Comps Round One: Over

I have survived written comps, although I have yet to hear back from all of my committee. We do exams in two stages in my local English department: a 72-hour take-home written exam and, later, an oral defense of a 25-page paper and its attendant reading list.[1] I finished the first part of this journey at noon on the 7th of November.

My exam had three possible questions, from which I was to pick two and compose responses of close to 15 pages for each. My questions asked me to 1) trace the theme of boundaries through four of the six accompanying works (Beowulf, Sir Orfeo, Pearl, Mandeville, The York CC Plays, and Le Morte Darthur), but was open-ended as to that theme's ultimate meaning; 2) Use four theorists from the reading list (two medievalists, two non-medievalists) to define "utopia," and then apply that to one or two medieval texts from the list; or 3) Give three Marxist readings of works and explain why they were useful and what harm they might do to the text. Note that these are parapharasings of the questions; if you're confused, I'll try to find what I did with the question sheet and post it here later (or not, if WAQ/MKB/DAJ say otherwise). I did the first two, not because I didn't want to do the third one but because I didn't have time to come up with three Marxist readings off the top of my head.

I may post the responses to these questions here at a later date, once I've heard back from all of my committee, and maybe given them another polishing. Brief summaries follow: Question 1 I answered by exploring Beowulf, Mandeville, Pearl, and Malory, and talked about the ways that each negotiated the boundaries of time; I used Jeffrey's first chapter in MIMs as a starting point for this discussion, and pointed to the Sword Hilt in Beowulf, the Temple Mount complex in Mandeville, the boundary between paradise and earth in Pearl, and . . . Merlin in Malory. I then added a utopian spin to this, which brought in some Bloch.

I answered the second using definitions from Bloch (again), Hilario Franco, Karma Lochrie, and Lyman Tower Sargent, and applied their composite definition (social dreaming with a push forward) to Chaucer's House of Fame, which is useful for a number of things. We'll see.

That done, I largely took the week off—as much as any of us can "take the week off." I spent it reading an abridgment of the 16th-century Chinese novel Water Margin, which is as far outside of my field as I could get without, say, going uncomfortably back into the realm of abstract mathematics and quantum physics.

Coming back this week to critical theory, I started to read Brian Massumi's Parables for the Virtual, which I'd heard about in Wan-Chuan Kao's presentation at SEMA ("The Object Biography of Whiteness: Affective Labor and the Color of Salvation in Pearl"). I understood Wan-Chuan's presentation well enough, but Massumi's book wasn't as clear as I would have liked. It seems to be about bodies, and the various states of being or sensation those bodies may posses, and the possibilities that these various states engender, and I have no problem with that on its own. Maybe it's the comps process, maybe it's my gearing up/focusing in toward the dissertation, but I've realized that there are some avenues of scholarship that I am just not interested in pursuing. I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with those works, but I'm not up to the slog right now.

[1] This is just for the PhD in English Literature requirement. The PhD in Comparative Literature apparently invovlves a wild series of exams and the Auto-da-Fé.


Hiatus 2: Electric Boogaloo

Wow. I never thought a con post would end up producing more discussion than, say, anything I've said in the past year or so; I guess that shows what I know. That said, I'm going to officially put this blog on hiatus—not because of the comment stream, but because I've got written comps in 28 days (which means I need to go in hospital right now and wake up on the day of comps to discover that I'm Cillian Murphy). After comps I've got some encyclopedia entries to finish (nothing fancy; MKB is doing an encyclopedia of Graphic Novels and I said I'd help), and a lot of reading to do, and a theory chapter to begin.

I'll be back, oh, sometime around late November/early December, just in time for the annual complaint about my students' inability to grasp the simplest paper instructions. See you all then.


"St. Erkenwald is so hot right now": A SEMA Report

Well, I'm back from SEMA, and I had a pretty good time. There was a little mix-up about registration, which turned out to have been on the University end and not the conference end, and as a result, CEH and I get to have a nice chat with C-- A-- tomorrow or Tuesday about accounting for my presence at the conference. My paper went well, I think, although there was a bit of a debate with sharp-minded older gentleman who caught me out (rightly) in a bit of bad logic, which will be fixed in later versions of the paper; he also suggested another "economic debate" poem, which I'm hoping will turn out to be something really worth contrasting with W&W—i.e. it's too French, too late, too socioeconormative (who says late poststructuralist neologisms are dead?), etc.

Jeffrey's plenary was interesting, though I'll admit I didn't take that many notes; it was mostly cool just to see and hear him speak. He didn't sound quite like I'd imagined him when reading his work, but his voice does fit now: steady and quiet, yet persistent, and delighting in the wonder of discovering with you the awesomeness of the past.

Steven Kruger's plenary was more directly useful to me, though, because he talked about St. Erkenwald, a poem I'd been meditating on since I'd heard an interesting paper investigating its concerns with fame (and House of Fame) the day before. Steven also discussed different forms of conversion, and ways of reading "majoritarian" conversion (i.e. moving from a more secular to a more religious life within one's own faith community) as both like and unlike "minoritarian" conversion (e.g. of the Jews/Muslims/Mongols/Pagans/Heretics).

