On May 16, Tuesday, the Department of English Language and Literature will be hosting two lectures in G-160, at 2 pm and 4 pm.
2 pm: Katherine J. Anderson (UC Davis), “On Torture, Empire, and Victorian Domestic Fiction”
4 pm: Boyda Johnstone (Fordham University), “‘With minde of knowledge leke wakinge’: Dreaming as Resistance in Late-Medieval England”
“On Torture, Empire, and Victorian Domestic Fiction”: In the nineteenth century, Britons prided themselves on the progress supposedly ushered in by post-Enlightenment rationality and the age of liberalism, touting their liberal and humanitarian values. They rejected traditional torture’s spectacular medieval ritual of state control, in which a traitor who threatened the king or state was racked or drawn and quartered in order to send a clear message to other potential rebels: you will not triumph over the power of the state. Yet even as Victorians strained to define themselves as liberal by their very rejection of torture, it lurked in a surprising number of contexts within their cultural and political landscape, and continued to serve as an important form of state-sanctioned control. This talk argues that nineteenth-century British novelists draw from changing definitions of torture happening out in the Empire in order to call attention to torture happening in the domestic spaces of Britain itself. In both the Empire and in Britain, torture is a reaction to demands for the expansion of citizenship and human rights: on the one hand in relation to race, and on the other hand, in relation to gender. George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) and Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (1869) narrate structural similarities between official discourses of torture and domestic violence. These novels establish a distinct correlation between acts of domination during supposed states of emergency within the British Empire, and similar acts of domination during supposed states of emergency within the British home itself. By transferring the state’s rhetorics of sovereignty, emergency, and subsequent sanctioned violence onto individual husbands who committed acts of psychological torture against their rebellious wives, these Victorian novelists offered an implicit critique of state-sanctioned forms of terrorism and contributed to evolving definitions of torture, (British) citizenship, and human rights in the nineteenth century.
“‘With minde of knowledge leke wakinge’: Dreaming as Resistance in Late-Medieval England”: This talk will examine various ways medieval readers resisted institutional control through the realm of dreaming in the late Middle Ages, firstly as individual consumers of dream interpretation guides, and secondly as figured through literary dream visions which proffered new modes of engaging with patriarchal control. During a time when texts, treatises, sermons, and philosophical ideas were finding wider purchase amongst a broader readership than ever before, laypeople had increased access to interpretive guides that would allow them increased autonomy over the meaning and even future shape of their nightly visions. Creative dream poems, such as the anonymous fifteenth-century The Isle of Ladies, showcase a world of individual thriving within authoritarian repression, and can extend hope to fellow readers struggling within a system that disallows them a public voice. My talk will traverse philosophical and religious theories, manuscript evidence, and poetic dreams to demonstrate that the enigmatic world of slumber opened up modes of casting doubt upon established truths and carving out space for new individual and collective futures.