Saturday, March 14, 2015

ENGL 4183 Intensive Latin Online 2015
Dr. Larry Swain 
Bemidji State University 

 Course Description: This course is an intensive introduction to Latin, covering in nine weeks a full academic year’s worth of the language. This will require a lot of work and dedication on the part of both instructor and student. By the end, however, the student should be able to read Latin prose with the aid of a grammar and a good dictionary or lexicon. There will be a great deal of memorization. Via our online tools, discussion board, online office hours, recorded lectures, live lectures, exercise sharing and corrections, and Q&A sessions delivered via D2L, power point presentations, and other tools, we will go through the entire text and master basic Latin. The course will require a commitment from the student. A MINIMUM of 2 hours and preferably 4-6 hours a day will need to be spent working on the exercises, in class, interacting with the professor etc. Because delivery is online rather than in a traditional classroom, the need for each individual student to apply him- or herself diligently daily is even more important than in a face-to-face class.  We will meet virtually in an online classroom for each lesson to explain the grammar lesson, to do some in class exercises, to correct exercises, and so on, for approximately an hour, more if necessary or if student interest. The rest of your time will be spent working on exercises, translating sample passages of actual Latin, memorizing the forms. 

Texts: Intensive Latin by Floyd Moreland and Rita Fleischer 
Other materials as assigned
(I will have advice about students’ dictionaries, additional grammar aids in print and online and so on as well throughout the course). 
Highly Recommended: English Grammar for Students of Latin: The Study Guide for Those Learning Latin by Norma Goldman and Ladislas Szymanski 



This course is six credits; I think a full year of Latin deserves a full year of credit.  The above URL at the top is the Center for Extended Learning Admissions website.  This URL is for the tuition calculator: http://www.bemidjistate.edu/offices/business/tuition_fees/tuition_calculator/.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and Neighborliness

I'm cross-posting this from my personal blog. There is a lot more to say, and a lot more to tease out, but these brief thoughts seem like an important reminder while so many are so busy with the Clash of Civilizations narrative.

___

Today, I began reading David Nirenberg’s Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today, and the attacks in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the all-too-expected violence against Mosques provide an unsettling and imminent backdrop for what is otherwise some light research reading. Even if I were not horrified by these propagating acts of violence, my professional interests would already be raised in light of Salman Rushdie’s invocation of a “medieval form of unreason” as a way to describe Islamic radicalism. As many others have noted, the labeling of something as “medieval” is a comforting fantasy of casting the present (and our own responsibilities to it) into the darkened past. See this piece for an excellent take on it.

Of course, this event has brought back “The Clash of Civilizations” (as if it ever left). As a perfect example, Senator Lindsay Graham has stated that “Our way of life doesn’t fit into their scheme of how the world should be. If you stopped talking about radical Islam, if you never did a cartoon again, that’s not enough. What people need to get is they can’t be accommodated. They can’t be negotiated with. They have to be eventually destroyed.” It’s them or us.

These stark terms and boundaries, boldly-colored in lines of a rather cartoonish portrait, obscure the interdependence of Christianity and Islam. Nirenbeg describes this interdependence as “coproduction,” that religions coproduce each other in a dense network of identification and dis-identification. Another phrase he uses here is “ambivalent neighborliness,” an array of responses to the neighbor “ranging from love and toleration to total extermination” (2).

Senator Graham and many others would do well to heed Nirenberg’s analyses concerning the interrelationships between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam:
My goal in them [the ensuing chapters] is simply to convince you that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have never been independent of each other: that is as neighbors, in close relation to one another, that they have constantly transformed themselves, reinterpreting both their scriptures and their histories. Their pasts are not discrete, independent, or stable, and neither are their presents or their futures. (12)

Total annihilation can never be good public policy, and most importantly, it’s a blood-tinged fantasy that ultimately seeks to forget how much our neighbors mean to us, even (and sadly, perhaps especially) when we kill them.

