My exciting morning of Kalamazoo began with…grading. A teacher has to do what a teacher has to do.
However, after I managed to extricate myself from what (and I’m not exaggerating) are some truly illuminating final reflections from my study abroad students, I made my way to the Tolkien at Kalamazoo panel focused on The Fall of Arthur. I had assigned excerpts of this text to those very same study abroad students this semester, and I was curious what others were doing with the book. This particular panel was a combination of intertextual readings, between TFoA and other Tolkien texts as well as medieval texts; close readings; and legendarium readings, those situating this new text within Tolkien’s universe. I will admit that, as much as I adore Tolkien, I sometimes forget – or perhaps simply take for granted as I have “lived” in it for so long – the scope of his legendarium. The intertwining of the fantasy universe with the medieval literary landscape as well as the history is truly unparalleled.
One topic that truly hit home for me was John Rateliff’s assertion, in his “‘That seems fatal to me’: Pagan and Christian in The Fall of Arthur,” that the Arthurian world is inserted into and subordinate to Tolkien’s world – not vice versa as one might assume given the complex history of the Arthurian corpus. He also discussed Tolkien’s insistence that fantasy mythologies and real religions should remain completely separate, and, yet, he has to navigate the interplay between the pagan and Christian (and other) in his sources. In John Holmes; “‘Double-Hearted’: Psychomachia in The Fall of Arthur,” he raised significant points about how Tolkien addresses the complex realization of inner conflict in the text and how the characters are, in my paraphrasing, at war with themselves. I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of the scenes in which Lancelot and Guinevere describe each other and themselves as having become strangers. Robert Tredray’s “Tides of Time in The Fall of Arthur” was really a useful close reading, considering how Arthur is a king at the beginning who is fighting against the tides of time, believing he can unnaturally control them, yet, at the end, he has learned (literally) to go with the flow when he decides to accept the inconvenient status of the tides during battle.
As a side note, it was announced that there is a new open-access journal, The Journal of Tolkien Research. It is peer-reviewed and they take and will publish rolling submissions.
I ended my day in the panel in which I was presenting, “The Relevance of the Middle Ages Today,” organized by Dr. Albrecht Classen at the University of Arizona. I will admit freely that I was, uncharacteristically, nervous about my paper, “From the Monk’s Cell to the Professor’s Office.” It is a different piece than I have written before, and I was worried about how I had approached it. I am pleased that it was well-received. All the papers in the panel worked quite well. The first – “‘The past is a foreign country’: Teaching the Middle Ages as a Study Abroad Program” by Jacqueline Anne Stuhmiller, posited that a way to approach teaching medieval classes is to think of them as study abroad courses in which students are immersed in foreign language and culture. The second, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning from the Medium Aevum” by Krijn Pansters, recounted his internal and spiritual experiences, thinking of them in terms of how medieval people would have experienced their own spirituality.
My paper focuses on the history of academics and teachers, considering what we can learn from this genealogical connection to, in particular, medieval universities and faculties. I approached this by breaking it down into our typical areas of academia: research, teaching, and service. I think there is much to consider in having conversations about our origins. For instance, teaching has always been a defining part of our mission, and, yet, today, teaching in higher education is quite often marginalized. I also discuss the humanities debate and how medievalists might fit into this discussion as well as the on-going attacks on academics that we are not publicly engaged enough. I was encouraged by the response to my ideas and research, and I am daring to hope that I might submit it for publication, perhaps even a related article to The Chronicle. So stay tuned! For a link to some of the sources I cite in the paper, please see my ongoing Readlists. Also, please feel free to offer suggestions for more related articles.
And now to begin Friday of Kalamazoo!