Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nahir Otaño Gracia, "Welcome to a New Reality!"

Readers of this blog will not want to miss Nahir Otaño Gracia's superb reflection on the recent MAA meeting -- and a more capacious framing of what the Middle Ages should be: "Welcome to a New Reality! Reflections on the Medieval Academy of America’s Panel: "Inclusivity and Diversity: Challenges, Solutions, and Responses."" The piece is featured at Medievalists of Color website, which you really ought to bookmark.

Friday, April 27, 2018

taking leave

by J J Cohen

In the past few weeks I have been forcing myself to face up to some difficult au revoirs, again and again. Many of these farewells are small: people I know through business exchanges, or neighborhood rounds, or synagogue, or my daughter's school. Others are heavy with the weight of long acquaintance and (sometimes) the knowledge of diminishing attachment in the years ahead. A few farewells are joyful: I actually do never want to deal with certain institutional offices again and take some small joy in not having to file another report for them. (Yes I know they will be replaced in time, but still.) Most however are bittersweet.

It is time to move on. We have sold our home of twenty years here in DC. Next week we close on a new place for our family in Phoenix. We are not houseless yet because we've rented back for a while. But it's not ours anymore.

I thought the process of letting go would be more difficult. Last weekend though we met the family who will live here next. They have three young children, and to see those kids tumbling around on the grass by the front door made me think, weirdly, that the house wants this. I showed the father the various parts of the small yard, including the little herb garden and where the makeshift pet cemetery is located, with its memorials to hermit crabs, fish, a lizard, a hamster. He said "You are literally showing me where the bodies are buried." I think he will do OK here. I think this family will be happy, as we have been happy. Our house has been good to us: two children have grown up as we adapted and changed its contours and colors, more guests than we can count have slept inside its walls, the place has sheltered all kinds of writing and music and feasting and frolic. It's a good place, and saying good-bye to its warmth ... well, it is not only sad.

Yesterday I taught the last meeting of my "Literature and the Environment" course ... and my very last class at GWU. I'd been dreading saying good-bye to my students. Leave taking is difficult in an ordinary semester after 12 weeks of closely working together, but seemed especially freighted that day in ways that have nothing to do with those in the room. In lieu of a final exam I set aside the last class for mapping the terrain we had traversed together, articulating the knowledge we'd collaboratively generated about the intimacy of text and place; the rewards of sustained attentiveness; narrative as a technology for the changing of minds and hearts; memory and art; creativity and materiality; how the best learning unfolds at unexpected moments and generally outside rubrics and assessment models that capture and measure things well known in advance. I brought my students donuts and fruit, and because they are a "quiet class" (meaning, they hesitate: but I love that about them) I told them that the only requirement left was to come to the front of the room and take some food. And they did. Then they spoke with passion and good humor about how they'd pushed themselves to try new things over the semester, and had often found a talent or a voice or a possibility they did not know they possess. By the end of the 75 minutes I felt buoyed. All twenty-two students promised to email me in five years to tell me what they are doing and how much of what they spoke about today they've put into practice (and they were *so* excited to have something not special to me but very much to them: my non-GWU email address, as well as an invitation to call me by my first name. The dropping of these last formalities mattered). I left the room smiling. The future is in very good hands.

To my pleasure my son Alex, freshly back from study abroad in New Zealand, came to this last class and met my students (something both my children have been doing since they were very young -- but now he is the same age as those I teach, and there was something, well, beautiful about seeing him sitting among them). From my office window before we left for class Alex took the picture that I am using to illustrate this day. He noticed that the students in the plaza had accidentally formed into a line. I hope he won't mind that I am posting it here because it just seems so ... right. I like to think that for the students in the image and in my life this accidental metaphor is a line that points forward towards a more just future, the one they are going to make.

For me though it's a curve, because it is not as straight as it looks, and they are always going to be in my heart. I am departing GWU, my home of two decades, as fond of its students as I was on my very first day as a beginning assistant professor.

I could not ask for more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Pull of the Sky

by J J Cohen

Well I missed Earth Day with this ... but readers may interested in the piece I wrote for a new platform called Emergence Magazine on "The Pull of the Sky." The illustrations are pretty wonderful if I do say so: some of my favorite medieval imaginings of the Earth as viewed from space.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 Paxson Grant Winners!

