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Medieval scholar to discuss ‘Green Man’ during Holloway lecture

Carolyn Dinshaw
October 30, 2013

New York University professor Carolyn Dinshaw presents the Holloway lecture, "It's Not Easy Being Green: Medieval Foliate Heads and Queer Worldmaking," at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in McDaniel Lounge.

In her lecture, which is free and open to the public, Dinshaw uses the figure of the foliate head – a head sprouting leaves or vegetation found throughout medieval culture from architecture to literature – as a point of departure for her exploration of human/non-human relations, queerness and queer subcultures, Timothy Morton’s “the ecological thought,” and what medieval literature can tell us about it all. She will help us understand the cultural significance of the figure and possible motivations behind it, including its representation of alternative realities and non-normative or queer ways of being.

A professor of English and Social and Cultural Analysis and acclaimed medieval scholar, Dinshaw’s current research engages ecocritical and environmental social justice materials in a study of this eerie mixture of man and vegetable, known since the early 20th century as the Green Man.

A pioneer in using modern theoretical models – from psychoanalysis, semiotics, feminist critique, and more recently queer theory – to open up new and productive readings of medieval literature and culture, Dinshaw’s talk is truly in the spirit of liberal arts education, according to McDaniel’s medieval scholar, English professor Corey Wronski-Mayersak.

“Dinshaw will exemplify a philosophical inquiry only manageable by drawing on multiple fields and approaches to knowledge, using them to ask critical questions about culture, and all with a keen awareness of how one is thinking and employing analytical modes,” said Wronski-Mayersak, who has developed new courses on medieval literature in keeping with the department’s revitalization of its curriculum in early literature.

Dinshaw’s 1989 book, “Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics,” has become a standard in medieval studies and shifted the way that Chaucer’s writing about gender has been understood and taught, paving the way for later queer readings of his texts. Her most recent book, “How Soon is Now? Problems of the Present, Medieval and Modern,” she looks directly at the experience of time itself, as it is represented in medieval works and as it is experienced in readers of those works.

She has taught "Ecological Approaches to Medieval Literature," in which medieval texts (especially those featuring a figure of Nature) are studied in relation to theoretical materials. In graduate courses such as “Time and Temporality in Medieval Literature,” she has explored expanded notions of history and time. Her work in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (where she is jointly appointed with the English Department) has provided a rich context in which to develop these ideas theoretically and cross culturally. Dinshaw has an A.B. from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from Princeton.

The annual Holloway Lecture is named for Fred G. Holloway, the college’s fourth president. A graduate of the class of 1919, he went on to earn a divinity degree from Drew University and was ordained by the Methodist Protestant church in 1921. He served in Delaware, Virginia and Maryland, before he became a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1927. He became an administrator at the Seminary, and, after a short time, president of the college.

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