’s idea of distinctive qualities for each of the cerebral cavities was a new concept which represented a significant elaboration on the basic theory of ventricular localisation’. 51 This is important because, yet again, it nudged toward a kind of materialism, placing psychological functioning within the physiological principles of the time. William’s innovative statement was that all the nerves in the human body originated from the cerebral membranes, which is why he called these latter ‘mothers’. The schema was further refined by associating the origin of the nerves
reward the application of ideas derived from studies of emotions, cognition, and humour from other disciplines.
And yet, for all that the riddles lend insights into human lives, their focus most often is on the ostensibly nonhuman. Thus, the riddles provide excellent opportunities for critical readings that are engaged in the work of breaking down binaries and hierarchies between humans and the world around them. Many of the riddles describe objects or natural phenomena, and so are open to thing theory and new materialism where other types of text may resist
‘Thing Theory’ (2001) and his book A Sense of Things (2003), Bill
Brown developed a more nuanced definition of ‘thingness’ as that
which is excessive in objects, beyond their mere materialisation
or utilisation.4 Brown seeks at once to problematise and promote
the task of connecting ‘things’ with ‘theory’. The form of criticism he sets out moves previous work on materialism forward by
drawing on a Heideggerian account of the way in which humans
share agency with their tools and by borrowing from Heidegger
a distinction between objects and things.5 Brown claims that we
’ in Reassembling
the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005). See also Lowell Duckert, ‘Speaking Stones,
John Muir, and a Slower (Non)Humanities’, in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
(ed.), Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects (Washington,
DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2012), pp. 273–9.
4 Coole and Frost, New Materialisms, p. 6.
5 For an accessible overview of Anglo-Saxon science, see R. M. Liuzza,
‘In Measure, and Number, and Weight: Writing Science’, in Clare A.
Lees (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Medieval
in dialogue with new theoretical perspectives drawn from the fields of animal studies by scholars such as Alphonso Lingis and Karl Steel and new materialisms in the work of Jane Bennett in order to argue for the importance of understanding the leech not simply as a poem but as an animal body acting both in concert with and against the rhetorical ornament of the poem.
While the riddle of the sanguisuga has been little noticed in literary analyses, it holds an important place in the history of medicine. M. L. Cameron observes that, ‘[a]part from a few fragments
work focuses on the modern age, the early medieval Exeter Book riddles provide the perfect field for these kinds of discussion and can deepen our understanding of nonhuman agency and ontology.
Just as the Old English riddles range from tiny insects to astronomical bodies, recent studies in thing theory, object-oriented ontology, and other strands of new materialism have turned their attention to issues of scale. For example, Levi R. Bryant’s concept of onticology proposes a horizontal or ‘flat’ ontology where objects of all sorts and at different scales equally
The Far East and the limits of representation in the theatre, 1621–2002
Materialism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985 ), pp. 48–71) and by Francis
Barker and Peter Hulme (‘“Nymphs and Reapers Heavily
Vanish”: the discursive con-texts of The
Tempest ’, in John Drakakis (ed.), Alternative
Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985 ), pp. 191–205) prompted a long series of
‘colonial’ readings of the play, which gradually
þing in relation to ‘thing theory’, see Paz, Nonhuman Voices , pp. 7–13.
23 For a discussion of the materiality of phenomena in Exeter Book riddles, see e.g. Daniel Tiffany, ‘Lyric Substance: On Riddles, Materialism, and Poetic Obscurity’, Critical Inquiry , 28 (2001), 72–98. See also Chris Tilley, ‘Metaphor, Materiality and Interpretation’, in The Material Culture Reader , ed. Victor Buchli (Oxford: Berg, 2002), pp. 23–6, at p. 24.
24 I have discussed the role of the everyday experience in the meaningmaking processes elsewhere. See Pirkko A. Koppinen
readers and scribes than they do about the text of the Canterbury
Tales. But it’s not clear that this is how scribes and fifteenthcentury readers of the tales thought. What Daniel Wakelin has
suggested about another scribe is relevant here: ‘he is not seeking
an authorial original, nor any historical reconstruction of the text at
one point in its transmission. … his corrections seem to express not
a textual idealism necessarily but a rejection of materialism, or to
be specific, of the material forms of the text he inherits’.26 Medieval