Monday, 15 October 2012

Seminars and the Clueless

I'm just back from a seminar entitled "Why write romantic fiction in medieval Byzantium?" which seems a fair enough question. It was presented by Medieval Studies but I went along anyway- it sounded interesting.

The problem was that I don't really know anything about twelfth century Byzantium in the first place, let alone its inhabitants' taste in fiction. I especially don't know anything about Greek.

Now, I was fortunate and able to study Latin at school. It remains the single most useful subject I studied before university. I also did Latin in my first year of uni. I scraped a pass and decided that I had achieved all I was going to in that sphere so bid it a fond farewell. Anyway, at school my long-suffering Latin teacher tried to teach me classical Greek in sixth year. He was a patient man, of whom I was fond, but I just couldn't pick it up despite having one-on-one tuition. I never really assimilated the alphabet properly so reading anything involved a slow, painful process of first a clumsy attempt to mentally transliterate and then an even clumsier attempt to translate. We gave up after a few months, and he took early retirement at the end of the school year, his patience all but expired.

Perhaps when I am old I'll give it another go, but probably not (unless I can find a classicist I want to punish).

Anyway, what I hadn't thought of beforehand today was that Byzantine literature would be in Greek (I don't know what language I thought it would be in other than Greek, mind you). The speak also (reasonably) expected some prior knowledge- this was a postgrad seminar after all. I, however, was not in any sense up to speed. Although I could follow the argument, the finer points were lost on me and my attention was drifting somewhat. For me, it fairly quickly turned into a very learned woman saying Greek words, some of which were names, some of which were... not. It didn't make much difference to the Hellenically-backward in her audience.

I wrote down the name of her book, but I'm never going to read it.

Could say anything...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Peaks and troughs

This week is a little strange. All of my reading of late has been focused on the seminar I had this afternoon (although I still don't feel like I read enough for it). The rest of the week is very quiet, even by the standards of my course with its low contact hours. I have an hour's worth of Italian on Wednesday and a seminar about library resources on Thursday. That's it.

My intention is to use the time to get cracking on one of my essays. In theory, it's a fairly straight forward review essay but, that said, I've never had to write one before. A head start is probably, therefore, a good thing. It's only 3000 words so I could do a first draft fairly quickly. It would be nice, for a moment, to feel I was ahead of the curve rather than struggling to keep up.

I'm also instigating a programme of rewarding myself for reading a boring essay with an interesting one. In practice, this means that for everything I read about historiographical issues, I get to read something else about Renaissance prostitutes or something. I am currently sending articles about Lucrezia Borgia's finances to the printer for reward reading.

This system should prove actively helpful next semester. I'm not doing my directed reading module until January which means that unlike most of my MLitt colleagues, my second semester is going to be much heavier work-wise than the first. If I can get ahead on the reading for that (which is broadly the stuff I am specifically interested in anyway), next term might not feel so overwhelming. That's the idea, anyway.