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!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Your Big Chance to get in my book

It's suddenly come to that interesting period in a young book's life when it needs readers. Currently I have five chapters, and by the end of the week I'll have six of my seven chapters ready for reading. My lovely editor at the press says that if I get these six chapters to him in September, he'll send them out to readers while I finish the seventh. The book's still not contracted, which suits me fine, because a contract implies a deadline. Like my Chaucer book, this one has a range of over 600 years, and has also been interrupted by bodily trauma (I had my son during the writing of Congenial Souls [hey, and maybe that's why he's turned out to be one, though it's scary to think what this book might presage for him]).

But it's time to send it out. So here's your chance to score a mention in my Acknowledgements. If you would be interested in reading a chapter, I'll send you the Preface, which introduces the book; plus the table of contents, so you can see the lie of the land; and the chapter of your choice. This book is not meant to be fearsomely specialised: I'd welcome offers to read from medievalists, people working in other fields, students, former students, anyone interested in medievalism, royal tourism, heritage culture, etc. etc. Feedback of any kind would be most gratefully received.

The working title is Rituals of Shame and Honour: The Order of the Garter. Or perhaps it'll be Shame, Honour and Medievalism... Or summat like that.

The Preface concludes with the following paragraphs (I'll add a few glosses in italics so you can see what you'd be reading about)

The book is organised in three parts. The first, “Ritual Histories,” proceeds roughly chronologically. Chapter One introduces the concepts of ritual criticism, mythic capital, and medievalism. Reading the Order as a form of medievalist ritual practice allows me to focus attention on discussion of the medieval origins of the Order in Chapters Two and Three, not simply as a historical question of sources and their witness, but also as an example of the curious, diverse and ongoing life of the medieval, from late medieval, through to early modern, modern and post-modern cultural forms. Chapter Two explores what we know of the Order’s first founding and the ritual meanings of its central mythology [discusses Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tirant lo Blanc, Polydor Vergil, earliest sources for garter motto and emblem; the most "medieval" chapter]. Chapter Three considers the first few hundred years of Garter histories, and the way those histories treat of the medieval past. [full of wonderful variations on the garter myth, gossip about the garter and counter-narratives, from C15 to C18]

The second part, “Ritual Practices,” is organised more thematically. Three chapters range widely, back and forth between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. Chapter Four explores the concept of shame that shadows much of the Order’s ritual practice, a concept that makes it almost impossible to say where the medieval ends and the modern begins in Garter history, or where a renaissance or modern understanding of shame replaces a medieval one [discusses Malory, and Sir Gawain, garter rituals of degradation {very thrilling}, the constant threat of disorder and shame in the performance of garter rituals, and some very decadent C19 interpretations of the garter myth]. Chapter Five examines the nature of ritual reform and change, the discourses the Order of the Garter uses when it engages most self-consciously in ritual criticism ("proud histories" contrasted with histories of decay and desuetude - Charles 1; discussion of Edward VI's protestant reforms and other attempts to "update" the order; history of women in Garter, from C14 to C20). Chapter Six focuses on the embodied performance of the Order, in the fashions and regalia worn by its men and women, the ritual life of gendered bodies, and the importance of the pictorial and visual tradition in the construction of the medieval (includes discussions of the queer garter, the difference female and male bodies make to the wearing of the garter; what happens when the royal body touches the non-royal body at the moment of installation; and concludes with a discussion of Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson: the garter knight as dandy).

The third part, “Ritual Modernities,” in Chapter Seven, brings these strands together, to consider the history of the Garter in the reign of Elizabeth II, examining the implications for medievalism in the transition from modernity to postmodernity, and reflecting on this most medieval Order’s perpetual quest for modernity. (well, I'll update this when it's written: at the moment it's got poetry by David Campbell and U. A. Fanthorpe, Annie Liebowitz photographing the queen, the Barmy Army, Camilla's tampon, a beercoaster, some chocolates I bought at Windsor, and the Sydney University student newspaper.)

So, all offers to read will be very welcome. I should say I don't do this without extreme trepidation. But you know, I'm just going to do it anyway. Write an offer in the comments box, or send me an email: sjtriggatunimelbdotedudotau

