Friday, October 31, 2008

Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies




















An announcement about three new books in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies series published by Brepols and co-ordinated by an editorial team from Melbourne and Arizona (specifically, me, Charles Zika, Ian Moulton and Fred Keifer, with a larger advisory board).

Here is our blurb:

Jointly directed by Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the University of Melbourne and published by Brepols, this series covers the historical period in Western and Central Europe from ca. 1300 to ca. 1650. It concentrates on topics of broad cultural, religious, intellectual and literary history. The editors are particularly interested in studies that are distinguished by
  • their broad chronological range;
  • their spanning of time periods such as late medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, early modern;
  • their straddling of national borders and historiographies;
  • their cross-disciplinary approach.
A list of books in the series is available in Brepols’ online catalogue at www.brepols.com. The Brepols code for the series is LMEMS.

If you have an idea for a book that you think would fit this series' remit (a word I only started to use once I got involved with this series), please contact me or any of the editors.

These three latest titles might be of particular interest to readers of this blog, as they deal with gender studies, the medieval/early modern transition in English literature, and the theatre of the body in seventeenth-century England. All are fabulous!

Practices of Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, edited by Megan Cassidy-Welch and Peter Sherlock

The Theatre of the Body: Staging Death and Embodying Life in Early Modern London
, by Kate Cregan

Performing the Middle Ages, from 'Beowulf' to 'Othello', by Andrew James Johnston

Scroll down for order forms and deadline for 20% discount...





Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Day After Breast Cancer Day

Well, I wasn't really worried, but I'm very glad, all the same, to report that there is no sign of anything alarming on mammogram or ultrasound, and that Suzanne has given me the all-clear. It's quite a business. The mammogram is somewhat more painful on the site of the scarring, and the ultrasound (sonogram) sensor presses in quite hard and insistently on and around the area of my surgery, so it's hard not to be reminded of the initial scan, just over two years ago, when the technician went over and over the same area without saying a word. I remember when I left the room, he had frozen the screen on this big black cloud in the middle. Even if it wasn't my tumour, I still had that image in mind till I saw my doctor the next day. But I was pretty sure it was cancer, anyway, from the discovery of the very first dimple.

But that was a different hospital. The breast unit where I have all my treatment is run by a series of ministering angels. Every single person who works there is wonderful. The first thing the radiologist said when she came in to do the scan was to say that the x-rays were clear. And once she had had a good look, she told me then, too, that the ultrasounds were clear too.

So by the time I saw Suzanne, I was calm, with my mind at ease. As usual, we talked first about what it meant to be in the world before we talked about my health. Or at least, we began with my saying how hard it was to be in the university sector at the moment. But we ended by agreeing that if you love the work you do, and have your health, it's important, and good, to focus on that work, not the extraneous things if you can help it. This reminds me to keep working away at the things I love best about my job, while I can still do it.

For the first time she raised the possibility of some reconstructive surgery, but my case is so marginal it's hard to imagine it being worth it. I honestly forget about my slight lopsidedness once I'm dressed. And if other people notice or mind, too bad!

Anyway, I'm calling that two years down, with three years to go of my current treatment regime. Hooray!!

And in fact, when I got to work, our Middle English reading group had planned a special lunchtime meeting, for timetabling reasons, and because we are reading Havelok, we had a Danish feast. We had a number of different cheeses, some fantastic fresh dark rye bread Andrew had driven miles to buy, homemade coleslaw, some liver paté, with chopped up bacon to sprinkle over the top, lots of smoked salmon, three (count them: three) different kinds of herrings (I've never eaten them, but started with some in a wonderful mustard sauce, and am now converted), and some crispbread. Plus strong coffee, rum balls and what we call Danish pastries. I asked Annemarie, our Danish admin. assistant, to come in and authenticate and taste our food. She was somewhat dismissive of our pastries, I'm afraid, but approved of the bread and herrings and cheese and salami.

I took some photos, but had the phone switched to take only tiny photos. Here they are, anway:


Monday, October 27, 2008

Breast Cancer Day

October 27 is Breast Cancer Day. It's also the eve of my second annual check-up. This time tomorrow I'll have had a mammogram, ultrasound, and meeting with my wonderful surgeon. In contrast to last year, when I was a little spooked about this (and didn't fully blog about it till several months later), I'm feeling perfectly confident. I'm doing pretty much every thing I'm supposed to do, and hardly ever doing the things I'm not supposed to do, and feel fit as a fiddle (apart from walking into a plate glass window on Saturday, and still feeling a bit wobbly).

