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Waste and the Wasters: Poetry and Ecosystemic Thought in Medieval England
by Eleanor Johnson
While the scale of today’s crisis is unprecedented, environmental catastrophe is nothing new. Waste and the Wasters studies the late Middle Ages, when a convergence of land contraction, soil depletion, climate change, pollution, and plague subsumed Western Europe. In a culture lacking formal scientific methods, the task of explaining and coming to grips with what was happening fell to medieval poets. The poems they wrote used the terms “waste” or “wasters” to anchor trenchant critiques of people’s unsustainable relationships with the world around them and with each other. In this book, Eleanor Johnson shows how poetry helped medieval people understand and navigate the ecosystemic crises—both material and spiritual—of their time.
About the Author
Eleanor Johnson is an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and specializes in late medieval English prose, poetry, and drama; medieval poetics and literary philosophy; law and literature in the Middle Ages; and vernacular theology. Her first book, Practicing Literary Theory in the Late Middle Ages: Ethics and the Mixed Form in Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Hoccleve, was published in 2013 (University of Chicago Press). Her second book, Dramatizing Contemplation: Participatory Theology in Middle English Prose, Verse, and Drama, was published in 2018 (University of Chicago Press). Her recent articles include "Feeling Time, Will, and Words: Vernacular Devotion in The Cloud of Unknowing (Journal for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 2011), "The Poetics of Waste" (PMLA, 2012), "Objects of the Law: the Cases of Dorigen and Virginia" (2015), an essay on Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale (JEGP, 2015), "Horrific Visions of the Host: (Exemplaria, 2015), and "Tragic Nihilism in the Canterbury Tales" (JMEMS 2018). Two collections of her poetry, The Dwell (Scrambler Books) and Her Many Feathered Bones (Achiote Press), were published in 2009 and 2010. She is also the Poetry Section editor at Public Books.
About the Speakers
Denise Cruz writes and teaches about gender and sexuality in national and transnational cultures in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She uses spatial and geographic frameworks (from the transpacific, to the regional, to the Global South) to examine previously unstudied archives (from the first works of English literature by Filipina and Filipino authors, to private papers that document connections between the Midwest and U. S. empire, to fashion shows in Manila). She contends that this combined analytical and archival approach extends our understanding of the importance of national, regional, transnational, and global dynamics in North America, the Philippines, and Asia.
Jack Halberstam is a Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University. Halberstam is the author of seven books including Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke University Press, 1995), Female Masculinity (Duke University Press, 1998), In A Queer Time and Place (NYU Press, 2005), The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press, 2011), Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012) and, a short book titled Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variance (University of California Press).
Brooke Holmes is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Classics at Princeton University. Her scholarly pursuits center on the history and philosophy of concepts, particularly focusing on the behavior of concepts surrounding the physical body, nature, and life within ancient Greek and Roman textual sources. Her research underscores the complexities these concepts pose in attempts to theorize subjects and forms of ethical and political agency.
Eliza Zingesser is an Associate Professor of French at Columbia University. She specializes in Medieval French and Occitan literature, music, and culture, with a focus on topics including multilingualism, language contact, and translation theory. Her research extends to gender, sexuality, and queer theory, as well as animal studies and voice and sound studies. Her current book project, "Lovebirds: Avian Erotic Entanglements in Medieval French and Occitan Literature," is about how birds perform actual work with respect to the erotic experience.