One curious thread uniting both these plenaries came not from their content but from Eileen's introduction of them. She described the work (and by implication, the lives) of both men as being "obsessed" with things: bodies (Jeffrey), queerness (Steven), time (both). Her use of "obsess," though, worries me, in part because obsession recalls to me compulsion as well, and with it the figure of not only, say, an Amadeus, but also a crazed, hoarding, untrustworthy person. Are we academics so far gone into our specialist cubbyholes that we can unselfconscioiusly refer to the work that we do as obsessing us, possessing us, causing us to give up our reason? I wholly doubt Eileen meant this, implying rather that both men find their own "red threads" that are persistent and fulfilling to discover, and perhaps, ironically, I have myself obsessed about obsession. Even so, it seemed slightly unheimlich at the time.

Other sessions were equally good: the session on Multimodal Teaching; the session in which CEH showed herself once more to be a fine scholar, and in which Lorraine Stock gave a cool paper on the afterlife of Geoffrey's Gomagog; the Chaucer panel in which I was forced to reconsider aesthetics, Sir Thopas, the role of Petrus Alfonsi in Chaucer, and my previous estimation of Carl Franks' work with Thomas Aquinas. Although I didn't get to hang out as much as I would have liked, it was nice to see people again, and to finally meet not only Steven Kruger and Jeffrey Cohen, but fellow blogger Karma, who actually made my afternoon by introducing herself to me.

I also got a mini walking tour of the surrounding area from St. Louis local and fellow SEMA-ite Lloyd (whose last name escapes me). I took lots of architecture pictures, many of which came out well and will soon be in their own album on my Facebook account.

For now, I'm tired, I have groceries to buy, books to read, papers to grade, and television to watch, probably in that order though no guarantees are made. For added fun, I'm coordinating the scoring of the Advanced Comp Exemption Exam this week, which means picking up the 400+ exams from the other end of campus, as well as spending three nights at campus until eight.


Nunc etiam, o amici

In other news, I've set the weekend of the 8th of November (i.e. noon on Friday the 7th to noon on Monday the 10th) to do my written comps. That should be enough time to finish that booklist. I've also finished:
  • The Owl and the Nightingale
  • Fredric Jameson. The Political Unconscious.
  • Patricia Clare Ingham. “Making All Things New: Past, Progress, and the Promise of Utopia.”
  • Karma Lochrie. “Sheer Wonder: Dreaming Utopia in the Middle Ages.”
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Medieval Identity Machines.
  • Hilário Franco. “La construction d’une utopie: l’Empire de Prêtre Jean.”
And will read
  • Daniel Birkholz. “Mapping Medieval Utopia: Exercises in Restraint.”
  • William Burgwinkle. “Utopia and Its Uses: Twelfth-Century Romance and History.”
  • John Ganim. Medievalism and Orientalism.
this week, and probably reread the Canterbury Tales next week. Žižek's In Defense of Lost Causes is still on my desk, as are a number of other books (Getting Medieval, Dreaming in the Middle Ages, Chaucerian Polity, usw) which I will eventually get around to reading.

Bloch's getting better, actually, now that I'm out of the "Here's why Freud and Jung are wrong in great and circular detail" section. Rereading Jameson's Political Unconscious was great, really, in part because he said a lot of things I'd forgotten he'd said in that book, and in part because his section on ideology and utopia (Chapter Six) had a lot of useful things that will make it into the diss.
From The Didactic Edge

So we're almost a month into the semester here at UAF, and this time around I'm teaching Honors World Literature to 1650. Ideally, this means I get a batch of students who are "smarter" than regular students; whether it actually means that I'm not sure. I will say that discussions have been better than usual, as have papers. I'll get to the latter in a minute, but first, here's what I'm doing this term.

I've decided that, in addition to the university-defined goals of this course (reading, understanding, and writing about literature), my students will also discuss the utopian content of world literature. To that end, we started off with two theoretical essays--Lyman Tower Sargent's "The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited" and Ernst Bloch's "The Wishful Landscape Perspective in Aesthetics"--which established not only some of the generic utopian conventions, but also that what I'm looking for is not the utopian form so much as the utopian spirit, Bloch's "Not-Yet-Conscious" or "Anticipatory Illumination." They seemed to take to this pretty well, I think, and our recent discussions of Gilgamesh, Plato, Aristotle, Sappho, and Callimachus have borne this out, not in the least because the theory has allowed them to approach the material they know (Gilgamesh, the Apology of Socrates) as fresh.

I've also included a writing component instead of quizzes this term. The writing assignment is due every three weeks, and students are asked to write 2-3 pages over one of the works we've discussed over that three-week period. I've also provided them with three ways that they can respond to that literature:
  1. Explain the utopian function in the work you have chosen. Identify the structural and/or narrative features of the text evoke hope, and propose ways we can use that hope content today.
  2. Take two non-consecutive passages of a larger work (or two shorter poems by the same author) and discuss what these passages have in common and why that common theme is important to our understanding of the work as a whole.
  3. Other than the approach I took in class, what critical perspective might also be useful for the work you’ve chosen (historical, feminist, postcolonial, etc.—see the “Critical Perspectives” handout on Blackboard)? Explain why this approach will be useful and provide a brief example of that reading.
Astute readers may recognize option two as a variant of Dr. Virago's "Crux Buster," which I tried to good effect last Spring in the English Lit Survey course.

I got their first response papers on Thursday, and have graded 14 of them (about 34% of the total [NB: I love my spreadsheet gradebook, because it lets me engage my bourgeois love for facts and figures!]) so far. A number of them responded to Gilgamesh, and of those, what they've said has ranged from expected mediocrity (vague thesis statements, insufficient evidence, etc.) to moments of blinding clarity. I've had well-written considerations of the value of Gilgamesh as a utopian figure, as well as a meditation on the Apology of Socrates that led into civic engagement and global unity. They haven't all been perfect, either—some of them have had trouble with the theory component—but it's a work in progress on both sides of the pedagogical divide.

