Saturday, April 29, 2006

K'zoo Blogger Gathering Redux

Another Update: I've just sent an e-mail to everyone who wrote saying they'd like to come. In said e-mail are pictures of Ancrene Wiseass and me. We're fully clothed, so the message shouldn't end up in your junk mail box -- I hope!

And if you haven't yet e-mailed me for the meet-up details, it's not too late!

: I'm keeping this post up top to make sure everyone has seen it. Meanwhile, my paper is written, but darn it all, I'm having a heckuva time getting it down under 15 minutes.

The information in this post is the same as the one below, just in more concise form. Plus, "meet-up" was an inelegant phrase, while "gathering" is also a codicological term, so I like it better.

When: 5-8 p.m., Thursday, May 4

Where: E-mail me, drvirago [at] sbcglobal [dot] net, and I'll give you the details so that the whole world doesn't know where the anonymous bloggers are meeting.

How: The location is in walking distance from the Valley dorms and all conference areas on campus. Those of you who are staying in the downtown hotels may want to carpool, if you won't be on campus before then. You are welcome to use the comments here to find out who's where and set up a carpool.

Credits: Thanks to Ancrene Wiseass for first suggesting this and to Elisabeth Carnell for making the reservations for us.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Random Ten

My iPod has a sick sense of humor -- from death, through theology, luck, and reason, back to life, but then into depression, followed by esteem-building shot down by cynicism (that particular sequence cracked me up), and then to abandonment, finally alleviated by...fucking Tenacious D style. (And if you haven't heard that last song, you're missing the funniest parody of earnest rock balladry ever.)

1. Badly Drawn Boy - "Epitaph"
2. Wilco - "Theologians"
3. Thom Yorke (solo and acoustic) - "Lucky"
4. Cake - "Cool Blue Reason"
5. Kate Bush - "Room for the Life"
6. Ken Stringfellow - "Down Like Me"
7. Neil Young - "I Believe in You"
8. Pavement - "Elevate Me Later"
9. Julieta Venegas - "Casa Abandonada"
10. Tenacious D - "Fuck Her Gently"


Friday Poetry Blogging

Finally, at last, Dr. Virago, who works almost entirely on poetic texts, jumps on the Friday poetry Blogging bandwagon!

In honor of Spring and of Jo(e)'s poetry-inspiring word-of-the-week, "muddy," I give you e. e. cummings. I love this poem for the words "mud-luscious" and "puddle-wonderful" and all the rest of its word- and sound-play, but also for the brilliant way it seems to be a sentimental and corny poem about spring and children, but is really about the dangerous excitement (or exciting danger?) of sexuality and adolescence. Plus, who doesn't like a poem with the word "piracies" in it?

This is also dedicated to my friend the Empress (aka the Pastry Pirate) who claims she hates poetry because she thinks it takes complex ideas and reduces them to Hallmoark card greetings. I think she just hasn't read enough good stuff. And this one seems like the kind of stuff she'd hate at first -- sentimental, soppy -- but really isn't at all. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to make Blogger do the word spacing that the poem requires with the "far and wee" lines -- which tries to imitate the sound of a far-away whistle coming closer and closer -- but at least I can do the line breaks.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




baloonMan whistles

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I have a lurker from my university

Hello Lurker!

Of course, I have only myself to blame. I haven't been all that discreet. I haven't told any of my colleagues or peers or students about the blog (other than the Boyfriend and Victoria and "BP"), but I have mentioned many blogs in my classes and brought them up on screen in my high-tech classroom. (Sometimes we were goofing around before class started, but some of them had a pedagogical purpose -- like the Chaucer blog, for instance. We discussed if it was "really" in Middle English and what marked it as linguistic parody.) And my blog is on the blogrolls of some of those blogs. And that's probably how the lurker originally got there. If so, I missed that first tell-tale referral link on Site Meter, but I have since seen, over the course of a few days, a number of hits coming from the same IP address at my university and it's not my office, nor the Boyfriend's, nor Victoria's, nor BP's.

And I'm certain that whoever it is has figured out pretty quickly who "Dr. Virago" is. If you know me already it's not that hard to figure out.

So, Mr./Ms. Lurker, if you are a student, I want you to know I'll never say anything damning about you or your peers here. In fact, I'll never say anything I wouldn't say to you. You may learn more about me than I really intended (and perhaps more than you wanted to know -- like the fact that I can imitate a chimpanzee), but hey, it's still nothing I wouldn't say to adults in general. And I hope you won't hold it against me that I mix the silly and the serious, the professional and the playful. You already know I do that in the classroom, too. If it's good enough for Chaucer, it's good enough for me. :)

And if you're a Dr. Lurker, well then, I say pretty much the same to you. I'll never air department dirty laundry, should we have it. And if I have something to complain about, I'll do it in private. If you explore the blog, you'll find I use this blog in mixed ways, mostly for swapping teaching and professional advice with other professors and grad students (and being electronically social with them as well), and also for keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family. It's a small peer-group I have here at "Rust Belt U" (I hope the name doesn't offend you) and the blogosphere makes it bigger. Thus the blog is both personal and professional, for how can one ever really separate the two?

