Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spectacles of Sameness

One of the great highlights of my conference experience last month was going shopping with my good friends Urania and Veralinda on the last day. We started with breakfast and coffee at a chic little cafe and then headed directly to Anthropologie (which many of my readers already know I have an ambivalent relationship with). But one of us had store credit to burn and the other two were game.

We had a great time, spent too much money and each ended up with the same sweater. Two of us hadn't noticed the green "knotty pine" cardigan until Urania tried it on. I should mention that Urania is tall and fabulous looking. Veralinda and I are shorter and a bit more zaftig. We also look fabulous, but have to pay attention to things like waistlines and hems. We all thought it looked like a Grecian breastplate on Urania, making her seem exotic and powerful. Immediately Veralinda and I had to try it on too. It looked fabulous on us as well. I felt I looked a bit less amazonian, and more like some sort of wood-sprite. Veralinda looked like an art collector from the 1930s (to my mind she very frequently looks like she walked out of a 1930s film). It was on sale. All three of us bought the sweater.

We rationalized that since we each live and work several hundred miles away from one another, no one will ever know. Unless we decide to do a panel on "sameness" at the next conference.

The following week, I went home to chilly, snowy "God's Country" and wore the cardigan at my family's Thanksgiving dinner party. My mother has excellent taste but lately she has found my color and texture combination a bit too complex. I was anxious to know what she thought of the sweater. She liked it a lot. I said, proudly, "doesn't it look like a grecian breastplate?" My mother looked utterly surprised. "What? No, it looks exactly like a funnel cake."

There you go. Urania gets to be Penthisilea and I get to be sugary fried dough.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What I want for Hannukah

Chocolate type. From Germany.

(To put in my antique California Job Case).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Conferencing la la la

I'm at a nice, young conference, in a lovely East Coast city. It's been incredibly busy but basically a lovefest. I get to see my dear friends, talk scholarship and collaboration, get inspired by brilliant but short papers, and pass notes with friends when the papers are less than brilliant. One paper was particularly dull (or maybe Veralinda and I were just sleepy after our delicious vegetarian dim sum lunch), but when the speaker said something that sounded like "their semi-autonomous wombs" and I wrote "semi-autonomous womb"? on my notepad, Veralinda drew a round belly with little feet and I nearly fell over trying to suppress my giggles. It felt a bit like summer camp in high school- giddy and silly and fun. And utterly naughty. We were told we looked like we were up to no good. We won't do it again, I promise. Not at a serious conference, anyway.

My talk and panel actually went quite well, it seems. All of the talks on our panel seemed like great fun to listen to, though I was particularly nervous because my adviser from QSU (Quill & Stylus) was sitting in the front row wearing her serious listening face, which does not include a smile. This is not a conference I usually get nervous about- it's full of short papers, grad students, and down-to-earth people, genuinely interested in new scholarship and collaborative activities. A friend calls it "the little conference that could."

And yet when I saw my adviser, I became anxious. I think it's a little funny that she can still intimidate me like that, even though she is perhaps the most devoutly supportive senior scholar I have known (also the most rigorously critical, but I believe that's part of her being supportive). Thus I found myself making eye contact across the room with complete strangers, especially when I got to the dirty joke in my paper, rather than confront her face of intense concentration. Thankfully, she was encouraging and enthusiastic after the talk, reminding me to send her more of my manuscript, so I was able to relax and finish the evening off with delicious sushi and conversation with a dear friend and two new ones, and then several drinks and general camaraderie in the swanky hotel bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Voice of the Voiceless

When I was growing up, my parents had a game they played: my mother would talk to one of the pets, and my father would answer for the pet, not in a high pitched or animal-like voice, just in his own voice. He called it the "voice of the voiceless."

About two and a half months ago my cat Saffron literally lost her voice. At first it sounded like she was a little hoarse. And then, I thought, maybe she was meowing silently- opening her mouth and puffing out her chest - deliberately, as a kind of cat-like politesse. As if she were trying to say: "I really want this, but I'm too polite to cry for it, so I will just indicate my interest with a gentle, unvoiced bleat."

But in fact, much to our consternation, she was unable to produce any sound whatsoever. She would wheeze and rasp but nothing would come out. Then she would exhaust herself. This went on for a week or two, and thus began the first of many visits to my local veterinarian, who took a blood test, listened to her chest, sedated her and looked at her larynx, took x-rays, gave her antibiotics, listened again to her chest when I noticed wheezing, and finally referred us to a cat-internist a month and a half (and $250) later. There was talk of cancer, of laryngeal paralysis, both serious conditions requiring thousands of dollars of surgery and no guarantee that the cat would survive.

The specialist was wonderful, but she ordered a few of the same tests since she didn't trust the family vet's interpretation of the results. She also ordered general anaesthesia, a tracheal wash, and several diagnostics on cells she collected from the wash. $757 and a zonked, partly shaved cat later, the diagnosis was probable mycoplasma-induced feline asthma. Saffron was put on 3 weeks of liquid doxycycline and I had to switch to a less dusty litter.

So I did so, and- miraculously, it seems -her voice has finally returned in full. It started out as tiny, faint, mews, and then gradually matured into what someone close to me recently described as a touch-tone phone's beeps.

Saffron got her voice back around the time Obama won the election, and I started spending time with someone new (sometimes I wonder if this is more than coincidence). There is no sign of asthma and no sign of infection. We have been very happy ever since. But we are switching vets and we are getting pet insurance. I'm trying not to think about the $1000 it took to put my cat on liquid antibiotics.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Observations

1. I didn't think I'd actually react so emotionally when Obama won. There were tears. There were hugs and cheek smooches. There was shouting and wahooing and jumping up and down and delirious texting. I must have embraced at least 8 or 9 people I have never met before. Unfortunately, I was suffering from an awful case of anxiety-induced indigestion which made it feel like there was a phantom lump in my throat the whole time, so I didn't enjoy the Obamalove as much as I should have. I should have let a certain person kiss me.

2. It was also a night to bridge generations, a night for all the parents who fought for peace and civil rights to share with their kids. I saw a very sweet neo-bohemian middle-aged mom (You know, with scarves and boots) with her arm around her hipster teenage daughter at the election results party I attended. The mom couldn't have looked prouder to be sharing this night with her daughter. Right before Obama's speech I was on the phone with my own neo-bohemian middle-aged mom (in another swing state that went blue) marveling about Obama's big win, and most of my friends took jubilant cell-phone calls from their moms too, well past the bedtime of most moms, neo-bohemian, middle-aged or not. Yay moms!

2. My state went Democratic all the way (Senate, Prez and Gov) for the first time since I was eight months old. I don't know if this changes how red-statey it still feels on a day-to-day basis, but only time will tell. If my formerly red state is now main-stream blue state, will that affect the conservative students on campus? I've only been here 2 years (minus the summers), but I tend to think of my students as mostly conservative- but more pedestrian and politically apathetic than anything else, which I attribute to our state (and country) having been conservative for the past eight years. With the country democratic, will blue be the new pedestrian? One can only hope . . .

3. Despite the wonderful progressive sweep across the nation, I am so saddened to learn that 52% of Californians voted to ban gay marriage (along with Florida and Arizona). Although it shows that Rovian tactics won't work this time as they did in 2004, when the five states with an anti-gay marriage refferendum all went for Bush, it is disheartening and truly disappointing. Add to this Arkansas' decision to diminish the rights of gay and lesbian couples to adopt, and we have a strangely divided country still.

