Correct for that. Post a Comment. And go to his talk if you are in NYC! And I'm really looking forward to it. My description of my graduate seminar is due, as is my book order It's so crammed with primary and secondary texts that I know I will need to scale back rather than add, but of course I'll compile a bibliography for further reading. So, what would you have added? Environ, Body, Object, Veer. Some of the problems we will unpack through these four keywords include: what does it mean to possess life? What worlds commence in medieval texts when the nonhuman exerts its sidelong agency?
Is anthropocentricity an inevitable circumscription to thought? How does travel in space, in time, in scale open vistas that might otherwise remain unperceived? But queerness is potential even in that deathly progression. Old and infirm, months away from his own death, Longfellow hosted the young dandy Oscar Wilde for breakfast as the latter was making his infamous trip to Boston in This breakfast can be read as the final in my series of asynchrony stories, the dying poet of sentimentality who had been some- thing of a dandy in his day meeting the ironic, up-and-coming aesthete, men of two eras meeting in a temporally complex encounter.
He has already passed through the Holy Land and has now moved significantly beyond it, through countries of one-legged people, Ama- zons, diamonds that beget little baby diamonds, and other marvels animal, vegetable, and mineral. So this is the legendary Fountain of Youth! Sir John has found and sipped from it. This puts him in the august company of—among others—ancient Ethiopians, Alexander the Great, and the mighty heroes of Charlemagne romances.
And of course this is just a tiny slice of the vast over-ripe fruit that is the Book, which is full of the outlandish sights this narrator supposedly sees. To travel east in this book is an asynchronous activity: it is to travel back in time. So this chapter, in three diverse parts, will explore some of the com- plex and paradoxical experiences of time associated with the East in this Middle English text and in readings of this text. In the first part, on the Book of John Mandeville, I lay out the broad narrative framework of travel eastward—a framework that is based on a Christian asynchronous space- time scheme—but turn then to ways in which Sir John moves beyond, or tries to move beyond, that scheme.
But in this multifarious book there remains curiosity and longing to experience another kind of time. The Fountain of Youth reflects such desire. That fountain must in turn be understood in relation to its source in Eden, which has a beautiful but inaccessible temporality all its own: Eden is still on the map but is nonetheless forever lost to humans. At the end of the book temporal desire still lingers.
Victorian readers with their own investments in the East—as mem- bers of the British Empire—read the geographical-temporal mapping of the world of the book as proto-imperialist: they relied on an Orientalist valuation of movement east, maintaining that the West had progressed while the East had not. In the sec- ond piece, M. In both of these short pieces I find a complicated play of affects in the depiction of English colo- nialism and English philology.
The loss of Eden that lingers at the end of the Book of John Mandeville recurs here as melancholy for the already lost glories of empire and medieval past. Lingering desire is converted into horror, though, in M.
Dependent upon the work of such philologists for the very texts I read, in the third and final part of this chapter I turn my attention to my own practice as a medievalist. That Orientalist equation of the East with back- wardness resonates with my personal history: excavating the East in my own postcolonial past but reclaiming its asynchrony, as it were, for another purpose, I argue for an approach to this and other medieval texts that ac- knowledges the heterogeneity of times in the present, recognizing the gen- erative possibilities of the sense of longing, incompleteness, and loss that characterizes the voices of the medieval traveler, the colonialist, the phi- lologist, and the amateur medievalist.
Animating the chapter, indeed, is the spirit of the amateur, identified by Paul Hamelius in my epigraph here as the only kind of reader who will be satisfied by the Book of John Mandeville. Hamelius would seem to have a point: Andrew Lang and M. Moreover, James invents a fictional amateur, to boot.
Out of such longing we in turn can read sugges- tions for apprehending a vibrantly asynchronous now. Mandeville coordinated the chronology of pilgrimage with the Gospels, Howard ar- gues. The historical past is obviously the reason for the continued importance of these places; these places now are imprinted by that past, inseparable from it, imbued with it. Recent editors Tamarah Kohanski and C. But the space-time movement of the book is not only a linear journey back in time.
The Garden of Eden is certainly in a time zone of its own, as we shall see in the next sections, but the Holy Land is itself a complex temporal locus. Movement from West to East makes particularly visible such multi- plicity of time in particular locales in the Holy Land and beyond, and such heterogeneities can be thrilling.
There is an excitement that accrues to this heterogeneity, as in the rock of the Temple passage. Sir John can be cool and deliberative, too; indeed, that is one prominent affective mode as he passes through these lands. But that coolness can in other circumstances be mixed with less- distanced affect.
And at another hour seyth another Philosophre: Putteth youre hond [hand ] be- fore youre mowth, And anon thei don so. And at another hour seith an- other Philosophre: Putteth youre hond vpon youre hede, And thei don so. Sir John encounters figures whom he interprets with great longing as reflections of the reality of Christians at an earlier, purer stage in human history. In the whole realm of Prester John wherein are located these Brahmins there are many Christians, too, living as if in an earlier, apostolic age, the priests celebrating the mass with- out any newfangled additions.
