I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And a partridge, etc.

I don't want this to sound like a rehearsal for my annual performance appraisal (coming up in January), but since, like everyone else, I have worked to the point of exhaustion this year (damn! and I really meant not to), I thought it was time for a kind of reckoning. So here goes:

Number of articles published: 1.5 (already below the recommended level, because of a delay in a journal that was meant to be out before Christmas).

Number of articles (extra ones) finished or finalised this year: 3 (the last one sent off, to meet the deadline, last Friday: phew!)

Number of chapters written on the Garter book: 1 (completely from scratch, and pretty much polished: it's my favourite so far, and is called "Dressing Up")

Number of extra bits and pieces written on the Medievalism book with Tom: a few (must start turning these into chapters now)

Number of conference and seminar papers delivered: 7 (Melbourne, Perth, Leeds, Swansea, Riverside, Melbourne, Hobart [and only one of these was a partial repeat of one other])

Number of public lectures given: 2 (Heraldry Society and Friends of Baillieu; Lyceum Club)

Number of PhD students successfully being confirmed: 3 (congratulations to Anne, Anne and Duncan)

Number of MA students getting their results: 1 (congratulations to HerOverThere, recently sighted buying coffee at Baretto's)

Number of PhDs waiting to be examined for other universities: 2 (will be on to them straight after Christmas)

Number of plane trips: 2 international; 6 domestic (inside US and Australia). Very bad for carbon emissions: am about to be promoted back up from Bronze to Silver frequent flyer.

Number of teaching awards: 2 (ahem)

Number of literary awards and scholarships judged: 2 (plus 1 more to go over the break)

Number of resolutions about email and internet use broken: countless

Number of days missed morning walk: growing

Number of "Sing Your Own Operas" with Richard Gill and Opera Victoria: 2 (as of yesterday: a blissful Messiah with four friends. Head still ringing from the high A's: feel sorry for those sitting next to me).

Number of Christmas puddings made: 3

Number of Christmas trees decorated: 1 (just as soon as I post this blog post)

Sum total of weight gained and lost: 0 (which, given the combination of one's medication and one's time of life, is No Mean Achievement)

Number of doses of Tamoxifen: 365 (didn't miss one, even when travelling)

Improvement in topspin backhand: 100% (especially since last week, when I had a whole lesson with Larry on my own, and when he told me in some respects it was better than Paul's, after which I promptly sent the next six into the net).

Other statistics (difficult meetings attended; jobs at risk; curriculum reviews) are too depressing and confusing. And in any case, I'm trying to resist the way our Faculty now just counts everything. And besides, it's Christmas. Or the holidays. Or the end of the year. So it's time to let go of all the counting. I'm still "on deck" at work, with the exception of the Christmas break, till the end of January, when my eleven months of leave (sabbatical plus long service plus annual: not that I'm counting) begin. But right now I'm going to put up the Christmas tree, clean up my desk, and head up to the tennis courts to work on my backhand.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finally, some good news. I think.

After what seems like a full two years of misery, my Faculty has finally declared an end to the rigours of its "renewal strategy" with the announcement yesterday that we will not be proceeding with a round of involuntary redundancies. You can almost hear the sigh of relief running around the place. Mostly, I'm just delighted for the brilliant young scholars I know who were put in the awful position of having to fight for their jobs, often when they were doing all the things one is supposed to do.

Many of us know the enormous effort it takes to edit a volume of essays, and how important those collections are for the development of our field, but if you do such work in our system, you get only one "point" for this work, and only so long as your introduction is over 4,000 words long. If you co-edit this volume, you get half a point. If you write a major monograph you get only five points. I think many of us could have been caught out not producing enough articles to get over the line; and it was horrid to realise a number of the people targeted were women who were also parents of small children.

It would be wonderful if we were now able truly to start renewing ourselves. We are a great faculty, really, ranked in the top ten, internationally, on a number of indexes. In two years we have been through a major re-structure of departments into schools, a massive university-wide curriculum reform, and a budgetary crisis, all under national and local scrutiny in the press. We have already lost some wonderful colleagues. And some people's careers have been changed for ever, as they move, over the next few months, into pre-retirement plans, or teaching-only positions.

Other changes are less tangible, and will change the way we work. I think we have all now been frightened into producing a regular stream of articles that will appear quickly, as opposed to working on large-scale projects. A "book" in the humanities is a major measure of success and intellectual achievement; but it is rewarded only as if it were a science textbook. Some of us will still go on editing essay collections, refereeing for journals, reviewing, and all those other academic tasks, but some will refuse even that, I think. Many of us will think twice about taking on large administrative portfolios that erode our time for research, since so little quarter has been shown to those whose productivity has been slowed by such service.

Mostly, I'm concerned that others will feel the way I do, that the threads that have bound me tight to this university have been loosened by the trauma of the last few years, that the love I've felt for the university has been betrayed and irreversibly damaged by the imposition of a punitive, rather than a supportive collegiate culture. I hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wanna read a blog about a trauma?

Hey, guess what? Someone has written an article (partly) about my blog.

A couple of years ago, in a post I don't think I could easily find now, Pavlov's Cat suggested that blogs about illness and trauma were under-recognised as ways of processing the experience of diseases like cancer. Critical commentary seems to be catching up with her, though.

Yesterday I came across (ok, by checking the referral pages to my blog on sitemeter) an article in M/C Journal (a journal of media and culture) 11.6 (2008), special issue:'recover', by Anthony McCosker, called "Blogging Illness: Recovering in Public", in which he discusses a number of blogs: Brainhell; Prostate Cancer Journal; Leroy Sievers' My Cancer; Tom's Road to Recovery; and Humanities Researcher.

I came upon Brainhell's blog just as he was dying, and had heard of Leroy Sievers', but it was all the same quite odd to read about my blog in this context and in this company. Anthony (I knew him a while back) uses these blogs to make an argument for the particular kind of writerly practice blogging represents:  

an expressive element of the substance of the illness as it is experienced over time, as it affects the bodies, thoughts, events and relationships of individuals moving toward a state of full recovery or untimely death

He concludes, in part:
Whatever emancipatory benefits may be found in expressing the most intimate of experiences and events of a serious illness online, it is the creative act of the blog as self-expression here, in its visceral, comprehensive, continuous timestamped format that dismantles the sense of privacy in the name of recovery.

But one doesn't have to blog about one's own illness to accomplish the work of re-thinking privacy: see Liz Conor's In One Stroke, which recounts her partner's stroke, while on a camping holiday. It includes these memorable lines:
At the moment it dawned on us that something was not right he half turned to me, rolled his eyes back and sat hard on the floor. He tried to get up, half fell out the door and rested there, assuring me he was fine through the right side of his face, drooling from the left.

I also liked this bit:
It is a big part of Jeremy’s job to give the assembled public the assurance of his own calm competency. This he offered to the riveted campers, smiling half-faced through his oxygen mask.

