Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Garter Poetry blogging and The Bulletin

Louise, one of my collaborators on the "Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory" project, found this wonderful poem in The Bulletin, from August 24, 1901. I'm attaching the pdf she sent me, which is fun for the advertisements that surround the poem, but thought it worth transcribing. This poem seems to me to tap into one of the deep secrets of the Garter myth: that it is really, in the end, about sex and scandal.

Juliet Vale suggests that another of Edward III's mottos, "It is as it is" ... “is the kind of phrase that might have provided the refrain in some forms of contemporary lyric”. The Garter motto — Honi soit qui mal y pense — is easy to imagine being attached as a refrain or a chorus to lots of situations, and that's certainly how it's often used today. "Pagan"'s poem in the Bulletin seems to me of this order (pun!), especially with its emphasis on the act of saying, or singing the motto. Apologies for lack of line indentations: too hard for Blogger, I think.

To Mollie — A Flirt

Once, when our first King Edward sat
An hour apart with some fair lady,
And no one knew what they were at,
Well hidden in an arbour shady,
When they appeared, the courtiers skipped
All ways at once to hide their laughter,
For down her knees her hose had slipped
And Ned himself had donned her garter.

The gallant monarch saw at once
The reason of their titillation,
And "Honi soit qui mal y pense!"
He cried, and saved the situation.

I know a girl who's not a prude,
And hardly takes her life sedately,
But who is willing to be wooed,
And finds her fun commensurately;
So when upon a verse I start,
To drive away my melancholy,
'Tis natural that the rhymer's art
Should seek a sound to echo— "Mollie."

What power have all of Slander's tongues
To wound you, Mollie, or to hurt you?
Sing "Honi soit qui mal y pense,"
And show your dainty heels to Virtue.

Though such as she no chances give
To even the wittiest Faith's Defenders,
(For modern girls, as I believe,
Secure their hose with silk "suspenders")—
Still does that naughty spirit wake
Which spurred a king to sport so shocking;
And should a silken ribbon break,
You may find Cupid in the stocking.

Here let me mention sans offense
A fact empirically shown, dear;
(Sing "Honi soit qui mal y pense")
My chaussure fits you like your own, dear.

Dear Mollie! when you settle down,
The moon of some suburban heaven,
And twice a week go into town
Instead of every day in seven;
When Something in a pinafore
Has taught you what it is to marry,
Yet strangers think the darling more
Like neighbor Ned than husband Harry;

And, once outside your gate, commence
To hint untruths about your figure
(Oh, Honi soit qui mal y pense!) —
I'll hid behind my hedge and snigger.




Thanks, Louise! I would never have found this, and it's a beauty! And ... er ... dear readers, I would love to hear of any allusions or usages of this motto you come across. I have a fairish collection, but would love more. I will immediately put your name in my acknowledgements page (one of the best parts of the book to write!).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wolf Daddy

A beautiful animation (thanks, Fiona!) with a most endearing account of vegetarianism, awkward gender politics, and a lovely account of writer's block....


Picking up the phone for the planet

I've just made a great phone call. Within five minutes, all our domestic electricity is now solar powered!

We've always gone with green options for our domestic power bills, but yesterday we got a leaflet explaining the difference between accredited and non-accredited green power, saying that for the same modest premium we were paying we would have our accredited green power increased from 20% to 25%, but that our 80% non-accredited renewable energy (i.e. hydro energy from plants built before 1997) is no longer considered as helping to develop sustainable energy programs, and so is no longer part of the scheme.

So for an extra 5.75 cents per kilowatt hour, all our electricity will be provided from solar energy. We feel quite elated! It's not just the computers and our music and lights that we love: we also run two filter systems for fish, one inside and one outside, that pump water all day. It's wonderful to know that these are now entirely sun-powered.

We had planned to put solar panels on the roof during the recent re-building, but the cost was just too much for the final stages. We do have solar hot water, though, which has been great, and has cut the gas bill substantially.

The night after the federal budget, we had also been to a meeting in Fitzroy with a man who had left his executive job to start up a company that was gathering households in groups of fifty and ordering solar panels from China in bulk. With the government rebate of $8000, it would cost just over $1000 for a small house to have its own solar panels. But now that the rebate is means tested, it is just out of our reach again. We'll start to save, but in the meantime, we are happy to pay this extra premium. We'll try and keep reducing our usage, though — and now that we are paying more, we might be even more scrupulous about turning off the lights...