And since you're here, why don't you join the party and say hello? We're a friendly bunch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Because everyone else is doing it...

...I'll do the ABC Meme. Besides, I never finished my list of 100 facts (though perhaps I will) and I know the blogosphere is just dying to know more about me! Ha!

And now updated to include vikings and pirates!

Accent: To those claiming they don't have one: yes, you do. You can't speak without one. At any rate, my midwestern twang is only noticeable any more when I say my home state's name, though I still cannot distinguish the vowels in Mary, merry, and marry. Oh, and I have a hard time expressing the difference between /a/ and 'open o' for my students, but it's just as well, because their regional accent also doesn't express much difference, either.

Booze: Like Lecturess, my favorite cocktail is the Sidecar. I also like the Mojito. I love a buttery smooth single-malt scotch, but generally I drink wine. I prefer the 'big' reds.

Chore I Hate: Um, all of them? But I especially hate cleaning the tub because it gives me a backache.

Dog or Cat: As I've said elsewhere, I find this a false dichotomy, but if forced to choose, I'll go with the lower maintenance cat.

Essential Electronics: Watch. I have no natural sense of time.

Favorite Cologne(s): Clinique Happy.

Gold or Silver: Mostly silver (platinum if I could afford it) but I have a unique high school ring (designed for my school by a serious jewelry designer) that I wear all the time, and it's gold.

Hometown: Cowtown.

Insomnia: Generally I go to bed late enough (and during the academic term I'm sleep-deprived enough) that I fall asleep immediately. [This is also exactly what Lecturess wrote and I see no reason to change it since it's what I'd say, too.]

Job Title: Assistant Professor.

Kids: None. I do like to come up with names with which to saddle imaginary ones, however: Mathilda, Hrothgar, Guthlac A and Guthlac B (twins, of course), Aggravayne (various spelling), Aetheldryth, Mary Magdalene (no, not just Magdalena or Madeleine or any truncated version, but the whole nine yards, and no shortening or nicknames allowed!), Eustace, Orm, and so forth. It's a fun game -- try it!

Living arrangements: Turn of the century duplex apartment (top floor) above the world's heaviest walkers and most hyper-active kid.

Most admirable trait: If I get mad at you, it passes quickly. I wouldn't say I'm forgiving so much as forgetful.

Number of sexual partners: More than one but fewer than Wilt Chamberlain.

Overnight hospital stays: Not counting my birth? Then none.

Phobias: Internal bleeding. Just typing that made me irrationally double over in pain.

Quote: Well, in my high school yearbook it was "Is not life one hundred times too short to bore ourselves?" -Friedrich Nietzsche. And if that's not really Nietzsche or the quote isn't accurate, blame whatever quotation book I took it from. I decided this was lame. I am replacing it with: "A viking is a pirate until he finds a place he wants to be." It's my favorite line from the cheesy living-history museum on the Isle of Man.

Religion: Recovering Catholic.

Siblings: Two sisters (one deceased), one brother.

Time I wake up: Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. on weekdays. 9 a.m. on weekends unless I have to get up for a long run or a race.

Unusual talent or skill: I can do a damn good impersonation of a chimpanzee. Also, Beavis when he's had too much sugar. They're kind of the same talent, really.

Vegetable I refuse to eat: I'm not fond of zucchini, but I'll eat it.

Worst habit: Dawdling.

X-rays: Spine (when I was a hypochondriac 12-year old and was convinced I had scoliosis [sp?]), teeth (the usual), and breasts (when you have a sister die from breast cancer, you start having those mammograms earlier in life).

Yummy foods I make: Um, the Boyfriend is laughing at this right now. I really need to learn how to cook without slavishly and slowly following recipes.

Zodiac sign: Aries on the western calendar, Cock in the Chinese zodiac -- both appropriate for a Virago.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Site Meter and vanity Googling

Awesome! I just caught a major scholar Googling herself and landing on my blog. (OK, that sounded kinda naughty and I really didn't intend that.) She did it from her own institution, which is how I know it was her. I supposed it could be her chair or one of her colleagues or students, but I'm going to assume it's more likely her.

Anyway, I love seeing people vanity Google themselves, especially major scholars, because it tells me that even the big wigs need a little self-esteem boost every now and then.

And even better, she landed on a post with some substance, and not the one about goats, or the one about dogs, or the one about blue eyeshadow. (And no, I'm not going to link to those.)

Dear Students

Dear Students,

I really don't care why you were absent the other day. Really. Unless it's a story worth telling (for instance -- you were rescuing a child from a storm drain a la George Clooney on ER), don't bother with the details. Just get whatever information you need from me (the paper topic, the translation line numbers, whatever) and let's get on with our lives.

With no harsh feelings, just precious little time,
Dr. V

A variation on "Dear Students" posts seen at Xoom and I Know What I Know (whose own contribution warmed the cockles of my heart).

[Note for those who're interested -- my attendance policy is simple: Don't miss class. If you miss more than three classes, it will affect your participation grade. A death in the immediate family (with obituary or funeral card for proof, I'm afraid) or your own grave injury or illness requiring hospitalization or other extreme treatment may qualify you for an exception or an incomplete, if necessary.]