Even so, I still have the sense of the day, today, as potentially the last day before the world could turn upside down again. If they find anything tomorrow, I'll be up for biopsy and surgery again, which would almost certainly be more aggressive than the first time. What would this do to the piles of things on my desk, waiting to be read, and the documents on my computer, waiting to be written? What effect would it have on my dear family and friends? And you can see, from that very first response, the extent to which I no longer see myself primarily as a cancer patient, as I did for the first year or so: I've come back to the world of imperatives and tasks. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, but either way, that's the way it is now.

I'll take a moment, even so, in a minute, to step outside and sit in the garden for twenty minutes, to feed the fish, and sit with Mima, and marvel at the smell of rain. We've had two showers this morning.

Breast Cancer October commercial pinkness still raises my hackles a bit, but not today, actually. Today I'm thinking of women who are at the pointy end of diagnosis and treatment, and hoping they'll feel as calm about the future as I do now, when they are two years down the track.

Update: Maybe I'm not as sanguine as I thought. I was in the supermarket earlier this evening, standing at the deli counter next to a woman who looked and sounded like a lovely woman who used to work in the Arts Faculty, and then in the Research Office, who died of breast cancer a year or so ago and who was, I heard, also a talented artist. Same big eyes, same lovely open face. A real haunting; or better, a memory. Rest in peace, Cassandra.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Muck-up day: loving and leaving the institution

This week was the last of formal classes for Year 12 students in Victorian schools. Many have "muck-up day", which can involve anything from throwing eggs, flour and water around the school, to practical jokes, fuelled by less or more alcohol, and carnivalesque reversals, with kids imitating teachers and conducting assemblies. Sometimes there's just drunkenness, of course.

Sometimes the jokes are clever. There's a story going round that involves either three chickens or three pigs being let loose around a school, with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 painted on their backs, so that teachers spend the day looking for no. 3. At Joel's school last year the Year 12 kids blew up hundreds of balloons and filled the staircases with them.

But at one of the most prestigious Catholic boys' schools in Melbourne last week, things got radically out of hand. A rough game sent one boy (who had previously been the victim of bullying) to hospital with multiple leg fractures; and there are multiple reports of intimidatory behaviour around the neighbourhood, extreme drunkenness and damage to property. Debates in the newspapers and on talk-back radio have been intense; and the story has been picked up internationally.

Is it just the inevitable result of the pressures of the VCE, which are probably more intense in private schools, given the underlying economics of paying big money to get your kid a good result? Are private schools more likely to insist on uniformity that results in this kind of mob behaviour? These kids are next year's P-plate drivers who'll drunkenly kill or maim themselves or their mates, and be roaming up and down around King St nightclubs. Of course it's not just the private schools who produce this behaviour, but given that the public schools have been systematically stripped of funds that are then poured into fee-paying schools on the assumption that they teach better (viz. Christian) values, it hurts like anything to see my taxpayers' money being abused like this. Are these kids the ones I want to support? Is this bullying culture worthy of my hard-earned taxes?

By contrast, this year the Year 12 kids at Joel's public school, which is a high-achieving academic school with a brilliant music and drama programme, celebrated by grafitti-ing the wall, in big 60s letters, with the legend "skule is cool". This school has almost no grounds: the kids go over to the nearby park for breaks. It's an ugly concrete block with no assembly hall. When the whole school gets together, it's once a year for a mass photo on the outside basketball court. Yet the kids love it. I've spoken to other parents about this too; the very strong institutional loyalty this school somehow manages to command, and which Joel also shares in.

Of course, as the child of academics, he's grown up in a household where people love their work, and identify strongly with their workplace. Those traditions are radically under fire at the moment, though, given the structural problems of funding our public tertiary system. My arts faculty is still hoping to sack 15 staff members, and there are literally hundreds of redundancies planned for two other Melbourne universities. It's resulting in a climate where it's hard to maintain those feelings of loyalty and identification that have characterised most of my working life. Both policies (for the funding of secondary and tertiary education), I need hardly remind readers, are legacies of the Howard years...

