Classically Inclined

July 30, 2019

Me on Coffee and Circuses!

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 2:54 pm
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I was absolutely delighted to be interviewed by David Walsh for the latest episode of the Coffee and Circuses podcast. If you’ve not encountered Coffee and Circuses before,  the format is an hour or so’s chat with an academic about their current research project and the general state of the field – so obviously I had great fun talking about Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture, as well as Seneca, decolonising classics and the state of my kitchen (guess which one didn’t make it into the final recording for technical reasons…)

Many thanks to David for hosting me, and I hope you enjoy listening!

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July 24, 2019

The monsters are coming…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:40 pm
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Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture

It’s all starting to get a bit real now on the Tracking Classical Monsters front. I think I last wrote about the structure of the book when I thought it was going to look rather different, so I thought I’d take a moment to give a quick update on how it actually turned out. When I shared the original outline, not only did I think the book was going to have a different title, I also thought it was going to split nicely into two even sections. The first half of the book would do theory and overview, exploring a bit about film and television; the second half would look at four individual monsters as case studies, drawing out the consequences of the arguments made in the first half. Simple.

Alas, the book had other ideas, as I realised when writing the film chapter. It just was not going to be a single chapter, and there was no way I could condense the material down into a single chapter without horribly compromising what I was going to say. Similarly, when I got to the television chapter, I found myself with absolutely buckets to say about Hercules: The Legendary Journeys – in retrospect, I might have realised that there’d be quite a lot to say given that I had watched 111 episodes of the thing, but never mind. This is a great example of the way a project can change between your original conception of it and the final result – in this case, the source material was just so much richer than I anticipated, and I found that in order to say what I wanted to say, I needed to take more room.

Now, it was probably a bit of a blessing that I realised this in the middle of the book rather than at the end, because I was able to make adjustments to the overall plan to reflect this shift in my sense of what I wanted to include. In order to include all the things I’d found and wanted to say about the films and television, I decided that the most sensible thing to do was to cut two of the case study chapters. Sadly, the sirens and the centaurs fell by the wayside, although I did try to work them into other discussion wherever possible – hopefully I’ll be able to come back to them at a later stage when I’ve got a bit more time to look at them in detail. The Minotaur and Medusa stayed because in some ways, they are the most prolific of the ancient monsters who crossed my path while I was doing my research – not that other monsters weren’t there, of course, but these were the two who consistently got sent my way.

So there you have it – the book shifted shape not because the argument changed, but because my source material turned out to be so much more interesting than I thought it was going to be. It was a nice problem to have.

What’s next? Well, there are plans for a book launch in the works when the book is released on Halloween, so watch this space. There’s also now a Facebook group for the book, which you can like here – as well as updates on the progress of the book, I’m also using it as a place to share all the fantastic monsters who get passed on to me as the result of being A Person Who Does This Sort Of Thing. I’m sure there will be other things, but in the meantime I’m going to try and concentrate on not melting…

May 24, 2019

A general update

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:28 am
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Most of the posts on here recently have been in support of teachers and students working on the Love and Relationships option for the OCR Classical Civilization A-level – there’s more of that to come (and do get in touch if you have any suggestions for topics to cover!), but I thought I’d take a moment to write a bit about what else is going on.

We are in the middle of marking mayhem here – I’m working through my first year Roman Literature exam scripts, with the promise of my Latin Language & Reading exams dropping into my lap this afternoon, with everything needing to be marked and moderated by Thursday. It’s a tight turn-around, but doable if nothing else gets done. It’s been quite a good year for teaching – I want to write in more detail about my Contemporary Approaches to Latin Literature course, but for now, I’ve had bright and engaged students in all my courses who have pushed me to do better. One thing that I did notice is that there is a world of difference between teaching my first year Roman literature survey to students in the first term, as I did this year, and the second term, as I usually do. I usually meet the first years once they’ve worked out how assignments work, how to follow the style guide (more or less). how to navigate the library catalogue and JSTOR. This year, I met them when they had none of that experience, and I had to do a bit of rapid adjustment to give them the support they needed. It’s a really obvious thing, I know, but I’ve never caught this course in the autumn before, and it caught me a bit off balance.

