Dramatis Personae

Many-Headed Multitude
[+/-] academic blogs
[+/-] other blogs we like

Our Ongoing Series

In Sad Conference
... live reports from the field
[+/-] RSA 2008
[+/-] SAA 2008
[+/-] MLA 2007
[+/-] SAA 2007
[+/-] RSA 2007
[+/-] MLA 2006
[+/-] SAA 2006
[+/-] RSA 2006

Read On This Book
... our occasional reading group
About the reading group
[+/-] Inkhorn reads the Anatomy [+/-] FS Boas, University Drama [+/-] D. Shuger, Political Theologies

The Motto Thus
... our silly woodcut caption contest
[+/-] Past Contests

More Foolery Yet
... which we write periodically
[+/-] Holzknecht Redivivus
[+/-] EEBOnics
[+/-] Notes and Queries

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Words, words, words

Ok, now that I have fully recovered from last night's over-eating and over-drinking, I will see if I can remember what I planned to blog about yesterday. I don't know if it's something about the layout of the Hyatt, which is completely bizarre and confusing, or if there are more people attending this year, but the lobby of the main English hotel seems even more insane than usual. While there seem to be an extra thousand people milling around, though, what hasn't changed is what they are doing: glancing at each others' nametags while hurriedly trying to find the room for their session or interview; desperately trying to find somewhere to sit down for a few seconds; standing in twenty-minute lines for a muffin or cup of coffee; and wandering dazedly around a large body of indoor water with a fountain.

In the elevator of my hotel, a family of civilians looked shell-shocked, as Travelocity had clearly neglected to tell them the most important amenity of the hotel: the constant hassle of negotiating life with several thousand academics. The paterfamilias said to me, "They've got you working on New Year's Weekend, huh?" "Yeah," I reply knowingly, as though I had a clue who that "They" were (the Man, I guess). "What's the conference for?" he said (translation: who are you freaks?) and when I told him, he said: "We always try to teach our girls to talk good." Get it?

The title of this post alludes to the session I saw yesterday, a really interesting set of papers on "150 Years of the Oxford English Dictionary." For those of you finding this site via a Google search for "oxford english dictionary," yes, you read that right. The session, arranged by the Discussion Group of Lexicography, was actually kind of enthralling. The first talk was about entries for which the first or only citation is to George Eliot, and the conclusion was that Eliot got to make up a lot of new words because she was a famous philosophical author, while other words were excluded because they appeared only in journalistic or other less classy contexts, even though many of Eliot's words are a bit crazy and violate certain principles used to exclude other words. Examples of amusing Eliotic word formations:

rare. The quality of being approximative.
1879 GEO. ELIOT Theo. Such xvii. 301 A slovenly approximativeness and self-defeating inaccuracy.

That may be invited; fit to be invited.
1879 GEO. ELIOT Theo. Such ix. 165 Without being proportionately amusing and invitable.

poet. rare. That has been shut out.
1868 GEO. ELIOT Spanish Gypsy IV. 297 Chanting, in wild notes Recurrent like the moan of outshut winds.

1857 GEO. ELIOT Scenes Clerical Life, Amos Barton v, An unfecundated egg, which the waves of time wash away into nonentity.

1854 GEO. ELIOT tr. Feuerbach's Essence Christianity 310 The unhypocritical, honest acknowledgment of sensual life is the acknowledgment of sensual pleasure.

Scrabblers take note.

There was another interesting talk about how dictionaries handle reappropriated derogatory terms, and the third was an ethnographic report on how users of Livejournal talk about the OED (not surprisingly, we learned that they mainly use the dictionary to look up definitions).

Later, I tried to attend the session, "Why Teach Literature Anyway?", but there were 300 other people packed into a room that seated about 20, and so I was only able to hear the first paper, by David Bromwich, which consisted of two lovely close readings of moments in "Rape of the Lock" and Macbeth followed by the claim that teaching literature enables us to move from ignorance (about life, about books) to knowledge through a kind of Socratic conversation, at least occasionally, if we're paying attention, and reading things two or three times. Which is true, I think, maybe, but it helps if you're sitting in a nice, ten-person seminar at Yale. After that talk, I began to melt into a tiny puddle of suffocation as the room filled with carbon dioxide from the hordes of people who, it turns out, wouldn't mind if someone told them why they're doing what they do for a living. Or at least, why they're teaching.

That was all followed by the aforementioned eating and drinking. More about today, perhaps, tomorrow. I seem to be living my MLA analeptically.

(P.S. Analepsis appears in Wikipedia, but not in the OED.)

Sleep. No blog.

Had a bit too much to drink at dinner tonight.

