Saturday, August 06, 2011

A Saga sort of post.....

A brief post today, but one of joy. For a number of reasons, not least because it will form part of my teaching stable of texts this fall, I've been trying to work my way through Hrafnkel's Saga in Old Norse. My favorite spouse's decision to take a job half a continent away and all that that entails lost me a month of scholarly fun and work. Ah well. So I was running a quick eye over what I had translated so far of the saga before taking on the next chunk. One of the things I was struck by was the names for Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire, and the Greeks.

Constantinople is called often in Old Norse Miklagarthi--the great enclosed dwelling place. The emperor is called Garthikonungr, king of the dwelling place, but alos Grikkjakonungr, king of the Greeks.

This raises some issues for me, some of them good. First, I love as always the compounding (there is a great deal of compounding Latin and Romance languages too, but that often goes unappreciated. Admittedly the nature of compounding there is somewhat different.) But the name "Great Enclosure" just strikes me as so descriptive. "Garthi" (and forgive me, I don't know how to get eths, thorns, ashes, and the like into blogger) is cognate to Old English geard, which gives modern yard: both mean an enclosure and can be applied to a house, a farm, a yard in our sense, a garden, a enclosed space. I love this word. So versatile, so meaningful.

"Garthi" has interesting cognates around the I-E family besides in Old English. Latin hortus is, as in horticulture, as is the second part of the word cohors, giving modern English cohort. Cohors in it's primary meaning is simply an enclosure, but comes to signify a troop whether legions, cavalry, or other unit since they are enclosed in a fort. Greek Xortus (x=chi) for a pasture, OIrish gort for a garden and Breton garz for the same are likewise cognate.

In English we have other related words: gird the verb, and from gird the verb girder, the thing enclosing space in buildings; another enclosing device from the same root is girdle. Speaking of things going about one's middle, there's also girth, as in what goes around a horse's middle for the saddle, and then by extension talking someone's girth in the sense of how round about they are or are not. An archaic word from the north derives directly from garthi in Old Norse: garth. It now survives chiefly as the technical name for the cloister garth, the cloister enclosure. The word court has an interesting history as well. It comes to English from OFrench, cour, itself from Latin cohors. Orchard is another English derivative, probably wort (vegetables) geard in Old English, or vegetable garden...and as long as I'm mentioning "garden" how about the word garden itself? That's a round about one, coming from OFrench by way of Latin again though vulgar Latin picked up a Frankish word, *gardum, cognate with yard.

There are important names that should make more sense now. Asgard, the enclosure of the Aesir, Midgard, the middle enclosure, related to middenerd and middengeard, Old English terms for "middle enclosure." We now call this middle enclosure, Middle Earth after a certain someone's books. And now you will be able to tell what the names Hortense and Hildegard have in common besides being old-fashioned now.

Anyway, the second issue is that I love the descriptive compounding of the Germanic languages. Constantinople, Constantine's polis, as the "Great Enclosure" and the emperor as "king of the enclosure" is something that rather tickles my philology bone. But it is also reminiscent of Tolkien who obviously copied this type of compounding, descriptive names from Indo-European, nay, specifically Germanic languages. Nor am I only thinking here of Mundburg, the hill of protection, as the Rohirrim call Minas Tirith. Rather I am thinking of Minas Tirith itself, the Tower of Guard. Even in his invented languages, Tolkien is still using the Germanic mechanism of descriptive naming. Ok, to be fair there are other languages that certainly do similar things. Jerusalem, built in peace for example. Still we know that ol' Tollers knew the Germanic and other Indo-European languages long before he looked too closely into Hebrew. So, when he writes about Minas Tirith, using that descriptive compound, and the Rohihrrim call it Mundburg (direct from old English mundbeorg, btw, which is used to describe Jerusalem.....), we see the same naming conventions at work that we do with Miklagarthi. Nor are these the only examples. One could look at the fabulously named Orthanc, which in the invented Sindarin means "Mount Fang" since the structure rises from the Ring of Isengard rather like an iron fang out of the earth. But it is also an Old English word meaning a skillful contrivance or construction...but like "crafty", orthanc can have another meaning, something cunning...cunning being a skillful contrivance that has bad connotations to it. Not surprisingly, the character who dwelled in Orthanc, Saruman, whose name in Old English means "man of skill" or man of cunning depending on context. Point is, the man and the place have synonymous names.

What does this segue into Tolkienia have to do with Hrankel and stuff? Not a lot admittedly, but let's bring it back there. Orthanc and Saruman live in the Ring of Isengard. Isengard means "iron enclosure", here in the sense of fortress, not unlike Miklagarthi. But the Tolkienian name could secondarily be "enclosure on the Isen" since the Isen River, the Iron River, flows right by Isengard. But the "gard" and the "geard" and yard, and Miklagarthi bring us back full circle to Hrafnkel.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Piece of Job Market Advice

So....a job advice column. You know how some schools have you fill out an application PLUS send letter, references, CV, teaching philosophy, CV etc...and after the upteenth time of filling this out, you just start putting "see my CV" on the application.