I love this: that remarkable capacity we have to keep going, to reassure others (especially our children) that we are "fine". Just keeping on going on.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hard Times for Breast Cancer Survivors

I know there's a lot of dispute about the term "survivor" for anyone who's had cancer and is still alive. But when you read about two women, roughly your own age, who've died of breast cancer in the last week, it can be a bit tough; and you do feel like a survivor, with all the resultant complexities. Not guilt, exactly, but certainly a shiver that barely separates you and your own excellent prognosis from them and their much harder stories.

And when they are famous, there's a lot to read about them: pictures of them, their children, and reminders of their public achievements.

I think a lot of Australian women thrilled at Kerryn McCann's marathon victories, especially those with children who saw an elite athlete just powering on through with her inspirational running. She died last week at 41.

And yesterday, Dorothy Porter, a wonderful poet, also succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 54. I loved her work, and heard her read and speak a couple of times. Link to a beautiful photograph that I think is copyright-protected.

The only time I spent any different kind of time in her company was on the oak lawns in the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, where she had invited a small group of people to celebrate the life of Gwen Harwood, who had died, also of breast cancer, a few months before. We each read our favourite poem. I read "Dialogue", an early poem addressed to a stillborn child.

If an angel came with one wish
I might say, deliver that child
who died before birth, into life.
Let me see what she might have become.
He would bring her into a room
fair skinned —— the bones of her hands
would press on my shoulderblades
in our long embrace

[She asks what brought the ghost to her; and the child replies...]

— It is none of these, but a rhythm
the bones of my fingers —— dactylic
rhetoric smashed from your memory.
Forget me again

I had never heard Gwen read this in public until I was interviewing her at the Melbourne Writers' Festival in 1992, when I was writing my book on her (you can download a full-text pdf from the e-print repository). She had agreed to do it over lunch, but all the same, had to pause, half-way through, and collect herself.

Ahhh. These women. This disease. These deaths.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conference blogging/Hobart/Three

Conference blogging. Meant to do this over the last week, but am now going to do it in several posts. This is the third. Scroll down for more.

When I was sitting about to get up and read my paper in Hobart, an odd thing happened. For once I was fully organised with pretty much a complete typescript of what I wanted to say. I had followed good conference practice and gone to find a box on which to prop my papers in the absence of a lectern. I wasn't too nervous, and was able to listen attentively to Clare and Louise. And then as my time to speak got closer, I realised I would not be able to stand up. I felt I might fall over (which, as Louise said later, would have been an unfortunate reprise of my Leeds theatrics). I felt quite odd, and a bit faint, so I stayed sitting down to read. And even then, once I started to read, found my voice shaking, and I had to suppress a sob, collect myself, and kind of start again. Once I got going, I was fine, but I think I was just exhausted, unable to muster any adrenaline, or whatever it takes to put oneself together in order to stand up in public to speak. I’m not the only one: we are all just staggering towards the end of a really difficult year in the School.

Anyway, I think I was pleased with the paper, and am going to take what for me is a very bold step and post it here. I know the folk over at In the Middle do this routinely, but it's a first for me. I'm not even going to work over it very much, so it'll sound a little raw, I'm sure, and quite odd without the papers of Clare Monagle and Louise D'Arcens, which grappled much more closely with the terms of the book's own inquiry. It might also sound as if I'm criticising Bruce Holsinger for not writing the book I'd like to read. I hope not. But if, as I hope, I get the chance to publish this, I'll expand it and slow it down a bit, so questions and comments will be welcome.

There was some very interesting discussion afterwards about what the book seemed to license, and about the always vexed relationship between "theory" and medieval studies.

I'm also trying to figure out how to abbreviate posts on blogger: it seems very complicated, so please bear with me as I try and sort this.

“Transgression, perversion, and fanaticism”: Postmodern Medieval Conditions

From a panel discussing Bruce Holsinger’s Premodern Condition

Word is out: something is happening to the Middle Ages. As a field of academic study, as a sequence of historical and cultural formations, and as an idea about the past, the Middle Ages is undergoing radical transformation. The Middle Ages have never looked so rich and complex as they do now; as a series of multi-disciplinary projects and imperatives brings the Middle Ages into productive dialogue with other disciplines and other periods; and as we re-think many of our inherited scholarly narratives and traditions of study. The question of periodisation is being re-visited, with the effect of re-making the boundaries between medieval and post-medieval. Similarly, a range of new histories of affect, some politically motivated, some less so, help us to “touch” the past, to bring it into closer dialogue with the present, in a way that used to be forbidden on strict historical grounds.

And if we add the field of popular culture and the imaginative revival of the Middle Ages in fiction, film, gaming, and on-line culture, for example, it is easy to see that interest in and general familiarity with the Middle Ages is stronger than ever before.

But this is nothing new. As soon as they were declared over, as soon as they became the matter of the past, something has always been happening to the Middle Ages. Sixteenth-century editors of Chaucer generated publicity for new editions of texts “never before imprinted”, while successive waves of twentieth-century critics have re-discovered a new feminist Middle Ages, or a heretical, sexually diverse or revolutionay one, or have rhapsodised about new critical modes and new perspectives. The titles of our book series and essay collections tell the story: The New Middle Ages (Palgrave); Making the Middle Ages; The New Medievalism. The imperative to find novelty in the Middle Ages, to renew our study of this distant era is powerful indeed.

And each time we renew, or re-visit the Middle Ages, it seems as if we are discovering them anew all over again.

My opening sentence, for example, reprises Alexandre Leupin’s words, in 1983:

Word is out: something is happening in French medieval literature. It’s beginning to be understood that far from being the province only of specialists medieval studies could play a crucial role in ongoing discussions of literary theory.

Writing in Diacritics twenty-five years ago, Leupin attempted to capture current excitement about the potential of medieval literature to play an active role in contemporary literary theory. It was not just that medieval literature could benefit from literary theory; but that it could make its own distinctive contribution to the field, especially in the study of semiotics and psychoanalysis. Leupin was writing principally about the Lacanian work of Roger Dragonetti, in La vie de la lettre au moyen Age: Le conte du Graal (1980) and Le gai savoir dans la rhetorique courtoise (1982).

This perpetual rediscovery and reinvention of the middle ages, and re-writing them anew for a new generation, or putting them to work in a different way is a structural condition of modernity. We know that modernity defines itself in opposition to the medieval: we might go further and say that modernity defines itself by its capacity, and indeed, its desire, to re-invent the medieval; and to declare, over and over again, the novelty and the newness of those re-inventions. If Lyotard talks of the post-modern condition, and Bruce Holsinger of the pre-modern condition, I suggest we might also diagnose a modern condition, at least in relation to the medieval past: a condition that perpetually desires to re-invent and to renew the medieval, and to foreground those acts of renewal as, themselves, novel.

Holsinger’s “discovery” of the importance of medieval philosophy and literature to the invention of “theory” is part of this formation, part of this modern condition.

It is interesting to speculate about this seemingly perpetual novelty of the Middle Ages. The “medievalism” of Holsinger’s sub-title, “Medievalism and the Making of Theory” refers to a somewhat narrow understanding of medievalism, as closely approximating medieval studies, and perhaps shading very slightly into that sense of the word which tries to encapsulate the cultural desire for the middle ages. But he is resolutely unconcerned with popular or imaginative medievalism, and so I thought it might be interesting to try and triangulate Holsinger’s work, to look at some of the relations not only between the Middle Ages and high theory, but also this broader understanding of medievalism.

