SEMA Abstract Submissions

The Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association at the University of Southern Mississippi to be held October 18-20, 2012 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Session title: Re-Membering the Monstrous Sponsor: MEARCSTAPA
Organizer: Larissa Tracy, Longwood University
Disarticulated bodies and separated members populate the Middle Ages in a variety of forms. From the cherished body parts of saints, to the reviled limbs of criminals and monstrous creatures, dismembered and reassembled bodies have a profound cultural significance throughout medieval Europe. We welcome abstracts of 250 words on any form of dismemberment, physical dislocation or separated members in medieval literature, art, language, law, history, or archaeology.
Please email abstracts of no more than 250 words, with a brief biographical note to Larissa Tracy:

From Animal to Meat: Illuminating the Medieval Ritual of Unmaking
Rebekah L. Pratt, Arizona State University

  Among the many sumptuous images of the late fourteenth-century hunting manual by Gaston Fébus, Le livre de la chasse  (Ms. fr. 616,  Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), one particular illumination stands apart.  The portrayal of the breaking apart of the animal body seems out of place amongst the courtly scenes which decorate the manuscript. Perhaps not grotesque by our own twenty-first century standards, this image visualizes the unmaking or undoing ritual described in medieval hunting manuals and graphically depicts an animal skinned, dismembered, cut open and sliced into pieces by humans.
 Critical examination of the historical context and iconography of medieval unmaking images demonstrates their cultural significance.  In the twenty-first century, many prefer their animal flesh cold, bloodless and wrapped in plastic, no longer resembling the creature it once was.  This supermarket product is no longer an animal but instead has become what humans consume: meat. This transformation occurs through the taking apart of the animal body, which reduces the creature into unrecognizable pieces.  Medieval representations of unmaking  reveal the ritual served a similar purpose, to transform animal bodies into consumable flesh.

“The dismembering saint in Ireland”
Dr. Máire Johnson, University of Oklahoma
The saints celebrated in the written evidence of medieval Ireland are honored for many acts. Some of these deeds, such as healings, can readily be reconciled with an expected image of holiness. But what of a saint who is associated with the rending apart of human bodies? Indeed, throughout Ireland’s hagiographical texts can be found numerous instances in which holy men and women are linked with varying forms of dismemberment. Hands wither and drop off; heads are severed by rapidly-growing gangrene. In the most extreme instances entire bodies are sundered. Such harsh occurrences hardly seem consonant with the idea of a holy person yet, as this paper will show, the dismembering saint presents an object lesson in the power of God’s agent to not only restore the community of Christ but to expel those who are not properly part of it. Just as instances of hagiographical healing mark the saint’s ability to return to physical and spiritual integrity both the individual and the collective body Christian, so also accounts of dramatic disarticulation signify the saint’s severance of those who would injure the church and its members. Following models established in both canonical and apocryphal scriptures—sometimes with a uniquely Hibernian sense of humor—the Irish saint’s separation of the part from the whole thus makes manifest the threshold between healthy and harmful, believer and unbeliever, and sacred and profane.

Rachel McClain, California State University Long Beach

By their very nature, giants are simultaneously similar to, and markedly different from men. The monstrosity of giants is a function of extremes, both behavioral and physical, extremes that are easily traced to men, but manifested disproportionately in giants. In later Middle English chivalric literature, violence against giants is both sanctioned and expected, with a generally predetermined outcome: beheading. However, while giants are almost universally beheaded, there are instances when they are not, and I argue that instances in which lethal conclusions are avoided can reveal a new way of defining the rules for engagement with giants. Looking at a number of English romances from the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth centuries, I will show that the degree of monstrosity of the giant, and the space in which the battle takes place, work together to determine whether or not a giant is beheaded. Only if the giant is truly monstrous, or if the battle takes place in the wilderness is the giant beheaded. This only reinforces giants’ kinship to man, and conversely, their alterity when placed in environments outside civilization. Additionally, it governs a knight’s use of chivalric violence. While beheading giants is the rule in medieval literature, the exceptions have much to tell us about violence and monstrosity.


KZoo 2012 Wrapup

Welcome, new members, welcome back long standing members and friends!  My thanks to all of our presenters, presiders, organizers and audience members for MEARCSTAPA’s two sessions at the 2-12 ICMS at Kalamazoo!  We had two excellent sessions.

