tree_and_leaf: Text icon: "and I'll say again, only slightly louder... HOW?" (I'll say again - how?)
From an older chapter of my thesis: I had forgotten this - in fact, I think I'd suppressed it.

Cut for cruelty to hedgehogs )
tree_and_leaf: Text icon: "It doesn't take a degree in applied bollocks!" (applied bollocks)
*is hit by intellectual oncoming train*

You can view the Christian concept of sanctity as a meme or memeplex (in the Dawkins sense, not the internet); not just the evolution of the complex, but the functions which holiness and the saints perform in affecting the beliefs and behaviour of believers (saints are at least partly there to create more saints, to put it crudely). What's more, I think it can even be made to work in a theologically satisfying way which doesn't sacrifice the importance of grace, because at times grace can work like the concepts with in a meme/ memeplex.

Why the devil didn't I think of that before? Especially as it's rather late to replan the thesis on that basis now... (and why am I struck by this while trying to throw something together for supervisor, who will probably think I'm thinking too theologically again?)

Of course, I may be fundamentally misunderstanding Dawkins' idea, but I must chase this up (and start with Drout's book on memes and tradition, since I'm not a biologist.) But I think there may be something to go at there.
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
Having noticed a mistake in two of the wordle pictures... Am still having trouble getting them onto my laptop, as the stupid computers in the lab don't have an image editor, but I'm hoping Word will do.



Adjective and adverb:

tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
Paper probably mostly finished, but I'm not trying to time it now (45 minutes is a big chunk of time!) Not very good, as yet,but it's only a first draft.

Surreal moment of the day: being invited to a one-man performance of Samson Agonistes to celebrate the anniversary of Milton's birth - in St Mary Magdalene's, Oxford. Under the beneficent painted eyes of two statues of Our Lady and a portrait of Charles the First.

I do hope that Milton has acquired a sense of humour in the intervening centuries.
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
Here are some word clouds germane to my thesis, based on use of helig (holy, adj), heleklich (holy, adv), and selig (blessed) in the Mechthild von Magdeburg.

Cut to save bandwidth )
tree_and_leaf: Text icon: sarcastic interpretations of commonly used phrases in scholarship. (terms commonly used in academia)
Have come across the sentence: Hoc est michi ineffabile gaudium quod sancti calumpnia valeo loqui tecum

Most of this is quite clear, but what the hell does 'calumpnia' mean? (The text is a Latin translation of a Middle High German text, in diplomatic transcription, but this does not help much, as ineffabile is used to translate endelosú, which does not mean quite the same thing. The sancti calumpnia appears to correspond to a MHG phrase meaning 'without guile', but this doesn't help me much.)
tree_and_leaf: Walter von der Vogelweide's birdcage helmet-topper. (mediaevalism)
Why have I only just found out about the Mittelhochdeutschbegriffsdatenbank, which allows you to search an astonishingly wide corpus of MHG texts by word?

It's brilliant! And a double edged sword: enables you to find semantic comparisons much faster, but also to waste an awful lot of time saying "Ooh, nice words..."

In other words, I'm going to have a really fun morning.
tree_and_leaf: Portrait of John Keble in profile, looking like a charming old gentleman with a sense of humour. (anglican)
“Finally and most controversially, I believe that religious experience reveals the traces, however opaquely filtered, of a real and transcendent object. This is not to exclude the possibilities of self-deception and deliberate fraud, both common in medieval Christendom as in all societies where religion is a hegemonic force. Nor is it to deny what I have just asserted: the presence of innumerable and rarely translucent filter, both psychological and social, that serve to veil the transcendent object. In fact, my essays deal explicitly with these “filters” and not with what lies beyond them. I write as a historian and literary critic, not as a theologian. Nevertheless, I assert this conviction to clarify my theoretical stance and to overthrow the last bastion of reductionism, To leave a space for transcendence means to allow for the possibility that, when historical subjects assert religious belief or experience as the motive of their actions, they may at times be telling the truth. it also means to accept the irreducibility of the phenomena, and thereby to reject all totalizing explanations. The complexity of human experience, but especially of the divine, is such that no historical reconstruction can be more than partial and provisional. Where not trace of uncertainty remains, there bias and illusion hold triumphant sway.”

Newman, Barbara. 1995. From Virile Woman to womanChrist: Studies in medieval religion and literature. Philidelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 16-17.

I've been avoiding reading this for a while, because the title just about gave me hives (not the ideas, the typography), but it's very good, and the passage I've quoted above gave me a strong feeling of recognition. It's freeing to hear respected scholars talking like that (the only other historian I've heard insist on the validity of the religious experience is Dinzelbacher, who has never got that even geniune experience must be literised and therefore is legitimately subject to literary analysis, which is a very unhelpful attitude).