Let me give you a piece of advice. Don't give in to that temptation! Oh, I know how tempting it is. Your time is precious and short. You are trying to teach, research and write, and apply for jobs...enough for anyone but you have other obligations too. And all that information you have supplied in multiple ways already!!

Thing is, as I've recently discovered, those applications are likely the first thing that a search committee will see at those institutions and will make a determination of the first cut on the basis of those applications and only really begin to look at the materials you've provided if you make the first cut. Do you have the essential credentials? They can tell at a glance on those applications. If you've not filled it out completely or said "see my CV", chances are your application will hit the round file. Essentially you've asked the committee members to do extra work on your behalf, to go look elsewhere to see if you are worthy of their consideration. It's like a student asking for extra credit when they haven't done the work in the first place: why should I have to do extra work for a student who hasn't worked at all so far and now wants a favor? Same thing here. So let me advise you facing job markets: no matter how time consuming or how frustrating (and it is so very frustrating from the job hunter's point of view), if you want to be considered for that slot: fill out the application thoroughly, completely, and use even that document to make yourself shine as much as possible. Give them every reason to consider you and make the first cut.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Please forward to all and sundry.

The Heroic Age is currently inviting papers on the following topics:

LAST CALL: Issue 16: Alcuin and His Impact

Alcuin spans the Anglo-Saxon and Continental worlds and his influence is
felt far beyond his own period and place. This issue seeks to explore
the man, his times, and his influence on his contemporaries and on
subsequent generations.

Articles should be 7000 words including bibliography and endnotes, and
conform to The Heroic Age's in-house style. Instructions may be found
under Submission Instructions. All submissions will be reviewed by two
readers according to a double-blind policy. All submissions should be
sent to Larry Swain.

Issue 17: Carolingian Border-Lands

This issue seeks to explore the lands and peoples surrounding the
Carolingian kingdom(s) and the relationship between empire and
"periphery". Possible topics might include, but not be limited to: the
Spanish March, Carolingians and England and Ireland, the Scandinavian
countries, Carolingian "foreign policy" and trade,
cross-border/cultural/linguistic influences, Italy, Byzantine Empire and
the Carolingians, Saxons, Avars and Slavs just to name a few. The focus
is on the regions surrounding the Carolingians and possibly Carolingian
relationships with those borderlands whether political, religious, or

Articles should be 7000 words including bibliography and endnotes, and
conform to The Heroic Age's in-house style. Instructions may be found
under Submission Instructions. All submissions will be reviewed by two
readers according to a double-blind policy. All submissions should be
sent to Larry Swain.

Issue 18: Occitan Poetry

We would like to invite submissions for the special 2012 issue of HA on
Occitan poetry, edited by Anna Klosowska (Miami U. of OH). We are
interested in submissions including but not limited to the following
topics and approaches:

editions or translations of a short text or texts or a portion of a
longer text (especially lesser known texts)
transnational and postcolonial approaches, Jewish, Arabic,
Mediterranean, Near Eastern, and cultural studies
feminism, queer theory, Marxism, psychoanalysis, history of emotions,
history of subjectivity, critical animal studies
philology, musicology, poetics, manuscript study, material history and
history of ideas, medievalism
Publication: June 2012 (online)
Final revisions due: March 1, 2012
Response from anonymous readers by: December 1, 2012
Submission due: July 1, 2011

Submissions should be 3000 words including bibliography and endnotes,
and conform to The Heroic Age's in-house style. Instructions may be
found under Submission Instructions. All submissions will be reviewed by
two readers according to a double-blind policy. All submissions should
be sent to Anna Klosowska, Special Issue Editor.
Larry Swain

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Serendipity of Gigantism

So, this is a bit old now, nearly a month in fact. Thus, I will not post links. But about 3.5 weeks ago I had one of those moments when various strands and streams of thought converged. This time the point of convergence was giants.

For various reasons I was reading about Rabelais and his giants, esp. Pantagruel. The whole thing rather reminded me of Snorri's tale of creation in Prose Edda. That brought to reflecting on the Marduk and Tiamat tale of Babylonian mythology that many think lies behind biblical Genesis 1.

At the same time, I had reason to review Grettir's Saga, the part where Glam enters the hall and the battle between the two begins. The saga describes Glam as quite a large draugr.

Meanwhile, J. J. Cohen was talking about an encyclopedia article he was writing about....yes, giants and gigantism etc. Then on Facebook Cohen also mentioned that he had found a review of his book, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, And The Middle Ages.

All these giants kept hitting me. Should I take the hint?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two Mentions

I neglected to mention in my K'zoo post two rather important folk:

First, I think it was Friday that while with the Great Nokes at the Witan Publishing booth, I met the team behind Very nice folk and I for one very much appreciate what they do over there.

