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.

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