One thing that I’m always doing in classes like this is putting cultural shifts/technologies/etc. into conversation with the world I live in, as close to the immediate present as possible. In studying the way literature changed with the introduction of things like the spread of Catholicism/Roman conquest/the printing press, I am also thinking about how literature is changing with emerging technologies today. The shift to digital writing, for example, really calls into question what literary studies will become in the future. Today we study religious texts, fiction, biographies, and political treatises as “literature”, because we tend to think of these things as primary actors/products of past cultures. What about when future generations try to understand our current culture? Will they look to the same things as our primary “texts”, or will they refer to websites, graphs, television, and video games? What’s the difference between a story-driven video game and a novel? Don’t both carry the influence and words of the writer? If movies and video games will not be incorporated into “literature” in the future, there will certainly have to be a similar category for them.
Now think about letters, memoirs, and diaries we study: the letters of Sigmund Freud or James Joyce or whoever else. What do people currently tend to use to write down their thoughts? Texts, facebook, twitter? Will future generations be given access to all of the things we posted throughout our lives? Imagine being able to go back and read through Abraham Lincoln’s day-to-day Facebook posts. It could potentially change how we looked at his decisions and would certainly give insight into who he spent his time with, how his ideals formed and changed, and what the world looked like through his eyes. We live on the verge of a major change in how literature/history will be studied, like the people living during the time of the printing press. We are among the first people using a website like this to do our homework. That’s going to change things.
This is a major concern I have had as someone who writes fiction. Technology has certainly accelerated our “pace,” as far as information goes. It would seem that speed and brevity have been elevated as the primary mediums worthy of our peers’ attention. But then I consider things like the infamous “Facebook rant,” which many will dismiss but many others still will take the time to see that this person has to say, especially if it’s relevant to current issues. In Theories of Teaching Writing, we learn a few such theories relate to cultural studies, expressionism, and rhetoric- each of which people cater to in their Facebook posts. They certainly don’t intend to fit these areas, and yet they don’t fail to do so, as most posts provide commentary on current cultural issues, express the user’s feelings, or pose an argument… sometimes all of these! In comparing these types of texts to the Medieval manuscripts we study, the social media texts, at least the ones which don’t place a limit on “characters,” provide a forum that allows for “completion” in the sense that multiple drafts aren’t necessary- you can just delete what you don’t want to “publish.” So in way, some facets of fiction authorship and readership are still preserved in this new world of publishing, authors will still take time to post a final product, and many more readers are willing to read through long posts so long as their interest is incited.
This is not academic at all.
Sorry but I found these too hilarious not to share (Medieval Paintings that Perfectly Summarize Life in your 20’s).
Disclaimer: vulgar, mischievous humor. I’m pretty sure at least 40% of these aren’t even medieval. Still funny though.
I’m so glad I didn’t see this when you first posted this, because I definitely needed to see this now that I am under the stress of midterms. I probably shouldn’t have opened during my class, because it was so funny I had to keep myself from laughing! I absolutely loved this.
I love seeing modern day society juxtaposed with medieval society. I think we have a habit of assuming medieval society was much more refined and proper, because they lived in a time more religiously focused than we do. Their artwork and texts are heavily influenced by their religious beliefs, but society definitely wasn’t completely moral. I think that because they didn’t have the means of documentation that we do, there is a lot of immorality and rebellious behavior that goes undocumented or overlooked. Although, the commentary on these images are completely satirical, it’s refreshing to see a potential commonality between their society and ours.
I’m glad this made you laugh. It was way too good to pass up, if you ask me.
Though I agree with your sentiment about the commonality between our society and theirs, I’d like to share my general impression of “medieval times” before finally being able to explore the era in more depth on a collegiate level. Basically, I always felt the opposite: that the “modern times” in which we live offer top-of-the-line technology and lavish living that people in the middle ages couldn’t have possibly been advanced/intelligent/healthy enough to obtain. It was that sort of self-serving perspective I always held thanks to cartoons and other exaggerated renditions of history. When I thought “medieval,” I thought archetypal knight figures, legs o’mutton, and disease. Disjointed as those perceptions may be, it’s funny to me now that those images were what came to mind when I thought of a time period I knew virtually nothing about. Thankfully, I now have a few more sophisticated associations with the (actually very pivotal) medieval era. I think a big part of getting to know a time period is getting cozy with its art and literature – something for which this class is clearly very useful.
