Saturday, May 28, 2011

And now for something completely different....

Well, that was an interesting tempest in a tea-cup. I've decided to let some things slide, to respond to others over time, and to move on to things of more interest and importance.

Of interest at least to me is a project I began 8 years ago on where Grendel's hand is displayed after Beowulf's victory. It's now a 55+ page monstrosity of a paper....too long to be published in a journal, too short for a monograph. I might be able to extend it into a short monograph, especially if I go into more detail on the folklore and archaeological aspects of the question and go full on into analysis of the literary analogues (which in the end are unhelpful in determining the question for Beowulf). I could also go into more detail on the philological aspects. All of that might push me up to the slightly over 100 page category. I don't know. Or it could be better to carve it up in several shorter papers and publish them in a sequence, hopefully in the same journal. Advice and insight always welcome.

As most readers of Beowulf know, the usual understanding these days is that Grendel's hand is displayed over the steps or stairs leading into Heorot, perhaps from the gables, or is over the roof. The article I've written argues I think pretty absolutely that that understanding cannot be maintained. I then further argue that the hand is elsewhere in the hall (hey, not giving the whole shebang away just yet!).

At this year's Congress in between having a blast, making connections, and listening to some good papers, I gave one of my own this year. I took a part of my 55 page project that though started in 2003, I haven't looked at since 2007. I thought it high time I looked at it again and shared a part of it with a larger audience.

So I did. What I read is here: The paper as read looks at the source for our current understanding and seeks to demonstrate why that basis is unsustainable. I didn't read the last couple of pages due to time, but I keep it here because I'd like some discussion on them as well.

The paper went over well. I won over some skeptics. There were others who were absolutely convinced it must be outside over the stairs and that this is explicit in the poem, not an interpretation. It isn't explicit in the poem: thus the problem. But they were convinced nonetheless. In any case, the paper went well, I share it here, feel free to comment or download as you wish.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Et tu?

It seems my comments have caused a stir elsewhere. I have a long post reacting to comments made here; I'm not sure I have either time or energy to address the comments in the blogosphere. Or if more heat will be generated by doing so than light. Here today I will make but a few comments and reserve the most of my comments for that other post already in process.

First, the list form is nothing other than I think in lists. It's the way my mind works. Nothing more is meant.

Second, each of the items in the list refers to a specific event from which a general lesson is drawn. Only one of those listed happened to me, the rest happened to graduate students of my acquaintance and who were quite disturbed at the time of the event. Most have now made legends of the event and find it all very humorous. The fault may be mine for trying to generalize enough that even some of those involved will not recognize themselves in my comments.

Third, I discovered through someone else's comments that another discussion on all this has been occurring elseweb without my knowledge or awareness. This blog post elseweb and the following commentary is....well, I am so nonplussed by it that I haven't an appropriate word. I've had these folks' back many times before, defended them in private and public, applauded their efforts, lent a hand where ever and whenever I could to aid their efforts in my own small way, I stuck my neck out AS A GRADUATE STUDENT WITH NO STANDING ANYWHERE WHATSOEVER to defend their right to speak at the table, to insist that disagreements with them take the form of valid discourse rather than snide asides, that what they do has value even for those in other disciplines...perhaps especially for those...and they don't have the decency to let me know of this conversation? to invite me to explain myself? To address me directly? Not even a quick email to say this was going on? No. Now some of the commenters there have commented here, and I am very appreciative that they did...but even they did not mention the other blog post and its lengthy comments. I don't know what to say about that, I guess I haven't processed it all.

Fourth, the attention paid to MA students is because of the specific situations on which the comments are based involved MA students as the performers of those behaviors.

Fifth, I was accused of being bored a lot. There is only a single point that addresses that topic or uses that word.

