Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Griselda and Guantanamo

It's rare for me to find something I'm reading for PhD-type purposes to have obvious and hugely pertinent relevance to a situation in The Real World. But Agamben's Homo Sacer, published in Italian in 1995 and in English three years before 9/11, could have been written as a description of the men incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. I'm still reading the final section, in which Agamben applies his theory to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. In an interview with the German Law Journal, Agamben discusses the parallels much better than I could.

This book treats matters that are deeply serious. Consequently, I feel a bit of a fraud in opting to use it to think about the Clerk's Tale. People who have suffered terribly at the hands of those in power may not thank me for comparing them to a fourteenth-century poem. But Griselda's innocence and her vulnerability to subjection to her husband's abuse of power provoke such extreme reactions in readers from Petrarch (when he encountered the Decameron), his two friends, Chaucer's pilgrims, Vivaldi and hundreds of others through to me, perhaps there is some validity in allowing this tale to help me to understand the terrible problem of Guantanamo Bay.

Edited to add: the idea of applying Agamben to Griselda was not mine so I can't claim any originality here.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

location location location

A friend recently commented (tongue in cheek) that the quietness of the faculty building on a Sunday morning indicates that other grads are lazy. She was joking (at least in part) but the remark is indicative of a wider trend that measures a PhD by the hours put in in a certain and visible place. This seems to me to be slightly bizarre: is there any proof that reading a particular article is more effective in the library or a graduate study room than reading it on one's sofa? 

As someone who works better with a constant supply of hot tea and diet coke, I'm not one of the people who spends 8 hours in a single place each day. This means that I have to validate my productivity in other ways: do I believe that I've made some progress with my project? have I read some interesting articles? or primary texts?

And I have to be happy about that inside, rather than relying on the affirmation of being seen putting in enough hours in a public place.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

wood and trees

In a parents' consultation a couple of terms before I sat my A Levels, the wonderful Welsh maths teacher Mrs W told me (and of course my parents) that the only danger of me getting lower than a grade A in my maths A Levels derived from the fact that I frequently got simple numbers wrong. This may sound weird (surely if I couldn't count, I shouldn't have been in danger of getting an A, full stop) but I was actually operating on a topsy-turvy scenario wherein I loved all the complexities of algebraic formulae, statistical analysis, etc and subconsciously felt that adding numbers like 2 and 5 as part of the solution was sort of irrelevant: if the beauty of the working out was there, did it really matter if an odd detail was wrong?

I made sure I checked and double-checked the little numbers in the exams, and achieved my As. But I think that this habit of ignoring the small things still exists within me. For example, I frequently forget the names of critics (famously attributing the name Victor to V.A. Kolve) or calling Northampton Nottingham for the whole of my MPhil dissertation. Recently, when citing some Old French, I wrote 'bein' instead of 'bien', and continuously used the name of an author as it appeared in my head rather than how it appears in Real Life.

While it's funny in anecdote, I'm going to have to try to become more attentive to this kind of thing. There's no point producing beautiful maths formulae or interesting reading of texts if it's based on unforced errors. But how to change the habits of a lifetime? 

Sunday, 7 December 2008

2 carol services down...

The main oddity of the 8 week Michaelmas term is celebrating Christmas before November has finished. This year, the first advent carol service didn't feel *ridiculously* early because 30th November was, liturgically speaking, the first Sunday of advent. But having waved goodbye to all the undergrads, sung in two carol services and experienced the luxury of spare time (unknown here since October 1st), I've been so so so so bored today. This is partly because the end of term coincided with a paper that I had to give. On Weds night, when the seminar was over, I realised just how much mental energy I'd been using to prepare for it. Finishing it has left me unable to finish sentences for a few days and unable to concentrate of little except sleep and deciding who to send which Christmas card to.

However, I now have A Plan to get me motivated for December. It involves a new filing cabinet from Argos, some manila folders and an unprecedented level of Linda-organisation skills.

Of course, before these heights of administrative brilliance can be reached, I have to buy the cabinet and use my well-hidden DIY skills to construct it. Monday is going to be FUN. 

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Using www.genderanalyzer.com, I discovered that this blog strongly indicates (77%) that it is written by a man. However my other blogger identity, in which I ramble about knitting has a very different set of results: "we have strong indicators that [otherblog] is written by a woman (91%)." 

Does this mean that discussing academic topics here gives the blog a masculine feel? I better look more closely at their methodology...

Friday, 14 November 2008

target audience

I have been wondering whether PhD students are ideal supervisors for undergraduate dissertations because of our engagement at the metaphorical coal face of research. But then I realised that this may put limits on our patience. With the thought of an 80000 word dissertation hanging over us, and the necessity of finding motivation to work and keep on working day in day out without any immediate sense of reward or achievement, it's hard to feel entirely sympathetic with an undergraduate who thinks that research for a 7500 piece is 'too hard'. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Originally uploaded by LindyB28
that's all I have to say today.

