Friday, September 29, 2006

Giving the word "retro" new meaning ....

... is The Shire, a development of Middle Earth themed habitations notable for -- among other things -- its utter earnestness. From the website:

The Shire is conceived to be a retro community in its exterior appearance. Inside The Shire dwellings you'll find a blend of quaint and charming styling cues melded throughout completely modern floor plans, conveniences and appliances.

To achieve the character and feeling of English cottages and village townhomes, The Shire designers have specified only high quality fixtures and materials. Some materials, seldom seen in residential construction for a hundred years, have been resurrected and manufactured from contemporary compositions.

The Shire is unique, fearlessly created to the vision of developer Ron Meyers and a team of designers to help implement his vision. The Shire's homeowners will share this unique vision to have their community and primary residence beyond the ordinary incorporated with the values and charms of a different age.

Depicted above is a cottage of a type called "The Swordsman." Why a swordsman would live in a Viking range equipped, granite counter supplied McMansion disguised as a quaint country getaway is difficult to discern.

You wouldn't necessarily know that this community is patterned on Middle Earth's bestest place from the website's mainpage; go here for a quotation from Tolkien that will distinguish this Olde English village from one that might have been developed by, oh, say the piss artist Thomas Kinkade.

To truly make me want to live in Bend, Oregon, this Shire had better include prowling Ringwraiths and the possibility of Balrogs.

(with many thanks to N50)


Karl Steel said...

Just makes me feel kind of sad.

seldom seen in residential construction for a hundred years

Anyone care to lean on this line a bit? Why not say 500? With 100, all that pops into my mind are the Lower East Side's tenements (or London's, for that matter), although I suppose 1906 is a bit late for that.

N50 said...

Hey - you picked the least serious of my two offerings to EJ. But I must confess that I got it from Another Damned Medievalist and they got it from someone else... and so on.

Confirms all my opinions that Americans are drawn to the middle ages (and the UK?) as pure fantasy - they must be disappointed when they encounter the real thing?

Heo said...

Oh, wow! You too can enjoy a perpetual ren-fair, right in the comfort of your own home.

Heo said...

Wait, wait! I missed the whole "values and charms of a different age" part on my first reading.

I have a few questions now.
1) Do they come with peasants?
2) If someone taller than my sword walks onto my property, may I shorten him/her by a head without all the irritating paperwork?
3) If I like my neighbor's house better than mine, how long will it take me to get an army together to take it from him?
4) As a woman, would I be consigned to the role of peaceweaver in one of these things? 'Cause I'm really not set up for that. (See questions 1-3)
5) How much do guard-geese go for these days?

Eileen Joy said...

Wow; I almost don't know what to say except that I am experiencing feelings similar to when I first read about "plushies"--people [mainly men, I'm afraid to say] who like to dress up in "cute" animal costumes [kind of like sports mascot costumes] and then have sex, and "no," they are not "gay." Kind of like the men who want to be married to women but have sex on the side with men and "no," they are not "gay." But now I am straying off the subject. Plushies are "cute"; the Shire development is "cutely" anachronistic. Gnomes are "cute." See where I'm going with this? The past as . . . um, "cute" and comforting. Hobbits are cute. Shrek is cute. And yes, Heo Cwaeth, if you live in the Shire, and you want your neighbor's house, go ahead and raise that army, or tribe, or whatever.

Karl Steel said...

EJ: you've seen this I presume?

You know, given what I study, I should have something intelligent to say about plushies (furries, fursuits) or, for that matter, medieval bestiality: but I don't. Although I did just run across this Parisian penitential:

"Si quis laicus cum quadrupede furnicauerit, I annum, si uxorem habit, peniteat, si autem non habet, dimidio"
(if a layperson has sex with a barnyard animal, let him do penance for a year if he has a wife, but if he doesn't have one, let him do penance for half a year: is that right?)


N50 said...

I believe that LOL! might be the correct acronym.

There are plenty of pastiche communities here too. (Just look at Poundbury outside Dorchester designed by HRH).

