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.