. We haven't forgotten about you, btw, nor have you "fallen off" our blogrolll!