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as marionette morality play

Hey fellow late medieval and early modern literature people (and perhaps also fans of Being John Malkovich), you've got to check out the blog Tuco's Lament. Its author is using the blog to describe his process of creating a marionette version of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as a morality play. Awesome! You have to at least go see his Tuco puppet -- so sad faced and so perfect, as Tuco or Everyman. The tiny graveyard is pretty cool, too. So go check out the blog and give its creator encouragement, because the world needs more such creative uses of genre and medium.

I found out about all this because the blog's creator and puppeteer, Laurent, wrote to me when he linked to my post about the drama selections in the new Norton Anthology. As you might recall, I brought up my problem with Everyman always being held up as representative of medieval morality plays (or worse, medieval drama in general) and there was some discussion of this in the comments, as well. Laurent confirmed in his email to me that in the 1970s, when he was in college, Everyman was indeed his only exposure to medieval drama. At least he liked it enough to be inspired by it later! But I'm also glad he came by and learned that there are other medieval morality plays. See -- blogs can do educational good in the world!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Will someone finish my K'zoo paper for me? Then how about a movie meme?

(And while you're at it, don't forget to e-mail me to get the details of the K'zoo blogger gathering.)

Here's a meme to distract us all from our work. I saw it at Blogenspeil (where ADM said she might write my paper for me if I do her handouts...hmmm...) and apparently it's a moral imperative for the women bloggers to do this meme, because Maggie May says Luckybuzz says that only the boys are doing it so far. Plus, for me it works as a good reminder of films I haven't seen and generally want to. I have no idea where the list came from or even what logic dictates what's on the list.

Bold the ones you've seen; star the ones you love.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) Stanley Kubrick
"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francois Truffaut
"8 1/2" (1963) Federico Fellini
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) Werner Herzog
"Alien" (1979) Ridley Scott*
"All About Eve" (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
"Annie Hall" (1977) Woody Allen
"Bambi" (1942) Disney
"Battleship Potemkin" (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) William Wyler
"The Big Red One" (1980) Samuel Fuller
"The Bicycle Thief" (1949) Vittorio De Sica
"The Big Sleep" (1946) Howard Hawks*
"Blade Runner" (1982) Ridley Scott*
"Blowup" (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
"Blue Velvet" (1986) David Lynch
"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) Arthur Penn
"Breathless" (1959) Jean-Luc Godard
"Bringing Up Baby" (1938) Howard Hawks
"Carrie" (1975) Brian DePalma
"Casablanca" (1942) Michael Curtiz
"Un Chien Andalou" (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
"Children of Paradise" / "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945) Marcel Carne
"Chinatown" (1974) Roman Polanski
"Citizen Kane" (1941) Orson Welles
"A Clockwork Orange" (1971) Stanley Kubrick
"The Crying Game" (1992) Neil Jordan
"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Robert Wise
"Days of Heaven" (1978) Terence Malick
"Dirty Harry" (1971) Don Siegel
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) Luis Bunuel
"Do the Right Thing" (1989) Spike Lee
"La Dolce Vita" (1960) Federico Fellini
"Double Indemnity" (1944) Billy Wilder
"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) Stanley Kubrick*
"Duck Soup" (1933) Leo McCarey
"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) Steven Spielberg*
"Easy Rider" (1969) Dennis Hopper
"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Irvin Kershner*
"The Exorcist" (1973) William Friedkin
"Fargo" (1995) Joel & Ethan Coen*
"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher
"Frankenstein" (1931) James Whale
"The General" (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
"The Godfather," "The Godfather, Part II" (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Victor Fleming
"GoodFellas" (1990) Martin Scorsese*
"The Graduate" (1967) Mike Nichols*
"Halloween" (1978) John Carpenter
"A Hard Day's Night" (1964) Richard Lester*
"Intolerance" (1916) D.W. Griffith
"It's A Gift" (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra
"Jaws" (1975) Steven Spielberg*
"The Lady Eve" (1941) Preston Sturges
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) David Lean*
"M" (1931) Fritz Lang
"Mad Max 2" / "The Road Warrior" (1981) George Miller
"The Maltese Falcon" (1941) John Huston
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) John Frankenheimer
"Metropolis" (1926) Fritz Lang
"Modern Times" (1936) Charles Chaplin
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam*
"Nashville" (1975) Robert Altman
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955) Charles Laughton
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) George Romero
"North by Northwest" (1959) Alfred Hitchcock*
"Nosferatu" (1922) F.W. Murnau
"On the Waterfront" (1954) Elia Kazan
"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) Sergio Leone
"Out of the Past" (1947) Jacques Tournier
"Persona" (1966) Ingmar Bergman
"Pink Flamingos" (1972) John Waters
"Psycho" (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
"Pulp Fiction" (1994) Quentin Tarantino*
"Rashomon" (1950) Akira Kurosawa
"Rear Window" (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) Nicholas Ray
"Red River" (1948) Howard Hawks
"Repulsion" (1965) Roman Polanski
"Rules of the Game" (1939) Jean Renoir
"Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks
"The Scarlet Empress" (1934) Josef von Sternberg
"Schindler's List" (1993) Steven Spielberg
"The Searchers" (1956) John Ford
"The Seven Samurai" (1954) Akira Kurosawa
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly*
"Some Like It Hot" (1959) Billy Wilder*
"A Star Is Born" (1954) George Cukor
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) Elia Kazan*
"Sunset Boulevard" (1950) Billy Wilder
"Taxi Driver" (1976) Martin Scorsese*
"The Third Man" (1949) Carol Reed
"Tokyo Story" (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) John Huston
"Trouble in Paradise" (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
"Vertigo" (1958) Alfred Hitchcock
"West Side Story" (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise
"The Wild Bunch" (1969) Sam Peckinpah
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) Victor Fleming*

