Call for Papers, Kalamazoo 2016: “Erratic Letters” & “Kinky Grammar”

The Grammar Rabble will sponsor two roundtable session at the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, at the University of Western Michigan, May 12–15, 2016. We are seeking short paper proposals on the following topics:

Erratic Letters

In geology, an ‘erratic’ stone is one that does not match the stones surrounding it, one that seems to have wandered in from another place. This panel would consider the ‘erratic’ letter—the letter that has failed to be pinned down, failed to maintain a constant materiality, or failed to keep its materiality in a persistent location. This session will seize upon such erratic letters—perhaps the letter transposed or misread by the copyist, perhaps the letter from a foreign alphabet unexpectedly placed in a new context—as a Lucretian ‘swerve’, a moment when the text becomes alive to new interpretive possibilities.

Kinky Grammar

Medieval European grammar was commonly associated with the straight line, as in John of Salisbury’s explanation of the etymon grama; grammatical rectilinearity was further associated with an understanding of sexual orthopraxy, or (in modern words) being “straight”. So how do we understand medieval examples of grammar that defy the logic of straight lines? What do we make of kinky grammar in the Middle Ages? Where do kinks, bends, and joints divert a linear conception of grammar, and what could be done with them? From the erotic grammar puns in Goliardic and troubadour poetry to the perverse grammar of the sodomites (hic et hic grammatice debent copulari) and the excessive grammar of the speculative grammarians, this roundtable will consider kinky grammar in all its forms.

Please send abstracts of 200-250 words to us at thegrammarrabble@gmail.com no later than Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015.

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Grammar Rabble at Kalamazoo

Only a few more days until the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo! Check out the sessions that have been recommended by In The Middle and the Material Collective.

The Grammar Rabble will be having its first business meeting and its first session this year (based on one of the sessions last year that roused the rabble). If you will be at Kalamazoo, please join us! The business meeting will be Saturday, noon, Fetzer 2016, immediately before our session. It’s our first chance to discuss together, in person, what we want to do with our loosely collected selves. If you aren’t going to be at Kalamazoo and want to suggest something, then drop me a line at chrispiuma snail gmail point com and I’ll bring it up at the meeting.

Our roundtable session is called:

“Unsettled Marks: To #;()@?”:—*!… and Beyond!”

Punctuation marks infiltrate and inform our everyday experiences, but they have their own histories as well. They structure, relate, balance, and invoke; they collide, confuse, limit, and terminate. This roundtable, sponsored by the Grammar Rabble, takes punctuation and other typographical marks as the starting point for eclectic and inventive readings/meditations on Medieval Studies. This session will continue to expand our sense of what punctuation is and in what ways it can be read.

Saturday, 1:30pm, Fetzer 2016
Organizer: Richard H. Godden, Tulane Univ., and Shyama Rajendran, George Washington Univ.
Presider: Shyama Rajendran

☧ Chrismon “Can Be Set Down as a Sign Wherever the Writer Likes”
Damian Fleming, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ.–Fort Wayne
Students, Period
Kisha G. Tracy, Fitchburg State Univ.
In Search of Lost Punctuation: The Medieval Uses and the Modern Absence of the Paraph
Sarah Noonan, Lindenwood Univ.
You’ve Been Punc’t
Cameron Hunt McNabb, Southeastern Univ.
Tiro and the Druids
Bruce Holsinger, Univ. of Virginia
Poetry /
Chris Piuma, Univ. of Toronto, and David Hadbawnik, Univ. at Buffalo

Thoughts on Pseudoscript • Flora Ward

My acquaintance with pseudoscripts came in the context of research on a late eleventh century reliquary, the Arca Santa. A large rectangular wooden box covered by a silver revetment, the Arca Santa is the devotional focus of an important collection of medieval relics contained in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of Oviedo in northern Spain.

Arca Santa

Arca Santa, Cathedral of Oveido, Spain.

According to legend, the Arca was assembled in Jerusalem by followers of the apostles, and it contains such relics as fragments of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns, as well as the Virgin’s tunic, hair, and breast milk. A Latin inscription on the lid tells us about some of the contents, as well as about the patron of the reliquary, King Alfonso VI (r. 1077-1109).

The lid of the Arca Santa.

The lid of the Arca Santa, with Latin inscription.

