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Studies in Medievalism XXI: Corporate Medievalism II ed. by Karl Fugelso (review)

From: Arthuriana
Volume 23, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 68-70 | 10.1353/art.2013.0022

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If there is an unstated but implicit theme in Corporate Medievalism, it is that corporations are definitely not people. However, they are a rich topic for exploring the intersections between contemporary corporate methods and identities, neomedievalism, and academia itself. Fugelso explains in his Preface that his principle in selecting the articles was to invite scholars to write about the influence of corporate identities on post-medieval interpretations of the Middle Ages, without clarifying ‘precisely what I wanted them to do’ (xi).

The resultant eclectic collection ranges widely in topic, and yet, as Fugelso notes, there is a conversation between the articles, all the more effective because it appears to be unwitting on the part of the writers. For example, M.J. Tosswell’s comparison of medieval monastic organization with the way in which contemporary corporations encourage identification with a corporate identity concludes with her acknowledgment that living a life of total dedication has its appeal, but is dependent upon absolute faith in the moral and spiritual rectitude of the abbot—or, by extension, C.E.O.—and that such absolute faith is understandably rare in contemporary society. ‘Perhaps,’ she suggests, ‘that is a shame’ (9). This essay is immediately followed by an essay in which Kevin Moberly and Brent Moberly reflect upon the way in which some popular culture ‘hinges upon two interrelated medievalesque fantasies: that the corporate ideal necessarily recalls older feudal ideals, especially in the areas of corporate governance and continuance, and that there exist in such ideals imperatives derived from medieval mores that transcend questions of just profit, loss, and unfettered competition’ (17). The Moberley brothers argue that contemporary fictions emphasizing ‘corporate “honor” (or lack thereof) as fundamental to corporate ethics,’ enable the ‘“bad actor” fantasy, whereby one or two individuals can be persecuted in lieu of more substantial and collective action against the corporate whole’ (23), a ‘nostalgia characteristic of the neomedieval’ (13), thereby seeming critical of Tosswell’s final comment. But the third essay by KellyAnn Fitzpatrick and Jil Hanifan replies to this critique by pointing out how ‘corporate backing or no, it is a combination of the social interaction and neomedieval culture that draws players to [neomedieval digital] games’ (32). They acknowledge that ‘medievalism is used to perpetuate and imbed corporate identity and capitalist ideology’ but maintain that the games also allow ‘players to participate in the formation of a corporate identity and still maintain an individual sense of self.’ Neomedievalism and the corporations who exploit it are, therefore, less problematic for them than the technology which creates spaces ‘increasingly more removed from genuine social interaction’ (33). Their essay is followed Harry Brown’s account of how our nostalgia for the medieval world is alien to the principles professed by Franklin and Jefferson, picking up on the question of noblesse oblige raised by the Moberleys. Unfortunately, Brown’s analysis of three Horatio Alger-esque contemporary films is diminished by his somewhat superficial readings of their plots and his occasional (minor) inaccuracies.

Another kind neomedievalism is explored in essays by E.L. Risden and Lauryn S. Mayer, respectively. Risden writes thoughtfully about the film No Such Thing and commodification in Beowulf, while Mayer looks at George R.R. Martin’s creation of a ‘new medievalism, one now dependent upon narrative structures governing relationships between the corporation and the community’ (58) in Game of Thrones. Fugelso designates the next five essays in his volume as ‘Interpretations,’ and their relationship to the topic of corporations is somewhat remote, despite Fugelso’s suggestion that ‘all our enterprises are to some degree corporate’ (xii). The essays include: Eduardo Henrik Aubert’s study of neumes (the earliest practical medieval notation) as ‘an ontology in the making’ (84); Michael R. Knightley’s contextualization of Charles Kingsley’s transmission of racial thinking, in such works as Hereward the Wake, in the light of nineteenth-century medieval studies; Helen Brookman’s examination of Jesse Weston’s attempts to promote her vision of the past—and particularly of Sir Gawain—through popularizing translations as well as her more scholarly works; J. Rubén Valdés Miyares’ application of Peircean semiotics to the representation of the grail in film; and Felice Lifshitz’s analysis of...



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