Thursday 3 October 2013

ASNCs on the Road: Celtic Literature in Dublin

From ASNC doctoral student Myriah Williams:

The sun was out in Dublin last week, as were a good number of Celticists hoping to enlighten or be enlightened on the subject of Genre in Medieval Celtic Literature.  The School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies hosted the colloquium, organized by doctoral student Nicole Volmering. The aim of the conference was to open a dialogue about the role of genre, both within modern scholarship in the field and within the minds of medieval authors and editors.  The need for such a discussion was evidenced by the terrific turnout at the conference, with a crowd composed of both new and very familiar faces alike.

Proceedings began on Friday afternoon, with the first session on cycles and cyclification in Irish literature, specifically in the Fenian lays and in Acallam Bec (‘The Little Colloquy’).  The papers provided a good start to a good conference, but in retrospect perhaps they should have been split, with one paper in the last session, to bring the whole thing full-circle...  The half-day was rounded out with an analysis of the sub-genre of tecosc (‘teaching’) and its relation to kingship, and a consideration of the role of women in both saints lives and epic narrative.  Feasting as befits Celtic scholars of course concluded the first day’s festivities.

Saturday presented a full day of papers, four sessions worth in fact.  Continuing on from Friday’s theme, three out of the four were focused on further Irish material.  Concerning aspects of modern scholarship, we heard about editing practices and the theory and application of genre methodology onto medieval texts.  In other papers, we were asked to put ourselves into the place of medieval scribes, to question how they were organizing and categorizing their texts, or into the minds of medieval readers, to consider how they were processing them.

This'll be worth a few bob one day: conference programme signed by the likes of Fergus Kelly, Liam Breatnach, Greg Toner, David Stifter, David Dumville, Jenny Rowland, Lizzie Boyle, Barry Lewis, David Callander and Geraldine Parsons  (a few ASNCs past and present in there...)

The first session on Saturday, however, was concerned with Welsh material, and I am glad to have been a part of it.  Our own ASNC David Callander began the morning with a discussion of narrative verse as a medieval Welsh literary genre.  In his paper, David asked us to reconsider the traditional view that medieval Welsh verse is non-narrative and, having made the argument for narrative verse in Welsh, considered the implications for how the verse might then be regrouped for a discussion of genre.  This conclusion provided a nice segue into my own paper, where I dealt with issues that have been present in the definition of ymddiddanau or dialogue poems as a genre.  I sought to clarify the genre by refining the definition, and in doing so also to highlight the potential danger of trying to explain inconsistencies in the texts in a way not supported by their manuscript context.  Barry Lewis, former ASNC and present researcher at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (who will be giving a lecture at the Graduate Seminar on 25 November – mark your calendars!), concluded our session by reminding us about the importance of analyzing the categories into which we put medieval texts.  He addressed the factors that modern editors consider in distinguishing between religious and secular verse, and argued that such distinctions would not necessarily have been made by the medieval people who were dealing with these texts.

Questioning the validity of our modern editing practices is indeed a topic that ran through a number of papers, and was perhaps one of the most important issues to take a away from the conference for further thought.  Though the matter of genre can certainly stand to further discussion and debate, the colloquium was productive for raising the profile of the topic.  Hopefully in time we will begin to see an expansion of critical thinking on the matter of genre in medieval Celtic literature.

And there's always time for a visit to the National Museum of Ireland. Pictured is the Ardagh Chalice, possibly eighth century, from Co. Limerick.

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