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

K'zoo Blogger Meet-Up

Much more concise version of this post now here.

: I mistyped my own damn e-mail address below, but it is now corrected.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Elisabeth reserved the location until 8pm, in case we want to lolly-gag some more. Woo-hoo!
Also, over e-mail, a couple people have asked about carpooling, but the top secret location is within walking distance from the dorms, so that's what I was planning to do. If people are in hotels elsewhere, do you want to set up a carpool? You can use the comments here to arrange things, if you like.

Original post

Hi everyone. With Elisabeth Carnell's gracious and generous help (a thousand thanks, E!), I've arranged the plans for our First Annual K'zoo Blogger Meet-Up. On behalf of Ancrene Wiseass and myself, I'm sorry that it took awhile and that we didn't host more discussion about when and where. But with my mom and Wiseass's exam, we both got a little, well, overwhelmed. But since I'm slightly less overwhelmed at the moment, I made the final arrangements (or, well, I e-mailed Elisabeth and *she* made the arrangements). (Btw, things got really rough for Wiseass recently -- but her exam went through and of course the brilliant woman passed, so go congratulate her if you haven't already.)

Anyway, I drafted a post with all the details. And then I thought: wait, but then the whole world knows where a bunch of anonymous bloggers will be and when. And that wouldn't be a good thing.

So here's the when: 5-8 pm Thursday.
I know that day and time won't be good for everyone, but no day and time was going to be good for absolutely everyone. My logic here was that the 5-7pm hours only overlap with wine hours and business meetings and is early enough for cocktails before dinner. Plus two hours of meet-up time will allow some people to come for part of it. ETA: And then Elisabeth added an extra hour just in case people still wanted to hang out. Excellent idea! And also, if people want to mosey on elsewhere afterwards -- to evening conference events, to dinner, or whatever -- they can. And groups of bloggers can mosey off together afterwards if they like.

For the where, e-mail me at drvirago [at] sbcglobal [dot] com net (inserting the appropriate punctuation, of course...UPDATE: it also helps if I get my own e-mail right! d'oh). For those of you who are thinking, "But Dr. V, you never check that e-mail" -- I have finally set up Outlook to retrieve it and check it at least daily. I will e-mail you back with the where.

And would the medievalists who read this post a notice and link on their sites, as well, so that we can be sure everyone sees it? Thanks.

Monday, April 17, 2006

And they're off! Live blogging the Boston Marathon (sort of)

FINAL UPDATE (others below): My brother survived Heartbreak Hill and its aftermath and finished with a new PR of 3:05:37! Woo-hoo! Congratulations Fast Fizzy!

Original post:

The Boston Marathon started about an hour ago (at time of writing). Yes, that's right, it's Monday. And they started at noon. What can I tell you -- the Boston Marathon is weird.

If you want updates on the leaders (go, Meb, go!), you can follow the race's progress at the Marathon website. If you know someone in the race, you can track their progress with the "Athlete Tracking" link on the main page.

And of course I'm tracking Fast Fizzy. Last I checked, he was running a 6:51 pace with a projected finish of 2:59:28, which would be totally awesome, as Fizzy has never broken 3 hours. But that's only after the first 10K and there's a lot of hills to come, plus Fizzy has a tendency to take off fast in the first 10K and then settle into a more manageable pace. Then again, I said that when he was running the NY Marathon and he kept up the pace and set a new PR. So maybe the adrenaline will do it for him again.

The three men's leaders, meanwhile, are running at a crazy 4:43 pace, in single file. Perhaps we'll have another photo finish, just like in NY. The women, it seems, are still in a pack, running at at about a 5:30 pace.

More updates on Fizzy later.

Half Marathon UPDATE: Yup, as I suspected, Fizzy has slowed down, but only a wee bit. He's now running a 6:55 pace with a projected finish of 3:01:13. Still, that would be a PR and put him that much closer to being able to break 3 hours. Keep it up Fizzy!

25K (15.5 mile) UPDATE: Fizzy has dropped a wee bit more speed -- he's now at a 6:57 pace -- but it's been literally downhill most of the race to this point and he has the slow climb to Heartbreak Hill yet to face, as well as the equally tortorous steep downhill from the crest of Heartbreak Hill (about mile 20.5) to the end.

