Monday, June 30, 2008

Mythic Origins

Jonathan Jarrett in his response to my 1000 Medieval Books post mentioned the stories of origins, how a people came to be. I thought it might be a useful exercise to collect those in a single post, eventually expanded to include best editions and translations of each text or online locales. This list admittedly uses short hand author names for a particular work that at the moment I'm too lazy to expand.

So my preliminary list off the top of my head is:

Bede's Ecclesiastical History
Jordanes Getica
Isidore Gotorum
Gregory of Tours History of the Franks
Planctus for William Longsword
Laymon's The Brut
Snorri Sturlson Prose Edda
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

So what am I missing?


I've updated my 1000 books list to reflect some of the comments received:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know 1.b

Finally, I'd like to get around to answering Jonathan Jarrett's statements on my Original Post. Jonathan points out: "Brandon and Prof. Muhlberger, I guess what Larry is guiding us towards is a suggestion that the `others' here are the new Danish rulers of the period 1016-42. I could imagine anyone looking at Harold Harefoot's court in this frame would have thought things had come to a pretty pass."

Well, not steering toward, but at least trying to entertain as a possible interpretation of the poem. One of the things (more in a subsequent post) that the poem does is uphold Set A (Bede, Aelfric, those saints/monks) against the "Now" in which teaching the people is not done. Certainly after the Benedictine Reform petered out (Wulfstan notwithstanding) with the new Viking kingdom etc, that description fits pretty much anything after that point.

Note that the emphasis is on TEACHING, what was being taught in terms of Christendom. The contrast and emphasis falls on "those guys taught the people in English vs. these guys now do not teach the people [at all]". Thus, the emphasis is not one of LANGUAGE, it isn't the language sermons are delivered in that has changed, but the existence of teaching vs. the nonexistence of teaching. One might even read the line that mentions the English language as saying "These taught the people (even) in English". There certainly seems a decline of Christian teaching as Aethelred's reign draws to a close and we go into Cnut and following.

Jonathan continues: The Æfric/Alcuin thing is a weirdness too; it might be argued that it reflects confusion, suggesting a later date, or maybe one could say that the author knew of Charlemagne's court's habit of learned Biblical by-names for the court scholars and had mockingly or affectionately assigned Æfric a learned Carolingian by-name...

That's a good point, but I've become convinced by my own argument I think. Since last week I've taken a look at the beginning of the text of the OE translation of the Interrogationes. Aelfric starts by describing Alcuin and the text. It would be easy for a reader to think that the preamble about Alcuin applied to the "translator" since the prologue in the Worcester copy doesn't mention Alcuin in a historical context nor that the original was a Latin text. The original poet simply misunderstood.

Jonathan continues: What I'm getting at is, are there any contents which could not be assigned happily to a pre-Conquest date? As it stans it seems to be a copy of a pre-Conquest MS, so you have questions of use and audience several times, original poem, first gathering, recopying by the Tremulous one. Worcester all the way? I could believe in a Worcester self-image as the last redout of learning in a vulgar age, somehow, but for all that time? Or is the piece just lucky enough to be foudn by someone sympathetic every now and then? I love these sorts of questions, even when they have no answers...

Not that I know of: what remains of the manuscript is extremely fragmentary, and only a few leaves have all their text. The three identifiable texts are the Grammar and Glossary, our poem, and the Soul and Body poem, anything else remaining is so fragmentary that it has not been identified. So yes, use, audience, survival of Old English into such a late period, and what the Tremulous Hand was up to....apparently he felt comfortable enough with English earlier than his time to take on early works and one might surmise that this manuscript represents works in Old English he thought worthy to copy. But of the 3, two seem to be pre-1066, suggesting a strong possibility, though not absolute, that the third might be as well.

More anon....great questions folks, and thanks!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Latin Edumacation in the Early Medieval Period: I BLEG You

This is a query that I'll likely get around to asking on e-lists and other medievally boards as well, but though I'd start here.

For those who know or care: today I completed chapter 2 (edition, commentary, translation, intro and chapter 1 all done). And it gets easier from here.

Ok back to the question which is only tangentially related to dissertation work or to the discussion of Worcester Fragment A. But what if anything do we know about Latin education in the early middle ages? What I'm specifically looking for is the education in WRITING, Latin Composition if you will.

