work in progress (reading, thinking, experimenting, writing)

I have been doing other things in the last couple of months. Not just collecting pretty pictures online or humming and hawing over the right shade of burgundy-chocolate-russet, with just the right balance between rich melt-in-the-mouth foodiness and bodily fluids.

Though I’ll claim that as speculative activity anyway, and therefore a good and useful deployment of my time and brain.

On the immediate work front: next term’s teaching (more work on this in the next week or so):

The “more on this” includes work on the course sites, so that’s more webby work and images and design; then again, the formal term for my “more of this” is “course design,” and it’s called that for a reason. Seeing as how I’m one of those more visual types, “design” involves “design.”

It’s also, as ever, most stimulating to use that as a sound reason for thinking about “design” itself: etymologically, philologically, conceptually. This dovetails nicely with things I’d been thinking about and playing around with on systems of representing and organizing knowledge, maps, trees, root-systems, systems and networks; and the post-modern/post-industrial side: merging high tech, biotech, and hand-knitted granola organic. In a way that, hopefully, doesn’t end up too reminiscent of Alien.

On the speculative front: reading has included

  • classic cyberpunk
  • new(ish) classic anthologies, and thinking about how anthologies work and why they’re important: this connects 13th c. French literature and 20th-21st c. speculative fictions. “Thoroughbred stables”: Night Shade Books, Tachyon. Editors I like: John Joseph Adams, Jonathan Strahan, the Vandermeers, Kelly & Kessel. The Eclipse series (especially interesting, for genre-fluidity and mouvance reasons)
  • mainly “science fiction” plus offshoots, post-offshoots, transreal, slipstream
  • utopias, dytopias, ecotopias: this also ties in with some of my teaching next term
  • Bruno Latour: part of variousreading on medievalism(s)
Speculative and feminist:
  • Gwynneth Jones
  • Nnedi Okorafor
  • N Katherine Hayles

Cyborgs: linked to reading-and-thinking work on feminism, women writing, women writing women, men writing women, the construction of women, women as puppets.

Yes, there’s been plenty on the whole women/automata front, and on much writing about women being basically fantasizing, objectification, porn. Or, as my favourite spinster aunt would put it, enpornulation by the patriarchy. Galatea and Echo through generations of avatars. The catalogue of stuff labelled as true love, romantic love, desire… that’s more-or-less clearly imaginary/fantasizing, and more-or-less obviously, to any sentient female, at least a teensy bit rapey.

See, just in the current online Guardian:

No, that automata-angle isn’t exactly what I’m doing with my various materia and imaginatio. Though it’ll come into play. But there with be play too: play with this, and “play” proper. Weaving in the old “derivative ingenuity” thread. And jokes.

Cyborgs (2): identity, being, being a human being. Yep, it’s that “deconstruction with a human face” thang again. (Cue: more on jokes, and hopefully more jokes). It’s also getting beyond M/F dualism, and towards a unity/universalism of “being” but with a sliding scale of relative sentience; thus, including women (huzzah for us!) but also animals and artificial intelligences.

Rethinking the cyborg itself: not (or: not just) a hybrid; but a new and original kind of being in itself. See: derivative ingenuity. Hybridity: already, there’s plenty around on hybridity not being monstrous and evil (and a threat to the patriarchy, via bastards and feminine control over procreation). Rather, a strength: clearest in evolutionary and genetic terms. With cyborgs, we’re moving into an integration of the non-biological and the intangible, electronic—with implications for phenomenology—and into an incarnation of “mind over matter,” if you’ll forgive my mixing my “making flesh” me(a)tophors.

The original thought here was to move from gender divisions to a unified human, and to look at what makes humans human, or what makes human tick. And to prove that women are human. That men are too. That being human is more important than either “being a woman” or “being a woman who’s also a human.” That thought’s moved. Might be a cheat of a move: from “being human + what does being human mean” to “sentient, conscious, alive, intelligent.” I also blame The Beloved, who’s been working around and about the areas of mind & metaphysics, psychology, consciousness (roughly speaking…), “the intellect,” and the philosophical side of what UBC calls “cognitive systems.” We talk about this sort of stuff a lot, so it’s probably not surprising that there’ll be cross-permeation.

