Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pre-Moderns you know . . .

Last week was the 47th International Congress of Medieval Studies meeting held annually at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.  A fun and fine time was had by all.  At least five folk who labor or have labored in this fair field now tilled by the Tenants of Colson presented talks. Dean Almasy spoke on the Scottish Reformation, which he knows more about than anyone living except one guy somewhere beyond Hadrian's wall who plays bagpipes. Tom Bredehoft was on a roundtable concerning how to teach the difficult subject of Old English metrics (without a knowledge of which you'll find it hard to hear the poetry in the poetry) with illuminaries in the field like Geoffrey (Call-me-Rick) Russom at Brown, Daniel Donoghue at Harvard, and Peter Baker at UVa. I didn't get to the session, but heard from all of the participants and some auditors that it was excellent.  (I think I was admiring Peter Robinson's little 15-month-old daughter at his "Scholarly Digital Editions" booth in the book exhibits.) I gave a paper using the language of subjectivity to examine the genre of the Old English Elegy, which was pretty well-received. (I had to be present for that.)  Sunday morning, when no one goes to sessions, our alumnus, Eddie Christie (now at Georgia State University), unfolded to a good-sized crowd one of the best sessions I attendedAnglo-Saxon Matter and Materialism, (I presided, so my presence was required, in spite of the fact that the big annual dance of medievalists had taken place the night before . . .). Eddie gave an excellent paper on the cultural notion of  "gold" connected with its physical properties in "Golden Signs and Gold as Matter in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints," which was very well received in the session.  Steven Harris, who taught here for a year a few years back and made many friends at the time, gave a terrific paper on the Anglo-Saxon concept of "beauty" in "Beautiful Old English," by analyzing the descriptions of Rachel in Genesis in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, and O.E., and Johanna Kramer--the Anglo-Saxonist at U. Missouri whom Eddie got to know when he and Crystal (his wife and an M.A. alumna here) were in Columbia where she took her Ph.D.--spoke on "Material Theology in Anglo-Saxon Literature" by focusing on the relics of the ascension. Martin Foys, the first speaker here at our Medieval/Renaissance Studies Union, provided a response that showed the links in the whole session and allowed us to leave with a sense of discovery. I apologize to anyone I've left out, and for my superficial comments on those I included, an apology I feel I especially owe to myself, given how magisterial my own paper really was. 

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