The presiding figure here, of course, is Umberto Eco, and Holsinger does refer to his work a number of times.

In 1972, Umberto Eco inaugurated several decades of interventions into the relationship or more specifically, the affinities between modernity, postmodernity and the Middle Ages. In the first essay in this series, “Towards a New Middle Ages”, he sketches out the contemporary political, social and technological contexts in which the first world was heading into a new middle ages. He re-visited the essay in 1985, and then again in 1986, when he published his better known essay, “Dreaming of the Middle Ages”, in which he discusses the work of contemporary medieval studies, dismissing as tedious the iteration of “all the round tables and symposia that have recently been devoted to this problem, as the topic of ‘the return of the Middle Ages’ has become obsessive.”

The essays Eco wrote around this period are riddled with interesting contradictions. The new Middle Ages are both new, and yet not newsworthy. “Dreaming” of the Middle Ages risks the indulgence of “escapism à la Tolkien”, but is also a fundamental condition of modernity. The Middle Ages are the infancy of modernity, the primal scene of childhood that produces our present neuroses, but repressing the complex and unreliable hermeneutics of the primal scene, Eco insists on the importance of discovering a “reliable Middle Ages”.

There is another set of contradictions in Eco’s essays that similarly haunt Holsinger’s work: the question of the relationship between high theory and popular culture; and I’ll return to this in a moment.

Eco’s problem, about the new-oldness and the old new-ness of the new Middle Ages, and Holsinger’s book both suggest that we can, and should still usefully ask the question: what do the Middle Ages have to do with the twenty-first century?

Recent local events make the question imperative for us to consider, especially at this time, and in this place.

Medieval literary studies is a highly sophisticated critical field; and contemporary medievalism is ubiquitous, yet for all this novelty and all this re-making, we are all familiar, I’m sure, with the claim that the medieval has nothing to do with modernity, or with contemporaneity. The simplest way to answer this question is to appeal to the vast enterprise of popular medievalism, and the great extent to which our fantasy literature, our cinema, our game-playing, our unconscious fantasy life and dreams, our social models and aspirations are still to a large degree medievalist in both form and content.

This is not the place to develop a theory of how to read contemporary medievalism, but it is the place to probe the repression of popular medievalism in the work of both Holsinger and Eco.

In The Premodern Condition, Bruce Holsinger draws a contrast between contemporary culture, where “the Middle Ages represent a semiotically rich site of transgression, perversion, and fanaticism”, and the 1960s avant-garde, whose theorists disclose a medieval “archive of cultural and intellectual production”. This is clearly a value-laden contrast: Holsinger’s preferred Middle Ages offer deadly serious and high-browed meditations, fitting subjects for the heavy-weight theorising of Bataille, Lacan, Derrida, Bourdieu and Barthes. But even when they are more playful, as in the obscene poem by Arnaut Daniel, the message is serious.

Daniel’s poem dramatises a lover’s reluctance to fulfil the anal desires of Lady Ena, that he “blow in that funnel between spine and mount pubic, there where rust colored substances proceed. He could never have been certain that she would not piss all over his snout and eyebrows.” In Holsinger’s reading, Lacan reads this “as a kind of ethical mirror in which his auditors are to view the alterity of the medieval even while recognizing in this trashy bit of medievalism the lingering Thing at the core of modernity” (86).

It’s hard not to be struck by the term “trashy bit of medievalism”, cheek by jowl, as it were, with the “core of modernity”. It shows us that for Holsinger, medievalism is barely distinguished from the medieval, but we must also note his willingness to abject medievalism, and medieval popular culture, as trashy.

It’s a dynamic that threads through the whole book. As I said, Holsinger is not particularly concerned with medievalism in the sense that scholars who study the post-medieval invention of the Middle Ages use that term. He is frying a very different kind of fish altogether. But I am suggesting that the sense of novelty and innovation about this book is barely distinguishable from the sense of novelty that also characterises the work of medievalism. Medievalism is often described as the act of re-making or re-inventing the Middle Ages for present concerns. Medieval Studies and Medievalism have much more in common than is customarily believed, and I suggest they are part of the same productive enterprise, which we might define as making the Middle Ages new again, bringing them into dialectic with the present.

Let me quote Holsinger’s most specific remarks about popular medievalism, from his Epilogue, in which he writes:

If the Middle Ages represent a semiotically rich site of transgression, perversion, and fanaticism for contemporary popular culture, for the 1960s avant-garde, the medieval provided above all an archive of cultural and intellectual production that seemingly escaped the moral compass of the Enlightenment — and (in this reading) without the baggage of humanism, capitalism, colonialism, and triumphalist individualism represented by the Renaissance (p. 197).
Holsinger attempts to put some distance between himself and this redemptive view of the Middle Ages, which he goes on to describe as “idealized”, and conducive to “nostalgia”, but it is hard not to hear the enthusiasm in his characterisation of the way this version of the Middle Ages “provided postwar critical thought with an almost inexhaustible source of intellectual sustenance in its assault on post-medieval legacies to the Western tradition”. If anything, this resolutely muscular version of the Middle Ages is a powerful antithesis to the nostalgia of popular medievalism. And it is not just a historical account, either: Holsinger suggests that “the avant-garde pre-modern might perform a considerable corrective function in relation to other modes of critical neomedievalism that have gained some currency in recent decades” (198).

Holsinger doesn’t give much content to the “transgression, perversion and fanaticism” of the Middle Ages in contemporary popular culture, but it’s not difficult to see how the stakes are stacked against popular culture in favour of intellectual history: the latter will “correct” the former.

Tom Prendergast and I have suggested elsewhere that much of the resistance to contemporary or nineteenth- or eighteenth-century medievalism by medieval scholars actually masks a resistance to popular culture, and I think it’s not difficult to see a similar dynamic in Holsinger’s work.

And yet he is, in spite of himself, drawn to popular culture, and to the energetic and frankly exciting dynamic it can bring to academic work. In discussing the Daniel poem, for example, Holsinger comments that it is perhaps the only occasion in which Lacan — “the master” is how he describes him in this sentence — “recited an entire literary text, from beginning to end, before his Parisian audience” (86). It is also the only literary text Holsinger quotes in full. He admits that he is following Lacan in doing so, but it’s hard not to read his characterisation of this “spectacularly gynephobic poem” as an invitation to thrill at an example of the “transgression, perversion, and fanaticism” he associates with popular medievalism.

A similar thrill ran through me when I realised Holsinger was describing the workings of modern avant-garde intellectual culture as a subculture. Perhaps this is an attempt to dramatise his own work of recovering its widespread interest in the Middle Ages; but from many perspectives now, the idea that the work of these influential theorists represents a subculture seems to suggest a very special kind of subculture — certainly not one that’s related to popular culture.

Umberto Eco is similarly conflicted on the question of the relations between the Middle Ages, medievalism and popular culture.

