Session Title

Nonhuman Forms of Thought

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Program in Medieval Studies, Rutgers Univ.

Organizer Name

Danielle Allor

Organizer Affiliation

Rutgers Univ.

Presider Name

Jennifer Garrison

Presider Affiliation

St. Mary's Univ.

Paper Title 1

City as Zoophyte: Arboreal Articulations of Urban Community in Early English Drama

Presenter 1 Name

Robert W. Barrett Jr.

Presenter 1 Affiliation

Univ. of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

Paper Title 2

Thinking Like a Cross: Speaking Crosses as Non-Human Models of Faith in Medieval English Literature

Presenter 2 Name

Liberty S. Stanavage

Presenter 2 Affiliation

SUNY-Potsdam

Paper Title 3

Vegetal Origins in Late Medieval Poetic Thought

Presenter 3 Name

Danielle Allor

Start Date

12-5-2018 10:00 AM

Session Location

Schneider 1325

Description

In one sense, thought in the medieval period is defined in specifically human terms: rationality is the defining characteristic of humanity. In another, more expansive, sense, medieval thought reaches outside the human to draw many of its organizing principles from plants, animals, and artifacts. Trees of virtues and vices encourage the pursuit of virtue and the avoidance of sin; astrolabes and volvelles calculate the position of the heavens; and buildings, castles, and arks form the basis for practicing the art of memory. As scholars such as Mary Carruthers have argued, medieval thought takes place alongside a dizzying array of nonhuman images and objects: books, trees, pearls, rivers, arks, buildings, and wheels. While some of these images are pressed into service for their spectacular value, others provide a structural logic. Trees and rivers allow medieval thinkers to understand relationships between trunk and branch, wellspring and tributary. Architectural images, such as castles and arks, provide compartments and divisions to guide and sustain memory and thought. Recently, new materialism has reconsidered the dualistic relationship between matter and thought to allow for the possibility of thought not just beyond the human, but beyond the living. This panel focuses on the contributions that medieval studies can make to one aspect of this rethinking: the interrelations, confusions, and unexpected meanings that arise when thought is carried out through forms and structures drawn from the nonhuman world. Is the relationship between human thought and these nonhuman forms antagonistic, symbiotic, prosthetic, instrumental? How are forms of thought abstracted from nonhuman beings and objects? How do the nonhuman aspects of medieval thought complicate our understanding of thought’s role in constituting the human? This session will bring together papers that address the nonhuman aspects of medieval thought in literature, theology, history, science, and philosophy.

Danielle Allor

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May 12th, 10:00 AM

Nonhuman Forms of Thought

Schneider 1325

In one sense, thought in the medieval period is defined in specifically human terms: rationality is the defining characteristic of humanity. In another, more expansive, sense, medieval thought reaches outside the human to draw many of its organizing principles from plants, animals, and artifacts. Trees of virtues and vices encourage the pursuit of virtue and the avoidance of sin; astrolabes and volvelles calculate the position of the heavens; and buildings, castles, and arks form the basis for practicing the art of memory. As scholars such as Mary Carruthers have argued, medieval thought takes place alongside a dizzying array of nonhuman images and objects: books, trees, pearls, rivers, arks, buildings, and wheels. While some of these images are pressed into service for their spectacular value, others provide a structural logic. Trees and rivers allow medieval thinkers to understand relationships between trunk and branch, wellspring and tributary. Architectural images, such as castles and arks, provide compartments and divisions to guide and sustain memory and thought. Recently, new materialism has reconsidered the dualistic relationship between matter and thought to allow for the possibility of thought not just beyond the human, but beyond the living. This panel focuses on the contributions that medieval studies can make to one aspect of this rethinking: the interrelations, confusions, and unexpected meanings that arise when thought is carried out through forms and structures drawn from the nonhuman world. Is the relationship between human thought and these nonhuman forms antagonistic, symbiotic, prosthetic, instrumental? How are forms of thought abstracted from nonhuman beings and objects? How do the nonhuman aspects of medieval thought complicate our understanding of thought’s role in constituting the human? This session will bring together papers that address the nonhuman aspects of medieval thought in literature, theology, history, science, and philosophy.

Danielle Allor