Wandering Minds: Medieval Distraction, Daydreaming, and Noonday Demons
Georg Simmel, Jonathan Crary, and others have delineated the politics of time for a networked world, noting that increasing mechanization has given birth to an age of distraction. Indeed, the notion of “distraction” as an affect uniquely cultivated by modernity has produced its own micro-industry in accounts of the tech boom and its aftermath, and in many ways, “distraction” has become a catchphrase for the condition of modernity and postmodernity writ large. The term has also become an important aesthetic category in studies of nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first century literature. This panel locates a similarly fraught mobilization of distraction in medieval literature, which likewise sought to shape attentive identities in a world governed by diversions. At the same time, this panel asks how we should define medieval distraction. Is it an affect, a pathology, a demonic temptation, or, worse, possession? And how does distraction relate to curiosity, incredulity, and wonder? Do these distinctions operate differently in school texts, poems, romances, and dramatic works? Moreover, what were the penalties for distraction, and what measures could medieval authors, preachers, and teachers take against inspiring boredom?
Papers might address a wide variety of topics, perhaps including scribal curses on inattentive readers, medieval theories of cognition and meditation, liability in penitentials and legal discourse, demonology, digression, boredom, and daydreaming.
Please send 250-word abstracts to:
(Master of the Ingeborg Psalter, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 66, fol. 56)