4. I highly approve of Obama's first promise: to get a puppy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Next Chapter in Academic Clothing

A colleague sent me this link. I think it says it all:

The English Department

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Addicted to Electoral Mapping

I've always loved cartography. I spent the better part of a month in the map room of the British library this summer, looking at Renaissance illuminated printed maps (Mercator thought there were camels in Siberia!), figuring out a way to work them into my last chapter, and my book in general. My book isn't about maps per se, but I wish it were. Literary landscapes have always appealed to me and I'm anxious to get back to working on space again after this book is finished.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that I am hooked on those interactive electoral maps connected to polling, the ones that help you predict who is going to win what race. The main reason playing with these electoral maps has become my latest addiction is because new polls come in every day and the numbers are different every time. My favorite map by far is Pollster's, which delivers the results of the most recent poll when you mouse over each state, and can also be changed to reflect the races for senate, house and governor across the country. Click on a state, and you get a line graph based on the state's poll history. It's fun to see the blue and red lines crossing back and forth. It is updated daily, sometimes hourly, so although its results are more up-to-date than the maps at the Times and the Washington Post, they also shift fairly frequently. If you like Pollster's state graphs, try fivethiryeight for more graphs and creative visualizations than you can imagine.

Of course as my mother and I discussed this evening, the actual physical space of the map matters not at all when translating polls into electoral votes. In other words, the geography of the map- it's very mappiness, if you will -is not the point of colored, clickable states. But I like the map just the same. I like being able to have the cursor meander from Virginia over to North Dakota, then down to Nevada. Pollster has N. Dakota leaning towards Obama, whereas the New York Times dubs it "Solid McCain Territory."

As of this moment, the Washington Post gave Obama a slight lead with 207 electoral votes predicted, the Times gave him 196, and Pollster has him at 272. When I check again tomorrow, the numbers will probably have changed for Pollster's map. It's scary and exciting and fun and totally, utterly addictive.

Yes, I know I'm a little nerdy about the map thing. But I do happen to have an excellent sense of direction- I once spent 6 hours cutting a crazy swath through the non-touristy parts of Venice and brought everyone back safe and well-fed. I have no sense of how this election is going to turn out. I'm lost. But as I mouse over the changing landscape of opinion, it feels for a moment like I do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Observations in October

It's starting to get chilly. The fall color is gorgeous. My heat has been shutting off intermittently for no reason and is really hard to get back on. Today the landlady finally hired a specialist who fixed a number of things and installed a fancy new thermostat. It seems to be working fine, but the next 24 hours are key. There is some sort of an animal in the attic, or was. My landlady sent her ex-boyfriend-turned-handyman up there and he cleaned up a lot of critter-refuse. So far it has not returned.

I gave a talk at Nearby University today for my early modern reading group- a talk on part II of my final chapter, the one I'm calling Chapter That Is Spiraling Out of Control. My audience was really gracious, sitting through all 45 minutes of me throwing various forms of information at them, including bits of history, philology, inventories, travel writing, commodities, and some Really Difficult poetic syntax and language. Their comments and suggestions were remarkably helpful and I'm blown away by the fact that they appear to have actually understood what I was trying to say. Maybe I need a new nickname for my chapter.

No more fellowship applications due for another two months. Yay! To take advantage of this small respite, I'm dreaming about throwing a "Great Depression" party. We could dance to early jazz, wear fedoras and boas, drink gin out of teacups, and party like it's 1929.

13 days left until the election.


That is all.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"A Bracelet of Bright Hair"

I've been working with Donne's post-mortem love poetry for several years, and I always like to teach "The Funerall," "The Relique" and "The Damp" together, since each one imagines what happens to the lover's corpse after he has died. The first two poems describe the lover's corpse wearing "A bracelet of bright hair about the bone" (Relique, 6) and "That subtle wreath of hair, which crowns mine arm" (Funerall, 3).

Today I decided it would be good to show students an image of a memorial hair bracelet along with some memento mori jewelry before turning to the text (who knows, maybe I'll inspire a student). I usually show a Victorian braided hair bracelet and locket with hair, since hair bracelets from the Renaissance are less likely to have survived. But I wanted to see if there were any earlier examples and so turned, naturally, to my dear friend the giant searchable database of images from the collections of the V&A, which houses one of the largest European jewelry collections in the world. This database of digital images, by the way, is completely open to the public. So I searched the collection for "human hair" between 1300 and 1700. And remarkably, I found these artifacts.

These are finished pieces of needle lace worked in human hair c. 1625-1665. Very few survive, as they were quite fragile. The V&A has a few, two of which have been photographed for the online database. They had a button on one end, and a loop or hole on the other, and were most likely worn as bracelets and made by women (the V&A cites "The Relique" as evidence that they were very likely love tokens).

The delicacy and ingenuity of the work is astounding. Both display birds and crosses, but the first piece is freer in style, depicting a dog, an owl, a stag and several species of flowers and fruits (click on the images to enlarge them). The animals have eyes, feathers, rendered muscles. The flowers and fruit have seeds, petals, shadows. The second has an oak and acorn motif. They may have been finished with horsehair, and some kind of resinous gum.

Both of Donne's poems imagine that the bracelet contains a portion of his beloved's soul, corresponding with the early modern belief in corporeal resurrection. In "The Relique," the bracelet functions as a kind of homing device, calling his beloved's corpse back to his grave on Resurrection Day. The idea is that since the body houses the soul, everyone's lost body parts would summon one another across the earth at Resurrection- teeth, skin and bones seeking one another out for reassembly like the dry bones in the valley of Ezekiel 37. This would be particularly arduous for Catholic saints, whose several body parts had been dispersed across the world as relics.

I had always imagined the "subtle wreath of hair" as a simple braid, never as something so gossamer, intricate, and figural. Yet it's easy to see why such a beautiful product of one person's handiwork might be thought to contain a portion of her soul.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Gun-totin' Obama Guy

I haven't posted here in a while- things are very busy for me this semester. I have lots of essays and grant applications due, as my last post intimated. And when I'm not trying to make these deadlines, I've got talks to write, search committee work, papers to grade, and volunteering to do. So my plate is full. I miss sleeping late- I did that this morning for the first time in two weeks. It was luxurious. But I felt guilty afterwards.

Yesterday I went out canvassing to a diverse, poor, working-class neighborhood north of the city. I only registered one person to vote, but I did meet a very pro-gun Republican who emphatically announced that he and his whole family would be voting for Obama this time around. His rationale was strange, so I'm repeating it here. First he quoted Bill Maher, calling the Republicans "Daddies" and Democrats "Mommies." He said that he felt Republicans were better for the country in times of stability, but that Democrats were better at "cleaning up the mess." (I guess that's what he thinks "mommies" do). He said he believed we need at least 12 more years of Democrats in the white house before it will be stable and safe enough for the Republicans to take over. To me, this sounds like he thinks Republicans are pretty incompetent over all. But I didn't say anything. Can anyone explain this logic to me?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dead Lines

I've always found the term "dead-line" so morbid, so fixed, so unalterable, so threatening. No wonder it's a modern (rather than early modern) word. Good little historical materialist that I am, I much prefer my lines to be plastic, alive, unfixed.

What exactly is a dead line? Is it a condition of modernity?

According to the OED, the first use of "dead-line" as a kind of boundary (1864) described a circumference of safety drawn around a soldier. Outside the "dead-line," the soldier was liable to be shot.

Deadlines are also the early 20th century term for guide-lines "marked on the bed of a printing press."

In the second decade of the 20th century, "dead-line" came to be associated with the time limit for submitting a piece of writing to a journal or newspaper publication.

This last definition is the one that obtains today. It suggests that if the piece of written work isn't turned in within the given time limit, it will not be given literary "life" in publication, thus it falls outside of the invisible time line, and "dies." Of course we sometimes internalize this and worry that if we miss a deadline, a part of us- like an opportunity at posterity, prolonged literary life - will die too.

But for most academics (fellowship, job and conference deadlines excepted), deadlines are more like guidelines. Nobody wants us to turn in or be held responsible for publishing shoddy work, so we ask for a reasonable amount of extra time to get it right. How much time we request depends on the work we are doing. And, in general, the more prolific and well-known we are, the more that deadline, like gold to airy thinness beat, is stretched out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Anthropologie, Eat Your Heart Out

As part of their "College Issue," the Sunday New York Times Magazine today ran a series of photographs of professors who "make academia look good." One is a dear family friend, who is pictured looking smart and debonair (as usual).

Check out the slideshow here: Class Acts

Though I wonder how many of them actually own those clothes, it's still a delight to see professors looking and acting cool and awesome (though of course it might be more fun to see them letting down their hair and totally rocking out). I'm convinced that some of that awesomeness contributed to my decision to become one myself, superficial though it may be.

