Congratulations to our recent PhD graduates who defended over the last few months:
Daniel Brielmaier: “Selves and Subjectivities in Medieval North Atlantic Verse”
This thesis explores the construction of speaking-subjects and their subjectivities in medieval North Atlantic verse. Although first-person poetry in medieval Irish and Welsh, Old English, and Old Norse-Icelandic has enjoyed a good deal of critical attention, little of it, with the exception of the Old English material, has focused on the strategies and rhetoric poets employed in the creation of lyric poetry’s speaking personas. The intent of this project is thus to analyze, discuss, and bring to light the creativity and skill with which medieval North Atlantic poets brought the speaking-subjects of their poetry to life.
“Subject” and “subjectivity” are understood in psychoanalytical terms, primarily through the narrative of signficiation articulated by Julia Kristeva. In particular, Kristeva’s understanding of the formation of subjectivity through the interaction of the semiotic (i.e., the wordless drives of the body) and the symbolic order (i.e., the world of objects and social structures outside the self) forms both the thesis’s primary tool of analysis – along with close reading – and its organizing principle. The lyric poems under consideration here are thus organized into chapters according to the relationship of the semiotic and symbolic in the formation of their speaking-subjects. The first chapter, then, examines how Irish monastic poets constructed a Christian subjectivity in
which the semiotic, bodily drives of the speaking-subject – in its ideal form – ran in perfect accord with the Christian symbolic order. The second chapter takes up the theme of consolation, and examine how Old English, Irish, and Norse verse could be used as a therapeutic tool to end a speaking-subject’s alienation by modelling a process through which the subject signifies himself within an alternative symbolic order, one which enables the speaker to understand his or her subject-position in a more positive light, thus bringing semiotic and symbolic closer to accord. The third and final chapter turns to those alienated speaking-subjects for whom there is no hope of achieving accord between the semiotic desires of the body and the symbolic order, or of
finding even consolation. The chapter explores some of the topoi of alienation – eros, old age, illness – prevalent in North Atlantic verse, examining the conditions through which these lyric speakers have become alienated, and what strategies poets employed to represent their estranged state.
Jacob Wakelin: “Making History in High Medieval Austria (1145-1203)—The Vorau Manuscript in its Secular and Spiritual Context”
This dissertation focuses on the historical, social, and political context of the Vorau manuscript (Stiftsarchiv Vorau Codex 276), a collection of more than a dozen Middle High German poems from the late eleventh to the mid-twelfth century in addition to Otto of Freising’s Gesta Friderici I. imperatoris. When taken together, the manuscript’s disparate assortment of texts creates a roughly coherent history of the world from Genesis down to about 1150. Compiled by the Augustinian canons of the Styrian house towards the end of the twelfth century under the provost Bernard I, the manuscript references local historical events and individuals that were intimately tied to the region’s monastic houses. As Styria’s margraves, the Otakars (1055-1192) were the founders and advocates of a large number of the monastic communities, and this dissertation argues that the interplay of interests between the Styrian court and its religious houses forms the backdrop to the Vorau manuscript’s creation. These interests centred on the political legitimacy, social relevance, and stability of both parties that resulted from a monastery’s role in creating a history of a dynasty through commemorative practices and historical writing. This emphasis on dynasty and heritage was also a key aspect of crusading movement of the twelfth century, playing up the importance of dynasty and heritage in the context of salvation history and increasing demand for the commemorative services offered by canons and monks. The spiritual and secular importance of dynastically driven historical consciousness at Styria’s monasteries and its court constitute the context which imbued the texts of the Vorau manuscript with relevance for its composers and subsequent users.
Amanda Wetmore: “The Hermeneutics of Desire in Medieval English Devotional Literature”
This dissertation explores the way medieval English devotional writers utilized the hermeneutics of contemporary biblical exegesis, in order to frame their depictions of an erotic and embodied encounter with the divine. The way they manipulate the construction of literal to allegorical realities enables—rather than constrains—the relationship of flesh to spirit, so that the desiring body does not disappear into discourse, but rather, language operates in service of the flesh, articulating a profoundly incarnational devotion, not divested of the body that produced it. My first chapter explores these themes in Aelred of Rievaulx’s (died 1167 CE) De institutione
inclusarum and De Iesu puero duodennni, where I examine the way Aelred constructs an economy of affect through his manipulation of readers’ desire through the focalization of their gaze on the body of Christ. In my second chapter, I analyze John Whiterig’s (died 1371 CE) Meditacio ad Crucifixum, and notably his erotic semiotics, and erotic interpretation of the Crucifixion, following a four-fold biblical exegesis. Third, I look at the way the The Cloud of Unknowing (late 1300s CE), as part of the “negative” or apophatic tradition, deconstructs some of the typical ideas of cataphatic devotion, positing its own way of accessing the indescribable divine, through darkness, silence, binding, and even anal eroticism. In this chapter, I use modern BDSM (bondage, domination, and sado-masochism) as a comparative context with which to
compare the Cloud’s use of bondage and denial to achieve transcendence. Finally, I analyze the parable of the Lord and Servant in Julian of Norwich’s (died 1416 CE) Long Text, in which I argue that Julian constructs her own “exegesis,” which both responds to and critiques the dominant hermeneutical modes of her day. Julian’s parable demonstrates a metonymic structure of relations, in which the literal and spiritual levels are not hierarchized, but united.