I recently received an invitation to apply for a job in the US; and while I've said thank you very much, it's not possible at the moment, I do sometimes fantasise about working part-time somewhere else, in some kind of shared appointment. And I think a lot of Australian humanities researchers must wonder, as I do, how different it might feel to work in a better funded environment, in a university that is not so deeply constrained by national politics, where humanities management isn't under such pressure to conform to funding models that blatantly favour science and medical research models.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kellyana — images and reprises of Ned Kelly — is a rich cultural field in this country. I'm only scratching the surface of it in my Ned Kelly and medievalism project, but here's a gorgeous example my sister sent me... As she says, must be a cultural first: Kelly and the burka...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Archiving collective memory: Once and Future Medievalism

In 2004, we held a little conference at Melbourne: Once and Future Medievalism. Selected papers from the conference were edited by Philip Thiel for antiTHESIS online, the web-based arm of our most excellent, fully refereed, co-operatively run interdisciplinary graduate journal, antiTHESIS. In the nature of an annually-changing co-operative, however, it's a bit hard for the collective to retain its collective memory, and for a while these papers weren't available.

They have now been archived by the National Library, however, and if you follow this link you'll be directed to Philip's intro. and the table of contents. If this link doesn't work, go here and put "antiTHESIS" in the search box.

It's great to look at these essays again, and see the tremendous range of things it's possible to study as medievalism. Most of the titles are self-explanatory, but readers interested in video games are directed to Darshana's essay. And check out the afterword that John Ganim wrote for the collection:

Once and Future Medievalism - Stephanie Trigg

Translator as Navigator: Two medieval texts in the Tudor court - Hope Johnston

Historical reconstruction or imaginative recreation? The nineteenth-century approach to the early medieval - Pamela O'Neill

Competing Medievalisms: Walter Scott, James Hogg and chivalry - Graham Tulloch

Holy Wars: British medievalist fictions as cultural struggle - Andrew Lynch

Enlightening the 'Other': western rhetoric, violence and the 'medievalised' third world - Sashi Nair

Medievalism and Sorority: The Princess Ida Club - Helen Hickey

The 'Medievalism' of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - Lisa MacKinney

How Fiction Writers Use the Middle Ages - Gilliam Polack

Solving the Middle Ages: contemporary anxiety and the medieval murder mystery - Philip Thiel

The Once and Future Emblematic - Darshana Jayemanne

Once and Future Medievalism: A Belated Afterword - John Ganim

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Unlikely connections and textual spirals

Today in Chaucer class we were looking at Troilus's apostrophe to Criseyde's empty palace. Troilus is waiting for Criseyde to return from the Greek camp, and goes through the streets of Troy to look at the house once adorned with Criseyde and now empty; the lantern whose light is extinguished; the ring without the ruby; the shrine without the saint.

Than seide he thus, "O paleys desolat,
O hous of houses whilom best i-hight,
O paleys empty and disconsolat,
O thow lanterne of which queynt is the light,
O paleys, whilom day, that now art nyght,
Wel oughtestow to falle and I to dye
Syn she is went that wont was vs to gye.

"O paleis, whilom crowne of houses alle,
Enlumyned with sonne of alle blisse,
O ryng fro which the rubie is out falle,
O cause of wo that cause hast ben of lisse,
3et syn I may no bet, fayn wolde I kisse
Thy colde dores, dorste I for this route;
And far wel shryne, of which the seynt is oute."

Of course we talked about the difficulties of "queynte" here, but for the life of me I could not remember the Greek name for this figure until now, when I've just looked it up in an article I've co-written (!), which quotes Larry Benson discussing "the most beautiful example of paraclausithyron [the poem before the closed door] in our literature". He argues that Chaucer would not have introduced that obscene pun; and that we err if we are always on the lookout for the double entendre.

But instead of being able to remember this word (I got the "claus" bit but not the rest), I could remember most of the lyrics of "I have often walked down this street before/ but the pavement's always stayed beneath my feet before", from My Fair Lady and I'm sorry to say I sang a couple of stanzas, with a little help. I've also been singing this lovely song all afternoon.

So. Yes. Songs are more memorable than Greek rhetorical terms. No surprises there. And no, it's not exactly the same situation, though I can't remember at what point Freddie sings this song. But it was, all the same, one of those historically impure moments that helps us read the medieval text, I think. Are Chaucer's characters medieval? or timeless?

Another lovely circle has been playing in my mind, too.

