More Patience….

Agbabi.Vassar

Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.

Patience never disappoints.

 

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A Postcard from the Beneicke’s Takamiya Collection

For a long while I’ve been intrigued by the large concentration of important Chaucerians in Japan.  Japanese scholars present at Anglophone medievalist conferences around the world, and their work appears regularly in monographs, collections, and journals.  No other non-Anglophone country produces more first-rate TakamiyaChaucerians. Where did their passionate interest in medieval European literature (in general) and Chaucer (in particular), originate? A forthcoming article by Koichi Kano traces the somewhat dispiriting publication history of the first Japanese translation of The Canterbury Tales in 1917; bringing Chaucer to a Japanese audience through prose translation was certainly an important step. I have my own ideas about the role played by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greco-American scholar, author, and translator at the end of the nineteenth-century. Perhaps, though, the best explanation for what I’ve observed during my own twenty-five-year career can be explained by the extraordinary influence of Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya.

Over a period of fifty years, Professor Takamiya became one of the preeminent private collectors of Middle English manuscripts. His passion for collecting Western books was sparked when he handled one with its thick pages and sturdy binding, creating a heft noticeably different from the Japanese books he knew growing up in post-war Japan.  This son and grandson of prosperous traders had recently received two degrees (in Economics and in English) from Keio University, and he soon became a knowledgeable scholar of medieval literature. With familial resources and deep knowledge, he transmuted his bibliophilic passion into shrewd manuscript purchases.

Two historical and academic circumstances allowed him to amass his distinctive collection. First, when he began purchasing manuscripts in the 1970s, many landed British families were divesting their book and art holdings in order to pay property taxes.  In this sense, the Takamiya collection’s shape (like that of any other collection) was determined by availability.  Moreover, the restrictions were looser for exporting these items, items that would eventually be covered by the Garvey Clause and prohibited from leaving the U.K. Thus, not only were the manuscripts on the market, but they could be removed from the U.K., a pair of historical circumstances not likely to be repeated.  This means that Takamiya’s 1970s purchases were the necessary route for a non-U.K. institution (such as Yale’s Beinecke Library) to acquire significant manuscripts in the 2010s.

Anyone with the necessary financial ability and bibiographic acumen could have taken advantage of these circumstances and purchased the manuscripts now comprising the Takamiya Collection. One reason Takamiya was able to acquire these manuscripts with little competition can be understood as the consequence of mid-twentieth-century academic fashions. At that time, institutional collections (the competitors who could match his resources) such as the Folger Library, the Huntington Library, and research university libraries were primarily attracted to illuminated deluxe manuscripts, most often Italian humanist and other Latin texts. These collectors passed on the more modest Middle English codices, rolls, and fragments with minimal ornamentation that Takamiya quietly slipped into his library and generously shared with colleagues and students around the world.

His three Canterbury Tales manuscripts, however, take advantage of an academic fashion peculiar to Chaucer Studies. When Takamiya purchased the Devonshire and Delamere manuscripts, codicological studies focused on a handful of essential texts. Chaucerians sought to recreate a text that matched medieval author’s intention by identifying the earliest examples. Two manuscripts, the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt, were identified as the earliest sources and thus the texts that should form the basis of Chaucer scholarship. Once scholars had noted the gaps, textual variants, and idiosyncratic ordering of the tales found in the other manuscripts, Chaucerians generally overlooked these “lesser” manuscripts.  With libraries and museums not interested in them for their aesthetic beauty, and university research libraries not interested in them for their contents, these seemingly prosaic, even debased, manuscripts were available to the young Japanese bibliophile with the foresight to see what others overlooked.

For decades, Takamiya’s medieval library was a resource to scholars, whether they studied in his class at Keio University, made a pilgrimage to Tokyo, or participated in conferences from around the world. His carefully curated collection—filled with texts chosen to satisfy both the collector’s enthusiasms and the pedagogue’s and scholar’s needs—provides an epitome of the period’s extant text. The quality of the Takamiya collection resides in the collector’s drive towards completion, his financial resources, his knowledge of medieval texts, and his intuition about which manuscripts were currently undervalued.

In 2013, the collection’s residency in Tokyo came to an end but not its availability to scholars, for its transfer to Yale’s Beinecke Library ensured a safe and accessible repository.