The only difference is that they are based on visible past materialities rather than entirely fictional ones.

If medievalism is to be taken seriously Shire of Bend has to be included too.

Dr. Virago said...

viking range...heh heh.

I was going to post about The Shire, too, but I'm glad you beat me to it. I got hung up on the part of the site that said something about architecture inspired by the 17th century. Huh? So confused.

Here's what I want to know, akin to Heo Cwaeth's questions:
1) If you live in one of the Tudor style homes, are you allowed to persecute those living in the medieval style homes for being Papists?
2) If you live in the quasi-meadhall depicted in this post, must all of your drinking vessels be horns and claw-footed beakers to go with your Viking range?
3) Do the suits of armor depicted in many of the show homes come with them, and may they be put to appropriate use when trying to annex your neighbor's land?

And HeoCwaeth, at $800,000 you can bet the houses come with peasanst, especially on the West Coast. Only they call them "gardeners" and "maids."

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I think you can be gay or straight (or bi) and be a plushie/furrie/fuzzy. I mention this only because EJ has confused me and tangled that image up with hairy hobbit feet. But as a different medievalist friend pointed out to me, *cough* ROHAN!!!!!*cough* NOT ENGLAND!!! *cough*

Anonymous said...

Here's another question to add to the oh-so-witty ones above--is this how a bunch of know-nothing professors of a dead literature make themselves feel relevant? By feeling superior to the persons who would want to live in The Shire?

Just asking....

Heo said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'll have you know that I'm a know-nothing *graduate student* of dead literature.

As for my "oh-so-witty" questions, I have another one especially for you.

If people want to purchase the "values and charms" of a different age, they should know what those values were, dontcha think?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Well said, HeoCwaeth!

Eileen ... a lot of lumping together of disparate desires there, some of which may intersect, but many of which can trace their own paths. Not really sure what you meant.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Oh, and Karl: leave it to you to have such a link ready to hand.

N50 said...

Well - Anonymous has a good point - But there is a big place for a sense of humour in the world - it is such a shame that he has to be so aggressive and act with such a self-conscious sense of superiority. It stifles all further conversation on the issue.

Anonymous said...

n50--My good points are being erased from this forum. Censorship becomes the self-satisfied pedant. I guess I expected more than a "well said!" Do you feel more relevant or just as hollow as ever?

Karl Steel said...

Ignoring anon because of the bad faith or just nasty argument ('know nothing'? what literature is alive in itself?), I am indeed suspicious of my own chortling at medievalisms and my own defensiveness about the boundaries of my own discipline. I've put so much work into this field, well then, goddamn I own it. Dubious, yeah? But that's the approach I've taken too often. That said, I'm always deeply suspicious of nostalgia because it's fundamentally a conservative mode. The question is whether medievalism is always necessarily nostalgic, or if it sometimes offers the possibility of a reinvention of the present through reinventing the past. I had wanted to do a post on it, but I got sidetracked. I'm sure other people have written on this.

JJC: it took some finding, believe me! I kept looking under plushies, but 'furries' and 'fursuit' are the main words for hitting such things nowadays, it seems.

Anonymous said...

I live in Ft. Lauderdale, and have never visited Oregon, but I will say this--I believe that medievalism is just another thing to buy. 800 large is more than my assistant professorial salary can bear, and I do wonder why we cannot resist to poke fun at someone for buying The Swordsman. I for one don't think we--that is, we medievalists--gain anything by trivializing serfs and medieval warfare just to crack a few flat jokes.

N50 said...

When I first introduced SoB into this forum I did so (a couple of threads before this one) as a relatively light-hearted* example of a number of ways in which there is a common desire to seek emotional solace in an imagined personal past. I pointed out that such phenomena need to be taken seriously if we are to enter into the study of medievalism (as well as just the middle ages). Though personally I am not a scholar of medievalism – I feel perfectly non-hollow studying the middle ages in all its relevance, and I feel that it something that needs to be done.

