Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

Pavlov's Cat has a To Do list for this very hot New Year's Eve in south-eastern Australia. Top of her list is "Pull oneself together," which made me laugh.

Things aren't quite that bad over this-a-way, but my list is not dissimilar.

I've made one batch of oyster pies; one more to go. Last night I made a crab mousse, a summer pudding and an enormous dish of tira-mi-su. Paul is cooking up an absolute storm: just keeps coming up with one amazing-sounding dish after another. This afternoon I'll be rolling bits of bacon around prunes for devils on horseback, and providing cold drinks to the "band" practice: bass, lead guitar, drums and J on keyboards. They know each other pretty well, and some of them have played and jammed with some of the others before in school and other groups; and the drummer has already cut his first CD with another band. Even if it's a little rough around ththe edges, it'll be so nice to have live music.

We've been doing a new year's eve party for ten years now (though we skipped during the summer of radiotherapy in 2006). We have it pretty much down to a fine art. The tables and plates and glasses are all out; lights are being hung around the garden, and I'll float little candles in the fishpond so long as the howling winds don't make it impossible. It's 34 already, and they are predicting 38 in Melbourne before a change comes through with thunderstorms. So we might end up inside.

OK, back to the kitchen; and cleaning up the laundry: somehow I don't think I'm going to get to the ironing today.

And... a Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Screening the Past is Live

Regular readers may remember a series of posts in May and June this year, in which I solicited assistance with an essay on the representation of stained glass in medievalist cinema. I'm grateful to all those who wrote in with ideas and suggestions, and who commented on the fragments of the essay I posted on the blog.

I'm pleased to say the essay has been uploaded today, on the excellent Melbourne journal, from La Trobe University: Screening the Past. This is a fully refereed (and for Australians, an A* ranked) online journal. It is part of a special issue, on Early Europe, edited by the indefatigable Louise D'Arcens, whose introduction, "Screening Early Europe: Premodern Projections," would be worth the price of admission alone, except — wait for it — there's no charge. But honestly, this woman has an enviable knack of bringing people together and making excellent things happen. I'm so lucky to get to collaborate with her on this, and at least two other projects.

Anyway, the beauty of online publication is that little changes and corrections can still be made. So if you should get as far as my essay, and then get as far as the second footnote, and feel you would prefer to be mentioned, or not mentioned, or mentioned by some other name, do please let me know as soon as possible.

Because it's the night before the last day of my leave and the last day before our three day Christmas feast begins, I haven't yet had the chance to do more than skim the other essays, but for the record, I got terrifically helpful readers' reports for this essay, and I'm confident this will turn out to be a very important collection. I heard a version of the fabulous Adrian Martin's talk at the postgraduate masterclass that was the starting-point for this collection: it was great to see a cinema specialist coming to visit the medievalists, just as we have repaid the visit in this screen studies journal. Well, something to look forward to, anyway, when I get a chance to sit down and read them properly.

Here's a list of contents: sorry, no links...

Louise D’Arcens: Screening Early Europe: Premodern Projections.

Adrian Martin: The Long Path Back: Medievalism and Film.

Stephanie Trigg: Transparent Walls: Stained Glass and Cinematic Medievalism.

Anke Bernau: Suspended Animation: Myth, Memory and History in Beowulf.

Sylvia Kershaw and Laurie Ormond: “We are the Monsters Now”: The Genre Medievalism of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.

Robert Sinnerbrink: From Mythic History to Cinematic Poetry: Terrence Malick’s The New World Viewed.

Helen Dell: Music for Myth and Fantasy in Two Arthurian Films.

Narelle Campbell: Medieval Reimaginings: Female Knights in Children’s Television.

Louise D’Arcens: Iraq, the Prequel(s): Historicising Military Occupation and Withdrawal in Kingdom of Heaven and 300.

Christina Loong: Reel Medici Mobsters? The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance Reassessed.

Laura Ginters: “A Continuous Return”: Tristan and Isolde, Wagner, Hollywood and Bill Viola.

