Call for Submissions to an Edited Volume – Dealing with the Dead: Community and Mortality in the Middle Ages

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR AN EDITED VOLUME – Title: Dealing with the Dead: Community and Mortality in the Middle Ages, Editor: Thea Cervone

Call for abstracts for chapters to be included in an upcoming volume on Death in Medieval and Early Modern art, history, and culture.

For people of all classes in medieval and early modern England death was a constant, visible presence. It was part of everyday life and there were reminders everywhere of its inevitability: injury and accidents, illness and disease, public executions, and the tragedies of death in childbirth and infant mortality. Yet, the acknowledgement of the fact of death, despite its undeniable reality, did not necessarily amount to an acceptance of its finality. Whether they were commoners, clergy, aristocrats, or kings, the dead continued to function literally as integrated members of their communities long after they lay in their graves.

From stories of revenants bringing pleas from Purgatory to the living, to the practical uses of the charnel house; from the remains of the executed on public display, to the proclamation of an aristocratic dynasty’s authority over the living via its dead, we are looking for papers that discuss how communities dealt with their dead as continual, albeit non-living members. We are interested in interdisciplinary studies that illustrate unexpected situations and under-researched persons, periods, and events in art, literature, archaeology, and history. We are also interested in papers that argue against stereotypical or outdated presumptions about the relationships between the premodern dead and their fellow community members above ground. How do 21st century scholars deal with the medieval and early modern dead?

Papers are open to any discipline of the humanities and also to the disciplines of paleography and archaeology. Papers are also open medieval and early modern cultures outside Europe. Please send abstracts of 300 words to Thea Cervone, University of Southern California at theacervone@outlook.com by 1 March 2014

Two Monster Titles from Ashgate

I wanted to let you know that The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters is now available!  This was edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (Central Michigan University), an excellent monster scholar!

Also, if you haven’t seen, the Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous is now out in paperback for less than half the price of the hardback!

Order them both today!  Happy Halloween, all!

Another Kalamazoo Monster CFP

Call for Papers 

International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University

May 8-11, 2014

The Medieval Monster as Mirror: Translation, Hybridity, and Cultural Identity

Scholars in several areas of Medieval Studies have made important contributions to the growing field of “monster theory.”  For example, Michael Camille discussed the role of the hybrid figures who populate the margins of many medieval manuscripts as visual mirrors of anxiety about identity in the cultures that produced them; and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen has argued that monsters in medieval European literature embody a paradox of otherness and intimacy that allows authors and readers to test definitions of cultural identity.  Recently, Deanne Williams has read a monstrous character in Gower’s Confessio amantis as a figure for the hybridity of the translated text.  This session invites papers that examine additional examples of monster figures in medieval texts using translated material, in order to explore the relationship between representations of corporeal hybridity and translation as a self-conscious negotiation of anxieties about cultural identity and otherness.

 Please send proposals for papers of 15-20 minutes to Ben Garceau (bgarceau@indiana.edu) by September 15, 2013.

Session organizers: Ben Garceau and Margot Valles

 Session sponsored by the Medieval Studies Institute, Indiana University

 

KZOO 2014 CFPs

Calls For Papers:
International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo
May 8-11, 2014

MONSTERS I: Monstrous Gender
Recent trends in monster scholarship are developing a strong focus on the imbrications of monstrosity and gender. We are looking for papers that address the intersection of gender and monstrosity in interesting, unusual, provocative and meaningful ways. We especially encourage papers that seek to move beyond the more traditional uses of monster and gender theories in medieval studies to consider how these categories of thinking can intersect, challenge, problematize, corroborate, support, and inform one another. Interdisciplinary approaches including but not limited to the consideration of monstrous gender in literature, language, history, art history, architecture, philosophy, religion, politics, and/or cultural studies are highly welcome. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words together with a completed Participant Information Form (available here: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/) to session organizers Melissa Ridley Elmes (maelmes@uncg.edu) or Asa Simon Mittman (asmittman@mail.csuchico.edu) by September 15. Please include your name, title, and affiliation on the abstract itself. Abstracts will be posted to the MEARCSTAPA blog, and all abstracts not accepted for the session will be forwarded to Congress administrators for consideration in general sessions, as per Congress regulations.

