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How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time [NOOK Book]

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How Soon Is Now? performs a powerful critique of modernist temporal regimes through its revelatory exploration of queer ways of being in time as well as of the potential queerness of time itself. Carolyn Dinshaw focuses on medieval tales of asynchrony and on engagements with these medieval temporal worlds by amateur readers centuries later. In doing so, she illuminates forms of desirous, embodied being that are out of sync with ordinarily linear measurements of everyday life, that involve multiple temporalities, ...
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How Soon Is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time

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Overview

How Soon Is Now? performs a powerful critique of modernist temporal regimes through its revelatory exploration of queer ways of being in time as well as of the potential queerness of time itself. Carolyn Dinshaw focuses on medieval tales of asynchrony and on engagements with these medieval temporal worlds by amateur readers centuries later. In doing so, she illuminates forms of desirous, embodied being that are out of sync with ordinarily linear measurements of everyday life, that involve multiple temporalities, that precipitate out of time altogether. Dinshaw claims the possibility of a fuller, denser, more crowded now that theorists tell us is extant but that often eludes our temporal grasp.

Whether discussing Victorian men of letters who parodied the Book of John Mandeville, a fictionalized fourteenth-century travel narrative, or Hope Emily Allen, modern coeditor of the early-fifteenth-century Book of Margery Kempe, Dinshaw argues that these and other medievalists outside the academy inhabit different temporalities than modern professionals operating according to the clock. How Soon Is Now? clears space for amateurs, hobbyists, and dabblers who approach medieval worlds from positions of affect and attachment, from desires to build other kinds of worlds. Unruly, untimely, they urge us toward a disorderly and asynchronous collective.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Carolyn Dinshaw writes with love, learning, and endless good humor about asynchrony, the amateur, and the complex queerness of both. How Soon Is Now? is full of asynchrony stories, both medieval and modern, stories in which time is out of joint or so full as to be irresolvable into the the narrowly sequential conception of time that remains one of the driving engines of the heteronormative imagination. Rather than rejecting the past or the future, Dinshaw argues for the asynchrony of a now in which the very distinction between past, present, and future becomes impossible to make. In a series of beautiful and moving readings, Dinshaw makes us think about what we love. "I want more life." Who can argue with that simple but extraordinary claim?"—Amy Hollywood, author of Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History

"Carolyn Dinshaw writes with love, learning, and endless good humor about asynchrony, the amateur, and the complex queerness of both. How Soon Is Now? is full of asynchrony stories, both medieval and modern, stories in which time is out of joint or so full as to be irresolvable into the narrowly sequential conception of time that remains one of the driving engines of the heteronormative imagination. Rather than rejecting the past or the future, Dinshaw argues for the asynchrony of a now in which the very distinction between past, present, and future becomes impossible to make. In a series of beautiful and moving readings, Dinshaw makes us think about what we love. ‘I want more life.’ Who can argue with that simple but extraordinary claim?"—Amy Hollywood, author of Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History

"Entering into an elegant slipstream of generative, generous, rigorous thought, Carolyn Dinshaw proves again her exquisite power to enchant her readers. Uniquely attractive as a theorist of time, she brilliantly addresses a temporal spread, from the seeming irrationality of medieval temporality to modernity's 'stingy' outlook on the senses. As I read How Soon Is Now?, I found her signal emphases—reading, temporality, non-linearity, queer historicity, and medieval mysticism—mattering to me, a queer theorist and non-medievalist, in the novel ways she said they would."—Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century

"How do queers relate to the distant past and experience time? Carolyn Dinshaw’s answer to this question in How Soon is Now? ranges through astute literary criticism, cogently argued theory, and snippets of autobiography. The result is a provocative essay about the value and presence of the past that is also at times profoundly moving. Her account of the amateur scholar’s privileged relation to asynchrony and affective engagement with the object of study should give all in the academy pause for thought."—Simon Gaunt, author of Love and Death in Medieval French and Occitan Courtly Literature: Martyrs to Love