First of all, congratulations. I was laughing way too hard at these. Second, these pictures still made me think about what we’re learning in this class. The ridiculous commentary on each brought life to pictures that have always seemed sort of lifeless and alien. Obviously they’re totally out of context, but something about combining the new concept of memes and much older mediums for depicting the world seemed… relevant. Both the paintings and today’s meme are a sort of commentary on how people view the world. Neither are a perfect way to capture our mentalities, but they both say something about our world views. Memes tend to glorify the everyday quirks of life and are often highly contextual. This means that if future generations find them and try to learn about us through them they may have a hard time understanding why they were so popular. On the other hand, they could work as particularly helpful tools because researchers would have to figure out the context for them. For example:
If you get it and laughed, awesome. If you don’t get it, you are now taking on a similar situation to what future researchers will be taking on. You might start by googling “server.” The first definitions that popped up on my screen talked about computer servers- devices that store massive amounts of digital data- but unless you read specifically about gaming servers you probably still didn’t pick up on the context of this meme. Gaming “servers” refer both to the data storage and to different “worlds” in which online gamers meet up and play together. Different servers often have different rules and purposes created by the server owner so that, while people are still playing the same “game”, they are often experiencing entirely different things. Some may be peacefully building things together. Some may be locked in a huge battle. Still others use games like Minecraft for architectural design and project planning.
The whole point of this is just to discuss what happens when someone tries to understand the past through its remains. We are doing the same thing with Medieval manuscripts. We are given words on a page and are trying to get a glimpse of what those words (and even the page/book/etc. itself) would have meant to people at the time. We may find words that we don’t think are particularly relevant, but that single word could have been a crucial piece of the writing when it first became available.
If you are like me; then you too are having a pretty hard time pronouncing all of these Middle English words. I found this one channel on YouTube (very academic) by “thatoneguyinlitclass” and his videos are all tutorials on how to pronounce/interpret Middle English phrases and literature. Here is the link to the first video:
It’s only a few minutes long and it’s pretty entertaining. By video four, he’s teaching you how to make sense of a poem based on context. Of course, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of everything this guy says; but it seems consistent with what we have been learning in class and in our homework assignments. So check it out and please let me know if you find any errors. Thanks!
This may seem random given the context of what we’ve been discussing here, but I found the topic of my group’s salon this past week pretty interesting. It’s not really ‘meaty’ enough for a blog post, but I wanted to mention it all the same. We talked about how images and symbols are perceived very differently today than in the medieval period. We agreed that visual art especially (which is what many manuscripts seem to have been classified as) is met with a sort of reverence today that would have been much less valuable then – especially in the Catholic church, an entity that scorned anything even remotely “distracting” from God and the worship of him. Surely many people appreciated art in the middle ages, but I’m fairly certain that there was no such thing as an art gallery or the nuanced subcategories of art as a discipline that we have today. If galleries did exist, I would be willing to bet that the church tried on more than one occasion to shut them down. As a society, we have come to accept visual creations as noble and beautiful parts of culture that not only capture our attention but help us learn new things about the world – things that words and speech alone cannot deliver to us.
I’m a little obsessed with the power of the illustrator after reading today’s OUMEM (p. 172-189). As I’ll discuss further with the regular blog post, I was particularly struck with the influence the images have depending on how Gawain and the Green Knight are portrayed. Outside of my class work, I was recently investigating a phenomenon in the “Young Adult” literary community. As I’m sure you know, movies based on YA books are incredibly popular right now. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc. have been huge money makers in the past few years. So far film companies have picked up these series only after they’ve been completed and tried to work out a visual representation of them. I’m starting to see, however, film companies picking up series that have not yet been completed.
George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, while not exactly “YA”, is a good example. With only 5/7 books in his series published, HBO has already passed the point where the books left off. They are left with a few options. 1) Stop and wait for Martin to finish his book series (not really an option if they want to keep cashing in on the momentum they’ve built), 2) Use what they know and create their own version of the Game of Thrones world, possibly diverging from the path Martin will take in his books and end up with different deaths, marriages, offspring, and an entirely different Westeros itself, or 3) Pressure Martin into quickly giving the details of the upcoming books and piece together an ending from that. No matter what HBO decides to do, they will have an incredible impact on how Martin finishes his series. Instead of the images (television in this case) being impacted by the work, the work here is being impacted by the imagery. Martin cannot be isolated from the knowledge that everything he writes will be translated onto a screen. His first 5 novels were written to be just that- novels. Whatever comes next will have a hybrid purpose as novels and television material.
Going back to YA literature, I recently investigated what I found to be an extreme case of this phenomenon. One of the latest in a string of YA dystopian novels is “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard. Aveyard’s adventure into writing is as follows according to deadline.com:
“Aveyard graduated from USC’s undergraduate screenwriting program last year and had a general meeting with Benderspink at the USC pitchfest. They suggested she writer her idea as a book. Benderspink has worked closely with New York-based New Leaf Literary & Media and its head of film and TV, Pouya Shahbazian, over the past few years. When Aveyard completed her first manuscript, Benderspink gave a first look to Shahbazian and the team at New Leaf, who signed her and ended up obtaining her a major pre-empt at HarperCollins. Suzie Townsend of New Leaf brokered the deal with Harper, which was mid-six figures.”
