ENGLISH 113:
The Post-Colonial Middle Ages

HYPERTEXT SYLLABUS WITH ELECTRONIC RESOURCES

Professor Jeffrey J. Cohen (jjcohen@gwu.edu), Dept. of English, George Washington University

Office Hours: Wednesdays 2-4 Rome Hall 763

Through the careful analysis of a variety of literary and historical texts, this course will examine how a lonely and remote island was transformed through successive invasions into the nation of England. Texts reflecting Celtic, Northern European, Latin, and French traditions will be read (in English) along with selected contemporary essays in post-colonial theory. Topics include: migration, displacement, and colonization; the creation of a mythic past; monsters and nationalism; the transformation of sexuality and identity under changed regimes of power.

WARNING: This is a challenging course with a high workload and a demanding teacher. In order to do well, you must read critically a diverse selection of texts, write excellent analytical papers, and contribute to the intellectual debate in the class. If you cannot commit yourself to fulfilling these requirements, you should take a different course.

Requirements: class attendance and participation (every class you miss affects your grade; missing more than TWO classes means that you have failed the course); one midterm exam; an 8pp. paper; and a final exam. These will count towards the total assessment of your grade in the proportions 20:20:30:30 respectively. There will also be several short writing assignments which will count toward participation and attendance.

General Electronic Resources in Medieval and Postcolonial Studies
Labyrinth The best internet resource for all things medieval
Netserf
On-Line Reference Book for Medieval Studies (ORB)   (Especially useful is the ORB on-line bibliographies)
Internet Medieval Sourcebook
Medieval Feminist Index
Postcolonial Studies (from Voice of the Shuttle)
Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English
 

 

Schedule of Readings and Important Links
Aug. 24 Introduction: Inventing England  
We start with the assumption that England (Britannia, Albion, Great Britain, the United Kingdom) never pre-existed its "discovery," but had to be invented -- again and again.  Today we talk about prehistoric peoples, Stonehenge and other ancient monuments, and the Celtic and Roman invasions. 

Megalithic Sites and Mounds 
Avebury Circle (c.2300) and Neighboring Barrows 
Stonehenge (c.2000 BC) 
Quick Timeline of British History 

Aug. 26 "Pre-history" I 
An examination of how Britain's "pre-histroy" was imagined by Caesar, Gildas, Bede, and Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The Roman conquest and Celtic resistance.  Why empty lands flow with milk and honey, and why they are never as empty as they first seem.  The monsterization of aborigines.  Celtic culture in Britain and under Roman occupation. 

Reading 

  • Bede, The Ecclesiastical History, Book 1 chapters 1-13: description of Britain and Ireland; Celtic history;  Roman invasion and Christian conversion;  St. Alban's body and the executioner whose eyes popped out
  • Julius Caesar, Commentary on the Gallic Wars,  description of Britain and the Celts (handout):  raw material and human sacrifice
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain,  description of Britain, the arrival of Brutus (handout):  reinscribing the British settlement;  monsters and colony
Links 
Aug. 31early  "Pre-History" II:  The Celts 
A consideration of how much "authentic" Celtic culture can be glimpsed in the surviving archival trace;  Bricrui's house as a metaphor for Celtic survival.  Old Irish values:  heroism, kingship, the place of women.  The Cu Chulaind cycle:  animals and the construction of the human body.  Derdriu's suicide and the possibility of feminine agency. 

Reading 

  • "The Birth of Cu Chulaind" "The Boyhood Deeds of Cu Chulaind" "The Death of Aifeís Only Son" "The Wasting Sickness of Cu Chulaind & The Only Jealousy of Emer" [in Early Irish Myths and Sagas, tr. Gantz]
  • "The Intoxication of the Ulaid" "Bricriuís Feast" "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu" [in Early Irish Myths and Sagas, tr. Gantz] 
Links 
Sep. 2 Good Barbarians and Decadent Romans 
The Agricola and its strangely empty Britain.  The emperor Domitian, the "reign of terror," and a silent senator's guilt.  Ethnography as social critique.  Heroic community:  the baritus and the comitatus.  Idealism and contempt in the Germania, or why Tacitus enjoys watching 60,000 "naturally" noble Germans massacre each other. 