The other person that I am very embarrassed not to have mentioned and with whom I was unable to spend nearly enough time is my good friend Dot Porter. Talented, smart, digital humanitarian extraordinaire....I hope to rectify my wrongs here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kalamazoo at Last

At last, my report on Kalamazoo 2011. Few seem to do this anymore, which is sad considering how significant this conference is. And how large. There is no way that any one person can give an account of all the great scholarship (and sometimes not so great) that is read at Congress. So I annually appreciate the comments of my fellow bloggers the Medieval Geek who posts his experiences every year. Since Curt gets to sessions I can not attend or haven't attended, I always learn a great deal from his posts and so appreciate those posts. His posts also include info about books he purchases; these are enjoyable as well but also educational as a way of being apprised of what is going on out there even in areas I am interested in. In the Medieval Middle also had some K'zoo related posts, mostly from Jeffrey Cohen. I heard rumors of papers being tweeted, but since I have so little time anyway, Twitter is one of the lines I have drawn for myself: that is, I don't Twitter because right now I don't need another thing to keep up on. But if anyone knows for sure, send me a note and I'll add it here. Also there were a few comments by Nokes, Unlocked Wordhoard on this year's K'zoo. You might notice some guy posing as me with the Great Nokes. Vaulting and Vellum also had a post on post-Kalamzoo. That's all I know. Granted I'm behind on my reading, even of blogs, and others may be like me and be delayed in posting about K'zoo. In any case, here's my conference.

For the third year in a row, events conspired to prevent me from being at Congress as planned. I had planned on being there Wednesday afternoon, meeting with some old friends, doing some work, and having dinner with fellow attendees with Thursday dawning bright and early with a meeting followed by sessions. That didn't happen. I did leave early Thursday morning to catch a train; that was a comedy of errors, but I at least made the train sans breakfast, cash, or caffeine....and since the train's credit card reader was down, I was without coffee for the duration of the trip!

We arrived a little late at 11:30. Thankfully and blessedly, a million thanks upon their noggins, the fabulous, intelligent, and ubertalented Jena Webb and Francesca Bezzone came and retrieved me from the train station and then took me to lunch where coffee was had, food partaken, company enjoyed. We didn't watch the time as closely as we ought, so we drove back to Fetzer where my two companions were attending a Late Antique session. I was off to an A-S sessionnin Bernhard. Regrettably, I ran into construction on Sangren by the time I found a way round and got to Bernhard, I was 15 minutes into the session and missing the paper I wanted to hear addressing an already packed room. So I went downstairs to the computer lab and finished my own paper and printed it off.

There I fortunately ran into Bruce Gilchrist. Bruce was reading in the very next session, and as I was undecided which of the three I wanted to go to, prevailed on me to go to the Bede session. There were only two papers, "Why no Love for Constantine the Great in Bede's HE? by Bruce in which Bruce examines the lack of any Constantine mention in Bede and talks somewhat about the growth of the Constantine legends. Good paper, but he tells me that he discovered in process that someone else beat him to it in some out of the way place...but still already done. The second paper was titled "Lessons from Lesser Kings: Books IV and V of Bede's HE" which aimed to accomplish just exactly what the title says: what do we make of the kings in those two books.

Next, I went down to the wine hour. There were too many conversations, new acquaintances made, friends caught up with to mention here. But t'was a good time had by all. Dinner was had with Francesca and Jena again and others; we ended up missing the evening sessions because of a the wait at the restaurant. So it was off to the receptions, many conversations, including one that hopefully will appear in HA in the not so distant future. More on that anon.....

Friday morning came a bit too early. But I went off anyway to the Bloggers Meetup. I was fashionably late; I do know how to make an appearance. Before arriving there I pleasantly encountered Bridget Slavin, now a medieval archaeologist. It was grand to catch up with her a little bit and very good to see her. Then off to the meetup: present and delightful were ADM, Jonathan Jarrett, the aforementioned Curt Emanual of The Medieval History Geek, the incomparable Elizabeth Carnell, the fabulous and knowledgeable Steve Muhlberger, me, and Vaulting and Vellum. I had a good time.

Next came the session in Valley I that I presided over and co-organized with Mary K. Ramsey. One of my long time interests is notions and practices of translation. The session was called "Found in Translation: Linguistic Evidence for Culture Change". We received three abstracts, but only two papers showed. The first paper never communicated with either of us as far I know about not being there, but he didn't show. Anyway, Sandra Hordis read an interesting paper about "Anglo-Saxon Paradise" regarding especially the odd compound for paradise, neaxorwang. She's submitted to HA, so hopefully you'll all read that one in the nearish future. Mary Ramsey then read on "Translating the Names of God" which does as the title says, talks about how God is referred to in OE TEXTS. Two really good, solid papers.

After lunch with Jena and Francesca at Bilbos (my first Bilbo's trip of the year!), I spent the next session in the exhibit hall. For one thing, I needed to find Witan Publishing's booth; there I met the rest of the team in addition to Nokes, took some pictures, and shook some hands. I also made the rounds of book stalls looking for good stuff. Very few primary texts to be had this year, that was very disappointing.

I had intended at the 3:30 session to FINALLY appear at one of the sessions in honor of Pat Conner. Unfortunately, the presider started the session 5 minutes early, the room was packed, not even standing room, so after standing around a bit pondering at the rudeness of starting early and what to do next, I ended up having some coffee and then popped into a paper down the hall on Women Selling Women by Mary Valante. It was very interesting about a topic I had never considered before, so got an education there.