From what I can remember about the writers with whom I've worked, these Latin works are all composed by men with noble connections and families. (Aelfric is a probable exception, but his Latinity is one of the motivating factors for the query.) Now I'm not talking about teaching everyone in a school or monastery to READ Latin, at least at a basic level, nor to copy a Latin text, but to actively compose in Latin, a different skill altogether, and writing is a different skill than reading, and composition a different skill than simply writing or copying. So who was taught to compose? Nobles only? Everyone? somewhere in between? Sources? Or do our sources tell us?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know I.a

Steve Muhlberger and Brandon H raised some good issues in the comments to my last post on Worcester Fragment A. The issues are good and require enough of an answer that I thought a full follow up post would be better than answering in the comments.

Steve asked:
"Couldn't the new teachers be post-Conquest continentals who don't know English and may even scorn English saints?" and related Brandon H asked: I'm intrigued about who the author refers to with "another people teaches our folk"--could it be the Normans (as Steve has posed)? Perhaps Viking-influences seen in the late Anglo-Saxon era? Who are these seeming "others" with their "damned" education?

The answer is that I think it depends very much on when one dates the original poem. That is, it is evident that the poem as we have it is dependent on an Old English original that the Tremulous Hand of Worcester has not completely understood in his copy and updating of the orthography (Utronomius for Deuteronomius). So if the original is post-1066, then these new teachers condemned in the poem must be the Normans. If the original is pre-1066, and depending on how pre-1066, then there seem to me to be two possibilities:

1) if written early in the 11th century, 1016-1035 or so, the referents must be the men Cnut brought with him. The contents of the poem speak well to this, I think, in that there is nothing in the poem that necessarily indicates a post-1066 date, and certainly all those mentioned in the poem are deceased long before 1066. Against this however, and I need to check this out in more detail, I don't know how many Norse churchmen were appointed in Cnut's reign that might earn the ire of an English monk! As far as I currently remember, most of the leading churchmen in Cnut's kingdom were Englishmen.

2) If written more in the middle of the 11th century, then the referent is probably still the Normans: Both Emma and even more so Edward the Confessor brought a host of Normans into England and they were quite close to the throne for some much they took over the church I'm not certain and again is something I'd have to check into when I get round to doing a paper on it. But in that case, still NOrman, just pre-Conquest Normans. These Normans close to Edward excited a bit of commentary from the English, and the Godwins eventually forced Edward to send them packing in the early 1050s, about the time he was forced to marry....I've forgotten the exact chronology at the moment.

So those are the three possibilities, and much depends on dating. Typically, what little scholarship that has been done on this text dates it as post-1066, though as I mentioned in my original post there is reason to think it pre-1066.

Brandon H. went on to express interest in the names in the list and noted that we have saints and bishops, no mention of Alfred and suggests that in spite of his importance to us moderns, that maybe he wasn't all that important to them.

It is an interesting list of names. I think more important than that those named are all saints and bishops (not wholly true: Aelfric, Alcuin, and some others on the list don't quite fit the bill on that score....), but that they are all MONKS! And I think it is this latter that is important to note. If this writer is a vestige of the Benedictine Reform, we know that Edgar for example is held up as an example of the Golden Age, but he is not mentioned either.

Further to note about the list of names is that the majority come from two periods: they are either mentioned in Bede or come from the Benedictine Reform movement of the 10th and early 11th centuries. Two minor exceptions: Aldhelm (who is mentioned by Bede, but more in a moment) and Swithun. Aldhelm, though mentioned by Bede as I just said, was an important writer for the Benedictine Reform and was highly influential on Dunstan and Aethelwold. Swithun, who was a bishop during Alfred's reign, was an "invented" saint by Aethelwold (note that his "vita" contains nothing about his actual life, but almost entirely deals with posthumous miracles.) and the Reformers and he becomes the patron of New Minster in 972, so that explains their presence in the list. Given this, the absence of certain figures between those two periods I don't think should excite a great deal of comment. One thing about both groups: those in Bede faced non-Christians and a newly Christianized people to teach and so were always at risk. Note who is not named in the list, but is said to be important: Alcuin, but Prof de Breeze has chimed in noting this, so I'll hold off for just a moment. But other important figures who are much like Alcuin are not mentioned: Boniface, Willibrord, Theodore, and more who are left out.

The claim that they all taught the people in English is an interesting one. We can not confirm that in a lot of cases: certainly Bede is described as having translated some works into English, though none survive, and Aldhelm we're told by Geoffrey of Monmouth also wrote some Old English works, of which I think only one riddle survives though someone will likely correct me there. Aelfric, certainly. But do we have any evidence of Aethelwold, Dunstan, Swithun etc teaching English PEOPLE (not just monks) in ENGLISH? I suppose that like Aelfric they must have preached to congregations including lay men and so used English.....we do have plenty of anonymous homilies in Old English. But nothing confirmatory that I'm aware of.

