State of the Field in Anglo-Saxon Studies
© 2008 by Michael D. C. Drout, Tom Shippey, Richard Scott Nokes, and Eileen A. Joy. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2008 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.
Editor's Note: The following discussion began as blog posts. Back in January 2007, I first became aware of Michael Drout's blog post at Wormtalk and Slugspeak addressing these issues. An Anglo-Saxonist blogger by the screen name of Tiruncula responded that in Tiruncula's view, the field was quite healthy, giving a view from within noting the number of exciting projects, publications, and overall collegiality among Anglo-Saxonists. Scott Nokes also responded, followed by Derek Olson of Haligweorc blog, and Eileen Joy. The Heroic Age invited all commenters to expand on their blog entries as the first in an ongoing discussion of State of the Field in Anglo-Saxon studies. In the end Derek Olson and Tiruncula were unable to participate. Drout, Nokes, and Joy have submitted the essays below, Joy in particular interacting with the statements of her fellow bloggers on the issues raised. Drout also suggested that a paper with some comments from Thomas Shippey, delivered at the 2002 Congress on Medieval Studies would be of interest, and Dr. Shippey has kindly allowed his essay to be published here.
It is hoped that the following essays will foment discussion. I intend to have the authors interact in a future issue of The Heroic Age on the issue they've raised. But we also invite interested readers to submit essays, comments and responses—both formal and informal—to the editors. There will also hopefully be future "State of the Field" essays from those working in other fields related to Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval periods.
Anglo-Saxon Studies: The State of the Field?
Michael D. C. Drout
§1. When I was in graduate school, a spate of "The Current State of Old English Studies..." articles came out, inspired, no doubt, by the criticisms of the field made in Allen Frantzen's Desire for Origins. Frantzen (who directed my dissertation) had argued that Old English Studies needed to reinvent itself and come into dialogue with other sub-fields in the profession by investigating contemporary literary theory. Not surprisingly, not everyone agreed that this was the way to go. Some scholars argued that the problems in Old English Studies were indeed there but had other causes and that engagement with contemporary theory was not likely to solve them.
§2. Of all these responses, I thought that Tom Shippey's in Æstel was the best. Tom argued that many of the problems in Old English (a steady reduction in the number of positions, increasing marginalization of the field) could be credited to the bad teaching that was generated by compulsory Old English at elite institutions (and, following their example, elsewhere): because teachers had a captive audience, they were able to be really, really bad, and thus a new generation came to hate Old English. When that generation got into power, they dismantled as much as they could, putting the resources towards things they cared about.
§3. Other scholars argued (more at the open bar at MLA or a wine hour at Kalamazoo than in print) that nothing was wrong at all in Old English Studies. I summarize impressionistically: important Anglo-Saxonists had gotten important administrative jobs at important places. Major projects were well-funded and on-going. The introduction of computer-based tools would revolutionize the field. Grad students X, Y and Z had gotten good jobs. Look at the quality of the articles in Anglo-Saxon England.
§4. All of these points are to one degree or another reasonable. As the scholar who blogs under the name "Tiruncula" argued, from within, Anglo-Saxon studies feels like a very healthy field. We actually read each other's work, (the field is just the right size that you can catch up on all the major journal publications in the summer and all the books over the course of the year). There is strong collegiality, and although there are some dominant programs and institutions, first-tier Anglo-Saxon scholars are scattered throughout North America, Europe and Australia, making snobbery slightly less powerful than in some other fields.
§5. But if the field is intellectually healthy, it is not keeping up in the Hobbesian competition for resources that is the contemporary academy. The job list from Fall 1997 (the year I went on the market) listed twenty-four tenure-track positions that could be interpreted as medieval. Only two of these, I believe, were true Old English positions. The year I was hired at Wheaton, we had approximately 125 applicants for the position (based on memory of participants in the search; records are in fact shredded). I believe that those numbers remain approximately correct, with things being a little, but not much, better than they were in the late 90s but nevertheless only occasionally reaching the level of forty positions for medieval literature in any given year. Even if these somewhat estimated numbers are wrong by fifty percent, I think it is no intellectual stretch to say that the field is not growing.
§6. And there are other troubling data, which may be summed up as: The Tools for Scholarship are Becoming Impossible to Get. The Prentice Chair that I hold at Wheaton carries with it a nice little stipend that has one stipulation: I don't just get the money directly; I have to spend it on something. So I have been buying books that I would probably not buy if I had to spend my own money (i.e., I'd make a trip to the reference section of the library). This has been, as you might imagine, a lot of fun, and my Old English bookcases are now in good enough shape that I don't really have to leave the house to do most of my research. Two months ago I finally got a Ker catalogue (N. R. Ker's Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon), an essential book that has taken me at least five years (and $300) to buy. My own college's library does not have a copy, so I had to drive up to Boston College when I needed to consult it. A number of years back, before too many Anglo-Saxonists learned about eBay, I was able to get a complete, two-volume Bosworth-Toller dictionary for $120 dollars, but the price has gone up and the dictionary is even harder to find. A good-condition copy of the Cleasby-Vigfusson Old Norse / English Dictionary is $600. Thomas Symons' edition of the Regularis Concordia, though not terribly expensive, is nearly impossible to get. Other key reference and research texts cannot be had. Mitchell's Syntax is exceedingly difficult to find and prohibitively expensive. Campbell's Old English Grammar was over $100 when I bought it used.
§7. So, although one can patch together a decent research library (the ASPR, Beowulf, the EETS editions of key prose texts), some of the fundamental tools for research are not just out of print, but are simply not available. Bosworth-Toller is, wonderfully, now on-line, but the Ker catalogue is not, and neither is Cleasby-Vigfusson. This is all, I would suggest, evidence of a field in trouble. Not simply because beginning scholars cannot get essential research tools (after all, they can use the internet, interlibrary loan and various work-arounds), but because of what that lack says about the relationship of our field to other studies: presses cannot be bothered to keep things in print because there is not enough demand. I think it unlikely that the demand will grow if things keep on as they have been keeping on.
§8. Combine the data from the job market and the data from the cost and difficulty of finding research tools, and you may see why I am not at all sanguine about the future of the field. I think it would be very easy for Old English studies to end up even further marginalized than it is now and then to become extinct in all but a few places, eventually moving into the position that Classics now holds: still respected, perhaps, but not able to acquire the resources that we need and, in my opinion, deserve. Twenty years ago no decent English department would have thought it acceptable not to have at least a medievalist, and probably two, one for Anglo-Saxon and one for Middle English. Now that is not the case; it is probably intellectually acceptable in many places to eliminate early medieval entirely and just have a Chaucerian. (n.b.: I look down on those places and don't respect them, and I think it would be more useful politically if more of us were more vocal in our disdain: reputation is very valuable, and if more of us said aloud "well, X doesn't have Anglo-Saxon and thus is not an intellectually serious department" it might get our colleagues angry at us, but it might do some good). At other places—even less deserving of respect—medieval positions are being combined with Renaissance (think of how many jobs in this year's list were "Medieval/Renaissance"). The line probably gets drawn there, as Shakespeare is, one hopes, safe from tenure-line poaching by later periods, but if trends continue, I think that a lot of departments will take what should be at least three tenure lines (Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, Renaissance) and combine them into one, peeling off the other two for still more 20th-century or contemporary literature (the 18th-century is likewise vulnerable to poaching, and for similar reasons: it is perceived, incorrectly on both counts, as 'too hard' for students and 'too boring').
§9. So Tiruncula's point that the field is healthy from the inside (i.e., intellectually) and my point that the field as a whole is not in the best of shape (i.e., economically, politically etc.) may be reconciled. Using an ecology metaphor, you might say that Anglo-Saxonists are like a species that is healthy, genetically diverse and parasite free but whose habitat is being rapidly destroyed. Two related questions, then, would be (1) Why is the field in the shape it is in? (2) What should we (or can we) do about it? Tom Shippey's essay in Æstel, which I referenced earlier, suggests some answers for the first question: a) poor pedagogy caused by a tradition of compulsory OE (not that compulsory OE is intrinsically bad, but that its existence allowed for slack teaching: if you know that you've automatically got X number of sections of OE, there's less incentive to work particularly hard to teach circles around the competition, the way that Anglo-Saxonists can almost uniformly do now); b) poor teaching instruments (the abysmal Clark-Hall dictionary, grammar books aimed at students who have had four years of Latin and Greek, etc.); c) the perception that Anglo-Saxon studies is male, white, Christian and warrior-focused and the history of pan-Germanic nationalism and its connection to philology and medieval studies. To this group of problems, Allen Frantzen added a lack of engagement with literary theory: our colleagues could feel safe in ignoring us because we were not talking in the same way: we had self-marginalized.
§10. I agree with Shippey about all of these things, and Frantzen was right, also (although he was far too charitable to the modernists, who did not turn around and embrace Anglo-Saxonists when we started doing theory) but I would add two other major problems that to some extent overshadow these others (and, to continue with a career-long theme of agreeing with Tom Shippey about an embarrassing number of things, he expressed some of these ideas in a response to a set of Kalamazoo papers a couple of years back; that paper is printed in this volume of The Heroic Age). Anglo-Saxon studies and philology are a highly irritating rebuke to most of the rest of the sub-disciplines in English because our intellectual practices are a direct refutation of one of the current central dogmas of literary studies: that all "knowledge is situated and contingent" (if you don't believe that "contingent and situated" is a dogma, do a search for those terms in JSTOR or Project MUSE or even on Google). I already irritated people by asserting publicly that it is not possible (or even desireable) to teach "critical thinking" by itself; "critical thinking" is taught and learned by studying some body of knowledge and practice in detail. I stand by that assertion, though I wish I had expressed myself more clearly: I do think people learn to think critically, but only as a product of learning the details and practices of some discipline. So let me be more annoying: all knowledge is not "contingent and situated," and although Anglo-Saxonists may pay lip service to that piece of dogma, we don't actually believe it—or at least we don't act as if we believe it. Outside of the Humanities no one believes this anyway except in the most pathetic, freshman-philosophy sense. There are lots of forms of knowledge that are contingent and situated; Foucault demonstrates some of these areas in regard to, say, sexuality or mental illness. But it is an intellectual mistake to take the overstatements characteristic of rationalist French philosophy and act as if they are true. The discipline of philology has, since Grimm (and maybe even since Rask and Bopp) built up a great deal of knowledge that is valuable exactly because it is not contingent and situated in any meaningful sense. Grimm's and Verner's laws work; Saussure's argument for Proto-Indo-European laryngial consonants works: the theory has explanatory and predictive power. This knowledge is of a different order than, say, the passage below from film scholar Angela Martin, who, in discussing Film Noir, writes:
'The American woman' had become capable and independent, having been 'reclassified almost overnight' as fit for heavy industrial work, after Pearl Harbor . . . Hollywood addressed itself to this increasingly dominant female audience in terms of pleasure, but also in terms of war effort, showing women as workers, as well as patriotic, optimistic, and supportive wives, sweethearts and mothers (Martin 1998, 203).
Martin continues this line of argument, suggesting that, after the war, women became classified as "excess labor" (203) and that the re-emergence of the noir thriller was related to women returning to a domestic role.
§11. Grimm's Law is on an entirely different level of contingency and situatedness than Martin's criticism; we make a very large intellectual mistake when we do not recognize this and when we use the existence of a continuum as an excuse to avoid making important distinctions. To the credit of Anglo-Saxon studies, I think it is highly unlikely that any of us could (or would try) to get away with presenting historical and economic analysis in such broad terms. But it is also characteristic of us that we do not call out our Modernist colleagues for making broad-brush statements about culture and history whose equivalents in medieval studies would no more survive a review in Speculum by Mechthild Gretsch or Barbara Yorke or Simon Keynes than would a crippled baby antelope hobbling across a crocodile-infested river in the Serengeti.
§12. So when we use or allow to be used in our presence boilerplate statements like "contingent and situated" we are in effect engaging in pre-emptive rhetorical surrender, deprecating our own strengths and playing to our weaknesses, for it is much harder to do the kind of broad-brush cultural/political criticism that is standard practice in 20th century literature when you also have to establish all the kinds of historical, philological and manuscript contexts the way we do in Old English. Martin can do this stuff for Film Noir because "everybody knows" the historical/economic assertions upon which her argument rests. This false transparency is not present in arguments that engage with, say, the visual and textual rhetoric of the Benedictional of Æthelwold.
