What shall we do with the Middle Ages?

What shall we do with the Middle Ages?

Sonjae, An

Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Vol. 15 No.1  (2007)


If we are being realistic, it must be admitted that the question, ‘what shall we / should we / can we / might we do with the middle ages?’ is hardly an urgent or frequently-asked one for most people in this pragmatic, utilitarian and future-oriented present age. And yet, in the world of computer games, at least, the medieval fantastic is reported to be alive and thriving, full of armored knights, dragons, and scantily-dressed maidens in distress. So all is not lost. At the same time, the word ‘medieval’ has recently, by and large, become a colloquial synonym for ‘benighted, obscurantist, unenlightened, barbaric,’ as a Google of ‘positively medieval’ soon shows. It is frequently applied by ‘enlightened’ westerners to the attitudes associated with Islamic fundamentalists, and the Catholic Church’s sexual ethics. If the ‘we’ of the title is restricted to the medievalists of Asia, we might turn the question into: ‘Is there anything at all that we are going to be able to do with the middle ages in the coming years?’ and given the present parlous state of literary studies and the Humanities in most Korean universities, the rather pessimistic overtones are surely fully justified.

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