Friday, May 18, 2018

Oh, the Fun of Searching Through Old Fanzines

Argh. So, thanks to the MLA International Bibliography, I recently saw an article on Poul Anderson's medievalism by well-known Tolkienist Richard C. West.** It appeared in a 1973 issue of a small fanzine called Unicorn. Amazingly enough, the U of A library had it as a bound volume, so I mosey on down here . . . and discover that the bound volume has all the issues of Unicorn EXCEPT the one I'm specifically looking for. 

Well, interlibrary loan, you are now my new best friend.

**West, Richard C. "Medieval Borrowings in the Fiction of Poul Anderson." Unicorn 2.5 (1973): 16-19.

Monday, May 14, 2018

And in the unexpected e-mails category . . .

Just received one from a professor in Belgrade (!) who asked me a question about Saul Kripke's modal semantics. I imagine this guy thought to contact me cuz of my article on possible worlds theory in Fastitocalon last November, but yeah, I kinda had to redirect the poor fellow on his particular question. I took a course of formal logic as an undergrad, plus a brief informal seminar on modal logic, but all that was way back in the day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

End of Kalamazoo

So, after four sessions plus a business meeting here in Kalamazoo, I'm at the airport and ready to go home. This has probably been one of the most -- if not the most -- productive conference I've ever attended, and that includes meeting Stephen R. Donaldson during ICFA a few months ago. As I sit here, I've been ruminating about the biggest takeway. Even more than hearing many great papers, I suppose, was the chance to meet Tolkienists in person -- but even that deserves some expansion, I feel.

It's one thing of meeting Tolkienists whose work I've long admired*** . . .  but also another thing to meet Tolkienists whose names I recognized but whose work was only vaguely known to me. Tolkien Studies is such an incredibly large field, with several new books and essay collections being published each year, that as a poor hapless grad student struggling to finish his dissertation, sometimes you just have to ignore, or merely skim, some of the newest stuff. It's a sanity-saving device -- you can't keep absolutely as up to date as you'd like when you're writing, so you tend to gloss over those scholars only tangentially related to your own interests. But Kalamazoo has helped me put faces to some of those names, and that'll help to raise my awareness of their work. It's one thing to know that a book has recently been published on Topic X -- another thing to recognize how the immense amount of work-hours being put into these projects but other people. And now if I see an article by John or Jane Doe, it'll make a greater impression now than it did before.

*** and having dinner with them!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Action packed last 24 hours in Kalamazoo


So, got in at 3 am this morning -- that's the first bit of news (although, given the time zones, it was "only" midnight according to my internal body clock).

Went to the first Tolkien panel at 10:30 am, hearing papers from Dimitra Fimi, Kris Swank (who teaches at Pima C.C. in Tucson, apparently!), and Yvette Kisor. Then came my panel at 1:30 pm . . . and a rollicking good time was had by all. Andrew Higgins and Jane Chance (!) gave good papers, and my paper was . . .well, stimulating? Let's call it stimulating. It certainly spurred a fair number of questions / pressure points during the Q&A. Basically, I was explaining why Boromir got a raw deal in the text and why his thymotic qualities are being undervalued both by the text and by Tolkien scholarship alike. It's kinda tricky to make such an argument, as I'm arguing that Boromir isn't as good as someone like Faramir but that his perceived vices are not really vices. Well, not very many people seemed convinced, it seemed, but the discussion was quite lively nonetheless, and I came away with a number of argumentative points that needed sharpening.

Then, after the panel, the really big stuff happened.

At least for me, at any rate -- afterwards, I found a small group of Tolkienists, who couldn't have been more friendly or more welcoming, and spent the next 6 hours chatting with them about all things various and sundry. Had some free wine which the medievalists were giving away. Went to a lovely local Indian restaurant for dinner. Now's it's 9 pm eastern time and I'm exhausted. Too much excitement, and now it's time for bed!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Heading to Kalamazoo . . .

At the airport now, ready to make the long flight (two layovers!) from Tucson to Kalamazoo. . . will be arriving at 11:10 pm. They say that the Medieval Institute shuttle services all flights, I'm still a little nervous about how late I'll be arriving, and since the dorms apparently close at midnight, any delays might find myself sleeping out of door.s

But I'm pretty excited about this, and there'll be quite a collection of Tolkien scholars involved.

And here's to hoping that nobody notices that I'm not a medievalist!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Poul Anderson and Old Norse Poetry in Translation

So, by dint of my work on Paul Edwin Zimmer's poetry, who once dubbed J.R.R. Tolkien and Poul Anderson as his "literary masters," I'm now delving into what Poul Anderson has done poetry-wise . . . .

. . . and this has proven to be quite an interesting task. I'm pretty much getting all my information on Anderson's poetry from the wonderful Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database, and, while some of it has been reprinted in widely scattered -- and hard to find -- volumes of work, much of it first appeared, and continues to only appear, in the famous sff fanzine Amra. This was a great home for many 1960s sword and sorcery authors, including Lin Carter, L. Sprague DeCamp, and of course Anderson. So my weekend was spent basically interlibrary loaning hoards and hoards of Anderson poetry which appeared in the fanzine over the course of the decade.

Many of the poetry, intriguingly, is not original to Anderson; it's almost entirely translations from Old Norse (which largely echoes the alliterative metre of Old English). With any luck, it should start arriving within the week. Looking forward to it.