Full article: http://deadline.com/2013/05/universal-acquires-victoria-aveyard-novel-red-queen-497858/
As you can see, the film industry jumped on Aveyard’s idea before her books were ever even published. I had the chance to interview her late last year, and she admitted that she was not an integral part of the film making process. Though occasionally called in for advice, Aveyard said that she would not likely contribute to the writing of the film itself. This is imagery dominating writing. I’m not here to judge quality or value, but I definitely believe that this will alter the type of material that is produced. When I read “Red Queen”, I was able to easily pick out the combination of tropes that seemed to be taken from other dystopian blockbuster hits, as well as other major movies popular with YA moviegoers (such as those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Here’s a description of the Heroine:
Brown haired teenage girl
Part of a love triangle between rebellious guy and proper guy
Little sister that is the “perfect” child in the family
Unique combination of abilities
Quickly escalates from lowest class to celebrity/savior
Rebels against oppressive government
Government and anti-government organizations attempt to use her for their purposes
The rest of the book contained many repeated tropes as well. In my opinion, this suggests a heavy influence of film companies (whether directly or indirectly) on this author. Aveyard must now write with her upcoming films in mind. She now fills a strange inverse role to authors of the past, and may write with her film audience as her primary audience instead of her readers. Whether this trend will continue or not probably depends the most on whether more money is made through movies or books.
You should be able to catch the rest of the interview here:
I can definitely sympathize with your view on the power of illustration or imagery in general over the written word. Of course, this isn’t always the case (take the Bible, for example – it remains a treasured form of those stories despite numerous visual art, film and even TV adaptations). However, it seems to me that visual representations of both the written word and abstract ideas generally foster more of a collectively “affective” response. By this I just mean emotional, relatable feelings toward the work. It’s something we can see and experience. If you’ve ever taken a (college level) film class you’ll know how much detailed control directors and cinematographers have on the overall visual experience of the viewers. They want to create moods and tell a narrative through what I would probably deem a much more personal and realistic medium. I will (of course) always be a bigger book fan, but those without an affinity for or love of words just can’t get into the written (and in most cases original) story the way they can the motion picture.
I guess, then, the same sort of binary existed in the Middle Ages: those who love the traditional written word and have the means to fully appreciate it and those who don’t have the faculties or are just more affected by a powerful image. I’d venture to say most of us fall into the latter camp.
Thus far in the semester we have spent a lot of time looking at medieval manuscripts. We’ve discussed the different looks of manuscripts based on a scribe’s resources, level of ability, etc. Our latest reading in the OUMEM drew our attention to the importance of illustrations in manuscripts. Today, Middle English manuscripts seem rather “ancient” to us and in an age of great technology, the world is growing increasingly toward digital story forms rather than handwritten or even printed forms.
A friend shared this video on Facebook, and although it doesn’t directly relate to manuscripts, it reminded me of the art of handwriting, a skill that was no doubt important for medieval scribes. So, I thought I would share! It is really interesting and it served to remind me that penmanship is not a dead art form.
Hey, Miller – I don’t think you included the link to the video!
Apart from the blog itself, I find this hive mind space pretty useful for tossing up ideas that haven’t really been explored too deeply or developed fully. Here, I think I’ll mainly be coming up with things pertinent to my group’s weekly salon meetings and other outside-the-classroom items (like, in this case, last week’s meeting with the special collections archivist).
As I just hinted, I want to point out a few things that I learned from our meeting with the special collections archivist last week and what was subsequently brought up at my group’s salon meeting the next day. I find it pretty cool that the College is in possession of a small collection of these extremely old materials. We may not be a college like Oxford or have any particularly special regional ties to any of the major manuscripts, but the fact that we do have some (relatively new, even) manuscripts is remarkable. The two pieces that left me most intrigued were the enlarged, illuminated musical score and the all-Latin piece on the back right table, heavily perforated with bookworm-holes and singed with what appeared to be extreme heat or flame. The musical piece was interesting to me because 1) it was made of traditional vellum like many of the ME manuscripts we’re observing in class would have been 2) it gave us a chance to see the differences in what I assumed to be a long-established musical language and 3) because of its timeless practicality. The piece’s vellum substrate was awesome to witness in person; the archivist pointed out its unique texture and pores (ew!). She said it is likely a sheep or pig skin. The musical notes themselves were blocky and alien to our modern eyes – yet still bearing rough resemblance to the rounded symbols we use today. Finally, I came to understand why exactly the piece was so large. The archivist explained that it represented a church hymn or similar type of composition made specifically for a large audience or group. She said they would have had to see the piece firsthand from a distance – someone leading the songs would have had to hold it up for everyone else. In modern churches, group songs are still “a thing.” The only difference is we can now afford to mass-produce copies of works and can therefore furnish each pew with several copies of a hymnal book so no one really needs to look up from their lap to follow along. Even if each person doesn’t have a book, many churches surely make use of projectors these days, which are really just modern versions of the vellum sheet. The end result is the same; the means are what have evolved. In addition, the all-Latin bound book I mentioned proved to me that bookworms really do exist, grossly enough. It makes me wonder if they are still much of a problem today since our printing practice has become more sophisticated and our books are housed in more protective environments. Either way, it is neat to think about the imperfect, one-of-a-kind books of yesterday and how they contrast with our modern, mass-produced “clone” books whose crisp brand new smells we love so much. I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to smell the worm-holey book.