Then off to the wine hour!! By this point being in Jena and Francesca's orbit, I had encountered many folk I might not otherwise have encountered. But still, the nature of the wine hour is to meet, greet, chat, and there are so many I talked to and had a good time with that I can not begin to make a list.

Friday night is the AngloSaxonist dinner, an event that I try to go too. Yes, it is generally the "old guard" and at a "stuffy restaurant" etc. But so what? What matters is the people: I have always enjoyed getting to know my colleagues as people whether Andy Orchard, Paul Szarmach, Tom Hill, Don Scragg, Katherine O'Brien O'Keefe, and others. Or us lesser lights too, who as these big names retire, become big names ourselves. This year I shared a cab and table with two folk becoming big names and whom I respect very, very much: Chris Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor. Both are delightful people and good scholars. I had a very good time in their company.

I had intended to go down to the Babel gathering, but was having such a good time with Jena, Francesca, Yvette, Chris, Michael Fletcher, David DiTucci, Beth Stollar, and others. We exchanged many views on many things and Babel somehow got along without me this year.

Saturday morning became an odd one. It was supposed to be a meeting of the board of the HA for breakfast. We met briefly in the lobby of Valley III and that was that. We were going to go to Maggie's. Maggie's was sadly closed. Bruce Gilchrist was going to join us. So it ended up being Michelle Ziegler, Bruce, and I and first we went to a "coffee shop" in town and I won't comment, and then off to Bob Evans, and a dash back for the first session. I went to the exhibit room for awhile and then ran through my paper a couple times.

After lunch in the company of Francesca, Jena, Lauren Doughty, it were time for my session, "Beowulf Against the Grain." Quite apart from my paper that I've already posted, the other two were really good. J. D. Thayer read on "Hwil Dages: A Mythological Reading of Beowulf and the Man" which was interesting and of course goes the opposite direction of much Beowulf criticism: to read the poem as myth rather than for history or language. The second paper was "Making Beowulf Scream: The Punctuation of Old English Poetry" by Eric Weiskott. I had concerns about this paper. Going in, it was an "Hoo boy" and all I could think of was discussions by Bruce Mitchell. But in the end, this was the best paper in the session, it was terrific, well argued, well delivered. If only I could be that good! Fantastic as a matter of fact.

I had intended to go to a session, but lo, and behold, my friend Melody Harris was at my session, and I hadn't seen Mel in some time. So we went for coffee and caught up with one another, lives, careers, research, etc. Then off to wine hour!! Michael Fletcher had a large group together and they included m kindly in the group. Before going out, Michael thankfully wanted to stop by the Boethius Society reception...good call! There I was able to catch up a bit with Paul Szarmach and Rhonda McDaniel. We went down to a tapas place across from Old Penn. It used to be a French place, then a pizza place...and now this place was FANTASTIC. I would so spend money there again! Wish I could remember the name.

Dinner was fabulous. I met Cedric Briand at last, and we all talked, laughed, and shared plates of food. T'were grand.

Then it was off to the dance....and I danced. And overall a good time was had by many. I still miss the old days, but ah well. Lack of self policing solved that.

Well, believe it or not the next morning dawned. I always intend to go the morning sessions. In recent years, it hasn't happened. Mostly because I have to say Sunday is my chief book time. I spent more time in the book exhibits and finally got to the end at Powells. T'were a sad affair. I think I only bought six books this year. Of course, my budget doesn't extend as far at Curt Emanuel's, whose time to read I also envy! Still, I found this year's exhibit disappointing overall.

So there it is. My 2011 Congress.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Smidge on Higher Education in America....

Well, I've been posting in the old days and thinking of adding posts on the topic of why college education matters, why a liberal arts college education matters. In part this is because of what has been going on my campus this past year, but also because of things we have witnessed on the national scene as well as in various states. Attacks on the value of a college degree, attacks on teachers and their role in education, attacks on faculty, and more. It is more than high time we responded. But before I could, the National Review did in this article. It's the National Review, old school conservative. That's a different kettle of fish altogether than the current neo-conservative and tea-party crowd that would like to bring us back to the 19th century.

When nearly a quarter of state legislators do not have a college degree, folks largely voted in in the last election, and largely funded by a handful of neo-conservative billionaires and groups (Koch brothers, Dick Army, I'm looking at you), well, you put those two things together and you have an anti-education platform. Why? Why would these folks benefit from an anti-education platform? from the resultant uneducated electorate?

We've already seen the purpose behind this backlash against faculty, teachers, and college education. We can tsk tsk about the Koch brothers giving money to a university and for the cash they get to approve the new faculty members, the Koch brothers (or their intermediaries) decide who will be considered, who gets hired, and will give annual reviews to ensure that the content is Koch Industry approved, else they will withdraw their considerable "gift. Nor is the Florida State case just referred to the only one: the Koch brothers have similar conditional agreements at George Mason, West Virginia, Brown, Utah State, and other institutions, or at least programs within institutions. Some of those agreements include not just funding a particular view of society and political structures, but require the reading of Charles Koch's book! What's the goal? Rather than free thinking and critical thinking, the goal is indoctrination. For years, the right has been accusing faculty in academia of indoctrination and making students into leftists. While we know that's not true, since it's hard to talk about Beowulf as a "save the whales" text, we do know that much of the neo-conservative movement and the newish tea-party movement use a strategy that accuses their opponents of something that the neocons and tea partiers themselves do. You know, like Gingrich going after Clinton for having extra marital affairs while Newt himself is busy divorcing his wife who lay in the hospital dying of cancer so he could marry his mistress. Or Eric Cantor demanding that Weiner resign while defending Republicans who did far worse, like Vitter.

