Classically Inclined

December 1, 2016

On sabbatical goals and #acwrimo

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:56 am
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I decided this year that I was going to have a go at Academic Writing Month, better known as #acwrimo over on Twitter. Taking its inspiration from National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, it’s basically a way to get an academic writing practice established – whether that’s daily writing, having a project finished by the end of the month, you name it, you can have a go at it. I had a go at this back in 2012, with mixed results – I found it a good way to push myself forward on revisions for the Seneca book, although I didn’t get as much done I as I wanted (plus ça change). AcWriMo isn’t good for everything – its emphasis on counting words, for instance, isn’t always the most helpful thing to do to help move your academic work along. But right now, given the fact I’m trying to get as much of the monster book drafted as possible, I thought that going the AcWriMo route would be sensible to move the sheer generative phase forward.

And so I set myself a very simple goal – to write at least 500 words a day, with Sundays off. And it worked really quite well… until the 22nd of November, when I completely fell off the bandwagon through a combination of full family sickness, travelling to a research seminar and giving a paper, and needing to finish the work of rigorously checking the proofs of the Seneca book by the deadline. So there’s been quite a lot of academic work in the last week or so of AcWriMo, but it’s not really been translating into words. Which is fine, not least because the proofs have been returned, the seminar was successfully given, and generally all the other bits and pieces I needed to do are more or less done – thus again reinforcing the point that word count isn’t always the most important thing.

But on the issue of word count, I don’t think I did too badly – overall, I managed a bit over 14,000 words in those three weeks. This was made quite a bit easier by the fact I’m counting my seminar script and handout translations in those words, and the former certainly pre-existed and just needed to be shaped into a script form. But the other words mean I’ve now got all of chapter two for the monsters book in first draft, and chapter three is under way.

When I applied for this sabbatical, I said that my goals for the term were to complete the majority of the Monster book manuscript, and to complete an article based on the research seminar. A short, sharp encounter with reality meant that I soon revised the first goal to having the first half of the Monster book in first draft, which feels like it should still be doable – not least as I’m due to give a paper at an AHRC conference in a few weeks based on chapter four, which should get that started. I’m not sure about whether the article manuscript will get much further, but at least I know what I want to say and that there is a kernel of an idea there. So it’s all progress – and sometimes, putting the words down onto the paper is what you need to do.

November 16, 2016

Coming soon to a bookshelf near you… The Ethics of the Family in Seneca

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:59 pm
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seneca-book-page-proofThere are quite a lot of things contributing to a sense of unreality around here at the moment. One of the more pleasant of these is that I am currently working through reviewing the proofs for my soon-to-be-published book, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca (available for pre-order now!). There’s something very surreal about seeing the words that I’ve agonised over for almost ten years in the font of Cambridge University Press, suddenly getting a whole new dose of authority in the process – are these really my words? In a way, the other surreal thing is that they aren’t my words any more. My job in checking the proofs isn’t to change anything, but to look for problems of presentation, spelling, referencing and so on. To use a natural metaphor, these are words in their chrysalis, waiting to become fully published words and spread their wings, not words that I’m nourishing on some kind of intellectual cabbage. (Alright, it’s an odd metaphor. I’m sticking with it.)

Starting to look at the proofs and working out a strategy for approaching everything that needs to be checked has reminded me that I’ve never really written about the book here. I started blogging just after defending my PhD thesis, so while I’ve grumbled a bit about the whole revising the thesis into a book thing and have talked about some of the spin-off work that’s come out of it in more detail (like the ad Polybium article), I’ve never done more about the thesis/book’s content than a plain English summary of the thesis early on. I guess this is one of the perils of living with a project for so long: it becomes utterly normal to you. I certainly know I’ve had days of wondering why I’m putting in all the effort, before reminding myself that the ideas that have become so familiar to me will be completely new to other people – which is why I’ve followed the long road that’s got me to these proofs and will, eventually, produce a real live book.

9781107145474So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the book and what you can look forward to when it comes off the presses and into your eagerly awaiting hands. My modest goal is to revolutionise how people think about ancient philosophy and the family. There’s a tendency for the family just to be ignored – to be treated as if it’s something that only those social historian types need to worry about, while we can read ancient philosophers as if they knew their Kant. This is a problem, particularly with Stoicism – Roman philosophy is about constructing a system of belief in which everything has a place and everything intersects. That is, if we can spend so much time talking about how various ancient philosophies think about friendship, we can surely give some attention to what they have to say about how we should relate to our family.

