Monday, May 28, 2007

Isodore of Seville's Links

Patahistory directed me to Isodore of, which has lots and lots of interesting links. The section on "Ancient and Medieval Civilization" is very heavy on ancient and very light on medieval, but there are some neat pictures in the "Mythical Beasts" section, such as medieval dragons, medieval griffins, and even medieval mermaids. Other notable sections are images of medieval angels and a section on Genghis Khan.

Silly Alfred, Silly Boethius

Podictionary's word today is silly. According to Hodgson, the first recorded use of silly in English is in King Alfred's translation of The Consolation of Philosophy. I had never heard that before, and now I'm going to have to look it up myself next time I'm in my office.

By the way, I recently received an examination copy of Manolo the Shoeblogger's Consolation of Shoes. I'll write a review of it soon.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Attending Dragon*Con?

I'm strongly considering attending Dragon*Con this year as part of my quest for popular medievalism. Are any other scholars attending? If anyone has attended in the past, is it worth my while to go?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Scary Pigs

Very often when I'm teaching any medieval work involving boars, I have to students that boars are big, scary animals. Even here in Troy (which is not exactly an urban area), most of my students believe that pigs come in two forms: plastic wrapped at Walmart, and helpful talking pigs (think Piglet, Wilbur and Babe).

Even farm hogs can be dangerous. I can remember as a kid hearing stories about farmers who would disappear, only to have their watch and glasses found in the pig manure. And these are domesticated hogs, not wild boars.

Next time I have a student scoff about the pigs, maybe I'll show them images of this wild hog, shot not too far from here. How would you like to meet THIS boar with only an ashwood spear protecting you?

hat tip Pros & Cons

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lloyd Alexander, RIP

Lloyd Alexander, author of children's fantasy tales, died just under a week ago. I've been busy with lots of things on short deadlines and other non-professional responsibilities, so I didn't get a chance to comment on it. Timothy Burke, however, wrote a nice post entitled "Lloyd Alexander and Moral Instruction."

Update 5-25-07

Another tribute to Alexander at Cinerati.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Getting Medieval on Podictionary

Yesterday's Podictionary mentions the Wordhoard in Charles Hodgson's podcast on the word "medieval." At the end of the podcast, he mentions the phrase "going medieval," and that Urbandictionary attributes the first usage of it to Pulp Fiction (though if I remember correctly, the exact phrasing in the film is "get medieval on his ass." Hodgson discusses that usage, and suggests two factors:
the idea that people were brutal during the Middle Ages (think Vikings, think beheadings);
and also the fact that we pronounce medieval to sound like the word evil, even though there is no etymological connection.

I think the first point he makes merits some teasing out. When the gangster in Pulp Fiction uses the word "medieval," there is nothing particularly medieval about the context. We see no references to medieval literature, history, weaponry, culture, etc. Yet somehow the audience is expected to understand what the phrase "getting medieval" means -- it means inhuman brutality or the kind only a gangster/rape victim can possibly stomach. We are also not shown the violence performed, even though at this point the film has already shown about every form of violence imaginable. In this way, to "get medieval" is to become violent beyond imagination, and beyond the ability of a film to depict. The audience is supposed to fill in the blanks and provide the "medieval" punishments in their own minds.

What's so important about this is that the audience understands this. I have never heard of someone leaving the theater saying, "what does that mean?" I saw the movie in Korea, and my sense of it was that the audience understood what was meant, so the reference is not so culturally specific that only Americans (or Europeans) will get it.

This impulse to define the violent other as medieval is part of what I refer to as ahistorical medievalism. Ahistorical medievalism is never about the actual Middle Ages, but is instead about the here and now. The medieval is either a utopian time that prefigures our own (such as Life magazine's depiction of the Kennedy administration as Camelot, or the Ku Klux Klan's mythology of the Klansman as a noble Anglo-Saxon battling the forces of the interloping foreign Normans), or it is about a time in our distant past that was brutal and primative, acting as a foil against our enlightened times.

Ahistorical medievalism taps into what is important about the medieval -- the here and now. Let's compare, shall we? Was the 20th century (the one in which Pulp Fiction was released) less violent than the historical Middle Ages? Just looking at four events of the 2oth century, we end up with estimates of:
  • WWI: 15 million
  • Russian Civil War: 9 million
  • Soviet Union: 20 million
  • WWII: 55 million (possibly some overlap with the numbers in Stalin's Soviet Union)

That's a lot of dead people -- and we aren't counting the oppressed. By any standard, the 20th century was one of the most brutal times in history.