So that's my teaching semester so far. I'm looking forward to the rest of it, honestly, and I'm hoping that the exercise will not only help my students become better (dialectically engaged, philosophically complex, socially aware) human beings, but--in the best academic tradition--will help me get a further handle on what I mean by utopianism.


Update on Reading List

The score is still Jacob 2, List 3 in the first half.

As of this moment, I have read (or re-read) the following:
  • Caedmon’s Hymn
  • Bede’s Story of Caedmons’ Hymn
  • The Battle of Maldon
  • Genesis A and B
  • Dream of the Rood
  • Guthlac A
  • The Phoenix
  • The Wanderer
  • The Seafarer
  • The Wife’s Lament
  • Deor
  • The Gifts of Men
  • The Fortunes of Men
  • Cotton Vitellius A.xv (Nowell Codex only):
  • Wonders of the East
  • The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle
  • Beowulf
  • The Three Dead Kings
  • Winner and Waster
  • Pearl
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Troilus & Criseyde
  • House of Fame
  • King Horn
  • Sir Orfeo
  • Several Lyrics and Ballads
  • Vincent Geoghegan. Utopianism and Marxism.
  • Louis Marin. Utopics: the Semiological Play of Textual Spaces.
  • Tom Moylan. Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia.
  • Lyman Tower Sargent. “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited.”
  • Sheila Delany. Chaucer’s House of Fame: The Poetics of Skeptical Fideism.
  • Jacques Le Goff. Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages.
I have also read some things that are not on my list but probably should have been:
  • Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern
  • Russell Jacoby, The End of Utopia
I am in the midst of reading (or re-reading) the following:
  • The Owl and the Nightingale
  • Geoffrey of Monmoth, History of the Kings of Britain
  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur
  • Ernst Bloch. The Principle of Hope. (all of it)
  • Fredric Jameson. The Political Unconscious.
  • Patricia Clare Ingham. “Making All Things New: Past, Progress, and the Promise of Utopia.”
  • Karma Lochrie. “Sheer Wonder: Dreaming Utopia in the Middle Ages.”
On the other hand, these I still have left to read (or wossname):
  • Life of St Christopher
  • Judith
  • La3amon, Brut
  • Mandeville’s Travels
  • Bevis of Hampton
  • Richard Coer de Lyon
  • Piers Plowman
  • The York Register of Corpus Christi Drama
  • Canterbury Tales
  • Fredric Jameson. Archaeologies of the Future.
  • Susan Stewart. On Longing.
  • Phillip Wegner. Imaginary Communities.
  • Daniel Birkholz. “Mapping Medieval Utopia: Exercises in Restraint.”
  • William Burgwinkle. “Utopia and Its Uses: Twelfth-Century Romance and History.”
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Medieval Identity Machines.
  • Hilário Franco. “La construction d’une utopie: l’Empire de Prêtre Jean.”
  • John Ganim. Medievalism and Orientalism.
  • Michael Uebel. Ecstatic Transformation.
Of them all, the following may show up in my dissertation:
  • Ernst Bloch's stuff
  • The House of Fame
  • Winner and Waster
  • Pearl?
  • Louis Marin?
  • Delany
  • The four articles from JMEMS
  • Both Jamesons
  • Cohen
  • Ganim
  • Uebel
None of the Old English stuff, or the early middle English stuff, or the Malory is going to make it in, because I'm limiting myself to the 14th century in England. This isn't to say I haven't had good ideas about that stuff—actually, I've started a wiki file just for Future Projects—but I do want to get done with the dissertation before I die.

To add to that, I've just received through ILL Slavoj Žižek's In Defense of Lost Causes, which is so interesting that everything else may get put on hold.


Another Book for the List

I woke up this morning to Jeffrey Cohen's post on the end of Carolyn Dinshaw's Getting Medieval, and realized that what she says is kind of what I wanted to say in my dissertation (who needs coffee now?). I should preface this by saying that, as the title indicates, I have not yet read Dinshaw's book, and so this post is a reaction to Jeffery's post more than it is to Getting Medieval. The discovery that Dinshaw is demanding what I want to demand should not have been as surprising as it was; after all, medieval studies is a field in which the past constantly shocks the modern world. But nine years on, Dinshaw's call to use "the ideas of the past, creating relations with the past, touching in this way our efforts to build selves and communities now and into the future" (206) seems from this end of the field like a project only barely begun. Perhaps it has led to to some very useful research and thought, but the full potential of this reading remains, well, potential.

And that's the problem. Literature, and the humanities as a whole, are not just a tool for academics to mumble on about things that should be done—communities, politics, lives expressed in the subjunctive. I know that neither Dinshaw nor anyone at In The Middle believes this, but I do think that is how the academic community tends to see the humanities: it is a field that does nothing but talk about potentials and becomings while having little to no effect on potentiality or actual change. If Althusser (my old standby) is still right, and the academy continues to exist in a position of power the ideological state apparatus, then we have a responsibility to do more than just "acknowledge" our status and "include" marginalized people within the apparatus. We have a responsibility to change how people think, in a way all people can understand, in a way that touches them directly. We may not be able to touch the past, but we can touch the present, and do more than "touch."

