Well it certainly has been a while.

Orals have been wonderful this past semester, and while I have lots of reading notes both in my margins and in my notebooks, I haven't been great about spending a lot of time synthesizing things, looking at the bigger pictures. Losing forests due to a glut of trees, etc. etc. The point of getting on this whole DW thing, besides getting mixed up in the internet lives of some dear friends ([personal profile] oliviacirce), has been to have a place for more informal thinking and writing, and it's time I took advantage of that. And in a way, it's a good thing that I've waited so long to get back to writing, since it will force me think beyond the individual texts and authors. So:

One surprising thread that's come up again and again in my orals meetings so far, especially on my major list, has been publication history and the way the texts imagine / construct / other-lit-crit-verb print culture. This isn't something I expected, largely because my critical background coming into grad school was so very much close reading on the one hand / high theory on the other. And print culture was presented as so thoroughly BORING: Just a bunch of Shakespeare scholars gasping about how fascinating it was that the third Quarto says "hand" but the fourth says "hande". I'm over two years into the PhD now, and it really shouldn't surprise me that my interests have changed since undergrad, but still, these things weren't on my horizon at all when I came here and it's really really exciting to see how I've developed academically. ("Well, excited AND scared...")


George Gascoigne

One of the most interesting texts in this respect is A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, a collection of drama, narrative prose, and lyric poetry published in 1573.

As the prefatory letter from the Publisher, Richarde Smith, informs us, the texts making up this miscellany were gathered in manuscript by one G.T., who then sent them to his friend H.W., who in turn (and against G.T.'s express wishes) sent them to Smith for printing. However, the entire work claims several other authors: besides the translations of plays by Ariosto and Euripides, both Englished by one George Gascoigne, the longest section is "a pleasant discourse of the adventures of master F.J." This section contains several poems by F.J., but is mostly made up of a prose narrative delivered by G.T., who claims at several points to have the story from F.J. himself. Next we have a set of lyrics by "sundry Gentlemen", several poems by Gascoigne, and a verse narrative of Dan Bartholmew of Bathe, which combines Dan Bartholmew's own works with linking poems by "the reporter".

Two years later, the book was re-worked and re-published as The Poesies of George Gascoigne, Esquire, along with a prefatory letter by Gascoigne, now claiming sole authorship of the texts, dispensing with the editorial framework of G.T. and H.W., and apologizing for the scandal his earlier edition had caused.

Oh, and there is no evidence that the earlier edition had actually caused any scandal.

A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres is, in large measure, an elaborate literary joke, and its target is manuscript culture. One of the most important statements concerning the relationship between print and manuscript circulation of lyrics comes from Richard Tottel's preface to his 1557 verse miscellany, in which her urges the reader "that thou thinke it not evill doon, to publish, to the honor of the Englishe tong, and for profit of the studious of Englishe eloquence, those workes which the ungentle horders up of such treasure have heretofore envied thee." Lyric poetry has its origins among the gentry, ironically "ungentle" in their refusal to let their verse disseminate among a wider readership, and much of its power comes from the way a manuscript culture allowed readers to restrict access to its texts.

Gascoigne's editorial fiction of a manuscript exchange between G.T. and H.W. offers a very similar picture of lyric poetry in the mid-sixteenth century. In the Adventures of Master F.J., the poet's verses move as manuscripts within a community of readers, and G.T., through his connections with F.J., is in a privileged place from which to properly understand them. Far from a community of gentlemen, though, F.J.'s world is one of petty sexual intrigue within which he is, ultimately, the most foolish.

The point

I don't have a satisfying idea about how I want to read Gascoigne (or really, most things on my lists, which is probably the way it should be). But I wanted to write a bit about him because he became sort of the starting point for two of my favorite dissertation idea-lings at the moment. Idea 1) Parody and/as literary history; Idea 2) Fictional communities of bad readers.

Gascoigne's fiction about a community of poetic exchange, I might argue, imitates the literary world constructed in verse miscellanies of the mid-sixteenth century such as Tottel's. In doing so, though, he is basically making some sort of joke about that community: that it's a fiction, that it's not really as "gentle" as it pretends, or possibly that a lot of the poetry isn't that good or innovative.