Postscript: a rapid e-mail communication between my mother and our family friend revealed that not only did they not get to keep the clothes, they didn't even get to choose them. You can sense some of them gently disapproving in the accompanying text.

Do you think they were nominated by their students, or by their colleagues?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Found in Translation

If only this room actually existed and we could send writers there.

This is from Sometimes the paradoxes of Engrish (mis-translated English) reveal odd, wistful truths. As in this rather Existential example:

Not all Engrish derives from mis-translating Asian languages into English. Some of it is found in British and American English as well:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

OMG- Anthro Update

In the comments section to my annual back-to-school-clothes post on Anthropologie's "Archive Trousers" (second generation "Tenure Trousers") the wise and delightful Renaissance Girl archly said she'd "like to see the adjunct trousers."

Well, here's something that comes close: The "Visiting Professor Cardigan."

I swear I don't make these things up. But they're too good not poke fun at (and surreptitiously consider buying).

This is a cardigan anthro has had up for sale for the past two years, and I've always wanted one.

Its haphazard buttons make me think of Robert Herrick's lyric "Delight in Disorder" ("A sweet disorder in the dress / Kindles in clothes a wantonness"). But by the time it gets cold enough around here for me to consider the exorbitant cost of what really just looks like a sweater buttoned up the wrong way, it always sells out.

$198. Because of course a Visiting Professor can afford to look artfully shlumpy.

Feel the irony, people.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Early Modern Show and Tell

My upper-level undergraduate Renaissance Poetry course is the most fun I've had teaching- EVER. And why? Because one of our rare books librarians decided she wanted to collaborate with me on the course. I said "yeah, sure, why not?"- I already bring my students up to rare books several times a semester. It might be nice to bring the rare books to them for starters. So long as she let me lead the discussion. And it's working really well.

Every day she brings a different old book to class, sometimes 2. Her choices always tie in to our discussion and reading.

Last week we read "Astrophil and Stella," and for our second day with the sonnet sequence, for a discussion on Sidney's "school-boy writer" persona, she brought along a 1591 edition of the poems, plus a 1627 book of grammar-school rules. When I suggested we read a few of the sonnets aloud, we passed around the early modern book, and the students got a chance to struggle with reading from a 16th century text. Which generated quite a few giggles, but also brought the experience down to earth. Pretty soon, they were volunteering to read, which is rare at a place like this (maybe rare everywhere? Except for the peppering of theatre majors in most upper-level English classes).

Anyway, teaching's fun this year. Every day, actually. I highly recommend that everyone try this out- if you haven't already. I'd be interested to read in the comments section about some of your own experiences with collaborative teaching. Did it work? Did it backfire? (I'm still a bit worried that the students will remember the old books but not Sidney).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Little Post On Feeling Appreciated

I used to chomp at the bit and stomp my feet waiting anxiously for people to notice me, to invite me to contribute to books, give talks, be on panels, anything. My colleagues ahead of me told me to calm down, do my work, forget about it. Eventually, things would happen.

So I did. Sort of. Having a blog helped.

Then this summer, things changed- quite suddenly, actually. It wasn't tied to anything important of mine coming out in print (the important things are still forthcoming for, like, EVER). It just started happening. First I got invited to contribute to an anthology. Then Major Important British Scholar took an interest in my work. Then another anthology invitation, &c. I think maybe The Library fellowship helped.

Yesterday I was invited to give a talk at a Very Nice (and Important) Place, which I shall call University of The City (UTC). And there is a small honorarium.

(By the way, the person who invited me was a remarkably talented and mature UTC grad student I met during one of my research trips this summer. So don't ignore the grad students. They can and do make things happen).

I've not yet been invited back by my graduate program at Quill & Stylus University (QSU), but I'd rather not go back just yet. It's only been three years and I'm still relishing my time away. Besides, that particular kind of evisceration is best endured after securing a book contract.

I hope this is the start of a good semester- first day is tomorrow. I'm bringing along a rare books librarian (and some rare books) for first day show-and-tell.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Anthropologie outdoes itself with "Archive Trousers"

I didn't think it was possible to tap the professorial and grad-studenty market any better than with "tenure trousers." I was wrong. What can a woman who already has tenure trousers possibly want? More research leave, obviously. May I present to you:

Archive Trousers

Made with a bit more stretch than tenure trousers- as the catalog puts it rather coyly (channeling the male gaze) "the better to allow you to reach that leatherbound volume on the highest shelf," which I take to mean "your ass will look great in these if you want to show it off." I doubt any of us archival researchers will be reaching up high for leather-bound volumes, but maybe the added stretch will help us contort in our chairs during all-day laptop transcriptions from giant foam book-rests. These, then, are perfect for the MLS market- but what's with the Minnie Mouse buttons in front?

And for the woman with both tenure trousers and tenure (presumably at an imaginary institution that pays Really Really Well), there's the vaguely Elizabethan influenced:


She'd probably buy the dress because she's enchanted by the "Basque waistline," something only those with tenure trousers can possibly understand.

Finally, of particular interest to my own field are the Via Appia and Trade Route trousers, and for the early Modernist (as opposed to early-modernist), Suffragette T-straps and Buckminster's Reverie Tieback.

Not quite as pretentious as J. Peterman, but certainly appealing to intellectual, rather than financial capital. The irony is that without financial capital, one cannot afford to buy their frequently poorly constructed clothes. I'm not ashamed to say that I've added "Archive Trousers" and "Suffragette T-straps" to my wish-list. But I'm waiting for them to go on sale.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Arden Shakespeare Controversy

Seldom does the rigorous, time-consuming work we do as editors get any press, even though edited editions probably reach more readers in one week than our academic monographs will in their brief lifetimes in print. The gold standard for scholarly editions of Shakespeare has always been the Arden Shakespeare, which is not only thorough, informative and sometimes challenging but also an excellent teaching apparatus. As an esteemed colleague at the Folger confirmed, these editions usually take upwards of 6 years to complete. It is not unusual for them to take a decade.

As an early modernist of the philological persuasion, I am most fond of Arden Shakespeare editions for their historical attentiveness to Shakespeare's language. It is thus very disappointing that at this moment, when a highly anticipated Arden edition is in the spotlight- one that promises to shed new light on language and the material text - it's because we may not get to see it, read it, enjoy it or use it:

Chronicle Article

Reinstate Pat Parker Website

Monday, August 11, 2008

I don't give a fig

I picked these off the tree a few minutes ago, and there are 10 times as many still ripening.

Two days ago I wrapped the tree with biodegradable breathable tree tape, then smeared the trunk up and down with something called "Tanglefoot," an environmentally safe sticky-stuff (made of wax and resins- it actually smells lovely and reminds me of my Ormonde Jayne Black Hemlock perfume from London) that keeps ants and other crawlies from climbing up the trunk and eating all the figs. Note to self: cover head and arms next time. Tanglefoot is also tangle-tress.

I love the color- kind of a golden turning to mauve (click on the photo for an extreme close-up). I was expecting a purple, so I actually let a few get too ripe and start to shrivel up on the tree- the darker ones in the picture are beginning to sport wrinkles too. I guess the light color is just part of the variety- I think these are Celeste figs.

I plan on stuffing with goat cheese, skewering on rosemary, drizzling with olive oil and tossing them on the grill. They are also really good like this wrapped with prosciutto, for those of you who are not veggie or kosher (or like me, lapsed in both).

Anyone have any other recipes? It looks like figs are going to be a major part of my diet for the next month and a half.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Blush, blush.

Emily, adrift on the The Seacoast of Bohemia, nominated me for this virtual hat tilt, and I am tickled pink.

I wish I could nominate Emily, but she's already received one, so here's my list below.

I nominate the rather dormant but still quite brilliant Blogging the Renaissance. Because it started this whole Renaissance blogging thing and this blog has a virtual blog-crush on it.

Beautifully written, perceptive and fun is Sign of the Spider, another blog that this blog is crushing on. Plus, it's got great virtual ink-blot visuals.