Amanda, I am ashamed of myself for not checking out our Special Collections already. I would definitely be interested to see the entirely of what they have to offer. With that said, I am sort of conflicted in how I compare the physical originality of these old manuscripts to today’s mass-produced texts. On one hand, these singularly constructed pieces have a natural uniqueness quality to them, their components (animal skin and whatnot), illustrative style and script aesthetic make these texts special simply by necessity; they are made from the materials available and are written/drawn by individuals who would mostly be unable to duplicate even their own work. That’s cool, and certainly not a move modern publishers would make a move on. However, on the other hand, to quote you, we have definitely “evolved” and can do whatever works within the resources and perspective of the publisher. This can be an exciting time, as film and television have forced us to completely rethink how we consume literature. So why not rethink how we consumed novels, short stories, poetry, comp, etc? We have the technology and accumulative culture to do some exciting things, it will just take the publisher who is willing to go out on a limb.
I was really struck by the language in Passus 18 of “Piers Plowman.” Initally, I was reminded of the poem, “The Wander,” that I read in an English class a few years ago. The opening lines of the poem, “With wool shirt and feet wet…/ Like a reckeless man who cares little about hardship./ And I wandered like a drifter my entire life…” created images of bleak wildness in my head. The tone though changes quickly, returning to the semi-scriptual rhetoric that I encountered in other portions of Piers Plowman: “‘…Death says he shall destroy and bring down/ All that live or look in land or in water…'” For me, the most fascinating part of this transition was the instant associations and images conjured up in my own mind. Intially, the language of Passus 18 had me imagining a “Beowulf” type of setting, yet once I started encountering the Biblical references (and especially the portions that mention Jesus in Medieval terms as a “knight on his way to be dubbed”), my brain jumped a couple-hundred years, and I quickly found myself reading Passus 18 with the same frame/context/structure that I had been subconciously using earlier in the week. I’m sure you could make all sorts of conclusions from this simple observation, but I think it is a testimate to how powerful my own personal ideas/incomplete understandings of history influence texts I do not know too much about.
I was really interested in doing a little more research on the Seven Deadly Sins after last class. For some reason, I’ve always been really drawn to them– I guess the point of the sins is that they’re seductive in a way and lead us away from the right path.
Anywho, I found this really interesting page on a website (http://www.deadlysins.com/modern-social-sins) that cites a newsletter from the Vatican that lists seven modern social sins. Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti mentions in the newsletter that the new sins are associated with “inevitable globalization” and is supposed to be the Pope’s way of confronting “moral equivocation in a secular society”.
The list is as follows:
destroying the environment
immoral scientific experimentation
violation of the fundamental rights of human nature
Reading about Contrafacta (lyrics that took their opening lines and mousic from known models and changed the theme, often from secular-religious or religious-secular) in the Harley 2253 manuscript really reminded me of music today. I feel like rap artists always at least mention Biblical references in songs, if not manipulate entire short quotes to fit the theme of the song; therefore changing the lines from religious to secular, like the mirrored poems in Harley mentioned on page 47 of the OUMEM. For example, in Kanye West’s song “Mercy” he raps, “Well, it is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth. It is a weeping and a mourning and a gnashing of teeth,” which directly refers to Matthew 13:42, which describes the plight of those sent to hell. Or in 2Pac’s “So Many Tears” he raps, “Though I walk through the valley of death / I shed so many tears / If I should die before I wake / Please God walk with me,” which is recognizably a reference/modification of the well known Psalm 23. Again, these artist took lines from the Bible and used theme to support the themes of their songs, changing them from religious to more secular.
As we were discussing Piers Plowman in class, I realized how foreign the doctrines of Roman Catholicism are to many modern readers. The US now is far more familiar with Protestantism- although I think there are far more similarities between these two branches of Christianity than most people realize. Growing up, my family was very Catholic and so I came to understand Catholicism like the back of my hand. Of course, I’m not trying to promote or debunk any particular religion (I rather enjoy the variety of religions that we have in this world and think that each has its own merits). With that being said, I realize that Catholicism is complicated and cryptic to non-Catholics today. I just wanted to explain a few Catholic ideas that are present in Piers Plowman that I think are often misunderstood. (Disclaimer: the following explains Catholic ideologies from a Catholic point of view and does not reflect the personal beliefs of the blogger.)
1. The Catholic church is very centralized: everyone submits to God but the Pope is in charge of the cardinals, who are in charge of the bishops, who are in charge of the priests, who are in charge of the deacons, and so on. Protestants disliked this centralization and its power and this is one of the main reasons why Protestantism came about.
2. Confession: You enter this tiny, closet-sized room and a priest is (normally) partially hidden from view behind a screen. You go through a ritualistic set of prayers and confess the sins that burden you to the priest. The priest is held to complete confidentiality (although if you confess to a murder or something he will probably order you to turn yourself in before you can be absolved). He will give you a blessing and give you a small penance (i.e. say five Hail Marys, do something kind for your little sister, etc.) in order to redeem your sin. Like Dr. Seaman explained in class, the guilt/burden of the sin is relieved through confession; the sin is absolved through penance. Catholics are supposed to partake in this sacrament every few months to a year.