After all, turning others into versions of oneself is aggressive mastery of them even as it might also perform some self-flagellation. Playing out proximity and distance, attraction and repulsion on an every- day scale, Sir John in the course of his travels looks and inquires, but tends to stay aside and keep aloof. He eagerly reports an enormous number of sights as he passes from one land to the next—cynocephali, magnetic waters, hippopotami, and so on and so forth—but rarely participates in or partakes of what is before him. Entering the Vale Perilous in the one en- counter in which he registers deeply felt threat, he is careful not to touch the deceptive treasure or deviate from his devotion; despite being thrown and beaten down he and his companions emerge inviolate and unscathed ch.
He serves the Great Khan for fifteen months in war against the King of Mancy in order, as he says, to see if the court is as noble as he heard it was—just gathering materials, as it were, for his book. Some people—and not necessarily he—say this is the Fountain of Youth, he diligently reports, issuing from Paradise. And though the well is said to flow from Paradise, it does not confer immortality: in the Egerton version, in fact, Sir John re- marks that he supposes he will feel better until the day he dies.
Among the fountains that affect the ordinary temporality of human life there is also a range. There are fountains that rejuvenate, metaphorically bringing a return of manly strength, say, that enables marriage and procreation or literally turning back the clock so that a one-hundred-year- old man is thirty again. Invigoration, rejuvenation, resuscitation, extended life, immortality are sometimes combined, sometimes confused in various legends; the concepts are after all closely related.
He thus entertains the wish that his life course, with its expected trajectory from health to sickness, could be slightly altered. Of course he could have tossed off this comment about having drunk of the well merely to bolster his claim to authentic traveler status; it would in that case function like his other claims to have seen relics or wonders, like the head in Constanti- nople of the spear that allegedly pierced Christ on the cross or the mag- netic sea ch.
A few sips of this fountain, whose source reputedly is the Earthly Paradise, might have slowed the relentless effects of time in his life. It could indeed happen, he is saying, in fact I be- lieve it did: his ordinary earthly temporality has been touched, just slightly wetted, by the waters issuing from Eden. Sir John has already told the story of the paradise created in India by the Old Man of the Mountain: he keeps maidens and young men under the age of fifteen years there and promises such youthfulness to anyone who dies in his homicidal service.
This paradise offers perpetual youth but is patently false ch. But the real Earthly Paradise is the source of the fountain from which Sir John drank. But that wrenching postlapsarian fact of life remains: paradise is on earth. The character of time in the Garden of Eden is similar. It was in fact contested among early exegetes.
In a convent beside the river Gihon one of the four rivers issuing from Paradise , three monks lived a holy life. One day a marvelous bough drifted downstream while they were bathing, and they purposed to find its sacred origin. After a yearlong upward journey, they reached the gates of the earthly Paradise, guarded by an angel of the Cherubim; they contem- plated his dazzling beauty for five days and five nights. And that is the end of mundane time for them; they are admitted to the Garden, whose chro- nology is completely different.
They are led through this dazzling place by Enoch and Elias; eventu- ally these two take the monks back to the gates and tell them to return to their convent. We beseech you, vouchsafe to let us tarry fifteen days here! Both chronologies are intelligible to Enoch and Elias. Of course all their human companions there are long, long gone. And then after forty days they turn to dust and enter the eternity of heaven.
And so, even though their asynchrony back at the monastery plays out in the same way as that of the aged monk I discussed in chapter 1, it does draw attention to something different: it is not the eternal joy of heaven itself they have experienced, though they have seen something that gives a sense of the eternal. Paradoxically both mundane and not, their mortal experience takes them beyond all mortal bounds.
Crucially, in this legend we learn that in the Garden the three monks have drunk from the Fountain of Youth. This spring, that is, works. It is no surprise, then, that Sir John would want to experience Paradise. In his travels he has seen just about everything else on earth.
He has already tasted the fountain outside the Garden, in India; he is now ready for the ultimate earthly experience. And he has finally reached the gates of Eden near the end of his long narrative, so now is his chance. In fact, there are no angelic guards at all. Many humans have tried to navigate the treach- erous waters of the four rivers that issue from Eden—wild beasts and im- passable mountains make an overland journey impossible, he notes—and have ended up blind, deaf, dead. Paradise is close. It just about roars in his ears. And also I was not worthy] ch. The syntax here is striking. His curiosity, his attraction, indeed his desire has overwhelmed the requisite theological resignation.
Paradise could be approached in the visionary or mystical literature, but through- out the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance there was never a real claim made to have seen the Garden of Eden, or hope to see it, at first hand. Sir John is barred from the unearthly earthliness of Eden. Its unique and lovely temporality, a time that fostered an original human state that was not progressively de- generative, is withheld from him.
