Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AVMEO Afterthoughts

by Nedda Mehdizadeh

One large black work glove, one unblemished dead rat, and one smooth stick of wood. In this motley assortment of nonhuman “things” gathered near a storm drain in Baltimore, Jane Bennett found the inspiration for her provocative book Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things – a response to different theorizations of matter (Kant, Spinoza, etc) as well as a “reply to a call from things.” For GWMEMSI, it was the springboard for a series of conversations that culminated in the spring conference, “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in Early Modern and Medieval Periods.” The exchange Bennett experienced with these nonhuman objects left her with an enticing question: “What if the items really did – in some underdetermined sense – hail me?” As a result, her book attempts to contend with thing-power, with the agency of the object, the thing, the nonhuman entity, and its desires, its stories. The conference, likewise, attempted to contend with the same ideas, calling on a variety of scholars, including Valerie Allen, Eileen Joy, Sharon Kinoshita, Julia Reinhard Lupton, Peggy McCracken, Carla Nappi, Kellie Robertson, Karl Steel, and Julian Yates, not to mention many other scholars from across the continent sharing works-in-progress (or even thoughts-in-progress), to make sense of human and nonhuman interactions. What we came up with were .... well ... more questions à la Jonathan Gil Harris’s concluding remarks, but also perhaps a better idea of which questions to ask and a closer understanding of how we might share the world with our nonhuman cohabitants. What are these nonhuman “things” telling us? What are the ethics behind ventriloquizing their stories? In what ways do these interactions shape our approach to cultural studies?

For me, the nonhuman “things” that began our story, as well as other nonhuman “things” discussed during our two days of conferencing, were guides to unexpected places. As a graduate student working on Anglo-Persian encounter in the early modern period, objects have played but a bit part in my work, getting eclipsed by human interactions between Persian kings and English travelers. The truth is that I began thinking about my dissertation topic through objects. During the spring semester of 2007, my dissertation director, Gil Harris, introduced me to seventeenth-century travel writer Sir Thomas Herbert, and I was taken with his obsession with the ruins of Persepolis. Over the years, I have visited and revisited this moment  in his narrative without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion about what to make of the fragments that captivate Herbert – and, me. Or to use Bennett’s words, the objects of Persia’s ancient, fallen past have been calling to me. But their call has been largely ignored, or met with exasperation, like an exhausted mother without an idea of how to pacify her child who incessantly repeats “Mom. Mommy. Mama.”

Recently, however, I started thinking more critically about the structure of Persepolis, and what its fragments are doing. For Herbert, it is a portal to ancient Persia where the palace still stands in all its splendor and is still very much alive. For me, they are a bridge to many temporalities – ancient Persia, early modern Persia, modern day Iran. And I didn’t have to stray too far from home to begin making sense of this moment and its objects, turning, as I often do, to my professors and mentors: Jeffrey Cohen, in his article, “Stories of Stone,” from the inaugural edition of Postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies and Gil Harris’s chapter on Othello/Desdemona’s handkerchief in his Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare. During the AVMEO conference, I found myself transported to Herbert’s encounter over and over again, often by a nonhuman agent introduced by one of our fascinating speakers.

The animals of Sharon Kinoshita’s talk, “Animals and the Medieval Culture of Empire,” were facilitators of exchange between the Christian and Islamic worlds, often associated with a variety of movements brought upon by gifting or bartering. But as the question/answer period following her talk indicated, these same movements occur with stone; as Kinoshita reminds us, the materials that make up the palace of Persepolis come from different locals, producing one structure made up of fragments from different places. Or the “Flower Girls” of Peggy McCracken’s paper which focuses on “a garden of plentitude” encountered by Alexander in Roman d’Alexandre whose forest can restore virginity. The filles de fleur are in many ways one with the forest and its virgin-(re)making properties after encounters with visitors – such as Alexander and his men – in what is perhaps a metaphor for the plentitude of virgin land that will offer itself to Alexander’s desire for empire-building. Or Valerie Allen’s “handout” – mine, a periwinkle gemstone with clouds of white – that fascinated me with its curves, dent, and coloring, giving me a tangible way to wonder at the “virtue” of an object. Or Carla Nappi’s Chinese words that translated and transliterated Persian script, underscoring the practices of “making sameness” and the importance of considering systems of identification in order to understand the early modern object that is, in many ways, foreign to us now. Each of these moments, brought about because of a nonhuman “thing,” made me think more about what is at stake in thinking about objects, particularly those from the many Persias I encounter in my work.

