Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Summer Seminar, Part One

So I’ve been back from West Virginia since Sunday night – unfortunately, due to exhaustion, I was kept from the computer. In fact, I was also kept from the computer for the entirety of my time at WVU – although my computer picked up, at varying moments, an unencrypted wireless signal, I never quite managed to connect. Le sigh. Living for two days without email is difficult for me. I’m a shameless wireless addict. If I don’t see my laptop for 24 hours I start getting nervous.

However, as I had my laptop with me, and managed to find a public library in Morgantown where I could check my email on Friday, I was able to continue breathing for the duration of my trip.

At about midnight on Wednesday I realized two things about my upcoming trip. The first was that I wasn’t sure what time I needed to leave (do I leave at 6 in case I need to pick up one of my colleagues somewhere? or do I leave at 8 and have a proverbial snowball’s chance in hell that I’ll be conscious through the mountains?). The second was that I had nothing to do in the car. I made it to Kzoo and back because I was with my NJ colleague and we chatted the whole way (when we weren’t singing along with the CDs…). So I used the power of iTunes to download David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. And I have to say – if you haven’t read Sedaris, or better yet listened to him, I must highly recommend it. He’s brilliant, for one thing. For the other, he describes life in North Carolina in a way that never fails to amuse me. It's also frighteningly accurate at times. Accurate in that it hasn't changed much since he lived here.

But yes. So Thursday evening, after my 6 hour drive and a short but sorely needed nap, I went across the street to Prof. Lees’ public lecture, which was on the Dream of the Rood and the Ruthwell monument. I was, once again and as always, amazed and inspired by what she had to say. A lot of it was picking up on the critical history of the poem. For example, I’d never thought twice about the Dream of the Rood being connected with Ruthwell. In fact, in a recent paper I gave, I definitely made the elision between the two, when I made a point of saying that both the poem and the Ruthwell Cross are “preaching crosses,” à la Michael Swanton’s introduction when he turns to Ruthwell. Yet there was a time before the two were inseparable. She spoke a lot about the runes on the monument, and the different languages that are represented on it, too. I’d highly recommend the book that she, Ian Wood and Fred Orton are completing even now – it’s sure to be just as wonderful as the talk.

I woke up early on Friday morning to finish some of the readings for the day. We were beginning with the riddles – a subject I’ve treated several times in the past two years. I’m sad to say that the riddles still annoy me. I like them, sure. They’re fascinating. But trying to solve them is frustrating. I think that’s why I like the idea that searching for their answers is not necessarily the point. I much prefer to think of how they work. However, Prof. Lees set us to work with really good questions – for example, how do the senses figure in OE poetry? When does a poem become a poem?

Friday afternoon’s session focused on The Dream of the Rood and Ruthwell Monument. Monument because it may or may not have always been a cross (go figure!). We discussed many things – including the question of why the monument is what it is, and what purposes it might have had. A fascinating fact that I learned – although there were no religious communities as Ruthwell, there are, below the site, the remains of a Roman fortress. Political reasons for the monument, then? The mystery of the runes came up too – how do they figure, what do they do, why are they there? When were they added? I formulate all these as questions – but I certainly don’t have answers. They are mysterious – and, if you look in the Bosworth Toller online mysterious is, in fact, one of its meanings. Run can mean mystery, or secret – or even speech not intending to be overheard. Runes are powerful (as divination by runes might suggest). More interestingly, of course, Oðin hung on Yggdrasil to learn their secrets. Who wæs on rode? And when does a tree become a cross, or become a Cross? So much to think about.

I have more to say, of course (about Saturday and Sunday) but I’m short on time at the moment and so will end here for now. Although one last thing – I think the most wonderful part of the seminar was the sheer enthusiasm of the participants. There was a range of people in attendance – from an undergrad all the way up to senior professors. But we were all passionate about this poetry, and all ready to stretch ourselves as far as we could. And stretch we certainly did!

Coming soon – Saturday, Sunday, and final reflections on WVU, the seminar – and Morgantown!


meg said...

Doesn't Catherine Karkov connect the DoR & the RC as well? I don't know of any specific articles, but I've heard her give talks at a couple of confs on the subject, if memory serves.

anhaga said...

Most people do, because ever since Campbell(? I think that's who it was, I'll double check when I get back home) made the connection it makes perfect sense -- which is why thinking about the fact that they weren't *always* connected is a really interesting exercise. Again, no clue where it goes -- because they'll always be connected somehow now. But...it's interesting to think about the fact that critical commonplaces have a history, and weren't always so common.