It is truly a lost time: not only a past era that is gone but also a temporality that he will never on earth know. And that frustrates, grieves, angers him. Sir John in his book expresses more desire than other travelers to go be- yond the theologically imposed limitations of mortal experience, even as his body, eventually creaky and old, stays stubbornly on its forward path. He unwillingly ends his travels because he is plagued by disease, but the temporal desire in his book still radiates forth.
In fact, Sir John finally sug- gests that the act of reading the book might itself put into play a certain asynchrony. At the end of his long narrative he asks readers to pray for him, and he promises to pray for them. Indeed, from the twelfth century reading had been associated with spiri- tual pilgrimage, metaphorical movement in Christian space-time.
As we shall see, the act of reading the Book of John Mandeville proved to be temporally complex indeed in nineteenth-century Britain, when the first serious philological studies of the text were undertaken. If Sir John at the end of his travels expresses frustration with the inaccessibility of Eden, forever lost, readers of the book in Victorian England find in it a vehicle to express their own melancholy for the glories of a lost time. But the luster of its author dimmed consider- ably when nineteenth-century British scholars determined that Sir John was likely not the eyewitness traveler he had claimed—and they had taken him—to be: under their probing philological eyes the book turned out to be made up of many previous texts.
Was he English, again as claimed? Had he traveled anywhere at all? And they say that you never were born in Englond, in the town of Seynt Albones, nor have seen and gone through manye diverse Londes. And he hath been in an Yle that men clepen Burmah, and there bin women bearded. Now men call him Colonel Henry Yule, and he hath writ of thee in his great booke, Sir John, and he holds thee but lightly.
For he saith that ye did pill your tales out of Odoric his book, and that ye never saw snails with shells as big as houses, nor never met no Devyls, but part of that ye say, ye took it out of William of Boldensele his book, yet ye took not his wisdom, withal, but put in thine own foolishness.
In this Yule bests him: Yule has seen the mar- velous reality of which Mandeville has only read. The temporalities are intriguing in this whole imagined scenario. To begin with the obvious: Marco Polo is taken as a prefiguration of the English colonialist; medieval travel is made out to be the prehistory of nineteenth-century colonization. Time moves inexorably forward in the West, from medieval to modern, in the inevitable progress that is colonial expansion. That is, India is in the Middle Ages while England has developed into modernity.
If the East is medievalized, so is Yule. Yule is seen by Lang as, and feels himself to be, a contemporary of the medieval man, his comrade and friend. Love for this friend as well as a desire for the past have motivated the temporal re- versal. Thereupon Lang asynchronously informs Mandeville of the recent development of the British Empire, cul- minating in its arrival in India. His itinerary accounts for the English imperial conquest of or at least bid for each point on the way to India.
Natheless did Englishmen take it fro the Spanyard, and all to hold the way to Ynde. The language of the medieval past is the medium Lang uses to legiti- mate the geopolitics of empire. His letter is a witty epistolary exercise in literary criticism with an explicitly political edge.
But at the same time Lang suggests in contrast that the true glories of the Empire have already been lost: at the outset of his letter, right after the introduction of the Queen of England and India, he identifies a new generation of meager people who would squander the imperial gains of old.
Informing Sir John of events that postdate his own book, Lang notes that the Englishmen who conquered India were great knights indeed: For they were right good werryoures of old, and wyse, noble, and worthy. But of late hath risen a new sort of Englishman very puny and fearful, and these men clepen Radicals. And they go ever in fear, and they scream on high for dread in the streets and the houses, and they fain would flee away from all that their fathers gat them with the sword.
And this sort men call Scuttleres, but the mean folk and certain of the womenkind hear them gladly, and they say ever that Englishmen should flee out of Ynde. The real imperial warriors are already gone, and with them go the English Middle Ages they so heroically recovered in the East. For him, the medieval is not a merely analytical, distanced construct, and medievalism is not simply a medium of distancia- tion; the medieval is also an affective reality, a presence, whose conflation with and manifestation in the East infuses already complex colonial affect and temporality with especially keen desire.
And this time the Germanic school of comparative philology was the butt, or at least one of the butts, of the joke. In M. James, eventually to become an eminent manuscript scholar himself, wrote a mer- ciless parody of the voice of the philologist. Published from the Rhodes MS.
The fragment was supposedly discovered in a privately held manuscript. Ever must my plea of an amateur be that I have in my studies of the foresaid only so far as the early twelfth year- hundreds beginning bestrided. There is indeed no mention of Lollardy or the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Beyond the peerless imitation of Mandeville, what interests me here is twofold: the ridicule of the explicitly amateur philologist, and the fact that the Book of John Mandeville is the occasion for it.
James the professional-in-the-making, busily abjecting any traces of the amateur whom he competitively imag- ines as a Lachmannian bungler. But more abstractly, perhaps James is suggesting that there is something always inexpert about the philologist, that the philologist is ever amateur. Is it that the science of philology is phony? Or is it too demanding ever to master? And the goal of reconstructing language forms that would demonstrate a definitive connection between past times, past peoples, and the present must ever recede?
