Thursday, February 21, 2013

I blame Gerald of Wales

by Karl Steel

(OBVIOUSLY, the first thing you must do, if you haven't done so yet, is to read (and distribute) the more important posts below: Eileen's announcement of the James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, hugely important as Kzoo creeps up on us, and then Jeffrey's Introduction to his Stone Book, hoving its mass still further into view.)

There's lecturing with a blackboard. There's lecturing with slides. There's group work and conversation and problem solving and Reacting to the Past. And then there's the end of the party, when everyone else is putting on jackets and thanking the hosts, when you become the guy who just has to show everyone one last hilarious internet video. That was me, maybe, outsmarted by a smart classroom.

Here's a key moment from last night's frenzy.

For those of you trapped in a tomb since 1960, some lyrics:
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.
It is so relevant! It's not just a chance to introduce students to one of Wales' more famous sons/worst singers. It is that, of course, but it's also this: use it to talk about the Messianic Arthur of the Welsh, the hopes of the return of the quondam et futurus rex whose law is the best law for all Britain, whose return promises a world, human and non-, of obedient subjects, so unlike the horridos Kambriae, the "wild Wales" of the present. Then gesture towards the much-reviled Henry II “discovering” Arthur and Guinevere's bones at Glastonbury, and finally spring into Gerald of Wales' own peculiar relationship to the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth (Journey through Wales I.5) and his conflicted hopes for Wales.

That's but the slightest soupçon of what last night's students got served. Again, I blame Gerald, and again. (I also blame Jeffrey for making Gerald so delightful). If you're reading this blog, you probably know Gerald, and you know his wunderkammer aesthetic. Like Gervase of Tilbury, William of Malmesbury, Ralph of Coggeshall, William of Newburgh, and (keep going?), Gerald's another twelfth-century British wonder-collector. His crusader tour can't take two steps without acquiring another story; and neither could I, except what I was preaching was “the Middle Ages” and my “Wild Wales" is the Internet.

For some evidence, if you like, see below. Or skip it. I'd just as soon hear from you about times in the classroom where your zeal for sharing and for keeping a class hopping became a public, and therefore worse, version of any private internet binge. How do you keep it under control?

Because this is the danger of screens in classrooms! Not distracted students, but manic professors. Not Facebook, but and flickr and the British Library.

So! Here's a very small selection of what I thought I needed for Gerald. Use what you can.
  • Bruce Holsinger's post on Uterine Vellum, to start the class with a shock, and a promise of learning more Middle English ("3if þou wilte make letters on abortiue or bortiue, lai þi oile also þynne þeron als þou may.")
  • Welsh Phrases, for a sense of twelfth-century British linguistic diversity. Be sure to start here though.
  • Siân Echard's extraordinary Medieval Welsh Poetry page, with generous samples, translations, and links to manuscripts.
  • An excerpt from Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois, for the spread of idea of the Welsh as fools.
  • Gerald of Wales' autobiography (warning, a large PDF, but a useful one), page 53, for the astonishing story, worthy of Sergio Leone, of Archdeacon Gerald and a Bishop facing off, each threatening to excommunicate the other. It's such a fine introduction to Gerald's theatrical self-promotion and professional ambition, and as fine a way to break apart students' sense of the medieval church as monolithic.


Paolo Galloni said...

Well, I like Gerald. One reason (though maybe off topic here) about him is that in his writings he wrote down some scattered, but precious, informations about traditional music of Ireland and Britain. He studied music in Paris and his description of traditional styles of music are no less than brilliant.
Paolo Galloni

Jeb said...

"That was me, maybe"

Not given a lecture for ages. I use music, images etc. to supplement my gnat like short term memory (mind is on that dyslexic spectrum). I can use it as a base to layer multiple thoughts and then watch them dance and morph.

It won't translate though. If I was communicating to an audience composed of minds like myself I would use the way I work and think.
But that is not the case.

I noticed a got into huge issues as a post grad, finished work had gone down well but when folks started taking more of an interest in how I worked, planned, researched it created huge difficulties.

Was a bit of an eye opener with regard to differences. I don't think in words they make little internal sense. The way I think and plan internal makes little sense to those more dependent on them.

I tone it down severely as a result (if I am attempting more than thinking out-loud) Last lecture on Gerald I used two images Bearded Lady and I digressed into the world of the farter with the image of the Irish Lord at a cattle feast with the two farters baring bums at the fire at the left had corner. ( I like to explore differences through the remarks the English/Scots/Welsh made about each others bowel movements as they give a sense of real disgust and awkward, embarrassing social encounters/ the welsh shit on the doorstep but consider farting at the dinner table an affront as an English observer notes etc.)

Jeb said...

But that only reflects my reticence and experience of having to deal with very alien minds day in day out.

Safer to hide what you are. Avoid those awkward moments.

Kristin said...

I taught a History of Fantasy course last spring, and had links to several authors' websites and blogs in various powerpoints, and realized at one point that my lecture had become all of us looking at pictures of Robin McKinley's greyhounds online. I think I saved it by turning that into a discussion of how and where animals and the nonhuman appear in her fantasy, and the relationships they have with the human protagonists, and that actually ended up being very productive, in the end. Though I suspect some of the brighter students knew it hadn't been planned.

On a Gerald-related side note: do you know, there's actually fanfiction in existence--I know because someone once sent the link to me, amused--in which Gerald meets Tony Iron Man Stark? I'll have to see if I can find that link again...

Jeb said...

One way of using Burton vid. would be to run it alonside a video of a welsh preacher (if in welsh all the better. Actors using the declamatory noted a range of stylistic similarities and the welsh preachers were recommended to students at R.a.d.a Old Vic as a teaching aid.

stylistically Gerald is going to be different but underlying technique with vocals is body dependent and not subject to the same variation.

In the unlikely event I got stuck having to explain away a relationship between Gerald and iron Man Stark (who I am guessing is a wrestler.) I would go for Gerald (cough)may have been taught some fighting skills and then sung like a canary on muscle memory and learning.

Jeb said...

p.s Kirstin I started playing around with this idea by jokingly mixing highly camp images of modern wrestlers with early welsh poetry. I love laughter as a way into things. Differences dissolve things become one. Absorbed in each other. Memory trick to use an image as a means of remembering lots of things in a highly condensed form. Handy if you do not have a paper or a computer to hand and want to think while walking down the street. Or you belong to a culture which does not have such things.

Relationship between muscle memory and singing. When you look at the way poets are taking about warriors in song. I suspect they may be noting the similarity as well. Both have a long physical training involving the body, muscle memory to move mouth or sword.

If Gerald had been a poet. I would be highly tempted to run with Iron man. I find the notion of mixing these things deeply amusing. The move from non-sense to sense.