The Uses of Anachronism and Anachrony (MLA Guaranteed Session)

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Noah Guynn (LLC Medieval French)
contact email: 

Anachronism has long been the third rail of medieval studies—or, to quote Lucien Febvre, “the worst of all sins, the sin that cannot be forgiven.” Medievalists want to get our period “right,” which has often meant understanding it in relation to “euchronic” evidence. The intolerance of anachronism is, however, in conflict with medieval literary aesthetics, which often troubles differences between past and present. It is also at odds with recent developments in adjacent fields. Ancient historian Nicole Loraux invites us to embrace the present as “le plus efficace des moteurs de la pulsion de comprendre” and to experiment, knowingly but audaciously, with time “hors de ses gonds.” Art historian Georges Didi-Huberman likewise asks us to consider that when we are “devant l’image” we are “devant le temps,” with its unstable, irresolvable aporias. Finally, philosopher Jacques Rancière urges us to discard the pejorative term “anachronisme” in favor of “anachronie”: “un mot, un événement, une séquence signifiante sortis de ‘leur’ temps, doués du même coup de la capacité de définir des aiguillages temporels inédits, d’assurer le saut ou la connexion d’une ligne de temporalité à une autre.”


This panel will reflect on the uses of anachronism in medieval literature but also on the insights we may glean from anachronic methods. What can we learn by choosing to read medieval literature outside its time, and do we even have a choice in the matter? Can medieval texts leap across temporal lines, bringing them closer to us and us closer to them? Can they help us answer questions we have long assumed they didn’t, and couldn’t, pose? Do they press questions upon us that we have long resisted asking? Is there, in short, an impossible Middle Ages that we can make real by being more agile, and more daring, in our relationships to time?


Please submit abstracts of ~250 words by March 15 to Noah Guynn,