Here's the website of this government Greenpower scheme: http://greenpower.gov.au

This move has come at just the right time. I have started to feel quite unaccustomedly despairing of our planet's future in recent weeks. I know that one household is small beer, and that industry and agriculture and air and car travel — and the general proliferation of ... stuff — are much more serious issues. But it seems impossible to do nothing, so trying to lighten one's ecological footprint seems a good idea.

Want to measure your ecological footprint? Go here. (If everyone lived as I do, we'd need 2.7 planets to sustain us: I was probably doing ok till they asked about air travel...)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Out of the mouth of the teenager

We had just watched an episode mid-way through the last season of Six Feet Under, in which David and Keith were struggling with their two new adopted children. Joel said, "Which do you think is harder? Growing up? or bringing up a family?"

Damn good question, I say. And of course, the two things are probably related, in that the way we bring up children has got lots to do with the way we were brought up, and our own experience of growing up. All those unarticulated dramas and memories that bubble along behind the day to day chaos of holding family life together.

This has been a great series. We are watching it on DVD and while I sometimes recoil at the Language - Sex - Drugs nexus, on Joel's behalf, it's been a great study in character, in family and in excess of various kinds, as nearly all the characters spiral up and down in hope and despair. And almost anything is better than watching commercial television.

And anything that triggers that kind of question can't be all bad, I think.

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.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday Poetry (Garter) blogging on Saturday

Just in the airport about to come back from a wonderful conference in Perth, on which more later.... But I want to honour my proposal of blogging some poems on the Garter. This is an extract from George Peele's 1593 Honour of the Garter, in which the poet experiences a vision of Edward III and rehearses without embarrassment the traditional story about Edward, the lady and her garter. It's a full-on version of Elizabethan triumphalism.

Note that at the end of this section, Peele describes Kings and Queens wearing garters around their arms. We certainly have evidence of this practice for women in a couple of C15 effigies, but here it seems to be men as well as women doing it.


Yet was the welkin cleare, nor smoke nor dust
Anoyd myne eyes: I gazd, and as I looked,
Me thought this hoste of ayrie armed men,
Girt Windsore Castle rounde. Anon I saw
Vnder a Canapie of Crymson bysse,
Spangled with gold and set with siluer bels,
That sweetlie chimed, and luld me halfe a sleepe,
A goodly king in robes most richly dight.
The vpper, like a Romaine Palliament,
In deede a Chapperon, for such it was;
And looking neerer, loe vpon his legge,
An auncient badge of honour I espyed.
A Garter brightly glistring in mine eye,
A worthy ornament. Then I cald to minde,
What Princely Edward, of that name the third,
King Edward for his great atchiuements famed,
What he began; The order of S. George,
That at this day is honoured through the world.
The order of the Garter so ycleepd.
A great effect, grown of a slender cause,
Graced by a King, and fauoured of his feeres,
Famed by his followers, worthy Kings and Queenes,
That to this day are Soueraignes of the same.
The manner how this matter grew at first.
Was thus. The King disposed on a time
To reuell after he had shaken Fraunce,
(O had he brauely helde it to the last)
And deckt his Lyons with their flowre de Lyce,
Disposed to reuell: Some say otherwise,
Found on the ground by Fortune as he went
A Ladies Garter: But the Queenes I troe
Lost in a daunce, and tooke it vp himselfe.
It was a silken Ribban weaued of blewe.
His Lords and standers by, seeing the King
Stoope for this Garter, smiled: as who would say,
Our office that had beene, or somwhat els.
King Edward vvistlie looking on them all,
With Princely hands hauing that Garter ceazd,
From harmelesse hart vvhere honour was engraued,
Bespake in French (a could the language well)
And rife was French those dayes with Englishmen;
They went to schoole to put together Townes,
And spell in Fraunce with Feskues made of Pikes.
Honi Soit Qui mal y pense, quoth he,
Wherewith vpon aduizement, though the cause
Were small, his pleasure and his purpose was
T'aduance that Garter, and to institute
A noble order sacred to S. George:
And Knights to make, whom he would haue be tearmed
Knights of the Garter. This beginning had
This honourable order of our time.
Heereon I thought when I beheld the King,
But swifter then my thought by that I saw,
And words I heard, or seemed to heare at least,
I was instructed in the circumstance:
And found it was King Edward that did march
In robes, like those he ware when with his Lords,
He held S. Gorges royall Feast on earth,
His eldest sonne surnamed the Blacke Prince,
Though black of hue, that surname yet in Fraunce
He wan; For terror to the Frenchmens harts
His countenance was, his Sword an Iron scourge.
He one a cole-black Coorser mounted was,
And in his hand a battel-axe he hent:
His Beuer vp, his Corslet was of Steele,
Varnisht as black as Iett: his bases blacke,
And black fro head to foote, yea horse and hoofe
As black as night; but in a twinck me thought
A chaungd at once his habite and his Steede,
And had a Garter as his father had.
Right rich and costly, with embroyderie
Of Pearle and Gold. I could on it discerne,
The Poesie whereof I spake of yore;
And well I wot since this King Edwards dayes,
Our Kings and Queenes about theyr royall Armes,
Haue in a Garter borne this Poesie.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Tutor Comes Home

