Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drawing a Dissertation

Readers at ITM and Old English in New York may remember that the topic of my first chapter is the Old English Orosius. You may remember, way back in November, when I revising my chapter on the Orosius, I was having a bit of trouble straightening out the terms with which I spoke of the various voices in the text.

I'm working, again, on revising that same old text. You can see a small snippet of what I've been doing with it here. However, in the past few weeks or so I've been trying to tap into my formerly quite creative side, which sometimes gets sublimated by both a lack of time and a lack of interest. I don't have time to draw anymore, for example. But in the past couple weeks, I've taken to literally sketching out some of my arguments in the chapter, to help me keep straight the number of elements, levels, or names that appear in the essay.

The fruits of today's labor? The following diagram. Please note that, should it make it to the final copy of my dissertation chapter, I'll redraw it and make it a bit cleaner:

The "legend," if you will, is the following. 

ASE = Anglo-Saxon England
Rep of HAP = Representation of the Historiarum Adversum Paganos in the Old English Orosius.
Cwæð = The "cwæð Orosius" construction in the Old English Orosius. 

Essentially, I'm trying to represent, albeit somewhat simplistically, the levels of interaction of the Latin and Old English texts.   So they intersect where Latin historical texts are present in Anglo-Saxon England.  The first level of that intersection is the Latin versions of the Historiarum present in Anglo-Saxon England at the time of the translation.   At that point, the attribution of the text can still be to Paulus Orosius, as these are texts in the original language, copies.  The next level, then, is the Old English translation.  The "voice of authority" is no longer Paulus Orosius himself -- if such a thing is possible to think of, to borrow the Derridean line, and in light of having *just* taught Death of the Author to my undergraduates  -- so I'm calling that level of narration/authority the "Translator/Narrator."  

This next level is where things get a bit messy.   For various reasons, in order to understand the way the source text (the Historiarum Adversum Paganos, by Paulus Orosius) interacts with the translation, the Old English Orosius, I find it useful to suggest a distinction between the parts of the Old English text which are specifically meant to represent the Latin text and those which can only be departures that are the results of an explicit choice on the part of the translator.   The majority of the text falls into the first category.    Certain sections of the text, like the part in the geographical preface which relates the travels of Ohthere and Wulfstand, fall into the second.  These are clear departures from the Historiarum.   To express the identification between the translator and the voice of Orosius, I've chosen Orosius-translator.  This category is distinct from the explicit, reported speech citations of Paulus Orosius that occur where the text inserts the first person or, more explicitly, the cwæð Orosius  (a phrase which occurs fifty times in the text, and means "Orosius said").   To mark the distinction, I'm using Orosius-narrator. 

That's a lot of information, particularly for folks who perhaps aren't as familiar with the Orosius.  However, the question I have for you today dear readers, is about the use of diagrams in dissertations.   Are they a good thing, where they help lay out your thought process in a way that makes your prose that much clearer?  Or are they a crutch I should dispense with, and use merely in the draft stages, to help my mind keep track of the many "facts" of the text?   Has anyone out there written a book/dissertation/article that makes extensive use of diagrams?  Or that uses diagrams at all?   How did that work? 

cross posted to ITM


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Digital Codex

by Mary Kate Hurley

[illustration from the Lindisfarne Gospels -- thank you, BBC!]

Within a few hours of it being posted on the Valve last night, as a result of Scott Eric Kaufman's reading of a blog called "Readin" -- a number of my friends were emailing me about this. I haven't had the time to fully explore the website, but it would seem that UCLA has put together a page that allows for the easy browsing of all MSs that are digitally available online. Granted you may have already noted its existence through a post at ITM all the way back in December, but given that I noted it only in passing at the time, I thought it worth a second look.