Last night we watched Tony Richardson's 1970 film of Ned Kelly starring Mick Jagger. I liked this much maligned film very much indeed. I especially liked seeing Jagger singing the Wild Colonial Boy.

And the Waylon Jennings soundtrack has some great Kelly ballads. One of them is called "Blame it on the Kellys" ("I think I'll steal a horse myself and blame it on the Kellys"). This also has a Robin Hood moment: "bread and milk on the windowsill? Blame it on the Kellys".

At the film's end, though, Kelly is staggering down the railway tracks in the morning mist, wearing the iconic armour and long coat, reeling as more and more police climb down the embankment and fire at him. He staggers and keeps going, and I have the irresistible image of John Cleese as the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The film recovers itself, but I'm then driven to think about the resemblance between Kelly and the Knight. I mean: look at them!



It's a pretty distinctive shape for a helmet, and I reckon it's not implausible that the Python team had seen the Jagger film.

These are both lovely examples, I think, of the way medieval studies and medievalism both set up these spirals of reference and allusion.

Monday, October 20, 2008

One Garter or Two?

OK, all you eagle-eyed costume historians and dedicated followers of fashion, what is the courtier on the right wearing around his leg? It's a garter, yes, but is it The Garter? It has an unusually long pendant which makes me think it's more like a kind of decorative garter, especially as the right, white-hosed leg of the same man seems to have a similar garter. (From what I have seen so far, medieval Garters don't seem to have a matching, plainer band on the other leg, though this was the convention later on.)

Note how his elegant footwear extends across the frame of the picture...


This is from a MS of Philippe de Mézières’ Epistre au roi Richart, British Library Royal MS 20 B Vl, f.2, detail (c. 1395-6). I haven't seen this manuscript discussed in any Garter contexts, which is interesting because if it's not thought to be The Garter, then it's evidence that decorative garters were fashionable in Richard's court. But perhaps it is a Garter: no reason why it couldn't have a long pendant, after all.

I've finished drafting Chapter Six (hooray for me!), and am just starting the long haul through all my badly organised files to fill in all the gaps before I start drafting Chapter Seven then re-doing all those early chapters. So I will have fun problems about deciding where to put all my juicy little snippets. For example, the Queen's driving mascot is a silver model of St George (the Garter's patron saint) slaying the Dragon, and it is transferred from car to car. What a weird world it is.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ned Kelly's boot and other relics

As part of my work on Ned Kelly, Joel and I rode down to the State Library. We walked through part of their relatively new permanent exhibition, past the medieval manuscripts, and early Chaucer prints, and took the lift up to the fifth floor. I had never actually seen the Kelly armour, but there it was in a glass case, complete with his rifle and ... a single, tall, cuban-heeled boot. The armour I had seen in a hundred reproductions and images, but this single boot is particularly haunting. It looks as if it has been cut open. It was probably pretty-much blood filled by the time they captured Kelly, who had, despite the armour made of plough-shares, been shot twenty-seven times, mostly in the leg.



The boot is on loan to the Library from the descendants of Jesse Dowsett, to whom it was awarded as a trophy for his role in Kelly's capture. Unlike the extraordinary and iconic armour, shown below in Joel's dramatic floor-view shot, this boot is both an ordinary item of the everyday, while also a semi-sacred relic.

If the armour seems unreal (poised, as I think it is, between influences drawn from medieval romance, the Chinese armour the gang would have seen at the Prince of Wales' birthday parade in Beechworth, and an enchantment with an industrial modernism), the boot belongs to a different order altogether. It's a bushman's riding boot that has been kept as a souvenir of the notorious outlaw, but unlike the armour or the death mask, hasn't been replicated a thousand times. I've only started my work on Kelly (and his associations with Robin Hood), but this is the first time I've seen the boot. Its preservation speaks volumes about the iconic status of Kelly, and the mystique and veneration in which he is held. "Oh yes," said our landlady in Milawa a few weeks ago, "Saint Ned!" And indeed, it looked very much like a saint's relic.



It was a day of firsts, actually. That thing about touring the world and not seeing the things in your own city? One of Melbourne's great tourist attractions is the old Melbourne gaol, where Kelly was hanged in 1880. I must have passed it a thousand times without going in, but today we did. It's a most creepy place indeed, so much so that I forgot to take photos, really, apart from this image of a perspex woman's silhouette that I think is supposed to haunt you; and this three-tiered belt they would considerately strap around you to protect your kidneys while they flogged you.