Let me turn to Dr. de Breeze's note before finally closing this. The mention of Aelfric, whom "we call Alcuin" is interesting and puzzling. Here are the interpretive possibilities as I see them.

1) the line simply bears witness to its subject: the lack of learning in England has resulted in the confusion of 2 of its teachers in history
2) the Tremulous Hand has made a scribal error and conflated two lines or some other error causing the two names to be associated.
3) According to PASE, there are some 115 different men named Aelfric in the 10th and early 11th century, many of them monks or churchmen. There must be some way to distinguish them all: Archbishop Aelfric, Aelfric Cild, Aelfric Bata, there an otherwise unattested "Aelfric Alcuin" or better "Aelfric Ealhwin" meaning Aelfric of Eynsham? Since, so far as I know, this is the earliest mention of Aelfric of Eynsham outside his own writings, it might be a possibility.
4) related to #3, one of Aelfric's works is a "translation" of Alcuin's Interrogationes Sigewardi in Genesin. I don't know anything about the manuscripts of this text, except to say that there is one that is mid to late 11th century from short, the author of the poem, regardless of date, likely read the text, and a) didn't know who Alcuin was, but took the introductory material of the English text which talks about Alcuin, and how he taught many English men etc. as identifying the author of the English text, i. e. Aelfric. It is clear I think from the poem that the author values ENGLISH teaching, not as a nationality necessarily but as a LANGUAGE, more than Latin and I see no evidence in the poem to argue for a high degree of Latinity, so it isn't likely that the poet knew Alcuin's works.

I don't know that anyone else has made the latter suggestion, or how well it stands as an explanatory argument, the one that seems to be the most popular is #1, the poet simply didn't know and was ignorant. I suppose my suggestion is really an expansion of that in one direction....

It is worth noting that Alcuin is in large part dependent on Bede both for the idea of addressing "Interrogationes" as a method of teaching and exegesis (not original with Bede either, but Bede's "questions" were well known and popular) as well as for the content of his own Interrogationes. Aelfric translating Alcuin also often used Bede as a source, and so the text in question ties all three of those names together.

de Breeze further asks: "Do other sources refer to Aelfric as Alcuin? Does this reference have any implications for the date of the text? I'm thinking that it would be less likely for a pre-Conquest text to include this kind of "alternate" name."

I don't know of any other sources that confuse or conflate Aelfric as Alcuin, but then I also do not know any other texts that mention the two in the same breath either.

As for implications of date, I don't think so. The Benedictine Reform was key, but had already experienced some significant set backs under Aethelred and by the time we get to Cnut it seems to have dissipated. We have a lot of copies of manuscripts from the 11th century, but little original work other than Wulfstan (note: not "no original work", but "little original work"). So I think the confusion of Aelfric and Alcuin, particularly given the above, is just as likely in the reigns of Cnut and Edward (and Harthacnut if I remember rightly that he came between) as after the Conquest.

I think one thing that might in fact indicate date is the emphasis on ENGLISH teaching rather than....than what? Latin? That would be the most natural assumption, and I know that was something of an issue for the Normans who looked askance at church things being done in the vernacular and not Latin, though in other ways they seem to have tried to learn English. That emphasis on English vs. Latin as a vehicle for Christian education might indicate the post-Conquest date.

Jonathan Jarrett has posted some probing questions, I'll answer those and any others that come in a further post and perhaps get around to posting some bibliography.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

1000 Books

Over at Yet I'll Hammer It Out that I discovered through this months' Carnivalesque, see post below, there's a discussion and listing of medieval and early modern works that one should read, since in those typical "Great Books" lists our periods generally get overlooked. While many of the respondents have listed some good reads, some important ones too, I think there's been a more or less missed opportunity there. There are some key "medieval" texts that have influenced a great deal of modern thought that have been overlooked, and others that I think are vitally important to read in a lifetime, more important than others on the typical "Great Books" list I could name. My list covers from circa 400-1500. So here's my list, I invite others to add their own:

Augustine: Confessions and City of God, On Christian Doctrine
Jerome: Latin Vulgate including prefaces, Commentary on Matthew
Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy
Gregory the Great Moralia in Job and Dialogues
Jonas' Life of Columbanus
Gregory of Tours History of the Franks
Venantius Fortunatus
Procopius The Secret History
Bede--most would put the Historia here, but for influence and importance I'd put On the Temple and On the Tabernacle and Lives of Cuthbert
Dream of the Rood
Vercelli Homilies
Song of Roland
Marie de France, Fables
Genesis A and B
Isidore's Etymologies (esp now that they are in translation)
Anselm's Cur Deus Homo
Einhard's Life of Charlemagne
Volsunga Saga
the Eddas
Sic et Non
Dante, Comedia
Aquinas (if you can!)
Piers Ploughman
Distichs of Cato
Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Njal's Saga
El Cid
Proslogion and Cur Deus Homo by Anselm
Queste des Saint Graal
Voyage of St. Brendan
Selected portions of the Talmud (Aboth is a good tractate)
Not exactly medieval, but medieval enough: 1001 Arabian Nights
Saadia Gaon's Book of Opinions
Maimonides Eight Chapters
Chretien de Troyes (I might suggest Yvain and Lancelot)
Richard Rolle
Michael Psellus
Julian of Norwich
Theresa of Avila
St. Francis of Assisi
Rule of Benedict

Well, that's my list. It favors England and Old English I suppose, and certainly the early period rather than the late. Nonetheless I think these important works.

What think you? Add or edit!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Carnvalesque XL

40th Carnival on Medieval Studies is up today too!

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know

I'm starting a new series over the summer. I'd like to say that it will appear once a week, but we'll see how that goes. But there is a great deal of early medieval literature of all kinds that folk don't know about, including me. So I thought I might begin a long process of slowly collecting some of that seldom studied, often overlooked stuff and talk about it. There's a purpose here too, some of it in the form of outreach to interest people in the early medieval period more, and some of it practical for some publications I'm working on.

Today, I'd like to introduce Worcester Fragment A, a piece that I'm actually quoting in the introduction to the Magnum Opus, the never ending dissertation I seem to be doing. Worcester Fragment A is so named because on f. 63R of Worcester Library ms. 174 there is this verse (followed by another verse on the soul and body). It is of course untitled in the manuscript and has gone under many names: First Worcester Fragment, The Disuse of English, Sanctus Bede or Beda Fragment, or Sicut Oves absque Pastor (which competes in my opinion with Worcester Frag. A as the best title: WFrag A has the advantage that it simply names the manuscript and identifies the piece. Sicut Oves identifies the content. Since I'm a new old fashioned text critic privileging the actual manuscript, I've opted for Worcester Fragment A.

The manuscript is early 13th century and largely contains a copy of Aelfric's Grammar and Glossary, or at least this is what remains. 66 leaves remain, few of which have all the text that was written on them, some cut in two. The leaves containing the "Worcester fragments" were used as binding in another book, were identified in the 19th century by Sir Thomas Phillips and the whole of what remains rebound in correct order. All told, in addition to the 66 leaves, there are some 15 fragments identified as belonging to this manuscript and kept with it. The famed Tremulous Hand of Worcester is not just the annotator, but the scribe of the text. The verso of the leaf that the poem below is on contains a poem about the coming of death and is followed on the next leaves by a Soul and Body poem.

Fragment A is almost always dated as 12th century, though Christopher Cannon in _The Grounds of English Literature_ makes a very good argument in my view that the poem is pre-1066---in large part because nothing of its contents demands or even suggests the post-1066 context! He fails however to cite some of the linguistic studies that suggest that what has been called "early middle English" is really spoken English of the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries, and the "Old English" written in the period is not intelligible but purposely static as a "learned" written language. That would go even further to prove the poem's point and help establish it as an 11th century piece. Anyway, after too many days putting this together, here is the poem and my translation:

Sanctus beda was iboren her on breotene mid us
and he wisliche writen awende
that theo enclisc leoden thurh weren ilerde
and he theo cnoten unwreih;
the questiuns hoteth
tha derne digelness the deorwurthe is
aelfric abbod th we alquin hoteth
he was bocare and the fif bec wende
Genesis Exodus Utronomius Numerus Leuiticus
thurh theos weren ilaerde ure leoden on englisc
thet were theo biscop9es theo bodeden cristendom
wilfrid of Ripum Johan of beoferlai Cuthbert of Dunholme
Oswald of wirceastre Egwin of heoueshame aeldhelm of malmesburi
Swiththun aethelwold Aidan Biern of winaestre (Pau)lin of
rofeceastre S Dunston and S aelfeih of cantoreburi
theos laerden ure leodan on englisc
naes deorc heore liht ac hit faeire glod
[nu is] theo leore forleten and thet folc is forloren
nu beoth othre leoden theo larep ure folc
and feole of then lortheines losaeth and that folc forth mid
Nu saeith ure drihten thus Sicut aquila provocat
uullows suos ad uolandum and super eos volitat
this beoth godes word to worlde asende
that we sceolen faeier sep festen to him.