I’ve really enjoyed the texts I’ve been teaching to the Latin Language & Literature students – Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae and Plautus’ Amphitruo, both of which have done interesting things for my understanding of those particular texts and for my Latin grammar. I last taught Latin L&R in my first year at Royal Holloway, with the De Brevitate Vitae as a set text, and there was something quite gratifying about coming back to it and realising how much better my Latin has got over the intervening years. Now, of course, I have to make sure that I don’t assume my students know Thing X because Everybody Knows Thing X when actually I know Thing X because I’ve been handling Latin for mumble years.

In terms of research, the main crunch this year has been the Monster book – now with the proper and exciting title of Tracking Monsters in Popular Culture (available for pre-order now…). The turn-around on this has been much faster than I anticipated – I submitted a full manuscript at the end of July, and expected reader comments back in December; they arrived in October/early November, which meant the date for delivering the final manuscript was the end of February, not after Easter… I worked hectically to meet this deadline, more for myself than for anything else, but it did mean essentially doing eight weeks’ worth of hours in six weeks after Christmas. The book went into production – and the proofs arrived with a two week turnaround deadline just as my dissertations needed marking and the Women’s Classical Committee UK AGM needed planning and attending! Those have gone back now, but I think it’s safe to say that the monstrosity inside this book has leaked out into the production process.

In terms of other research, I’m in a slightly odd position of having been absolutely rigorous about blocking out a research day during term, but now doing no research at all. Part of that is to keep on top of marking mayhem, and part of it is that I need a bit of peace and quiet to jump-start working on the next projects. On the plus side, I will be on research sabbatical in the autumn and the spring, which means no teaching or administration. The plan is to get started on the second Seneca book, which will look at the family ethics of his tragedies, along with turning a couple of conference papers which also look at drama into proper publications, but that’s a bit intellectual shift from monsters. So the current plan is to clear the decks of admin and marking (hopefully by next week!) and then focus on getting back into Latin literature gear.

There should start to be a bit more activity on this blog, not least because of the sorts of questions that research sabbaticals throw up and that are good to write out in this forum. However, the reality of the thing is that it’s always going to be an optional extra, and in crunch periods it’s one of the first things to go.

September 4, 2018

On Monsters and Heroes

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:20 am
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This post originally appeared as a guest post on The Future Fire blog as part of the publicity for the Making Monsters anthology, which I have an essay in titled “Caught in Medusa’s Gaze: Why does the ancient monster survive in the modern world?” and clearly you should all go and get a copy.

As I have been thinking about the manifestations of classical monsters in the modern world, one critical thing I have learned is that they have an unhealthily co-dependent relationship with their heroes. Monsters are often ported into narratives purely for the hero to slay them; retellings of classical stories frequently take the moment at which a hero slays a monster as the story’s anchor. Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, Hercules and a wide variety of supernatural fauna – although the slaughter of one by the other is predicated by the mythic tradition, they have clung to each other to survive through the centuries.

But now, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, are we starting to see monsters break out of this toxic relationship? Certainly, more classical monsters are making lives for themselves in which they distance themselves from their heroes, or where the story they have to tell decentres conflict and death. I wonder how much of this is due to a relatively recent move in representations of monsters which has started to see them as sympathetic, enticing characters. Vampires are perhaps the best example; from Anne Rice’s brooding and sensual Vampire Chronicles, the erotic horrors of The Hunger (1983), and the sparkly romance of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the act of being transformed into a monster has become something to be courted rather than avoided. As the balance between fear and desire has begun to shift, monsters have become more complicated, less obviously evil.

The parallel development has been that we have started to see that the heroes are less nice. For the ancients, this would not have come as a surprise – they knew Hercules was horrible to his family, that Odysseus was duplicitous and self-centred, and they talked openly about these men’s failings as much as their virtues. However, nineteenth century versions of classical myths sanitised and valorised heroes, mainly so they could work as moral exemplars for impressionable youths; as such, heroes’ violence, white supremacy and patriarchal abuses were celebrated as worthy of emulation. Looking at these heroes and their sense of self-entitlement, their belief in their own right to trample over the earth and take whatever they felt like, the injustice of their actions and the way some post-classical cultures have uncritically honoured them now makes their heroism look much less appealing.

The general question of who gets to be a hero, and what makes someone heroic, turns our gaze back to the monster – because maybe, just maybe, monsters get to be heroes as well. Again, this is part of broader patterns of reclaiming what society might consider monstrous. There is a long tradition of coding monsters, particular in Hollywood cinema, as queer, giving LGBT+ audiences the uncomfortable experience of identifying with a villain only to see them vanquished as part of a heteronormative plotline. In recent decades, the LGBT+ community has reclaimed monstrosity – just think of how much Lady Gaga means to her Little Monsters who feel alienated and marginalised because of their sexuality – and with that reclamation comes power. Power to see the monster as important and valuable in and of itself, rather than simply as a victimised adjunct to somebody else’s story.