So, the more that they cut our budgets, the more we will be dependent on organizations like the Koch brothers charity who will kill intellectual freedom by attaching strings and conditions to their "gifts" ensuring an indoctrination of students rather than an education. This silences dialogue. This silences debate. This silences argument. This is the opposite of education.

So back to the beginning. There are those who want to create a society in their own image. They will spend billions to do so. They do not want the current faculty empowered or able to respond, rather discredit the current faculty so that they can be replaced with faculty more in line with the "party."

Part of weakening the current faculty is to reduce student bodies. Fewer students means that fewer faculty are needed. Thus, discourage students from going to college. That further weakens colleges and universities so that they *NEED* cash from such organizations that will stipulate who to hire and what to read.

Of course, they are wrong: a college degree is worth the investment in the long run, yes even a *gasp* liberal arts degree. In the long view, a college degree gets the student on average more than $20 grand a year in income to pay back those loans rather faster. An educated public *should* be able to see through this. I haven't even begun to discuss the problems with "Academically Adrift", but one thing we all agree on: modern companies, business, law, political, scientific...., need people who can not only be trained to handle technology, but also to assess, evaluate, and deem worthy or unworthy a vast amount of information and develop fresh, innovative, creative ideas. No one is more equipped to that than a college graduate with a liberal education.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Paedogogical Moment of which I'm rather Chuffed

So, for a couple of reasons I'm brought back to this past semester: I was thrown the task of teaching British and World Drama. I am something less than a drama expert or critique. Nonetheless, the class was mine. One of the things I did was assign them groups, each group at random drew a television show. I put 10 current shows, 5 comedies, 5 dramas, in a hat and a group member drew from the hat the show the group would deal with for the semester. The idea was that at each stage of the semester (Classical, Medieval, World), the groups would transform their shows into the genre we were for classical, dramas into a Classical drama, comedies into Classical comedy.

Some really got into the spirit of the exercises. Two that I revisited today were the group doing Two and a Half Men and Law and Order. The middle section of the semester was on medieval drama, chiefly focusing on morality plays, saints' plays, mystery plays, and bit on folk plays and interludes. Now Two and a Half men is easily transformed into a morality play and that's what that group did, though admittedly the timing couldn't have been better since they presented at the time that Charlie Sheen was in full-on meltdown mode! I could not have planned that better.

The other group I revisited today was the Law and Order group. They consistently did a fabulous job on their show in all three phases. But they really went over the top I thought with the medieval. Undoubtedly they wanted to earn brownie points, and they succeeded. In explaining the saint's life I had gotten WAAAAAYY off topic and did a little pony show about saint's lives and some of the oddities one finds there. I found myself unexpectedly talking about St. Mary of Egypt and St. Eugenia of Alexandria, particularly the latter. One of the points I was trying to make was the concern about sexuality regarding female saints vs. male saints...prepatory to reading and teaching Thais the Whore. This group did Law and Order doing the story of St. Eugenia. Priceless. Truly priceless. I wish I had film of it. They did marvelously well, complete with the "doink doink." At least they learned something about a saint....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

And now for something completely different....

Well, that was an interesting tempest in a tea-cup. I've decided to let some things slide, to respond to others over time, and to move on to things of more interest and importance.

Of interest at least to me is a project I began 8 years ago on where Grendel's hand is displayed after Beowulf's victory. It's now a 55+ page monstrosity of a paper....too long to be published in a journal, too short for a monograph. I might be able to extend it into a short monograph, especially if I go into more detail on the folklore and archaeological aspects of the question and go full on into analysis of the literary analogues (which in the end are unhelpful in determining the question for Beowulf). I could also go into more detail on the philological aspects. All of that might push me up to the slightly over 100 page category. I don't know. Or it could be better to carve it up in several shorter papers and publish them in a sequence, hopefully in the same journal. Advice and insight always welcome.

As most readers of Beowulf know, the usual understanding these days is that Grendel's hand is displayed over the steps or stairs leading into Heorot, perhaps from the gables, or is over the roof. The article I've written argues I think pretty absolutely that that understanding cannot be maintained. I then further argue that the hand is elsewhere in the hall (hey, not giving the whole shebang away just yet!).

At this year's Congress in between having a blast, making connections, and listening to some good papers, I gave one of my own this year. I took a part of my 55 page project that though started in 2003, I haven't looked at since 2007. I thought it high time I looked at it again and shared a part of it with a larger audience.

So I did. What I read is here: The paper as read looks at the source for our current understanding and seeks to demonstrate why that basis is unsustainable. I didn't read the last couple of pages due to time, but I keep it here because I'd like some discussion on them as well.