The gaol has three levels of cells, arranged along either side of a long corridor. The cells are of course tiny, with enormous bluestone flagstones on the floor. Most of them were open; many with displays about the various men and women who'd been imprisoned there: the two Aboriginal men who were the gaol's first hanged men; the Philipino; the Spaniard (who realised he was going to be hanged only ten minutes before the executioner came for him); the Chinese; the women accused of baby-farming and infanticide, and of course, Kelly and his mother, Ellen, who was allowed to visit her son shortly before his death. She was working in the prison laundry when he was hanged. As we walked in and out of these cells, I got quite jumpy. It was bad enough seeing a life-sized figure of a prisoner standing or sitting in his cell; but the spookiest moment was walking into a cell with a narrow mattress on the floor and a grey blanket, not folded up, but in a heap, as if someone had just got up. I found myself almost apologising for intruding, and backing out again.

There was also a two-actor show, dramatising scenes from Kelly's life, that was surprisingly good.
After this we did the tour of the old watch-house, that was used as recently as the 1990s. A young female sergeant marched us in, separated men from women, and locked us up in a cell and turned out the lights. Even with the good-humoured women and children in my group, it was still pretty scary, as was the large padded cell they showed us, too.

Hoping for a good night's sleep tonight, then.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Medieval Literature at Tasmania

I was very sorry to hear about the proposal to abolish the teaching of Medieval English Literature at the University of Tasmania. Like lots of other places around the country — my own Arts Faculty; ADFA — the School has become overstaffed, and they are looking to abolish medieval literature (and the position of Jenna Mead, who teaches there).

This kind of thing is always tricky. It's a small department; and enrolments in medieval literature will never be enormous. But there are certainly ways to integrate medieval literature into the curriculum. The School has particular research strengths in C19 and C20, and in regional literature and colonial and post-colonial studies, and wants to focus its undergraduate teaching in that area. (Oh, but an exception is made for Shakespeare, which just seems weird to me.) All the more reason, then, to give students the historical depth that medieval studies offers.

I've just written to the vice-chancellor at UTas. In part, my letter read:

Contemporary medieval studies is a cutting-edge field that readily engages not only with its traditional interdisciplinary partners — historical studies, art history, architecture, music, etc. — but also with a wide range of sophisticated theoretical approaches to literature and cultural studies. Moreover, medieval studies is an exemplary way to study the literature of the past, of cultures and societies other than our own, especially through dialogue with the field of medievalism, the study of various attempts to revive, re-create and re-work medieval culture in contemporary literature, film, and in other cultural forms.

Professor _____ remarks that medieval literature is not taught in many Australian universities. All the more reason, then, to preserve it in the syllabus at Tasmania, where it is well supported by the team of excellent medievalists in the School of History and Classics. English departments, even small ones, have an obligation to give students the widest possible exposure to the many traditions of English literature, not just those relevant to the School’s research strengths. Professor _____ comments that Medieval Literature is a specialized subject that “cannot be readily integrated into a reinvigorated and restructured English programme”. Permit me to register my most profound disagreement with this statement: the teaching of Middle English language skills may well be specialised, but there is no reason why medieval literature and medievalist literature and film cannot be fully integrated into a lively curriculum, as is seen in other universities in Australia and internationally.
It felt a bit odd to be writing, given that my own Faculty is grappling with forced redundancies of our own, though there is a growing tide of resistance to this next stage. Anyway, if you are reading this with concern, and would like to know more, and perhaps write your own letter, I suggest getting in contact with Jenna directly, or leaving a comment here in support of medieval literature.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chaucer and love (Friday poetry blogging)

Every year for the last half-dozen or more, I've taught Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde in my honours class. We take four or five two-hour seminars and work through the text. This is my favourite poem, no contest. It never ceases to amaze me, too, that every year I find something in it that takes my breath away.

On Wednesday, we were reading Book III. Early in the book, the lovers have finally met in person and exchanged words, but have not yet consummated their affair. As they wait for Pandarus to arrange this, they see each other and speak a few times, with utmost discretion, so no one will know of their love.

