Thursday, August 12, 2004

Current Project

If I had to keep one of those dreadful time sheets that my wife does for her work (where you document every six minutes of your time), surely this summer would seem unproductive, with most entries reading "changed Mitch's diaper," "carried Mitch around outside until he stopped crying." "changed Mitch's diaper again." But somehow I managed to finish off a whole bunch of lingering projects:

1. Article on Anglo-Saxon Medicine, co-written with biology professor, submitted to Anglo-Saxon England.

2. Long article on 20th century fantasy's use of medieval materials: "The Problem of Transformation: The Use of Medieval Sources in Fantasy Literature," for Blackwell's Literature Compass.

3. Long article on Beowulf: "Blood and Deeds: The Inheritance Systems in Beowulf” submitted to Review of English Studies.

4. Short (hopefully humorous) piece for Old English Newsletter: An Anglo-Saxonist Gets His Fifteen Minutes (or, what happens when the media briefly pay attention). There may be a web version here

5. And, what took the longest time, the penultimate version of the Table of Contents for the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. The lists of entries and possible contributors is being finished by the press, as is the project website, and I'll post details when I have them.

It's not really that bad. If you count either Tolkien Studies volume I (which we finished editing in 2003 but was published in 2004), or you count TS vol II (which we're editing in 2004 but will be published in 2005), I've had a book and four articles published thus far this year and I've written a few more articles (including one in a collection coming out in Italy) and have two more guaranteed articles (in Rob Eaglestone's Tolkien book from Continuum and in the collection that will come out of the Marquette conference. So I shouldn't feel unproductive, but, in fact, I do.

That's because I want to get back to doing reseach rather than just writing. I feel weird saying it, because obviously when I wrote all of the above, I did a lot of research, but it's not quite the same. For most of what I wrote/published, I didn't do new primary source work. Rather, I used my existing knowledge of texts to pull different threads of argument together. In the case of the Beowulf article, I'd been teaching the ideas for seven years or so, so they were quite refined (thanks to good student questions), but I hadn't put it all down on paper. That was hard, and fun, and mentally good.

But now I'm starting on a quasi-new project (only quasi, because I dealt with some of the background in my dissertation). I'm researching and writing an article about Albert S. Cook, possibly the most powerful American Anglo-Saxonist who ever lived. Cook founded the English department at Johns Hopkins and re-organized that at Berkeley before becoming a prof. at Yale. His published articles take up a gigantic, three-inch-thick binder in photocopies. He did editions of most major OE texts, and these were used for about 50 years and were the 'standard' editions even as late as the early 1980s.

But almost no one knows who Cook was or why he was important. And people who do mention him, like Gerald Graff, in Professing Literature get him hideously wrong (one reason I'm writing this article is to have the fun of showing how wrong Graff gets Cook). I've got all the pieces of the Cook side of the article, but I need to find, for want of a better word, a "hook" to link up my ideas about Cook and the history of scholarship and his particular beliefs with Cook's great achievement: his edition of The Christ of Cynewulf, which was the standard edition until Fred Biggs did one in the 1980's. I want to find a place in Christ of Cynewulf where I can argue that Cook's ideas about authorship and authority, particularly his construction of a biography and identity for Cynewulf, influenced his edition. This means working through and translating all of the three Christ poems and comparing my translation to Cook's, trying to figure out why Cook made the decisions that he made.

It's a fun project, and more importantly, it gets me back in touch with the primary material (reading and translating OE). Who knows what I'll find? My big Chrodegang article (which I think is my best piece of scholarship thus far) came out of digging into the text, translating it, and all of a sudden noticing a pattern. We'll see if that's what happens here.

2 comments:

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