Back in the dim and distant past — 1977 — I was a second-year student who had already decided to complete double English honours. One of the compulsory subjects was called Epic and Romance, and it had been devised by the charismatic, but recently retired Ian Maxwell. I loved this subject, and while I was also doing History of the Language and learning Old and Middle English, I found this subject, which ranged from Homer to Njal's Saga, the Song of Roland, Dante's Inferno and Troilus and Criseyde, I think — all in translation — a wonderful introduction to medieval literature. Simply, I was hooked.

My tutor was James Simpson, and it must have been in the brief interlude after finishing his honours degree and heading to the UK. I'm not sure of the timing, but I also saw James act brilliantly in a couple of student Chekhov productions: once as a languorous Trigorin, and another time in The Bear, a two-hander in which my sister played the female lead. I thought they were both electric.

Every couple of years, James comes back to Melbourne to visit family, and he is giving a talk tomorrow night. I'm always incredibly proud to have him here, as he is such a great speaker, and a delightful person, and such a wonderful model to my students as to what is possible from Melbourne origins. OK, I do sometimes experience a moment of envy when I look at his brilliant career (Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard), and think about the fact that I am still here in Melbourne and the choices I made and the ones I wasn't able to make, but then I look at it from another point of view, and think ... but at least, I am still here in Melbourne!

Anyway, if you're in town, you might want to get along to this talk. It's not on a medieval topic, and it's not even on literature. It stems from work James is doing on iconoclasm, a project that stems from his recent interest in the Reformation; and so he has moved into art and art criticism. In fact, I have his most recent book, Burning to Read on my desk, with its endearing opening to his Acknowledgements page: "I love writing books."

James will also be in Perth later this week, for this conference: Reading Religious Change in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. I'm going to rehearse my section on Edward VI's changes to the Order of the Garter statutes in front of an audience of experts on the Reformation. How's that for scary?

Here's the notice about James's Melbourne talk: click to enlarge.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Poetry (Garter) blogging

I don't know where the convention of Friday poetry blogging originated, but it's one I'm going to try and honour for a while. But with a twist, of course. I'm going to blog poems that are about the Order of the Garter. No, really, bear with me: it'll be fun! Some are hilarious; and all are intriguing; and I'll try and show you why.

First is a poem I think my mother first showed me (or I associate it with her because the poet's initials are the first and third letters (of three) of my mother's name) — and how weird is that? that I should end up writing on the Order of the Garter, including a look at Book One of the Faerie Queene where Una is heroine....

Anyhoo, the poem normally goes with this picture:



I have been looking closely at this picture lately, for the wonderful way it condenses two moments of the George story from Voragine's Golden Legend. [Note: St George is the patron saint of the Order.] First George spears the dragon; and then the maiden ties her girdle around its neck and leads it (like a little dog, it says) back to the town, whereupon George dispatches it with civic witnesses. I'm increasingly thinking the idea of this girdle sits somewhere behind Edward III's choice of the Garter for an emblem.


Not my Best Side

U. A. Fanthorpe

I

Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.

II

It's hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It's nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn't much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon--
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl's got to think of her future.

III

I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can't
Do better than me at the moment.
I'm qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don't you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don't
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don't you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You're in my way.



Thursday, May 15, 2008

And another thing...

Further to my previous post about teaching and academic conduct and the payment offered sessional tutors... On my walk this morning I ran into a friend who teaches in a different discipline, in a different university. She told me how frustrated she was with a junior colleague who, because the department wasn't able to fund 100% of her interstate conference trip, was pulling out of the conference.

This is a tricky one. Obviously, it'd be ideal if we were all fully funded for everything, all the time. And the benefits to the individual academic — professional contacts, intellectual exchange, possibilities for future collaboration etc. — do also flow indirectly back to the university. But the public university system in this country simply isn't geared to funding every such trip fully. Heaven knows, my credit card took a severe beating for over a decade while I hauled myself off to international conferences and inadequately funded research trips. Having a research budget, and having a professorial salary makes a huge difference, I'm aware, and no longer paying 17% interest on a home loan, as I was in the late 80s and early 90s, also makes the idea of spending some of my own salary on research trips more practical and more palatable.