Appendix: Raúl Ruiz: Three Thrusts at Excalibur.

I'd love to know what you made of any of these essays.

Rusty and Cate do Robin and Marion

Apart from Cate looking particularly beautiful in dark brown hair, is there anything about this trailer that suggests any new, or different kind of Robin Hood? Or are there now so many television and movie versions that each new one now appears in relation to the others as if it were simply a new installment in a long running television series?

[Ed. I'm removing that link because it keeps playing as soon as I open the blog: I find there are only so many horses' hooves that make a bearable accompaniment to everyday life... I'm sure it's easy to track down.]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Something to look forward to: the modern medieval


Here's a schedule, with abstracts, for a symposium in beautiful Perth next month. It'll be hot – and fabulous! All welcome.

 
UWA Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

The modern medieval: a one-day symposium

Old Senate Room, Irwin St Building, UWA.

Thursday, January 28, 2010.

What do Australian parliamentary ritual, heritage tourism, fantasy fiction and cinema, and modernist poetry have in common? Answer: the middle ages.  The relation of contemporary culture to the medieval period keeps transforming itself at every level from the popular to the highbrow, with surprising results.  In this one-day seminar, a group of distinguished international scholars will examine what the middle ages mean to the modern world, and how we make that meaning.

All interested are welcome to attend. There is no charge. For catering purposes, please RSVP to Pam Bond, pam.bond@uwa.edu.au; phone: 6488 3858.

For enquiries, please contact Andrew Lynch, andrew.lynch@uwa.edu.au; phone: 6488 2185.

Programme.

28 January, 2010

9.15 am: Coffee and welcome

9.30 am
Seeta Chaganti (University of California, Davis) 

Wild Surmise: Medieval studies and the realms of history and poetry.

For medievalists, the relationship between studying poetic form and studying history has always been complicated. On the one hand, as Lee Patterson has argued, formalist criticism always contained within itself the seeds of new historicism. On the other hand, practices of formalist and historicist reading can find themselves at odds with each other for various reasons. Privileging literary form is sometimes seen as hegemonic, and such conservatism can run counter to the Marxist-inflected historical analysis in which new historicism is rooted. In addition, as Gabrielle Spiegel has noted, because historicist study tends to absorb history into textuality (so that diverse kinds of historical evidence are all treated as interlinked symbolic systems), the particular forms that texts take are vulnerable to occlusion.  In this paper, I address this uneasy relationship between history and poetry in medieval studies, suggesting ways in which poetics and poetic form unexpectedly reveal themselves in visual and material aspects of medieval culture. I argue that by looking outside the realm of textuality, whether toward aesthetic objects or nonverbal performances like dance, we can ultimately derive a fuller sense of what the poetic meant in the Middle Ages, and what kind of work poetic form did.

10.30: Morning tea

11.00-11.30
 Laurie Ormond (UWA):
Fantasy fiction and the individual claim on cultural memory

It is a commonplace that the medievalism invoked in works of contemporary fantasy fiction has been uncoupled from historical context. There is pleasure for the fantasy reader in recognizing the past, but such recognition occurs through the reader’s appreciation of the adaptation and transformation of ‘traditional’ material. Many elements of European cultural memory that might be associated with the communal or even the national are refocused in fantasy fiction through the individual, emotional experiences of its protagonists. Indeed, fantasy fiction sharpens its focus on individual development around a character who is exceptional; exceptionally magical, exceptionally gifted, exceptionally persecuted, exceptionally questioning of his or her culture.  Following the work of Jane Tolmie, I will investigate how the ‘exceptionality’ of the protagonist constructs ideas of the medieval past.

Within fantasy fiction, 'the past' is experienced as something that necessitates exceptionality in the protagonist.  There is an element of otherness to the past even when it is experienced, in the logic of the fantasy novel, as the present. A critique of the medievalist past is usually focused through gender, in such a way that the medieval experience is claimed as it is rejected. The heroes and heroines of fantasy fiction seem to reflect the readers’ desire to inhabit a medievalist fantasy and yet to challenge it at the same time. The utterly contemporary nature of fantasy fiction’s presentation of an oppressive, dualistic, sexually paranoid past, and the tension in the novels between a desire to inhabit and to condemn this imagined past, seem to me to be revealing about present attitudes in medievalism towards gender and patriarchy.