I’m not a psychologist either, but I believe (both from studying history and from personal experience) that it can be damaging for both individuals and societies to attempt to build their futures through an artifical and imagined perfection of their personal or collective pasts. Imagining that you control the past (that you command it) sometimes leads you to imagine that you can control the future in ways which are oppressive of yourself or others.

But wait a minute – we are talking about something based on the Lord of the Rings here (as ADM pointed out). So in fact the dream has nothing to do with any real past – with any reality – but with an entirely fictional world. The website for SoB entirely conflates the two – the fictional and the supposedly real past of my country, the UK. That I begin to find worrying, even offensive – not as an academic medievalist – but as a modern British person. It is wrong for any state to create a world view – a sense of current affairs, possible futures and the best place of that state in the world – based on a fictionalised idea of what other states were and should be like. If kids growing up in the middle of Oregon are given entirely fictional views of world history like this they are being disserved in exactly the same way as if they were taught about creation but not evolution.

I have travelled in rural/suburban US – and I found the lack of knowledge of the outside world among some communities frankly disturbing – in the richest and most powerful country on the earth. Anonymous’s notion that this is all OK – that it is just a form of consumerism and no more significant than that is also disturbing. In all kinds of way consumerism can be a powerful good, but if the consumer is also an unregulated king it can also be a very powerful bad.

Anyway – time to sign off from medievalism and back to my very relevant work on a real medieval past (and yes I use the word real assertively, the past is more than a matter of our own selfish perception and consumption of it).

*Light-hearted not because SoB is in itself funny, but because the design of a single suburban housing estate in Oregon (or anywhere else) is not that fundamental or urgent an issue – as fundamental and urgent issues go.

Anonymous said...

It is wrong for any state to create a world view – a sense of current affairs, possible futures and the best place of that state in the world – based on a fictionalised idea of what other states were and should be like. If kids growing up in the middle of Oregon are given entirely fictional views of world history like this they are being disserved in exactly the same way as if they were taught about creation but not evolution.
I see. So you will elect yourself arbiter of what "should" and "shouldn't" be imagined about the past. Clearly you will not tolerate creationists. How "liberal" of you.

But you'll worry about a "state" creating a worldview and imposing it on others. Again, how "liberal."

Contradiction or hypocrisy or both. It never ceases to amaze how much ownership of the past is at stake in what medievalists do. Talk about illusions....

Anonymous said...

I don’t know what you mean by the term ‘liberal’ and I never used it myself. I certainly don’t believe that all opinions about the past are equally valid (if that is what you mean by liberal) – or even equally valuable. If that is illiberal in your world – that is fine by me! Lies about the past exist and can be used to pernicious effect.

An exchange of views, even extreme views, is always good. Using lies (about the past or anything else) to incite racial hatred etc are not. These kinds of discussion do not pertain just to use of the past. Of course I don’t set myself up as sole arbiter of the truth – but a dynamic and responsive society including popular debate, as well as professional training, in the study of the past helps provide a context for such arbitration.

I don’t think any of this is getting us anywhere. I’m out – other fish to fry etc. Have fun! I’ll probably drop in occasionally to see how you’re getting along – but I hope I don’t get drawn into contributing again (and please do not use anything I have said as a blog entry again). Cheers!

Karl Steel said...

Clearly you will not tolerate creationists.

Red herring. I'm totally 'tolerant' of Creationism so long as it's not in a science classroom. Science requires repeatable, disproveable hypotheses and experiments. Because creationism has none of these, it does not belong in a science classroom. But it, of course, can find its place in a religion, philosophy, or cultural studies course.
If you'd like to take up this controversy further, I invite you to take it up here or here. In other words, not here. You want to talk about the Middle Ages, this is your place.

It strikes me that the issues here, then, are: a) standards of proof; b) motive.

