Global Chaucers in UVA and DC

by CANDACE BARRINGTON and JONATHAN HSY

The Global Chaucers co-directors are currently in UVA! We’ll be appearing at the Scholars’ Lab on Thursday to discuss “Digital Hospitality” and the Medieval Colloquium on Friday for a workshop on “Linguistic and Cultural Hospitality.” More than ever, we are hoping this project can create a more empathetic, culturally aware, and interconnected world.

We the co-directors also proud to be taking part in an interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday organized by the GW Digital Humanities Institute at George Washington University (Washington, DC) on Saturday entitled “Global Chaucer and Shakespeare in a Digital World.” Visit the symposium website for full information [and note the informational flyer below]. The symposium features José Francisco Botelho (Brazilian translator of both Chaucer and Shakespeare) among many other exciting folks! The conference in DC is FREE and open to the public.

After the DC event, Botelho will continue on to Connecticut for a conversation about his Contos da Cantuária.

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Campus Chaucer: The Resurgence of English-only Politics

At the 2017 Modern Language Conference, I was part of a “Campus Chaucer” round table sponsored by the Chaucer forum. Thinking in terms of how current political debates are echoed in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales or erupt in our classrooms, Lisa Cooper (University of Wisconsin, Madison) spoke on the value of labor, Liz Scala (University of Texas, Austin) spoke on expressing diverse opinions on a campus with guns, and Nicole Sidhu (East Carolina University) spoke on sexual assault and trigger warnings.

Below is the text of my talk on English-only politics.  It includes links to my referenced sources as well as to the assignments I discuss. 

During the Republican presidential primaries, the eventual nominee and president-elect announced, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” Based on that statement and the subsequent rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, I anticipate that right-wing champions will add to their arsenal a familiar shibboleth, English-only policies. Used to support nativist causes in the United States, English-only statements are already a standard part of anti-immigrant stances.  For instance, this past Wednesday evening, NPR’s story about efforts to resettle Syrian refuges in Toledo, Ohio, included this impromptu statement from John Johnstone, a Navy veteran:

“If you want to come here and turn the United States into Syria, I’m against that.

“If you want to come here and speak English, you want to assimilate, you want to have a pizza, you want to have a beer, you want to eat a chicken wing, I’m all for it.”

For Johnstone, Americanness is marked by a constellation of recognizable behaviors—what one eats, what one wears, what one drinks—and at the center, holding these behaviors together is what one speaks:  English. In this line of thinking, speaking English marks a newcomer’s willingness to leave old habits behind and to adopt new ways, even ways antithetical to religious beliefs protected by the first amendment.  Unless English is spoken, a newcomer has not made the necessary sacrifices to be an American.  According to English-only logic, what separates those worthy of being in the United States from those who are not worthy is the willingness to speak English, a willingness from which the ability to speak English is assumed to flow naturally.

The state of Connecticut where I teach, has demonstrated little previous support for English-only policies.  From what I can tell, a lone proponent’s legislative efforts resulted in only one hearing at the Connecticut Assembly, and that was back in the 1990s. While the much of the country turned red in the past two decades, Connecticut has largely stuck to its progressive values. Conservative voices have been largely muted, and right-wing values have been kept under wraps. With the prospect of a new administration in Washington and a more closely divided state legislature, however, I’m seeing a shift in tone. Conservative voices have grown bolder, and more brazen right-wing bumper stickers (my primary index for comparative levels of discontent among the general populace driving up and down I91) have appeared on the backsides of vehicles in the seven weeks ccdl_logosince the election. Now that I’m seeing increased numbers of “Connecticut Citizens Defense League” decals in rear windows—a more aggressive statement than it might initially appear when you remember the 2012 mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut—and the more overtly come-and-take-itmenacing “Come and Take It!”  bumper stickers on the back of pickups, I wonder if I’ll start to see more “If you live in America SPEAK ENGLISH” on my daily commute.  081114_englishonly

Although English-only policies in Connecticut might have seemed far-fetched the last time I taught Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, those policies and the politics informing them warrant my courses’ attention this spring. And if this is true in Connecticut, it’s probably true in your state, too.