3. Getting into Heaven by “leading a good life”- From what I understand, Protestants believe that you can get to Heaven by faith alone (and that good works naturally follow because of one’s faith). Catholics believe that a combination of faith and good works gets you into Heaven; so therefore, in order to “lead a good life”, one must naturally have faith as an accompaniment. (Even though this is one of the major discrepancies between Protestantism and Catholicism, they sound pretty similar to me).
4. The Seven Sacraments- ceremonies intended to bring one closer to God.
1. Baptism- the washing away of Original Sin
2. Eucharist/Communion- When a person is old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong (usually about age seven), he/she is allowed to partake in communion. This is a ceremony that takes place in mass where Catholics reenact The Last Supper by eating the flesh (bread) and drinking the blood (wine) of Christ. One is not allowed to partake in the Eucharist if he/she is not a member of the Catholic church or has committed a mortal sin without confessing to the priest.
3. Reconciliation- Confession and penance, as explained above.
4. Confirmation- ceremony where one officially becomes a member of the Catholic church (for kids growing up Catholic, this takes place in eighth grade).
5. Matrimony- marriage. Self-explanatory.
6. Holy Orders- the ordaining of a priest.
7. Anointing of the Sick- a final blessing to the soul of a dying Catholic.
Obviously, Piers Plowman is a proto-protestant text but it relies on Catholic doctrines to make its story. I hope this helps you make some sense of the religious context in this poem!
I found this super helpful, especially coming from a peer who grew up Catholic. Obviously I know you can’t speak for your entire church, but it definitely fleshed out some of the vague understandings I previously had. Much appreciated.
I found such a fantastic section in today’s reading of OUMEM, on page 44. It says: “Now, paleological dating is not an exact science: one can be fooled by, for instance, an older scribe who has not kept up to date with changes in script, or a young scribe trained by an older one in some remote area, or a scribe who is simply albeit awkwardly imitating an older hand.”
The principle that really grabbed me here is that writers (primary media of their day) represent a huge range of experiences and situations. One of the worst things we can do when we look at a text is to say “This is the way writing was done during ___ time period” or “This is how people thought back then.” While it does represent at least someone, applying these impressions to an entire culture impedes us from a fuller understanding of its people. I loved the idea that in some places certain literary traditions lasted longer than in others, the idea that the world at this time was full of a huge variety of people doing things in all sorts of different ways.
I thought about putting this up as my regular blog post, but I wanted a little more freedom to voice my personal opinion. I often find myself annoyed at the arrogance experts, especially when it comes to history, science, and religion. When something is presented to me as a concrete fact with no room for alternative explanations, I am skeptical. In my mind there is always room for more to any given story or fact. That’s not to say I don’t find these areas useful, or that they do not offer valuable insights to us, it’s just that I haven’t found life to consist of definite explanations. Take our views of “winning” a war, for example. If one side makes another side return home, or wipes out an enemy, we say that side “won.” But the people involved may not experience any sense of accomplishment or even benefited from this victory. Did the people who died fighting for the winning side win? Did their families? What if they didn’t even believe in the cause they fought for?
What I’m getting at here is that there is a whole approach to research that wants to slap labels on everything, and that can really lead to some misinformation. Going back to the OUMEM quote, we can see the potential for misunderstanding the time period in which something was written. A researcher could very easily look at something written by “an older scribe who has not kept up to date with changes in script” and date it much earlier than it really was. Why is this important? Off the top of my head I can think of several reasons:
1. The idea that all writing of a time period held to the same conventions distances us from the diversity present during that time. It bars us from a closer shared experience with the text and its original readers.
2. Further study could reveal motives for continuing certain literary traditions, such as an affinity for (or repulsion to) change or another language.
3. The more quickly we come to a judgment about a text, the less time we spend with it and the less we can learn from it.
I’m actually really glad someone brought this up. It’s an idea I have been grappling with for quite some time: the notion that scholars, analysts, critics, and anyone else with a say in official academic discourse have this immense power over the past and its people. I think most of us as students can agree that interpretation is a necessary part of making sense of history and the products it brings forth, but at the same time it is a slippery slope. We are all guilty of accidentally oversimplifying quite complex matters in order to try and relate it to the things with which we are familiar now – but what’s the alternative? I feel that as intelligent people who have been exposed to many different perspectives, we understand how to exercise a certain degree of empathy. We are all able to envision what life might have been like for an African American woman writing poetry in the Civil War era or an English scribe experimenting with a new and evolving literary language. But I believe that it is also in our nature (though not entirely inexcusable) to overlook some situational details that might have been lost in translation or simply forgotten through time. I, too, am skeptical of “experts” at times, but I try to remind myself that (just like us) they’re trying to make sense of something from the distant past in the present. Unfortunately, I think a little bit of generalizing might be inevitable in order for us to get a feel for the most popular modes of the time. I’m happy that in this class we’ve had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into and look a little closer at a period of time that is so often misunderstood and oversimplified. I’ve learned things that ultimately have debunked my previous view of the Middle Ages from – like you said – experiencing texts and images that work against the general feel and purpose most evident at the time. So, again, thanks for bringing this up! It’s an important thing to consider as we are being fed so much historical information.
