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Don’t DM Me… Othello got me messed up

I had a pretty good week and a really good week for English, just because I got to read Othello. I really had forgotten just how much Shakespeare could draw me in and make me feel my way through a story. I read the play in like two sittings over the course of one afternoon, and it was just wonderful – what a great time! The first two acts had me laughing and then the last three left me despondent, just totally wrecked. I’d say that’s good tragedy.

This week I finished Pride and Prejudice, and I started India by V.S. Naipaul. Not sure how I’m going to end up feeling about that one, but so far I find the steady stream of faces that Naipaul presents to me with some backstory, a spattering of setting, and some words of their voice that are obviously actually in Naipaul’s voice (in Travels with Charley fashion where everyone talks like Steinbeck) pretty captivating, and his picture of India has convinced me so far. Up until now, my only literary images of the country were from Midnight’s Children and Kim, the first of which is a bit too fantastical to parse out what’s fact from what’s fiction, and, as for the other, I’d rather hear about that part of the world from someone who didn’t help colonize it.

Really I don’t have a ton to say. I’ve written a lot in my journal today already, and I feel like there’s only so much self-reflective writing I can squeeze out of myself in a certain amount of time, so I think I’ll just let it stand here. Save, of course, for an oyster fact.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

DID YOU KNOW? Two diseases that afflict wild oyster populations are well known: MSX and Dermo. Less documented is the plague called JOD, or Juvenile Oyster Disease, which kills a certain percentage of oyster larvae each spawning season. How severe of an effect JOD has on oyster populations is not definitely known.

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Live from da Oyster Reef

Another week finds me stuck in just about the same situation I was in last week. But not exactly the same – I can at least throw a new word at it that I borrowed from a guest speaker I listened to on Tuesday: al-wad.

“The situation!” So many possibilities for this idea. The speaker claimed that the way he used it was “queering” the word, a process I don’t entirely understand, but the value I immediately saw in it was more for its picture of life in total, of everyone’s life. We can pretend to be going somewhere, or doing something, but really when it comes down to it everything is al-wad. Lebanese in Beirut, queer people in the Middle East (both the main topics of the lecture), and college students at VCU all have to contend with the situation.

Let me fill you in on the situation in the oyster reef. In the past 100 hundred years, the population of Crassostrea virginica in the Chespeake Bay has declined catastrophically due to severe overfishing, eutrophication, and perennial outbreaks of the diseases Dermo and MSX.

Let me fill you in on the situation in my Brandt dorm here at VCU. There’s clutter on my desk, I need to do my laundry, and the floor is getting dirty. I’ve come to a point where I have exactly enough energy every day to do my homework and stay afloat, and none left to write, to make music, to get better at skating, to make new friends, or to attack the Jakobson, Melville, Pound, and Naipaul who are terrorizing my backlog. On the flip side, I got to read some Donne (who I’ve been a fan of) and Lanyer (who I’ve become a fan of).

Maybe next week, the situation will be different?

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Last Spenser Week Reflection

I had a good, if still somewhat scrambled, week! Unlike last week, I got my reading quiz in on time-unfortunately this came at the cost of missing three of the daily forum posts. I just need to be reminding myself of these a little more persuasively. I think I may be a little disadvantaged there with my perfectionism, which has made me put a sometimes totally inordinate amount of research and writing into one forum post. Of course, that’s not what the forum posts are supposed to be, and I know the quality of the posts doesn’t excuse their surfeit in quantity, but nonetheless I have a hard time making something quick, easy, and routine out of posting on the forum.

As far as material goes, reading Epithalamion has changed my gut feeling towards Spenser a great deal. It’s so much more human, more flexible, and more dense than any part of The Faerie Queene, and conforms more closely with what I personally value in poetry. And yet even still Epithalamion preserves the structural classicism and “musicality” that seems to justify so much of the longer work. I appreciate it much more in the one than I do in the other. I still can’t shake the idea that The Faerie Queene‘s big majestic rotunda is mortared with so much milk.

In my personal reading life, I still have yet to get back into Egyptology-a project for another class has crowded me into a minor obsession with local history, particularly Reconstruction, which I think gets a little less attention in our modern consciousness and political thought than it’s due. In the broader picture of Southern history it looks like such a weird episode, but I’m inclined to believe that’s because it’s just about the most important episode in Southern history, when the terms and conditions of the next 150 years of politics were defined and proscribed.

I’m really hungry right now, and itching to go get some cereal, so I’ll keep the daily oyster fact short.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

DID YOU KNOW? whe

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Beginning of October Reflection

I had a really stupid week for getting things done and making progress in basically anything, but I’m out of it now and I’m optimistic about the future. While I haven’t really read anything new or come up with any big new insights in the past couple of days, I’ve at least managed to more or less catch up on all the work that I needed to get done-the consequence is basically just that my past week has not been very exciting, as is all a sort of jumble in my head.