Based on what I've read at ITM this week, I would say that Dinshaw's message is an excellent start, but it needs revisiting (or visiting, in my case). I think—I hope—that a careful synthesis with utopian theory and a Marxist hermeneutics will help us discover not only how we can build those "selves and communities," but also why and to what end those selves and communities exist: to change the future, to make it a place without hunger, without exploitation, with, as we used to say (and believe when we said it), "liberty and justice for all."

NB: I like that ending, but I think the "synthesis with utopian theory and a Marxist hermeneutics" might need explaining. I believe this will be useful—despite all the problems that a late-Enlightenment rationalist philosophy has—because I believe that the only way to effect real material change is to believe in a real material world. I think the bridge between that and the ideological/ideal world is utopian theory, and thus I am in solidarity with Ernst Bloch's docta spes: hope, yes, but an educated hope, one that returns to the ground to show how what it saw in the sky can be used on the ground.

Edit: On rereading Jeffrey's post, I think the power of the adjective queer finally hit me: it's a gender-flavored version of the same politics I've been aiming for all along. If we queer the middle ages (borrowing Glenn Burger and Steven F Kruger's phrasing), we make it unheimlich enough that it becomes a critical position in discourse. In other words, queering makes the medieval (or any field) different in a way that lets us argue for (and even argue our way into) real change.

All this has made me more certain that my final chapter is going to be programmatic (without being dogmatic): after moving through numerous medieval texts, I'm going to talk about what those texts show us, and the possibilities they open up for us. To use an example some of you might hear me deliver at SEMA in a few weeks, the potential of Winner and Waster is that it shows a way that one class can "win" a major victory purely through language, leading to a restructuring of society in which everyone, from the king to the Winners, the Wasters, and even the poor, can be better off than they were before. It's not a perfect victory, but it's a good idea, and one we can build from and perhaps even try again.


Dissertation Interlude: The End of Utopia.

I've been reading outside my comps list this week, because I finished two things on it and thought I deserved a break. I'm not sure Russell Jacoby's The End of Utopia constitutes a "break," since it is about utopianism, specifically the lack of it in late-20th-century liberal discourse. Jacoby is righteously angry at the slow transition from utopianism to acquiescence: we (meaning primarily American intellectuals and/or academics) no longer take the time to imagine the truly different, and the energy we used to devote to that imagining has been given over to surface-level differences. In his second chapter, Jacoby takes on multiculturalism, which he sees as problematic because it replaces thought on economic and social alternatives with a nebulously defined sense of "culture":
If the economic skeleton of culture were put on the table, patter about diversity might cease; it would be clear that the diverse cultures rest on the same infrastructures . . . . The economic structure of society—call it advanced industrial society or capitalism or the market economy—stands as the invariant; few can imagine a different economic project . . . . The future looks like the present with more options. Multiculturalism spells the demise of utopia. (39-40)
One should note, however, that Jacoby is not against the idea of diversity, that is, of hearing more voices from the historically oppressed. His concern is that these historically oppressed groups, once existing on the margins of society, used to represent groups that could actually challenge the status quo. Now, however, such groups seek inclusion in the hierarchy, becoming "Women's Studies" or "African-American Studies" programs that seek to promote their "culture" while losing their status as ideological enclaves able to question the dominant ideology.

Louis Althusser writes that Ideological State Apparatuses (the tools through which ideology upholds and creates the state) are not only the "stake, but also the site of class struggle, and often of bitter forms of class struggle," in part because the ruling class cannot completely control ideological discourse, allowing the exploited classes "to find means and occasions to express itself there [in ISAs], either by the utilization of their contradictions, or by conquering combat positions in them in struggle" (147). I would say that Jacoby's concern is that multiculturalism is too much of the latter and very little of the former: once the positions within dominant ideology have been established (Women's studies, gender studies, Latin American studies, etc.), those who occupy those positions are more concerned with showing that we are all the same, deep down.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with his argument, though I find parts of it very convincing. After all, it seems that we do offer up a "choice" between identities that changes our basic relationship to economic society very little—I can be "masculine" or "feminine"; "white," "black," "brown," or "red"; "German," "English," "!Xhosan," "Maya," or "Cantonese"; and still participate in consumer society. However, there is a difference in the way that each of these identities participates in consumer society, although Jacoby is right that such differences are fading as Globalization proceeds.

Because we (again, Jacoby seems to mean "American" when he says "we") all really participate in the same basic economic culture—late capitalism—we end up seeking some form of individuation, some bulwark of difference against the large, totalizing force of consumer culture. As Jacoby puts it, "it is the rootless, not the rooted, who fetishize their roots" (48). The problem, then, is that we stop at the surface-level: if we just put on a different hat or a new sarong, it will all be fine. Again, it is good to have multiple voices in the great social conversation, but those voices need to be saying something other than "we belong to the dominant ideology;" they need to be saying "we will change that ideology." Although Jacoby does not suggest (or has not yet suggested) this, we need to look deeper, and remember that the experience of being e.g. a woman in consumer society is different than being a man in said society, and that that difference can critique not only male consumerism but the notion of consumerism itself. We academics are, to turn to Althusser once more, the higher orders of the ideological apparatus; if we cannot engage that apparatus dialectically, if we cannot put our hands to the machine while we are this close to it, when will we? Part of our job as educators should be to open up even further those spaces in discourse where critiques of that discourse can be made; is this not what we mean by "getting our students to think?"