Why would the last downhill miles be so hard? For those not in the know, after about mile 18-22, depending on your fitness and natural endurance, you start to build up lactic acid in your leg muscles and they tend not to do what you want them to do. They turn into either heavy bricks or a mushy mess. Downhills are hard on the legs. Steep downhills after 20+ miles at race pace are murder. Many a seasoned, elite runner -- including the awesome Greta Weitz -- has hit "the wall" on the downhill side of Heartbreak Hill.

So, hang in there Fizzy!

Winners UPDATE: Apparently people other than my brother are running this race. Who knew? Anyway, here are the men's top 3 and the women's top 3 (they started earlier):

Men's official results
1. Robert Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:07:14 (Course Record by one second!)
2. Ben Maiyo (KEN) 2:08:21
3. Mebrahtom Keflezighi (USA) 2:09:56

Women's official results
1. Rita Jeptoo (KEN) 2:23:38
2. Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT) 2:23:48
3. Reiko Tosa (JPN) 2:24:11

Fast Fizzy 35K UPDATE: Hot damn! Fizzy has made it over Heartbreak Hill and he's still at a 7:02 pace with a projected finish of 3:04:16 -- about 4 minutes faster than his previous PR in the NY Marathon. If he can hold it together down the hill to the finish, he's golden! Next update will be his finish time!

Calling Margery Kempe crazy -- and why it matters

I’ve taught The Book of Margery Kempe, in whole or in part, seven times now – as a TA discussion leader three times, as a professor to undergrads in the my Early English Lit class three times, and to MA students in a medieval women writers seminar once – and every time I’ve been concerned by the students who simply want to call Margery crazy, or who “explain” her behavior by medicalizing and pathologizing her, even if they are sympathetic. They speak gently of how she’s out of her wits; continuously suffering from her bout with post-partum depression; suffering from depression in general, etc. Or, they deride her as a nutcase, a freak, an annoying pain, and so forth.

To all of these responses I have replied, kindly, that such responses don’t really help us analyze Kempe’s text or to understand Margery herself as a text, as “good communication” (her own words), as a performance of affective piety that’s not completely out there in the context of her own times. What I’ve really wanted to say to the students who say she’s “just a freak” is this: “Not at all helpful – anyone else want to say something more thoughtful?” Generally it’s all I can do to keep from rolling my eyes.

This last time I taught The Book of Margery Kempe, I didn’t get the “she’s a freak” responses until the last day of discussion. Part of what held them off, I think, was that we spent the first day talking about authority, auctoritas, authorship, the idea of the book, textuality and orality, scribes and amaneuses, the manuscript and its readerly marginalia (and what it tells us about The Book’s early reception), and the practice and meaning of writing, as well as Lynn Staley’s practice of referring to the author of The Book as Kempe and the protagonist of the text as Margery. I know some people might find this last bit a false distinction and an illusion, but it’s a really useful one for getting students to think of The Book as a constructed literary object and not simply a transparent record of a life. My students were so caught up in wrapping their heads around the different meanings of authority and the ways in which the scribes of Kempe’s text are necessary for her authority – no matter what the state of her literacy – that they didn’t have time to think about Margery’s behavior. And since I’ve been emphasizing the material culture of the book and also a little reception history for each text we’ve studied, they were curious to hear about the marginalia by The Book’s friar readers and what it said about how they saw the text. (In addition to reading medieval texts and learning about their manuscript contexts this semester, I’ve also had students do a kind of wacky miscellany project in which they create their own commonplace books and then write marginalia in each others’ books; so I think they’re very aware of what marginalia might tell you about a reader and what it doesn’t tell you. But that’s another post if you’re interested.) And they were fascinated, as well, by Kempe’s use of the third person and that one place in chapter 5 where someone (the scribe? Kempe herself?) slips up and refers to Margery and John Kempe in first person plural: we. My students wondered: did Kempe invent the scribes for the sake of her authority? Or did she write a rough draft herself which then the scribe copied, missing only one first person reference which he failed to convert to third person? They were intrigued by the idea that Margery’s illiteracy (whether real or exaggerated) might be a boon to her spiritual claims, rather than a check on her authority.

So all of this distracted them for at least a day and made them focus on the text as text. They might have started devolving into the “she’s crazy” routine on the second day, but I had laryngitis and the weather was nice, so I split them up into groups and sent them out into the courtyard with a list of discussion questions. I couldn’t hear everything every group said at every minute, but for the most part, they seemed to be discussing the issues of genre, gender, and authority and that I’d written out for them.