I could not figure out how to get unicode into my blog entry, forgive me for being stupid. So "th" in the above represents a thorn, ae, ash, and there's one yogh that I simply used g for. I couldn't find an edition on the Net either. I've adapted the above from Joseph Hall's Selections from Early Middle English 1130-1250 and silently expanded abbreviations and not included the marks representing errors and corrections that have been entered into the text. I've also changed the "tyronean ond" to "and." Hope however that the one or two readers besides me reading this will be able to make sense of the text.

Here's my translation:

Saint Bede was born here in Britain among us
and he wisely translated books
so that the English people were taught through them
and he unbound the knots which called the Questions,
the secret mystery that is precious.
Abbot Aelfric whom we call Alcuin
Was a writer and translated five books:
Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Leviticus
through these were our people taught in English.
These bishops taught the Christian faith
Wilfrid of Ripon, John of Beverly, Cuthbert of Durham,
Oswald of Worcester, Egwin of Evesham, Aldhelm of Malmebury
Swithun, Aethelwold, Aidan, Birinus of Winceaster,
Paulinus of Rocester, Saint Dunstan, and Saint Alphege of Canterbury.
These teachers taught our people in English
Their light was not dark but it glowed fairly
now is that teaching forsaken and our people lost
and another people teaches our folk
and many of our teaches are damned and that folk with them.
Now says our Lord thus, As an eagle prods
her young to fly and hovers over them.
This is the word of God sent into the world
that we should happily fasten our faith to him.

This is poem of loss, obviously, and mourns specifically the loss of Christian learning in Anglo-Saxon England. It in interesting to note that the two figures grounding the lament are Bede, d. 735, and Aelfric of Eynsham, d. 1008?, two great figures on either end of the period, literarily speaking. In between it is worthy to note that the focus is on matters Biblical: The "questions" I think refers to Bede's 30 Questions on the BOok of Kings, which focuses on Israel's downfall and eventual exile in disobedience, and then the poet turns to Aelfric's translations of Biblical materials, specifically the Pentateuch in which the emphasis is on Israel's obedience to God (or disobedience) and facing sets "heathen" foes. The "beautiful faith" is an allusion to Deuteronomy 32:11 when Israel, poised now to enter the Promised Land, anticipate conquerering the land and living in a land flowing with milk and honey. So the poet seems to want to see his people as having had their own "Moseses", there own great saints who taught the people but the people are now damnded, lost, sheep without their shepherds and taught by a foreign, heathen people. Its quite the commentary on the 11th century.

It is worth noting that the range of people mentioned extends from Paulinus of Rochester, aka Paulinus of York who lost the latter office when Edwin was defeated by Penda and Christianity was lost in the north and the last is Alphege who was a Viking victim in 1012. There's no mention of anyone afterward or of the French.

Well, I've spent 2 weeks on this now....surprise, surprise, surprise, and its time to post. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, June 13, 2008

This is good

While preparing other things for the blog, I thought I'd pass this along:

Abelard and Heloise

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Allen Fallout

Disturbingly enough, Allen's article is making a splash elsewhere on the Net. Check out some of the following:

Standing on Shoulders

National Review

History News Network--which ought to know better

Even WMU Repuglican Students

MemeStreams has listed it as "interesting web content".

Eleanor Duckwall-a blog dedicated to current events generally has a take on the Allen piece, a bit negative, will illustrations and pictures. Still interesting viewpoint from a non-medievalist.

Dogfight at Barkstown wants to call us all barbarians.

Michael Burleigh-don't know this person, but he has some books I'd like to read, read through the comments to the post as well.

World on the Web, again the comments are interesting.

Touchstone's Mere Comments, Kalamazoo specific in the third paragraph, but worth reading the preamble.

The Motley Fool forums even get in on the act!

Over on the Mediev-L list, some have noted the article and we've been having a discussion. Unfortunately if you don't subscribe, you can't read it as the list archives don't seem to be being kept up by U of Kansas people. But John Briggs found the article hilarious, as did Nancy Spies who thinks we should all lighten up and found the article not only funny, but in the tradition of the Pythons' send ups of medieval literature and academics etc. E. Metzger of the U of Glasgow found that the point of the article is very important and that all us bloggers arguments (mine in particular) about the piece were weak. The point according to Metger is that postmodern approaches blur the line between bad scholarship and good scholarship so that they are indistinguishable. He thinks this is a vital topic of discussion.