When measuring the extent of interest in the Middle Ages, he remarks, “If one does not trust ‘literature,’ one should at least trust pop culture.” Eco, after all, is one of the founding figures of modern cultural studies, and its valorisation of popular culture, and the argument for respecting the enthusiasm and knowledge about popular culture and its consumers. But two pages after this, he writes:

Thus we are at present witnessing, both in Europe and America, a period of renewed interest in the Middle Ages, with a curious oscillation between fantastic neomedievalism and responsible philological examination. Undoubtedly what counts is the second aspect of the phenomenon. (‘Dreaming of the Middle Ages,’ 63).

Similarly, in his famous taxonomy of the ten little Middle Ages of which we dream, he privileges the eighth, the Middle Ages of “philological reconstruction” as a kind of uber Middle Ages:

Not fully free from the curiosity of the mass media these Middle Ages help us, nevertheless, to criticize all the other Middle Ages that at one time or another arouse our enthusiasm. These Middle Ages lack sublimity, thank God, and thus look more “human” (71).

This privileging of the position by which expert medieval scholars can criticize all the others, those manifestations of what Eco calls “enthusiasm”, and which Holsinger calls “transgression, perversion and fanaticism”, is buried deep within Eco’s taxonomy, and is rarely foregrounded by those who simply use this list to classify the particular example of medievalism they are describing. But it sets up a crucial hierarchy between the work of scholarship (“responsible philological examination”) and the work of the imagination, between the Middle Ages and medievalism, between medieval scholars, and scholars of popular culture and popular medievalism. It also gives force — thank God, he says — to the idea that we can retreat into the safety of academic research, without the risks of the sublime, to criticise the work of popular enthusiasts.

Holsinger’s book is a wonderful archaeology that demonstrates the mutual imbrication of medieval literature, philosophy and theology with some of the most influential movements associated with high theory. Commendably, in my view, it eschews anything so crude as a critique of modern scholars’ understanding of the Middle Ages: it is not so much concerned to correct their scholarship as it is to correct some aspects of the trend towards popular medievalism. But in its abjection of medieval popular culture as the salacious or fantastic, and its absolute separation between intellectual work of and about the Middle Ages, and the work of the popular imagination, Holsinger’s book, it seems to me, revisits the dynamics of Umberto Eco’s work.

In Holsinger’s epilogue, he emphasizes the sacramental character of the avant garde’s relation to the medieval past.

Modes of critique, habits of mind, and means of subjection are not simply inherited from the medieval past, nor patiently reconstructed out of its ruins; rather, they are invoked, called into being, summoned from another place, translated from isolated fragments into whole systems of thought that maintain the dialectic of belief and doubt that characterized the sacramental culture of the Middle Ages.

I like very much this dialectic model. But I suggest the dialectic could be fruitfully expanded to consider not just the dialectic of the Middle Ages, and the dialectic between the Middle Ages and modern intellectual culture, but also the dialectic between intellectual and popular culture.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Conference blogging/Hobart/Two

Conference blogging. Meant to do this over the last week, but am now going to do it in several posts. This is the second. Scroll up and down for more.

One of the conference receptions was held at Government House, a beautiful example of colonial gothic in golden sandstone, high up in the Domain, overlooking the city. We had to pre-register for this in order to receive our gold-embossed invitations; and had to dress up a little; and practice saying "Your Excellency" in case we got introduced.

It was a beautiful afternoon.

We all lined up to be introduced:
And did a little Garter research as we waited:
We were then shown into this rather odd hall:

The decorations were suitably vice-regal:

And the guests suitably elegant:

This is my favourite photo:

And here is The Dress:

But after all this finery, here is one of the prettiest images: a little cottage in the grounds, which I have made my computer's desktop for a while....

Conference blogging/Hobart/One

Conference blogging. Meant to do this over the last week, but am now going to do it in several posts. This is the first. Scroll up for more.

Someone said to me over coffee during this recent ANZAMEMS (Aust and NZ assoc. for med. and early mod. studies) conference that it was becoming the third in the series of the big three. How does that sound? Leeds/Kalamazoo/ANZAMEMS?

A couple of riders, though. This analogy would work only for medievalists: ANZAMEMS has a much broader historical range, though is similarly multi-disciplinary. Second, ANZAMEMS is much smaller: about 190 papers over nearly five days. Third, as a society, not a place, ANZAMEMS offers a range of great locations in Australia and New Zealand. This is absolutely a plus, of course. I'm on my way back from Hobart, and am sitting in the Qantas club, having come out to the airport early with Paul and Joel, who came down for the weekend, and were booked on an early flight so Joel could get to school on time (though having got up at 4.15, he didn't look, 30 minutes ago, as if it was going to be his most productive day).

But it used to be that the only international visitors to ANZAMEMS were the plenary speakers we fly in. This is no longer the case. ANZAMEMS is also wonderfully friendly to postgrads, and reminds me of NCS in its mixture of absolute seriousness and its collegiality. It is also truly interdisciplinary, and over the years, the sometimes brusque encounters between historians and literary critics have given way to much more respectful engagements. Sometimes it isn't even possible to tell.

Like NCS, too, ANZAMEMS now has a respectable medievalism thread. A highlight this time was hearing Kim Wilkins, well-known fantasy and horror writer, who is also Dr Kim Wilkins, lecturer at UQ, give a wonderfully reasoned account of Australian adult medievalist fantasy writing.

My own paper was a discussion of Bruce Holsinger's The Premodern Condition. Perhaps I'll post that paper here too.

Plenary speakers of greatest interest to this blog were probably Ruth Evans and Mary Carruthers. Ruth spoke about Freud and Lacan and Chaucer's dream theory, and Mary developed more of her work on the arts of memory. Both were model conference participants, giving tightly argued, original papers, and attending session after session, valiantly fighting jetlag and contributing to debates.

It is also a great occasion for catching up with friends and colleagues, though given the threat to medieval studies at the University of Tasmania, and the threat to the job of another medieval scholar at the University of Melbourne, the overall mood was less than joyous.

I'm also heading back to a meeting where we will have to discuss the way we teach Old English in the new Melbourne model. More curriculum reform. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Talks, Tears and More Travels

I spent most of today at the Vice-Chancellor's Colloquium for Teaching and Learning. Presentations to the university's teaching award winners (my Grimshaw award is gorgeous: the colour and luminosity of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire); short presentations from the award-winners; and from teams of people who've taught the university's new multi-disciplinary breadth subjects; and a panel of a journalist, school principal and the CEO and founder of seek.com.

It was a most passionate day all round. The unofficial theme was passion in teaching and in one's choice of vocation.

We were welcomed to country by Auntie Diane of the Wurundjeri people, who called on the land to bless us from the tips of the trees down to the earth on which we stood. The Vice-Chancellor presented her with a big bouquet of flowers as a thank-you. She turned away from the audience and whispered at some length in his ear. He told us later during one of the photo-shoots that she had said her husband died six years ago, and that since then, no one had brought her flowers. And then burst into tears.

