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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

The Struggle for Acceptance: Applying Tenets of Ecocriticism to Medieval Texts

16th May 2017, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Connie Scarborough, (Texas Tech University)

This event is free to attend and open to all and will be followed by a drinks reception in the Courtyard Café, Palace Green Library.

Register here for this and other seminars in the Landscapes series taking place during Easter Term (24th April - 23rd June 2017).

Abstract: As omnipresent as are potential works for ecocritical interpretation in the field of pre-modern literature, ecocriticism as an accepted vehicle for critical inquiry has come relatively late to the game for scholars of medieval literature. Additionally, medievalists interested in ecocritical approaches have been forced to struggle against weighty critical precedent that, if not out rightly hostile to ecocritism, are at least not welcoming. Perhaps the most egersis statement for ecocritics comes from none other a source than Ernst Robert Curtius who in 'European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages' (1948) proclaims, “Medieval descriptions of nature are not meant to represent reality” (183). Curtius’s fundamental and influential text was first published in German in 1948 and translated into English in 1953. Even now, over 50 years later, ecocritics who study pre-modern literature must confront this blatant assertion. About ten years after Curtius’s book appeared in English, another critical milestone around the neck of ecocritics was published. D.W. Robertson in Preface to Chaucer, appearing in 1962, established an almost exclusively, allegorical reading of Chaucer and, by extension, most other medieval texts. I say an almost exclusively allegorical reading because Robertson did admit that Chaucer “mingles details of an iconographic nature with other details which produce an effect of considerable verisimilitude.” But, as an ecocritic of medieval English literature, Gillian Rudd, points out when discussing Robertson’s influential book, for Robertson it is the allegory that gives meaning to these “other details.” Rudd states that Robertson’s readings translate the allegory but have little or nothing to say about the actual details of the natural world that are over-written by the allegory. Rudd neatly summarizes ecocritics response to Robertson—“One of the consequences of reading ecocritically is to focus on those ‘other details’ and give them credit for doing something more than merely adding to an effect of ‘verisimilitude’” (11).

This seminar will examine works from Medieval Spain with an eye to the presence of details about the natural world and explain why an ecocritical approach to pre-modern texts can open up new ways of reading of even very familiar works.

Dr Connie L. Scarborough is Professor of Spanish in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages as Texas Tech University where she also serves as co-director of the graduate program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Her bilingual edition of the poetry of Marcia Belisarda, “Dando a conocer estos versos su legítimo autor”: The Poetry of Marcia Belisarda aka Sor María de Santa Isabel, is in press with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She recently completed a manuscript for Amsterdam University Press entitled Cursed or Cured: Disability in Medieval Spanish Texts. In 2013 she published Inscribing the Environment: Ecocritical Approaches to Medieval Spanish Literature, with De Gruyter press. She gave an invited plenary lecture at the 2016 meeting of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland. She also serves on the Executive Council for Medieval Spanish Literature for the Modern Language Association. She has participated in a number of international symposia, including the Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas held in July 2016 in Münster, Germany. She has spoken previously at Durham University as an invited participant in a conference arranged by Andy Beresford on Iberian hagiography in July of 2014.

Contact for more information about this event.