Thursday, September 02, 2004

In a Word, Terrified.

Classes have started. My fifteen credit hours are spread between two 4000 level literature classes, one 2000 level literature class, and two education studies classes. What follows is a brief description of each class, in order of GPA-lowering potential.

ENG 4180 Medieval Literature
We started with Beowulf today; we'll be done with it by next class. That's the kind of pace we're talking about. My professor is a New Zealander with a doctorate from Stanford and clearly knows her shit. Today's class ended with a discussion of binaries in formalism (and subsequently structuralism): Good/Bad, Man/Woman, Strength/Weakness, Man/Monster.

My thoughts on Beowulf:
- Given the social upheaval in England in the Dark Ages (namely, the Danes kicking the shit out of everyone in sight), it's not surprising that Beowulf was written in Anglo-Saxon, the language of the conquered. I'm guessing it was a kind of Medieval ass-kissing.
- Though there are many, many references to gear and weaponry, Grendel is impervious to accoutrements of war... Grendel only dies once a bare-handed Beowulf yanks off his arm. I get the feeling this is more than some tribute to Beowulf's strength. What's the symbolism in Grendel's magic power?
- There's a significant lack of any kind of nurturing relationship anywhere in this poem. The closest we get is Grendel's mother, who expresses her grief and love for her son by going people-hunting. *Sniff.* Good ol' mom.

ENG 4640 Scottish Literature
I have to take this one because it's an "emerging field," a requirement at the University of Wyoming. Nevermind that I took a class dedicated to understanding race relations at the University of Illinois (someone ask me why "Birth of a Nation" was the most damaging film ever made, even ahead of Nazi propaganda. Go ahead, ask me). The saving grace here is that A) my professor is smarter than hell and does a kick-ass Scottish accent, and B) it appeals to my Scottish DNA.

The Scots, it seems, played a huge role in British literature and culture, especially in the 19th century, but it was mostly behind the scenes. Therefore, Scottish literature has been largely ignored until recently. Today we talked about the difference between written and oral traditions, how writing something down paradoxically preserves and kills a story - "preserves" in that it's now literally a permanent document, but "kills" in that whatever other versions exist (i.e., oral) no longer carry as much weight and are eventually lost.

Notes on poems so far:
Sir Patrick Spens - an interesting take on power (a knight tells the king Spens is his man, which Spens resents), but perhaps more importantly, duty. Spens knows sailing to Norway this time of year is a bad idea. He does it anyway out of duty and dies on the way back. The poem shifts focus pretty quickly from brave, noble Spens to tragedy at sea. I'm forced to wonder if this poem isn't actually celebrating duty, but rather questioning it.

The Battle of Otterburn - Douglas dies while fighting Percy, but Percy gets taken prisoner by Douglas's nephew Montgomery. The meaning here is... Jesus, I dunno. Do you?

The Twa Corbies - Two crows talk about a yummy meal rotting away on the other side of a dyke. The meal is a dead knight.

Thomas Rymer - Thomas is offered a gift by an elf princess. He doesn't want it. In saying so, he's trapped in Elf world.

ENG 2425 Intro to Literature
Another literature class I'm a little miffed at having to take. At least the professor seems like a cool guy - in his spare time he studies folk music, and his classroom discussions are appropriately student-driven. Fairly straightforward, in terms of a mid-level lit class. So far we've talked about two Creation Stories from the Iroquois and Pima Indians. Interesting, but not interesting enough for me to write about here.

EDST 2450 Human and Lifespan Development
Taught by a very giddy woman who frequently goes on tangents about her personal life. I'm not exactly sure what I'll be learning in this class. I do know that our first assignment was to buy colored pencils and draw our "life map."

You're kidding me, right?

EDST/ITEC 2360 Teaching with Microcomputers
Have you seen that Far Side cartoon with an instructor pointing to a picture of a cow, labeled "cow", and asking if there are any questions? Yeah, that's this class. The first chapter of the text discusses complicated technical jargon like "mouse," "desktop", and "startup menu."

I asked the professor as politely as possible if I could test out of the class. He said no, but that I could show up for lecture and leave before they got to the lab stuff. Small miracles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul.... Why was "Birth of a Nation" the most damaging film ever made, even ahead of Nazi propaganda? Dennis

2:25 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

Yes, why is that? Especially as I always thought that "Flashdance" was the most damaging movie in all history. (Snarkiness aside, I saw "Birth of a Nation" in school when I was in junior high, although I don't remember why.)

3:52 PM  
Blogger Rosellen said...

Has anyone out there ever encountered an education course that was truly helpful? It amazes me that education courses can be so inane.

Paul, I hope that you'll share your "life map" with all of us. Did she have any suggestions as to how one goes about creating such a project?

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul (if I may), I hope you don't mind getting a query from a total stranger, but a friend referred me to your page and I'm very interested in your statement that Scottish literature is an "emerging subject" at your university. I'm not anonymous: my name is Derrick McClure and I teach Scottish literature at the University of Aberdeen (stress it AberDEEN, as most Norteamericanos don't know): I'm also a member of the International Committee of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, whose remit is to examine the extent to which Scottish literature is taught, or even known to exist, in other countries and find ways of increasing it.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Still me - pressed the wrong key.) I plan to contact your University and request some info on their Scottish courses, and inform them about the international network that we're trying to establish.
Best of luck with your courses!

12:54 PM  

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