Critical fox is critical.

(related: “about the blogueuse”)

Welcome! This is an online collection of essays and other writing. I hope that you find something curious and enjoyable here.

Meta-meta-medieval started out medieval, went more medievalist, then moved increasingly into medievalisings. Twenty years after taking an extraordinarily illuminating graduate seminar on Montaigne, after teaching the Essais several times in several ways over a dozen years while becoming increasingly irritated with The Academic Essay, and after about a decade of setting undergraduate assignments that were Anything Except The Essay Especially The Academic Essay: I realised that these things I was calling “medievalisings” were essays. I am a slow learner. But still, it’s always nice to see the continuing creative critical conjunction of teaching and learning.

It’s not all going to be neat and tidy. Some of the writing here is carefully slowly rewritten academic conference talks, some posts are multimedia collages, some were written urgently fast and are pure ranty blogorrhea. There’s long—and long-winded—and short, sketches and notes, and very short stories. Some first appeared as threads or through commentary-conversations on social media, more or less reshaped and rewritten and expanded here; albeit tweetstorms can be a long form too and aren’t necessarily proof against verbosity or (over-)complication. I write publicly out loud on Twitter as @obrienatrix.

Header from 2011 site redesign


2003: The Rose of the Romance, about medieval things, mostly literary, centred on the 10th-16th c. CE Mediterranean and western European areas; and context, scholarly communities, art, material culture, manuscripts, museums, libraries, bibliography, resources, lists of resources, lists of lists, etc.; especially around Occitan and Old French romance, hence the title. I built it as an old-fashioned classic website, a metasite repository of resources and curated collection of useful links. The Rose started out as a place to gather references to online materials, projects, and hyperprojects. It was a tangent from doctoral work—working on medieval superbooks and metabooks, and thinking about what it meant to be a book—and what might pass as procrastination light relief that kind of still counted as background and contextual work so that I didn’t feel too guilty about it (but still a bit guilty). Putting it publicly freely online felt better, as it might be useful to someone else, which would make it worthwhile.



This WordPress site started as a spin-off from an academic site / research forum, for which I was the web designer and administrator and main writer. Some of the earliest posts here are cross-posted, or “more personal” (that is, less depersonalised and impersonal) versions of posts on the sister-site. Meta-meta-medieval brought together blogging and the old Rose of the Romance, rebuilt on a different platform.

A self-description from that time shows a blogueuse who might have read a lot of satire and read a lot about irony (and if you like both, then you’ll love Old Occitan poetry) but has yet to translate them into applied practice in real life:

Conceptualised as a marginal mote in the ever-expanding medieval metaverse, and a mote that was now more motile in interaction with other social media. This motility meant meanderings, musings, and loafing. Meanderings medieval and medievalist. Musings on the Medievalism of Everyday Life and its virtual metaversification; with commentary, illuminations, decoration, and marginalia. A comfortable space for those ruminations that need room to roam; cogitations requiring cool quiet calm; and leisurely loafing.

In an in-between time of job market and precarious employment, this site became a refuge. Feeling marginal, in marginalised areas of teaching and research and knowledge, I was trying to live through that by actively embracing marginalism. At a time when most people who kept blogs—yes, it feels like “keeping” a pet, with needs for regular feeding and watering and play and walks—were doing so in professional ways for professional reasons, this site did the opposite; indeed, there’s a whole sequence of posts, from the mid-teens, against professionalisationistisms (albeit strongly for radical professionalism). I was playing around with this site back then as the “experimental methodology and theoretical framework” of making an online writing self. What one might call A Construction Of Subjectivity As Becoming Through Deconstruction; for example, as a list of contents to entice readers:

– research and development, invention and innovation, reading and writing.
– three sample old posts along these lines, in the interests of historical amusement [EDITED IN 2012: from 2008, preserved for posterity as self-flagellating vanitas]:
Reading in progress: medieval and other current cultural “likes”
Research in progress: current interests and topics
Writings in progress: things doing, nearly done, and done
– posts asking questions: may be ignorant or innocent, may be ironic;
– in the spirit of critical enquiry and Humanist scepticism, following the example of Montaigne’s “que scay-je?”
– posts asking if questions are open questions, and posts asking open questions;
– ditto de tranquillitate: posts of flânerie (and sometimes ânerie);
– posting in a state of Stoic otium, in a Petrarchan one, always with Montaigne’s oisiveté in mind, and aiming towards vacate et videte


Various bits and pieces of redesign, with gaps, in between full-time-plus work in an academic job that is about teaching and with no research expectations or obligations, or time for them; anything outside “work-work” became extra-curricular leisure passtimes. An old “about the person who does this blog” page was organised, and presented me, as a parody object of scientific enquiry and its results:

– abstract for this article
– purpose / negotium as a full-time unit of value-adding productivity
– acknowledgements / otium negotiosum/sanctum
– part of a larger-scale longitudinal project in lifelong learning / officium
– experimental methodology and theoretical framework / otium liberale cum dignitate
– background to the problem and literature review / self-portrait.


But I did also make some actual constructive changes to the site.

The first was work-related: making it a central hub for sites that I’d made for courses that I’d designed and taught—in some cases, archived copies of institutionally-hosted sites or on closed Learning Management System platforms—and for some writing about teaching. Meta-meta-medieval thus sprouted some offshoot sites in 2018-21, for archived course sites and for projects in progress: The Old Occitan Life of Saint Enimia, The Dendromorphoses, Academic Zoomscaping.

The second was doing any writing that I could, even if it was rough and raw and didn’t fit into expected types of academic writing, sometimes for personal and therapeutic purposes, sometimes because I needed to write. I could claim that this was bold experimentation with forms of writing, pushing the boundaries of genre, and brave naked thinking out loud in a grand Quest to find My Writing Voice and Self. While it’s amusing to say that sentence out loud, and it’s good to have a giggle and giggling is good for you, the writing was mostly because I’d become sufficiently grumpy or marvelling to need to write. The site became more bloggy.


I redesigned the whole thing as part of getting into sabbatical project mode. Some housekeeping like simplifying the main menu and dramatically reducing posts’ categories, which used to have an overly-elaborate distinction between the medieval, the medievalist, and the medievalising; and between essays, commentaries, and other writing; worse, many posts were more than one of the above. Having realised that they’re all essays in some shape or form, they can now assay away in their merry individual ways.

Tags have long been all over the place and I’m leaving them to their own devices, not relabelling or otherwise rewriting old posts. I’ve used tags in various ways over the years; there may still be some remnants from the beginning, when I resented any ordering—all vertical hierarchies and exclusive taxonomies being tools of the patriarchy and repressive systemic injustice—and used some disorderly descriptors in rebellion. Some tags summarise a post’s contents, some drop hints without giving away the plot, some are haphazard. Some are just silly. Give them another decade or two before we start reading anything into them, let alone any sense or significance.

So. This site contains medieval things, medievalism, and medievalisings. It thinks it’s cunningly meta-medieval and cleverly meta-meta-medieval. Sometimes it’s a smart-arse. It tries, no matter how trying everything might be, to be curious and stay with the trouble, never to lose touch with “silly,” to keep beginning in wonder and hope to never end. It can take itself very seriously and be overly earnest. Please be kind, it’s a teenager…

The rest of this present introductory page is how Meta-meta-medieval perceived itself when it was a toddler.

Applied comparativism in medieval action.

Medieval things

Collection and commentary on medieval things, and about and around the metaverse, especially its medieval and medievalist areas. Idiosyncratic dubious delights. [The original version of this explanatory note added ”with apologies,” which I hereby formally retract: part of its 2022 redesign is to be unapologetic.] Extra-curricular para-research, from tangential online meanderings, through lateral thinking. Parenthetical procrastination. Alliterative analogical excesses and other florid bomphiologic macrologia. Marginalia and marginalities. The odd bit of commentary and odd comment. Puns, often of a juvenile, facetious, or otherwise groan-worthy sort. 1


Topical commentary on medieval things that acquire current resonance. This includes what it means, meant, and might mean to be “medieval”: local, global, in spirit, as a way of being, as not being something else, in contrast with being other things, and how these ways of being might be approached and observed and thought about.

