Keynote Lecture – ‘Reading Beowulf in the Ruins of Grozny’ By Eileen Joy

29 10 2009

Joy PolaroidSpeaker: Professor Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)

Full title: Reading Beowulf in the Ruins of Grozny: Pre/modern, Post/human, and the Question of Being-Together

Discipline: Literature



Our special thanks go to Eddie Van Wessel for generously allowing us to include his breathtaking photography of Grozny in this video. All of these images belong to ©Eddy van Wessel Photography: any publication only after his explicit permission.

Creative Commons IconThre rest of this video is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license



4 responses

29 10 2009

There was a lot going on in this keynote and it would be good to have some of the links within it unpicked in a little more length. I stayed with it completely until the end of the section on ruin (the scene of the Jewish cemetery) and then did not quite follow the connections made after that.* About three papers packed into one short delivery?

But I think the main point is that it is admirable to (re-)focus on the human condition and the role that ALL the humanities can play in contributing to our understanding of its future. it would be good to hear a bit more about how a reading of Beowolf contributes to all this. Bravo!!!

* understanding not aided by low quality reception of the video (quite probably my equipment problem) – low volume, and ragged streaming of audio.

29 10 2009

Ok I have found the transcript – and am having a second go at this. Sorry if my reading is so laboured.

The ruins of Grozny are a past and very human disaster, but recent moves away from humanist discourse (to posthuman discovery) prevent us from understanding this threat that we humans pose to ourselves, and so we both need to reconsider how this search for the posthuman is a very historically rooted aspect of the human condition itself (Cohen et al) and rediscover love (and the humanities are good for that).

That is really moving. Thanks so much for providing the transcript. Are you going so far as to say that the idea of the posthuman is used to distract attention from our own moral responsibility for ourselves? This seems quite a theological and scriptural (if also humanist) argument.

29 10 2009
Eileen Joy

Dear S:

thank you so much for your comments here, which I really appreciate–also, for the fact that you took the time to read the transcript of the talk as well. On one level, you have certainly found me out: I *am* somewhat of a closet humanist, while at the same time, I do think there is some real value in many post-humanist discourses, in contemporary as well as in medieval studies [in the humanities *and* the sciences], because it shows us how limiting many definitions of the human have been, historically, as well as inaccurate, oppressive, etc., while at the same time, these discourses point us in some fruitful directions for re-conceptualizing the human as something pluralistic, open-ended, multi-formed, always in transit/motion between different “shapes.” etc. Nevertheless, as Roy Baumeister’s keynote address at this conference has shown, there is a high level of “specialness” to the human species that needs to be taken into account [all the ways in which we have developed “culture” to certain high levels], and this brings with it, I really believe, certain ethical responsibilities, but if we continue to frame these ethical responsibilities as inhering in human-to-human relationships only [and where, furthermore, the “human” is only defined in conventional, traditional terms], then our ethics will not be capacious or worldly enough. And at the same time, whether we talk of human or post-human rights, there are so many catastrophes all around us, that our ethical attention is literally overwhelmed, and at a time when many cultural differences are so sharply and antagonistically delineated across the globe. This is why I would also like to see a really vigorous interdisciplinary set of approaches to and studies of love as a mode of being in the world that allows that world maximum openness as regards its temporal. cultural, human, nonhuman, and other dispositions. Love then, also, as a mode of “letting be” and “making possible.” My vision is ultimately secular, but yes, also humanist [in that I see the human as an important agent in the transformation of selves and world, and because I also believe a life dedicated to the pursuit of humanistic letters has some force in how “things turn out”].

29 10 2009
Susan Morrison

Eileen, Thank you for this moving talk. In response to my talk on Waste Studies posted last week, you suggested I look at Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s article “The Child in the Broom Closet: States of Killing and Letting Die” [South Atlantic Quarterly 107:3 (2008): 509-530]. I read it only this morning before reading your address and I couldn’t help thinking of how the two approaches seem cognate. Povinelli (as I understand her) is against reading present suffering as worthwhile for some future “redemption”; in other words, it is unethical to justify/tolerate someone’s present misery for some future end. We should not see things in terms of a “redemptive” future (you suffer now but it will all be for the best). We must see everything synchronically rather than diachronically. We need to recognize that my happiness exists at the same time as/as a result of your unhappiness. And we need to ask if that then makes my happiness worth it? Povinelli argues that people are attracted to more spectacular and “sublime” events/deaths rather than cruddy decay and that we need to look at less spectacular “events” of killing and dying. Yet, as you point out, the destruction of Grozny, a spectacular “event” (over years) has hardly drawn general outrage or attention. It seems as though our voracious desire for economic growth made us (I’m implicating all of us, I suppose) ignore the suffering happening around us until our economy (and others’) burst last year.

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