|Somewhere in W. Virginia|
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
|MS. Douce 199, fol. 252r, Bodleian Library at Oxford|
Curried Eggplant Soup
Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate, Pistachio, and Pears
Early Grey-infused Apricot Tart in a Hazelnut shortbread
And there was Macmas, too, that time of year when all good friends gather and there is brunch and we unite, as with all these holidays and surely since the Middle Ages (ok, since Saturnalia), to hold off the cold and be together. Mac was truly valiant this year in gift assembly, as two out of three dreams come true required extensive tinkering: a doll house (Eleanor) and a microscope (Iris). Oliver's wish of a cat has come true in the form of two kittens who will enter our lives after the first of the year - a wee girl and a boy who have been named by the kids (somewhat inexplicably but it works) Miss Frizzle and Darwin. Cats and dogs entered medieval households with much less fanfare - though every time I say that, I think of all those Books of Hours and those noblewomen with pampered lap dogs and know there's a a study to be done of the medieval pet (maybe already has?). Perhaps as that tiny terrier helps Mary of Burgundy think on her Book of Hours, Miss Frizzle and Darwin can help me say something meaningful about siege engines and medieval colonialism. Or I can think on the most excellent Pangur Ban, the Irish cat who helps his monastic companion hunt and wrestle with ideas because he does the same with mice. We are not alone in our struggles.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
|Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor|
I felt especially safe there as not an hour earlier, we'd been rear-ended on the rainy road coming back from ice skating in Bloomington. Everybody in both cars is fine (yea! seatbelts!), and our car is even drive-able (not the other driver's though - really, seatbelts are everything). So we found ourselves driving back into town still with the possibility of making it to Bach and Barbecue. Originally, I was just going to go, but then all three kids wanted to go as well, so we all went. And I'll be honest, for Oliver and Eleanor it was more the Alfredo than Bach, and for Iris it was definitely the barbecue, but once they were there, they loved it. The tables at Chief's are covered in paper that the kids can color, so we started drawing "What this music makes me think of." Iris, ever the literalist, drew a bunch of notes.
I bet that Bach would have enjoyed this evening. What were the listening conditions for his Coffee Cantata? Ok, wait, I just looked it up, and it appears that it was performed at Zimmerman's Coffee House in Leipzig in the 1730s. The libretto is hilarious. And quite the feminist rebellion: (a daughter refuses to give up her three (!!!) bowls of coffee a day, despite her father's entreaties; she won't marry any man that won't let her drink her coffee; and it turns out that generations of women have loved coffee). Why do people relax around music when there is food? It must be the sensuality and comfort of the food, the pleasure of the meal shared.
|from Robert Bartlett's Medieval Panorama|
Of course, one can go too far with these things! No need to "go medieval" on this - may your holiday tables be filled with mirth, music and many tasty morsels!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
And then calcium, and its revelation, I'm persuaded, of a medieval knowledge of materials and what they can give. Alabaster, a.k.a gypsum, is a combination of calcium, sulfur, oxygen, and water: thus the beautiful hieroglyph: CaSO42H2 (dang, can't do subscripts here, that's where you'd put the numbers). Lots of calcium there. What I need to ask my colleagues is whether or not calcium is "responsible" in some way for the porosity. For guess where else calcium shows up in huge amounts? Ivory. Calcium phosphate to some. Favorite medieval carving material to others. Hardness level? 2. This calcium commonality may be a bigger whoop for us moderns, because it likens two separate disciplines - we realized we needed a vertebrate biologist at the table when ivory emerged. A medieval sculptor existing within no such disciplinary divides could desire both equally for their give to touch, pigment, and gold. I'll confess that it's the presence of calcium in the human body, too, that thrills me here. A chemical commonality that reformulates these works of art as material extensions of the human. Or human participation in their materiality. Scientific facts, medieval practices, modern desires - let's see how this goes.
