Sunday, 26 August 2012

Thomas Meyer's Beowulf Via Eileen Joy and the outstanding number of medievalists I know on Facebook, I see that Thomas Meyer's translation of Beowulf is now available. For free. It possesses a striking cover: And though I haven't had a chance to read it yet—this translation, I mean, because I've obviously read Beowulf before—the excerpt from the publisher accords neatly with my recent obsession on the relation of form to content in film: The eyes of Hygelac’s kin watched the wicked raider execute his quick attack: without delay, snatching his first chance, a sleeping warrior, he tore him in two, chomped muscle, sucked veins’ gushing blood, gulped down his morsel, the dead man, chunk by chunk, hands, feet & all. & then footstephandclawfiendreachmanbedquicktrick beastarmpainclampnewnotknownheartrunflesho feargetawaygonowrunrun never before had sinherd feared anything so. As the publisher notes, "the reader is confronted with the words themselves running together, as if in panic, in much the same way that the original passage seems in such a rush to tell the story of the battle that bodies become confused." This is a readerly experimental mode, in which the formal experimentation is meant to assist the reader in understanding the content of the poem by replicating the experience being described. The fact that that it's not easy to parse that second stanza is the point. (I've read it about twenty times now I still keep seeing the word "dreach," if only because it sounds like a word that belongs in Beowulf.) Point being, there are far worse ways to spend your Saturday night than reading a poem in which "hot gore pour[s] upon whirlpools." Or with supporting an endeavor which, to quote Eileen, Every book we make, we will give away for free in electronic form, because we believe in the richest possible artistic-intellectual para-university commons in which everyone has access to whatever they need and want, whenever they need and want it, and so that authors can have the widest possible readership. But we also believe in the printed book: as work of art, as a stylish object for one’s cabinet of curiosities, as a material comfort [or bracing cocktail] to hold in one’s hands, as something that takes up weight and space in the world and adds something of beauty to the thoughts, images, and narratives we hold in common.
New syllabus: Game of Thrones: Bold Plan or Blasphemy? The university's revamped the curriculum to emphasize the written word, so now I have to teach a traditional novel alongside my visual works. (Which I almost always did anyway but no matter.) I've decided to teach Game of Thrones, but there's one problem: I've decided to teach Game of Thrones. In a freshmen composition class. That's only ten weeks long. The quarter will look something like this: Week 1: Introduction to the genre. Watch Fellowship of the Ring. Read secondary material about fantasy. Weeks 2-5: Read Game of Thrones. Read secondary material about the novel. Write 4 blog posts and 1 short essay about it. Weeks 6-9: Watch Game of Thrones. Read secondary material about the series. Write 4 blog posts and 1 long essay about it. Week 10: Final project. You see the problem: the novel's 675 pages long, meaning that from Week 2 until Week 5 they'll be reading 169 pages of the novel and approximately 15 pages of secondary material per week. Experience suggests that having freshmen non-majors read 184 pages per week while also asking them to produce 10 of their own pages may be too much for them to handle. So here's my bold (or blasphemous) plan: I let them skip the Daenerys chapters (3, 11, 23, 36, 46, 54, 61, 64, 68, and 72). Because I read the novel on a Kindle, I'm not exactly sure how many pages that will save them. But it makes narrative sense: they'll spend all their time on the island of Westeros and we'll spend all our classtime discussing its affairs in Weeks 2-5. When we shift to the series in Week 6, we'll focus our attention on Daenerys and the events happening on Essos. That means the majority of the visual rhetorical analysis will involve horses, but it could be worse. Another idea, floated by Gerry Canavan, would be to force the students to read one chapter from each of the point-of-view characters and allow them to decide which two they wanted to ignore. They'd have to justify their decision via a rhetorical analysis in a blog post, meaning that they would write that the Daenerys chapters don't provide them with significant information about the context of conversations within the novel, or that they don't believe they're receiving accurate information from Tyrion because of his ethos. I like that from a pedagogical point of view, but I'm not sure about the classroom mechanics. Take a vote and ignore the two characters with the fewest proponents? I don't know. Any other suggestions are welcome.

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