11 March, 2008

I need to make the time

Each summer, the University of York and the University of Norwich hold a graduate student conference for medievalists. We present papers to each other; it's supposedly a low-pressure way to get used to delivering lectures in public. I can get behind that! I have something I might like to present about Margery Kempe, couched in disability studies terms, and I might give that a shot. I don't want to go presenting stuff about dear Margery in a larger setting, such as Kalamazoo, where there are dozens of people present who've been studying her since before I was born. I'm not ready for that level of scrutiny, especially on something I don't really care to devote my life to. But who knows, it might bear fruit!

Also upcoming is the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. This is the European version of the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo (or at least they're trying to make it so). This year's them is the environment and natural world, which doesn't have much to do with me and anyway it's far too late to submit anything. But next year's theme is heresy and orthodoxy, and given the widespread use of the word "fool" to denote a person who acts contrary to the Natural Law by sinning, I'm sure I can work something in.

It's interesting, this use of the vocabulary of foolishness. On the one hand, it makes clear use of the "natural fool" referent, but on the other, it's such a cursedly popular usage. It's not just that someone who sins acts like a fool to medieval writers. On the contrary, sinning is foolishness. One who sins is a fool, for how else can the egregious breach of the Natural Law be accounted for? It is like we define autism: according to our understanding of human nature, an inability to comprehend the actions of others means a mind that is missing a crucial piece of functioning.* In the Middle Ages, it seems, an ability to act contrary to the self-evident Natural Law that was divinely ordained for humanity's own good signalled a mind which was missing a crucial piece of functioning.

And all of a sudden, my irritation with this "troublesome" usage of the word fool has changed to intrigue and fascination. I must also pursue this. Thank you, O Blog of mine!

* This is a gross oversimplification of autism spectrum disorder, but I am just searching for a modern "disorder" comparable in its heavy emphasis on social interaction.

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