Monday, December 12, 2011
I can hardly sleep for how excited I am about tomorrow. It's not the student presentations on Jerusalem (although I'm sure those will be swell), and no, it's not the grading. Rather, I'm having lunch with two really nice colleagues, a geologist and a biochemist, who have kindly offered to help me decipher a science article about alabaster. It's so science-y, that I can't even reproduce the title here. There are spectotropic methods of indecipherable names and intentions. I seek to understand how (geologically and biochemically) alabaster could sustain pigment and gold leaf. It's a porous stone, open and, I can't help but think, generous. Articles discuss its "veins." The alabaster you see above is not the kind that I'm researching, which was used in making devotional statuary (much of it of hand-held scale) from about 1300-1550. But I love the veins and the landscape it presents. We spoke, this semester in the "Nature" unit of Gothic Art, about the agency of aesthetics - the way a beautiful stone can "work" you, can draw you in, solicit touch and desire. Alabaster is cheaper than marble, shorter lived in the realm of human fascination. But it's warm and receptive to impositions of the human imagination. What makes a stone available to become art in the Middle Ages? Is its malleability its liveliness? Does it project forms to its maker? Does alabaster, for instance, warm to the human touch? I don't know of another stone that can hold gold and pigments so well and so long, that works so willingly with the dramatic elements of art. Is this why there are a full 97 (that's a big number) alabaster Heads of John the Baptist left to us? Is this why human skin can be lauded as alabaster? There'll be much more to write tomorrow (Caillois, Marbod of Rennes) but for now, I just wanted to register excitement as I start to think of the process from stone to statue, from unhewn to hewn.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Hmmm - I wrote that a week ago Sunday. Note to self: never title a post with the word "Interrupt" in it, for it is doomed to be interrupted. Life has been as hectic and at times as absurd as that in Freedonia, but without the leadership of Rufus "All I can give you is a Rufus over your head" T. Firefly. We've since seen Duck Soup about ten times and the kids can do several of the dialogues ("You can leave in a huff; if that's not fast enough, you can leave in a minute and a huff" is the current favorite) and a pretty tight mirror scene. We're hoping that Santa brings more Marx Brothers into our lives because that would only be appropriate.
Eleanor's comment, which I can still savor, had to do with this absurd dog toy that she won in France at the end-of-the-year festival (yes) - a squeaky doggie newspaper. She loves this toy, sleeps with it, carries it around, brings it to school, makes drawings of it. It finally dawned on me to ask her why she loved it so, and she replied: "Because I can interrupt." The power to interrupt: this small, squeaky, annoying toy gives her that power, and she loves it for that reason. Never mind what she might interrupt - Eleanor is unencumbered by the transitive needs of the verb. She just can. And she has: we've heard that damn thing squeak in the midst of the most intense conversations/frantic searches/power struggles. That high-pitched squeak of the air going out, the breathy whine of the air coming back in. What a joy, what a fantastic disruptive joy, to be able to interrupt. Ask Groucho Marx.
|MS. Rawl. liturg., f. 13 Bodleian Library, Oxford|
Sunday, November 27, 2011
|Pilgrims at St. Edwards' Tomb|
Enter the strategy of comparing behaviors. [Geez that sounds facile when I put it like that. (Maybe I should drop the "geez"). My anxieties about publishing anything-not-in-an-anthology are pathetically debilitating - ack!] - of comparing behaviors not to say "we are all the same," or "we are no better than the Middle Ages" (though the shock value of the latter statement has proven effective in shaking the complacency that we here and now live in the best of all possible worlds, or that our world needs no improvement), but rather to examine the conditions of possibility for both responses, to try and understand what's motivating and driving the actors in both scenarios. This is why in teaching relics and reliquaries I introduce the idea of the belief in the power/currency of saints' bones by asking a student if I may tear up his or her $20 bill. Of course I can't - why not? Because we somehow believe that that piece of paper, inked in that particular way, is worth something. And so the interest in the class discussion becomes "how materials of intrinsic non-worth come to have worth" instead of "medieval people were naïve for believing that old bones were worth something" (it's actually really helpful in teaching art period, and I never cease to marvel that paint and canvas, or bits of stone have come to mean so much).
And so at the end of a really swell Thanksgiving holiday which included hiking and movies and reading and talking with the kids, and talking about Egypt and California and protests and pepper spray and violence with the adults, I am left wondering about footage like the one I invite you to view below. Medieval pilgrims and their fervor tend to unsettle students. Perfect, let's bring that to Thanksgiving, its talk of pilgrims, and the modern incarnation of a fervent rush.