But I can't help feeling it is a kind of short-sightedness to count the cost of everything, every single time, and to refuse to attend a conference two states away if you can't travel fully funded, or in the style you'd like.

This is going to sound harsh, but I do think that sometimes we just have to acknowledge that the intellectual life is not the same as running a consultancy, for example; that life in the Australian university system is never going to attract the kinds of renumeration possible in the private sector (or in the wealthiest ivy league US universities); and that if you're going to measure yourself against that world, and against what it's possible to earn there, then you're simply going to make yourself miserable.

So going back to my previous post, the payrates for sessional tutoring are incommensurate with the time it takes, and with the professional training and accreditation the tutor has already acquired. But tutoring is still a great thing to do. Sometimes it's important to remember there are other ways to measure the value of things apart from the dollar amounts.

On Being Observed

Graduate students often want to do sessional teaching at my university, and I can see why. It's fun; it makes you feel part of the department; it's a good component of your professional development; it forces you to learn things and develop new forms of expertise; it introduces you to staff and other students; and it pays ... a little.

But the payrates are wildly incommensurate with the work involved; the timetable spreads your teaching over a couple of days; there is no guarantee that having developed your classes in one subject that you'll ever get to teach it again; and the inevitable nervousness about teaching out of your comfort zone means that teaching absorbs disproportionate amounts of preparation time, as well as nervous, social and intellectual energy.

People's needs vary, of course; and while it suits some graduates to do as much teaching as they can, there is a powerful argument that says you should do a little teaching, do it well, and fully, and develop a teaching portfolio, and then go back to your thesis.

This is what one of my students is doing this semester, and today she took up my invitation to observe her tutorial, so that I can write a reference about her teaching practice. She was terrific, though she said later my presence made her a little nervous. You would not have known, though: this was a large group of 20 students, and she was organised, responsive, full of ideas, while letting them also develop their own thoughts. She kept the pace and the topics of discussion varied, too. I was quite inspired, watching her. For various reasons I haven't taken tutorials for a couple of years, but often used to struggle to keep this wonderful sense of order and calmness I saw today. I was so impressed that she was willing to let me come along: not sure I would ever had had the courage to do that when I was a graduate student. The tutorial room is such a private space, though I bet my colleagues and I would all love to be a fly on the wall and get a chance to observe each other!

Then this afternoon, Joel had a rehearsal for his cello exam, with Charles, his piano teacher, working as his accompanist. He was a little disconcerted to find I was going to be in the room (I often go for a walk, or nip to the supermarket), but all three of them (student, cello teacher, accompanist) worked brilliantly, in spite of my presence in Charles' studio. I'm so impressed with these young women, his teachers. Lauren and Charles are both so patient, but also so serious with Joel and his music. I felt quite privileged to observe the three of them working so hard.

It's one thing to lecture — and I have really loved lecturing in the Medievalism subject this semester — but tutoring, and teaching in smaller groups, or one to one, is a different challenge altogether. What a rare pleasure to see it being done, and done so well today.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On not being over-modest...

I'm taking courage from Dr Virago's recent comments on the teaching award she won, to say how pleased I am to have been given an award, too. The University has decided this year to honour the work of mentoring, with two awards, one for academic and one for general/professional staff. They are both named after Pat Grimshaw, who recently retired as professor of history, and who continues to be a brilliant mentor, teacher and advocate. I've seen her being so courageous in some difficult times in the university, most notably speaking up against the development of the university's private branch that turned out to be so disastrous and has now been disbanded. So I'm honoured to try and follow in her footsteps of kindness and courage.

It is particularly delightful to me that the other winner is my friend Margot, who works in the Science Faculty. We had a funny exchange two weekends ago. We each knew the other had been nominated (well, I should confess that her staff nominated her; I asked my head of program to nominate me...), and had each received the call from the Provost, but the results hadn't been made public yet, and neither of us wanted to be the one to ask if the other had won! But Margot, generous as always, was the first to break the ice, and so now we are extremely pleased with ourselves and each other. In fact we are going out with a group tonight to a Turkish restaurant for her son Nick's 13th birthday (he and Joel were at childcare and primary school together), with a promises of a callipygous belly dancer. This is another reason I love Margot, for introducing me to the word callipygous!

Well, we don't get our awards till December, when they will be presented by the Vice-Chancellor at his annual Teaching and Learning Colloquium. I think we'll have to have some champagne to celebrate.

