Knowledge in Motion: Constructing Transcultural Experience in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods (1200–1750)

Places of reading, writing, and information sharing change over the centuries. How we experience such space(s) and time determines how we read, write, and, in this process, translate. We perceive borders and border crossings differently depending on how we approach or traverse them, be that voluntarily when traveling and exploring, or involuntarily when forced to migrate or brought as captives into another culture. As we move across boundaries, we transport knowledge, our own and what we absorb from others; we mediate culture as it is mediated through us. The knowledge we carry along may conflict or merge with the new we acquire.

Changes in our movements lead to changes in our knowledge and thus also to changes in genres which communicate this knowledge (literature, art, music, law, etc.). In this process, what lodged at the periphery of a given culture might move to, and eventually even become, the center. Examples of such movements might be the courtly epic or romance, the early modern novel, or the art and music of the Romantic era. Such new forms do not only assume new organizational models but also new forms of knowledge circulation. Knowledge in motion becomes knowledge about motion that leads to transfer and translation.

Knowledge in motion varies. It may be “book knowledge” (Buchwissen), including religious knowledge, as well as “experiential knowledge” (Erfahrungswissen). In some instances, it is precisely the relationship between these two kinds of knowledge that is the object of literary discourse. Subsequently, we may ask which concept(s) of knowledge are most appropriately employed to describe various interchanges (cultural, political, social, economic, etc.) in the medieval and early modern periods and how different forms of knowledge interact in changing cultural, political, and social contexts.

We set knowledge in motion either physically or mentally, and sometimes both: physically by traveling, mentally by translating or communicating to and with unfamiliar cultures. Textual artifacts, and literature in particular, play a major role in the transfer across boundaries of knowledge. Merging storytelling with the distribution of knowledge acquired and presented by fictional characters “on the move,” literary texts become the venue of imaginary movements of knowledge and serve as a medium for experimenting with motions of knowledge. From the perspective of literary aesthetics, this raises questions about their epistemological status between the two poles of fictional and factual writing. Moreover, intercultural exchanges of knowledge are not limited to written texts but may also be initiated by physical objects such as art, architecture, fashion, etc.

Joining narrative representation with the distribution of knowledge creates a poetics of knowledge that crosses boundaries of knowledge and textual form and that affects our way(s) of constructing literary as well as non-literary experience. This also includes changing attitudes toward gender, class, race, economic, and social status. As our topic suggests, we envision this meeting to be interdisciplinary in the media explored and the methods employed.

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