The paper went over well. I won over some skeptics. There were others who were absolutely convinced it must be outside over the stairs and that this is explicit in the poem, not an interpretation. It isn't explicit in the poem: thus the problem. But they were convinced nonetheless. In any case, the paper went well, I share it here, feel free to comment or download as you wish.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Et tu?

It seems my comments have caused a stir elsewhere. I have a long post reacting to comments made here; I'm not sure I have either time or energy to address the comments in the blogosphere. Or if more heat will be generated by doing so than light. Here today I will make but a few comments and reserve the most of my comments for that other post already in process.

First, the list form is nothing other than I think in lists. It's the way my mind works. Nothing more is meant.

Second, each of the items in the list refers to a specific event from which a general lesson is drawn. Only one of those listed happened to me, the rest happened to graduate students of my acquaintance and who were quite disturbed at the time of the event. Most have now made legends of the event and find it all very humorous. The fault may be mine for trying to generalize enough that even some of those involved will not recognize themselves in my comments.

Third, I discovered through someone else's comments that another discussion on all this has been occurring elseweb without my knowledge or awareness. This blog post elseweb and the following commentary is....well, I am so nonplussed by it that I haven't an appropriate word. I've had these folks' back many times before, defended them in private and public, applauded their efforts, lent a hand where ever and whenever I could to aid their efforts in my own small way, I stuck my neck out AS A GRADUATE STUDENT WITH NO STANDING ANYWHERE WHATSOEVER to defend their right to speak at the table, to insist that disagreements with them take the form of valid discourse rather than snide asides, that what they do has value even for those in other disciplines...perhaps especially for those...and they don't have the decency to let me know of this conversation? to invite me to explain myself? To address me directly? Not even a quick email to say this was going on? No. Now some of the commenters there have commented here, and I am very appreciative that they did...but even they did not mention the other blog post and its lengthy comments. I don't know what to say about that, I guess I haven't processed it all.

Fourth, the attention paid to MA students is because of the specific situations on which the comments are based involved MA students as the performers of those behaviors.

Fifth, I was accused of being bored a lot. There is only a single point that addresses that topic or uses that word.

Sixth, I was also accused of making a lot of highly sexualized comments. A) I think that less than careful reading has made more of this than there actually is and more importantly B) Sexual violence even in the context of a conference is still sexual violence; intellectual rape is still a form of rape, and even more so when a male student or professor is forcing himself both intellectually and physically on a female colleague of whatever standing; sexual harassment is still sexual harassment even if it happens at the dance or a wine hour. Now as above I recognize that my descriptions and efforts at anonymizing and making the situations somewhat generic may have disguised too well the gravity of what my young colleagues experienced; at the same time it worries me no end that otherwise intelligent colleagues are far less concerned about the kinds of sexual politics that a certain sector of congress attendees and academics practiced making victims out of other colleagues. Yes, that disturbs me very much. And I say shame on you. While you are so concerned with how students might feel at my "litany" you've swallowed the camel to strain at the gnat.

Seventh, I was implicitly accused of being a killjoy. I should perhaps be less concerned with what people wear to the dance etc, or perhaps not even attend. Apparently you people don't know me very well. Perhaps you could try. Always much easier I suppose to take pot shots in comments on a blog about the matter if there is no concern that I'll actually see them. Perhaps you'd like to consider that one of the reasons the current dance is so damn tame is a direct result of the kinds of behavior that I outlined. It used to be so much more! I miss those wilder, woolier days of the dance. But there are consequences to one's actions, no matter how fun they were in the doing. Now I'm fully aware I'm not one of the cool kids, never will be. I'm just an old ruminate chewing on things as I can and occasionally spitting them out on a blog or two. But I do go to the dance, have done so longer than many of those commenting, and have seen a thing or two, and the fallout behind the scenes of things at the dance since I also once upon a time worked behind the scenes of the Congress. You see, my erstwhile friends, out here in the real world, many of us struggle damned hard to get where we are. Not being cool or a hot commodity with the socio-economic connections means a bit more struggle for those of us little people. And out here in the real world, what you wear even to something like the K'zoo dance has an effect; it shouldn't, it isn't right, it isn't good, and we should do all we can to minimize and eradicate such reactions. But I'm not on every hiring committee and I know of interviewees who have been asked by hiring committees about something said or done by interviewee at some conference or hiring committees who have rejected a candidate because of dress, not at the interview, but elsewhere at a major conference. Whether you head in the sand "live and let live" altrustic idealists like it or not, realize it or not, want it to happen or does happen, and how very sad for talented people to lose out on a job because of something that can be easily addressed WITHOUT restricting self expression. I'm not saying don't wear tight dresses or a see through shirt showing that six pack, I am saying that if your clothing isn't up to keeping your body in check during a dance and you are sharing more of that body than you intended, perhaps rethinking your attire beforehand might be a good idea. Go nude to the dance for all I care. Paint your face woad and wear leather armor. Wear whatever you like. But there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Likely no one will care. That's good. But just in case....

Oh, and by the way....I still have that kind of fun and I'm nearly 50, and I do it more than at Congress. If you applied even a modicum of the skills you profess to what I wrote, you wouldn't have missed some key information like "have fun." Nowhere did I decry having fun, being silly, enjoying yourself. Read carefully people. Where did it say a thing about not going barefoot? Nowhere I can see. Is our discipline in such trouble that basic, basic reading skills are lacking?

