Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Reading By Candlelight

I turned out and unplugged for Earth Hour this evening, but I was all alone. Apparently my friends actually have things to do on Saturday night. (Who knew?). And mine was only one of two houses on the entire block that went dark for an hour.

So after a much needed day of cleaning, I lit candles and Saffron and I kicked back on the couch with the facsimile of Bacon's essays I'd purchased for $1 at the library booksale, for a little reading early-modern style.

The first thing I learned was that people then couldn't have possibly read in bed or on the couch (if they even had sofas in that period), because you'd have to hold the candle aloft yourself and then wax would get all over your fingers and your book.

The second thing I learned was that sitting at a table was only slightly better illuminated than sitting on the couch, trying to hold a flickering candle steady while it drips wax all over your book and fingers. And that it takes at least five or six substantial candles to provide enough light by which to discern colors (okay, so part of my reading experiment involved the latest CB2 catalogue- I confess it freely). So obviously only anyone who could afford an abundance of candles could afford not to go to bed before 8pm.

The third thing I discovered was that propping the book up on its edges rather than setting it to lie flat on the table afforded it almost twice the amount of illumination. So an early modern book stand or even a slanted book rest (like on a lectern) was really necessary for nocturnal reading.

After a while it got cold and my eyes got tired and I started glancing towards the clock, counting the minutes left until I could turn on the lights again. Then I placed the book back down on the table for half a second and the cat decided to sit on it, and that was the end of that.

This led me to my final revelation: Yes I am roundly in favor of reducing the world's carbon emissions and stopping global warming, but I love electricity. Electricity is my friend. And that is one of the many reasons why I am glad I live in the post - rather than early - modern world.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lights Out at 8

I'm turning the lights out and unplugging everything for an hour at 8pm tonight for Earth Hour. I'm actually looking forward to spending an hour with candles and friends and a nice bottle of wine. I had hoped it would be warm enough to sit on the porch, but it's cold and rainy today so that's out. I have no idea if anyone else in this town will be doing this- only one city in the whole state appears to be officially participating, and of course it's only hit the local news today. But I'm hoping I won't be alone.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In Praise of Anonymity

This is why I've decided to try to become more anonymous on the web (and to continue to protect my anonymous friends in the blogosphere). I'm not saying I'm not sharing my identity with my friends, but most of my colleagues and none of my students (so far as I know) read this blog or know it's me, and I'd kind of like to keep it that way.

More on Yummy Mummy

Sorry for the bad pun.

My friend Marie tells us this about early modern mummy consumption:

"As for Jonathan's comment, my understanding is that "mummy" or "mummia" was a brew that involved boiled parts of dead bodies, mixed with other stuff, and that drinking it was thought to ward off death."

Given that some of my own work is about how early modern folk attempt to counteract death and decay through poetry, I wonder if there's more to be said about mummia. In addition to the notion I get from reading Donne that the corpse is an animated body even when it's resurrected for judgement day (see "The Relic"), I'm also thinking about the anxiety/fascination early modern writers seem to have about the affinity between corpses and flowers, especially in Act 4 of The Winter's Tale and in Acts 4-5 of Hamlet.

Ophelia sings about decking a corpse with flowers, is pulled to death with flowers, gets flowers thrown in her grave, "and from her fair and unpolluted flesh may violets spring."

What I'm getting at is that I think the boundary between life (flowers, living bodies) and death (corpses, mummies) was much more tenuous in the early modern period than it is today. Either tenuous and fluid, or organized in a different way. I've been thinking about this because I'm still intrigued by the "Shakespeare and Technology" panel at SAA, which seemed to want to redefine (and sometimes even blur) the boundaries between early modern nature and technology, human and machine.

I know that's kind of a knee-jerk early modern materialist argument, that boundaries were tenuous, everything was less fixed, but I guess I still think we can learn stuff from thinking this way.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fastest Turnover Ever!

I just got an article accepted by a journal not one month after sending it out. I have never had this happen before. It was a long time coming (I think this is the fourth or fifth try), so I'm glad it took so little time for them to decide. Wheee! No more worrying about finding a home for this wayward sister. She's happily settled and will be available for all to see in 2010.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Extended Families

Hans Holbein, More Family Portrait

I don't have to teach on Friday! I don't have to teach on Friday! It's something called "Good Friday," for Catholics and Anglicans, I think. But it's also Bach's birthday, so I plan to spend the entire day writing and listening to Bach. I've got two pieces to polish up and send out and I must do it before April comes around. I'm still feeling the remains of post-conference depression. I've managed to e-mail my new friends, finish some conversations, write my thank-you notes, and partially redeem myself virtually, but every day I keep remembering more people I need to write. I'm really glad I had those cheesy business cards made as I'm finally starting to get e-mails from scholars I met at the conference who are interested in my work.

Forgive me for sounding Pollyanaish, but the virtual world being what it is, I think this year it will be easier to stay connected. That is, if I don't disappear completely into my book, which five people in the past week have encouraged me to do (and don't worry five people, I will, I'm dying to!). Still it's nice to know how to reach one's friends & colleagues when stuck or confused or in need of inebriation in London or DC.