And the narrator says:
But thilke litel that they spake or wroughte,
His wise goost took ay of al swych heede,
It semed hire he wiste what she thoughte
Withouten word, so that it was no nede
To bidde hym ought to doon or ought for-beede;
For which she thought that loue, al come it late,
Of alle joie hadde opned hir the yate. (III. 463-9)
Roughly...
But his thoughtful spirit paid such attention to every detail of the little they said or did, that it seemed to her he knew what she was thinking, without speech, so she had no need to command him to do anything, or to forbid him anything. And accordingly, she felt that love, even though it had come late, had opened to her the gate to complete joy.
This is one of those passages that compresses both the medieval and the timeless. There is something very moving about lovers, so tightly constrained within the conventions of courtly love, under siege conditions, in the layered formality of Chaucer's narrative, experiencing that intimate closeness — that feeling of being known, that words are unnecessary — that is a feature of most representations of Western romantic love.

What does it mean? that we learn how to think about love from Chaucer and the medieval poets? The obvious answer, I guess, is that Chaucer speaks to us across time and space, and that this timelessness is the measure of his greatness and one of the reasons why he has become a canonical poet. But right next to this is the deeply medieval convention of female sovereignty in love. Criseyde experiences this emotional intimacy as taking away the need to organise the details of Troilus's service to her. The notion of service, in love, is in complete opposition to (most) modern understandings of love. The stanza thus enacts the dialectic between romantic and sexual love as (a) mutual and (b) structured by the contradictory hierarchies of courtly convention and gender politics. (We were also looking at Elaine Hansen's critique of David Aers' conditional praise of the mutuality of the sexual encounter to come later in Book III.)

For me, this raises a difficult question: what to do with the notion of timelessness in the canonical text? I'm trained to read historically; and I'm sometimes embarrassed by the claims about the universal timeless greatness of Chaucer (and others), because such claims carry such heavy ideological freight. But there's no doubt that here, cheek by jowl with the medieval idea of courtly service in love, is an invocation of mutual understanding in love that has all the hallmarks of modern humanism. And I guess that's my answer: that it's the dialectic between the medieval and the modern that produces Chaucer's popularity. It's certainly a most blissful text to teach.





Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Suse in the News

Check out this morning's Australian, with its article about the teaching awards. The reporter had come to the blog and quotes Suse's comment. It's pretty rare that getting into the comments box first will get you a citation in the national press. Well done, Suse!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reasons to be cheerful

Ahem.

I was checking my email at the airport in Sydney last week when I picked up a message from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, saying I had won one of their awards for university teaching. I've been sitting on this news for a couple of days, but there are reasons (beyond the usual narcissistic bloggy ones) for posting about it here.

The Council (formerly known as the Carrick Institute) has given 22 such national awards this year, just two in the Arts and Humanities area, though there are some awards dedicated to indigenous education, etc. The prize is $25,000(!) some of which I'll use to fund a little symposium on the teaching of medieval and medievalist literature, probably in 2010, when I return from my year's leave next year. There's a presentation dinner in Canberra at the end of November, when they'll announce one of these 22 winners to be the Prime Minister's Australian University Teacher of the Year. Ooh the suspense! I'm thinking of taking Joel as my guest, so he can get to see the Ruddster in his full glory.

Apart from the general loveliness of winning something you apply for (the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at Melbourne helped me re-shape my application for the mentoring award), I'm really chuffed about this award for four reasons:
  • the Humanities Researcher blog played a big part in the application, so it's nice to see blogging being taken seriously in a pedagogical context
  • it's good for medieval studies, which is often under threat in this country, to be given this profile
  • it's good for English studies, which is often ridiculed as over-theorised in this country, to be given this profile
  • it's good for the Arts faculty at Melbourne, which is increasingly being written about for its budgetary difficulties and its current programme of job-shedding. We are indeed about to enter a round of involuntary redundancies, so times are grim. Of course my award doesn't help those who are facing up to this brutal process, but it might be a reminder that the faculty is filled with dedicated teachers and researchers, who work hard to preserve that very delicate nexus between teaching and research.
OK, stepping down from soapbox now.

I found a bottle of vintage Yarra Valley Chandon, and chilled it to drink with our friends on Friday night. Not to be outdone, Paul descended into the cellar (which he dug himself), and pulled out a bottle of St Henri (cousin to "the Grange"). Perfect accompaniments to ... pizza!

Cheers, everyone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Holiday photos

We took heaps of photos on the Great North-East Victorian Bike Ride: these will give an idea of the celestial blue skies; the sumptuous meals; and the historical immersion into the 1870s we accomplished in five days.