Where does this leave classical monsters? Certainly they will always be connected to their heroes; they have been fellow travellers for centuries. But perhaps we will see, in retellings of their stories in future years, a loosening of that binding, a relaxing of the tie, a shrugging off of the conventions which claim the classical monster’s only value lies in its defeat. Perhaps, after watching the catastrophic effects of letting heroes tell us what to do, it is time to see what lessons the classical monsters can teach us.

August 8, 2018

Classics (and me) at Nine Worlds!

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 9:30 am
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This is slightly short notice, but better late than never – I’m going to be at Nine Worlds in London this weekend!

More specifically, I’m going to be at Nine Worlds on Saturday, and you can listen to me geek out about Hercules and Xena:

Classical Reception in Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
11.45am-12.45pm

In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero – two heroes, to be precise. Classicists Liz Gloyn, Juliette Harrisson and Nick Lowe unpick the wild, weird, and wonderful workings of classical antiquity in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Come with us to a time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel – and monsters, muscles, and martial arts were brought to bear on the deconstruction of patriarchal canons and the decolonisation of foundational narratives of the west.

You may have already guessed that this is an offshoot of the Monster Book, because it is, but it’s also a chance to talk about how classical reception works in the Xenaverse, which has had such long cultural reach since its creation in loads of really unexpected ways.

It is also part of my on-going sneaky attempt to create an unofficial classics track at Nine Worlds; we’ve not quite managed last year’s critical mass, but you might also be interested in:

I have left this post a leeetle bit late as today is the last day to buy tickets, but I’m looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Edit: as pointed out in the comments, tickets will be available on the door as well – so don’t let a last-minute opportunity pass you by if it fits your schedule!

July 31, 2018

On writing 2000 words a week

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:13 pm
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This post, part of my general attempting to unwind from the experience of writing the Monster book at speed, is inspired by a long-ago request from Laura Varnam on Twitter (which she may now have well forgotten!) about a period when I was setting myself of writing the goal of two thousand words a week. She wanted to know why I ended up taking that approach and how it worked – and I admit, it’s not exactly the sort of thing that I’d recommend to most people for most projects.

I came to the ‘two thousand words a week’ approach at the end of summer 2017, when I had a May 2018 deadline for delivering my book manuscript. (You’ll note I didn’t quite make that, but never mind, that was the plan.) I had five chapters in draft and was starting to write chapter six, and was wondering how on earth I was going to make it up to a manuscript of 85k words in time… so I sat down and did some maths and thought about process. I knew I wanted to have a completed draft by Christmas, if at all possible, so I could send it to friendly readers and work on first round revisions myself, and have a chance to work in changes by the May deadline or as close as possible to it. I reckoned I wanted to get to about 80% of my word count to be ‘happy’ with the manuscript length, allowing for edits inevitably making the thing longer and for things like the bibliography, the introduction and conclusion and so on. To get there, I needed to be writing 2000 words a week.

So I did. Which sounds… well, simpler than it was, but I should note that by this point I was writing up thoughts on Xena: Warrior Princess and Doctor Who, before moving on to two case study chapters where the main point was working through receptions and plotting how they all worked together. The writing fell into manageable chunks quite easily, either in terms of episode-by-episode or case study by case study, which meant having it all together in my head was less of a problem than trying to write ten thousand connected words for an article would have been at that speed. It took a while to get up into gear for the writing; roughly half of the weeks, two thousand words didn’t happen, although I usually managed to bank somewhere over a thousand which was still great progress, particularly during term. Equally, when I had planned to be winding down at Christmas with 80% of my word count in the bag, I found myself actually there but with a whole chapter still to write! So I kept up the 2k a week word goal until the middle of February, when there was a full manuscript (bar introduction and conclusion). There was a lot of writing at home; there was a lot of writing on the train during the commute. I got surprisingly good at that, although again I wonder how much the material made it easier than it might have otherwise been.

