Monday, January 28, 2008

Three Excruciatingly Personal Blog Entries, No. 1A

Two days ago, I posted an entry that began like this:

The new academic year is about to descend upon us, and all kinds of cycles are drawing to a close. I'm now into my second year of breast cancer treatment, and settled into a routine of monthly injections and daily tablets. The blog has also seen me through an entire cycle of applying for a research grant (this was one of its initial aims), through first-time rejection to second-time success. I've finally made the breakthrough of making the Garter book my highest priority, the first thing I do on a good day, while I'm also just about managing to juggle the several other projects I have in hand, as well as fulfilling my teaching and administrative obligations.

It seems to me that the Humanities Researcher blog may also be winding up this phase in its life. Before I make any big decisions, though, I have in mind to write three long posts. Each will be full of embarrassing personal revelations, and each will test to the limit the territory I think of this blog as inhabiting, as space in which I attempt to reason my way through some of the personal and emotional vicissitudes of intellectual work in academic and familial communities. This first entry takes its spark from a recent event, and will become a second-order meditation on privacy and the personal in the poetic text: the relationship between poetry and life, if you will. The second will be the long-promised Menopause Post. Third will be the most embarrassing of all, when we move from emotions and the body to the world of spirit.



The entry then launched into a long post that did indeed test to the limit my sense of how personal a blog entry could be. It was about a poem written by a former partner that seemed to refer to me by a mole on my shoulder. I might not even have seen the poem, except that my beloved spoke to me about it. The blog entry then tried to untangle the knot of emotions about poems (and blogs) that seem to refer so closely to people's intimate lives, and the way poems (and blogs) can be read as personalised messages, while seeming to be impersonal or intellectual or artistic exercises. I wrote about how uncomfortable, even angry, I had felt previously (sixteen or seventeen years ago) when people would ask me about the poems the poet had written about me after our break-up, even though they could be read perfectly well without knowing anything about me (or him, for that matter). Despite our best formalist reading practices, we still love a good autobiographical reading. And how much more so with blogging.

I wrote, as I say, to test the limits of what I felt my blog could do; and I still plan to write the next two entries in the series. But if the test of this is "how do you sleep at night?", the answer is, "very badly indeed". That's two nights, now, I have been awake between three and five, anxious about the potential for damage and hurt and the infringement of others' privacy. So I've deleted the bulk of that post. (Of course, I've kept a copy for myself. You never know!) I'm keeping the comments box alive there, because part of this process is rehearsed there, in the remarks of some of the bloggers I admire most; and as usual, Pavlov's Cat has helped me articulate how I feel. And of course I'm glad they got to read the post. But now I'm glad its potential for emotional damage has been restricted. I must also thank the blogger who wrote to me off-line (I had you in mind as I was writing, I hope you realise!).

If you missed that post, you haven't missed any great or scandalous revelations; heavens, the poem in question is far more revelatory of whoever that woman is than my blog entry was about the poem's readers!

I wonder, though, am I cheating the blog genre, by putting out my post and winning such lovely engaged comments from my readers, and then withdrawing it?

I remember being very struck by reading Ross Chambers' Story and Situation, in which he distinguished between narrative and narratorial authority. Narrative authority belongs to the story-teller at the beginning of the narration, and is gradually passed on to the reader as the story is told, as they take possession, as it were, of the story. But by giving their attention, and hopefully, their admiration for the way the story is told, the reader or listener gives back narratorial authority. It seems to me that this episode is in large part about narratorial authority. Who gets to write about whose body, and publishes it where? And who reads that text, and who gives that text to someone else? And in the case of a blog, who gets to post, and who gets to delete?

But in terms of my three Excruciatingly Personal Blog Entries that test the limits of the blog, this has got to be a definite strike. Two more to go.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Three Excruciatingly Personal Blog Entries, No.1

The new academic year is about to descend upon us, and all kinds of cycles are drawing to a close. I'm now into my second year of breast cancer treatment, and settled into a routine of monthly injections and daily tablets. The blog has also seen me through an entire cycle of applying for a research grant (this was one of its initial aims), through first-time rejection to second-time success. I've finally made the breakthrough of making the Garter book my highest priority, the first thing I do on a good day, while I'm also just about managing to juggle the several other projects I have in hand, as well as fulfilling my teaching and administrative obligations.

It seems to me that the Humanities Researcher blog may also be winding up this phase in its life. Before I make any big decisions, though, I have in mind to write three long posts. Each will be full of embarrassing personal revelations, and each will test to the limit the territory I think of this blog as inhabiting, as space in which I attempt to reason my way through some of the personal and emotional vicissitudes of intellectual work in academic and familial communities. This first entry takes its spark from a recent event, and will become a second-order meditation on privacy and the personal in the poetic text: the relationship between poetry and life, if you will. The second will be the long-promised Menopause Post. Third will be the most embarrassing of all, when we move from emotions and the body to the world of spirit.


[Update: the remainder of this entry has been deleted by the blogger. See the discussion in the next entry]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Wildlife update

OK, so my last entry had a link to a photo of a flying fox skimming the Yarra river. No photos this time, but some real wild-life sightings to report, from four separate walks along the Merri Creek. First, a long-necked tortoise, dark green and mossy-looking from being underwater, sitting on a rock in the middle of the Creek, demonstrating exactly why it's called what it is. Next, a blue-tongued lizard, though he's an accustomed sighting. He lives under the concrete path and just extends his head, or the curve of his body, to pick up the morning sun. Third, eight wee ducklings exploring the weeds with their mother, yesterday. And just now, what I'm pretty sure was a tiger snake, sprawled across the path. I was walking along casually thinking that piece of bark dropped in the heavy winds today looked like a snake when I realised what it was. It slithered through the grass down towards the water, and I pointed it out to two women passing by. One of them, Amelia (we had introduced ourselves years ago when I used to push Joel in his pram along the creek), went poking towards it with her stick. "Come out," she said, "we're friendly!" The other woman and I exchanged glances and decided to head our separate ways...