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful

  • What was I saying here about the horribleness of Chapter Five? Hard to believe it's now locked into shape, and is just going through its final check today before I print it out and add it to the pile of chapters Paul is reading for me.
  • He is currently in the kitchen, cooking up a storm for dinner tonight.
  • I spent a whole hour in the gym this morning - something I could never have imagined a month ago.
  • Joel and three of his friends are spending the day together. They have played the piano a bit, had fish and chips for lunch while watching the West Wing, and have now headed out: two blond heads, two dark; four leggy bodies in four black coats.
So life feels good today. I'm going to clean up my desk to make chasing up the final footnotes easier, listen to Beethoven's Fifth, and keep an eye on the Hawthorn-Essendon game as I work. I'm also going to go back and re-read the question and comments over at Purring Prophecy, which are full of sage advice about letting go of book manuscripts and sending them off into the outside world. Today, the Garter book feels as if it wants to race out the door without its shoes on (and I haven't even started the last chapter), but that's better than it feeling it wants to curl up in the desk drawer with the cat, as it sometimes does...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I did at Kalamazoo

At In the Middle, Eileen posts an introduction to the BABEL sessions at Kalamazoo this last May, and links to the full texts of the Roundtable on which I spoke with Tom Prendergast: "Are We Serious Enough Yet? The Place of Ethics in Medieval Scholarship."

Our remarks were brief, as instructed (as you can see), and celebrated the fun we have writing together. At the moment, we are each working on separate projects, but in a few weeks' time we are getting together to do some very serious work on our book (you reading this, Tom?). We wrote these remarks, it should be noted, after sitting in the sun in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia for an hour or so until it was decently time for lunch. Milo and Larry wandered around the square and punctuated our deliberations most pleasantly.

But I particularly like the photograph Eileen chose to accompany our contribution, "The Ethics of Trans-Pacific Collaboration", because it reminds me of what fun it is to collaborate. Especially when Chapter Five of the current project is being so recalcitrant. Although perhaps today saw a bit of a breakthrough? Today is also the day Miss Sophie showed me how to do "lunges" (I once saw a woman in Russell Square in London doing lunges, accompanied by her trainer: Oh! that could be me!). Anyway, you can practically see me and Tom in the front of this picture.

Would that all scholarly work were as much fun!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reasons not to be cheerful

  • We lost the Ashes
  • Essendon lost to Fremantle
  • It is a little rainy today, but so windy the rain is not sticking around long enough to make any impact on the garden or the tanks
  • Chapter Five is horrible

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why I don't feel sorry for Nick Riewoldt

I am normally a rather mushy empathetic type, very willing to try and get inside someone else's skin, or stand in their shoes, or egotistically to wonder how I would feel if it happened to me.

But when Nick Riewoldt missed the post-siren captain's goal that would have preserved St Kilda's undefeated record this season, so that my beautiful young Bombers scored a narrow upset victory and scraped into the top eight with only two rounds to go, I didn't feel for him. I've looked at the picture of him holding his head in his hands, and I still don't feel anything. I am turning into a callous monster.

Here is Martin Blake's terrific account of the match.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Slow teaching movement?

When we bought our piano, Leon generously offered to give Joel a couple of extra lessons, in the manner, I guess, of a personal master class. He had his first one on Wednesday and he was very very nervous. We had to drive way out into the depths of the south-eastern suburbs in peak hour — grey clouds and misty rain.

I sat down on the couch with the PhD I am examining (yes, this is what you do on long service leave if you don't finish it while on study leave), and half-read; and half-listened.

They started working on Chopin's Nocturne in E flat major, a piece J has only just started to learn. Over the hour, they worked through the right hand melody, but I was so struck by Leon's teaching, as they spent a good twenty minutes on the first phrase. There are some nice performances on YouTube, but the wikipedia page has a recording, plus the score of the opening (scroll down to Opus 9, No.2):

Those first two notes for the right hand feature an anacrusis, the unstressed B flat quaver, that reaches up to the (dotted crotchet) G, which is the first note of the first full bar. Leon described the relationship between these two notes in grammatical terms, as the article before the noun. Yes, it's common enough to think of music as a language, but his analogy has really stuck with me as a way of articulating the relationship between the unstressed and the stressed syllables (sorry; notes). They also did lots of analysis of the chord progressions. I'm sure Leon sensed Joel's nervousness (he normally teaches more advanced students), and was able to modulate his teaching as he worked out what Joel could and couldn't do.

But the slowness of the teaching reminded me of the beauties of close reading, a technique that is often reviled these days as apolitical, overly-formalist and privileging a certain aestheticist kind of writing and reading practice. Yet in medieval literature (and in other forms, too), it can be the best way to teach. I do remember feeling quite pleased, one time, that I had spent a good ninety minutes on the first two stanzas of Chaucer's Parlement of Foulys. Partly because this was the way I was taught, and partly because it was so satisfying to plumb so many depths of syntax, language, classical allusion, voicing, etc. Because I've quoted Chopin, I'm going to quote Chaucer, too.
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Thassay so hard, so sharp the conquering,
The dredful Ioy, that alwey slit so yerne,
Al this mene I by love, that my feling
Astonyeth with his wonderful worching
So sore y-wis, that whan I on him thinke,
Nat wot I wel wher that I wake or winke.

