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

Subproject by Antonia Murath

My project is situated at the intersections of philology, object-oriented criticism and gender. I analyse the 13th ct. Middle High German verse romances Flore und Blanscheflur and Mai und Beaflor comparatively and in terms of their narrated human-thing relations. The tales of the Christian slave girl who loves a Muslim prince (Floire) and the calumniated but ultimately triumphant empress (Constance) circulate transculturally. Yet, comparative (Germanist) studies have mainly been interested in bilateral relations to French or author-known texts. I re-situate both romances in their textual networks: databases of motif variances across 48 versions permit a broad survey and are the basis to select four texts per romance, all of little renown in German Studies, for extensive comparative study. I conjoin thing theory and gender in my inquiry, as the texts display a combined interest in precious material bodies – such as gem-encrusted clothing, engraved artefacts, resplendent architectures – and the body of a female protagonist drawn in similar material terms. While she is marginalized, she develops agentic force: she elicits desire, stirs mass conversion or prompts peasant revolts. This kind of power, I suggest, emerges from her association with precious objects: building on posthumanist theory, I discuss how human and material bodies fuse into a networked, emergent and gendered configuration (cyborg), which then generates narrative structure, poetic reflections on the status of adaptations of circulating narrative materia, and imaginations of transcultural entanglements, empire-building, lineage and power.