This may sound like common sense, but there’s very little out there that thinks about how familial ethics operates in the ancient world, or even if it’s a thing. I argue that it is – that Stoicism offers a framework through which to understand all parts of the world, and that through reading Seneca we see how Stoic concepts shape our relationship with family members. There are chapters on mothers, fathers, brothers and marriage; I have a look at how Seneca handles the imperial family, and close by running through Seneca’s Epistulae Morales or Moral Letters, which are written to someone with a serious commitment to becoming a better Stoic rather than the general audience Seneca is trying to attract to Stoicism in most of his other writing. All of them suggest that the family is a significant place for moral formation and education, and that when the family gets it wrong, bad things happen. Bad things like Caligula.

Why does this matter? Because looking at ancient philosophy as if it were something that doesn’t match up to the other bits of ancient society doesn’t make any sense. Because treating the family as if it doesn’t connect to the intellectual sphere doesn’t make any sense. Because seeing how these various layers of understanding the world interlock and inform each other matters if we are going to understand what Seneca thinks he’s saying, and what we might make of what he’s saying. Because, oddly enough, women and children feature in the lives of philosophers. The Romans didn’t see any distinction between their philosophical activity and the rest of their lives – neither should we.

November 3, 2016

New publication: This Is Not A Chapter About Jane Harrison

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:42 pm
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Just a brief note to share the exciting news that my chapter “This Is Not A Chapter About Jane Harrison: Classicists at Newnham College, 1882-1922” has now been published! It appears in Women Classical Scholars. Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly, edited by Rosie Wyles and Edith Hall, and I’m really delighted to have contributed to this fantastic volume. It’s bringing together whole swathes of previously forgotten women scholars and shows the kinds of contributions have made to classics as a discipline over the centuries – often despite the expectations or censure of men.

My particular chapter charts out how we go from a situation where women aren’t accepted to study at Cambridge in any capacity to the situation, after the first World War, when women are established in the teaching faculty of the university, women students are an accepted presence at university lectures (despite the continued objection of some individual lecturers), and female academics are developing their own chains of inheritance rather than relying on men.

A lot of this work drew heavily on material from the Newnham College archives, to whom I owe a great debt of thanks; I wrote about some of the hidden gems I found in this post about what the departmental photocopier looks like in 1903.

For me, this chapter is a marker set down for future work – but for now, the monsters call again.

October 31, 2016

Livetweeting conferences – a protocol

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 1:56 pm
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This set of guidelines was originally compiled by the team of Tweeters who were planning to attend the Classical Association conference in 2014, with me basically kitten herding. The intention was to offer guidance to those new to Twitter and livetweeting, and to help them and more experienced Tweeters create a comprehensive and useful livefeed for those not attending the conference.

These guidelines originally appeared on the Classical Association blog, but because of issues with the CA’s website they are not currently available. I am taking the opportunity to repost them, and to make a few small edits to make them applicable for conferences in general. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the original #CA14 crew for their help and assistance.

The Basics

  • Always tweet using the conference hashtag. Include this in all tweets you want included in the conference feed; anyone following the hashtag will see it, and it will be used to compile an archive of the conference tweets later.
  • If you don’t know the conference hashtag, ask the organisers for one, or come up with your own – before committing to it, do check that it’s not being shared by another event.
  • Be aware that livetweeting can change the atmosphere in a room, particularly if you are attending a single track conference; it may be appropriate to tweet less and be more directly involved in conversation at smaller events.
  • If you are asked to stop livetweeting by a panel chair, a speaker or a conference attendee, please stop. Many are not comfortable with Twitter as a medium; its presence should not negatively impact the conference experience for other attendees, however positive we may feel about social media.
  • You can livetweet whatever you like about the conference – the papers, the plenaries, the social side…
  • You can tweet as little or as much as you like. A livetweeter who tweets half a dozen times over the whole conference is as important as one who tweets half a dozen times to thoroughly summarise a single paper.
  • You may find this article on livetweeting conferences in general helpful: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/03/ethics-live-tweeting-academic-conferences