§13. This leads me to my second point: for those of our colleagues who know how we work, philology and the kinds of historical criticism that Anglo-Saxonists do is an irritating rebuke to standard dogma. But far too many of our colleagues (and even more of their students) really have very little idea of what we do because they are appallingly ignorant about language. This statement may seem deliberatively provocative, but I think it is true. Far too many English professors and graduate students don't really know much about how English works. Oh, they have many ideas about about how language works, but this is all knowledge at an incredibly high level of abstraction (binary oppositions, texts with nothing outside them, prisonhouses of language). Ask a colleague to explain semantic shifts over time or phonological change or the influence of Old Norse on English and you'll get a blank look. My colleagues, intelligent PhDs all, laughed and muttered to each other "what's Grimm's Law?" when I suggested that it was something all of our students should know, on the level of recognizing a participle or a sonnet. These same colleagues can go on about Otherness, etc. but they have no idea how actual language works. My particular colleagues are good-hearted people, real intellectuals, who care about literature, English and the Liberal Arts. But they certainly do not like it when I rub their noses in the fact that I know stuff they don't know (but feel they should). This is one reason, I believe, that medievalists are in such a marginalized and minority position within English departments. We possess knowledge and disciplinary practices that call into question the work that other members of the profession do, and so for them the easiest thing to do is to ignore and marginalize us. This can be done visibly and viciously, by accusing scholars or whole disciplines of racism, sexism, etc.,1 or subtly, by insisting as dogma that all knowledge is contingent and situated. In both cases the result is rhetorically to prepare the ground for the replacement of Anglo-Saxonists by colleagues whose sub-disciplines are more amenable to the dominant paradigm. But this political success comes with a clear intellectual price for English departments. There are now faculty in the Psychology department on occasion who know more about language than faculty in the English department. I think this is an intellectual and disciplinary failing of the highest order.
§14. But it is also an opportunity, because understanding, investigating and teaching how language works is a part of the core mission of the English department. This knowledge is part of what gives us a claim on resources, from tenure lines to offices to salaries to student enrollments. And nearly the only people who are competent to teach and do research in this area are the medievalists. We do know how language works—and the most important thing about how language works is that it changes in certain regular, though complex, ways. We also know more about the difficulties of doing history, our reliance upon ambiguous documents and constructed narratives, and the problems with the textual records. But I am focusing on language and our position within the English department because it is there that our greatest opportunity lies.
§15. Shippey writes that no student should graduate with an English degree without a respectable understanding of the structure of Modern English. I agree, though (thinking like a Chair now) I would put it in more positive terms: every student who graduates with an English degree should understand how Modern English works, and this understanding should be specific, not in vague terms of Others, binary oppositions, etc. I would like them to know the history of the language, also, so that they understand to some degree why English is the way it is, but that is, for now, somewhat wishful thinking (though it should be possible to teach both: to explain the structure of Modern English in terms of its history).
§16. Yet what is remarkable (and here I draw on the comments of James McNelis at a recent Kalamazoo) is that Shippey's and my suggestions in the previous paragraph would be not just controversial but perhaps even heretical in most departments (perhaps even my own; I dread finding out). In the rest of the world, outside of English departments, the idea that English departments would not focus on teaching the structure and history of English is seen as simply bizarre. Administrators think this is what English should be doing. Students think this is what they should get from an English degree. Parents, who are not always happy to be going in to debt for their children's degrees in English, assume that from their sacrifices, their kids will learn about language, grammar and structure. Legislators, who control the purse strings, think this is what English departments should do. Employers, when they are willing to hire English majors, assume that they will come equipped with special knowledge about the English language. Faculty in other departments think that we should teach about language and are often aghast to discover that we do not. Only English Professors think that the English language is not one of most important topics of study in departments of English.
§17. Given who holds the power and the money and the control, I do not think this state of affairs is likely to be good for English departments. This is not to say that majority automatically rules in intellectual endeavors. It is at least possible that Modernists who know nothing of English structure or function are right and everyone else is wrong. But I am not basing my argument about why they are incorrect on merely weight of opinions; above I have tried to argue for the falsity of the proposition on intellectual grounds. But in any event, for simple, political reasons, it is probably unlikely that the current system will continue. As powerful as the Modernist/Post-Modernist consensus is within English departments, it is not terribly influential outside our halls. Tenure lines are very valuable. Other departments covet them. If they can make the argument that English is not doing its job, and if they can define that job in a way that resonates with decision-makers, then it won't just be medieval jobs being converted into Post-colonial Literature or X-American Literature; it will be Post-Colonial or X-American jobs converted into Communications or Media Studies. Or some enterprising Cognitive Psychology departments or Education departments will realize that they can gain more resources for themselves by siphoning off students from the first-year writing program. It's then only a matter of time before tenure lines come up for grabs.
§18. So here is our opportunity. Although above I have said that we should mock and deride departments that have no medievalists and be condescending towards literature professors who lack knowledge of language and history, I also think we should keep trying to reach out to our colleagues because we have something they need. But in order to offer them what they need, we have to stop playing false and agreeing to dogma about our knowledge. We practice, as one of my students said with joy and wonder "English with right and wrong answers." We should show how this is valuable and how our colleagues do need us; how philological learning contributes immensely to the understanding and teaching of literature. Literary studies suffers from a continuous pull in two directions: towards solipsism and towards politics—you end up with "that text means this to me" or "that text illustrates this political/social phenomenon." The best English criticism resists this pull (not overcomes, just resists) keeping English as something more than the book club discussion or the dormroom bull session. Philology, detailed historical scholarship, manuscript work—these disciplines help resist that pull; they make English much more interesting. I believe that a renewed focus on language would thus re-invigorate the discipline, bringing in more students and helping us to argue to parents, legislators and critics that what we do is valuable not just in terms of some kind of nebulous "critical thinking," but in really specific detail. This would mean a serious engagement with contemporary synchronic linguistics as well as historical linguistics, and with the cognitive psychology of reading and memory, as well as with conditions of physical and economic production, distribution and evaluation of literature (the kind of work which is done outside of medieval studies). Enrollments at my school would suggest that students are not at all alienated by philology or rigorous study of language. Anecdotal evidence suggests that we are not alone.
§19. I think there could be very good times ahead for medieval studies if we make the right kinds of arguments, if we don't surrender pre-emptively, and if we recognize and express the great value in what we do. But we have to make the argument, not only on "intrinsically interesting" or "covering the period" grounds, but in terms that address what our various audiences really care about. I believe it would be easier to make that argument, and win that argument, along the lines that I lay out above. Medievalists do certain things particularly well (yes, better than scholars of other eras). Therefore, if you make those particular things the criteria by which one defends a tenure line or arranges for a new one or competes for resources, you are more likely to win your argument. If you accept other terms, you are less likely to win (that's the 'seemingly neutral rules pre-determine the outcome' argument that is one of my big takeaways from Foucault). If we define the most important things in the field to be politics (including the politics foregrounded in any of the current forms of "Theory"), faculty in English will, on the balance, lose out to people in Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, and History. Professors in these departments are better at politics because that is their focus and the heart of their training and methodology. But if we change the argument to define the key elements as first related to language, then it might be possible to re-acquire some of those resources claimed by these other departments (and Communication, Media Studies, Education). If we can make the argument about the importance of language study, of deep engagement with the problems of language in its specifics and in its historical and cultural evolution, then we will be more likely to win that argument. And then the state of the field in 2017 may be significantly better than it is today.
1. John Walter, a commenter at the "In the Middle" blog, responded to my original post about this material thus: "And we need to remember that the discipline of philology, and the greater Grimmian Revolution, as Shippey calls it, developed for nationalistic purposes." This statement is either trivial or rhetorically problematic. Either "we" must remember it as a simple fact, or the point is to tar philology with unsavory political implications. Yet I can not think of any specific element of the Deutsch Grammatik, with its detailed discussion of multi-language parallels used to demonstrate consistent sound change, that seems obviously to be implicated in a nationalist project (I think this might be perhaps easier to do for Deutsch Mythologie). Maybe my 19th century German is faulty and I am missing something. But I think it more likely that the invocation of politically unpopular associations is meant to communicate the idea that something about the intellectual content of philology is beyond the pale without having to make that argument by engaging with the actual content of philology. An analogous and equally problematic approach would be to discount all the work of the Frankfurt school without engaging with any specific arguments, because those scholars were somehow contaminated by the actions of the nominally Marxist regimes in Soviet Russia or Maoist China that murdered millions. I reject both of these approaches as more suited for the political press than for intellectual, academic discourse. [Back]
Martin, Angela. 1998. Gilda didn't do any of those things you've been losing sleep over!: The central women of '40s films noirs. In Women in film noir, ed. E. Ann. Kaplan. London: British Film Institute. [Back]
Response to three papers on "Philology: Whence and Whither?" given by Drs Utz, Macgillivray, and Zolkowski, at Kalamazoo, 4th May 2002
Saint Louis University
§20. I must begin my response to the three papers just presented by saying that they provoked in me so many thoughts, often thoughts that lie too deep for tears, that I really did not know where to start. In the end I decided that the philological thing to do was to start philologically, by looking up the word "philology," or Philologie, in the dictionary: indeed in two dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary begun as the New English Dictionary by Alexander Murray, certainly a philologist but perhaps as Dr Utz has pointed out not a Philolog, and the Deutsches Wörterbuch initiated by Jacob Grimm, to whom no-one could deny either title.
§21. The definitions in a way do not help much. The OED offers as its primary meaning "love of learning and literature...polite learning," while its second suggestion opposes philology disparagingly to philosophy. The latter is the true pursuit of wisdom, the former merely the activity of quibblers and logic-choppers, probably in Grimm's terms Wortphilologe as opposed to Sachphilologe. Meanwhile among the citations offered to explain the word in the German dictionary is Grimm's own fierce declaration that "none among all the sciences is prouder, nobler, more disputatious than philology or more merciless to error." The latter citation perhaps explains why, as Dr Utz again says, a Privatdozent in philology might be accepted as the equivalent of a commissioned officer in a militarized state, presumably endowed with the appropriate privileges and abilities, such as Satisfaktionsfähigkeit, or the ability to give satisfaction, sc. on the field of honor. But if one reads the OED one might wonder why we have all the journals mentioned, such as Studies in Philology, Philological Quarterly, Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Would anyone call a journal Quibbling Quarterly, or Studies in Dilettantism?
§22. The missing word, used in none of the papers we have heard today, and the word which explains this apparent gap between slighting definition and very marked if temporary public esteem, is "comparative." It was not philology but specifically vergleichende Philologie which was the breakthrough discipine in the humanities in the 19th century. As is well known, it had its origins in the rather odd and unexpected situation which occurred when British administrators, whose native language was English, and whose education had consisted largely of learning Latin and Greek, found themselves ruling Indian populations and accordingly obliged to learn, say, Urdu, while then being exposed to the Indian classical language, Sanskrit, with its own powerful tradition of linguistic study. The similarities might not have been very welcome, as tending to diminish the gap between rulers and ruled, but they were too great to be ignored. This led, in brief, to both synchronic and diachronic comparisons of a kind never imagined in the European classical tradition, and having nothing at all to do with "polite learning."
§23. The breakthrough work in comparative philology was furthermore Grimm's own Deutsche Grammatik, first published in 1819. The impact of this work has been largely forgotten, at least in Anglophone countries, but I believe that in its effect on European minds and cultures it was second only to The Origin of Species—a work which in several ways it resembles. Both Darwin's book and Grimm's did many things. They looked at an ancient problem, which had perhaps not been recognized as a problem, or for which there were only Biblical solutions. Everyone knew that species were different, but what was the origin of that difference—Noah's Ark? Everyone knew that languages were different, but what was the origin of the difference—the Tower of Babel? In answering the problem, both men drew heavily on experience far outside the field of polite learning, Darwin learning from dog-breeders and pigeon-fanciers, Grimm from illiterates and dialect-speakers. (There was, let me add in parenthesis, nobody less "canonical" in his view of literature than Grimm: His follower Tolkien refused to recognize the concept of "literature" at all, a refusal amusingly reciprocated by literary critics.) Both men furthermore produced a theory which integrated millions of discrete observations—literally millions if one counts every taxonomical distinction in Darwin, and all the observations on which those decisions are based, and every grammatical paradigm in Grimm, and all the manuscript readings on which those decisions are based.
§24. As I remarked, we have forgotten the impact of the Deutsche Grammatik, but it was prodigious, and for good reason. One thing it did was to enable people to read texts which had been lost to the world for a thousand years, texts like Beowulf, or The Elder Edda, or Kudrun, or the Hildebrandslied. Not only could scholars read them, they could place them historically and geographically. They could furthermore begin to see in what ways modern English was and was not like the language of Beowulf, or how modern German related to Greek, or to Gothic, or to Plattdeutsch. One can indeed see with hindsight that the Indo-European languages in general, and the Germanic languages in particular, formed an ideal playground for the newly comparative philologists. There were lots of such languages; there was copious modern evidence, much of it familiar to the Philologe from birth, but excluded from polite education, like Plattdeutsch; there was copious historical evidence over a long period, most of it never previously studied.
§25. Grimm's theories of language change were furthermore strongly and successfully, even amazingly predictive. Armed with Grimm a scholar like Grundtvig could correct the mistaken manuscript readings of old-style gentleman-amateur philologists like Thorkelín or Conybeare without ever seeing the manuscript, an achievement which seemed almost magical to many, so magical that old-style philologists refused to believe in it—till the evidence proved them wrong. Those who now eulogize "the variant" have forgotten what it was like when it was all variants, when Thorkelín could edit and translate Beowulf any way he liked, in the deep conviction that Anglo-Saxon scribes were so stupid and careless, in a word so primitive, that their spellings and word-endings could be simply ignored. Grimm loved variants, especially dialect variants, they were his stock in trade. But he also established grammatical paradigms and grammatical standards, and without a standard one cannot so much as detect a variant. With Grimm's Law, moreover, one can predict for instance what the cognate of a Latin word ought to be in German; and in the cases where it is not (many thousands of them), one can look further, finding sometimes astonishing further regularity (Grimm's Law refined by Verner's Law), sometimes astonishingly unexpected correspondence. What is the Greek cognate of Germanic hord, and what is its modern English reflex? I dare not say in public, but both answers—provided by Winfred Lehmann—make you think, and, perhaps, understand.
