“Ungelic is us”: Queer Old English Elegies

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Elan Justice Pavlinich, University of South Florida
contact email: 

This panel focuses on the instability of meaning in Old English elegies. Because queerness bears nuanced connotations that require individual definition, this session is open to a broad understanding of the term “queer” and how queer theory enhances our understanding of the elegies in Anglo-Saxon culture. Approaches may include, but are not limited to, manuscript history and paleography, generic conventions and their reception, as well as literary innovations within specific texts.

Instability, gaps, and overlaps characterize Old English elegies at lower levels of linguistic and thematic content, and at higher levels of generic conventions that scholars have imposed. Thematically speaking, a queer reading could preserve the complexity of individual desire located within broad natural cycles of ebb and flow, and everlasting spiritual existence. Considering genre, Paul E. Szarmach observes, “if the Exeter Book had not survived, the only elegies extant in the literary corpus of Old English would be two passages in Beowulf known as ‘The Old Man's Lament’ and ‘The Lay of the Last Survivor[;’ and so], because these are contained within Beowulf, it is entirely possible that [Old English elegies] would not even now be recognized as exhibiting their own genre.” Overlapping with other genres, some scholars read elegies as an extension of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry, albeit with a more dreary outcome for the speaker who serves an absent lord. Others have noted the formal characteristics that elegies share with wisdom literature and the riddles. In what ways are the expectations of genre violated by particular Old English elegies? In what ways do they challenge generic categories? How does elegy, exposing the cyclical yet ultimately transient nature of creation, disturb linear, straight notions of progression and procreation?

A paper proposal comprises a one-page abstract and a completed Participant Information Form, which is available on the congress website beginning in July (deadline: September 15). Any papers not selected for this session will be forwarded to the Congress Committee to be considered for general sessions. Notification of acceptance and rejection of papers considered for inclusion in general sessions (those organized by the Congress Committee at Western Michigan University) is made by post in December.

The Participant Information Form for the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 11-14, 2017) is available in two formats, as a Microsoft Word form and as an interactive PDF file at http://www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress/submissions.

Submit the form, together with a one-page abstract of the proposed paper, to Elan Justice Pavlinich at justice7@mail.usf.edu.

The 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies will be held on May 11–14, 2017 at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.