Ownership of the past is at stake no matter where or what you are. The dolchstosslegende, whether for post-WWI Germany or post-Vietnam America (and, indeed, for post-Iraq America, if there ever should be such a thing), demonstrates this for the right wing just as well as various denials of genocide, whether from the right (Turkish approaches to its past with Armenia) or the far left (Parenti on Srebrenica). Thankfully, there's the work of Stephanie Coontz for the American past and present, and the work, discussed at this blog, of Walter Goffart and Patrick Geary on the early Middle Ages. Scholars demonstrate that the past is too complex for the confines of any facile narrative: if the work's being done right, the tendency is always towards increasing complexity, but complexity is precisely what nostalgia can't handle. The desire of nostalgia might always be a desire for a 'simpler' time, whether it's an England free of Jews, or alientation of labor, or what have you. I might think that this is a left/right thing: but you might wonder, then, if Nirenberg's revision of R. I. Moore can be chalked up to a left/right thing. I don't think so.

What's odd, anon, about your argument, apart from its anger, is the sense I get that "ownership" (scholarship? standards of proof apart from the desire for something to be true?) of the past shouldn't matter and that, in fact, it matters a great deal: otherwise, why would you be so bothered? Perhaps I'm being unfair in seeing this contradiction at work in your posts. Perhaps not.

N50: please don't leave.

Eileen Joy said...

N50--just a quick note to say that The Shire development is Oregon is wierd, not *just* because, as you point out, the so-called past history it points to is not "medieval," per se, but more "Lord of the Rings," which is, already, a fictional "medievalism." But did you note, when perusing website, that the developers write that the time period they are aiming for is "18th Century"? Turns out they're not really "thinking medieval" at all.

JJC--as to your comment that, in my earlier post, which, admittedly, was all over the map [but did, delightfully, evoke from Karl the link to the really funny YouTube video], "not really sure what you meant," I'm not really sure, either, except that I was just kind of wondering out loud about the ways in which "cuteness" and figures of the past intersect--figures that, otherwise, might terrify. I mean, shouldn't we be kind of afraid a grizzled old man some call a "gnome" or of a 6-foot-tall squirrel?


Jeffrey Cohen said...

I hope I don’t get drawn into contributing again

I hope you *do* get drawn in again, N50. This blog would be much, much the poorer for your absence.

Nasty and shallow comments to blogs come and go ... but yours have always been provocative, helpful, illuminating. Thanks for them.

Eileen Joy said...

"hear hear" on what JJC said to N50.

Eileen Joy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

As far as ownership of the past goes, we medievalists don't own it. The quicker we get over that illusion, the better. My book on troubadour poetry no more entitles me to ownership than a title to The Swordsman. What is interesting to me is when ownership, when it's in the terms of the left, is OK, and when it's put in those of the right, it isn't OK. The real joke is on us. When Karl gets promoted to full at (insert compass direction) (ditto) (insert state name), his paycheck won't cover the mortgage on The Swordsman. Another anon brought up the superiority and need for relevance that seem the traits of the academic left. I would only add that maybe it's time to do something less superficial than poke fun at The Shire.

Eileen Joy said...

For reasons I cannot entirely fathom, our commentary on JJC's post on The Shire [in Oregon] has brought to the surface some suppressed fault lines of debate, perhaps even simmering discontents with the kinds of discussions we have on this blog? I can't say for sure, but would like to address just a couple of the points that have been raised here.

