Friday, 28 August 2009

Cranky Dante

Do keep an eye on The Cranky Professor who is making his/her way through the Commedia and blogging on each canto.


What follows is the mission statement of, a collaborative writing project, or perhaps, concept, that sounds very interesting, even if I haven't got the foggiest what it might actually achieve:

One author can write a classic, but what could a thousand working together achieve? If serves no other purpose than to answer this simple question, then so be it. welcomes everyone. On any page (including this one) you can be an author, an editor, a reader and a critic—you can even view a detailed log of ALL previous changes to EVERY page, and compare any point in its history to any other.

Have you been thinking of a great idea for a story, but for one reason or another you have not developed it? Post it—who knows, maybe someone will write the first chapter! Best of all, if the idea turns out to be a big hit, the proof of your invention and any contribution toward it remain for the whole world to see.

We are excited to see what materializes in these next few weeks and months. is a tool for writing collaboratively and on a scale unprecedented, but will it produce masterpieces and enrich our own and future generations? Well, not necessarily. The only certain thing is that a golden opportunity awaits.

We wish you the best of luck writing, editing, reading, criticizing, and exploring this exciting new chapter in our written art. Please, after viewing the copyright page, help us by uploading existing classics so we can watch their new forms unfold. (Sorry Mr. Shakespeare, this applies to everyone.)

See you on the field,

Philip Miner


* * * *

Things have been quiet on miglior-acque lately as I'm writing furiously, or often I'm just furious as I write. I'm trying to get a MS finished and off to the publishers and have been feeling too guilty to blog. Last week I was away at the beautiful wedding of Cris and Shane in Chicago and I just loved the city. While there I took a quick trip to the University of Chicago Library (the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library to be precise) where I looked at a Boccaccio manuscript. It was such a pleasurable experience. A very helpful librarian gave me the manuscript and directed me to a comfortable reading room where she got on with her work and was friendly and helpful when I needed her. I say this because I've been working in another library over this summer, in the manuscripts department, and the experience is one of utter despair and heartbreak. I've never had a MS consultation so micromanaged before. Even consulting the modern printed books from the shelves is a huge task in itself. When I wanted to use a UV lamp, I realized I'd just asked for a liver transplant. Get me back to the UL quick! While in Chicago I visited Powell's books and was very pleased with what I found. A great stock of medieval books. I had to be restrained needless to say, the bags were not going to take it well when having to be stuffed with books (and they travel badly really). I picked up a copy of Pace & David's Variorum edition of the Minor Poems (Part One), as well as Jody Enders, Rhetoric and the Origins of Medieval Drama and Paolo Valesio, Novantiqua, which I tried to read about ten years ago and couldn't understand a word of it. It actually looks rather interesting. I've been picking up some nice things here in Dublin too. Like Richard Kearney's Wake of Imagination, which I'm enjoying though suspect when he gets onto the medieval stuff I'll be tutting; Peter Burke, The European Renaissance: Centres and Peripheries, which looks excellent; and Umberto Galimberti, Gli equivoci dell'anima. A certain distinguished professor has been streamlining his bookshelves after retirement in Cambridge and I've been picking them up. I was really delighted to pick up Panofsky's Abbot Suger and Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, as well as some other medieval art stuff (such as a lovely copy of Kathleen Scott, The Caxton Master and His Patron). There's been a good amount of middle English stuff about too and I've been so happy to get F. P. Pickering, Literature and Art in the Middle Ages, Offord's edition of the Parlement of the Thre Ages, Beadle's anthology of The York Plays (Arnold, 1982, and hard to find), Hodgson's edition of the Cloud of Unknowing (EETS), and Alexandra Barratt's lovely Longman anthology of Women's Writing in Middle English. But I was most pleased with Scattergood edition of The Poems of Sir John Clanvowe (Brewer, 1975). I love the way that it is set too, in a kind of typewriter typeface, there's a sense that it was done on Brewer's kitchen table and one can really imagine him saying the famous line he uttered to a young scholar in the Press's early days, the world needs this book but not many copies of it. One rarely sees s/h copies of Clanvowe around, so that's just marvellous.