MONSTERS II: Parallel Worlds: Monstrous Voyages, Monstrous Visitors
Refraction, reflection, intrusion, illusion, overlay, visitation, wandering, straying: parallel worlds double and haunt medieval landscapes, providing voyage destinations and otherworldly visitors. Medieval worlds are not unitary or univocal, as refugees seek Torelore and the Pays de Cocagne; as chroniclers record or imagine far-off Carthage and Jerusalem; as the secular world finds itself invaded by hellish demons or heavenly angels; as saints and mystics simultaneously inhabit this world and the next. What can other worlds, or other temporalities, tell us about how medieval cultures understood the quotidian or secular world? How does the ingress of or egress to various worlds beyond establish or erode the definition of the here-and-now? Are all such intrusions monstrous? Does monstrosity necessitate intrusion from beyond? We invite papers from all disciplines and national traditions, on topics that might include the double presence of life and death, profane and sacred, self and other, animal and human, native and foreigner, male and female, straight and queer, past, future, and present. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words together with a completed Participant Information Form (available here: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/) to session organizers Stefanie Goyette (stefaniegoyette@gmail.com) or Asa Simon Mittman (asmittman@mail.csuchico.edu) by September 15. Please include your name, title, and affiliation on the abstract itself. Abstracts will be posted to the MEARCSTAPA blog, and all abstracts not accepted for the session will be forwarded to Congress administrators for consideration in general sessions, as per Congress regulations.

SEMA 2013 Murder Roundtable Submissions

Dwayne C. Coleman, University of Central Arkansas
Murder, Manslaughter, and Responsibility: Killing in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur

In “The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney,” Malory relates of Sir Gareth’s future alienation from his elder brother Sir Gawain because Gawain, as he explains, “was evir vengeable, and where he hated he wolde be avenged with murther” (Malory 360). Malory is obviously referencing the murders of Sir Pellinor and Sir Lamorak that Gawain and his other brothers will commit later in “The Book of Sir Tristram.” He portrays these murders as being among the more destructive events in the history of the Round Table, and although Gawain tries to use the justification of blood feud, the killings are a clear breach of Arthurian chivalry as formulated in the Pentacost oath sworn at the ordination of the Round Table. More complex is Sir Lancelot’s later killing of Sir Mellyagaunt after denying his plea for mercy. The killing comes as part of trial by combat, and the duplicitous Mellyagaunt garners little sympathy. However, Lancelot’s determination to “be revenged” upon him pushes the boundaries of justice and creates an undercurrent of moral ambiguity (Malory 1138). No one ever questions the righteousness of Lancelot’s action just as Gawain is never really made to answer for Lamorak’s death, and these acts are taken as symptoms of the larger conflicts within the order. Both Gawain and Lancelot later seek to atone for moral failures, but these killings are not among them. The incidents demonstrate the challenge that Malory faces in establishing what is murder and what is a righteous killing.

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Euan Drew Griffiths, UNC – Chapel Hill
Arthur’s Executioner: murder and legality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The fourteenth-century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, presents a fascinating contrast between life and death, right and wrong. Sir Gawain, acting according to the rules of chivalry and courtliness answers a challenge on behalf of his king to behead the Green Knight. The consequences of Gawain’s actions, however, bind him to a greater web of legal and moral choices that convey him towards his own, seemingly unavoidable, execution. In the course of his road to death, the Green Knight presents Gawain with a series of “mind games” that challenge Gawain’s adherence to his former legal structure, the Old Testament, and he is introduced to a new moral and legal framework, the New Testament. Ultimately, Gawain must account for his actions, particularly his rash decision to kill the Green Knight, and he offers his own head in return. The poem rejects Gawain’s approach, and instead celebrates mercy and restraint in response to penalty and unabashed violence. Instead of death, Gawain receives the slightest of cuts to his neck and a green girdle, symbols of his mistakes to take with him back to Arthur’s court. Thus, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight confronts medieval chivalry and its legal framework through Gawain’s quest to the Green Chapel. The poem not only critiques the genre of Chivalric Romance, but also poses demanding questions regarding individual responsibility and violence as a punishment for sin.