But the main reason I wanted to mention this on the blog is that my application said a few things about the Humanities Researcher blog, and Peter's nomination also made mention of it. This is what he wrote:

My second example of Stephanie’s skill at providing support and sharing knowledge with mentees is her now long-running, extensive, and widely read blog. We sometimes think of mentoring as involving face to face activities, but of course the WWW offers a dizzy range of new opportunities for being role-model and mentor to others. I won’t detail here the widening-circles of Stephanie’s blog, from its initial concern with ARC grant writing, to its rapid accumulation of additional narrative and thematic threads when Stephanie was diagnosed with cancer, to the blog (with its history) that we have today, which offers a unique exploration of the interactions between thought, life, friendship and family, the contexts from which intellectual work springs. In work such as this there is enormous scope for disaster as well as success. The undoubted, truly remarkable success of Stephanie’s blog, the extent to which it has touched people’s lives, is a profound testament to her skills as a mentor. The blog makes me realize anew the degree to which mentoring and being a role-model are central although often not acknowledged planks in “knowledge transfer”.


I should explain that "knowledge transfer" is the awkwardly-named but excellent idea that the university should be working in close contact with city, society, community, industry, etc. There are some tricky issues, here, but it's hard to disagree with the general principle here. But isn't this a lovely paragraph for Peter to write? I thought about over-modestly not blogging about the award, but then thought it would be nice to quote Peter's comments for anyone who's thinking about the social/pedagogical function of blogging. And after all, it looks as if Humanities Researcher played its part in the award, and the blog would have no life if it weren't for its lovely readers.

I can feel myself gearing up soon for a final onslaught on the first draft of my book, and sometimes wonder whether I will have time to keep blogging. But I reckon I will. I think it'd be good if I spent a little less time checking my sitemeter stats, but I also think that when the book insists on being written, as it is starting to, then everything will fall into place anyway.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

This is me

I've now proudly joined up with the Babel group. Many of them are heading to Kalamazoo this week for the big medieval fest, where I have never been. Maybe next year when I'm planning to spend some sabbatical time in the US...

My profile has been up on their website for a couple of weeks now, with one omission. Eileen asks us all to nominate a theme song, and I have been dithering about this in a rather childish way. How do you nominate a theme song that seems to sum you up for all the visitors to the site? Of course we define ourselves to ourselves and others every day, but that process of definition depends on choice: the fact you can choose one song one day, another the next. One day you can wear your best black tailored suit (ok your only suit), for the talk I gave last night; another day the pink cardigan.

BABEL looks like a very cool group (yes, perhaps within the field of medieval studies the stakes aren't very high, but this is probably the coolest organised group of medievalists there is), but my musical tastes aren't particularly cool, so it's tricky. I'm on a slow but steady learning curve with opera, for example, and have always loved baroque music. I'm not so at home with the romantics, but I like Beethoven, Mahler and the real Strauss. I have some good compilations of swing and jazz for parties; I'm really enjoying re-discovering big 80s rock with Joel; and have immense respect for a good pop song, for the sheer pleasure of singing along with him in the car. Some of the music I love best has been given to me... But in the end, the idea of choosing a theme song is hard because it makes me feel like an adolescent defining themselves on facebook. Or the "this is me" moment of a child rehearsing the foods they like and don't like to eat.

So I was tempted just to ignore Eileen's follow-up invitation to nominate a song, and bypass this moment of self-identification.

But then I remembered that one of the whole points about BABEL is to let go of some of the old ways, and particularly to let go of some of the old ways of thinking about oneself and one's relation to the profession (though I can't help noticing that most of the other members have neither song NOR picture...).

So I'm reading this as an invitation to let go of that perpetual academic anxiety about what people will think of you (your thesis, your book, your comments on your student's thesis, your clothes, your question at the seminar, that joke you made in the last meeting, and of course, your song choice), so in the end I just chose the song that I've played most in the last week or so — Madonna's Ray of Light — which I like for its atmospherics, its dance/trance feel, and the sing-a-long vocals above the pacy rhythms.

Here's the video:

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Ribbons of nutritiousness

Caught the ABC's doco about parrots last night (trying to fill the void left by the end of Robin Hood). Loved its cinematography: clouds of birds wheeling and turning en masse, and brilliant landscapes, whether desert, rainforest or snow slopes. Truly, spectacular camera work. But the commentary was pretty dire: uninformative and excessively anthropomorphic. I can't see why we need to hear about birds having dinner dates, etc. Worst of all was the over-writing, viz. "Ribbons of nutritiousness snaking across the continent" or some such.

But then, this is a nation that has just given TV Logie awards to the horrendously misogynistic AFL Footy Show and the appalling Bindi Irwin, so I can't claim to be with the mainstream here.