The Colloquium Seminar: Medieval Forms of Life

The seminar this year will be lead by Dr. Ingrid Nelson, of Amherst College. The format will follow that of a reading group, in which participants will gather several times before the conference to discuss a shared theoretical text, approaching it from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. This year's topic will be "Medieval Forms of Life" and will give participants the opportunity to consider the work of Giorgio Agamben together, thinking about how his conceptions of "forms of life" open up productive questions for the field of medieval studies.

Drawing on the medieval monastic rule, Agamben describes the forma vitae as “a life that is linked so closely to its form that it proves to be inseparable from it.” In this seminar, we will discuss how the concept of “form of life” can inform our study of the Middle Ages. Questions we will ask may include: where and how do medieval forms intersect with medieval live--as they are represented, embodied, experienced, and/or regulated? Can putting the concept of form in dialogue with that of life offer new ways of reading texts; looking at medieval art and artefacts; listening to medieval music; understanding medieval history, religion, or philosophy; thinking about intercultural dialogue, conflict, and exchange? Is periodization implicit in form of life as a biopolitical concept, or does it offer a transhistorical hermeneutic? How does form of life intersect with recent scholarship on New Formalism; critical race theory; ecocriticism; media studies; and/or the Global Middle Ages? Does a study of form-of-life require different parameters when the lives in question are marked by religious, gender, race, or other difference? Where, ultimately, do forms and life intersect in medieval studies?

To apply, please write a short statement (250-300 words) describing a text, problem, or object of study in your discipline that would benefit from examination through the hermeneutic of form of life. Prior to the conference, seminar participants will conduct a close study of excerpts from Agamben’s Highest Poverty and The Use of Bodies in concert with examination of our chosen texts/problems/objects. At the conference, the director and seminar participants will present a synopsis of our discussions as a prelude to a participatory conversation among attendees.



Ingrid Nelson is Associate Professor of English and European Studies at Amherst College. She is the author of Lyric Tactics: Poetry, Genre and Practice in Later Medieval England (Penn, 2017) and has published in ELH, NLH, and elsewhere. Her research interests span poetics, formalism, biopolitics, and media studies. The working title of her current book project is Premodern Media: Bodies, Networks, Chaucer.

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