A recent excursion into C. S. Lewis

Looking for some light reading after doing some dense critical theory, I decided to wander over the local Bookman's and grab myself a number of C.S. Lewis books:
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • The Abolition of Man**
  • Mere Christianity.
My thoughts?

(1) Lewis is a remarkably clear writer, and his style is refreshingly pleasant.

(2) He may not be a genuine philosopher, but he's funny, he's charming, and he writes with an incredible honesty. He's someone who I'd really like if I ever had the chance to meet him -- and that's not something I often contemplate when reading an author. Quite the opposite, actually.

(3) On much of the practical advice that he gives, we're pretty simpatico. For example, he calls "gluttony" any situation where someone is overly picky about the food they eat. I might call it something else, but it's a tad too self-indulgent for my taste**** and also, if you're out in public, just plain bad manners. Likewise, Lewis was famously careless about the way he dressed, and that shows up in his advice about fashion.

Although, unlike Thoreau who also wrote markedly on fashion, Lewis takes an explicitly Christian take on the subject: "The aim [of fashion] is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely" (Screwtape 106). Maybe I've swallowed too much feminism, but having "marriage" be the ultimate goal of inter-gender relations seems a tad much.

(4) Sometimes Lewis has truly Straussian moments (although neither Leo Strauss nor Lewis had mostly likely ever heard of the other). For example, Screwtape: "The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase  in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man's own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the 'present state of the question'. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge -- to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour -- this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded" (Screwtape 150-52).

(5) Still, he's about as anti-activist a writer as you can imagine. Check this out: "If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is ever-lasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment" (Mere Christianity 75).

While I agree that individuals are more important, CSL's frequent & dismissive remarks about mass political activism (a la the French Revolution and the American Revolution) suggests how strongly he feel such political activism is "unimportant" in light of "higher" concerns. No wonder establishment lit crit hates him -- critical theory is basically nothing but political activism by other means. Lewis's views on this subject nearly appall me; if accepted, in my view, they're nearly fatal to the brand of Christian humanism he advocates.

**The Abolition of Man actually came up during my dissertation defense, so I'd been meaning to read it for awhile.

*** See what I did there?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

APR . . . . passed!

As an innovative program, one of the things that the U of A Writing Program has begun doing in recent years is an Annual Performance Review for Career-track Faculty (i.e., the group formerly known as lecturers and NTTs). This year being my first year, obviously this was my first APR. Since I was a member of the APR committee in the fall, I mostly knew what to expect and, despite hearing some horror-and-griping stories from older lecturers, the process was pretty manageable.

All in all, gathering together the various documents** took me . . . actually, I have no idea. Anywhere between 5-15 hours, I suppose. That's the benefit of doing bureaucratic work while avoiding harder writing tasks like composing an article -- the time just flies by.

Anyway, last Monday I had a post-APR meeting with one of the WP faculty . . . it's a nice gesture on their part and just a way to touch base with us Career-track faculty. Quite a positive experience, and it's a relief to know that I didn't flub my first big academic chance as a recent postdoc. We'll probably know by mid-May about contract renewals. No one's expecting any unexpected budget shortfalls, but let's keep our fingers crossed on that. 

*** These documents included a teaching reflection, a teaching improvements document, Teacher-course evaluations, sample student writing with instructor feedback, an observation, and a list of service activities. The last went especially smoothly, partly thanks to the two publications I had in November. Overall, for the service, I scored something like a 23 or a 25 when the maximum was only 5.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Discipline Wars

Back when I was an MA student and unsure of the future direction of my academic study, I was obsessed with a perceived divide between literary studies and philosophy. Critical theory and cultural studies seemed like a lot of hocus pocus to me, where good old-fashioned analytic philosophy had the methodological rigor to get the truth out of real questions.

Well, that perceived divide is no longer a big issue with me (the value of one and the limitations of the other have become more apparent), so it's somewhat amusing to see disciplinary rancor when it crops up. I'm currently reading a book called Fame by a professor of philosophy named Mark Howlands. He's talking about the Protagorean view that "man is the measure," by which one understanding of the phrase is that truth claims such as the earth's roundness are always relative to the observer. This, however, "is a truly asinine doctrine," he says, "that can find a home only in university English and cultural studies departments" (33). 

And as much as I"m not a big believer in certain intellectual trends within cultural studies, nowadays it's hard to score polemics points with me . . . and I'm annoyed at such a bad paraphrase of a complicated set of ideas.

Friday, April 6, 2018

First (Solicited) Book Review

Well, this was a peach . . . . Other day, I received a random email from a well-known Tolkienist entitled, "Book on Tolkien for JTR." Immediately I think, Whoa, he wants to review for Fafnir! Just a few days before, I posted a CfR for Fafnir that had five Tolkien books as among the available titles. I was surprised because established scholars don't usually engage in reviewing all that much . . . it's more something for motivated early career academics.All five of those books had been grabbed up within the first 24 hours, incidentally, and I was worried that I'd have to explain how his book had already been given away!

Anyway, turns out that he was actually offering me a chance to review a book for Journal of Tolkien Research, which tickled me pink for all sorts of reasons. I've done tons of book reviews before, but usually after seeing a CfR or soliciting a reviews editor. This was the first time someone had solicited me. Moving on up, as George Jefferson would say.

And we even had a nice e-mail exchange afterward. Apparently, we'll both be at the International Congress in Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in a month and, as someone who's had almost two decades of experience going to this conference, he told me all sorts of cool things about the conference.