What is a Chaucerian to do?

First, no matter where we teach, we need to be aware of the ways Chaucer and other medieval English authors can be co-opted by nativist politics, a point Sierra Lomuto makes in her December posting, “White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies” for the “In the Middle” blog.  Rooted in nineteenth-century nationalism and nationalist medievalism, white nationalism easily slides into unfounded notions of a pure English tongue worthy of its eventual global domination. According to this narrative, American English is the undefiled descendant of a language that sprang forth from the British Isles before dominating the world with its linguistic flexibility and semantic dexterity, absorbing bits of other languages without being tainted by the process. As we saw in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Chaucer and his work can be brought into the narrative when he is identified as the well-spring of a pure English language and the “father” of English letters.

Of course, with few exceptions, students enter our classes on The Canterbury Tales with minimal knowledge of Chaucer or the history of English. And most likely they are not burdened with false information co-opted by nativist politics about the ways medieval languages and literature embody a pure Anglo-Saxon ethos.  Nevertheless, most have an opinion about English-only policies, an opinion often informed by their own relation to other languages.  Although many of my students are within a generation or two of their families’ having immigrated to the United States, it has never occurred to me to discuss English-only policies or their opinions on the subject. In these changed circumstances, however, I plan to initiate a discussion early in the term and to approach the topic of English-only politics in two ways, each using the lens of translation.

The first approach works against the notion that there is or ever has been a stable English linguistic tradition, untouched by other languages, by emphasizing Chaucer as a translator whose works appropriate and embed multiple literary and linguistic practices. Using etymological exercises, we will also explore the essential plurilinguistic nature of English and disabuse ourselves of any sense of linguistic purity and homogeneity even in earlier, pre-global forms of English. Inspired by an assignment shared by Melissa Ridley-Elmes, I also plan to ask students to track particular French terms—such as curteisie, sovereynetee, vileynye, subtil, aventure, gentillesse, entente, and sondry—for their shifting semantic properties not only across the Tales but also through the centuries from medieval French to present-day English.  These two exercises will help students grasp the benefits other languages have brought to English as well as the ways English speakers reshape those stolen terms.

My second approach takes an entirely different tack.  Developed in collaboration with other faculty teaching Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales at universities with multilingual students, this approach centers on an exercise highlighting the bi-lingual / bi-literate expertise of students by using non-Anglophone translations of the Tales. Rather than seeing these translations as cribs for unsteady readers of Middle English, the exercise highlights the ways translations can reveal less apparent aspects of the Middle English text.  Moreover, bringing translations into my classroom allows students to explore (for example) the difference between a Christian pilgrimage and a Muslim haj in the Arabic text, the discomfort with sexuality in the Korean translation, the celebration of sexuality in the Brazilian translation, and the avoidance of religion in the Chinese translations.

Even monolingual students are fascinated by the ways the translations help them see the Middle English text from a new perspective.  This fascination is especially pertinent when translated words embody ideas that seem timeless and unchanging to the students.  Although they may have never taken a pilgrimage, they assume all pilgrimages have basically the same purposes and make similar demands. When a Turkish translation embeds sexual attitudes similar to the students’ own, they are more open to hearing what it says about Muslim dietary practices.  Most significantly, the translations help students see where the tale’s perspectives do not align their own: that the anti-Semitism in The Prioress’s Tale might be deeply engrained, that the misogyny in The Merchant’s Tale might not be an eccentricity, or that the piety in The Second Nun’s Tale might not be a medieval aberration.

Bringing The Canterbury Tales into contact with other languages—either through the etymology exercises or the non-Anglophone translations—provides students with the necessary knowledge to question the premises underlying English-only politics.  Although I’ll probably reveal my thoughts on those ill-begotten policies, the class’s careful attention to Chaucer’s language and its engagement with languages past and present, I suspect, will do the work for me.