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Anne Latowsky, University of South Florida
Who Gets Killed and Why? Homicide in the Fabliaux Tradition

SEMA 2013 Teaching Monstrosity Roundtable Submissions

Clinton Atchley, Henderson State University
Monsters Я Us: Teaching Monsters in a Composition Course

ENG 3313: University Writing is one of several upper-level writing courses that students may choose to fulfill the junior/senior-level writing course requirement in our liberal arts core. This course does not count toward the English major or minor; consequently, the students who take this class come from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and interests, everything from the arts and sciences to business to nursing to aviation. One of the challenges for instructors of this class is to find a middle ground of common interest for these disparate students. As a Medievalist teaching this class, I focus on monsters. I argue in my class that we create our own monsters and that it has always been this way. This is to say that each culture, each time period in history develops its own monsters depending on what it finds transgressive within itself. In a self-reflexive, self-referential way, our ancestors and we today reveal our deepest psychological fears through what we perceive as scary. Beginning with the classical period and working to the present, we explore questions such as how do monsters reflect cultural, racial, ethical values and repressed fears? how have our monsters evolved? and what does it mean to be human? For my base text, I utilize Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s chapter, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” from his text Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Using this as our framework, we research, analyze, and trace the history of monsters from the oral tradition through manuscripts, print, radio, film, and television.

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Debra E. Best, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Teaching Medieval Monsters to both Graduate Students and to a Diverse Undergraduate Population

This presentation will introduce my course “Literary Monsters of Medieval England,” which I have taught since 2001 to a range of students, including undergraduate honors students, a diverse undergraduate population, and graduate students who may or may not have had a course Chaucer. While such a specialized course may not exist in every university‚Äôs curriculum, the questions it raises enhance discussion in any medieval literature course. Its central questions examine how monsters function in defining the self, society, and perceived threats. Is something a monster just because it appears non-human or non-animal? How do monsters elevate the hero? How does depicting foreign and non-Christian peoples as monsters help to justify conquest? How do monsters represent sin? How do they articulate threats to the family? Through these questions, students gain insight into the fears and social concerns dominating medieval culture and modern society. This theme leads students into focused readings of texts ranging from Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to lesser known saint’s lives, romances, chronicles, travel works, and religious instructional manuals. Looking at how this course has changed depending upon its core audience, this presentation will explore how one adapts the study of monsters to fulfill the needs of various student populations. How can monsters increase the appeal of medieval literature to an underprepared and diverse student body? How can monsters increase the depth of knowledge of advanced graduate students? How does one approach a class filled with students with vast differences in skills and interests?

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Bernard Lewis, Murray State University
A Monstrous Panel Indeed!

Monsters have always been the rage. Literature, legend, and myth are rich with fabulous animals, chimera, shape-shifters, green men, changelings, and people who are just not ordinary. Simply put, we have historically given much attention to physical differences and cultural “otherness.” From Nosferatu to Dracula, to Anne Rice’s Interview with Louis Pointe du lac, to Stephanie Meyer’s sparkling daylight walkers, the vampire survives. From Marie de France’s “Bisclavret” to Christopher Marlowe’s Duke Ferdinand (The Duchess of Malfi), to Professor Lupin of Harry Potter fame, the werewolf persists as well. Recent movies and television series have focused on the ancient rivalry of the two species. In classroom discussion, “Bisclavret” invites important questions about monstrosity: Who is more monstrous, the werewolf or the wife? How monstrous does one have to be to be marginalized, to become “other?” And, of course, there is the irresistible question of hereditary maiming. Although we want to fear the “other” and the monstrous, we sometimes choose to glamorize them. This panel might ask what informs our choices? Why do we prefer the wolf over the wife? Why do we sometimes sympathize with the vampire? Beowulf is no ordinary man; he is a killing machine. Then why do we like him? And why is he less monstrous than Grendel? After all, Grendel’s mother does not think her son is monstrous at all. How do we identify and define our monsters? And why do we seem to need them?
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Tina Boyer, Wake Forest University
Teaching German Monsters 