§26. The new comparative philology was integrative, predictive, and above all hopeful. It seemed to open the door to many further fields of discovery, in semantics—this was what triggered mighty enterprises like Murray's New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, and note the sub-title—or if you preferred, in mythology, as promised but not performed by Grimm's own sequel to the Deutsche Grammatik, the Deutsche Mythologie of 1835. I have to say though, and here I cannot agree with Dr Macgillivray, that comparative philology was in no way that I can recognize "situated and contingent." Indeed the last forty years have taught me, at least, not that all knowledge is "situated and contingent," but that the academic profession has lazily and self-indulgently persuaded itself of this, at any rate in the humanities. The view cuts no ice outside the humanities, and it would have cut no ice with Grimm. What is the third person singular present indicative ending of a Class I weak verb in Old English? It is -eð. The plural ending? It is -að. The singular of a Class II weak verb? It is -að. How then, in cases where the subject of the verb does not mark plurality, as for instance with Old English strong neuters like bearn, can one tell singular from plural? Answer, by knowing a Class I verb from a Class II. And if you cannot tell the difference (like too many Anglophone philologists of the 19th century, and 20th, and 21st), then you should have gone to a proper Seminar. It was the appalling John Mitchell Kemble who wrote, on very much this sort of point:
We could mention, were we so inclined, Doctors, yea, Professors of Anglo-Saxon, whose doings in the way of false concords, false etymology, and ignorance of declension, conjugation and syntax, would if perpetrated by a boy in the second form of a public school, have richly merited and been duly repaid by a liberal application of ferula or direr birch.
Variants are one thing, but bungles are another. Without the framework of the Grimm'sche Revolution, one could not tell them apart.
§27. What happened after Grimm? Very briefly, the new comparative philology was taken over only slowly and reluctantly in Britain, where the English duopoly of the two ancient universities, still deeply committed to "polite learning" and the classics, acted as a serious brake, though not a complete block. Anglophone scholarship in this area in the 19th century remained what I have called an "academic slum." The term was queried—why am I not surprised?—by a modern gentleman from Oxford, but I was only abbreviating the opinions Dr Utz has just explained and exemplifed. One result of this, extending into the time of my own education, was that if you wanted to know anything accurate about the English language, you had to read the work not of a native speaker but of a foreigner. I learned English grammar from the Dane Jespersen, updated by the Dutchman Zandvoort. My guide to Beowulf was the German Friedrich Klaeber, and for Middle English I relied on the Finn Tauno Mustanoja. The situation has not improved much even now, as I shall remark later.
§28. Meanwhile, real philology, defiantly labelled by Grimm die deutsche Wissenschaft, began its long relationship with German nationalism, drifting into racism, and lending its support to the forcible takeover of German-speaking border areas from Schleswig-Holstein to Alsace-Lorraine, the Sudetenland, and Austria. It could be said, not entirely fancifully, that the period 1864 to 1945 was one long and noisy argument over the meaning of the word deutsch, settled in the end not by rational debate but by tanks and guns. Rational and philological debate would have been better. But if one turns from world politics to the politics of our profession, English departments in Anglophone universities increasingly turned against historical language study, tainted by pan-Germanism as it was, and left their philological colleagues to struggle for some diminished place in the syllabus. One of Tolkien's near-immortal fictional characters refers to his own life as "fighting the long defeat," and that is an accurate description of Tolkien's professional life, as of mine.
§29. But it has been a defeat not just for the philologists, the faculty of departments of English language as against departments of English literature. According to the New York Review of Books, twenty years ago there were 65,000 English majors in American universities. Since then the student population has doubled. If we, the professors of English departments, had held our market share we would have 130,000 English majors. In fact we have 49,000, some 37.7% of what we should have. If we were selling toothpaste rather than education, the CEOs of our profession would not be drawing fat salaries at Duke, they would all have been fired. I cannot blame the students for staying away. In my view, the disastrous mistake of English studies over the decades has been to set its collective face like flint against ANY serious form of language study, philological or linguistic, synchronic or diachronic. Many English departments in America are still teaching "diagramming"—diagramming! A method based on the folk-grammar of the 19th century, notoriously hard to teach and hard to learn, as having little basis in linguistic reality, and dating back to some archaic period I cannot even identify. Meanwhile I note a comment, again in the NYRB from only a few weeks ago, where the philosopher John R. Searle, Derrida's famous antagonist, reviews the most recent work by Noam Chomsky, and rejects its arguments, but ends nevertheless by saying that he would like to make one thing clear:
I would not wish my criticisms of Chomsky to be misunderstood. At a time when various embarrassingly incompetent accounts of language are widespread in university humanities departments under such names as "literary theory," "deconstruction," and "postmodernism" it is worth emphasising that his work in linguistics is at the highest intellectual level.
"Embrrassingly incompetent": That is how we look to outsiders. I might add that the name missing from the papers to which I am responding is of course "Saussure." Saussure himself was an entirely traditional historical philologist, who wrote his PhD on ablaut grades, but nevertheless recognised the need to move from diachronic to synchronic linguistics. It is not his fault that he has been totally misread, and used as the peg on which to hang theories which he too would have regarded as merely embarrassing—the kind of theory (worse than diagramming) of which one might say that they have not yet reached the dignity of being wrong.
§30. What should we do? Dr Macgillivray urges a return to the kind of manuscript study which so preoccupied the pre-scientific philologists, the viri clarissimi as Kemble contemptuously called them, the classical philologists of Oxford and Cambridge (who of course owned, and restricted access to, most of the manuscripts). I have nothing against manuscript study—Kevin Kiernan's study of the Beowulf codex has indeed convinced me of several things—but it seems to me to be in general, though not in particular, intellectually unambitious. Kenneth Sisam referred to it as "fossicking," though as an Oxford tutor (he never made Professor) he was all for it. One sees the same kind of lack of intellectual ambition elsewhere. I remember, almost thirty years ago at Oxford, Christopher Ball (now Sir Christopher) telling me as a young philologist that it was our job to "hold the line" until the arrival of "new blood." I hope that I had the courage to say—it's the way I remember the scene, but I could be kidding myself—"and then what do we do? Send them over the top into the machine guns once more?" In the same way, and in the same place, I remember asking a senior Oxford philologist what he wanted to do. The answer was "re-edit Sweet's Second Anglo-Saxon Reader: Archaic and Dialectal." Even at Oxford, they tell me that Anglo-Saxon is now off the syllabus, and one cannot be surprised. Philology has dwindled from being a breakthrough science to being a topic of antiquarian lore. Looking at manuscripts is not going to recreate the kind of paradigm shift which Grimm brought about.
§31. My prescription would be this. English departments ought to begin by accepting that no student should graduate in English without a respectable understanding of the structure of the modern language, their own language, for which we have still no adequate textbook, at once accurate and usable. With that as a grounding, it ought to be possible to embark on a genuine philological study of the language of past periods, whether Old English, Middle English, or Shakespeare, the latter effectively "old English" to most of our students. Again, we have no really adequate textbook for our often-compulsory "History of the Language" courses, which is a pity: For comparative philology was not just the study of language, it was the study of language change, as also of language in literature, and vice versa. Without the first part of my prescription, universities might as well hand over their freshman "rhetoric and composition" courses to more able and less hidebound departments, like Communication Studies, and perhaps they will.
§32. I repeat: In my opinion the disastrous error of English departments has been to turn their collective back on all serious kinds of language study, as a late reprisal in the war between the philologists and the critics, long since won by the latter. It may yet prove a Pyrrhic victory. We have a long way to go to get back to the philological levels reached in, say, the 1890s. But linguistics at least has moved on. If we could absorb the lessons of modern synchronic linguistics, and recover the old lessons of diachronic or Grimmian linguistics, we might then have the basis for a real rather than a promotional New Philology.
Valuing Anglo-Saxon Studies
Richard Scott Nokes
§33. In many ways, the field of Anglo-Saxon studies appears strong. Thanks to the Old English Newsletter, the field has long been one of the best bibliographed, and now that the OEN's bibliography has been transformed into an online searchable database, in under fifteen minutes any scholar can have the titles of every important work on a particular subject without having to mine for those diamonds in their university library's general databases. The quality of work published in journals and annuals like The Heroic Age and Anglo-Saxon England continues to be high, and this quality is reflected in the level of scholarship found at conferences. The leaders of the big, interdisciplinary medieval studies organizations very often are Anglo-Saxonists. Viewed from within, the field appears quite strong indeed.
§34. And yet, and yet. When the field is examined from the outside, it begins to show signs of weakness. The number of jobs advertised each year for Anglo-Saxonists can usually be counted on the fingers of one hand. Estimates of the numbers of speakers for such constructed languages as Esperanto, Klingon, and Elvish run into the low millions—can the same be said of Old English? Older scholars tell of a time when all English majors were expected to have a semester of Old English. My non-medievalist colleagues tell me that their schools, which long ago lumped all Old and Middle English study together into a single medieval literature survey, have now in turn lumped those texts onto the beginning of Early Modern English, so that "Brit Lit I" moves from being a sophomore survey to being the only Old English undergraduates will ever receive. Retiring Anglo-Saxonists frequently find that their departments do not plan to replace them. I have had department chairs, upon hearing what my field is, expound upon the uselessness of Old English.
§35. Of course, much of this is anecdotal, so let us look at something measurable. The most medieval literature most undergraduates will receive is from the Norton Anthology series. The Norton Anthology of English Literature is a six-volume, 6000-page behemoth. The first volume, entitled The Middle Ages, is the shortest at under 500 pages. Of that pathetic length, only 90 pages are of Anglo-Saxon literature (including apparatus). In other words, without supplemental texts, the most Anglo-Saxon literature a student in an English literature survey course is going to read will run to less than a hundred pages—Beowulf and a half-dozen small texts. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that this appalling omission is simply the result of editorial choices made by Norton; if professors of English literature surveys were calling out for more medieval content, publishers would provide it. Demand is being met by this paltry supply.
§36. Here we have our problem. Anglo-Saxon studies is as vivacious as ever on the inside, but those outside the field either don't know or don't care about all the interesting work going on. How did we get into this position and, more importantly, how do we get out of it?
§37. Barbara Herrnstein Smith's Contingencies of Value might not have impressed philosophers with its argument, but its claim that literary value is "radically contingent" has granted literary scholars a great deal of latitude in what they want to study. This freedom to move outside of the traditional canon of texts has been valuable to the field, but it has also lent itself to inherent dangers of value agnosticism. In rejecting aesthetic arguments, Contingencies of Value provided a vacuum into which other arguments rushed. Scholars were more than happy to fill in the blank left in the statement "value is radically contingent on __________" with such things as race, class, gender, economics, politics, and personal taste.
§38. Unfortunately, Anglo-Saxon studies has suffered in this atmosphere. Unlike many other fields, Anglo-Saxonists (and other medieval scholars) have to learn dead languages and master skills (such as manuscript research) that are alien to scholars in other fields. A scholar of British modernism, for example, can sit down and read an American modernist text without any difficulty, but cannot do the same for a medieval text.
§39. People tend to fear what they do not understand, and professors are people. While on the one hand medievalists can congratulate themselves on their mastery of skills and knowledge that are rare in other fields, our work can seem rather occult to other scholars. The modernist scholar might ask himself, "Why would I want my students taking courses involving languages I myself cannot read? Do I really want a student I'm advising to be producing work I cannot understand? And, anyway, who needs to know this old material? After all, I cannot read Old English, yet I'm a smart person." Academics who cannot read Old English have strong motive to devalue its study. I have even heard these rationalizations trying to make a virtue of necessity, with Anglo-Saxon studies being characterized as the politically-suspect study of "dead white males." Indeed, in modern parlance, "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" isn't simply a demographic marker—it is an epithet.
§40. Add to this atmosphere the self-segregation of Anglo-Saxonists. Many scholars fail to grapple with the theoretical questions of the rest of the field because working on one's Latin or vernacular language is often a far more fruitful use of one's time. Others simply reject those same questions because they seem naïve from the perspective of medieval studies. Post-structuralist literary theories sometimes can be difficult to reconcile to linguistic facts with which Anglo-Saxonists are familiar, and Marxist literary theories have to be altered significantly to fit into pre-capitalist paradigms. Still others fled from the more politically-charged theoretical debates because of the dangerous history of the use and abuse of Germanic language studies to support authoritarian politics; to a scholar aware of how the national socialism of the Nazis had seduced academics, the danger of being used by the international socialism of communism was very real.
§41. There is enough blame for us all to share for the segregation of Anglo-Saxon studies, but the result is very little conversation going on between Anglo-Saxonists and non-medievalists. When I first read Jerome McGann's The Textual Tradition, I remember thinking that it was just a waste of my time, that he was stating the obvious. Then, I learned how revolutionary so many of my colleagues from print culture literary studies found the book, and I was surprised. Asking around, I found that nearly every medievalist thought the arguments elementary, while modernists were thrilled by them. The difference in reactions is a symptom of the estrangement between medievalists and modernists.
