Two days of sessions are in the books, I’ve had my dinner, and am back in my room, having decided that relaxing sounds better than gladhanding at the various receptions tonight. I’m pretty beat, but it’s a pleasant kind of tiredness.
Things got rolling yesterday at breakfast — my newly minted graduate found me in the cafeteria, and we talked about the various sessions we wanted to catch. We ran into the first great law of Kalamazoo — at any given time, there will be at least two sessions involving things that would be interesting. You can never catch everything you want. I opened the day with a session on allegory in early drama, and heard talks on the 12th-C. German drama Ludus de Antichristo and my old friend Castle of Perseverance.
After that, I headed for a session called “Teaching Rape: Approaches to Difficult Moments in the Medieval Literature Classroom.” As two of the texts under discussion (Marie de France’s Lanval and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath) are texts I teach pretty regularly, I hoped to get something useful out of the session. I was less than thrilled. The term “rape culture” was unveiled in the first few minutes (and no, they weren’t talking about this stuff), the bit about a 20% sexual assault rate in colleges was trotted out, and by the end of the session, the discussion turned to “trigger warnings.” (By the way, let me just say that as an educator and a thinking person, I find the trigger warning business ridiculously condescending. My parents were murdered by another member of my own family. I saw the autopsy sutures in my dad’s scalp at the funeral home. I saw a couple of crime scene photos at the trial. I’ve spent five years living since the murders. It hasn’t all been easy, but I’ve done it. To suggest that a violent scene in a book or movie is going to somehow damage me further gives no credit at all to my own resilience or durability. Sensitivity is one thing, but I’m not made of glass and wet crepe paper.)
One interesting note from the session. One of the speakers mentioned being at Duke when the Lacrosse case occurred. She said she was absolutely sure at the time that the lacrosse players were guilty, but she said she knows now that she was wrong. However, she then went on to say that the really terrible thing is that even though “only 0.5% of rape accusations prove false” (as opposed to unprosecutable, or unprovable, or something like that), cases like Duke’s cast doubt on the remaining 99.5%. I’m not sure that’s the real lesson of what happened in Durham, but I suppose reasonable people can differ.
Please understand — as a husband, and as the father of a daughter, I can’t imagine (short of murder) a more heinous crime than rape. However, I can’t see works like Lanval or the Chaucer piece as some sort of aggression, or even microaggression. I don’t think anyone is inspired to perform or condone acts of violence, sexual or otherwise, as a result of reading those stories. If they are so inspired, then their soul is already irremediably twisted. Or as Sam Kinison said about Charlie Manson, “IT WAS JUST A F—ING RECORD!”
Next up was a session that included a paper by the archaeologist I met the other day, and who has joined my student and me for most of our meals in the dining hall. She discussed issues involving a site in Sweden where she has worked recently. It was a reminder that you don’t have to be Indiana Jones or Howard Carter to do cool stuff. The session also featured a discussion of primary education and its chartering in Lyon in the 13th-16th C.s, and some documentary work about false assertions in documents concerning the Danish possession of Schleswig in the 15th C.
After that, dinner, and then a lecture on adapting Shakespeare (a little anachronistic, I know, but Kalamazoo is large — it contains multitudes.) In the meantime, my grad was going to various grad student events, including one sponsored by our host university, where she’ll be studying this fall. Network, kid!
And speaking of the young lady, today was her turn to shine in one of the two undergrad sections. But first, I caught the morning’s plenary lecture, on the metaphor of the lamb in Christian and Jewish communities in the Middle Ages. After that, it was a session on the intersection of the medieval with modern genre fiction. All the papers were enjoyable, but the final paper drew the most attention. Although Tolkien was a devout Christian, there seems to be little mention of religion in medieval-flavored fiction (despite the role of Catholicism in the period), and even when there is, the presenter argued, it tends to treat organized religion as a very suspect institution. I suggested to the presenter that he might want to check out Christopher Stasheff and Gene Wolfe, just to see what he might make of those — I also pointed out that even Chaucer only could come up with one good guy in the clergy. Meanwhile, the grad was checking out a presenter who argued that the Book of Kells may actually be the work of a single hand. She said it was interesting, but palaeography isn’t my thing.
After lunch was the undergrad session, and it was a treat to see one of Mondoville’s own alongside kids from Samford and the U of Chicago. She held her own, and afterwards, I told the organizer that if he wanted, I’d be happy to help him put the session(s) together next year. It was a proud afternoon.
For the last session of the day, I checked out some Celtic studies — I’m not strong in the field, but the presider/organizer was on my dissertation committee, so I wanted to say hello. Even as a relative layman, the papers were interesting.
After that was dinner, and now, as I said, I’m back in my room. I’m looking forward to being at least this tired tomorrow as well.