Recounting the failures of the United States to adequately address the COVID-19
pandemic, reflecting on the parade of mendacity that has encapsulated the 45th
presidency, and interpreting Baldwin’s call to be responsible to our
children, Justin A. Joyce introduces the sixth volume of James Baldwin
This review article charts the general direction of scholarship in James Baldwin
studies between the years 2016 and 2017, reflecting on important scholarly
events and publications of the period and identifying notable trends in
criticism. Surveying the field as a whole, the most notable features are the
“political turn” that seeks to connect Baldwin’s social
insights from the past to the present, and the ongoing access to and interest in
the Baldwin archive. In addition to these larger trends, there is continued
interest in situating Baldwin in national, regional, and geographical contexts
as well as interest with how he grapples with and illuminates issues of gender
Artists, scholars, and popular media often describe James Baldwin as
revolutionary, either for his written work or for his role in the civil rights
movement. But what does it mean to be revolutionary? This article contends that
thoughtlessly calling James Baldwin revolutionary obscures and erases the
non-revolutionary strategies and approaches he employed in his contributions to
the civil rights movement and to race relations as a whole. Frequent use of
revolutionary as a synonym for “great” or
“important” creates an association suggesting that all good things
must be revolutionary, and that anything not revolutionary is insufficient,
effectively erasing an entire spectrum of social and political engagement from
view. Baldwin’s increasing relevance to our contemporary moment suggests
that his non-revolutionary tactics are just as important as the revolutionary
approaches employed by civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X or Martin Luther
How do we become spatially intimate with Beowulf? Where do we feel closest to this poem? This essay locates the essential space of Beowulf not in Beowulf’s indistinct Scandinavian homeland, nor under the bright lights of the ‘historical’ Heorot at Lejre in Denmark, but in the fens of East Anglia. Drawing on the author’s own experiences of living in or near the fens, this essay discusses how the poem’s first descriptions of Grendel conjure up a fenland that still rings true to East Anglians in the twenty-first century and how the fenland environment is essential to the poem’s ‘psychology of terror’. Turning to the perspective of indigeneity within the poem, the essay then argues that intimacy of this sort fosters, and is fostered by, a sense of Grendel and his mother as tragic protagonists rather than demonic antagonists, forced into acts of resistance by Hrothgar’s imperialist aggression. Comparing this process to the historical draining of the fens from the sixteenth century onwards, the essay considers the poem’s complex explorations of the nature of ‘home’ and the violence of ecocide.
Relationships change people. Intimate encounters with poems do too. This chapter considers Beowulf’s closest relation – in very literal terms – in literary history, the Old English poem Andreas. Dumitrescu argues that this other long Old English poem, sometimes maligned for what critics have characterized as heavy and clumsy borrowing from Beowulf, is ‘Beowulf’s most loving reader’. Revealing the entangled and reciprocal logics of intertextual intimacies, the chapter explores how Andreas’s borrowings of Beowulf’s style lead us to changed encounters with both poems. Indeed, literary influence does not always travel just in one direction; Beowulf, too, despite being senior in the couple, is transformed through Andreas’s imitation. Its pagans become monstrous. Andreas thus reveals the darker side of Beowulf: the blindness of heroes, the tenuous distinctions between monsters and men, and the deathly potential of history and its artefacts. Modern scholars have recognized these too, but Andreas, Beowulf’s first and most loving reader, saw them first.
This essay searches Beowulf for scenes of childbirth and infant caregiving, moving from the poem’s opening description of the orphaned Scyld Scefing to think about Beowulf’s own early childhood experiences. Drawing on Old English, Anglo-Latin, and Old Norse sources as well as contemporary feminist theorists of affect and the family, the essay explores a backdrop of early medieval abandoned children, which illuminates the intimate ties shared by both Scyld and Beowulf. Although Beowulf may seem unconcerned with childhood or parenting, ‘anecdotes of parent–child bonds populate all corners of the poem’, and ‘[f]ar from being ignored or rendered incidental, the domestic origins and early childhood events of these heroes create an organizing “pulse” for the adult activities of Scyld and Beowulf’. Moreover, the abandonment of Scyld and Beowulf can be repositioned as an act of complex care that manifests attachments beyond the immediate purview of one’s biological family and cultural community.
Beowulf has one big back story – the fall of the dynasty of Danish kings founded by Scyld – almost none of which is told ‘in’ the poem. The legends themselves are present in the poem chiefly as mysterious dark matter, sensed by the shadows they cast and by their gravitational pull. This chapter looks at the submerged narrative of the poem, beginning in its opening lines where we learn of the future destruction by fire of Heorot, Hrothgar’s newly erected hall, and of in-law trouble waiting impatiently in the wings. The chapter then looks at how (and why) the allusions in Beowulf to Scylding dynastic history are set out concentrically, in a loose ring-structure, an enveloping barrow of remembrances. As this study reveals, a shared sense of wit or style offers the spark for an intimate relationship, as the Beowulf poet entices with wryness and obliqueness, using seduction to turn audiences into accomplices and companions in making meaning, not whoopee. The real love affair in the poem is thus between the narrator and his auditor.
This essay unites meditations on the author’s background as a working-class, first-generation scholar with an appeal to get to know Beowulf’s unseen makers: its metalworkers, embroiderers, and craftspeople of all kinds. In dialogue with the place of skilled labour in William Morris’s socialism, the use of the word cræft in various Old English discourses, and more recent critical attention to craft, the essay analyses the concept of ‘craft’ as an illuminating rubric for getting intimate with the poem, even as the poem’s craftworkers – both anonymous and legendary, as in the case of Wayland – frequently prove elusive. Whereas printing and teaching Beowulf alongside images of Sutton Hoo overemphasizes the poem’s aristocratic material culture, this essay centres instead the poem’s skilled labourers in order to explore questions of class and classed knowledge that inhere within the poem’s silences and offer an account of Beowulf from the perspective of the craftworker rather than the hero.
This essay examines how Bryher’s novel Beowulf, a remarkable work of modernism written against the backdrop of the London Blitz, opens up questions of queerness and interpretations of the women of the Old English Beowulf. Rather than serving as eponymous hero, in Bryher’s novel Beowulf is reduced to a statue of an English bulldog. Developing the queer relation between the Old English poem and the modernist novel, Buchanan explores Bryher’s distinctive mode of intimacy and community in order to shape engagement with tradition and the place of women in a world that can be hostile to them. In the first half of the chapter, drawing on Elizabeth Freeman’s analysis of queer temporalities, this essay takes Bryher’s medievalism seriously in order to explore how the past may be used as a source of pleasure in constructing queer identity in a violent present of uncertain future. In the second, a reading of history as palimpsest in the poetry of Bryer’s sometime partner H.D. opens up a new interpretation of the women of the Old English Beowulf.