Distinctly different from its counterparts among the digressions in Beowulf, the Finnsburg episode focuses on the experience and trauma of a single woman: Hildeburh. Her peace-weaving marriage into the Frisian court fails spectacularly, and the result is a proliferation of death and destruction, including the loss of both her brother and son. This essay utilizes Actor-Network theory to explore the ways in which the Finnsburg digression exposes human community-building impulses as fundamentally flawed and particularly challenging for women. The episode lays bare the ways in which human communities in Beowulf fail by foregrounding the relationship between human beings and non-human entities that are part of the wider collectivity in which humans are enmeshed. The essay thus reveals that Hildeburh herself, a subject-made-object in the logic of the poem, stands as a kind of witness to more than just the poem’s criticism of the heroic ethos. Rather, her suffering demonstrates the interconnectedness that is both the condition of humans in the poem and their tragedy.
What would it mean to ‘date’ Beowulf? And what do we learn when we try? This playful pun on one of the more controversial terms in the scholarship on this poem allows a consideration of the range of intimacies generated by it as well as a conditioning of both the poem and its scholarship. Accordingly, this introductory chapter seeks to get intimate with Beowulf, drawing on critical discussions of affect, queer historiography, and contemporary literary theory in order to form a kind of dating profile that serves as a conceptual framework for the various modes of intimacy in and with the poem that emerge throughout the volume. Dating Beowulf coheres as a project in presenting a new set of readings – both critical and personal – that aim to generate new avenues of discussion for an Old English poem too often mired in critical impasses, and this opening essay frames the conversation accordingly, highlighting the various couplings and methodological approaches on display, while articulating the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa.
Troubling race, ethnicity, and masculinity in Beowulf
Sometimes we find the deepest intimacy not in sex, friendship, communal joy, or grief, but in shared anxiety. Drawing on a constellation of scholars of gender, Critical Race theory, and indigenous studies, this essay pursues an emotional archaeology by tracing anxieties around masculinity, ethnicity, and race that found their expression in Beowulf. Re-examining well-known scenes in Beowulf in dialogue with a variety of sources including The Laws of Ine, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Exeter Book Riddles, and Guthlac A, the essay argues that such anxieties – and the poem’s anticipation of such anxieties in its audiences – register the ways that the Welsh and the Danes are gendered and racialized in early medieval English literature. Demonstrating the importance of this intersectional focus and re-emphasizing Geraldine Heng’s arguments for the need to use the term ‘race’ in discussions of medieval literature, the essay argues that Grendel and his mother may have functioned as a focus for anxieties about Welsh indigeneity as well as Danish invasions.
Beowulf casts a long shadow over the extant Old English corpus, and the heroic verse through which we view the poem obscures a broader perspective on homosociality in early medieval Germanic cultures. Although Beowulf tells Hrothgar that it is better to avenge a friend than to mourn too much, the poem is full of mourning men, including Beowulf and Hrothgar themselves. This chapter rereads Beowulf with a focus on grief, masculinity, and the many sad men who grieve within the text: for example, when Hrothgar mourns for Æschere and bids Beowulf farewell, when Beowulf imagines a grieving father before his own death, and at each of the four funerals in the poem, especially that of the hero himself. The chapter then concludes that our obsession with emotional repression is an artefact of Victorian medievalism, rather than a reflection of early English heroic culture or masculinity, which privileged empathy. In this, Norris brings insights from Critical Race theory, especially from the work of Richard Delgado, to bear on the poem.
Old English literature does not share the humanist narcissism that denies animals access to symbolic language. In Beowulf, Wiglaf’s messenger to the Geats comes close to translating avian speech in his conclusion to a harrowing series of predictions: ‘se wonna hrefn / … / earne secgan, hu him æt æte speow, / þenden he wið wulf wæl reafode’ (the dark raven … will tell the eagle how he surpassed him in eating, when he with the wolf laid waste to the slain) (3024–7). This boast is the only Old English ‘conversation’ among the beasts of battle, and only its outline reaches human ears, at the triple remove of space, time, and voice. Its explicit content eludes the messenger’s human audience, and its oscillating valences have vexed modern translators. This chapter examines the forms of interspecies connection that inhere in this shrouded moment, arguing that such intimacies – trafficking in the symbolic, never fully translatable to the human – can open up new ecocritical encounters with Beowulf and contribute to larger discourses of ecocriticism.
An Excerpt from Bill V. Mullen’s New Biography, James
Baldwin: Living in Fire, and an Interview with the
Bill V. Mullen
This excerpt from James Baldwin: Living in Fire details a key
juncture in Baldwin’s life, 1957–59, when he was transformed by a
visit to the South to write about the civil rights movement while grappling with
the meaning of the Algerian Revolution. The excerpt shows Baldwin understanding
black and Arab liberation struggles as simultaneous and parallel moments in the
rise of Third World, anti-colonial and anti-racist U.S. politics. It also shows
Baldwin’s emotional and psychological vulnerability to repressive state
violence experienced by black and Arab citizens in the U.S., France, and
This essay establishes a philosophical connection between James Baldwin and the
philosopher William James by investigating how the pragmatist protocol against
“vicious intellectualism” offers Baldwin a key resource for
thinking through how anti-black racism might be dismantled. While Richard Wright
had earlier denounced pragmatism for privileging experience over knowledge, and
thereby offering the black subject no means for redressing America’s
constitutive hierarchies, uncovering the current of Jamesian thought that runs
through Baldwin’s essays brings into view his attempt to move beyond
epistemology as the primary framework for inaugurating a future unburdened by
the problem of the color line. Although Baldwin indicts contemporaneous
arrangements of knowledge for producing the most dehumanizing forms of racism,
he does not simply attempt to rewrite the enervating meanings to which black
subjects are given. Articulating a pragmatist sensibility at various stages of
his career, Baldwin repeatedly suggests that the imagining and creation of a
better world is predicated upon rethinking the normative value accorded to
knowledge in the practice of politics. The provocative challenge that Baldwin
issues for his reader is to cease the well-established privileging of knowledge,
and to instead stage the struggle for freedom within an aesthetic, rather than
Recounting a celebration at ASA 2018, reflecting on the twenty-year anniversary
of the publication of the edited collection James Baldwin Now,
celebrating the early success of this journal, and canvassing the renaissance in
interest in James Baldwin, Dwight A. McBride introduces the fifth volume of
James Baldwin Review.
A Session at the 2019 Modern Language Association Convention
Robert Jackson, Sharon P. Holland, and Shawn Salvant
“Interventions” was the organizing term for the presentations of
three Baldwin scholars at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago
in January of 2019. Baldwin’s travels and activities in spaces not
traditionally associated with him, including the U.S. South and West, represent
interventions of a quite literal type, while his aesthetic and critical
encounters with these and other cultures, including twenty-first-century
contexts of racial, and racist, affect—as in the case of Raoul
Peck’s 2016 film I Am Not Your Negro—provide
opportunities to reconsider his work as it contributes to new thinking about
race, space, property, citizenship, and aesthetics.
In this essay, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. addresses the historical and contemporary
failures of American democracy. Using the metaphor of “the
magician’s serpent,” Glaude brings Walt Whitman’s views on
democracy into the full light of America’s failure to resolve the problem
of race. Glaude places Whitman’s Democratic Vistas
(1871) in conversation with James Baldwin’s No Name in the
Street (1972) in order to construct a different sort of reading
practice that can both engage with Whitman’s views on democracy and
reckon with what George Hutchinson calls Whitman’s “white
imperialist self and ideology” as an indication of the limits of a
certain radical democratic imagining.