Global Chaucers Roundtable at NCS 2016 in London

London_2-1371043833Global Chaucers is sponsoring another roundtable at the next New Chaucer Society Congress. Titled “Translating Global Chaucers,” the roundtable will continues the Global Chaucers conversation begun at the 2014 Congress. The focus will be on translations of Chaucerian texts into languages other than standard Present Day English. Participants include translators, scholars, and teachers outside the Anglophone inner circle (UK, US, Canada, Australia, and NZ). Their presentations consider the ways translations

  • reflect the particular linguistic, cultural, or social context in which they appeared;
  • reveal understandings of Chaucer’s texts unavailable to an Anglophone reader; and
  • take advantage of verse or prose forms (or other stylistic conventions) available in the receiving literary culture but not in English.

The five participants are

  • Stephanie Downes, University of Melbourne, Australia, “Vilains mots! Nineteenth-Century French Translations of The Canterbury Tales”
  • Marcin Ciura, Independent Translator, “In the Margins of the Polish Parlement of Foules”
  • Züleyha Çetiner-Ōktem, Ege University, “Reinventing Chaucer’s Sir Thopas from a Turkish Perspective”
  • Denise Ming-yueh Wang, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, “When Global Chaucers Go Local: Reading Chaucer in Taiwan”
  • José Francisco Botelho, Independent Translator, “Contos da Cantuária: Chaucer in Brazil”

We’re super excited about the international panel, with its mix of translators and scholars!

Trans-Medievalisms at BABEL (Santa Barbara)

by JONATHAN HSY

Spanish Chaucer and BABEL Program
View from the moderator’s table. “Trans-Medievalisms” session at BABEL in UCSB, October 2014.

It’s been about a month since the Third Biennal Meeting of the BABEL Working Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Candace Barrington and I (on behalf of the Global Chaucers project) organized a session entitled “Trans-Medievalisms.” This session considered what happens when “the Middle Ages” (whatever we mean by that term!) traverses different cultures, languages, material forms, and media. The call for proposals and/or manifesto (previously posted on this blog) was as follows:

What happens to the Western Middle Ages when it crosses into diverse, concurrent times, languages, and cultures? How does “medievalism” take shape in multiple spaces across the planet—including cultural habitats where the Western Middle Ages are no longer the “‘zero point’ of orientation” (to reroute a phrase from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology)? What cultural work do “the Middle Ages” perform as they infuse modern-day modes of global media and cultural production—textual, visual, musical, performative, cinematic? Our session is inspired by our work on the Global Chaucers project, a utopian scholarly endeavor that seeks to gather, back-translate, and analyze all non-English translations and adaptations of Chaucer’s work. Our scheming with scholars around the world has so far revealed Chaucerian adaptations in places as far-flung and interconnected as Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia), East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), Europe (Denmark, Flanders, Spain, Hungary), the Middle East (Israel, Iran), and Africa (Nigeria, South Africa), as well as works in re/invented languages (Esperanto, Neo-Latin).

For this session we aim to gather participants working on Chaucerian adaptation in non-English contexts or any aspect of medieval appropriation in “global” contemporary culture (however conceived). How might plurilingual, transoceanic, and intercultural orientations provoke new modes of engaging with the past? How can we create a dynamic, multi-site community of cross-temporal scholars and enthusiasts, a fluid collective that thrives across disciplines and borders? We welcome non-medievalists, amateurs, and enthusiasts, including creative work by poets, playwrights, musicians, and/or interpretive dancers. We highly encourage collaborative submissions.

The session at UCSB resulted in four strikingly divergent yet enticingly intertwining presentations.