I am fascinated watching that crowd surge. It's not the secular, rational, controlled world I live in, and I'd never ever put myself there. But there's something satisfying in watching that powerful flow of people (maybe to compensate for all the crowds crushed by authoritarian regimes of late?). It's easy, as the commentators do, to dismiss their fervor as stupid and naïve, but they exist and they are driven and they are interconnected (by love of family, and pull of objects, and hope of connection and yes, even happiness) - and we should be asking why and how, for then and now.
|Pilgrim Steps at Canterbury|
Thursday, November 24, 2011
|Privacy Box, 1430, painted wood, Basel, Switzerland|
- Turkey with lemon sage butter
- Oyster stuffing with fresh herbs
- Potato and celery root gratin with leeks
- Spiced, glazed carrots with sherry and citrus
- Pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake
- Bourbon pecan pie
|Pepper Spraying Cop at the Déjeuner Sur l'Herbe|
|Frau Minne Breaks Hearts, 1479 woodcut|
|Charles Mann's wonderful book|
Monday, November 21, 2011
|Arthur, Nine Worthies, the Met|
Bill Clinton had a phrase that he repeated in his rousing argument for the possibilities and efforts of a global social justice: he called for systems (water, sanitation, electricity, yes, but also education, housing, banking) - "Systems! Systems with predictable consequences for hard work." My God, that's awesome for both teaching and parenting. But upon reflection, I also see it as the most basic framework for the predictability of civilization against the unpredictability of nature. The moral structure of civilization vs. the amorality of nature. You've seen the nature documentary of the baby turtles working so so hard to reach the sea - and the very few who do (utter unfairness, what system?). Or the enormous tree whose hard work pushing and straining and sustaining so much other life is wrenched by wind (or here in February this year, crushed under the weight of an ice storm). We have worked so hard to systematize nature (calling Linneaus!), and yet there are no predictable consequences for hard work in nature. Not really. Still, there should be in civilization (if we are really to believe that we can oppose civilization and nature, which we can't, thus, perhaps, Clinton's impassioned plea) - too many people in the Western world have "too much leverage" within our systems, thus our demise. Thus the call for a more balanced system. A politico-ecosystem in harmony.
I think of the balance and harmony of the medieval Nine Worthies, a 14th-century phenomenon presenting 3 heroes (worthies) from pagan antiquity, three from Jewish antiquity, and three from the earlier medieval period. In general (there were occasional variations, and eventually the Female Nine Worthies, too), the three Worthies of pagan antiquity were Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, and Caesar; the three Worthies of Jewish antiquity were David, Joshua, and Judah Maccabeus; and the three medieval Worthies were Charlemagne, Arthur (whom you have above), and Godfroy de Bouillon (a leader of the First Crusade in 1099). It's a system of worthiness, each man having worked for some greater triumph, for the establishment (or the destruction, actually) of another system. It's not a rational system (I can't say what was predictable in poor Arthur's world), but it singles out its heroes. The fun begins when you try to think of whom we would place in what category in the modern period. Bill Clinton would definitely have to feature in there - for that reach to global social justice, and the immediacy Oliver was able to feel and apply to his thoughts as he tried to make sense of this first true clash of civilization and nature in his life.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
|A.-F. Desportes, Dog and Pheasant, 1780s|
Thursday, November 17, 2011
|Gaston Phoebus - Livre de la Chasse|
|Saint Guinefort legend, 15th c.|
|Blind Musician and His Dog|
|Mass of St. Gregory|
Sunday, November 13, 2011
|Roman de Fauvel|
|Yvain and Laudine|
|Smiling Angel of Reims|
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Karen Abu-Zayd, I glanced down on our coffee table and had to laugh to see the pairing that someone's strewing(s) had provoked. Underneath is Jacques Derrida's The Animal that Therefore I Am, a heady tome that was the subject of a reading group this semester that I've been too sick to attend (the book has, consequently, been following me around the house successfully inducing guilt and longing); and on top is Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray, a romp between a dolt and a cat. The former questions the line drawn (by philosophers of all people!) between the human and the animal from the human point of view; and the latter has a cat vehemently reassert the line between animal and human thank you very much. I can't tell you how much I mourn not being a part of that reading group - Mac and I might read the book together next summer, which I'm looking forward to, but it's not the same as sitting in a group of twelve pondering. On the other hand, I've read Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray about 15 times - so there's your accomplishment for you. The Bad Kitty That Therefore I Read.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
they are trite, too. But we're reading about the Holy Greyhound for my Gothic class (Jean-Claude Schmitt's classic) and I can't wait to read it with new eyes.