Friday, September 12, 2014

9/11, the Qur'an, and Sympathy to Diversity

Toward the end of last week, I sat down to look ahead at my teaching topics for this week, looked at the syllabus for my World Literature I course (antiquity to early modern), and realized that I had scheduled the Qur'an on 9/11. When I had made the schedule weeks before, I had taken my pre-made template and populated the empty slots with the reading trajectory that I imagined for the course, without regard for dates--more concerned with overall and weekly organization. At first, I was daunted by the prospect of teaching the Qur'an on the historic date that had practically introduced American culture to Islam through an international tragedy; eventually, I came around to hoping that it would be a good opportunity.

The Qur'an,
Walters Art Museum, MS 567, fol. 1b
(1230 AH / 1814-15 CE, Iran),
Courtesy of The Digital Walters.
As it turns out, the class went wonderfully--thanks to great students. They were engaged, interested, and some of them knowledgeable about the Qur'an and Islam from previous reading (on their own or in other classes). They identified the nuance of the Qur'an as a religious text, acknowledging the complicated nature both in comparison with and distinct from some of the other world religious texts we've read over the past few weeks (the Hebrew Bible, Christian gospels, Confucius' Analects). Discussion was lively. About halfway through the class, the elephant in the room finally reared up when students began to confront multiple interpretations of certain passages in the text itself, the historical spread of Islam, and themes of militant conversion in both the text and the history of Islam--and in the history of world religions more generally.

I took the opportunity to underscore one of my key goals in the class: to instill a sense of diversity and sympathy for world cultures and various representations of what it means to be human. I was honest: I told them that I had no idea about the date when I had put the Qur'an on the scheduled, but that I thought it was a good opportunity for rethinking and revising some of our assumptions and expectations on a day when those thoughts may be very present in our minds. I told them that we had to understand culture and literature through interpretation; that we had to understand cultures not as monolithic (there is no single "Islamic culture" just like there is no single "Christian culture"); that all of our readings and discussions lead us to consider diversity and sympathy. As I said all of this, I watched as they took in what I was saying--nodding, smiling, taking notes, agreeing. They chimed in, echoing some of my words, extending my ideas, and our discussion turned to reflections on how we live in a moment ripe with possibilities for cross-cultural, multi-faith, ecumenical conversations. It gave me hope, and one more reason to remember why I love teaching.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On Teaching Bisclavret

I originally wrote this for my personal blog, ParaSynchronies, but I've decided to cross-post it here as well.

