Quantum Medievalisms Kzoo 2015

full name / name of organization: 
postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies

50th International Medieval Congress
Kalamazoo, MI

Sponsored Session

Quantum Medievalisms
Call For Papers

Inspired by Karen Barad's work, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, this roundtable uses a direct parallel with Quantum Physics to prompt interrogation of basic structures of figuring matter and temporality within scholarship of/on the Middle Ages. As the name suggests, the idea has a dual legacy.
In classical Latin, "quantum" is the accusative form of the adjective "quantus," usually paired with "tantus" to indicate questions of what size, how much, or magnitude of greatness. In its adverbial counterpart, "quantum" designated a comparison of quantity: "as far as," "as much as," "as great as." Even from the Patristic writers, though, we find that "quantum" has become a noun that is no longer a comparison or a description of quantities, but a stand in for quantity itself. It indicates scope, in a way that is similar to "quota," but that specifically points to the measurability of some other thing.
In contemporary culture, the word "quantum," again an adjective, carries with it the connotations of modern physics that, beginning with Einstein and Planck, define basic units of light and energy (respectively) as "quanta." Quantum physics deals primarily with the level of the atomic and subatomic nature of all matter, at which levels the classical distinctions between matter and energy, wave and particle collapse completely. All things—light, energy and matter—are simultaneously waves and particles, and it is the observer who intervenes via her scientific apparatus and determines what she is observing. Quantized energy and matter are simultaneously discrete and continuous, and always entangled. Quantum entanglement means that all elements of a system are simultaneously affected as the system is affected. Even if those elements are light years apart, action upon the system will still simultaneously affect every iota of the system.

This panel invites papers that not only consider the quantum nature of medieval philosophy and natural philosophy (science)—and its own thoughts on quantity, atomism and explanations of action at a distance in optics and astronomy—but also those that consider the ways in which the implications of quantum physics may necessitate a re-reading of the temporality of the Middle Ages themselves. If time is relative, action at a distance (spatial or temporal) is simultaneous, and all possibilities occur simultaneously, how does that affect the way we read our own constitution of medieval phenomena? Is it medieval without us? If we reject classical causality, what do the terms "premodern," "modern," "postmodern," and Latour's "nonmodern" even mean? In what ways are we entangled with the Middle Ages, physically and philosophically?

In order to foster a fecund conversation about time and quanta and the broad spectrum of their signification from the Middle Ages to the present, we invite proposals that gravitate toward a particular concept or topic, and that can be presented in short 2-7 minute provocations. To propose a contribution to this roundtable, please submit 200-300 word proposals for a topic of discussion, and a proposed length of this contribution (in time). The panel will be assembled of as many and as varied of submissions as we can fit with ample time left for discussion. Non-traditional proposals and proposals for non-traditional discussions are both welcome.

Please email submissions as attachments to angela.bennettsegler@nyu.edu with "Quantum Medievalisms" in the Subject Line.

DEADLINE: September 15