First, a little humor now and then never hurt anyone. I don't in any way feel "superior" to those who either designed The Shire or who might want to live there, nor, if I *were* feeling superior to them, would my superiority be based on the fact that I am a poor academic who only has her intellect to use as a billy club against those who are more wealthy, and perhaps more conservative, than me. I, in fact, grew up on trust funds, and was also raised by a father who worked for Robert Kennedy. It's not because I can't afford to live in The Shire that I think it's an odd development, nor does my economic background predetermine my politics and ideological viewpoints. And I never, ever go around, just because I am a professor, acting as if I "know everything." I think part of the humor [or humorous barbs] pointed at The Shire development mainly just stemmed from our recognition of the sometimes absurd manner in which emblems, sites, and history of the past are appropriated in contemporary culture, sometimes with unintended moments of historical dissonance. I would rather be amused than full of vituperative, academic scorn over the matter. Anyone who knows JJC's work, in fact, is always struck by the sheer joy he seems to take in any and all subjects, past and present, and in the wierd assemblages that sometimes result in the margins between older and newer worlds, bodies, text, etc. My only real problem with The Shire development [and if this makes me "superior," so be it] is the brand of escapism it promotes and sells; more and more, I am struck by all the ways in which, especially in America, contemporary consumer culture [whether involving fashion, architecture, eating out, cars, etc.] is predicated upon all manner of sleek [yet ultimately very thin] fantastical surfaces. I can hardly tell what counts any more as an authentic experience [sex in an alley?--haha--you would have had to have read a very vicious essay by Anthony Burgess castigating the work of Virginia Woolf for its sophisticated and ultimately empty qualities that was published umpteen years ago to get this joke--he suggested her writing would have been better if she had been raped in an alley-ouch!]. Given the horrors that daily visit those living in poverty, in prisons, etc., a development like The Shire strikes me as yet another example of our consumerist excesses gone awry. And because it very obviously and purposefully gestures toward a pseudo-medieval [albeit, also "18th-century"] past, it is of interest to those of us here at In The Middle as an example of medievalism, and as a site through which we might possibly explore what it is people find so comforting about a supposedly agrarian, rural, "peaceful" past that did not really exist the way the developers imagine it did.

Second, if medieval studies is to be "relevant," it will be through the act, not of policing contemporary appropriations of "the medieval" in order to deem them either "true" [to the history we supposedly know so well] or "false" [and therefore worthy of our scorn]--in fact, in my mind, pretty much ALL of culture [scholarship, art, architecture, etc.] is predicated upon one or more gestures of appropriation [nothing springs, Athena-like, out of nothing]--but rather, in the ability of medieval scholars to demonstrate that their knowledge and understanding of that place we call the Middle Ages could actually help us solve certain present-day dilemmas--dilemmas, moreover, having to do with habeus corpus [check out new post at Blogenspiel], torture, what it means to be "human' [look at Karl's dissertation] and human rights, so-called ethnic origins and the battles still being fought in those crucibles, etc. etc. I think medieval studies can be quite relevant, but that also means we have to re-write everything we thought we knew about the past before we can truly begin to adress the present. or perhaps we do both simultaneously.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Joy has written, in her inimitable way, about the relevance of medieval studies, and I concur with the thrust of her historicism. I especially like her characterization of The Shire as "consumerist excesses gone awry," though so much has gone awry with respect to consumerist excess that The Shire is, well, as Karl said, "sad." There is something pitiful here, though I am aware that if I pity I install myself in a position of superiority. Perhaps such pity may be strategic more than anything. The Shire affords us the opportunity to look at the present to see how the past is being rewritten. This, now that I think of it, reminds me of Strupp's view of psychoanalysis.

Karl Steel said...

What is interesting to me is when ownership, when it's in the terms of the left, is OK, and when it's put in those of the right, it isn't OK.

Hm? Maybe I'm misreading this--probably--but the context from which I'm taking this sentence seems to indicate that you've slide from metaphorical ownership (of "the past") to actual ownership (of a house).

I'm certainly not saying I should "own" the past. If I had to say anything, I'd say that I'm suspicious of anyone's claim to ownership of the past. I'm more interested in standards of evidence, of dislodging complacity, and, you know, promoting complexity and skepticism. It's generally when I feel I have the grand narrative figured out that I probably should expect to be kicked back down the stairs.

But nostalgia (likely because of my upbringing, which is largely a self-motivated and lucky abandonments of a succession of unbearable situations: unlike Lagerfeld, I claim no castles) always gets my goat. If I'm mocking anything, I guess I'm mocking the totalizing narratives that we use to keep our fear of death (note: EB, you know this stuff?) at bay. Accuse me too if you like.