This is why the European (and in my case, English) middle ages are important to us. They are one of the many places in present-day discourse that represent alternatives. Something to take away from Jacoby is the need to be careful about the "utopianism" one creates: is it providing actual alternatives, or is it just a new hat for the same old social body? I don't want to create the scholarly equivalent of a capitalist at a Renfair. As much as I fetishize the middle ages—and I know I do, with my classics-driven education and my deliberately Anglo-Saxon clerical shorthand, and so on—it does not help to see the Middle Ages as the root of modernity. Instead, we should look at it as a dialectical position with the notion of modernity. As John Ganim and others have argued, the medieval (along with the orient) exists as the primo Western Other, the space in which the modern West can define what it is not. The medieval can provide the seeds for real alternative social orders, not just the wan hope of the pluralism Jacoby describes (pardon the pun on wanhope/despair), but a springboard into new ideas. I do not yet know what those ideas will be (that is part of the dissertating process, after all), but I do know that "the medieval," as a dialectical partner for "the modern," can produce those ideas.

The essential thing is to keep grounded: how does the reading I (or you, or anyone) provide speak to the conditions "on the ground" in the world? This ties, of course, with those notions of presentism that I ran across first in Eileen Joy's post (see here, and here for my response): our work should always exist as if it were important, because it may yet be.

Works Cited
Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)." Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Tr. Ben Brewester. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. 127-183.
Jacoby, Russell. The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy. New York: Basic Books, 1999.


And then this happened . . .

So, as noted at #4 in the last post, I'm reading A. C. Spearing's Textual Subjectivity, because I think it might be useful for The Dissertation, and I need something to do while my students are taking their Awesome Test. And I'm trucking along through the book, reading some intersting things about narrator theory and subjectivity, and then I hit this:
Modern readings of Chaucer in particular tend to focus on psychology and ideology, even when these obscure or explicitly deny the qualities that have made it a pleasure to read his work and have kept it alive over the centuries. One thing that emerges from a study of interpretations of Troilus and Criseyde and The Man of Law's Tale is that many recent scholars do not allow their judgments to be guided by the pleasure-giving power of Chaucer's poetry, and sometimes seem actively to resist and dislike it. I hope the present investigation will not lose touch entirely with the primitive and indispensable goal of pleasure (34).
My response to this is "so what?" While I do not deny that there might be pleasure in reading Troilus and Criseyde or Pearl or even Ancrine Riwle, the pleasure of reading would seem to have a rather limited place in textual criticism. Certainly you need to enjoy the text you're reading in order to endure it long enough to critique it, but pleasure itself is too subjective a response to be useful after that moment. Expressing one's like or dislike for a text then seems secondary to the goal of explaining something about what a text does and how it does that. We are, for the most part, no longer pure formalists, finding joy in the how of a text and never asking why a text might do what it does. Indeed, allowing one's "judgments to be guided by the pleasure-giving power of . . . poetry" might even be problematic: what happens when one finds pain, or discomfort, or that moment of outright unheimlich in the poetry? Do we turn away because it is no longer a source of joy? Rather, these are the moments on which we linger, the moments where we become confused or uncomfortable, the moments that demand the "why" of criticism. In this sense, an aesthetic judgment may be necessary, but it does not seem to be quite the "end all" that Spearing seems to suggest here.

I realize that this may be far from what Spearing was arguing in this passage, and of course I am not done with the book, but this gut-reaction reductio doesn't seem so absurd as it might. In any event, the question remains: why make this textual move here, where it seems so out of place?

I am also aware of the metatexual nature of this musing, in that a moment of textual weirdness in Spearing's work incited me to discourse—thereby demonstrating my point that perhaps we get more discourse out of the odd than out of the pleasurable. Derevaun seraun, as Joyce said, and the end of that is criticism.
The Wossname of Small Things

A few things:
1) I am no further on my reading list than I was last week. Teaching every day is beginning to seem less and less like a good idea. (What administrator thought years ago that two six-week summer sessions was better than one 12-week summer session?)

2) On that note, however, I am giving a midterm today, and one that has garnered me the first compliment I ever received from a student about an exam—he said it was a good exam and very challenging. Nice.

3) Sadly, my friend and office companion JCP will not be returning for a PhD in the fall, because, as he put it, he does not feel up to the task of producing the kind of scholarship that is required of professional scholars, not even given world enough and time. Along with being severely missed, this leads to two admittedly very selfish problems:
a) He brought a computer to the office for general use, and I have appropriated it; I now hope he leaves the computer.
b) The desk directly across from me is empty, and there's a good chance they'll fill it with someone I don't like. (Maybe ALS could be convinced to move?)
Also, it means that, unless he returns to school, I will always be The Doctor and he The Master, which means that one day this will happen:

4) Based on the Speculum review, I have begun to read A. C. Spearing's Textual Subjectivity.

5) Based on the fact that her introduction convinced me that the "defective" branch is a valid object of study, I have ordered Kohanski's edition of The Book of John Mandeville.

