6th Biennial Chaucer Celebration, Arizona State University, March 23, 2018
Reviewed by Chad Crosson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Organized and led by one of Arizona State University’s own Chaucerians, Professor Richard Newhauser, the 2018 6th Biennial ASU Chaucer Celebration emphasized the important and necessary work of introducing a younger generation not only to the works of Chaucer, but to the humanities more generally. I need not belabor how critical it is at this moment to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of what the humanities offer to a younger generation and to our communities at large. The ever-shrinking job market and English departments have been points of anxiety for some time now. Therefore, I was delighted to see the auditorium mostly filled, not just with academics like myself, but a host of fresh-faced high school students from the local communities - Newhauser had extended the invitation to this year’s Chaucer Celebration to local public high schools so that students with a developing interest in Chaucer and the humanities might attend.
Such ideas of multiple temporalities and an “asynchronous now” were difficult to miss at this gathering of ASU’s Biennial Chaucer Celebration. Indeed, what better demonstration of how temporalities meet than by witnessing two contemporary authors render Chaucer for an audience composed largely of high school students, who are themselves potentially fans of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, and all the conceptions and misconceptions those works present of medieval temporality. Zarins and Agbabi memorably revealed the many ways in which these temporalities might crossover: whether through contemporary fanfiction, based on both Chaucer and the fictionalized “medieval” of Harry Potter, and spoken by youthful narrators; or through various geographical spaces and musical genres that reinvigorate the Canterbury pilgrims through contemporary and multicultural voices. In all, Newhauser, Zarins, and Agbabi are to be commended on multiple fronts, not only for introducing Chaucer’s work to a new generation and cultural context, but also for demonstrating so immediately how Chaucer (and the “medieval”) still speaks to the social, political, post-colonial, and racial experiences of our times. Regardless of the academic interests we may have in fictional reimaginings and youthful retellings of the Tales, or representations of Harry Bailey as a suave hip hop artist with a charming swagger, I left these readings satisfied at observing a younger generation taken in by the vivacious and edifying spirit of Chaucer’s tales and poetry - and isn’t that really a good thing for everyone?