Similar things are going on in Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar, which has a lot of bad readers (E.K.) and makes similar elaborate jokes about printed books via an elaborate, fictive apparatus.

Parody is also crucial to Donne's Satires and verse letters to the Countess of Bedford.

And finally, there's the crazy stuff with Falstaff in 1 Henry IV, which has him as not only an anachronistic character, more of the 1590s than the 1390s, but even stylistically outdated by the time of the play's production, speaking in the bombastic style of Tamburlaine and others. In other words, Shakespeare uses his fourteenth century setting to parody the theatrical modes of only a few years ago.

So this is all very undeveloped, and I don't have most of my books or notes with me (being in California with [personal profile] readingredhead, so I'm going to use that as an excuse for my thoughts not being more composed. But really, I'd just keep avoiding posting things if I didn't just submit now.

Thoughts pls?
There was a stage during my orals planning last spring when I was trying to put together a minor list on the Country House in early modern England. This list eventually moved away from the country house as its centralizing locus, but the country house poem and the pastoral mode which it takes part in remain among my Interests. Recent products of this interest are (1) My first playlist! (2) An argument-in-progress about George Herbert.

Taking inspiration from [personal profile] oliviacirce 's tragedy playlist from first semester, I've put together the following as a mix-tape of the Political Pastoral:

The songs are rather 60s/70s heavy, in part because I got most of my music collection off of my father (who actually has quite expansive taste), but largely because the whole era is so very pastoral, both in terms of "back to nature" hippie-ness and in terms of the occasional naivety of its political outlook ("Imagine! ... It's easy if you try). The pastoral has no inherent ideology, as demonstrated by the poetry of the English Civil War, in which both the Royalists and various revolutionary writers claimed the pastoral as theirs. For this reason, some of my favorite moments on the list are those that play up the liberal/conservative ambiguity of the pastoral mode's--think the Kink's song's "Preserving the old ways from being abused / Protecting the new ways for me and for you." "Village Green" is a nostalgic love song to an English country life that is well aware of the flaws, political and otherwise, of that idealized vision. Part of what fascinates me about the pastoral is that it predates "liberal" and "conservative" as a political mode, thereby opening up alternative ways of organizing politics.

I don't know how to put a zip file of the songs online (I'm new to this), but if someone can help me out, I will.

On to Herbert. For a while now I've been thinking that Herbert's The Temple works in dialogue with the Country House poem, a pastoral-y mode most famously instantiated by Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst." Lets look at some evidence:
--The main section of The Temple opens with "The Altar," a poem which itself features description by negation, "No workman's tools hath touched the same." Similarly, Jonson's poem opens "Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show"; there is an even closer echo in Jonson's line that Penshurst's walls "are reared with no man's ruin, no man's groan." Thomas Carew's "To Saxham" opens by addressing the house and commenting on how, because of the winter, "I might not all thy pleasures know"; and Andrew Marvell writes in "Upon Appleton House" that one ought "expect / Work of no foreign architect."
--"To Penshurst" is concerned with managing groups of people who approach the house, moving from the tenants of the land ("all come in, the farmer and the clown") to more official visitors ("Where is no guest, but is allowed to eat / Without his fear, and of thy lord's own meat"). Similarly, The Temple draws subtle distinctions between different sorts of people entering the space, e.g., in "Superliminare": "come not here: / Nothing but holy, pure, and cleare, / Or that which groaneth to be so / May at his perill further go." The difference between "come not" unless you are pure and the "groaneth to be so" is crucial: The first stanza of the poem has invited the reader to come in, then the second stanza first turns them back, then invites them again, in a modified way. The slippery categories here--the pure, the trying, and those facing "perill"--seems akin to the way Jonson subtly slides between the peasants bringing tribute and the guests receiving hospitality; it's easy to think that the two are the same in reading "To Penshurst."
--Jonson praises Penshurst for its beauty, for the virtue of its lord, and for its role as a place of learning, all themes in various poems in The Temple.
--Most important, in my opinion, is the culminating poem of The Temple, "Love" (III), an invitation to a meal (Eucharist). Jonson, unsurprisingly, cares a lot about food and hospitality.