When the crates of medieval manuscripts began arriving in New Haven from Tokyo, they held of one the most significant acquisitions by a North American library in half a century. As the 143 codices, roles, and fragments were unpacked, cataloged and made ready for their new home in New Haven, Connecticut, the staff noticed that, here and there, Professor Takamiya had inserted used envelopes and business cards, marking both his place and (it turns out) his temporary custodianship of the books.  Beyond the assigned accession numbers prefixed with “Takamiya ms,” nothing else about the books seems to betray the five decades they spent in his care, both in the temperature-controlled library of his Tokyo home and his international travels when he gleefully pulled from his bag a valuable manuscript that formed the cornerstone of his talk’s analysis.

Among the 143 manuscripts in the Takamiya Collection are Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe as well as three containing The Canterbury Tales, including the Delamere Chaucer and the Devonshire Chaucer.  Before acquiring these manuscripts, the Beinecke had no manuscript copy of the Tales; now it has three as well as the Treatise ms, Takamiya ms 9, 22, 24, and 32.  With their travels from England to Japan and now to the U.S., these four manuscripts add a new dimension to the term “Global Chaucers.”

The Beinecke celebrated its acquisition of this transformative collection with Making the English Book, an intimate conference featuring eminent scholars of medieval manuscripts, book collectors associated with Toshi Takamiya, and Professor Takamiya himself. In all ways, the conference reflected Takamiya’s generous spirit, his warm sense of friendship, and his passion for collecting Middle English manuscripts.  I attended the conference not only as a medievalist fascinated by the manuscripts themselves but also as a Chaucerian curious about what it means that such a significant mss collection (with 4 Chaucerian mss) was amassed in Japan: what it tells us about Chaucer Studies in Japan, what it tells us about ourselves, and what it tells us about Chaucer and his works that we might otherwise overlook.

I came closer to some answers. Some Japanese medievalists at the conference see a commonality between European feudalism and Japanese feudalism, and hence Japanese scholars have a natural interest in that European period.  They also credited Japanese interest in Chaucer to the three good translations now available.  They explained the nature of Japanese scholarship, with its intense emphasis on phonology and textual variants, as a function of the way English is taught in Japanese schools; Middle English is part of the teaching of English, since their approach includes the language’s history. They tend toward that approach because, as one scholar wryly admitted, that approach was most likely to receive (grant) funding. Takamiya’s collection, with its wide range of Middle English texts helped to feed those interests.

Repeatedly, the conference presentations reminded us that the provenance of a manuscript is important, reminding how ownership shapes the reception and how reception shapes ownership.  Ownership marks are carefully preserved and noted in all discussions of the manuscripts.  That fact that Prof. Takamiya seems to have left no similar marks recording his possession of this significant collection seems out of step with the delight he and other bibliophiles take in tracing provenance.  His apparent failure to leave his mark in his books reminded me of certain attitudes towards conservation I observed in Japan. At many shrines and pilgrimage routes, “conservation” did not mean “restoration.” Instead, “conservation” meant careful, respectful, and continued use of an object or place, leaving as little trace of one’s presence as possible, neither mourning when use wore away a stone step nor replacing a wooden beam deteriorated by weather.  I see something akin to this in Takamiya’s habits as an academic collector who did not see himself as an owner but as a guardian: he cared for the manuscripts without turning them into museum objects. He used them as a scholar and teacher who left the faintest trace, just a stray envelope or extra business card left behind, waiting for his return. Nevertheless, his name is permanently associated with these manuscripts, if not with owner’s marks on the flyleaf or doodles in the end pages or annotations in the margins, then with their accession number.

Perhaps, though, he had a bit more in common with many of the books’ previous owners because, after confessing that he never inserted the bookplates he had had specially designed for his collection, he whispered that there might be some very small TTs penciled in the gutters.  With this tantalizing clue, we should all keep a watchful eye open for these hidden monograms whenever we open a Takamiya manuscript.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Zarins’ Sometimes We Tell The Truth

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The following review came about when I learned that a former student, Chloe Spinnanger, had a fabulous summer internship at a publisher reading Young Adult novels.  Because Chloe had taken my The Canterbury Tales course in the spring, I thought her expertise made her perfect for reviewing a recent Canterbury appropriation, Kim Zarins’ Sometimes We Tell the Truth (Simon Pulse, 2016), which had just been released in paperback.  A senior English major at Central Connecticut State University, Chloe didn’t hesitate a second, and her review is below.

