Finally, Kalamazoo 2011 can be told, Part I

Yes, I know, it’s September and I’m dealing with things that happened in May, it bodes badly, but I’m doing the best I can and since there were complaints from venerable parts of the blogosphere that people weren’t doing Kalamazoo write-ups any more I don’t want to let the side of obsessive completism down. So, a few scant days after the last paper I reported on I was, courtesy of the British Academy, in the USA for the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, yet, already. I can’t hope, at this remove, even with my notes, to give a very comprehensive summary of what I saw and did, but then I hardly have time so that’s probably OK. I’ll talk about papers for the first three posts and then say something more general after the shorter paper sum-up from the fourth day.

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Goldsworth Valley Complex, University of West Michigan

Coming in from Detroit was an easy journey, albeit expensive due to an empty but mendacious change-machine, but it badly mucked things up when I forgot, on arrival in Kalamazoo short of sleep, that I had changed time-zone again. The result was that for the first few hours on Thursday I was running an hour later than everyone else, meaning that I missed breakfast and a meeting and arrived late into…

Session 39. Generational Difference and Medieval Masculinity, I: fathers and sons in the early Middle Ages

This was a shame as it meant I missed most of Paul Kershaw‘s “Louis the Pious, Attila the Hun and the Problem of Filial Honour”, which was quite a lot of what I’d gone to see. My very short notes remind me that he was cunningly reading the Hildebrandslied and the Waltharius against each other for how fathers and sons react to each other in those texts and that it sounded as if it would all have been fun to hear. Oh well, my own silly fault. The other papers were:

  • Mary Dockray-Miller, “Glory and Bastards: Godwin, Tostig, Skuli, and Ketel”, which talked about using foster-families on the North Sea world of the eleventh century as an alternative sort of status to less-than-shining origins of birth, either because that birth kindred was still on its way up or, in the case of Earl Tostig of Northumbria‘s sons, very much on its way down
  • and Allen J. Frantzen, “Fathers, Sons, and Masculinity in the Anglo-Saxon World”. This was an erudite and eloquent but also very political paper, in which Professor Frantzen argued that feminist scholarship had, well, emasculated study of masculinity by constraining it into categories from the battle of the sexes rather than what was actually going on at the time we study, which was a combination of both extremes. I thought that the aim here, to combat or at least recognise assumptions both in our sources and in ourselves that male = power and female = weakness, was laudable, but it was a difficult paper to listen to because of hearing it as a feminist maybe would as well as as a scholar should. I also thought that the Romans should have got a bigger part in defining masculinity since the whole rationality-and-moderation topos, here instanced from Ælfric, surely goes back to them, which raises questions about our assumptions about the sources… but it was one of the richer and more stimulating twenty minutes I’ve spent sitting listening, all the same. He actually has a web-page up, apparently in preparation for the session, which sets his fellow participants reading; you may find this interesting…

So, OK, I must write less about the rest, but this will be tricky as I then stumbled on my subject area, sort of, in:

Session 75. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, I: claustrum and sæculum

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

Virtual reconstruction of the Abbey of Lorsch c. 1150 by Robert Mehl

This was the first of a set of sessions arranged by, among others, the very excellent Albrecht Diem, and it was tempting to treat them as one can treat Texts and Identities at Leeds and just sit in familiar territory for as long as the strand ran. I didn’t, but I saw these papers, which were:

  • Hendrik Dey, “Before the Cloister: monasteries and the ‘topography of power’ in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages”, an account of the arrangement of processional spaces in late Roman cities and early medieval monasteries, finding numerous interesting parallels in the more elaborate (Carolingian) cases like Lorsch, where the monks seem to have done a lot of walking.
  • Hans Hummer, “Family Continuity and Christian Monasticism in late Antique Gaul” was a complex paper questioning work that has seen either family or lordship as the basic structures of early medieval society by showing monasticism as both or neither, determined to escape such structures but made to serve family or political agendas all the same. This also made the point that an early medieval monastery about which we know is, by and large, exceptional; how many passing references have your documents got to communities that we just can’t identify? I know mine has lots, and Hans’s too apparently.
  • Valerie Ramseyer, “Cave Monasteries in Early Medieval Southern Italy and Sicily: centers of isolation or population?” was an eye-opening paper, not least because of the scenery in the presentation, about monasteries, and in fact whole villages, built in cave networks in Southern Italy. A few of these places still function or function again as restaurants or curiosities but the paper argued that they were never, as they have been pitched when they’ve been studied at all, mere refuges or somehow a subaltern choice of habitation but elaborate, and often luxurious dwellings; the ideological assumptions and the elusiveness have left them under-studied, argued Professor Ramseyer, and I was certainly persuaded.
Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

Byzantine-era cave settlement in Canalotto, Sicily

That had all been such fun that I stuck with the thread for:

Session 122. Negotiating Monasticism in the Early Middle Ages, II: status and knowledge

This session had been somewhat demolished, as one speaker (sadly a friend of mine—there was a lot of this this year) had puilled out and the rest reorganised to make a reasonable programme. This actually made the session more interesting than I’d expected, and we got:

