- Studies in Medievalism XXVII: Authenticity, Medievalism, Music ed. by Karl Fugelso
Medievalism, as a field of study, is somewhat ill-theorized and highly contingent. Karl Fugelso's preface to this volume highlights the 'ambiguity […] acute in medievalism', its 'erraticness', 'slipperiness', 'elusiveness' and 'malleability' (p. xiii). Perhaps such uncertainty can offer space for productive energies that might enable the field to theorize itself? But to explore issues of authenticity when the field is itself so elusive is perhaps a little ambitious, especially when the apparent vehicle for this exploration is a collection of nominally related papers on diverse topics, covering modern literary and visual arts, religious and political appropriations, and adaptations of 'medieval' in popular culture. The agency of the medievalist is here paramount: Fugelso notes that each contributor creates 'their own particular middle ages [and this reveals] much more about […] the medievalists, much less about the Middle Ages' (p. xiii). Thereby, discussion of authenticity devolves to the contributor and their idiosyncrasies.
Beyond Fugelso's preface and David Matthews's 'Introduction' (reflecting on the 'Middle Ages in the Modern World' conference convened in Manchester in mid-2017) there are ten chapters across three sections: 'Medievalism and [End Page 212] Authenticity', 'Other Responses to Medievalism (and Authenticity)', and 'Early Music (and Authenticity) in Films and Video Games'. A topic specialist will find useful material here, but all are largely topic- rather than theory-focused. Perhaps this is a shortcoming, an artefact of the collected paper format, and a theorist may need to look elsewhere. Aside from Matthews, who (wryly?) observes that the field of medievalism studies 'is becoming less interested in itself as a form of organised study with a set of disciplinary problems […] instead characterised by scholars who simply get on with the work in their chosen field' (p. 10), there is little here treating the field generally; Fugelso's observed ambiguity (and the field's contingency) is not addressed.
The first section is largely Lit Crit: three chapters on literature, two on visual media. Nickolas Haydock examines different notions of authenticity informing the reception of the nineteenth-century gothic novel and Clare A. Simmons historicizes inauthenticities in Keats's medievalist poem 'St Agnes'. Next, Carolyne Larrington parses medievalizing emotions in Game of Thrones, and Elan Justice Pavlinich explores medievalist race depictions in two Disney film productions. Timothy Curran concludes this section, looking at religious medievalism in Romantic poetry.
The second section casts the net widely. Daniel Wollenberg looks at long political shadows cast by medieval philosopher William Ockham, and Matthias D. Berger explores modern nationalist implications of medieval battle re-enactments. Then follow three well-wrought contributions on visual arts: Lotte Reinbold considers pre-Raphaelite refractions of Kingis Quair, Aida Audeh finds resonances of Petrarch and Dante in the art of Van Gogh, and Tessel M. Bauduin traces the medievalism of Surrealists.
The final section, dealing with music in medieval-themed cinema and video games, is its own piece of work: it even has its own introduction. Here, Karen M. Cook looks at authenticities of chant-based sound medievalizing video games, Adam Whittaker tracks the auditory texture of cinematic depictions of plague, and Alexander Kolassa explores medievalizing soundscapes in the Russian film Hard to Be a God.
Most of the analyses in this volume take the form of a statement of principle or position, followed by discussion or close reading of passages, products, attributes, characteristics or characterizations. It is a tried and true method, the bread and butter of (particularly North American) academe, and a useful approach to understanding influences, motivations, and contexts associated with a given work, genre, or movement. It is all productive, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that we need more, and better. Simplistic constructs, untended generalizations, and acritical monoliths surface at numerous places in this volume and these are revealing: 'the Middle Ages', 'the medieval period', 'the medieval world', 'traditional Christianity', 'the rupture between the medieval and the modern'. These go forth unexamined and ill-defined, an unnuanced...