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CFP: Defenestrating Frantzen: A Fistschrift

Published onJan 08, 2020
CFP: Defenestrating Frantzen: A Fistschrift

NOTE (added Jan 11, 2020): This CFP, like any punctum books pub, is open for annotation. After signing up for a PubPub account (upper right corner), select any text and an annotation window will appear. These annotations will represent a collective way of facing, working through, and hopefully repairing the kind of trauma that the field of early medieval studies has caused for so many years, and which this CFP has also triggered in our community of scholars and learners for whom we care deeply and with whom we want to model a better, more inclusive, and more generously capacious academic community-to-come. We want to model, further, a feminist critical practice in which the sorts of “argumentation” so prevalent in toxic masculine culture will not predominate. Eileen Joy, who wrote the CFP, will not “disappear” any of her words, and will be attentive, without interruption or pushback, to all annotations. No one at punctum will intervene to control, censor, or argue with any of the annotators. In the tradition of the medieval book, all annotations, along with the CFP, will stand as a public record of an academic community’s productively rowdy dissensus, and the page will be archived into perpetuity with no revisions whatsoever to anyone’s words: a cacophony, if you will, of a field in crisis, but in which everyone strives to really hear and respect each other’s feelings, experiences, trauma, and intellectual practices. The annotated page will become part of the permanent archive of punctum, always available for the scholars of the future, as opposed to disappearing into the ether of ephemeral social media owned by those who do not share our values nor care for us.

TRIGGER WARNING: Great care has been taken to remove language that some readers may find triggering (especially vis-à-vis metaphors of sexual assault); but please also be forewarned that this CFP has been designed to be as offensive as possible, and that I welcome all of the blame and repercussions that might result. To those who worry that parts of this CFP simply reinscribe forms of sexual violence against queers (and thanks to the generosity of more than several scholars, including a graduate student at Cambridge University, who reviewed the CFP and alerted me to how some of the language in original draft might be overly triggering, this CFP has been revised multiple times), please consider the very real sexual and other forms of material-psychic assault and abuse that have been perpetrated, for decades, by some of the most celebrated and “distinguished” scholars of the field of Old English+“Anglo-Saxon” studies, and the ways in which these fields have labored mightily to keep these facts “on the downlow.” I myself am one of the victims, as well as know and have counseled so many others who have also been victims of both sexual and psychic abuse within these fields. Please do not read this CFP, also, if you are triggered by images and/or language culled from the online world of neofascist, white supremacist ethno-separatists. This is my CFP, mine alone (although my co-directors at punctum books strongly support this project and how it is framed), and comes from a place of deep anger and rage, as well as a conviction that some of us—well, at least me—are not going to take this anymore. It is clear to me, after working as a scholar, editor, and publisher in these fields for about 25 years, that there will never be redress or repair for the bodily and psychic damage that has been inflicted on so many students and peer colleagues by so many of the most distinguished scholars, institutions of higher learning, and also learned societies, who care more about maintaining their image than they do about addressing and preventing harm. I have no interest at this point in professional politesse or diplomatic decorum, so read this at your peril, or conversely, enJOY/enjoin it.1

Jack Donovan, Waldgang, Oregon.


A volume of sexually-disciplinarily dissident essays to be published by punctum books in Autumn 2020, dedicated to the patrons and fearless sexual adventurers of the Catacombs in San Francisco, 1975–1981, and also to Janet Thormann (1940-2014) whom the field of Old English studies never gave proper due, while some in the field even stole and/or omitted her work on anti-Semitism in Old English literature, and she is the only scholar I knew of in the field who gave masterful Lacanian readings of Old English texts. She studied in the 1950s-60s at UC Berkeley with Alain Renoir, who founded the department of Comparative Literature there in 1966, and she taught at the College of Marin for her entire career, because she never wanted to leave San Francisco, where her husband, Graham Makintosh, ran White Rabbit Press, one of the most important avant-garde presses in American letters from 1968 to 1975, publishing such authors as Charles Bukowski and Nathaniel West, but even more importantly the “Berkeley Renaissance” circle of poets who were deeply invested in medieval poetry (such as “Beowulf”): Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer. Because Janet taught at a community college, and never produced a monograph, her presence has almost been erased from the canon of scholarship in Old English studies and almost no one cites her work, which was brilliant. She was one of the first (and practically only) scholar to tackle anti-Semitism in early medieval English texts, and when she brought up the subject of anti-Semitism in religious writings of the 10th century during an NEH Summer Institute on “Anglo-Saxon England” at Trinity College, Cambridge, led by Paul Szarmach in 2004 (which is where I first met her), she was told it was a completely irrelevant subject since “there were no Jews” living in England prior to the Norman Conquest, and thus we were to cease all discussion on the topic (in 2004!). She told me often that she believed her scholarship (published primarily as journal articles and book chapters) was being ignored and also plagiarized and she suffered no so small amount of psychic pain as a result. She was one of the first (and practically) only scholar in the field (other than John Hermann, whom the field also treated like shit) to fully address the period’s anti-Semitism in real depth (prior to the publication in 2004 of Andrew Scheil’s The Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England), a fact for which she pretty much never gets the credit she deserves.2 In short, the field treats its Others like complete trash, and it always has. punctum books will be publishing Janet’s posthumous monograph on the “comic medievalism” of Chaucer in 2020.

