15.06.16, Weiss and Salih, eds., Locating the Middle Ages

Main Article Content

John Ganim

The Medieval Review 15.06.16

Weiss, Julian, and Sarah Salih, eds. Locating the Middle Ages: The Spaces and Places of Medieval Culture. King's College London Medieval Studies, 23. London: King's College London Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, 2012. pp. xxxvi, 250. ISBN: 9780953983872 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
John Ganim
University of California, Riverside
John.ganim@ucr.edu

It has been several decades since Lyotard and others predicted that space and place would replace time and history as the primary terms of cultural analysis. Why should time be regarded as dynamic and transformative, asked Foucault, and space be regarded as inert and neutral? Even with a recent return to questions of temporality in critical theory, location and geography continue to offer new avenues to understanding and interpretation, as the sixteen essays in this collection amply demonstrate. Each of the editors has a strong track record of putting together innovative and crucial essay collections, and this volume lives up to expectations. The collection is based on panels at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and the proceedings of a conference at King's College, London. The contributors include world-famous scholars as well as mid-career and younger researchers. The book is loosely organized by descending horizons, beginning with global perspectives and ending with rooms and chambers, with three essays on contemporary British poetry and the historical landscape as a something of a coda.

The introduction by Weiss and Salih offers a helpful overview of the essays and the questions motivating the collection, opening with a homage to Yi-Fu Tuan and the lessons of cultural geography. The first grouping of chapters, "World Spaces," opens with Richard Talbert on the Peutinger map, reprising his influential argument that the Peutinger map was a display map rather than a practical guide, arraying its imperial iconography to demonstrate the power of the Roman Empire, a purpose which was repurposed for a millennium afterwards. Paul Freedman, the author of the great book about spices in the European imagination, Out of the East (New Haven, 2009), unpacks the many possible meanings of the exotic in medieval culture, suggesting that the apparent binary between a mundane West and an exotic East is erased by the yearning for a utopian paradise somewhere at the edges of the world. Sharon Kinoshita describes what might be called a new Mediterranean studies, in which the Mediterranean itself becomes a shifting location intersected by many influences and washing on lands far from its visible basin, a "force field." She reports on the highly successful and innovative Mediterranean Seminar she has helped to lead over the past decade, then demonstrates her assertions by tracking a Persian analogue to the Tristan legend, Vis and Ramin, and its permutations through different empires via portable decorated objects.

The second group of chapters, "Empires and Frontiers," opens with Luke Sunderland on the frontier again, continuing his compelling argument that Franco-Italian chansons de geste, in this case L'Entrée D'Espagne, represent resistance in their language and their form to the hegemonic imperial assumptions of medieval epic, either by frustrating or critiquing the character of Charlemagne or by promoting alternative forms of heroism--sending Roland, for instance, to Persia. Julian Weiss discusses the uncomfortable place of Spain in medieval fantasies of empire, including uncertainty about where Hispania begins or ends. Weiss also turns to the Franco-Italian La Spagna and other examples to point out how Spain functions as a place of memory that is more about the limits of empire than about the call to crusade. Sarah Salih examines the texts and illustrations to London, British Library, MS Harley 2278, Lydgate's Life of St Edmund, to uncover a national, or even ethnic, history in which the East Anglian landscape becomes an agent or character--becoming one with the supposedly Saxon (and continental) Edmund and then resisting other invasions--with more allegiances to London than to Scandinavia.

The next chapter grouping, "Cities and Power, Sacred and Secular," moves from literary to architectural, archeological and anthropological evidence and approaches. Konstantin Klein studies the building program of Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II, who constructs something like a spiritual memory palace, with recently built city walls allowing her to overlay building and sacred place, ushering in the place of Jerusalem as a newly central locus. In the first of two chapters on Avignon, Katie Clark provides an account of how Pope John XXII took over the Church of St Étienne, transferring the parish to a location elsewhere, and then how parishioners coopted this eviction, contrasting elite and popular approaches to appropriating space. Elizabeth Monti then demonstrates how, after the schism, a somewhat different alignment of local and imperial interests emerge in the construction of the Cluniac St Martial and the convent of St Peter Celestine, in which local allegiances are exploited to lend legitimacy to an international administrative network. Elina Geertsman and Elina Räsänen then take us to medieval Tallinn's lower town, Reval, where a theme of bodies, of the corporate body of the city and of the parish, and of Christ, often with the arma Christ, and his saints, are ritually linked by the placement of key altarpieces and other works of art.

