Speculatio - Medieval and Modern, Session at 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, May 12–15, 2016
Medievalists regularly deal with fragmented or partially recorded material evidence, e.g., in the case of a mosaic or a manuscript where some parts are still visible and others are lost and hard to reconstruct. The published results of our research often reassemble such fragmentary evidence and provide only the convincing, conclusive arguments. We rarely elaborate further on the dead ends, the ambivalence of the evidence and the gaps in our knowledge, like missing or lost written records from archives. Thus, speculation comes into play in multiple ways and occurs on several levels – we imagine what the missing pieces might have been, we try to consider lost connections between bits of “hard evidence,” we speculate about links among written, oral, visual, and material cultures and about networks in various parts of the medieval world. In doing so, our work often mirrors our own contemporary interests and agendas.
This panel takes the medieval connotations of “speculatio” (exploration, observation, spying out - contemplation, rethinking, speculation) seriously and brings light to the moments of decision-making in reading partial evidence, in interpreting ambivalence in the meaning of objects from the past, and in drawing conclusions from a scattered set of clues or contradictory materialities. The session highlights the recent rediscovery of the concept of speculation as it is articulated in the desire of “speculative realism” to produce a “wager on the possible returns from a renewed attention to reality itself” and to formulate a new program of discovery. Speakers will consider the relationship between such contemporary approaches and medieval notions of “speculatio” as a negotiation of the impossibility to know the absolute or the divine. Seen as a practice both of thought and of the production of artifacts, speculation can thus be seen a specific juncture where medieval culture (art, literature, sciences) and modern desires for and forms of understanding meet.
We would particularly like to encourage also speakers working from a non-Western perspective/part of the “medieval” world. Bringing together different disciplines and historiographies is one of the aims of our session.
Beate Fricke, University of California, Berkeley
Niklaus Largier, University of California, Berkeley