Tuesday, September 25, 2007

a long introduction

Well, here goes an attempt at something. I've been watching bloggers like those at Old English In New York and In the Middle with great affection (In the Middle in only the past few months has really provided me with a crucial site for thinking and conecting to interesting thinkers) , and have thought it finally time to pull the strings of an author-function for my own posts.

I figure, this blog here, is about a certain kind of desire for texts themselves, and for texts in languages very few people read--and to be honest, I am still very much learning to read.


Its from the laptop of a Grad Student who is technically an MFA in a final 3rd year of 3 year program, but who is actually a medievalist, and in love with theory. (What does this mean, "in love with theory"? A recent cannidate for a job as an Americanist in my department suggested that the history of theory and its movement is always a history of dissapointment--because theory will never "save us." And, of course it won't. But what will? If we wait with a truly religious messianism within our little anchoritic offices, what would we possibly wait for? I am reminded of a little credo of John D. Caputo--whose commitment to doing theology is not one that, in the end, I can stand behind: he speaks of a desire to move "up from presence to provocation." And, this is exactly what I might hope to happen when Egil Skalligrimson might take notes on Old and Middle English, all stirred up with leftist radical hermeneutics and poetics).

So--by way of introduction, I am trying to figure out what it means to desire a medieval text in a medieval language.


Also by way of introduction: I recently gave a lecture on Beowulf . I am TA-ing for a History of Western Civ 2 (elightenment to cold war) class in my neighboring Hist. department, for a Prof. who is also teaching CIv 1 and wanted someone who had formerly studied the poem in question to lecture on it for her class. As she usually has her TA-s give a lecture, she just swaped me into the Civ one arena for my turn.

This is the first time I was supposed to stand in front of 160 students and "teach"--if thats what we are calling that activity. I hope, really and desperately, that in the end I did "teach." But the upshot of the whole thing was having to somehow work with the mandate of historicizing a text I would much rather treat like a lover (and I think this is a theoretical statement, which is to say a poetic one): being faithful and betraying, singing about and cursing, getting bored with it, and simply drifting off in wonder about it--then of course there is still the activity (of reading) itself. The best moment of the whole lecture--I think--occured when stopped and simply read about 30 lines of the poem. Following Tolkien's old mandate, I read the damn thing as a poem and these students looked up suddenly and were stunned. This, this boring thing they read disparate translations of and would be forced into using as "evidence" for some kind of ill-fated essay written under timed duress on the "Making of the West" (which is the title of their dept.-chosen text)--this was a POEM. And I do not mean that in a historically frozen sense. I mean that they percieved that this was a poem to some other reader too. Perhaps they remained unwares of that final bit, but I think I could see it in their hairs standing on end.

Beowulf turns into a Bomb about to go off in a classroom. A threat from the edge of the development of "Western Civilization" that, when turned loose in a lecture can disturb the bussiness as usual of our dominant pedagogies, the economy of time/episteme, and even the economy of "getting and keeping attention." And when I read a couple words in Anglo-Saxon...

So, perhaps the title of the blog points an interest in a provocation which is is really a hospitality. What would happen if Egil Skallagrimson got ahold of Derrida?

Anyways, welcome to wraetlic.

9 comments:

J J Cohen said...

Welcome, yourself, to the blogosphere.

It's funny, many teachers convince themselves that reading the text aloud is repetitious work that gets in the way of analysis ... when of course that vortex which opens to pull reader and auditors into the work at the moment it becomes resonating words is what it's all about. Nice post.

highlyeccentric said...

But the upshot of the whole thing was having to somehow work with the mandate of historicizing a text I would much rather treat like a lover (and I think this is a theoretical statement, which is to say a poetic one): being faithful and betraying, singing about and cursing, getting bored with it, and simply drifting off in wonder about it

that is an *awesome*, *aweseome* few sentences.

you are going on my list of Hero People.

looking forward to further blogging!

sarah said...

perhaps because of some kind of a particularly silly manifestation of a "student participation" imperative, when stuff needs to get read in my classes I often have students read it. which i know is important, to see the text in the mouths of their peers, or even in their own mouths. but often those mouths don't know what to do with the texts. i want to perform smooth interested reading for them - but more importantly perform the love of the text and the way such a text tastes and feels beautiful against the mouth.

the saddest thing is when they're not interested.

or maybe i'm just not a good enough reader.

Eileen Joy said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Daniel. You're a beautiful writer and a more than welcome addition to the ramparts of our online babel. I love the quote from Caputo about moving from presence to provocation and also your idea of treating a text like "Beowulf" like a lover. Somehow, over the past 6 months or so, thanks to a kind of convergence in the medieval studies blogosphere and other sites, I can sense the beginning of the enamored medieval studies I have been hoping for for a long time (while occasionally thinking I was insane to want it). We need more poets, and lovers, in this profession, so, um, thanks for existing.

dan remein said...

You guys sure know how to make a grad student-blogger neophyte feel good. I hope I can keep up with this!

jjcohen: There is a Prof. by the name of Jonathan Arac at mt institution who advocates close reading with an enthusiasm like none other I know. I owe a lot to him. In a seminar last spring, he must have read for several straight minutes from Moby Dick. Phenomenal.

Sarah: yes--this is the trouble no? when we are SO certain what we have to read is interesting, and for some reason that love is not always "catching." I also love this idea of a text feeling against a mouth. When one reads aloud, the mouth, the device we use for kissing and any number of intimacies "does the talking." Nice phrasing.

highlyeccentric and Eileen: um, thanks.

A ps: I was reading from Liuzza's trans.

meagan said...

as someone writing from the *religious* world (gasp!) this post prompts me to ask about what makes a text sacred...and how readers (performers?) of texts can better read them sacredly... i love love love love love love love love what sarah says about student participation, seeing the text in the mouth of thier peers, or in their own mouths being so important, but feeling like maybe i can read it better somehow, liking the way it feels in my mouth. i feel like that a lot about church things...who gets to read or speak (in church, if you will) and why is a huge concern i have as a(future) clergy person.

anyhow, i hope you don't mind this perspective. this is my first interaction in the middle ages/queer theroy/old english/fr. blogosphere, although i am familiar with our "beautiful" dan remein.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

Dan -- I found your blog a few nights ago, but am only just now getting to add my welcome to those that have already been said, here and elsewhere.

I love what you write here, about being an MFA

...who is actually a medievalist, and in love with theory. (What does this mean, "in love with theory"? A recent cannidate for a job as an Americanist in my department suggested that the history of theory and its movement is always a history of dissapointment--because theory will never "save us." And, of course it won't. But what will? If we wait with a truly religious messianism within our little anchoritic offices, what would we possibly wait for?...

I was saying to a friend the other day that "my desire for theory runs deep" but that I didn't know why -- because of course theory doesn't "save us." I wonder though, if there isn't a way to make theory more than just an attempt to couch in normative language a way of seeing the world Otherwise...I just can't help feeling like we don't have the language yet for what we need.

All that's to say: I think your trajectory of questioning -- as you put it, ...trying to figure out what it means to desire a medieval text in a medieval language. -- is something I am looking forward to following in these pages.

Karma said...

"these students looked up suddenly and were stunned."

Yes!

I love your unapologetic love of these texts and I love the way you write about them. Glad to see you in blogland.

Anonymous said...

Hi, This is Amana, It is very nice blog. You're a beautiful writer and a more than welcome addition to the ramparts of our online babel. I love the quote from Caputo about moving from presence to provocation and also your idea of treating a text like "Beowulf" like a lover.

regards,
Amana
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