I enjoyed The Faerie Queene… in small doses. I can be made to see the complexity and value of poetry in this very rigidly metred, longform vein of Milton and the Ancient Mariner, but it really doesn’t come naturally to me, and I feel like I get a lot more value out of shorter, more focused poems. After all, poetry is supposed to be the best words in the best order-are all the words Spenser writes in this huge work really “the best”? Also, iambic pentameter reminds me of milk. I have nothing against milk, but you won’t catch me drinking a whole gallon at once. Spenser’s rhyme scheme adds a little spice, but, for me at least, it doesn’t compensate for the milkiness of the whole. This is all, of course, very unfair of me, and I should really be making an effort to overcome this feeling of mine, which applies equally unfairly to Milton and will therefore only cause me problems in my near future.

There’ve been some broader threads in my reading life over the past few weeks that I don’t think I’ve talked about here. Seeing the New Kingdom reliefs at the VMFA three weeks ago has put me on an Egypt bent, and I’ve been reading about Pharaonic history and Egyptian art and trying to learn the basics of hieroglyphs, which I hope will help me better appreciate those overwhelming reliefs back at the gallery. I’m not sure why they had such a profound impact on me, but it was something about seeing something so old and yet so contemporary (the jumble of bodies driven before Seti I’s chariot is Exactly Expressionist) that just made me want to know more about the culture that made them. The past week has been a break in my project, but I’m hoping to jump back into Egypt of the Pharaohs by Sir Alan Gardiner and the very helpful How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs tonight or tomorrow. Saying such has provided me with just about enough text, I think, to go to the day’s oyster fact and retire.

The perceptive reader may notice that I’ve apparently run out of easily digestible but fascinating oyster facts the likes of which the name “Oyster Facts Daily” would suggest, and that the “oyster facts” I’ve been providing have been a little lackluster in quality. I can only apologize-I knew this would happen when I first chose the name, but I imagined my future self would be more up to the task of fishing up obscure oyster facts than I actually am in the present. So today’s oyster fact is, I don’t have one. Sorry. Come back tomorrow?

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First Week of Spenser – Reflection

Not so on top of things this week, alack. Not only did I leave off my weekly reflection until Monday, but I forgot to take the Reading Quiz entirely! I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again, which should be achievable by just a little more diligence and time management.

As far as material be concerned, the Psalms we read were interesting, but I felt a little indisposed to appreciate them properly-I think I need a deeper understanding of the Bible in general, which I’m hoping to obtain at some point in the next year or so by reading it through when I get the chance. This will also, of course, imply an opportunity to “marinate” a little bit in Genesis and in the story of Cain and Abel that was in the background of Beowulf.

Really, most of my energy in reading literature lately has been given to Jane Austen. I might have mentioned that I started a book club a week or so ago with some friends in one of my classes. Our first book is going to be Pride and Prejudice, but since I accidentally checked out Sense and Sensibility instead and had read P&P not too long ago I figured I’d start out with the latter and then re-read the former. Sense and Sensibility has been really interesting-to me it seems much bolder in its social commentary than Pride and Prejudice, and it’s willing to cast its characters in a pretty harsh critical light. The center of attention, though, is of course on two abstract concepts that inform every event of the story: sense and sensibility, which we might today call reason and emotion. All problems of thought are problems of language, said some German-was it Wittgenstein or Schopenhauer? Whichever, it’s interesting to apply to Austen’s two best-known books, which are extended, developed, qualified, dynamic definitions of two little words in the English language.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

DID YOU KNOW? Social perceptions of oysters have changed throughout history. They were a delicacy in the Roman Empire, but a “dirty” food for the working class in Dickens’ England.

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Norwich Week

I just might be incapable of having a bad week because everything continues to go smooth and silky for me. I hadn’t been as engaged with the Canterbury Tales as I maybe might have liked, but I turned that around with Julian of Norwich-I feel like I was always on the crest of what we were talking about and that I was an active part of the conversation. It’s funny to me how bits of the Showings and bits of our class discussions lined up with whatever I happened to be reading on my own time. The day Dr. C lectured on the Early Christian doctrine of sin as non-being, I had just seen the particular quote from Augustine that established that idea in the book I was midway through, On the Grotesque by Geoffery Harpham.

It’s been a productive literature week for me in general. I finished reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Left Hand of Darkness in the past 7 days, and I started a tiny book club in my International Relations class (our first read is going to be Pride and Prejudice). As always, I’m doing a better job of accumulating books than disposing of them. Three books from Cabell still sit on my window sill awaiting my attention. About a million from home crowd the drawers in my desk. But all shall be well, and all shall be well.

I’m meaning to take the reading test in the next few hours, and I’m relatively confident, if a little groggy. Hopefully that goes as smoothly and swetely as everything else.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

A millenium hence, they’ll no doubt expose

a fossil bivalve propped against this gauze

cloth, with the print of lips under the print of fringe,

mumbling “Good night” to a window hinge.

(A Part of Speech, Joseph Brodsky)

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Reflection on the Second Week

This second week, I think I was more on top of things. I read the readings ahead of time, left notes in my margins to refer back to later, and remembered to make my daily blog posts. Some of those posts ended up guiding my thought from one idea to the other, so that as the writing became an atlas of what I was thinking it was also the signpost telling me where to go next. I think that reciprocal relationship involved in writing is really important.

