From "eccentric affiliation" to "corrective medievalism: Bruce Holsinger's the premodern condition
An intriguing trope has found favor amongst a number of reviewers of Bruce Holsinger’s The Premodern Condition. They begin by hailing the book as provocative and challenging; but, ironically, this approbation ultimately leads them to welcome in a wholly unprovoked and unchallenged way the book’s argument for what Holsinger calls ‘theoretic medievalism’ – that is, the cryptomedievalism of a number of French avant-garde theory’s major thinkers.1 These reviewers, who appear to believe the book’s challenge is not aimed at them, seem not only unreservedly convinced by his thesis, but, moreover, grateful for the salvo fired by Holsinger in defence of theoretically-engaged medieval scholarship. It is undeniable that The Premodern Condition is, as its reviewers unanimously agree, a dazzlingly erudite, supple and deeply absorbing piece of intellectual archeology. Indeed, its meticulous anatomizing of seemingly obscure, surprising, yet highly persuasive affiliations between medieval literature, contemporary medieval scholarship, and the French avant-garde can awe the reader – and, in particular, the medievalist reader sympathetic to poststructuralist theory – into acceptance of Holsinger’s larger thesis. But it seems to me that a more fitting tribute to a work such as Holsinger’s, which is provocative in the best sense, is in fact to allow ourselves to be provoked by it: so I welcome this opportunity to express the ways in which this book has not only awed me and persuaded me but also provoked me – to thought, mostly, but also to apply some critical pressure to some of its central contentions.