Classically Inclined

February 24, 2017

Some thoughts on Judith Butler and kin

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 7:46 pm
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I was in a packed house a few weeks ago to hear Judith Butler speak about kinship trouble in the Bacchae. I livetweeted it under the hashtag #housman and will pull have pulled together the tweets into a Storify, I suspect, but (as will probably come as little surprise) there was more about kinship as broadly defined than there was about the Bacchae – the play became the case study for, oooh, the last quarter or so of the paper, after the general ideas had been outlined and Butler had looked at some other Greek tragedies.

For those of you who haven’t come across Butler, she is a very influential thinker in the gender studies world and beyond – in particular, her Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender kind of rocked my world when I was a graduate student, not least through the notion of gender performativity (which in some ways I now take completely for granted). She has since published important things on war and grief and many other things which I haven’t read, but I do need to catch up, and indeed to return to the familiar scholarship for a refresher. It never hurts to have a reminder of the ideas you found so exciting.

I wanted to muse a little on the concept of kinship that Butler sketched, because to my surprise I found myself thinking about its applicability to the Roman world as well as the world of the Bacchae (and indeed Butler herself framed the project within the scope of a wider interest in kin in the modern world, not a purely ancient one). Starting from the anthropologists and good old Levi-Strauss, she noted that kinship is often seen and employed as a way to control and define relations, with an underlying assumption that kinship is a stable thing – you are my brother, she is my mother, he is my father, and that leads us into a series of laws and regulations that govern how we behave towards these kin, and that lay out the punishments if we disobey these laws (and thus, as usual, we come to the incest taboo, but never mind).

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February 13, 2015

Feminism and the academy: resisting tradition in academic research

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:12 am
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When I said I had a week of feminism, starting with the sandpit, I meant it –  on Wednesday evening last week, I took part in a very exciting event at Royal Holloway titled “Feminism and the academy: resisting tradition in academic research”. You can see the program of the event here; at the request of some of the sandpit participants, I livetweeted the event, and the Storify of that is now available if you’d like a more detailed look at what the speakers said.

This was a little bit of an anxious event for me, because I’d never done the job of a ‘respondent’ before. For those of you unfamiliar with academic habits, this is where somebody is asked to give five minutes’ worth of immediate reaction to a speaker’s paper, or to a panel of papers. Sometimes people circulate the text of their paper (or what they think is the text of their paper) before the panel, which makes it a bit easier to construct a response. Wednesday’s event was a bit more flexibly organised, so while speakers pre-circulated the general topic they planned to talk on, the actual bulk of the argument was not revealed until the talk itself. On the plus side – less preparation for me. On the minus side – having to stand up and give an improvised response immediately after the speaker. No pressure, then. Thankfully, Laura Doan gave me plenty of material to bounce off about the closing and expanding gap between the past and the present, so I think I got away with my extempore observations, not least because I was able to borrow a modern example that Helen King used at the sandpit and has now written a proper blog post about, which you should all go and read. But I digress.

The event once more generated a significant amount of energy in the room, very similar to that generated at the sandpit, but with a slightly different focus – many of the attendees were members of the college’s Feminist society. You may have heard of the RHUL Feminist Society because of their Ugly Girls Club campaign, which hit the mainstream media in December last year. They’re a very active, very lively group, and it was fantastic to have so many people in attendance who were clearly interested and engaged with the issues that the speakers were raising. One thing that came through very strongly in each speaker’s talk was the connection between the personal and the political – a well-trodden feminist aphorism, but one worth returning to – in the way each speaker’s individual career embodied the conflict they encountered between the traditions of their field and the need to push beyond those conventions to achieve different kinds of goals and reveal different truths. This came home for me in particular in Lizzie Coles-Kemp’s talk, where she explored her choice to totally abandon normal information security models of the weak user, powerful attacker and infallible technology in order to explore more fluid, ambiguous and community-based models of how people interact with electronic systems. She gave both a very personal talk about her research trajectory, and a fundamental challenge to the way that research in the field was being done, seamlessly woven together.

All of which got me thinking a bit about how my work resists tradition, if indeed it does. In some ways, it resists tradition in a rather surprising way – as we discovered at the Women as Classical Scholars event, women traditionally Don’t Do Latin Prose, and yet here I am, plugging away at a book manuscript on the subject. Part of resisting tradition is resisting the tradition that women only work on certain kinds of texts, or indeed do certain kinds of work – Jackie Labbe raised this in terms of female leadership within academia, and the tendency to assume women will take on roles dealing with teaching and pastoral issues, where men will go for grant applications and research-related posts. Keeping your eyes out for the ‘service traps’ is something I’ve been told about again and again as an ECR – yet the assumed division is still there and still happily in play. The other thing about my research is that it challenges what classics has assumed it is about for centuries – that is, pure philology. Sure, I do a good bit of philology, but my work is much broader than that, incorporating lots of other evidence, and indeed challenging the idea that the only important things to discuss when looking at a text are the grammatical constructions – and not, as in the example from Ovid that Ika Willis used, the deeply problematic content. Given that yesterday was the second iteration of the Problematic Ovid Lecture, at the moment I’m feeling very aware of the need to use the traditional lens of close reading responsibly to see the whole of a text, not just the parts of it that we are pushed to value by tradition. That’s an idea I think I need to pick over a bit more, as it seems fundamentally important for all sorts of aspects of my work and teaching.

