Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kalamazoo 2007

I've written and rewritten this post so many times at this point that if I don't just put it up there, it'll be next May before I do. So here it is, my Kalamazoo, 2007

As an undergrad at Wake, I was given the opportunity to attend the Kalamazoo medieval congress. Part of winning said contest was the requirement that, after the conference, I write a sort of perspective paper on the experience of attending a conference. From the very first time I tried it, I found the whole process incredibly difficult. In fact, I’ve only ever successfully written about the Congress once, despite having won the award that required the post-zoo essay twice. The only place I can manage to talk about Kzoo in writing is in-flight – the transitional space between a place I’ve come from and the next stop on my journey. Fittingly I began this post this somewhere between New York City and Atlanta, and finished it in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. This past Saturday night, I attended a dear friend’s wedding – a friend who also happens to be one of the five students who graduated from Wake with me in 2004 who were the intrepid co-founders of the Wake Forest Medieval Studies Student Group (lovingly called Aesir in those early days – I think they stick with a more formal title now, as the group outlasted my generation of medievalists, and still has a yearly conference!). Three of those five Aesir members – including my friend getting married, myself, and another friend who was also at the wedding—met in 2002 in Dr. Overing’s Old English class, which we all took in the Spring of our sophomore year. It’s living proof that difficult classes, like traumatic situations, can bring people together.

Upon my return to North Carolina on Monday evening, I started clearing out my room in preparation for making it a place I can get work done over the next two months. As I was sorting the files my mother’s been trying to get me to thin down since before college, I found the first “post-Kalamazoo” paper I ever wrote. Reading what I wrote about the Saturday evening dance back in 2002, I’m struck with the odd realization that I knew then what Kalamazoo would still feel like five years later:

As I sat, and watched all the madness that was the conference—I realized that this experience was completely unique. For the first time, I was surrounded with people who cared about the same things I do. In this place, everyone cared about what happenedone thousand years ago, and modern literature was involved only in as far as it related back to that period.
Funny how, on the first visit to a professional event – I seem to have felt a little bit like I was arriving somewhere I was always meant to be.

And, to return to the point of this post: what really struck me about this conference was that I seem to have found a “group” of sorts – in both the metaphorical and literal meanings of the word. Kalamazoo 2007 was for me defined by the work done by the BABEL group, and by Eileen’s inspiring paper in the Friday session on Feminisms and Queer Theory. The vision of an “enamored medieval studies” is – and here’s where the “metaphorical” group comes in – a vision that I can want. Karl’s work and the ensuing discussion of the construction of the categories of human and animal (which you can follow here and here, among other posts, at In the Middle) is a question I’ve only just started to “notice” in a sense. My “work”, as such, hasn’t fully developed in terms of its foci. I think for the purposes of the conference I said that the project of my dissertation was “vernacularity and temporality in immediately pre- and post-conquest England” – which is my project – but it’s also still far more than that. For example there are ideas of proto-nationalism, a word I’m not entirely comfortable with because of its modern theoretical and practical weight, that are a part of my project that I haven’t found a way of articulating in a sentence (or a two part title!) yet. Moreover, I find that I’m interested in – and I’m actually using my adviser’s articulation here of what I’m trying to do, as mine is far flimsier – time as it is lived, the intersection of time (both Kairos and Chronos, distinctions Agamben discusses in an article I can’t find the title of at present) with the human. That’s a bit of a digression, but what inspired it is the realization that I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the way that academic things intersect “human” (whatever that means) lives.

