Thursday, May 17, 2012

Come Up To the Table

BN 2810, fol. 136v
Last day of "Monsters and Marvels" activity (great presentations on the collaborative writing of Monsterfestos done through Facebook and GoogleDocs) - and so a celebration with a medieval menu based on the class:

for Beowulf: Swedish Meatballs
for the Convivencia: Gazpacho
for the Crusades: Hummus and Pita
for Alexander and Prester John: Lamb Biryani
for the Great Khan: Sing Chow Mei Fun
for the Queen of Sheba: Chicken Berbere
for the New World: Chocolate Cake

Students from past medieval classes e-mailed to know if they could come, so we had a full table.  This year's astounding Kalamazoo (reviewed with warmth and detail and with an eye to the future starting here at In the Middle) set a new record for conviviality, collegiality and coolness.  New formats, exciting claims, unexpected triumphs. In the world of art history, the Material Collective (born at breakfast in Austin after our first day at the BABEL conference there) came out and proclaimed collaboration and objects deeply good.  It's astounding what can happen when you shift something like format - the minifesto session had the Material Collective speaking as a collective from throughout the room (I was hurtling through the American highway at the time - grrr - but having seen videos and heard testimonials, feel closer to having been there!) - a powerful embodiment of the 8-10 e-mails we exchange a day on our shared e-mail list.  Members of the Materical Collection also organized two main ICMA sessions.  The thing we're still processing here is the absolute absence of pushback.  If anything, we were encouraged to go farther - consider more senses than just that of touch (Paul Binski memorably evoked taste in relation to (certain) medieval objects).  Is this a matter of recognition? Of seeing the focus on materiality as familiar to a focus on objecthood? Or perhaps materiality is adding depth to iconography and social history.  In any case, the rooms were packed and the audience truly lively.  There is some sense of meeting - of people finding something they've been after: perhaps this way of approaching medieval objects, through considerations of touch, materials, experience. My alabaster rock got so much action at the BABEL drinks hour - passed around from hand to hand, leaving its little dusty residue each time, coming back to me at the end through the attentions of a new friend.  

The Ecologies roundtable blew my mind: Eileen Joy speaking of the chemical signature we will leave in the galaxy as our "greatest work of art" (prompting me, in the name of the other end of the spectrum I bet, to put "bacteria art" on my ARTH132 final exam - one student actually wrote: "WTF, professor Harris!" - and then a smiley face (I really do love the Midwest)); thinking through temporality's fluidities with James Smith; meeting Alfred Siewers, whose lush writing had made him a hero long ago (and yes, his talk on trees started with an image of the Lorax); thinking through Lowell Druckert's walk through Shakespeare's Caesar's parks (and wondering about the contrasting scary ecology of the forest); getting swept up in the beautiful writing and totally haunting ideas about music of Alan Montroso; taking notes furiously on Valerie Allen's take on matter/timber in Aristotle; and watching all of us get troubled by Carolyn Dinshaw and the Green Man. The student/scholar within wanted this to go on, to be the seminar that you read extra for, the one within which you eagerly anticipate what others will have to say. The teacher within watched in utter fascination as Jeffrey Cohen interwove both the content and the questions of the presentations into a new whole - simultaneously masterful and generous - beautiful. This was where my short piece on stone ("Hewn") appeared - the entire enterprise makes me treasure the writing (the very act of writing).

The alabaster panel was a revelry in...well, alabaster.  I went to several of these panels and got more and more excited about seeing the show (which I finally, blissfully did with Nancy one afternoon - perfect perfect perfect).  My dear friend from Bibliothèque Nationale days, Stephen Perkinson, had everyone mesmerized thinking about the process of production and the complexities of copying.  Rachel Dressler's paper on tombs was ideal after mine on the smaller panels - the question and answer allowed us to consider the possibility of geo-economics.  There's so much more to write, much of it art historical. There was a time when Kalamazoo was the opportunity to go hear the Friends of Richard III give impassioned talks about the monarch's unfair treatment at the hands of history.  It's different now - Kalamazoo is in a vigorous state of collegiality that narrows the possibility of presence a bit, but flings open the opportunities and ideas.  It is, I can't help but think, everything that Michael Camille would have wanted out of Kalamazoo.  It does, absolutely, set the tone for the summer.  It did, no doubt, make it impossible to confront my dad's demise the day I got back without whispering in the reeds about it to Facebook (which totally helped, by the way).  The table is set, the guests are multiple and have had their appetites whetted.  This is such a good thing.


  1. This is a beautiful post, Anne, and thank you so much for it; I'm very sorry to know that such sad news greeted you on your return, but then you had that table to set and a meal to share with others: that's perfect. And I think you know, too, why of course postmedieval named its essay prize after Michael Camille, and how much he has meant, and did mean, to so many of us, even those who never met him [like me] but were touched, not just by his work, by by his affect: warm, full of mischief, playful, empathetic, curious, etc. His spirit has always been central to BABEL's projects, and I agree with you that the Kalamazoo Congress is starting to look, and feel, more and more like the vision of our field he always projected in his work, and from what I've heard, in his person.

  2. Oh Eileen - I love your voice, and your spirit, and your sighting of humanity's chemical signature in the galaxy really does change everything (I credit my first "WTF, professor Harris" _with a smiley face_ entirely to YOU!). For years after Michael died there was a weird orphan feel to going to Kalamazoo. Seeing, and being so warmly welcomed to be a part of, the incredible energy of BABEL makes me feel like Michael's spirit (what he stood for in his bright red shoes and exuded with his phenomenal writing and projects) really does live on (and I don't usually think of spirits living on, but there you go, this is different). I can tell you one thing: he and the Tiny Shriner would have had a blast.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Yes, if only we could have seen the Michael : Tiny Shriner hook-up, that would have been something. [smile]