This proposal addresses two different aspects of teaching medieval monstrosity at the undergraduate level. One is to incorporate a course on medieval monsters (specifically German and Norse) as part of a first year seminar to introduce freshmen to the German medieval period via instances of monstrous encounters in English translation. Secondly, teaching medieval monstrosity as a German language course at the junior and senior level. Both courses benefit from using monster theory as the primary approach by giving students access to a time period through a medium they are comfortable discussing. Monsters are popular and seem familiar, but when closely analyzed provide deeper insight into medieval culture and by extension into our own. This proves that monsters can provide a bridge, not only across disciplines and time periods, but also languages and cultures.

I will provide different texts and theories that can be accessed both in English and in German, but will also show syllabus development. What worked and what didn’t. To date, I have taught one of these courses each semester and have developed a deeper understanding of what can be expected in an undergraduate curriculum, but can also be used at the graduate level.

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Melissa Ridley Elmes UNC-Greensboro
Monsters: the Gateway to Academia

Introductory courses in English such as intro to literature, intro to poetry, and intro to narrative tend to be conducted as introductions to the literary canon, comprising authors and works historically considered the ones “students should know”. However, such an approach can lead to outcomes such as students thinking English is boring, students thinking college-level classes are “just like high school AP class”, or students thinking “I don’t understand this”. These courses tend to be overlooked as the ones that could become a gateway for students to learn to think in new and interesting ways about their relationship to literature, culture, and with the university. Structuring them around themes like “heroes and monsters” rather than canonically can accomplish this. In my talk I will review how I structure my intro to narrative course and provide a copy of the course outline to roundtable attendants as an exemplar of how such a course can become an accessible gateway into academia for students, especially those who have struggled in school or who are first-generation university students unsure of their ability. Developing a syllabus around familiar subjects of interest, such as monsters, gives these students an early opportunity to see in very tangible way that the university is not an inaccessible “Dead White Anglo Saxon Guys” club, but rather a space for considering themselves and the world around them in ways they otherwise might not experience.

Kalamazoo 2013 Paper Proposals

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?

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Laying Down the Law: The Hauntings in Eyrbyggja saga
Joyce Tally Lionarons, Ursinus College
The thirteenth-century Icelandic Eyrbyggja saga depicts the development of a Christian, law-abiding Iceland haunted – both literally and figuratively – by its violent pagan past. This is seen most clearly in the hauntings at Fróðá, where a group of ghosts attend their own funeral feast and refuse to leave the farmhouse until they are summoned to a door-court and legally convicted of trespassing, after which the house is sprinkled with holy water and blessed to ensure they do not return. The simple allegory is complicated, however, by the fact that this is neither the first nor the last haunting in the saga: the ghost of Þórolf Twist-foot returns from the grave twice to kill people and cattle; the ghost of Þórgunna rises to cook breakfast for the men transporting her body across country for Christian burial; and even as the ghostly men sit by the fire at Fróðá, another revenant in the form of a seal – most likely the ghost of Þórgunna once again – rises through the floor in the next room to devour the farmstead’s store of food for the winter. This paper will explore the hauntings within the saga in the context of Iceland’s social and religious history to determine how the country’s religious and secular authorities attempted to lay down the law to Iceland’s recalcitrant ghosts.

