Historia Calamitatum

Most of the time, when someone first finds out I study Arthurian literature, they mention Monty Python. I smile and nod and move the conversation on as quickly as I can, because – I’d never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Until today. As I’ve been putting together material for the Indiegogo campaign, inevitably Monty Python came up in discussions with friends who were offering help and encouragement. I reacted the way I usually do, saying that “that’s not real Arthurian stuff.” And then I realized I can’t possibly say that without ever having seen more than a few clips of it. Besides, it’s supposed to be funny, right? So worst that can happen is I have a fun, mindless couple of hours. It was definitely fun. But it was far from mindless. See, part of my fascination with Arthurian legend – most of my fascination with Arthurian legend – is rooted in its adaptability. I love modern retellings of Arthurian tales, including YA books like Meg Cabot’s Avalon High series, which is set completely in the twenty-first century and yet I still consider it Arthurian! And I’ve been saying for a long time that I love A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court because of the way Mark Twain plays with the legend – but that’s exactly what Monty Python does, albeit in a decidedly different manner. I also resisted watching it because I thought it was untrue to the “Arthurian spirit.” I still think that. It is. But it departs from the Arthurian spirit with obvious thought and deliberation as to how and why to do so. In the end, what Monty Python does with the legend is exactly what I’ve been saying I admire about how the legend lives on. Every new retelling, every variation, puts its own spin on it, molds the legend to fit its own purposes. The modern re-enactors I saw who do call themselves knights – they use the Arthurian legend unironically, and I think it’s amazing the way they use centuries-old traditions of honor and chivalry to inform their daily lives. Monty Python uses the Arthurian legend ironically in order to comment on absurdities and inconsistencies in both the legend itself and in contemporary times (if you consider 1975 contemporary). And both of these are valid and important uses of the legend and tradition, and both of these should be studied. I consider myself suitably chastened and have adjusted my view to encompass more of that “everything” I thought it already did.

The Wanderer

Hey there! I’m starting this blog partly as a way for me to share my excitement about all the great things I’m learning about, and partly as a way for me to keep track of the things I’m thinking about.

I’m a bit of a wanderer when it comes to the texts I read and approaches I use, but it always comes back around to the same thing(s).

I started out focusing on Arthurian texts and wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on Old Welsh and Old French Arthurian tales with a New Historicist/Reception Theory approach.

Before starting grad school, I took a graduate course on the French of England and realized I wanted to work on romance more generally, and I narrowed my main focus to Middle English and Anglo-Norman. I started dabbling in theoretical approaches new to me as I wrote a paper about Boeve de Hamtoun’s relationship with the Saracens via his horse and the Saracen princess who becomes his wife.

Once I started grad school, I read a lot more theory – and I mean a lot – and started taking classes that leave me breathless after each session and continue with animated discussions with my colleagues in the lounge and on social media for the rest of the week (and sometimes longer).

Now there are so many angles and entryways into so many different texts that I’ve revised my “one-liner” about what I want to work on so that it could encompass just about everything:

  • I study medieval literature, particularly Middle English and Anglo-Norman romance, looking at the construction, maintenance, and fluidity of boundaries, and the translations, transformations, conversions, and adaptations that occur across those boundaries.

I do want to stay in medieval literature, and I do want to focus on romance during this time period, but I also want to work on Anglo-Saxon literature and literatures of other languages such as French, Welsh, Norse, Irish – I’m writing a paper this semester on the Middle Scots Morall Fabillis of Robert Henryson – and I want to learn more about animal studies, postcolonialism, posthumanism, affect theory, disability theory, and textual studies – among others.

There are so many little tidbits that get me all fired up but won’t necessarily make it into a paper or presentation, so this will be my space to share those!