Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Rev. Martin Niemöller Edition

In the wake of the recent decisions to suspend habeas corpus indefinitely, and to allow torture in America's name of everyone the government thinks might possibly be against them, like "leftists," I offer you some sage words from someone who has been in our position before. He watched his country descend into fascism in the name of security, as we are seeing in our own country this week.

In the Original German:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.

And in English:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I would also like to offer some brave words he spoke to Hitler in 1934 for your consideration: (From here)
"Wir werden nicht aufhören, für unser ganzes Volk wachsam zu sein und niemand, nicht einmal Sie, werden imstande sein, diese Verantwortung uns abzunehmen."
"We will not stop watching over our entire people, and no one, not even you, will be able to take this responsibility from us."

To be honest, I'm not sure what to do at this point. I can write letters to evil or completely ineffectual government asshats. I've done that before, and look where we are.

Like Chris Clarke (who always manages to be one of those whose intelligence stuns), I withdraw my consent.

You who write and support laws that take away the rights of humanity when and how it suits you, I withdraw my consent. You do not govern me.

You who cower cravenly and meekly offer the bodies and lives of humanity as a whole so that you may keep your seat at a table that once met to ensure the rights of all, but has now become a way to eliminate all dissent, I withdraw my consent.

You who sold true American values away to avoid the indignity of being called names, I withdraw my consent. You do not govern me.

You who have suffered torture at the hands of an enemy and seek to promote it in your own government in the hopes of winning the approval of hatemongers, I withdraw my consent. You do not govern me.

I will not stop watching over my entire people, and no one, not even you, will be able to take this responsibility from me.

I withdraw my consent.

An Official Seal

Made for me by Chris, of Mixing Memory fame. Thanks, Chris.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I, Forrest

Well, call me Captain Obvious, but it never really ocurred to me just how profoundly who we are is informed by the time and place in which we live.

So, yes, I am reviewing existentialism. And that did get me thinking about the moments that defined my life. A "who am I, anyway?" review, if you will. And then I realized that all of those defining moments have a very clear east coast and 70's - present-day stamp on them. Even personal tragedies are linked to the time in which they happened. (And I didn't even get a picture with JFK, though I did meet his son once. Nice guy.) Then I thought about my ancestors from the generations I know enough about, and they have the same deal.

I have no authentic self! And, that lack is apparently a genetic flaw!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Geeky Stuff I Say...

...that makes my non-medievalist, non-language/literature friends laugh at me.
- Of course I hate it, but that usage has infiltrated the lexicon, hasn't it?
- I've found this wonderful passage, and can't wait to share it with my Latin translation group!
- Why, how many languages do you have to learn?
- You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
- Callipygean
- My other choice isn't the Iron Maiden by any chance, is it?
- No, Shakespeare is a little modern for me. Besides, I haven't yet forgiven him for portraying John of Gaunt as an elderly and weak man. John of Gaunt was hawt, I tell you, H-A-W-T, hawt!
- What is this 'magical realism' of which you speak?
- Look, for all I know 'King Arthur' was the third son of a pig-farmer in Wales!
- In the old days, redheaded children were drowned for their evil. We can't all keep the traditions we like, now can we?
- I don't use too many tag questions, do I?
- Oh, stop. You don't have to monitor your grammar with me. However, if you're interested, you might want to freshen up your subjunctive. Just saying.
- Holy Crap! I can't believe they wrote a ________ (random obscure literary analytical term) into this TV show.
- Doesn't everybody organize their books by country and century of origin?
- No, I am not a scholar, I'm a booker. Ic eom bocere. We'll have none of your new-fangled, Frenchified descriptive nouns here.

(I apologize for the tardiness of my responses to your comments. I'm a dork, with a very busy, dorklike schedule.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

An Idea Proudly Stolen From Michael Berube and Ancrene Wiseass: Random Stuff, on a Friday. Some of it is Fun.

- A colleague of mine here in Microburg (Hey, we teach, hold office hours, and grumble about our paychecks together. That's a colleague to me.), upon learning that I am a native New Yorker, said "I'm so glad I'm not from NY. I'd *hate* to have to say that Hillary Clinton was my senator." This wouldn't be funny at all, except my colleague hails from Santoristan. One Heo, nonplussed.