Let’s talk a little about Kanye West and Middle English manuscripts. Last class we briefly discussed the “compiler’s” role in recombining stories in order to collect a working product. It’s interesting to me how manuscripts could be reordered and expended upon in a way that seems fairly business-minded, maintaining compilatio as a primary element in these productions.
Strangely enough, it seems our friendly neighborhood rapper Kanye West is also privy to compilatio’s effects on the consumer experience. Just two weeks before dropping his new album The Life of Pablo, Kanye released an initial track list
(http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/kanye-west-reveals-swish-track-list-20160125). Here, we see the album is kicked off with “Nina Chop,” a track which did not make the final edition released on Tidal, an edition that also splits “Father Stretch My Hands” into two parts, adds an additional eight tracks, completely remakes “Wolves” (okay, it was destroyed), and reorders the final five tracks. After this initial list, Kanye tweeted 3 more versions of the tracklist. He seems to take the “compiler” role seriously here, and I can see why.
I don’t know what “Nina Chop” sounds like but “Ultra Light Beams” (http://www.gossipcop.com/kanye-west-snl-ultra-light-beams-video-saturday-night-live-watch-performance/) is the perfect gospel jam to reacquaint us with the soul-sound Kanye before both parts of “Father Stretch My Hands” move us toward the Kanye we have come to know- lyrical content and dissonant sounds flying off the rails. By the album’s end, Kanye’s use of compilatio brings an ominous aura to the collection’s compilatio which can be best described as disjoint, paranoid, and overall brilliant. Be wary, though, the changes may not be done. Kanye has yet to release the album for purchase, so more setting-work may be on its way.
After seeing Chaucer Doth Tweet in class on Tuesday, I did some research and Geoffry Chaucer Hath a Blog too!! This Facebook page is similar to the Twitter page Professor Seaman showed us in class. When scrolling through, my favorite was this post where Chaucer gives us some love advice. I read some Chaucer in my English 201 class but it was in modern translation. Having worked with some Middle English in this class, I have a better appreciation for the language and I was surprised by how much of the Middle English I could actually understand! I know we haven’t gotten to Chaucer yet in 361, but my understanding of Chaucer from 201 is that his stories had a lot of humor and wit. I think that this modern day rendition on Chaucer’s voice is great and really embodies the subtle and witty humor of the late 14th century writer. I think it’s pretty impressive how certain comedy never goes out of style.
Geoffry Chaucer Hath A Blog
Chaucer’s Advice on Love
In regards to reading the texts for class in Middle English, I have found it very helpful to try verbalizing the language (as awful as my attempts may sound). Reading them aloud creates a rhythm to the text and helps me to be more aware of repetitive words, which I can then find a contextual meaning for.
I had a great idea recently, which was to look up videos of more qualified individuals reading the text aloud and following along in my book. It kind of helps to reinforce my familiarity with the words hearing them and seeing them at the same time.
Here’s an example, the Prologue of Piers Plowman (A Text): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-jHnU5FaCc
This was super helpful. I never thought to look on YouTube for a reading of Piers Plowman. It definitely helps me get the rhythmic feel of the text, but it’s still hard to comprehend what she is saying just by looking. I guess our preconceived ideas surrounding how words sound based on our present day understanding of pronunciation influence how I read Piers Plowman. It’s almost like Piers Plowman’s textual appearance and pronunciation are two separate languages.
So I found another ~very applicable~ Buzzfeed article. This time, though, it has to do with actual medieval manuscripts. Even if you learn nothing special from this link, I promise it will at least make you smile (especially if you have a cat).
I’m currently taking this class alongside Gothic Literature and a poetry class, and I find the ideas of the three merging as I do my various projects. I didn’t really realize this was the case until I came up with this poem as one of my assignments:
I wore a suit to Arthur’s Court
And ducked the gaze of Guinevere
I challenged Gawain to a joust
Before the Table, all to hear
Lancelot unsheathed his sword
And every knight their weapons drew
But Gawain merely fixed his eye
Upon my readied pen and blew
A final kiss to lords and ladies
Gathered in the stone court room.
Pen and sword- a frightful row
Did cause among the betting few
As armor donned and tie adjusted
We stood as foes and brothers, too
I with ironed pants and jacket
He with iron plated shoes
The trumpet blast near knocked us back
So urgent did its blower blow
But in a flash we rushed and clashed
Our chosen weapons with our foe
Merlin watched with blue-grey eyes
And Morgan held her baited breath
As sword and pen their death knells rang
Between myself and warrior blessed
But steel matched not my venom ink
I saw his eyes grow wide with fear
Through steel and man my weapon tore,
Upon my suit a nasty smear
Of blood and ink and careless death
A silent protest to my sin
Within that smear the echoes mourned
The stories silenced by my pen.