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

~ Audre Lorde

Je m’imaginais arriver dans le dos d’un auteur, et lui faire un enfant, qui serait le sien et qui serait pourtant monstreux. [I imagined myself approaching an author from behind and giving him a child which would indeed be his but would nonetheless be monstrous.]

~ Gilles Deleuze

The year 2020 will mark the 30-year anniversary of Allen J. Frantzen’s Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English, and Teaching the Tradition (1990), a book in which he cautioned scholars in Old English studies that if they continued to resist the insights of contemporary critical and cultural theories, they would risk irrelevance in the modern university. Now seems an apt time to keep Frantzen himself as relevant as possible, so that we can finally excavate and bring to light the traces of the homophobia, misogyny, and racism that inform so much of his work, as well as better reveal Frantzen’s ongoing (and lamentably hateful) nostalgia for a supposedly “lost world” of heroic (white) masculine culture in which women, effeminate fags, bull-dykes, drag queens,3 and other sexual dissidents need not apply, nor “figure.” The conjoined fields of Old English and “Anglo-Saxon”4 studies have worked mightily over the past thirty years (and more) to deny the essentially racist, homophobic, sexist, settler-colonialist, and white nationalist foundations of their fields of knowledge, and they have given Frantzen the lion’s share of all of their citations in their work on gender, sexuality, and the intellectual origins of early English studies, and with very little exploration of the deeper foundations of Frantzen’s own thought, even though he was pretty transparent in pretty much of all of his publications in showing his “hand.” So, for example, at the outset of Desire for Origins he wrote something that appears to admirably take up the cause of embracing critical theory in the field of Old English studies:

engagement with political controversy has always been a distinctive and indeed an essential motive for studying language origins and therefore for studying Anglo-Saxon. The corollary to my thesis is that disengagement from politics and an attempt to justify the study of linguistic origins for their own sake are innovations in the modern Anglo-Saxon scholarly tradition; these developments, I believe, explain why Anglo-Saxon subjects have failed to retain a place in the mainstream of modern intellectual and political life.5

At the same time, and in the same volume, Frantzen “outs” himself as a “traditionalist” and even disses the “left-leaning orthodoxy” that weakened the potentially valuable scholarship of Edward Said, for example, evidenced by “Said’s embarrassing willingness to oblige any aspect of the Palestinian cause, a prominent feature of his cultural criticism.” Frantzen also takes multiple digs at feminist and Marxist critique, and even praises Lynne W. Cheney, head of the National Endowment of the Humanities at the time of this book’s publication (1990). Cheney argued continuously in her position as head of the NEH that the humanities had become a refuge for “gloomy, politically-driven, blame-the-West-first revisionism” that derides and scorns “the best that is known and thought in the world.”6 She also presided over, and urged, a series of Congressional attempts to decimate the budget of the NEH, which were ultimately successful in 1996 when the agency’s budget was cut by 36%, from a high of $172 million to roughly $110 million. Even with the changes in administrations over the past 20+ years, the agency has still not fully recovered.7 For Frantzen, as for Cheney, and other white supremacist “traditionalist” scholars such as Allan Bloom (who we might recall fought against the inclusion of the work of Franz Fanon in the curriculum at Stanford), the “function of scholarship” is “celebrating, upholding, and continuing culture, rather than criticizing it.”8 If this was, and is, indeed Frantzen’s viewpoint, why is his work cited more than anyone else in these fields in scholarship on gender and sexuality (and only in a minority of cases, with negative critique, usually leveled by female-identified and queer scholars), even in the work of the earliest and mid-career scholars who should know (and read) better? Part of the problem, of course, is that no matter what anyone thought, and still thinks, of Frantzen’s work on gender and sexuality, he is almost uniformly praised for his supposedly erudite and deeply learned “historicism,” which is pretty much anything but. Scholars of “Old English” and “Anglo-Saxon” studies are thus either terrible close readers or complete cowards.