In Panels and Plenaries

  • Always begin your tweets of a paper with the speaker’s initials, to make it clear that you are reporting their argument. If a tweet gets widely retweeted, this makes sure the right person gets intellectual credit for the idea.
  • If the speaker is on Twitter, please use their Twitter handle when livetweeting – that will let people following on Twitter connect with them if they so wish.
  • If you are giving a paper, mention your Twitter handle as you begin, or include it on your handout.
  • Remember that the goal of livetweeting a paper is for somebody who isn’t in the room to be able to follow along with the speaker’s argument.
  • You may find that sitting at the back of a room makes you feel less self-conscious about tweeting; it may also make the process less obtrusive for other attendees.
  • Please make sure that your device is on ‘silent’.
  • Please demonstrate the usual high standards of professionalism, collegiality and courtesy that are the hallmarks of classicists as a discipline – that is, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • It is fine to have multiple people livetweeting the same session.
  • Don’t try to livetweet your own paper. Trust us on this.
  • If anyone following along on Twitter asks a question, please feel free to ask that question of the speaker and report the answer back. However, be aware that questions from people in the room take precedence.

Outside Panels

  • Again, please demonstrate professionalism, collegiality and courtesy in everything you say.
  • Remember to ask permission before posting photographs.
  • Be mindful that people following the hashtag are interested in the academic aspects of the conference rather than what dinner looks like. Unless someone has made a scale replica of Troy in mashed potato.

October 27, 2016

A monstrous case study: the sirens and porn

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:32 pm
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One of the pleasures of working on classical reception in popular culture is that every so often, an absolute gem of a case study falls into your lap. Earlier this week on Twitter, Natalie Collins shared this video from the Naked Truth Project, and as you’ll see it’s extremely relevant to my current monstrous interests:

The video uses the myth of the sirens to offer handy tips on how to deal with your porn addiction. Learning from Odysseus putting beeswax in his men’s ears and having himself tied to his ship’s mast, and from Jason getting Orpheus to sing a sweeter, louder song to drown the sirens out, the men (and the target audience is very clearly men) watching this video should avoid what they can; ask others for help; and pursue the better song.

Where to begin.

Let’s start with the underlying premise that the ancient and the modern world have no distance between them. In a line that would generate floods of red ink in any undergraduate essay, the voiceover informs us that “throughout history and the arts, sirens became the personification of sexual temptation” and that “a few thousand years later, and pornography is more accessible than ever, with the same deadly pull of the sirens’ song.” Notice the grand generalisation, the chopping of several millennia of culture, the flattening of the cultural register. Sirens = porn, and from the Greek heroes we can learn how to deal with them. We being we men, and heterosexual men at that – the sirens of the start of the video are echoed by the women on the representative screen, as if they have moved from their rock to the internet, erasing the existence of gay porn. The shallowness of the cultural comparison speaks to a real modern problem in dealing with the classical world – the idea that the Greeks and the Romans were ‘just like us’. If the Argonauts had had to handle pornography, this is what they’d have done. The strangeness and difference and peculiarity of the ancient world disappears.

Yet there is also a strange desire to be authentic in this video, to give an accurate tale about the myths. The fact that the video uses not only the well-known story from Homer’s Odyssey but also the less well-known story from Apollonius’ Argonautica speaks to a wish to engage with the classical sources – or, quite possibly, some intelligent and careful perusal of the Sirens’ Wikipedia page. Either way, the desire to make sirens look ‘real’ gives us the visual representation of the monsters as having the form of women with bird wings – we’ve returned to a ‘classical’ model of what sirens look like rather than the mermaid-like figures who have, in some ways, replaced the sirens in the popular imagination of the last century or so. Again, this could be down to someone on the design team with a bit of classical education under their belt, or some judicious Wikipediaing – but, either way, this desire to be ‘authentic’, tell the real tale, get a bit of legitimising classical reference in there, is in operation. I’d say the same about the video’s observation that the sirens want either to get sailors to drown in shipwrecks or to eat them when they get to the island – including the lesser known fate of the victims adds to the sense of aiming for authenticity and authority, which of course is then used to give the advice in the second half of the video more moral weight.