Aside from the appearances that I almost definitely took from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I feel like the underlying message that came out was also inspired by our discussions in this class. I’ve been mulling over just how much influence the scribe, original author, and illustrator have on the meaning we draw from the literature we read. It’s become evident to me that each of these people can really damage the intended meaning of stories by leaving out details, emphasizing their own values, etc. I don’t know that we can avoid some of that bleeding in, but I think it’s important that we are, at least, aware of these shifts in meaning/purpose.
Now, now. The whole point of these hive mind posts is to generate important discussion about topics and issues that don’t necessarily arise in the more narrowly focused space of the regular blog posts. So, job well done!
Thanks! I actually really enjoyed the points that came from this, I just thought it was funny.
I’m midway through today’s reading (second half of Sir Degrevant) and I just want to talk about an awesome scene that was entirely too short for me. In lines 1617-1664 Degrevant and his squire really pull off one of the craziest scenes of the poem so far. Here’s are the lines for reference:
Syre Degrivaunt at evenelyghth
Armede hym and hys knyghth,
And toke on privayly for syghth
Two gownes of grene.
Nothur schelde ne spere,
Ne no wepen of werre,
Bot twey swerdus thei berre
Of Florence ful kene.
Whan thei come to the slac
The bolde buschement brac,
Stoute opon stedus bac,
Armede ful clene.
Syre Degrivaunt, ys nat to layn,
Blyve hys swerde had ydrayn.
He that come formast was slayn
In the schaw schene.
Whan thei Syr Degrivaunt mett
Sevene sperus on hym ysett,
Evene in hys bassonett,
Brasten a two;
Some bare hym thorw the gown,
Some brast on hys haberjown.
Hys sqwyer was born down,
Hys swerd cast hym fro.
Then Syre Degrivaunt lyghth,
And rescowede hys knyghth,
And cryed to hym an hyghth:
“Why wolt thou lyen so?”
The beste stedes that thei hade
By the scholders he them schrade.
He was never so hard ystade,
For wele ne for wo.
The styward, Syre Eymere,
Com a lytyl to nere:
Hys hede by the coler
He kerves away.
The body syttys opon the hors,
Hyt was uncomely to the cors.
The stede stert over a fosse
And strykys astray.
Y wyst never how hyt ferde:
He betus hom fast to the erthe;
With hys twohonde swerde
He made swych paye
That syxty lay on the feld,
Bothe with sper and with scheld,
That never wepen myghth weld
Sen that ylke day.
Recap: Degrevant and his squire just went out alone at night with no armor on (wearing green gowns instead) and just a sword for each of them. They were ambushed by armed men and a skilled knight, but these two dudes just slew over sixty of them and were so dangerous they made the rest of them run away. Degrevant isn’t just a top fighter- he’s nearing inhuman. He’s like a super hero that doesn’t avoid slaying his opponents. This scene made me think of two other stories/legends- the first being David’s mighty men from the Old Testament (the closest thing to biblical super heroes I’ve found). These guys were famous for similar feats- destroying huge opponents or armies by themselves. Or, if you want an example from our own lifetimes, he’s like a protagonist from Assassins Creed. For reference, here is what I saw as this scene progressed: https://youtu.be/HMsbMK9Odoc?t=55s . Whether this is how readers would have imagined the scene going down or not, it was crazy how the story exploded to life in my head once I really put myself into it.
This may seem way out in left field, but I thought it would be an interesting topic to at least touch on.
I’m not sure why, but I am always intrigued with the “supporting” characters in stories (films, poems, etc). Often, they play subtle but important roles in terms of highlighting/undermining traits of a main character or communicating something to the audience that might not be as effective if explored or mentioned directly in the work. In Sir Degrevant, I thought Melidor’s nameless maid offered the audience a crucial appraisal of the knight as he appears to others (and not just the way he is presented to us by the narrator, even if the maid’s description perfectly parallels that). Basically, she represents the truth of what we know about Sir Degrevant; he is honorable, reasonable, and a perfect suitor for Melidor. The maid’s advocacy of the knight serves to bolster his reputation and, by the end of the poem, justify his victory to Melidor. It is odd but not entirely surprising to me that such an influential female character is without a name.
In Wuthering Heights (the novel), Nelly Dean is a similarly under-appreciated female character with quite a bit of influence on the story’s main characters.
I notice this sort of thing in film, too. I recently watched Shane – a 1953 existential western – for my film class and a child plays that mediator role as the plot unfolds. The child (little Joey, for those who might have seen this film) is constantly asking questions and raising points that the audience is thinking, but that no one in the film itself is saying. It is interesting to me that the examples that come to mind for me are all either women or children and that this was “a thing” in medieval literature.
Since no one has posted anything here in about a month (at least from what the blog is showing me), I thought I’d jump in and just share an interesting thought brought up in my group’s most recent salon meeting.
