Thursday, June 27, 2013

What a World!: Or, an invitation to BABEL along with me at K'zoo 2014

Good news! My proposed session, sponsored by the BABEL working group, has been given the green light for Congress next year. It springs in equal parts out of work on my book and from a lively conversation at Bell's brewery at this year's gathering in sunny Kalamazoo. The fine details: it will be a roundtable, hopefully comprised of seven participants. We're encouraging papers that veer towards the experimental, the playful, even the avant-garde, but given the wideness of the topic, there's plenty of room in which to maneuver and plenty of space for a variety of approaches; multimedia presentations are greatly encouraged.

Title: What a World! (A Roundtable)


“Oh what a world, what a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?!” So screams the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy splashes water on her in the film The Wizard of Oz. The entire film reflects upon matters of perspective and thwarted/exceeded expectations, of not quite believing your eyes or trusting what you see, of creating contexts for experiences you never could have anticipated. The witch melts, in the end, because of her failure to imagine a world in which both she Dorothy could exist. While the gist of this line accords with the final words the Witch speaks in the book version, the phrase “What a World!” (original to the film) encourages meta-commentary. We are called, as viewers and as readers, to wonder along with the witch how this world — and such a vivid one at that — could have been engendered. In this sense, the phrase “What a World!” becomes as much an invitation to engage critically as it becomes a statement of wonder.

The issues inherent in fictionalized worlds, so beautifully encapsulated in this scene from The Wizard of Oz film, have much to offer studies of medieval literature. This session invites papers that consider all aspects of engendered worlds, but is especially invested in exploring how contemporary notions of “worldbuilding” — so often associated with high fantasy and science fiction— as well as Heiddeger’s “worlding” (in all its various theoretical manifestations and adaptations) can be appropriated to discuss the creation of fictive worlds in medieval literature. The session seeks to explore worlds built through varying states of incredulity, wonder, a desire to control and contextualize, or even built out of nostalgia and/or a desire to escape (however briefly) one’s own circumstances — from the translocated Holy Land of the mystery cycle plays, to the worlds encountered through chronicles, histories, and travel narratives, to the landscapes and cultures of Arthurian romance. How might the concept of “worldbuilding” invite fresh considerations and interrogations of medieval literature? How does it simultaneously reflect the desires authors have to create something new even as they (or their texts) admit the impossibilities of such projects? To what extent do engendered worlds allow and invite contemplation upon the many ways in which humans, as readers and receivers of texts, ineffably participate in this process of creation?

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