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Medieval Cyborgs: Human-Thing-Relations in European Floris- and Constance-Adaptations

Subproject by Antonia Murath


I analyse two Middle High German Floris- and Constance-adaptations (Flore und Blantscheflur; Mai und Beaflor) via their exposure of human-thing relations, taking into account their broad transmission horizons. I combine two areas of inquiry, thing-theory and gender. In both texts, a female protagonist is marginalized to the extreme by incest, slavery, displacement or exile. Simultaneously, she is at the centre of action and develops an agentic force of her own, eliciting desire, fascination or fear, stirring mass conversion or prompting peasant revolts. This kind of agency, I suggest, emerges from the enmeshment of a marginalized, female, and exceptionally virtuous human body with various material bodies bearing their own histories, trajectories and temporalities. Thus, the protagonist becomes part of a larger actor-network (Latour) and can be conceived of as a cyborg, in Donna Haraway’s sense of a material-semiotic actor not contained by the boundaries of the skin. As such, she triggers certain plot developments (plot-machine). She further taps into contemporary, visually mediated discourses, such as that of a trans-Mediterranean culture of representation via portable objects, or that of relics and reliquaries. Such imagery links the texts with imperial settings or conversion narratives. Finally, the German romances are part of a transnational narrative tradition: they are known in almost all European vernaculars and adapted across a wide variety of genres. My project aims to decentralise and widen the scope against a northern European backdrop by considering insular British (Middle English / Anglo-Norman), Yiddish, Scandinavian, Low German and Dutch versions.