GLQ - Masha Raskolnikov

“Carolyn Dinshaw’s third full-length monograph demands attention from those who do contemporary queer studies and medieval literary studies alike, and from those trying to figure out a less-alienated relationship to academic work in an increasingly corporatized university. . . . This book is clearly a labor of love while also an argument for falling in love with queer studies all over again.”
Clio - Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

How Soon Is Now? is scholarly, eminently readable, and insightful. Creative in its structure and wide in its ambit, Dinshaw’s long-awaited book cogently argues that the now we inhabit is denser with possibility than we have imagined—and that medieval writers as well as their amateur readers have known this conjunctive truth for a long time. The book is required reading for anyone interested in the intersections among history, community, textuality, sexuality, writing, dreaming, loving—that is, for anyone who cares about the humanities today.”
Choice - C.S. Cox

“[D]elightfully original and thoughtful…Highly recommended.”
Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures - Andrea Lankin

“Dinshaw has written a delightful book that takes pleasure in its subject; both professional and nonprofessional readers could enjoy and learn from it. . . . Because How Soon Is Now? argues that there is no fundamental distinction between amateur and professional, it welcomes both categories of reader into the book and into the field of medieval studies.”
Year's Work in English Studies - Elizabeth Elliot

"[An] inspiring meditation on the nature of time . . . arguing powerfully for the possibilities opened up by relationships to the past which Dinshaw identifies as queer."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822395911
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Carolyn Dinshaw is Professor of English, and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. She is the author of Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern, also published by Duke University Press, and Chaucer's Sexual Poetics. Dinshaw is a founding coeditor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.

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Read an Excerpt

HOW SOON IS NOW?

Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time
By CAROLYN DINSHAW

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5367-6


Chapter One

Asynchrony Stories

Monks, Kings, Sleepers, and Other Time Travelers

A monk wanders out of the cloister very early one day only to return mid-morning — centuries later. Seven men remain somnolent as, around them, paganism is defeated and Christianity triumphs. A youngster sets out to bring a sheep from a farm back to town, turns off the road to nap in a cave, and wakes decades later; only when told of his wondrous sleep does he then age, marvelously rapidly, but he also goes on to live almost another century. A deadbeat husband drinks a potion and wakes up after the Revolution, twenty years in the future a happy bachelor. In such narratives the problem of the present is encountered head-on: the now of the distracted monk, the dreamless sleeper, the dutiful son, the indifferent husband — all of whom have been swept into other times altogether — is out of joint when each eventually returns to the time unwittingly left. When he confronts others around him, two different temporalities are manifest simultaneously; the present moment is multiple, the fact of temporal heterogeneity revealed. This revelation is always wondrous and sometimes scary, prompting a temporal vertigo that can permanently disrupt one's sense of self, society, indeed ordinary expectations of reality itself.

Asynchrony stories are ubiquitous. We've already seen in the introduction that Aristotle uses one; indeed, references occur in a wide range of contexts ancient, medieval, and beyond: in natural histories, in sermons, in hagiographies, historical writings, folktales, fables. Time travel tales, of course, make up a large part of modern and contemporary science fiction and fantasy fiction. Such Rip van Winkle narratives, stories of people shifted into another temporality, reveal with unusual clarity the constant pressure of other kinds of time on our ordinary, everyday expectations of one-way, smoothly progressive temporality. Sometimes, in the medieval tales that are my topic here, this pressure can be accounted for by Christian belief: because "two temporal planes" are operant in Christian doctrine — "the plane of local transient life," as Aron Gurevich puts it, and "the plane of those universal-historical events which are of decisive importance for the destinies of the world — the Creation, the birth, and the Passion of Christ" — temporal multiplicity is a structured phenomenon both general and intimate for, potentially, every Christian. While being a possibility inherent in doctrine, it was not necessarily an easy condition to live; and when the two temporal planes were seen to collide, what was that asynchrony like ? Moreover, sometimes temporal clashes are not accounted for or accommodated to a Christian framework, engaging other temporalities that are not salvific at all. What, then, is to be made of the opening of alternate temporalities ? Our everyday experience tells us, as we saw in the introduction, that time is not the same always and for everyone, but what are the conditions when clashes occur, and what then?