When Glyn spoke, the text of his talking (not a prepared speech) was flashed above him through Live Remote Captioning. A scary thing, to think that one's speaking could be transcribed and transmitted so quickly (and really pretty accurately), for the hearing impaired. Testimonials from profoundly deaf students reinforced how marvellous this would be. Imagine the tedium of attending lectures and watching while your assistant took notes? And what a difference this would make.

Matthew Brett then spoke about this invention, and about his motivation for devising this technology. Both his parents are profoundly deaf, and he grew up with Auslan (sign language) as his first; and English as his second language. Because their educational and employment opportunities were so limited, he grew up in difficult circumstances, able to afford only two textbooks over the course of five years' study. He choked up a bit as he was speaking; and I think we all did, too.

The other ALTC winner, Catherine Bennett, told me over morning tea that she too was the first member of her family to go to university, and that her own parents, now deceased, would have been so proud of her today. This day was really for them, she said.

When it was my turn, I wanted to speak about the experience of being a medievalist in a country that does not always value the study of the past. I also tried to talk about the problem of mentoring when university policies and practices don't always fit the career trajectories of students who have babies through their PhDs, who are caring for aged or sick parents and can't travel overseas, or who are working on major research monographs that are poorly rewarded in the "points" system that is now driving our policies for promoting and even retaining staff.

I don't think my talk would have been very popular with some folk, but enough people came to talk to me afterwards in agreement (and not just from the humanities) to make me feel that there is a considerable tide of resistance to recent developments.

I also talked about this blog, and the experience of writing through breast cancer; and then over lunch found out about a number of other women with breast cancer; or men whose partners had also gone through its rigours.

All this emotion was draining. But also makes me think that once I've finished with some of the current projects, it's time to think more carefully about the literature of affect.

Last night Ruth Evans gave a wonderful talk to the Medieval Round Table about Chaucer's affective understanding of memory: it'll be a great starting-point.

Now, time to pack and finish my talk for Hobart. I arrive at my B&B after 11.00 tonight; and they are going to leave the key by the front door. Fantastic!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Three-day event

Chez nous, making Christmas puddings is a three-day event.

Day One: buy brandy and fruit. Sultanas, currants, raisins, apricots, figs, ginger, peel, cherries, dates, and a handful of the prunes soaked in port I keep in the pantry. Chop and soak.

Day Two: assemble other ingredients: butter (I can't abide suet; and there are vegetarians in each family, anyway), sugar, flour, spices, eggs (free-range, collected by hand from under the chickens who laid them in the nests at the Ceres co-op), carrot, breadcrumbs, orange rind, lemon rind, almonds, beer and more brandy. Mix with fruit, and get assembled members of the family to stir and make a wish.

Day Three: pack into bowls,

Wrap with layers of foil and tie with string; then juggle various saucepans until you come across this extremely satisfactory arrangement for the two big ones.

There's a third smaller one in a saucepan bubbling away on the stove now.

Every year I make three: a big one each for Paul's family on Christmas Eve (his parents, aunt and uncle, brother and sister and their partners and children), and one for mine on Christmas Day (my parents and sister).

I have blogged about making the puddings earlier, under much more difficult circumstances. Very good, this time, to feel healthy and strong and able to stir with ease. I'll try and remember to take a photo at Christmas and update: this recipe makes a very rich and dark pudding, which we flame with hot brandy, then serve with lashings of brandy butter and fresh berries and cream. The little one we are supposed to eat mid-year, in mid-winter, but last year's is still lurking in the fridge. I checked it yesterday and it looks fine. Must find an occasion to eat Christmas pudding soon...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Son of Humanities Researcher

... hath a blog! Here's the link to Love, Society, Videogames and Life, full of wonderfully obscure cartoons, many at the expense of the social sciences. Goodness! where did that come from? This is the child who was commenting the other day, too, that most of our friends were academics. I mentioned a handful of alternative names, to which he instantly replied, "but you met them through me!" and it was only too true.

I note the first entry to LSVL talks about a history assignment that should have been being written at around the time the first entry was written. As mother and blog reader, what's the etiquette here? Pretty much to find not a leg to stand on.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Joel!

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Momentous Days

This is a horrid time of year, really. We finished teaching weeks ago, but are still up to our necks in papers, meetings, graduate applications for next year, accounts to reconcile, reports to write, and all the rest of the end-of-year stuff that drags on and on. But today we started organising our Christmas lunch, so that felt a bit better.

It's also conference season, too, so I really must get down to writing the paper I'm giving in Hobart next week. I'm part of a panel on Bruce Holsinger's Premodern Condition (more on this in another post).

But I think a brief report on the trip to Canberra is called for. Suse and Pav have kindly asked for photos, but while a thousand official ones were taken, I forgot to take my own camera, so we might have to wait till I can persuade Joel and myself to dress up again...

We flew up with Deirdre, my wonderful new(ish) colleague: how I adore having another senior woman in the department, especially one so energetic and passionate and generous. We checked into the hotel, changed into our finery, then got a cab up to Parliament House.

From this perspective, you can actually see two Parliament Houses: first, the old one (wedding-cake style) then further up the hill, the surprisingly and charmingly modest new one, set, hobbit-style, under the slopes of grass. Well, modest from the outside: inside, it's all marble and quartz and wood, and corridors and courtyards filled with light. Quite beautiful, I think.

We had lunch and then queued up to sit in on Question Time. We ended up sitting in the gallery above the Gov't side, but had fun spotting the familiar heads and faces. Rudd was on his way back from Peru, so Gillard was acting PM, and very dignified and determined she was, too. Peter Garrett was easy to spot with the bald head, and we picked out lots of others. Tanya Plibersek took a great dorothy dixer and spoke movingly about domestic violence white ribbon day, and then Malcolm Turnbull made his only speech of the session we saw, saying, in effect, "me too". The real fun, though, was looking over to see Nelson, Costello, Abbott, all looking rather subdued, though Abbott was querulous in his challenges to the Speaker for his failure to reprimand Albanese, I think it was, who dared to suggest providing a cushion for Fran Bailey, I think it was, who seemed to be falling asleep. Well, then it was on for young and old...

After a while, Joel suggested we nip round to the other side, so we could see "our people", but by the time we got round, Question Time was over, and there was a steady emptying of the chamber.

We then headed off to the reception before the awards ceremony. There was tea and coffee and cheese and biscuits, and much checking-out of name tags and fashions. There was a fair amount of taffeta and tulle and lace, given that the note just said "smart or business dress", and one Islander and one Indian woman wearing beautiful long dresses and saris (ok: one each). But also some beautifully tailored suits and jackets.

We took our seats and the chair of the council announced that Julia Gillard would not be able to present the awards, as she was too busy being acting PM. I swear, there was an audible groan of disappointment, particularly among the women. We had been given our instructions, so it was pretty well run, as we lined up, moved forward, shook hands with Brendan O'Connor and received our surprisingly heavy trophies and certificates.

