Sunday, July 26, 2009

When could you read?

Pavlov's Cat has posed a wonderful question: can you remember the first moment you realised you could read? As I write this post, there are over fifty responses already; and they make wonderful reading. Do visit, and add your memories.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I blame masterchef

... for the decision last night, after I had come home from a meeting at the school about Wilderness Week in December, to help Joel make gnocchi. He said he was going to cook while I was at the meeting (Paul was out), but I think he slightly underestimated the time it takes to boil potatoes and knead dough, etc., and hadn't actually started when I got home at 8.00. Anyway, we had a great deal of fun, made a great deal of mess, and made a couple of discoveries. First: you don't want to make the gnocchi too big, or they become a bit too solid. Our gnocchi were getting bigger and bigger, and I explained to Joel that scribes often wrote in larger handwriting at the bottom of the page (oh dear: not letting that teaching moment go by!). And second: that we are not immune to the influence of this most-watched television programme.

We didn't watch it all the way through, but we certainly watched the final. We now give instructions to each other about "plating up", and like other annoying television watchers all over the country, give "positive criticism" to each other's cooking. Hilarious.

Mind you, there was a lot of guff written and said about the popularity of this programme, and the way it provided wholesome, family entertainment all could enjoy, when obviously the main points to make were
  1. it brought families together around the television, not the dinner table
  2. the real fun was the thrill of schadenfreude: whose sorbet is grainy; whose pie crust has collapsed; whose fish is not cooked.
  3. it still encouraged the reality tv horror of encouraging us to like and dislike people on superficial grounds (Chris's stupid hat; Poh's beautiful pink cheeks; Julie's tears).
The great irony is that in Wilderness Week, the year 9 kids all head off to various hiking and camping trips for a week. Joel's five day trip to Wilson's Promontory (sleeping in tents at Tidal River and doing their own cooking, with three big day hikes) is one of the lighter treks. One of the mothers was ascertaining there'd be fresh water so the kids could soak chick peas during the day. Joel's friend's mother and I just looked at each other. But maybe after masterchef, they'll all be making gnocchi down there. Actually, that reminds me of a lovely thing I learned in Italian class: gnocchi is of course a plural, but if you want to tease someone, like calling them a noodle, you can call them a gnoccho.

And what do I want to learn now? I want to learn how to temper chocolate. But even just saying the phrase is a good deal of the fun here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dame Eleanor's Lessons for Girls

Dame Eleanor Hull was a fifteenth-century English woman who translated psalms, amongst other things, into English.

These days, she writes an excellent blog.

She has recently put up a wonderful discussion on social grace in academic circles, with neat hints on negotiating the extremes of righteous anger and good girly compliance. Or, how to behave like a professional adult without being a manipulative, instrumentalist networker.

I particularly like the idea of practising these scripts on the cat.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

What was I saying about mortality in that last post? Eileen's comments made me think hard about academic generations, too, and today I'm marking the passing of two former colleagues, who have died within three weeks of each other, Mary Dove and Terry Collits. Writing their names together suddenly takes me back to the days when they were my colleagues and friends, in all the quotidian messiness of teaching, meetings and memos.

Mary came to the department as I entered my honours year. For her class I would spend hours in the department library looking up the etymology of every third word in Piers Plowman and learning how much I didn't know about medieval literature. She also took an extra class in Old French: I used to translate lines and lines, pages and pages of text.

Terry was already a lecturer at Melbourne when I was a student, and eventually became a compassionate and sensitive head of department, publishing Post-colonial Conrad to great acclaim in 2005.

Friends and colleagues have helped me compile an obituary for Mary, which will appear in the next issue of Parergon. I thought about posting it here, but won't, since I haven't sought permission to quote them on the blog. If anyone would like to contact me for a copy, please do so. Writing this obituary was one of the hardest things I've ever written, and I'm so grateful I had the help from people willing to share their memories and impressions.

These two colleagues — the medieval exegete and the nineteenth-century Marxist scholar — in many ways had little in common. But in my mind, and in my memory, they are held together in the same moment of my own career, when I was looking for a way of becoming an academic.

