Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nobody likes Veronese any more

Or so it seems. Modern critics often find his bright colors and flat processional paintings trivial. Compared to Titian and Tintoretto, for example, Veronese has been accused of being “unconcerned with the intellectual challenges of meaning” (Rosand 145). I would be pissed off if someone said that about me!  Anyway, in looking back at what I have, I can see about 1200 words in which I basically argue that the animals in the painting  are a vehicle for expressing a growing sense of national differentiation, a sense in which hopes and anxieties about nation and gender coincide.

 I like what I've got but I'm hampered by my sources because, of course, some of my best items are in English.  Since my argument is basically that the painting speaks to some of the most deeply held beliefs of early modern European culture as a whole,  I don't mind crossing national boundaries, and there is, thankfully, Castiglione, but otherwise, the Italian archives are not well-represented in the digital world.  This will be fun and challenging. I'll give myself till Tuesday to put together a case, but then I may have to abandon it for a while to return to bigger things.

Rosand, David. Painting in cinquecento Venice : Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Art history interlude

Glad to finish with those two items.  Before I get started on my upcoming paper for the Early Modern Center's conference "Before Environmentalism" I thought I would see what I could do this weekend to work up a little foray into art history on Veronese's "Family of Darius before Alexander" (at the National Gallery).  I have a short essay on it that once served as a long hook for a journal article... until the editors told me to lose it (it didn't fit the topic and it made the article too long).  Here's the picture I'm talking about. I also have to figure out what journal would take a piece of cultural studies centered on art history!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And now for editing

OK, I've finished a rough cut of the paper for Appositions here and would be VERY glad if anyone would like to take a look at it.

I'd like to know, among other things, whether I can let the implied antecent alone in the first sentence.

In other news, I recently discovered a cache of wool socks, lost for several years. I forgot how nice they are. I think whoever discovered wool socks, pale ale, and French bread should be rewarded in some small way before the end of the world.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

heigh ho

1200 words. This is faintly depressing when you consider that Isaac Asimov wrote 2000 words a day every day in his life.   Tomorrow the patient will come to the crisis, and I'll find out whether I have a good argument or just an argument.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apples and oranges

Writing all day. I only produced about a thousand words, but that should mean I can finish by the end of the week.

I always find the experience of writing in cultural studies hugely labor intensive. Here I am, trying to use a sermon (1609), a letter from the Venetian ambassador (1610), an advertising jingle (1612), and a poem (1606) all in the same paragraph (or two). It feels like trying to make a toy house out of mismatching Lego pieces. If only I could just stick to poetic analysis like the old days :)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Buttock lines

I'm under the gun now for the piece for Appositions, hoping to get a lot more done tomorrow. In the mean time, I can procrastinate by thinking about language.

You know, a lot of fun can be had by taking quotations out of context, particularly from the magazines we seem to have lying around the house.  For example, in one I can read about "relatively firm bilges and easy sweep to the buttock lines back aft" or "She is certain but stately in stays" (both from Boat Design Quarterly). And I recently encountered "DID YOU USE ANY FROZEN SEMEN IN 2008?" (from the Journal of the American Morgan Horse Association).  Finally, there's a great line in an upcoming essay by my colleague Nels Christensen that goes like this: "It's at times like these that I'm reminded of just how many of my most
remarkable outdoor experiences occurred with my pants around my ankles."  Mine too, except for the poison ivy Michele and I encountered as teenagers over in Pennypack Park.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why online databases are like pregnancy tests

So here's the thing. We don't really expect fallibility from computerized systems, and for scholars such systems increasingly mean online databases. I've grown to trust the MLA database, Google Scholar, the OED, etc. How else can we know what has been written and where we can join a scholarly conversation? But these databases are only as good as the data that is put into them, mostly by imperfect humans. That means that they tend to err in omission rather than in commission. If something appears in a database, it definitely exists. But if it doesn't appear in a database, it may still exist. This is a lot like pregnancy tests that have false negatives but never a false positive. I can use my own work as an example. My dissertation (UVa 1995) appears in the MLA database because it was indexed by Dissertation Abstracts International (DAI). It also appears in the UVa library catalog where the only paper copy (other than my own) resides. But it does NOT appear in a WorldCat Dissertation search, nor does it appear in a Google Scholar search (possibly because Google Scholar relies on WorldCat). Why? Who knows? Conversely, my very first published article, on early modern stigmatics and politics (Viator 2000) turns up in a Google Scholar search (use "MacInnes" and "Nun of Portugal") but only in a French database. It's not recorded in the MLA database even though the MLA does index Viator. For some reason, only one article from the whole 2000 edition made it into the database. Is this because some of the articles are not deemed to be literary? Who knows. What all this means is that it's really difficult to determine what has not been said on a given topic. One can try a variety of searches, but even if each one returns a negative result, it doesn't mean the information does not exist. Perhaps, given the amount of information that is now being put online, the newest kind of research will operate on the basis of finding and using "hidden" sources, the things that fell through the cracks in the digital world. They will be really hard to find!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

writing, writing

I spent the afternoon writing, allayed with reading about the 30 years war and attempts to learn how to play scales with both hands on the piano. I'm regretting not having typed in notes from a conference presentation I heard several years ago because now I need them and don't remember where I put the paper notes.  I always think I'll have the time to put in notes after a conference, but then I always get caught in the swirl of teaching, and somehow it never gets done. Aarg.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural speeches