Jonathan Sterne's hilarious academic blog is not in the least dormant. It is also very smart (and very funny). In sum, it's Super Bon!, and totally blog-crush worthy.

Also dormant and good is Northern Humanist.

Two of my favorite blogs (and people) recently documented their trips to Israel with compassion, wit, and a keen sense of social history. These are A Wisconsin Yankee in King David's Court and From the Couch in New York.

I've begun reading Green Thoughts regularly and am generally in awe of its elegant openness.

Finally, Rants of a Feminist Engineer remains brave, funny, poignant, and admirably feminist, whether its writer is anonymous or not.

Okay, I've just noticed that all the blogs I've nominated are authored by academics who are also my friends (except Green Thoughts who is an academic but I don't think we know each other in real life. Yet. Or I could be wrong, maybe we do!). I should really branch out a bit more . . .

If I've nominated you and you want to play along, then follow the rules below. If you've got better things to do, then go do them. I know I do.

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

No News is Good News

Is what my father's doctor said two days ago.

So when I say there's not much going on here, what I really mean is, Thank Goodness.

Nothing Going On is a very good thing, considering what the options were just three days ago, as my family anxiously awaited the results of some very scary tests my father had to undergo quite suddenly. And the doctor called the next day as soon as the first round of results were in to tell him that it's not what we feared. We still don't know what it is, but it appears not to have an evil plan to achieve world domination over him, which is for some reason what the word "malignant" conjures for me- Mordred and Edmund and Pinky and the Brain. Anyway, it's not. And we are relieved for now.

Bad Epic

I've been thinking about my Next Big Project. Well, sort of. It changes frequently. It's a fun little exercise, to imagine completely uncharted work (as opposed to at least twice-charted work which is what most first books are).

Last week, hanging out in London with a particularly entertaining group of Renaissance friends, I mentioned to them that I was anxious about the lack of a chapter on epic in my current book project. One friend understandably asked me why no epic chapter, then? My immediate, unthinking reply was that Elizabethan English epics a) aren't classical enough for the likes of my book and b) just aren't that good. In fact, they're hideous.

My second, only slightly more considerate reply was that no one really did classical epic right until Milton, who then undid it- everyone before (Spenser et al) really just did Romance with a dash of epic. Think of Thomas Mann's analysis of Beethoven's late piano sonatas in Dr Faustus (or just bear with me here): In doing, surpassing and then un-doing the epic, Milton finished the epic, just like Beethoven finished the sonata. Anyway, said charming friends immediately collectively decided that my next book would have to be about these pre-Miltonic attempts, and they also decided that its title would be Bad Epic.

The funny thing is that I think in some way, they might actually be right. I already teach acourse on epics, from Homer to Philip Pullman. I'm obviously interested in questions of genre and pushing those boundaries. And I have Greek (and am perhaps a little too proud of that fact). Better, it's the perfect response to the question "why is there no chapter on epic in your book?"

"Funny you should ask. Well actually, that's my Next Big Project."

Back Stateside

Ants are eating the figs off my fig-tree. The shtarkers are fast!

Not much else happening here. It's warm and sunny and quiet, perfect for writing, which I am happy to say I am doing a lot of.

I miss London.

That said, I've sent off two essays and am polishing up a third one to send out before Sept 1. I also have two new opportunities for publication, which is nice & unexpected, but both will be new essays, unrelated to the book. New essays that I have yet to write. Meanwhile, I'm nearly finished with my last chapter and new intro, and will be sending out my book proposal in the fall. Go, little book proposal . . .

So my plate is full. But still I miss London, pints with friends, flirtatious men, obnoxious drunken yobs, the hilariousness that ensues when women follow high street fashion trends without any regard to body type, 10 pound plays at the national, BBC 3 and 4, and easy access to blue eggs.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I'm sort of suspended in time at the moment- nearing the finishing of my chapter but unsure how to end it nicely, nearing the end of my visit to London but still not having seen my three closest transatlantic friends yet (hopefully this weekend).

Last week my mother visited and we had a wonderful time, though I think I may have exhausted her with all the walking, especially when I took her up Tottenham court road where I was convinced there was a wonderful tea house, only to discover the teahouse was in Soho, and also when I confidently took us down Commercial st. in the east end in the wrong direction for four blocks. Don't even get me started on my greatest flub: when I got to the library I told her she could easily get a reader's card since the website says all you need is proof of address and signature. Instead the guy there quizzed her about her research project and asked what specific texts she wanted to see. She didn't know, so he refused to give her a card. Luckily there was still a lot for her to see at the library, so when we met up after I'd finished looking at my rare books she stopped me from groveling. Note to non-academic, formerly academic or partly academic friends: make sure to check out the catalogue and invent a research project before you apply for a reader's card at the BL.

I've seen three plays so far: Michael Frayn's Afterlife at the National- brilliantly written but hampered by its own conceit; The Female of the Species in the W. End- excellently acted by Eilieen Atikins, Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Thompson, but ridiculously behind the times and heterosexist. I mean, how can you write a play about feminist criticism and not have heard of Kristeva and Butler? And jazz-age Twelfth Night in Regent's park- not quite jazz-age and a little bit imbalanced. None of them thrillingly good, but all very entertaining.

I've seen a French film (L'heur de l'ete) at the Curzon, had divinely good and affordable Dim Sum (in Paddington, of all places! Better than Royal China and Wong Kei- it's called Pearl Liang and it's transcendental) and returned to Whitechapel for my favorite curry, which was still excellent though I noticed they'd upped their prices by about a pound all around. I also discovered that the bus I take to the British library stops around the corner from the divinely inspired curry place (which is near the Whitechapel Bell Foundry), which means I'll probably get to have the curry twice more before I leave. Yay! I've also spent time with my oldest friend from home and her family, along with family friends old and new, all of whom live or stay in North London.

I still have to return to Islington to my favorite pub, meet up with various friends from the early modern blogosphere, catch a prom, and see the aerially acrobatic Timon at the globe and the Goth Revenger's Tragedy at the National.

And I have to finish this chapter.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


A selection of random observations about this particular trip to London.

1. The flat I'm occupying is owned by perhaps the nicest 60-ish couple I have met other than my parents. He's a distinguished prof on the West Coast, she's an artist. The flat is large for London, though it doesn't get a lot of light. It's furnished with English antiques and books. There's a small bookcase near the doorway to the bedroom, full of books on the topic of which this professor is an expert. I pulled one off the shelf, thinking I'd learn a bit more about his subject- and discovered that everything in the shelf was authored by him.

This makes eight books published in the US plus 2 or 3 published in Europe, plus a 7 volume translation. Okay, so he collaborated on the most recent book and on the translation. But not one is an edited anthology, so still, it's a phenomenal amount of work for any one professor, and even more when you consider that every one of these books is about the work of the same author. Grand total of books authored, edited and translated by this professor: 18. Grand total of books authored, edited and translated by Pamphilia: 0; 1 in progress. (.75 Down, 17.25 to go).

2. I just finished Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which was hilarious. There's no television in the flat, so I've been reading novels (not that I'd watch TV in London anyway of course). Anyway, it's sad and hilarious. At one point the hero decides to go on the lam with his partner and they check in to a hotel "under the name of Saunders." Hee- they think they're being obscure and literary but it's Winnie the Pooh.

Anyway, at the back of the book was an essay by Chabon about writing his first novel. He says that there are three parts to being a successful writer: talent, discipline, and luck. And the only thing anyone ever has any control over is discipline. So that became his work ethic. I keep thinking about this while I'm here because I've actually become a lot less disciplined than I used to be. I mean a long time ago, when I was in high school and did all my homework every night and practiced the piano every day for 3 hours. I was fairly disciplined in College too- I don't mean that I drafted my papers in advance, but I did turn them in on time. I wonder what happened- when or where I lost this rigorous discipline. Was it in graduate school when I had the luxury of focusing only on one thing? Or was it living by myself that eroded my discipline- there was no one around to tell me what to do, or to set a good example? In any case, I've resolved to become more disciplined.