Something that I am realizing is that I might have been asking the wrong question about Herbert’s Persepolis all along. Maybe there is no stable, singular answer that will ever satisfy me because maybe that is not the point. Herbert, in each edition of his narrative (1634, 1638, 1664, 1677), goes back to Persepolis, reimagines the space, and rewrites it. It is his way of going back to that moment of history. To the moment of Persia’s splendor. To the moment that fascinates him most: Alexander’s destruction of the palace. Maybe it is the “going back” that matters here. Or at least, maybe it is the “going back” that matters to me. Persepolis takes me back. To my roots. To memories of stories told by my family about our past. To my first visit to Iran when I was a nine-year-old walking through the ruins, not fully understanding its importance or the stories the stones were telling, but knowing the profundity of the experience. To the stories it anticipates about Iran today. To the possibilities of what Iran might look like in the future. Eileen Joy, in her inspiring plenary entitled “You Are Here: A Manifesto,” discusses in part three “A Text Is A Sentient Being...” the ways in which texts are themselves vibrant matter. She says, “we might say that literary narratives, although they are, in one sense, completely unreal, or sur-real, and inhuman, pitch themselves at the real world and also create space (underground passageways, shelters, hiding places, root cellars), for that which cannot be brought into being, or cared for, anywhere else.” Returning to Persepolis – to a place that allows me to visit all of the versions of Persia/Iran – brings what is gone, what is left, what is meant to be into that space Joy talks about. Sifting through the ruins of Persepolis is, perhaps, my “reply to a call from things.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

It’s Co-implicated, AVMEO: Drifting with John Muir, Speaking Stones, and a Slower (Non)humanities

First, I wish to reiterate the comment Jeffrey Cohen made at In the Middle on the indescribability of last weekend’s conference. Secondly, this post tries not to fill in the blanks of the “AVMEO experience” as much as add another layer to the rich sediment surrounding the event. (Here I point to the brisk conversations happening now: posts by Eileen Joy at ITM; Jonathan Gil Harris and Nedda Mehdizadeh, my conference cohorts, at this blog; and the posts and threads to come, I’m sure.) As audio feeds become available over the next few weeks, those of you who were unable to join us over the nutritious, albeit rigorous and theoretically engaging, weekend will be able to participate in these conversations as well. Please do.

Although I don’t have any pressing Iowan engagements like Jeffrey, my words are nevertheless slow in coming. And despite that this conference, to paraphrase Julia Reinhard Lupton on Saturday night, feels like a “commencement” or an “initiation,” I’m still slow out of the gate.

But slowness, I know, is all right. The conference couldn’t have come at a more accelerated time in my doctoral career. I’m deep in my dissertation topic of “ecomaterialism:” exploring early modern landscapes (or any –scape) as vibrant (Bennett), living, actor-networks (Latour/Serres) of (non)human desires and assemblages (Deleuze). Sometimes I accelerate too fast – as this last sentence make clear. How do we (in the delicate sense of the “we”) compose with the world (in all senses of the word “compose”)? Ecomatter is my mind, and ecocriticism is a vast place to inhabit. And the ontological questions I ask – I need to ask – are beginning to get more “speculative.” Eileen, for example, used Timothy Morton’s work to describe the binary “bind” between human and nonhuman, inside and outside. According to Morton’s “dark ecology” we can’t cancel or preserve this binary, just accept it, and should furthermore delve deeper into it than deep ecology allows. His “melancholic ethics” means “loving the thing as thing,” even if it means staying in the “slime” or “this poisoned ground.”[i] How can/do things relate? Graham Harman was the other absent interlocutor for many of us at the conference. Eileen brought up his object-oriented-ontology in her talk as well – never really touching, objects and their relationships recede from us, relating only to one another in the presence of a third (the vicar) in “vicarious causation.”[ii] Questions abound (rightfully so; see Gil’s post) and complications emerge. The “ethics of interdependence” that Eileen ardently spoke of feels suddenly necessary. Ethics is, in Eileen’s words, “a slowing down,” a welcoming of the other, an addition of beauty. We should listen to the countless inhuman actors in the world, start forming alliances for more sentience (and keep doing it!), and make room for hospitality and its possibilities. (Listen to Peggy McCracken’s captivating talk regarding the host as well.) To paraphrase two (or four?) of Eileen’s alerts, you are here and there are relations. Hello, everything – we’re co-implicated.