I keep thinking that if I can get through these trite but meaningful erasures, if I can (what?) see to the other side of the page, I might become that most wonderfully transformed of medieval matters: the palimpsest. The manuscript scraped clean and rewritten. (Here is a current, fascinating example). There has been, equally in this semester, plenty of materials for re-awakening: a visit by Yo-Yo Ma and transcendence, a beautiful funny and true (more transcendence) story from my dear friend in Brittany, the exciting, energetic work of others... I think that there's something transformative going on - or my attention is skewed, or I'm getting older and feeling some frailty (the ever-helpful French phraseology calls it a "coup de vieux"); or we're just far enough out from Brittany that we've lost the vitality that infused us all there; or maybe in all this summer's thinking about a world filled with the agency of non-living entities, I have lost some of my own - which I can't see as all a bad thing. A certain humility to one's past, to a virus, and to a dog may yet uncover new ways in which the world moves.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
|The walk today|
The walk had already been surprising because of a ritual that Sawyer's making apparent. Today was the third time that he's left the house with a well-chewed rawhide in his mouth with great intention. The first day, he dropped it the block from our house that we always walk no matter where we go. About five days later, he dropped it two blocks from our house in a direction we mostly go (these are long blocks). And today, he dropped it another block further, this time in a different cardinal direction (the streets are laid out that way, but still). And then, on the way home (which can be 30-45 minutes later), he picks it up again. What's he doing? Is he marking his territory somehow? Is he testing the boundary of his roaming with us?
And so today, I thought about those three words: territory (from the Latin territorium), and boundary (from the medieval French bodne, itself from a _medieval_ Latin word bodina, which is interesting), and then mark (from the Old English mearc). We all probably have difference valences for each one. I see territory as a more political, intellectual term. I think that perhaps it's no wonder that boundary is one of the most popular words of therapy. And I have that shudder (familiar now in realizing how Old English root words move in our psyche), of how physical a word like mark is.
What commemoration will we engage in today? I think of W.J.T. Mitchell's provocative play with what he calls the false etymology of territory and terror (this is from his article "Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness in Landscape and Power). I wonder about the threatening of every boundary once a territory's center has been marked. I think about the fine line between marking and claiming a territory, about the process of violating and shoring up boundaries, and, if you think about the site itself, about the marks left behind. Boundaries don't fall away: even my dog needs to know where the space beyond him begins and ends. The question might become how we get from one familiar spot to the next. Or create them.
Friday, September 2, 2011
|Art Institute of Chicago|
When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?
They loved that: the simple logic, the biting rhetorical question. I love it, too. The phrase is probably as old as the Canterbury glass (c. 1200) says Michael, but it came to prominence around the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The radicality of Biblical history. The nature of origins. Wonderfully tricky business. At the end of the day, though, it was this image from a Picture Bible at the Art Institute of Chicago (must find color image!) that I found most empathetic. It's God, teaching Adam how to use a spade. Click on it for a closer look: Adam's astonished open-handed gesture, his almost delighted face, his pink cheeks, his foot tripping over the edge of the image, his scrawny body clothed in a fragment made of the same fabric of God's garment. And God: delving, holding the spade with a strange intimacy (because though a Bible Moralisée shows God using a compass to make the earth, it's seldom you see him with such handy tools), pressing his foot upon the spade to break open an unfriendly earth. The rubric above the image reads "Adam apprent a laborer [la] t[e]rre" - Adam learns to work the earth. This is no longer Eden (is it? did God give Adam a quick lesson before the Expulsion?), yet God and Adam are together, and it seems friendly and empathetic - as God gives Adam the tool of his salvation, having created the need for it. One could argue about this.
Monday, August 15, 2011
There is much that I could write about the anxiety of putting together invigorating writing assignments for my syllabi, about anxieties and aspirations of writings for myself, and about all of the other seasonal writing anguishes of this time of year. Instead, as inspiration to keep on writing throughout the coming year, and grow the little writing I did this summer, I just want to write down two of the children's writings from this summer. As ever, I keep their spelling. Thanks, guys.
Three Poems by Iris about Getting a Dog
Dear Mom and Dad, I have writin three poems that prove my point that a dog or pupy is way better then a cat or kittin.
Three Poems by Iris about Getting a Dog
Dear Mom and Dad, I have writin three poems that prove my point that a dog or pupy is way better then a cat or kittin.
Puppy, a poem
I'd really like a pupy dog thoe
my siblings want a cat. A cuet
little pupy dog that will jump when I open the door.
Unlike a cat.
The pupy dog I want is going to be like Misse Kissy Face.
Pleas Mom and Dad, say yes.
Cat, a poem
A cat just sits aruond all day and meows when you pet it.
A cat is really worthlis
Unlike a pupy dog.
My siblings want a cat a boring pet
Well, I want a active pupy dog.
Pleas Mom and Dad, say no.
Pupy and Cat, a comparing poem
A cat just lays around all day.
It prrs when you pet it
like a mashein.
While a pupy dog jumps when you enter.
and is very active.
Which one do you think will keep us beesy for the summer?