11.30- 12.00:
Sylvia Kershaw (UWA)
 The Gaiman/Zemeckis Beowulf

Robert Zemeckis' 2007 film Beowulf presents itself not as an adaption of the Anglo-Saxon poem, but as a creative rediscovery of emotional and psychological truths that have been obscured by the original source. Zemeckis' film performs a dual transformation of the epic narrative of Beowulf, presenting it simultaneously as a modern story and a 'timeless' myth. This paper examines some of the effects of this transformation, particularly with regard to the film's approach to gender.   

Zemeckis' film constructs 'myth' as simultaneously more ancient and more modern than 'literature,' as a pattern that maintains a presence in the present. The transformation of Beowulf into 'myth' encourages a reading practice that, to some extent, naturalizes ideas of gender and heroism that underlie particular film-genre conventions. Perhaps too the medieval setting provides a space where such 'essential' ideas of gender, heroism, and monstrosity do not seem out of place to a modern audience, where they seem in fact to be 'appropriate.' This discussion will examine some of the ways in which the medievalism of Zemeckis' Beowulf has been constructed through the conventions and expectations of popular genre, and, in turn, the ways in which its appeal to the medieval exposes some of the desires embedded in popular forms. 

12.00-1.00 pm
Chris Jones (St Andrews)

‘Wordum wrixlan’: modern poets reading Old English

Beowulf presents us with an image of an Anglo-Saxon poet composing, we are told that the poet began 'wordum wrixlan', 'to vary or alter the words'. Scholars have sometimes seen in this detail a glimpse into the workings of a poetic culture that is, at least residually, partly oral-formulaic in character; the poet appears to take pre-existing poems and alter their words in order to create a new work to suit his circumstances of composition. The 'Beowulf'-poet's image of Old English poetic practice also provides us with an analogy for thinking about how modern poets have made use of early English poetry as a resource for their own compositions, taking pre-existing Old English poetry as a starting-point in order to 'wordum wrixlan'. This illustrated reading will provide a 'tour' of modern poets who use Old English in their own work, and will include readings of work by characters such as Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, Jorge Luis Borges and Seamus Heaney among others. The session will also provide commentary on the types of use being made of Old English, accessible to non-specialists as well as specialists. It will be shown that Old English remains a contemporary part of the living English poetic tradition.

1.00-2.00 pmLunch.

2.00-3.20 pm
Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne)

The traditional, the quaint and the medieval in Australian parliamentary practice

In 2004, Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate in the Australian federal parliament, gave a paper, “The traditional, the quaint and the useful: pitfalls of reforming parliamentary procedures.” In this paper he explored the deep affection in the parliament for many of its traditional rituals, regardless of their relationship to legislative or constitutional reality. “There comes a stage,” he wrote, “when the traditional and the quaint may not only conceal or repudiate substantial legislative values, but simply overwhelm them and bury them in such a pile of tradition and quaintness that they can scarcely be exhumed.”

This paper explores the medieval component of many parliamentary rituals and traditions, especially the offices of the Serjeant and the Usher of the Black Rod, and their accompanying instruments of authority: the Mace and the Black Rod itself. What is the relation between the medievalism of such practices and the idea of “tradition?” and how do we encode the “traditional,” the “medieval” and the “quaint” in Australia? The paper will also interrogate the changing role of the medieval at different moments of parliamentary reform in Australia.

I will suggest that modern parliaments perpetually define themselves against tradition, which is coded as predominantly medieval.