But by day three, the “crazy” comments started. In part, that’s because they’d had a weekend in between class meeting and my class seems particularly prone to forgetting everything we talked about from Thursdays to Tuesday. I swear these kids must be heavy drinkers or else some other kind of trauma is killing their brain cells and memory, because otherwise they’re a bright and curious group. Anyway, the same students who thought the third person was a fascinating and clever ploy on Kempe’s part now thought that calling herself a “creature” made her “sound like a freak.” And the litany of “crazy” and “insane” and “unstable” began. I tried my usual tactics of quelling the name-calling. And then finally, it hit me. Or rather, something one of my graduate students had written in his response paper on the very first day of Kempe discussion came bubbling up to the surface of my own memory. I asked him to read aloud the sentence (we have “slash” courses – graduate students take classes with undergrads) which said something along the lines of ‘Perhaps I’m reacting just like the bastards who tormented Margery herself and made her justified in seeing herself as a martyr.’ All of a sudden I realized that students’ seemingly less than helpful name-calling and judgments of Margery’s sanity were actually not only helpful, but possibly exactly what Kempe and the text wanted. Margery may not have been pleased by reader calling her crazy – and had she been around to overhear them, she would have chastised them for their sinfulness and idle talk – but Kempe and her text actually require such a response. To be the saint she so wanted to be, Margery needed persecutors. She prayed to be relieved of such persecution, but in those prayers, Jesus came to her and told her that they only made her more beloved to him. And so, in narrating these experiences – the outlandish behavior that provokes Margery’s attackers (the loud crying, wearing white, constantly traveling on pilgrimage, etc.); the persecutions she claims to have experienced, including numerous encounters with ecclesiastical law; and the mystical, private “dalliance” with Christ that authorizes both the behavior and the worldly criticism for it – Kempe is looking for two responses, both of them embedded in her text. Either a reader will find Margery holy and see her words and experiences as appropriate models – as do many people within her text – or a reader will think she’s annoying, crazy, and freakish, as do many other people in the narrative, but in so doing, will only reinforce her holiness by showing her to be persecuted and yet steadfast.

Of course, I didn’t say all this to my students. It was nearing the end of class, so I time only to say a few words. After my graduate student read that bit of his response paper aloud, I said something like this: “So, if you find Margery annoying and weird, you give her authority as a martyr. If you find her holy and sincere, you give her authority. Either way, the text constructs the readers it wants and that authorize its existence and meaning. Only if you are utterly indifferent are you misreading the text.” And I left it at that. We’ve been talking a lot this semester about how text can assume and anticipate and work for various reading positions – naïve readers, accomplished readers, and so forth – and so maybe my students made that connection to The Book of Margery Kempe anticipating, expecting, and wanting multiple kinds of readers.

At any rate, I feel I’m now freed from worrying that my students are dismissing the text if they call Margery “crazy.” Instead, I can tell them that they are playing right into her hands, that because of them, Kempe’s authority as quasi-saint and holy woman is even greater.

technorati tag:

Friday, April 14, 2006

And oh yeah -- happy holidays

Apparently the Boston Marathon is the only spring holiday I recognize (see below). I'm a heathen you know. Though at least I'm an accidental patriot, as the Boston Marathon is always run on Patriot's Day.

But to all of you who are either Christian or Jewish and are observing, in some way, either Easter week or Passover (or both for the dual-religion households out there), may your holiday celebrations be filled with blessings of wisdom, renewal, love, and joy.

Friday (not so) Random 10: Boston Marathon Edition

My brother Fast Fizzy is running the Boston Marathon on Monday, so this, my first Friday Random 10, is for him. I searched the words "run," "move," "speed," and "quick," and came up with the following list. (Actually, I also came up with Liz Phair's "Fuck and Run," but decided it wasn't really appropriate to the theme. Neither is "A Quick One, While He's Away," but Fizzy's a big Who fan, so I decided it was suitable for that reason.) As it turned out, a lot of it is stuff Fizzy would like -- bluesy and rootsy music, classic rock, stuff from the '70s (two from the Dazed and Confused soundtrack). Don't know how he'd feel about the show tune and Coldplay bits, though. Only a fraction of my CD collection is ripped to my hard drive so far, so this is what I got:

1. Run, Baby, Run - Sheryl Crow
2. Run For Your Life - The Beatles
3. Fox on the Run - Sweet
4. Set Out Running - Neko Case
5. I'd Run Away - The Jayhawks
6. Cherry Bomb - The Runaways
7. Move On - Jet
8. I Move On - Catherine Zeta-Jones / Renee Zellweger (Chicago sountrack)
9. Speed of Sound - Coldplay (live at Austin City Limits)
10. A Quick One, While He's Away - The Who

Run, Fizzy, Run!!!!

(The rest of you may mock the Jet, if you will, but that stuff's good runnin' music.)

Update: Hey, Fizzy, if you're reading, Karl the Grouchy Medievalist has added more songs in the comments, including some you'd probably really dig.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Things I said to students this week...

...that I really probably shouldn't have said.

  • After seeing the "freak-out look" on an independent study student's face (after I'd just given sound but very detailed advice on how to start pulling the research together and start writing) I said, "Oh I know that look. That's the look I give when I'm freaking out about something and someone -- usually male -- thinks what I want is sound advice on solving a problem, when what I really want is to freak out a little while first. Hm. So apparently when I'm wearing my advice-giving professor hat, I'm male."
  • In describing my Medieval Times experience (before the start of class): "The Merlin-like figure offers prayers to pseudo-neo-pagan gods and goddesses, which of course isn't at all medieval. But then, you couldn't really have a production that's supposed to appeal to a huge, wide, diverse, ecumenical, multi-culti American audience being overtly Christian, because that would be kinda creepy." (OK, I did save myself from this one. How? I said "I'm sorry, my 'word hoard' is on the fritz." Since we were in Old English, they laughed. Whew! I really didn't mean creepy -- I was going for "a turn-off for many of their potential paying customers.")
  • On Boorman's Excalibur and the scene of Uther lying with Igrayne: "He's in full plate armor. Ouch! Do you know how much that stuff weighs?"