The three speakers from “You’re So Juvenile: Monstrous Children in Medieval Culture” (ably presided over by Ana Grinberg) presented fascinating material on the processes of birth and generation of monstrous offspring.  I admit that many times, throughout, I was reminded of Eraserhead.  There has been some talk of a collection on the subject of monstrous babies and children, and I look forward to more on the subject!

Our speakers for “Eyes of the Beholders: A Roundtable Discussion on the Monstrous,” provided excellent inspiration for a good discussion, and our new interim-VP Kat Tracy kept everyone in line nicely.  Special thanks to Kristen Figg for standing in admirably for John Block Friedman, whose paper set us up for a strong conversation.  Marcus Hensel’s work to nail down the monstrous pressed us to move beyond generalizations and Jeannie Miller’s work on the medieval Islamic tradition broadened the scope in productive ways.

Finally, the new Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous sold well at the book fair and generated much positive attention, so this bodes well for the future of Monster Studies!

We are now at work on session proposals for next year, so keep an eye out for them, and I look forward to seeing you all again in Leeds or in Kalamazoo, next year!

KZOO 2013 Session Proposals (DRAFTS)

Session Proposals for 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies

May 9-12, 2013

Sponsor: Monsters: The Experimental Association for the research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application (MEARCSTAPA)

We wish to propose three related sessions on the subject of the monstrous in the Middle Ages.  This is a theme receiving increasing attention in scholarship, including papers and sessions at conferences, university courses, and publications.  MEARCSTAPA has sponsored successful and well attended sessions at the ICMS every year, and interest continues to rise.  The three sessions we propose for 2013 are as follows:

MONSTERS I:  Haunting the Middle Ages
Organizer: Asa Simon Mittman, California State University-Chico; Sarah Alison Miller, Duquesne University

This panel proposes to explore those monstrous figures that haunt the borders between the living and the dead: ghosts, revenants, animated corpses and skeletons. What do these figures reveal about the porous boundaries between life and death, soul and body? What do they communicate about the relationship between haunting, trauma and memory? How is haunting associated with space, whether that space be a geographical location, a physical structure, a fantasized realm, or human consciousness? How were these figures depicted in art and material culture? How might monster studies be considered a haunted domain?  How might the Middle Ages be considered a haunted age?

MONSTERS II: Down to the skin: Images of Flaying in the Middle Ages
Organizers: Larissa Tracy, Longwood University and Asa Simon Mittman, California State University-Chico

Presider: Larissa Tracy

From images of Saint Bartholomew holding his skin in his arms, to scenes of grisly execution in Havelok the Dane, to laws that prescribed it as a punishment for treason, this session explores the gruesome practice of skin removal—flaying—in the Middle Ages. This session proposes to examine the widely diverse examples of this grisly practice, and explore the layered responses to skin-removal in art, history, literature, manuscript studies and law. How common was this punishment in practice? How does art reflect spiritual response? How is flaying, in any form, used to further political or religious goals? The papers in this session will literally get beneath the skin of medieval sensibilities regarding punishment and sacrifice in a nuanced discussion of medieval flaying.

MONSTERS III:  Monstrous Metamorphoses and Teratological Transformations
Monsters are boarder-walkers and boundary-crossers, highlighting the normal and normative through their transgressions.  This aspect of the monstrous is brought to the fore when monsters actually transform.  In medieval images and narratives, some creatures, like werewolves, begin as human and degrade, deform, distort and devolve into monsters; others, like the “Saracens” of conversion narratives, become more “normal” humans.  For this session, we seek papers on the metamorphoses of monsters as they challenge our ideas of form, culture, religion, nationality, etc.  Papers may deal with—but are by no means bound by—the following areas of inquiry:
  • shape-shifters (lycanthropes, witches, or Bors’s demonic temptresses)
  • creatures that grow or shrink dramatically (the Welsh Cai, Cornish spriggans, or the Irish Cú Chulainn)
  • monsters that change color (the Saracen King of Tars), age (the “loathly lady”), or sex (Tiresias and Loki)
  • once-human creatures whose transformations test our sense of boundaries and our understanding of the nature of nature (Fafnir, Daphne, or even Christ)
  • long-term transformations in the depictions of specific monstrous creatures (Nimrod, the Fomoire, or Cain)
  • monsters who transform between the text and accompanying images (the donestre in Cotton Vitellius A.xv)
  • the difficulties inherent in depicting a metamorphosis in manuscript illustrations