I had so much to tell you, but it will all have to wait until tomorrow.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Consider the Neats' Tongues

Instead of going to the MLA this year, I appear to have gone directly to the Renaissance – culinarily, at least. I’m in a place (and time) where the eating is right out of Eastcheap. Yes, I’m talking about “puddings,” and about strange meats, and then more strange meats, and more puddings, and generally the richest, heaviest, sauciest food you could possibly imagine. All of which is currently weighing on me in various ways, and has led me to spend some time – with my currently fast ticket for the infotainment superhighway – contemplating Renaissance eating, and specifically the menu offered us by the Mario Batali of the seventeenth century, Charles I’s former chef, Joseph Cooper.

Perhaps we can all while away a few moments while our conference bloggers blog the conferences, by considering a few items culled from Mr. Cooper’s cookbook, handily titled:

The art of cookery refin'd and augmented containing an abstract of some rare and rich unpublished receipts of cookery collected from the practise of that incomparable master of these arts, Mr. Jos. Cooper, chiefe cook to the late king ; with severall other practises by the author ; with an addition of preserves, conserves, &c., offering an infallible delight to all judicious readers (London, 1654)

Indeed. An “infallible delight” randomly chosen by this judicious reader proposes something called “Olave pie,” regarding which Mr. Cooper suggests that we:

Slice the flesh of a leg of Veal into thin slices the breadth of foure fingers, and hack them with the back of a cleaver; then take sixe ounces of Beefe-suet minced small, then take Thyme, Sweet-marjerome, Winter-savory and Capers: mince them small and season it with Mace, Cloves, Nutmeg, Cynamon, Pepper and Salt; then take a quart of great Oysters, drein them from the liquor and roul them in the ingredients, and take the slices of Veal and roule them up with the ingredients in them, with two Oysters in either of the Olaves; then lay them into the Pie with good store of Butter over and under; but before you butter the top, lay in·five or six hard yolks of Eggs, some bits of Bacon and Sausage made up into balls, with sliced Lemmon: the rest of the Oysters and Ingredients on the top of the Pie; then lid it and let it bake; and when the Pie is halfe baked, put in a quarter of a pinte of Claret wine and let it bake; then make a Lear or Sauce for it with Claret wine· one Onion or two, the liquor of Oysters, 2 Anchoves, letting it boyl a little: take out the Onions, and beat it up with the juice of a Lemmon and Butter; when it is baked put in this Leare; shake it well together and serve it up hot to the Table.

I find that amazing -- amazing enough, in fact, to quote to you in its entirety. Veal, beef-suet, oysters, bacon, sausage, and anchovies: six great tastes that ... taste great together?

Another page, telling us “How to make an Oxe Palate pie,” begins:

Boyle the Palates tender, and blanch them as you doe Neates tongues,

-- naturally – and then continues:
lay them in their owne liquor without Salt; then take them out and cut them in pieces, and put to them Sweet breads of Veale or Lamb, squab Pigeons full of Marrow, Lambs stones, Cocks combs and stones, Pine-kernels, Chesnuts, Oysters and some small Capers, with a good quantity of Marrow, with balls of farced meat minced very small ...

Nicely done, Mr. Cooper. Who doesn't like balls of farced meat minced very small? Not to mention the delightful combination of ox palates, sweetbreads, squab, and -- "stones"? Dare I ask...? Oh -- and of course some oysters and some marrow. Just to thicken it up a little, give it some heft.

But Mr. Cooper isn't going to leave it at that: oh no. After a little seasoning, we find ourselves baking the pie in butter and making a sauce for it,

with halfe a pinte of Gravie of Mutton, or more, the yolks of four raw Eggs, some White wine, one or two Anchoves, a little Grape, Verjuice, or juice of Lemmon.

For a moment, I was terrified he was going to leave out the anchovies.

Mr. Cooper’s pancakes aren’t much lighter: that recipe begins, “Take twenty Eggs.” And it culminates with this fine observation:

If you are loose in the body you may make a Pancake of nothing but Eggs and Cynamon, and Salt beat well together; you may put in some Anniseeds (if you please) it will expel wind, and take away the raw taste of the Egs, or strow Carraway-comfits on it, being baked.

Could anyone could eat this stuff and not feel a little “loose in the body”?

Snowy Day at MLA

This was one of my favorite books as a child, but today is not a snowy day to remember fondly through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood nostalgia. In fact, I'm currently sitting in my hotel room afraid to go outside--and not for the usual MLA reason, the desire to avoid the hordes of anxious, wild-eyed interviewees who can make your stomach tie itself in knots as you remember the single most embarrassing interviewing experience you have ever had ... What? That isn't the first thing that pops into your head at MLA? Maybe that's just me, then.