Louise D’Arcens (University of Wollongong)

Laughing at the Past: Satire and Nostalgia in Medieval Heritage Tourism

Satire and nostalgia would seem to imply opposing attitudes to the medieval past: one laughs at it, the other longs for it. And yet they operate within a shared cross-temporal frame, in which past and present are made to pass comment on one another. So is medievalist satire just a form of crypto-nostalgia? Does it increase or contain our sense of nostalgic distance from the Middle Ages? How does nostalgia function as a tool of satire? Can we laugh at the Middle Ages and long for them at the same time? These and other questions will be explored in relation to a range of satirical medievalist strategies used within heritage tourism in its attempt to make us laugh at the Middle Ages … or perhaps at ourselves.

3.20-3.50 pm Afternoon Tea

3.50-5.00
Panel discussion: Making the modern medieval


The old locked trunk in the attic

How will it get there? Take a boy, a messy bedroom, and a friend who is having a clear-out as she moves house. She gives the old trunk to the boy, and he fills it with toys and games he no longer uses: old note books, perhaps, and comics? Intrigued to have something that locks, he locks it. Several years later, as he is, himself, having a clear-out of sorts, he realises he has (a) lost the key, and (b) forgotten exactly what's in the trunk.

I'm reluctant to force open the lock: it's a beautiful old trunk. It's just possible we will move it upstairs to the storage space in the roof behind our bedroom. It will go nicely with the boxes and boxes of Lego that have recently been moved up there, boxes into which J has tucked a note to his future self: a kind of time capsule.

And there — voilà! — we will have our very own old locked trunk in the attic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Become a Saint. Australian Medievalism #456

Some circles in Australia have become awfully excited about the prospect of our first saint, and it seems the final condition has now been met, with the declaration of Mary McKillop's second miracle (it takes two, apparently). The first was a cure from leukemia in 1961; now a woman in the Hunter Valley's prayers to Mother Mary have been certified as curing her cancer in the mid 90s. The report says, "The approved miracle ... had to be scientifically and theologically assessed before it was decreed by the Vatican." An announcement of her sanctity is expected from the Vatican next year.

I would have liked to hear a little more about this assessment process. Was it a joint committee? Did the same conditions have to be met by each body of experts? Apparently the woman in question does not yet wish to be identified. So her testimony has been taken over by the professionals, institutionalised and certified, and lifted out of the possibility of personal witness.

I guess this is similar to the medieval process, where miracles similarly had to be declared or authenticated by the church. I don't know enough to know if doctors were involved then as well. But I'm pretty sure that witnesses didn't often have, or want, the option of anonymity.

Mary's intercession apparently also played an important role in the recent successful separation of conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna in Melbourne, the survival of burns and car crash toddler Sophie Delezio, and the awakening from his seven-month coma of David Keohane, the Irish backpacker who was assaulted in Sydney. So that's good to know...

She was also known as an educator, establishing her first school in Penola, South Australia. I've been there twice: most recently on a road trip with some medievalists (some Catholic, some not). The Mary McKillop centre did seem, indeed, as if it was in suspension, just waiting for some news... My companions and I walked carefully through the question of religion: it can be a sensitive issue for medievalists.

But here's a funny section from the report in The Age:
Former Pentridge Prison chaplain Father Peter Norden said he was ''very pleased and happy to celebrate the fact that recognition is given for Mary, that it's a woman chosen for sainthood." ... "Even though many would view nuns as creatures of the past, we see the earnest goodness in the way in which she lived and dealt with adversity and met challenges,'' he said.
Well, Mother Mary died in 1909, so yes, she was indeed a "creature" of the past, though I suspect Father Norden really means something more like "medieval", or "not-modern" here. Do others find a bit of a back-hander here, though? He's pleased that it's a woman who's been chosen, but nuns — creatures — belong in the past? A little unconscious condescension here, I can't help but feel.

Update: Helen's sent me this photo, taken a few kilometres away up near St Vincent's in Brunswick St. So she's really a local Fitzroy saint as well...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What do we think?

I felt it was time for a change. The retro styling of the "Scribe" template was starting to get me down, and I'm getting ready for a new year, so I've renovated to one of my favourite colour combinations (the eerie pale green you sometimes see on the horizon at dusk set against stormy grey clouds). I don't remember the name of this town, but I snapped this photograph somewhere between Vicenza and Marostica on our Italian cycling holiday in September. Joel had stopped to sketch the view, and Paul took out his mighty weight of a camera, and I just snapped this and went back to day-dreaming.