Wow....that's about all I can say, Wow. Outreach I think is needed more now than ever before. Over on Modern Medieval Matthew Gabriele has suggested a discussion of outreach and how to do it to a larger audience.

Now for the Dark Age bit: it is a dark day for us. Not one of the blogs or websites mentioned above bothered to check out the Congress website or catalog or do anything to check out the "facts" of the article. It is indeed a dark age when a journalist's word is taken as gospel and spreads around the world without further thought.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Allen Furor

Scott Nokes over at Unlocked Wordhoard has mentioned an article
published in The Weekly Standard titled A Dark Age for
Medievalists: At their annual congress in Kalamazoo, it's no
longer your grandfather's Middle Ages. Its an interesting, if
utterly erroneous take on the International Congress on Medieval
Studies that takes place in Kalamazoo each year; the Weekly
Standard should be embarrassed, as should Catholic University of
America where the author, Charlotte Allen is supposedly earning her
doctorate. There have been some comments to Scott's notice of the
article and his response to it, and he gives a roundup of other bloggers.
In light of my recent post on Kalamazoo, I thought it worthwhile to
take a few monments to respond to the skein of misrepresentations
that the article reports.

So who is this author? Charlotte Allen appears to be a freelance
journalist of some kind and claims to be a doctoral candidate in the
Medieval and Byzantine Studies program at Catholic University of
America. Does that not make her a medievalist? T'would seem so,
thus the "distance" by describing the congress as "their" as if she
were not part of the whole thing...and from the contents of the
article I wonder if she were actually even registered.

And why should we be concerned that it isn't our 'grandfather's
middle ages"? We know a good deal more about the period now than
we did in my grandfather's day. Sure, we stand on their shoulders
and build on their legacy...that's the way its supposed to work!
But why the suggestion that the field should remain static for the
last century with no advances, reassessments, reading texts not
considered before, etc. I rather think it a very good thing that
the field has not remained static since my grandfather's day, and I
wonder at the grasp that this supposed doctoral candidate has to
think or to pine that our grandfather's middle ages should still be
the state of the field.

Moving to the first paragraph, there is much to discuss. I will
let others address the attacks on post-modern approaches to things
medieval. But let's start with a few actual facts. First, the
session she attended was not in a classroom, but in one of the
famed Valleys (Valley II), and those rooms have never held a class.
They're study rooms and lounges for the inhabitants. A small
point, but a point nonetheless that illustrates a whole strategy of
misreporting and factual error in the article. She defines the
topic of the one paper from Session 6 she mentions (and I suspect
the only one from Session 6 she heard, but more on that in a
moment) as being a 15th century farce, telling us that a farce is a
"lowlife comic drama". Lowlife? What makes it "lowlife?" A farce
is a comic play in this case that uses "low comedy", consisting of
sexual and gender confusion, scatology, puns, and highly
caricatured portrayals of personality traits. But does "low
comedy" equal "lowlife"? Well, if Terence and Plautus and most
importantly Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson are lowlife, I would
guess so. But most conservative authors at The Weekly Standard and
like organizations would look to ol' Harold's _The Closing of the
American Mind_ as a good gospel text so to speak, a book and author
who would uphold Shakespeare as a cultural high point whose works
students should learn, and so not "lowlife." Much less the necessity of reading
classical Latin texts, preferably in Latin....I suppose these all
are "lowlife". Nor is the description in the beginning of the
second paragraph any better: "Rabelaisian-style scatology" as a
description of the farce's contents. But Allen seems unaware that
the 15th century farce predates the 16th century writer and that
Rabelais' use of low comedy is a very very very old tradition by
the time he and other sixteenth century writers grasp hold of it,
and anyone vaguely familiar with classical and medieval literature
would recognize the scatological humor and likely would not call it
"Rabelaisian-style scatology". When she reports that she has
translated perfectly good English words (bourgeois fecal habitus)
out of postmodernese (not sure what is post-modern about speaking
of the bourgeois, feces, or habitus, but never mind), one wonders
whether she has truly understood the paper in question.

