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Showing posts from November, 2011
I just read the following in George Herbert's Temple -

O let no that of any thing;
Let rather brass,
Or steel, or mountains be thy ring,
And I will pass... ('From The Search')

And thought of this,



the view from Camp Casey on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. This week I find myself missing pine and mountain and salt water.

Just in Time

In much of the secondary reading for my course, I find myself immured in horribly glib words like ‘discourse’, ‘signification’, ‘reified’ etc. in a way that no longer meaningfully refers to structuralist criticism but is a kind of easy way of saying nothing while looking like you went to graduate school. (‘Discourse’ has a particularly bad rep, though it is, I admit, difficult to avoid it.) Reading journal essays and Cambridge Companions one gets the horrible and hollow feeling that these were published out of the desire for tenure and not academic inquiry. And that is why I am so grateful to Helen Cooper, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature who was at Oxford and is now, alas, at The Other Place.

Her 2004 book The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare has not only saved my essay on romance this week but is proving to be a genuinely interesting read. Romance is one of those genres which can bore you to death, o…
Though I frequently lecture people on my feelings about the unhelpfulness of dividing the world into male-things and female-things, I find myself wondering about the existence of the female epic, and what that might look like?




(Image of Penthesilea from the Flemish Tapestry, 'The Triumph of Fortitude', 1525)

To Camelot

This week we step away from the Renaissance into the world of Medieval Romance. The writing of a romance, a genre almost entirely consisting with arranging and juggling inherited courtly and popular motifs, seems worlds away from a modern conception of the ideal work of literature as original. And yet – the perpetuation of Arthurian-based television programs and movies seems to suggest we’re as susceptible to retellings as our medieval ancestors. G and I confirmed this by spending an inordinate amount of time on youtube watching (generally awful) trailers of King Arthur, Tristan + Isolde, Merlin, the Mists of Avalon, b, Camelot etc. The best – I tried to convince G – is obviously First Knight. It might be light on the adultery and magic, but it has cheese: tinny armour and swords, a misty Round Table montage, dark-haired Richard Gere crying, a leaf turned into a cup for forest rain-water.




I have, however, just become aware of Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac and Rohmer's Perceval le Ga…

A Jonsonian Encomium

The man of the week is Ben Jonson: ruddy, large, convivial, viciously witty, convict, convert, pedant, satirist, playwright, poet laureate. How has it taken me so long to meet him? His characters – tricksy, seamy, comic London underbelly figures – seem to be the Jacobean forebears of Dickens’. (Sir Epicure Mammon, Justice Overdo, Dol Common are the easy friends of Bumble, M’Choakumchild and Vholes).

Jonson’s best speeches, however, clearly belong to his puritans. Here is the wonderfully named Zeal-in-the-land Busy (nearly beat by Tribulation Wholesome in The Alchemist, responding to a puppet show in Bartholemew Fair (1614)

Busy: Down with Dagon, down with Dagon! ‘Tis I will no longer endure your profanations...I will remove Dagon there, I say, that idol, that heathenish idol, that remains, as I may say, a beam, a very beam, not a beam of the sun, nor a beam of the moon, nor a beam of a balance, neither a house-beam nor a weaver’s beam, but a beam in the eye, in the eye of the Brethren;…

All aboard

I found Macaulay's 1926 novel at Arcadia on St Michael's St. for 75p. I shall add this to my growing Penguin stash and put it alongside Macaulay's World My Wilderness. If I could find a Penguin edition of the Towers of Trebizond, I would probably dislocate my back in a spasm of glee.

First sentence:

A Mr. Dobie, a clergyman, wearying of his job, reliquished it, ostensibly on the grounds that he did not care to bury dissenters or baptise illegitimate infants, but in reality beacuse he was tired of being so busy, so sociable, and so conversational, of attending parish meetings, of sitting on committees, calling on parishioners and asking them how they did - an inquiry the answer to which he was wholly indifferent.
Wodehouse's letter's published in a new volume. I would buy this if the bank statement was more generous. And this is the most interesting sentence from the review:

'In a superlative run of clich├ęs – "gone with the wind", "one with Nineveh", "in a word" – Wodehouse revels in, and revives, the contained sphere of an exhausted language (a "small world" of its own) and makes it a little larger.'

Incidentally, the editor of the letters, Sophie Ratcliffe, was one of my lecturers last year. She spoke on Victorian poetry and - though this seems ignorant and naive and potentially condescending of me (I hope not) - she seemed too young and pretty to be lecturing to callous freshers.