Session Title

Mistakes, Mishaps, and Medieval Moments of Failure

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Medieval Studies Workshop, Univ. of Chicago

Organizer Name

Nancy Thebaut, Jennifer Timmons

Organizer Affiliation

Univ. of Chicago, Univ. of Chicago

Presider Name

Nancy Thebaut, Jennifer Timmons

Paper Title 1

Domesday Does Nothing For Them

Presenter 1 Name

Alexis Kellner Becker

Presenter 1 Affiliation

Harvard Univ.

Paper Title 2

Rhetorical Failure, Rhetorical Shame: Gunzo, Anselmo, Abelard

Presenter 2 Name

Monika Otter

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Dartmouth College

Paper Title 3

The Fall of Man and the Failure of Hermeneutics

Presenter 3 Name

Martin Schwarz

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Univ. of Chicago

Paper Title 4

Margery Kempe's Cruel Optimism

Presenter 4 Name

Megan Cook

Presenter 4 Affiliation

Colby College

Start Date

11-5-2014 10:30 AM

Session Location

Schneider 1160

Description

We often say that history is written by the victors. But what of the losers, the mistakes, the campaigns lost, the scribes who erred, the catastrophic or minor moments of failure in medieval art, history, and
literature? Many such failures result in the loss of lands or reputation, misunderstandings, and even now-comical images (e.g. the horned Moses). Other modes of failure have been recognized as more
obviously productive, including the purported failure of art or language to adequately describe the divine in much of medieval Christian theology. Scholars ranging widely from Judith (Jack) Halberstram to
Denys Turner have rightly advocated for alternative ways of knowing that do not just privilege narratives of hegemonic success. However, it appears that the place of failure still occupies a particularly fraught
position in medieval history. Failure is at once recognized as central to techniques of confession, self-improvement, and personal humility while also dismissed as the unrecoverable and unimportant flotsam of history, demonstrated by the dearth of studies on mistakes and errors of persons, texts, and images. We hope in this panel to implicitly
question our own methodological approaches through studies of failure in the Middle Ages and to consider the multiform and even contradictory
ways that failure was construed by medieval audiences. We welcome papers from all disciplines that investigate or theorize failure in the medieval world.

Nancy Thebaut, Jennifer Timmons

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May 11th, 10:30 AM

Mistakes, Mishaps, and Medieval Moments of Failure

Schneider 1160

We often say that history is written by the victors. But what of the losers, the mistakes, the campaigns lost, the scribes who erred, the catastrophic or minor moments of failure in medieval art, history, and
literature? Many such failures result in the loss of lands or reputation, misunderstandings, and even now-comical images (e.g. the horned Moses). Other modes of failure have been recognized as more
obviously productive, including the purported failure of art or language to adequately describe the divine in much of medieval Christian theology. Scholars ranging widely from Judith (Jack) Halberstram to
Denys Turner have rightly advocated for alternative ways of knowing that do not just privilege narratives of hegemonic success. However, it appears that the place of failure still occupies a particularly fraught
position in medieval history. Failure is at once recognized as central to techniques of confession, self-improvement, and personal humility while also dismissed as the unrecoverable and unimportant flotsam of history, demonstrated by the dearth of studies on mistakes and errors of persons, texts, and images. We hope in this panel to implicitly
question our own methodological approaches through studies of failure in the Middle Ages and to consider the multiform and even contradictory
ways that failure was construed by medieval audiences. We welcome papers from all disciplines that investigate or theorize failure in the medieval world.

Nancy Thebaut, Jennifer Timmons