The beginning of the next paragraph reads: "And you thought that
the Middle Ages was all about jousting knights and damsels in
distress." As someone who supposedly studies the Medieval period,
this characterization, whether negative or positive, is shocking!
Allen and her school, Catholic University of America, Medieval and
Byzantine Studies, OUGHT TO BE EMBARRASSED! Especially for someone
who bemoans the absence of history!

Well she does go on, and others in the blogosphere have addressed
points like her claim that no "big names" come to Kazoo, which even
a cursory glance through the index of participants reveals is false
as is the related claim that those few who do come do so only to
lend gravitas to sessions and don't actually participate. Others
have addressed the fact that she obviously didn't attend at least
one of the sessions she ridicules, and grossly misrepresents
others. But I want to turn to some other points and then address
why we should care.

First, this piece is not merely a rant nor is it merely a crank piece. It is a piece of carefully crafted, and for a certain audience,
effective piece of rhetoric. I'll explain what its aim is below.
But Allen uses all the buzz words that for a certain audience will
in fact push the desired buttons. "Post-modern", "not interested
in history" "scatology", the dance and mentions of illicit sex
(completely ignoring ON PURPOSE the frequent services conducted
over the course of the Congress and open to attendance by all).

Second, following from my "first", is that mention that
"medievalists" aren't interested in history. Ok, to be fair she
said "waste-study scholars". In refutation, a) to the person
posing the question about the commodity of manure being valueable,
the very word manure and fertilizer distance the users from the
fact that its a pile of shit, and there are many things that are
valueable commodities but those commodity dealers are not
necessarily valued or socially acceptable, or necessarily wanted in
"high" or "polite" society. Economic value does not equal social
value. More importantly b) how is observing the difference between
social value and economic value NOT historical and based in reading
the texts? It seems that even mentioning this disproves her
contention of a disinterest in history. But that isn't the point:
the point is that this lack of interest in history is a particular
button for the audience and the use of it here is important. (We
could point out to the many history sessions and history
organizations presenting at K'zoo.....but that's too easy).

Third, she lies. Yes, she lies. For example, she states that students are not required to take courses in Western Civ any more....they aren't? What campuses? I've worked at 5 different colleges or state universities (2 private, 3 public) in as many different states and all 5 of them require Western Civ of some kind. Or there's the statement "in which undergrads increasingly shun the humanities because they can't take all the theory" to describe the current state of affairs in academia. Huh? Oh sure, there are some programs, English in particular that offer undergraduate theory courses....but um, in case she hadn't noticed there are theory courses for undergrads in the sciences too, and in psych and in education and in business.....and students certainly don't shun the humanities because of theory. They major or double major in fields like education and business because in the USA we now place emphasis on going to college to get a better job...i. e. as an expensive vo-tech training and so the emphasis on practical majors like education, business, pre-med, poli sci to lead to law school and the like has nothing to do with theory, but with that practical, pragmatic application. This is an attitude I disagree with, but I recognize it as the reason why students are often convinced they need to go to college. Second, we in the US place a huge emphasis now on math and science scores and where the humanities are stressed at all in high school it is a list of facts from history that are deemed important and the "rules of grammar". We don't stress the need to read stories of any age or period or culture as a whole, that might involve too much reflection. But again, nothing to do with theory. Allen knows this, she deliberately lies.

Fourth, misrepresentation by omission. She focuses her critique on medievalism papers and theory based papers. She does not even mention in a breath the plethora of history, archaeology, theology, medieval science, linguistic papers, much less in literature the philology and historicist and neo-historicist readings or the manuscript studies and other fields I've missed. Not once are any of those even hinted at as having been a part of the Congress. Again, I don't believe that she just missed those and wasn't aware of them: she had a program obviously! She chose specific sessions! She talked to people! No, again, this was a deliberate omission for her audience.

Again, I could go on, but why these cheap rhetorical tricks, why the audience of The Weekly Standard?

Let's remember that The Weekly Standard is the neo-con sourcebook. These are the folk who in their first issue after 9/11 equated the events of that day with Saddam Hussein, whose issue rather than sporting a picture of bin Laden, had Hussein's photo...and this issue appeared before even Shrub, aka Pres. Bush, decided that Hussein was at fault (see timeline in Richard Clark's book). Remember that the senior writer of The Weekly Standard, Matt Labash, has gone on record stating that the method of journalism which they use is utterly subjective: "We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually." ( He also says that he looks for pockets of journalism not previously covered in choosing his stories.