For al be that I knowe nat love in dede,
Ne wot how that he quyteth folk hir hyre,
Yet happeth me ful ofte in bokes rede
Of his miracles, and his cruel yre;
Ther rede I wel he wol be lord and syre,
I dar not seyn, his strokes been so sore,
But God save swich a lord! I can no more.

But am I becoming hopelessly old-fashioned in my teaching? Is there such a thing as going too slowly? Or being too precious? Certainly in teaching for performance, as with the Chopin, it's hard to imagine rushing through at some global level. Conversely, in some subjects and contexts, I'm conscious of going very quickly, to make sure we can grasp the whole of a text, or a good chunk of it, as the full range of meanings aren't always evident — of course! — in the microscopic examination of two stanzas. But perhaps this kind of detailed explication de texte is not as satisfying to students as it is to me.

I realise, now, as I look at those stanzas, that Chaucer is at one level working through the same problem. Life (or love) is so short, like a text that passes quickly, but the skill of reading and negotiating one's way through it, takes years to learn how to do properly. And the text, like love, like life, that slit so yerne (slides away so quickly) under such examination? No wonder I spent so long on these stanzas: they were insisting I did so!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Talking Piano (with apologies to Sylvia Plath)

We ordered this, shiny black box
Curved and square and too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the body of a whale
Or a gleaming tailfin
Were it not so still.

It arrived yesterday. First its legs and pedals were brought in, each in its own padded bag. Then the main body came down the hall, carried by two strong men. And I swear I heard it talking. Just a few notes, conversationally, as it was carried over the threshold. It then sat quietly on its side to be re-assembled, before being set to rights. Then its lid, and stand. After the men had left, I played a little (really, I can't play a single thing without lots of mistakes and hesitation), but feeling a bit overwhelmed, I closed it down. A red felt cover over the keys, and a black padded cover over the whole; and I set it to sleep till Joel came home.

As we started looking for a piano a month or two ago, I started thinking of them as big black whales, mysterious visitants to land, singing deep and curious songs beyond my ken, especially with their gleaming sailfin lids rising in rows in the bigger showrooms. The decision was difficult from beginning to end. Much harder than buying a car, or perhaps even a house.

One of the hardest things to think about was how it felt. Once you had set your budget (a traumatic enough experience), there was a lot of salespersonship going on, on the virtues of new or second-hand, and about finding the piano that's right for you personally, and so forth; and a great deal of flattery towards the teenage boy who valiantly played his way up and down the price range in front of scores of other shoppers and sales assistants. But in the end, as a friend said to us, how can you have a relationship on first meeting? It takes time to develop.

And I think that is right. We are all feeling a bit overwhelmed by what we have done. We spent the entire weekend moving furniture and fifteen years of accumulated bookshelf chaos to make room for it (and we have made some major financial adjustments and sorting of priorities: essentially, music comes first!). But it feels like the beginning, rather than the glorious culmination of a difficult decision. Like a traditional arranged marriage between children, perhaps, which has every prospect of working well as we all grow into each other.

When Joel was born, he began as he went on, conversationally. He started by talking to us. "Ah, ah, ah", he said, as they lifted him out of my womb and placed him on the pillow next to me. As the piano came down the corridor, I felt as if I was being spoken to, in a very similar way. We all have a long way to go, together.

The box is only beginning.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Long Service Leave

Now that I am officially on long service leave, I have really stepped up the pace on my book. Yes, I know it's meant to be a holiday; and yes, there is something quite grand in that line coming up quite soon, but I am just happy to feel able to work all day, and quite productively, on the ms. I keep going over and over the various chapters, smoothing, co-ordinating, filling in gaps, and writing footnotes, even though I still have one entire chapter to write from scratch, and still a few little clumps of paragraphs to add in here and there. I have a couple of tough readers lined up, and I want to get a bunch of chapters ready for them to read. I am supposed to get all but the last chapter to the press by September. That's going to be a close call.

But it is my leave; and so I am doing some of the things I have been thinking about doing for a while. I have been cooking a little, and two Saturdays in a row, now, I have made a big rum baba in a wonderful heavy ring tin my mother gave me. The cake just fell out of the tin both times. The second time I tripled the amount of syrup, and it was sodden and succulent as it's supposed to be.

I have started learning Italian, and now when I'm in the car I listen to the Italian radio station (even if I can only pick up things like identifying the weather, the soccer reports and the ads for Piedimonte's, my local supermercato). I also bought Il Globo, the Australian Italian newspaper, and so I get to look at (I can hardly call it reading yet), national and local news in Italian. Seems odd to see the Queensland premier being called "la Bligh", but there you go.