In the little drama of interrupted textual editing enacted here, is philology itself seen not only as a medium of hopeful idealism but also as a messenger of inevitable incompleteness and loss? They take off from precisely the melancholy knowledge I have inferred from the case of the amateur philologist. These stories suggest that loss is not only inevitable but also must be accepted, that curiosity about or desire for the past can be danger- ous: such curiosity and desire can not only threaten the stability of your affective and historical self-understanding and positioning but can in fact kill you.
Ancient artifacts present a puzzle or abet a mystery that the anti- quarian is driven to solve, but they also unleash a fury of malevolence and violence. As readers of these tales over the years have observed, causes and effects in these stories do not clearly add up. Such a view of philology suggests its conceptual relation to the colonial endeavor, as Andrew Lang expresses it in his letter to Sir John Mandeville.
Melancholy about inevitable incompleteness and loss links the colonial, the philological, and the amateur. Imperial melancholy for inevitable loss turns into sexual horror at the possibility of recovery; asynchrony exposes possibilities and temptations that are both desirable and terrifying. To prove this assertion, Carlyle poses a hypothetical question: For our honour among foreign nations, as an ornament to our English Household, what item is there that we would not surrender rather than him [i.
Really it were a grave question.
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Indian Empire, or no Indian Empire; we cannot do without Shakspeare! Indian Empire will go, at any rate, some day; but this Shakspeare does not go, he lasts forever with us; we cannot give up our Shakspeare! I learned about this essay from my father. I asked him some years ago what he read in his English literature classes at school in India.
How Soon Is Now?
With a razor-sharp memory that instantly spanned the fifty- odd years in between, he listed the usual suspects in the early-twentieth-century British curricu- lum. And he mentioned with great gusto this essay by Carlyle, which he remembers to this day. His British instructor had presented it very memo- rably; this was during the Second World War, my dad reminded me, and while everyone was captivated by military heroes, here was a writer in stark contrast saying that poets could be heroes and sing for their country, too.
What country was yours, Dad? I wondered internally. This was many, many years ago, and that was not something he recalled. Since I can hardly remember essays I read last semester, I certainly rec- ognize that my explicit question about this passage—do you remember this? But my implicit question was even more demanding and, I now think, unfair: how could you stand to read this?
But the passage haunts me. What kind of present did that colonial chronology, that imperial asynchrony make for? I imag- ine these questions would not make much sense to my father, formulated in this way; after all, even as a colonial subject he had a direct connection to the place of his birth and history that the English could never achieve. The colonial encounter in fact promised a kind of time travel to good colonial subjects, to good Parsis in particular.
They were allowed to stay in Gujarat after they promised not to take up any room but to sweeten the lives of the native Gujaratis. Parsis were modern in a primitive land of Hindus. His Parsiness, his not-Indianness, allowed him to claim as more or less his own the British culture that he prized.
For a mo- ment he was almost up to date. And once he came to the West, my father stepped altogether into what he saw as modernity and never looked back. India was in fact strangely past and present in our household in Califor- nia, where he settled with my mother and where I was born and raised.
Much of my work as medievalist has tried to answer that query or, more fundamentally, has tried to address the temporal questions that it begs. My father of course was deeply in- vested in forward-moving progress, too, but he also brought another time- line unfolding on a different calendar: even the very day of his birth was a mystery, not because of sketchy documentation in his primitive birth- place, as I once thought, but because the Zoroastrian calendar differs from the Gregorian the Parsi calendar has thirty days for each month , and so birthdays become moveable feasts in the latter.
A different time frame was always subtly but definitely present. It has made me keenly attuned to the ways cultural differences get turned into temporal distance, the ways sex, gender, race, religion and nation, work and play, West and East get graphed on a timeline.
It has made me permanently feel like an amateur. Thus I can see that geographical distance is temporalized in the Book of John Mandeville, for instance, and in British Orientalist discourse, and I can analyze such significance in terms of the writing of world history. I understand, too, the fear of what that desire for the past might entail like M.
I claimed earlier, in my analysis of the Seven Sleepers in chapter 1, that we all began life asynchronously, in a nine-month sleep, and that this ex- perience provides us all with the ground for feeling that other temporali- ties press upon mundanely sequential chronologies; here, now, I have de- scribed how these other temporalities press upon me.
If my not- quite-white queerness makes me feel akin to amateurs I would like to use that sense of kinship as a prompt to consider different approaches to the text, to scholarship. The sense of the inevitability of in- completeness and loss that I have associated in this chapter with medieval travel as well as colonialism, amateurism, philology, and sexual queerness is ultimately useful in orienting me toward the ever-incomplete and un- masterable present. The unassimilable, the unmasterable have become my preoccupation, challenging formulations of Middle Ages and modernity as well as of progress and development, especially in the tightly intertwined realms of gender and sexuality, race, class, and nation.
