ICMS 2018 (Kzoo): Waking, Awakenings, and Staying Woke in the 15th Century: A Roundtable

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Travis Neel
contact email: 



          While dreams, visions, and their interpretations are not idiosyncratic to the medieval culture and literature, the dream vision and its exegesis has often been central to our understanding of that typically medieval genre, the allegory, and to the concerns of late medieval literature and culture. The dream vision often provides a pretext for the dilation of poetic, political, and philosophical concerns that can only be taken up once the dreamer has attained some knowledge or experience, recorded it, and opened its (figurative) matter to commentary and interpretation. But the real matter of the dream vision lies in waking. At the start of the 15th Century, there is a discernable shift in the production of dream visions. Part of this shift may be due to a change in literary tastes, part due to emergent knowledge about the human body, and part due to the series of exchanges on the Continent known as la querelle de la rose, which interrogated the ethics of integument. This roundtable invites scholars from across the disciplines of medieval studies to consider this shift not through an analysis of the visio but through a more capacious approach to awakening as a form.

          Awakenings is not only a code-word for intellectual, erotic, and spiritual enlightenment, it is also a way of accounting for a misrecognition of the unconscious as consciousness – whether as in a dream, a trance, or a spell. In both psychoanalysis and neo-Marxism, then, what is of concern is not the dream itself but rather the relation between the dream and the moment of awakening. It is in that relation that somnolent fantasies give way to and open up the space for interpretation, critique, and work. The political weight of this relation finds expression in the contemporary parlance of “staying woke,” which connotes the activity of accounting for the social injustices of racism, sexism, and classism. As such, this proposal strives to be as expansive as possible with its terminology, proposed methodologies, and scope so as to permit a range of perspectives, disciplines, and approaches. In broad terms, the panel asks what are the spiritual, intellectual, and physical discourses of waking, awakenings, and “staying woke” in the 15th Century? On the one hand, the panel poses a set of historically specific questions about the nature of sleep and wakefulness. What are the legal and medical ontologies of sleep? Can a somnambulist, for example, be held accountable for crimes? What did late medieval writers think was happening within a person while they slept? What insights has recent research into medieval sleeping habits revealed about the physical well-being and alertness of medieval peoples? What are the medical remedies for those who suffer from what we now term sleeping disorders, and what did medieval medicine think were the causes and effects of such issues? What happens to the dream vision as a literary genre in the 15th Century? On the other hand, the hope is that the panel will attract some playful responses to the concepts of “staying woke”, awakening, and waking. To what extent is an awakening or a “woke” consciousness necessarily historical and contingent? How might an awakening affect the individual’s relation to communities – as, for example, when one claims to have a sacred vision or when being “woke” demands awkward or increasingly confrontational conversations with members of the community? What hypnagogic forms emerge in 15th-century literature and culture, and do they afford similar connotations to waking, awakening, and “staying woke”?

          The panel solicits up to six speakers to present eight to ten-minute talks or readings on a single instance, artifact, or finding of waking, awakening, or “staying woke” in the 15th Century. The hope is that the panel will produce a historically nuanced and discipline rich contribution to current conversations happening across disciplines about the relationships among formalism, historicism, ethics, and social justice. Please send inquiries or proposals (no longer than 300 words please) to Travis Neel at neel.30@osu.edu. Abstracts are due September 15.