All very interesting I'm sure the one or two readers out there is saying, but what does this have to do with Allen's piece? I'll get there. Let's look at what else Allen gets herself up to. She's a writer at Minding the Campus. Minding the Campus describes itself as being interested in Intellectual Pluralism, but then turns around and cites Harold Bloom and _The Closing of the American Mind_, yet in my view their description of Bloom's ideas do not match the book I read. They claim that they want to foster honest engagement in ideas, and yet we find that their writers like Allen obviously are not interested in honest and open exchange of ideas--just look at her article on Kalamazoo! Minding the Campus is part of the Center for the American University sponsored by The Manhattan Institute. The Center describes itself first by describing what it isn't: it isn't a modern university that stifles diversity of thought. They claim that their purpose is to restore "the original conception of the university": "We want to foster a university based on neither conservative nor liberal doctrines, but rather on the search for knowledge and truth. Discovering truth, however, is impossible without a commitment to freedom of inquiry and the broadest possible range of viewpoints-what we call intellectual pluralism." HMMM, well no wonder they're after the medievalists! We know what the original conception of the university was! And talking about that would rather destroy their claims and activities. As a test case, they decried Churchill and attacked his scholarship and credentials. Fascinating. Now there were certainly problems with Ward Churchill's scholarship and credentials, no question there. I'm just pointing to the fact that while claiming to uphold freedom and diversity of thought in the university, these folks are talking out of both sides of their mouths: just like the Weekly Standard attacking "liberals" for being subjective, but being subjective all they want. Its a nice racket. So CAU and Minding the Campus will continue to attack American thinkers and universities as not being up to snuff.

What else do these folk want? Well, one thing they want is a return to the Great Books of Western Thought tradition. Allen herself writing in the LA Times criticizes the American university system for forgetting what it is that students need to know, who Plato was and what happened at Appamottox:,0,6765169.story

A couple of paragraphs later Allen says: "Instead of the carefully crafted core programs that once guided students through the basics of literature, philosophy, history and the social sciences, most colleges now offer smorgasbords of unrelated classes for their students to sample in order to fulfill requirements. And the professors stock the smorgasbords with whatever the theorists they idolize tells them is the new new thing." What university has she been to? The article criticizes Occidental university for a class titled "The Phallus" a course on feminist and gay takes on the male member, well it isn't really that at all: Immediately after this she writes to suggest that the Phallus course receives the same credit as the Greek tragedy course. And that's not false, but what she doesn't tell you is that both courses are electives, not requirements. She doesn't talk about Occidental's Core program that aims for "global literacy" in which the freshman spends a year exploring literary studies, art, science and math, etc around a particular subject. No wonder Allen is upset! Plato and Aristotle, authors of some of those great books that Bloom, Minding the Campus et al want students to read, taught us that one's allegiance is the POLIS, one's people or nation (polis is of course the city state, but moderns emphasize the "state" part of that), and that cosmopolitanism is undesirable! But they sort of ignore that the ideas of Socrates is what fueled and spread the kind of cosmopolitanism that places like Occidental want to engage in and spread. But I guess that's the fault of selective reading.

Allen also writes at beliefnet. She wrote an article there on Hildegard of Bingen having become "politicized." She attacks the "liberal church":

Ok, let's put it all together. We can not afford to merely dismiss Allen's Weekly Standard piece as just a rehash of anti-MLA, anti-postmodern hype. The people she writes to and for are people who read the Standard, the current administration for one, people who want to compose and impose lists of facts and works that every student in a college or university in the USA must read and know. They engage in double speak: while touting intellectual diversity and the exchange of ideas, unlike what they think the current state of the university is, they turn around and engage in subjective judgments, conclusions not supported by facts or clear, reasoned arguments. But they have influence, influence that affects policy, and those policies affect all of us who teach and work in American academia.

Now I'm not saying that there's a conspiracy out there. I am saying that merely dismissing Allen and her ilk would be a mistake. We need to respond, not in kind, but by being the intellectually diverse, thoughtful, and engaged bunch that we medievalists generally are and show why Allen and her ilk are mere cranks, willing to lie and twist the facts in favor of an agenda that they claim they do not have. As many a Western philosopher and theologian has said over the centuries, the deeds must match the words: their deeds illustrate all too clearly that the ideals they spout are not the ideals they espouse. Intellectual diversity for them means one kind of thought: theirs. They invoke Socrates, Plato, and Jesus, and yet when faced with thinkers in the tradition of Socrates, Plato, and Jesus they decry them. I'm suggesting that we need to watch, respond thoughtfully, and not let things like this merely irritate and create a flurry of posts, to be forgotten soon. Vigilate, fellow medievalists, vigilate!