It also clarifies why I've been feeling fraustared with the course of my research: examinig the 'filters' feels increasingly like missing the point, interesting and valid and important though it is. Maybe I am in the wrong line of country, after all. Or rather: maybe I need to find a way from here to there?
tree_and_leaf: Photo of opening of Beowulf manuscript (Hwaet Beowulf)
A chapter heading from the "Revelations of Agnes Blannbekin" :

Regarding the Birth of the Blessed Virgin, How Christ was Born from her, and Regarding Sodomites.
tree_and_leaf: David Tennant in Edwardian suit, Oxford MA gown and mortar board. (academic doctor)
I was reading Agnes Blannbekin, Viennese beguine (†1315) today. She gets a rotten press, because she recorded some visions about the eventual fate of Christ's foreskin - which was a source of genuine and fairly serious theological controversy at the time, because of its implications for the nature of Christ's risen body - which firstly contradict the eventual answer the church settled on, and which secondly have a rather odd subtext to the modern reader. But this is unfair: she has some interesting ideas, and I rather like this vision of the universe, presented in the first chapters of her book (or rather, her confessor's book, which is why it's in the third person):

Since the hand of God came on a holy person after Mass in church, she began to lose her strength with a sensation of sweetness. Experiencing raptures and enfolded in unspeakable light, she saw a man, handsome before the sons of man, and in that man she saw that light. And in the man and in the divine light, she saw the elements, and creatures and the things made thereof, the small and the big, distinct in such great luminosity that it seemed that each, no matter how small, shone a hundred times brighter than the sun. As the sun shines, so does even the smallest grain or stone. And the clarity of the sun as it is now would be judged dark in comparison, much like the moon when it is hidden by a cloud. The created things were so distinct in their brightness that each was different according to its characteristics, so the green seed, and the red rose, and so the others.
Among all elements and created objects, the earth was especially bright, the reason being that God assumed His body from the earth, and that during the Lord’s passion, the earth was soaked in the blood of the Saviour and the saints. All of this was [revealed] in that man, that is, Christ.

(translation: Agnes Blannbekin, Viennese Beguine: Life and Revelations. Translated from the Latin with Introduction, Notes and Interpretive Essay. Ulrike Wiethaus. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2002.
tree_and_leaf: David Tennant in Edwardian suit, Oxford MA gown and mortar board. (academic doctor)
It's really extremely difficult to read more than a little of the mystic Elsbeth von Oye, I find. Not so much because the language is difficult, but because all this stuff about self-crucifixion, belts with nails on, God instructing her to keep torturing herself so that he can feed from her inner marrow and above all the bits about the maggots actually makes me feel ever so slightly physically sick.

I'm also having difficulty - at least partly because I find the underlying theological assumptions so questionable and repellent - not emulating the attitude of an early C 20th scholar and just stamping it as 'pathological' and turning, with relief, to something less icky. Not every male scholastic labling of a female text as 'sick' is necessarily the reslut of sexism as such, though it may well result in a failure to find a meaningful way to read the text.

Sometimes one wonders if such a way exists. I certainly don't think that, looking at it with a modern Christian hat one (whatever that may look like!) rather than a mortar-board, that E v. O is one of the mediaeval mystics who modern believers will get much from. And even from a more academic point of view, it's difficult not just to view it as a train wreck...

One thing which I do very much admire about many mediaeval female religious writers is the ability to find meaning in their suffering, to use it as a means of imitatio Christi and as a way to God; but it becomes very problematic for me when it's self inflicted (rather than as a result of illness or problems arising from the active service of others). Of course, looked at historically, women were very circumscribed in how they could serve God, and they became more limited into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Elsbeth probably didn't even have the option of a more active life, even had she wanted it, in the same way that (say) Elisabeth of Thuringia did. So perhaps these are texts of 'sickness' in a different sense to that which one is inclined to think - the 'sickness' is primarily in the church of the time and its unholy structures, and less so in the women, or only secondarily so. I have sometimes wondered if the female religious writers who were so obsessed with the Sacrament of the Altar weren't 'really' experiencing something that a modern liberal would identify with a call to the priesthood rather than to the nunnery (here endeth the a-historical reflections which doubtless interest nobody bar me - and certainly wouldn't please my supervisor!)


Dec. 7th, 2007 03:03 pm
tree_and_leaf: Text icon: sarcastic interpretations of commonly used phrases in scholarship. (terms commonly used in academia)
So what do you call images that change as you walk past them? I've seen nineteenth century ones recently that were made by cutting one picture into equal strips and pasting it onto another image at right angles, so I'm not sure if 'hologram' is right.

Oddly enough, I need to know the proper term for this for an argument in the latest bit of my thesis...


Nov. 20th, 2007 12:04 pm
tree_and_leaf: David Tennant in Edwardian suit, Oxford MA gown and mortar board. (academic doctor)
I'm currently trying to make a poster describing my thesis (which is on mediaeval literature, more precisely on Mechthild of Magdeburg). And I'm finding this really tricky: I'm using Powerpoint, and I'm going to print it at A3, but I'm worried about it ending up overloaded with text.

