Sunday, June 11, 2006

WVU Summer Seminar, Part Two

Finally, the ending of my post about the summer seminar...

Saturday the focus was on Beowulf and Judith, then on Beowulf and Cuthbert. The session about Beowulf and Judith was a fascinating one, particularly given the focus we had -- sound. Prof. Lees described Judith as a "noisy" poem, and so we started to chart out what noise meant -- i.e., how to conceive of it, if there was or was not a way to chart out a continuum on which one could plot such concepts as speech, poetry, noise, sound, white noise, pink noise. Theoretically speaking, it was a really crucial point, although the attempt itself was a bit scattered (many different ideas in the room, not really agreeing with the others, as we clearly all had our own ways of conceptualizing sound and silence). Particularly intriguing for me was the question of noise vis a vis silence. I also got to turn around and ask a question about the poem that I'd been asked in London this past spring at a conference, which was nice. One Eminent Scholar asked me what had to be the best question anyone had asked me about Judith to that point in time. Granted, I only started working on Judith this past fall, so...haven't had a lot of questions. But this one was just breathtaking in its ability to completely confound me -- and bring a room to immediate silence. "Is there something queer about Judith?" I still don't know how to answer that question -- as do many people when first asked, I end up stuttering ("yes...but there's this...and so maybe not...but still...there must be...unless there isn't..."). Edit: Thinking more clearly a bit earlier in the day (which is a scary thought in itself) -- come to think of it, Karma Lochrie and Heide Estes have great articles on Judith, that I think partially address this question, if not directly. The Lochrie article is "Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Politics of War in the Old English Judith" and Estes is "Feasting with Holofernes: Digesting Judith in Anglo-Saxon England."

As you can guess, this lively conversation didn't leave much room to talk about Beowulf, so we got back to Beowulf in the afternoon, in addition to talking a bit about Cuthbert. The Beowulf discussion was amazing -- get a group of Anglo-Saxonists that large together and the energy is sure to be high. One of the questions I found most compelling was "where is the place of poetry in Beowulf?" one of the professors in attendance had an immediate response I found stunning: "Not here." This distancing effect of the poetry reminds me of that beautiful section from "The Monsters and the Critics":

When new Beowulf was already antiquarian, in a good sense, and it now produces a singular effect. For it is now to us itself ancient; and yet its maker was telling of things already old and weighted with regret, and he expended his art in making keen that touch upon the heart which sorrows have that are both poignant and remote. If the funeral of Beowulf moved once like the echo of an ancient dirge, far-off and hopeless, it is to us as a memory brought over the hills, and echo of an echo. There is not much poetry in the world like this...

Prof. Lees left us with a profoundly intriguing last thought, something we never got to in the discussion but that lay just under the surface of discussion (particularly as it related to Hildeburh earlier) -- Grendel's mother as an even more profoundly silent figure than her son.

Sunday we spoke about poets who use Anglo-Saxon as a part of their poetry. We focused on three main figures -- Edwin Morgan, Seamus Heaney and Basil Bunting. Amazing all three. I wish I could formulate something coherent about them...but I fear I cannot.

So general reaction -- what a fantastic experience. Seeing the excitement of other Anglo-Saxonists, some of whom I've read multiple articles by (like Roy Liuzza and Patrick Conner), was a fantastic moment. It gave me the energy to go back to my own work and invest seriously in it. Suddenly I could see a light at the end of the massive end-of-term tunnel -- it's official, the future looks bright again from where I'm standing. And of course, one can't avoid saying the obvious -- getting to work with Professor Lees was a real treat.

So overall, an amazing experience -- I must highly recommend it. And Morgantown isn't bad at all -- I didn't know what to expect, given that it's in upper West Virginia, and I'd never ( to my knowledge, at least) gone through there. That was also a calming factor to the trip -- I think I could live somewhere like Morgantown. NYC may be amazing and exciting and all, but in the end, I'm a Southern girl whatever my family roots are (and they are very New York), I'll always opt for a forest over a concrete jungle. It was good to see a place to remind me of that.


Derek the Ænglican said...

Wait--where did Cuthbert fit in?

anhaga said...

Good question -- that was Prof. Lees' idea, to put them together (I think she's the first to do it) -- but it was, essentially, as a way of thinking about "place" through the different versions of Cuthbert (and how he becomes dissociated with his roots as a Northumbrian Saint through progressive versions of the story).

anhaga said...

Actually, strike that -- I think it was agreed that she *is* the first person to think about them together. So, to clarify the connection, it was through the idea of place. Yeesh, I'm having a Monday morning (can't formulate coherent thoughts).

Derek the Ænglican said...

Interesting. And in an ironic way, the Danes are in the midst of both, huh... :-)

Derek the Ænglican said...

Although--the general trend of hagiography is towards the universal rather than the local so in Cuthbert's case I'd think that a more natural trajectory.

Dr. Virago said...

Darn, I wish I'd been at the seminar after all. I mean, I had good reason to withdraw, but from what you report this Middle English person would have actually had something to contribute to that Judith discussion! Just this semester, in my OE class, we translated the passage where Holofernes roars and rages and creates a huge din. In the OE, there's not only alliteration, but even some *rhyme* and the words themselves are 'noisy' -- full of consonant clusters.

These are the lines I'm thinking of (21b-27, especially the highlighted one -- Blogger won't do the spaces between half lines, btw):

Ðā wearð Hōlofernus,
goldwine gumena on gytesālum,
hlōh ond hlȳdde, hlynede ond dynede,
þæt mihten fīra bearn feorran ġehȳran
hū se stīðmōda styrmde ond ġylede
mōdiġ ond medugāl, manode ġeneahhe
benċsittende þæt hī ġebǣrdon wel.

Thanks so much for blogging about this -- it gives me new ideas for teaching.

anhaga said...

Dr. V --

Judith's a great text for reading aloud, isn't it? The part you cite is definitely a part we talked about (in fact, we started there). The way the rhyme comes in, just at the moment when he speech is getting most rowdy, most noisy -- it's a fascinating moment. Another one -- at line 12 and perhaps another time too, a word that's used is cohhede. According to Bosworth Toller (to whom I also owe the line reference!) it means to bluster -- however someone implied that it also could have to do with coughing. Which is interesting, given how much like coughing it feels to say it!

Glad it cna be helpful.

Dr. Virago said...

I'll buy cohhede as coughed. After all, swelgan (did I spell that right?) -- to swallow -- also has onomatopoetic qualities, put to great use in Beowulf's show-down with Grendel.

Btw, on a non-sound-related and perhaps silly note, I always thought it was funny that Holofernes' men were "bench-sitters" (bencsittende). In fact, I find Judith full of dark, ironic humor.