Thursday, December 13, 2007

Decorating to annoy II

I do have serious items to post. I've been toiling away at transforming my "Weight of the Past" lecture into an essay for the volume Desiring Historicism: The Post Historical Middle Ages, ed. Sylvia Federico and Elizabeth Scala. I'm nearly done reading Anthony Bale's stunning The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350-1500. My review of the book for Studies in the Age of Chaucer is, shall we say, a wee bit late. I've hammered out the abstract for "Miraculous Journeys: Pilgrimages, Travel Writing, and the Medieval Exotic," to be published in the ambitious new Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature. I've got a lecture coming up in March for the Theorizing series at UPenn, I'm giving a piece on Lost Worlds at New Chaucer Society in Swansea, two things to compose for K'zoo in May, a brand new course I'd like to share, a Folger workshop on the Second Shepherd's play at which I'm moderating ... but you know, writing about those things seems like work, rather than the procrastination thereof.

Instead I'd like to tell you about the English Department's attempt to win the GW Holiday Door Contest, and our failure to capture the gold.

In its entire 3 billion year history, the English department has never entered this annual university contest. For good reason, I suppose. Nonetheless I did mention to our secretary and to our work study student that if they were feeling creative and wanted to give the department thirty seconds of glory, I would not oppose the door being festivated. They did so with gusto, dreaming up an elaborate scheme in which a lace fir tree was taped to the door with twinkling lights behind it. Faculty and staff names were inscribed on paper cut-outs resembling orbs or gifts. These were then hung on the boughs of the tree via paperclips (orbs), or placed at the base (gifts).

Within ten minutes of the tree's erection (why does that sound so dirty?) our first faculty member entered the office with a decoration-related query: why was she a gift rather than an orb? Did that mean she was low on the departmental hierarchy? A few minutes later, another teacher asked why Professor X's orb was hanging closer to the tree's top (crowned by a Star of David) than his own. And so on.

Moral of the story: academics will read anything, even the semiotics of portal festivation at Yuletide. Next year we have decided to really mess with minds by putting random faculty member names onto square black construction paper and placing them in a stocking labeled The Coal Heap. It will be hung far from the door.

How did I stop the querying of orb and gift placement, you ask? Simple. I took the orb on which my own name was inscribed, used scissors to cut what looked like cracks and shatter marks, and then taped it at the bottom of the door as if it had fallen and broken. No one could complain that they were worse off than me.

And, oh yes, to make it interesting, I put the orb with the Deputy Chair's name directly above the empty space where my ornament should have been ... and asked faculty if they could discern the Shakespearean narrative of treachery and overstriving evident in the arrangement of the tree.

Happy holidays, everyone.


Liza Blake said...

"Shakespearean narrative of treachery and overstriving"?? Hey now!

trecento said...

Thanks for mentioning Anthony Bale's book. It should be really useful for a term paper of mine. (I'm reading Miri Rubin, etc.) And thanks for all the posts.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Liza: That's exactly the formulation that I used when announcing to those gazing upon the orbs what narrative they should discern. It's very amusing to hear them then spin out connections between Christmas ornaments and Macbeth, Othello, Lear ...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Erwachen: thanks, and good luck with your term paper. What is your topic?

Karl Steel said...

Seconded on the request to you, Erwachen. I doubt you want to be buried in bib right now, but if you do, I'd love to help.

Perhaps a stylized wreath rather than a tree would do the trick to diminish academic jockeying and hermeneutichondria. Then again, some would see it as a Round Table, and some as Fortune's Wheel. The q would be what to put in the center? A Nietzsche fingerpuppet maybe?

trecento said...

That's very heartening. I'm afraid the silly good student in me has already read about 30 books and articles for this one assignment. That's perhaps the only way for me to write; so pathetic. I do enjoy going through wacky materials though, perpetually remedying my education, sort of!