Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Literary Mecca: Sterling Memorial Library

I lost myself in the stacks today, both literally and figuratively. I wandered in around 12:30 in search of literature about music and women in Medieval culture--I am having trouble narrowing my focus for my final project, but I think I am headed in one of these two directions--and I emerged over three hours later with seven texts and a leather-bound volume buzz. (Actually I had 12 texts, but only seven would fit in my backpack. This was a valuable lesson in prioritizing. I won't make the same mistake during next week's visit!)

These titles made the first cut. My own version of "America's Got Talent", if you will. I'm especially excited to see what Venemous Tongues holds inside. Subtitled "Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England", it seems very interesting at first glance, especially for me, a person who rarely holds her tongue. I have a feeling such a thing would have been punishable in Medieval times. Medieval Single Women, with chapters titled "Fourteen degrees of active lechery" and "Seven states of chastity", should also prove enlightening, especially since history and literature typically report of single women during these times to be of basest degree in every quality. I'll let you know if Cordelia Beattie paints a similar picture or turns assumptions out on their asses by liberating the image of Medieval single women everywhere!

Chaucer and JK Rowling vs Stephenie Meyer

In honor of the opening of Eclipse, I dedicate today's blog to Chaucer's creation of a literary tradition for England.

Why is Chaucer important? Prior to Chaucer's career as a writer/poet*, he read the greats: Italians Dante', Petrarch, and Boccaccio. As the son of a wine merchant, Chaucer often interacted with Italian cultivators and merchants and as a result could speak as well as read Italian. Among few in the merchant class, and even the nobility with this ability, Chaucer studies the texts of these great Italians, as well as the French Roman de la Rosa by de Lorris and de Meun, and discovers that the literature of both cultures holds a living literary tradition, a dialogue between the texts, similarities from work to work, author to author, that establish a form for making good literature. In viewing various English volumes--of which there were few--Chaucer discovers that England lacks such a literary tradition and he sets forth to establish one.

*It must be noted that Chaucer did not consider himself a poet. He referred to himself as a "maker" and to his poetry as "making." Chaucer, and society as a whole, reserved the term poet for more classical authors of the time, such as those studied and admired by Chaucer as mentioned above. Dryden dubbed Chaucer as the "Father of English Poetry" in the 1700s.

In Chaucer's English literary tradition, readers see hints of Dante', Petrarch, and Boccaccio, and find comfort in the familiar elements of epics and fabliau (French fable, usually bawdy and humorous), but character development is where readers find Chaucer's "twist." In The Canterbury Tales, readers find the whole spectrum of Medieval culture, which is divided into 3 estates: those who pray (churchmen and women), those who fight (nobility), and those who work (everyone else). The pilgrims--29 in total, but only 24 share their tales--are the center of the literature. The tale and the teller (pilgrim) are linked--you can't truly conceptualize the message of the tale without first encountering the portrait of the pilgrim. ("The General Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales provides a portrait of each pilgrim.) The pilgrims who tell the tales, not the characters in the tales they tell, drive the movement of the message. And thus, Chaucer establishes an English literary tradition founded on the character.

Chaucer's Monk and Wife of Bath. Shakepeare's Lady Macbeth, Iago, Mercutio, and the Dark Lady of sonnet fame. Dickens' Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times and Fagin in Oliver Twist. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Harry, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius--honestly, I don't think Rowling got a character wrong--from the Harry Potter series. Yes, a literary tradition founded on the character.

Oh Stephanie Meyer, if only you were British!

***No Twilight fans were harmed in the writing of this post***

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Tabard Inn vs 91 Howe

Chaucer's pilgrims, 29 in total (if you thought 30, you've been terribly misinformed), gathered in Southwerk, an area south of the London Bridge, at a place called Tabard Inn. While I've never had the privilege of Medieval lodging, I think Tabard could give this "modern" apartment here in New Haven a run for it's money.