In addition to this partially legible Latin inscription (it has been badly damaged since at least the sixteenth century, making it difficult to decipher key passages), the reliquary boasts a long inscription in what would at first appear to be Arabic on its front. Manuel Gómez Moreno, one of the founding fathers of medieval art history in Spain, claimed that the inscription consisted of “common Arabic praises,” including “the blessing of God.”[1] Since Gómez Moreno, however, scholars have been hesitant to claim that the kufic inscription on the Arca is, in fact, legible Arabic. The inscription is most often characterized as “pseudo-kufic,” a problematic epigraphic category in which Arabic script is to be “read” purely as a decorative device, without semantic meaning. But, why should a significant portion of the decoration of this deeply meaningful holy object be meaningless?

Arca Santa, Pseudo-kufic inscription.

Arca Santa, Pseudo-kufic inscription.

Being a medieval art historian rather than a specialist in Arabic epigraphy, I sought a different approach to this impasse. As text, the Arabic inscription might be largely illegible, but it is far from meaningless. Writing does not need to be legible in order to transmit meaning; it can have both semantic and aesthetic meaning. The phenomenon of pseudoscript breaks down the barrier between text and image, forcing us to confront the traditional dichotomy between the two. We must ask not what does the script say, but rather, what does it do?

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Call for Papers, Kalamazoo 2015: “Unsettled Marks: To #;()@?”:—*!… and Beyond!”

The Grammar Rabble is sponsoring a roundtable session at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies. This session is a follow-up to last year’s “#;()@?”:—*!…” roundtable (which was sponsored by the BABEL Working Group). We are seeking proposals.

“Unsettled Marks: To #;()@?”:—*!… and Beyond!”

Punctuation marks infiltrate and inform our everyday experiences, but they have their own histories as well. They structure, relate, balance, and invoke; they collide, confuse, limit, and terminate. This roundtable, sponsored by the Grammar Rabble, takes punctuation and other typographical marks as the starting point for eclectic and inventive readings/meditations on Medieval Studies. We invite short presentations on any character–modern or archaic, Western or non-Western—and we are particularly interested in modes and marks of punctuation that are not immediately recognizable to modern eyes, including arrows, manicles, and neumes (and other musical notations). This session will continue to expand our sense of what punctuation is and in what ways it can be read.

Please send abstracts of 200-250 words to Richard Godden (rick.godden@gmail.com) and Shyama Rajendran (sraj2404@gwu.edu) no later than Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.

On the Public Highway of Grammar · Michael A. Johnson

The first book to treat the interrelatedness of grammar and sex in the medieval period in any real depth is Jan Ziolkowski’s 1985 Alan of Lille’s Grammar of Sex: The Meaning of Grammar to a Twelfth-Century Intellectual.[1] Ziolkowski’s core argument remains indisputable: because grammar was understood to have a strong ethical dimension in the Middle Ages, and because grammar was thought to mirror Nature, however darkly, it provided an ideal metalanguage for theologians interested in defining Christian sexual orthodoxy, an increasingly urgent concern for Alan’s contemporaries. In this short archival vignette I revisit the oft-discussed scene in the Roman de la Rose in which Genius excommunicates the sodomites, highlighting a seldom-acknowledged intertext, John of Salisbury’s defense of the language arts, the Metalogicon. Not only are sodomy and grammatical error imagined to be co-extensive, but they are also metaphorized in the same way as deviations from a public highway, a metaphor that may or may not have originated the viatical straight/perverse opposition still in use today, but one that should be looked at critically in either case.

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WË ÂRĘ GRÅMMÃR RÀBBLÉ. WÊ MĪGHT BĖ Ā LÏTTLÈ TØÖ FÕÑD ÒF DĮÄČRÌTÏÇŠ.

Inspired by two sessions at the Forty-Ninth International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in 2014 (“#;()@?”:—*!” and “Strange Letters: Alphabets in Medieval Manuscripts and Beyond”—the two most tweeted-about panels that year!), a hundred scholars have come together to form the Grammar Rabble.

The Grammar Rabble are interested in alphabets, punctuation, and other fundamentals of grammatica, both premodern and modern, and what sorts of thought and affect emerge from the contemplation of these fundamental linguistic materials.

We are excited by how much thinking and feeling can be done with, say, the letter J, or a colon, or an ampersand—and we want to explore and enjoy their microcosmographical and infraordinary possibilities.

We are in the process of proposing sessions for the next congress and devising other plans.

Our Facebook group is the best place to interact with us and to find out more about us (and to join us!), but we are also active on Twitter and Tumblr.