Finally, the ending of my post about the summer seminar...
Saturday the focus was on Beowulf and Judith, then on Beowulf and Cuthbert. The session about Beowulf and Judith was a fascinating one, particularly given the focus we had -- sound. Prof. Lees described Judith as a "noisy" poem, and so we started to chart out what noise meant -- i.e., how to conceive of it, if there was or was not a way to chart out a continuum on which one could plot such concepts as speech, poetry, noise, sound, white noise, pink noise. Theoretically speaking, it was a really crucial point, although the attempt itself was a bit scattered (many different ideas in the room, not really agreeing with the others, as we clearly all had our own ways of conceptualizing sound and silence). Particularly intriguing for me was the question of noise vis a vis silence. I also got to turn around and ask a question about the poem that I'd been asked in London this past spring at a conference, which was nice. One Eminent Scholar asked me what had to be the best question anyone had asked me about Judith to that point in time. Granted, I only started working on Judith this past fall, so...haven't had a lot of questions. But this one was just breathtaking in its ability to completely confound me -- and bring a room to immediate silence. "Is there something queer about Judith?" I still don't know how to answer that question -- as do many people when first asked, I end up stuttering ("yes...but there's this...and so maybe not...but still...there must be...unless there isn't..."). Edit: Thinking more clearly a bit earlier in the day (which is a scary thought in itself) -- come to think of it, Karma Lochrie and Heide Estes have great articles on Judith, that I think partially address this question, if not directly. The Lochrie article is "Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Politics of War in the Old English Judith" and Estes is "Feasting with Holofernes: Digesting Judith in Anglo-Saxon England."
As you can guess, this lively conversation didn't leave much room to talk about Beowulf, so we got back to Beowulf in the afternoon, in addition to talking a bit about Cuthbert. The Beowulf discussion was amazing -- get a group of Anglo-Saxonists that large together and the energy is sure to be high. One of the questions I found most compelling was "where is the place of poetry in Beowulf?" one of the professors in attendance had an immediate response I found stunning: "Not here." This distancing effect of the poetry reminds me of that beautiful section from "The Monsters and the Critics":
When new Beowulf was already antiquarian, in a good sense, and it now produces a singular effect. For it is now to us itself ancient; and yet its maker was telling of things already old and weighted with regret, and he expended his art in making keen that touch upon the heart which sorrows have that are both poignant and remote. If the funeral of Beowulf moved once like the echo of an ancient dirge, far-off and hopeless, it is to us as a memory brought over the hills, and echo of an echo. There is not much poetry in the world like this...
Prof. Lees left us with a profoundly intriguing last thought, something we never got to in the discussion but that lay just under the surface of discussion (particularly as it related to Hildeburh earlier) -- Grendel's mother as an even more profoundly silent figure than her son.
Sunday we spoke about poets who use Anglo-Saxon as a part of their poetry. We focused on three main figures -- Edwin Morgan, Seamus Heaney and Basil Bunting. Amazing all three. I wish I could formulate something coherent about them...but I fear I cannot.
So general reaction -- what a fantastic experience. Seeing the excitement of other Anglo-Saxonists, some of whom I've read multiple articles by (like Roy Liuzza and Patrick Conner), was a fantastic moment. It gave me the energy to go back to my own work and invest seriously in it. Suddenly I could see a light at the end of the massive end-of-term tunnel -- it's official, the future looks bright again from where I'm standing. And of course, one can't avoid saying the obvious -- getting to work with Professor Lees was a real treat.
So overall, an amazing experience -- I must highly recommend it. And Morgantown isn't bad at all -- I didn't know what to expect, given that it's in upper West Virginia, and I'd never ( to my knowledge, at least) gone through there. That was also a calming factor to the trip -- I think I could live somewhere like Morgantown. NYC may be amazing and exciting and all, but in the end, I'm a Southern girl whatever my family roots are (and they are very New York), I'll always opt for a forest over a concrete jungle. It was good to see a place to remind me of that.