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The Riddles of Tiruncula

26 August, 2005

The Riddles of Tiruncula

I let myself do this as rewards between stints of reading. It took me almost 4 days, so I feel not so bad, and one of the questions really made me think a lot about my teaching, so I’m glad I did this ­čśë Also, I’ve been very down about my ability to actually write a friggin’ paper after such a long time — that’s not exactly right; I know I can write a paper, I’m just at the “but it’s going to be absolute shite and someone will say so” stage. (How’s that for rationalization?)

  1. Are the people you study real to you? As real as favorite fictional characters? Do you picture them? Do you dream about them? (That’s one question.)

    Yes, they are real, but not in the sense I think you mean. I do think of them as real people, because they were. And some seem more real than others. Oddly, it’s the ones we know less about that often feel more human. Since much of my research is based on land transactions, I see family relationships, titles, places where people have political power, and the kinds of property that they held or owned. Those things seem in some ways more tangible to me than what the annalists write. On the other hand, it is very hard to NOT see the people in Gregory or Einhard or the Astronomer as real — they are, and the descriptions are often vivid. Note that I am not including Notker. Because, you know, I think we can’t trust him all that much. Oh — and for some reason, Romans seem far more real to me — I think it’s the sources.

    I don’t really know if they are more or less real than fictional characters. Many fictional characters are very real to me. I confess that I have spent years wanting to believe that Middle Earth really was/is a forgotten Terran epoch, for example. And if I had any talent and were not so aware that I am Bad With The Time I Have, I’d probably be much more into fan fiction (although not Tolkein). But for the real people, though, there is a line I can’t really cross — I think it has something to do with respecting that they were real people. It’s one of the reasons I detest psychohistory: how dare we impart motivations and internal conflicts and obsessions to people who cannot defend themselves?

    I do picture some of them, and usually only the ones for whom we have lots of detail. So I have ideas about Fredegund and Brunehild, and Charlemagne, and St. Boniface, and tons of the Anglo-Norman crowd (especially some of the folk in Orderic Vitalis), but not so much for the people who get one or two mentions. It has never occured to me to think about what Gebhart, comes in the Lahngau (IIRC), looked like, although he has his fingers in many pies. Nor do I picture Sturm, who really did a lot of the grunt work in St. Boniface’s foundations.

    I don’t dream about them except in the abstract work anxiety way!

  2. What do want your students to know is the most important difference between the early medieval world and the high/late MA?
    What a difficult question, especially as I don’t buy the “Discovery of the individual” argument. I’m also quite worried, because this is a perfect doctoral comp. question and the kind of question I dread getting from a search committee. Moreover, the answer is going to be totally inadequate for all you other medievalists, and y’all are going to think that I’m an idiot!

    That said, it’s all about periodization, innit? Where does Early stop? Indeed, where does Early start? and High/late? I have to say that I have been so busy debunking popular ideas of the Dark Ages, feudalism and medieval religion for so long, I have probably been remiss in addressing the question adequately, for them or for myself. I think there is also the tyranny of the textbook at work — the quarter textbook splits tend to allow one to end at the 12th c. and then to start up with the next section as Early Modern, so that sometimes that waning of the MA thing becomes very convenient. Excuses aside, though, it is a different world. (have I protected myself enough?)

    One of the main differences is that we really can begin to think of Europe and the roots of European nations in the High Middle ages. I don’t think we can say that of the Early MA. There really are nation-states by the 14th c., and I think we see much of that in the 13th. Despite the fact that there are real reagional/provincial identities, we still see allegiance mor and more to a ruler of a place, rather than (ostensibly) the ruler of a people.

    Another big difference might be the increased overall heterogeneity (is that a word?) of the Church in the west and its existence as a more coherent political unit. The papacy and Church administration/hierarchy are very different in nature, composition, and authority than they were in the 8th or 9th c., for example. Where this gets a bit sticky is the Late MA, where challenges to that structure and authority are very real and arguably much like what one sees under the Carolingians and Ottonians, although I would use that as an example of how things that can look similar are often not.

    Towns are another major difference, although I think it’s important to point out that periodization can also make this different. Towns don’t just go away in Late Antiquity and show up again in the 13th c. Smaller? yes. Administered in different ways? Certainly. And some do go away, while new ones grow up. But I think it’s pretty fair to say that in most cases urban society is far less complex in the Early MA than it is in the Later MA. And as much as I hate to say the words ‘the rise of the middle class,’ There is something to it. A greater differentiation of labor and increase in social mobility are pretty hard to argue against. I do have a hard time with this one, though, because it really is in some ways very easy to conflate with urban life in the 15th & 16th centuries — but that may just help to demonstrate that what defines Early Modern may be quite arbitrary.

