International Congress of Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, May 12-15, 2011
Sponsored by Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary (glossator.org)
“Every person is free to pursue thought and experiences, however sublime and exquisite, that are his by special insight, on the meaning of the Bridegroom’s ointments.” (Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Song of Songs)
“Taste and see (Psalm 34:8). Taste refers to the affectus of love; see refers to the intellect’s cogitation and mediation. Therefore one ought first to surge up in the movement of love before intellectually pondering . . . For this is the general rule in mystical theology: one ought to have practice before theory.” (Hugh of Balma, The Roads to Zion Mourn)
“[I]f anyone wishes to judge a woman justly, let him look at her when her natural beauty alone attends her, unaccompanied by any accidental adornment; so it will be with this commentary, in which the smoothness of the flow of its syllables, the appropriateness of its constructions, and the sweet discourses that it makes will be seen, which anyone upon careful consideration will find full of the sweetest and most exquisite beauty. . . . all the causes that engender and increase friendship have joined together in this friendship, from which we must conclude that not simply love but most perfect love is what I ought to have, and do have, for it. . . . This commentary shall be that bread made with barley by which thousands shall be satiated, and my baskets shall be full to overflowing with it” (Dante, Convivio)
The exegetical orientation of medieval commentary finds special expression in textual traditions centered on love. As indicated by the samplings above, the most conspicuous of these are: commentaries on the Song of Songs, affective Dionysian mysticism, and the erotic lyric commentary tradition inaugurated by Dante (a form with precedent in Arabic literature, e.g. Ibn Arabi’s auto-commentarial Tarjuman al-ashwaq [The Interpreter of Desires]). These contexts involve significant forms of intersection and rapprochement between commentary and love, realizing in new and diverse ways Augustine’s insistence on hermeneutics as a ‘building up’ of love: “Whoever . . . thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build [aedificet] the double love of God and our neighbor does understand it at all” (De doctrina christiana). This session aims to explore medieval instances of significant relation between commentary and love, both in and of themselves and in connection to living questions about the amorous potentialities of commentary in the present age. Possible topics include: the erotics of commentary, commentary as appropriation and/or gift, commentary and contemplation, aesthetics of commetary, critical desire, etc. Presentations that take commentarial form, that follow Hugh’s advice to put ‘practice before theory’, that are in love, are encouraged. Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to Nicola Masciandaro (email@example.com) by August 31th. The roundtable will consist of 5 or 6 presentations of 10-12 minutes each.