Medievalism(s), post-medieval readings of the medieval, and the medieval’s subsequent reception-history.

Readings of the current contemporary world in a medievalist way/sense; as such, this is a different sort of “Medievalism and the Modernist Temper”, being in the opposite direction to some medievalisms (e.g. current/21st-century-ist readings of The Medieval, etc.), and usually contrary to neo-medievalism (especially in the wake of the brilliant Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror). Our common medievalism transcends such differences as we’re all kith and kin, in an extended family network that’s grown up over the last century or so out of Romance philology and Annales School sciences humaines; via “medieval studies” and The New Medievalism; and with confluences and convergences from our immediate world: postcolonial, feminist, queer, human/~e and posthuman/~ist, ecocritical, and with urgent needs for intersectional social justice.

Readings of everything and anything as though it were medieval literature and/or “fiction.”

Estier dichas: applied and comparative medievalisms.


Applied medievalism is often medieval and usually medievalist. Sometimes both at once.

Comparative medievalism is meta-medieval (sometimes applied medievalism may be too) in bearing the same relation to “the medieval” as does metaphysics to physics—what lies beyond and after the medieval—and as does meta-ethics to ethics—in considering the nature and meaning of “the medieval.” And it’s meta-meta-medieval in that it operates the same function on medievalism, itself already in meta-relation to the medieval (depending on the kind of medievalism in question). Hence meta-meta-medieval.

Some mathematician & scientist friends and I came up with the name late one night in a bar in 2003. This was just after I’d built my first website, The Rose of the Romance, so it was too late to name that but not too early to start thinking about the next one and it would be a reasonable reconstructive bet that we were probably talking about groanworthy puns and geek jokes. “Meta-meta-medieval” all made lots more sense at the time in terms of differential calculus and second-order derivatives, but it was late, we were drunk, and I have long since lost the paper napkins with all the diagrams. They had already vanished the next day, but the word remained. Especially the hyphens; consider them the ghostly traces of long-lost drunken paper napkins. Sic transit gloria mundi.

What goes around comes around: the spirit of happy cooperative community, depicted in a fair and even-handed moment of balanced and harmonious sharing.

On wheels, crushing, friction, and burning

Meta-meta-medieval by Dr Juliet O’Brien is copylefted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. As is standard online practice, the author retains full rights to her intellectual works, with the sole limitation of free fair use.

Free use: Please do feel free to circulate and cite (quotation, footnote, etc. of the form Juliet O’Brien. “Post title.” Date of post: URL). I am happy if my work is helpful and if it and I can thereby contribute to an academic culture that lives, breathes, and interacts in free movement.

Fair use: The usual exceptions apply for others’ archiving, research, scholarly work, teaching, commentary, criticism, parody, pastiche, satire, and other clowning around and piss-taking. Anything on this site may be used as a base and as materials for others’ work: it may be refashioned and otherwise reworked, manipulated, sampled, remixed, and used as material for transformed and transformative new works of “derivative ingenuity” (as opposed to plain non-ingenious derivation): transgression and genius should be encouraged and embraced by all of us (but, as with free use, in respect and honour and human dignity, citing the original and distinguishing your new creation from it).

Free and fair non-abuse: please do not appropriate my work, reproduce it for commercial profit, resell it, or otherwise steal it.

Let’s go beyond mere reified functional application as extractive capitalist “use”; let’s move beyond a colonialist “fair use” which is about as true and socially-just as neoliberal and necroliberal “fair” play is “free”: towards liberatory creativity, through free equitable joyful ingenious play!

Property is theft: but a proprietorial-authoritarian system can be resisted by an anarcho-collectivism based on sharing, so that movement can be made towards a harmonious new world order of ecosystem responsibility, individual freedom, and social justice.