I think this will be a good one to add to my list of useful speeches to cover in writing classes. I heard some pundit call it "flat," but that's got to be part of the nature of the appeal. He had to offer hope but in a down-to-earth way; people would have distrusted a more flowery rhetoric. I finally turned in Joe's entry to the animation festival. It's a lego stop action documentary. A little odd.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lotteries and public relations

As evidence of the huge public relations quality of the Virginia settlement, here's a broadsheet advertising a lottery to raise money for the venture.

The text reads, in part,
Who knows not England once was like
a Wildernesse and savage place,
till government and use of men,
that wildnesse did deface:
And so Virginia may in time,
be made like England now;
Where long-loud peace and plenty both,
sits smiling on her brow.
“Government” and “use of men” are the tools of civility. It's clear that the concept of transformation (rather than simply greed) was a part of the discourse from a very early stage.

Virginia Company. “Londons Lotterie:With an incouragement to the furtherance thereof, for the good of Virginia, and the benefite of this our natiue Countrie; wishing good fortune to all that venture in the same..” 1612.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A promising vacuum

It's nice to find out that articles you thought might have scooped you are really not all that pertinent.  Lisa Hopkins has a piece on The Winter's Tale that talks a lot about Prince Henry, but most of what she says is recycled from Roy Strong's history, and there's nothing at all the kind of counsel PH was receiving.   Work continues on the review.  I also had the privilege of reading a draft of Cathie Grimm's new essay on Bettine von Arnim (abstract here).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Upcoming posts

I'll be out of town for the next few days and out of reach of the Internet most of the time. I'll keep writing (and reading Cathie's essay!), but the posts will be intermittent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

heroic minds

I spent far too much time today helping my son Joe with his submission to the Kalamazoo Animation Festival (animation takes forever), but I did get to think about some words in Daniel's epistle.  First of all, the last line in the manuscript (which I didn't have till Sunday) is a sarcastic echo of Drayton's sycophantic poem "Ode to the Viriginia Voyage" in which he calls explorers "great heroic minds." Daniel also coins the word "transpass" meaning "cross a boundary" (far antedating any OED mention). Given his attitudes toward exploration and his explicit references to Eden and the fall, I'm pretty sure he invented the word to echo "trespass."  There are some interesting things going on with enjambment too. All in all, I'm happy that the poem is standing up to closer scrutiny.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tethys gives advice

In the same year that Daniel wrote his little verse epistle, he was requested to write a masque for the queen on the occasion of the Prince's investiture as a knight of the Bath.  The result, Tethys' Festival was not a success, and hardly anyone pays much attention to it, but there is a passage in which he gives pretty much the same advice (if less elegantly) to the Prince.  Tethys gives the prince a scarf that she says shows,
"Let him not passe the circle of that field,
But thinke Alcides pillars are the knot
For there will be within the large extent
Of these my waves, and watry Government
More treasure, and more certaine riches got
Then all the Indies to Iberus brought,
For Nereus will by industry unfold
A Chimicke secret, and turn fish to gold."  (F1)
The whole fishing thing sounds a lot less impressive as an alternative to imperialism but the sentiments are the same.

Daniel, Samuel. The order and solemnitie of the creation of the High and mightie Prince Henrie. London, 1610.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gotta love those Venetian Ambassadors

They kept detailed records on what was going on at the English court, and they were (naturally) concerned with the character of the heir to the throne.  I spent part of the day in the Michigan State University library, trying to get a better sense of the atmosphere at court in 1609/10, of Daniel's relationship with the Prince and of the major issues. I got a facsimile of the manuscript.  It's part of a small collection that includes two other short pieces from slightly later (after the death of Henry). The first editor of the collection, John Pitcher, thinks that they were intended to work together to suggest Daniel's disillusionment with the Jacobean court after Henry's death (vii). He reads the first epistle as heroic, but I think it already shows a kind of disaffection with the aggressive imperialism that was so popular at the time. I also got a line on a couple of other sources, including a prose text by Cotton that may well be a contemporaneous response to the same issues that Daniel is responding to (though published much later). Time will tell. 

Cotton, Robert. An answer made by command of Prince Henry to certain propositions of warre and peace delivered to His Highnesse by some of his military servants. London : Printed by Roger Daniel ..., MDCLV [1655], 1655.. 