Word, EJ, to everything you said, although I'm disinclined to think that Americans are increasingly removed from the authentic (again: it's funny that I shrug at cultural narrative of crisis while expecting to die in some manmade eschaton: go figure). Chretien de Troyes strikes me that way, too, if I look at him askew.

At any rate, the Shire's not as bad as all that. While I might make it seem like a varient of some neo-medieval "blood and land" politics, I think that'd probably be unfair. At least it's trying. The houses might be a bit silly, but the technology they're shooting at--or at least invoking--is Green, and, in comparison to the condos where I had dinner yesterday, they're not utterly hideous. So long as they're understood as imagination, reinvention, and fun rather than, well, the nostalgia I loathe, what's not to like, a bit? I mean, apart from their (apparently) total contempt for the urban communities I love so much and the enroofment (er) of all that I so much desire in my better moments.

I suppose my last question here--we'll see--if whether or not we can ever get past nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

I will declare publicly that I am developing quite a crush on Karl. There is some narcissism in my crush to be sure, since I am beginning to see in greater details the contours of Karl as my former ego ideal. Sed haec hactenus.

Karl's thoughts on nostalgia are rather nuanced, and more so with each post, and I dig that. I wrote a bit about utopia, nostalgia, and a crimson cow in the afterword to my book on alterity. It's the only thing worth reading in that book (well, besides the acknowledgments), and I think I argued that, even in politically retrograde utopias (based as they are on nostalgia), there is always some kernel of hope there. Green architecture may be one such kernel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice comments. The nasty shallow comments were just an excuse, not the real reason, for retiring. I like your experiment in serious blogging and enjoy your writing - but I don't have the time to spend on it with a 3/2 and other commitments. I have learnt that comments written hastily are too easily misread and not really up to scratch. All the best.

Karl Steel said...

Shucks! Nevertheless...

...since I am beginning to see in greater details the contours of Karl as my former ego ideal.

No doubt because I've read the book your next paragraph so obliquely discusses, acknowledgements (ouch) and all! Perhaps what you're sensing is only the subsonic thrumming of your own influence?

N50: I've made that vow several times myself over the last 3 or 4 years of blog-reading. If I'd kept it, I might be done with my diss by now, but I couldn't stay away: I think I'm happy I didn't. If you need to stay away, all the best to you, including the strength to stick to your guns.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

yep on the dangers of blogreading. I can't believe some of the comments, though. I don't feel that I own the past -- I'm a historian, and any historian worth her salt (I think that's a romanism) knows that there is never just one perfect narrative or interpretation. Some are better than others, though.

And I have absolutely no problem laughing at The Shire. It's funny and it's sad. I mock it happily. Sue me. It has nothing to do with my political beliefs, BTW -- my guesses are that people who live there will have similar political beliefs to my own. It has little to do with the architecture -- I kind of like the Rohirrim-y house, even if it's way too big (none of these houses is all that green with that kind of square footage and open floorplans ...).

Here's why I laugh and cry:

It's Tolkein and Kinkade, represented as medieval. The developers clearly don't know when the Middle Ages were, and have mixed up all kinds of real and fictional times. Or maybe they do, and it's a joke being perpetrated on the buyers.

What they are selling, if one reads the website, is an idea of community -- of Little England. But it's not England (and did Little England ever really exist?), it's Oregon. To me, it is funny and sad that people might buy into the idea that they can get community via the trappings of (several) other cultures.

Me, I'd be perfectly happy if this were simply marketed as "hyper-expensive houses for Tolkein fans with too much money". That would be more truthful. Because there won't be the community as advertised -- there can't be. The kind of community advertised is generational and requires lots of different kinds of people in different jobs and of different social and economic classes.

For what it's worth,I also think n50 is absolutely right in the problems of remembering a created past, rather than learning about the real one. I'd take it further. Despite anonymous' objections, although I don't see myself as owning the past, I do think that, as a professional historian, I have an obligation to point out when the past is being bastardized for someone else's use. What people do with that knowledge is entirely up to them. Knowing how bad the latest King Arthur film is did not keep me from enjoying it, after all.