Wednesday 30 November 2005


When I'm in the throes of writing and rewriting (more often the latter than the former) I listen to Pau Casals play Bach's 6 Cello Suites. He practised them every day for 13 years before he performed them in public. The range of expression and emotion is astonishing and they remain the centre of his output.

They give me solace when I'm revising and revising and going over the same thing for what seems to be the millionth time.

Monday 28 November 2005

Wallace (ed), Middle English Literature

Today I picked up a s/h copy of David Wallace's Medieval English Literature, and read Christopher Baswell's contribution called 'Latinitas'. It's a very very good chapter on the complexity of the idea of Latin(s) in medieval England:

"Indeed, the divide between Latin literacy and illiteracy was always unstable and permeable. We should instead speak of a gamut of Latinities in medieval England: from minimal competence for practical needs, and largely mnemonic command of sacred texts; through the supported access provided by Books of Hours and by the schools; and only ending in the reading and writing of sophisticated literature. This was complicated still further by the ease of aural access to Latin at all social levels. A secular aristocrat might have a clerk read to him or her; an urbanite could attend and absorb parts of public Latin rituals; even a peasant would be able to pick up Latin tags from sermons or the liturgy. We are unlikely ever to have a full and nuanced sense of the extent of lay literacy in Latin; but ongoing research always seems to reveal an increased proportion of laymen who read Latin, or used it ably through intermediaries."

Reading Baswell and leafing through my notes I was reminded of Édouard Jeaneau's prickly prickly remarks in 'Berkeley, University of California, Bancroft Library MS. 2 (Notes de Lecture)', Mediaeval Studies 50 (1988), 438-456 (450-1) about Baswell's citing of Jeaneau's attribution of an Aeneid Commentary to Bernard Silvestris - it's like a wonderful Victor Meldrew moment where he says that he doesn't know in what language he must write in order to be understood! Anyway, in Baswell's (extraordinary) Virgil in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1995), p. 355 n83 he humbly and impressively apologises for the misinterpretation. A lesser scholar would not have handled it nearly as well.
Anyway Medieval English Literature is a treasure trove of material that will serve very well anyone dealing with the Middle Ages.

Sunday 27 November 2005

Beware: Mellel & Grammarian

This is a (sort of) technical post about computery things: if you do not know how to switch on a computer just listen to the elevator music in your head and I'll be right with you.

My mood is frustrated and angry.

For a while now I've been using Grammarian Pro with Mellel. It's supposed to be a nifty spell-checker that gives you interactive pop-ups with suggestions for both spelling and grammar. All sounds great. So I'm tidying something to give to the superV and I decide to do a spell-check. It goes through the entire text, and then makes the changes all together at the end. It asks you "do you want to paste the changes?", to which I said yes. I had already made another couple of small changes and saved before I realized exactly what this thing had done. It strips your formatting first of all, so indentations, italics, all such are gone. Very helpful. Then came the horror the horror. It had stripped and deleted EVERY FOOTNOTE in the text. Now just think how helpful I thought Grammarian was at that very moment.

Tech support got back to me quite quickly, but say they are still testing stuff. Great. Oh and no they can't give me a refund. To me, this piece of software is worthless. I recognize that those of you using other programs to write with might have positive experiences, and that's fine. But for me, this is a chocolate wristwatch. And I sure am sorry I wasted my money on it.

Just know what this thing does before you buy it, and if you use Mellel, do not buy it. It's not compatible enough. Simple as that.

Now just press the elevator button for the roof please....

Thursday 24 November 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Went to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this evening and I really loved it. The script is so sharp and tight. There is a wonderful chemistry between Downey Jr and Kilmer and you just laugh out loud so often.

Go to see it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday 16 November 2005

Idea #13224

I have an idea. This might be a good idea, or it might be a bad idea. And that's where you come in. I need you to post a response to this so I can see what's the temperature.

What about posting short podcasts of people talking about a poem? These podcasts, in the form of mp3s could be downloaded by the reader from this blog, listened to, and a response posted. It could create an informal forum for talking about medieval literature. The format of the discussion could be you and me talking about the piece, or you and someone else. Say you've worked on Sir Orfeo for an essay, why not sit down with your lecturer/professor for 20 mins and talk about it? It's a way of harnessing the informality of the internet in a combination of spoken and written word to our advantage. So things don't need to be very polished but, since you might be replying to posted comments, ideas need to be worked out logically too.

Post comments with your thoughts, suggestions, etc. Please!

Thursday 10 November 2005

Greyfriars & Blackfriars

Listen to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time this week on the rise of the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the 13th century, discussed by three eminently listenable experts: Henrietta Leyser, Alexander Murray, and Anthony Kenny. It's an extremely good introduction to the period and well worth listening to.

Wednesday 9 November 2005

Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual

Eleanor Prescott Hammond's famous Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual, first published by Macmillan in 1908 and reprinted in 1930 has been reprinted again by Higginson Books (NY) in a library binding: Barnes & Noble are selling copies for 25 squids. It is not beautiful but the book is extremely useful, which is remarkable for a book of its age and for a bibliography. Testament to her brilliance I suppose. The greats don't date.

It's one of those books, like Brusendorff's The Chaucer Tradition, that you easily forget are there and when you go back to them you realize how comprehensive and stimulating they are.

My copy of Giorgio Brugnoli, Identikit di Lattanzio Placido: Studi sulla scoliastica staziana, ETS Editrice: Pisa, 1988 (ISBN: 88-7741-409) was defective when it arrived, misbound with blank pages left right and centre. But a quick email (perhaps a little more stern than it should have been) to the publishers resulted in a fresh correctly bound copy being sent straight away. So thank you ETS!

Sunday 6 November 2005


I saw Downfall last night, about the last days of Hitler. It is an excellent film, full of the terror of a crumbling 'empire', Hitler's disbelief of the extent and disconnection with the reality of the failure around him. Most of the action of the film takes place in the bunker and the sense of claustrophobia and impending doom is just inescapable. It doesn't make for easy viewing.

Wednesday 2 November 2005

Sagittarius A

Apparently they have discovered a black hole at the centre of our galaxy: it has been described as 'super-massive'. What that means is that it is four million times the size of the sun. And we've just discovered this thing!! I mean I've missed the obvious before, far be it from me to comment, but I don't think I've ever missed anything four million times the size of the sun (even if it felt like it).

Lecture in Trinity went very well, and was delighted to see some old friends and teachers there.


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