From this article on the website:

Highlights of the virtual holdings include:

• The largest surviving collection of the works of Christine de Pizan, one of the first women in Europe to earn a living as a writer. The manuscript was commissioned by Queen Isabeau of France in 1414 and is now held by the British Library.
• An Irish copy of the Gospel of John, bound in ivory and presented to Charlemagne sometime around 800, now in the library of the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland.
• The Junius manuscript, one of only four major manuscripts preserving poetry in Old English. Dated to around 1000, the book is now among the holdings of Oxford's Bodleian Library.
As an Anglo-Saxonist, I got no further than the Junius Codex. Along with Exeter, Vercelli, and the Nowell Codex, it houses Old English poetry, including Genesis, Exodus and Daniel. It was also my first Anglo-Saxon codex, which I saw at In the Beginning at the Smithsonian back in 2006. I'd be curious: do other medievalists out there remember their first manuscript? I mean, I'd seen other MSs here at Columbia's RBML, and at various museums and such. But to see the Junius, in person, even if I didn't get to "read" it more closely than through the glass protecting it -- that was pretty amazing.

I also couldn't help but think about the materiality of the codex. Of course I've gone on about this before. After a full semester, however, of one class on paleography and another on medieval book culture (the latter with Chris Baswell, who is part of the team that worked on assembling the UCLA site), I can't help but think about the objects themselves. Perhaps it's the lingering questions raised by Jeffrey's Weight of the Past talk last week, but I do tend towards feeling rather strange about digitized manuscripts. As teaching resources, they make the kind of intense paleographical work I did with Professor Dutschke possible in a way that before it would not have been outside of a few select places ten years ago.

However it also raises the question that all digital technology raises: that is, access. In this case, it's a question of access to the past. I'm working on a cataloging project with Prof. Dutschke for a few hours a week (along with several colleagues) -- and what I've realized is that there is so much to a manuscript that perhaps no digital reproduction, however fine, can represent. For example, I've often felt too squeamish to be a medievalist -- the thought of reading books that are written on animal skin often makes me hesitate to touch a manuscript. This Monday, for example, I sat in the Rare Books reading room and looked through a Chronicle written on parchment. The material of the text was utterly beyond my comprehension -- in addition to being in what was one of the worst late medieval hands I'd ever seen, the text was in German, a language I am slow to read when it's legible. However, the materiality of the book, the object itself, was exceedingly clear. Vellum, like un-moisturized skin, wrinkles. Yes, wrinkles. Texts age, and do so visibly. It's oddly similar to human skin in that regard.

This all tied in quite nicely to my Intro to the Major class, which I also taught this past Monday. I was introducing some of the ways medieval poetry thought about language, and the authority of the speaking or writing voice. After I gave an "introduction to Old English culture" that made me cringe slightly with its brevity -- we worked with one of my favorite of the Old English Riddles, Number 47:
Moððe word fræt. Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd, þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.

A moth ate words; a marvelous event
I thought it when I heard about that wonder,
a worm had swallowed some man’s lay, a thief
In darkness had consumed the mighty saying
With its foundation firm. The thief was not
One whit the wiser when he ate those words.

Trans. Richard Hamer
When a poet in the Middle Ages looked at a book s/he didn't see something pristine, like my copy of Klaeber's Beowulf, which is still too new to be dog-eared and worn. Rather, books had long histories already, even when new -- it was not, as it were, their first life. And books were not safe from the ravages of time or even of the worms that also rend human flesh after death. Perhaps its worth remembering that even digital materials have worms which feed on data. Transience, it would seem, was and is part and parcel of textual experience. Rightly so, given that humans create them.

In part, and as always, it seems I've come back around to where I began when I started my musings: materiality and the medieval. We're always dealing, in some fashion, with what's left -- never an established whole, never a static object-of-knowledge. The medieval, it would seem, is always contextual, and therefore always contingent on the kinds of contexts we can find for it. It seems obvious, I suppose -- but every time I open my web browser and look at my first Anglo-Saxon codex, I don't know that I'll always acutely feel the absence of the codex Junius (given that it's not at my beck and call -- or even on this side of the Atlantic). But I do sense another kind of absence -- albeit one that is paradoxically full of lives and ideas and cultures that are always just beyond our ability to recall fully. I'm sure someone else has already said this -- but maybe we're always missing the Middle Ages?

Thanks to Scott Kaufman of The Valve for bringing this back to my attention, and to all the friends who forwarded it to me.

Cross posted at ITM.

More on something Beowulfian -- the conference for which it is intended -- on the morrow.