- The English job openings list for the 2007-8 academic year is out. 242 jobs, 4 include Old English specialization as an acceptable *secondary* skill. One listing for a medievalist states openly that no Irish Old English people need apply. Most listings for medievalists call for a person who can teach everything from HEL to Literary Theory to Renaissance Drama. This indicates that I will somehow need to aqcuire about 4 specializations and develop a "strong publication history" in the next few years if I want to be an academic. One Heo, panicked.

- I'm considering buying this lovely chenille rug. Sort of a sweater for my floor. What do you think?

- I suddenly find myself fascinated by Mappa Mundi. Which is weird. I hate maps, generally, and take pride in being the person who always gets lost while driving. On Long Island, I would drive until I saw water, then turn around and try again. Here in Microburg, I drive until I see cows. One day I'll call my family from Canada or Iowa or someplace equally unlikely, and ask them to help me get back.

- The new crop of grad students is unbelievably beautiful. We're talking possible cover models for GQ and Cosmopolitan here, folks. They've totally ruined the curve. One Heo, new addition to the ugly club. Rats.

- Also, 34 is too young to be a dirty old woman. So, I don't even get to enjoy the new scenery in a lecherous way without feeling tremendously guilty. One Heo, suddenly separated from becoming Volpone only by guilt and the desire NOT to be a caricature of an academic before I get to actually be an academic.

- We have a new professor. He's British, and therefore uses British colloquialisms. I have several British students as well, who also use British colloquialisms. I have a Zelig-level accent/dialect imitation problem. One Heo, struggling not to pull a Madonna. That simply wouldn't be Cricket. Damn!

- While struggling through Wheelock, I often find myself muttering, "Damn you, vocative case!" One Heo, easily amused.

[Update: Someone from my graduating class at very preppy public high school is sending out emails to start organizing the reunion. The 20 year reunion. One Heo, older than she thought and considering weeping.]

Thursday, September 21, 2006


(Alright, so I mixed Old English and Modern German affixes with a Middle English root. Call it artistic license. Nobody bitched when Tolkien did it!)

After the emotional disaster that was the end of last semester, I knew I needed to approach this grad student business in a different way. I decided to alleviate my feelings of helplessness and perpetual confusion by absolutely throwing myself into the grad student experience this semester. I'm running hither and yon attempting to create the grad school experience I want. Often by sheer force of will.

Conversations go something like this:
Me: I want X.
Authority: No.
Me: I'm afraid I will not accept that answer.
Authority: Too bad.
Me: Here's why I want X.
Authority: No.
Me: And here's why I think X will benefit the department/graduate community as a whole.
Authority: Why are you still talking?
Me: I want X.
Authority: No.
Me: And here are the ways in which other graduate programs have implemented X, to their ultimate benefit.
Authority: Will it get you out of my office?
Me: Yep.
Authority: Fine. I hate you.
Me: I'm OK with that.

One subset of the agitprop I'm creating and distributing willy-nilly among fellow students and faculty has to do with professionalization seminars. We want them. Or, rather, we want to know how to get from here in the trenches to the "professional level, publishable work" our professors all SAY they demand from us.

(In a meeting with the director I learned that "I demand professional level, publishable work" is a rhetorical tool that professors in the department use. Presumably, when we have no idea how to accomplish that, can't get anybody to explain it to us in any useful way, and hand in our unprofessional, unpublishable work ... well, that's OK, too. Because it's emphatically NOT unethical pedagogy to set a bar, refuse to teach students how to reach it, then tell them with a lovely grade that they've surpassed it.)

So, I'm designing this here group of professionalization seminars, with the help of an ABD(insisted upon by the dept.), and then we have to go professor wrangling to get it all together. And I need a nap, like, yesterday.

I have a slightly different take on the recent "to professionalize or not to professionalize" debate as seen at In the Middle and Quod She. Without thinking too hard about the job market, it just seems to me that it's asinine that every kind of knowledge we have can be published, catalogued, and used as a basis to create better, new knowledge EXCEPT for professional practices. There should not be a special code you have to be granted by mystical dwarves to unlock the secrets of the profession. Nobody can intuit their way through the exceptionally weird world of academia, and they shouldn't have to do so. Now, the level of emphasis that should be placed on "professionalizing" is beyond my scope at the moment. I don't know. But I do know that some effort to mentor should be in place.