The center of Kim Zarins’ first novel is a high-school pilgrimage to Washington D.C.

The story opens with “Just a General Prologue,” which serves as an introduction to the students of Southwark High. The trip takes place “Well into April.” Led by their teacher, Mr. Bailey, the teenagers must each tell a tale to pass the time on the bus. The prize for the best tale? A free A in Civics. Some of the tales are nonsensical, others are pipe dreams. But before long, they get increasingly personal. The title, Sometimes We Tell The Truth, encapsulates the core of the story. Some of the tales are purely fictional. Some use fictional tales to tell the truth about someone. Some use the truth as a preface to a fictional tale. While others simply tell the truth.

It isn’t difficult to connect these high-schoolers to their medieval counterparts. The cover and jacket give no hints to this novel being an appropriation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Instead, this connection is left for readers to figure out on their own. But anyone who has read The Canterbury Tales will find these millennial teenagers familiar. The story is narrated by Jeff, known in his school as a future famous writer. So when Mr. Bailey calls his name, Jeff feels the pressure to tell a good tale. But instead of fiction he ends up exposing something about himself to the whole bus. Jeff’s constant over-analyzing of every social situation makes him the perfect narrator for the tales. It also gives him the believable voice of an an insecure, cynical high-school senior with an AP vocabulary. The other characters are easily identified as well. In this appropriation, however, some of Chaucer’s most loathsome pilgrims, like the Miller (Rooster) or the Pardoner (Pard), are transformed into misunderstood, even likable teenagers. Pard is described as a “Pale, thin haired, high-voiced, tiny guy with extreme fashion sense.” His relationship to Jeff: “It’s complicated.” In Pard’s tale, three of his classmates murder each other for wealth. Is this story ringing any bells yet?

Zarins draws on the complexity of Chaucer’s pilgrims to build relationships between the characters in her story, yet these relationships are where her story differs from Chaucer’s original. One major difference between Zarins’ novel and Chaucer’s tales is the communication between characters. In Sometimes We Tell The Truth, interruptions are a constant: “But what do women want?” Reeve interjects during Alison’s tale. “‘Not you,’ Reiko quips, and everyone laughs.” Some tales are even given second endings by dissatisfied classmates. Another notable change Zarins’ makes is in the gender ratio. While Sometimes We Tell The Truth may have more female characters than Chaucer’s writing did, Zarins makes a point to draw more attention the the still-uneven gender ratio: “This name-drawing thing is a joke—We’ve had four men in a row. And now you want five? Lets have some women speaking here. Enough with mansplaining. It’s our turn.”  While this book is aimed towards a YA audience, any fan of Chaucer would find it compelling. It is no surprise that Zarins is a professor of Medieval Literature at Sacramento State University in California.

On the surface, Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a coming of age novel, firmly grounded in the 21st century by a plethora of pop-culture references. But Zarins preserves all of the rivalry, sexuality and even the violence of Chaucer’s original tales. “Bard had the perfect view as Fist came up behind face and shoved a knife under Face’s rib cage. He had the perfect view of Face’s expression, turning from concerned to agonized and betrayed.”  In some ways the modernization of Zarin’s teenagers makes Chaucer’s characters more relatable. The passage of time and change in language can alienate modern readers. Today, many readers might not flinch at the Wife of Bath’s young first marriage. However, it is shocking to read about Alison, as she announces to the class “No one loves sex more than I do, but even I’ve had some bumps along the road.” Before she tells her Arthurian romance, she prefaces it with the true story of losing her virginity to a college guy at the age of twelve. As young Jeff confronts the taboos of rape, gender identity, and death, Zarins affirms that these themes are just as prevalent today as they were in Chaucer’s time.

Chloe Spinnanger is a senior English major at Central Connecticut State University. She has interned at Elephant Rock Books, where she was the initial reader of Young Adult novels for the Helen Sheehan Book Prize.  Currently, she is an intern at Mandel Vilar Press, where she works as assistant to the editor for the Press’s translations of Spanish-language and environmental authors from Latin America. 