§42. Art has an intellectual "market value" just as it has an economic market value, and sometimes these two values are at wide variance. In order to strengthen the field, Anglo-Saxonists need to increase the intellectual market value of Anglo-Saxon literature. If we do not, we will see the continued decline of influence of Anglo-Saxon studies, until we find ourselves marginalized in the way classicists have been. Below I discuss certain suggestions toward that end; these suggestions should not be considered exhaustive. Each scholar would need to tailor these suggestions to the intellectual, political, and curricular atmosphere in his/her own institution. Nevertheless, Anglo-Saxon studies needs a project of rehabilitation.
§43. First, pushing Old English back toward the center of the curriculum. I called around to various leading universities, and found that while nearly all of them have undergraduate courses for Old English on the books, they tend not to be taught with any frequency. I also found that course descriptions are unreliable; sometimes the course description was general medieval, but the reading list on the syllabus was 14th Century and onward. As a staff member at Stanford told me, "A lot of pre-Chaucer is completely ignored." In other words, English majors commonly graduate without having had a single course in Old English. We would be scandalized if English majors were graduating without studying a single modern poem except The Wasteland, yet we graduate English majors without a single Anglo-Saxon poem except Beowulf all the time—and I'm sorry to say that this has been the case at every school at which I've worked.
§44. This curriculum reform also needs to include graduate schools. Most graduate programs still require a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language yet do not require a reading knowledge of Old English. Every holder of a PhD in English should at least be able to struggle through a simple poem using a glossary and grammar. I have had too many lamentable conversations with people holding PhDs in English who were confused about the difference between Middle English and Old English. In order to reinvigorate Anglo-Saxon studies, we need to push to make the study of Old English literature a requirement at the undergraduate level, and a basic ability with the language a requirement at the graduate level.
§45. Second, we need to return language to the center of our scholarship. In my blog, Unlocked Wordhoard, I argued that too much "history-lite" and "philosophy-lite" was being passed off as literary studies. Though the objections in the blogosphere were various, I think the objections can be fairly aggregated into the statement, "You shouldn't study literature without considering its historical context"—to which I reply, "Why not?" Historians study history all the time without considering literary context. The problem with this objection is that it centers history and marginalizes literature, or at best turns literature as an interesting hook into history. Let me be clear: Anglo-Saxon studies needs theoretically and historically informed literary study, but it also needs its center to focus on language. Why should others value Anglo-Saxon studies when it seems from our behavior that we don't value the language very much? If we want others to value this language and its literature, we need to keep it centered in our own research.
§46. Finally, we need to reach out to the non-academic community. Shakespeare enjoys his position as being probably the only indispensable single author in a curriculum largely because of the position he holds in the popular imagination. Academics might think that you cannot be considered educated unless you have read The Wasteland, but everyone thinks you cannot be considered educated unless you have read Hamlet. Nor is the indispensable value of Anglo-Saxon studies a difficult sell, particularly if it is tied more generally to medieval studies. The amount of money spent on popular medievalism is staggering. Even excepting films and books, publicly reported profits from such things as Renaissance Faires, Medieval Times shows, and themed resorts such as Excalibur Hotel run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Millions of people attend these for-profit enterprises every year, as well as smaller events, fantasy and science fiction conventions, and Society for Creative Anachronism events.
§47. Not everyone who has tried to learn Tolkien's constructed elvish language will also be interested in learning Old English, but many will be. The amount of time, effort, and money that is spent on popular medievalism suggests a deep demand for things medieval—a demand that we can supply. If we can form bridges across the chasm between popular medievalism and academic medievalism, more people will cross. Some changes might be simple, such as offering Old English courses at night in cooperation with SCA groups. Others might be more complicated, such as offering events in conjunction with local movie theaters when Beowulf-themed films are released. If we can create an understanding among the general populace that Anglo-Saxon studies is indispensable, we can raise the status of our field in academe. None of these things should be done to the detriment of solid academic work, but we have no reason to believe that popular medievalism and scholarly Anglo-Saxon studies are mutually exclusive.
§48. Instead of Smith's model of radical contingency, this model of value is of an intellectual marketplace of supply and demand. The field of Anglo-Saxon studies has a very strong, high-quality supply. The general demand for things medieval outside of academe is also very strong. As suppliers, if we can move our product in the marketplace of popular ideas as well as in the academic marketplace, we may be able to create greater demand within the academic market.
Abrams, M.H., et al, eds. 1993. Norton anthology of English literature. 6th edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. [Back]
Goodbye to All That: The State of My Own Personal Field of Schizoid Anglo-Saxon Studies
Eileen A. Joy
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
This will no doubt be like a profession of faith: the profession of faith of a professor who would act as if he were nevertheless asking your permission to be unfaithful or a traitor to his habitual practice.
—Jacques Derrida, "The University Without Condition"
A discipline is not the sum total of all the truths that may be uttered concerning something; it is not even the total of all that may be accepted, by virtue of some principle of coherence and systematization, concerning some given fact or proposition. . . . Within its own limits, every discipline recognizes true and false propositions, but it repulses a whole teratology of learning.
—Michel Foucault, "The Discourse on Language"
It is only the category of multiplicity, used as a substantive and going beyond both the One and the many, beyond the predicative relation of the One and the many, that can account for desiring-production: desiring-production is pure multiplicity, that is to say, an affirmation that is irreducible to any sort of unity.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
§49. In the eponymous clinical tale of his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, the neurologist Oliver Sacks details the case of "Dr. P," a music teacher, who suffers from visual agnosia. In Sacks's terms, "he construed the world as a computer construes it, by means of key features and schematic relationships" (Sacks 1987, 15). When Sacks asks him to look at pictures in an issue of National Geographic Magazine, a "striking brightness, a color, a shape would arrest his attention and elicit comment—but in no case did he get the scene-as-a-whole. . . . He never entered into a relation with the picture as a whole—never faced, so to speak, its physiognomy. He had no sense whatever of a landscape or a scene" (Sacks 1987, 10-11). Although Dr. P was apparently a brilliant musician and teacher of music (as Sacks puts it, "his temporal lobes were obviously intact: he had a wonderful musical cortex"), something was wrong with his visual processing. When shown photographs of family and friends, while he could pick out facial features, such as a nose or moustache, for the most part "he recognized nobody: neither his family, nor his colleagues, nor his pupils, nor himself," and he "approached these faces—even of those near and dear—as if they were abstract puzzles or tests. He did not relate to them; he did not behold. No face was familiar to him, seen as a 'thou,' being just identified as a set of features, an 'it.' Thus, there was formal, but no trace of personal gnosis. And with this went his indifference, or blindness, to expression" (Sacks 1987, 12, 13). Ultimately, although Dr. P had "wholly lost the world as representation," he somehow "wholly preserved it as music" (Sacks 1987, 18). Indeed, when he hummed to himself, he was better able to navigate his daily world of persons, places, and objects. For Sacks, "the brain is a machine and a computer," but "our mental processes, which constitute our being and life, are not just abstract and mechanical, but personal as well—and, as such, involve not just classifying and categorizing, but continual judging and feeling as well." In Sacks's view, the case of Dr. P is both a "parable" and a "warning" for cognitive science: "of what happens to a science that eschews the judgmental, the particular, the personal, and becomes entirely abstract and computational" (Sacks 1987, 20).
§50. I have not thought of Sacks's book since 1987, when I first read it, but it immediately came to mind (no pun intended) after an exchange in winter 2006-07 between some commentators on various medieval studies weblogs regarding the state of the field of Old English (or, Anglo-Saxon) studies, in which exchange certain laments (not new by any means) were voiced regarding the endangerment of Old English, or more broadly, Anglo-Saxon studies. This discussion (which was really, we must remember, an informal, if serious conversation between bloggers) admirably took up various threads and aspects of the field in a manner that suggested (to me, anyway) that the commentators understand that Anglo-Saxon studies address a richly complex set of interdisciplinary concerns and can never be reduced to some species of philology or language study only; nevertheless, the predominant notes being struck in the various posts seemed to coalesce around the idea that Anglo-Saxon studies represents an area of productive resistance to the usual business of most English departments, and is in danger primarily because it has been forgetting or neglecting that we know how the English language (and maybe language in general) works better than our English department colleagues who work in other, more modern fields. Further, philology, especially of a certain historicist bent, represents an order of knowledge with powerful explanatory power—"English with right and wrong answers," thanks to venerable verities like Grimm's and Verner's laws—so much so that it is capable of exposing the lie of the postmodern caveat that all knowledge is contingent and situated, a caveat, according to Michael Drout, that no one outside of Humanities believes, "except in the most pathetic, freshman-philosophy sense" (Drout 2007a). In other words, the health of the field of Anglo-Saxon studies will partly depend on our asserting more forcefully that most work that goes under the banner of "poststructural theory" or "postmodernism" is fairly suspect and easily refutable because its practitioners don't understand how language works. At the same time, by turning more of our attention to both the scholarship and teaching of language (especially with a better understanding of historic, synchronic, cognitive, etc. linguistics) as well as to the history of the material conditions of textual production, we can better demonstrate the value of our studies in the more practical terms the "real world" (in the form of university administrators, legislators, and conservative critics of higher education) supposedly understand.
§51. But what if no one in an English department except the medievalists—and especially the Anglo-Saxonists—cares about, or pays attention, to what early medievalists might have to say about postmodernism or language studies? Richard Scott Nokes puts the matter succinctly (for him, anyway) when he writes, "20th[-]Century Americanists can read and understand the work of 18th[-Century] British scholars, who can read and understand the work of film scholars, but unless they can read Old English or Old Norse, or medieval Latin, or Old Whatever, there will always be a barrier between us and them. We can understand them, but they can't understand us" (Nokes 2007b). In the remainder of my essay here, I will try to work out what I see as the disciplinary agnosia of these arguments—a disciplinary agnosia, moreover, that shares something with Dr. P's recollection of his reading of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: he "had an undiminished grasp of the plot, but completely omitted visual characteristics, visual narrative, and scenes. He remembered the words of the characters but not their faces; and though, when asked, he could quote, with his remarkable and almost verbatim memory, the original visual descriptions, these were, it became apparent, quite empty for him and lacked sensorial, imaginal, or emotional reality. Thus, there was an internal agnosia as well" (Sacks 1987, 15-16). I want to see, further, if it might be possible to imagine a radically schizoid future for Anglo-Saxon studies, one in which the continued health of the more broad humanities and not just the study of one segment of the past would be our chief concern, and where it would actually be a priority to do the very thing Nokes thinks might be impossible: communicate what we do to a broader audience in a manner that demonstrates our important relevance within the postmodern (and even, posthistorical) university. My use of the term "schizoid" is a deliberate appropriation of the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, where they argue for a schizophrenic process of desire that is always lighting out for the territories elsewhere other than the more Oedipalized realms of Family, Church, Nation, etc. My idea here is that Anglo-Saxon studies is deeply Oedipalized in terms of its fixation on fatherly tradition(s), and could benefit from what Deleuze and Guattari called a "desiring-revolution," one that would maximize, in the words of Ivan Illich, "personal energy under personal control" (Illich 1973, 13).
§52. Michael Drout initiated the original discussion when, in a post on his weblog Wormtalk and Slugspeak, "State of the Field," he explained that, while different commentators will argue, differently, that Old English studies has either become increasingly marginalized or has never been in better shape,1 his "gut feeling" is that, "although the free-fall may have stopped, and although in some ways we are positioned very well, there is still a lot of trouble in Old English studies and in the related Old Norse studies," at least in the American university (Drout 2006). Drout's stated intention in his initial post was to work toward pulling together some data that might support his "gut feeling" regarding this state of affairs, and to revisit the question multiple times over a period of time, but he threw out as a first consideration that it is getting harder and harder for beginning researchers to get their hands on essential research tools, such as dictionaries and catalogs of manuscripts, that are either out of print or difficult to get (money-wise), although one of Drout's specific examples is the Cleasby-Vigfusson Old Norse/English dictionary, which is available online.2 I might add briefly, too, that I do not know when it has not been difficult to get one's hands on certain items such as dictionaries, catalogs, and even the primary original manuscripts of our studies (at the very least, from a cost-time-travel perspective), and in my own experience, as someone who has never worked at an institution with a major research library, online and electronic resources, such as Kevin Kiernan et al.'s Electronic Beowulf, the University of Toronto's Dictionary of Old English project, and the several free online versions of the Bosworth-Toller and other dictionaries, have been immensely helpful. While expensive in some instances (and obviously free in others), I would say the research tools for Old English studies are more accessible than ever, and to more students and scholars. And with the fourth edition of Klaeber's Beowulf now published, the recent announcement of the Reprints Series from the Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon and Manuscript Research, Martin Foys's current collaboration with Asa Simon Mittman to produce an electronic edition of early medieval maps, and a steady flow of books coming out from Arizona's Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, such as John Niles's recent Beowulf and Lejre, which provides an English translation of Tom Christensen's 1991 monograph Lejre—Syn og Sagn, I have found that the times are very good for accessibility to research aids. I will warrant that Drout is right that it should not be so difficult to get one's hands on a copy of Ker's Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, but I also believe it is just a matter of time before this, too, is available in digitized form. Drout, with his audiobook project "Anglo-Saxon Aloud: A Daily Reading of the Entire Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records" (available in podcast form, no less) and in the project he is developing with a computer scientist colleague of his at Wheaton College to create graphic displays of the material relationships within early medieval manuscripts, is himself a beautifully creative (and generous) innovator of just the type of projects that make our studies more accessible to more persons and that also create new avenues for cultural-materialist approaches to manuscript research.3
§53. Before Drout returned to his subject in a subsequent blog post, Tirincula (a pseudonym for a professor of Old English studies working, I assume, at a university somewhere in the United States) responded to Drout's original post, "State of the Field," by painting a somewhat more positive portrait of the field as a sociable and accommodating "little world" with "fluid borders":
Since Anglo-Saxonists are accustomed to working in interdisciplinary environments, the field's intellectual community readily encompasses those whose primary focus is Scandinavia, the Celtic world, Latin, etc. etc. Moreover, a lot of exciting work is being done these days by Anglo-Saxonists reaching across the boundaries of the Conquest—not caving to institutional pressure to focus on the high Middle Ages, but rather bringing the training, concerns, and interests of early medievalists to bear on the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (Tirincula 2007).
