Saturday, May 4, 2013

...and then there was EBOV

Completely fallaciously, I have always liked to consider myself to have a "go with the flow" kind of personality. But beyond my penchant for Dave Matthews Band, artistry, and travel aside, I recognize that deep down, I am--as painful as it is for me to admit--a control freak. Knowing how things will turn out and how to behave in particular settings is thus my forte, and these personality traits have usually served me very well in classroom settings for about the past twenty years. Generally, it too as served me well in the world of academia, keeping track of timelines, reading the necessary material to become familiar with my area of study, and following the "right" track to become successful.

But that, of course, was before Environ Body Object Veer. I think my perceptions of a standard graduate seminar and myself as a scholar were first tested when we discussed Tim Ingold's Being Alive. We began class by wondering aloud whether walking while talking about the text would change our perceptions and interactions with the book and each other. Of course not liking the drastic change and distraction this would provide, I immediately thanked God that we were not actually doing that. Someone of course then suggested we walk around the room, and five minutes later, the majority of my fellow students were walking, standing, looking out the window, inhabiting different spaces of the room and leaving me, sitting in my chair feeling the most physically uncomfortable I had been in a graduate course. How can we learn, I thought, and how can we approach learning in such a way when we have always been told we can't?

I obviously bring up this moment not to poopoo different types of learning, my fellow classmates, or the EBOV course itself. Rather, I now am amazed looking back at how much I fought that lack of rigidity, lack of control, instead of embracing and learning from it as I have now. Reading texts that I never would have before, looking for agency, access and meaning in objects and animals that I never would have read for, I feel that sentiment of unavoidable cheesiness: that I "grew" so much from this experience. From my professor, peers, and the scholars and figures I interacted with this semester, I have learned to have some fluidity in scholarship is not only beneficial but necessary in order to look at new ways of approaching the world and find opportunities in things not before thought possible. Because for as easily accessible as scholarly terms such as "medieval," "race," "literature," are to use (and which undeniably are involved in my work), they can also be extremely limiting, forcing us to classify ourselves in neat, tidy boxes and to be unable to branch outside of them. I find this particularly important for graduate students, in an environment where there is seemingly so much merit and weight placed on "knowing": knowing what you want to study, knowing what you want to say about what you study, and knowing exactly how you are going to get there.

But I think if I have learned anything from this course, it is that there is an inherent fault in this pressure "to know," particularly in the life of a graduate scholar. Although it has become somewhat cliche to say that "life is messy," there is in most areas of living a kind of slipperiness, a refusal to remain fixed in the nice, tidy boxes we typically confine ourselves to as graduate students. Following this logic and the thematics of this course then, I (as might be expected) do not know the right way to move through a space without such limitations. And yet I think that is sort of the point. And though four months ago I would have been uncomfortable, anxious, afraid of not knowing, I am now trying to explore new theoretical approaches, allow myself to be inspired by new objects of study, and not be confined by such a rigidity.

In my end of term paper for EBOV, instead of my scholarship being driven by what I study, I instead allowed myself to write about a scene that I was unsure of and yet completely stuck on. Approaching the unfamiliar territory of ecocriticism, affect theory, and critical animal studies all in one foul swoop, I have never felt more uncomfortable writing a graduate paper...and never felt more proud of a graduate paper that I have written. While I am not necessarily sure that I will use any of these critical modes in the future, I now know it is possible for me to do so, to not feel limited or not allowed to do things that are not, well, "what I do." Though my upcoming field exam, prospectus, and eventual dissertation have become more fluid to me than ever, I know now I am on the veering path, finally able to say that in my scholarship, I am simply going with the flow.

So Long, Farewell

I was originally going to write my last blogpost on the malignant will of the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, but I felt that lingering on malignancy  and malignant objects was simply not in keeping with the spirit of the class. That isn't to say our discussions haven't been wide and varied, and or that the One Ring is not an object rich for discussion, but that I wanted my last post to linger more on the wonder in our course than bad feeling. I am not an eco-theorist by any means and didn't realize when I registered in December that EBOV would be a seminar focused on the ecologies of the inhuman. But I'm so grateful for this seminar, and the colleagues I've made (met?) and the way the seminar became a constant destabilization of the way we think about the world and pedagogy. That I can articulate thoughts about things confidently, that I can speak confidently as a student and future scholar, I think is in large part due to this class. I am endlessly grateful for the wonderful support we've been able to provide each other, and the ways we challenged one another, and the support thats grown out of our dynamic organically.