It should be noted that there has been important pushback (more and less subtle, and otherwise) against Frantzen’s work on gender and sexuality from feminist+queer scholars in Old English studies, such as Jane Chance, Mary Dockray-Miller, Sharon Farmer, Clare Lees, Gillian Overing, Carol Braun Pasternack (one of my own mentors, whose work in Old English studies is simply not cited enough), Helene Scheck, Diane Watt, and Lisa Weston, among others. Nevertheless, for reasons that continue to mystify me, their critiques have simply not had the effect of lessening the often neutral and/or approving citations of Frantzen’s work within the field, and we are still waiting for the scholar who would be willing to suggest that Frantzen and his work should essentially be thrown out the window, which is exactly what I propose with this volume of essays. The work of decolonialty is not about “diversifying” one’s syllabus or hiring “tokenized” scholars of color who are asked to do more work than anyone else to make students of color feel more “safe,” and the like: decolonial practice requires the actual dismantling of academic structures, including learned societies, such as the organization formerly known as the “International Society of Anglo-Saxonists” (see note 3 below), and entire academic units, such as the department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Trinity College, Cambridge, which has represented some of the most conservative work in the field, as well as the medieval studies program at Oxford University, the faculty of which have decided that harboring and celebrating one of the worst sexual predators in the field of Old English studies, Andy Orchard, is more important than actually listening to their students and colleagues who have been assaulted by him, and is more important than doing something definitive about it.

Jack Donovan and his local chapter of the Wolves of Vinland, Waldgang, Oregon.

The approach of “masculinities” studies is to emasculate men and empower women by undermining the masculine/feminine polarity to the extent that no hierarchy of masculine—no scale of what is more or less masculine behavior or physicality—is conceivable to males and females indoctrinated with this ideology. From this dubious and unconvincing perspective, there is no “more” or “less” masculine behavior. Anyone who calls anything they do “masculine” must be accepted as having “one of many masculinities”—from a woman on testosterone with a short haircut who seeks status and affirmation by claiming to be the first man to give birth,  to a mincing drag queen who claims that his “masculinity” is hierarchically equal to the masculinity of a combat veteran. There are strange and rare exceptions—like transsexual combat veterans—but the tendency to redefine words and general rules by the exceptions and outliers is itself a feminine-empathic characteristic.  The eternal polarities of masculine and feminine don’t need to be redefined by outliers and anomalies unless you live in constant fear of hurting someone’s feelings or failing to sufficiently affirm their delusions. The masculine mind is comfortable with treating exceptions as exceptions, because men are solar in nature and appreciate order. The feminine urge wants everything to be equal and the same as it hugs the world back into an amniotic void of comfort and darkness.

~ Jack Donovan, “The APA is a Feminist, Partisan Organization”

Before we defenestrate Frantzen, I think it is important to have as many scholars as possible, working together, to demonstrate the specious misogyny, homophobia, and racism of Frantzen’s oeuvre, which should be reason enough to de-canonize him. For example, the savvy reader of Frantzen’s work on gender, especially on masculinity, both in early medieval England and in our own time, will note immediately the resonances between Donovan’s thinking about the “eternal polarities” of the “masculine” and the “feminine” (see quotation above) and Frantzen’s own belief, supposedly evidenced (in his opinion) in early English texts, that gender studies work best “when it enables comparisons of men to men and women to women. Then gender can reveal information about men as men and women as women that conflicts between the sexes cannot reveal.”9