Have also been enjoying the discussion over on In The Middle on the critique of prose that is seen to exclude, on creativity and on blogging and anonymity. All gives me a lash as I re-read every sentence and wonder who on earth will be reading any of it.

I can't go on, I'll go on.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Robert Bartlett, The Hanged Man (Princeton UP, 2004)

Lordy, it's been a while since I last posted. Apologies. I've been trying to finish something before term begins and it is taking much longer than I had hoped. Sigh.

I have very much enjoyed reading Robert Bartlett's book The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 2004). It is aimed at a broad audience, not exclusively academic; the highly engaging writing style will ensure such a wide audience.

The story is relatively simple, if somewhat striking. Around 1290 a notorious brigand called William Cragh was hanged in Swansea. The process of execution did not go smoothly: the gallows broke and while Cragh was considered dead, he was hanged again for good measure. This second hanging assured everyone that he was dead and the man was taken down and brought away. An eye witness (William de Briouze junior) described the dead man:
His whole face was black and in parts bloody or stained with blood. His eyes had come out of their sockets and hung outside the eyelids and the sockets were filled with blood. His mouth, neck, and throat and the parts around them, also his nostrils, were filled with blood, so that it was impossible in the natural course of things for him to breathe air through his nostrils or through his mouth or through his throat ... his tongue hung out of his mouth, the length of a man's finger, and it was completely black and swollen and as thick with the blood sticking to it that it seemed the size of a man's two fists together. (p. 6).

I provide this dramatic and rather gory account because it does not look like a man in that shape would be capable of much, let alone recover. But that is what he did, living for another fifteen years or so. As he was being prepared for burial those present noticed him moving. The Lady Mary de Briouze, stepmother to the eyewitness cited above, wife of the lord, he who condemned Cragh to death, had prayed to Thomas de Cantilupe to protect the man, and it was this event that lead to an investigation in 1307 into Thomas's sanctity. Bartlett sifts through the documentation of this investigation (now in the Vatican Archives) and provides a rigorous analysis and contextualization of what is found there. So there's a fascinating chapter on 'Time and Space', pp. 53-67, in which he discusses how the accounts describe distance and time. Distance, for example, is referred to in the length of crossbow shot, and time in terms of how long it takes to walk between places. There is a tradition that he who is hanged once cannot be hanged again, one that seems to be in the background of Piers Plowman B 18. 380-4, 'It is noght used on erthe to hangen a feloun | Other than ones' (cf. C 20. 421-422). This is not exactly the scenario here, in that it does not appear to be an imperfect hanging, but a case of resurrection. Cragh had prayed to the right saint, since Cantilupe was particularly associated with resurrections. Apparently resurrections were still rather unusual in the late thirteenth century:
'a careful study of 4,756 miracle accounts from eleventh- and twelfth-century France found only sixty cases of resurrection; that is, 1.26 percent. Thomas de Cantilupe's forty is thus a number equivalent to fully two-thirds of the miraculous resurrections over these two centuries in France. It is worth noting, however, that resurrection grew more common over the course of the Middle Ages. While they form only 1.26 percent of miracles recorded in eleventh- and twelfth-century France, they constitute 2.2 percent of miracles examined in thirteenth-century canonization processes and 10.2 percent in fourteenth-century ones' (pp. 51-52).

This is fascinating: why is there such a leap in resurrection miracles in the fourteenth century?

In sum, this is a riveting story, marvellously written. Read it.

I've been picking some interesting things up lately too (here in Dublin). Found a very nice copy of Helen Barr's Socioliterary Practice in Late Medieval England, and also Gianni Vattimo's The Transparent Society, which is marvellous. I then picked up his Beyond Interpretation, which I'd bought several years ago and never read, and am increasingly drawn to his work. Have also managed to pick up some very nice s/h philosophy, mainly Heidegger, but some Caputo, too who is quite fascinating. I also picked up a copy of the lovely Tel quel anthology from 1968 entitled Théorie d'ensemble (Éditions du Seuil).

On my desk now is the score of Scarlatti's Griselda (1721), and that's the next thing I'll post about.


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