If you are reading Meta-meta-medieval and participating (be that passively or actively) in virtual life you are an integral member of the Web 2.0-3.0-4.0-5.0-∞. revolutionary network and a signatory to its social contract.

If you steal from it, you make that stolen good yours: theft is property.

While one of the principal revolutionary arms is subversion, the same is true of the counter-revolution: a thief commits a counter-revolutionary act supporting, perpetuating, and strengthening The Man. In thus betraying The Cause, a thief is also a traitor and, through their crime against society, an outlaw deserving of the traditional civil death. (Not an outlaw with positive associations like Robin Hood: they’re on our side.)

Such acts plumb the depths of unethical behaviour. 2

Being a Natural Born Redhead, the obrienatrix carries the usual concomitant health and safety warnings about being highly flammable.

In addition, she has friends in the re-enactment business. She knows men with cudgels. Women martial artists. Experts in heavy medieval and renaissance weaponry. And keepers of bloodhounds.

Just don’t do it; instead, please be nice, and back up my belief in the fundamental goodness of human beings.

☞ see also: rules of engagement


2022 site header:
detail of Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Earthly Delights,” ? Brussels, c. 1480-1510
. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Home to my current “post-medievally-plague-masked mermaid hybrid monstrous marvellous creative reading” online avatar. Yes, that’s right: those plague doctor beaky masks are not medieval, they’re pure Modern Western Civilization. As are burning witches, the dark ages, uncomfortable underwear, and bland food.

Image at the top of page:
c/o literatuurgeschiedenis.nl via
 Wikipedia. Book of Hours, Master of Catherine of Cleves and Lieven van Lathem (illuminators); Utrecht, c. 1460. Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum (MMW), Den Haag: Ms. 10 F 50, fol. 6r. Also used and abused as my “marginal detail is marginal” squox online avatar.

Second foxy image on this page:
Festal Missal, Garnerus de Morolio (scribe), Petrus de Raimbaucourt (illuminator); Amiens: c. 1323. Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag: Ms. KB 78 D 40, Fol. 33rb: margin. First encountered in 2008 via
Got Medieval and their fine analysis, “Mmm… Marginalia: Wheel of Reynard.” The manuscript is also home to the second-best out-of-context medieval breakdancer / doughnut that circulates regularly online, on f. 108r:

Old site rose header image:
original pre-doctored rose from
photo-i; I slowly painstakingly hand-crafted this version using open source software (BBEdit and KompoZer) and Photoshop for The Rose of the Romance (Princeton University, 2003). Don’t judge: if you love medieval manuscript illumination and stained glass and comics and visual narrative and poetry, but then almost all your doctoral work’s primary and secondary material is word-art that’s super imaginative but image-free, you have to do something to cope.

[end of 2022 revisions]

  1. [2008-10 footnotes] Once upon a time I indulged in lists and taxonomies. It didn’t take them long to annoy me. It’s probably a stage. It’s not that I don’t like ontology: I love sets, matrices, mappings, flowy confluent movement, nodes and networks; but I have no love for linear ordered hierarchies and genealogies. This next section has therefore been relegated to the Naughty Corner, where it will remain to remind me to try not to be foolish.

    The categorising, arranging and re-arranging, and cross-referencing of relevant things: all things being of relevance, the interesting questions arise on degree and sort.
    NEW AND IMPROVED: “all things are fuzzy” because I tired of categorisation The Joys of Tags: movement away from the aforementioned delights of classification and towards a non-merely-taxonomic ontology; based on conceptual clusters; resulting in a mish-mash of good old-fashioned Aristotelian Substance/Essence, Relation, and Affection.

    Comment: **** that for a load of affected officious **** and consider this a first example of official self-editing commentary. I’ve also got rid of capitals elsewhere because they annoy me. I have, however, grown to enjoy playing a fun game of Tag. 

  2. A wheel of fortune featuring foxes is the closest I’d get to having any truck with property and theft. One solitary wheel, put to other troqu-ing use in appropriate “getting medieval on …” manner.

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