  • Raúl Ariza-Barile: Chaucer’s Spanish Accent: Impossible Poetry? Raúl’s paper offered a brief background of Chaucerian translation into Spanish, suggesting (among other things) how a careful consideration of Latin American contexts might shift our conversations about the aims and practices of modern translators; the presentation ended with a debut performance of his own translation of the opening lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue into rhymed Spanish verse.
  • Shyama Rajendran: The Impossibility of Locating The Ramayana. Shyama’s presentation traced the movement of the ancient epic Ramayana across many cultural traditions and performance contexts beyond South Asia, attending to a plurality of reception histories across time and space; she ended with a careful consideration of the political implications of the Ramayana’s narrow appropriation for the purposes of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India.
  • Carol Robinson: Expressing Loathly Ladies—Explicitly Noncompliant. In this presentation, Carol featured the work of two of her former students who created a collaborative video adaptation of the Wife of Bath. Each student had recorded a dramatic monologue: one performance used ASL to engage with Deaf culture, relating the episode when the Wife is rendered deaf; a “political dramatization” by a queer student (in drag) incorporated contemporary debates about polygamy and marriage.
  • Elaine Treharne: TEXT Technological Transformations: the Inexactitude of a Medieval Unreality. Elaine’s talk suggested the possibility of cross-cultural comparative analysis across seemingly disparate contexts including medieval Western and East Asian (Chinese) texts. Her reflections not only considered the rich materiality of textual production but also suggested its importance as artistic performance.

These presentations richly showcased the heterogeneity of cultural/artistic/linguistic materials that we might call “medieval” (thinking expansively beyond the contours of Latin-speaking Europe). At the same time, these perspectives collectively invited us to think more creatively about what new modes of medieval appropriation and comparative analysis actually might enact and enable.

Medievalism studies has certainly “arrived” in the academy and it is also clearly breaking down the boundaries between what lies within and outside of institutional and traditional academic structures. Global Chaucers is one such community among many, including other digital spaces like Medievally Speaking, and the Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO). We’re in a very exciting time for medievalism studies now and I hope that these networked communities will continue to thrive, grow, interconnect, and adapt.

Visit In the Middle for a longer version of this posting that includes a brief discussion of an exciting new volume that may be of interest to our readers: Medievalism: Key Critical Termsed. Elizabeth Emery and Richard Utz (Bodyell, 2014).

Call for Papers: TRANS-MEDIEVALISMS (due April 1): BABEL in UC Santa Barbara, 16-18 October 2014

by Jonathan Hsy

Logo for BABEL 2014
Logo for BABEL 2014
[all images from Joni Sternbach, Surfland]
Here’s an upcoming event of interest to medievalists and non-medievalists alike: the 3rd Biennial Meeting of BABEL Working Group at UC Santa Barbara (16-18 October 2014). BABEL members include academics as well as poets, creative writers, scientists, philosophers, and others — and BABEL conferences are well-known for featuring a wide range of presentation styles and formats.

URL: http://babel-meeting.org/2014-meeting/cfp-2014-meeting/

Candace and I are still accepting proposals for TRANS-MEDIEVALISMS!
The deadline is APRIL 1.

Trans-Medievalisms (Day 3)

Sponsor: Global Chaucers

Co-Organizers: Jonathan Hsy (George Washington University) + Candace Barrington (Central Connecticut State University)

Send brief proposals to < jhsy at gwu dot edu > or < BarringtonC at mail dot ccsu dot edu >

What happens to the Western Middle Ages when it crosses into diverse, concurrent times, languages, and cultures? How does “medievalism” take shape in multiple spaces across the planet—including cultural habitats where the Western Middle Ages are no longer the “‘zero point’ of orientation” (to reroute a phrase from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology)? What cultural work do “the Middle Ages” perform as they infuse modern-day modes of global media and cultural production—textual, visual, musical, performative, cinematic? Our session is inspirited by our work on the “Global Chaucers” project, a utopian scholarly endeavor that seeks to gather, back-translate, and analyze all non-English translations and adaptations of Chaucer’s work. Our scheming with scholars around the world has so far revealed Chaucerian adaptations in places as far-flung and interconnected as Latin America (Bolivia), East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), Europe (Denmark, Flanders, Spain, Hungary), the Middle East (Israel, Iran), and Africa (Nigeria), as well as works in invented languages (Esperanto).

