Yes, I know…I’m a little behind on these.
Friday was a day of indulgence. For a different sort of conference (or, I suppose, a person more in touch with their hedonistic id), that would mean a day spent exploring the various sins offered by the host city,* or perhaps a day holed up in one’s room with a book or a television. But at Kalamazoo, I indulge myself by heading into panels chosen more or less at random, expecting at the least some intellectual stimulation and at the most something unanticipated, exciting, and new.
I was reasonably sure I was attending a different panel on the Economics of Sanctity (which I later heard was excellent), but changed my mind at the last minute to attend session 219, “Social Contracts and Contacts in Old English and Old Norse Literature.” I was, frankly, trolling for material for a couple of upcoming BSU courses…the papers were on the economy of debt in the O.E. Juliana (Fabienne Michelet), the changing perception of feud in Anglo-Saxon literature (David DiTucci), and the deployment of non-sexual flyting insults in Bjorn Hitardal-people’s Champion’s saga (Rebecca Straple). I’ll be teaching courses on Medieval British and Icelandic saga literature in the fall, and new perspectives and conversations are always valuable. The panel turned out to be a very solid conversation about forms of exchange–whether insults, faith, or violence, it’s important to remember that these texts reflect a valuing or devaluing of ways of living–or, indeed, of lives. Fabienne Michelet’s discussion of the rhetorical maneuver in Juliana that replaced an economy of wealth with “an unpayable, but forgivable, debt” bonding the saint and faithful together has clear implications for the rest of hagiographic literature (as well, I think, for understanding the impulse toward collective action in Anglo-Saxon law). DiTucci and Straple took up feuds fought with unusual weapons (a “bulwark of faith” against the “feud of Satan” in one case, witty insults and insinuations in the other) and in different circumstances, but both brought home the complex ways that feud functions as a motif in the literature–one that we lose the richness of when we simplify it as merely physical violence begetting violence.
Lunch, as usual, was a hasty sandwich in the company of my fellow UConn alumni.
The afternoon sessions began with a panel (240) on Interdisciplinary approaches to Celtic Studies. Though both papers on the panel were well worth hearing, it was the second, in which Jaimin Weets explained the implications of his study of 6,659 human teeth found in various sites in Ireland, that really caught my attention. His research seems to suggest pretty strongly that the accepted historical narrative of the Celtic Migration is, at the least, problematic. Jaimin and I later spoke during dinner about his work’s relevance to the linguistic puzzle of the lack of Celtic language influence on early insular Anglo-Saxon. The issues of cultural identity and allegiance that we discussed are extremely interesting, and I’m going to have to follow up with some other reading. I may have to rethink a few things before the next time I teach my History of the English Language course…
I was a participant in a 3:30 roundtable discussion on Disability Studies and the Digital Humanities. I’d been looking forward to this conversation with Richard Godden, Cameron Hunt McNabb, Jonathan Hsy, Tory V. Pearman, and the attending scholars. Though the conversation occasionally veered into various permutations of what Godden tagged as “cranky” talk, the overall focus was on the remarkable potential that DH offers us as working scholars and teachers. As a profession, we have to feel our way past some rough edges where things like social media and scholarly thought run up against one another (such as the tension between the instant-response value of Twitter and our general impulse toward rumination and reflection), but the many ways DH allows us to participate in public scholarship, and the potential of new kinds of collaboration and engagement, means that we’re working at an exciting time in the academy.
More to say, but I’ve got some traveling and thinking to do…
*I do not mean this to imply that Kalamazoo and its conference lack appealing sins, or that my evenings here don’t involve a certain degree of indulgence therein. But there, gentle reader, we draw a blushing curtain over our story.