Monday, April 10, 2006

I'd rather be researching

I've been working on my K'zoo research/paper this morning, but now it's lunch time and time to switch to teaching responsibilities. But I don't want to! I want to continue reading and writing. This is a far cry from the beginning of the semester when I couldn't switch my brain from teaching to research (if you'll recall). Why is that? What's the difference?

I'll tell you the difference: grading. Ugh. Only 5 more papers left but I really, really don't want to do them. And even though we're doing Mankind in my medieval lit class tomorrow and I love that play and love teaching it because I get to be rude and silly and get students up and taunt them in Middle English -- despite all that, I've got no energy for teaching.

Please, please let this semester be over soon. I'm pooped.

Doggies and kitties and monkeys, oh my!

OK, there are no monkeys in this post. I just wanted to say monkeys. Why? Because it makes me laugh. And you know what's even funnier than the word "monkeys"? The phrase "monkey pants."

It's late and I've been grading all day. I'm giddy with delirium.

Anyway, there's a point to this post. Pets. I've been gingerly broaching the topic of pets with the Boyfriend lately. I desperately miss having a cat so much that I still can't bring myself to get rid of my cat stuff, even though my dear Delphina departed almost four years ago. But Boyfriend is more of a dog person, and that' s OK with me because I like all animals. (Even goats, as you'll recall. And a friend once had a parrot who thought I was his girlfriend; I dug him, too.) I'm still trying to get the Boyfriend to warm up to cats, though, because I'd like one in addition to a dog. In fact, I really don't get the whole "cat person"/"dog person" standoff, frankly. I'm an equal opportunity fuzzy and feathery thing lover, and other creatures are pretty cool, too.

So lately I've been investigating dog breeds, looking for ones that get along with other creatures, that would enjoy a run with me so I can combine dog-walking duties with my running, and that aren't destructive diggers or noisy barkers. Oh, and cuteness is a plus, too. As a result of my preliminary research, I've become utterly obsessed with a rare breed called the Portuguese Water Dog. Go look -- how cute! Not only are they cute and fluffy, but they're supposedly smart, even-tempered, affectionate with humans and other creatures, eager to please, and quick to train. And they're working dogs, so they need a lot of exercise. (They don't have to get it in the water, though they'll happily dive right in.) They're also a 'hair' breed rather than a 'fur' breed, which means no dog-fur smell and no shedding (nor more than we lose our hair, that is), though they do have to have their hair cut like we do. And get this -- they have webbed feet! So not only are they cute and smart and gentle natured, they're freaks, too! They're like the bizarro-Golden Retriever or something. How could I not fall in love with them?

Seriously, leave it to me to fall in love with an odd, uncommon breed. Because, you see, it's not enough that I have to explain what I do for a living ("I teach and study medieval, older than, not 'mid evil'...Yes, 'normal' English majors take my, I don't play wenches at Ren Fests...No, I haven't read Dan Brown and don't intend to...") -- I also want to have to explain what breed my dog is, too. ("It's a Portuguese Water, you're thinking of the jelly, it can't breath I didn't give it a permanent; that's natural wave...yes, I realize our hair kind of matches...")

Anyway, if anyone out there has any first-hand experience with Portuguese Water Dogs, let me know the pros and cons of having one as pet, beyond the whole 'costs $1800' part, which I'm ignoring for the moment since I'm in the fantasy stage.

And yes, I'm going to do that Margery Kempe post. Really.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

My Nano is brilliant

I'm grading. So I'm listening to the music I've so far managed to load onto my computer and onto my new birthday Nano to make the process less painful. I can't read literature or scholarly works or write with music, but I'm only now realizing that I can grade with music. (A sad statement about student writing, I'm afraid.)

Anyway, in the past, while listening to the Boyfriend's bigger iPod on shuffle mode (usually on car trips) I've noticed that shuffle isn't as random as we'd probably all like it to be. (I think there was a Slate article on why this is, but I'm too lazy to find it.) But in listening to my Nano I've decided that the shuffle programming, though not perfect, is nevertheless brilliant on a level approaching Hal. Seriously, I think it's sentient.

To wit - earlier today it played the following sequence:
Lemonheads - Second Chance
Beck - Scarecrow
Willie Nelson- Healing Hands of Time
The Lovin' Spoonful - Daydream
Ken Stringfield - Uniforms
Lemonheads - Ever
R.E.M. - Letter Never Sent

At first I was annoyed with the double appearance of the Lemonheads, but then I realized, holy cow, it's giving the Lemonheads a second chance in this string. And besides that, what more perfect way to break up a Mitch Easter-produced string (Stringfield and REM) than with the ultimate sensitive punk boy song. And just look at the American roots in that roster!