The big award, the Prime Minister's Award, was split this year by Marnie Hughes-Warrington, an historian from Macquarie, and Stephen Barkoczy, from Monash, who teaches tax law. Both gave fabulous impromptu speeches, and you could see instantly that they would be great teachers. I have to make a 12 minute presentation at the Vice-Chancellor's Colloquium on Tuesday (and accept my Grimshaw award: hey, another chance for my new dress, I think!), and I was inspired by both of these addresses not to make a powerpoint. I'm just going to talk. Well, I was also persuaded by the fact that they wanted the powerpoint by this morning...

We then walked down the hill to the old Parliament House, and sipped champagne and snacked on smoked salmon on melba toast, little pies and other nibbles, before proceeding into the old members' dining hall for enormous prawns or peking duck; baked salmon or lamb cutlets; rich chocolate pies or miniature tartes tatin.

In the morning, Joel took full advantage of the sumptuous breakfast buffet, and then we walked across the lake and then along past the National Library and the High Court to the National Gallery, where we paid appropriate homage to the Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series, and pedantically corrected a tour guide who was explaining how Kelly's armour was now in Melbourne Gaol.

We then met Deirdre and Mary, another Melbourne colleague up at ANU for the day, for lunch at the National Library, in the coloured lights of the Leonard French windows there, before heading home.

It was a really lovely occasion. In the humanities, teaching awards are not regarded very highly. I think it's assumed we can all teach, and that good teaching is incommensurate with good research. If you're getting good "quality of teaching" scores, you're seen as putting time into your teaching that should go into your research. But I'm all in favour of them. There's no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive; in fact, most of us would argue that in fact, they depend on each other. Good researchers make good teachers; and vice versa. Anyway, any colleagues who are reading this: I'm going to be encouraging folk in my area to apply for these awards next year.

The other momentous thing this week was watching Joel in the Year 8 production of Midsummer Night's Dream last night. He has chosen drama as one of his elective subjects this year, and they clearly have very talented teachers at this school, who brought out some very good performances from these 13-year old kids. The play had been abridged, and there was lots of playground-style physicality amongst the rival lovers and the mechanicals. Of course Joel's parents, aunt and grandmother all thought his Demetrius was excellent. At least he didn't rush through his lines (a common enough mistake, to race through the metaphors to the principal verbs, whereas it's often the metaphors that carry the meaning). An excellent Helena, Lysander, Bottom, Titania and Puck (and Demetrius!) carried the play. There were some wonderful musical moments too: this school somehow makes it possible for even youngish kids just to get up and sing unaccompanied.

So it's been a big week chez nous. We are just now about to commence our weekend in the time-honoured way: doing the grocery shopping while Joel has his piano lesson; then catching up with our mirror family for pizzas, red wine, and lollies. Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Momentous Days

Well, the day has finally arrived. On careful and objective scrutiny, it seems my son is now as tall as I am. I've kind of been waiting for this day, ever since, years ago, I started measuring him against my rib cage and counting my ribs as he ascended in height. But now I look him directly in the eye, and see he is my height. Or rather, I see I am his height.

I sit at the big table and look at him moving around the kitchen and measure my own height against the cupboards, and it seems I am not as tall as I thought I was.

I tell him to be careful on the bike, because kids are harder to see than adults; and he tells me I am, by the same token, just as hard to see as he is.

His shoes are now bigger than mine (and I have long feet).

He wears my old jackets.

But tomorrow, when he accompanies me to the teaching awards ceremony in Canberra, he will wear a second-hand cream jacket his friend bought him at Savers, his new skinny black jeans, and a black shirt — and red Converse sneakers. I was going to save money, but eventually went shopping and bought a new dress. Locally made, locally sold, and, given that it is a wrap-around jersey number, amazingly flattering. It is red, black and white paisely print, with a deep black hem slightly curved around at the front, so we will be colour co-ordinated to the max.

I thought about buying a new suit — I have one basic black one which is now four years old — but didn't want to spend as much money as would take to get a really good one. And in any case, I'm not really sure that heavily tailored look suits me. Anyway, I have gone with this look (no. 12 is closest in design to mine, and if they had had this one in stock, I probably would have chosen this).

But in case I think I am not heavily enough tailored when I shake hands with Julia Gillard tomorrow, I just have to remember the words of the Sprinkle website:

Welcome to the world of Madam Mafia
....inspired by all those passionate, fiery European women who are not afraid to speak their minds!! Think Sophia Loren and Isabella Rossellini....

This collection is not for the faint hearted. Madam Mafia is a strong and yet feminine woman, who wants to stand out from the crowd. She is glamorous and stylish....a woman who knows and gets what she wants.

Great! Textiles with text! Dresses with attitude!

I bought it at Lupa, a little shop around the corner that features local designers. It was the first place I went to: freezing cold until she turned on the heater outside the changing cubicle. Turns out the owner is seriously thinking about going back to university to do her BA...

Ideally, of course, in our consumer, occasion-driven society, I would have bought new shoes, too. But I have perfectly good ones to wear. I did go shopping with Joel for tights, though, and was tossing up the various textured and coloured options. I chose very sheer black ones, and showed Joel all the control options for holding your stomach in. "You don't need that", he said.

When it was his turn, another momentous discovery: he is now too big for the "boys" section of Best and Less and K-Mart, and we ended up at Just Jeans, where he bought not the smallest pair of men's jeans. They were way too long, but I said not to worry, that I would take up the hems. Indeed, there was an ancient Singer machine in the shop, but it was Sunday, and no one was on duty.

So this afternoon, before it got too dark, and it got too hard to sew black denim, I got out my ancient little Elnita SP sewing machine. I was properly brought up to sew my own clothes, but these days, tend to leave even my mending till my mother comes to visit and offers to sew for me. She sewed all Joel's clothes for the first eleven years of his life (highlights include beautiful smocked baby nightgowns; a long, green, fur-trimmed dressing-gown; and indeed, the two waistcoats she made recently to his design). But I found I could remember how to thread the machine without thinking, threading the cotton through spools and levers as if I had performed that ritual every day of my life. I started to fantasise about sewing some more, especially next year, when I am on leave, and rediscovered the smell of my hot little machine, and the cotton dust that gathers around the bobbin, and the satisfaction of a neatly pressed hem as you stitch it into place. A wonderful throwback to my mother's house: ironing board and sewing machine at the ready, and the aromatic smell of warm cotton filling the house.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bells: Strike Three!

I'm at home marking honours essays and theses this morning, but can hear, as I heard last night, the very distinctive sound of a bellbird. There is a little community of them at a certain turn of the Merri, where I walk most mornings, and in summer you can see their mossy green bodies at eye level as they hang upside down feeding in the trees alongside the path. I've not heard one in our garden before, but it is a wonderful piercing and distinctive sound. If you follow the link above, you can hear exactly what I'm hearing.

On my desk at work is a beautiful tower (ok, vase full) of pink Canterbury Bells, given me by a student, in commemoration of Chaucer, and even more specifically, of Criseyde, whose name and reputation will be rung like a bell down the centuries.

And on my bedside table, the novel I was reading on the plane home, recommended by the same student for the purpose, Dorothy Sayers' Nine Tailors, which is structured by bell-ringing in a little East Anglian church. I'm not a huge reader of detective fiction, but I had read this before (and completely forgotten the plot). It was nice to buy it in a bookshop on Venice beach, though!