I focus in this chapter on tales in which temporal warps occur in the mundane world. My protagonists may wander beyond their usual paths, and they may have contact with alien agents from another temporal world, but their adventures occur in the here and now. Of course, tales of the marvelous passage of time in otherworlds that are parallel to our own abound, too, particularly in the Celtic tradition: A king enters a cave and finds, on his exit, that the entire linguistic and political landscape has shifted in the hundreds of years that have elapsed. A knight steps into a forest where the sun rises and sets at an alarmingly quick rate; his exhausted body lags behind the dawn. A woman is able to spend time with a lover without consequences to her marriage — her husband hasn't noticed she was gone, since time passes so much more quickly in that otherworld. Yet because I want to emphasize the simple fact of temporal heterogeneity that inheres in the here and now, I focus in this chapter on tales in which temporal shifts occur in "our" world rather than in another world. (I do take up one medieval tale of otherworldly travel, precisely because it features a transfer of an otherworldly temporality into the here and now.) These disruptions occur in various states of (un)consciousness: not only during sleep but also in rapture or trance. And my medieval examples come from a variety of sources and from a range of years; their importance to my argument lies less in the particular circumstances of their production and reception, and more in their deployment of asynchrony as a motif that demonstrates the constant presence of other kinds of time in the now.

Sometimes in these narratives, as we shall see, engagement with an alternate temporality distances or removes the protagonist from the realm of usual, expected, or acceptable social or sexual reproduction — temporal experience renders the protagonist queer, that is — and sometimes it does not. Medieval Christian doctrine and belief are built on temporal heterogeneity, as I have pointed out above, but narratives in which a temporal experience is not entirely accommodated by doctrine or belief are of even greater interest here. One of my protagonists is isolated by his desire for and experience of eternity — he is separated from his monastic companions and the cycles of nature; he is unable to sustain life on two temporal planes as a good Christian should. He is marooned, too, in relation to the reproduction of patriarchal power, but his queer experience is finally used as an example for Christian doctrinal purposes. Yet another protagonist, having passed through a temporally asynchronous realm, is barely able when back in his own world to understand his interlocutors, has permanently lost his wife, and has been claimed as kin by a strange, unnerving creature. His experience of time has made him queer, too, but that queerness, rather than remaining solely his own fate, spreads beyond the narrative to infect the present-day world, frantic and unfruitful, of the writer of this legend. Moreover, I argue that one modern reader of these medieval tales, nineteenth-century American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, finds in them the opportunity to explore a fuller temporal now: this amateur medievalist — precisely as amateur, nonscientifically refusing the putatively objective — both studies and inhabits asynchrony, a queer temporal condition that opens up other worlds of desire.

A strong thematic cluster emerges in these narratives: marriage, gestation, and procreation. Dedicated to continuing a "line," in the first of my medieval examples patriarchal reproduction is revealed as resolutely linear in not only the genealogical but also, and therefore, the temporal domain; if, as I have suggested in my introduction, queerness is experienced, at least in part, in and as time, patriarchal reproduction is, too. Narratives in this chapter that explicitly problematize time also explicitly engage sexual and social reproduction: beyond that first example, as I shall show, queer potentials threaten to destroy ordinary reproduction or to transform our understanding of it utterly. When time is at issue, sexual and social reproduction are on the line — or turn out to be not on a line.

In this chapter I take up in detail one very popular medieval tale of asynchrony, a sermon exemplum known as "The Monk and the Bird," and surround it with two other narratives: the hagiographic legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, the most popular asynchrony tale in the Western Middle Ages, and the legend of King Herla and the Herlething, less well known but more disturbing. Of these three narratives two are firmly and safely embedded within Christian frameworks — "The Monk and the Bird" in a late-fourteenth-century sermon (with roots in the twelfth century), the Seven Sleepers in a compilation of saints' lives (a fifteenth-century recension of this story whose origins date back to the sixth century) — and the unfolding of alternate temporalities is part of their Christian mission. But Christian belief does not assuage the more unsettling effects of temporal slippage in King Herla's life and afterlife, which stretched into the twelfth-century court of this tale's writer. After exploring these thematic asynchronies, their uses and their implications, I shall turn to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's mid-nineteenth-century retelling of "The Monk and the Bird" in order to detail one modern engagement of — and, because it is amateur, in — medieval temporalities.

