Thing Theory and Object-Oriented Studies in Medieval Contexts [International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo, May 10-13 2012]

full name / name of organization: 
Anthony Adams
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A new and exciting move toward 'object-oriented studies' is underway among historians and literary scholars, including medievalists. Such studies (colloquially known as 'thing theory') see 'things' neither as mirrors of human activity or will, nor deictic signs pointing to inner lives of human characters. Rather such an approach wishes to examine the 'network of relationships' between subjects and objects. Moreover, it has been argued that medieval literature has much to offer such studies, as objects have a degree of autonomy in medieval literature that is lacking in later texts, having been bullied out of the focal field by Enlightenment empiricism. This critical approach has connections to many current approaches, such as the claim by Bruno Latour that the boundaries between subjects and objects, persons and things, were far more porous to the premodern mind. Latour's emphasis, despite various critical problems that many have with his work, is representative of what Kellie Robertson has rightfully pointed out as a current movement to situating discussions of what constitutes 'modernity' in the region of 'phenomenal things'. Object-oriented studies also have much in common with the rage for hybridity, and fluidity, of human/animal, human/object, relations, such as has been foregrounded in the work of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen.

For this special session, I am seeking papers on any aspect of medieval things and objects, simulacra, automata, or mirabilia, whether textual or material. Subjects that would be welcome would include aspects of mirabilia in Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate, instances of prosopopoeia in medieval texts (such as the Old English Riddles), 'hurt' books that show damage either intentional or accidental, toys and machines as metaphors, mechanical automata unmasked, histories of talking objects, the use of puppetry, effigies, or props in medieval drama, folklore of living dolls or wooden toys, and any theoretical aspects of idols and images, simulations/simulacra, or other aspects of 'thing theory' as applied to medieval studies. Papers could also involve research into the history of science, Arabic studies, manuscript illumination, or any other related field that touches upon the presence of simulacra as object or as metaphor.

Please send an abstract, along with the paper proposal form (found at, to Anthony Adams, Anthony_Adams at (substituting @ for at) by September 10, 2011. Inquiries welcome.