Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Final Front-Veer

Well, it has been quite a ride.

As I was walking back to my car with Can and Haylie after our final get together yesterday, I made a joke about going back to the History Dept. armed with a whole new arsenal of names and books to drop into theoretical arguments.

Bogost! Ingold! Dinshaw! Mentz! Bring on your tired old Foucault - I'm ready to be the smartest guy in the room! (In case you didn't realize, this was the joke part.)

Almost immediately, something my grandfather said a long time ago came to mind - "If you ever find you are the smartest guy in the room, you're in the wrong room."

With that in mind, for the past five months, Rome 771 has definitely been the right room. I don't really know what I expected when I registered for the EBOV course, but I know what I got: weekly exposure to some truly kind, generous, motivated and (most of all) brilliant people. I just wanted to take this last opportunity to say thank you to everyone.

Being a historian, I have an affinity for "isms" and an aversion to "ologies." I can rip out 20 pages on Parametric determinism and not need a second cup of coffee. When I see things like "Object oriented ontology," my brain retreats to a far corner of my skull, rocking back and forth and trying desperately to think of Christmas. Yet, over the past couple of months, I have come to a greater appreciation for ways of thinking about the world and our place in it that never even occurred to me before; while the readings we did were a small part of that, a much greater part is due to the interactions and discussions we engaged in class. It was intriguing and enlightening (that's right, Foucault - I said ENLIGHTENING), and I consider it a great privilege to have been a part of it.

One of the objectives I was hoping for was to "learn to think medievally." I think that through our discussions of Mandeville and the Gawain poet, Chaucer and Roland, I have a better idea of some modes of thinking and ideas that drove medieval writers than I did before, or at least have an inkling as to alternative lines of thought that I had never considered. More than that, I have gotten ideas for avenues of historical research, and all of these have been inspired not by the readings, but by my fellow classmates. Here are some of the possible projects floating through my head now, and credit to the people that put them there:

Molly / Sumayyah - an environmental history of Carolingian Europe; how did the land itself play a role in the progression of the middle ages, and to what extent can topography be an active participant in history and not just the setting?

Can / M - A cultural history of the supernatural; not only in monsters, but in the relationships between societies and the specific types of monsters they produce, especially hybridized or transformative "people" - lycanthropes, merfolk, tengu. What fears, priorities and relationships can be learned about a society from the monsters it creates - and how does the creation of those monsters then effect a change in that society? Is transformation itself an accepted societal fact while being a cultural anathema?

Haylie - A philosophical treatise on swordsmanship, with the acknowledgment of the relationship between weapon and wielder; I will never know what my sword "wants" or if it "wants," in any way that I can possibly fathom. However, I can attempt a "messy kind of caring," in acknowledging the object as much more than a tool confined to my purposes, without agency of its own, and deal with the idea of an existing relationship between me and it  -  a relationship I may never be able to fully understand, yet appreciate nonetheless.

Paula - a study of the dialectic tensions of being a part of or inside a particular culture; how individuals see themselves and how it differs from how their particular society sees them - and what happens to both when those differences are made known. How does the individual change the culture and the culture change the individual? To what extent?

Kelsey - A revisitation of the notion of the "middle ages" as a process rather than a cordoned off time period, and all of the sub-processes that might (or might not) coincide with that. I seriously doubt that me trying to talk about "a post Roman paradigm of patronage en route to an unlooked for mercantilism" is going to replace "feudalism" anytime soon, but I'm eager to see if I can work it into a sentence. I'm also not afraid to look like a complete idiot if I get in over my head.

And Finally Jeff, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this group experiment, and for your patience and example; I only hope that I am half as successful at conducting a class with so many varying thoughts and brilliant ideas without letting it becoming either complete chaos or an indecipherable morass. You skillfully managed to guide and hold an incredibly dense stew from exploding in all of our faces, and it tasted great.

Ok, Jake -- Title with a Star Trek reference, but ending with a culinary metaphor? Now I'm veering...

Live long and prosper, folks!

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