3. Taking the bus from where I'm staying to the BL today in the rain (I sat up on top), I overheard a lovely elderly British couple narrating the bus-trip to one another. He was pointing out landmarks to her, so she must have just come in to town. It was sweet the way they talked with wonder about all the newfangled technology taking over the world- cellphones with email and pictures and music and such. When we passed Mme Tussaud's the man said that he went once, but that was "before the War." I don't know which war he meant, but "things were different then."

4. I didn't really know what "Expensive" meant until I had been here a week. "Expensive" is basically the fact that everything that should cost what it would cost anywhere else, is not available for anything less than a ridiculously high price. Sandwiches are $7, and lunch is $30. EVERYWHERE. It's July and lots of things are "on sale." This means that tee-shirts are only $40 instead of $80.

5. The British Library is full of people you think you know, but don't. Everyone looks vaguely familiar and you will inevitably bound toward someone thinking he or she is your friend or colleague and then be embarrassed when they turn around. This meant that when I did see a colleague from a neighboring university, I approached him timidly and barely whispered his name. Which of course meant that our entire conversation was conducted in barely audible whispers because he thought I was being extra polite (sssh, it's a library).

6. Timeout London knows everything. Where else can you find information about the London Bat Watch and nude men's yoga in Islington?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Old Cotswold Legbar Pastel Eggs

I love London supermarkets (Waitrose especially).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

John Milton: Sexy Rockstar

So I'm heading off to London today, to catch the tail-end of the Milton conference and mostly really to finish writing my book. That sounds equally satisfying and fictitious, "to finish writing my book," as if I were some sort of creative genuis, when really all I'm doing is finishing a chapter, fixing another up, and writing a new introduction. Hardly qualifies as "book writing."

Waiting for my flight, I decided to catch-up on some older issues of the New Yorker, where I found Jonathan Rosen's little piece on Milton, which I think a colleague had recommended I check out. Much as I love the way a kicky modern word or phrase must be employed where no other will do (like when Rosen describes Satan and Gabriel "trash-talking" for instance), I did find myself biting my lip with disapproval. Rosen portrays Milton as a sexually avid rockstar well-versed in kamasutra and polyamory: "Nevermind that there were actually three Mrs. Miltons, and that Milton, who defended divorce and even polygamy, was a sensuous Purtitan, exquisitely attuned to the "amorous delay" of life in Eden." This is clearly a case of the poet being confused with the poetry.

I mean, really. Just because he happened to have three marriages- hastened not by two tame divorces as Rosen suggests here, but by two tragically premature deaths - and wrote stunningly beautiful passages about angelic and Edenic sex, we are supposed to believe that Milton was great in bed?

"Exquisitely attuned to the 'amorous delay'"? What is that supposed to mean? Milton was Casanova? He knew all about foreplay? (Maybe delay is the reason his first wife ran away for three years).

I, for one, would rather not try to imagine what Milton was like in bed, though I'm sure an historical novel is already in the works (by Philippa Gregory). Suffice it to say, it will not be taking up residence on my nightstand. . . unless some idiot buys it for me.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sparks of Light

It's Friday the 4th here in the land of legalized fireworks. I'm still getting used to that. People start setting them off a full two weeks before the holiday, in their backyards, on the street. Yesterday evening I wandered over to my colleague's house to say hello and her husband nonchalantly gathered about six or seven (on sale at Walmart!) and lit them in the street. If she hadn't objected, he would have lit them all at once. We sat on the terrace and watched, her four-year-old son rapt.

Tonight the 4th conincided with a local gallery hop, which happens once a month. It's not much- about three blocks of galleries and shops that stay open late with free food and sometimes wine. But I'm very glad it exists. It's nice to see the sub-culture here (aka liberals) getting a chance to strut its stuff.

Going to the gallery night and watching fireworks reminded me of the city where I attended graduate school. It's a place I will always associate with a combination of joy, melancholy and irony. Probably because that's what it feels like to be a graduate student, more than anything else.

I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this before, but it's become the story I tote out once a year on the 4th of July. Like on my birthday when my father tells me the story of the Great Ice Storm of '7_, and how while I snuggled under my mother's arm in the hospital as she slept off the anesthetic, he had to stay at home without power, grading papers in the bathtub surrounded by shabbos candles with the cat on the toilet and the dog on the bathmat.

Anyway, one summer, towards the end of our careers as doctoral students, my friends and I hovered in a liminal state of not-being-quite-done, not knowing where any of us would be in two years time, and I think I was heading to Oxford in a few months.

My dear friend e__ had been volunteering as a docent at a crumbling, dilapidated 19th century former prison- a Panopticon -on the top of a small hill in the city. At the time, the place was applying for historical landmark status, though it was in such a state of ruin that everyone who visited had to wear a hard hat. It was great fun, though- in addition to tours of the cells there were ongoing art installations during the year and film screenings in the summer. Anyway, this friend of mine had keys to the place, and since the lookout tower of the prison was very near the location of the city's main firework display, she contrived to sneak us into the prison and up into the lookout tower. We had brought picnic food, wine and beer too, I think. Since we had to sneak in, we used flashlights. It was still very dark.

It was deliciously thrilling, in that somewhat illicit way that makes you feel like a teenager breaking curfew or a kid playing "ghost in the graveyard" at dusk, near a real graveyard. [Edit: I have since learned that this place is featured on a documentary about real ghost hunters. Apparently the electromagnetic reverberation thingies or whatever they call them are off the charts]. Once we got to the top of the lookout tower, we waited for it to get darker and for the fireworks to start. We saw far-off ones bursting over one of the rivers, little pocks of light. Suddenly they were right overhead. I mean, literally over our heads and larger than any of us had imagined. If it weren't so beautiful, I might have compared it to what I imagine a psychedelic alien abduction might feel like, with lights as big as spaceships reaching their fingers down toward our heads.

This city also had a monthly gallery night, to which I and my friends duly repaired. And I remember for the first time (in early September) wandering into one that was unlike the others. For one, it was completely dark. There were black velvet curtains in the window blocking out all the light. A small card rested on the window sill stating that the gallery's hours were "By chance or appointment." There were velvet curtains in the vestibule (dark purple, I think). It was hushed inside, but there might have been faint, ambient chords struck now and then. At least that is how I remember it.

When I got inside, it was still dark, with black walls illuminated softly by chandeliers, pendant lamps, and sconces constructed out of collected ceramic and metal objects. These lights seemed magical, iconic in a sort-of Jungian way. And funny. A ceramic rabbit standing on two legs dressed in a suit, holding an umbrella made out of a sieve through which tiny points of light sparked. A chandelier like a medusa's head of twisted copper pipes, with tiny flame-shaped bulbs flickering at the end of each snake. And my favorite, a chandelier made entirely from teapots, their spouts pointing down and out away from the center, ending in bulbs the shape of little jets of water.

I know it's still there. But I checked the website and couldn't find the teapot or the rabbit lamps.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

London Countdown

8 days. God, I cannot WAIT to get there- it is beautiful but almost a wasteland here in the summer, and I seriously think I might go insane here with nothing but the book I'm writing, an internet connection, and the cat.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Okay, I'll admit it. I'm totally addicted to Apartment Therapy. I like looking at "sneak peek" slideshows of other people's houses (people and houses far more creative than anyone I know). And I like reading about DIY vintage furniture rehab projects, how to make hanging lights out of mason jars, wacky color combinations and the "smallest coolest apartment" contests. I spend too many hours reading about beer-keg balcony planters and staircases that double as bookcases on blogs like Design Sponge out of Brooklyn, and the twee Oh Joy! out of Philly.

I'm an apartment-geek. I confess it freely. I don't know where this obsession comes from- maybe it derives from living on the cheap in tiny urban apartments over the past 10 years. Or maybe it's because even now that I live in a (tiny) house, I live in the South, where interior design generally falls between suburban "Country" and overstuffed Louis XVI.