I have also joined a gym. I swore for many years I would never darken the doors of such an establishment, preferring to get my exercise for free and on my own. But the idea came to me in Philadelphia [ed. and DC (see comments box)], when I realised how fit and lithe were some of the medievalists I admire most, and now I am utterly hooked. I have no idea what to do when I'm there, so I've booked in for a sequence of sessions with Miss Sophie, and we have a hilarious time, as she shows me how to use machines I had no idea were possible, and exercises I had no idea I could do. The time goes very quickly. Today I was lifting a few little weights, and she swapped the dumbbells for a big round plate, so I could feel "more manly", she said, as we fell about laughing. I come home and demonstrate to the others what I've been doing, and bounce around the house for a bit until the endorphins subside and my arms and legs start to ache. I now know why weightlifters get those trembling legs.

Anyway, it is deeply fun to do something completely different with the body and mind. I have also started playing the piano again, too, in anticipation of a Great Event and a Big Black New Arrival tomorrow.

I guess in a different world, you'd go and spend the entirety of your long service leave in Sardinia, or somewhere, and write a novel or read poetry. That's not the world I live in, though; and so I'm happy enough with this new balance of things. I'm especially happy that work is going so well. Perhaps I should have joined the gym years ago...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wakes for Terry and Mary

I have details for afternoon wakes and gatherings for my former colleagues, Terry Collits (this Saturday, at the University) and for Mary Dove (Sunday, August 30, in Williamstown). Email me: at sjtriggATunimelbDOTeduDOTau if you'd like the details.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The clink of beans

Not so long ago, I was blogging here, here, here and here about an essay I was writing on stained glass windows in medievalist film. Thanks again to everyone who chimed in with comments and suggestions: many of them found their way into the final essay, which has now been refereed and given the thumbs up by the two readers. That was very quick, wasn't it?

I guess I can now reveal the journal is Screening the Past. I have to get the final version back to the editor by mid-September, and I think they are still planning to publish this special issue on medievalism this year. That's a very fast turnaround. In the final version I'll be adding in a couple of acknowledgements to readers, so do let me know if you would prefer me not to use the name you used when you signed in to my comments box, ok? The final title is "Transparent Walls: Stained Glass and Cinematic Medievalism." I'll post a link when the essay finally appears.

It's always lovely to see one's work published. And in addition to the intellectual and social satisfaction of finding people think one's work is worthy of an audience, there's also the satisfying clink of another bean falling into the jar for one's annual appraisal.

I just had my interview with head of school last week to discuss my performance in 2008 (it had been delayed while I was on leave, and away, and all). Our previous, somewhat impressionistic system has now been replaced by a detailed schema of things you have to do to climb above "satisfactory" and be classed as good, very good or outstanding (in both teaching and research). It's also graded according to where you sit in the hierarchy. It's so detailed you can practically assess yourself.

At my level, I have to keep producing an average of two articles a year over five years to be graded satisfactory, then in a given year, produce more such, plus have a grant, plus a higher degree completion, plus a senior editorship, or win a Nobel prize or something, to reach "outstanding." Which I did.

There is also a little discussion of one's future career plans, etc. — and it's a nice chance to sit down with one's Head and talk, in any case. But there's no doubt it's become as regimented as this to make sure everyone really is producing enough publications to keep them research active. And as we saw last year in my Faculty, if you don't keep those beans falling into the jar, things can become very unpleasant indeed.

Given that the university has now announced there'll be more job cuts across a range of faculties, and given a contentious review of the school of historical studies, and the full-page spread in the Age today on the arts faculty, and Friday night's Stateline coverage, too, my workplace is still pretty much in crisis mode. Sigh. I'm now on long service leave, though, so I'm hardly going in to the office. And no. While I'm going to have a bit of a holiday soon, my days are pretty much the same as when I was on study leave. Lucky I enjoy my research!

Anyway, this will be my third essay to appear this year, which puts me safely over the line in terms of my productivity. Did I mention my other two essays for this year? I don't believe I did.

An essay in antiTHESIS, our wonderful fully refereed postgraduate journal (special issue on Exhibitionism): "Medievalism, the Queen and the Dandy" — Garter stuff, Annie Liebovitz's encounter with the Queen and her Garter robes, and Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson.

An essay written with Tom Prendergast, "The Negative Erotics of Medievalism" in The Post-Historical Middle Ages, edited by Liz Scala and Sylvia Federico.

Of course, what I really want to do is finish this book. Back to it tomorrow. Now, I must hang out the washing, go to the gym (!), go to the Medieval Round Table, then cook dinner and do Italian homework.