Disappearing, again

Sorry, folks, looks like the inevitable disappearance caught up with me. I’ve been sick – again – and had to cut down commitments for a while. On the bright side, the other day I got to go bush-dancing with my two-year old sister, who is the most adorable thing in the world. Dancing with two-year-olds is great, but I am so rarely out with her in public that it continues to unnerve me when people assume I’m her mother. I’m not old enough to… oh, wait. I guess I am.

Some marking is about to drop on my head, and I have paperwork to do. But it’s nearly semester break, so you might see more of me then.


Academic spam – now that is not something I had expected

Here’s something I forgot to mention earlier, but found pretty bizarre – not long after the IAS I got targeted academic spam! It’s from a company, and a journal, who don’t deserve the google hits. I may be gullible*, but even I know not to trust a supposed humanities journal who can’t construct a sentence properly.

There are a couple of threads over at the Chronicle Forums which go over the complete, ridonkulous shadiness of this enterprise.

I like to think that properly trained academics are too skeptical to fall for this, but then, I suspect they prey on little-known scholars who may be desperate for publication. BAH.


* Just ask my father. He once convinced me there were left and right shoelaces. I was, mark you, twenty at the time.

Leeds Report #7, or, more fun with Middle English

Lest I turn into the inestimable Jon Jarrett and wind up posting recaps six months or more after the conference in question… on with the recaps!

Because I have my priorities straight, I’ve already reported on one paper from session 1314,  ‘English Romance, Nation, and (Obscene) Scribal Innovation’: it had speculations on the sex lives of bishops.

You might be interested to know that the rest of that session was interesting and intriguing, too!

Medieval - a woman readingFirst, Michael Johnston talked about The Circulation of Middle English Romance.

  • He began by talking about increase in book production in London in the late 14th century, where, he noted, romance was largely left out of the flourishing literary culture. London manuscripts  exhibit a continuity of format, style, and genre, and they’re just not so fond of romance. This was demonstrated with reference to several Chaucer and Langland MSS.
  • A number of romance manuscripts, on the other hand, have strong ties to particular provincial households. Johnston presented several examples of particular traceable manuscripts. Then, drawing on similar data to that which Gareth Griffith was using in his paper, he talked about the general presentation of romance manuscripts, and noted that those which come with fancy script and decoration usually contain more ‘elevated’ genres (typical of London book production) in addition.
  • Why is romance not favoured by London book producers and/or buyers? Johnston wants to know; he didn’t have concrete answers for that at this stage, but he noted the need to look at Middle English genres in socio-historical context in order to find such answers.

Anglo-Saxon shieldNext up, Hiroki Okamoto gave a paper entitled Contesting English History: From ‘here’ to ‘ferd’ in Havelock the Dane. I found it a little hard to follow, but I look forward very much to seeing a printed version one day.

  • He looked closely at the use of the terms here and ferd, both words for an army. The Havelock-poet never uses the more common noun host, and Hiroki Okamoto argued that here and ferd are loaded terms – that here in both OE and ME is usually used for invading forces, whereas ferd usually connotes Anglo-Saxon royalty.
  • Before Gottrich’s speech (an Englishman, who rails against the disorder and general evilness of Danes), the terms here and ferd are used in that pattern, with Danish forces being a here. However, Hiroki Okamoto argued – and I had a little trouble following this, since it’s been a while since I read Havelock and also I have scrappy notes in my conference notebook so bear with me – that Gottrich’s speech is deliberately overblown: that it’s not meant to make the audience hate Danes, but to see Denmark as a disorderly place needing to be put in order by Havelock.
  • After that speech, though, something changes: the word ferd becomes more common, and Havelock’s forces – which are invading England! – are a ferd now.
  • Hiroki Okamoto is convinced that the poet is deploying these words deliberately; and that the use of loaded terms, especially ferd, with its royal connotations, contributes to a revisionist idea of English identity, and is perhaps closely linked to the Scandinavian cultural presence in Lincolnshire.

We’re all very discontented here!

Someone explain to me. What’s with the formula ‘Thing X and it’s discontents’?