James warns and the witness of Indian Empire attests. But in opening dif- ferent kinds of time such a now offers the possibility of a framework—not only for a more vital medievalist practice but also, precisely because of that nonmodern vibrancy, for more life. In an epi- sode, both riveting and typical, of her book the devout late medieval English laywoman Mar- gery Kempe visits the grave of her loyal supporter and sometime confessor, Richard Caister of Nor- wich.
She makes such a ruckus in the churchyard and then in front of the high altar—weeping, screaming, throwing herself to the ground and writhing in the extreme devotional practice that is her trademark— that people around her are completely annoyed. Why faryst thus wyth thi-self? We knew hym as wel as thu. In this striking confrontation, we hear a clash of temperaments, of es- tates, of spiritual commitments: the moist, restless, righteously angry lay- woman versus the dry, satisfied, and complacent clergyman.
Radically different experiences of time divide Margery from this cleric and inform the narrative construction of this episode. His words sound secular, almost incredibly so, but they are not necessarily as disenchanted as they might at first seem. His words brandish access to the past in an affirmation of institutional power.
Margery, in his view, is a pathetic anachronism—a creature stuck in the past and not availing herself of the comforts that the Church can provide in a present otherwise defined by inexorable loss. His is a temporal multiplicity tightly controlled by institutional struc- tures. For Margery, in loud contrast, the point is immediate personal ac- cess to Christ now.
No reading of this episode as a historical allegory of theological conflict, or as part of a chronological, periodizing narrative about the insti- tution of Catholicism and the challenge of emergent Protestantism can account for this; revealing the shortcomings of periodization, a historical narrative that links her with holy women of the European continent such as Saint Catherine of Siena marks Margery as living in the wrong country and a generation late.
Roaring and weep- ing when that priest approaches her, she does not stop her conniption just because of his remark that may well be an attempt at consolation. What are other ways of experiencing time besides ob- jectifying it, segmenting and claiming it, deploying it in an exercise of in- terpretive power or defense of some institution? How can we engage the complex temporalities of the Book of Margery Kempe rather than merely identify them in advance with preexist- ing temporal systems? How does the book—with its temporal multiplicities—draw us in?
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What might it feel like to experience a now that includes Margery as well as other readers of her book? And what will allow us to analyze these experiences? I do not intend to do a full reading of the Book of Margery Kempe in these few pages; I offer, rather, an exploration of tempo- ral experiences of being out of joint, using the examples of Margery Kempe and her first modern editor, Hope Emily Allen, and, finally, me.
But the truly transformative moment occurred not in that place but at the Bodleian Library in Oxford where I could not have felt my out- of-jointness—my own amateurism—more. Her everyday life is punctuated by eternity, which touches her, however, not in response to a specific request as it does the monk but as God moves. As interruptions unwilled by her, these divine visits can be deeply unset- tling to her, at times unwanted because so alien and exalted, and are often viewed dubiously by those around her. As the thirteenth- century prose treatise on virginity, Hali Meidhad [Holy Maidenhood ] repeatedly asserts, virginity on earth in itself foreshadows the angelic life in heaven: it is itself an angelic and heavenly life.
This is not to say that the community members around Margery, dubi- ous of her claims to eternal experience, lack temporal complexity them- selves. Here the event is at once more deeply implicated in the everyday and more intricately extended into mul- tiple times; it is more intimate with the divine. More celestial music, as before in her bed; more witness to the divine now, which only increases her outsized longing to be there for- ever. That is, prompted by the priestly reenactment, Margery in her inner contempla- tion is as if in Jerusalem at that moment, seeing Christ enter the city.
But the passage might also be recalling her own actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where she felt the presence of Christ. But if Sir John is relatively aloof from what he sees in the Holy Land, observing others and holding his dis- tance, Margery immerses herself in the density of the now in Jerusalem. In her desperate agonies of devotion, it seems that Margery will indeed die. That event in Norwich occurred chronologically later than this trip to Jerusalem, but no matter: Margery is in the everlasting now of the fresh prince of heaven. Margery tries to resist these intense eruptions of crying, chapter 28 tells us, because she knows that they irritate people.
As sone as sche parceyvyd that sche xulde [would] crye, sche wolde kepyn it in as mech as sche myth [might] that the pepyl xulde not an [should not have] herd it for noyng [annoying] of hem. This is what it feels like to experience a totally different form of time: Margery is overtaken by the eternal now. Her crying becomes a performative with no separable content, the meaning in the movement, enacted in an all-inclusive present. Rather, her crying absorbs the temporalities of past, present, and future into a panoramic now where God and all his creatures can, and should, live.