Despite the fact that I am insanely jealous of the cute couples who blog about their urban domestic bliss (most of which has to be- just has to be -literary fiction: No one's life is that perfect, and if it were why would you blog about it?), I keep coming back. So I guess maybe this addiction is really about fantasy- that domestic bliss can be had at all.

End of confession.

Inaugural Gazpacho

First of the summer using (almost*) all local produce, with homemade Minimalist Bread.

*illegal immigrant bell peppers

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Back Home

Bunnies ate my rosebush.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dog-baby Afternoon

Spotted, Saturday afternoon, at Eastern Market:

1. cute guy with baby in snuggly and two dogs, one in each hand.

2. cute guy with baby in snuggly and adorable puppy.

3. Two cute guys, each with baby in snuggly, each with dog(s), buying ice cream for their wives.

Cute guys: 4
Babies in snugglies: 4
Dogs: 5 or 6- who cares any more?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fun with History: Wikipedia Date Search

I just discovered something neat: Wikipedia date search. Type in a date, any date, and you get a list of happenings around the world. I tried 1327 and got Edward III crowned king of England and Petrarch meeting Laura, plus a list of famous births and deaths.

Type in 1453 and you learn that the Ottoman capture of Constantinople coincided with the end of the Hundred Years War and the invention of Guttenberg's printing press. All in one year.

Being the narcissist I am, of course I typed in the year of my birth. And learned that the first commercial Concorde took off into the air around the time the UN vetoed a resolution to create an independent Palestinian State. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth II sent the first royal e-mail and the DC Metro opened. In music, the first Eurovision song-contest coincided with the Ramones releasing their first album, U2 getting together for the first time, and the Eagles releasing "Hotel California." Along with the first known outbreak of the Ebola virus and the death of Mao Zedong.

. It is Wikipedia, after all)

So- how old am I? (More importantly, what search term did you enter to find out? Ramones, Mao, or Eurovision?)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Why I am not (yet) a Miltonist.

Because studying Milton is like studying Kabbalah: it is preferable to do it when you are over 40 and have read and studied everything else there is to read, in every language.

Okay, so I know that's not true, but it's a funny I came up with at Tea and a Real Miltonist told me it was good material.

Milton's a little later than most of the authors I study, and even though I am enraptured by his writing and teach it as often as I can, I just don't quite feel mature enough to write about it. It's not about the Hebrew, Latin and Greek- (sm)all of which I have (boast much, Pamphilia?). It's about the ideas contained therein. Sure, I might reference Milton in my writing now and then, do a reading of a passage, that sort of thing. But a reference does not a Miltonist make.

I think I'll wait to publish anything seriously devoted to Milton till I'm 40. Or after tenure. At this rate, they'll both happen sooner than I'd like to think.


The loose ends of my argument are finally coming together. I've also written large chunks of the chapter and I think I might be able to corral them into a solid document quite soon. Finally.

I've got only a few more days here and I'm doing all I can to continue writing and to call up any old books I need to investigate before I leave. It's making me kind of hyper.

I also just e-mailed a Major Important British Scholar, who has done a tiny bit of work on my Material Objects of Study and he a) remembered my critique of a paper he circulated at least 6 years ago at my graduate institution and b) was interested in my project and said he'd love to read more! He also directed me to his latest article on the subject, which just came out, and has helped me even further.

Even more exciting, today I went down to the PRs and finally surveyed the canon of scholarship on one of my Renaissance authors. I was thrilled to learn that there is still very little treatment of this text. More important, a Major Book that examines his work in relation to the sexier of my two Scholarly Territories does not even mention this text. This is a golden elipsis for me! And the other Renaissance author? Not to worry- everyone hates him.

I can feel that this is going to be something big. So much so that I'm having to check my enthusiasm at this point. I want to keep most of what I've found in my research to myself and guard it well, until it's ready for print. This is a new feeling for me, protectiveness of my ideas. I guess it stems from my belief that anyone could make these connections, if they just knew where to look. And the more I read, the more it becomes clear to me that what I am going to say about my genre and my two Scholarly Territories not only needs to be said, but needs to be said now.

Whew! If I smoked, I would definitely reach for a cigarette.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fish slime and Brine

So without giving anything away, I've been working with English translations of a racy (to early modern people, apparently) text for this book chapter I'm finishing.

This is only a sampling of one terrible Greek-to-English translation from the middle of the 17th century:

"Fish slime and Brine have made thy penance great,
Come now, into my bosome drop thy sweat."

Hmm . . . I think there's actually good reason why it didn't garner as much acclaim as the more famous version.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Archival Interior Decorating: Brûlé à Gant

My room here is HUGE- three large windows facing the street and the front garden, which at the moment is full of lavender, roses and hydrangea plus some kind of huge bush with glossy laurel-shaped leaves, covered with little sprays of white flowers (they look like miniature lilacs) putting out a too-sweet, very heady scent. The room is twice the size of my bedroom at least.

It's got some nice posters on the wall from the library, one an enlarged miniature portrait of Elizabeth which I quite like and couple of John Austen drawings. But directly above the couch is something a little disturbing. Two facsimile engravings. The bottom engraving depicts what I think are French or Belgian Protestant martyrs at the stake, but after being burnt, all charred and skeletal, with bits of hair and everything. A giant lumbering peasant is poking one of them with a pitchfork. The caption says "David et Levina etrangler et brûlé à Gant, Anno 1554." Anyway, it's kind of cool, but a bit gruesome for a bedroom. (If I had little kids, I'd have to hide it).

The top engraving is much less creepy- it's a portrait of Simon Mercier's arrest in a marketplace in 1553. There are some lumbering, drooling catholic friars in the background ready to pounce, but Simon seems in good health. Nonetheless, the caption reads "Simon Mercier, brûlé à Bergue-ap-Loom, Anno 1553." I thought I knew who Simon Mercier was but I googled him and couldn't find anything. And who are David and Levina and why do they have Jewish names?

Don't even get me started on the anti-Catholic woodcut of bishops at a feast over the bed. As a friend said, it's a good thing I'm not Catholic. Or Vegetarian.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Major Breakthrough

Hooray, I've made a major breakthrough in researching this final chapter. I don't have the whole thing written yet and I'm still ironing out the kinks in the argument, but I finally know exactly what to do with the second half of it, and I've discovered something really interesting about the text I'm working with.

Today the rain is coming down sideways in sheets. Its green outside and there's thunder and lightning. This library is already fairly dark inside, and I usually prefer to work in the better lit modern wing, but with the storm outside it's dark in there too.

And I can think of nothing more pleasing than being here, with my books, while it storms outside.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dogs and Roses

Ah, how good it feels to walk again! I've been exploring my new neighborhood (no longer with cousins, but in one of the library's apartments), and it reminds me a lot of where I lived in grad school, only with more rose gardens and more dogs (if that is even possible). The smell of roses, lavender, clematis, jasmine and honeysuckle is dizzying. But how good it feels to transport oneself on one's legs. And I'm starting to feel more grounded and less tired too- all it took was a week.

Today and yesterday evening I went exploring, and this afternoon I discovered the nearby market, which expands on the weekends to include local farmers, artists, jewelers, craftspeople and a flea market. I picked up some amazing local strawberries and artisanal cheese, and spent the better part of an hour taking in all the people, including many babies, dogs and cute guys, some with babies, some without- is there anything more adorable than a cute guy wearing a snuggly facing out with a wiggly 2 month-old, I ask you? No, there is not. Except maybe if he were also holding a puppy. Then I think I'd faint.

Now it's gotten very dark and thundery, and rain pours down in buckets. The library's only open for another two and a half hours, and there's tea at 3. I had planned to explore a different neighborhood this afternoon, but I do like a good cozy library and a nice cup of tea, especially when it's raining outside.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Good Lord, I am Out of Shape. I arrived in DC last night after a lovely 6 hour train journey and today I decided to go for a nice long walk, explore some shopping neighborhoods by metro and then walk back. The metro stop is only a 12-15 minute walk from where my cousins live, but it was 90 degrees in the sun. I was out of breath and sweating by the time I reached the cool, subterranean metro. And then while trying on clothes, I took stock of my figure and noticed flab in places I never thought could get flab before. And the strain in my lower back, oy vey! Since I moved to suburban southern city to teach, I stopped walking for transportation, started driving. According to a recent visit to the doctor, I have gained 10 pounds over the last 2 years in the south. So my body has not been accustomed to this much walking.