Reading 
Tacitus, The Germania (available through  Medieval Sourcebook

Links 

Sep. 7 LABOR DAY
Sep. 9 The Germanic Invasion 
Germanic culture:  wergeld, ordeals, warbands, homosociality and identity.  Interpreting the invasion:  Gildas and the "bastard" Saxons;  Bede's Gildas and the impulse to convert.  Bede's "Angles, Saxons and Jutes" as imaginary unifiers.  Topographical memory and the history of the land. 

Reading 

 

Links 

  • The Venerable Bede Links to Bede biographies, writings, and some exciting Bede videos 
  • The Ecclesiastical History (from Medieval Sourcebook) 
  • Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "Bede" 
  • Bede's World (a Northumbrian museum -- the Disneyworld of Bede-lovers) 
  • Catherine Ball's  Old English Pages (Text and Image Index) (includes translations)
  •  The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 
  • Sep.14 The Christian Invasion 
    Can the Christianization of Britain be read in the same terms as its colonization?  Conversion and translation:  pagan temples with Christian altars;  Caedmon's Hymn in Old English and Latin;  Gregory's angelic Angles;  life figured as a big hall in winter.  Strategies of conversion:  the masculinization of the pagan priest, or Coifu against himself.  Imagining unity. 

    Reading 

    • Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book II chapters 9-20, Book III chapters 1-9, Book 4 chapter 24 
    • Caedmon's Hymn (electronic version with Northumbrian, West Saxon, and Modern English versions)
    Links 
    Sep. 16 Monks and Soldiers 
    Bede's history from another point of view.  Oswald as King of the English.  Multiculturalism at Iona:  Scots, Englishmen, Frisians, Gauls.  Warriors and saints:  milites Christi.  The narrative power of miracles.  Adomnan's non-narrative:  the reinvention (or colonization?) of time. 

    Reading 

    • Adomnan of Iona, Life of St Columba
    Links 
    Sep. 21 & 23
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Cosmopolitanism:  World Center and Margin 
    De-centering England, creating a worldview.  Mappaemundi:  conceptual vs. practical systems.  The island of the professional deflowerers:  sexual fantasy and Mandeville's putative audience.  Jerusalem as omphalos.  Against the Saracen swarm:  Mandeville's foreign service.  The price Jews pay for tolerance and cultural relativism. 

    Reading 

    • The Travels of Sir John Mandeville 
    Links  
    Sep. 28 English Center and Fringe 
    Divine Truth and the unwilling body.  Vengeful saints.  Hybridity:  the man who gave birth to a cow, the mare that birthed a deer-horse.  Hybridity:  Gerald's mixed ethnicity.  England's strategies for annexing Wales.  The Third Crusade.  Inhabiting a stereotype (sly civility):  how a priest ate grass and proved the Welsh are smarter than the stereotypes they choose to embody.  Gerald's dream of an archbishopric.  Becket, Baldwin, and Gerald. 

    Reading 

    • Gerald, The Journey through Wales
    Links 
    Sep. 30 No Class (Yom Kippur)
    Oct. 2 Field Trip to National Cathedral  (meet at front porch, 10:30 am) 

    The Christian organization of space.  Cathedrals and the practice of everyday life in the Middle Ages.  Architecture and bodies.  Medieval Washington? 
     
    Links to information about gothic (and other) cathedrals 

    Oct. 5 Innocent Observers 
    Gerald's allegiances, again.  History as resitance:  giving a "timeless" land its temporality.  Welsh language and failures of translation.  Why Gerald witnsessed the exhumation of Arthur.  Onceness and futurity. 