Like many people I know, I've been reading article after article on the Isla Vista shootings last Friday. When I haven't been reading articles, I've been delving into the heartbreak and poignance of #YesAllWomen. I get like this (I'm certainly not alone). When an event like Isla Vista or Newtown happens, I always seem to have difficulty escaping the event horizon of such senseless tragedy. Well, I wish I could say it was always senseless. There is too much sense (I do not, in any way, mean reason). Rather, there is too much to be read, too many free-floating signifiers of hate and violence that demand to be interrogated, if not interpreted. It's in this state that I finally poked my head out to get back to work prepping Marie de France's "Bisclavret" to teach in a summer British Lit I Survey course.
This text has always struck me as a deeply troubling one. The first time I taught it, I selected this lai because of its werewolf.  I was teaching my first upper-level medieval lit class (in fact, the last such course of its kind I have taught), and I chose as my theme "The Monstrous Middle Ages." A short text about a werewolf seemed like an obvious and perfect choice. For those of you who aren't familiar with the tale, here is a brief summary:
A Lord seems to have a wonderful life --  status, nobility, and a lovely wife; however, he has a secret. For three days a week he disappears into the forest to become a werewolf. His wife, anxious about these frequent disappearances, confronts him and asksHim and him what is going on. She fears that he has a lover on the side (I would add that this is a fairly justifiable fear given the evidence she had) and so she needs to know. At first, he refuses to tell her but after much coaxing he relents. He also reveals, after initial resistance, where he hides his clothes. He runs about naked in the forest, subsisting on whatever prey he can find, but he needs his clothes to once again resume human form. The lady, aghast at this state of affairs, convinces a knight (one who has attempted to woo her) to steal her husband's clothes. In return, she marries the knight. The husband is then trapped in his wolfish form, and is eventually taken in by the King who recognizes the seeming nobility of the animal. The story comes to a climax when the lord sees his connubial usurper and attacks him. Next, the wolf sees his wife and, in a fit of rage, launches himself at her and swipes off her nose. At this point, it seems like the wolf is going to be punished for this, but one of the wise counselors of the King suggests that the animal has never acted so viciously before and so there must be a reason. Agreeing, the King has the lady tortured until she reveals everything. Ultimately, the lord is returned to his human form and his one-time wife, now disfigured, is exiled. As a sign of her crimes, future generations of the women in her line are born without noses.
Whenever I teach this text, there is always an excellent conversation about the tensions between the spaces of the forest and the court, between civilization and wildness. The early going consensus in class often seems to be that the werewolf is not the true monster of the text, but rather the lady exhibits more monstrosity in her actions. Now, part of the reason we reached such conclusions might be because of how I lead class discussion, choosing to focus on some questions, and not others, but I also think that Marie de France provokes her readers to both overlook certain key details and to be rattled by that act of overlooking. After we've talked for a while about the working of monstrosity in the text, I often pose the following question: "Is there any way we can discover a sympathetic reading of the Lady?" When I first posed this question, there was silence for a considerable duration. Finally, someone raised the point that there was very little evidence to merit the lady's being tortured. This conversation soon turned to the idea that torture was extreme regardless.
Then, the ball got rolling. We returned to the prologue, which tells of the savage nature of werewolves, and the seeming contrast to Bisclavret (except for that whole disfiguring thing). If this is what people knew about werewolves, why wouldn't the lady be a bit freaked out? Why wouldn't she take extreme measures to extricate herself from such a situation? And, why include a prologue that seems to be contradicted by the tale, allowing for it to be easily forgotten?  We discussed how, in her vulnerable position, she had few options. It no longer seemed that easy to pinpoint where monstrosity could be found in the text.
Last night, I posted to twitter that I was unsettled prepping this text in the wake of UCSB. Someone then asked me if I'm not always unsettled by "Bisclavret." I certainly am always bothered by it, but somehow I had missed a few details before that I couldn't ignore now. After being told how praised and how good and handsome the lord is, the lady confronts him about his curious, alarming behavior. What I hadn't thought too much about before was the lady's first words:
"My lord," she said, "my friend, my dear,
There's just one thing I might care
To ask, if only I might dare--
But I'm afraid that you'll get angry,
And, more than anything, that scares me" (From Judith Shoaf's translation)
Sure, his later anger may seem justified, but does that justify such savage bodily violence? And, what do we do with the statement that the lady fears, "more than anything," that her husband will get angry. On one hand he is great and noble and praiseworthy, but we must not forget the threat of his anger. She was right to fear not only the anger of men, but also how others would normalize and justify the action taken from such masculine anger.  Surely the wolf would only show anger if there was just cause, even though the court had no data for this, and so the lady must automatically be at fault. The torture is retroactively justified because of her guilt, but it is clear that this justification was already accepted before her confession.
After writing out this blog post, I realized that I really have nothing new to add at this moment to the critical discussion of either a.) teaching Marie de France's "Bisclavret or b.) the toxic sludge of misogyny that the UCSB shooter seems to have waded in.  I am just struck by how the nice guy so suddenly turns violent, and how his virtue is taken at face value.  Yes, this is an imperfect analogy between this text and the state of affairs today, but I find it necessary to note that it seems all too easy to find contemporary resonance in a text which can be read to interrogate 12th-century notions of masculinity, violence, and patriarchal culture. And, I'm not saying that last Friday's act of violence should be described as medieval. I'm saying that "Bisclavret" is all too modern.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Modern Medieval at Kalamazoo 2014

And so it comes around again, Spring, when medievalists long to go ... to Kalamazoo. The blog has been a bit quiet of late, but as you can see from the run-down below, we've all been very busy! We're organizing, presiding, and presenting like crazy over here!


