Mistakes, Mishaps, and Medieval Moments of Failure
Session for the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 8-11, 2014) sponsored by the Medieval Studies Workshop at the University of Chicago
We often say that history is written by the victors. But what of the losers, the mistakes, the campaigns lost, the scribes who erred, the catastrophic or minor moments of failure in medieval art, history, and literature? Many such failures result in the loss of lands or reputation, misunderstandings, and even now-comical images (e.g. the horned Moses). Other modes of failure have been recognized as more obviously productive, including the purported failure of art or language to adequately describe the divine in much of medieval Christian theology. Scholars ranging widely from Judith (Jack) Halberstram to Denys Turner have rightly advocated for alternative ways of knowing that do not just privilege narratives of hegemonic success. However, it appears that the place of failure still occupies a particularly fraught position in medieval history. Failure is at once recognized as central to techniques of confession, self-improvement, and personal humility while also dismissed as the unrecoverable and unimportant flotsam of history, demonstrated by the dearth of studies on mistakes and errors of persons, texts, and images. We hope in this panel to implicitly question our own methodological approaches through studies of failure in the Middle Ages and to consider the multiform and even contradictory ways that failure was construed by medieval audiences. We welcome papers from all disciplines that investigate or theorize failure in the medieval world.
Please submit paper proposals and participant information form http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html#PIF to Medieval Studies Workshop co-coordinators Jenna Timmons and Nancy Thebaut at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than September 15, 2013.
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