Sixth, I was also accused of making a lot of highly sexualized comments. A) I think that less than careful reading has made more of this than there actually is and more importantly B) Sexual violence even in the context of a conference is still sexual violence; intellectual rape is still a form of rape, and even more so when a male student or professor is forcing himself both intellectually and physically on a female colleague of whatever standing; sexual harassment is still sexual harassment even if it happens at the dance or a wine hour. Now as above I recognize that my descriptions and efforts at anonymizing and making the situations somewhat generic may have disguised too well the gravity of what my young colleagues experienced; at the same time it worries me no end that otherwise intelligent colleagues are far less concerned about the kinds of sexual politics that a certain sector of congress attendees and academics practiced making victims out of other colleagues. Yes, that disturbs me very much. And I say shame on you. While you are so concerned with how students might feel at my "litany" you've swallowed the camel to strain at the gnat.

Seventh, I was implicitly accused of being a killjoy. I should perhaps be less concerned with what people wear to the dance etc, or perhaps not even attend. Apparently you people don't know me very well. Perhaps you could try. Always much easier I suppose to take pot shots in comments on a blog about the matter if there is no concern that I'll actually see them. Perhaps you'd like to consider that one of the reasons the current dance is so damn tame is a direct result of the kinds of behavior that I outlined. It used to be so much more! I miss those wilder, woolier days of the dance. But there are consequences to one's actions, no matter how fun they were in the doing. Now I'm fully aware I'm not one of the cool kids, never will be. I'm just an old ruminate chewing on things as I can and occasionally spitting them out on a blog or two. But I do go to the dance, have done so longer than many of those commenting, and have seen a thing or two, and the fallout behind the scenes of things at the dance since I also once upon a time worked behind the scenes of the Congress. You see, my erstwhile friends, out here in the real world, many of us struggle damned hard to get where we are. Not being cool or a hot commodity with the socio-economic connections means a bit more struggle for those of us little people. And out here in the real world, what you wear even to something like the K'zoo dance has an effect; it shouldn't, it isn't right, it isn't good, and we should do all we can to minimize and eradicate such reactions. But I'm not on every hiring committee and I know of interviewees who have been asked by hiring committees about something said or done by interviewee at some conference or hiring committees who have rejected a candidate because of dress, not at the interview, but elsewhere at a major conference. Whether you head in the sand "live and let live" altrustic idealists like it or not, realize it or not, want it to happen or does happen, and how very sad for talented people to lose out on a job because of something that can be easily addressed WITHOUT restricting self expression. I'm not saying don't wear tight dresses or a see through shirt showing that six pack, I am saying that if your clothing isn't up to keeping your body in check during a dance and you are sharing more of that body than you intended, perhaps rethinking your attire beforehand might be a good idea. Go nude to the dance for all I care. Paint your face woad and wear leather armor. Wear whatever you like. But there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Likely no one will care. That's good. But just in case....

Oh, and by the way....I still have that kind of fun and I'm nearly 50, and I do it more than at Congress. If you applied even a modicum of the skills you profess to what I wrote, you wouldn't have missed some key information like "have fun." Nowhere did I decry having fun, being silly, enjoying yourself. Read carefully people. Where did it say a thing about not going barefoot? Nowhere I can see. Is our discipline in such trouble that basic, basic reading skills are lacking?

Eighth, while the slight majority of my comments were addressed to students, the problems and issues addressed to professors were to my mind far more serious. These have largely been overlooked.

Ninth, the hypocrisy is palpable. While on the one hand claiming to be such a wonderful community, the posters in question exclude. They certainly haven't included me in their discussion or made comments here (with some exceptions)...that's community building? Really? And while claiming that "hierarchizing" is wrong, they hierachize....after all, is it not explicitly stated (yes, it is) that their way is better? Is that not a hierarchy? And of course while doing so not one of them has bothered to comment on how I treat my grad students much less other grad students. They can only speak for themselves.....perhaps they will.

Enough. For now. If the folks over at the other blog want to take me to task for speaking out against intellectual violence, power politics based on gender, to defend sexual harrassment in the name of not hierarchizing and everyone having fun, well that's up to them. But I'll be happy to help young students out by helping them avoid bad behavior and learn how to see themselves as others see them and speaking out for victims and intended victims of such behavior. And if they don't like it...oh well. One can only hope for further dialogue, but with few exceptions I am not hopeful.