The bike paths are built over disused train lines. Occasionally, they have built bike-oriented rest stops in the shape of old trains.


Mostly the paths are through open country, but sometimes the bush has closed over the tracks, and this is when it was most beautiful.



Sometimes the path went alongside farmlands, and we stopped once to feed long juicy grass to horses. All you St Louisians will recognise my St Louis Cardinals World Series Champions 2006 t-shirt. Go Cards!


We saw other animals, too, though they were often too quick to be photographed: a little lizard; an Aesopian crow flying off with a big wedge of cheese in its mouth; and two snakes. One was black with a red belly, slithering serenely across the path; another mottled one that Joel rode over, and that then reared up as we passed by, shuddering.

As we came into Bright, we saw this irresistible sign:


And at Beechworth, the buildings are made of silver white granite that goes golden as it ages.

Here is Ned Kelly's death mask in the Burke Museum at Beechworth:


And from the sublime to the ridiculous:


And here is the magnificent breakfast Joel ate at the old Butter factory at Myrtleford at the beginning of our last day's riding.


You would think it would keep him going; and so it did: all the way to Everton, where he had a meat pie for morning tea.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Naked Philologist Triumphs

Congratulations to The Naked Philologist, who has just picked up the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship's award for the Best Paper by an Undergraduate Student, for “Gender, Power and Heroism in Ælfric’s Judith.” Well done, NP!

Medievalism at Wollongong

Got back home again on Thursday night, after getting to most of the postgraduate/early career training seminar on medievalism and contemporary media at Wollongong, co-ordinated by my dynamo of a research collaborator, Louise D'Arcens. The idea was to bring a small group of folk together with proposals, drafts, or even just glimpses of ideas for research or creative projects and see what kind of expert assistance and training would be useful to bring them to fruition. In fact the participants were mostly working on film and television, not so much on other media, and so Louise tailored the two main sessions on Wednesday to match.

The event was reported on the University of Wollongong's website, complete with photo of most of the group (curses! got there too late to be in the photo).

Most medievalist scholars in our neck of the woods, at least, have come to the field from medieval literary studies, but there was also a strong interest in the group in music and performance studies. Because I had only got back from the Great North-East Victorian Bike Ride the previous day, I flew up on Wednesday morning and unfortunately missed most of Chris Barker's presentation on Cultural Studies, but boy, am I glad I was there for Adrian Martin's discussion of film and medievalism.

Sometimes when two disciplines meet, or attempt to talk to each other, it's a very wary and uneasy process; by contrast, this was a perfect meeting. Adrian spoke for an hour and a half, and I could have listened to him all day. Just sometimes you get a perfectly pitched, directed and thoughtful talk; and this was one such. Adrian had thought quite carefully about medievalism, and even made me think more warmly of Umberto Eco's Ten Little Middle Ages, which sometimes irritate me. Adrian also moved us away from the obvious territory of Hollywood cinema, and showed us bits of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky and Roehmer's Perceval, while also mentioning a number of other European film-makers who experiment with medievalism. He then led an equally long and fascinating discussion.

Wollongong is a most beautiful campus, and the town itself also seems interesting, though I didn't see much beyond a pub and a Thai restaurant. I stayed near the beach and in the morning, took myself for a good long walk along the beach, and ate my yoghurt and muesli and fruit in the sun. It was very warm, and people were swimming sans wetsuits: must be New South Wales.

The second day was devoted to workshopping the various projects, and while we were all exhausted at the end, the session as a whole was wonderful, leading to lots of productive dialogue and plans for future events and collaborations. I wish I had had the opportunity for this kind of seminar when I was a postgraduate. In Australia, the PhD is conducted by research alone, and so our graduate students often have to work extra hard to get the skills and training they need.

And in fact, yesterday, back in Melbourne, we held a meeting of medievalists working in the Melbourne area with Sarah Rees Jones from York, visiting Australia on behalf of the World Universities Network. Interesting to think about possibilities for collaboration with this network, even though neither Melbourne nor Monash is affiliated with WUN. But we also talked about the idea of postgraduates being able to spend time in different universities, so we can all share expertise and resources, as well as the advanced coursework in medieval studies that at the moment is hard to get in Australia. Lots to think about. But a good three days of talking about medieval and medievalist things, and the kinds of connections and networks it's possible to make with different disciplines and different institutions. Lovely!