I’ve been reflecting on this past year, unsure of what exactly can be said to sum up this year’s Environ Body Object and Veer course. What we set out to do and what ended up ensuing, as a result of many able minds, compelling texts and tangential moments, was so rich and rewarding that I can’t even begin to try and describe it.
Taking stock of this year, though, I was left thinking about several things. These will undoubtedly creep into my final paper and thoughts far beyond this course (whether consciously or subconsciously):
- Veering. We spent almost the entirety of the first class talking about the unpredictability and inevitability of the veer as a concept. Although it implies a certain swerving or distance from an original prompt, the “veer” became a unifying concept in terms of how critical texts can accompany centuries-old literature. The personal narrative aspect that my peers were able to contribute, from Sanskrit texts to harrowing accounts, made them all the more real and immediate.
- Alienation. While analyzing Tim Ingold’s work Being Alive, we spoke about alienation of a nation born into being, which parallels to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s conception of a town right on the Welsh border in the dense History of the Kings of Britain. On my notes this day I’ve written that we are “invited to make ourselves uncomfortable” -- which, in the scope of the course, can mirror the entirety of the material itself. On a personal level, at first this course was incredibly intimidating for me, as the only medieval text I had read was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ever. Not even Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales. I was pleasantly surprised to find how accessible the material was, especially when speaking about the very problems that tend to circle around our society -- particularly that of alienation and loneliness, which are two universal concepts that are utterly human.
- Disability. Perhaps the most compelling literature this semester, to me, was Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow’s Sex and Disability. The person accounts of dealing with disability and its discontents were heartbreaking and insightful, and put the entirety of the work into the context it deserved. Disability and queerness doesn’t necessarily reflect on a physical impediment, and can be an invisible disability that hinders someone equally as much.
- Queering. Recently I read a great piece about Mad Men and its parallels to literary theory. The most relevant to our course was the discussion about Peggy Olson, the secretary turned copywriter who persevered in an era where a woman holding power in the workplace was unthinkable. The piece speaks about how Peggy “queers” from the norm, ignoring the advice of other secretaries for dress and conduct and instead allows for her work to speak for itself. Although her queered conception of work ethic makes her successful, we don’t see any other characters in the show doing the same. For women today, it’s more possible to succeed, but the impediments of a glass ceiling and payment inequality are still all too visible in practically any industry. Just a thought I had when reading the piece.
There are countless others, but these were the overarching themes that stuck out in my mind about this year. On another note, I’m going to miss this course! Talk about intellectual stimulation. I never expected to be as challenged and inspired as I was long after our two hours were up every Tuesday. I’m looking forward to taking Jeffrey’s Literature of the British Archipelago course in the fall -- and I wish the best to everyone involved!