Let his work remain as a relic of a field whose structural misogyny, homo/transphobia, ableism, and racism literally made room for him, and even celebrated him while making jokes behind his back—more specifically, in the case of senior and well-respected male scholars, who were clearly discomfited by Frantzen’s homosexuality (I overhead many damning comments at conferences in the mid- to late 1990s that were breathtaking in their homophobia), while they also sought to praise his work, or at least his “historicism” more publicly.10 Indeed, one could argue that the reception of Frantzen’s work on gender and sexuality is both “weird” and “hollow.” This reception is “weird” in the sense that so much scholarship cites him without ever really engaging the problems of his scholarship, and especially his so-called “historicism,” for which he receives a lot of praise, even from female-identified scholars who are nevertheless also discomfited by his sexism as well his stances on contemporary queer theory, which he pretty much rejects as being too obsessed with sex and sex practices. And this reception history is also “hollow” because you will search long and wide to find his work cited by scholars working in later periods, such as early modern studies, or in contemporary queer studies, whereas queer medievalist scholars such as Glenn Burger, Bill Burgwinkle, Carolyn Dinshaw, Aranye Fradenburg, Simon Gaunt, Anna Klosowska, Steven Kruger, and Karma Lochrie, just to same some representative examples, have had a much wider impact on contemporary queer theory, such as in the work of Elizabeth Freeman and Heather Love.

Ultimately, Frantzen’s “historicism” is colored by his desire to see something in the past that will affirm for him what he wants to believe: that there is continuity between same-sex relations in the early Middle Ages and our own time, especially in what might be called homo-butch, gender-separatist, androphilic “circles,” whether a contemporary “men only” fight club, a Midwestern farm, a war front, or a “West Saxon” Männerbund. How “historical” is this? Isn’t his epistemology just basically fucked up? In addition, the homosociality & misogynistic jouissance of the field for which Frantzen speaks, but to which many straight men in the field felt he was not entitled to, seems to lead to a “return of the repressed” in all subsequent citations, which are almost like uncanny, machinic repetitions of a field whose head is so far up the ass of toxic masculine culture that it can’t see what the left from the right hand is doing.11

Did Frantzen “get away with it,” or did the centering of whiteness in our own scholarship, including my own, as well as certain careerist anxieties brought on by the overwhelmingly-Teutonically masculine, white (and rape-y) culture of the fields of Old English and “Anglo-Saxon” studies lead to a situation where we either could not see, or were not allowed to critique too strenuously, Frantzen’s not so hidden biases and bigotry? To be fair, some reviewers, typically female-identified and queer, made some valiant attempts, as stated above, but nothing dislodged Frantzen as a highly respected, and even feared, member of the not-so-polite “society” of “Anglo-Saxonists” (which is more like a wolves’ den than a tea party). There is no doubt in my mind that many of the more conservative (homophobic) “fathers” of our field were likely discomfited by Frantzen’s homosexuality and secretly wished he would be taken to task, critically, by others both within and outside of the field. But if Frantzen were not writing for these “fathers,” working so diligently, as he did in all of his scholarship, to claim the titles of both theoretical “innovator” and traditionally trained “historicist” for himself, while shoving to the outer margins anyone else in his field, or in queer studies more largely, working in similar territory, because of their supposedly polymorphously “erogenous” and “liberatory” ahistoricism (whether it was John Boswell, Lauren Berlant, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Aranye Fradenburg, Carla Freccero, Carolyn Dinshaw, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Terry Castle, etc.), while always claiming his own work had more historicist authority,12 then who was he writing for?

Jack Donovan, Master of His Own Destiny, Location Unknown.

I see all of this propaganda online telling me what is NOT OK, and how I am supposed to feel about strangers and other groups of people. If they get me to agree that I care about these strangers and their unhappiness, I’m supposed to accept responsibility for that unhappiness and do whatever I can to alleviate it….Some kid in Africa probably got his head sawed off with a butter knife while some chick named Shoshana experienced the nightmare of catcalling in New York City. No one cared, because they weren’t told to care. Given their perceivable social class and sex, the guys who were expressing their admiration for Shoshana have probably experienced far more brutality than being propositioned for sex. And no one cared when it happened. Shoshana is just the squeaky wheel who wants to be lubricated with your tears.