Years ago, when I visited Yale for the first time, for some reason we toured the cemetery there, and I was a little shocked and amused to see how many of the tombstones of professors were inscribed with the titles of their books. But it is an odd question, the issue of one's academic legacy. It's true, as they say, that I won't want to be remembered for the meetings I attended, or the grant applications I compiled. But I might well want to be remembered for the books I write, for they aren't just projects and exercises; they are labours of love and anxiety, ongoing dreams of the perfect synthesis of ideas, examples and structures. They are never such, of course, even though they take me so long.

I won't want to be remembered just for the books, of course, or just by people who recognise their titles. But I'll stop here, lest I seem to be writing my own epitaph.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Anniversaries, revolution and mortality

You know, I didn't really notice the date when I began this blog three years ago, but I do remember Jeffrey noticing I had chosen Bastille Day on which to begin. I was reminded of this just now when Richard Stubbs was speaking on the radio with someone from Alliance Fran├žaise about learning another language, and the big debate in Australia now about whether we should learn European or Asian languages. Given that so few students learn a language at all, I would have thought we had little to be picky about here, but that's another story. Anyway, how proud am I that I could understand all of Kathleen's comment on my post about Italian classes (and a good deal of the grammar, too), and also the email my sister, who is enviably fluent in a number of European languages, sent me in Italian. I do think the reading is going to be easier for me than the speaking, but then since I'm doing this in part to enhance my reading of Petrarch, Dante and Boccaccio, that's probably ok.

Richard was also inviting talkback on the various revolutions you've enacted in your life. I didn't stay to listen because I've just made a very scary phonecall about a piano, and because I wanted to come in here to post. But if I think back to where I was three years ago, it's timely, perhaps, to think whether cancer revolutionised me.

Yes. And no.

In some ways, I think the biggest change for me over that time has been my progressive disenchantment from my workplace. Not that I've done anything about this, so I can't call it a revolution. I still work just as hard for it, and in its interests, as I used to, but falling out of love with my university has made a substantial change to the way I see myself and my working future. Not a revolution, then, so much as a re-adjustment.

The pointy end of my dealings with cancer has passed, of course, and on paper, my prognosis just gets better and better. Even so — and maybe it's just a sign of middle age, now — for the last few weeks, I have been regularly waking in the middle of the night and pondering mortality in a way I never used to before. And even sometimes during the day, too. Partly this is book-writing anxiety, but I find I have to work hard, some days, to remind myself it's not too late to learn a new language, to finish current projects and start new ones, and to have faith in the future. Though the poor planet, if it were sentient, would surely be waking at night with worry, too.

D'ailleurs, Joyeux anniversaire, mon cher blog.

Blogging, tweeting, conferencing and speaking with Chaucer

Once again, medieval studies demonstrates its technological magic-loving supremacy, with Eileen Joy's virtuosic tweeting of Jeffrey Cohen's plenary talk, "Between Christian and Jew," at the Leeds Congress of Medieval Studies. Of course, you have to read it backwards, unless you scroll down to the bit where Jeffrey appears at the lectern. Eileen says she had to tweet discreetly, but Jeffrey describes it as "finger magic."

If I had been giving a talk, and seen the formidable Eileen tapping into her phone in the front row, it would have made me very nervous, but I guess, as with the Hansard reporters, one could get used to it. Not that I personally am used to Hansard reporters, but you know what I mean. Actually, I get a little nervous when my students cite my lectures in the footnotes to their essays, but I try not to let that show.

Anyway, this feed (and I must admit I was following it last night as Jeffrey was speaking in Leeds on Monday morning), reminds me to prompt medievalist readers of this blog to send me a proposal for the New Chaucer Society Congress in Siena (Si, Siena!!) next July.

Jeffrey has already agreed to appear on this panel: hooray! I was also thinking if there was enough interest in this topic that I might even start a new blog a few months prior to the congress, devoted simply to the discussion of medieval blogs, so that the panel's deliberations could include those who weren't going to be at Siena, and those who wanted to remain anonymous, etc. But wait, there's more.... I have every reason to promise that such a pre-conference blog will feature occasional contributions from the ultra medieval blogger. So this is your great chance to speak with Chaucer.

Here's the call for papers: the deadline is officially tomorrow, but I'll accept offers for at least the next week.