The times are about to change, a little, too. My leave is about to come to an end, and I'm about to take over as head of the English program (it's not even called a department any more). I'll have many more administrative chores to do, less teaching, no extra money, and almost no authority, from what I can see. I've been sent the (very short) list of staff email addresses, and after New Year will have to become dreadfully firm and authoritative (though see above, about not having any authority).

I certainly haven't finished all the things I thought I'd do over my leave (setting aside the fact that half of it was meant to be holidays), but I've done quite a few of them, and have pushed various projects along a fair way. I'll post about them soon.

There's still a little cleaning up to be done to the template, here, and some additions to the blogroll, etc. but I have spent long enough on this today, and must turn to some other tasks. Feedback welcome...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Want freshly-laid 100% free range eggs you collect yourself?

For about fifteen years now, we've been members of a co-operative chook group at Ceres, the environmental park in Brunswick. The principle is simple: a group of fourteen households take it in turns, one day a fortnight, to let the chickens out in the morning, feed and water them; then return at sunset to lock them in securely against the foxes, and take home the eggs the chickens have laid that day. The chickens roam around under the fruit trees all day, doing what chickens are meant to do. Then once a month (first Sunday) there's a working bee when all the households gather together to muck out the sheds, distribute the poo over the garden or take it home, line the permaculture sheds with a fresh layer of garden mulch, and generally carry out maintenance on the shed or the gardens. We then have a pot of billy tea around the open fire and have a meeting. All the members are also members of Ceres.

There's a surprising degree of satisfaction in painting a chicken perch with lime, or spreading mulch in an orchard in a relay team of wheelbarrows and pitchforks. Yes, it's just once a month, and a far cry from real farming, but still. Sometimes we've incubated and hatched the next flock of baby chicks, too, at home, which is an amazing thing to do.

The group can't afford to buy organic feed, but we supplement grains and pellets with household scraps, bread and greens scavenged from local bakers and greengrocers. The eggs are smooth and incredibly fresh, with golden yolks. They come with bits of feathers and straw stuck on them. They come in different sizes, too: big and brown or small and sometimes greenish (there's an arakuna strain in the mix so we sometimes have chicks with fluffy heads; and I think these lay the pale green eggs).

Anyway, there is a vacancy for a Friday slot, so if you think this might be fun, email me and I'll give you the contact details for Bryan, the co-ordinator. You can follow this link on the Ceres page, but don't contact Don, the past co-ordinator, as he's in hospital recovering from a motorbike accident...

It should be said that Ceres is in process of radical change at the moment, and the relationship between the management group and the chicken group is currently being re-negotiated. The main point of tension is — unsurprisingly — land. Ceres needs to generate more of a profit, and a number of folk think the chook group "has too much land," but in fact, we use almost the perfect amount that our size flock of chickens requires to be classed as "free range." To see them roaming around under the apple trees, or digging little holes for dustbaths, or rummaging around for insects is to be reminded of the contrast with most modern farming practices. If you're going to eat meat (and members of the group have very different opinions on this), at least let it be prepared humanely.

Well, let me know if you'd like to join, or go on the waiting list for a future vacancy. Kids are welcome, of course.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saving the rainforest 6.0m2 at a time: am I crazy?

I've just installed the green search engine, Ecosia, on my computer (and the fetching green movie in the side-bar, but tell me if this is going to get annoying). The idea is that in partnership with Yahoo, Bing (never heard of 'em) and the WWF, this search engine generates money that saves Brazilian rainforest. I've done my first search (for my own name, naturally), and my browser window tells me cheerily I just save 6.0m2 of rainforest by doing so. Can this be possible? Surely there's some catch?

Most interesting is that they say they power their searches only by using green power. All web searches use tremendous amounts of power, and if I were really serious about this, I'd probably make a concerted effort to perform fewer searches.

