Impossible Pastimes: Playing With, In, and Through the Middle Ages
35th International Conference on Medievalism
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA, November 12-14, 2020
Play is one of the most significant sites of production in contemporary medievalism. As evidenced by the popularity and ubiquity of medieval-themed games, it is one of the primary ways through which the dominant, consensus view of the Middle Ages is reproduced as a political, historical, economic, and cultural reality in both mass culture and the popular imagination. Play, as such, functions to reify many of the most problematic aspects of traditional medievalism, including the persistent racial and gendered stereotypes that explicitly imagine the Middle Ages as a period of profound cultural crisis—a crucible of violence and want in which masculine white privilege was tested and emerged in its nascent, modern form to exercise sovereignty over the peoples and cultures that, despite their threat, were simultaneously shown to be inferior.
Yet by the same token, play inherently calls this vision of reality into question. As Johan Huizinga writes, play interpellates participants in a magic circle in which space and time are suspended—an imaginary situation that, according to Lev Vgotsky, is a manifestation of “desires and tendencies of what cannot be realized immediately.” Play, in this sense, is not an expression of what is but of what is denied. Facilitated through ritual and performance, it represents an attempt to make material and therefore real a fundamentally occult vision of what its participants want their worlds to be. Play, as such, inherently calls into question the veracity of its own productions. In the context of the medievalism of the contemporary moment, it foregrounds the fact that many of the problematic worldviews that are constructed as historical reality by contemporary medievalism are themselves fantasies.
What is more, play simultaneously recognizes that other fantasies are possible. In its ability to at once conjure and critique reality, it foregrounds the fact that there are always other ways of re-imagining ourselves and our circumstances via the Middle Ages or any number of other impossible sites of desire. Conceived as an experiment in playing with—which is to say, re-imagining the generative possibilities of the Middle Ages, the 2020 ISSM Conference seeks to interrogate the doubled potential of play as it is manifested not only in contemporary medieval-themed games, hobbies, and pastimes, but in any of the myriad ways that we play with the Middle Ages through art, scholarship, or other forms of critical inquiry and cultural production broadly defined.
Please send abstracts of c. 300 words for individual papers or entire sessions on medieval-themed games, hobbies, pastimes and all other kinds of medievalisms (which is to say, other forms of medievalesque play) by September 15, 2020 to Kevin Moberly (firstname.lastname@example.org). For the wide range of topics of interest to the study of medievalism, please visit the table of contents pages of Studies in Medievalism and The Year’s Work in Medievalism, and the reviews published in Medievally Speaking. More information about the 2020 ISSM conference can be found on our conference website.
This year’s conference will be hosted by Old Dominion University, located in Norfolk, Virginia. Out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, this year’s ISSM Conference will be held entirely online and virtually. Old Dominion University has a robust, well developed distance education infrastructure, which will allow us to hold sessions synchronously, asynchronously, or as a mixture of both formats.