Ringing the bells for serendipity this morning.

OK, now back to the marking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waking up

What is it like to sit for fifteen hours in the one spot?

On my flight over to LA, I was upgraded to premium economy, sipped champagne before take off, and compared my good fortune with my neighbour (just ONE neighbour!), who'd similarly got the bump. We thought Qantas was either trying to entice people to pay the extra, on future trips, and that there might have been a few cancellations in the business sector.

Coming home, I was way back in the plane, and sitting on the aisle. I used to prefer the window, because you could sleep with less chance of being disturbed, but now I like the freedom to get up and move around; and if you lift the arm rest, you can almost sit cross-legged, or curl a leg up under to sleep. Passing down the aisle to my seat, I saw my neighbour from the flight over (he'd been to a wedding in Cancun), going home to his three daughters under 3 in Adelaide. He didn't get an upgrade this time, either. I took my very strong American melatonin, and slept about five or six hours, I guess. Paul picked me up from the airport (bliss to not have to deal with one more taxi), and we collected Joel and went to tennis.

I thought this would be a good idea, but found, when it was my turn to receive a shopping-trolley basket of balls from Larry, that my legs and arms would just not move fast enough. The balls came so fast, though they had a strong wind behind them, and try as I might, I just could not get to them, or hit them with any strength.

This morning, I went for my walk along the creek, and saw the blue-tongued lizard under the wooden walkway. He looked rather pale, and very thin, and was obviously very sluggish, just coming out of hibernation, and putting his head into the morning sun. He looked at me through heavy lids, and I could see he wanted to withdraw back to safety under the bridge, but couldn't move his legs. I knew exactly how he felt.

What perverseness, then, to spend much of yesterday afternoon on the Qantas website, me in one room and Paul in the other, booking flights to New York for next year to take advantage of their amazing 2-for-1 sale, which ends tonight, and battling the rigours of the frequent flyer point system to book flights to London next September for our holiday in Italy. It was horrible to discover that all the cheap flights go through Sydney, which adds a couple of hours, including transit, to each trip. But on the other hand... New York! Philadelphia! DC! Boulder! London! Florence! Rome! And best of all, travelling companions!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tourist or Traveller?

Early on in the Bertolucci movie, Under a Sheltering Sky, the young hero (it is a very young John Malkovich) says, proudly, something like, "We're not tourists, we're travellers". I think that even then, many years ago, I might have wanted to identify as a traveller, not a tourist, but I have to admit I don't think of myself as a particularly good traveller.

I get anxious about arrangements; I don't like calling hotels; I get anxious about cash, and tipping; I'm worried the taxi will take me somewhere I don't want to go; I don't always sleep well when exhausted. I fuss and fuss about what to wear on the plane.

However, I do do things, by making myself do them. I taught myself, years ago, to eat a two-course meal in a good restaurant by myself (sometimes with, sometimes without book). I am sometimes tempted by stupid ideas, like walking somewhere when a sensible person would take a taxi, but have learned that distances when you are a traveller are much longer. And I have developed a reasonably good sense of what's safe and what's not. Or else I've been lucky, but I don't have any disaster tales to tell.

Travelling on your own adds just one more layer of difficulty, too. When I arrived at LA ten days ago, the plan was for me to wait a couple of hours for the next flight that would bring Andrew and Louise from Sydney, and we could then get the shuttle to Riverside together. But I recoiled at the idea of waiting alone, accompanied by bag, laptop and suitcase. Impossible to go to the bathroom, for example. And as it happened, their flight was delayed a few more hours, so I was pleased my instinct — to ask for an earlier shuttle — was right.

This time, I broke my trip home, too. So here's my new rule. If you get one flight, even from New York, into LAX then join the 11.15 pm flight to Melbourne, that's ok, but yesterday, after Terry drove me from Wooster to Cleveland, and I flew from Cleveland to Dallas, raced around and around from gate to gate on their skytrain because the gate had changed and the flight was late, then from Dallas to LAX, then I was very glad to check into my hotel on Venice beach.

I walked along the beach this morning, then checked out of the hotel and got a cab to the Getty museum. I had been to the Getty Villa years ago (getting the bus, and getting off too soon and walking along a most inhospitable freeway for the last bit), but I had learned my lesson and rode in a taxi.

It is an extraordinary place. I went to the Villa on my first visit to the US, in 1991, when I went to the Medieval Association of the Pacific conference, and was blown away by the sheer size and scale and magnitude of the vision of the place, and also by the incredible lavishness of the disposable cutlery, plates, and glasses. American galleries, museums and gardens are some of my favourite places in the world: the Frick, the Met, the Huntington, the Getty villa; and now the Getty Museum. This is a wonderful vision of marbled courtyards and small square blocks of galleries: two storey marble cubes. I confined myself to the pre-1800 stuff, and then enjoyed wandering the gardens and courtyards, especially as the sun started to set over the sunken maze water garden (it's warm here, but also November, and so the days are short). And I'm used to the endless proliferation of paper and plastic goods.

So now I'm in the Qantas lounge. They are re-building at LAX, and have put us all in the First and Business lounge, so it's very pleasant, if rather crowded. I just heard some folk leaving, saying, "there are an awful lot of Aussies there", so I think my countrymen and women must be making their presence felt over at the bar.

Of course I'm not such a good traveller as to remember to bring my camera on this trip. My elaborate plans for getting a working cell phone came to nothing, too. But at least I haven't felt the dreadful homesickness that plagued my trip to London earlier in the year. It's a much shorter trip, so missing my family hasn't seemed like such a huge sentence; and I've also been busy, working hard, while staying with friends and their cats also made it feel much more homely. And in my suitcase? Obama t-shirts and a rockin' snowdome (globe) from the Cleveland RocknRoll Hall of Fame...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Such is Life

Amongst the things we Australians remember on November 11 are Remembrance Day, and the dismissal of the Whitlam ("Well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General") Government.

Here's the ABC broadcast of that fateful day: my act of cultural and political homage:

But we also remember the death of Ned Kelly. Most people agree that the famous bushranger's final words, as he was led to the gallows in 1880, were not "Such is Life", but rather, something more mundane like "So I suppose it has come to this".

So here's a little thought for Ned. When I was growing up, I could not imagine why Ned Kelly, a murderous thief, should be a national hero. Now that I am more interested in cultural history, and national stereotypes, and perhaps especially since I have read his Jerilderie letter, I am quite taken by this man, and when I read part of the letter at the Riverside conference on Saturday, could not help but channel a little of the Irishness of his accent. It is the most extraordinary document. Here's a sample of what I read:
those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police as it is an old saying It takes a rogue to catch a rogue and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force and take an oath to arrest brother sister father or mother if required and to have a case and conviction if possible any man knows it is possible to swear a lie and if a policeman looses a conviction for the sake of swearing a lie he has broke his oath therefore he is a perjurer either ways a Policeman is a disgrace to his country and ancestors and religion as they were all catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway since then they were persecuted massacreed thrown into martyrdom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation what would people say if they saw a strapping big lump of an Irishman sheparding sheep for fifteen bob a week or tailing turkeys in Tallarook ranges for a smile from Julia or even begging his tucker they would say he ought to be ashamed of himself and tar and feather him, But he would be a king to a Policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly billet left the ash corner deserted the Shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their forefathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked Barrels pulling their toes and finger nails and on the wheel and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemans Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty that was not murdered on their own soil or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day were doomed to Port McQuarie Toweringabbie and Norfolk Island and Emu Plain and in those places of Tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the Shamrock and a credit to Paddys land
This is amazing, yes? The letter was probably dictated to Joe Byrne, so it clearly bears traces of oral composition, but it does read something like Joyce's Ulysses, I think. Is "Cranmore" Cranmer here? There is so much that needs to be thought about here (not least the fact that I could not help channelling a vaguely Irish accent as I read).

