Kalamazoo 2015 - The Violent Ends of Sensation
50th International Congress on Medieval Studies
May 14-17, 2015
Recent scholarship has made positive use of the study of the senses, in so far as the senses enable modern audiences to have deeper and more significant encounters with past cultures, histories, and literatures. Yet, for all the positive sensations we recognize, medieval senses are just as often engaged violently in and by art and literature to inculcate difference, justify brutality, and/or cultivate sympathy. In the Middle English text Siege of Jerusalem, for example, senses conflate, consume, and overwhelm in the tale of Jewish destruction. Jewish corpses "choke" ditches, their stewing stench—wafting over the city walls—assaults the holed up Jewish survivors and triumphant Christian spectators. Appeals to smell, taste, see, hear, and touch the corpses add to the already visceral violence of difference and destruction. The scenes of sensationalized bloodshed spread across Siege make it near impossible for audiences to disengage from this theater of war.
The Siege of Jerusalem is just one of many medieval works employing the more violent ends of sensation.This session invites papers that explore violent appeals to the senses, the sensational strategies of medieval authors and artists, and the ends these appeals serve. Papers might explore the following questions: What are the ends of medieval sensationalism? What is gained in assaults on the senses? How do we see differences of religion, race, and gender violently defined through the senses? What do we do with works, such as Siege, that overwhelm the senses? With works that negatively consume their sensing figures and, by extension, their readers and viewers?