Author: James Paz

Anglo-Saxon ‘things’ could talk. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book Riddles, telling us how they were made or how they behave. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood will come across a tree possessing the voice of a dreaming human in order to talk about its own history as a gallows and a rood. The Franks Casket is a box of bone that alludes to its former fate as a whale that swam aground onto the shingle, and the Ruthwell monument is a stone column that speaks as if it were living wood, or a wounded body.

This book uncovers the voice and agency that these nonhuman things have across Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture. It makes a new contribution to ‘thing theory’ and rethinks conventional divisions between animate human subjects and inanimate nonhuman objects in the early Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon writers and craftsmen describe artefacts and animals through riddling forms or enigmatic language, balancing an attempt to speak and listen to things with an understanding that these nonhumans often elude, defy and withdraw from us. The active role that things have in the early medieval world is also linked to the Germanic origins of the word, where a þing is a kind of assembly, with the ability to draw together other elements, creating assemblages in which human and nonhuman forces combine. Anglo-Saxon things teach us to rethink the concept of voice as a quality that is not simply imposed upon nonhumans but which inheres in their ways of existing and being in the world; they teach us to rethink the concept of agency as arising from within groupings of diverse elements, rather than always emerging from human actors alone.

Bert Ingelaere

-cultural universe, ubwenge is – locally and traditionally – considered to be a value. Ubwenge characterises the effectual truth at play in the gacaca assemblage. Communications – mostly accusations in the context of gacaca – depended to a great extent on their usefulness and were not necessarily aimed at serving justice. These communications were animated by a consequentialist ethics: what is true or just is that which has the most favourable outcomes in the given circumstances. Corruption, score-settling, the search for profit, blaming the dead and the absent, and

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practicality prevents it). This is the same foundational commitment that animates human rights work. The humanist core to both of these forms of social practice is a similar kind of belief in the ultimate priority of moral claims made by human beings as human beings rather than as possessors of any markers of identity or citizenship. What differences exist between humanitarianism and human rights are largely sociological – the contextual specifics of the evolution of two different forms of social activism. I have argued elsewhere, for example, that

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On Anglo-Saxon things
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divisions between ‘animate’ human subjects and ‘inanimate’ nonhuman objects. Throughout the course of the book, the Anglo-​Saxon thing will be shown to resist such categorisation. The active role that things have in the early medieval world can also be linked to the Germanic origins of the word, where a þing is a kind of assembly, with the ability to gather other elements –​material goods, bodies, words, ideas –​to it. It is in this way that a thing might be said to speak. By moulding meaning and matter together into a distinct whole, a cross, a casket, a book, a relic

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