Refugee Tales is a multi-voiced collection that conveys “the frighteningly common experiences of Europe’s new underclass – its refugees. … Presenting their accounts anonymously, as modern day counterparts to the pilgrims’ stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, this book offers rare, intimate glimpses into otherwise untold suffering” (read more on the Comma Press website).
I’ve already acquired the e-book and can already say that the poetry and stories in this book are at once beautiful, provocative, and moving.
Note there are many events happening in July 2016 (before and throughout the New Chaucer Society Congress in London) relating to the Refugee Tales project; see event listing here (note the forum and various scheduled legs of the walk, a “reverse” pilgrimage along the route from Canterbury to Westminster).
Upcoming events of interest:
Friday, 8 July 2016: Presentations from Refugee Tales at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Ali Smith,”The Detainees Tale”; David Herd, “The Prologue;” and Patience Agbabi, “The Refugee’s Tale.” [Book tickets here – SOLD OUT as of 10 June]
Wednesday, 13 July 2016: Reading by Patience Agbabi coinciding with the New Chaucer Society Congress in London; she will deliver an interactive reading entitled “Herkne and Rede” drawing from Telling Tales that explores poetry performance as dynamic adaptation. [This is a public event. Scroll to the end of this schedule; more info will be forthcoming on this blog]
Chaucer biography is much in the news these days! A few recent items of note:
Candace Barrington has just published an attentive review of Paul Strohm’s new biography of Chaucer, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (New York: Viking, 2014). Read the review in the open-access journal The Medieval Review.
In the most recent issue of The London Review of Books (27 August 2015), Ardis Butterfield notes the current flurry of interest in the muck and olfactory sensorium of medieval London, and she reflects on the unflattering portrayal of Chaucer that emerges through Bruce Holsinger’s vivid fictional fiction about John Gower. [For more on the complications of voicing medieval poets and creating a “soundscapes” for narrative, read (or listen to!) this March 2014 interview between Holsinger and audiobook narrator Simon Vance in The Slate Book Review.]
Butterfield’s essay in The London Review of Books ponders some of the difficulties of writing in the genre of biography. How does a writer transform a historical archive into a life story?
Read Butterfield’s “Diary: Who Was Chaucer?” at the LRB website; if you can’t access the full essay there, try this link (provided by via Rachel Kennedy on twitter).
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.
A few weeks ago, Gail Ashton (who we have featured on this blog here and here) wrote a posting about Chaucer for the Bloomsbury Literary Studies blog. Ashton’s posting entitled “What the Dickens shall we do about Chaucer?” considers the “residual” presence of Chaucer in present-day British culture, and it ends with a revealing interview about Chaucer in the schools with former Welsh poet laureate Gwyneth Lewis and former Canterbury poet laureate Patience Agbabi.
Ashton’s posting also nicely ends with a plug for her forthcoming edited collection entitled Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture(Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2015). Candace Barrington and I have a co-authored article entitled “Global Chaucers” in that collection–so stay tuned!
Telling Tales, Patience Agbabi’s re-conception of the Canterbury pilgrimage aboard a bus, receives a saucy notice this week on the Times Literary Supplement‘s back page (28 March 2014). Calling her remix “an energetic compendium of familiar stories translated into the contemporary idiom of street slang and slam poetry,” the note closes with this with this interesting desiderata: “Now that Mr. Chaucer has his own blog (just try Googling it), we impatiently await his verdict.” LeVostreGC, it sounds as though the TLS wants to hear from you!
An early contributor to the Global Chaucers blog, Ebbe Klitgård, published his one-of-a-kind study, Chaucer in Denmark, in 2013. I had the opportunity to review it for Medievally Speaking. Without reprinting the entire review, I draw your attention to my final admonition:
With the commendable precedent for the study of Chaucer’s non-Anglophone reception now in place, Chaucerians and medievalists should encourage similar studies by our colleagues in predominately non-Anglophone universities and cultures. Such work enriches the study of Chaucer in important ways, yet its survival is not necessarily ensured. Because we know first-hand the difficulties of maintaining medievalist lines in English departments where we serve an English-speaking student population, we should be sympathetic to the even more precarious situations of Chaucerians housed in foreign-language departments. By attending to what they can tell us, ordering their books for our campus libraries, and by incorporating their research and translations into our own studies, we can support their important work and their careers. We have just begun to listen to them; it would be shameful to lose their voices now.
Ebbe will be at the NCS Congress in Reykjavik this summer and one of the panelists on the Global Chaucers Roundtable, where his topic will be “Chaucer in Denmark since 1945: A Discussion of Some Adaptations and Translations, with a Focus on Illustrations”
The latest update on Patience Agbabi’s Telling Tales from The Guardian. Part performance poetry, part written verse, Agbabi’s retelling of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales provides an exciting update to the medieval text. Jonathan and I have had the chance to read parts of it, and we’re excited to get our hands on the complete text available in (of course!) April 2015.
We’ve also learned from Lawrence Warner that Agbabi performed parts of Telling Tales at University College-London last week. Once we learn more about the performance, we’ll add a post.