Wednesday, December 4, 2013
How Soon is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time by Carolyn Dinshaw
Amateurism is at the heart of Carolyn Dinshaw's How Soon is Now?, but it is the kind of book only a well-regarded professional could have published: part academic work, part personal essay, compelling but a little off-balance, with chapter titles taken from the discography of The Smiths. On its face it is a book about the Middle Ages, but often it's a book about books about the Middle Ages, and the cover illustration depicts Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle.
There is a queer way of experiencing time, Dinshaw argues, unregulated by the ticking-clock urgency of marriage and procreation. She describes queer time in a number of medieval texts in which "straight" subjects find their time disjointed, displaced, or transformed. The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, for example, abscond to a cave to escape Roman persecution of Christians only to wake up hundreds of years later in the Christian Empire.
There is something about medieval texts, Dinshaw contends, that makes them ripe for stories of queer time, especially as an attraction for amateur medievalists who, through their non-professional (and thus, in a way, queer) passion for the time period, are out of joint with their own era. Geoffrey Crayon, the narrator of Washington Irving's collection which contains the Rip van Winkle story is one of these, and as such is linked to Rip as a man out of time.
For each chapter, Dinshaw ends with a personal narrative connecting her own life experiences--her queerness and amateurism--to the observations she is making about medieval texts. I like the way that How Soon is Now? puts its subject matter into practice; skipping merrily across centuries and between the amateur and the professional spheres. But in the end, it seems somehow simultaneously overstuffed and half-finished, as the different threads that Dinshaw follows--time, queerness, amateurism, the Middle Ages--are never tied together in a satisfactory way. Perhaps that's a heteronormative thing for me to say.
Posted by Christopher at 1:46 PM