Matthew Gabriele

The Exegetical Turn: Exegesis as a Paradigm for New Understandings of the Middle Ages
Thursday 3:30 p.m. Schneider 1320
Sponsor: Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Virginia Tech


Organizer: Matthew Gabriele, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ.
Presider: David M. Perry, Dominican Univ.
Kissing Christ: Judas’s Mouth as Biblical Exegesis
Rabia Gregory, Univ. of Missouri–Columbia
The Exegetical Diplomas of King Philip I of Francia (1060–1108)
Matthew Gabriele
Read! Think! Engage! How Luther’s Exegesis of Genesis Exhorted People out of the Cloister and into Family and Society
Jennifer Hockenbery, Mount Mary Univ.

Writing the Middle Ages for Multiple Audiences (A Panel Discussion)
Friday 3:30 p.m. Fetzer 1045
Sponsor: CARA (Committee on Centers and Regional Associations, Medieval Academy of America)
Organizer: Michael A. Ryan, Univ. of New Mexico
Presider: James M. Murray, Western Michigan Univ.
A panel discussion with David M. Perry, Dominican Univ.; Ellen F. Arnold, Ohio Wesleyan Univ.; Matthew Gabriele, Virginia Tech; and Laura Saetveit Miles, Univ. i Bergen.

 Rick Godden
Disability Studies and the Digital Humanities (A Roundtable)
Friday 3:30 p.m. Schneider 1155
Sponsor: Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages
Organizer: Joshua R. Eyler, Rice Univ.

Presider: Tory Vandeventer Pearman, Miami Univ. Hamilton
A roundtable discussion with John P. Sexton, Bridgewater State Univ.; Cameron Hunt McNabb, Southeastern Univ.; Jonathan Hsy, George Washington Univ.; and Richard H. Godden, Tulane Univ.

#;()@?”:—*! (A Roundtable)
Saturday 1:30 p.m. Fetzer 1005
Sponsor: BABEL Working Group

Organizer: Eileen A. Joy, BABEL Working Group
Presider: Richard H. Godden, Tulane Univ.
Seeing Spaces
Chris Piuma, Univ. of Toronto
The Divorce of Punctuation and Diacritics
Meg Worley, Colgate Univ.
, (A Breath)
Joshua R. Eyler, Rice Univ.
D’oh: A Brief History of Misusing the Apostrophe and Why Its So Annoying
David Hadbawnik, Univ. at Buffalo
: Interrobanging Chaucer
Corey Sparks, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
*

Robert Rouse, Univ. of British Columbia
&
Jonathan Hsy, George Washington Univ.

Medieval Literary Ethics
Sunday 8:30 a.m. Schneider 1350
Organizer: Emily Houlik-Ritchey, Univ. of California–Santa Barbara
Presider: Emily Houlik-Ritchey
“Doctrine by ensample”: Literature’s Ethical Problem and Spenser’s Aesthetic Solution
Maria Devlin, Harvard Univ.
By Writing Amended: The Ethics of Interpretation in Hoccleve’s Series
A. Arwen Taylor, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
The Virtues and the Will in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls
Sarah Powrie, St. Thomas More College
Prosthetic Neighbors: Enabling Community in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle
Richard H. Godden, Tulane Univ.