I'm also with Ancrene Wiseass on the "pre-professionalization" nonsense. Since when is teaching at the university level pre-professional work?

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a young man coming to my office hours today who demands, DEMANDS that I change his grade to reflect work he didn't do. He wants me to tell him the pretty lies my professors tell me. I'm not going to do it, but I have to listen to his arguments anyway. Karmic retribution, I guess. If I can get him to understand that the pretty good grade he got will not ruin his chances at law school, and that demanding much from him now is my way of helping him out in the long run before 3:30, I just might be able to get that nap in before I move on to my next project. Yeah, who the hell am I kidding?

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Want a Haiku Too!

An idea proudly stolen from In the Middle, and Quod She:

Haiku2 for heocwaeth
greedy penitent
knyght as long as i've been told
that nobody cackles
Created by Grahame

Now listen, I know they both outrank me, but I think my haiku is, like, totally cooler than theirs.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Verray Parfit, Gentil, (Desperately Poor? Greedy? Penitent?) Knyght

As long as I've been studying Old Geoff, I've been told that the parfit, gentil knyght was clearly "down on his luck." No other interpretation would be permitted. Ever. It was as if the editors of Speculum had met secretly and, using the power only they possess, declared the knyght impecunious. And then they cackled sinisterly, swept their dark capes around them, and disappeared into the aether, as scholarly-journal editors are wont to do. I'm told that nobody cackles more sinisterly than a Speculum editor.

Here's my shameful medievalist secret: I'm not buying it. I know that he could have over-spent on all those crusade battles of his. Many knights did, some ruinously. I know he could have gone on these crusades because he'd heard of all the luxurious wealth of the east, and wanted some for himself. Many knights did that, too. And, perhaps a knight returning from a successful (-ish) crusade into the east would return all dripping with gems and ostentation. It's perfectly possible that medieval people were tacky. Perhaps the motivation for all these voyages out into "heathen lands" was less about religious zeal, and more about attempts to win the conqueror lottery. But does greed presuppose poverty? Does simple clothing presuppose poverty? Couldn't this perfect example of Christian knighthood have been an almost religious figure, showing the gentle humility that only a very powerful man has the freedom to do, and be unequalled in his zeal for Christendom?

I give you the bit of The Prologue that describes the knight, so that you don't have to drag your giant Chaucer book out to consider the issue.

43: A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
44: That fro the tyme that he first bigan
45: To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
46: Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
47: Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
48: And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
49: As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
50: And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
51: At alisaundre he was whan it was wonne.
52: Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
53: Aboven alle nacions in pruce;
54: In lettow hadde he reysed and in ruce,
55: No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
56: In gernade at the seege eek hadde he be
57: Of algezir, and riden in belmarye.
58: At lyeys was he and at satalye,
59: Whan they were wonne; and in the grete see
60: At many a noble armee hadde he be.
61: At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
62: And foughten for oure feith at tramyssene
63: In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.
64: This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also
65: Somtyme with the lord of palatye
66: Agayn another hethen in turkye.
67: And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys;
68: And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
69: And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.
70: He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
71: In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
72: He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght.
73: But, for to tellen yow of his array,
74: His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
75: Of fustian he wered a gypon
76: Al bismotered with his habergeon,
77: For he was late ycome from his viage,
78: And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

[Added after publishing, because I hit the wrong button: My take on this is probably less sophisticated than others, but here it is. It seems to me as if the Knight has the accoutrements of a seasoned warrior. No more, no less. A good, solid horse, but not a fancy one. Serviceable clothing that doesn't draw too much attention. He's not overly concerned with personal hygiene. Here is a man's man, fighting in the fields, praying in the church, an no nonsense about him. He has stuff to do, damn it, and no time for foppery. And if we take that image, and contrast it with the young sparks that follow, we find a generational parody that doesn't exactly favor the kids. Which is, I think, Chaucer's point. It's as if he's saying "Here's what a man should be, and has been. Now look at what's coming up behind them. Bunch of flowery-tunic-wearing, slave-of-fashion sissies who are more interested in being pretty and impressing maidens than fighting for God and King. We're doomed!"