Monday, 20 October 2008

what to post?

I've had some wonderful blog material from the first week teaching of the new academic year; the trouble is that I've realised that I feel I can't blog this stuff. I don't know how to make it anonymous enough. If my students were to google me, would they end up on this page? I'm not in the habit of googling myself so I don't know. 

However, I am working on anonymity strategies ... watch this space.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pond Lane and Paris

A while ago, I read a copy of Susie Vereker's Pond Lane and Paris; she's kindly asked to use my review on her website so I'm going to repost it here:
22nd February 2007

I finished PLAP (what a great acronym!) last night: it's a hard book to review without including any of the dreaded "spoilers"!
This is, in fact, the book's achievement. Susie Vereker is incredibly successful at showing how perceptions, romantic or otherwise, can be totally misplaced. She takes the standard 'types' of romance and plays with their failings when they are shifted into reality. This gives the novel a great deal of pace. It also tackles the ambiguity of moral positions, enacting for the reader the disparity between what we know is right for a character whom we have grown to love and what our standard ethical code would encourage us to believe.
Yet again Transita's version of "real life" is one situated in the upper middle classes. This isn't the first heroine who's fallen into genteel poverty in the novels I've read from this publisher. The narrowness of social scale isn't necessarily a criticism but it raises questions for me about Transita's marketing capacity. Having said that, the insight into diplomatic Paris life provides a wonderful dimension to PLAP. And even our heroine Laura, whose background is firmly within the same strata as her employer's, marvellously expresses the insecurities of being female, whether the worries derive from class, culture, or chic-ness!
I actually felt that the book could have been longer - I wanted more and deeper exploration of the serious questions which are raised in the final chapters of the book. Oliver's encounter with Julius could have been revisited to provide a context for Laura, and I felt that the visit to the empty house was a 'smoking gun' that didn't explode. Nonetheless this is a challenging and unusual read which I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you're interested in Susie's books, visit pondlaneandparis.blogspot.com ; her personal blog is at susievereker.blogspot.com 

Friday, 12 September 2008


One blog I read regularly has worked out that by mentioning "panties", she will get all sorts of hits from people who type that word into a search engine. I was thinking about this last night when I considered writing here about the section of my dissertation that I'm about to send off to my supervisor. The only trouble is that, if I do so, I may win hits from people interested in "circumcision" or "foreskin", rather than in Middle English accounts of Christ's circumcision!

It's been a fun topic to work on, partly because it is a complete conversation-stopper: no one has a response for "Christ's circumcision" when they pose the question "what are you working on at the moment?" However, I've reached my usual wobbly pre-submission moment. My piece is far too quotation-heavy right now. I need to cut out great swathes of Middle English before forcing my supervisor to read it. I tend always to get too thrilled by the texts and forget to comment myself on what they are doing. So I've a 20 page draft to read through and work through.

And then I can move on to the magi.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Shamelessly stolen...

... from Speculum Stultorum:

Having read about this site earlier on, I spent a considerable amount of time choosing which of "my texts" I should input. Would it work with the anonymous Cursor Mundi? Or the cycle drama?

Eventually, I thought of a text that would fit and now have "5 means [to] destabilize, decenter, deconstruct, or otherwise devalue that book"

  1. Subjectivity as Breath: Visioning Lesbian Ethnocentrism in St Brigitta's Liber Celestis
  2. Heterosexual Savagery and the Symbol of Oral Rage in St Brigitta's Liber Celestis
  3. Coding, Producing, (be)laboring: Marginalia in St Brigitta and the Theoretical Permeability of Historicism in Liber Celestis
  4. The Postmodernity of Semiotics and the Gendered in St Brigitta's Liber Celestis
  5. The Theory of Permeability and the Encoded in St Brigitta's Liber Celestis

Monday, 25 August 2008

August drought

The weirdness of August culminated today in a bank holiday library closure. It's amazing how discombobulating I find these rare occasions. The UL is such a staple of life here that when it's shut for bank holidays or for Christmas or the dreaded (and forthcoming) annual inspection, I feel enormous panic about the absence of my little drop-in centre. So much so that I panic-borrowed on Saturday... and now have 9 books on my ticket. Slight overreaction?!?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Postel's Law

So far, I haven't really found a voice for this blog: I've been surprised how wary I've been to post here. My "friends-only" blog is full of my wittering and I suppose that's the crux of it. When I witter, I tend to reveal aspects of self that I'd rather not display to the wider world. And I'd cringe at the thought of people who know me, but don't know me well, making assumptions about me from my random stringing together of words on all sorts of silly topics.
I'm hopeful that I'll grow into this blog and think of things to discuss. In the meantime, I'm taking Postel's Law as my motto, having read it in an article today and immediately having seen its resonance for the internet and beyond:
“Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.”

