Theorizing Medieval European Literatures
c. 500 – c. 1500
Deadline 1 September 2018
Interfaces 7 will address a key, but often simply assumed, aspect of our shared field: what do we mean by Europe when we speak of medieval literature? Most models of medieval literature remain nationally or linguistically based, with modern nations and linguistic experience being projected onto the Middle Ages. In trying to develop European models of medieval literature, it is not enough to stitch together national narratives to create European stories. While fundamental theoretical groundwork has begun, more is required to think in European ways about the literary cultures of the Middle Ages.
Issue No. 7 of Interfaces will take a capacious approach to Europe, identifying it in general geographic terms as Northwest Eurasia. This conceptual geography allows for an integrated study of literary traditions in, for examples, Al-Andalus, Bohemia, Iceland, France, Georgia, the Holy Land, Italy, Kievan Rus, and Mount Athos, without claiming that certain literatures are or are not European. Such a starting point, for example, proposes medieval Europe as a place where Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish religious worldviews met and acknowledges the connection of Europe to other cultural networks in Asia and North Africa.
Interfaces challenges conventional approaches to literary culture which bind it within specific and narrowly defined linguistic, political, geographical, religious, or temporal conceptions of Europe. Examples of cultural phenomena that do not lend themselves to this traditional approach include: the shared Greco-Roman heritage of the Latin West, Byzantium, and Islam; the role of Arabic and Hebrew in the linguistic makeup of Europe; and the shared Byzantine heritage of the Orthodox churches in eastern and southern Europe and the linguistic affinities that connected the Slavs across East-West Christian divide. Likewise, conventional geo-political approaches do not adequately describe Christian textual culture in North Africa and Manichaean networks across Eurasia, and the role of the Silk Route in the exchange of stories and learning in the continuous Afro-Eurasian space.
A sustained interest in Europe, especially one so capaciously defined, is at odds with medieval worldviews and experiences: although the idea of Europe was available in this period, it was rarely highly productive before the fifteenth century and, when used, was often normative or excluding. Concern for Europe is a post-medieval phenomenon, with very particular and swiftly changing contours in the present day. Despite its anachronism, looking at European frameworks for medieval literature brings a number of dividends, not least when drawing large-scale comparisons of European literature with Asian parallels, such as Indian or Chinese. Talking of medieval European literature offers alternatives to nationalizing literary history and enables participation of medieval literary scholars in European studies. Importantly, the study of medieval literature contributes valuable material to wider political and cultural discussions about Europe’s past before the rise of nationalism, and its place in the world.
Modern politics do inform the accounts we give of the Middle Ages and their literary and linguistic heritage. The meeting of modern intellectual and political frameworks and medieval texts needs to be scrutinized in order for such intersections to be constructive for literary study. Such scrutiny recognizes that no definition or description of Europe, whether in the present or the past, is neutral. A capacious Europe can be viewed as hegemonic (that is claiming for Europe what is shared with or borrowed from others) while a narrow Europe can be viewed as exclusive: these pressure points are politically urgent and sensitive, particularly in the context of the legacy of colonialism, the expansion of the EU, migration, Brexit, racist appropriation of the Middle Ages, the rise of neo-nationalism, questions about a Europe of multiple confessions, and globalization. Thus this issue of Interfaceswill take a broad view of European literary cultures and their wider regional and global connections in the Middle Ages as its object of study, without taking Europe as a self-evident frame of reference.The aim will be to explore the literary cultures of medieval Europe and their place in a wider world, while also interrogating the nature and value of Europe as a framework for the study of medieval literature.
Theoretical questions which contributors are invited to consider in Interfaces 7 include:
- What does literary study let us see about medieval Europe that is distinctive from other disciplines and objects of study?
- What are the methodologies for the study of medieval European literatures (comparative, entangled, regional, postcolonial, race studies)?
- What models are available for the study of medieval European literature? (e.g. cultural, confessional, linguistic, geographical, imperial, focusing on dynasties, networks, itineraries, mobilities, waterways). What’s at stake in different models of Europe? Can other non-nationalizing frames enrich Europe as a working concept? How do ideas of Europe intersect with experiences of gender and sexuality?
- What can European perspectives enable us to see about medieval literature (interconnections, the place of smaller literatures, etc.)? What can European perspectives obscure or occlude (emergent national sentiment, debt to areas beyond Europe)?
- How does medieval European literature relate to national and global literary history?
- How is medieval European literary history told outside of Europe – in the Americas and Asia, for example?
- What do different national and regional (Byzantine, Central European, Western European, Eastern European, Iberian, Mediterranean, etc.) traditions of studying medieval literature have to teach each other? Can nationalizing and non-nationalizing approaches ignore the unifying nature of Europe as a common literary stage?
- Is the concept of Europe being used in literary histories in two different ways – one from the inside and one from half-way outside? From many regions of literary study, “Europe” is seen as the, partly, other from which impulses come (e.g. Iberia, Iceland, England, Bohemia, Byzantium); are there also core regions of Europe which don’t other Europe, and consequently don’t thematize it either?
- What commonalities and paradigms in the wide range of medieval literary traditions and encounters that existed on the European continent create the perception of a shared literary history?
- How do modern politics shape narratives of medieval literature, and how do these reflect different understanding of what “Europe” is across western, central, and eastern Europe and outside of European continent?
- How do ideas of Europe inform and challenge our teaching strategies, translation projects, collaborations, writing of literary history, public engagement, and interaction with modern literature and with other disciplines?
Interfaces is a fully open access, peer reviewed, online journal, published by the University of Milanis association with the Centre for Medieval Literature at the University of Southern Denmark and the University of York.
Interfaces is indexed by DOAJ – The Directory of Open Access Journals and ERIH PLUS – The European Reference Index for the Humanities and the Social Sciences. It is registered for regular aggregation and indexing in OpenAIRE.
Interfaces invites papers in English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish.
Any enquiries can be directed to the editors at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paolo Borsa, Christian Høgel, Lars Boje Mortensen and Elizabeth Tyler (editors)