It's about 1,356 degrees below zero right now and snowing hard, up to 6 inches before we're through, and I have no boots and I am seriously considering ordering myself a $16 bacon and eggs platter and watching TV all day. But I won't. I will be a good soldier and trudge over to the main conference hotel and even possibly attend a session or two. Why? Because of my devotion to learning and scholarship, my eagerness to discover new areas of important research in my field? No.

It's all because of my devotion to you, our conference blogging readers. You see what I will put myself through for you? I am willing to trudge through mountains of "lake-effect snow" and face the bitter Chicago winds just to find material to blog about, so you can sit in your warm home and enjoy. What I wouldn't do for you... There. Now it feels like childhood.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Libraries, Beautiful Libraries

With pictures, lots of pictures.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


As befits a bleak early December, I’ve been digging through the archives examining early modern burial records. Here are some endings to seventeenth-century lives.

George Soveraigne, an owld man, a bagpipe player of no certayne dwellinge, dyed at Ware End and was buried the viijth of Maye

One whose name wee knowe nott beinge founde dead in the feilds was buryed the xxith daye of Maye. 1615

Henrye Shambrooke, an able yonge man of the Heath, by the prick of a thorne festering died

George Soveraigne and co. have got me thinking about endings, more generally. Last words. Not necessarily of the morbid kind: it’s the last week of term, and classes are finishing. My final Shakespeare is on Thursday: I’ve just been doing Taming of the Shrew with a class in which five of the 12 students are, coincidentally, called Kate. There is also a Kerry and a Kayleigh. But no Tranio.

One of the endings I’ve been wrestling with is pedagogic: I realised, suddenly, a few weeks ago, that I don’t know how to finish a class. What do you do? ‘You’ve been wonderful – thank you and goodnight’? Pull all the meandering discussion into a taut little pellet of provocation? Set up next week? Walk from the room, wordlessly, dropping sheaves of notes, page by page, to the floor? Lectures are fine: (semi) scripted, so you can build in a little crescendo. Not that I want my undergrads to leave the classroom punching the air with delight. But at present my seminars just dribble out, like jokes without a punchline. Like Gordon Brown. Like England.

So this is my question to you: how do you finish a class? What do you do? Or, if you’re on the receiving end of this pedagogic aposiopesis (look it up), what floats your boat?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Was Milton a Mormon?

Seriously, I'm starting to wonder... In the wake of Mitt Romney's speech on faith today in Texas, I trolled around a bit in the sub-basements of the blogosphere and internets, where you can find some serious hostility to Mormonism (or LDS, as they like to be called now). Not from the "religion of secularism" as Romney terms it, of course, but from Protestants, largely from evangelicals. What fascinates me is how certain debates never go away in Christianity. For instance, this from a site called Probe Ministries:
According to the Mormon view, Jesus is not unique from the rest of mankind. He is simply the firstborn spirit child. ... Mormon doctrine deviates significantly from the Bible, which teaches that Jesus is eternal and not procreated. Although Mormons teach that Jesus is eternal, what they mean is that He existed as a spirit child prior to His incarnation. Being an offspring of Elohim means He was created at some point in time.
Those of you up on your classic Christian heresies--and I know our readers are--will recognize this as an oldie but goodie, the first major doctrinal heresy: Arianism. Most scholars have traditionally seen Milton as an Arian based on some of his statements in Christian Doctrine and Paradise Lost (e.g., "Thee next they sang of all Creation first, / Begotten Son" from Book 3).

Then there's this from the same anti-Mormon site; I have no idea if it's true but it's kind of amazing:
Mormonism teaches that Jesus and Lucifer were involved in planning mankind's eternal destiny. In order to attain godhood like our heavenly parents, the spirit children needed to leave the presence of their heavenly Father, inhabit a physical body, and live a worthy life. Elohim knew that mankind would sin and thus require a savior to pay for sin and show us how to return to our heavenly father. At the heavenly council, Jesus and Lucifer proposed their plans. Lucifer offered to go to earth and be the savior but he wanted to force everyone to be saved and do everything himself. Jesus desired to give man the freedom of choice. The Father chose Jesus' plan. Angered by the decision, Lucifer persuaded one third of the spirit children to rebel and a war in heaven took place between Satan's forces and Jesus and His followers.
What a take on the war in Heaven! Consider it alongside Milton's view that Satan's rebellion begins because he is "fraught / With envie against the Son of God, that day / Honourd by his great Father, and proclaimd / Messiah King anointed..." (Book 5), and his depiction of the Father's query to the assembled angels in Book 3:
"Which of ye will be mortal, to redeem
Man's mortal crime, and just, the unjust to save?
Dwells in all Heaven charity so dear?"
He asked, but all the Heavenly Quire stood mute,
And silence was in Heaven.
For Milton too, there's a moment of choice in Heaven, and the possibility that someone other than the Son might have taken up the duty of becoming mortal to save mankind. And for Milton too, I think, this possibility is left open precisely so as to emphasize the free choice, not simply of human beings, but of the Son himself ("Such I created all the Ethereal Powers / And Spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; / Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell"). The intriguing bit about Lucifer and Jesus proposing alternative plans aside, this leads to another of the attacks on Mormonism from the evangelical Protestant community (at least as I read it): "Lucifer offered to go to earth and be the savior but he wanted to force everyone to be saved and do everything himself. Jesus desired to give man the freedom of choice."

