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2010 Meeting

1st Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group

Figure 1. abandoned building, post-Chernobyl (Prypiat, Ukraine)

after the end: the humanities, medieval studies, and the post-catastrophe

4-6 November 2010

University of Texas at Austin

Co-Organizers: BABEL Working Group, University of Texas at Austin, College of Charleston, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Palgrave Macmillan


Paul Bowman (Cardiff University), author of Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies: Theory, Politics and Intervention (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), Deconstructing Popular Culture (Palgrave, 2008), and Theorizing Bruce Lee (Rodopi, 2009); editor of The Rey Chow Reader (Columbia University Press, 2010), The Truth of Žižek (Continuum, 2007), Reading Rancière (Continuum, 2010), and a book of interviews entitled Interrogating Cultural Studies: Theory, Politics and Practice.

Aranye Fradenburg (University of California-Santa Barbara), author of City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland (Wisconsin, 1991), Sacrifice Your Love: Psychoanalysis, Historicism, Chaucer (Minnesota, 2001), and numerous articles on contemporary theory and medieval studies; co-editor with Carla Freccero of Premodern Sexualities (Routledge, 1996); Clinical Associate of the New Center for Psychoanalysis.

Noreen Giffney (Trinity College Dublin), PhD in medieval history; co-editor of The Lesbian Premodern (Palgrave, 2011), The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory (Ashgate, 2009), Queering the Non/Human (Ashgate, 2008), Twenty-First Century Lesbian Studies (Taylor and Francis, 2007), Theory on the Edge: Irish Studies and the Politics of Sexual Difference (under review, 2011); currently undertaking research for a project entitled “With/out Desire: An Experience in Reading W.R. Bion,” while co-editing a clinical/theoretical text, Clinical Encounters: Psychoanalytic Practice and Queer Theory; in clinical training in the object relations tradition of psychoanalysis at Trinity College Dublin.

Heather Love (University of Pennsylania), author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard, 2007) and co-editor of a special issue of New Literary History on “Is There Life After Identity Politics”; currently working on a book on the source materials for Erving Goffman’s 1963 book Stigma: On the Management of Spoiled Identity, tentatively titled The Stigma Archive.

Michael O’Rourke (Independent Colleges, Dublin), editor and co-editor of Love, Sex, Intimacy, and Friendship Between Men, 1550-1800 (Palgrave, 2003); Queer Masculinities, 1550-1800: Siting Same-Sex Desire in the Early Modern World (Palgrave, 2006), Derrida and Queer Theory (Palgrave, 2010); founder and organizer with Noreen Giffney of Th(e)eories: Advanced Seminars for Queer Research; series director, with Noreen Giffney, of Ashgate’s Queer Interventions book series, which has published Queer Movie Medievalisms, edited by Kathleen Coyne Kelly and Tison Pugh, as well as Queer Renaissance Historiography, edited by Vin Nardizzi, Stephen Guy-Bray, and Will Stockton.

Zrinka Stahuljak (University of Calfornia, Los Angeles), author of Bloodless Genealogies of the French Middle Ages: Translatio, Kinship, and Metaphor (Florida, 2005) and numerous articles on French medieval romance and historiography, translation and transnationalism, and the wars in the former Yugoslavia; co-author of Thinking Through Chrétien de Troyes (Boydell & Brewer, forthcoming November 2010); co-editor of Minima Memoria: Essays in the Wake of Jean-François Lyotard (Stanford, 2007).


That a major shift in the role and function of the intellectual is occurring is clear. What it will have come to have meant is an issue upon which those in the University should attempt to have an impact. An attention to this problematic is necessary. How we pay attention to it is not determined. Therein lies the freedom and the enormous responsibility of Thought at the end of the twentieth century, which is also the end of what has been the epoch of the nation-state.

–Bill Readings, The University in Ruins

One thinks in the Humanities the irreducibility of their outside and of their future. One thinks in the Humanities that one cannot and must not let oneself be enclosed within the inside of the Humanities. But for this thinking to be strong and consistent requires the Humanities.

–Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition”

This meeting brings together medievalists with scholars and theorists working in later periods in the humanities in order to collectively take up the broad question of what happens “after the end,” by which we mean after the end of the affair, the end of the world, and everything in between. After gender, sex, love, the family, the nation-state, the body, the human, language, truth, feeling, reason, ethics, modernity, politics, religion, God, the nation-state, secularism, liberalism, the humanities, the university, teleology, progress, history, historicism, narrative, meaning, the individual, singularity, theory, practice, what else is there? Here, we mean to hopefully inspire a set of discussions and debates relative to the “post” of the subjects we study within (and beyond) the humanities: can we really ever be “after” anything, and if so, in what (productive and/or perilous) ways, and what next? We are also interested in cultivating some ruminations upon Teresa de Lauretis’s call in 2o03 at the symposium organized by Critical Inquiry, that

now may be a time for the human sciences to reopen the questions of subjectivity, materiality, discusivity, knowledge, to reflect on the post of posthumanity. It is a time to break the piggy bank of saved conceptual schemata and reinstall uncertainty in all theoretical applications, starting with the primacy of the cultural and its many “turns”: linguistic, discursive, performative, therapeutic, ethical, you name it. . . . Perhaps there can be no survival without the gnawing, dull pain of betrayal. Perhaps only betrayal leads to the apprehension of otherness and another cognition of the now. But do not ask me how or what, not yet.

Further, for medievalists especially, but also for modernists, can we really ever be “after history” or “post-historical,” and if so, what would now count as the Real of our studies; if not, in what ways do history and historicism still matter? It is our desire to initiate at this conference a vigorous set of conversations and debates between those working in premodern studies and those who identify as contemporary and postmodern theorists over the relation of history and the past to the present and future of the university, and of the humanities in particular. Following this, we hope to also provoke discussion among scholars working in widely divergent periods over the question of periodization itself and of the ways in which the production of disciplinary knowledges is bound up with historical chronologies and teleologies that have become sedimented over time. We’re interested in problematizing these teleologies and also working toward innovative modes of temporal thinking that would be productive of new critical theories for better understanding the relations between past, present, and future.

On a more literal level, by “after the end,” we also mean to call to mind here very real catastrophes and states of emergency that have already happened and are always happening (war, pogrom, slavery, genocide, terrorism, torture, economic collapse, viral pandemic, global warming, deforestation and other losses of natural resources, species extinction, natural disasters, environmental pollution, poverty, etc.) as well as those that seem to continually loom on our academic horizon as both real event and semi-materalized specter (most pointedly, the end or waning of the humanities, the marginalization and elimination of academic programs and jobs, the death of reading and literature, the loss of historical consciousness, anti-intellectualism, the takeover of the university by corporate interests, etc.), in order to provoke discussion and debate over the question: what might the role of the humanities, and especially studies that take up the premodern, be now in the wake of these catastrophes and “ends,” both materialized and always materializing? How, further, in different times and places have various individuals, groups, artists, intellectuals, fictional characters (etc.) taken up the question of what is to be done after various “ends” and what can we learn from these examples about our own (catastrophic) times? What kind of critical thinking is possible in the space of the post-catastrophe? What are the very real, material outcomes that might hang in the balance of how we are able, or not able, to adjudicate these questions within the humanities, and how might the humanities themselves function as a critical space of resistance to the business as usual of everything, and also as the site where, in the words of Bill Readings, “thought takes place beside thought, where thinking is a shared process without identity or unity” (The University in Ruins)? How finally, might medievalists and modernists form productive alliances across the Enlightenment divide with respect to all of these questions and also to the very pressing questions of what terms such as “the human,” “humanism,” “the humanities,” and “human rights” might mean now in the wake of their own un-raveling and various “ends”?


*not to be confused with the Babel Conference, which was a Federation diplomatic conference held in 2268 on the neutral planet code-named “Babel.” If you are seeking that conference, go HERE.

Figure 2. abandoned 1920s resort hotel on Bokor Mountain (southern Cambodia)

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