6) Based on nothing at all, here is this, which still amuses me:


Atemporal musings

I suppose I've fallen off everyone's blogroll, since I post so rarely, but I do keep up with what the neighbors are saying. Today, for instance, I read a fascinating post by Eileen Joy over at ITM. Responding to comments on medievalism made by Stephanie Trigg at this year's Leeds conference, Eileen implies that the false medievalism/medieval reality dichotomy leads us to believe that any presentism in our scholarship is medievalism and therefore not rigorous scholarship. This notion, in turn, blinds us to the force that our scholarship can (or at least should) have:
It seemed to me then [at the Leeds session] and now in our present moment when human [and other] rights are under terrible assault in a country--the United States--that calls itself an historical democracy and that supposedly believes in historical due processes of law, and which has no problem calling its enemies "medieval," that medieval studies has a great responsibility, indeed, and one that must never forget its location in the [troubling and troubled] present.
Remembering that schoarship is always-already presentist (or in our particular jargon, a "medievalism") leads her to argue that we can and should act "as if" our scholarship has meaning in a wider world—because it does:
I cannot see that we have any other choice but to proceed "as if" things could be better if only we were to believe they might be emended, recuperated, attended to, saved, ameliorated, healed, touched, moved, affected, changed, etc. by our labors--labors, moreover, rooted in a fierce attention to and regard for others, wherever they might be, past, present, or future.
This engages directly with the project of locating the utopian in medieval studies because, on the one hand, the "utopian medieval" is not a misnomer, despite the "Renaissanciness" of "utopian" (pardon the Colbertism)—something that I have argued here before and in my work on the discourse of the utopian medieval (coming soon to a oral defense near you me). On the other, it is a reminder that ultimately what matters in scholarship is the generation of new ideas, whether those are scientific, pedagogical, literary, historical, sociological, home economical, agricultural, or (for better or worse) mercatorial. Looking for past utopian traces allows us to reexamine our own present, and provides ways for us to imagine outward from the present moment.

If this is a medievalism, then so be it. It's a good medievalism. As Utah Phillips used to say of Amon Hennesy's song "I Will Not Obey,"
I told him, "Singing a song like that will get you into a lot of trouble."
"That's okay," he said. "It's good trouble."
It's good medievalism.


Checking In

So, I have a dissertation reading list now, and it's ginormous. I've got some Old English stuff, some Middle English stuff, and some critical stuff, and no, you can't see the list, because . . . well, see previous.

I have, however, finished the Old English stuff, with the exception of the Nowell Codex, which I have a) agreed to read all of, and b) won't read until I can read all of it, which is to say, until I have a copy of Andy Orchard's Pride and Prodigies. I've been keeping a Wiki of my notes (via the increasingly awesome and life-giving TiddlyWiki) on the theory that having organized notes will make the written comps a whole lot nicer.

So yeah, finished the OE stuff, and in addition to seeing exactly what Jeffrey Cohen found so cool about Guthlac, I've been fascinated by the chronological order that the Phoenix seems to keep. Seriously--what kind of bird keeps time? I was also curious about the way that Deor seems to configure himself not as a person but as a series of lived memories: when saying "þas oferrode, þisses swa mæg," he not only takes refuge in the suffering of others, he makes his (comparatively minor) suffering the equal of theirs, while at the same time putting himself on the level of his mythological and social ancestors.

Also, I got an abstract off to SEMA in time for them to extend the deadline—but hell, it's off now, so cool. As far as Kazoo is concerned, I am under the impression that next year's conference program will come out soon, and that I will apply directly to the panel that I think might take me. Then, in what seems to be conference tradition, I will wait until the plane ride up to actually write the inevitably postmodern, buzzword-filled paper, because apparently Kazoo is about the drinking and dancing.

(That was a joke, folks—but I have been keeping up with the Charlotte Allen issue.)

Meanwhile, I keep forgetting this, but I do live and work in a town that is annually invaded by Wal*Mart shareholders, who today seem to have decided to hold their little Nuremburg rallies outside my office. This is why God (or a reasonable facsimile) made mp3 players.


Unknown Kadath . . . known?

We interrupt your medieval minds for pure madness. So, in the middle of rereading both Lovecraft and the Theses on Feuerbach, I ran across this story from what I'm sure is a reputable news source, "Laura Lee's Conversation for Exploration":


Yes, that's right: the government doesn't want you to see the latest pictures from an Antarctic expedition. Also, Hitler's brain (wearing a jaunty straw hat) directs UFOs from the center of the earth to destroy major US landmarks at the behest of Barack Obama . . . pass it on.

You may now resume medievaling.


Little Things

I finished a draft of my Medievalism/Nostalgia/The Supernatural/Green Arrow paper on Wednesday, and it's sat on my desk since. Today, I re-read it, and while it's still rough, it's not as bad as I thought it would be or as those solidii would indicate. Now, of course, it's time to print it off, let it sit on my desk until next Wednesday, and see if it's improved any.

Meanwhile, one of my students, in the course of being counseled on her (lack of having a) paper topic, let slip that apparently several of my students find me intimidating. Now, I'm no small guy (I'm not a man-mountain, either, but I digress), and I have a beard and a brain (a bearded brain? . . . see how my mind works? If I weren't a medievalist I'd have been a Gothicist). Still, intimidating? Sheesh.

Anyway, WAQ returned my conference draft with comments, and suggested (and this is a direct quotatation) that I "put more bodies in" so it would jive with SEMA this year. So I will, though I don't see where I'm going to get them—perhaps the barber's?