79: With hym ther was his sone, a yong squier,
80: A lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
81: With lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
82: Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
83: Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,
84: And wonderly delyvere, and of greet strengthe.
85: And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
86: In flaundres, in artoys, and pycardie,
87: And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
88: In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
89: Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
90: Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.
91: Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
92: He was as fressh as is the month of may.
93: Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.
94: Wel koude he sitte on hors and faire ryde.
95: He koude songes make and wel endite,
96: Juste and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write.
97: So hoote he lovede that by nyghtertale.
98: He sleep namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.
99: Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable,
100: And carf biforn his fader at the table.

I'm pretty sure I could kick the Squier around a field a bit. His clothing was decorative, but impaired his ability to hold a weapon. And the little punk was sleep-deprived from all his skirt-chasing. I could totally take him.

101: A yeman hadde he and servantz namo
102: At that tyme, for hym liste ride so,
103: And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
104: A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene,
105: Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
106: (wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
107: His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
108: And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
109: A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage.
110: Of wodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
111: Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
112: And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
113: And on that oother syde a gay daggere
114: Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere;
115: A cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.
116: An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;
117: A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

That last bit, about the Yeoman, is what really works against the "poor Knight" interpretation for me. When was the last time you saw a servant better-dressed than his employer, when the employer dressed poorly out of poverty rather than principle? ]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fun with Irony

OK, many of you have probably seen this already, but I just discovered it. I like it even better than the dinosaur theory of Grendel.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Books: $$$$; Tuition: $$$$$$; Ego-Trip: Priceless

I wish to begin this post by reminding you all of a scene from the episode entitled Nob & Nobility in the Blackadder the Third series.

Blackadder: Yes, Baldrick, that's the way of the world. The abused always kick downward. I'm annoyed, and so I kick the cat. The cat pounces on the mouse, and the mouse...
Baldrick: (shouts)
Blackadder: ... bites you in the behind.
Baldrick: And what do I do sir ?
Blackadder: Nothing, you are last in God's great chain, Baldrick. Unless there is an earwig around here you want to victimize.

A very funny scene, indeed. And that pretty much *is* the way of the world, isn't it? Well, at the risk of once again playing the Disgruntled Grad Student™, I will say that the academy participates fully in that paradigm. Now, when we hear someone talk of knowing one's place, they are generally either being humble or actively trying to humble another. And that "knowing your place" thing usually means knowing which people are permitted to abuse you with impunity, and which people you may abuse. At least that's what my experience has been. The whole thing is rather distasteful, really, unless Rowan Atkinson does it.

In an unhealthy environment, the victimizer/victimized dichotomy that runs the world seems to make its most obvious, and humorous, appearance in those who have just climbed up a rung in the Great Chain. In the academic world, it goes something like this: Post-docs show disdain for ABDs, ABD's show disdain for first-year PhD students, first-year PhD students show disdain for MA students, and everybody shows disdain for undergrads. High school students and teachers have the questionable peace that comes with being beneath contempt and largely absent from the university setting. As a licensed and experienced secondary school teacher who is now in graduate school, I am a freak who may as well be walking around with a scarlet 'T' on her chest. The assumption is that I must not really be a Scholar, because I'm one of those awful Teacher-types. I knew that prejudice existed going in to grad school, and I accepted that I would have to work harder to prove myself than others in my cohort would have to work. Spite is really a fantastic motivator for me, so the underdog role is one I accepted gleefully. This is not a teacher-scholar planctus, that much I can promise those of you who've managed to read this far.

Microburg is an unhealthy environment, and the dysfunction is the top-down sort. Meaning that those who should now be above proving themselves as victimizer to avoid being classified as victimized are still at it. And despite interventions from the Dean, their ugliness is spreading. I will spare you the long and sordid tale of last year's faculty war, except to say that what started as a minor disagreement erupted into an ego-driven demonstration of "power over" (as distinguished from "power to") among the faculty. Despite the attempts of some professors to maintain decorum in their interactions with students, some shrapnel did manage to fly our way. Hell, some was aimed directly at us as a way to hurt enemy professors who like us without the inconvenience of picking on someone one's own size. When the princes are at war, the peasants suffer. Lots of fun for grad students, as you can imagine. It was frightening, embarrassing, and the greatest example of mock-epic I've ever seen. It also left room for some really grotesque examples of ways to inhabit the role of instructor to come to graduate students from our supervising faculty.

