De arte docendi

Or, "Reasons that I really love my job."

Here's the latest: like most of us with a two-class teaching schedule, I have one sheep class and one goat class. Not surprising, the goat class is the (insanely) earlier of the two, and while it does have its moments,* it's largely a dud. Enter the second class, whom I dishonor by calling sheep.

We're discussing a moment in the Tale of Genji today in which Genji demonstrates that he's grown (Chapter Four, for those of you following along at home). In the first class, I can't even get simple answers to questions like, "what happens next?" In the second, however, they sidetrack me into a discussion of aesthetic vs. intellectual knowledge, followed by an attempt to read Genji's actions as having roots in his childhood, which means I have to derail that branch of psychoanalytic criticism with the Bookerian "literary characters don't have minds" explanation. Neither discussion was expected, but both were rewarding, and I was pleased that when they didn't understand, they asked me to explain until they did (or until they got tired of me talking, but don't burst my bubble).

That's the kind of teaching I like. Give me juniors and seniors in the humanities every time!
* One of my favorites occurred this past week. It's the first day back after Spring Break, and we're doing The Tale of Genji, and they're all huddled in the back. So, as you do, I walked in and said, "Neither Genji nor I will bite. Why are you huddled in the back?"
"We're afraid of you," said one.
"We're afraid of your talons."
Mind you, these are college-age kids, and this guy's a good 20, 21 maybe. "What talons?" I say, looking at my hands.
"I've seen Wolverine. I know how it works."
Flash forward to Wednesday, when this person's sitting up front. "Ah," I say, "you've more courage today."
"No," he says, "I just have my sword and shield."
See? Precocious--but not educationally speaking.
Neman telleth me ony thynge!

Chaucer has a blog, which he shares with his sonne Lowys and that trewest of lyars, Sir John Mandeville. The best parts: "Take that, Gower!" in the headline, and Mandeville's travel tips.


Envy by proxy

Thanks to a colleague, I've discovered that this sort of business is going on. Now, I'm all for decentralizing Western Europe's hegemony on interpreting the past, but the problem is that it's being done at Berkeley. California, this is the second project of yours I've read about to cause me much consternation and envious gnashing of teeth (the first being the 3d Plan of St. Gaul, which they clearly came up with only months before I did and which we wouldn't be able to do here until the fall at least, that being when the CAST opens). You're on notice for being so damned clever.


Outcome: The Resulting

I'm still alive. The Genji lecture went okay, the leading discussion thingy wasn't too painful, and I did see His Lordship and discuss the fall seminar and a possible future readings in Medieval Arthuriana. Not much else got done today, though when I got home Our Man Flint had arrived. Ah, James Coburn, will your spy never stop rising?
Why I shouldn't post before reading

So roscivs has a salient post about the problem of not enough mathematics in programming, to which I've added the following:

As odd as it might be to hear this, it's nice to see that English isn't the only department with these sorts of problems, and that the whole university system is feeling the "be useful and make things we can sell" push.

The problem is similar: in the department, we have people who study literature (and are thus armed with a lot of abstruse cultural and literary theory) and the people who create literature (and are thus armed with, er, so far as I can tell, pens). In addition, there's a major trend toward separation, putting the writers in one section and the theorists into a melange of "cultural studies." While I support interdisciplinary education—indeed, one of the best courses I took was team-taught by scientists, cultural theorists, historians and literary critics—the point was cross-pollination; the departments remained discreet, and what you were studying was added to by the intercession of these new voices. Making "interdisciplinary" the norm will set up new boundaries, similar to those you described between mathematics and programmers, that are no better than the "isolated department" scheme of the 1950's.

And I mean it. Taking a post somewhere as the "(Late) Medieval Cultural Studies" professor isn't going to be helpful to me or my students: I'm teaching history, social theory, archeology, and half a dozen other things I wasn't prepared to teach and really can't. The point is that there should be boundaries, across which you occasional sally, make a lecture or five, and come home. Tea with the historians, maybe an afternoon over in psychology, but you should always have your own department to come home to.

That said, of course, I'm in no position to complain, and a very large position to beg. If you're a prospective hiring university and found this blog, I love you very much and will teach however you want; I'm perfectly willing to try anything for five years and two books, and won't complain until tenure. Please?
What Got Done

Everything but the notes for Genji. Yes, even the dishes, and even the surprise "Oh yeah, the laundry I didn't fold today" pile.

Working on the lecture notes now, though it's early in the morning and I really need drugs.


The Real Wish List

All my life I've wanted a pet evangelist.

No, not really. Silly me. What I meant was, ever since I saw it, I fell in love. Saw what, you ask? Well, I can't show you for copyright reasons, but it's the best lion-headed evangelist you'll ever meet.

All right, it's this:

Hereford Cathedral Library MS O.1.viii, fol 46. This image (c) the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral. Unauthorized copying of the copy I made will result in a thrashing.

Look at that grin! He's the most naughty little lion-headed saint! You couldn't possibly resist it. Ever since I saw it in Carol Strickland's Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art, I knew it had to be mine--but it has to be in color.

Some years ago, my friend Brooke and I were at Cambridge, and she was touring one of their libraries and came across a ninth-century Irish Jesus. Immediately she shouted, "That's my next tattoo!" to which the curator responded, "No-one's ever said that before." But she got it, and it's damned awesome, and I want a medieval manuscript illumination tattoo as well.

So I find now that Hereford Cathedral is online, and they do let you have prints. But I can't quite bring myself to find if they're going to let me have this--and certainly not for a tattoo, of all things.

However, if you out there in Blogospheria can find a way, you will be rewarded handsomely. Possibly with a handsome cab.
Work Avoidence Schedule
So here I am, less than 24 hours to a presentation on Eudora Welty's The Golden Apples, and what do I do but "rediscover" Blogger. As it turns out, I've been reading several people's blogs, and decided that it was high time to become self-absorbed again. Besides, it's the hot thing to do--notice that of those four linked, two are professors, one is my adviser, one is an author, and one is a long-lost friend who seems to find mathematics and linguistics fascinating to the point of pathology. Also, there were two fathers and two sons--wait, wrong riddle.

(I also have to come up with a lecture on the Tale of Genji, bathe, do the dishes, and get my life in order. Any takers on what gets done first?)

I'm going to restart this here journal, is what I'm going to do. And I'm going to do it to avoid masturbating make a record of my scholarship and possibly life. My models are JJC's blog (up there), this one, and this one. Wish me luck.