Eighth, while the slight majority of my comments were addressed to students, the problems and issues addressed to professors were to my mind far more serious. These have largely been overlooked.

Ninth, the hypocrisy is palpable. While on the one hand claiming to be such a wonderful community, the posters in question exclude. They certainly haven't included me in their discussion or made comments here (with some exceptions)...that's community building? Really? And while claiming that "hierarchizing" is wrong, they hierachize....after all, is it not explicitly stated (yes, it is) that their way is better? Is that not a hierarchy? And of course while doing so not one of them has bothered to comment on how I treat my grad students much less other grad students. They can only speak for themselves.....perhaps they will.

Enough. For now. If the folks over at the other blog want to take me to task for speaking out against intellectual violence, power politics based on gender, to defend sexual harrassment in the name of not hierarchizing and everyone having fun, well that's up to them. But I'll be happy to help young students out by helping them avoid bad behavior and learn how to see themselves as others see them and speaking out for victims and intended victims of such behavior. And if they don't like it...oh well. One can only hope for further dialogue, but with few exceptions I am not hopeful.

Among those exceptions are Myra Seaman, whose comments I appreciate though she has grossly misunderstood my comments (we'll see about clarifying that), Holly Crocker whose comments here and elseweb I appreciate, and Eileen Joy, though I wish she'd made her comments here too rather than only elseweb.

On a final note, I'm still happy to say that the victims of the worst behavior are strong people, have already turned the events into story, story told humorously and creating laughter, the great healer. Still, those who might be tempted to commit such behavior should be made aware of it and that it isn't cricket. And if that makes a banker on what if it helps someone?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kalamazoo Lessons

So. I'm returned from the great busyness attending the last moments of the academic year, moving apartments, preparing to spend the summer in another city with my wife, and of course attendance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. Before reporting on the events I experienced there, I thought it might be useful to some to give some important Kalamazoo lessons to various potential readers. Some I observed this past Congress, others I've experienced on previous occasions. So without further ado, here goes:

Dear Graduate Students:

1. Dear Masters Student: You are a Masters Student. Do not go out of your way to offend tenured professors in your field if you have expectations of a future. Your thesis topic is obvious and will not be so grand as to set the field on its head.

2. Dear Masters Student: Act professionally. It's good to go and talk to people, don't expect said people to fawn all over you. Act professionally and you will be treated professionally most of the time.

3. The K'zoo dance is grand and can be a lot of fun. It is not a club. Do not dress as if it were a club or you were going clubbing. No matter what happens at the dance, your professional colleagues are present and they remember the teeny dress more than they will your first couple papers. Teeny dresses do not get one jobs.

4. Along the same lines, Congress is an opportunity for graduate students to professionalize and rub shoulders with the top folk in the fields as if equals. Act accordingly. The collegiality of the Congress is a rare thing; lack of professional behavior, egregious violations of professional behavior usually result in a loss of that rare collegiality. And yes, we do notice and we do remember. There are many young, beautiful faces that I've seen at Congress once or twice and never see again thereafter because they didn't get anywhere.

5. Don't assume that every other graduate student has come there to hook up. Wherever human beings gather, people hook up. The purpose of the conference is not to hook up though that may happen. So please stop using every reception to troll the crowd, show off your dancing skills, impress us with the banality of your research; this isn't a bar on a Friday night. It's a gathering of professionals.

6. Speaking of your research, tell me about if I ask, and I probably will ask. Don't thrust your research on me as if it is the most fascinating thing I've encountered and that I need to know about it; the situation is likely the other way round. I'm always glad to help; I am reluctant to aid morons.

7. Dear Graduate Student (esp. Masters students): Congratulations, you got into grad school, maybe even a good one. That means you're smart and gifted. But so is everyone else around you at Congress. It is the great leveler.

8. If you happen to be a grad student in a completely unrelated field to anything Medieval and decide to come to the medieval Congress, your behavior at said Congress counts just as much (and maybe more) than everyone else. We medievalists are more likely to be on the hiring committees in your field than for fellow medievalists. So going ballistic on the ex you followed to the conference, or surprising a significant other and accusing him or her of cheating because they were chatting and maybe even (*gasp*) flirting with someone will undoubtedly be noticed.

9. Don't be creepy.

10. Don't overdrink. This isn't a frat party. It's a fun gathering of professionals who may be able to impact your career.

In short, have fun. Have boat loads of fun. Don't become the stuff of legend, the kind of legend that gets repeated to great guffaws in years to come.

Now a briefer word to professors:

1) It is still sexual harassment if you say something unwelcome, untoward, and uninvited at a conference, such as a male professor saying to a female grad student as she exited a car "Now I can get a proper look at you." The horror on her face told the story well.

2) Congress is not your personal trolling ground either....see comments above about clubbing. Touching the students is not cricket, rubbing yourself on the young women when not dancing and at receptions when they don't know you is not cricket; inviting yourself along with a group of grad students who are not yours, don't go to your school, and didn't invite you is not cricket.