The evening was part of RHUL’s broader research theme on Society, Representation and Cultural Memory Research Theme, whose champion is classics’ own Richard Alston. Richard is pulling together a general program of events dealing with feminist research at Royal Holloway, which I’m sure will expand and grow over the coming months. While the forthcoming infant might make it a bit difficult for me to participate fully, I’m thoroughly looking forward to More of This Sort Of Thing.

February 13, 2014

CRSN workshop: Impact and social media, London, 17 July 2014

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 1:32 pm
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Exciting stuff for Classically Inclined – I’ve been asked to take part in a Classical Reception Studies Network workshop on impact and social media! The details are as follows:

CRSN workshop: Impact and social media, 17 July 2014,

Location: The Open University London Regional Centre, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP Venue directions and map
Time: 2-5 pm

Classical receptions would seem ideally placed to engage with the current ‘impact agenda’ in UK research funding. Grant application forms include questions about ‘pathways to impact’ and applicants often include some form of social media in their responses. We invite doctoral students and early career researchers to come and share their experiences of using blogging, Facebook and twitter to disseminate their research, create networks and promote their work. Whether you already use social media or are simply wondering if there is any point, this workshop is for you. While we’ll have some experienced users with us (including Emma Bridges, founder of the Facebook page Classics International, and Liz Gloyn, who blogs as ‘Classically Inclined’), the main focus will be on sharing our enthusiasms, our suggestions and our reservations. Spaces are limited; please reply to helen.king@open.ac.uk.

Obviously I’m delighted to be asked to participate in the workshop, not least as I think things like blogging and Twitter are valuable ways for classicists to get outside their departments and share some of the awesome stuff we do with other people. It should be an interesting afternoon. Of course, I should probably make sure I mention that the frequency of my blogging is not entirely unrelated to how much teaching prep  I have on at any given week – speaking of which, back to the grindstone…

 

August 22, 2013

History Down the Pub: London, August 28th

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 9:09 am
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So, apparently thanks to Twitter I’m now vaguely associated with organising this sort of thing… do come along if you’re free, and pass details on to interested friends! Original announcement here.

Harvey Quamen: Using Digital Humanities Techniques to Study the History of Beer and Brewing

Three major questions—all difficult to answer—prompt this talk:

  1. what caused the sudden demise of porter around 1820?
  2. how did the style called India Pale Ale spread so rapidly?
  3. can we locate the historical London breweries?

Although surrounded in some mystery, these questions might be answerable using some techniques from the digital humanities. In particular, building a database of historical recipes will help us understand the movement and growth of beer styles (especially as those styles moved through homebrewing) and we can begin to track master-apprenticeship relationships with the use of propopographies, databases that serve as “collective biographies” of groups of people. Finally, using historical maps (like the Agas map digitized at the Map of Early Modern London project), we might begin to reconstruct the historical distribution of beer around the capital.

Harvey Quamen is an Associate Professor of English and Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta, Canada. A longtime homebrewer, Quamen spent the 2009 academic year as a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London. Drinking with KCL and UCL friends began his foggily remembered interest in the history of London brewing.

This lecture is the inaugural event of the History Down the Pub series, and will be held in the Plough, 27 Museum Street, London (opposite the British Museum: see https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=WC1A+1LH), at 6pm on Wednesday August 28th 2013.
All welcome.

April 19, 2012

Reading as Consolation in Seneca – The Aftermath

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:14 pm
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I promised that I would write a little more about my paper on reading as consolation in Seneca which I gave at the Classical Association conference. I thought I’d start out with a Wordle of the paper itself, just for the sake of interest:

As you will be able to guess from the Wordle, most of the paper was about consolation and how it works. I specifically looked at two passages from the consolations Seneca writes to his mother and to the freedman Polybius in which he advises them to turn to various forms of literary activity in order to assuage their respective grief. Telling people to go to philosophy for consolation is nothing new – Cicero does it in a lot of his extant consolatory letters, for instance. But where Cicero tells people to go back to tried and trusted things that they have already learned, Seneca tells his addressees to pick up entirely new intellectual projects, which will actively engage their minds and thus have the psychological effect of bringing balance back to a disturbed soul.

Reading forms a well-known part of the Stoic armory against the distractions of the world, as Martha Nussbaum explores inter alia in her influential book The Therapy of Desire; reading serves as a grounding point, a place to start thinking about ethical growth. By applying this general Stoic attitude to the specific task of consolation, Seneca makes a new point about the use of reading for practical purposes, in this case the calming of grief. He also makes it clear that he expects his addressees to engage with their reading material actively, and that the material is itself an active participant in the process. This is in contrast to Helvia’s finances, which Seneca explicitly says he does not recommend as a distraction from grief. There’s some interesting stuff going on there about the difference between numbers and letters in terms of intellectual activity – the accounts seem passive, for sifting through, rather than active players in the consolatory process.

