Figure Writing: Technologies of Character in Medieval Literature

This first book project builds on my doctoral dissertation to argue that attending to medieval literary characters can help disentangle the longstanding conflation of character and human subjectivity. Previous scholarship has often dated the birth of character to Renaissance subjectivity, but I propose that medieval character—with its visible seams of rhetorical construction—can reframe characterization as a tactic deployed by the text, rather than an unmediated reflection of psychological coherence. It shows us that every character is an artifact, created for a purpose. This enables us to recognize the ideological underpinnings of characterization as a literary technique, and to ask for what ends the figure of the human is being used. I see medieval character as not only a privileged site for the analysis of character throughout literary history, but as an object lesson in how the figure of the human is never value-neutral.

Dearly Digested: An Alternative History of Cannibalism

Figure Writing aims to unsettle the association between character and subjectivity; Dearly Digested, the association between cannibalism and aggression. This second project concerns the melancholic dimensions of cannibalism across cultural and temporal lines. Cannibalism features prominently in premodern thought not only as a racialized act of transgression, but also as a form of devotion that echoes modern mourning. For example, the donestre, a race of fantastic beings in the Old English Wonders of the East, devour the bodies of passing travelers but leave the heads intact in order to weep over them, which raises questions about the intent behind the act and its relationship to memorialization. This work will survey a range of examples—from medieval literature to urban legends, such as the rumor that the members of Outlawz smoked Tupak Shakur’s ashes—to broaden our understanding of cannibalism as a method of negotiating identity through the boundaries of the body.