Has anyone out there had to do this sort of thing, and do you have any tips?

ETA: Google Images does produce some strange links. I expected the esoteric stuff, but I can't imagine why "Das fließende Licht der Gottheit" produces a German page on imagery in Terry Prachett...
tree_and_leaf: David Tennant in Edwardian suit, Oxford MA gown and mortar board. (academic doctor)
It's possible that fandom is eating my writing style; also, that I should leave less cryptic notes to myself. I can. fortunately, remember more or less what I meant by "but let’s stop for a moment to consider the image of vampire! Ecclesia", but it's probably a good thing I'm not coming back to it after a month or so...
tree_and_leaf: Head shot of a weasel in evening light. (Our Lady of the Weasels)
There is a tendency to complain about the planlessness of 'The Flowing Light of the Godhead'. Actually, while 'spiritual diary', a term often applied in the criticism, albeit often explicitly out of a sense of helplessness, is clearly misleading, what it most reminds me of is an lj, since you get random incidents from (claimed) RL (visions; Rows I have had with thick-headed clerics), fanfic (er, imaginative narration of biblical or legendary events), meta (theological reflection), bits of comment on current events and snippets of formless dialogue, all within the same text or textual corpus.

Grubmüller rightly notes that this shouldn't be put down to female irrationality (yes, this has been said) or to lack of education, but is a positive choice and that the effect of the text is der Simultaneität unterschiedlichster Formen, Inhalte und Sprecherhaltungen, eines im Flusse sich herstellenden, sich der Verfestigung entziehenden, auf Syn-Opsen und Syn-Ästhesien gerichteten Textes, der seine Einheit erst im Rezipienten findet und so den Prozeßcharakter der mystischen Erfahrung .... gegen die Bedrohung einer unangemessenen Erstarrung rettet.† [the simultanity of the most varied forms, contents and speaker-roles, a text which produces itself in a stream, resists being made fast, and aims at synopses and synaesthetic effects, a text which first finds its unity in the reader and thus preserves the processural character of mystical experience ... from the threat of an inappropriate paralysis.] (Poor) translation mine.

It occurs to me, moreover, that the form of the work is precisely in accordance with the title, and with the concept of God presented therein. The work 'flows', like a river, and mediaeval rivers were not as controlled, as dammed in, as we know them today. They went where they liked, and humans made their dispositions accordingly. They were not neat or tidy. Equally, one point of the work is that God, and the love of God, cannot be contained.

I'm also now wondering about whether one could write a paper on "(Women's) mediaeval religious writing as fandom", and if so, who on earth would read it?

†Grubmüller, Klaus. 1992. “Sprechen und Schreiben. Das Beispiel Mechthild von Magdeburg” in Festschrift Walter Haug und Burghart Wachinger Band I. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 335-348.
tree_and_leaf: Peter Davison in Five's cricket gear, leaning on wall with nose in book, looking a bit like Peter Wimsey. (Books)
I've been reading the most fascinating book - in fact, it was so fascinating that I felt compelled to go and buy it, even though there's a perfectly good library copy out in my name at the moment. But I know it's something I'm going to keep wanting to come back to. It's God and the Goddesses, by Barbara Newman, and deals with the proliferation of mostly allegorical figures that are called 'goddesses' in religious mediaeval writings, and also about the divinized Mary and the feminized Christ.

It's all very fascinating stuff, either from a literary or from a theological/ history of ideas point of view, but the aspect that particularly got my attention was the parts which dealt with 'God as goddess'. (I suspect this will be of interest to some of the people on the flist at least, remembering recent discussions on [ profile] castalys's journal.

Cut for stuff about God. And sex. And cross-dressing )
tree_and_leaf: Portrait of John Keble in profile, looking like a charming old gentleman with a sense of humour. (anglican)
I'm currently reading up on Our Lady, or rather on the Virgin in mediaeval theology and culture. It's extraordinary difficult to find good work on the subject, though: I've already moaned about the Freudian brigade, but between the sickly piety of many of the Catholic writers on the other hand, and the Catholic-bashers on the other hand, I am beginning to get a little fed up. Pity Miri Rubin's book isn't out yet, as the articles I read by her on the subject are very promising.

Insert Rant here )

In a happier and more Anglican connection, I note that today is the commemoration of George Herbert. The C of E obligingly provides a collect of the day on the subject, which I copy here because I rather admire the way the liturgist has worked in references to Herbert's poetry:

King of glory, king of peace, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honours to be a priest in the temple of his God and king: grant us also the grace to offer ourselves with singleness of heart in humble obedience to your service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Also, I got out of Blackwells without buying An Anglo-Catholic Manual of Devotion, which is probably good for my general sanity.


tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)

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