Yet Margery keeps careful count of these incursions of the expanded now into her days, and thus a strange commensurability is imposed on this explosive incommensurability, on the moment of now. How separate are the two temporal planes of spiritual and secular? A very revealing passage late in book 1 reminds us of the everyday asyn- chrony Simplicius discusses: recall from my introduction his contention that no time at all seems to have passed for those who are absorbed in in- tense thought or action, but in contrast time passes with agonizing slow- ness for those who suffer.
Sche supposyd sumtyme of v owrys er vj owrys it had not ben the space of an owr [Sometimes five or six hours seemed to her not the space of one hour]. But not only represented: simi- lar temporal possibilities, I now want to suggest, emerge in the experience of reading the book. This hermeneutic circle is inevitable: in all acts of interpretation, as James Simpson has demonstrated for the medieval context, some such crossing the gap between beings or between reader and text is a necessary condition of intelligibility. A hermeneutic connection can in fact be premised on distance.
Her intense absorption in her objects of study as well as the lack of economic motive or urgent dead- lines—both characteristic of amateurism as I have been analyzing it in this book—kept her from ever completing her final magnum opus. She wrote highly regarded books on the writings of early- fourteenth-century recluse Richard Rolle and had done groundbreak- ing work on the early English guide for anchoresses, Ancrene Riwle also known now as Ancrene Wisse. This scholarly work—as well as familial ties and a bit of good luck—situated her in just the place to be consulted about a newly unearthed manuscript on early English spirituality.
In the summer of , as John Hirsh notes, when everyone else had left London on holiday, this American medievalist was in the city and able to make what turned out to be one of the biggest medieval literary identifications of the century. But the time of the second volume never came. Hope Allen did path-breaking work making connections between late medieval devotional practice in England and on the European continent.
Allen always historicized; in fact, one of her sharpest scholarly debates about Margery was with a theologian who, she thought, misunderstood her position toward Margery because of his ahis- torical disciplinary disposition. Elizabeth, with many thanks for the parcel, which is most de- licious. I like her very much indeed, and I like the way the B. Was Margery Kempe one such ghost? To do so will help me much with bmk ii.
There was pleasure in this, alongside guilt and bewilderment. Its robust depiction of asynchro- nies has helped me recognize and experience multiple temporalities in my world. But the hush I perceived at Bryn Mawr was the sound of my own timeline as I stepped back into the formative locus of my young adulthood, rather than any- thing anyone else was hearing there now. Time present and time past col- lapsed as I made my way to the archive. And time future: for when I sat in the archive in Canaday Library, a modern building on that Collegiate Gothic campus , doing the work of a professional medievalist, I was sitting in the very building where I had started training to become a literary historian and critic a quarter century ago.
And I was sitting on the grounds where Hope Allen, her papers now archived there, had herself received training as a medievalist. Our pasts touched in my reading her pages, an experience of bodily absorption into a moment in which time seemed indeed to stop any forward motion. I rapidly became absorbed in her papers, though, entranced by her letters crammed excitedly with words at all angles on the page.
Her extraordinary erudition was shared generously with students and colleagues; her scrupulous and unwaver- ing attention to detail was moving and inspiring to witness. At the same time, the foreignness, the strangeness of her pre- electronic world gaped in that very unfamiliar place. As I read the papers hour after hour in that drafty and dimly lit read- ing room, my eyes blurred with the strain. Yet late in the afternoon, several long days into the business, I felt a shift in that delicate balance of distance and connection—a shift or, better, an intensification—when I came upon several letters.
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They were letters of condolence Hope Allen had written to her closest English friend, Dorothy Ellis, on the death of her companion, Mary Caroline Mackaig, known as Skay. But these letters of condolence were on a different level. No one can know what Skay was who had not lived with her—. I cannot express to you what you both gave to me those several times when you took me in and nursed me during the harrowing period of preparing Margery for the press.
Allen knows these things. When I read these lines I felt a shock of recognition—and, more in- tensely, the shock of being recognized. Hope Allen was recognizing it, and in reading her act of recog- nition I recognized myself, even as I observed the particularity of her own situation and the traditional forms of her propriety. This unexpected queer intimacy challenged me to rethink what I thought I understood about amateurs and archives, about who can and should work there, about what and who exists in there, and how.
What other voices are speaking in there, to those readers of texts who can hear the question, answer the call? Such a transformative moment blazes out in my mind even now. There was also the ambivalence generated by the differing temperaments of the historical subjects themselves. On the one hand, there was the desiring call of the medieval figure—Margery Kempe, who was by all accounts desperate for a cult to follow her death and proceed with her canonization—and, on the other, there was the un- knowability of a person as nervous, prickly, and radically centripetal as Hope Allen apparently was.
What does it feel like to be asynchronous? As I demonstrated in chap- ter 1, the persistence of the past in the present, in the disorienting geneal- ogy of King Herla in the court of Henry II, threatens the viability of the whole courtly life; in chapter 2, I showed how British colonists exploited the concept of asynchrony in their efforts to advance empire, temporally subjugating natives of India in an already conquered, already known past; and as I shall suggest in the next chapter, asynchrony can provide the basis for painful social exclusion, of which ghosts are the haunting reminders.