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October 20, 2016

The Cambridge Greek Play 2016

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 5:16 pm
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It’s been that time of year again – when hoards of classicists descend upon the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see whatever is being presented as the triennial offering of the Greek Play. Since I wrote about the 2013 playthe Greek Play website has been given a revamp to include a lot of material from the Greek Play archives, all the way back to the performance of the Ajax in 1882. I should also note that the first production to include more than one woman seems to have been the 1950 Oedipus at Colonus, which is really quite late if you think about it, particularly since Bedford College had been putting an all-female Greek play (starting with Iphigenia in Tauris) since 1887. The single outlier was Janet Case, who played Athena in the 1885 Eumenides, but no other women appeared on stage until the 1950 production. But I digress.

This year’s offering followed the format of the 2013 production by bookending a tragedy and a comedy; my thoughts on gender come a little from the choice to stage Antigone and Lysistrata, plays which both revolve around female protagonists. The pairing of tragedy-comedy is meant to try and capture something of the spirit of the Great Dionysia, where the audience would be given the blessed relief of a satyr play after a thematically linked sequence of three tragedies. I have to say that there is something to this, the idea that after being plunged into gloom, the responsible dramatist pushes down hard on the other side of the seesaw. There’s also something very rich in the demands made of actors shifting between modes so quickly, and it allows the comedy to make jokes using the audience’s knowledge of what happened in the tragedy. Helen Eastman, the director of the Greek Play since 2010, has spoken about the improv/workshop approach she takes in the seven weeks before the performances, which allows the plays to develop organically and in dialogue with each other. This relatively short window is particularly important for the comedy, which needs to keep pace with current events; I think the team deserve a small round of applause for managing to keep on top of political developments over those seven weeks without completely loosing the will to live at the number of rewrites they must have needed.

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October 12, 2016

On classical monsters, theoretical frameworks and the limits of psychoanalysis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:59 pm
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This post follows on from my previous thoughts on whether you can have a monster outside a horror movie, and takes a step back from the assumption that ‘monster theory’ automatically works for classical monsters in the modern world. In my earlier post, I mentioned Asa Mittman’s statement that you know a monster not through how it is categorised, but through its effect. There may be some unifying characteristics – monstrous size, deformity, malevolence – but none of those is in and of itself sufficient for the monster to be monstrous.

Mittman’s position draws heavily on ideas of the monstrous created by psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic approaches to culture, as does Jeffrey Cohen in his highly influential seven theses of monster culture. I’ve just skimmed over the monster theses again; while I spot more references in the body of the text to Foucault than Freud, the language of the psychoanalytic is woven through the argument. Certainly, later writers on monster theory engage with this theoretical angle with gusto, quoting Freud and Kristeva and working the notions of the uncanny and the abject into their approach.

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September 24, 2016

To Cyclops or not to Cyclops?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:15 pm
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When I first came up with the Monster Book proposal, I decided I wanted to have the first half of the book think about some of the big issues around monsters and dedicate the second half to chapters focusing on individual case studies – the plan is for those to look at Medusa, the Minotaur, centaurs and sirens. As I’ve been starting to get to grips with the project, I’ve had to think about what I want to do about Polyphemus, the Cyclops who first turns up in Homer’s Odyssey. It’s funny, because when I initially thought about classical monsters, Polyphemus simply didn’t come into my mind.

If you read the original text, for me it’s a story not about what makes a monster, but how to be human. Polyphemus is one of a tribe of Cyclopes rather than a one-off beast. Yes, he eats some of Odysseus’ men and has every intention of eating all of them, but he only does so after discovering the company in his cave, rifling through it and breaking all the laws of guest-hospitality that should govern the first encounter between civilised peoples. Odysseus’ decision to rifle through Polyphemus’ possessions, essentially pillaging them, makes it clear he doesn’t think that Polyphemus is worth treating like an equal – so Polyphemus returns the contempt. So there’s appalling interpersonal relationships, but no worse than many of the humans that Odysseus meets on the rest of his travels.

However, although Polyphemus is an exaggerated human rather than a monster for Homer, in his later incarnations the trappings of civilization that surround him get stripped away. Eleanor OKell has written about this in the context of the cyclops created by Ray Harryhausen for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, if you fancy reading more about this (the link goes to a PDF), but the general gist is that the social complexity of Polyphemus’ life, his co-existence with other Cyclopes, his command of language and his obvious competence in the complicated art of shepherding and cheese-making get overwhelmed by the man-eating and the single eye. In the process of transmission, he gets flattened out into a beast.