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Grettir and Glámr: Exploring Iceland’s Haunting Past through the Human Monstrous
Rebecca Merkelbach University of Cambridge
The Sagas of Icelanders constitute a body of literature that frequently juxtaposes the monstrous and the human. In them, a past is created that is both haunted and haunting, populated with revenants who represent the forces of chaos, coming from without to destroy human society. One particularly prominent example of these corporeal undead is Glámr, an antisocial and marginal man in life and a threat to civilisation in undeath. However, the hero who fights him, Grettir the Strong, is not unambiguously human before encountering Glámr, and afterwards becomes ever more and more monstrous under the influence of Glámr’s curse.
This notion of the human monstrous complicates the idea of the haunted past as it is established by the appearance of the undead: Revenant activity is always temporally limited, whereas mankind survives long after the undead have been put to rest – although pushed to the margins of society as in the case of the outlaw Grettir. In this paper I thus want to explore the relationship between the undead and those “dead to the world” as exemplified by the monstrous figures of Grettir and Glámr. Moreover, I will be looking at what this relationship tells us about Icelanders’ approaches towards their past, especially when coming from the late, fourteenth-century perspective of Grettis saga, looking at a difficult past and present, at monstrous humans and human monsters.
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The Mysterious Case of the Ghost Who Was Not There
Amy Amendt-Raduege Whatcom Community College
In about 1400, an anonymous monk of Byland Abbey recorded one of the strangest moments in supernatural history. The monk recounts how a woman “caught a ghost and carried it home on her back,” where witnesses were puzzled to note that the ghost seemed “not solid but illusory.” The story is very brief, but it contains one of the most puzzling and contradictory moments in medieval ghostlore: if the flesh of the corpse was not solid, how could it be caught? But if the ghost was a physical presence, how could her fingers slip through it? Brief though it is, this story raises complex questions about the relationship of the ecumenical with the popular, and exactly about what ghosts in the Middle Ages were expected to be. I suspect that this story marks the point of fusion between two very different conceptions of ghosts. For centuries, clergy and layfolk alike had been hearing stories of the undead derived from the Roman tradition, in which ghosts were insubstantial. In the North, however, ghosts were something entirely different. Northern ghosts could eat, talk, and even attempt to bed a widow. This idea of a ghost was so commonplace that the monk himself seems surprised by the noncorporeality of the piggybacking ghost. The monk’s story is unique in its blend of the two traditions – a ghost that is solid and illusory, present and absent. It pinpoints an intersection of the two beliefs, a moment in which the corporeal revenants of the Northern world give way to the noncorporeal spirits of the South.

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Kinship with Ghosts: The Reappearing Dead and Purgatory in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.
Caitlin Saraphis, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Ghosts and other forms of the (re)animated dead appear with increased frequency in the writings of clerics of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  While historians such as Nancy Caciola, C. S. Watkins, and Jean-Claude Schmitt have investigated these ghosts for their connections to xenophobia, folklore, and paganism, the evidence they provide about understandings of purgatory during this period has been largely overlooked.  In those cases where ghosts have been used to illustrate concepts of the afterlife, as in the works of Schimitt and A. Ja. Gurevitch, the focus has been predominately on ghosts’ representation in visions, allowing assumptions about the physicality of their appearance to stand uninvestigated, despite the problematic language with which many of these ghosts are described.

In my paper, I analyze the reappearing dead in the works of Orderic Vitalis, Walter Map, and William of Newburgh to show that clerics, as well as the general populace, understood death to be a transitory state from which individuals could return temporarily for various purposes, particularly in order to beg or demand assistance from the living.  The dead who appeared in this way, whether described as ghosts or animated corpses, were understood to be corporeal in one way or another, able to manipulate the world around them and to suffer purgatorial punishment not only to their spiritual but also their physical bodies.

I also explore how the Church’s ideas on the social aspects of purgatory emphasized the relationship between the reappearing dead and their former family and friends. Though drawing on an earlier, folkloric understanding of a reciprocal relationship between the living and the dead, these ghosts and animated corpses emphasize the living’s responsibility to ascertain the nature of the returning dead through shared memory, as well as to accede to the dead’s demands for assistance in shortening the duration of their purgatorial suffering. I argue that this responsibility had to function primarily along kinship lines because the transitory nature of death made the animated dead a threat to society that could only be ameliorated by establishing their identity as a member of the community through shared memory.  Without these memories, the dead’s claim on the living could not be validated, allowing the living to ignore the dead’s demands and leaving the dead to languish in purgatory.
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Ælla of Northumbria, Anglo-Saxon Historicism, and Fantasy Fiction
Donna Beth Ellard Rice University

This paper examines the spectral presence of Ælla of Northumbria in late twentieth-century history and early twenty-first century fiction. It argues that Ælla, a nearly unknown Anglo-Saxon king, haunts the margins of scholarly and popular writings as a ghostly signifier of ‘Empire’.