Nonetheless, the recognition of temporal multiplicity and the break with discipline are themselves exhilarating. At the least, we can use a queer ap- preciation of temporal heterogeneity to contest and enlarge singular nar- ratives of development, and to begin to imagine collective possibilities for a more attached—that is to say, queer—future.
Our land lay in the remote south- west corner of the Catskill mountain range, home of trout fishermen and deer hunters. The area has been beset by catastrophic flooding, the experience of which has fundamentally altered my sense of natural contingencies, the passage of time, and my place in the landscape. Headstone of David LeValley, — Photograph by the author. The stream that formed the border of our property rose, raged, and tore up its banks in the flood. Shifting and withdrawing, it cut new channels and created eddies, pools, and branches. And it took things with it, all kinds of things—trees, rocks, coffins.
From the small family cemetery upstream a headstone washed up on our banks, a part of the nineteenth century that only now, in the twenty-first century, made its way downstream see figure 4. The rest of that family plot is still upstream. The ghastly rock provides a powerful figure of asynchrony, realized in a particular mo- ment and in a particular place but also opening up a spectral view of the world, a perspective in which the boundaries between the living and the dead, the material and the immaterial, the real and the fictional, the present and the past are porous.
It is a world in which everyday time is itself experi- enced as wondrous, and the present, unmasterable, is full of other times. Geoffrey Crayon, himself a figure of exclusion, leads us deep into the spectral world in which an ancient figure haunts these tales of asynchrony with his old, unacknowledged pain.
In the story by Washington Irving, first published in , Rip van Winkle slept for twenty years one night in those hills, enchanted by old Dutch spirits. Henry A. I had intended certainly being back in Edinburgh today Monday , but Mr. Scott wishes me to stay until Wednesday, that we may have an excursion. I cannot tell you how truly I have enjoyed the hours I have passed here. They fly too quick, yet each is loaded with story, incident, or song: and when I consider the world of ideas, images, and impressions that have been crowded upon my mind since I have been here, it seems incredible that I should only have been two days at Abbotsford.
This is the haunted glen of Thomas the Rhymer. Dreams of course multiply the pos- sibilities of asynchrony as they interrupt already nonlinear everyday time with their own inscrutable temporalities; they can invert or otherwise alter cause and effect; they can presage the future; they can bring back in figural imagery people and things long gone; they take place in a now of indeter- minate duration, lasting who knows how long. Not long after these magical days spent in Scotland Irving began to write the pieces that made up the Sketch Book.
Rip van Winkle lives in a village on the Hudson River and roams happily throughout the mountainous area. Walking deep into the woods one afternoon, he indulges his passion for shooting squirrels, thus successfully avoiding Dame van Winkle and his own domestic obligations. The rest is, as they say, history: as evening starts to fall on his little hunt- ing adventure, Rip hears his name cried out in the twilight air. The group is solemn and mysterious, and Rip is puzzled by it. The short and stocky characters partake of the liquor of the keg, and so does Rip, whose senses are gradually overpowered.
He wakes up later, stiff in the joints, to find his dog gone, his gun oddly aged, and his beard grown a foot long. He worriedly assumes that he has slept there all the night, because that is what the change from night to morn- ing ordinarily signals. Soon, though, the temporal basics and his identity are reestablished, and Rip, the fittingness of whose name is now clear, settles back into life around a two- decade lapse.
The monk must die and proceed to heaven, having been sum- moned, as it were, by eternity, but Rip mundanely lives on, as if to say that this is just the way time is, this is how everyday sublunar time works. Quo- tidian time is multifarious. Rip lives with temporal disparity and heteroge- neity because asynchrony is the everyday. So time has passed, but Rip, asleep, did not consciously experience it. He is the very somatiza- tion of temporal asynchrony, his flesh in one temporal framework and his mind in another.
Neither did he experience the Revolution, that great rupture in the narrative of American origins through which he snoozed. Like King Herla, who missed the Saxon conquest of the Britons, like the Seven Sleepers, who slumbered through the triumph of Christianity over the pagans, Rip has nodded during a signal event that marks a shift in world history and a transition in its period framework. Irving here smirks that for all the self-importance of the new nation there was simply not much difference between it and the former regime, but he is also suggesting a more abstract point about the relativity of historical periodization.
Once the twenty-year night has elapsed, his wife is dead and he can finally prosper, in his own way, as the bachelor, idle and revered, he always psychically was. This complex pantomime, for all its misogyny, nonetheless acknowl- edges the enduring power of the dame: it acknowledges the porousness of the present; it hails the possibility of specters, spirits, ghosts, revenants.
