IMC 2007: Sessions

Session 1302: Medievalism, Modernism, and the Early 20th Century

Wednesday 11 July 2007, 16.30-18.00

Organiser:David Matthews, Department of English & American Studies, University of Manchester
Moderator/Chair:David Matthews, Department of English & American Studies, University of Manchester
Paper 1302-aModernist Medievalism in Pound, Eliot, and Auden
(Language: English)
Michael Alexander, School of English, University of St Andrews
Index terms: Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1302-bMedieval Visuality and the Body in German Silent Cinema
(Language: English)
Bettina Bildhauer, School of Modern Languages - German, University of St Andrews
Index terms: Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1302-c'In common defence of their Aryan birthright': Medievalism and The Birth of a Nation
(Language: English)
Anke Bernau, Department of English & American Studies, University of Manchester
Index terms: Medievalism and Antiquarianism

Abstract a: Modernist medievalism sounds a contradiction in terms, if we take the labels of literary history seriously, and make them into categories. Victorian poets such as Tennyson, Rossetti and Morris were medievalist, and the early propaganda of Eliot and Pound was anti-Victorian. But it does not follow either that medievalism is Victorian, or that it cannot form part of modern poetry. The evidence is all to the contrary. Pound modelled himself on Arnaut Daniel, Cavalcanti and Villon – and his history is that of Carlyle, Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. Eliot took Dante as his model, and revered martyrs. Old English verse was a resource and a model for Auden. Each poet had a nostalgia for medieval Christian values.
Abstract b: Weimar film theorists believed that cinema would bring about a return to a medieval culture of visuality, materiality and embodiedness, because film (especially silent film) forces the viewer to pay attention to the visible, material world as opposed to language and writing. Weimar films likewise portray the bodies of medieval characters as more visually unified than contrasting modern bodies. The fact that they often appear in dream sequences, or as dead bodies, highlights that this is an unattainable fantasy. But by being shown as unreal or dead, medieval bodies also serve to visualize the inaccessibility of past time, and the time gaps between the plot, the point of filming and the presence of the viewer. These fantasized bodies pose an alternative to modern (and in particular cinematic) conceptions of time as flowing and moving in a linear fashion, by showing time to be static and embodied. Medieval time is further spatialised when the temporally removed medieval bodies are habitually presented as analogous to spatially removed Oriental bodies. The material discussed will include the narratives of imaginary time travel, memory and raising the dead in Golem (1920), Der müde Tod (1921), Sumurun (1920), Faust (1926), and Richard Wagner (1913).
Abstract c: This paper will look at the role ‘the medieval’ played in specific racial and nationalist agendas in the first half of the 20th century, as represented through the medium of film. Focusing on how medieval history and myths were used by 20th-century film-makers as a point of origin as well as template for an ideal future, it will focus in particular on D. W Griffith’s hugely popular and influential The Birth of a Nation (1915). Medieval studies as an academic discipline emerged within a context of nationalistic discourse in the West in the nineteenth century, and became popular through literary reimaginings of the medieval period – for instance through the novels of Sir Walter Scott, which Mark Twain held responsible for the ‘character of the Southerner [in the US]’, allegedly an unwholesome mix of ‘modern and mediaeval’. This paper will therefore also address the various ways in which scholarship and literature contributed to such constructions of nationhood as Griffith’s.