Further, the "temporal, geographical, and linguistic flexibility of early medievalists, and particularly Anglo-Saxonists and their near relations, means that scholars of the period have a lot of flexibility as they develop their research agendas beyond the starting points of their first projects" (Tirincula 2007). Ultimately, in Tirincula's mind, Anglo-Saxon studies is a "counterculture," in which we "do work that defies a neat mapping onto the normal disciplinary divisions of the university," and therefore, "the community of Anglo-Saxonists offers its members an alternative to and refuge from those divisions" (Tirincula 2007).4 A "profusion of kinds of scholarly community is a healthy thing," but it's also important, Tirincula believes, to not react the way other marginalized fields have "by strictly enforcing the kind of credentials that gain one entry to a career, the kind of department in which it is appropriate to work, the canon it's appropriate to study, the chronological boundaries of appropriate enquiry, and the internal status system of the discipline," such that there is less support for "new and adventurous work" (Tirincula 2007).
§54. Tirincula's characterization and even hope for the field in her post, as well as her cautions against the policing of disciplinary borders, are eminently smart and reasonable, but her faith in the "fluid borders" and disciplinary "flexibility" of Anglo-Saxonists gives me some pause. While I agree that, for the most part, Anglo-Saxon studies is a fairly collegial and friendly place (and I have personally benefited enormously from the mentorship of some very traditional and not-so-traditional figures in the field), it is also sometimes too much of that "little" Tirincula refers to as our world. To say that leaping into the eleventh and twelfth centuries indicates our willingness to cross boundaries falls altogether too short, in my opinion. If "breaking into" the eleventh and twelfth centuries is our current radical move, and from a lot of what I have read and heard lately, it certainly seems to be, then while I might celebrate (and I do—the current work of Christopher Cannon, Mary Swan, and Elaine Treharne is particularly exciting)5, I also want more, much more. Of course, on one level, I think it is critically important that scholars on both sides of the Old English-Middle English divide begin the work of dismantling this somewhat arbitrary and ultimately mutable border of the various "beyonds," to crib from Homi Bhaba,6 in much the same way scholars working in the later Middle Ages have been productively calling into question the boundaries that supposedly neatly divide the medieval, or premodern, from the early modern and the modern.7 Likewise, some very interesting work has been afoot for a while now in Anglo-Saxon studies that decenters and displaces the traditional boundaries between pre- and post-Roman Britain.8
§55. At the same time, it distresses me somewhat how often Anglo-Saxon studies don't show up at all or only as a party of one in the collaborative efforts to redefine the parameters—historical, theoretical, and otherwise—of medieval studies, such as has been the case with what I believe are some of the most significant publications in this vein: Louise Fradenburg and Carla Freccero's Premodern Sexualities; Glenn Burger and Steven Kruger's Queering the Middle Ages; Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, and James Schultz's Constructing Medieval Sexuality; Patricia Clare Ingham and Michelle Warren's Postcolonial Moves: Medieval through Modern; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's The Postcolonial Middle Ages; Francesca Sautman and Pamela Sheingorn's Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages; Bruce Holsinger and Ethan Knapp's "The Marxist Premodern"; and Jennifer Summit and David Wallace's "Medieval/Renaissance: After Periodization."9 There are some exceptions, such as Speaking Two Languages: Traditional Disciplines and Contemporary Theory in Medieval Studies, edited by Allen Frantzen; the special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies devoted to "Gender and Empire," co-edited by Clare Lees and Gillian Overing; Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, co-edited by Thelma Fenster, Lees, and Jo Ann McNamara; Class and Gender in Early English Literature: Intersections, co-edited by Britton Harwood and Overing; Gender in Debate from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, co-edited by Fenster and Lees; Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages, co-edited by Sharon Farmer and Carol Braun Pasternack; not to mention the volume co-edited by Ananya Jahanara Kabir and Deanne Williams, Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages, which includes three chapters by Anglo-Saxonists (see footnote 8). But it is clear, too, from the foregoing list, that when Anglo-Saxonists lead collaborative projects with scholars working in later medieval periods, that it is a small group of women—primarily, Lees, Overing, and Pasternack—who have done, essentially, most of the heavy lifting. It is worth noting in this respect, as well, that in Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe's Reading Old English Texts, an anthology of essays by Anglo-Saxonists that surveys the most current approaches to the study of Old English literature as of 1997, the chapters on feminist and poststructural approaches were written by Lees and Pasternack, respectively.
§56. I am also concerned at how often reviews or surveys of significant current (or, postmodern) work in the field of medieval studies often elide the very important groundbreaking work in Anglo-Saxon studies that, for whatever reasons, is not tallied along with everything else (and which only adds to the perpetual sting of Anglo-Saxon England being omitted entirely from David Wallace's Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, which begins "after the Norman Conquest," albeit there is a chapter on the "afterlife" of Old English by Seth Lerer). Therefore, in Stephen Nichols's 2005 essay for PMLA, "Writing the New Middle Ages," which purports to review the postmodern innovations of a newly interdisciplinary medieval literary studies that "has succeeded in breaching the ramparts that traditionally divided the field into a series of vigorously defended fiefs" (Nichols 2005, 422), out of over 130 texts listed in the bibliography (mainly covering works published from the mid-1990s through 2003), only four books by Anglo-Saxonists are listed: Catherine Karkov's Text and Picture in Anglo-Saxon England: Narrative Strategies in the Junius 11 Manuscript, Andy Orchard's Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript, Peter Dendle's Satan Unbound: The Devil in Old English Narrative Literature, and the edited volume by Benjamin Withers and Jonathan Wilcox, Naked before God: Uncovering the Body in Anglo-Saxon England. While I know it might be considered impolitic to say so, only one of the aforementioned books, and only in some of its parts, can be properly called "newly" interdisciplinary or postmodern (the Withers and Wilcox volume)—all are excellent studies (I own each one of them and have regularly poached teaching and research materials from two of them), but as a group, they cannot be argued to have strayed too far from fairly traditional critical paradigms. Which is not to say that these paradigms have somehow been exhausted—they have not been, and indeed my own attraction to the field is partly grounded in a fierce admiration of its rigorous erudition and deeply historicist and language-based approaches, but I simply want there to be more elbow room for other approaches to emerge alongside (not in place) of these (and I can't help but feel that in subtle and not so subtle ways, as a group, we do often discourage and disparage these other approaches).
§57. Equally dismaying is the recent review article by Tara Williams, "Fragments and Foundations: Medieval Texts and the Future of Feminism," in which article Williams "examines the development of feminist criticism and gender studies within medieval literary studies and the limited impact that feminist treatments of texts from the Middle Ages have had on the field of feminist theory and criticism more generally" (Williams 2007, 1003). After making the statement that, "[d]espite the excellent work that has been done on non- and less canonical writers, Chaucer has remained the pivotal figure for feminism in medieval studies," Williams relegates to a footnote that "[t]his focus overlooks the field of Anglo-Saxon studies, which is outside the scope of this article, but includes works like Gillian Overing's Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf" (Williams 2007, 1006, 1014). But why Anglo-Saxon studies (especially the collaborative work of Lees and Overing) are outside the focus of an essay that purports to provide an historical overview of feminist medieval studies as well as chart avenues for new directions in those studies is not entirely clear.10 But in a manner that is unfortunate, overviews of scholarship such as these would seem to "put paid" to the idea expressed by Lees and Overing, in their essay "Before History, Before Difference," that the Anglo-Saxon period is often viewed by scholars working in other fields as "emphatically pre-historical—at the origin, though not at the beginning," and whether "from simple ignorance of this earlier period or for reasons largely unconscious and/or disciplinary, debates in medieval studies on the nature of subjectivity and identity, gender, the body, and sexuality, representation and power continue to operate from, or are conditioned by, the premises of this master paradigm" (Lees and Overing 1998, 315).
§58. But I digress. For while I ultimately agree with Tirincula that we certainly should not be calling for any strict enforcement of the type of work Anglo-Saxonists ought to be doing, to act as if that is not already partly the case seems disingenuous. I could tell many anecdotes, but decline to do so out of professional propriety. But even a brief glance at the titles of papers presented at the biennial meetings of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists—choose your year, any year, then look at them cumulatively if you have the time—reveals a lot about what the discipline of Anglo-Saxon studies would seem to either actively dismiss or set to the side or minimize: studies of gender, class, race, and sexuality; feminist and queer studies; Marxist and postcolonial studies; cultural studies (of the British or Benjaminian materialist type); post-processural archaeology; media and textuality theory; new or post-philology; semiotics and deconstruction; Foucauldian genealogy; psychoanalytic and cognitive approaches; political and sociological theory; nonlinear dynamics and systems theory; the theoretically roguish thought and schizoid-rhizomatic theory of Deleuze and Guattari and their ilk; postmodern hermeneutics; and any other number of other schools of post-structural thought and analysis as well as their significant "turns"—to language/discursivity, to the performative, to the body/embodiment, to space/habitus, to the Other/posthuman, to memory/spectrality, to reading/aesthetics, to ethics, to the animal, and to temporality.11 Never mind presentism,12 which represents the ultimate taboo, even in later medieval, and to a certain extent, early modern studies. This is just my way of saying, let's not fool ourselves too much about how "fluid" or "adventurous" our disciplinary concerns are, a characterization that is, in any case, somewhat at odds with another of Tirincula's assessments that I think is a more apt description of the field: Anglo-Saxon studies as a countercultural "refuge" from "the normal disciplinary divisions of the university."
§59. This is not at all to say that some very interesting work is not currently being done in Anglo-Saxon studies (say, from the mid-1990s onward) that takes up one or more of the schools and "turns" of thought listed above,13 but as one of the editors of The Postmodern Beowulf, I can say here with some amount of authority (I hope) that, while much that could be called theoretically daring was on the horizon in the early 1990s, over fifteen years later, while I can hear some lone voices in the wilderness, I detect no serious "second wave," especially among the younger scholars where I would expect to find it, and the "first wave," at backward glance, now appears to have been somewhat of a bracing parley without a volley. When surveying the scholarship on Beowulf of the last twenty or so years that could be said to take up one or more postmodern bends of thought, my collaborators and I found that the majority of that kind of work had been accomplished primarily in the early to mid-1990s by scholars who would now (and partly then, also) be considered in their middle to later careers, such as Allen Frantzen, John Hill, John Niles, Seth Lerer, Nicholas Howe, James Earl, Marijane Osborn, Carol Braun Pasternack, Helen Bennett, Janet Thormann, Gillian Overing, and Clare Lees (Jane Chance should be given a nod here for her groundbreaking work on the poem in her 1986 book Woman as Hero in Anglo-Saxon Literature). Who, we asked ourselves, when gathering together the table of contents, would represent the younger generation most influenced by Frantzen's call, in Desire for Origins, to develop a Beowulf studies that would "seek" its future "outside the Department of English and outside the rigid limits of language study, literary criticism, and history that contain them" (Frantzen 1990, 225), or most inspired by Niles's idea, expressed in his Introduction to A Beowulf Handbook, that Old English studies should be situated within contemporary theoretical paradigms that would help us to investigate how Old English literary works, such as Beowulf, "shape the present-day culture that calls them to mind as artifacts" (Niles 1997, 9)? We put our collective ears to the ground, and we heard . . . some small tapping.