Among those exceptions are Myra Seaman, whose comments I appreciate though she has grossly misunderstood my comments (we'll see about clarifying that), Holly Crocker whose comments here and elseweb I appreciate, and Eileen Joy, though I wish she'd made her comments here too rather than only elseweb.

On a final note, I'm still happy to say that the victims of the worst behavior are strong people, have already turned the events into story, story told humorously and creating laughter, the great healer. Still, those who might be tempted to commit such behavior should be made aware of it and that it isn't cricket. And if that makes a banker on what if it helps someone?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kalamazoo Lessons

So. I'm returned from the great busyness attending the last moments of the academic year, moving apartments, preparing to spend the summer in another city with my wife, and of course attendance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI. Before reporting on the events I experienced there, I thought it might be useful to some to give some important Kalamazoo lessons to various potential readers. Some I observed this past Congress, others I've experienced on previous occasions. So without further ado, here goes:

Dear Graduate Students:

1. Dear Masters Student: You are a Masters Student. Do not go out of your way to offend tenured professors in your field if you have expectations of a future. Your thesis topic is obvious and will not be so grand as to set the field on its head.

2. Dear Masters Student: Act professionally. It's good to go and talk to people, don't expect said people to fawn all over you. Act professionally and you will be treated professionally most of the time.

3. The K'zoo dance is grand and can be a lot of fun. It is not a club. Do not dress as if it were a club or you were going clubbing. No matter what happens at the dance, your professional colleagues are present and they remember the teeny dress more than they will your first couple papers. Teeny dresses do not get one jobs.

4. Along the same lines, Congress is an opportunity for graduate students to professionalize and rub shoulders with the top folk in the fields as if equals. Act accordingly. The collegiality of the Congress is a rare thing; lack of professional behavior, egregious violations of professional behavior usually result in a loss of that rare collegiality. And yes, we do notice and we do remember. There are many young, beautiful faces that I've seen at Congress once or twice and never see again thereafter because they didn't get anywhere.

5. Don't assume that every other graduate student has come there to hook up. Wherever human beings gather, people hook up. The purpose of the conference is not to hook up though that may happen. So please stop using every reception to troll the crowd, show off your dancing skills, impress us with the banality of your research; this isn't a bar on a Friday night. It's a gathering of professionals.

6. Speaking of your research, tell me about if I ask, and I probably will ask. Don't thrust your research on me as if it is the most fascinating thing I've encountered and that I need to know about it; the situation is likely the other way round. I'm always glad to help; I am reluctant to aid morons.

7. Dear Graduate Student (esp. Masters students): Congratulations, you got into grad school, maybe even a good one. That means you're smart and gifted. But so is everyone else around you at Congress. It is the great leveler.

8. If you happen to be a grad student in a completely unrelated field to anything Medieval and decide to come to the medieval Congress, your behavior at said Congress counts just as much (and maybe more) than everyone else. We medievalists are more likely to be on the hiring committees in your field than for fellow medievalists. So going ballistic on the ex you followed to the conference, or surprising a significant other and accusing him or her of cheating because they were chatting and maybe even (*gasp*) flirting with someone will undoubtedly be noticed.

9. Don't be creepy.

10. Don't overdrink. This isn't a frat party. It's a fun gathering of professionals who may be able to impact your career.

In short, have fun. Have boat loads of fun. Don't become the stuff of legend, the kind of legend that gets repeated to great guffaws in years to come.

Now a briefer word to professors:

1) It is still sexual harassment if you say something unwelcome, untoward, and uninvited at a conference, such as a male professor saying to a female grad student as she exited a car "Now I can get a proper look at you." The horror on her face told the story well.

2) Congress is not your personal trolling ground either....see comments above about clubbing. Touching the students is not cricket, rubbing yourself on the young women when not dancing and at receptions when they don't know you is not cricket; inviting yourself along with a group of grad students who are not yours, don't go to your school, and didn't invite you is not cricket.

3) Don't change your name to that of a character in a medieval work.

4) Do not wear chain mail. You don't look good in it.

5) Don't be creepy.

Again, have fun. Have boatloads of fun. Try not to become the stuff of legend in a bad way.

Feel free to add your own, I'll edit them in.