OUT OF TIME: THE MONK AND THE BIRD

In one of the sermons well into the Northern Homily Cycle, a group of fourteenth-century sermons in English based on the Gospels, the preacher gives his lay audience what amounts to a tutorial on time, engaging concepts such as linearity and cycles; change and permanence; terrestrial time and heavenly time; the human body as temporal measure; the different temporalities of labor and play; written history and the phenomenology of time. This popular homily collection (appearing in the massive Vernon manuscript as well as in Harley 4196 and in numerous other manuscripts) presents sermons probably read in church, to congregations who didn't know Latin or French, and it was passionately intended to teach these lay folk what they needed to know in order to live properly and attain heaven. It proceeds week by week, one Sunday after another in the ever-unfolding and ever-repeating liturgical cycle of the year. This cycle correlates the events of scriptural history with the weeks of the year: the year begins four weeks before Christmas with Advent, the anticipation of the coming of Christ; it then moves through Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and then Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit descended to Christ's disciples); finally ending twenty-four weeks after Trinity Sunday, which is one week after Pentecost. There is a text for each of the fifty-two weeks in the Northern Homily Cycle, and I shall take up the one for the third Sunday after Easter.

A sermon in such a cycle turns out to be a likely place to address the complexities of time. It is part of a textual sequence that gains its meaning in relation to the liturgical year, which is itself a temporally heterogeneous structure wherein week-by-week progress is experienced simultaneously with the repeated recognition of the events of Christ's life. Thus this homily's treatment of time begins with its very location within this sequence. Oriented around Christ's life and the restaging of it year after year, the liturgical calendar draws, moreover, on the particularly compressed Christian understanding of temporality in which both past and future inhere in the present of the incarnate Christ; this vision of scriptural history — also referred to as allegory or typology — structures this and every sermon in the cycle: each sermon takes as its theme a text from the Gospels (a text concerning Christ's life) and paraphrases it, then explains it using allegorical or typological analysis, and finally provides a narrative for exemplification, an exemplum. Christian scriptural history, which I touched on with regard to Augustine in the introduction, is a temporal construct of anticipation and fulfillment in which an event in the Old Testament is a figure or type for an event in the New Testament (in the life of Christ and his apostles). That New event is thus the fulfillment of the Old and, continuing the figural relationship, is itself not only a figure of embodied human lives on earth between Christ's incarnation and second coming, but also a figure of the events of the second coming and the end of time. Scriptural history understands the world as God's "discourse," as Michel de Certeau puts it: God is an allegorist, a rhetorician, and God — "in a single gesture," eternally — creates and disposes all things in sequences of before and after. Such allegory therefore depends on both chronology and "a time out of time" in which the text becomes legible in its completeness. In order for allegorical correspondences to obtain, God inscribes "homologies in re, in the things themselves"; if Abraham's wife Sarah is to be understood as the Church, there must be real resemblance between them. This is the way God deploys the rhetoric of temporality; this is the way God writes history (thus "scriptural history") — God to whom past, present, and future exist simultaneously. A generally figural outlook — construing the present in relation to scriptural events, past and future — is fundamental to Christian theology and thus is potential in every Christian's everyday life: this is what I take from Gurevich's formulation above. But this also means that a more drastic temporal break or rapture—moving from one plane into another, or even out of time into eternity altogether — is always a potentiality for the believer, if not ordinary in the course of everyday life, precisely because of the multiple temporalities of this Christian doctrinal world.