Pitcher, John. Samuel Daniel: The Brotherton Manuscript: A Study in Authorship. Leeds: U of Leeds, 1981. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Zotero is like magic

Have I sung the praises of Zotero yet? I'm seriously getting into it. It's like Endnote but designed by people who actually do research. And it's free. Zotero is a Firefox add-on, so there's no need to run a separate program to collect sources, and it can add sources from libraries and databases while you're looking at them, not via some arcane (and usually buggy) filter format.  And it can attach files and store snapshots of data with one click. Best of all, I've begun using the "sync" version of Zotero (in beta), which stores a copy of one's library on a server.  This means that I can get access to (and add to) my research from any computer that runs Firefox.  It has already saved me hours of work. How ironic that after all those years of crusading for Endnote at Albion, the college now springs for the program just when I move on.   Oh yes, and Zotero will import data from an old Endnote library too.  So I've just quietly moved house.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Animal fodder and literature

The Early Modern Center at UCSB has accepted my proposed paper (abstract below) for their upcoming conference on early modern environmentalism. Before you exclaim on the eclectic nature of my research, I should say that this is actually an offshoot of my earlier work on animal bodies and national identity. It's kind of a leftover, in a way, although I haven't fleshed out this particular angle. So, more work to do.

Showing the mettle of your pasture:
Animal fodder as national identity in early modern England

Robert Trow-Smith’s classic history of British livestock (1957) argues that demand for meat and dairy products in growing urban regions fueled a revolution in early modern English livestock husbandry.   Other historians such as Peter Edwards have since shown that the number of animals used for transport (horses and oxen) also increased dramatically in the period.  All of these creatures had to eat, and their growing appetite resulted in increasing concern over the productivity of English pastureland and the quality of its hay, oats, and other green stuff. Much depended on these, and much more was thought to depend.  The quality of English plant life became a fundamental part of the national imagination. Drawing on works ranging from traditional natural history and agronomy to commonplace books and mathematical texts, I argue that English pastures and the plants growing in them became metonymic vehicles for the expression of concerns about the English people as a whole. This metonymy, I show, underpins many of the references to national climate and character in literary works like Shakespeare's Henry V, which begins with the youth of England selling their pastures to pay their way to war. In France they are exhorted to show the value of their English pasture, and the French first mock and then are astounded that English “barley-broth” should produce such success. Throughout the play the value of England as the ground for English valiance is both questioned and insisted upon, an uncertainty that reflects back to deeper seated ecological concerns. 
Here's an aerial phot of a water meadow (the remains, anyway), one of the early 17th century innovations in pasture technology.  Basically it's a fancy way of irrigating fields so that they can double the amount of hay produced.  Nobody does this anymore because it's incredibly labor intensive.

“Chesterblade catchwork water meadow (RAF CPE/UK/1944 2248) : English Heritage : English Heritage.” 9 Jan 2009 <>.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can a novel from 1919 be picaresque?

Sadly, I had to spend most of the day writing recommendations for colleagues (4 are up for interim or promotion in the department this year). Lots of reading.

On the bright side, I've been reading James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, an odd little novel from 1919 that is apparently hailed as a early work of fantasy fiction. It's definitely picaresque, a little sinister, and sometimes obscene. It seems to me that most modern fantasy, by contrast, has been ruined by Tolkien's ponderous and humorless epic. These days fantasy seems to rely on huge elaborate depictions of alternate (but always medieval) worlds, and the bizarreness of folk-narrative and "fairy tale" has faded from view. Here's a fragment. A ghost king is referring to the ghost of his ninth wife, Sylvia:
"And I regret, I bitterly regret, to confess that, in a moment of extreme yet not quite unprovoked excitement, I assassinated the lady whom you now behold."
"And I am sure, through no fault of mine," says Sylvia Tereu.
"Certainly, my dear, you resisted with all your might. I only wish that you had been a larger and brawnier woman."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The effeminacy of Asia

Spent the morning investigating Daniel's anxiety that the New World would prove to England as "Asia to Rome."  Daniel actually fairly early in announcing such an idea, although I've encountered a few proverbial indications as in Nicholas Ling's Wit's Commonwealth, where he says "Excesse came from Asia to Rome, ambition came from Rome to all the world" (263).  Otherwise, the association of dangerous luxury with Asia has an interesting linguistic history, as this little graph I put together from a survey of Early English Books Online will show:

The gap is worth thinking about.  My tentative theory is that as the Civil War approached, England's anxieties were more focused on internal affairs than with fears about empire, but that these fears emerged and accelerated after the death of Charles I.  Overall, the information here confirms my suspicion that Daniel's epistle is one of the first English works to express what will be a growing concern of imperialism.  If I wanted to include drama, I could certainly use Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, though...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Abstract accepted!

They liked my abstract on Daniel. Now I have to write it up! I'm actually looking forward to this little piece, though.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What a brave new year that has such people in it!

Road race in K'zoo this afternoon. Otherwise, I spent some time reading, working on Latin vocabulary, and taming my Zotero library. It's definitely better than Endnote for most purposes. A new issue of Shakespeare Quarterly is out. Very exciting.