Textual Materialities: Speaking Objects

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Special Session for Kalamazoo 2011
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Call for Papers, Kalamazoo 2011:
"Textual Materialities: Speaking Objects"

The cultural materialist work of Raymond Williams and Arjun Appadurai has focused attention on the ways in which objects shape cultural meaning. In medieval studies, the seminal work of scholars such as Michael Clanchy and Mary Carruthers has explored the way in which objects can, like texts, convey meaning and carry memory. This trend has drawn scholars' attention not only to subjects such as relics, the Eucharist, clothing, romance objects and physical books, among others, but more specifically to the ways in which these objects function within texts. A system of complex reciprocity exists between material objects and the texts they inhabit. Inasmuch as objects transmit nexuses of cultural associations and memory, one might even say that objects in texts speak.

In this panel we hope to explore the symbolic valences of objects within texts (broadly defined). How might the symbolic cultural meanings that objects can carry function when those objects literally speak for themselves? Examples of such objects include: the Anglo-Saxon riddle objects and the rood; runic inscriptions; dead bodies of saints, or pseudo-saints, like that of the Prioress's "little clergeon;" the symbolic objects of Marie de France's Lais, such as the inscribed hazel branch of Chevrefoil; or books that enter texts as objects, such as Jankyn's Booke of Wikked Wives. In short, these are objects that articulate meaning above and beyond the meanings they carry passively.

In a recent issue of PMLA, Bill Brown notes that "the study of objects in books clearly shares with the new study of books as objects an interest in determining how subjects are formed and transformed by the material world." This panel, concerning objects that speak, explores these connections between materiality and textuality. In conceiving "texts" broadly, we open the discussion to an interdisciplinary range of scholars, including literary scholars, historians, and art historians.

We welcome proposals of 250-300 words for 15 minute papers. They should be sent along with a completed participant information form (found at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html) to Brigit McGuire at by September 15, 2010.