So let’s slow down. I want to pick up on Eileen’s idea of the humanist as a “slow recording device,” a being involved in a world of complication (relationships and theories of relationality, of which Morton and Harman are only two, to be sure) who also describes a world of co-implication, of sentience, becomings, and desires shared between actants – whether inanimate or animate. What happens when we slow down, when we take the time to take these ethical steps seriously?

I will try to trace a solid example. (“Track”, actually, might be more useful when talking about steps left behind for us, borrowing from Julian Yates’s woolly speech.) Not surprisingly, I turn to an object – no, not the speeding beach ball hurled at Jeffrey’s head. I’m speaking rather of the stone I retrieved from Valerie Allen’s lapidary grab bag during her talk on “Mineral Virtue.” There is a surprise to this object, after all. Valerie’s lecture, while addressing in its content what Jane Bennett calls “thing-power,” also brought up issues of material agency in its very method. The randomness of the bag – why did I receive an alluring light blue rock that now cohabits my apartment? – underscores what Julian elsewhere has called “agentive drift.” For Julian, drift represents agency itself: when/how one becomes an actor, what these varying actors will become across their endlessly variable networks, into what aleatory directions they might go, “a dispersed or distributed process in which we participate rather than as a property which we are said to own.”[iii] This process importantly produces. Think of Carla Nappi’s consideration of “things as motion” in her discussion of how things undergo “cottonification.” Becoming light-blue stone, perhaps, is the slowest thing imaginable. But drifting with the random stone connected me at that moment, and connects me still, to others with their mutifarious rocks. This form of audience participation or petrification?) shores up one of Julia’s points neatly: how the proximity of assembly and assemblage relates the essential (inter)dependence between persons and things (once again). Was not the conference, at its heart, as event, this very thing?

But wait! Slow down. There’s an additional thing out of the bag (at least for now). I’m speaking about the rock as part of a “domestic ecology” (Julia). Or, should I say, I’m speaking to it? Or, should I say, it’s speaking to me? As I write this, it is “over there” on my desk. For some critics, minding place poses the very problem of contact and how things relate. Yet in my conversation with the stone – I use “conversation” deliberately; stressing the con- (with) and the verse (to turn) – my very writing (right now!) is an alliance, a thing that exists because it is a relation and produces relations (Latour). These continuous connections – stone, keyboard, kiwi, you the reader – shouldn’t primarily lead to the complications of causality, origin, and distance, for they fundamentally take us to the weird joys, strange horizons, and new modes of being that co-implicated assemblages afford. And they should at least drift us away from the bullying terms of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism that (too often) mire ecocriticism. The speaking-writing-stone-subject-object-that-I-am does not dissolve the human/nonhuman border in an act of prosopopoeia, but in fact highlights this border’s ontological nonexistence altogether. In turn, an “ethics of interdependence” involves the “humanist recording device” tracing these tracks of (non)human connections all the while making new ones slowly across time. Ecopoesis would be one example. What else?

Like speaking stones. Like stooping to stone. I think we have a lot to learn from the zany ethics of someone like John Muir, the nineteenth-century Scottish naturalist known for, in addition to his tireless preservationism, his eccentric habits and perambulations in the Yosemite Valley. Muir, in other words, was a consummate drifter; he drifted with the world. Coincidentally, he was ridiculed for the strange habit of “stone sermons,” moments when he dialoged with living rock (his belief) and recorded the lessons learned. Take his methodology, for instance:

“I drifted about from rock to rock, from stream to stream, from grove to grove. Where night found me, there I camped. When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and try to hear what it had to say. When I came to moraines, or ice-scratches upon the rocks, I traced them, learning what I could of the glacier that made them. I asked the boulders I met whence they came and whither they were going. I followed [...]”[iv]

Muir stoops to listen, not to conquer. He beautifully encapsulates what Jane invoked in her keynote lecture about hoarders: “Hearing the call of things.” As such, Muir risks the same pathologization that hoarders incur for their “preternatural vital materialism.” As I’ve been suggesting in this response, an ethics of interdependence is just Muir’s method: an ethics attuned to the voices of things (like rocks) spoken to (“I asked”) and heard from (“to hear what it had to say”). The humanist recording device translates these voices into a body of work, thereby inventing an assemblage of (non)human traces. By drifting “from rock to rock” with a living landscape, by following the boulders’ physical tracks (“whence they came and whither they were going”) Muir’s “traced” (or written) experiences emerge. Nevertheless, although “hearing the call of things” for Muir is a powerful moment of interdependence, Jane reminded us that this “call” is not one devoid of complications. Kellie Roberston, in a sparkling lecture on Chaucer as “man-mineral assemblage” brought to mind “dead” rocks as well. Karl Steel’s and Sharon Kinoshita’s animal lectures put pressure on animal/human boundaries but also exposed the fears that perpetuate them: the precarious “living lupine home” (Karl), the “taxonomic imagination” of Christianity versus Islam (Sharon). In others words, things are complicated. Ultimately, what is crucial to remember is that there are relations, and that hearing the calls of animals, vegetables, and minerals – hello, everything – leads us into places unknown, both dark and beautiful, and into co-implicated conversations, Muir-like, that we “follow” and “follow” and “follow” some more.