Brandon Hawk
New Methods in Anglo-Saxon Homiletics
Thursday 10:00 a.m. Schneider 1325
Sponsor: Society for the Study of Anglo-Saxon Homiletics (SSASH)
Organizer: Brandon W. Hawk, Univ. of Connecticut

Presider: Stephen Harris, Univ. of Massachusetts–Amherst
“It maie be Alfricus for al my conninge”: Authorizing Ælfric in the Long Seventeenth Century
R. Scott Bevill, Univ. of Tennessee–Knoxville
Ut quidam perverse opinantur: Bede’s Criticism of Unnamed Sources
Damian Fleming, Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ.–Fort Wayne
People of the Bread and the Book: Ecclesiology and the Eucharist in Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies
Rae Grabowski, Cornell Univ.

Universal Saints Located in Anglo-Saxon England
Thursday 7:30 p.m. Bernhard 204
Organizer: Kevin R. Kritsch, Univ. of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
Presider: Bryan Carella, Assumption College
An Old Testament Saint? Judith in Anglo-Saxon England
Brandon W. Hawk, Univ. of Connecticut
How to Read a Saint: Agatha and Interpretation
Ann D’Orazio, Univ. of New Mexico
Univ. of New Mexico Graduate Student Prize Winner
Using Swedish Fragments to Shed Light on the Anglo-Saxon Marian Conception Feast
Sean Dunnahoe, Royal Holloway, Univ. of London
How Was Bartholomew Killed? Apocryphal Traditions of Saint Bartholomew in Anglo-Saxon England
            Kevin R. Kritsch

Medievalists and the Social Media Pilgrimage: The Digital Life of Twenty-First- Century Medieval Studies (A Roundtable)
Sunday 8:30 a.m. Schneider 1280
Sponsor: Massachusetts State Universities Medieval Blog
Organizer: Kisha G. Tracy, Fitchburg State Univ.

Presider: Kisha G. Tracy
A roundtable discussion with John P. Sexton, Bridgewater State Univ.; Peter Konieczny, Medievalists.net; Brandon W. Hawk, Univ. of Connecticut; Andrew M. Pfrenger, Kent State Univ.–Salem; Joshua R. Eyler, Rice Univ.; and M. Wendy Hennequin, Tennessee State Univ.

Jennifer Jordan 
Irrationality as a Fruitful Methodology (A Roundtable)
Sunday 8:30 a.m. Schneider 1220
Sponsor: Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe
Organizer: Deanna Forsman, North Hennepin Community College

Presider: William Schipper, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland
A roundtable discussion with Deanna Forsman; Jennifer Jordan, Stony Brook Univ.; Richard Scott Nokes, Troy Univ.; Larry Swain, Bemidji State Univ.; and Silas Mallery, North Hennepin Community College.

Larry Swain
Of the Same Bone and Blood: Anglo-Saxon and Other Germanic Literature in Comparative Perspective
Saturday 3:30 p.m. Schneider 1155
Organizer: Larry Swain, Bemidji State Univ.
Presider: Larry Swain
It’s All in Your Mind: The Power of Intellect, Psychology, and Choice in the Vatican Genesis and Genesis B
Mary Breann Leake, Univ. of Connecticut
An Examination of Queens and King Slaying in Germanic Society
Sarah Barott, Bemidji State Univ.
A Moment Left Unwritten: Problematizing “Caedmon’s Hymn” and Moving Towards a Better Understanding of Early English Christianity through the Lens of Continental (and North) Germanic Literature
David Carlton, Univ. of Victoria

Community in Anglo-Saxon England: A Multidisciplinary Approach
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Fetzer 2030
Organizer: Deanna Forsman, North Hennepin Community College
Presider: Deanna Forsman
Community Matters: Burial Practices and Religious Identity in Conversion-Era England
Mark Alan Singer, Luther College
Re-membering Community: Mortuary Ritual as Social Strategy in Early Anglo- Saxon England
Heather Flowers, Minnesota State Univ.–Mankato
Bede’s Multiple Textual Communities in Anglo-Saxon England
Larry Swain, Bemidji State Univ.