~ Jack Donovan, “I.Don’t.Care”

In his quest to invent a hard, heroic, asexualized, homo-butch masculinity, was Frantzen always perhaps on the Outside of “his” field, hiding in plain sight, or crouched, half visible, in the shades of his own scholarship? Perhaps the time for Frantzen’s truly dissident reader(s) is right now, from the fringes of anarchist-fascist, gender-separatist, white supremacist/racist organizations such as the Wolves of Vinland, one of the chief spokespersons for such, Jack Donovan, whom Frantzen deeply admires (more on which below), is wholly invested in the (self-invented) conjunctions between medieval works of literature such as the Poetic Edda and Beowulf, so-called “Germanic paganism,” and Waldgang, an “experimental, ritual space for men” that Donovan founded and built in the woods just outside of Portland, Oregon.13 As Slate reporter Donna Minkowicz explains, “Donovan embraces an idea the alt-right calls ‘pan-secessionism,’ under which, as Donovan says in his book A Sky without Eagles, ‘gangs’ of white men would form ‘autonomous zones’ for themselves and white women, where women ‘would not be permitted to rule or take part in […] political life.’ The gangs would enforce racial boundary lines, because, as Donovan puts it, whites have ‘radically different values [and] cultures’ than other people, and ‘loyalty requires preference. It requires discrimination’.”14 The name of Donovan’s compound was inspired by this passage from Ernst Jünger’s 1951 book, Der Waldgang (roughly translated as The Forest Passage):

A forest passage followed a banishment; through this action a man declared his will to self-affirmation from his own resources.15

We know that Frantzen reads and admires Donovan, but does Donovan even read Frantzen? In the absence of any answer to that question, let us be the “dissident” readers, and let’s give Frantzen the banishment and defenestration from the profession he deserves and (perhaps somewhat unconsciously) desires. Let’s give him a right spanking, served “straight up,” shaken and stirred, with a twist of the (defiant) fist, and then send him off to the “autonomous zone” of his own (spiritual, scholarly, and other) making. If he wants a boxer’s “kiss,” then we’ll give him one.16

It’s worth expanding a bit on how Frantzen’s writings, both in Old English studies and in “modern masculinity” studies, reveal that he counts himself among those homosexuals who reject effeminate gay men and also butch lesbians, and women in general (androphilia). As his spiritual hero, Jack Donovan puts it,

It has always seemed like some profoundly ironic cosmic joke to me that the culture of men who love men is a culture that deifies women and celebrates effeminacy. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the culture of men who are sexually fascinated by men actually idolized men and celebrated masculinity?”17

Indeed. In Frantzen’s more recent work on “modern masculinity,” it is worth noting that Donovan receives more approving citations than almost everyone else, except for one of the rock stars of the “Manosphere” Rollo Tomassi, who is a self-styled (and dubious-populist) “expert” (not) on “positive masculinity.” Tomassi’s website/weblog/book The Rational Male is an antifeminist, misogynist cesspit of techniques and tools for dismantling the supposed hegemony of “feminine hypergamy.”18 Thus I propose we give Frantzen, a scholar who has taken up boxing post-retirement (and whose hero Jack Donovan has famously said he wants to leave the world the same way he came in: “covered in someone else’s blood”), the defiant “fist” he deserves; after all, it’s so butch. We’re speaking here, of course, of the oeuvre, and not the man.

The eternal polarities of masculine and feminine don’t need to be redefined by outliers and anomalies unless you live in constant fear of hurting someone’s feelings or failing to sufficiently affirm their delusions. The masculine mind is comfortable with treating exceptions as exceptions, because men are solar in nature and appreciate order. The feminine urge wants everything to be equal and the same as it hugs the world back into an amniotic void of comfort and darkness. 

~ Jack Donovan, “The APA is a Feminist, Partisan Organization”

Defenestrating Frantzen is urgent critical work at this time in the Anglo-American university, not just in early medieval studies, but in English studies, and the Humanities more largely, where confronting, excavating, working through, and repairing the racial state-capitalist and settler-colonialist foundations of our knowledge disciplines and institutions of supposedly “higher” learning is a task (and dream) continually deferred, even as white scholars refuse to admit the ways in which they have benefited from and also work mightily to keep structural racism firmly in place, because otherwise they would have to acknowledge, work through, and repair the damage of their own complicity in structural racism. This is why Frantzen retains a singular and important position within the fields of Old English and “Anglo-Saxon” studies as an agent provocateur, both for his insistence that scholars are always “inventing” the past they think they are “discovering,” and thus the tools of both critical theory and cultural studies are necessary for excavating the political and other socially-embedded “origins” of the disciplines of Old English / English studies (Desire for Origins), and also for his supposedly groundbreaking work on gender and sexuality in early medieval England by way of his analysis of “Anglo-Saxon” laws and penitential manuals, with which he made the argument that the “closet” never existed for premodern queers, and did so with “evidence” that was supposedly “specific and straightforward rather than closeted and queer” (Before the Closet),19 as if that were a bad thing.

