Analogy, Textuality, and Materiality in the Medieval Studies Classroom: Presented at the ICMS, Kalamazoo, MI, 10 May, 2013

This brief position statement was my contribution to the roundtable, “Productive Anachronism? The Promise and Peril of Historical Analogy in the Study of Medieval Culture,” organized by Anna Wilson and Jonathan Newman at the recent ICMS in Kalamazoo. I was fortunate to present alongside my collaborator, Alison Valk, who worked as an “embedded” librarian in the upper-division Chaucer seminar I describe here. Warm thanks to Anna, Jonathan, Alison, my fellow presenters (update: Richard Godden has blogged his contribution here), and the attendees who showed up and stuck around for a 7:30 pm panel Thursday evening. The experience was both enjoyable and productive.     In his “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto,’” Bruno Latour advocates for a discursive practice he labels “compositionism.” Composition involves assembly, construction, creation. It challenges and calls into question the conceptual boundaries that often separate literary things, things such as books and scholarly essays, from non-literary things, things like paintings and musical scores, buildings, drama, and dance. Latour’s discussion of compositionism also seems to blur at least some of the distinctions we often make between literary “authorship” and literary “scholarship” by suggesting the artist and the humanist ultimately draw upon many of the same tools and processes. The interdisciplinarity and multimodality Latour attributes to compositionism are inherent in the period and the historical artifacts we—as medievalists—study. Yet, for the most the part, the products of our scholarship—including pretty much everything from critical editions of canonical texts to interdisciplinary studies of art and architecture—conform to narrow disciplinary and aesthetic conventions born out of the dominance within modern academic discourse—and to some extent perhaps within our culture...
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