I love the feel and the atmosphere of Round Table stories, and for me the fact that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written in verse only strengthened the effect. All these odd characters have to contend with life or death situations that they usually approach with this knightly laissez-faire attitude. It’s just one of the things that make these stories both tragic and very funny. The tale of Sir Balyn and Balan has always been my personal favorite. These two brothers are actually really ridiculous characters-they’re buffoons who can’t do anything right and (until the end) always escape by the skin of their teeth. They spend the whole story trying to prove themselves, but their mistakes have enormous consequences that catch up to them.

One thing in particular in Sir Gawain in the Green Knight really caught my interest. Reading the poem prompted me to do a lot of thinking about games. After all, Gawain’s journey both starts and ends with a game. But what is a game really? I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out. Does a game have to be social? – if so, a chess match between two computers doesn’t fit the bill. Does the structure of the game consist of the rules that limit behavior, or of the set of possible moves each player has at their disposal? Any game must either have an infinite number of restrictive rules or an infinite number of possible moves, if the game is defined in solely terms of what is or is not allowed. And what about Tag? Tag was the game that brought me to my final conclusion. There are really no negative or positive rules to the game Tag. It’s not required of the player who’s “it” to chase the other players, and it’s not required of the other players to run away-in fact, you’ll often see people allow themselves to be tagged or, once tagged, give up trying to tag other players. I chose not to see these cases as exceptions, as being “outside of” the structure of the game. Really, the only fact that defines the game of tag is that one player is “it,” and when that player tags another player they pass on that role. Instead of using negative or positive rules, we can define the game as a relationship between identities. So I’m now entertaining that as a general definition.

The central game in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would seem to be a great example. Bertilak, beginning the game, assumes the identity of the Green Knight. He comes to the court and challenges any knight who dares to take the role of the striker. In a game, the player’s original identity is unimportant-anybody can just as easily assume the role. This is why both King Arthur and Sir Gawain were equally eligible to strike the Green Knight despite their difference in rank in their, so to speak, “waking lives.” After Sir Gawain beheads the Green Knight, he is held to honor the condition of the game, which is, after all, a relationship between identities. After one year, the striker and the struck switch places and the blow received the previous year is returned. As in a game like Tag or Hide-and-Seek, the players have a great deal of freedom in how they choose to act in these roles. Bertilak, of course, has the option at the end of the game to return Gawain’s blow only lightly. The fundamental relationship between the roles, however-that the striker has to submit himself to a returned strike the following year-is immutable. Only once that condition is fulfilled can Gawain abandon his role in the game and return to his own identity. We see this when, once Bertilak has grazed his neck, Gawain leaps to his feet, throws on his helmet and raises his weapons and shield. The action is a very visible, physical manifestation of the resumption of his typical identity.

This is particular has been really interesting to think about, and it’s something I’m planning to develop further in coming days. For this next week, though, I’m most excited about starting The Canterbury Tales and having a chance to read the verse in the original-I’ve never been able to find a hard copy of the whole thing in Middle English, although I once learned to recite the first fifty lines or so of the prologue. My favorite line was “To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes.” I never learned what it meant.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

DID YOU KNOW? In the months leading up to the mating season, the oyster’s gonads comprise by far the majority of the organism’s mass.

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Reflection on the First Week

The first week of British Literature has been a really exciting and promising experience. Of all my classes, it was probably the one I was most anticipating-I’ve been a lover of British literature for years, ever since my first encounters with the old masters Austen and Sterne and my fortunate discoveries of Kazuo Ishiguro and Barbara Pym. Going back further in that tradition, all the way back to the oldest surviving writings in the oldest recorded dialect of that same English language, was something I was eagerly looking forward to.

I’d never read Beowulf before, but I found it more or less the way I had always imagined it. The writing is crystal clear, almost coarse even, letting the strength of the myth, of the hard inner rock of the story itself, shine through all the more brightly. All the great legend and folklore I’ve read has always had that same power in it, accompanied with that same sense of durable coherence.

When I moved onto campus on August 13th, I had planned to write every day in a little journal I’d been keeping, using it as a space to expand on my thoughts and develop my ideas, or to step back from myself and take a stab at introspection. Almost two weeks later, I can’t say I’ve been as successful at this as I hoped. Thankfully, the posts I made on the class forum and (perhaps more importantly) the discussions I sat in on or joined wholesale at the end of each class filled that void to a certain extent. They were opportunities to question my ideas and bounce them off of something-be that something a page, a computer screen, or a fellow human being. This would constitute all the more reason for me to be more diligent about keeping up with the daily and weekly schedules for thought and reflection, a front on which I’ve been admittedly lax. The timestamp on this reflection stands witness.

All things considered (and all remaining little hurdles ogled) I feel very confident about the upcoming weeks and I can’t wait to get into Sir Gawain and the Green Night tomorrow.

Today’s Oyster Fact is:

DID YOU KNOW? Oysters are generally believed to be protandric, meaning that they are born male and transition to female at some indefinite later point in their life cycle. The process underlying this sex change is still ill-understood.