But I also see that my own thinking goes further back: to the line donne che hanno intelletto d’amore, to Karl Uitti and his valuing women as readers and commentators, because they’re used to having to see literary things from someone else’s point of view: classic subversive case of turning cultural prejudice and discrimination into a strength. It’s superficial and deceptive to label this as another sort of “feminine sensitivity.”

I’d been thinking about Uitti again, in the context of what to me is The Feminist Chapter in Bloch & Nichols, Medievalism and the Modernist Temper. I’d had to return it to the library as it had been recalled by someone (fair enough: and I’m delighted to see there’s at least one other person at UBC liking the same book!). So I reread it first. My favourite piece has been the same one on every rereading. A collaborative essay (and that’s important), by E. Jane Burns, Sarah Kay, Roberta Krueger, and Helen Solterer. “Feminism and the Discipline of Old French studies.” One topic of the essay is teaching, master/apprentice relations, and a female future in new generations of scholars. Networking’s a factor here. As well as, more obviously, feminine angles on scholarship: studying women’s writing and feminine characters and voices, medieval literary woman as object of study. Now: I’m a lucky little sod because SK was one of my supervisors (after Uitti’s death). But rereading that essay, Uitti was brought back to mind most vividly: a rare thing, a nurturing man. Most of his students were women; many worked on women; not all were feminist (several would be highly allergic to the term, or at least embarrassed or deem it irrelevant). But he’s done a lot to build a network of women medievalists, from 1959 to 2003; who have then had their own students and continued network ramifications in other directions, and inter-networked, and so on; and many of the Uitti F1 generation are impressive, illustrious, influential, and Important. I should add that mapping that network is quite a job (as Francesco Carrappezza has found).

Cyborgs (3) and expression and voice: subversion and rebellion, being given voice vs. finding one’s own voice or making one’s own voice, and making it one’s own precisely because you’re the one making it. “Making” in broad sense. This is part of current work on The Big Hairy Impossible material, and that “making” involves trobar. Those of you who’ve read my PhD dissertation will get what I’m thinking about here; others may be able to guess.

As ever, once ideas start coming and fitting together puzzle-like, it starts to seem clear. Once something’s clear(er), it seems blindingly obvious. Then there’s the stage of panic, wondering whether something is obvious and therefore a good idea, or obvious and therefore an old hat that’s been done to death. Or only obvious to me. Or I have no taste and/or judgement. Such quibblings usually result in a nice cup of tea and some chocolate, a shrug of the shoulders, pulling myself together and telling myself to be sensible.

The key question in such situations: “What would Montaigne do?”

Unfortunately, the answer is often “rinse and repeat paragraph above.”

Also, as ever, side-issue of “finding my own voice” in my own writing, and doing so—even contemplating that nauseating phrase—without dissolving into fits of giggles. Or hysteria. Or vomiting of an ironically copious sort.

Plus envy of The Beloved, who doesn’t “get” agonising and just says “well just get on with it, sit down and write.” Grrr…

Voice, discourse, conversation, networks: this ties in with two sideline experiments I’ve been pursuing elsewhere online; also connected to work on criticism and commentary (and MDVL302), and to puppets c/o online discussion-forum trolls as “sock-puppets.”

Indulgences (not unrelated: everything is related, even if you’re not into the “all is one” shebang/shenanigans):

  • the new Neal Stephenson: a surprisingly fast read, though not suitable for the bus
  • rereading GRRM (earlier summer) in preparation for the advent of A Dance with Dragons
  • the guilty pleasure of some further rereading

Feels like an indulgence, but most people would count this as work:

  • medieval literature

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