Fictionality and Belief in Middle English Writing at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University
Coleridge's famous phrase "the willing suspension of disbelief" implies that disbelief (i.e., secularity) is a pre-condition of fictionality. That argument is made explicitly in Catherine Gallagher's well-known article "The Rise of Fictionality"—but it is also often assumed in medieval studies, as fictionality is localized in secular romance and rarely considered in devotional contexts. Where do fictional writing and sincere belief meet, and how do they interact? This panel welcomes papers that investigate the relationship between fictionality and belief from any angle, but which might respond to one or several of the following questions. How are fictionality and religious devotion concatenated together in Middle English writing (e.g., in passion meditations, mystery and miracle plays, Piers Plowman)? How can we distinguish between invention and revelation, artful creation and receptive witness, in dream-visions and visionary writings? How do medieval audiences play with belief and take admittedly fictive claims seriously? And how do the different epistemic demands of fiction and devotion generate friction within particular texts and contexts? This is intended primarily as a Middle English panel, but if you work on similar issues in other times and places, we are happy to consider your submission.
Note on the selection process: The Harvard Medieval English Colloquium will sponsor two panels this coming May at the 55th Annual Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. Each of the panels has a "featured speaker": Julie Orlemanski has agreed to give a paper on "Fictionality and Belief in Middle English Writing," and Martin Foys has agreed to give a paper on “Encountering the Strange in Early Medieval England.” A committee will choose three other panelists for each session by a process of blind review of the abstract submissions. The hope is that the blind review process would provide an unbiased chance for junior faculty, graduate students, and adjuncts to "break in" on a well-attended panel, serving two purposes: first, to start a conversation between senior faculty and those whom academic conferences often leave underexposed, and second, to provide a space for dialogue between academics at widely differing stages of the career.