I felt like a marionette, my joints swaying with every step I took.

Thankfully, by the end of my five and a half hour expedition I started to feel more grounded and less out of breath.

This month I'll be walking everywhere again, but for good measure I've also decided to purchase an unlimited monthly pass at a yoga studio near Dupont Circle, which offers Ashtanga 3 times a week, along with Pilates and four levels of Vinyasa flow. I intend to go to class 3-4 days a week. I may not lose those 10 pounds, but at least I will feel like a Real Girl again.

So there you have it. My schedule: 9-5 library; 6:30-8 yoga; 8-whenever, blissed out post-exercise happiness.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dramatic Fugues

Yesterday I had a delightful coffee with Hip Colleague, and we talked about our book projects. He's writing his second book and had a question for me about Renaissance drama. One of his chapters is on Tony Kushner's play Homebody/Kabul and he described the way that play (and much of the Kushner oeuvre) explores a theme or issue through one character, then pass the theme on to the next set of characters, who in turn pass it on to the next, etc. He wondered if there was a literary or dramatic term for this.

I thought about it. And truth to tell, I couldn't find it operating in early modern drama or classical drama. I tend to think of political issues in Shakespeare operating in a somatic way (the body politic, the humors, the veins, the trickling down), and I tend to think of ethical dilemmas in Greek drama and tragedy working vertically downwards from the top to the bottom. Nowhere could I find an early modern or classical drama in which a problem is passed from hand to hand the way my friend was describing.

So I volunteered the term "transference," which sort of sounds literary and theoretical, maybe psychoanalytical too, though I have no idea why it popped into my head at the time. This term, of course, made me think of the pattern my colleague described as a kind of viral movement, which would make sense for Angels in America, though perhaps less so for Homebody/Kabul.

Then I thought of music- fugues in particular. In his fugues, suites and partitias, Bach takes a theme, breaks it down to its smallest elements ("motifs") then works it through different voices, inverting it, turning it inside out and upside down, and augmenting it into larger chord progressions. By the time the fugue finishes, we have seen the theme and its motifs carried through a metamorphosis.

And this kind of musical fugue happens on the 20th century stage as well, most notably in American Musicals- for some reason especially those to which Sondheim contributes. In what I consider his best musical, Sweeney Todd, Sondheim takes the opening of bars of the Latin Mass, inverts it and it becomes "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." Then he takes the Dies Irae and uses it as a repeated counterpoint motif (as musical accompaniment to a different melody) to signify Sweeney's descent into insanity. You can hear it in the background when he sings "We all deserve to die" in "Epiphany" and it appears in the same song when he returns to the tragic fate of his wife ("My Lucy lies in ashes"). It comes back significantly in the very end in the musical surge when he slits the throat of the beggarwoman.

A concurrent motif from the Dies Irae theme is the tritone interval, a diminished fifth known in Medieval and Renaissance music as diablos in musica, or "the devil in the music." The tritone has a hauntingly unresolved feel to it. It's dissonant and begs for a resolution. Sondheim and Bernstein made great use of it in "Maria" and the opening "Rumble" in West Side Story- you can hear the tritone on "Ma-REE-", and it's resolved on the "-ah." But it's really used to much better effect in Sweeney- you could even say the tritone is the main musical calling card of Sweeney Todd. It shows up in the male ingenue Anthony's ballad "Johanna" which is very similar to "Maria," but much creepier because Sondheim doesn't resolve the tritone into a major triad for a several lines; he keeps it suspended longer. And it shows up again in the harmonies of the hilariously macabre duet "A Little Priest," which closes Act I. When Mrs. Lovett joins Sweeney in cadencing the refrain, they are usually a fourth or a tritone apart, and at the very end, the orchestral accompaniment rises to a series of fast syncopated tritones, an antic and uneasy way to pull the curtain down.

So musically, Sweeney Todd passes the themes of demonic possession, Judgement Day (dies irae or day of wrath) and tragic loss from character to character until they culminate in the "Final Sequence," the tragic denouement in which Sweeney kills his wife and learns of Mrs. Lovett's deception too late.*

So I said all this to my friend and he said he had actually spoken to one of our colleagues about musical motifs in Kushner before, which kind of validated what I'd said, even though I was sort of stretching.

I think one of the reasons why I don't write about Renaissance drama (I prefer poetry and book history) is because if I wrote about drama, I'd really prefer to write about American Musical Theatre.

* I highly recommend the Original Broadway Cast recording from 1979 with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, though nearly as good is "Sweeney Todd in Concert" (2001) with George Hearn (Sweeney No. 2 on Broadway) and Patti Lupone with the New York Philharmonic and a number of noted opera stars, along with Neil Patrick Harris who is excellent as Toby.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blackberries, peaches, figs and plums, oh my!

So this year I decided to fertilize the garden with organic stuff. And in doing that I learned that plants are by no means vegetarians- in March I gave them some bones to crunch on, and in May they get a yummy meal of blood all around (makes me feel a bit like Mrs. Lovett).

And I didn't expect much, but what a world of difference organic fertilizer makes! The fig tree is twice as big and has tiny nubs on every single new leaf bract, which basically means there will be tons of figs cropping up in August. Even more exciting, I discovered a peach tree with fuzzy little green and orange fruits ripening in the far part of the back yard, along with several enormous blackberry brambles (possibly wild ones). And this morning getting the mail I noticed how big the plum tree was getting and was shocked to find about 16 hard little magenta plums on it. I thought it was a flowering plum, but not a fruiting one. And I only fed it with a tiny bit of leftover fertilizer, so now I know it's capable of producing a lot more.

Alas, I'll probably be out of town when the peaches, plums and blackberries ripen so I hope my cat-sitters will pick them and eat them before the birds and squirrels do. But the figs I can enjoy all August, which sweetens the bitter task of having to come back early and do more freshman advising.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I aint got nobody

Feeling sorry for yourself never sounded better- or smarter. From 1940's "Strike up the Band."

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring (tra la)

Well one thing I sacrificed this week was my health and well-being. I had returned to God's Country (the town where I grew up, which is also Capitol City and State U), to celebrate Passover with my parents and our family friends this past weekend. All of us had a wonderful time, seeing old friends and making new ones. Then, on monday, my mother fell sick. And I mean really, hideously, wretchedly, violently sick. And I took care of her, which was actually fun because she was so grateful and because I was putting off grading lower-division papers and yes I would rather clean vomit off the car than face another dangling participle. Then, after her fever broke and she seemed reasonably on the mend, I flew home. And of course the next day I fell ill (note to self: do not clean vomit off the car. Grade your papers instead). And the day after that, my dad fell ill. And the day after that . . . well, his secretary who also happens to be my massage therapist will have to confirm whether or not she fell ill, but the odds are fairly high that she did.

I'm finally feeling much better today, even nibbling on apple slices and hardboiled egg, after sleeping all day yesterday and literally letting my colleagues push me out of the office and cancel my third class on Wednesday when they noticed I was shivering in a pantsuit and down jacket, when it was 78 and sunny.

Anyway, that was my weekend and my week. And despite all this, I got those papers graded and returned to my students. I also paid my bills, straightened up my house, did 3 loads of laundry, got new car insurance, finally got renter's insurance, secured a flat to rent in London, and (possibly) found a student house-sitter for the summer. And suddently this is all making me feel a bit like a rockstar. Just because it felt impossible two days ago when I couldn't sit up.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sacrificial Living

I've been thinking about the sacrifices we make, large and little, for our scholarly livelihoods. Specifically I'm thinking about what we give up in order to finish our books, take those desirable jobs, finish our theses. I started musing about this when I emailed a friend to ask him how he got his first book out so early in his career. Did he give up two extra hours of sleep per day? Skip lunch like my friend when she was on leave at an archive? His modest response was that he had a lot of free time in the first two years. (So the mystery remains).