I could go on and in more detail but I've been sitting on this post for a while and I want to get it done.

So I have some generic ties between Herbert's book and the Country House genre. I also have plenty of evidence that Herbert cared about country politics: his prose work, The Country Parson discusses the parson's duty to chastise the gentry for their poor behavior and presents the parson as a major figure in the locale: showing hospitality (including detailed advise on how to use dinner invitations as encouragement to improve the locals' behavior), educating the people, and healing the sick and wounded (compare Margaret Hoby, a gentlewoman whose diary records her work as a healer?).

What I'm not sure about is, what can I make of this? Some possibilities:
--A highly contextual, local-politics reading of some of the poems, particularly those in which Herbert uses the God-as-landlord, covenant-as-rent metaphor (e.g., "Redemption"). Is Herbert arguing something about the rent policies of the landed gentry? Were there particular conflicts in play in the late 1620s in Bemerton?
--A new way of looking at Herbert's multiple voices in many of the poems. The priest, after all, is in some senses a lord of the church, in charge of the space in important respects (e.g., his efforts at repairing the church buildings), while in other ways, he is another guest, there by the grace of the true Lord of the temple. The politics of The Temple are not (pace Schoenfeldt) modeled on the relationship of courtier to king, but of country gentry to guests (of various ranks) or members of their household staff (perhaps secretaries, issuing invitations at the Lord's request).
--Genre: In invoking the country house mode, Herbert continues his thinking about the pastoral (in "Jordan" (I) and elsewhere). Is the redeemed pastoral centered not on the fields, but on the house, here truly redeemed from worldly ambitions, where Penshurst could only pretend to be truly a paradise on earth?

One of my favorite things in Latin is the verb canō, canere meaning "to sing," but more often "to sing ,of": thus the opening of Vergil's Aeneid, Arma virumque canō--"I sing of arms and a man." However, I much prefer the a translation that drops the "of" because it offers a sense of one singing something into being, and if the poet is a mimetic maker, I like the idea of a verb that presents the poem as producing its subject, rather than merely talking about it. This is (side note) one of the many things Diane Duane gets right in So You Want to Be a Wizard?: when Nita and Kit read from The Book of Night with Moon, they are, in fact, singing New York City into being. Urbem canunt.

I'm interested in these quirks of Latin to English translation in part because Latin has a particularly rich history of interaction with English, both in terms of English borrowings from Latin and Romance languages, and in terms of grammatical conventions. And this history, like any history, is not neutral, but rather tells us things (or allows us to say things?) about both particular moments and larger narratives about our past. The English absorption of Romance language words in the Anglo-Norman period is a very different matter from the scientific lexicon that develops over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And, as my language instructor tells me, one can often approximate Latin grammar by speaking like an Edwardian aristocrat. Moreover, as one studies Latin, the language's usage rules start to enter your own speaking style.

The points of all this:
--1) I'm interested in connections among history, style, and poetics, and so the suggestive possibilities of canō, canere arouse my interest. How does grammar, for example, shape our ideas of what literature does? How do particular social/cultural/historical forces affect the encounter between our language and Classical literature?
--2) Over the past few months, I've been trying to learn how better to examine my own inner life, something that can be difficult with depression. I'm trying to write more as a way of becoming more comfortable with this kind of introspection, but it turns out that such ways of thinking are actually a practiced skill. And when faced with a challenge, I get academic and meta: Why might I have difficulty with life writing? Perhaps because my habits of writing are shaped by history...
--3) Aside from my occasional involvement in the feminist Mormon blogging community, I'm rather new to the internet and am still, shall we say, figuring out the grammar of this place. Nonetheless, I want to say hello, and Latin has been taking over my life, so...yes.

P.s., the spell check tells me that "blogging" is not a word, but "blagging" is. I expect you all to correct yourselves in the future.



January 2013



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