Other high points of the year:

  • Kathleen Davis’ paper on Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello and the function of the “medieval” as the temporal limit against which the modern posits itself.
  • A far more enjoyable dance than I’ve had previously, though I’ve been known to enjoy the event very much in previous years. I refuse to comment on allegations made elsewhere that I sang anything written by Journey. As for Bon Jovi -- children of the 80s can't deny that one, so I will proudly say that I always belt out the lyrics to Living on a Prayer when the opportunity presents itself.
  • The blogger breakfast, organized by the wonderful Dr. Virago, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting. I was struck by how many bloggers came to the event, and by the interesting conversations I had there. One of the highlights for me was finally introducing myself to Michael Drout -- on my first visit to Kalamazoo he organized several sessions on reading Old English aloud, and a full read-through of Beowulf (which I highlighted in the first of the “post-Kzoo” papers I mentioned earlier). Also, getting to meet all of my fellow bloggers (many of whom I hadn’t met before) was a wonderful feeling – it was good to see so many of us!
  • Seeing some amazing papers on topics I know practically nothing about (including medieval drama) – and realizing that I do have points of intersection between my work and the late middle ages that can bear interestingly on things that seem far a-field. -- and more importantly, that can productively displace the way I see things in my own work.
This was also the first year that I spent relatively little time re-writing my paper during the conference.

But perhaps the highest point of this best of Kalamazoos was the feeling that I can keep working on this medieval stuff. I returned energized, knowing the long reading road ahead of me would be challenging, but also knowing that there are people in my intellectual vicinity who want to push the boundaries of what this work can do, what it can address.

And there is work to be done.

I’m reminded of a Clement and Cixous quote from The Newly Born Woman. It serves as the epigraph for the book Landscapes of Desire, by Gillian Overing and Marijane Osborn:
...she comes out of herself to go to the other, a traveler in unexplored places; she does not refuse, she approaches, not to do away with the space between, but to see it, to experience what she is, what she is not, what she can do...
When I look back on Kalamazoo 2007, I experience something I didn’t quite expect. I feel hopeful.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lloyd Alexander

Glancing over to Tiruncula's post today,, I was sad to find out that Lloyd Alexander, author of the Chronicles of Prydain --which I wrote about awhile back -- has died.

Alexander was my first introduction to Welsh mythology, and reading I enjoyed very, very much when I was younger. I never read his other work -- in fact, I probably won't get around to it for years, at this point -- but the Chronicles books were a special part of my younger life.

It's funny how authors one loves as a kid become enough a part of one's life that there is a vague sense of loss when they pass on. It isn't mourning -- not really -- but it is a kind of melancholy feeling. Like something beautiful has gone out of the world.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kalamazoo '07: Claiming My Voice

As some of you may have already read over at In the Middle or Quod She, I’ve officially decided to reveal my identity. Reading that over again, I have to say it sounds a lot cooler than it is, I’m afraid. I'm just a medievalist. A graduate student. An Anglo-Saxonist. One who shares a name with an Olsen twin -- though you’ll note that I don’t hyphenate.

I suppose, in some ways, it makes sense that my first post-Kzoo post is about my decision to drop my pseudonym and blog under my real name. There are a lot of reasons that, in the past year, I left the question of my identity out of this blog. And there are still good reasons to do so – not least of which questions of power and integrity that seem to be inevitably involved in the online world when it intersects the academic one. Blogging “anonymously” – even if more than one person, on reading my name tag this weekend, was heard to exclaim “I read your blog!” – seemed like a safer route.

And I guess that’s where the ideas raised in the sessions at this year's conference came into play. I seem to be finding that “the pleasure of displacement” seems to sum things up rather nicely: moving out of my own small sphere of operation and into a zoo of medievalists of all interests and levels gave me a different perspective on my work, and a different perspective on my blog. The value of this displacement, in this sense, is also form of remembering something I seem to need constant reminders of: I am not finished. Not as a person. Not as an academic. Steven Kruger had a remarkable phrase in his Saturday afternoon paper that seems to speak to this idea: the idea of “identity as transition.” Having been displaced this weekend – taken out of New York, to the best Kalamazoo I’ve had the pleasure of attending, I was caught off my guard by the question of anonymity. Perhaps being away from the blog, and in the “real world” of my work and the bloggers I know who function in it, I realized that to continue writing this sort of a blog, my pseudonymity is no longer viable. For practical purposes, it never really was – those who know me have inevitably known that I’m “Anhaga,” and it doesn’t take much poking around websites to narrow down the possibilities of female Anglo-Saxon graduate students in New York City.