All Up On Appleton House

Yeah, that was a lame title, but it does introduce the fact that I spent most of today working on a lecture about Marvell's famous country-house poem. It's a great lecture, too: it introduces the Civil War, it talks about Marvell himself, the genre of country-house poems, and then goes on for about six pages of textual readings. I approach "Upon Appleton House" as a kind of psychogeography, and while I know that's mostly about urban places, I'd like to think it applies to any land/mindscape. I take into account the ideological function of the prioress' speech and Wm. Fairfax's retort, along with the excessively martial fields (not a pun) that force Marvell into the sweet, self-deconstructing woods that are also his patron's daughter. It's a weird poem, to be sure, and I'm going to have fun with it.

Surprisingly, this has left me a little braindead, which is frustrating, because I still have to:
  • Write the final for my world literature course;
  • Heavily revise (or not) my Don Quixote lectures;
  • Type out and subsequently revise my Son-Jara lectures;
  • Write the last section of the "close reading" part of the Green Arrow paper; and
  • Figure out what's salvageable from that same paper so that I can write a better one.
That's going to end up being what happens this week, if I'm lucky.


Long Time Gone

You know, things have been really busy this semester, and when they haven't been busy, I haven't wanted to blog. So, here's what's been going on:

I've been working on a project for MKB's Culture of Longing seminar (the book version of which will be coming to stores near you soon) in which I try to argue that Green Arrow is not a nostalgic reification of "the medieval," but is in fact a utopian re-appropration of not only medieval style but also medieval utopian energy. I deliberately used the word "try" there, because it's not quite working out the way I wanted; instead, the paper seems to want to go in several other directions that, while perhaps more agreeable to the goals of MKB's course, are not things I want to talk about either in my dissertation or at all.

I've also finalized my reading list; it's mostly cribbed from two sources: Bradley's Anglo-Saxon Poetry (though since I've put all of the back end of Cotton Vitellius A.xv on it, I'll probably have to get Andy Orchard's Pride and Prodigies as well); and Garbaty's Middle English Literature anthology (with the Riverside for Chaucer—I'm reading CT, TC, and HoF). The secondary readings include a lot of Marxist theory on utopias, like Fredric Jameson, Tom Moylan, Philip Wegner, and Louis Marin, as well as some key medieval critical texts, like Jeffrey Cohen, Michael Uebel, Sheila Delaney, and the Autumn 2006 issue of JMEMS. It should be an interesting summer.

Also, I will be going to Daytona this summer for the AP scoring sessions, so there's a week in June that's shot.

As of yet, I haven't applied to SEMA, though I will as soon as WAQ weighs in on the conference version of the Winner and Waster paper I did last fall. I'm kind of lost as to how things work with K'zoo; I won't be going this year, obviously, but I'd like to go the next. Any advice on how to do that, blogosphaeroids?

Finally, last week was CAC's NNnd birthday; we went to a local arcade/family entertainment thingie to ride go-karts, play some skeeball, and win a lot of cheap prizes. Festivities included our friend JSJ riding the mechanical bull; the first two times were mildly funny, but the third is a classic example of hubris:

Catch that? He yells "I am the King of Riding Things," and is immediately dethroned for his pride.

So, that's me in a nutshell. What have you been doing, reader(s)?


Late Night at the Social Club

I'm done with my talk on academic writing. It's basically a paraphrase of Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein's They Say/I Say, but with a little of my voice in it and of course nowhere near as entertaining or engaging. They'll hate it, but I don't care. They'll be learning.

I should have been in bed an hour ago; I should also have been done with The Protestant Ethic. Why is neither of those things true? Because a chance googling of Marlin Perkins lead to: the lemming; myths of lemming suicide; Lemmings the PC game; a Linux clone of Lemmings; Linux clones of games; Super Tux, a Super Mario clone; Lincity, a SimCity clone. The last ate two hours of my time. (This house cries shame!)

. . . meanwhile, one of my students has already emailed me a draft of an assignment that isn't due for a week. I'll read it in the morning.
Infelix Me

I've spent the past two weeks sick with the 97th Annual Departmental Flu, which I blame entirely on a certain colleague who just got back from England. While this isn't that bad—and I'm mostly over it—it did cause me to royally flub my Lysistrata lecture on Thursday. Curiously, it was only that lecture, out of the eight I've had to do in the past fortnight, but perhaps it was because I made the mistake of relying on memory to get things done rather than really going back and reviewing the text and my notes.

Actually, the past few weeks have been frustrating on another level, because while I have notes from the last time I taught World Literature, I don't have them all: I was in the middle of typing them up when the hard drive on the lappy gave out, and I was not yet the sort of person who backed things up all the damn time. Paranoia, born of multiple (hopefully not annual) crashes, was not yet a permanent resident of my skull. As a result, I've had to reconstruct the lectures for Gilgamesh and Lysistrata, and I've also discovered that the lectures for everything else are just awful. I guess trying to write the kinds of lectures I did for ENGL 2303 in the summer wasn't yet part of my game. So . . . research ahoy! Which is like Chips Ahoy only with less chocolate and more library. Mmm . . . . Library.

Otherwise, it's been kind of quiet. My birthday passed with little incident, because I was sick, and because I am indecisive and so are all my friends, so anything to do with it was very last-minute. The discussion of American Gods in MKB's Culture of Longing seminar (soon to be on a bookshelf near you!) [1] did not go very smoothly, nor will this week's of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which if I hurry I might just finish in time for class. I'm also sitting in on WAQ's impromptu (and very crowded) Old English kaffeklatsch currently held in his office; we're doing what we've done before, which is the "go away and read this, come back and we'll all stumble over the language and the translations, and then you'll all go away again." It's good practice, though, because someday, should I get tenure, someone is going to ask me if I can teach an Old English course, and I'd rather not have to say no, to which they'll reply so why did we hire a medievalist and I'll say because you needed someone to teach Chaucer, not Beowulf and then there would be fisticuffs. So, let's learn OE!