In this case, is Pulp Fiction trying to depict itself as analogous to or foil to the the medieval world? In many ways, this usage tries to have it both ways. By the time the phrase is used, we've seen all sorts of violence in the film: shootings, armed robbery, rape, boxing to the death, broken kneecaps, drug overdose, etc. The film simultaneously others this violence by referring to it as "fiction" and "medieval," yet at the same time depicts a world we have experienced and understood as our own. The violence of Pulp Fiction is both strange and familiar, and so the invocation of the term "medieval" is also meant to render the coming escalation of violence as both strange and familiar.

The upshot is that, although we usually equate the medieval with the violent with the intention of implicitly praising ourselves as peace-loving, the fact that we are using it to describe our own contemporary world implies that we recognize ourselves as the barbarians, constantly failing to live according to the standards we profess. Whether intentionally or not (and usually it is not), when we refer to something today as "medieval" we critique ourselves, and find our own world wanting.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Summer Speaking Opportunities

A couple of days ago, someone asked me if I would be available this summer for speaking engagements, and the surprising answer is YES! Because of a lot of uncertainty about my schedule earlier this spring, I was forced to leave my summer without strong commitments. The upshot is that I am now free to speak to your library / reading club / civic organization / SCA chapter / science fiction and fantasy convention, etc.

As of the last three of four days, though, the summer has started to be scheduled. If you are interested in having me speak about medieval stuff, contact me soon.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blogging K'zoo 2007 (Part III)

Saturday was my last productive day at the Medieval Congress. At the moment it is Sunday morning, and I am sitting in my dorm room, all packed and waiting to meet a colleague for brunch. I had been planning earlier in the week to go to a session with two Lithuanian papers, including one by a scholar from Klaipeda University (where I taught from 1993-94), but my day isn't running as I planned those many weeks ago, so I'm counting 3:15 AM this morning (when the last person left my room) as the end of K'zoo 2007 for me.

Saturday began as a day of magic, and ended as a day of international scholarship. I started out by attending a Societas Magica session (which had three papers that, as it turns out, I knew nothing about), then hit the Societas Magica meeting. Societas Magica seems to be growing a great deal, making me realize that I've missed a lot by not attending the meetings the last two years. We* pitched our book, Curing Elf-shot and Other Mysterious Maladies, and we'll have to see how much publisher-shopping we'll need.

After that, my day shifted suddenly away from medieval magic to international medievalism. I went to a really excellent session in which old friends Tai-Won Kim and Ji-Soo Kang gave outstanding papers. Prof. Kang's paper must have been unbelievably wonderful because I loved it even though it was on Margery Kempe (who, as regular readers to the Wordhoard know, I can't stand). A fellow I didn't know at all, Peter H. Goodrich of Northern Michigan, gave a paper suggesting the use of the World System approach from economics to creating a global concept of the Middle Ages. I knew nothing about the World System approach, but found it interesting, so I'll no doubt be looking in to it this summer.

This was followed by a dinner where we presented a copy of Global Perspectives on Medieval English Literature, Language, and Culture to Paul Szarmach. The book is not really quite ready, but with the time delay with so many contributors in Poland and Korea, these things can only be hurried along so much. In either case, I'm looking forward to putting a copy on my shelf and putting it out of my mind for a while. The only disappointment was that none of our Polish colleagues from the Medieval English Studies Society could make it this year.

Now for the final score ... my mantra coming into the Congress this year was "don't over-commit." I've got a 4-4 load (two of which are freshman comps every semester), so over-commiting is very easy for me to do. Every year I come to K'zoo exhausted from the semester, and every year I leave excited about all of the projects I plan to do over the summer. This year's score of commitments:

Books: 0
Scholarly articles: 3
Popular articles: 1
International conferences: 1
Domestic conferences: 0
Bloggy commitments: 1

Is that over-commitment? Probably. But I commited to ZERO BOOK PROJECTS this year, so I'm doing better than I have in a long time. Hooray!

*By "we" I mean Kathryn Laity, with me standing behind her making supportive noises. Of course, looking at the cover page, I noticed yesterday that I had made myself first editor without thinking about it. Perhaps to resolve any potential dispute we can resort to cage fighting -- two editors enter, only one leaves.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blogging K'zoo 2007 (Part II)

Today was the Day of the Blogger. I did do some non-blog-related things today, though, such as buying a couple more books and attending a few sessions. I will be nominating Michael Drout’s paper on Vainglory for an Oscar, in the category of “Best Paper Using Plastic Animals from the Burgess Shale.” Nevertheless, the day was dominated, from beginning to end, with blogging.