And by the way, I've said it before (though not here) and I'll say it again: The Lovin' Spoonful? Most underrated American rock band ever.

And speaking of jangle-pop strings, later today it followed R.E.M.'s Laughing with The Shins' One By One All Day. Until that moment I hadn't really realized it, but The Shins are the inheritors of the jangle-pop tradition, aren't they.

Oh yeah, and now it just followed Jon Brion with Clinic. Excellent.

Yup, my Nano is brilliant, say what you will about my taste in music!

Introducing the "Really Dead Women Writers" Meme

Bardiac has bothered to put in writing what I also thought when I saw the "Women Writers Meme" around the b-sphere (most recently at Badger's place): Where are the pre-1800 women writers on that list?

Go read Bardiac's post, because everything she says is what I would've said, including the part about other feminists not taking you and your work seriously if you work on early literature. And that includes student feminists who, no matter how many times you tell them they're seriously over-simplifying matters (or just plain wrong), write papers about anchoresses that argue that the women were being 'locked up' by patriarchy. Never mind that there were male anchorites. Never mind that maybe a life of reading and prayer and being considered a source of wisdom by townspeople and visitors alike might be more appealing than, say, having 14 kids all 14 of which might have killed you in childbirth. Never mind that being an anchoress could be read as a medieval version of a "room of one's own." Sigh.

Anyway, Bardiac has proposed we put together our own list of pre-1800 women writers (those of us who work in those fields or have read widely in them). She's already taken some of the medieval goodies (I shake my fist at you, Bardiac!) but there are more I can add. So here's Bardiac's list with my additions (and I changed some of Bardiac's links to translations I prefer):


Behn, Aphra - Oroonoko

Christine de Pisan (aka Pizan) - The Book of the City of Ladies

Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love

Locke, Anne (aka Ane Lok, etc) - A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner

Marie de France - The Lais of Marie de France

The Paston Women - The Paston Letters

Margery Kempe - The Book of Margery Kempe

Anonymous - The Floure and the Leafe
(I am convinced the writer was a women. Unless you can name a medieval dream vision where the dreamer was not a persona of the author -- and therefore the same gender -- I stand by my convinction.)

Lady Mary Wroth - Poems

There's more I could add, but I'll leave it to others. Don't want to hog them all!

Update: I was supposed to add five texts and I only added 4. D'oh! Oh well -- more for others to play with! And they've already begun: Medieval Woman, La Lecturess, and Amanda at Household Opera. And if you add more to the list, don't forget to visit Bardiac or drop her a line at bardiacblogger at yahoo dot com, so she can compile the whole list.

Oh, and also, Christine de Pisan and Marie de France wrote other texts -- feel free to add those to your list!

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The sound of silence

Sorry I haven't written much this week -- I've been running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, doing a very disorganized job of keeping up with everything and also still trying to get over this cold. Perhaps I'd be a little less unfocused and anxious if I could just clear my head and lungs enough to get back into running, if only just for 3-4 miles.

Anyway, I want to thank Dr. Crazy and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen for linking me in reference to the men and feminism musings below. I'm especially honored to have been noted in the same paragraph in which Jeffrey says this:

I suppose this is just a long way of saying that the community which electronic communication fosters is, well, important -- and is often not deeply enough considered when we think about what shapes our scholarly lives.
And yes, Jeffrey, I will get you on my blog roll as soon as I get around to updating it. Once again it is woefully out of date. I am the second worst blog roll updated in the blogosphere after Michael Berube. (I'm too lazy to insert the accents today.) Anyway, I do want to get back to following up that post and discussing why I was so surprised by anyone saying a man couldn't claim he's a feminist. And I also want to respond to Dr. Crazy's post, with which I found so much to identify. But it will all have to wait a little while.

Also, lately, I've been getting a lot of traffic from Geoffrey Chaucer. I cannot truly express how delighted I am by being able to write that last sentence. But it also makes me realize that this blog is lately a medieval blog in name only and I really should write something with medieval content. So, when I get around to it, I will write about the following two topics: 1) Visiting an 8th grade class of "at risk" students and teaching them runes right before they start reading The Hobbit (and on my next visit I'm going to teach them about Angl0-Saxon Riddles) and 2) thinking about how students' tendencies to call Margery Kempe "crazy" or "a freak" (the last from one of my own students yesterday) might actually be a surprisingly productive way to get students to talk about the text and not just Margery Kempe the person, and to think about how texts construct their readers. I'm promising these posts in writing to make sure that I'll actually do them.

But now I have to finish my morning's thinking about my Zoo paper and seque into teaching mode to translate some OE and ME for my linguistics classes and grade papers on Marie de France that aren't going to be as good as they could be because I wrote paper topics that were too difficult. (And that in itself could be a post -- and perhaps will be soon.) And I also have to go to my office hours this afternoon. And maybe, just maybe, I'll feel clear-headed enough by the afternoon to go for an easy, short run.

I also have to call my poor mom now that I finally have a voice again.