|The poster from The Talk|
Other rubs: I keenly felt the limitations of being a small liberal arts college person giving a talk to a graduate department at a research university. I am a teacher first and foremost, who sees my work primarily as that of presenting problematic material which will open up questions for discussion. I realize that I don't do much closure and synthesis, big (really big) picture thinking, or critical terminology with any kind of certitude. 20-minute conference papers (which I love to give) are exploratory, lay out new ground, and ask questions. This kind of 45-minute plenary talk felt different (bigger, more conclusive) in its expectations. I.e. - I felt very much in over my head, and struggled for the pertinence of what I was presenting beyond itself. I know what the big picture is (now it's so clear that I can put it at the beginning of a blog post: it's "all about" the visual representation of race in late medieval France), but I felt like my words couldn't make my images speak to it. Part of it is that I don't have full mastery of the images - I'm still in the stage where I'm asking questions instead of coming up with answers. How long will I be in this stage? It feels like it's been years already - but Mac keeps reminding me that this is a big project - and that was the response from the talk, too. There's been great work done on monsters and monstered humans in medieval art, but very little on human-figured counterparts. Actually, it's interesting: the human-figured counterparts _are_ discussed, but in ethnographic terms: in terms of information (what was known? was it correct or incorrect?) instead of ideology (how is this knowledge represented? with what associations?). Does race exist in the Middle Ages? Yes, with all sorts of caveats about ethnicity and the construction of race as a category productive of racism in the 18th century. How is it visible? This is harder to answer - yes, sometimes Saracens are represented as blue monsters, but just as often they are not: they sit and talk and eat and are "just like" Western Christians.
|Saint Nicholas panel from Chartres|
|Saint Nicholas panel from Chartres|
|Khan bowing before the cross|
Wow again! I've been thinking all day of writing about what's happened since the Burke lecture - and yet, no, there's still mulling to be done. I only realize now how utterly all-consuming it had become. And it was a full day: lunch with graduate students, tour of the Lilly Rare Books Library, two wonderful hours with a brilliant graduate student poring over manuscripts that had been brought out for our perusal (yes, marvelous, marvelous objects), the talk itself (I'm usually not nervous but, geez, this time I was), and then a lovely dinner afterwards with talk of Istanbul in 1983, Ravenna and its bishops and churches, and the pleasures and torments of writing. Every minute was quite vivid and intense - but if I were to recount every minute, the horizon scanning and the navel gazing would become one and the same. So I will spare us the details and just let my tremulous gratitude for it all remain.
It's now been two days of re-emergence into my little family - running all around with the kids (while Mac was in Cincinnati with students) during a wonderful, exuberant day that culminated into something as outrageously spectacular as a Japanese steak house. Eleanor was unexpectedly and utterly terrified at the dramatic blazes of fire. I tried to distract her by pointing out a young woman in a floor-length dress bedecked with glistening jewels as a princess, only to be told (solemnly) by Iris that "princesses are extinct." It was beautiful today, and Mac planted raspberry bushes and Oliver and I played a game together and worked on his book report, and the girls watched our favorite French movie, Panique au Village. I was swept up in tremendous nostalgia for Brittany today - wanting to be there just so badly, to really breathe.