Where next with this work? Well, sadly, to the back of a desk drawer until I finish The Book, but I’ve got a few ideas for what to do after that. By that point, hopefully a book on the consolatory tradition that somebody mentioned to me will have appeared, which will help me work out if I’ve got a point to make in the first place – but I suspect I will. The current plan is to look at literary activity specifically as a consolatory recommendation in the Latin sources, and to see what that means in a social context where people are not necessarily reading themselves but may be read to by slave secretaries, and what differences this makes to the consolatory admonitions. This was a thread that I only identified at the end of my research for the paper and so didn’t get a lot of airtime in the paper itself, but I think it’s an important social factor to consider when Seneca is so adamant that philosophy must be an active rather than passive occupation.

March 10, 2012

On writing for a general audience – reflections after the fact

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:35 pm
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I’ve just got home from giving that paper at the Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association branch sixth form conference, and I thought it was as good a time as any to draw together some concluding thoughts on the experience. It’s the first time I’ve given a talk to an audience  not made up of either undergraduates or academics, and a couple of things seem important to note after the fact.

Fourty-five minutes is not very long at all when you are trying to give a potted history of classics and film. It really isn’t. I have to salute Tony Keen here for generously giving me a list of the ‘greatest hits’ that should get name-checked, even if they didn’t get much analysis, which helped to crystalise my thoughts about what I wanted to do – as much in disagreeing with it as agreeing with it, but also in pointing out things like Agora (2009) which had completely slipped my mind. The problem with more modern material is that it isn’t included in Jon Solomon’s magisterial The Ancient World In The Cinema which is the more or less comprehensive account of all films made before about 2000. For more recent films, you have to rely on your memory, and I’m afraid to say that Agora had slipped mine – so I am very grateful to Tony for reminding me of its existence.

My original plan for the talk had been a quick-fire tour through cinema with a concentration on the three current big franchises (Clash, Immortals and Percy Jackson), but as I actually wrote the talk and worked out where I wanted to show clips, more and more time got used up – and I gradually figured out that this wasn’t actually a bad thing. My original structure had been based on my lecture format for my students, which is spend the first half of the lecture giving them basic information they need to understand the second half, and then spend the second half doing more in-depth analysis. For this talk, which wasn’t meant to give the audience any information on which they would later be examined, that more detailed analysis actually wasn’t necessary.

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February 17, 2012

“Shall I include the homoeroticism?” – on writing for a general audience

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:41 pm
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My current research task (at the end of a much-needed reading week) has been getting some ideas down for the talk I will be giving at the Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association branch sixth form conference. After a day of discussion about the set texts for the Latin and Classical Civilization A levels, as well as some speakers on general interest subjects, I will be giving the closing talk on Classics and Film. If you would like to find out more about the conference, or book a place, there are more details here – please pass them on to any sixth formers and their teachers you know who may be interested!

As I started to think about the topic to plan a general outline, I was struck by how many issues I had to take a position on to pitch the tone of the talk. First of all, I can’t assume any prior knowledge of classical film, and certainly not of reception theory. Second, I can’t expect to cover the whole range of classical film that has been produced in the history of film. The films produced by, for instance, Italian and French national cinema are going to have to go by the wayside, because I can’t do them justice in 45 minutes, and mentioning Maciste for the sake of mentioning Maciste doesn’t feel right. This means focussing on the cinema produced by American and English studios, which is a shame but probably makes the information more accessible to the audience and can be done respectably within the time limit.

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April 28, 2011

Turning a thesis chapter into a talk – Seneca on marriage

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:01 am
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There is something ineffably frustrating about trying to turn a thesis chapter into a twenty minute conference-style presentation. You have a whole chapter that you have loving and thoughtfully structured so it leads the reader gently through your train of thought and argument at a leisurely but clearly-marked pace – and now you have to chop out the ‘best bits’, the strongest arguments, reframe your organisational material to provide enough background for the arguments you are going to present, and tearfully wave farewell to all the other sections you have lovingly laboured over. In fact, one colleague has told me that she’s only ever tried to do it once, and that was such an off-putting experience that she has sworn off ever doing it again.

I have only had to go through this process once before myself, when I presented a chunk of chapter one of my thesis at the Oikos-Familia conference in Sweden, and it was jolly hard then. (If you’re interested, you can read my abstract here.) That was especially tricky, because I had to explain quite a complicated chunk of Stoic philosophy to a non-philosophical audience for them to be able to understand my argument; that was quite a significant challenge for me as one of my central tenets about my work is that you shouldn’t have to be trained to the eyeballs in ancient philosophy to be able to access philosophical material in Seneca. It seemed to go alright, anyway.

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