By Ben Tilghman
Paper given at the session Time and the Medieval Object, during the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2013)
Introduction: Discussions of the relationship between time and medieval artworks often hinge on examinations of use and reception: how has the meaning of this object changed over time? To what new purposes was it put in its later life, or, to what new purpose did it put existing things?
The recent developments in the conception of object agency shift these questions somewhat, so that we find ourselves asking what these works do or have done over certain stretches of time. Of course, these recent claims for the agency of objects have met with resistance, much of it rooted in skepticism about ascribing to non-sentient things the ability to act. Really, now, these are inanimate objects: how much can we claim they really do ? Are we perhaps just projecting a frenzy of activity on things that are so clearly inert?