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Posts from the ‘BABELegend’ Category


BABELpast Addendum 5

Follow the links below for a round-table discussion and reappraisal at In The Middle (in August 2008) of Carolyn Dinshaw’s 1999 book Getting Medieval, Sexual Communities, Pre- and Postmodern, which touches upon many of the obsessions of BABEL:

Opening Up

Touching Carolyn Dinshaw

The Ruins in the Past

The Past in the Past

Time is the Question of the Subject Seized by His or Her Other: The Intensities of an Ardor of a Different Kind in Dinshaw’s Queer Historicism

[Noli] Me Tangere

De amicitia


BABELpast Addendum 4

Follow the links below to post-Kalamazoo 2007 conference conversations at In The Middle, unfolding from May 2007 onward, for more of BABEL’s perpetual fashioning of its mission:

Lonelyhearts Ad: Hetero-Queer BABEL Seeks Other Hetero-Queers

What Does Caninophilia Matter?

Two Conversations Are Unfolding Simultaneously

Ant Love: A Question for Karl

The Conversation Continues


BABELpast Addendum 3

After looking through the papers presented at several of our “premodern to modern humanisms” panels [see below], Jeffrey J. Cohen asked me, “do you see an emergent set of unified or semi-unified questions being posed about humanisms at this date? I can tell . . . that much discussion revolves around ethics and responsibility (esp. social and educational). I’m wondering, though, if there has already come to light a core cluster that might be labeled ‘what’s at stake’? Humanism and its futures is potentially so diffuse.” I responded this way:

Your question is, admittedly, a tough one for me, and there are several ways to approach it. The first is a kind of purposeful deferral of the question, because from the outset of these panels . . . I always emphasize how important to me it is that the presenters feel completely free to ruminate the terms, singularly or in any combination, “human[s],” “humanism[s],” and “the humanities” in any possible [creative] way they can think of, with no restrictions on where they carry or how they figure their thought. The idea, on one level, is to leave all three terms open, not as statements of historical/cultural fact or reality, but as questions: human? humanism? humanities? For me, the BABEL project [at this stage, anyway] is to, again, pose these terms [and their various inter-relationships] as questions, without contingent framing provisos of any kind, and see what kind of provisional answers might be suggested by different sorts of humanities and non-humanities scholars, artists, and scientists. Read more »


BABELpast Addendum 2

For a somewhat bracing dialogue and debate over the subject of “What’s Real? Does What We Do [humanities study/theory] Matter?” between Eileen Joy, Jeffrey Cohen, Karl Steel, and Anonymous in Austin, TX [also known as Emile Blauche] and various other persons on the medieval studies group weblog, “In The Middle,” follow the links below to the various parts of the conversation, which unfolded, in fits and starts, over late May through October, 2006 [and for all we know, may still continue]. This conversation has important implications, we believe, for further developing BABEL’s mission:

Part I: The Shock of Recognition

Part II: The Spectral Jew

Part III: Reply to Emile Blauche

Part IV: From Eileen Joy: Towards Future Conversations

Part V: Someone Get A Medievalist! Here Come the Morlocks!

Part VI: Human Beings Will Not Split Into Two Groups


The History: Part 3, and Something Like a Mission Statement

Found artifacts from a late night at the Meantime Lounge

Picture, if you will, a late night at the Meantime Lounge in Asheville, North Carolina, some time in 2004, shortly after the MLA meeting in San Diego. Eileen Joy and Betsy McCormick are drinking, for no apparent purpose other than drinking’s sake, multiple “Mandinas,” a concoction of bourbon, Grand Marnier, and gee, we forget what else. It’s funny, but after a lot of liquor in a bar in a town where the ghosts of Black Mountain College are always hovering nearby, one begins to see things and have visions. With the kind of courage one often finds at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, Eileen and Betsy began fomenting the idea of a scholarly collective that could provide a home for the kind of work we wanted to do in medieval studies–on that night in particular, that meant writing essays about surfing and Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women (Betsy) and about suicide terrorism and Beowulf (Eileen). But what else? How could we work on creating new venues–an online journal? conference sessions? a series of connected conference sessions around the world? an entirely new anti-conference conference? special symposia? a biennial scholarly retreat? a scholarly love-in? N.E.H.-sponsored faculty workshops? small print-run scholarly “novella” chapbooks? performance art-style “events”? experimental films?–for a medieval scholarship with a decidedly presentist- and cultural studies-type focus (heavily inspired by the Annalistes in France and their ideas regarding the “longue duree,” “whole histories,” heterogeneity, and the history of mentalities) and that is also intent on levelling traditional chronologies, “periods,” disciplinary boundaries, and temporalities? How could we also work to promote scholarly work that is political in nature, in the sense that Simon During, Stuart Hall, and other British cultural theorists have described under the rubric of “engaged cultural studies”– engaged, moreover, with public intellectual discourses already in progress? Finally, Read more »