Published by: SIMON PULSE 2016

ISBN: 9781481464994

Buy on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sometimes-Tell-Truth-Kim-Zarins/dp/148146499X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499542415&sr=8-1&keywords=sometimes+we+tell+the+truth

 

How to Celebrate “Whan That Aprille Day” (2017)

A guest posting by COURTNEY RYDEL

Cover of the Whan That Aprille Day event program at Washington College
Cover the program for “Whan That Aprille Day” celebrations last year at Washington College. Program designed by Olivia Serio (President of the Poetry Club, Washington College, class of 2017).

“Whan that Aprille Day” (the annual celebration of old, dead, and undead tongues) is rapidly approaching! Enjoy this posting by Prof. Courtney Rydel (Washington College) on ways to celebrate this occasion. – Global Chaucers co-directors

Coming at the beginning of April, National Poetry Month in the United States, “Whan That Aprille Day” is a holiday begun by the @LeVostreGC persona behind “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog” and “Chaucer Doth Tweet” in 2014. @LeVostreGC proposed medievalists unite in our efforts to celebrate “the beauty and great loveliness of studying the words of the past. Our mission is to bring to mind the importance of supporting the scholarship and labor that brings these words to us…and the teaching of these…languages. For without all of this, the past would have no words for us” [read the full 2017 iteration of this open call at the medieval studies blog In The Middle].

In spring 2016, I curated an event on Multilingual Chaucer, gathering students and faculty from across Washington College, the small liberal arts college in Maryland where I teach.  Since then, I’ve participated in another large-scale Chaucer project that was directed towards the larger community, #MedievalBirds with ornithologist Jennie Carr, work on which is still ongoing. Currently I am planning a major Chaucerian event for spring 2018, with guest speaker Kim Zarins, that will involve collaboration with the Education department and local high school teachers.

Based on these experiences, I would like to offer some suggestions for other medievalists looking to create exciting events to celebrate “Whan That Aprille Day” on their campus.   Although the event originated with celebrating Chaucer, that context should not be limiting. “Whan That Aprille Day” has the goal of celebrating the “beauty and great loveliness” in all languages.  Any language, literature, or poetry is welcome!  In this contemporary moment when the NEA and NEH are threatened, we need to come together as humanists and poetry lovers.  The more that medievalists connect with scholars of modern languages and across disciplines, and with our larger community, the stronger we will be.

  • Celebrate the gifts and skills of your students and faculty, and show them how they connect to Chaucer. At Washington College we hosted a reading of “Multilingual Chaucer,” which included students and faculty reading poetry in languages including Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Latin, Spanish, French, Russian, German, Hindi, Old English, and Middle English.  Some readers read their favorite poems in other languages, and some read Chaucer or Chaucer translations.  The mixture of languages and diverse poems brought alive how “The Father of English Poetry” inhabited a multilingual space, and allowed us to hear the many languages of our polyglot, increasingly international campus.
  • If you’re going global, check out the fantastic Global Chaucers online archive, created by Jonathan Hsy and Candace Barrington. This resource for post-1945 global non-Anglophone translations of Chaucer offers sample texts, blog posts and scholarship on Chaucer in modern contexts, and reflections on his impact in the contemporary landscape.
  • Look to interdisciplinary and collaborative research. My biologist colleague Jennie Carr and I undertook a project on #MedievalBirds in fall 2016, in which we combined her expertise on ornithology with my research to create an interactive downtown gallery exhibit on Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls.  We involved students in creating a physical tree that branched onto the ceiling, showing how Chaucer’s categories of birds overlapped with evolutionary development, and in creating videos of students reciting passages from the Parliament of Fowls with present-day English translations in closed captioning.
  • Think about going beyond your college into the community. For Spring 2018, Washington College is planning an event that brings together high school teachers with our community to think about Chaucer in relation to the brilliant YA lit retelling of the Canterbury Tales by Kim Zarins, Sometimes We Tell the Truth. This event will give us an opportunity to bring together our LGBTQIA student groups as well as our secondary ed community with lovers of poetry and medieval studies.  Kim has graciously agreed to come and do a reading and craft talk, and the Education department is collaborating with us on a workshop with high school teachers to help them craft more in-depth lesson plans and relate Chaucer to contemporary issues.
  • Include other medievalists, faculty, and even emeritus faculty with a love of Chaucer! Our beloved emeritus faculty Bennett Lamond, who taught Chaucer for decades at Washington College starting back in 1965, read at our Multilingual Chaucer event.  He gave a hilarious, spirited reading of “To Rosamunde,” likening it to the Rolling Stones song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
  • Get students involved in their own retellings and rewritings of Chaucer. David Wallace’s undergraduate Chaucer course at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 2014 held an event in which students debuted both their own readings of Chaucer in the original Middle English as well as inspired, irreverent translations into present-day English.
  • Direct your event to increase opportunities for outreach on your campus. Are there other departments or programs with which you want to collaborate?  How can Chaucer connect to other time periods and topics?  Maybe you want to celebrate Chaucer’s influence on later art and media with your Media Studies or Art History departments.  Perhaps you want to work with your Gender Studies department on an event that looks at gender roles in Chaucer, or with Comparative Literature or Modern Languages scholars on an event that highlights translation.
  • Advertise! We had co-sponsors who also helped to publicize the event, including the Global Education Office, Department of English, Department of Modern Languages, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Poetry Club, and Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society).  Their efforts, along with our posters, tweets, and announcements, ensured a good turnout for the event.
  • Use social media for collaboration, connections and archiving. This international holiday was created and promoted through social media, so it’s important to create records, post pictures and videos, and tweet, blog or Facebook with the hashtag #WhanThatAprilleDay17 (please note the spelling).