Moreover, I’ve realized what my engagement with the wider implications of my work, both as an academic and as a person who is involved in the world – and who wants to be involved in that world. There are a number of anonymous voices in the Middle Ages – some men, of course, but many, many women. Because of their social situation, women in the Middle Ages couldn’t – or didn’t feel they ought – claim their voices. Too many women in the modern world are silenced in the same ways, though perhaps sometimes for entirely different reasons. In the end, I’ve been a student of inspiring feminist scholars too long to be another anonymous voice.

I aim to maintain my voice as it has been for the past year. This blog is, after all, a “professional” blog. The difference now is that I’m choosing to claim my voice as it appears here. It’s not the right choice for everyone, and in fact, I’m still not entirely sure it’s the “right” choice (whatever that means) for me. However, I’ve told my students on numerous occasions to “take responsibility” for their written voices – and I suppose that mantra was always going to come back to haunt me. I don’t really know what claiming my name will do this blog. Though I won’t stop posting, occasionally, on my more light-hearted interests, in the past year Old English in New York has become an extension of my academic persona, and will now function in that capacity “officially”. These posts are my thoughts. They are articulated, however tentatively, in my words. After this most recent displacement to Michigan, and a surprising amount of encouragement from my senior academic colleagues -- among them these three inspiring academic bloggers -- I think I’m ready to claim my voice, and take on the responsibility to my work and to my professional self that this endeavor entails.

Appropriate, then, that I’ll finish posting on Kalamazoo once things have settled down a bit here in NYC.


Thursday, May 10, 2007 Kalamazoo (zoo zoo zoo zoo...)

Thursday morning in Kalamazoo, and for some unknown reason, I've managed to get up before the book exhibits open. I'm deeply impressed with myself. I think I've managed to line up a fairly interesting day of if I can just find my way to the book exhibit...

5 years ago, as an impressionable college sophomore still high off her first Old English course (what can I say, I've always been a bit of a nerd...), I made my way to WMU for the first time. I may be one of the few people who arrived at this crazy conference, took one look, and thought -- this is where I want to be. Oddly enough, no matter how often I end up in Michigan in the early month of May - it always makes me just a little bit happier, with the year just passed and with the year ahead.

Guess I'm in the right place, then. Off to Valley II!


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Old English in New York, One Year In

Well, last Friday, in my whirlwind of finishing small projects, answering student pleas concerning papers and extensions, and reading Margery Kempe -- I managed to overlook posting on the one year anniversary of starting my blog. It all began on the 27th of April, 2006, with the statement that April is not the cruelest month, per TS Eliot's poem.

I've avoided, in the past year, writing what I think is an obligatory blog considering the reasons I have for blogging, and for doing so anonymously. It's not that such things don't concern me -- rather, I've been letting this blog develop as my own work does, tracing both frustrations and excitements as I went through this crazy process of struggling for exams.

Lest I get too meta about all this, the real purpose of this blog was to trace my orals progress. Granted, so little got done in the first months of the blog that much of it was focused on outside thoughts and considerations and ideas. I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, a lot of the most enjoyable writing I've done has been on the blog rather than on papers I've turned in. My hope, this summer, is to get back to the texts. I've been charged with really living with the texts I'm working on for my exams this summer. This blog -- my work blog, as I refer to it when it comes up in conversation -- has been of much use this past year, making connections with other medievalists and anglo-saxonists, allowing me to enter conversations I might not otherwise have participated in. But I hope -- and we'll see how this goes -- that during this summer, while I study in the Wake Forest library, I can use this space a little more diligently to trace ideas I find in texts.

Most importantly, tho -- I get to go to Kalamazoo again this year, and I will be attending the blogger meet-up (wherever it ends up being held). And the 'zoo -- as anyone who knows me knows well -- always makes me happy. Let the countdown begin! And the rewriting of the paper commence!