Sadly-tragically, or hysterically-laughably (take your pick), Frantzen offers the “shadow” and the “shade” as metaphorical substitutes for the “closet.” Both in the past and in our own time, this “shadow,” for queers (a term Frantzen eschewed as participating in an overly effeminized, de-masculated gay culture),

is more than a patch of darkness outlining a subject….A shadow is closely connected to the body whose shade it is, but it is also something else—something more—that belongs to the body but stands apart from it. Shadows shape our field of vision….I am quite happy with the shadow as a figure for same-sex love. Shadows cannot exist on their own, but nothing can be seen without them. Durable, adaptable, inescapable, they define. (p. 14)

As is well-known, Frantzen concluded this book with an admittedly bravely confessional Afterword,20 “Me and My Shadows,” that nevertheless serves as a cautionary tale for self-loathing, misogynist homosexuals whose investment in toxic forms of an overly binarized, “heroic” (white, northern European) masculine culture ends up relapsing into homophobia, misogyny, and racism.

No reviewer was more subtle in her faint praise and critique of this book,21 and these metaphors, than Susan M. Kim (a scholar whose brilliant theoretical work with Old English literature does not receive the attention it deserves). In her review of the book for Modern Philology in 2002, she sagely noted that Frantzen’s theoretical and personal investments in the “shadow” as a more historically fitting metonymy for gay life in the past and present devolved to a strained “naturalization of a metaphor for same-sex relations that was static “across time and culture,” and thus “bespeaks an investment in a continuity which is ahistorical, even nostalgic.”22 And what is Frantzen nostalgic for? He’s nostalgic for a world in which “men” fuck and fight with other “men” (and yet are decidedly not “gay” or “queer”) and women, fags, dykes, and drag queens (etc.) are relegated to the material and theoretical category of “not [never] enough.”23

This Call for Papers is ultimately for those who need it for reasons that are no one’s fucking business, and it is not for anyone who believes that professional decorum is more important than the truth, no matter how discomforting. This CFP is also for those who desire to hate with erudition, to burn the effigies of their idols with tapers lit by pages ripped from black-market bibliographies, and to cheer on the dying of the Wyte Light in the Western skies. This volume will be for those who understand, as Audre Lorde did, that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and that the personal will always be political.24 This CFP is for those who want, not to fuck with tradition, but to raise a defiant fist to/in it. And finally, this volume says to those who would argue that Frantzen’s “personal” beliefs and politics should not color our analysis or “appreciation” of his supposedly “neutral-historicist” knowledge of “Anglo-Saxon” history and culture: Fuck You.

I will serve as lead editor, but in addition to seeking contributors, I would also like to offer 1–2 co-editorships to anyone who might be fearless (or foolish) enough to do this with me, and to take responsibility (and all credit and/or blame) with me for the resulting publication. I am looking for contributions from scholars operating in the fields of “Anglo-Saxon” and Old English studies, medieval and early modern studies more largely, queer studies across disciplines and temporal periods, and anyone who feels called upon by this CFP to address the scholarship of Frantzen and the person behind it in light of his work’s thoroughly ahistorical “historicism,” misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and racism. Personal reflections are also welcome, if even anonymized, and there is no set word limit per potential contribution. Proposals and initial expression of interest are welcome until March 15, 2020 by email to [email protected].

This will be my last act as a Doctor of Philosophy within the fields of Old English and “Anglo-Saxon” studies (or, ASS, as Mary Rambaran-Olm put it so eloquently in her paper at the #RaceB4Race conference in Washington, DC this past September).25 Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei and I will nevertheless always continue to welcome and foster radical work in premodern studies at punctum books. So, let’s get “medieval” and affectively-critically dissident on Frantzen’s ASS (Anglo-Saxon studies) and in the spirit of the tea dances26 of the 1960s to 1980s, FISTschrift ’till it’s 2021.