What did I learn about this? That I could do it, mainly. I also pushed myself far too hard to get it done and finished, and I paid a bit of a price for that, particularly around the turn of the year when pushing out those words made doing other things very hard. I should note that, in order to make those words happen, I blocked out my research day and didn’t let anything else in; I don’t think that was the problem, and indeed it’s a habit I want to make sure I don’t break. The problem was that it put me under enormous pressure to produce and move that word count along to meet my target. I’m not sure the book would be finished now without that level of discipline, and I’m pretty sure that I’d be even more frustrated with the whole process if I were still finishing off a first draft. But the drive to meet the contract deadline, given the general flexibility of academic publishing around this sort of thing, was pretty self-inflicted. Nonetheless, it’s taught me a very valuable lesson – I shan’t be signing a book contract again until I’ve got at least a half-completed manuscript under my belt!

July 27, 2018

The ending of eras

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:43 pm
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Today is a pretty huge day. I have just sent off the complete draft manuscript for the Monster Book, now under the working title of Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture.

The last fortnight or so, as I’ve worked towards this point and it’s looked increasingly likely that it would happen when I thought it would, has been surprisingly emotional. As I put everything into a single file yesterday, I found myself feeling nauseous with a fear which didn’t seem to have a particular cause; this morning, walking into the British Library reading room to check some final references, I found myself tearing up. This feels very emotionally different to sending off the manuscript of the Seneca book, perhaps because that was tied up with the completion of the PhD and rode on the waves of emotional exhaustion caused by that, perhaps because it is a hot, hot summer and I am anxious about far more in the world at large than I was when I was working on the Seneca book. (It is not a surprise that I have free-floating anxiety when the most common conversation I am having with friends at the moment is about our respective plans to stockpile medicines.)

But it is the end of an era in other ways too. Today was one of the summer meet-ups for Shut Up and British Library, a loose group of academically inclined people who get together at the BL every two or three weeks to carve out some research time in good company. I came up with the idea at the start of my sabbatical in autumn 2016, a way to make sure I still saw humans despite being on research leave. Rather than stop  at the end of my sabbatical, the group’s now become a bit of an institution; it’s contributed to the completion of a handful of articles and chapters, and a PhD dissertation – and now this book. Shut Up has always been about the Monster Book for me. I’m going to have to find something else to do.

Because another era that ends (or starts to end) here is obligations that I put myself under pre-infans. I signed the contract for this book before he was born. He has never known life without this project (although he’s been very understanding about it). One of the biggest shifts in becoming an academic parent, for me, has been a streamlining of effort – I can no longer work on more than one project at once, and having the contract has meant that finishing the Monster Book has been (from necessity as much as  from choice) the priority. Now this is off the table, I can look at my research agenda with more of a critical eye, not driven by what I’ve agreed to do for other people, thinking about what I can realistically achieve and produce, and indeed what I want to get done. It marks the change in how I order my research work-flow – a change I’ve been working up to mentally for the last few months, but now that it is here, quite an unnerving one to be facing.

Part of the reason for that change is my attempt to move towards a more sustainable work pattern. The risk of moving into mid-career is that you take along habits which are going to mean you burn out. It is not sustainable to work at the intensity of the ECR years without that taking a massive toll on you; you have to find other ways of doing things (including, for instance, establishing personal workload limits to stop yourself getting overloaded without you noticing). While doing the Monster Book has been fun, it has also been really quite intense. I went through a period of at least five months where I was writing around two thousand words per week to try and get the manuscript finished by the contracted deadline. I have written 88,000 words more or less from scratch in (very nearly precisely) two years. It’s been made easier by the fact that the material is fun to work with, and that I haven’t had to become familiar with what the nineteenth century Germans thought on this issue, but that doesn’t make this any less big. It’s been a big job. And now it’s… not there.

One of my reasons for wanting to get the manuscript sent off, besides the fact that the original 1st May delivery date is now well behind us, is that now I have the month of August empty. No conferences, no deadlines, a few research things to think about, some light teaching prep and admin to do. I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard to get to this stage – and while I’m not taking a month off, I’m looking forward very much to taking my foot off the pedal and cruising.

Phew.

January 2, 2018

Myths & Monsters – now on Netflix

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 8:29 am
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Happy new year! I know I’ve been a bit absent from this blog, mainly because I’ve been channeling most of my energy into researching and writing the Monster Book. I’m not expecting much to change as far as that’s concerned for the next few months, but hopefully by the summer I’ll be writing a bit more regularly.

