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)
We were thrilled to receive the proofs for The Legacy of Boethius in Medieval England: The Consolation and its Afterlives from ACMRS today. The book is due out early next year, and it's really exciting to see it reach this stage.
Featuring essays by scholars of Old English, Anglo-Latin, and Middle English, The Legacy of Boethius argues for a reassessment of the medieval English Boethian tradition as a 600-year continuum in reading and readership, surveying the Old English Boethius together with Chaucer’s Boece and a host of understudied interlocutors for the first time in a volume of this kind.
Here's the opening of my essay on "Finding Consolation at the End of the Millennium," which draws a connection between a fire, a letter, a manuscript, and a poem in order to reconstruct two potential trajectories of Boethius’s Latin text in the century after the Consolation was first translated into English:
On August 10, 974, a group of craftsmen put aside the new bell they had been casting for the church tower at Fleury, finished their work for the day, and went to bed. Over the door, they left a candle burning, giving in to their tired limbs and forgetting to extinguish the flame, which consumed the remaining wax, sputtered, and caught the nearby beds on fire. Soon the monastery was ablaze, the wind threatening to spread the conflagration to the nearby granary. Monks hurried into the church of St. Benedict, wrapped the relics in the altar cloth, and ran out again. And then the wind died. The ash settled. And the church, guesthouse, kitchen, and bakery emerged unsinged.