Thomas originally proposed the idea that, in the same way manuscripts were viewed in the Medieval Period as primary texts and their annotators as interpreters/guides, social media for us today can be considered a primary medium for digital annotations of social and political “texts.” I found this concept quite interesting and wanted to know what everyone else thought about it. For me, the topic raises more questions than it answers (but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Some of the questions I thought of include: will the social media platform survive as a significant medium for modern “marginalia”? If so, how will readers in the future interpret our “annotations” such as political Facebook comment battles or the ways we react to others’ posted content? In what ways will it be preserved for future readers? Will this vast movement toward the digital harm efforts of preservation in terms of annotated texts? What sorts of concrete symbols will future readers have of our texts aside from physical copies of books?
This can be pretty terrifying if you think about it, especially your last question about “concrete symbols.” I feel like nearly everything is being stored digitally (a phenomenon that happened in my own life time)- less photo albums, more Facebook albums. Less printed research, more file submissions. Less diaries, more tweets. Less cash, more numbers on a bank website. We really seem to run the risk of having a huge amount of our primary texts wiped out if something were to happen to our collective digital storage or power structure. What would we be left with? The truth is we still have tons of books everywhere, but I guess the question then would be how accurately those books would represent our current conversations and culture. Have you ever read a book about social media? One about Millennials? The ones I’ve seen provide a very different view of my world than the one I experience. I wonder if that’s how a Medieval person would see our class and our studies, if they would be surprised at what we thought their world was like.
This is great! Your comment about the way Medieval people might view our course (if it were possible, of course) especially resonated with me. I often think that inevitably through time original meaning is muddied, changed, and/or just simply misinterpreted. Everyone knows that this is the way things go, though. Evolution is necessary for continuation of existence (I’m speaking very broadly, here) and I suppose the same applies to audience and annotator meaning-making. Would Medieval folk like Will Langland – a big proponent of social authorship – be appreciative of our always changing, historically- but also socially- and politcally-based interpretations? I mean, the whole concept of social authorship seems to celebrate human variety of background, social status, and scholarly orientation. Some reader/annotators loved the structure of narrative while some just really wanted to get to the “meat” of the piece’s allegory. Isn’t a similar thing happening today? We all come from different religious and social backgrounds and so have different interpretations and attitudes that we bring to the table. On the flip side, though, I can definitely imagine figures like Julian of Norwich chastising modern readers for not being able to completely immerse ourselves into/not “getting” the divine and affective purpose of her Revelations/Showings.
Translation of objects?
As always, I’m reaching here, but I wanted to share an experience I had that seemed loosely relevant. I work as a personal assistant to a family downtown, and they’re sort of Charleston historian types. They have a collection of cannonballs and old maps and all sorts of things that they’ve dug up in their yard since moving here in the 70s. There are three old sheds on the property that had not been opened since 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. My job this week has been to venture into these sheds, salvage whatever can be saved, clean out debris, and organize the mess. When I opened the door to one of them, broken ceramic came pouring out. A big circular ceramic pot caught my eye because it was illustrated with Greek imagery- a couple of people talking between some big columns or something. I asked my boss about the pot and the wreckage, and he asked me to save all of the broken shards of things. I was confused until he told me that the pot was actually a chamber pot from his house was first built, and the rest of the shards were also pieces of privy pottery. Weird, but also pretty fascinating. So where am I going with this?
I was thinking about the translation of these Greek images- when they were originally created they may have been commonplace artwork or something, an idealized version of society at the time (like a painting of a kid on a laptop would be now maybe). As time passed, people would look back to the Greeks as inspiration for intellect and art. Early Charlestonians (at least the ones that lived on Gibbes Street) somehow found it appropriate to decorate their chamber pots with this imagery. When I found it, though, I first assumed it was garbage because it was broken. The meaning and value of the chamber pot was something entirely different to its original owner than it was to its current owner, and different again when I picked it up. I wonder if there are some parallels between these translations of value/purpose in the chamber pot and the way we explore literature.
This may be my last hive mind post of the semester (yea, even mine lyfe? O.O), and I’m wondering if someday there will be a “Opening up Books” class. I know there’s a lot of debate on whether print will survive against digital media, but if we do end up going entirely digital I wonder what difficulties would be associated with studying books. There are definitely more of them in existence, so maybe the difficulty would be sorting through the ones most relevant to the future classroom and culture. Maybe not. Maybe the issue would be that they’re too standardized- that there’s hardly a difference between a 2008 version of “Jane Eyre” and a 2015 edition. Or is there? The cover illustrations change, offering a different impression on the reader before they open the book. The cleanliness of the layout changes (I’m thinking especially of the newer Oxford classic books we’re using in 470), and does seem to reflect certain elements about literary criticism at the time. What about the availability of information on the author? It seems to me that future generations would be able to access more information about an author than we can, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. It’s possible that relying too heavily on an author’s biographical information could bar a reader from understanding they could have found outside of that info. What do you guys think? What will be the challenges of studying books?
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.