3) Don't change your name to that of a character in a medieval work.

4) Do not wear chain mail. You don't look good in it.

5) Don't be creepy.

Again, have fun. Have boatloads of fun. Try not to become the stuff of legend in a bad way.

Feel free to add your own, I'll edit them in.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

And So It Goes...

Among the things that prevented me from blogging for almost six months was an overdue paper I've mentioned here before on Cynewulf's Christ II and his list of "gifts" the ascended Lord gives to humanity. I spent a great deal of time between Sept. and March 1 on rewriting and completing a draft of this beast. In the end it clocked in at 38 pages. I was supposed to write 20 tops. So I had to spend about a month cutting it down to size: in the end it still ended up at just over 23 with the footnotes added. It is now in the hands of the editors, and I'm awaiting their comments to revise. But I thought I would share the unedited version with whomever wants to read it. It falls into 3 parts: a bit about our approach which I've shared before, the Ascension imagery that Cynewulf makes use of that isn't just stuff from Gregory's sermon (the usually cited source for much in the poem) but rather an image that is Biblical, Patristic, Germanic, and Greco-Roman. And then a discussion that the gifts are following a pattern of sapientia et fortitudo. There's a bit of everything: cultural history, text criticism, linguistics, some Latin, a smidge of Greek, chunks of Old English, some source criticism, and a tiny bit of theory (that was axed in the submitted version). Interested readers can find it here. And if interested, a reader may post comments here or at Google Docs, and commentary is welcome.

In other news, another project keeping me busy is Heroic Age Issue 14 is now complete and out, a fact I don't think I mentioned here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Small Tolkienish/Old English thang

By way of quick posts, I mused on this elsewhere, so forgive the repeat. I and my OE students this semester were translating the Finnsburh Fragment. In that fragmentary poem the Beasts of Battle motif is mentioned and the wolf there is called "greyhame." As is well known, the beasts of battle are both harbingers of battle as well as who's left when the thing is done, carrion creatures.

I don't know why it didn't strike me previously, but in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, one of the names of Gandalf among the oh-so-Germanic (Anglo-Saxon even) Rohirrim is Gandalf Greyhame. Another that he is called among the people of the horse is Lathspell, bad news (something of an irony with the Christological typography going on with Gandalf). Anyway, it suddenly struck me that "greyhame" might be more than just describing Gandalf's color of cloak, but also his nature as "lathspell." That is, like the grey hued wolf, beast of battle, harbinger of war, feeder on the dead and living, Gandalf's role in the legendarium has often been as harbinger of war, beast of battle in that way, and often depending on the living and according to his critics, metaphorically feeding on the dead and living alike. So, is Tolkien having another little linguistic joke on us? T'would see so. As far as I can tell this is the first time he is called "Greyhame":

Gandalf!" Eomer exclaimed. "Gandalf Greyhame is known in the Mark: but his name, I warn you, is no longer a password to the king's favour. He has been a guest in the land many times in the memory of men, coming as he will, after a season, or after many years. He is ever the herald of strange events: a bringer of evil, some now say."

Note that the name is given in the context of Gandalf being "the herald of strange events", even a bringer of evil! And certainly Gandalf's physical description might lend one to think of the beasts of battle too, with popping up unexpectedly in stealth, his beak nose, etc.

Interesting, no?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Srong Verb?

It has been a long time. I have rather missed blogging. But this first year as a tenure track professor has eaten up a lot of time with course prep, personal development plans, finding out who is who and what is what, battles over budget, saving the job, plus traveling to see my fav wife yet in the city I used to live in, and once in a while some actual scholarship. Truth be told though, I have really missed blogging. Hopefully over the summer I'll be able to be a little more consistent about setting things down.

There are so many things I could post about, but I shall restrict myself to one that came across my desk by accident.

Every once in awhile I'm able to take a minute and read some blogs myself. One of those I follow is Wil Wheaton of Star Trek, Stand by Me, and most importantly Woot Stock. He's also an author these days, and while I've not read any of his books, I've heard readings from his books and have liked what I've heard. When I retire and have time to actually read again, I plan to read his material. Anyway, in a recent post, Wheaton used the colloquial verb that hasn't yet made it into the OED, "wing", as in "to wing it". When his wife asked him about whether he had followed a recipe for black bean soup or whether he was winging it, he responded that he had wung it.

That got me to thinking a bit. We do have a verb "wing", as in to have wings, or to behave as if giving wings (he winged the ball at me) in which case as can be seen the verb form follows the typical modern pattern of past tense in -ed. But this other "wing" as in "wing it", similar to "on the fly" to improvise. I'm told that this comes from the 19th century theater, where an actor would be called on to hurriedly prepare the role and learn his lines "in the wings" and be prompted from the wings....hence wing it.

Now quite apart from the "proper form" or what have you, I'm interested that a young American professional opted for the strong verb form on analogy with ring, rang, rung, sing, sang, sung, wring, wrang, wrung, and so on rather than the modern pattern of neologisms, tweet, tweeted, have tweeted (or have tweeten?), ping, pinged, have pinged. Is there hope yet for the invention of more strong verb forms in modern English? One can only hope.....