    Finally (in the sense that I am trying not to go on FOREVER), I would want them to see that knowledge and scholarship are different. OK — probably not if we go with a theme of synthesis of Christianity with pagan beliefs — that we can see throughout. The pagans change, though. Scholarship in the Early MA (and here I am really generalizing and focusing on Western Europe, because so much is clearly Not True for the Byzantine Empire and the Dar al-Islam — at least not in the same way) focuses on defining, preserving, and extending Christian orthodoxy. Synthesis is something that exists mostly to coopt new converts. Arguably, it’s also there to work hand in hand with rulers to help them to extend their own power and control. By the High MA, conversion is hardly an issue, although orthodoxy is still a problem. But I think it’s fair to say that the questions scholars in the 12th and 13th centuries are asking about God and man’s relationship to God are immensely different. Not to mention that Aristotle guy and the ‘new’ focus on synthesizing pagan philosophy with Christian. Once Plato comes into the mix again, I honestly am not sure if we’re looking at Early modern or Medieval. Oh — and apropos of the urban thing, students do need to see that a greater access to education helps to change soci0-economic-political dynamics in the towns.

    I was going to say something about the Crusades, but honestly, I have to think about them.

    There’s probably tons more, but you only asked for one thing. There is never just one thing, unfortunately ­čśë

  3. Were you raised with any religious practice? If so or if not, how did that effect your development as a medievalist?
    Nope. My family are basically unchurched; going to church is something both sides of my family tend to do to get ahead in society. My mother, who raised us, is hugely against organized religion. Despite this, and her absolute inability to relate to or behave according to any Christian precepts, she drummed a couple of them into us — doing unto others and turning the other cheek, as it happens. Not surprisingly, those are also the qualities that best translate into allowing others to indulge in bullying behaviour. Fortunately, I think that they are also the two that translate best across religious bounds and which give a person the most inner strength and resilience. But I think my ideas of social, moral, and ethical responsibilities are to a much larger extent formed and framed by my having read a lot of sf and fantasy and Classics. The basic precepts are how I attempt to live my life, but the others really shape my outlook on how the world works and how to make sense of it and find balance.

    But in an important way, being a Medievalist seems to have affected my religious life, in that I converted to Catholocism in grad school. I have since lapsed, for a great number of reasons, none of which is a lack of general belief in (a) higher power(s). But the particular choice was probably due in large part to the field and the reading I was doing at the time. I think that all of it does help me to relate to my students the place of religious belief in the MA, which was something I had not intended.

  4. How is your bedroom furnished?

    Bed that desperately needs a nice headboard — I’d like something mission-y I think. Gorgeous coral-coloured duvet and shams, with a very nice cotton sateen bedskirt in a paisley pattern — the same coral, with a darker rust, gold, and a kind of olive green — very subtle. Mismatched bedtables with matching wooden lamps. The dresser (only one at the moment, b/c I live with a colleague and there isn’t much space) is from Ikea and blue. I was not thinking of this when I bought the lovely new linens. I may have to fix that. No pictures except for my roommates movie poster for the Polish-language version of Mississippi Burning, which is really gloomy, but this is a temporary living situation. Roommate’s really gorgeous teak bookcase, with lots of my books (not to mention a big stack belonging to Flagship U) and a mini-stereo. Brian the stuffed tiger. Stackable wire crates with pale green bins to hide things in. My Wallace and Gromit alarm clock. Several boxes of papers, etc., and a couple things that really should be in the storage unit, but I’ve been too lazy to move them. Oh — and usually two snowshoe cats.

  5. Describe your dream house in as much detail as suits your procrastination needs.

    There is no one dream house. But really, there are only two. One is a terraced or semi-detached house in a funky neighborhood in a decent-sized city. Preferably brick and/or Victorian. Preferably near a park (on a square with a park would be nice). Within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and pubs, and near efficient public transport. Also not too far from work. If in a continental city, probably in the altstadt (or local equivalent). If in the US or UK, there are way too many neighborhoods to decide from — I can think of at least 5 neighborhoods I’d love to live in in this town — someplace big, like London or New York or San Francisco or Atlanta? Also lots. Not LA.

    If not in a city, then a Craftsman or Victorian (unless not in the US, in which case anything cottage-y and snug) in a small town, near the downtown area/shopping district and within loud shouting distance of the neighbors.

