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Anglo-Saxon ‘things’ could talk. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book Riddles, telling us how they were made or how they behave. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood will come across a tree possessing the voice of a dreaming human in order to talk about its own history as a gallows and a rood. The Franks Casket is a box of bone that alludes to its former fate as a whale that swam aground onto the shingle, and the Ruthwell monument is a stone column that speaks as if it were living wood, or a wounded body.

This book uncovers the voice and agency that these nonhuman things have across Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture. It makes a new contribution to ‘thing theory’ and rethinks conventional divisions between animate human subjects and inanimate nonhuman objects in the early Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon writers and craftsmen describe artefacts and animals through riddling forms or enigmatic language, balancing an attempt to speak and listen to things with an understanding that these nonhumans often elude, defy and withdraw from us. The active role that things have in the early medieval world is also linked to the Germanic origins of the word, where a þing is a kind of assembly, with the ability to draw together other elements, creating assemblages in which human and nonhuman forces combine. Anglo-Saxon things teach us to rethink the concept of voice as a quality that is not simply imposed upon nonhumans but which inheres in their ways of existing and being in the world; they teach us to rethink the concept of agency as arising from within groupings of diverse elements, rather than always emerging from human actors alone.

Open Access (free)
On Anglo-Saxon things

afterwards, the twisted pattern of fate; that is a wondrous thing to speak.] (Exeter Book Riddle 39)2 Anglo-​Saxon things and theory Things could talk in Anglo-​Saxon literature and material culture. Many of these Anglo-​Saxon things are still with us today and are still talkative. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book riddles, telling us where they came from, how they were made, how they do or do not act. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-​person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood in

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture

‘creole elite’ who believed they would benefit from a shared, non-ethnic British cultural identity: all of these challenge the image of a British world made up exclusively of the British diaspora. 5 It is clear that empires have a much wider impact on material culture than an examination of exclusively white settler colonies would suggest. The ‘footprint’ of empire is often seen in the physical landscape as

in The cultural construction of the British world
Open Access (free)
Old things with new things to say

216 Afterword: Old things with new things to say This book has shown that things could talk in diverse ways in Anglo-​Saxon culture and the interpretations of literary and material artefacts presented in this study illustrate the validity of ‘thing theory’ as a critical focus for our understanding of this period. My aim has been to offer a model of how we can record, reflect on, amplify and interact with nonhuman voices without distorting them. Instead of looking through the early medieval things treated in this study, as if they are windows into a distant time

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture

acknowledge the flux and fluidity of things is to acknowledge that they endure over different temporalities to human beings, sometimes radically different timescales:  from the ever-​transforming raincloud to the gradual decay of a stone wall.4 As a literary form built upon metaphor, the riddle is perfectly placed to show how all things shift shape (from ice to water, fire to 60 60 Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture smoke, honey to mead, ox to leather, sheep to book, ore to gold) as time unfolds. In this chapter, I will listen to the voices

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture

, relics and other material things associated with the cult of St Cuthbert reshaped ‘universal’ Christianity within a distinctly Northumbrian environment in the seventh and early eighth centuries. St Cuthbert has been identified as a post-​Whitby figure of reconciliation, preserving the best of the ‘Celtic’ ascetic tradition while actively promoting a new order more in line with the European mainstream in Northumbria.1 In 140 140 Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture light of this view, I will consider how the saint –​both as text, in the

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture
Enigmas, agency and assemblage

permission to use the figure must be obtained from the copyright holder 100 100 Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture these as Christian or pagan, Roman or Germanic, and so have seen the artefact as either a hoard box or reliquary, belonging to a warlord or an ecclesiastical context, the thing itself resists being fixed in this way. That is, it does not allow us to impose our manmade categories onto it, but instead makes us rethink how we categorise ourselves. It resists human mastery through continuous movements:  back and forth

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture
Fragility, brokenness and failure

in any congregation or meshwork there is a ‘friction and violence between parts’ so that assemblages are ‘living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound them from within’.1 As such, when looking at how things are assembled in a poem like The Dream, we need to attend not only to the way in which the bits 176 176 Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture and pieces come together but to how they suffer wounding, damage, breakage, but then seek new encounters to creatively

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture
Unreadable things in Beowulf

them. Unreadable things can disrupt a longstanding human reliance upon legibility, altering the way we interpret that which has come before us. 36 36 Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture Killing the reader Readers of Beowulf do not really encounter Æschere (he is not singled out as a recognisable individual, nor is he named) until he is dead. In line 1251, there is this allusion to him:  ‘Sum sare angeald /​æfenræste’ [one paid sorely for his evening-​rest]. Here, Æschere is merely ‘a certain one’ among the retainers who has been chosen

in Nonhuman voices in Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture

In The Arcades Project, Benjamin explores the different aspects of nineteenth-century culture, in search of a historical reality to which people can awake in a revelatory act of political consciousness. However, the uncanny effects of his archival approach impinge on this revelatory and sublime process. Rather than revealing the political, economic, and technological latent content of the past, representations of the material object confront consciousness with the unfamiliar and abject forms of the repressed collective unconscious. The Gothic tropes of Benjamin‘s text are the traces of the melancholy haunting his concept of a demystifying revelation of historical and material truth.

Gothic Studies