Classically Inclined

July 5, 2013

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:09 am
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Oh, where to begin with this one. Let’s start with some basic data. This conference was organised by the Science Fiction Foundation; it also has a conference blog which will keep updating with topics of interest. The programme and abstracts are available online. The conference was well live-tweeted, and a Storify of the relevant tweeting is available . The conference’s aim was to bring together various folks interested in the cross-over between science fiction, fantasy and classical reception, and essentially to give things a good shake and see what happened. Which is all a very prosaic way of saying that it was bloody brilliant. I had an excellent time, met some lovely people, and came away feeling all energised and cheered up. I know that a number of other people went away with brains fizzing and popping with ideas for future research; I’m afraid my brain is so settled on my summer plans that there’s not much space for anything new (and, incidentally, how come it’s July?), but I still got the benefit of the academic adrenaline buzz. Even if I did occasionally forget which day of the week it was.

Now, any conference write-up has to be selective, especially one trying to deal with a conference that has over eighty papers, so let me say up front that I didn’t hear a single duff paper. I heard one or two that could have done with a little more preparatory work, but every paper had an interesting idea that it tried to get across, and that itself is worth celebrating. So, if I don’t mention your particular paper and you know I was in the audience… sorry. I’m sure Tony Keen will have picked up what I said at the time on the Storify. Because I was pretty heavy on the livetweeting, and all my Twitter followers are either interested in the sci-fi/fantasy/classics cross-over or very, very patient people. What I’m going to try and do instead of summarise every single paper is sum up some of my take-homes from the conference and things that jumped out at me. Beyond, of course, the fact that I now have a very long list of things to add to my already very long reading list.

I want to start the impact of the conference on my research, as I gave the first paper of the parallel panels on Saturday. The panel hung together with a remarkable coherence considering that we had all submitted our papers individually, and I’m fairly sure that at least one person will be picking up Lud-in-the-Mist to take on holiday with them as a result. There were some really strong resonances about walls and borders and Roman Britain as a creative space and identity and all that good stuff. I couldn’t have been happier with the company I kept, and with the intelligent and helpful questions from the audience. So many thanks to Sandeep Parmar, Cara Sheldrake and Stephe Harrop, and Penny Goodman for chairing the panel.

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May 3, 2013

Freud, the uncanny and monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:34 am
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I have finally got around to reading Freud’s essay on the uncanny [link to PDF]. I first decided I wanted to read it when I was thinking about monsters for the Harryhausen paper. My thought process then was concerned with trying to work out what anxieties the Clash of the Titans monsters were expressing, particularly those from the 1981 film which seemed to miss the usual flashpoints of the Cold War or Nuclear Winter. I’ve been dwelling on this, because there’s another way of reading monsters, which is as a way of symbolising psychological fears. For instance, every alien film can be seen as expressing fear of the unknown, either in terms of what might come at us from it or what happens if we start exploring it and venturing beyond our natural limits. Slasher films and horror films in general also work well with this sort of model, particularly those which have monstrous female protagonists like Carrie, The Exorcist or The Hunger.

My observations about reading monsters psychologically were formed mainly by Barbara Creed’s excellent book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, which identifies seven archetypes of the monstrous feminine found in film: archaic mother, monstrous womb, vampire, witch, possessed body, monstrous mother and castrator. These ideas primarily focus on horror films and their kin, so despite a reference to Medusa symbolising the vagina dentata, there wasn’t much to play with on the Harryhausen front. (I also found the analysis of the films lacked any consideration of the effect of these monsters on the female spectator, but that’s a bugbear I have about a lot of film studies literature.) Creed relies heavily on Kristeva’s idea of the abject, the sense of repressing the horrific and writing out the rejected and abject from our semantic system, but Kristeva built her ideas on Freud’s essay on the uncanny. So I thought I would go back to source and see whether those ideas have anything to offer in terms of explaining classical monsters.

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December 5, 2012

Defining the Roman family

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:28 am
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I’ve been talking around the idea of the Roman family, and the idea is central to my work, but I’ve realised that I’ve never actually explained what the family is on this blog The Latin word for family is familia, but while the two words look more or less the same, familia represents a very different sort of concept – our idea of the nuclear family would have felt very foreign to the Romans. The Roman idea of familia had a primarily legal meaning, which encompassed only those blood relatives who are agnates, or related through the male line, and not cognates, or relatives through the female line. Marriage did not necessarily mean a close legal tie; if a woman married without manus, she remained in the legal control of her father and thus in his familia, not her husband’s. The consequence of this was that she would not legally be part of her children’s familia either.