Bats, Boats and Books

Another burning hot night and day, with the temperature already at 34 degrees at 10.00 in the morning. The hot northerly wind is howling around the house, sending the birds flying in all directions under a pale white sky. Clouds are drifting south, but really, waiting to be sent north-east by the cool winds that are anticipated this afternoon. The hydrangeas are struggling on, and the basil and parsley plants we bought two days ago are still in the kitchen; we won't plant them till it's cooler.

Here's a link to a wonderful photo of a bat, cooling off by swooping along the river. Well, technically it's called a flying fox, but we like to think of them as bats. We see them after dusk, if we are sitting outside in the garden.

(I'd love to post this picture, but I'm assuming there are all kinds of copyright reasons why I can't...)

It's the last day of my "holiday" today. Since we aren't going away anywhere, this is code for "not going in to the office till next week". I've sent off my essay on Wade's Boat, and have one grant application to read today before I sit down seriously amidst the horrendous files and piles of papers and try and sort them into my filing cabinets. I am "shepherd" for my school this summer. I'm an appalling filer at the best of times, but the problem is compounded by my working on lots of little projects last year, and then moving all my papers and books when my study was renovated. Still no bookshelves, but no reason not to sort out the files. The good news is, I've now cleared my list of "things to write" that aren't my books, and I am determined to get this Garter book finished this year. Just as soon as I sort out my files.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wade's Boat, Summer in Melbourne, and Four White Flowers

Another burning hot day in Melbourne. I spent a pleasant few hours this morning, though, in the State Library, comparing three — count them, 3! — copies of Thomas Speght's 1598 edition of the works of Chaucer (from 1598, 1602, and 1687); and for good measure, John Urry's dreadful but lavish edition of 1721. The Library has an excellent range of early Chaucer editions: a page of Caxton's 1478 Canterbury Tales, and six other sixteenth-century editions of the Works. I'm writing up a discussion of Speght's annotation to the mention of "Wade's bote" in the Merchant's Tale, and so I'm not really looking at the pre-1598 editions. The Baillieu Library at the University has another two copies of the 1598 imprint for comparison, too.

It's a lovely annotation. Chaucer's rich old man January determines to marry, but won't take any older woman.

I wol no womman thritty yeer of age;
It is but bene-straw and greet forage.
And eek thise olde wydwes, God it woot,
They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot,
So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste,
That with hem sholde I never lyve in reste.

Speght comments: “Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over.”

In the paper I gave at the London Chaucer conference last year, and again in my response to Carolyn Dinshaw in Hobart in December, I looked at the responses to this annotation, particularly the vexation of commentators who cannot help reveal their frustration at Speght, so much closer to Chaucer than we are, but unwilling — or unable — to fill in this unknown gap. Robinson said, "it has often been called the most exasperating note ever written on Chaucer”. Various scholars have explored traces of the story of Wade, but the Merchant's meaning here remains relatively obscure. I myself think that's part of the point: I read the Merchant as alluding to women's knowledge, lost beyond all traces of official (written, scholarly) culture.

I am writing up this part of the two papers, which are both really more about multiple temporalities and the relations between medieval studies and medievalism, for the La Trobe Journal of the Library, so I am really focussing on Speght's edition and the kinds of knowledge it presents about Chaucer.

How lovely that these books are only a bike ride away (well, they would be if I could get around to fixing my puncture).

I got home early afternoon, to find Joel still in his pyjamas, playing his gameboy with Holst's Planets Suite roaring away at top volume.

Paul came home soon after, regaling us with the Kafka-esque tale of the day he had spent at the Customs Office, the Quarantine Office, and the Ports office, filling out a thousand forms, and commissioning an agent in Queensland to fax the forms back and forth, to take delivery of the large egg-shell laquer panels he had bought in Vietnam. Here's a glimpse of a lotus flower:



The sun is still really hot, as I'm writing at 6.30; and it's still about 34 degrees outside. I took these photos just a half an hour ago: here's a pile of white table linen, bleached and soaked and sun-brightened after the Christmas and New Year festivities, awaiting the iron.



These range from the long rayon cloth that I think was part of my mother's trousseau; the length of damask she bought at the Victoria market and hemmed up for me; and the round cloth she embroidered with white flowers for my 21st birthday. This photo was taken inside, but you can get a glimpse of the bright sun in that line of light along the floor.

Outside the garden is struggling, and I'm amazed to see the gardenias are still able to put forth their flowers. They last about a day each, flaring up in the intense heat and light of the day, and softening into a heady perfume at night:



And finally, the crowning glory (etymological joke): the stephanotis plant we put in last year has just started flowering.

Again, you can see how harsh the sun is, but these flowers have been out for several days now. Their fragrance is more delicate than the gardenias, but I have always wanted to grow these, ever since my father told me I was named after the Greek ho stephanos, "crown, garland". And there's the link to Pavlov's Cat: Y is it so? Naming Australia's women, 1950-1955. Yeah, she says I'm out of her chronological range, but I still want to play.