It depends on what you mean by “hard.” The most emotionally difficult thing to write about was Charlottesville—the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in August 2017 and resulted in the death of anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer and the injuries of many other demonstrators for racial justice. As I watched it unfold, as I watched racist demonstrators donning the trappings of their fantasy version of medieval Europe, I knew that this event was an expression of the long and troubled history of the racist cooptation of the Middle Ages. Medieval literature and culture are an object of love for me, and to watch them put to such a horrifying use in this day and age, right in front of my face, was heart-rending. To write about Charlottesville, while analyzing its political implications now and the historical forces that led to it, was cathartic indeed, yet still heart-rending all at once.
The part of the book that was most difficult intellectually to write was my Chapter 5: “Separate and Together: Strife, Contrariety, and the Lords and Bondsmen of Julian of Norwich, G. W. F. Hegel, and W. E. B. Du Bois.” This chapter compares the philosophical work of fourteenth-century English anchoress Julian of Norwich; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German philosopher Hegel; and twentieth-century African American sociologist, race scholar, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. Each uses a metaphorical pairing between the powerful and the powerless—whether God and human or feudal lord and bondsman—in order to explore the dynamics of agency. Though Julian, Hegel, and Du Bois are writing in very different times and contexts, there are fascinating overlaps in their thought. It was difficult to bring them together, while remaining intellectually responsible to each of them, because no other scholar has before done this in print. At the same time, it was extraordinarily rewarding to produce a reading that draws out similarities in the dynamics of power and disempowerment across such varied times and spaces.