Ælla of Northumbria is a mysterious figure of the Anglo-Saxon ninth century. Among Old English texts, his identity is preserved in one line of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which mentions his death at York in 866 in battle with the Danish Great Army. In Scandinavian sources, however, Ælla enjoys a much fuller description. He appears in Ragnarssona þáttr (Tale of Ragnar’s Sons) as the murderer of the Danish pirate-king, Ragnar Loðbrog, and subject of Danish ire. Ragnar’s sons travel to Northumbria and kill Ælla in a revenge act that has since been referred to as the ‘blood eagle ritual.’

From the eighteenth-century forward, Scandinavian literature has been used by both scholarly and popular writers to fill in the gaps of Ælla’s biography and tease out the gruesome particularities of his death-by-blood-eagle. This paper examines briefly two clusters of the most recent academic and non-academic discussions regarding Ælla and his blood eagle: heated exchanges between Anglo-Saxon and Old Icelandic scholars Roberta Frank, Alfred Smyth, and Bjarni Einarsson; and fictional references by writers Guy Gavriel Kay and Robert Barr Smith.

This paper examines the language of both clusters of writings in order to argue that the historical identity recreated for Ælla and the gory details of his blood eagle are not grounded in facts about the Anglo-Saxon past but in concerns about the Anglo-American present. It suggests that Ælla is a ghostly signifier that haunts the margins that hinge medieval history to popular culture. And it further speculates that the mutual ‘concerns’ surrounding Ælla’s blood eagle attend to the terror associated with two different kinds of contemporary empires: the colonial empires of Europe’s nation-states and the ideological empire of Islamic terrorism.

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Mere Dead Things: Transi Tombs, Lollards, and the Haunting of Sculpture
Marian Bleeke, Cleveland State UniversityThe transitomb, defined as a tomb that includes a sculptural representation of the corpse, is one of the more haunting forms of later medieval sculptural production.  For the transi makes present what should be absent, visible what should be invisible, and so confronts its living viewers with the realities of death and decay. The fourteenth-century transi tombs of two English ecclesiastics, Henry Chichele and Richard Fleming, accomplish this confrontation through a doubled representation of the deceased; shown once as whole and healthy and again as an emaciated corpse.   Each man is thus shown separately and yet simultaneously as both living and dead, both his soul and his body, while the exposed stone of the transi sculpture insists upon the dead body’s permanent presence. During their lives, both Chichele and Fleming were involved in the English church’s anti-Lollard persecutions and prosecutions.  Their familiarity with Lollardry suggests that the Lollard critique of images, and in particular sculptures, as mere dead things may form a context for understanding their tombs’ striking sculptural representations of death and the dead body.  Indeed, the Lollards seem to have been haunted by sculptures, as they asserted their deadness while worrying that they were not dead at all, and their inertness as things while worrying that they acted inappropriately as powers and presences. This paper thus argues for seeing these two transis less as commentaries on death or the dead, than as reflections on the not-dead qualities of sculpture and so on sculpture itself as a haunted and haunting medium.**************************************

Does the Blood Make the Monster?: ‘Sawul-drior’ in Old English Literature
Hana Videen, King’s College London

This paper will explore the ways in which monsters are defined by blood, both the blood of themselves and that of others.  It will examine various ‘monsters’ of the Old English canon, including the Grendel-kin in Beowulf and the cannibalistic Mermedonians in the poem Andreas.  Anglo-Saxon leechbooks describe the practice of using blood to transfer disease away from the body, and this paper will relate that to the transfer of abstract evil within the physical world.  The tree of every evil in Genesis A grows from the blood of a good person, Abel, for the blood transfers the hostility and monstrousness of his brother Cain.

