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The Comic Mode

As I think about the Decameron this week, I've discovered a wonderful book written in the 1990s by Caroline Walker Bynum about gender and the human body in Medieval religion.  In the introduction, she writes about the way scholars like to identify little conclusions in their analysis, as if the moments in history they write about lead to an ending of some kind like a Shakespeare play.  She permits scholars to do this, so long as they recognize that their conclusions are contrived like the sudden occurrence of four simultaneous weddings at the end of any number of happy plays and stories.  They're not real, but they can serve a purpose nonetheless.  
She calls this tendency to invent conclusions the "comic mode."  It is uncomfortable to live in the tragic or historic mode all of the time, and the comic allows for a certain lightheartedness and chorality - we can try on different voices and allow for the fact that other people will disagree with us and see things from …

Life Craft

Finals weeks are misery for me.  Sometimes I catch a wave of inspiration and weep into my keyboard, but those moments are rare.  I am not having one yet this time around.  I took too many classes this quarter and thus couldn't start my papers until it was too late to wait around for Muses.  And when I say I took too many classes that is not a request for applause at my ambition.  It was a mistake.  A mistake that reflects how desperate I am to be finished with my coursework so I can move on to Dante and do some real thinking that is not geared toward a 3AM slapdash 25 page paper.  And hopefully then this program will become enjoyable for me and not a daily reminder of the huge mistake I made deciding to go here.

As I have been trying to piece together a Boccaccio paper over the past three days, I've spent way more time on the internet than I normally do.  Especially Vogue, a publication I used to read regularly and haven't honestly read in several years.  I watched a bunch…

The Cocktail Party

I had drinks with a friend after a long seminar tonight, and for the first time in a while, I didn't stagger to my car exhausted and then sit in traffic for 90 minutes (that's right, it takes me 90 minutes to go 11 miles #LosAngeles) and then collapse for an hour and then go back to work for another 3 hours before crawling into bed (I am taking too many classes this quarter).  Instead, I had two glasses of wine and a little dinner, and I got to talk to a great person who is willing to share a lot of knowledge with me as well as some genuine pleasantness.  It reminded me of the olden days when my social life and my academic life were centered around the same place and task, and it lightened the load quite a bit.

That moment of levity at the end of the day.  Ah.  We need it.  No reading.  No striving.  No obligations.  The wine or cocktail is key.  You're always pausing when you have a drink.  You're being a little bad.  You're working against your evening productiv…

Mercy and Translation

I want to make a brief note here so I never forget the beautiful article we read today in my Translation in the Middle Ages seminar.  We read Derrida's article "Relevant Translation" and spent nearly an hour unwinding this complicated text together as a class.

The translation issue at stake deals with the notion of "Pure Language."  That would be the language that was spoken before the Tower of Babel, a beautiful time when you could presumably express what you meant and be perfectly understood without needing to mediate the meaning through differences of language.  What a fantasy.

Translation is a huge issue for me.  I am devoting my career to Dante and have never read the entire poem purely in the old Italian without significant help from English translations, and I probably never will.  What is it about reading something "in the original" that seems so significant to us?  We are trying to be faithful to the original meaning of the text, but (this i…

The Unbundled Age

The term "unbundled" comes from contemporary Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, whose magnum opus, A Secular Age (2007), examines what happens to a society that transitions from widespread, default belief in God (the way we think of 1950s midwestern America) to one that considers faith just one possibility among many (depending on where you live, I think it's actually more likely to find widespread, default assumption of agnosticism).  I haven't read this entire book, but I did recently hear Charles Taylor give a talk about it at UCLA.  The book has been in print for a decade now, and his term "unbundled" has become common in some circles.  I'm thinking a lot about it in this charged political moment.

There were 750,000 participants in the LA Women's March in my neighborhood this weekend.  My friends and acquaintances are divided in their feelings about this event.  Some we elated; some felt it was healing after the election; some were inspired to…

I Don't Know

I've noticed a phenomenon in many areas of my verbal life wherein the phrase "I don't know" opens, closes, or rests in the middle of a phrase.  The more I listen for it, the more I am struck by its ubiquity, yet these phrases have nothing to do with the parameters of the speaker's knowledge.

In a seminar:  "I don't know, but I think he's saying..."

Among friends discussing the news: "Um, I don't know, but I feel like this could have been avoided..."

Two girls shopping:  "Is this cute?  Right?  I don't know."

Some guys on a walk: "I mean, I don't know, but was that the best choice..."

High school students in class: "I don't know, but don't you kind of feel like..."

Are we really so tentative?  Is our own knowledge so slippery that we cannot be certain of our opinions?  Do we doubt our own knowledge, we who may spend about 15-20 years of our lives in full-time, formal education or many ho…