I teach and write about texts from the late Middle Ages, a period that organized its categories of discourse very differently than we do today. I am fascinated by how medieval literature, science, and religion sometimes overlapped and at other times assumed sharp distinctions, as separate and contrasting modes of knowledge. All of my research seeks to respond to what is distinctive in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century constellations of discourse. In practice, this also demands thinking about how we come to know the past. Hence, I have a strong interest in the theory and practice of hermeneutics, historicism, criticism, and other forms of knowledge production in the humanities.
My current book project, Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Signs, and Narratives in Late Medieval England, investigates the interpretation of bodily signs in the later Middle Ages. During this period – between the appearance of the Black Death and the arrival of the printing press – medical writing in Middle English increased remarkably. Medicine joined other discourses to create new conditions of “corporeal literacy” in England: astrological, environmental, dietetic, and hereditary factors mingled with Christian understandings of demonic and divine influence to explain why certain bodies looked and behaved the way they did. In this context, medieval thinkers developed increasingly complex interpretations of bodily signs. Middle English writers drew on the newly accessible vocabulary of the physical body and its ailments to depict “symptomatic subjects,” or individuals struggling to control and explain their own bodies. Poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hoccleve, and Robert Henryson and prose writers like Margery Kempe showed subjectivity taking shape in the narrative interplay between symptoms and speech-acts, flesh and language. In narrating how actions and identities are determined by external causes, they produced accounts of the intricately “distributed” nature of human agency.
I am also beginning work on a new project, tentatively entitled Things without Faces: Remediation and Medieval Allegory. In it, I redescribe the workings of personification allegory (and other tropes of anthropomorphism, like apostrophe, ethopoeia, and sermocinatio) through the concepts of media theory. To what effect and what end, I ask, are “things without faces” – collectivities, objects, institutions, and abstractions – “remediated” through human bodies? If, according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message, and “the message of any medium is the change of scale or pattern that [the medium] introduces,” then what is the message, as it were, of personification? Through readings of Boethius, Martianus Capella, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jean de Meun, William Langland, and Chaucer, I argue that figuration is productively understood as a communication technology shaped for the reader’s sensorium and imagination, and shaping these in turn. Things without Faces explores the ways in which allegory organizes the interplay of perceptive and figurative corporealities, or the relationship between bodies as aesthetic receptors and bodies as formed content.
I also have a longstanding interest in the history of philosophy, especially dialectical thought from Hegel to the present.
For the academic year 2013-2014, I am a Mellon Fellow at the Huntington Library.
2016-17 courses: Autumn 2016, Introduction to Fiction: Narrative, Violence and Justice (undergraduate). Winter 2017, Historicism, Medievalism, and Modernity (graduate).
Graduate: PhD Colloquium; What Was Fiction? Being Imaginary in the Middle Ages.
- “Margery’s ‘Noyse’ and Distributed Expressivity,” forthcoming in Voice and Voicelessness in Medieval Europe, ed. Irit Kleinman, Palgrave New Middle Ages Series
- “Scales of Reading,” forthcoming in Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, special issue on “Surface, Symptom, and the State of Critique”
- “Thornton’s Remedies and the Questions of Medical Reading,” forthcoming in Robert Thornton and His Books, ed. Susanna Fein and Michael Johnston, York Medieval Press
- “Genre,” in A Handbook of Middle English Studies (2013), ed. Marion Turner, Wiley-Blackwell Critical Theory Handbooks
- “Desire and Defacement in The Testament of Cresseid,” in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture (2013), ed. Katie Walter, Palgrave New Middle Ages Series
- “Jargon and the Matter of Medicine in Middle English,” in The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 42.2 (2012)
- “How to Kiss a Leper,” in postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 3.2 (2012), essay cluster on Disability and the Social Body
Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010. Teaching at Chicago from 2014.
“Wound Man” (English, 15c), Wellcome MS 290 fol. 53v; image courtesy of the Wellcome Library
“Zodiac Man” (English, late 14c), Bodleian MS Ashmole 391, part V, fol 9; image courtesy of the Bodleian, Oxford University
“Bloodletting Man” (English, 15c), British Library MS Harley 3719, fols. 158v-159; image courtesy of the British Library