SESSION 7 (PANEL): ROUNDTABLE BLOGGING, COMMUNITIES, AND MEDIEVAL STUDIES
Session organizer: Stephanie Trigg (sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au)

For those scholars who are aware of them, the professional landscape of medieval studies has been changed, in recent years, through the advent of blogs and other online fora for the exchange of ideas. From the wildly engaging Chaucer blog to the collaborative scholarship of In the Middle, and a range of more or less anonymous blogs from individual medievalists, it seems that certain medievalists love to blog. But why? To what extent has blogging changed the way medievalists communicate with each other? In the idealised answer to this question, blogging makes it possible for isolated scholars, junior scholars, graduate scholars, disabled scholars and others to take part in a more democratic, more easily accessible exchange of ideas. But blogging can’t escape hierarchies or intellectual imprecision altogether, while the ease of anonymous or pseudonymous publication potentially threatens the accountability of more formal and more highly regulated mode of publication and intellectual engagement. Other questions arise, too. What are the copyright implications of sharing drafts or published material on blogs? How has blogging changed our understanding of medieval studies and its communities? Is there anything distinctive about medieval blogs? What is the future of medieval blogging? Papers are invited from bloggers, lurkers on blogs, and non-bloggers.


OK? So get to it and wing me a proposal.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ci siamo!

It's been a quiet week on Lake Humanities Researcher (apologies to Garrison Keilor).

Every morning this week I hop on my bike and ride into Carlton for an intensive Italian language course. My long service leave starts in a few weeks, and I've always thought long service leave was a good time to learn something new. And because we have booked a few weeks holiday in Italy in September, and because I'll be in Siena for the Chaucer congress in 2010, and because Joel is learning, and because I love opera, and because I want to read Dante e Boccaccio in Italiana, there I am!

There are eleven in our group: they include an opthalmic surgeon who is taking up a job in Forli next year; a group of middle aged women like me who are going to Italy on holiday; a New Zealand vulcanologist, also going to do some research in Italy; and three teenagers from two different Italian families whose fathers speak Italian, but who have never learned.

Everything they say about studying more languages making the next one easier is absolutely true. My Latin and French aren't particularly strong (especially my Latin); and my French is much more readerly than conversational, but this background in romance languages certainly makes Italian feel familiar. I could hear it spoken every day in Melbourne if I walked down the right streets and went to the right cafes. These classes really put the emphasis on conversation, though, so it's a very different world from medieval languages.

When we are doing grammatical work, I feel perfectly at home, so that spending a lot of time on the difference between masculine and feminine definite and indefinite articles sometimes drives me crazy. Just learn the forms and move on, I think to myself! But repeating and repeating, in tiny fragments of conversation in groups does eventually help me put sentences together. And here's the thing: there are people in the class who've never learned the difference between first and third person, or who have never had to grapple with gendered nouns and adjectives, but whose ear is far better than mine, and whose confidence in conversation outstrips mine, too.

But I am keen to keep going, and have arranged to share a small group lesson with Kay, my fellow student. I'm going to practise writing a bit. And can I just say: I'm doing this without checking my books. I'll correct my mistakes in bold type...

Ciao, mi chiamo Stephania. Sto molto bene, grazie. Ho un gatto bruno; lei si chiama Mima. Lei ha diciotto anni, e ho cinquante-uno anni, e sono sempre contenta... cioe, noi siamo sempre contente. Amiamo mangiare il pesce.

E voi? Come state?

Friday, July 03, 2009

I'm not on Facebook or MySpace or Twitter, but

...but I can still upload the butterfly that accompanies my contribution to the Amnesty campaign on behalf of the so-called "comfort women" of WWII. If you follow the prompts at the link below, you can add your own butterfly to your site, and if it's on facebook, or myspace or twitter, Amnesty will then be able to track and count contributions.

This is the Amnesty message:

In the year 2009, you'd think governments would have well and truly faced the atrocities of World War II. But there remains a group of living, breathing survivors whose suffering has never been officially acknowledged; whose full stories remain buried under layers of shame and outright denial by those responsible.

Up to 200,000 women and girls were subject to repeated rapes and beatings in 'comfort stations' throughout much of Asia Pacific, including South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor. As the survivors near the end of their lives, time is running out.

Will you create your own beautiful message of solidarity and support for these courageous survivors? They have endured more than 60 years without so much as an adequate apology - let alone compensation - from the Japanese government.

Please click here to join Amnesty International's campaign:

http://www.amnesty.org.au/comfort/

Thanks,

Stephanie Trigg