Monday, May 26, 2008

Conference blogging

It was just a two-day conference: the fifteenth annual symposium of the Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group. This is a group that is part of the excellent core of medieval and renaissance studies in Perth that put together the successful bid for the Australian Research Council Network for Early European Research. Perth, and more particularly, the University of Western Australia, has an unusually strong concentration of scholars in these fields, across a range of disciplines. They are energetic and original scholars, and also lovely people. This group has always had a number of members in the broader Perth community beyond the university, and this gives it a wonderful atmosphere of engagement.

Now that they are linked to the Network, they, like many such groups around Australia, are able to draw on additional resources to fund symposia and conferences: this one featured a number of local, interstate and international speakers, with about seventy people attending.

The theme was "reading religious change in medieval and early modern europe". I might not have gone, but it was a good chance to meet up with the other Australian members of my grant team, and talk with the people who are going to set up our online database for Australian medievalism in WA. My work isn't really about religious change, but I gave a paper on Edward VI's changes to what he saw as the overly catholic/medieval Statutes of the Order of the Garter.

The conference featured three wonderful plenaries: Juanita Feros Ruys from Sydney spoke about Heloise's fourth letter to Abelard, and showed how her discussion of bodily desire was a deliberate reworking of monastic discourse on temptation to take account of the female monastic body. James Simpson gave another brilliant paper from his new work on iconoclasm. In Melbourne he had spoken of abstract expressionism: in Perth he talked about Reformation images as "containers of the past", and offered a very moving reading of the poet's encounter with the image in Hoccleve's Lerne to Die. And Brian Cummings offered a wonderful reading of Thomas More's understanding of Conscience.

James and Brian both moved effortlessly backwards and forwards between the medieval and the early modern in a way that is still pretty unusual. I found all three plenaries completely compelling and inspiring; and I did some careful work on my own book today; and left this blog entry till the evening.

I also took a tour of the WA Parliament, as part of our Australian medievalism project. This image of the Parliament's emblem shows the state's distinctive black swan, above the medieval mace and black rod. One wonderful moment on the tour. We had been in the upper house and admired its fancy carpet which included the crown, but before we went to the lower house our guide warned us that the carpet had recently been replaced, and did not feature the crown design. "Tsk", clucked the person next to me. The Education Office then explained that if Australia became a republic, many of the carpets, windows and carvings might have to be replaced; and a shocked silence descended on the group, as these dire implications sank in.

Later that afternoon Louise and I went to St Georges Cathedral, where Sir Paul Hasluck's Garter banner and heraldic crest have been hung. Sir Paul's helmet features a stylised version of the wonderful xanthorrea, or grass tree, its green spikes sprouting triumphantly from the helmet. No picture, alas, but here's a lovely two-headed specimen:


Such fun to think about the incorporation of native plants and animals into these medieval heraldic formations.

I ate breakfast, my three mornings, up in the cafe at the top of King's Park: first alone, then with one, then with three companions. Each morning the city was washed with fresh rain; the mist drifted across the river; the lorikeets and wattlebirds sang; and the xanthorreas sent up their spikes and flowers in the soft morning light. Beautiful.

2 comments:

highlyeccentric said...

I am extremely envious... Kings Park is one of my favourite childhood memories.

And Juanita's paper sounds fascinating. I think I'll have to look earnestly at her next time I see her, and see if I can obtain a copy, or at least a promise that she'll tell me when there's an article...

Stephanie Trigg said...

Well, you can but ask ... She was really cooking, so I hope you can persuade her to give you a copy.