BABELpast Addendum I

Betsy M. and Karl S. sing "Careless Whispers" (Kalamazoo 2008)

A brief word regarding IDEOLOGY: at the 41st International Congress on Medieval Studies, held on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan from May 4-7, 2006, the question was raised by one of our “humanisms” round-table participants whether or not he was really “arguing against us,” and why, therefore, did we want him as part of our group? It has to be stated unequivocally that BABEL has NO coherent ideology, only a passion for certain questions–as in, what is the future of the humanities, and what is at stake in either having or not having a humanities in the future? If we have one philosophy at all it is to devote ourselves endlessly to proposing all the possible answers without ever exhausting the political energy of the questions. Indeed, we seek to keep our primary terms–“human,” “humanism,” “the humanities”–perpetually open as sites of investigation and analysis. But even beyond that, to keep asking, insistently, and to never want to stop asking the question of “being-together” togetherthat is our chief raison d’etre, our philosophy, our ideology, our mission. And that brings us, also, to why we chose the name “BABEL”–because we embrace the idea of a multi-perspectivist, multi-voiced, babble-icious scholarship. BABEL roams and stalks as a multiplicity, a pack, looking for other roaming packs and multiplicities with which to cohabit. In this sense, we seek to build desiring-machines for which no “join” that can be thought is withheld from our embrace. This does not mean, however, that we advocate an “anything goes” morally vacuous pluralism (although “pluralists” we most decidedly are), so:

Read more »


The History: Part 2

As some already know, Eileen is fond of the website, Edge, which represents the online home of T

BABEL Graffitti at Taylor Grocery & Restaurant in Oxford, MS (October 2006)

he Reality Club, a somewhat loose confederation (or “informal club”) of some of the most well-known figures in the sciences and the arts, such as Daniel C. Dennett, Freeman Dyson, Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Elaine Pagels, among many others, whose motto is, “to arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.” John Brockman, one of the founders, along with the late Heinz Pagels, is especially interested in promulgating Edge as “The Third Culture,” an outgrowth of the idea, in Brockman’s words, that “A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s.” The Third Culture is partly an extension of C.P. Snow’s bookThe Two Cultures, in which he argued that, some time in the 1930s, literary intellectuals split

off from the scientists and created a culture of intellectual letters that effectively did not consider how various scientists, such as Norbert Weiner or Werner Heisenberg, might contribute to the current cultural dialogue and debate. In his second edition of The Two Cultures, published in 1963, Snow suggested, in Brockman’s words, “that a new culture, “third culture,” would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists.” Brockman somewhat demurs with Snow’s prediction because, as he puts it, “Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists,” and further, “Scientists are communicating directly with the general public.” According to Brockman, whereas academic humanities discourses have become “the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class,” contemporary scientific discourses “affect the lives of everybody on the planet.” Brockman’s statements may be ultimately unfair to contemporary humanities scholarship and also hyperbolic regarding the public impact of certain esoteric science discourses, but nevertheless, he and his cohorts have created, through the conversations published on Edge and The Reality Club’s commissioned lecture series (videos and texts of which are also available on Edge), an energetic and not-to-be-missed forum for exploring what Brockman has termed the most important themes of the post-industrial age. Read more »


The History: Part I

The first spark of the fire of the BABEL Working Group was lit at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in San Diego, California (2003) when Eileen Joy was wandering through the book exhibits and stumbled across the Winter 2003 edition of the journalCritical Inquiry, which featured the statements

Fridgehenge (Sante Fe, New Mexico)

presented by twenty-seven of North America’s finest scholars of criticism and theory atCritical Inquiry‘s 11-12 April 2003 symposium (held in Chicago), which had been organized, in the words of W.J.T. Mitchell, “to discuss the future of the journal and of the interdisciplinary fields of criticism and theory that it addresses.” No academic papers were presented, only short statements that were submitted and circulated among the speakers weeks in advance of the symposium, so that the entire affair could be constructed as a critical conversation. The symposium was divided into two sessions: a public “town meeting” that was attended by approximately 550 people from the academic communities of Chicago and beyond, and the event was covered by major newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the New York Times, and a closed meeting of the board and editors, which was itself subdivided into sessions on theory, politics, and technology. In his original “Call for Statements,” Mitchell indicated that the journal was interested in creating a forum whereby the editors could “spend two days brainstorming about the possible, probable, and desirable futures of criticism and theory in the human sciences.” Further, Mitchell asked the following questions: “What transformations in research paradigms are on the horizon? How will technology change the transmission and production of knowledge? What will be the fate of the humanities, of literature, the arts, and philosophy, in what is widely hearlded as a posthuman age? How will the very notions of criticism and critique change in the epoch and in the current state of perpetual crisis and emergency? What will be the relation of the coming criticism to politics and public life?” Read more »

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