§60. Along these same lines, I was a little disappointed when reading John Hill's recent survey essay, "Current Trends in Beowulf Studies," where his main intention is to provide "a review of the literary-critical work" he has "found most influential in the past fifteen years or so, work likely to stimulate further study . . . and thus become the key inspirers of Beowulf criticism into the near future" (Hill 2007, 66). Hill notes that recent scholarship has made many Beowulfs: "the archaic Beowulf, the psychological Beowulf, the feminist Beowulf, the monster-studies Beowulf, the oral-traditional Beowulf with its political and ethnogenetic implications, the moral Beowulf, and the comical Beowulf," as well as the "dragon-inhabited" Beowulf (Hill 2007, 69).14 But throughout his essay, Hill damns with faint praise much of what he terms influential and critically inspiring, such that Overing's treatment of women in Beowulf in her book cited above is "interesting but anthropologically innocent"; Catherine Carsley, in her essay "Reassessing Cultural Memory in Beowulf," apparently regrettably takes up "assumptions about how to value and thus read the poem's presentation of revenge-feud, as a jural institution, [that] are distinctly twentieth-century ones"; Nida-Louise Surber-Meyer, in her Gift and Exchange in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Corpus, "treats dramatic and lexical context superficially" and her discussion is "often fragmented, even sometimes misguided"; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's treatment of Grendel in the poem, as a kind of "reified Otherness," while "interesting," is also "overly tenuous, connected to the poem's contextual articulations only by such opaque strands as Grendel's genealogy, his invasion of Heorot, and his watery habitat"; while "much" of Jennifer Neville's "Monsters and Criminals: Defining Humanity in Old English Poetry" makes "good sense," she "does not treat the monsters in the poem carefully within their highly differentiated contexts"; James Hala's Kristevan reading of Grendel's mother, in his essay, "The Parturition of Poetry and the Birthing of Culture: The ides aglæcwif and Beowulf," is "[a]n ingenious but overwrought set of speculations"; Mary-Dockray Miller's analysis of Hrothgar, in her essay "Beowulf's Tears of Fatherhood," as an "effeminate Other" in relation to Beowulf, "sorts well with a body of criticism that sees Hrothgar as weak," but "because we have so little heroic poetry we cannot take Hrothgar's emotionalism as evidence of a breakdown into effeminacy," and further, in her book Motherhood and Mothering in Anglo-Saxon England, Dockray-Miller's readings are "new, well-argued and nicely documented, although the conditioning emphasis on a heroic world of violence is often too speculative and sharp, thus insufficiently nuanced" (Hill 2007, 70, 73, 74, 76, 76-77, 77, 79). Intentionally or not, Hill gives pride of place to the "non-modern, aesthetic presuppositions, and compositional methods that might underlie Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Hiberian art and poetry" by concluding his essay with a look at the mathematical and geometric scholarship on Beowulf of Robert Stevick and David Howlett.
§61. But again, I digress, because it is not my intention in this essay to start making a tally of who is or is not undertaking this or that type of postmodern Anglo-Saxon studies, or of whether or not such studies have become mainstream or remain marginal within the field, or have been readily accepted or damned with faint praise or outright condemned, such that I might be able to make some sort of pronouncement about the current state of the field with regard to the acceptance or rejection of the use of particular critical theories. I leave that work to those who like to make lists and formulate statistics (although, at the same time, do we really need statistics to tell us what we already know: Anglo-Saxon studies does often police the boundaries of its discipline). Nor do I want to make some kind of general call—as Frantzen did in the early 1990s—for all Anglo-Saxonists to embrace, in some fashion, cultural studies and poststructural thought (while also continuing to hone the traditional yet still richly rewarding paths of source and manuscript and language study); indeed, I am ultimately for "free choice" and for a field that would openly and warmly take all comers, regardless of their individual desires to "use" the field for traditional and/or non-traditional critico-scholarly ends. My own vision and hope for the field, which I will elaborate further down, is one in which all types of work—philology, source study, codicology, textual editing, theory, etc.—would be affectively embraced by all who work under the sign of "Anglo-Saxon England," and there would be a radical openness as regards the possibilities of what each scholar's labors could contribute to our (truly) collective work. But my larger concern here has to do with the issue of disciplinarity more broadly, and how those who consider themselves Anglo-Saxonists perceive the future of our field in relation to the horizons of an increasingly threatened humanities. Obviously, specialization in a somewhat narrowly defined area, such as Old English or Old Norse poetry, will have to serve as a necessary precondition to a stake in a university appointment and for participation as an expert in the field of premodern studies (and yes, specialized expertise matters and Anglo-Saxonists have that in spades), but whether or not English or other departments will continue to value premodern studies in general will depend to a large extent on our willingness to expand the horizons of what we believe is our period of concern (500, give or take, to 1066 C.E. England?), and even, to completely dismantle the temporal lines that separate "what we do" from "what they do," whoever "they" are: the intellectual historians of modern France or eastern Europe, the specialists in cyberpunk literature, the queer theorists, the contemporary poets and printmakers and painters, the physicists and computer scientists, the philosophers of mind, the social and political theorists, the evolutionary biologists, etc.
§62. In his second post, "Again with the State of the Field," Drout agrees with Tirincula that it is "a really intellectually exciting time to be an Anglo-Saxonist, with new areas for study opening up," but at the same time, he is "not at all sanguine about the future of the field," mainly because of what he sees as more and more English departments eliminating early medieval studies in favor of later periods or different specialties. As a result, Drout feels that Anglo-Saxonists "are like a species that's healthy, genetically diverse and parasite free but whose habitat is being rapidly destroyed" (Drout 2007a). To those who might blame bad pedagogy (formerly compulsory courses in Old English taught poorly), lousy teaching instruments (such as, in Drout's words, "the craptastic Clark-Hall dictionary, grammar books aimed at students who have had four years of Latin and Greek, etc."), or the refusal of Anglo-Saxonists to engage with literary theory (Allen Frantzen's argument in Desire for Origins), Drout adds that what might have even more to do with the purposeful shoving off of our discipline is that, "for those of our colleagues who know how we work, philology and the kinds of historical criticism that Anglo-Saxonists do is an irritating rebuke to standard dogma." At the same time, "far too many of our colleagues (and even more of their students) really have very little idea of what we do because they are appallingly ignorant about language," and therefore, while some in our departments "can go on about Otherness, etc. . . . they have no idea how actual language works"—semantic shifts, phonological change, the influence of Old Norse on English, and the like (Drout 2007a). Since English majors, according to Drout, are declining in numbers, regardless of English programs' efforts to broaden the canon, diversify faculty, and focus more on contemporary literatures, "something different" needs to happen, and in Drout's mind that "something different" would be to renew our focus "on language and how it works in a historical sense rather than in an abstract philosophical sense" (Drout 2007a). Because, in Drout's mind, literary studies "suffer" from always being pulled toward either solipsism or politics, a more serious engagement with language and linguistics could help us "to argue to parents, legislators, and critics that what we do is valuable not just in terms of some kind of nebulous 'critical thinking,' but in really specific terms" (Drout 2007a). But unless our studies can be argued to have something to do with the development of professional careers, I'm not sure parents and legislators will ever be interested, nor do I fully understand how the study of language could ever be completely lifted out of certain socio-philosophical contexts (is not the practice of history itself a type of philosophy, even an art? can any academic discipline, including linguistics, ever be completely free of philosophy or theorizing? is language study really a science practiced with "right and wrong answers"?), but let's leave those questions aside for the moment.
§63. In response to Drout's and Tirincula's posts, Richard Scott Nokes wrote a post on his blog Unlocked Wordhoard, "More on the State of the Field," in which he argues that the real "problem" with our field "is that we have abandoned literature" in favor of "philosophy-lite and history-lite." Instead of conversations about Beowulf or other Old English poetry, we spend "more time talking about Kristeva and Spivak," and we have further forgotten, in our pursuit of old and new historicist readings "that history is situated IN LANGUAGE" (Nokes 2007a). So, essentially, we should attend to language and let the philosophy and history departments attend to what they know better than we do. In another post clarifying his initial thoughts, "A Day Late and 99¢ Short," Nokes writes that "the use of history should be optional" in the interpretation of literature, primarily because "language pre-dates history," and therefore history is situated in language and not the other way around (Nokes 2007b). While he is quick to point out that he is "not saying that we can learn nothing from the situatedness of language," what he does want to say is that the idea is "overrated for its ability to help us understand," and he is much more interested "in those elements of language that are not contingent upon situation, the things that used to be called 'universals'" (Nokes 2007b). Drout mainly agrees with Nokes, but also avers that he doesn't "actually see how one could have language analysis without history"; nevertheless, "other disciplines should be subordinate to what we should be able to do best: analyze language, narrative and culture in ways that are not easily accessible to political scientists, sociologists, or philosophers," because "[o]ur game should be played on our home field" (Drout 2007b).
§64. In my own initial response to these musings of Drout's and Nokes's, "My Life Among the Anglo-Saxonists: More Anomie, Despair, and Self-Immolation," posted on the group medieval studies weblog In The Middle, I suggested that these sorts of arguments appear to exercise the either/or fallacy—either we're language study experts who "get" literature, history, and culture on a deep, structural level that is somehow inaccessible to the modernists, or we are postmodern theorists pretending to know things about literature, history, and culture we can't possibly know if we're not language experts first—as if somehow we are not always both, or that someone who has a firm grasp of Old Norse is therefore better suited to understand the contemporary novels of Peter Høeg (they might not be), or that someone who might not know Old English or Latin or Old Norse can't possibly understand (or hope to know well) the poetry of Wallace Stevens or the politics of race and gender and sexuality at play in the oeuvre of Toni Morrison, never mind in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. Under the dictums proffered by Drout and Nokes, can Morrison even hope to understand Morrison?15
§65. To Drout's claim that the discipline of philology "has, since Grimm (and maybe even since Rask and Bopp), built up a great deal of knowledge that is valuable exactly because is not contingent and situated in any meaningful sense" (Drout 2007a), I expressed in my post that language is situated—first and foremost in human bodies, which are themselves always situated somewhere, and I will say here that that "somewhere" is history itself, and more largely, the material world within which everything is, on some level, interconnected. I have always told my students that a dictionary is the last place they should go to understand the meaning of terms such as love, friendship, justice, revenge, morality, human, and the like (for they will only find words pointing to other words, which will not ultimately reveal to them the myriad ways in which different persons in different times and places negotiate and use and understand these—not words, exactly—but states of being and action), and it discomfits me to think, that as an Anglo-Saxonist, what I should be telling them is that English, understood properly from the perspective of the right dictionaries and linguistic "laws," provides "right and wrong answers." But what are the questions? Yes, I know a really good historical dictionary, such as Toronto's Old English Dictionary, provides me with rich and invaluable information as to the use of certain Old English words in certain Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, from which relations I can deduce some useful information about Anglo-Saxon thought and life and the use of language in relation to that thought and life, but it will only ever be a partial picture, a mere scratching on the surface of a history long lost to us except in its ruins and fragments: the "left behind," as it were. To say, further, that history is situated in language, as Nokes does, may capture something of the fact that the disciplinary practice of history is, essentially, a language and narrative art (it most decidedly is so), but history, understood more broadly as the things that happen every day (now and in the past), both with and without our notice of them, has a material existence that may or may not originate in language or even in a human consciousness structured, pace Chomsky and Lacan, like a grammar or a language.
§66. I am not born with a full-blown language and multiple vocabularies, but must learn (or at least, following Chomsky, generate) these in my traffic with the world, which is not always verbal. Recent discoveries in the cognitive sciences are making more and more clear how important embodiment is to consciousness, and therefore, also to language.16 Furthermore, the science and philosophy of complexity and emergence are demonstrating in powerful ways that nothing is really fully separate from anything else.17 And I would argue that trying to pretend that the study of language can be accomplished in some sort of room that is separate from or pre-adjacent to politics, history, or philosophy, while at the same time arguing that language study is indispensable to understanding those realms, is like saying I can separate my head from my body in order to better study my brain, which will then allow me to fully explain what a human being (composed of body plus world plus temporality) is. It has always been too easy to poke holes in the sometimes absurdist claims of poststructural thought, which may or may not be well articulated in language that could be called linguistically or historically precise, and then turn around and argue that, if the language (or knowledge of history) is imprecise, then the ideas must be bogus. But why bother beating up on straw men or getting upset when Foucault, pace Deleuze and Guattari, praises "difference over uniformity, flows over unity, [and] mobile arrangements over systems" (Foucault 1983, xiii), since science has already made clear, in much more rigorous fashion, that our mind, and therefore our understanding of our experiences—both current and historical—is not a "unified, homogeneous unity, nor even . . . a collection of entities," but is rather, "a disunified, heterogeneous, collection of processes" (Varela, Thompson and Rosch 1991, 100)?