Spirits, ghosts, specters and apparitions, gods and the divine: the supernatural can irrupt at any moment, refusing to let us forget the unsettling, marvelous, fearsome asynchrony of life that the hold of classically scientific time-as-measurement would lead us to discount. Within this field some events or conditions—some wrinkles in laminar time—are particularly motivated by specific, unfinished business; some ghosts figure anxious exclusions from the present—unheard voices, unac- knowledged bodies, foreclosed potentials.
The ghost of Dame van Winkle, for example, has been understood as haunting a masculinist canon of American short stories because of her necessary death at its putative ori- gin. It means that there are far more possi- bilities for living than time-as-measurement would lead us to believe, but it does not mean that there are no constraints operating in this tempo- rally multiple world.
We will consider further the idea that some specters lurking in the now are created by exclusion, like the death of Dame van Winkle. The figure is the narrator Geoffrey Crayon himself, and he will in fact turn the logic of spectral exclusion inside out. Amateur and queer, Crayon is excluded from the modernist temporality of the professional and of family life; but when he turns to the medieval past in order to feel whole, we find that he is isolated from that realm as well.
Washington Irving, who eventually made his home in the Hudson Val- ley, was a dedicated reader of medieval and early modern English litera- ture, an Anglophile and enthusiastic antiquarian at the dawn of the age of the professional historian. We have already seen him tramping around the legendarily enchanted Scottish hills, listening to an old ballad. The presence of the medieval in a dreamy, ghostly, asynchronous now comes to the fore in other pieces in the Sketch Book, and engagement with the medieval is now what I want to track.
There are sketches of Westminster Abbey, the Reading Room of the British Mu- seum library, Stratford- on-Avon, and so on, appearing among sketches of American settings and characters as well; spanning both continents and a bit of a hodgepodge, as various critics have seen, they are all united by the narratorial voice of Crayon. But his belatedness is not only American; it is also dilettantish. Narratorial self-consciousness about his own belatedness is a guiding principle of the work. This American dilettante associates himself with the medieval past: he is an amateur medievalist who in his very name con- jures the spirit of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Belatedness is American, it is amateurish, and it is queer. American, amateur, and queer, out of sync and desiring another time. Crayon is certainly nostalgic, yearning for a past era; in fact his sketches of English life irritated some English readers for that very reason. In that mocking voice Crayon puts a little wedge between himself and the simplistic discourse of the Old World, the discourse of English superiority and the trope of traveling eastward as traveling back in time, whose opera- tions I examined in chapter 2 ; he distances himself from the discourse of a return to origins that would supposedly complete oneself.
But mysterious magi-like figures at the British Museum library deflatingly turn out to be nothing more than authors reading and taking notes. Crayon tries to conjure James but remains detached and isolated in his own time. But now, in the actual place, Crayon records his own steps through the castle halls and grounds. The poetry that was written there worked a kind of magic, halting the chronic movement of loss and desolation. Time, which delights to obliterate the sterner memorials of human pride, seems to have passed lightly over this little scene of poetry and love, and to have withheld his desolating hand.
Several centuries have gone by, yet the garden still flourishes. It occupies what was once the moat of the keep; and though some parts have been separated by dividing walls, yet others have still their arbours and shaded walks, as in the days of James, and the whole is sheltered, blooming, and retired. Crayon is drawn into a copresence of times in the charmed, dream- like now.
For between the pacing of the selfsame chambers and the gaze upon the glorious spot, Crayon must work to convince himself of authenticity, presence, union. His effort is registered in that anomalous phrase in this otherwise rapturous sketch: I endeavoured to persuade my- self. I labored to believe that it was the very same window as that in which James had gazed on his lady for the first time; the admission of effort opens a suggestion of failure. I wanted to believe, Crayon might as well have said, that the future king and I, the inspired lover and I, were so near.
Despite the intensely contrived reenactment framework, Geoffrey Crayon remains out of sync both with the present and also with the past he so de- sires. James is not after all there with him. The past and its ghosts are finally elusive. Crayon is of course not a historian beginning from a posture of re- move and confirming his distance from his object of inquiry; he is a dilet- tante expecting connection, attempting to convoke the spirit, but what he ends up confirming is that ghosts might well have their own agendas.
Times might be multiple in the now, but, unmasterable, they are not equally accessible to all. For the ghost of James I itself has a ghost, a fact that not only underscores the condition of the multi- plicity of the now but also suggests that the now may be populated by rest- less spirits seeking to be heard. This bell acts on him like a voice urging him to set his experiences down with pen; it is as if the sixth-century Boethius, present, calls out to the fifteenth-century James.
In this atmosphere of visions and dreams, in which spirits linger, Boe- thius haunts James, who haunts Geoffrey Crayon. But these relationships are more porous than that sequential statement allows; these spirits move in and through the asynchronous worlds of the Sketch Book and the Kingis Quair, as I shall show. It is not a voice whose wounding has been sufficiently recognized; in fact it is ultimately silenced in the rational philosophical discourse of which it is a part.