Here are a short list of things which, according to titles of books I encounter on my researches, have discontents:

– Heterosexuality (Sylvia Huot, ‘Heterosexuality and its discontents’, a chapter of Madness in Medieval French Literature)* Incidentally, that was the chapter I was trying to think of yesterday, the one that talks about the trope where we go around accusing dudes of preferring other dudes if they reject ladies.

– Sexuality (which has specifically queer discontents, according to Tyson Pugh)

– Romance Society (Simon Meecham-Jones, specifically of the Song of Dermot and the Normans in Ireland)

– Sociability (Thomas Cohen)

– Litanies (Felice Lifshitz, specifically of gender in litanies)

– Money (James M. Murray, concerning the city of Bruges)

And on and on it goes. I ran a keyword search for ‘medieval discontents’ and got a full page of results, and that’s just from things with all the proper metadata in Fisher’s catalogue.

Is this some kind of in-joke or theoretical reference I’m missing? Or are we just all grumpy people? Also, I gather from the James Murray book and the one on anti-semitism which turned up in the keyword search that it’s not just lit scholars who are discontented. What gets the discontent buzzword in your field?


* Sure, heterosexuality has its discontents. But cheer up! According to Carolyn Dinshaw it has consolations, too. #things you probably knew already

How to insult a man who turns you down (in the late 12th century)*

* Insult only applicable if you are not yourself a man.

A medieval painting - woman throwing snowballsThis morning I had the great delight of translating a chunk of Marie de France’s Lanval. I present, for your edification, the insulting of Sir Lanval, by Guinevere, whose advances he has rejected:

Lanval, fet elle, bien le quit,
Vus n’ames gueres cel deduit.
Asez le m’ad hum dit sovent
Que des femmes n’aves talent!
Vallez avez bient afeitiez,
Ensemble od eus vus deduiez.
(ll. 277-82 – Lanval, she said, well do I believe it: you do not love this pleasure much. Very often men [lit. a man; generic] have said it to me, that you do not have a desire for women! You have much preferred young men, with whom you take your pleasure.)

Apparently I have picked a side in the Great Gay Debate of pre-modern history, vis, it does not seem sensible to argue that there can be no concept of same-sex-preference as an identity prior to the invention of the handy terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’. We see enough of this trope, women accusing men of preferring young men to women, in vernacular literature that evidently it made sense to authors an audiences: one reason a man might not be into you is that he’s into young men. Which means we have a mental category for ‘men-who-prefer-young-men’. And, for added bonus points, we can go around shaming men by implying that they’re in that category of men-who-prefer-young-men.

There’s two such fabulous passages in the Roman d’Eneas, in which first Lavinia’s mum warns her that, if she shacks up with Eneas, he will bring hot young men into their marital bed (this is not supposed to be an incentive; perhaps Lavinia takes it as one? She marries him, anyway); and then, after Eneas buggers off on her, Lavinia soundly denounces him for being insufficiently heterosexual.

I’m sure someone’s written on this trope in particular, but I’m having a mental blank and can’t remember who (Simon Gaunt touches on it, but he doesn’t deal with Lanval, so far as I can recall). At any rate, it seems to be a conceivable response, in 12th century French lit, for a woman to accuse a man who’s rejected or abandoned her of preferring to seek his pleasure with young men.

Accordingly, it’s really intriguing to me that Lunette does not launch this accusation against Yvain, despite the fact that Gauvain has basically single-handedly coaxed Yvain away from his wife and ‘distracted’ him so much that he forgets to return home. I really don’t think it’s because the concept didn’t exist: manifestly, it did.

Sir Gawain: as gay as christmas. ESPECIALLY at Christmas.Also, for bonus points, guess who Lanval had been hanging out with immediately prior to being propositioned by Guinevere?

YOU GUESSED IT. GAUVAIN AND YVAIN. This is pleasing to the part of me that likes to pretend all Arthuriana is contiguous, even when it clearly isn’t.

Optimal working environments?

I have a feeling my optimal working environment is the one I had during my undergrad – in third and fourth year I rarely did work alone, unless I was up in the weird hours of the night. Instead, I worked either in my room with one or two friends, or in someone else’s room with one or two of us in there. And in fourth year we decamped to the college library, where we either worked in the quiet space at big tables where we could make faces at one another and share coffee, or in the study rooms, where we’d be able to talk occasionally.