But accustomed as I am to a comfortable lifestyle, I can't help wondering if I'd get more writing done, more articles finished and more books read if I gave something up. And I'm not counting my current celibacy- that's a consequence of living where I do.

When I was finishing my dissertation I did sacrifice sleep. And also cleaning the house, eating healthfully and doing any grocery shopping or cooking or exercise whatsoever.

What kinds of sacrifices have you made or are willing to make for your scholarship? Would you give up sleep or lunch or television or a spouse just to finish your book? Have you?

Why am I so drawn to sacrifice anyway? Maybe it's because I like to think that if I give something up in the symbolic economy, I'll somehow be rewarded with something else, i.e. book completion. Maybe giving something up would make me feel more pious and less hedonistic. Or maybe it's the influence of my former dissertation adviser, who advises that writing itself ought to be painfully difficult- if it's not, then you're not getting anywhere.

What should I give up this summer in order to finish my book? (Please don't say blogging . . .)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Whole New You

I have a new name and a new face. It just seemed more fitting. I'd rather be a poet than a source of inspiration. Wouldn't you?

Next up: maybe a new blog name too? I do still have a tendency for embarrassingly funny Freudian slips, but the blog title doesn't exactly fit with my postings of late. So let me know, dear readers, what you think I should do. Should I come up with a new title or leave it be? Any good title suggestions? (More Wrothplay with something like "The Countesse of Mountgomery's Blogographia" or "This Strange Labyrinth" maybe? "Et in Urania Ego"? For some reason I also really like "Discordia Concors," which is how Samuel Johnson described metaphysical conceits).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I've just learned that I'm also going to spend a month in DC this summer, probably mid-may to mid-June, but it all depends where I stay and whom I hire (or how much I'll pay) to feed the cat. I'm starting to get really, really excited about archival writing again. I tend to get more writing done in libraries away from home, so I've promised myself that this will be the summer when I finally finish the manuscript and send it off.

Apparently this will also be the summer when I get the hell out of this tiny little town for a few months. Hurrah for that!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Whee- I'm going to London this July. It's just dawned on me, that this is a wonderful, good thing. I'm really going just to have a change of scenery in which to finish my book, but since my summer starts in May and I hope to get a fair amount of writing done in May and June, I might also actually have time for some fun in London as well as long days at the BL. Anyway, I was disappointed to find that the little B&B where I'd stayed last year was all booked up. So instead I booked one a couple of houses down on the same street that actually sounds much better- same tiny rooms, Georgian Terrace, garden in the back, free wireless, but this one also has a shared kitchen and fridge for guests, which is totally necessary given the high exchange rate and the fact that my funding doesn't reimburse for food.

I'm just starting to get excited again. If you'll be there too, let me know. We'll go for a drink. Or else don't tell me, and we'll bump into one another on the 4th floor of the BL and it will be fun.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

April Showers

Bring more April showers. It has rained nonstop for the past five days. This is good- our state is still in the midst of a drought and we need 8 more inches of water in order to be back to normal. I think we're there by now though. I miss the sun. I need to see the sun.

Other rainy-day news: I sat down with turbo-tax today all ready to find out how much the government owed me and was shocked to learn that I owe the government $904. How could this have happened? After taking another 2 and a half hours to pore over my tax returns to make sure I hadn't miscalculated, I realized my university has not been withholding enough for me. This is probably due to the fact that I received a raise in July, one that pushed me up into a different tax bracket. My guess is that the payroll office didn't increase the amount withheld along with the salary. They needed to shave off an extra $150 per month- not a huge deal, not exactly something I would have missed terribly, or anything I could have noticed- until now. But now, at tax time, when I have to pay this enormous lump sum, I'm a little bit annoyed. Especially since I was planning on using my unnecessary rebate for charity. Or at least I was getting a kick out of saying that. Now it's just going to help reduce the amount of what I owe.

Some good things are happening, though- the tulips are up, I've finished one more essay and am nearly done with the third and fourth. I received funding to go to London and finish writing my book (though apparently not to eat- it's all handled by reimbursement and meals will not be covered this year). And on Friday afternoon I painted the hallway green, just to cheer myself up. I love how easy it is to change the look of a place- and one's mood -with paint. Even though I know I'll be moving eventually, it's not a waste. Paint is cheap, and I like doing it. Colors just make me happy. And that's kind of important these days.

Friday, April 04, 2008

In the Blogosphere I'm a Tyrant

I'm sorry if I've deleted some of your comments. I want to explain why here. Do feel free to use the comments section to this post if you'd like to complain or disagree with what I'm about to say (wink, wink).

In all fairness I ought to keep every single comment on the blog even if I find it is not productive or friendly or useful. I ought to, but I know I won't. I wonder if this means The Freudian Petticoat isn't technically an Early Modern Public- because it's beginning to regulate what people say? Then again, it never really was either Early Modern nor Public- discuss.

Here's how I see it: In this strange blog-rinth, everyone steps on everyone's toes now and then. And everyone sticks virtual feet in virtual mouths. I know I have, and a few times my comments have been respectfully removed from others' blogs. And I'm very grateful for that.

That said, here are 10 reasons why I might remove your comment:

1. You make reference to my real-life identity
2. You post something mean and hurtful directed at me or at the other commentators
3. You offend
4. You use the comments section to have a personal argument with me
5. Your comment is unproductive
6. You shill
7. You troll
8. You spam

Hmm, with the exception of the last three these look a bit, I don't know- arbitrary? Subjective? I may allow some of you to trash my scholarship and post offensive jokes, but delete others. And what exactly do I mean by "productive" anyway? And what if I happen to be feeling particularly hypersensitive at the exact moment when I encounter it? What then? Well that brings us to the last two reasons:

9. Your comment just bothers me for some reason I can't explain and
10. I just feel like deleting it.

Sorry, folks. It's my blog, I'll do what I want with it. In the Blogosphere I'm a Tyrant!

For what it's worth, I delete a lot of my own comments. Far more than any others.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

State of the House Post, or Vintage Budget Living 101

Living Room

Now that I've just completed my spring cleaning, thrown open the windows to the fresh air and allergies, I thought it might be nice to post some photographic updates (especially given the high praise lavished on my house by certain good friends at the Shakespeare conference). It's pretty much the same but there's quite a bit more stuff: I've finally got my stereo system and vintage KLH-17 speakers up and working- the stereo is on a yellow enamel 1950s kitchen cart (neighborhood salvage shop) in the living room; the speakers are in the dining room (the wire runs along the baseboards and up around the doorway). You can also see some fresh new bed linens, a fabulous hall light (ebay purchase), loads more sunlight, a funky 1970s yellow desk chair (also ebay) and the vintage turquoise pottery collection I've started.

Best of all, very little is new- most comes from salvage, ebay and craigslist.

Living Room: Tea and Sugar posters are reproduction "lecons des choses" from Deyrolle. The coffee table is from 1959, teak with rosewood veneer, a salvage find. The glass side table is vintage Design Research and belonged to my parents in the 70s. Over the fireplace is an old printer's case and a Chinese calligraphy brush. In front of the fireplace are a vintage Chinese basket and rice caddy. Chair on the right was found in the trash.

Dining Room: The dining table is a vintage Heywood Wakefield junior dining table, a craigslist find. The chairs are vintage Thonet from local salvage.

Hallway, Bath, Bedroom entry with vintage Chinese elm bench and art deco dresser.

My desk is an unfinished wood parsons table that I sanded and painted high gloss white. Bookcases are the ever-dependable Ikea Billy. The Kevi chair I found on ebay for $30.

The kitchen table is the "Odyssey" from CB2, a cheap knock-off Saarinen. Chairs are vintage Thonet from the local Habitat for Humanity Re-store salvage shop.

It's really difficult to photograph the guest bedroom/den. The walls are a chocolatey eggplant or a very blue brown. The daybed is vintage '60s Design Research, belonged to my parents when they were in grad school. The carpet is possibly a Bakhtiar, and is from ebay. It's huge and garish and I love it.