§67. But perhaps even better answers to Drout's and Nokes's claims that some knowledge is not contingent or situated and that an important move for the self-preservation of Anglo-Saxon studies might be to at least privilege language study first before anything else (with the understanding that language study partakes in something like universal or pragmatic facts or truths), come from three graduate students in medieval studies, Liza Blake (New York University), Mary Kate Hurley (Columbia University), and John Walter (Saint Louis University), two of whom (Blake and Walter) appended comments to my blog post, cited above, "My Life Among the Anglo-Saxonists."18 Blake referenced Deleuze's idea that, "when questioning something's identity," you should replace "intrinsic essences by active transformations. In this new system, [in the words of Manuel DeLanda, from Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy,] 'figures are classified by their response to events that occur to them'" (qtd. in Joy 2007). Of her own struggles to identify herself as a scholar, Blake wrote further:
If there's anything I learned in undergrad[uate] and graduate school, as I slowly and awkwardly came to "identify" myself as a scholar of literature, it is that I'm not mastering an area by difference (I do _____ while philosophy does philosophy and linguistics does language), but mastering an ability to sense—and provide for—when a text needs more historical analyses and when it asks for philosophical analyses (insert various "icals" here). In short . . . I would identify myself not by what I do, but by how the texts I read transform my scholarly work, and transform what it means for me to be (or become—I've got a long way to go yet) a scholar. (Qtd. in Joy 2007)
In another comment, Walter reminded us that "the problem with claims that all we need to do is focus on 'x' is that X gets its meaning from its relationships to everything that's not X," and he indicated that he "liked Walter Ong's take on what English studies is," as evidenced by an essay Ong wrote in 1971, "English 2000 A.D.," where Ong ruminated:
I suspect that at its best English in the future will continue to develop by reaching out and pulling in around itself as many as possible of the other always burgeoning humanistic subjects (including the sciences in their manifold humanistic dimensions). . . . Perhaps the end result will be the emergence of a multidisciplinary field of study, which we can hope will not be invincibly chaotic and which might be styled anthropology in the deepest sense of this term, with various foci, these for English being around the verbally produced artifact. (Ong 1971, 11)
§68. Finally, in a memorial piece, "In Memoriam: Nicholas Howe," written for In The Middle, Hurley ruminated on her experience of re-reading Howe's book Across an Inland Sea: Writing in Place from Buffalo to Berlin, which Hurley believes teaches us "as much about being a medievalist as it does about being a traveler" (Hurley 2006). She explained the ways in which Howe's book, although it is not ostensibly about Anglo-Saxon England, resonates with the themes that predominated Howe's work with Old English texts: "the idea and construction of home, and the ways in which the loss of that home inscribes itself in a place, and moreover in writing" (Hurley 2006). And she also pointed out how Howe also directly invokes the ruins of Old English elegy—its enta geweorc—in relation to places such as an abandoned train station in Buffalo, New York or High Street in Columbus, Ohio. Most importantly, Hurley highlighted Howe's insights in his book regarding the temporal paradoxes of pilgrimage and pilgrimage sites, which in my mind could stand as an apt description of the exemplary (and may I say, beautiful) way in which Howe approached the study of the Anglo-Saxon world in his scholarship. As Howe himself puts it:
The return enacted by pilgrimage need not be—perhaps rarely is—within one's own experience or life; it is more powerfully a return within commonly shared practices and memories. . . . A pilgrimage site endures in the life of a person paradoxically as a place of transience. You journey there, you are there, and then you leave. . . . But from that pilgrim's place comes some understanding that it is not transient and fixes it in memory so it can be found again. (Howe 2003, 114)
This idea of traveling to the past via the well-trod paths to ancient sites where, in the face of the "stony reticence" of those sites, "words should fail us" (Howe 2003, 139), and by which traveling there is both permanence but also the continual transience of going and coming back, captures beautifully, for me, an ideal praxis for Anglo-Saxon studies—a praxis, moreover, that would always understand the importance of the return to the present because, as Hurley explained Howe's thinking regarding his journey to Chartres, "in our time a pilgrimage site exists only as it is made and remade through the desire of each visitor" (Hurley 2006), and Chartres is ultimately a ruin for us, not just in its decayed architecture, but because, in Howe's own words, we "do not visit it as a place of worship" (Howe 2003, 116). In this sense, situatedness is all, and we will always arrive belatedly to the primary love object of our studies—Anglo-Saxon England—carrying other histories with us that can't but help inflect our thought and affect, and why would we want to discard them? We do not reach backwards, facing away from the present, through orderly chains of words and significations to understand the past on its own (supposedly logical and rational and coherent) terms, but can only feel our way there through the rubble of what I would call these affective remains of the past, these letters to the future, or, in the words of Edith Wyschogrod, these "gift[s] of the past to a present affected with futurity," which are inscribed "with the vouloir dire of a people that has been silenced, of the dead others" (Wyschogrod 1998, 248). It is not the so-called "science" of language and manuscript studies, but the art of the affective intelligence that can hope to help us draw close to these dead others, and to consider both their silence and the ruins of their words, while also imagining the possibilities of contact, of reanimation. For after all, as Catherine Brown has written, the Middle Ages "was invented to be a foreign country. The indigenous peoples are dead, and they didn't even know they were medieval—they thought they were living in modern times. They thought it was now" (Brown 2000, 547).
§69. And here we begin to hit on what, for me, is the real heart of the matter: the necessity of a scholarly affect of openness with regard to the possible interrelations (or in Walter Benjamin's terms, the possible constellations)19 between an Anglo-Saxon text (a verbal, but also a visual, and yes, an archaeological-anthropological artifact) and, frankly, almost anything else that might lie in our path of pilgrimage to the past and back again. And with Blake's commentary above, especially, we have what I think is the critically important idea that, for all of our training and possible critical biases or leanings, and for all of the ways in which the artifacts of the past are, of course, somehow fixed in both memory and in historical spaces and times, we must allow ourselves to be surprised and led by what we do not know about them—by all the ways in which a text could ask us questions we had not thought to ask ourselves as part of our traditional preparation for sitting down with an Old English poem, or homily, or saint's legend, or set of law codes, or the like, if only we were willing to suspend certain habituations. As James Earl has asked of Beowulf, "What would Beowulf look like if we could see it 'without feeling much previous history'? What would it look like stripped of everything we have been taught about it, as if it had just washed up onto our shore and we were reading it for the very first time?" (Earl 2007, 688). This would entail a reconceptualization of our reading practices, pace Paul Zumthor, as, "at least potentially, a dialogue," in which:
two agents confront one another: I am in some way produced by this text, and in the same moment, as a reader, I construct it. A relationship of active solidarity rather than a mirror-effect; solidarity promised rather than given, pleasurably felt at the end of the long preparatory work required by the traversing of two historical distances, going and coming back. (Zumthor 1986, 66)
This would also mean that we better understand the deep (and necessary) anachronism at the heart of our reading practices because, in the words of Cary Howie, "if the past is, it only is insofar as it is enclosed by the present, and only insofar as this enclosure appears" (Howie 2007, 14). And I think we have to also give ourselves permission and the time to wander at will, or by accident, through the fields and thickets of other disciplines and realms of thought and places (whether a city or movie theater or genetics lab) that lie off the beaten paths of our disciplinary tradition: how else could Howe have connected an abandoned train station in a contemporary American city to the ruins built by giants in the Anglo-Saxon landscapes of Old English poetry? To say then, as Drout ultimately does, that what Anglo-Saxon studies needs now is a renewed focus on philology, historicism, and manuscript work, in order to resist the "pull" of a literary studies that would be too personal or too political or too much like "the dorm room bull session" (Drout 2007a), strikes me as an impoverished view of what our field should be and do. It is a view that does not seem to understand that the texts of Anglo-Saxon England, "far from being a rigid tablet of fixed rules and monuments bullying us from the past," in every moment of their reading and interpretation, actually reveal history "as an agonistic process still being made, rather than finished and settled once and for all" (Said 2004, 25). The perspective (whoever is espousing it) that Anglo-Saxon studies should turn away from postmodern literary studies is also myopic—of a piece with Dr. P's visual agnosia—as regards the future of the humanities and the part that Anglo-Saxon studies might play (must play) in that. It should give us pause, further, that while many Anglo-Saxonists are still actively resisting and dismissing critical theory, during the symposium of the editorial board of Critical Inquiry convened in 2003 to discuss the future of the journal, critical theory, and the humanities, Teresa de Lauretis argued that "now may be a time for the human sciences to reopen the questions of subjectivity, materiality, discursivity, knowledge, to reflect on the post of posthumanity. It is a time to break the piggy bank of saved conceptual schemata and reinstall uncertainty in all theoretical applications, starting with the primacy of the cultural and its many 'turns': linguistic, discursive, performative, therapeutic, ethical, you name it" (de Lauretis 2004, 368). This could mark the perfect time for the entry of Anglo-Saxon studies as the "pre" of everything (English) into the larger (and pressing) project of considering the "post" of everything (English). This is a project already ongoing in many quarters, and in a system of higher education—the University—that can, at this point, be considered posthistorical.
§70. In his book The University in Ruins, published two years after his untimely death in 1994, Bill Readings argued (convincingly, in my mind) that, partly due to "globalization," whereby "the rule of the cash nexus" has replaced "the notion of national identity as a determinant in all aspects of social life," the University (capitalized to indicate its historical status as an idealized institution) has become a "transnational bureaucratic corporation" and "the centrality of the traditional humanistic disciplines to the life of the University is no longer assured" (Readings 1996, 3). Because "the grand narrative of the University, centered on the production of a liberal, reasoning subject, is no longer available to us," it is "no longer the case that we can conceive the University within the historical horizon of its self-realization" (Readings 1996, 9, 5). Readings prefers the term "posthistorical" over "postmodern" for the contemporary University "in order to insist on the sense that the institution has outlived itself, is now a survivor of the era in which it defined itself in terms of the project of the historical development, affirmation, and inculcation of national culture" (Readings 1996, 6). Ultimately, the University is "a ruined institution, one that lost its historical raison d'etre," but which nevertheless "opens up a space in which it is possible to think the notion of community otherwise, without recourse to notions of unity, consensus, and communication" (Readings 1996, 19, 20). This is a space, moreover, where the University "becomes one site among others where the question of being-together is raised, raised with an urgency that proceeds from the absence of the institutional forms (such as the nation-state), which have historically served to mask that question" (Readings 1996, 20). Indeed, the University, however "ruined," must strive, in Readings' view, toward building a "community that is not made up of subjects but singularities": this community would not be "organic in that its members do not share an immanent identity to be revealed," and it would not be "directed toward the production of a universal subject of history, to the cultural realization of an essential human nature" (Readings 1996, 185). Rather, this would be a community "of dissensus that presupposes nothing in common," and that "would seek to make its heteronomy, its differences, more complex" (Readings 1996, 190). In this scenario, the posthistorical University would be "where thought takes place beside thought, where thinking is a shared process without identity or unity"—this is ultimately "a dissensual process; it belongs to dialogism rather than to dialogue," and instead of a new interdisciplinary space that would "reunify" the increasingly fragmented disciplines, there would be a "shifting disciplinary structure that holds open the question of whether and how thoughts fit together" (Readings 1996, 192).
§71. Readings' thinking accords well with Derrida's in his essay, "The University Without Condition," where Derrida argued for a "new humanities" and "unconditional university" that would "remain an ultimate place of critical resistance—and more than critical—to all the powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation" (Derrida 2002, 204). This unconditional university, further, would constitute "the principal right to say everything, even if it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it" (Derrida 2002, 205). Finally, the humanities would have a privileged place in this unconditional university, because the very principle of unconditionality
has an originary and privileged place of presentation, of manifestation, of safekeeping in the Humanities. It has there its space of discussion and reelaboration as well. All this passes as much by way of literature and languages (that is, the sciences called the sciences of man and culture) as by way of the nondiscursive arts, by way of law and philosophy, by way of critique, questioning, and, beyond critical philosophy and questioning, by way of deconstruction—where it is a matter of nothing less than rethinking the concept of man, the figure of humanity in general, and singularly the one presupposed by what we have called, in the university, for the last few centuries, the Humanities. (Derrida 2002, 207)
Here, then, I ask for an Anglo-Saxon studies without conditions—for the right, as an Anglo-Saxonist, "to say everything, even if it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it." I ask, too, for a shared vision of the University as the site of the "shifting disciplinary structure that holds open the question of whether and how [our] thoughts fit together."
§72. But it is not enough to say I want these things or to ask for them—after all, Drout himself has said that he has "no interest" in telling Anglo-Saxonists "what they should be interested in" (Drout 2007c). But it is not a question of interest—what I am interested in (the "queerness" and nonlinear dynamics and schizoid "flows" of the Anglo-Latin Guthlac narratives, at present) versus what you might be interested in (the sources of Ælfric's Lives of Saints or the metrics of Beowulf, perhaps?). It is, rather, a question of collective desire. There must be room, in my mind, within Anglo-Saxon studies, not just for the individual scholar who wishes to take herself into uncharted theoretical territory (to go and come back again as a lone traveler), but for deleuzoguattarian roaming packs and multiplicities to emerge and join with other packs and multiplicities to create desiring-scholarly-machines and critical machines-machines-machines-machines. This would be, in the words of Jeffrey Cohen and Todd Ramlow, a "process formed of alliances with and through [disciplinary] others, a process not collapsible to either side of a self/other binary, a process always in motion, changing (performatively) in multiple contexts" (Cohen and Ramlow 2005/2006). These alliances would be made up of groups of scholar-machines (an Anglo-Saxon studies machine, a queer theory machine, a post-Norman Conquest history machine, a third-wave feminist studies machine, etc.), each of which would function as "a break in the flow, in relation to the machine connected to it," and everywhere there would be "break-flows out of which desire" would pour forth (Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 37). Ours would then be a field (or machine) that would have to run on the libidinal-intellectual economies of the philologist as well as the queer theorist, the codicologist as well as the new historicist, and so on. I want, further, to see working groups formed across the temporal divides that separate Anglo-Saxon studies from the "other" Middle Ages and beyond, in which groups Anglo-Saxonists would take leadership positions (while also practicing anti-hierarchical collaborative work) and the primary impetus for the disparate "joinings" of these groups would be nothing less than a complete re-envisioning of the humanities and its relation to public thought and life.