For this session we aim to gather together 5-10 presenters and/or performers. This session may include a few invited participants working on Chaucerian adaptation in non-English contexts (possibly with a focus on cultures from the Pacific Rim). We would like to invite additional proposals from people working on any aspect of medieval appropriation in “global” contemporary culture (however conceived). How might plurilingual, transoceanic, and intercultural orientations provoke new modes of engaging with the past? How can we create a dynamic, multi-site community of cross-temporal scholars and enthusiasts, a fluid collective that thrives across disciplines and borders? We welcome non-medievalists, amateurs, and enthusiasts, including creative work by poets, playwrights, musicians, and/or interpretive dancers. We highly encourage collaborative submissions.

The Miller’s Tale: ‘Wahala Dey O!’

by Candace Barrington

WahalaDeyOh

We have great news for Chaucerians in Reykjavik this summer for the New Chaucer Society Congress! We’ve learned that Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo will be staging her adaptation of The Miller’s Tale to coincide with the conference in July.  Written in both Nigerian Pidgin and English, The Miller’s Tale: ‘Wahala Dey O’ had its premier at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and received a four-star rating and glowing reviews

Ufuoma’s adaptation draws on her background: born in Nigeria and raised in Britain, she is a former student of Sif Rikardsdottir (the Icelandic Chaucerian heading the conference’s local organizing committee); she took Sif’s “Chaucer and the North” course.  She wrote in the play in 2006 while studying for her Masters in English.  Based on the snippets of the play that I’ve viewed on YouTube, I wasn’t surprised to learn she had previously studied Philosophy and History of Religion at King’s College, London University and later studied at the College of Law.  That legal trajectory changed when she moved to Iceland with her husband in 2004 and began graduate study in English.  And even that journey has taken a side trip.

She explained it to me this way:

I discovered play writing and feel very passionate that this is a sound way to get people who would otherwise not care for Chaucer right into the heart of Chaucer’s work. The Edinburgh Fringe proved this right.  As the play attracted all and sundry from curious Chaucerians, English Professors, bored students, wanderers, homesick Nigerian/English expatriates and colonialists, and those in search of a good time…

Chaucerians at the Reykjavik conference will get a chance to meet Ufuoma and to see her play.  We will keep you posted on the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets.

Global Chaucers in Reykjavik

by Candace Barrington

Global Chaucers will be in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the 2014 New Chaucer Society Congress! We have assembled a truly global set of panelists. They are

  • Nazmi Ağıl, Koç University, Translating Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales into Turkish”
  • Louise D’Arcens, University of Wollongong, “Pasolini, Chaucerian Irony, and the (Im) possibility of Revolutionary Politics in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’”
  • Koichi Kano, Komazawa University, “Tradition and Transition in the translations of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Japan”
  • Ebbe Klitgård, Roskilde University, “Chaucer in Denmark since 1945: A discussion of some adaptations and translations, with a focus on illustrations”
  • Alberto Lázaro, Universidad de Alcalá, “Reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Spain”
  • Joseph Stadolnik, Yale University, “Jorge Luis Borges and Chaucerian Novelty”
  • Denise Wang, National Chung Cheng University, “When Global Chaucers Go Local: Chaucer in Taiwan”

We are scheduled for Thursday, 17 July, 14:00-15:30.
The roundtable format means that each panelists will present a 5-7 minute project overview.  We will then follow those presentations with a 30-45 minute conversation among the panelists and the audience on what we can learn about Chaucer from these non-Anglophone translations and appropriations.

If you want to know more about the Roundtable, please contact us!