We interrupt this diatribe to bring you a word from our sponsor.

Should there be someone reading this post for examples to use in denigrating the academic community as a whole, or grad students as a sub-group of academics, you may want to find another blog. You see, I spent many years as a pink and/or blue collar worker, and I can tell you that the anti-intellectualism that runs rampant in this country makes it damned difficult for academics to do our jobs well. Yes, I know that everyone is abused to some extent at work, but I also know that even those suffering from mental illnesses are kinder to their care-givers than some students are to their instructors. That's with the excuse of being clinically insane. So don't come here with your "real world" stories, expecting to silence or humble me. It won't work.

And, now, back to our regularly scheduled rant.

Even the most well-respected of the grad students I know don't ascend to what would be Blackadder status from the example above. On good days, the best a grad student can hope for is to be the cat. More often, we're Baldrick. This is the way of the world. While we gripe about it, none of us have grabbed a professor by the lapels and shouted, "Look, did your parents raise you at all, or just throw meat in your cage periodically?" Even though some of the more hot-headed among us might have been REALLY TEMPTED to do just that, we didn't. Let's say these hypothetical temptations happened an average of twice a week. That's twice a week for 28 weeks that we managed to control our inner bitches (I include men in the term 'bitches,' because I believe in equality of unsavory character traits). That's a lot of repressed bitchitude, and it has to come out somewhere. I like to blog it out. Lucky you.

This past week, while in conversations with my peers, I discovered their chosen direction for the release of all that aggression. The legion of Baldricks has discovered that undergrads make fine earwigs. Now, in addition to my real-world cred, I've been an undergrad more than once, a public school teacher, and a graduate instructor. I know that there are students in Microburg and all around the world who think that the letter B doesn't apply to them, regardless of their effort or skill. I know that some students will try to get the department chair to override grades that came 'from some idiot grad student' who hasn't been informed that said student's father is an attorney. I know all about the fine tradition of trying to intimidate a grad student, because they aren't real professors and therefore have no power. I get the frustration that comes when one tries to create a progressive, student-centered learning environment and runs smack up against 1) behavior that should have been trained out of the average ten year-old, and 2)just staggering entitlement issues. I have respect for my fellow grad students, and the struggles they face, because I face them, too.

To sum up the post so far: Professors in open warfare - bad. Post-adolescents - not necessarily innocent cherubs. Grad students - often stuck between two generations of insufferable spoiled brats in mid-tantrum.

Yet I cannot support my colleagues when they tell me that they have practiced stinging barbs to release against those awful things known as students, should the need arise. I know they are recreating the teaching personas their mentors showed them last year. However, I do think that learning the difference between a positive and a negative example should probably be the first skill future teachers are required to master. I am many years older than most of my peers, and so have had some time to develop coping mechanisms that don't involve kicking downward. But, I was also very lucky in my early mentors. Education can be a very humbling experience, and unearned reverence felt like just the salve my broken and battered self-image needed when I first started teaching. I was willing to be intoxicated by the "wow, she knows everything" looks on students' faces. Luckily for me, there were folks around to snap me out of it. When I was packed and ready for my ego-trip to Superiorville, my mentors, people who knew much more than I, sat me down for a rather brusque, one-way 'conversation.'

I pass their advice on to anybody who cares to read it now:

Of course you know more than your students. Why the !@#$%^& would anyone hire you if you didn't? That doesn't make you special, it makes you useful. Get over yourself. A good teacher doesn't focus on how much s/he knows, but rather how much s/he can bring out of her/his students. A student leaves a bad teacher's classroom thinking "Wow, s/he sure is smart," but when that student leaves a good teacher's classroom, the thought is "Wow, I sure am smart to be able to figure all that out." Do you want to be a bad but delusional teacher, or a good one?

Very good advice, that. Every time I'm tempted to think of myself as 'a real scholar,' with all the concomitant nonsense that position seems to bring, I remember it.

The questions I asked my fellow students to consider while they were bragging about learning how to be just as unprofessional and nightmarish as our professors were last year were these: Do you consider intelligence a tool or a weapon? Think of your favorite people, what do you think their answers would be? Now think of your favorite instructor, what would his/her answer be?

So, basically, I've been an insufferable killjoy this week, and not just on my blog.