Another way to define the familia was as those under the legal authority of the paterfamilias, the oldest and most senior male. This definition included the slaves belonging to a household as well as those biologically related to each other through the male line. In fact, familia can be used to refer to the slaves of a household on their own, not including any of the biological family members at all.

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November 13, 2012

Seneca and writing for multiple audiences

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:15 am
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In the process of tidying up the Ad Polybium article and working on turning the first three chapters of the dissertation into the first three chapters of a book, one methodological theme has been making its presence known again and again. It’s something I find I’ve hinted at in the dissertation itself, but one of the referees for the Ad Polybium article gave me the language to talk about it in a rather more sophisticated way. It’s the issue of what can be called “two-level discourse” and how that relates to philosophy.

Let’s start with the idea that a text can be multilayered. We’re all pretty comfortable with the idea that a text can have multiple meanings – George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for instance, can be read as a fictional story about rural agricultural life or as a metaphor for life in the Soviet state, depending on the amount of background information a reader has available to inform their reading. The same principle applies to films (which are also texts, in the theoretical ‘everything is a text’ sense) – when I saw the recent remake of Alice in Wonderland (2010), I saw a parable of the adolescent girl’s struggle to come to terms with menarche, which may not have been a univerally shared interpretation…

This idea, which works well (as Animal Farm demonstrates) for political writing, transfers to philosophy, particularly Stoicism. Most of our evidence for hardcore Stoic theory in the Roman period comes from Cicero, who was not a Stoic himself, but wrote a number of dialogues outlining Stoic, Epicurean and Sceptic theories and their flaws. Seneca also has some moments of heavy doctrinal theorising – On Benefits is full of it, which makes it heavy going in places, and some of the Moral Epistles are fairly dense. But, in the main, Seneca doesn’t write doctrinal tracts designed to lay out the practical workings of Stoicism. What he does instead is write work which on one level wants to be accessible and relevant to the average reader, and also seeks to speak on another level to those who are aware of the Stoic importance of seemingly everyday terms.

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October 31, 2012

The Harryhausen article: next steps

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:51 am
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Some of you may remember that I sent off an article on Ray Harryhausen, the two Clash of the Titans films, monsters, gender and landscape at the start of February. (For those who don’t remember, here’s a Wordle of that draft, and here’s an outline of the conference paper on which the article is based.) This morning I’ve heard back from the editors of the collected volume of which the article is part, with the reader’s report – and I’m delighted to say that the reader thinks both my paper and the volume are Good Things!

This is excellent news, not least because of being able to update the CV. It’s good to see the project moving forward, and especially good to get positive feedback about my approach to monsters and space, given some of the vague thoughts I’ve been having about doing more general research in this direction. It’s also good because the revisions the reader requests are fairly minor – they would like me to think about how Wrath of the Titans (2012) affects my argument, which was impossible in the original draft as the film had not yet been released. I have with some pleasure put ‘buy DVD of Wrath’ into my work objectives, and look forward to blocking out a research afternoon in December for Serious Academic Viewing…

I’ll also admit I’m relieved that this won’t affect my plans for #acwrimo. The reader’s suggestions are, as I say, pretty minor, and while I’ve had some other helpful feedback from other readers, I don’t want to spoil a good thing by reworking the paper too much. The timescale is also sufficiently generous that I can keep November as a dissertation-revision month – the volume editors would like the paper back by 1st February, so if I set aside enough time in December, I should easily meet that deadline; #acwrimo will give me the comfort blanket of knowing that I’ve done enough on revising the manuscript not to feel guilty about spending some time on another project. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together!

September 21, 2012

On the personal voice

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:58 am
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A couple of weeks ago, I was part of an interesting chat on Twitter about the use of the personal voice in academic scholarship. This is a bit of a fraught issue for classicists – those who do it well do it very well, while those who don’t get a bit nervous. (This BMCR review should give you a bit of an insight into the sorts of issues raised in the field, although it’s a little dated now.) The discussion raised the usual questions – is it safe for an early career researcher to use the personal voice, what sort of material does it work best for, when is it an appropriate strategy, what disciplinary areas are happiest with its use. My feeling is that reception studies is where most personal voice writing is done at the moment, not because it’s a ghettoised area, but because it’s part of the discipline that’s more comfortable with experimental writing (both stylistically and theoretically), and successful experiments eventually permeate back into the more traditional areas of the subject.