Breakfast was the blogger get-together. I’m not sure how much I should say about that event, since many (most?) of the bloggers there were anonymous or pseudonymous. Suffice it to say that I met a lot of nice and interesting people. A few seemed very shy, perhaps worried about outing themselves. Don’t worry -- there won’t be any outing going on here. A huzzah to Dr. Virago for organizing it.

Our blogging panel was fine in terms of content, but was poorly attended. I don’t think it was the subject matter, because we had more people at the early-morning get-together. There were a lot of other sessions running concurrently that no doubt drained people away -- indeed, I had to skip my own student’s paper. I was the nay-sayer in the group, but the truth is that our positions weren’t very different. I was skeptical of the use of blogs as pedagogical tools, but the others there shared the exact same concerns I did -- at the end of the day, it was a matter of different judgment calls.

Afterward, a small group of us got together for dinner and drinks. Mac Stone, Shana Worthen, Lisa Spangenberg, and my new friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Making Light talked well into the night. By sheer luck, Eileen Joy was seated at the table right next to us, which was a delight.* At some point I realized that I was the guest of honor at this little shindig, and when I asked why, I was treated to the most flattering praise of my public intellectualism project. It was pretty humbling, since I’m not sure I can quite live up to their high expectations, but I’ll do my best. If you are wondering how someone can simultaneously be both humbled and flattered, well, I can’t explain it, but there it is.

*As soon as she saw me, Eileen (who was rather drunk at the time), shouted obscenities at me and lunged at me with a knife. Fortunately, the wealthy Italian bodybuilder / race car driver / astronaut who happened to be her date accidentally got in the way and got a butter knife in the eye. He lost one eye, but that new eyepatch he wears only makes him look all the more exotic as he rips the bodice of the baron's nubile young daughter on the windswept heath. An absolutely true story. You ain't callin' me a liar, are ya?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blogging K’zoo 2007 (Part I)

My first day at the 42nd International Medieval Congress (at Kalamazoo) reminds me of why this is the best large conference I know. I only got to attend two sessions (I missed the first), but the day was still full and fruitful. For the stuff that others would be interested in knowing:

If you are interested in things medieval, the book exhibition hall is heavenly, and it is growing bigger every year. Even back when I was a grad student it didn’t quite fill the cafeteria, but now has sprawled out into other wings of the building. Some book sellers even have their own rooms to themselves. If you’ve never been, imagine this -- basically every single book in print having to do with anything medieval, and lots of books not in print. Add to that the various sellers of other medievalia: amber jewelry, coffee mugs, manuscripts, music (on manuscript and on CD), t-shirts, computer applications, pens, children’s books, toys -- it’s all there, and deeply discounted. I probably spend more money on books at the K’zoo book hall than I do the entire rest of the year. It would be worth coming if only to shop.

Then there are the sessions. Let me give an example from today*: Katie Lynch, a grad student at University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented a paper entitled, “With** Dweorh: A Union of Text and Voice.” It was a very good paper in which she compared the metrical version of the charm “Against a Dwarf” to the two prose versions found in the Lacnunga manuscript. The conclusion she came to (that it is probably a remedy for fever) interested me less than the other issues raised by the paper -- questions about why some fevers are just “fever,” and others are caused by a dwarf, about the connections between the Seven Sleepers and fever, about issues of orality/ textuality in writing words vs. saying them, issues of interpreting individual letters in their manuscript context, etc. I hope she publishes it.

Of course, hers wasn’t the only good paper. Another grad student from U of W-Madison (Brian O‘Camb) gave a very convincing paper arguing that Athelwold’s translation of the Benedictine Rule is echoed in the Exeter Book Maxims, Natalie Grinnell voiced a healthy skepticism for the efficacy of using blogs as teaching tools (a skepticism that I characterize as “healthy” because I share it), and the session on Social Software delved into important tensions between public and private spaces (and students’ perceptions thereof).

Aside from the shopping and sessions is the socializing. Already, only one day into it, I had a nice lunch with Kathryn Laity where we discussed publishing our book, I ran into a lot of old friends by chance, and had a wonderful dinner with the Arthurian popular culture types and the folks from McFarland publishing. My only disappointment from the dinner is that I was too far down the table to hear Kevin Harty and Don Hoffman banter -- something that I know from past experience should not be missed.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day. The day will start with the blogger get-together, my own roundtable (3:30 at Sangren 2210, for those planning to come), and will end with a private dinner (the location of which I have already forgotten). In between doing all those things I’ll be attending sessions and buying books. It ought to be a great day.

*I should really have let her know that I might blog about her presentation, but I forgot to. Since I’m only saying nice things, though, I hope she doesn’t mind.
**For some reason I can’t get the laptop to give me the Old English font correctly, so I’m editing out any Anglo-Saxon special characters.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

K'zoo Report on

I see that (a new site that I will be checking often, no doubt) is planning a Kalamazoo report this month. May I suggest they include a fashion report, revealing the latest tweed/bowtie ensemble I'll be sporting?