Of course, all of these reflections come from the perspective of a medievalist working in English, who teaches Chaucer. Although “Whan That Aprille Day” started from a Chaucer parody account and remains Middle English heavy, its goal is wide and universal, and it offers possibilities for global and multilingual exchange, just as Chaucer himself makes in his poetry.  In the words of @LeVostreGC, “we hope that the connections, affinities, and joys of this made-up linguistic holiday will widely overflow their initial medieval English context.”

WATD Washington College event group photo
Readers pose for a group photo after the “Whan That Aprille Day” event at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College (2016).

Teaching and Researching the Medieval Past in the Face of Present Crisis: Why and How Medieval Studies *Now*?

On Monday, 8 March 2016, Medievalists at the University of Chicago hosted a discussion on the ways we can resist the appropriation of the Middle Ages by the political right.  Follow this link for Carly Boxer’s very useful storification of the event. It includes not only the event’s twitter conversation, but also links to the readings.

Thrice Translations

Front of the King's Theatre, Haymarket, London

At Penn Humanities Forum’s 28 February 2017 seminar, Lily Kass asked us to consider what happens when a text is translated across multiple languages, multiple genres, and multiple cultures, landing back in the source culture in an intermediary genre but in still another language.  Such is the back history of Da Ponte and Antonio Sacchini’s late 1790s’s opera, Evelina; or, the triumph of the English over the Romans. Although the opera’s roots are in William Mason’s 1749 closet drama, Caractacus, a Dramatic Poem: Written on the Model of the Ancient Greek Tragedy—and though it goes through a couple of generic and linguistic transformations in France—when the opera returns to London it dressed as an Italian opera with an Italian libretto based on the French, not the English text.  Moreover, when the text returns to London nearly half a century later, it appears in an entirely different political environment, necessitating us to recognized another generic translation.

Akin to a game of telephone, the series of translations ostensibly maintain the basic thrust of Mason’s lines through the series of translations. Yet, because the musical score requires adjustments be made as the text moves across languages, change is introduced. Sometimes, however, changes appear for no discernible reason, and we’re left to speculate what sort of effect the word choices would have on the audience.

Global Chaucers in UVA and DC

by CANDACE BARRINGTON and JONATHAN HSY

The Global Chaucers co-directors are currently in UVA! We’ll be appearing at the Scholars’ Lab on Thursday to discuss “Digital Hospitality” and the Medieval Colloquium on Friday for a workshop on “Linguistic and Cultural Hospitality.” More than ever, we are hoping this project can create a more empathetic, culturally aware, and interconnected world.

We the co-directors also proud to be taking part in an interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday organized by the GW Digital Humanities Institute at George Washington University (Washington, DC) on Saturday entitled “Global Chaucer and Shakespeare in a Digital World.” Visit the symposium website for full information [and note the informational flyer below]. The symposium features José Francisco Botelho (Brazilian translator of both Chaucer and Shakespeare) among many other exciting folks! The conference in DC is FREE and open to the public.

After the DC event, Botelho will continue on to Connecticut for a conversation about his Contos da Cantuária.

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