Friday, February 10, 2006

Seminar Happiness

Someday, I'm going to propose an Ovarium rather than a seminar. On the other hand, so many of my graduate seminars consisted of people spouting off with little or no concern for what anyone else in the room thought or experienced, so maybe they really do need to be called "seminars"?

For the first time today, my Chaucer seminar was really a seminar, and by seminar I mean, I moderated their discussion, made some notes on the board, and enjoyed learning from them.

This class has turned into at least a bit of an experiment, with an off-site guest (G) logging on and contributing via our WebBoard discussion area. G and I have emailed a bit, and shared ideas about the text, and G has responded to and posted some questions and discussion ideas on the WebBoard. I've never yet managed to have students use the WebBoard technology well for discussion or information sharing, but I'm hoping this time, since they're conscious that G's out there, they'll think of themselves as really communicating in writing about the text. And G provides a great model of thoughtful communication, which is an added benefit. (Thanks, G!)

When the term started, they started from the beginning, learning Middle English and trying to get a sense of what is what in these texts. We've spent a fair bit of time in class on a word project (each person gets a word and looks it up on the OED and then writes about what they learn for the rest of us), on reading aloud, and on translating lines as we go.

Earlier this week, I started seriously trying to get them to discuss "The Book of the Duchess" more as a text, with some more depth and such. I tried putting up some thinking questions on our WebBoard thing, and asking them to respond. Over the past couple days, though, a couple of our students have been responding back and forth with G about some questions. Mostly they've been thinking about how the text understands and represents grieving.

A quickie rundown of the "Book of the Duchess": The narrator begins by explaining that he's been sleepless for eight years, and says that one sleepless night, he read the story of Alcione. In short, he says, Alcione's husband was out of town on business (and died along the way), and she missed him so horribly that she prayed to Juno for a dream to resolve her problem (she didn't know he'd died). Juno sent Morpheus to inhabit her husband's body to appear in Alcione's dream to inform her that he'd died. Alcione's so wracked by sorrow that she dies in 3 days.

Then, the narrator tells us, he prayed, too, and suddenly fell asleep and had a dream. In his dream, he "wakes" and sees art about the Trojan War and the Romance of the Rose, hears a bunch of birds, and then gets up and goes on a sort of hunt, where he gets off-track, and sees a small or young dog, which he follows until he sees the Man in Black, who's lamenting.

The narrator asks the Man in Black why he's sad, and the Man in Black tells him that he'd been a thrall to love, and fallen in love with the best woman, and she'd turned him down once, and then she'd accepted him. So why's he unhappy, the narrator asks? Because she's dead, the Man in Black explains. The narrator responds, basically, by saying, "by God, that sucks" (or so my student's translation went). And then he says he woke up and decided to make a rhyme out of his dream.

So, as you can see, we have three main models of grief: the narrator, the romance of Alcione, and the Man in Black's embedded narrative (along with some models within the various narratives). We also have multiple models of love, birds, Troy and classical history, some Biblical models, the Romance of the Rose, the Man in Black's experiences.

We started off talking about the models of love and grieving, and then we got into talking about the gendering of grief responses in the text. What fun!

And they were talking TO each other, and bringing in other texts, including one of the books a student wrote a book review on earlier in the week.

I have such high hopes! We start the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales on Monday.


  1. Wow! I've got a pseudonym, well a letter...? for my pseudonym.

    I don't mind letting my pseudonym out of the closet here, especially since we discussed my participation in your class here under my regular pseudonym. But I'll go for now by my pseudonyms's pseudonym in case Bardiac doesn't want me to reveal it.

    Anyway, you've guessed that I'm G. Bardiac's students certainly have been very kind in responding to me. They have had to post their OED papers and book reviews as well, so that's a huge help for me; plus it creates an archive for the whole class.

    Bardiac has had them post discussion questions for upcoming classes, which is really cool. Funny, I already get a clear sense of who really has it going, who is a hard worker, and who is charming but.. ahem..perhaps interested in other things.

    Bardiac is also posting questions; the class meets MWF, and after I read the questions, I am always dying to stop by, but I am about as far from B's institution as possible while still occupying the continental US, so that's not going to happen. One day soon, we'll all have videoconferencing, so this won't be an issue. (Does that mean University of Phoenix will take over everything?)

    So, I need to get cracking on the General Prologue (ugghh...I have papers from three of my five classes to grade...grrr...maybe I can squeeze in some bedtime reading tonight, especially since Dr. Mrs.G--with the incipient, fetal G Jr--is out of town).

    I was trying to hold out on reading the CT until my Norton came in (still waiting), but I do have a New Cambridge Edition from 1961 (and a Penguin translation to help me since I don't like the setup of the glossary in the New Cambridge). I've reconfirmed that my college's library is thoroughly inadequate. I have borrowing provileges over at the local state university. I may end up resorting to the library there.

  2. Feel free to out yourself to whatever extent is comfortable.

    The GP is one of the most amazing pieces of descriptive writing ever. Dang, this guy's good, you know?

    I'm really enjoying your input on the board. I'm so happy this is working out so well, and I hope it will get even better as we get into some of the BEST stories put into any language!

    I have to give props to the tech people here at Northwoods; I asked about having a guest from off campus have access to the WebBoard thing, and they had it set up within a couple hours. Just fantastic!

    Word verification: awxge - you'd think it was using ME spellings!