And I got lots of work done.

Now I work under library conditions, and I end up talking to the internet a lot. Except today I ended up in an entirely different place, and knocked out about two pages of thesis and some tutorial readings in the company of one of the MDST undergrads, and, later in the afternoon, her regular study-buddy. We had that fantastic study-conversation thing going which sounds like a dialogue until you tune in and realise that one half of it consists of, in this case, mutterings about Norse vocabulary (was it a sent message, or a foot-message? As it turns out, it was a foot-message) and the other bitchings and moanings about Chrétien de Troyes.

I got a remarkable amount of work done. And I was cheerful while doing it! So, I think, was my temporary study-buddy.

This is weird, because I know from experience that I can’t get much work done at home, even when my housemate was here working on her honours thesis from home. I can get teaching prep and marking done (this involves a lot of muttering  and is best not done in silent spaces) at home, and even thesis readings, but not writings. So it can’t just be that I work better in the company of other geeks – my housemate is pretty geektastic, after all. But maybe I should look into finding regular study partners, and also somewhere to work that isn’t a library…

Tell me about your working environments? Are they productive ones? Why?

[Ed: and this evening, O Internets, I got lost in Central Station. I’ve only lived here for seven years!]

MEMC lecture recap – ‘Adventures with Langland’

Or, What I did on my sabbatical, by Lawrence Warner

A couple of weeks ago – on Wednesday the 17 of August, in fact* – the MEMC (formerly CMS) lunchtime lecture featured Lawrence Warner, who’s been busy noseying about in archives, looking at marginalia in medieval and early modern manuscripts/books of Piers Ploughman. The paper itself was a rather fun one, featuring lots of pictures of scrawly writing, organised in more or less the order he looked at them. And, notably, one hand-drawn picture of a dog baiting a bear, in which Lawrence put his artistic skills to the test by copying out someone else’s marginalia before he cottoned on that he could use his cameraphone for this sort of purpose.

A monk, writing; caption 'geekery pokery'As well as looking at manuscripts with the entirety of Piers in it, Lawrence has been chasing up manuscripts with fragmentary quotations, including some which, as I understand it, aren’t on the standard catalogue. He’s particularly interested in manuscripts which have all of Piers and fragmentary quotations; these don’t get listed as two separate manuscript records, but Lawrence pointed out that that’s kind of strange – if the fragment were ripped out in 1700-and-something and found later, it’d be counted as a separate witness; and the fragment might tell us completely different things about the way people interacted with the text.

There are, apparently, many fun stories associated with Piers manuscripts/early books: Lawrence told us about the Douce MS (1802), which contains 64 lines of Peirs translated into heroic couplets, by a Mr Duprie – who turns out to have been a notorious forger of letters not actually by Brunetto; and Douce exposed him in the Monthly. The MSS appears to have been given to Douce as sort of payment/apology.

Lawrence also talked at length about some 18th century scholars who were busy cross-referencing their Crowley editions against ‘Lord Weymouth’s copy’, now in the Huntingdon Library – apparently there was one really fabulously detailed one, I think in Bailol College, which has alphabetical cross-refs to Harley 857 and numberical cross-refs to Lord Weymouth’s copy (my notes here say ‘Weymouth/Spellman’ but I haven’t the faintest who Spellman was. Or indeed, Weymouth).

A child, reading. Caption - Joie du livreApparently the 18th century is generally supposed to have been a fallow period for Piers scholarship. Says Lawrence, of these cross-referencing scholars: “It may be ridiculous, but it certainly wasn’t fallow”.

So, in conclusion if you wish to know why Piers Ploughman marginalia is sometimes ridiculous, often interesting, and not at all fallow, Lawrence Warner is your man.


* This will remain the lunchtime paper I remember as “the time I dropped a lemonade fruit in my own juice cup, one of my students helped me clean it up, I assumed the lemonade fruit belonged to said student, and several hours later the student came up to me after class demanding to know why I’d put a citrus fruit in her bag”.