Thus another site, "What is Mormonism?", decries this LDS belief:
The Jesus of the Bible taught that salvation is a free gift anyone can receive by accepting Him as your personal Savior, not by works (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:6 & 11:6; Philippians 3:9). The LDS Jesus taught that your level of exaltation was based on faith plus works determined by men. Thus, the Jesus of the Bible and the LDS Jesus can't be the same Jesus, as they taught mutually exclusive doctrine.
(Mormonism here seems to be subsumed into a traditional bit of anti-popery.) As one person who I think is LDS himself puts it: "Mormons often get lumped in with Pelagius, although I do think there are some important differences between the Pelagian view of Grace and the LDS view of Grace."

So, we have Mormons accused of both Arianism and Pelagianism. Milton would have felt right at home. (Well, his cosmology may have differed just a tad, but that's another can of worms...) When you think about it, in at least this respect, Mormons seem to be as traditional as Christianity gets, since you can't claim a more traditional lineage than being lumped in with those two hoary old heresies.

But does anyone out there know if this story about the alternative plans proposed by Lucifer and Jesus is an accurate representation of Mormon beliefs? It's amazing. What I love is that Lucifer's plan seems to be demonic only in that he wants to force people to be saved, rather than giving them freedom to choose salvation or damnation. (This sort of sounds like one of Satan's temptations in Paradise Regained, actually, doesn't it?)

The problem for evangelicals is that the LDS-Lucifer's demonic belief that he can "do everything himself" and must force humans to be saved (presumably because they can't/won't do it themselves) is perilously close to the view of God's "irresistible grace" that dominates in the more radical version of Protestantism that most evangelicals espouse and that they trace back to the Synod of Dort, a nice early modern place to end.

Sometimes I feel like we are living in 1618.

INSTANT UPDATE: I just realized that the LDS scriptures are online, and with a nice search function too. The story about Lucifer seems to derive from the Book of Moses, which is described as "An extract from the book of Genesis of Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, which he began in June 1830." I don't quite know what that means, but maybe others out there do. Anyway, here is Moses 4:1-4
1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.
Wow. Satan "sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him." There must be some interesting research out there into the debates around Pelagianism and Protestant doctrines of irresistible grace during the time of Joseph Smith ...

People in Place

For those of you who like their history urban and their websites useful, I bring you this link to "People in Place: families, housesholds and housing in early modern London." What do you all think about this kind of thematic online history site? I like the accessibility of the thing, but I worry that the web will inevitably become crowded with them, and over time, as research changes what we know, it will be increasingly difficult to tell the outdated stuff from the new.

Well, I don't exactly worry about it, but still.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Badass Bible Verses

This is hilarious, and informative. A compilation of the nine "most badass bible verses" from, of all places, Cracked Magazine--I think I remember reading that on the school bus when I was five years old and thought that Mad Magazine had totally sold out and gone corporate, and Cracked was where the seriously subversive fart jokes were.

Here's a verse (with midrashic commentary) that didn't even get onto the list:
There was also Anath in Judges 3:31, who "struck down six hundred philistines with an oxgoad." An oxgoad is a sharp stick you used to poke oxen. That started the Israeli tradition of killing large numbers of their enemies with farmyard tools, which continued through Samson and onto modern times, where the Six Day War of 1967 was won by a crippled Israeli peasant wielding a watering can.
The post reminds us that all the best bits of the Bible are generally avoided these days, as we have all become soft ever since that whole "blessed are the meek" thing. Anath lost out to Samson, of course, who killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass and then exulted, in a nice bit of extemporaneous versifying:
With the jawbone of an ass,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jaw of an ass
have I slain a thousand men.
(Authorized Version, line breaks mine, but I think they're good ones.)

Can't you just imagine Milton sitting around, a bit upset with his fellow countrymen for calling them a captain back from Egypt, and saying to Thomas Ellwood, "You know, I guess Paradise Lost just wasn't quite badass enough to persuade them." And then Ellwood replies: "Thou hast said much of paradise lost. But what hast thou to say of slaying a thousand men with nothing but the jawbone of an ass?"