In Old English poetry blood functions in different ways to identify what is evil or monstrous.  Grendel’s consumption of blood makes him all the more horrific, as he violates the command of God in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, his blood is thought to be the blood of Cain, an inherited mark of his irredeemable soul.  The blood of Grendel’s mother is so powerful that it melts a sword blade like fire melting ice.  ‘Sawul-drior’, or ‘soul-blood’, alternatively represents life and death in the poem Beowulf.  Monsters tread the boundary between life and death, an abstract realm represented physically by blood.

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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 demons flaying the damned within the mouth of hell, to grisly execution in Havelok the Dane, to laws that prescribed it as a punishment for treason, this session explores the gruesome, even monstrous, 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.

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Getting Under Your Skin: The Monstrous Subdermal
Derek Newman-Stille, Trent University

Skin serves as a physical and metaphorical boundary, separating the internal from the external. It is a passageway between what is “Us” and what is “Other”. Skin can serve as a marker of the human and as a way of illustrating an internal human core that is preserved from monstrous contamination. In Topographia Hibernica, werewolves are able to illustrate their core humanity to a priest by showing that there wolfish exterior is only skin deep and that their essential core is still human and therefore that their spirits are similarly still human and deserve last rites. In Guillaume de Palerne, the protagonists are able to wear the skin of animals and be mistaken for them while returning to their full human status by the removal of this skin. In the Volsungasaga, Sigmund and Sinfjotli don the skin of wolves and are transformed into wolves, unable to remove the skins for a period of time until they are able to regain their humanity. Their wearing of these skins allows them to question traditional age roles and behave outside of social norms.
Monstrous skins in these narratives serve a transvestitic role, a transformational piece of clothing that facilitates a different expression of identity. Skin becomes clothing in these narratives and clothing serves as a marker (and maker) of identity, dictating how to identify and perceive individuals and also, for the person wearing that clothing, how to perform their identity. Ideas like class, gender, ethnicity, and age are performed through clothing and, similarly, monstrous performances are vestic, clothed, and embodied in the skin, the outer appearance that is worn. The werewolf Bisclavret can only retain and re-re-express his humanity when he is provided with his human clothing, the performative place of his humanity. Cohen notes the role of the monstrous in policing boundaries in his Monster Culture: Seven Theses, but what polices the boundaries between the human and the monstrous? In this paper I argue that skin serves as a metaphorical boundary between the human and the monstrous, preventing and/or policing the interaction between the human and monstrous bodies in the transformed individual. This paper borrows from Mary Douglass in her discussion of the role of entrances and exits of the body for controlling the entrance and exit of foreign or taboo bodies, and on Judith Butler in her discussion of the performative nature of identity.

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The Flaying of St. Bartholomew and the Rhetoric of the Flesh in the Belles Heures of the Duke of Berry
Sherry C.M. Lindquist, Western Illinois University
     The miniature of the flaying of St. Bartholomew in the Duke of Berry’s Belles Heures participates in the book’s sophisticated pictorial discourse about flesh: about its sensuality and sanctity, about the appeal of bodily integrity and the equally powerful fascination with its monstrous opposite. This paper draws on groundwork laid by Michael Camille, Robert Mills and Martha Easton concerning the duke’s desires, the aestheticized male martyr, and the meaning of the female nude in the Belles Heures, respectively. An analysis of the Limbourgs’ gorgeous and excruciating rendering reveals the ways in which it is in dialogue with other horrifying, attractive and playful bodies on the folios of the Duke’s famous book, as well as with visual traditions and actual practices of punishment to be found outside of its covers.
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“Lo, his flessh al be beflapped that fat is”: From Flagellation to Flaying in the English Cycle Passion Plays
Valerie Gramling, University of Massachusetts