Friday, May 3, 2013

veering into gratitude

As I've been thinking about this course over the past few days, trying to sum up what we've accomplished, it's been hard to ignore my profound feeling of gratitude for the space that we developed together. We began our course with a discussion on veering, and the texts--both literary and theoretical--that we read constantly veered into new, and often inhuman, spaces. I am grateful for the insight and attention my fellow classmates brought to these works, and for all that I learned from them in discussing these texts. If I am being honest, however, I am even more grateful for the affective environment created in our class than I am for the rich intellectual one. In ways both positive and challenging, this semester reminded me that our lives veer, too, as do those of the people we love. I frequently felt the weight of the world on my shoulders this term, and it was an absolute gift to come every week to a class that was almost unbelievably free of ego, to meet weekly to ask questions and play and make things with a group of such considerate, smart, and compassionate people. Seemingly without anyone's intending it to, our class became, for me at least (and I think for others of us as well), a place for working things out, a simultaneously rigorous and gentle intellectual space to engage--in sometimes almost overwhelmingly affective ways--with a marvelous group of texts and a singular group of people.  Thank you all.

Ontographically Yours, With Love

6220 - 771 - 2013

Black clay, litanies, secrets kept, open books, scribbled (love) notes, turtles all the way down

Trolls, tweets, gay-best friends, book-reviews, things under the bridge, not too soon

Spirals, pearls, veering diagrams, word-clouds, bits of paper, objects, objectives

Photographs, hearty-laughs, walking in circles, windows, hurt feet, 6-inch heels, turn the lights off

Middle English, mid-semester translations, mid-sentence doubts, mastication, yummy brownies

Lines of flight, Line's Flight, don't blink, don't ever blink, memes, monsters, giggles, pies

Writing yourself in, speaking up, opening out, veering off course, broken parts

Swords, horns, anchors, video-games, hot-rod red beasts, shipwrecked ecologies

Months past, seminars passed, meals shared, salads consumed, worlds reimagined

6AM, PDFs submitted, Blog-lights shining, bed-rooms calling, bon nuit, bon jour

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Past and Present Theory

As soon as I signed up for this class and saw the syllabus, I began to feel equal amounts of intimidation and excitement. I had hoped that by viewing medieval texts through modern theory, I would gain a better understanding of them than I had in high school, the only time I'd had exposure to medieval texts.  What I found in this class instead was far more expansive than I had imagined.

From the very first meeting, with our discussion of veering and what it means, I knew I'd made a smart decision in taking this course. The way we discussed theory so openly and creatively was something I've very rarely found in a class before, and I felt that everyone at the table was equally engaged, and each brought something unique to the discussion. This pattern only increased over the semester, and each week I would come to class and learn more about theory than I'd dreamed possible, and through that understanding, my appreciation for the medieval texts we read increased. The inclusion of guest lecturers and the creative teaching methods (crafts in a graduate class!) really helped to make each week something to look forward to, and it also made the readings more clear to me. For example, I probably wouldn't have had the love of Mandeville that I do if it weren't for Anthony Bale's guest lecture on the importance of translation and the way a text really changes through time, just as I wouldn't have had as strong an appreciation for Will Stockton's work if he hadn't presented one of his papers to us.

The most striking themes over the course of the semester seemed to be objects, animals, and queerness, which seems to both fit and veer drastically from the learning objectives we set out to discuss at the beginning of the semester. I think the relationship between the human and inhuman, as well as the living and non-living, were the most significant and recurring themes, and they both appeared numerous times in our learning objectives. Yet it seems that the expansive world view that was brought up as something we needed to be conscious of throughout the semester was slightly overlooked, at least in my view, as we instead spent time focusing on the more abstract dividing lines between objects, humans, and animals, rather than cultural or national boundaries. In this sense, there was certainly a slightly veer from what we had originally expected.

This class seemed to be presented as an experiment, and I think the level of discussion proved that it was absolutely successful. The textual connections between modern theory and medieval writings may not have always been apparent each week, but they were there, and I can easily understand the reasoning behind each and every reading we did this semester. Together, I think they form a very unique mosaic of the past and the present, and while that mosaic often veered from what we may have expected, that only seemed to increase the worth of our discussions. I not only accomplished what I had originally hoped to gain from this course, but I feel I really grew in my understanding of literary theory and the way it can interact with not just modern works, but indeed, centuries of literature.