At about the same time, Times Higher Education published an article by Helen Sword (to publicise her latest book, Stylish Academic Writing), addressing the seven most pervasive myths about academic writing. Myth two states that “academic writing has to be impersonal and objective”, and Sword debunks this by explaining that the use of “I” and “we” in the article form is not actually breaking some immoveable taboo.

I found myself wondering whether this avoidance of the first person is something researchers have drummed into us from our very earliest undergraduate days – after all, I often find myself marking up student work with the dreaded words “don’t use the first person”! But now I come to think of it, this is more of a shortcut for pointing out an analytical error than a criticism of the grammatical structure itself. It’s shorthand for “don’t tell me your opinion, show me your evidence” or “don’t make unsubstantiated statements based on your own authority”. (My favourite example of this came from an undergraduate paper a friend of mine marked in the States, which offered the jewel “I like to think that Circe kept Cerberus as a pet”.)

The first person, in undergraduate work, often signals other faults with academic writing that we address by targeting the symptom rather than the cause. I’m starting to wonder whether there is a  circular process of getting weaning off the first person at the undergraduate level, and then weaning oneself back onto it as one progresses as a researcher – not because of perceptions about who can and can’t get away with so-called risky writing, but because you need the intervening period to master other elements of academic writing. Misusing the first person aids and abets messy thinking; getting rid of it highlights the fundamental issues of communication, but should not be the be-all and end-all of stylistic improvement.

August 31, 2012

#ECRchat – Finding a good mentor

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 11:04 pm
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There were several reasons I was glad that the poll for the #ecrchat I hosted on Twitter came up with the topic “finding a good mentor”. I am going to enter my first formalised mentoring relationship in the autumn, which has been organised by the department as a recognition that I’m staying on for an extra year and want to be moving on from the sort of teaching fellowship I currently hold. However, I also have a wide network of people I would call informal mentors, and my relationships with them have developed much more organically and serendipitously. My one previous attempt at a formalised mentoring relationship, brokered by a professional organisation, sadly didn’t get much further than exchanging a couple of e-mails – looking back on the experience, I can see there was a mismatch in what I wanted out of the relationship and what my assigned mentor thought they were able to offer.

These issues were at the top of my mind as I prepared the guiding questions for the chat, and at my elbow was Lily Segerman-Peck’s Networking & Mentoring: A Woman’s Guide, which I cannot recommend enough and from which I shamlessly cribbed! (I got my copy second-hand off Amazon almost ten years ago, and while it has dated, the central meat is still relevant.) One thing that came out of the chat was that in order to identify potential mentors, you needed to make the most of your networks to know who was out there who might have the knowledge and skills that you want to obtain for the next step in your career. Most people were aware of internal mentoring programs within their institutions (or their absence), but plenty of other places to look were suggested – other institutions and other departments, professional organisations, and outside academia altogether. Someone also gave the example of an informal peer mentoring group they have started (around the very civilized basis of monthly cupcake consumption) that might turn into some more formal in time.

Interwoven with thoughts about where one might find a mentor were what makes a mentor good for you. Crucially, there needs to be the right chemistry between the mentor and mentee (or if I’m being properly classical about it, the Mentor and Telemachus), which seemed to boil down to a sense of mutual commitment and interest, the mentor’s ability and willingness to communicate, and the ability to let you make your own mistakes after they’ve given their advice. One thing that became clear was that before looking for a mentoring relationship, it’s crucial to work out what you want from one – without a clear sense of your own needs, you won’t necessarily find the person with the skills and experience to help you. That doesn’t preclude advice coming from unexpected quarters, but it does affect both your attitude to your own career development and how you visualise developing relationships with potential mentors. It was also clear that there was no limit on how many mentors you can have – a team of supporters with different perspectives and an interest in you is a great resource to develop.

The final question I posed for the chat asked how you should approach someone you have identified as a potential mentor. The general consensus seemed to be go for it! Write an e-mail, ask for a coffee, and have a chat about what you think you and they can get out of this sort of relationship. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you’d like to read more from the chat, you can browse through the Storified tweets.

Crossposted at the #ECRchat blog.

August 28, 2012

Hosting #ECRchat

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:32 am
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I’m very much looking forward to hosting the next #ECRchat (ECR stands for Early Career Researcher) on Twitter – it will take place on this Thursday at 11am and will last an hour. All you need to do to take part is follow the hash tag! There’s more information about the chat generally over on the website; you can also vote for the topic for Thursday’s chat. There are some really interesting topics up for grabs, so I hope you can join us for what will be a great discussion!