In the early plays of the English cycles skin is something that is put on the body, like a garment, to transform it – in Chester God clothes Adam and Eve in animal skins to transform them from immortal to mortal, while in the N-Town Annunciation Filius puts on human skin (“that wede”) to become God-as-man. The Passion plays, however, depict the beginning of a new transformation which demands an undressing, a removal of that mortal skin from the body of Jesus to reveal his divinity. Both clothing and skin mark Jesus as human, and in the cycles he is divested of both as his flesh is left “withowtyn [the] hyde” that signifies his mortality and humanity. In this presentation I argue that various moments within each cycle’s Passion suggest that Jesus is not merely stripped and scourged but actually flayed, his skin violently torn from his body in preparation for his resurrection. Though costuming records are scarce, I examine the language used by Jesus and other characters to establish the torture and transformation of his body as they gloss the performed mystery for the audience, and consider how relics of his skin appear in subsequent plays through Jesus’ burial cloths and seamless coat. Ultimately I assert that by symbolically flaying Jesus on stage, the cycle playwrights not only reinforce medieval readings of Jesus’ trial as one of treason but also allow his skin to be transformed into these relics which provide tangible testaments to his sacrifice and mankind’s salvation.

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A window for the Pain: Surface, Interiority and Christ’s Flagellated Skin in Late Medieval Sculpture
Peter Dent, University of Bristol

From c.1300, the so-called crucifixi dolorosi, graphic images of Christ’s wounded and broken body on the cross, began to spread rapidly throughout Europe. These polychromed wooden sculptures combine elements of high relief and vivid colour in order to depict skin furrowed with the wounds of the flail. These patterns are sometimes applied following a grid system so that the bloody lacerations spread like the nodes of a web across the entire surface of Christ’s body. Variation in the size and depth of the lesions sets up a complex rhythm for the viewer to follow. On some crucifixes, the traces of under-drawing reveal the careful planning that lay behind such grotesque effects. In this paper, I propose to focus on the sophisticated articulation of the surface as a way of generating interiority. On the one hand, I will draw on late medieval ideas about wounds, in particular the episode in canto 13 of Dante’s Inferno where words and blood sputter in tandem from Piero della Vigna’s broken branches. In Dante’s description of della Vigna’s punishment, Harpies feeding on his leaves cause ‘pain and a window for the pain’. The wounds of the flagellation offer a window onto Christ’s interior suffering. On the other hand, I will also compare these crucifixes with the articulation of skin surface in sculpture from other periods, above all the classical sculpture of fifth-century Greece, where a set of comparable techniques is used to generate surface depth and, by extension, a similar effect of interiority.

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To Love and Be Wise: Crimes of Love and Reticent Judgements in Medieval Fabliaux
Michael Dzanko, The Ohio State University

In Boccaccio’s Decameron, 8.7, Rinieri, a scholar, falls in love with the young widow Helena. Although she appears, at first, to reciprocate his erotic desires, the would-be lover is soon left, literally, out in the cold. He then exacts a calculatedly cruel counter-penalty, leaving her high on a tower, to be flayed by the sun. After the tale is told, a most curious judgement is passed on the participants, with the assembled court pronouncing that though the scholar’s dispensing of justice was admittedly excessive, ‘their compassion was restrained’ by the knowledge that the lady had partially brought her woes on herself. Any character or reader hoping for a sense of distributive justice, or a final judgement, however, is left wanting.

Nor are Rinieri and Elena alone in the dock, for the fabliau tradition contains many other examples of ‘comedies of retribution’, each featuring acts of flagellation and similarly indeterminate judgements. For his part, Chaucer was equally equivocal about the use of flaying by the characters of Phoebus and Absolon, in The Manciple’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale, respectively. Even earlier French and Dutch tales were not sparing in their use of this grisly motif, though they, too, were rather more ambivalent when it came to the crimes themselves. In this paper, I argue that though the genre itself has always been afforded a certain carnal licence, the recurring motif of flaying and the distinctly reticent judgements of it, raise some interesting questions about the problematic nature of the medieval response.