DESTROY your Origins. CUCKOLD the Comitatus. ENJOY your Symptoms.

Cameron McNabb:

As the editor of the Medieval Disability Sourcebook: Western Europe, forthcoming from punctum, I categorically object to this CFP’s use of a rhetoric of violence and sexual assault. Such a use completely opposes the inclusive values disability studies seeks to foster and harms the very communities we seek to support.

Anna Waymack:

In that parts of the CFP remain framed around a premise of sexual violence, fisting “Frantzen’s ASS,” I would call for renewed attention to this epigraph. A problem specifically called out within the CFP is the field’s endemic practice of sexual harassment and violence, perpetrated by senior scholars including, allegedly, Frantzen. Meanwhile we remain mired in a practice of critical reading as penetration, whether we bring that approach to our primary texts or to other scholars’ writing. (Let us not forget the key medievalist journal Speculum, and the—unintentional?—implications for any reader or author with a vagina.) As is, the CFP suggests to several readers a volume in which we turn these very tools we object to against men whose use of such bodily or metaphorical penetration has done harm.

Akbari suggests, and I’d second, highlighting the excavation this volume proposes: critique as revisiting and remaking the field’s very foundations. I wonder what other modes of interaction we can bring to Frantzen’s body of work. A generous or recuperative reading seems a gross misapplication of those practices. But in line with excavation, are there possibilities of inverting, flipping, or appropriating his writing? Can we transmute portions to purposes he would reject, and show how they open possibilities of an inclusive field?

Suzanne Akbari:

The approach of ‘appropriating’ suggested by Waymack in the last lines of this comment sounds especially promising. ‘Appropriation’ is the theme of the January 2020 RaceB4Race conference (taking place later this week), so perhaps some ideas for reframing this opening will emerge there and be added to this doc.

+ 1 more...
Anna Waymack:

In the context of the original premise of fisting, the later references to “Frantzen’s ASS (Anglo-Saxon studies)”, and tweets such as the one linked here reading “not to fuck with tradition but to FIST it” alongside a gif of gloving a hand, the specificity of twisting one’s fist (not a martial move I know of) still reads in this location for several of us as nonconsensual, sexualized penetration.

Sjoerd Levelt:

annotation conveyed to me anonymously:


This “trigger warning” does several things, only one of which is identifying and warning of potential triggers: it further explicates that there is an earlier version of the text that contained language that was overly triggering, apparently containing descriptions of sexual violence against queers. It then proceeds to ask the reader to read this version in a particular light – i.e., justifies the text. So we have 1) trigger warning; 2) process story; 3) justification. The process story and justification undermine the trigger warning, in that they tell the reader that there is an underlying version of the text where sexual violence was indeed presented as an appropriate response to (or punishment for) Frantzen’s writing, metaphorically or no. It becomes impossible to read the ‘fist’ of ‘fistschrift’ as merely one that is raised.

Sjoerd Levelt:

annotation conveyed to me by Christine Irizarry:

If androphilia is at fault, how can Michel Foucault (named in the CFP) be called to testify for the prosecution? I don't recall him liking women in any sense of liking. Au contraire. Just curious.

Sjoerd Levelt:

annotation conveyed to me by Christine Irizarry:

The CFP invites all contributions, including anonymous contributions. Is this a thing now, erudite anonymous contributions? I guess it was for Descartes in 1637.

Sjoerd Levelt:

annotation conveyed to me by Christine Irizarry:

misspells Fanon's first name: it's Frantz, not Franz

Suzanne Akbari:

This seems to me the core of the CFP: the need to carry out an intellectual history of the field of “Anglo-Saxon” studies in order to unpack the settler-colonial foundations of that field and, in turn, its role in anchoring the discipline of English. How often have we seen departmental administrative committees think of their Old English colleagues as ‘holding down the fort,’ maintaining that special place where ‘serious’ work is done, carrying on the ‘tradition’ of ‘old-fashioned’ study of the history of the language? Don’t get me wrong: philology continues to be extremely important — and, at times, deeply transgressive — but those settler colonial foundations need to be excavated. Might it be worth foregrounding this aspect of the CFP? Right now it feels a bit buried, but it is actually vital, not least because of the way it exposes the role of Frantzen’s work (and the way it has been deployed within the field) in the context of structural racism.