Defamiliarizing Epic (Kalamazoo 2019)

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Jason Jacobs, Société Rencesvals, American-Canadian Branch
contact email: 

54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, May 9-12, 2019

Defamiliarizing Epic

Sponsored by the Société Rencesvals, American-Canadian Branch

Organized by Jason Jacobs (Roger Williams University)

The formalist concept of defamiliarization recognizes the value of the literary in its capacity to enhance and renew our perceptions of the familiar world by making it unfamiliar, unrecognizable, strange. This panel therefore seeks papers from a mix of specialists and non-specialists willing to forego or suspend scholarly expertise with respect to epic texts. How does it change our approach as readers if we let go of what we know, put down our habitual set of tools, work to blur our picture of the context, background, generic conventions, ideological or theological frameworks? What new conversations can we have if we hesitate before asserting established knowledge, widely-shared presuppositions, canonical interpretations?

The inspiration for this panel is the observation that scholarly conventions—including demonstrations of expertise as deep familiarity with a corpus—often produce insular communities of specialists best prepared to talk to each other. In the interest of a broader and more inclusive conversation, the organizers of this panel particularly welcome papers that are comparative between epic and non-epic texts; take global or transhistorical approaches; apply unexpected methods or theories to epic texts; or focus on minor, marginal, or stray elements of texts. Curiosity and connections are to be privileged over discipline-specific content knowledge, command of scholarly tradition, or deference for auctoritas.

We seek to defamiliarize the epic in order to active its strangeness, unleash its wily and discontinuous energies, and introduce it into new conversations. Any medievalist with a familiarity with epic knows that epic heroes are willing to be bold and incautious when things get difficult. Let’s find out what happens when scholars are bold and incautious too.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words together with a completed Participant Information Form to session organizer Jason Jacobs ( by September 15. Please include your name, title, and affiliation on the abstract itself. All abstracts not accepted for the session will be forwarded to Congress administrators for consideration in general sessions, as per Congress regulations.