[Thank you to the panelists, speakers, and participants who made AVMEO such a success. Special thanks to my vibrant committee co-members: Jeffrey Cohen, Jonathan Gil Harris, and Nedda Mehdizadeh.]

[i] Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).

[ii] See, for instance, “Time, Space, Essence, and Eidos: A New Theory of Causation” in Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 6:1 (2010).

[iii] See “Towards a Theory of Agentive Drift; Or, A Particular Fondness for Oranges circa 1597” in parallax 8:1 (2002).

[iv] John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979) 69.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Animal Vegetable Mineral: Twenty Questions

by Jonathan Gil Harris

[The following was delivered at the conclusion of the AVMEO conference (3/11/2011, Washington DC) and is offered here as a provocation to further discussion. Please add your answers, observations, and comments to this post!]

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.  If this conference’s theme sounds like a pre-modern version of the parlor game “Twenty Questions,” it is perhaps only appropriate that my response should also take the form of twenty questions.  The parlor game’s questions seek to arrive through processes of elimination and guesswork at a positive individual entity; but I hope my questions will do the opposite – that is, resist the allure of any singular or final answer to what constitutes the “Nonhuman Lives” of our conference.

So here goes.

  1. What do we mean by the “nonhuman” in medieval and early modern culture?

  1. Are we dealing (as the Animal Vegetable Mineral parlor game does) with taxonomies of the natural world that presume, as did Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1735, the exteriority of the nonhuman to the human?

  1. Is the nonhuman itself subdivided according to this principle of absolute exteriority, which would make of animal, vegetable, and mineral entirely discrete entities?

  1. Or did medieval and early modern writers see the nonhuman as always already in the human – and, by logical extension, the mineral in the vegetable, the vegetable in the animal, and so on?

  1. What do we mean by the “life” of animals, vegetables, and minerals in the medieval and early modern worlds?

  1. As Laurie Shannon has noted, writers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance tend not to speak of “life” but of “lives.”  This plural form certainly appeals to those of us who wish to resist making of “life” a universal abstract exchange value.  But what exactly do we pluralize when we speak of “lives” rather than “life” – singular living entities, individual conceptions of “life,” otherwise homogeneous taxonomic categories?

  1. How might the phrase “nonhuman lives” potentally reify even as it admirably pluralizes the “nonhuman”?

  1. What critical idiolects do we invoke when we refer to “nonhuman lives”?

  1. “Nonhuman lives” might tap into the language of biopolitics, famously codified by Xavier Bichat, who in 1800 characterized life as “a habitual succession of assimilation and excretion.”  Bichat’s conception of life draws loosely on Aristotle’s conception of nutritive life as diminished in relation to higher forms of animal and human life.  And this distinction itself resonates with the well-known Greek hierarchy of zoe – or bare life – and bios – or life proper to the polis, an ordering that Giorgio Agamben sees as crucial to the crypto-theological constitution of modernity.  How may “lives” in the plural implicitly presume a distinction between the meaningful and the negligible life?

  1. “Nonhuman lives” might also suggest Arjun Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff’s influential conceptions of object biographies as they move from one arena of valuation to another.  Are “lives,” then, diachronic extensions through space and time of individual entities – like Eleanor of Acquitaine’s vase and Emperor Frederick’s exotic animals (as discussed by Sharon Kinoshita) – or of entity-producing practices (as in Carla Nappi’s account of cotton-ification and China-fication?)

  1. “Nonhuman lives” might presume less diachronic extension through time than forms of agency.  Drawing on Jane Bennett’s accounts of vibrant matter and the hoard, we can think of nonhuman things as participants in the course of action waiting to be given a figuration, communicating with other actants.  Things, in Bennett’s words, call us.  But if things call, will we come?

  1. What do all these understandings of nonhuman lives do to our conceptions of time, chronology and period, including the very terms “medieval” and “early modern”?