    Either way, two bedrooms and an office with built-in bookshelves or two bedrooms but one of them big enough to be an office with a fold-out bed. Really thick and well-insulated walls. An attic or basement for storage. One full, and 1/2 to 3/4 second bath. Central, energy-efficient heat, a small garden (big enough for flowers and a few veg, not so big that it’s a pain to maintain), washer and dryer, but also a clothesline, dishwasher, big-ass AGA or other restaurant-quality gas stove with two independently controlled ovens in a kitchen big enough for a big butcher-block island and a comfortable eating/hanging-out area. And a nice pantry with a temperature-controlled wine cabinet. Glass-fronted china cupboards and generally lots of cupboard space and counter space so that I can have a nice selection of appliances without the place being cluttered. Good natural lighting. An overall impression of comfort and order, neither spartan nor cluttered (highly unlikely, if you know me). Wood and tile floors, with really nice rugs. High-speed internet access. A garage. Living room with comfy chairs. Good flow for parties, although I expect we’ll all hang in the kitchen — and somewhere there should be a nicely stocked liquor cabinet and small beer fridge. Close enough to my friends that I can hang out with them and we can still get home easily and safely without mixing alcohol and the driving of motor vehicles. Please note that the alcohol thing may seem exaggerated, but really I’m only talking about what’s necessary for entertaining, and there seems to be this thing about getting academics, especially the medieval kind, that involves some imbibing … Oh — and some sort of ingenious cubby areas where I can put cat dishes and litter box without their being a nuisance. And a fire/burglar alarm and maybe even hard-to-notice but really efficient sprinklers, because I worry about the kitties. And even though I would like the house to be nice and old, I want all the electrics, etc., brand new, with the latest in unobtrusive green technology (solar panels, etc.).

Oh — and I saw a good T-shirt the other night. The Happy Bunny, and the caption, “Boys lie, and they kinda smell.” Although this is clearly not true for many of my friends, it sums up my mood these days. Grrr.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 August, 2005 12:36 am

    I love reading the answers to this meme. :-)For me, being an English historian, there’s a very simple answer to the question of dividing the early MA from the high and late MA – the Norman Conquest in 1066. But that certainly doesn’t apply everywhere!

  2. 27 August, 2005 1:57 am

    Having been ‘raised’ by A-N people, before they sent me off to the care of my ‘barbarians – love ’em or leave me’ DoktorVater, I totally get that!

  3. 27 August, 2005 4:24 am

    Are the people I study real to me? Well, I currently think I’m being haunted by Increase Mather, who is pulling dissertation strings from the great beyond…

  4. 27 August, 2005 8:47 pm

    OK — that’s truly unnerving!

  5. 28 August, 2005 2:28 am

    While I pretty much buy the “discovery of the individual”/”persecuting society” argument, I certainly can’t imagine it explaining everything before and after 1100. I’m curious what you see as the strongest case/best evidence against the “discovery of the individual” (or some more moderate/subtle version of it) argument? Thanks.

  6. 29 August, 2005 4:22 pm

    One of my favorite bits of Boniface’s personality is the constant questioning about degrees of kinship…Uh, what is it that the *real* Romans think about this? Some nice uncertainity for the Apostle to the Germans…

  7. 5 September, 2005 12:56 pm

    Sorry for taking so long to respond to your responses! There’s a lot to comment on, but as you might have guessed, the early/late thing is much on my mind at the moment, so let me start by weighing in on that one. Like Celandine, I have the convenience of using the Conquest as a dividing line, so I’ve tended not to think of periodization as so problematic for pedagogical purposes, except when teaching HEL, in which case I emphasize fuzzy boundaries and the punctuated-equilibrium nature of the evidence for the OE-ME transition. When I teach lit, I’m the pre-Conquest gal, so my course is pre-defined as ending at 1066.It was really interesting for me to get a historian’s take on this. I’d agree that the different institutional and hierarchical profile of the church between e.g. the 8th c. and the 14th is something I spend a lot of time on, if only because the literature I teach and study is so overwhelmingly monastic, and it takes a lot to get students into a frame of mind where they can read with some sympathy for Benedictine modes of thought. Even Catholic students need to be divested from prejudices about what they think the institutional Church is in the MA. As I often say to them (apropos the 7th c.), “Who do you think the church is in this period that it should be oppressing people??” That’s an overstatement, but I know that they’re thinking Inquisition and I’m thinking guys in huts in howling North Sea gales, and we have to meet in the middle before we can have a reasonable discussion. The other big thing that you didn’t mention but that’s central for me as an English lang/lit person is the completely different status of the vernacular pre-Conquest.I want to talk about dream houses, too, but I’ll come back and do more of that later.

  8. 5 September, 2005 5:17 pm

    How funny. I really didn’t think of that — perhaps because so many of my students are monolingual? This — and the comments — have been so good for my revising my teaching agenda. I think I’ve been a victim of coverage for too long.

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