The apartment consists of one large living area with a kitchen nook, a bed nook, and a bathroom. When I arrived to discover that the bed nook received no circulation from the lone window fan, I promptly moved it to the center of the living room. Now my bed and my couch are one-in-the-same. The few hours I spend at home each day are spent perched on the couch in front of the Mac or a volume of Medieval text or sprawled on the bed attempting to sleep. However, even with direct flow of air, this little room is still quite balmy, and sleep has been more a bane for me than it is under normal circumstances. A few of my colleagues who also had the fortune to find sublets instead of dorm housing have purchased small window AC units to aide in their suffering. Seeing as how all expenditures during this educational experience should be tax-deductible, I may follow suit.

The kitchen is even more abysmal than the living room. The stove-top smokes up the entire room. Not that I plan to do much cooking, especially in this heat, but it would be nice to be able to boil mac and cheese without alerting the New Haven fire department. My landlord forgot to clean out the microwave before he left for the summer, so it poses a health risk. The freezer won't freeze the water in the ice cube tray. For those of you who know me well and understand my addiction to ice water, this is the greatest travesty of them all. I frequent the coffee shop on the corner twice a day for ice. So far, they've let me do this for free. I wonder when they'll notice and start charging me? (I've also purchased a 6 pack of bottled water that I refill and chill in the fridge, but it should come as no surprise to note that the fridge isn't that cold.)

I've made the bed nook into a walk-in closet that would make Carrie Bradshaw jealous. Right... And the pressure in the shower is amazing. After a night of sweating on the bed-couch, the shower is an excellent way to start the day.

But what about Tabard Inn? Most likely, the couch would have been a wooden plank, smoothed by years of use but still not as comfortable as my bed-couch. As for the bed, this IKEA mattress is heaven compared to the trussing beds of Medieval times. Based upon the merriment, the food and beverage options at Tabard Inn supersed that of my new home, but I do not have to venture far to find cold beverages and hearty meals at Yale's local eateries. (I am a slightly over a block away from Rudy's, the home of great pomme frites and burgers, and of course Blue Moon.)

And, this little sublet is nearly $1400.00 cheaper than the dorm accommodations. It's really not that bad at all. (But next time, I'll sublet from a female.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Welcome to my Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage (noun): a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion

The journey: As I see it, my journey started 10 years ago when I moved to Georgia. And while that may seem irrelevant to where I am now--Yale University studying Chaucer and Medieval Culture--that decade-old decision was the first ripple to where, and who, I am today. This specific journey, however, started when I first taught The Canterbury Tales in 2008. Captivated by Chaucer's characters and commentary on Medieval life, British literature and culture became a new area of interest for me. When the email from NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) detailing this grant opportunity filtered mysteriously into my in-box this Spring, I applied enthusiastically, but realistically expected a rejection letter. On April Fool's Day, I was elated to learn that I had been accepted. (Yes, April Fool's Day. Dr. Patterson has a sense of humor (or humour in Middle English).)

A long one: For the next six weeks I, along with 15 other teachers from around the United States, will study under Dr. Lee Patterson at Yale University. That's a long journey, especially when you consider the size of the apartment I'm subletting!

Check out Dr. Patterson's curricula vitae; it's pretty impressive.

To some sacred place: Don't be offended by the sacrilege and blasphemy in considering Yale a sacred place. I don't worship this university in lieu of a God, but as a place of academia. Yale, an Ivy League Institution, is the third-oldest college in the United States and houses almost 11 million volumes in its libraries (4 million in Sterling Memorial, the rest in the campus's 19 other libraries), making it the second-largest collegiate library in the world. For a literature nerd like myself, that's pretty sacred.

An act of religious devotion: If you look past the adjective and instead to the noun, you see that this course of study is indeed an act of devotion. Six weeks dedicated to one man, and his one primary text, and their shaping of culture since the late 1300s--it's a devotion parallel that which an athlete would attribute to perfecting "his game." Literature and language are my game and I am eager to learn everything I can from this opportunity.

And as I experience what this Pilgrimage has to offer, I'll post it here, a modern-day forum for a Pilgrim's tale.