Still, I was very pleased to find, when we finally got to Wooster at 1.30 this morning, to find a miniature of Ned Kelly on Tom's bookcase.

But I was talking about Ned Kelly with my father-in-law a few weeks ago, and found him expressing exactly the same view of Kelly that I used to hold. Interesting that my interest in medievalism has brought me round to re-think the nature of authority and the subversion of that authority. It's not that I have deep affinities with this model of Australia rebelliousness, but there is something about discovering Kelly as such a textual being (this was not the only letter he dictated; and he was also very fond of Lorna Doone, which I read on the plane coming over), as well as the easy anti-colonial sentiment, that is rather attractive.

I've had the laziest day, today. After getting in so late, I slept in this morning till after midday, lazing in as other people got up and went to work, and to school.

I've had a chance to think more about the conference, though. Stand out papers for me, because they made me think (in new and difficult ways) again about my own work, were talks by Aranye Fradenburg and Seeta Chaganti. The first was an extraordinary meditation on dreams, Freud, Chaucer and medievalism; and the second a suggestive account of the way medievalist dance (actually, Raymonda) can help us think about the way medievalist bodies move in time and space, and perform medievalism differently. Seeta also helped me think differently about the way Kelly's relics are preserved and venerated: that is, that it's the structure by which we view and treat his relics that might be one of the most medievalist things about the Kelly legend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Letter from America

We’d been in the air just a few hours on Wednesday when the pilot came on to announce that McCain had just made his concession speech. There was a scattering of applause through the cabin, though it was pretty muted: we Australians are a surprisingly modest and discreet bunch, on occasions.

When I hit the ground at LAX, I’m not sure what I was expecting in terms of waves of euphoria. Probably if I’d been still at home, at the Obama party, or watching the speeches and reports on TV, I might have had a stronger sense of occasion. Trouble was, I didn’t really have anything to measure it by. But it seemed to me to be business as usual.

I got the shuttle to Riverside and after a shower and a bit of a nap, went walking to see what I could see. Almost nothing. We are staying in this — literally — fabulous place (complete with spiral staircases, secret roof gardens, medieval chapels, chiming clocks, arcades, arched corridors leading to thick wooden doors, paved courtyards, Escher-style arches, little fountains, and dark wood fittings throughout). Also, an enormous heated pool in which you can do proper laps. They are decorating for Christmas, and so this morning when I was swimming, there were little stars and pieces of glitter in the bottom of the pool.

But when I went for my walk, the streets were deserted. There are lots of antique shops around here, but not much in the way of tourist traffic, and if you set out to walk in any direction, you very quickly become the only pedestrian. It’s one of those American cities where no one walks. Everyone travels by car, and so you don’t really feel comfortable walking more than two blocks down the street. In fact when I did start to walk, I could never get very far without encountering a freeway entrance. I guess everyone gets their exercise at the gym, or in the pool. If I lived here (yes, of course one fantasises) I would miss the creek, and my morning walks, and my bike rides to work.

Once I met up with my friends, I started to feel the jubilation, though, and they explained that Riverside has suffered badly in the declining Californian economy; and a lot of folk had lost their houses. So perhaps that’s why it’s quiet on the streets, though Riverside had, against expectations, also voted for Obama.

Last night at the conference dinner, people were rhapsodising about the new president. Someone said he would finish the work that Abraham Lincoln had begun. Another remarked that even Iowa, which has only a 2% black population, had turned out for Obama. But in California, this brave new day has been marred by demonstrations about Proposition 8, which seeks to bar gay marriages. The Australians couldn’t understand how the US could elect a black president but overturn the right to gay marriage, until we were reminded that the Civil Rights movement, which helped Obama to power, is a Christian movement, and so perhaps not sympathetic to gay marriage. I’m sure these are shocking generalisations, though.

Our conference has been wonderful: one of those great symposia where everyone speaks for between 25 and 45 minutes, and where there is time for discussion, and where everyone attends the same papers, so there develops that lovely continuity and community of shared interests.

Some of our papers followed quite closely the theme of Medievalism, Colonialism, Nationalism (and Andrew, Louise and I worked with Australian material), while others traversed the idea of the medieval in dance, dream, psychoanalysis, fantasy, and so forth. There was very little that was simply descriptive (one of the presiding weaknesses of the field), and enormous amounts that were stimulating, engaging and intellectually generous. Everyone got along very well, and we were beautifully fed and watered. Truly, a model conference, with lots of connections and friendships made.

I’m off to Wooster (near Cleveland) tomorrow, but there’s time for one last hurrah over brunch with a group from the conference.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sign of the Times

You know times are tough in your workplace when for the first time in my memory of it, no one's had the energy or the spirit to organise a sweep for the Melbourne Cup. Many's the year I've crowded round a TV or radio at work with a glass of warm champagne and cheered on a horse I'd never heard of till a minute before. And often have I marvelled at those folk who had actually placed real bets. Even last year, in the first flush of collegiality in our new school, we had so many people that we ran about four sweeps, I think.

But of course, it's the same loyal hard-working office staff who run the sweep, and this year, after dramatic shifts and changes and instabilities and re-organised workloads and grumpy academic staff, they've had enough. And I must say, I don't blame them. There was even talk of not having a Christmas party for the same reason, so I have rounded up a few folk with a commitment to both organise and clean up after a party next month.

It's the day before I get on a plane, so it's the usual crazy rounds of laundry, tidying up loose ends in the office, getting my photo taken for the Canberra awards ceremony on the 25th, and now coming home. I watched the race with Paul and Joel. Paul was the bookie, and stood to lose a lot of money if any of my horses (Nom de Jeu, Barbaricus and Moatize [ridden by Clare Lindop]) had won. None of them did, of course. But the Reserve Bank has dropped interest rates by .75%, so that is better than a win!

So now it's time to finish the Ned Kelly paper, sort out the powerpoints, finish a reference and some revisions to an article and do the ironing, and then the packing, meanwhile drinking lots of water to hydrate in preparation for the flight to LA, flying into Obama time, I hope.

I'm off to lovely Riverside, in California, first, then on to Wooster, outside Cleveland, for some quality writing (and tennis) time with Tom. And then a day in LA on the way back: I'm just getting too old for those 27 hour trips without a night in a bed in between...

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.