So I think my initial instinct on this is right, and I’m not going to spend too much of the book talking about Polyphemus or the Cyclops – he’s a special case, in that his monstrosity is imposed on him. It certainly wasn’t the only thing that the ancients associated with him – he fell in love with the sea nymph Galatea, who did not return his affections. Both Theocritus and Ovid wrote about Polyphemus’ unrequited love – not something you find when people are talking about the Chimera or the Minotaur. While it’s understandable that the Cyclops in contemporary popular culture has been trimmed down to a one-dimensional bogeyman, the price that’s paid is the humanity that Homer and other ancient poets saw in him.

September 13, 2016

Can you have a monster outside a horror movie?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:42 pm
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This is what I hope is going to be the first of a series of blog posts exploring some of the central issues that come up as I spend my sabbatical getting to grips with the Monster book. I am currently reading All The Theory – that is, trying to get my head around what it is that makes a monster monstrous, and how a monster manifests. On my reading list, inter alia, sit Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and Freud’s essay on the uncanny or unheimlich, along with a dose of Barthes and Benjamin. I am getting familiar with the stomping grounds of monster theory, delineated by Asa Mittman and Jeffrey Cohen, as well as looking at how various parts of cultural and media studies talk about this stuff. The logic here is that I’d like to draft out my initial two chapters, thinking through what a monster is and where monsters live, and then think about the third chapter, which looks at classical monsters in film (and which will build on the paper I gave at the Celtic Classics Conference this summer, “Release The Kraken? Ancient Monsters In Modern Epic”). So while the hope is that I’ll come up with a framework that’s broad enough to cover all the kinds of popular culture I want to talk about, in terms of examples I’m currently circling around film.

Which has led me to a problem of genre, which I ran up against when writing “Release the Kraken” but didn’t really explore there. Much of the writing about the monstrous, about what causes fear, assumes that for something to be truly monstrous, it has to generate a particular sort of response. That is, as viewers, we must fear it. What makes a monster a monster is terror, the emotion that it evokes in the viewer – the shudder of the horror film. Indeed, Asa Mittman argues that what makes a monster is its impact – by its effect shall ye know it. The cinematic monster, for instance, is often visually horrifying because it is covered in blood, pus, ooze – taking the form of a slimy mess of a blob that pulsates and repulses us. The connection between this and the psychoanalytic approach to horror, that we are terrified by the return of the repressed and the impure (to oversimplify), is clear – bodily fluids are taboo, we shudder and fear them.

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September 8, 2016

Sabbatical planning 1 – Shut Up and @britishlibrary

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:18 pm
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I’ve been thinking about planning my sabbatical term, and have realised there is a big risk of not seeing a sufficiently high concentration of humans over the next few months, which I know is bad for me. (I suspect it will be even worse than it has been in the past given that a lot of the time when I do see humans, I’m seeing them in the capacity of infans’ mother rather than as an academic.) So I thought I’d see if anybody would be interested in a semi-regular meet-up at the British Library – a version of Shut Up And Write, but a bit more flexible.

It turns out that Clare Vernon is in the market for something like this, so we’re going to meet up on Wednesday 14th September for the first of these sessions. The plan is to meet at 9.30am for a pre-desk cup of tea in the downstairs café; meet up again for lunch; and then perhaps meet up for an afternoon tea and a debrief. We’ll also put dates into the diary for the rest of the term – I’m hoping we’ll go fortnightly, although prior commitments may mean we’re not always on a Wednesday and we might not always be fortnightly.

So if you’re on sabbatical or working on research solo and would like an informal way of keeping in touch with other humans, feel free to come along. One of the reasons for setting dates is so that people who can’t make every session can plan to come along for a day – and if you can just make it for a morning or an afternoon, then you’re welcome too. The point is to create a bit of structure for community and hopefully facilitate some research work – I suspect Clare and I will set it up to suit us, but if you can hack it to suit you, then that’s all to the good. If you’d like to know the dates we come up with, please get in touch and I’ll keep you updated.

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