§73. This would be the only possible route, in my mind, toward the kind of schizoid desiring-revolution that Deleuze and Guttari argued for so passionately in their collaborative work, where desire itself, when it lights out for the territories elsewhere unleashes, in the words of one of their translators, "schizzes-flows—forces that escape coding, scramble the codes, and flee in all directions: orphans (no daddy-mommy-me), atheists (no beliefs), and nomads (no habits, no territories)" (Seem 1983, xxi). Such a revolution will be necessary to reinvent the "business as usual," not just of Anglo-Saxon studies, but also of the transnational bureaucratic corporation called the University which has created a culture of cynicism and despair as regards the fate of the humanities. But I—I do not despair. If it turns out that assembling a pack, or multiplicity, of theoretical rogues within Anglo-Saxon studies is not possible at present, I will leave this house (or is it a church?) and carry these studies within my heart to other territories and other packs. It has been my feeling for some time now, in any case, that what might be called the University proper—at least in terms of its brick and stone buildings and manicured green spaces and conventional classrooms and libraries and departments rooted in fixed geographies—is no longer adequate to the project of a humanities that could be said to matter somehow, not just now, but in the future. We may need new affectively-constructed spaces, or floating intellectual "cells" or "group houses" or "undergrounds," that would be global and heterogeneous, always on the move, and perpetually committed to asking the question of what "being-together" means. This is not an academic question, but a political one. There is no escaping it.
1. For an overview of the debates of the last twenty or so years over the marginalization and/or vigorous health of Old English studies, see Frantzen and Yeager 1992; Frantzen 2001, 1990, 1-26, and 1994; Healey 1987; Hermann 1989, 199-208; Howe 2001; Jackson 1992; Overing 1993; Robinson 1975; Shippey 1993; Simpson 1992; Tuso 1984; and Yeager 1980. My own contributions to these debates, vis-à-vis Beowulf studies, is best summed up in an earlier essay I wrote here, "James W. Earl's Thinking About Beowulf: Ten Years Later," and also in my Introduction to The Postmodern Beowulf (co-authored with Mary Ramsey), "Liquid Beowulf." [Back]
3. For more information on these projects of Drout's, see http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/visual-display-of-manuscript.html. See also "Anglo-Saxon Aloud: A Daily Reading of the Entire Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records" at http://fred.wheatonma.edu/wordpressmu/mdrout. The Old English Newsletter is also a good source of information regarding developments in digital Old English studies, via its annual Circolwyrde: New Electronic Resources for Anglo-Saxon Studies report: http://www.oenewsletter.org/OEN/links.php. [Back]
4. It is important to note here, for fairness's sake, that Tirincula is at pains to point out that she doesn't mean "to suggest that Anglo-Saxonists absent themselves from disciplinary conversations" (Tirincula 2007). [Back]
6. See Bhaba 1994, where he writes that it is "the trope of our times to locate the question of culture in the realm of the beyond." Further, "The 'beyond' is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past. . . . Beginnings and endings may be the sustaining myths of the middle years; but in the fin de siècle, we find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion," and "there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction, in the 'beyond': an exploratory, restless movement caught so well in the French rendition of the words au-delà—here and there, on all sides, fort/da, hither and thither, back and forth" (Bhaba 1994, 1). [Back]
7. See, especially, Biddick 1998; Burger and Kruger 2001; Cohen 2000 and 2003, 1-34; Dinshaw 1999; Frantzen and Niles 1997; Holsinger 2005; Ingham and Warren 2003; Labbie 2006; Strohm 2000; and Summit and Wallace 2007. [Back]
8. See, especially, the essays by Howe, Hiatt, and Lerer—"Anglo-Saxon England and the Postcolonial Void" 25-47; "Mapping the Ends of Empire" 48-76; and "'On fagne flor': The Postcolonial Beowulf, from Heorot to Heaney" 77-102, respectively—in Kabir and Williams 2005. See also the essays by Orton, Howe, and Townsend—"Northumbrian Identity in the Eighth Century: The Ruthwell and Bewcastle Monuments; Style, Classification, Class, and the Form of Ideology" 95-146; "Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England" 147-72; and "The Naked Truth of the King's Affection in the Old English Apollonius of Tyre" 173-96, respectively—in Lees and Overing 2004. [Back]
9. It should be noted here that Seth Lerer, the author of numerous important works in Old English literary studies, is represented in Summit and Wallace's "Medieval/Renaissance: After Periodization" ("Aesop, Authorship, and the Aesthetic Imagination" 579-94), Catherine Karkov, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon art history, has a chapter in Warren and Ingham's Postcolonial Moves ("Tales of the Ancients: Colonial Werewolves and the Mapping of Postcolonial Ireland" 93-110), and Lisa Weston, who, although not an Anglo-Saxonist, has turned her attention recently to same-sex affective desire between Anglo-Saxon religious women, has a chapter in Sautman and Sheingorn's Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages ("Elegaic Desire and Female Community in Baudonivia's Life of Saint Radegund" 85-100). I also have a chapter, "The Signs and Location of a Flight (or Return?) of Time: The Old English Wonders of the East and the Gujarat Massacre," in Jeffrey Cohen et al.'s companion volume to The Postcolonial Middle Ages—Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages: Archipelago, Island, England (forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan in 2008), and I co-edited, with another Anglo-Saxonist (Mary Ramsey) and two scholars who work in the later Middle Ages (Myra Seaman and Kimberly Bell), Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages, an anthology of presentist medieval cultural studies to which I contributed the chapter, "Exteriority Is Not a Negation, But a Marvel: Hospitality, Terrorism, Levinas, Beowulf." But the fact remains that Anglo-Saxon studies are often "gone missing" in these collaborative ventures led by scholars working in later medieval periods. And one of the most significant collaborative efforts within Anglo-Saxon studies that is concerned with unsettling the boundaries between "Anglo-Saxon" and "modern"—Allen Frantzen and John Niles's important Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity—has not received the attention it deserves in both medieval and more modern studies circles. The reasons for this, I realize, are complex, and likely stem from both a willful self-marginalization on the part of Anglo-Saxonists as well as from a benign or more conscious neglect on the part of scholars working in later periods of the Middle Ages to include us in their larger collaborative projects. In either case, it represents a serious problem, I believe, for Anglo-Saxon studies, especially if we want our work to have some sort of impact upon the more broad disciplines of, first, medieval studies, second, literary and historical studies, and finally, the humanities. [Back]
10. It should be noted here that, in addition to the mention of Overing in a footnote, Stacy Klein's essay "Centralizing Feminism in Anglo-Saxon Studies: Elene, Motherhood, and History," also makes an appearance in the notes of Williams's essay. But the bottom line is: Anglo-Saxon studies only merit footnotes in this essay. [Back]
11. Papers presented at the International Congresses on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo and Leeds under the auspices of Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture often reveal the same dismaying trend. Further, the most important and only journal (until just this year) devoted solely to Anglo-Saxon studies, Anglo-Saxon England, tends to reflect the conservative (while also, obviously, deeply learned and erudite) scholarship typically highlighted at the biennial meeting of ISAS, where the journal was first inaugurated. The recent announcement of a new journal in the field, Anglo-Saxon, to be edited by David Dumville, Robert D. Fulk, and Andrew Reynolds under the auspices of the Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies at the University of Aberdeen, does not look promising as regards the provision of a new venue for a more postmodern Anglo-Saxon studies (the only other periodical devoted solely to Anglo-Saxon studies, the Old English Newsletter, does not provide room for full-length articles, but is a critical resource for keeping up with scholarship in the field). There are some bright spots on the horizon, however, for what might be called alternative venues for presenting theoretically creative work in Anglo-Saxon studies, such as the regular speaker series recently inaugurated under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium, a joint effort of Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, and New York University led by Patricia Dailey, Stacy Klein, Kathleen Davis, and Haruko Momma (see http://www.columbia.edu/cu/assc/), and also the new annual International Workshop of the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium, coordinated by Clare Lees and held at Kings College London (inaugurated in May 2006). It goes without saying that theoretically innovative work in Anglo-Saxon studies has a home at journals such as Exemplaria and the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, although in terms of sheer numbers, it registers a minimal presence in these venues. I will say here, finally, that the recent decision of ISAS to award its biennial prize for Best Book (2005-07) to Martin Foys's Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media, and Early Medieval Studies, is some kind of hopeful sign. [Back]
12. For the best explanation of presentism—a much maligned and often grossly mischaracterized term in premodern studies—as a critical strategy for reading premodern or early modern texts, see Hawkes 2002, 1-5, and 6-22. See, also, Hawkes 1986. [Back]
13. In terms of booklength studies especially, see Dockray-Miller 2001; Foys 2007; Farina 2007; Frantzen 1998; Harris 2003; Harwood and Overing 1994; Pasternack and Weston 2005; Klein 2006; Lees 1999; Lees and Overing 2001; Mittman 2006; Scheil 2005; Sheppard 2004; Wilcox 2000; and Withers and Wilcox 2003. It must be noted that not all of these texts can be called expansively poststructural or postmodern in their methodologies, but each one of them, in one way or another, breaks some kind of new theoretical ground in their approach to the culture and history of Anglo-Saxon England. [Back]
14. It is worth noting, too, that in Hill's classification of the predominant genres of current trends in Beowulf scholarship, that only the "psychological" and "feminist" are, most properly speaking, and only in some instances, poststructural in their orientation; therefore, "current" scholarship in Beowulf studies can only be termed postmodern in a minoritarian sense, especially when we consider Hill's own notation of the fact that "psychological and sociological approaches of various kinds-Jungian and at least vaguely Freudian-have appeared since at least the 1940s" (Hill 2007, 69). Of course, it is not Hill's intention to chart only the course of postmodern or poststructural Beowulf studies, only what he deems as "current," "most important," and "most influential." [Back]
15. I must note here that, in a subsequent blog post, "Gatekeeping?", Drout was keen to make clear that he has "no interest" in telling Anglo-Saxonists "what they should be interested in," but if Anglo-Saxon studies wants to have some hope of continuing to have a presence in English and history departments, they will have to make (and win) the argument that "medievalists do certain things particularly well" and "better than scholars of other eras." Moreover, "people in English in general and medieval studies in specific will, on the balance, lose out to people in sociology, political science, anthropology, as well as history, if we define the 'important' things in the field to be politics" (Drout 2007c). It may be that Drout (and others who take up his argument) too often conflate the term "politics" with anything they don't like about poststructural thought (which is, like any thought, always interested), and also seem to be under the delusion that a set of knowledge practices situated in a college or university could ever be inherently apolitical, but that's an argument for another day. I myself have a very broad definition of politics and see the term as having something to do with what it means to be together with others in the world, whether that "togetherness" is rendered in political parties, local communities and "tribes," nation-states, various transnational organizations, such as the United Nations or NATO, or any arrangement whereby persons come together for the purposes of formulating and practicing a particular set of beliefs alongside one another. An English department, regardless of its individual members' opinions regarding matters of personal or state identity, is such an entity. [Back]
16. See, especially, Blackmore 1999; Fauconnier and Turner 2002; Johnson 1987 and 2007; Lakoff and Johnson 1980 and 1999; LeDoux 2002; Pinker 2007; Searle 2007; and Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991. [Back]
18. I will point out here that, while Liza Blake is primarily interested in the material culture and literary arts of later medieval and early modern English periods, both John Walter and Mary Kate Hurley have their primary training in Old English literary studies (Walter is also working, more recently, on compositional and linguistic theory, especially from the angle of recent discoveries in cognitive studies). [Back]
19. In his essay "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Walter Benajmin writes that "[h]istoricism contents itself with establishing a causal connection between various moments in history. But no fact that is a cause is for that very reason historical. It became historical posthumously, as it were, through events that may be separated from it by thousands of years. A historian who takes this as his point of departure stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead, he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one" (Benjamin 1969, 263). [Back]
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———. 2005. Between the Old and the Middle of English. New Medieval Literatures 7: 203-21. [Back]
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———. 2000. A thousand years of nonlinear history. Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books. [Back]
de Lauretis, Teresa. 2004. Statement due. Critical Inquiry 30.2: 365-68. [Back]
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Drout, Michael. 2007a. Again with the state of the field. Wormtalk and Slugspeak 7 Jan.: http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/again-with-the-state-of-the-field-tirincula.html. [Back]
———. 2007b. An example. Wormtalk and Slugspeak 10 Jan.: http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/example-to-illustrate-point-i-was.html. [Back]
———. 2007c. Gatekeeping? Wormtalk and Slugspeak 22 Jan.: http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/gatekeeping-while-back-i-p_116949841976709399.html. [Back]
———. 2006. State of the Field. Wormtalk and Slugspeak 29 Dec.: http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2006/12/state-of-the-field-when-i-was-in-graduate.html. [Back]
Earl, James W. 2007. Reading Beowulf with original eyes. In Joy and Ramsey, The postmodern Beowulf. 687-704. [Back]
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Foucault, Michel. 1983. Preface. In Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, ed. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. xi-xiv. [Back]
———. 1972. The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. New York: Pantheon. [Back]
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