While we might have celebrated the official start to summer a few days ago, it's hard not to feel like much of the summer has already passed me by. At the end of July, I'll be attending the 18th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society, in Portland, Oregon (see here for the program). Given that I'll be driving from New Orleans to Portland, this trip will take up a large, albeit enjoyable (one hopes), chunk of my time. So, though there's about two months of summer left, the Congress will be a major dividing mark, and I expect the time post-trip will largely be given to Fall prep and odds and ends.
I'll be participating in a Seminar session called "Romance and the Neighbor/Stranger." The whole event looks excellent, so be sure to click the link for the program. And better yet, make sure you're there! I mean, come on, I'm driving across the country, so get thee on a plane!
As a motivator to put my nose to the proverbial grindstone, I'm posting here the abstract for my paper. When the paper takes more form, I'll post more.
“Monsters and Other Neighbors: The Stranger Knight in Medieval Romance”
One of the most familiar and recurring tropes in medieval romance is that of the stranger knight who offers a challenge to the Arthurian court, and after some adventure or trial by combat, is welcomed or re-integrated into the communal fold. As a genre, medieval romance conjures the fantasy of the domesticated stranger, offering a figure that at first seems to undermine political stability but ultimately ends up reinforcing bonds of fellowship. What is most intriguing about this stranger knight that kick-starts so many medieval narratives, however, is that he is often someone who should be part of the political order but has been disenfranchised or somehow excluded. For example, the figure of Sir Gromer Somer Joure in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle makes his challenge because Arthur had broken an agreement with him. I would argue that, instead of affirming social bonds, the knightly challenger fluctuates between excluded and included with alarming ease, not necessarily following a linear development. The political theology of the Neighbor, particularly as it is interrogated in Slavoj Zizek’s “Neighbors and Other Monsters,” presents some productive ways to think about the stranger who transforms into the familiar. Zizek returns repeatedly to the problem of the inherent ontological monstrosity of the Neighbor, something that I would suggest is made explicit in many medieval romances. The stranger knight often exhibits features of the monstrous, like the Green Knight’s hue and gigantic stature, or like Sir Gromer’s wildness. Further, the markers of monstrosity do not always fully disappear after the stranger has been integrated into the larger group. In this project, I will explore the ways that the stranger knight intersects with the monstrous as read through the theory of the Neighbor. My specific focus will be on (but not limited to) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and how it stages the transformation from monstrous stranger to unsettling neighbor. While medieval romances with a stranger knight often attempt to perform a narrative of inclusion, I argue that the genre reveals a fundamental anxiety about the potential monstrosity of the neighbor, both in terms of the philosophical concept and of real social relationships between individuals and communities.
Edit: I left out this paragraph by accident. In the Introduction to The Neighbor, the authors have the following: "Finally, and for the concerns of the present volume most importantly, does the commandment call us to expand the range of our identifications or does it urge us to come closer, become answerable to, an alterity that remains radically inassimilable? In this spirit, one might paraphrase Max Horkheimer's old motto from the late 1930s "If you do not want to talk about Fascism, then shut up about capitalism": if you do not want to talk about Odradek, Gregor Samsa, and the Muselmann, then shut up about your love for a neighbor.'" I'd like to have "If you do not want to talk about Sir Gromer or the Green Knight, then shut up about your love for a neighbor" as the subtitle to my paper.