I still haven't heard from ETS about scoring the AP exam this year, but as I and several of my co-scoring friends (Hi Amalie!) have determined, they seem to be running a bit behind this year.

Meanwhile, the Graduate Students in English held a workshop on publication, which was largely successful even if Certain Persons turned it once more into the this profession is dark and will chew you up and spit you out in tiny pieces conversation. It was pretty good, and had some useful advice, such as:
  • Write publishable articles and do the marketing, which seems mean "read lots of criticism so you can get an idea of what good criticism looks like and what journal(s) are more likely to accept the stuff you do."
  • Q: When should grad students begin to publish? A: When you can use criticism without using it slavishly.
  • "On the job market" is too late to start publishing; however, having been accepted is what matters (i.e. you can list something as "in publication" on your CV).
  • Don't always be daunted by responses/rejections.
  • KEEP sending them to good journals.
  • Start from the best journal and go down; that way, even if it's rejected by them, it hasn't been locked up by some journal with low prestige.
  • It's okay to publish outside your field at first; some people will look askance at out-of-field publications, but they shouldn't. DO try to have something in your field, and you shouldn't go on the market with publications not in your field unless you're prepared to defend yourself.
  • Always write for publication. Assume that other people are already part of the conversation; don't summarize too much. You don't have to tell them everything you know.
  • Try to form a writing group of two or three peers to co-read each other's work; often this group will last beyond your college years.
  • Read what the journal says its goals are. Don't send things to journals that they won't publish. (Apparently Shakespeare Quarterly gets a lot of non-Bard articles). ONLY library time will tell you for sure.
  • Look for what the journal wants: its house style, the content of its articles, the LENGTH (usually ~30,000 words) and format requirements. Make sure your stuff is up to their standards BEFORE you send it off.
  • Spend one day or so every few weeks just sitting in the library reading journals.
  • Make the cover letter short and to the point (My name is this; this is my article; please consider it for publication). Don't pour your heart out. DO put it on departmental letterhead.
Sound advice, all.

Right. I've got a lecture on the Ramayana to finish, and another lecture on how to write like an academic (as if I know) to build from scratch/borrow heavily from Gerald Graff.

[1] If you think I'm kidding about this, then you should know that the syllabus for this seminar contained a very telling typo: This volume will detail the development of the various kinds of national myths . . . .


First Week Annoyances

I'm teaching two classes this term: one section of World Literature to 1650 and one section of Survey of English Literature to 1700 (really to 1660). I don't mind teaching either class, really; in fact, I think the first "real" lectures in both classes went pretty well (the background to Gilgamesh and the "conversion" of Britannia into Anglo-Saxon England). What I mind is this: apparently the "enrollment limit" attached to each section means nothing to the people who do overrides. The cap on my survey course is something like 38; I have 43 as of this moment. What's worse is the section of World Lit: the cap there is supposed to be around 25, but is currently 32, and has been slowly creeping up since Tuesday. I have, then, 75 students; not so bad as Jeffrey Cohen's 80 in one section, but still no walk in the park.

This is doubly disappointing since my plan was—and to some extent remains—to follow a modified form of what Dr Virago suggests for teaching the research paper; since I, lowly worm of a grad student that I am, have no control over the books for my class, I can't assign They Say/I Say, so I've reduced that to a single lecture and handouts—and occasional "crux busters" instead of one every week or two. We'll see how it goes, but with 43 students there and another 32 in the other section, I don't know how much I can expect to get done.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on my reading list for comps; the primary-text list is just about done (I still need to make some decisions about lyrics and drama). From there, I ask another professor about theory, and then that list will be complete, and then I read it, and then I cry.

Nothing yet on publication; I still have every intention of going to SEMA this fall and possibly K'Zoo in the spring.


Unhealthy Behavior

All right, I'm back. Upcoming this year: another attempt at publication; SEMA in the fall (here's hoping!); and oh, my comprehensive exams, also in the fall. Sheesh.

Right now, I'm teaching a section of World Lit I and a section of Survey of English Lit I. Essentially it's the same schedule They wanted to saddle me with last summer, but this time I've taught both courses and have adequate preparation. Or will, when I get off the internet.

And why can't I get off the internet? Because they posted one of my class rosters today on ISIS, and I have spent the last hour with the roster in one window and Facebook in the other, stalking my students. I don't know if this is healthy (but the title of the post says otherwise), but it does let me get a "sneak peak" of my students so I can become biased no, wait determine who passes and fails based on taste er, better prepare my lectures. Yeah. That's it.

I'll do it again when the WLIT syllabus is posted.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of trying to publish the paper I wrote for Alliterative Revival. While my adviser savaged it (as he is wont to do—I think it's part of the job of being an adviser: "Be the most horrible possible editor so that your advisees know what it's like to be ravaged by gorillas") he also offered many helpful tips toward publishing it, some of which I may take. It does need work, though; perhaps if I combine it with my paper from Discourse Analysis?

My last bit of "official" coursework ever is a seminar on "the Culture of Longing." It should be an interesting romp though American pop culture, especially the supernatural stuff. How will it fit with the medieval? Who knows? Maybe Jeffrey Cohen or Michael Uebel.