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

declining interest

I should have realised that I was doomed to a life of academic navel gazing in my first Latin class, aged 11, when I felt absurdly happy to realise that my name belonged in the first declension of nouns.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


A friend has commented recently on the necessity of politeness in email-land: 'there's no excuse not to reply to an email'. I agree with this absolutely in principle. But an exchange I initiated with an academic earlier in the week prompted me to wonder what happens if we take this to its logical extreme: would email exchanges just go on and on ad infinitem? how do you know when the last message has been sent?

Saturday, 26 July 2008

PhDs and sunshine

sunny day in Cambourne
Originally uploaded by LindyB28
With so few days of sunshine each year in the UK, the idea of remaining indoors working instead of soaking up some vitamin D is not appealing. So the bookchair, the laptop and I have come outside to sit in the garden while making sense of Lydgate.

You can make your own mind up about whether it's aiding my concentration; if you're really kind, you'll ignore the fact that typing a blog entry and playing with PhotoBooth do not count as work.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Originally uploaded by LindyB28
i tried blogging a photo last week. I wrote a very long thoughtful post. But it got lost somewhere between Flickr and here.
Maybe this will work.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Got hope?

According to a poll published in yesterday's Guardian, Britain's backing Obama
Leaving aside the fact that I wear my Obama 2008 T shirt with pride (if I'd been polled, I'd have certainly been one of the 53% "voting" Obama), this article interested me because I think it reflects the current state of politics in this country.

It's depressing.

With economy drooping, inflation rising, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, MP expense claims subjected to intense scrutiny, detention for 42 days without charge, the farcical by-election forced by David Davis, the farcical selection of a Labour candidate for the by-election in Glasgow East, general bewilderment that Boris Johnson has actually become the second most powerful politician in the country, Cameron failing to capitalise on the incredibly bad Labour position, the farce of the "knife carriers visit casualty departments" announcement at the weekends, there's very little sense that the situation here is going to change for the better. There's no election due, no sense of regeneration in the Labour party, and a bunch of Old Etonians as the official opposition.

So instead we're getting our hope vicariously, through the possibility of Dubya being replaced by Barack. Even if his voting record has been angering true liberals in the US, he still looks better than our lot.

Monday, 14 July 2008

What's wrong?

Away from the Cambridge bubble yesterday, I encountered people whose lives centre more on going-to-work than going-to-the-library. So, while everyone's attitude to me was relatively benign, I received the usual set of 'but what are you going to do when you've finished?' questions. The response 'I hope to carry on researching and teaching in a university' leads to blank stares.
One man, when I'd outlined my topic to him, told me that the problem he has with PhDs is 'everyone picks something so specialised that no one can tell them they are wrong'.
On one level he's correct: you can't have a multiple choice literature examination; subjectivity is crucial to the effective critical response to a text (and just as a point of comparison, trainee vets and medics sit multiple-choice exams throughout their course).1 But we are working from primary texts and everything must return to them. If a critic creates an argument which depends more on imagination than on the text discussed, there are plenty of other critics willing to tell him so. I did suggest that this man come to the 'question time' after a seminar or a conference paper.
Sometimes people are only too happy to tell other scholars that they are wrong

1. The GRE subject test in literature is the exception that proves the rule. It is the single most ridiculous exam I've ever taken. Apparently my score placed me in a high percentile and all I had to do to prepare for this exam was glean 'cocktail party knowledge' on any authors I hadn't already covered during my degree. It only took about 20 minutes to complete after which I left the exam hall to have a nice coffee and a chat with my mum. A physics student sitting his subject GRE in the same room as me was worried that I'd had a disastrous experience but the two tests were so entirely different: he actually needed to work things out; for the lit test, you either know the answer or you don't. If you didn't, sitting there looking at the paper for another 2 hours wouldn't help.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


When a friend set up her blog the other day, it prompted me to think about my presence in blogland. I write fairly regularly over at livejournal safe in the knowledge that my posts there are "friends only" and so (in theory at least) I know who's reading them. Over on LJ, I talk about The Personal. And while I enjoy writing about that and discussing life with my LJ friends, I'd be horrified to think such posts would be accessible if someone were to google me. Being nosy myself, I know how tempting it is to search for a new student or teacher or colleague on the interweb.

But there are things that I would like to write in another space.

I recently resurrected a nice pink LindyB place as a knitting blog but even I'm aware that there is only so much one can say about a pinwheel sweater. Sample posts tend to say 'look! here's a picture of a cardigan/hat/bag/poodle; I've just knitted it. Snaps to me!' Other knitters may share my joy at wool-related creation but that space was originally (over 3 years ago now) somewhere I used (pretentiously) to ramble about academic things. And the mixture of baby surprise jackets and PhD reflections is a step into eccentricity too far, even for me.

Perhaps... if I have yet another online place to go, I may think of something interesting to say.