  • Matheus Coutinha Figuinha, “Martin of Tours’s Monasticism and the Aristocracy”, which argued, simply and effectively, that Sulpicius Severus, biographer of Saint Martin, was basically making up the nobility of the first monks at Marmoutier in that biography, because he cared a good deal more about such things than Martin apparently did.
  • Julian Hendrix, “Defining Monastic Identity: the Rule of St Benedict and Carolingian Monasticism”, looked at the different ways various commentators used the Regula Benedicti in the Carolingian age and therefore questioned whether complete Benedictinisation was ever the aim. This has been a bit of theme in this scholarly neck of the woods, lately, as further demonstrated by…
  • Albrecht Diem, “Negotiating the Past: reform and conflict in early meieval monasticism”, which pointed out how legendary St Benedict had become by the Carolingian age, that Gregory the Great did not apparently know that Benedict had written a Rule, and that in fact the first person known to associate Benedict of Nursia with the Rule we now claim to be his was Bede; even in the ninth century, in fact, it was feasible for Hygeburc to claim that her subject, St Willibald, had introduced the Benedictine Rule at Benedict’s supposedly own Monte Cassino. Albrecht has been a Benedictosceptic for a while and I’ve heard him say parts of this before but this was a fairly devastating assault.
  • Something I also want to remember from this session is Julian Hendrix saying in question that monastic rules tend to travel together in manuscripts, and adding, “They’re cenobitic in tendency, I guess”, which is the kind of throwaway I wish I came up with more often. It should also probably be observed that of late Albrecht has been putting all kinds of resources about monasticism, bibliographies, databases, lists of bookmarks, online, and that these are all quite useful things to know about if you’re in the field.

By this stage I think I was more or less caught up on the time zones but a drink was very welcome. I have since lost such information as I had recorded about whom I met when—kids, always have backups—so I won’t try and recapture that, but I probably ought to thank Michael Fletcher straight off as he was invaluable throughout the Congress as a willing driver, orchestrator and drinking companion and I’d have had much less fun without his help. So, that covers the first day in some sort of fashion, next there will be yet another post about a Catalan stone with a funerary inscription on it then I’ll return to the report.

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13 responses to “Finally, Kalamazoo 2011 can be told, Part I

  1. highlyeccentric

    The Frantzen paper – *grabbyhands*

    it was a difficult paper to listen to because of hearing it as a feminist maybe would as well as as a scholar should

    Elucidate, pls?

    • highlyeccentric

      Which is to say, I’m genuinely interested to know more about the difficulties you saw in this paper, as well as amused-interested in knowing what set of interpretive principles you have in your head collected under ‘a feminist might think…’

      • Some of what he was saying could have been read as “feminism has made it harder for a man to be anything meaningful, by disqualifying us morally from those zones which the battle of the sexes has marked off as male, i. e. power and action”. I couldn’t help hearing this in my head as “we were all fine till you dam’ women started up and attacking the patriarchy”, and it also seemed to suppose that the feminine identity has taken over space from the masculine one, whereas I think the two have partly homogenised and that social space ought not, in any case, to be zero-sum. It just made it sound as if the whole feminist movement had been wrong-headed because of the damage it had allegedly caused to male self-image, and this was working to repair that in a kind of “rar real man need pay no mind to woman to be fully-realised human being! <thump chest> Hulk smash! etc.” kind of vein. Except many times more erudite and much harder to refute in its own terms. But the same points could have been made without the combativeness. On the other hand, this is a man who’s lately taken up boxing, in his sixties. Combativeness was probably going to be in there.

        • highlyeccentric

          Oh, no fun. *crinkles nose* That is unfortunate!

          On the other hand, this is a man who’s lately taken up boxing, in his sixties. Combativeness was probably going to be in there.

          Academia at large encourages a certain combativeness, too. (Which is not going to help when this fellow encounters the hypothetical angry feminist scholar…) The necessity of proving that what one is doing is the Most Exciting And Bestest can easily lead to more ‘the rest of you suck’ vibes than the scholar might otherwise have put forth.

  2. Maybe once Frantzen starts thinking about how we all, men and women, are subject to the patriarchy — and not always for the benefit of a given man — he’ll calm down about those nasty feminists. A lot of us work on masculinity now and, if I do say so myself, do so with sympathetic subtlety. Feminists are friends! Not food! (Er, some such. Sorry.)

    • highlyeccentric

      *uncontrollable giggles*

      • Well, I’m glad someone laughed at my silly Finding Nemo reference! (It’s been on my mind lately because I keep telling my dog that “Felines are friends! Not food!” She’s not buying it, so I guess I’ll just have to keep her away from the kitties.)

    • I should probably make it clear that there was an actual paper here, as well as the politics, and that most of what Professor Franten had to say was about the actual (early) medieval sources. The politics was more of an introduction to explain why this work was necessary, and when I say I could hear those readings in it, I’m not sure that Professor Frantzen would consider them to have been the point of what he was saying. I think they were implicit, or coincidentally present in it, but by now my recall is shaky and I’m really relying just on notes. I doubt that I share his gender politics to any great extent, but this sort of diatribe was not what he had actually stood up to deliver.

      • highlyeccentric

        The politics was more of an introduction to explain why this work was necessary

        *nodsnods* Oh yes. And, like I said, I would read that paper with -grabbyhands- were it available in print. I mean, I’d probably write impolite snark in the margins of the intro, but it sounded genuinely interesting and useful!

  3. Gregory Dialogues II 36 is a chapter about how Benedict wrote a rule for his monks. Or does Alberecht Diem share Francis Clarke’s view that this is a different Benedict?

  4. Pingback: At last, Kalamazoo 2011… Part II « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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