The funniest bit of SAA news is that I've discovered that one of my new conference buddies is in my extended family (my artist cousin is his partner- who knew?). I did get a very warm, familial vibe from him at the conference, so maybe I ought to have guessed, but neither of us knew this until after the conference ended.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

SAA 2008: What I learned

Sometimes it is impossible to learn anything from a conference. Generally all I do is agree, disagree or let my mind wander. Usually my best conference experiences are food-related. But thankfully I actually did learn some things about (gasp!) the early modern period, among others at this conference. In no apparent order they are:

1. We need to use our imaginations more, but this doesn't necessarily mean that we have to stop talking about real material things, just that we have to stop thinking about trying to find them and then find them again (I think).
-Mary Bly's delightful and provocative plenary talk.

2. Descartes may have traveled around Europe with a life-size automaton made to resemble his dead daughter, Francine.
-Wendy Hyman's talk for the brilliant "Shakespeare and Technology" roundtable panel, the sleeper hit of the whole conference.

3. Waterwheels shaped the way early modern London sounded and felt.
-Jonathan Sawday's talk for the same panel.

4. "Petard" was not simply an early modern bomb (see fig. 1 above), it also meant a fart.

5. If Ania Loomba is right (and she frequently is), we still haven't connected colonialism, the mercantile economy, race studies and East and West enough. I keep finding this difficult to believe though, especially because I thought Amanda Bailey's careful and elegant plenary paper did just that. Also: why isn't anyone writing about the sugar trade in Cyprus?

6. People ate mummies (which technically I knew already from David Read's seminar work at last year's SAA but had conveniently forgotten only to be surprised by it again).

7. Stanley Kubrick's first film Fear and Desire appears to brilliantly rework bits of The Tempest, but since it is nearly impossible to see one of the two remaining copies we just had to take Richard Rambuss' word for it.

8. Early modern publics are small, numerous, material and virtual. They self-destruct when they start kicking people out. They can also be eloquently described with Venn diagrams. This lead me to hypothesize that every time an early modern public spontaneously combusts, five others are born. Clap your hands if you believe in early modern publics! (I know I do).
-Steven Mulaney, Paul Yachnin and Katherine McKluskie's "Making Publics" panel

9. A large number of Dallas women may indeed be living proof of the third (or fourth) sex.

10. It is possible to fuse texan with japanese cuisine and produce delicious results, but only at considerable cost. On the other hand, Salvadoran cuisine fused with texmex is yummy and cheap. And apparently texmex itself is very, very cheesy.

11. Everyone has a Shakespeare Quarterly Revise-Resubmit-Reject sob story.

12. Downtown Dallas has a free vintage streetcar system and a gorgeous triplex of art museums yet remains strangely devoid of people. How can this be???

13. If you've blogged about something really cool but want it to remain anonymous, just say it was an MLA paper you gave- that conference is so huge that no one will know the difference. I thought this was a brilliant idea and am taking this to heart.

14. GEMCS is back!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dallas, Baby

I'm in Dallas, a day early for a conference, because it was cheaper to fly in early and because it is also my spring break and I need a change of scenery. The plan was originally to wander around and check out the art museum today, but since I had to get up at 5am, I really just want to take a shower and a nap.

Is it wrong to hear the "Dallas" theme song in one's head walking down the street here? I've never been here before, and even though we have a dear family friend who is also a prof down here, musical associations tend to take hold of my brain more powerfully than others. My parents used to let me stay up to watch "Dallas" with them when I was too little to understand that it was about adultery and melodrama. So the music will be forever associated with getting to stay up past 7pm, which was exciting.

The conference begins tomorrow afternoon, and my session is Friday. I'll try to go to some panels and report back from the field. Those of you who know me and will be here, I'll see you soon.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

3/2, 32

It's my birthday today, so I get to sleep late and spend the day in my pajamas. It's also Saffron's birthday, and she has been playing around in the wrapping paper from the presents my parents sent us both. Right now she's fallen asleep in the Neiman Marcus box under about six layers of tissue paper, but her tail is hanging out over the side.

What kind of birthday is it when the date of your birthday (read in the US format) mirrors your age? It's not a golden birthday, is it? That would have been when I was two, right? Or is it? In any case, I've been told that 32 is an auspicious number in Chinese numerology and in Jewish mysticism (22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet plus the 10 divine attributes).

I'm feeling much less frustrated and depressed today. I've gotten a lot more writing done and funding applications out, plus had a very successful first meeting of the interdisciplinary early modern reading group I created with a friend at a neighboring university.

And it's warm! One lovely thing about living in the south is that it can be 60 degrees on March 2, with crocuses and daffodils and flowering quinces outside. We have a long, slow spring here though, so none of my dogwoods has started to blossom, nor has the plum or the weeping cherry in the backyard. But the two forsythias in the side yard have little yellow buds on them so I'm hoping they'll bloom in the next week or so.

I kind of overdid it this weekend- I invited a bunch of people over for a party last night, but since I'm teaching 3 classes 3 days a week plus everything else, I didn't get to the shopping and cleaning until Friday night and got to bed at 2am. Then yesterday I finished up the cleaning and did all the cooking and prep work but by the time people started arriving at 9, I could barely stand up. I did have a wonderful, blissful time and was totally un self-conscious which was actually a really great feeling. Two of my closest friends stayed until one, and insisted on ringing in my birthday with me at midnight.

Now I understand why no one throws parties until the end of the semester. I slept late this morning, but I feel as if I've just run a marathon! It's a good feeling, but I'll need the rest of the day to recuperate before I can begin prepping for tomorrow's three classes. I guess you could say I finally feel like a grown-up, if being a grown-up means feeling really, really, really tired.