Medieval Studies Workshop: Stefan Vander Elst and Mae Velloso-Lyons

Event Speaker(s)
Stefan Vander Elst (Assoc. Professor, English, University of San Diego) and Mae Velloso-Lyons (PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature)
Date Range
Wed February 23rd 2022, 10:00am - 12:00pm

The workshop with Mae Velloso-Lyons (CompLit, Stanford) and Stefan Vander Elst (English, University of San Diego) will take place on Wednesday, February 23 at 10am. The event will be held over Zoom. Mae and Stefan will pre-circulate their papers, which will be made available the week of February 14.

Mae’s paper: “Literary Personhood in the Prose Lancelot: The Vulnerability of Worldliness”

This is a draft of the second chapter of my dissertation on the poetics of personhood in early prose romance, as exemplified by the Prose Lancelot (in both the non-cyclic version and the cyclic continuations). My basic contention is that this emergent genre posits new norms for the literary representation of personhood, according to which human beings are embodied compositions, whose component parts are ascribed divergent affordances and a tendency to conflict with one another. The first chapter draws out this dynamic in the case of the heart and the body (cuers and cors), which are ascribed contrasting attributes and functions despite their shared role in producing the “total embodied person,” and shows how characters are consistently introduced in the non-cyclic Prose Lancelot as internally riven, resulting in an opaque yet truthful interior and a visible exterior.

In my second chapter, shared here, I focus on how the exterior part of the person is represented as acutely vulnerable to damage through its embeddedness in the world, and I explore the preoccupation in the entire Prose Lancelot with the alienation of the worldly body from the interior of the person. Towards the end of the chapter, I turn to the character of Lancelot to argue that embodied vulnerability is an important “grounding” strategy to preserve a consequentiality and even relatability for characters who might otherwise appear fantastical or otherworldly for their perfection. In my third and final chapter, I focus on how the experience of diverse forms of suffering (acute physical pain, grief, despair, regret) is represented and exposed to both the extratextual audience and to other characters within the text; that is, how the interior is made visible. This final chapter also allows me to explore the forms of reader engagement invited by this form of literary personhood.

I see this dissertation as a whole as a partial corrective to the common narratives about (literary) interiority being coemergent with modernity, and to the notion that prose romance is merely a decadent outgrowth of verse romance. At the same time, I hope that honing in on the form of literary personhood established in this highly influential text will contribute to a broader understanding of ideas about human nature and human bodies in the cultures of high medieval Western Europe.

Stefan’s paper: “Settler Self-Representation in the Aftermath of the First Crusade”

This is a draft of the first chapter of a book-length manuscript that addresses the representation of the Latin settlers of the Crusader States in Eastern and Western historiographical sources in the period 1099-1291. Here, I will discuss the ways in which the Latin settlers of Outremer described themselves and their deeds in the decades immediately after the completion of the First Crusade in 1099.

The settlements created in the wake of the First Crusade – the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa and, after 1102, the County of Tripoli – needed not only physical defenses and political, religious and social structures. Importantly, disparate groups had to be merged into new communities with newly developed ties of loyalty. Timo Kirschberger has recently analyzed the anthropological processes through which the new settlers of Jerusalem and Antioch formed distinct groups and has focused on the role of potent religious symbols such as the True Cross and the Church of St Peter as “mythomoteurs.” Group formation in the Crusader States, however, relied on inward self-definition and outward self-representation that was most effectively dispersed through writing. This chapter will analyze how the works of the early twelfth-century settler historians—Ralph of Caen’s Gesta Tancredi, Walter the Chancellor’s Bella Antiochena, and Fulcher of Chartres’ Historia Hierosolymitana—represent the Latins of the Crusader States within their new circumstances: how they define themselves among the native groups of the Levant, how they judge their strengths and weakness, and how they develop the idea of new homelands on the far edge of the Mediterranean. It will furthermore demonstrate the political advantage of this form of self-representation with regard to the evolving relationship between the Crusader States and the Catholic principalities of Western Europe.

The remainder of the work will study the development of settler self-representation as the political and military tide turned against them in the second half on the twelfth century; the effect of this self-representation on Western public opinion; and how the settlers’ loss of control of their message affected the political fortunes of the Crusader States.

Contact jmjr [at] (Johannes Junge Ruhland) for more information and to receive the Zoom link.

The next Medieval Studies workshop will be on Wednesday, March 30, at 2 pm with Lane Baker and Prof. Kristina Richardson.