Friday, February 1, 2013

Mind Raiders

In AD 449 three ships landed at Kent, in the southeast of Britannia, and those who rowed the ships eventually took hold of most of that island. In AD 2012, those sea raiders took hold of my mind.

I won't explain all the ripe conditions that made me so enormously receptive to mind-ravaging by long-dead Anglo-Saxons, but it was a slow and then sudden march they made into my interior, just like their slow yet relentless push into the midlands and beyond that made "Britannia" suddenly "Angle-londe." Like an English toad in a teapot, I didn't know I was gettin' Anglished until I was totally and irreversibly Anglished.

Last semester I took History of the English Language, and it is taught at my school as a historical linguistics class. The prof who teaches it is an Old English scholar, so she naturally dwelt on the Anglo-Saxon period and then raced a bit to cover Middle and Early Modern English. I enjoyed the dwelling.  I am now taking Old English (learning to translate poetry and prose) and I plan to take the advanced OE class next year.  This is going to make my focus for the Ph. D. all the more difficult to rationalize.

I knew I was interested in what we lit folk call the "history of ideas" but usually the ideas don't come from the murky, early, illiterate middle ages. Antiquity gets in there, and then some people probably skip to the writings of saints, or to the High Middle Ages.  I had skipped straight to Milton.  But now I have found men even more English than that Englishman, and certainly more manly.  Men who think of their words as things to work with or even as weapons to be wielded.  Studying them is as out of fashion as studying words.*  But that's what's driving me these days.

I'm bringin' Saxon back. (Yeah!)

*(No one studies words anymore, except hot Russian women born the same year as me.  I wrote my statement of purpose for my Ph. D. app today and I told a friend that I was basically stating unapologetically that I should have been born 100 years ago so I could have been a philologist while it was still a respectable, fully clothed profession. I'd like to have been a German philologist. Maybe I was?)

One disappointment of the history of English class was the prof's lack of interest in North Germanic people and their literature. We talked at length about the Danes' linguistic contributions to English, which cannot be ignored in such a class, but we did not talk about the literary and cultural exchange between Old Norse and Old English traditions.  I'm reading a book now that's about just that. Really, just that. Down to the individual words and whether they're used in a Saxony sense or a Norsey sense. And sometimes, because of the paucity of OE we have in manuscript, it will be like a word that was only ever used a couple of times in Beowulf and never anywhere else so who knows what the hell?! Holy hwaet! It's hardcore.  (And the coolest historical thing I've learned from this book so far is how much well-known ON poetry was actually written on English soil.  What a fucking cool island. Let's go there!)

Anyway, that book paves another avenue I'd like to take for tracking down the history of ideas and stories and myths. And maybe I'll even put a "narrative theory" angle on it -- because that, my friends, unlike fully clothed philology, is hot these days.

A final word before I show you what I'm reading. The only way OE could become sexy again without me hosting a "Hot Word-Hoard" show on Maxim Radio (which would require massive breast implants and maybe some other minor alterations even though you wouldn't be able to see me) is through HOBBITS.  I don't know how many of the LOTR nerds go beyond being really into wearing elf ears, but I imagine quite a few of them know about Tolkien's language badassery in the books. And man was he into words!  Saxon words.  Mercian words to be exact.  So maybe, just maybe, hobbits (and maybe some fair-eyed, scale-mailed Rohirrim on lathered horses -- because Rohirric is Mercian!) can make Saxons sexy again.

So why is this a "mind raid," a cerebral pillaging, and not just a fun new direction for my never-ending studies?  Because it's taken over.  I was bad enough last year after I'd stumbled upon the literary OE section in the library.  And this semester, purely by accident, I got off the escalator in an emotional fog, found myself on the wrong floor, and walked right into the early English HISTORY section. Now I can't go in that place without checking out books. I mean, that's what's supposed to happen at a library, but this is getting bad.  I won't list everything in the stack, but here are the few that I have actually begun to read. And I'm taking notes on them.

Origins of the English People -- So much stuff! Here's my review.

Sharing Story: Medieval Norse-English Literary Relationships -- This is the book on words I was raving about above.

The Age of Alfred -- An ancient dusty thing, from the lit section instead of history so I'm hoping it's more about his making England literate.

The Year 1000 -- Written around 2000, explores the daily life of an Anglo-Saxon. One of the main sources is a calendar. (Or at least it becomes the book's motif -- which is kinda cool because it's not just like "THE YEAR 1000," like what was it like 1000 years ago, but it's the day-to-day of the actual year 1000. January to December.)

Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England -- Mixes literature, history, and geography! This was a good find because most books I've seen that talk about "place" are archaeological or anthropological studies. This is a nice hybrid of physical places and literary phenomena.

Verbal Encounters:  Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Studies -- More Danes and Angles just shootin' the shit.

That's it for now. There are a couple more on the desk at work, and I'm gong to the fore and aft of that period with some stuff on Roman Britannia and some stuff on Arthurian facts and fictions.

Does it seem like I want to know everything about these fuckers? I kinda do.

CORRECTION: I am two weeks from the end of Old English class, and it has been much slower paced than the History of English class where we skipped over everything Viking to save time.  So, come to find out, the professor is not as apathetic toward North Germanic stuffs as she seemed.  In fact, she reads Norse sagas for fun, and even showed us Eddaic sources for some OE works.