The Prosthetic Impulse in the Middle Ages: Metaphor, Materiality, and the Promise of the (Post)human

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Agatha Hansen
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This special session will take place at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan (May 9-12, 2013).

The title this panel alludes to the recent publication edited by Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra,__The Prosthetic Impulse__, which probes the topic of prosthesis in all of its possible manifestations. In its most basic sense, prosthesis implies both word and body, but the term extends beyond the relatively straightforward understanding of human-machine coupling; the function of prosthetics, as generally accepted by contemporary prosthesis theorists, is to mediate between perceived binary relations—body and machine, nature and civilization, the conscious and subconscious, self and other, and man and God. “The Prosthetic Impulse in the Middle Ages” will seek to explore those points of contact and encounters with distinctly medieval material, metaphorical, and figural prosthesis, and modify Smith and Morra’s observation that “the promise of ‘posthuman’ thought can already be found in the human” (7): the promise of the posthuman can already be found in the __medieval__ body. Although prosthesis might point to the early modern period as its earliest reference, recent studies suggest that such an assumption is simply not substantiated. One can and should speak of prosthesis and prosthetics in the Middle Ages, and such a panel hopes to encourage its discussion in both the field of Disability in the Middle Ages, and studies of the medieval body, more generally.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to Agatha Hansen ( by 15 September 2012.

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