Sunday, July 23, 2006

Old English Anxieties

I haven't much time to blog at present -- I've got the lovely task of reading Chaucer all afternoon, a task I'm really relishing. I could do without the paper I need to write about it, but ah well. Anything that requires reading Chaucer, and then thinking more about Chaucer makes this Anglo-Saxonist quite happy.

However. For anyone on Ansax, you know that a discussion has been going on there about the article on the apartheid like social structure of Anglo-Saxon England post Anglo-Saxon Invasion. Now granted, the way this has been received in the popular press is more like this: Anglo Saxons were Apartheid Racists!.

The reaction's been telling, and it's one I didn't entirely expect. Everyone has been extraordinarily defensive. Saying that that's anachronistic, it can't apply, why are we saying they're racist?

But it must be asked: are we really going to argue that they were nice and cuddly, that invasion involved no pain for anybody? As an old history prof of mine used to say, the Anglo-Saxons spent their time "bopping" people with swords. I mean, do you know how many words for "kill" there are? That's not to say they didn't write fascinating literature, and beautiful poetry that can break your heart. But I wonder if this isn't a reaction to the "death of anglo-saxon studies" more generally, which we Anglo-Saxonists fear above all else. I'm pretty sure Old English has been "dying" since before I was born -- in the 80s -- and I think that the alarm bells were first sounded back in like 1990. It's been a long death (if death it is) to say the least. Living in the same area as the ASSC (see the link on the side bar for the homepage) -- I'd have to say that for a field in such supposed jeopardy, it looks pretty good to me.

So in lieu of saying any more for now -- for Chaucer calls, and I must heed him! -- I'll direct you to Eileen Joy over at Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's blog. Read the post. Check out the comments. Read the links. And moreover, talk about this, leave comments, ask questions. It's important. And not just to Anglo-Saxonists, either.