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Five years ago, when this book appeared, it promised something it failed to deliver, namely, an "investigation of the medieval as a site of infinite possibility, as an uncanny middle that can derail the somber trajectories of history and bring about pasts as yet undreamed" (pp. xxiii-xxiv). What MIM delivered instead was a bolus of undigested theory--it is clear, e.g., that Cohen knows little to nothing about masochism, the subject of his third chapter--used to support readings of a predictable set of texts. "Pasts as yet undreamed" turn out to be the ever-recognizable pasts of the average graduate student seminar paper that attempts to bring together, say, Deleuze-Guattari with medieval culture with only the slightest traces of 1) a deep familiarity with the intellectual tradition in which figures like Deleuze and Guattari wrote and thought, and 2) a knowledge transcending the sources that one finds in the standard histories of the period. Furthermore, "infinite possibility" turns out to be nothing more than the application of theoretical cliches (e.g., the body-without-organs and the assemblage) to specific literary moments. There is no sense here of an over-arching historical vision or, for that matter, an ethics; indeed, the book's own ethical glimmers are self-extinguished in the self-referential postscript.
MIM is, in the end, an awesome display of intellectual narcissism, one surely not without appeal to pockets of students here and there hungry for the "novelty" of the loose play of grand concepts. Currently there are few advanced scholars who find this book either a compelling blueprint for careful intellectual work or a model for "dreaming" a new middle ages. What most find was summed up best by a distinguished medievalist: "the relation of each chapter, each idea, in Medieval Identity Machines is like the parallel play of two-year-olds." This reviewer could not agree more.
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