Seriously, though, this year I've actually got a laptop with wireless capabilities, and if I can get it to work out, I'll be blogging the Medieval Congress myself this year. Hopefully I'll post at least once per day during the Congress itself, for those of you who couldn't attend but really, really wish you could.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Huzzah to the Victor!

It has been a long time since I've posted anything serious on the Wordhoard, primarily because I've been drowning in a sea of grading and editing.

Still, I would be remiss if I did not direct the Wordhoarders to this article in that most reliable of news sources, The Onion.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hail, Herr Professor Doktor Boethius P. von Korncrake!

If you are a geek medieval academic like me, you'll not be able to read the account of Herr Professor Doktor Boethius P. von Korncrake in Kalamazoo without spewing your imported, hand-harvested green tea out of your nose.

Only if you are a Boethius geek (and there must be so, so many of us out there in the world) will you truly appreciate the glory that is Manolo the Shoeblogger's The Consolation of Shoes, with special attention to the excerpt. I must diligently search the booksellers' room at Kalamazoo for a copy of this important tome, especially because of the oft-noted-yet-little-read introduction by Herr Professor Doktor Boethius P. von Korncrake.

I must confess that I am not as familiar with the scholarly work of von Korncrake as I might be. I invite my readers to review his scholarship in the contents section below.

hat tip In the Middle

Where's Nokes-o?

With the 2007 International Congress on Medieval Studies (affectionately known as "K'zoo" by professional medievalists, since it is always held in Kalamazoo, Michigan) coming up, I've been asked by any number of people where I'm likely to be.

I've got a busy schedule this time around, partly because the last two years I've had my trips to K'zoo cut short. This year I plan to be there for the whole shebang, starting with a Thursday lunch and ending with attending a Sunday morning session.

Even so, last year I found a number of people from the blog-o-sphere who wanted to meet me to see if my real-life persona is as sparkling and delightful as my online persona. Here is my schedule of things that are more-or-less written in stone. If someone out there really wants to meet with me at any other time, and we can work it out, I'd be happy to do it!

Thursday: Lunch with my co-editor on Curing Elf-shot and Other Mysterious Maladies: New Scholarship on Old English Charms. Dinner (7:30) -- private function by invitation only, sorry.

Friday: Breakfast (7:30-9:30) , blogger meet-up. If you don't mind the early rise, that's the best chance, because you'll get to meet other medieval bloggers. For more information on that, see Dr. Virago. At 3:30 will be the Weblogs and the Academy roundtable, in Sangren 2210. Dinner that evening will be another private function, by invitation only.

Saturday: Dinner at 6:00 to celebrate the publication of my book Global Perspectives on Medieval Literature, Language, and Culture. Also a private function. Dang, all my dinners are private, aren't they?

Except for all of the above, mostly free. I'll try to get to the Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea sessions, as well as some International Boethius Society and Societas Magica events, but I'm going to play it by ear. See you there!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

For He's a Jolly Good Non-Fellow

Some time ago in the Wordhoard I announced that I was being interviewed to be a White House Fellow, a topic that came up in subsequent posts.

I was surprised by the response. I got a lot of kind words of support from medievalists and other scholars. I think many people shared my hope that the after-effects of this kind of position might help the whole field.

About a week ago I got a letter from the White House Fellows office letting me know that I was not selected this year. The reason I've taken so long to mention it in this space is that there were friends and family who wanted to hear it from me before a public announcement.

Am I disappointed? Sure I am. The four people who are going from my region, though, are each of them fine, deserving people -- an F-16 Mission Commander, a test pilot/cellist, a Walt Disney World engineer, and a financial consultant. There's no shame in losing out to any of these four, and I hope each of them is ultimately drafted by an agency.

Lots of people have asked me, "What now?" Well, everything I was doing that interested the WH Fellows program in me was things I would be doing anyway. I'll still be editing and writing. I'll still be working with international students. I'll still be promoting medieval lit at every opportunity. It isn't as if I suddenly started these things a month ago to pad my CV for the interview. If one strives for a lifetime of public service, one has to perform tasks for, well, a lifetime.

The other question people have asked is whether I plan to apply again next year. Absolutely! The application process was interesting and, although it was time-consuming, much of the time-consumptive parts I can simply revise from my previous application. Plus, the interview process revealed a serious weakness in my application packet -- a weakness I plan to remedy next time around. I'll keep apply until either they give me a fellowship, stop interviewing me, or issue a restraining order.