The section titled "Courts and Castles" moves us into interior spaces, with chapters on Hartmann von Aue's adaptation of Chretien in his Iwein, noting the relatively fleeting emotional resonances that result, and Andrew Cowell on subjectivity and space in La Prise D'Orange, noting the ambiguous interior spaces as reflections of changing external geographic political and military challenges. The star of this section is Geoff Rector's "Literary Leisure and the Architectural Spaces of Early Anglo-Norman Literature," in which the chamber becomes a scene of reading and literary transmission, replacing the apparent trauma of conquest and displacement with a cultural continuity that reflects the actual connectedness of Anglo-Norman and Old English literatures.

The last section contains three chapters that describe the medievalism of contemporary British poetry. Joshua Davies maps the Anglo-Saxon landscapes of Basil Bunting and Geoffrey Hill. The next two chapters are intriguing critical and poetic essays by poets themselves, Chris Jones describing his version of "The Dream of the Rood" via the Ruthwell Cross and Matthew Francis describing his efforts to put Mandeville into modern verse. As intriguing and informative as these essays are, they blur the focus of the bulk of the book, rather than clarifying it, and end with a British insularity that belies the wider European view of the volume as whole.

Of course, the blurring of apparent boundaries is what holds the many different approaches and subjects of this book together. While the inspirations for different chapters are varied, from a musty but useful Bachelard through several successions of postcolonial theory, they are united by an attentiveness to context, both temporal and spatial, and how that context changes apparently fixed perspectives, volumes and places.

Considering the page count and the ambitions of the book, the illustrations, while not of the quality of art history books, are generous and helpful, though I did find myself Googling through images as I read. I usually begin or end reviews of books such as this with a mention of competing or similar studies, but one of the most valuable aspects of Locating the Middle Ages are the rich bibliographical resources at the end of each chapter, providing a virtual guide to the field. I've taught several courses on the subject of this volume in recent years and the next time I do this book will have a prominent place on my syllabus. As a convenience, the table of contents follows:

World Spaces

1. Richard Talbert, "Peutinger's Map Before Peutinger: Circulation and Impact, AD 300-1500"

2. Paul Freedman, "Locating the Exotic"

3. Sharon Kinoshita, "Locating the Medieval Mediterranean"

Empires and Frontiers

4. Luke Sunderland, "Multilingualism and Empire in L'Entrée d'Espagne"

5. Julian Weiss, "Remembering Spain in the Medieval European Epic: A Prospect"

6. Sarah Salih, "Lydgate's Landscape History"

Cities and Power, Sacred and Secular

7. Konstantin Klein, "The Politics of Holy Space: Jerusalem in the Theodosian Era (379-457 CE)"

8. Katie Clark, "Redefining Space in Early Fourteenth-Century Avignon: The St-Étienne Episode"

9. Elizabeth Monti, "Locating Legitimacy: The Great Schism and Architectural Patronage in Avignon"

10. Elina Gertsman & Elina Räsänen, "Locating the Body in Late Medieval Reval"

Courts and Castles

11. Geoff Rector, "Literary Leisure and the Architectural Spaces of Early Anglo-Norman Literature"

12. Nicolay Ostrau, "Enclosures of Love: Locating Emotion in the Arthurian Romances Yvain/ Iwein

13. Andrew Cowell, The Subjectivity of Space: Walls and Castles in La Prise d'Orange

Rewriting Place

14. Joshua Davies, "Re-locating Anglo-Saxon England: Places of the Past in Basil Bunting's Briggflatts and Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns"

15. Chris Jones, "Recycling Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Richard Wilbur's 'Junk' and a Self Study"

16. Matthew Francis, "Rewriting Mandeville's Travels"

Article Details

Section
Reviews