  1. Diamonds are forever, the saying goes.  The geological time that compresses carbon into adamant and eventually a diamond crystal is almost inconceivably long; the millions of years that it takes to produce a diamond make our conception of period, or even Fernand Braudel’s longue duree, seem impossibly short.  As Manuel De Landa notes in his discussion of non-organic life in A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, periods are simply local strata in larger “glacial” temporalities that include the flows of lava, biomass, genes, memes, norms.  And yet our restratifications of those flows do possess a historicity according to specific logics of production.  Diamonds are forever, but the social life of the blood diamond that comes from modern Sierra Leone differs from that of the bloody diamond that comes from Sir John Mandeville’s medieval India, retrieved by a swooping eagle from the bottom of a canyon on a slab of animal meat thrown by the eagle’s handler.  Each presumes different modes of supply, labor, exchange, and even imaginative possibility.  How, then, do nonhuman lives ask us both to dispense with human history and to recognize the impossibility of doing so?

  1. How do the terms “nonhuman” and “lives” invite us to think of their nominal opposites?

  1. Death may seem to be the opposite of, and excluded from, life.  Yet in medieval and early modern theology all living matter was potentially considered dead.  This wholesale mortification was resisted in various vitalist traditions, which understood seemingly dead matter as heterodox forms of sublunary life possessed of “virtue,” as Valerie Allen’s discussion of Albertus Magnus reminded us.  And, as Karl Steel pointed out, the phrase “dead matter” presumes that it must have once been alive for it to die.  How, then, should we understand death in relation to nonhuman lives?

  1. The nonhuman would seem to presume the human.  What is the status of the human once the nonhuman becomes an object of analysis?

  1. Thomas Nagel advocates that humans should imaginatively attempt to become the bat they cannot be; the Renaissance poet George Vaughan asks his readers to acknowledge the vital vegetal life that we all possess; Geoffrey Chaucer, as Kellie Robertson reminded us, imagined himself as iron between two magnets.  Are such imaginative acts of becoming-nonhuman antihumanist, posthumanist, neohumanist?

  1. Lupine/sylvan children (Karl Steel); petromorphic prosopopoeia (Kellie Robertson); anthropofloral hospitality (Peggy McCracken); co-implicated interdependence/astral projection (Eileen A. Joy); sheepish sidetracks (Julian Yates).  What are the ethics of such nonhuman becomings?

  1. Heinrich Nolle has suggested that “humans ape plants.”  More specifically, we have seen maidens ape flowers in Peggy McCracken’s paper.  What happens – as the syntax of Nolle’s phrase invites us to do – when we start thinking of humans and nonhumans in terms of networks (or meshes, to use Timothy Morton’s term) that conjoin multiple actants?

  1. Take the Bezoar stone.  Edmund Scott certainly did.  In his 1603 treatise An Exact Discourse … of the East Indians, Scott refers to the Bezoar stone as one of the most hotly coveted commodities in Java.  This seeming mineral was of unusual provenance: it was a carbuncle excised from the intestine of an animal, usually a goat, and was believed to be caused by eating too much persimmon fruit.  The Bezoar stone was believed also to possess miraculous medicinal powers: it was traditionally ingested by the European traveler to combat the noxious effects of the pathogenic vapors she inhaled in the hot and humid climate of Java. So what is the Bezoar stone, and what are its lives – Animal, Vegetable, Mineral …


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

AVMEO: Images for Bennett's "Powers of the Hoard"

As you know, Jane Bennett's AVMEO keynote address is free and open to the public.

She has asked me to post images from her address ahead of time (see below). Please acquaint yourself with them now, for they will not be displayed during lecture.

Just a reminder: the event takes place this Friday 3/11 in Room 309 of the Marvin Center (800 21st St. NW).

“Powers of the Hoard: Notes on Material Agency”

Though there are historical concepts to draw from in the history of philosophy, a distinctively contemporary vocabulary for a world of thing-power is still in the making, at least within the humanities and social sciences. In the talk, I try to add to that vocabulary, primarily by examining what hoarders -- considered as people who are preternaturally attuned to things -- have to teach us. This idiolect is directed not toward capturing the things outside of us but toward changing our own sense-perception, tuning it toward the frequencies of the thing-powers within and around our bodies. How to render the self more susceptible to the non-linguistic communicability between vibrant materials? I seek also to critically assess the theory of "thing-power" and the "agency of assemblages" that I pursued in Vibrant Matter by engaging some more trash, indeed a whole hoard.

Monday, March 7, 2011

AVMEO: Friday!