June 7, 2012

Feminism & Classics VI – Brock University, Canada

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:25 am
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As you will have picked up from my last post, I spent the week before the Jubilee weekend in Canada, at Feminism and Classics VI, held at Brock University in Ontario. I think I have already mentioned elsewhere that I attended Feminism and Classics V, where I presented the paper which recently came out as the Fortunata article, so I knew what I was letting myself in for – four days of really good intellectual discussion, some forthright but supportive and helpful criticism of my paper, and an opportunity to see a lot of the people who I hadn’t seen since I left the US.

I’m delighted to say that my expectations were wonderfully met, and I had a fabulous time. You may have caught some of the live tweeting I managed to do before I lost my conference folder in which I had carefully stored my username and password for accessing the university wifi. I felt less happy livetweeting Feminism and Classics than I did tweeting the Classical Association – not because of participant hostility to the technology (there were far more people taking notes on laptops, iPads and so on in each panel audience), but because the content didn’t seem to get such a strong positive reaction from the Twitter audience. I don’t know if this was due to all those nebulous things-outside-the-internet which mean predicting response to livetweeting is very difficult to do, or whether the conference’s subject matter was perceived as somehow ‘less interesting’. But as I was finding it less rewarding than the CA tweeting, I didn’t chase up a fresh log-in when I mislaid my original one.

If the reason for lower Twitter response was a sense that this material was ‘less interesting’, then I can only say that I fervently disagree. When I saw the first draft of the conference program, my immediate reaction was ‘brain candy’. The vast majority of papers were pushing some interesting theoretical and content boundaries, reading things in new ways, proposing new theories, opening up new frontiers of knowledge to me. The environment of the conference was also exactly as I remembered it, although this time I had the benefit of knowing a lot more people, having the PhD under my belt and feeling a lot more confident that I knew what I was doing. The atmosphere was much more like that of the Classical Association than the APA, but even then there’s an extra level of collegiality and general friendliness that I certainly really relished the first time I attended. This is the sixth Feminism and Classics VI, which is held every four years; there’s a little history on the Women’s Classical Caucus webpage, but I think there’s something about the origin of the meeting as an independent movement that has contributed to its unique feel.

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April 17, 2012

L’Annee Philologique under threat?

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:24 am
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Alright, this isn’t technically a department under threat as per the tag, but it’s close enough. For those of you who don’t know L’Annee Philologique, it’s the major publication and electronic database for classics bibliography. It gathers together all the new publications in the field, and their on-line database is a major piece of research kit – frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do my work without it. However, news is now circulating of a threat to the German office. The regional offices are key to the work that L’Annee does – the APA has recently put considerable effort into making sure that funding exists for the North American office, for example. The text below is from the petition website and explains the problem in more detail; if you feel so moved, you can sign the petition here.

The Année Philologique, a critical and analytical bibliography of Greco-Latin Antiquity, has existed since the 1920s : over the years, its generalist orientation has made it a working tool that is useful for all, whatever one’s specialty may be. Since its creation and its dissemination on paper, it has been a bibliographical tool that is universally recognized, utilized, and appreciated by students of Antiquity throughout the world. Since 2002, its dissemination online has facilitated the access of an ever-broader public to the bibliographical data it offers.

However, this irreplaceable tool is threatened, in the very near future, with disappearing in its current form, and perhaps with simply ceasing publication.

The cause of this threat is simple : the German office of the Année Philologique, the Zweigstelle Heidelberg, must close its doors at the end of the fiscal year 2012, unless a durable source of funding is found. The Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, which has funded it until now, has let it be known that it will cut off all subsidies at that date. In so doing, it is applying the government’s decision to no longer fund continuing projects and positions, but to henceforth grant funds only to short-term scientific operations, answering to invitations to tender. If it were to take effect at the planned date, this programmed closure would have disastrous consequences for the entire project : with it, the totality of German-language research, whose importance for the classical humanities is known to all, would cease to be covered by our publication. Quantitatively, this would mean a decrease of approximately 30% of the bibliographical items made available to the public.

Unless a solution is found, the consequences will boil down to a sinister alternative : the transformation of a project of high scientific value into a bargain-basement search engine, or the outright disappearance of the publication.

We the undersigned express our indignation in the face of this blow against classical bibliography and, more generally, against the whole of humanist studies. We solemnly request the appropriate German academic and political authorities to find the means necessary for the preservation of this working instrument of undisputed scientific value.

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