Has anyone heard anything about this? Is my green good will being exploited here?

Friday, December 04, 2009

In Praise of Public Education

A few days ago the excellent (rather, the honourable) Michael Kirby, former justice of the high court), gave a speech at Melbourne High school's speech night. I heard part of it on the radio the next morning, especially the bit in favour of public education in this country. Kirby said we should all blog and twitter in support of public education.

So here's my contribution.

Over the last week or so I've been to two school music concerts. The first was a cabaret organised by the parent-teacher liaison at Joel's school: parents loaned rice-cookers and a dedicated team cooked up wonderful curries to serve at the school canteen. The weather had been wild that afternoon, but we were able to sit outside and watch as the kids performed. I've written about the school's music before. What I loved on this night was to see the music staff up there on stage with the kids, playing along with them. And, when the parent who was going to MC the event had to withdraw at the last minute, and when Joel offered his services, there was not a moment's hesitation, and he was given the running sheet and complete freedom to compere. And his parents and friends all thought he was terrific, naturally...

Special praise for the year 8 student, Susie, who sang "Stormy Weather" with passion and verve, and the wonderful multi-talented Lena (trumpet, clarinet [and either trombone or saxophone, possibly both], who, sadly for the school, is leaving this year.

Then this week, one of the music teachers had organised an evening at Penny Black, a cafe in Brunswick. It began with the brilliant Claudia (year 10?) singing "I Heard it on the Grapevine" with great gusto and strength out in front of a band of about 16 musicians: keyboards, guitars, drumkit, and a fabulous brass section.

The school is stronger with jazz and swing and Latin ensembles than it is in orchestral terms: and the string ensembles can't compete in energy and numbers, though I like their ambitions (Barber's Adagio, for example). But the vocal performances are the most amazing to me: one after another kid — mostly girls - just stood up and sang, often quite difficult material. They don't always move with much confidence; and some struggle to perform the song's emotions. But they still blow me away. The kids are also encouraged to improvise and jam; so they have a wonderful facility with different styles.

This year one of J's electives has been a kind of music master class, where amongst other things, they were put into groups and asked to choose, arrange and perform a couple of numbers. Joel's group was a little diminished in size on Thursday night, so they just did one song: Tom Waits' "New Coat of Paint", with J on keyboard and vocals, sharing the stage with two close friends — Lenny, on scorching guitar solo; and the adorable Meg on lead vocals — as well as a couple of others. Oh, I did think it went very quickly. But it was lovely to hear these friends singing together: "You'll wear a dress; and I'll wear a tie".

I'm sure Australian Idol has played no small part in investing these young performers with a sense of what's possible, and what works when you stand in front of an audience to perform. But there was something magical about seeing them in a live, commercial venue, even if the entire audience was comprised of the school community. So while I understand this school is one of the better government schools, it still shows what is possible with energy and enthusiasm. And while I understand that not everyone in the school feels this way, there is an undoubted core of love for and identification with the school amongst its community: without badge or uniform to bind them together, and without the idea of financial investment in the young.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

They look happy, don't they?

Kym Smith of The Australian took this wonderful photo of members of the Liberal party witnessing their new leader's first press conference.



Good to see him uniting the party in a new era of joy and love so successfully...

For non-Australian readers: the Liberal opposition yesterday dumped the leader who was trying to force acceptance of the Government's piss-weak emissions trading scheme legislation. They've replaced him with a rearguard conservative who's "united" a divided party to vote down the legislation in the Senate today. What ho for the two female Liberal senators — Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce — who crossed the floor to vote with the government, though.

A little triumph

Yesterday I did something odd to my computer desktop (I have to admit I've never properly conceptualised the icon of the little house in OS X) with the result, as I realised several hours later, that I lost all the emails and folders from Entourage, which kept opening up in an empty window asking me to create a new identity. Much of my stuff was still available from the web interface, but in a really tricky and unfriendly format.

Can I just say how pleased I am that after several attempts to re-load everything back into its rightful place, I succeeded? Incredible.