A Brief Response by Oliver to the prompt "What is a place that makes you feel like a different person and
why how?" [he crossed out the "why" and wrote in "how"]
Usually, I'm Oliver everywhere. A place that makes me feel diffrent is Israel. It just makes me feel free and without boundaries and laws and I feel very adventurous.
Friday, August 12, 2011
|Yolande de Soisson|
|Mary of Burgundy|
Sunday, August 7, 2011
|"Ape" from a Bestiary. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 764, fol. 16v|
Mac is sitting here at the breakfast table right now reading the original French version. He picked it up the minute he found out that Boulle also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai in 1952. Pierre Boulle turns out to be a really interesting guy: an engineer who worked on French rubber plantations in Malaysia; a member of the Resistance in its Indochine theater of war captured by Vichy France forces in 1943 and award the Legion d'Honneur for the hardships endured; an author of 24 novels and several short story collections. His career explains the wincing colonial content of the book, and its first movie's continued emphasis on race-and-class warfare. Mac reports that the book has Betelgeuse (the planet of the apes) as a much more European place, where the hunters stop at an "auberge" after capturing their human trophies. The apes in the book live in multi-storied buildings within industrialized cities and drive cars. The American film version from 1968 was not willing to give them that, instead creating the nightmarish quasi-medieval, quasi-19th century landscape (villages! science labs!) that kids of my generation grew to know so well from the endless Sunday afternoon screening of the Planet of the Apes movies (five) and spin-offs (countless) and parodies (always funny).
Until this latest film, Planet of the Apes had really always been about the struggle between oppressor and oppressed. The human race behaved badly and got its comeuppance. But now, and this is where I can't help but pay attention in connection with this summer's reading, there's a new player: a virus. Humans behave no better and no worse than they usually do, but the amorality of the virus completely changes the game. There's some weird science in there: the cure to Alzheimer's (vast improvements to brain function first tested out on apes) is delivered by a virus in mist form that has one effect on the apes and another on the humans (trying not to spoil it for you here, as, clearly, you must see this movie). But the weird science works to awaken what we might fear even more than intelligent apes: intelligent apes in a network established by a virus. Our fear of the closeness of apes is totalized by the inscrutable distance of viruses. The fear of apes, first, in the form of a naïve question: why are dogs domesticated but apes not? There are many ways to ask this question: why were humans able to domesticate dogs, who are genetically and in many other wises quite different from us, and domesticate them to such a degree that "having a dog" is a sought-after commonplace of millions and millions of people? Why were we unable to domesticate, on any kind of large scale, apes, who are so similar to us, who understand our ways (social, behavioral) so much more? The proximity issue (that apes are too much like us to domesticate) doesn't answer it. Human beings have, at different periods in history, enslaved more other human beings than they've ever enslaves apes (despite the contention to the latter of the utterly lame 1972 prequel, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). Or, as Adam Gopnik would have us ask in a recent marvelous essay in The New Yorker, why have dogs chosen us for cohabitation, while apes have not? The reason that I chose the medieval image above is because it represents humans hunting a female ape (who, according to Pliny, will hold her preferred child against her chest, and let her less loved child ride on her back), in the company of dogs. The dogs assist the human endeavor which places the apes oppositionally. Medieval bestiaries are a fascinating world of human and animal intersection and difference unto themselves. Animals here exist to reveal something about creation, and possibly, in those moments of intersection and difference, about humans themselves. Or they just exist. Apes are deemed able to live only in Ethiopia, their place of origin, not next door.
fine mind at gotmedieval has plenty). There are entire sub-genres (the ape as physician, the ape as knight, the ape as lover); so commonplace are ape parodies that one begins to wonder who is laughing at whom. Parody is an enormous part of the entire Planet of the Apes sub-culture as well. I don't think that Pierre Boulle meant to be funny, but there is a long, rich strain of (nervous?) laughter from Charton Heston's clenched-teeth "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape" to its repetition in this latest film. For us moderns, apes are funny, and then quickly, really really not funny. They may have been just funny in the Middle Ages, living all the way far away in Ethiopia the way they did.
A final comment here might be about what makes the film so fantastically creepy: it's the motion-capture film technology that allows Andy Serkis to play the lead role of the ape Caesar wearing a computerized suit which captures his motions and then digitally dresses them in the body of an ape. It makes me realize how much of our identity as humans (which may or may not be the same as our humanity) lies in how we move. It's when the birds gather as hundreds of sentinels that Hitchcock can freak us out; it's when the apes start to walk on just two legs that we shudder. There are grand motions like walking that make us human, but one thinks also of the famed uniquely opposable thumb, as a gesture wherein our humanity may lie.