In the meantime, I’m delighted that the television series I did some interviews for as a talking head, Myths & Monsters, is now available on Netflix! Here’s the trailer:

I’ve only watched the first three episodes so far, but I’ve enjoyed them as good, accessible, interesting television with some great visuals. It’s also been quite enlightening in terms of my first go at doing television work; the series consists of six 45 minute episodes, and over the course of three interviews they must have that much footage of me on my own! So I’ve been very interested to see what’s happened in terms of taking that much material and condensing it into a programme alongside other academics and the series presenter.

Anyway, regardless of whether this looks like your cup of tea or not, I hope you are all refreshed after the break and wish you all a joyful 2018.

November 21, 2017

Why do we need monsters?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:03 am
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I almost feel I should be apologising for the radio silence over here, but I shan’t – I’m just coming out of a very busy period for my admin job at work, plus I’m teaching and trying to write two thousand words a week on the monster project, and I recently realised that while I am doing very well at not committing to more things than I have promised myself I will this year,  I seem to have agreed to do the vast majority of them this term. This means I can look forward to a summer of lying on the lawn and reading critical theory, but it does mean that my bandwidth for blogging at present is rather limited.

However! One of the things I have done is talk as part of an evening put on by the Institute of Classical Studies about ‘Why Do We Need Monsters?‘ This was great fun for a number of reasons, not least the chance to hear from other people working on monsters in one way or another, and some audience-led experimentation with making our own digital monsters (nothing like seeing where hybrids take people’s fancy). I know that a lot of people were interested in this event but weren’t able to make it, so I’m delighted to say that it was all recorded and is available on Youtube! I link to it here for your delection – enjoy. I start talking at about 40 minutes in, but you should definitely listen to the other talks if you have the time.

September 5, 2017

On my current writing praxis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:45 pm
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I’ve been talking on Twitter recently about my writing practice, and as it seems to be of interest I thought I’d do a blog explaining what I do, why I do it, and a bit about how my practice has changed over time.

The first thing I should say is that by nature, I’m a sprint writer. I have reading phases and writing phases – when my head is down to write, I write, and when I’m gathering material, I read. I put this down to doing my B.A. at Cambridge, where you would have to churn out four sides of single-sided A4 essay in 12pt font each week, and there wasn’t scope to do much in the way of extensive redrafting. During my PhD work, I adapted this into a pretty simple word goal for writing days, which I still use – a 250 word limit (which I can reach even if every word feels like blood from a stone), and a 1,000 word goal, which is the point where I can stop and pat myself on my back if I feel like it, or keep going if I still have things to say.

I observe this limit daily on what I think of my writing days. It’s really important not to confuse generating new words with the process of academic writing, and I don’t; when I’m in this mode, the process of deleting words and rewriting material is classified as an editing day rather than a writing day. Word count is purely for writing days, for the days when I generate the bulk of what I’m going to say.

I’m in the middle of a bit of a change to this at the moment, because of the requirements of the Monster book. I have worked out that in order to get a full-ish draft by Christmas, I need to be writing 2,000 words a week. That’s not impossible – far from it – but it does mean taking a rather different approach to this whole writing thing, and thinking in terms of a few hundred words here and there over a much more sustained period of time rather than a fortnight’s sprint to generate the original rough material. I’m not sure that this suits me particularly, certainly in terms of shorter form work, but it’s what I need to be doing at the moment and so I shall crack on with it. We’ll also see whether this new routine survives the realities of term that are soon going to be bearing down upon it!

Once I have the draft put together, then I get rather old-fashioned. I print out everything, read through it, and mark up edits with a red pen. This might involve crossing out paragraphs, moving them around, inserting arrows with ‘WRITE MORE ABOUT THIS’ in appropriate places… but the draft then becomes my road map for the editing phase as I work through the mark-ups, making the changes as I go. In this phase, rather than judging by words, I judge by pages of edits completed – so three pages, eight pages per day needed to make sure things get tidied up and sorted. Once I’ve done that, I may go through it again, or I may start to work at edits suggested by other people, or I may send the revised version off to someone else for their comments. After that, it’s back to a new copy of the document, a new set of red pen marks, and off we go again around the merrygoround.

I think it’s quite important to note that this really is a process of finding what works for you, and evolving your practice as you go. For instance, I never thought that I’d become a weekly word target writer, or that I’d do research alongside my writing in the way I am doing now, but it’s the only feasible way for me to get this project completed by the deadline. I expect I won’t stick with this way of doing things once that deadline is met, but I’m grateful for the flexibility of mind that made me consider what I might do to make this happen when the thought of doing it my usual way made me despair.

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