BABEL is delighted to announce the four winners of the 2018 James J. Paxson Memorial Travel Grant for Scholars of Limited Funds, generously co-sponsored by punctum books. The Paxson Grant supports scholars’ participation in the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. This year’s winners are (in alphabetical order)

·      Micah Goodrich (University of Connecticut), to present “Piers Plowman’s Limbs” in the session Social Justice in the Piers Plowman Tradition
·      M. Breann Leake (University of Connecticut), to present “Authorizing White Identity through the Voice of the Snotera Engla Ðeode Lareow” in the session A Feminist Renaissance in Anglo-Saxon Studies I: Interdisciplinary/Extramural and “Authority and Advocacy in the Medieval Studies Classroom” in the session “Advocacy and Resistance”
·      Rachel McNellis (Case Western Reserve University), to present “A Labyrinthine Puzzle: Musical, Textual, and Visual Discourse in En la maison Dedalus” in the session Manuscript (Trans)formations: Transmission and Reception
·      Murrielle Michaud (Wilfrid Laurier University), to present “Woman Resurrected: The Lives and Deaths of Christina the Astonishing in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 114” in the session Holy Women Breaking Bonds: Roles, Gender, Authority

Check the ICMS program for presentation times and locations.

We received many, many strong applications this year, and the difficult decision among them was made by a committee of five judges: Heather Blatt (English, Florida International University), Joshua Eyler (Center for Teaching Excellence, Rice University), Shirin Fozi (History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh), Nicole Lopez-Jantzen (Social Sciences, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY), and Mo Pareles (English, University  of British Columbia). Many thanks to these scholars for generously sharing their time and expertise.

We’d also like to thank the many donors who contributed to last year’s BABEL fundraiser. They – together with punctum books – made this year’s grants possible! Be on the look out for a new fundraising initiative from BABEL that will be kicking off this summer….

Please join us for a reception at #Kzoo2018, co-sponsored by BABEL and the Material Collective, where the winners of the Paxson grants will be recognized. It will be a fun happy hour on Thursday, May 10, at 5:15 pm in Fetzer 1045 – and everyone is invited!

Finally – BABEL is looking forward to sponsoring our annual evening at Bell’s Brewery, which will take place on Friday, May 11, starting at 9 pm. PLEASE NOTE: there will be somewhat fewer free drinks this year than the previous ones; we have $500 worth of drink-tickets reserved for non-tenure track / contingent faculty, graduate students, and self-identified members of the academic precariat. Come by circa 9pm to get yours! And of course, EVERYONE is welcome & encouraged to enjoy the evening.

(post composed by Julie Orlemanski and happily published here at her request)

Saturday, April 07, 2018

"I regret that our response must be disappointing."

by J J Cohen

"Of Giants reads like a hastily written dissertation hastily rewritten soon after graduation.  It might have been better in its original form -- or at least less sloppy ... The book contradicts its own generalizations with gay abandon ... His carelessness about his own ideas is echoed in a carelessness about the ideas of others ... What then is even the purpose of the book? It does not offer new scholarship (Cohen is in fact scrupulous in giving credit to scholars and critics  whose work he depends upon). It does not theorize a new function or significance for giants. It does not offer new readings of either canonical or underrated medieval texts. It does not set itself up as answering any question I can remember here at the end of the reading experience. I was continually wondering why it existed ... I'll attach a page or two of my eleven pages of quibbles as a sample." 

The two dense pages of quibbles that follow range from complaints about the "deranged reference system" to wondering how metaphors generated around discussion of AIDS could possibly have anything to say to the Middle Ages to the declaration that "'envalue' is a horrid neologism" to insisting that xenophobia and racism cannot apply to medieval imaginings of Ethiopians or other Africans because "they are not living in close contact" to anyone in Europe to the exclamation that the work "makes no sense!"

And thus Cornell University Press rejected my future book Of Giants with a typewritten, four page reader's report. I was working as an adjunct at the time and was close to giving up on an academic career. This manuscript review nearly finished me. But I decided to give the market one more chance, and a year later was moving to Washington DC to begin a new life as an assistant professor at George Washington University. Oh the memories you find when you are purging files in your house in preparation for moving.

(This post is offered to anyone who has ever had a nasty peer review of their work. Remind yourself: we are in good company.)