Although registration for the conference has been closed, the George Washington University Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute invites you to attend the Friday sessions at the Marvin Center (800 21st St NW). These sessions are free and welcome anyone who wishes to attend.

The complete schedule may be found here. The Friday schedule appears below. Friday sessions will be held on the GW Campus, at the Marvin Center.

Plenary I

Marvin Center 309

Moderator and Opening Remarks: Jeffrey J. Cohen, GW
Karl Steel (Brooklyn College): "With the World, or Bound to Face the Sky: The Postures of the Wolf Child of Hesse"
Sharon Kinoshita (University of California, Santa Cruz): "Animals and the Medieval Culture of Empire"

Concurrent Sessions  
I. Talking Animals
Marvin Center 404
Moderator: Sharon Kinoshita, University of California
1. Patricia Har (Cornell University): "More Life: Animal Encounters in the South English Legendary"
2. Eleonora Stoppino (University of Illinois): "Learning from Monkeys: A Feral Child in Fifteenth-Century Florence"
3. Sara Gutmann (University at Buffalo): "Chaucer’s Chicks: Ascetic Feminism in The Knight’s Tale and Parliament of Fowls "

II. Object Agency
Marvin Center 309
Moderator: Valerie Allen, John Jay College
1. Ben C. Tilghman (Independent Scholar): "The Object Speaks: Prosopopoeia and Objects as Actants in the Early Medieval Period"
2. Liz Angello (University of South Florida): "Tarquin's Prick"
3. Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria): "Toy Materialism"

III. Book Power
Marvin Center 310
Moderator: Julian Yates, University of Delaware
1. Whitney Anne Trettien (Duke University): "So that a Plant is, as it  were, an Animal in Quires”: Nehemiah Grew's Biblio-botany"
2. Jonathan Hsy (George Washington University): "Creative Regeneration: Translingual Mediation, Organic Form, and Multilingual Merchant  Miscellanies"
3. Myra Seaman (College of Charleston): "Objects of Forgiveness in MS Ashmole 61"
Plenary II
Marvin Center 309
Moderator: Holly Dugan, GW
Kellie Robertson (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "Exemplary Rocks"
Valerie Allen (John Jay College of Criminal Justice): "Mineral Virtue"

Concurrent Sessions
I. Metals/Stone/Architecture
Marvin Center 404
Moderator: Carla Nappi, University of British Columbia
1. Cristina Pangilinan (Vanderbilt University): "Hoccleve and “Feoble Money”"
2. Shannon Meyer (University of California, Santa Barbara): "Tours,
Bours, Linens and Ladies: Accessing the Female Body in the Clerical  Imaginary of Medieval England" 
3. Jaime Marroquín (George Washington University): "When Science and Literature Were One: The Historia General de las cosas de Nueva España by Bernardino de Sahagún"
II. Faith, Objects and Orientations (sponsored by GW MEMSI)
Marvin Center 309
Moderator: J. Gil Harris, GW
1. Haylie Swenson (George Washington University): "Marvelously  Possessed: Human-Animal Interactions in Travel Narratives of the New  World"
2. Mark Bychowski (George Washington University): "Christ on the Cross-dresser: Transgendered Images of God and Performativity as a Sign of Devotion”
3. Erica Carson (George Washington University): “The Sodomidical-Lesbian Kitchen: Subjects of Conversion in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament
4. Laura Feigin (George Washington University): "Paradise Peppered: The Spicy Search for the Path to Paradise in Milton's Paradise Lost and Early Modern Travel Narrative"
5. Theodora Danylevich (George Washington University):  “Becoming-Eucharist and the (Homo)erotic Kitchen of Conversion:  Exploring ‘Cokkys Peyn’ in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament and The Book of Margery Kempe
III. Ethics
Marvin Center 310
Moderator: Kellie Robertson, University of Wisconsin
1. Alex Brey (Bryn Mawr College): "Deconstructing Mshatta: A Case Study in the Ethics of Medieval and Modern Architectural Reuse"
2. Jessica Rosenberg (University of Pennsylvania): "Vegetable ethics and the work of instruction in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Thomas Wilson’s ‘Epistle to Persuade a Young Gentleman to Marriage’"
3. Rob Wakeman (University of Maryland): “Ben Jonson in Lubberland: Slaughterhouse Ethics and Bartholomew Fair

6:00 Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins University), keynote address: "Powers of the Hoard: Notes on Material Agency."
Marvin Center 309

Introduction: Jeffrey J. Cohen, GW
Professor Bennett's keynote address is made possible through the generous support of the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies.