IMC 2004: Sessions

Session 1523: Critical Revision through Cultural Context: Revisiting Middle English Canonical Texts

Thursday 15 July 2004, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Anne Marie D'Arcy, Department of English, University of Leicester
Paper 1523-aGrendel and the Grene Gome: 'Other' Perspectives on Clashes of Culture
(Language: English)
Margaret Mary Raftery, Department of English & Classical Languages, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 1523-cMuting the Prioress' Tale
(Language: English)
Susan Yager, Department of English, Iowa State University
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Medievalism and Antiquarianism

session grouped by Catherine Batt (21/11/03):
Abstract paper -a:
In line with the conference theme, this paper would revisit some of the famous cultural clashes of medieval English romance literature, notably those of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Grene Gome. In so doing, it would apply some of the strategies employed by revisionist history, particularly recent revisions of colonial history.
To elucidate : in pre-democratic South Africa, such clashes, whether literal or figurative, communal or individual (e.g in the 17th century between Jan van Riebeeck and the indigenous Khoi and San peoples of the Cape, or later between those indigenous peoples and the southward-migrating Zulus, or in the 19th century between Trekker leaders such as Piet Retief and local Zulu or Xhosa chiefs such as Dingane) developed a mythic status, with the White characters being accorded iconic stature and their feats being memorialised in impressive monuments, while the Black characters were either marginalised and forgotten, or demonised
as an evil ‘other’. In today’s South Africa, the previously marginalised, forgotten and demonised characters are being reassessed in the light of a vision of history as more than ‘the record of the conqueror’, and accorded their rightful place. (The histories of the Crusades and of missionary endeavour provide further parallels.)
I should like to apply something of the same process to certain ‘Others’ of medieval English romance literature, notably Grendel and the Grene Gome, deconstructing the received interpretations of their stories and creatively constructing their alternative experience of and perspective on the clashes of culture in which they were involved, thus allowing them a ‘voice’ in their own (literary) history.
Abstract paper -b:
In the 19th century, the English word ‘nature’ and its Western concept was first equated with the Japanese word ‘shizen’ and its concept. The difference between the English concept of nature and its translation, ‘shizen’ will be pursued. The focus will be on whether or not ‘nature’ includes human beings and things man-made. In Western thought, especially after the Middle Ages, nature became an object to be observed, controlled and conquered by human beings, while Japanese shizen has been more or less pantheistic, and man is considered as part of it. In order to find a difference, ‘nature’ in Middle English period will be explored through the works of Chaucer and Langland.
Abstract paper -c:
Critics who have recently discussed the antisemitism of Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale have tended to review the past few decades, at most, of scholarship. In this paper I would like to look further back, to the mid-twentieth century, to examine wartime and immediate postwar treatments of the tale. For example, the translations of Lumiansky and Hopper demonstrate a postwar unease – at the very least – about approaching the tale, and employ a language of euphemism and indirection in talking about it. I will use Fussell on language in tracing the influence of these mid-century scholars on current debates about PrT.