Our homily from the Northern Homily Cycle draws on this framework and its ecstatic potential even as it treats time explicitly and topically. For the third Sunday after Easter, the preacher takes as his theme a verse from the Gospel of John: "Modicum & non videbitis me" [A little while, and you will not see me]. The full text of John 16:16 adds, "et iterum modicum, et videbitis me, quia vado ad Patrem" [and a little while, and you will see me, for I am going to the Father]. As the preacher paraphrases it:

    "A litell while," he [i.e., "Crist"] said, "sall be
    In the whilk ye sal noght me se,
    And efter a litell while ful right
    Of me ogaine ye sal haue sight,
    For to my Fader sal I wende." (12381–85)

    "There will be a little while," he [Christ] said,
    "In which you will not see me,
    And after a little while indeed
    You will again have sight of me,
    For to my Father must I go."

Christ's disciples, those earth-bound followers, don't understand these words at all. They particularly wonder what modicum, "a litell while," means, and the rest of the sermon undertakes to explain this strange, vague phrase. It's like the "now" in "How Soon Is Now?," and it's just as unsatisfying: his disciples hear that he will be gone and then — sometime, but when? — he will reappear. Christ knows what is bothering his disciples ("Crist wist ful wele what thai wald mene" [Christ knew fully what they were getting at], 12389), because he knows all, and he goes on to explain:

    Of my wordes yow think ferly,
    And suthly vnto yow say I:
    Ye sall grete and haue sorows sad,
    When werldly men sal be ful glad.
    Kare sal fulfill yowre hertes, iwis,
    Bot sethin it sall be turned to blis. (12391–96)

    You wonder at my words,
    And truly I say unto you:
    You will weep and experience lamentable sorrows
    When worldly men will be very happy.
    Care will fill your hearts, indeed,
    But afterwards it will be turned into bliss.

The little while in question, Christ spells out, will be marked by your sadness while others feel happy, but after that little while your grief will be turned to bliss. Christ knows the future, and everything else, because he is not constrained by earthly time. But he is able nonetheless to address what an earthly "litell while" is because not only is he beyond time's limitations but also he lives in an earthly body, in time.

"A litell while," an interval of time, Christ suggests, is perceptible through some kind of change: a modicum is a passage of time that can be perceived because a change occurs between one now and another. This sounds very much like Aristotle: as we saw in the introduction, in his own theorizing in the Physics Aristotle determines that time is intimately related to change — it is not itself change but is "something of change," as Ursula Coope puts it. Here, Christ indicates the passage of time by a (future prediction of) change in his disciples from grief to joy: while he is away, they will feel sorrow; but after, while he is visible to them again, they will celebrate. And for further clarification Christ goes on to provide his disciples with an everyday example of this very change and the passage of time: he explains this principle via a woman's experience of childbirth. There will be pain, but then when a son is born, sorrow ends and comfort begins:

    Ane ensaumple he set sertayne
    And said, "A woman suffers paine
    When that the tyme neghes nere
    That scho sail trauail of child here.
    And sune when that scho has a sun
    Than es hir dole nere-hand done.
    Scho thinkes noght on the paine biforn,
    For a man in the werld es born.
    Scho has slike comfort of hir childe
    That all the wa fra hir es wilde." (12399–408)

    An example he proposed, indeed,
    And said, "A woman suffers pain
    When the time draws near
    In which she must go into the labor of childbirth.
    And immediately, when she has a son,
    Then her recent sorrow is done.
    She doesn't think of the pain before,
    Because a man is born into the world.
    She has such comfort of her child
    That all the woe is gone away from her."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from HOW SOON IS NOW? by CAROLYN DINSHAW Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction How Soon Is Now? 1

1 Asynchrony Stories: Monks, Kings, Sleepers, and Other Time Travelers 41

2 Temporally Oriented: The Book of John Mandeville, British India, Philology, and the Postcolonial Medievalist 73

3 In the Now: Margery Kempe, Hope Emily Allen, and Me 105

4 Out of Sync in the Catskills: Rip van Winkle, Geoffrey Crayon, James I, and Other Ghosts 129

Epilogue The Lay of the Land: Amateur Medievalism and Queer Love in A Canterbury Tale 153

Notes 171

Bibliography 223

Index 245

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