Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu 2016–2017

Alaric Hall

Medievalism and a Microstate

Medievalism in Icelandic Literature since 2007

Fimmtudaginn 6. apríl 2017 kl. 16.30
Odda 101

Alaric Hall

With the rise of populist right-wing politics in the West and beyond, the long-standing role of medievalism in white-supremacist thought is again in the spotlight. In Iceland, the role of the medieval in recent national discourses has partly conformed to these wider white-supremacist patterns, yet partly developed in distinctive directions—not least due to Icelandic writers responding to the 2008 financial crisis and to the growing fetishisation of Iceland as a tourist destination. Thus Icelandic literature of the last decade offers a useful case-study both of trends elsewhere and of the alternative political potentials of medievalist rhetoric.

Hopefully steering more towards profundity than banality, the paper will explore how Iceland has traditionally managed to be included in the West’s canonical Middle Ages despite in many ways fitting this temporal construction very poorly, while, for example, North Africa is traditionally excluded. It will ask what effects the globalisation (or perhaps ‘reworlding’) of Medieval Studies which is now underway may have, and what Iceland’s place in this process may be.

The paper will consider how recent writers have adapted medieval texts, arguing that their choices show how deeply constrained much current literary writing is in form, and how this limits novels’ potential to interrogate the realities which we inhabit. Yet it will also show how the Europeanising, post-nationalist, and postcolonial intellectual movements which have characterised academic medieval studies since the Second World War have been influential on Icelandic novellists’ handling of the Middle Ages. The paper will also touch on whether novellists’ handling of the Middle Ages suggests that the medieval can or should currently offer any useful potential for utopian political thought.

Alaric Hall is a senior lecturer in medieval literature at the University of Leeds. Recent work has focused on romance-sagas, the post-medieval copying of sagas, and medievalism in Icelandic literature about the 2008 financial crisis.

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