    Reading 

    • Gerald, The Description of Wales  
    Links 
    Oct. 7 Midterm examination
    Oct. 12 COLUMBUS DAY
    Oct. 14 Readings in PoCo Theory I:  
    Nationalism and the Imagining of Community 
    • from Charles Larson. "Heroic Ethnocentrism:  The Idea of Universality in Literature"
    • from Alan J. Bishop, "Western Mathematics:  The Secret Weapon of Cultural Imperialism"
    • from Edward Said, Orientalism
    • from Frantz Fanon, "National Culture" (The Wretched of the Earth)
    • from Partha Chatterjee, "Nationalism as a Problem"
    Oct. 19 Readings in PoCo Theory II:  
    Nation and Language 
    • from Braj B. Kachru, The Alchemy of English
    • from Raja Rao, "Language and Spirit" (preface to Kanthapura)
    • from Bill Ascrofft, "Constitutive Graphonomy"
    • from W. H. New, "New Language, New World"
    • from Edward Kamau Brathwaite, "Nation Language" (History of the Voice)
    • from Chantal Zabus, "Relexification" (The African Palimpsest)
    Oct. 21 Readings in PoCo Theory III:  
    Mimicry, Civility, Hybridity 
    • Homi K. Bhabha, "Sly Civility" and "Signs Taken for Wonders" (The Location of Culture)
    Oct. 26 Revisionist History I 
    Problems of origin:  the birth of Merlin, the birth of Arthur, and the myth of the incubus.  The evil Saxon as "intimate alien."  How belief becomes "sticky" and hardens into history.  Vortigern's dragon-bottomed tower (see image).  The "empty, homogeneous time" of colony vs. the too full, heterogenous time of the colonized.  Why problematic histories are the only effective ones. 

    Reading 

    • Wace, Roman de Brut (in Arthurian Chronicles), pp. 1-44 [Constantine's reign to the death of Uther]
    Oct. 28 Special Lecture 

    "Monsters, Cannibalism, and the Fragile Body in Early England" 
    4 pm, Stuart Hall 110

    Nov. 2 Colonizing Arthur 
    Problems of origin and problems of closure.  From king to Emperor.  Rewriting Caesar and world history.  The encounter against the giant:  sex, violence, imperial power.  Guenevere's story.  Onceness without futurity? 

    Reading 

    • Wace, Roman de Brut (in Arthurian Chronicles ), pp. 45-114
    Links 
    Nov. 4 Writing Workshop 

    Bring copies of first paragraph of paper to class for discussion of good writing techniques and peer evaluation. 

    Nov. 9 paper consultations (I will be available in my office from 9-12:30)
    Nov. 12 PAPER DUE AT NOON
    Nov. 16  
    Inventing the Saracen 
    Urban II and the First Crusade.  Fulcher of Chartres and the necessity of dismembering Saracen bodies.  Christian and Muslim atrocities.  The body of the enemy and the corpus Christianum.  Racialization and the text of the skin. "Pagans are wrong and Christians are right"?  Ganelon's intimacy.  Christian time, pagan time, and the end of the world. Disappointed endings:  Charlemagne's weariness. 

    Reading 

    • The Song of Roland 
    • Amin Maalouf, The Crusades through Arab Eyes 
    Links 
    Nov. 18 Sex, Violence, and Sacred Bodies 
    Yvain and the production of chivalric bodies.  Juvenes, wish-fulfillment, and romance's desire.  Women in romance.  The history of the Grail:  from fish plate to holy chalice.  Cistercian anxieties and the secular.  Colonizing romance bodies.  Sex or celibacy.  Transubstantiation, redemption, and agony.  The disappearance of the feminine:  the Castle of Maidens, Perceval's encounter with the devil, (homo)sexuality.  Celibacy as heterosexuality's "new" other.

    Reading 

    • Yvain (excerpts)
    • The Quest of the Holy Grail 
    Links 
    Nov. 23 Arthurís Missing Body 
    Wace's "Saxons" and Layoman's "English."  Problems of translation.  Women and the untranslated share of Wace's Saxon evil (Rowena, Ygerne, Guenevere).  Christian identity and Saxon "heathen hounds," or how Tervagant ends up in the Norse pantheon.  Arthur as Germanic-style hero:  generosity, elves, and the speaking Giant.  Arthur's dream of the horse-like hall.  From British to English futurity via Avalon. 

    Reading 

    • Layamon, Brut (in Arthurian Chronicles)
    Links 
    Nov. 25 Thanksgiving BREAK
    Dec. 2 Onceness and Futurity 
    The end of legend.  Arthur, the giant, and the widows.  The rape of Helen.  The rape of nations.  When the hero becomes his own foe.  The ambiguous dragon, or Lucius as Arthur.  Imperialism as ingestion, or Arthur as monster.  Chevauchee and the Hundred Years War.  Arthur as widow:  Gawain's holy blood.  Medieval postcolonial critique? 

    Reading 

    • Alliterative Morte Arthure (in King Arthurís Death)
    Links 
    Dec. 7 Conclusions and Benediction
    (final examination Dec. 14, 11 a.m.)