medieval studies, literary criticism, games, reflections
May 28th, 2014 by Anthony

Fandom, part 2

I admit that, as an expat identifier, I am thereby a target for certain features of fandom that would otherwise not apply. Thus, I identify as a Bostonian, and as such have been known to wear Boston-sport-themed paraphernalia around the swell city of Pittsburgh. A ballcap, actually, has been the extent of my profligacy.

Given that the wonderful baseball team of Pittsburgh is a National League team, and given that the Red Sox (the Braves having long since fled to to the Senior Circuit) are American League, one would expect that I would have a marvelous opportunity—to root for a “rival” team while not betraying my home team. This is indeed a wonderful and much-desired component of fandom. No one wants to be accused of fan treachery; many wish they could expand their enthusiasms beyond the narrow grounds of local geography. The American/National League dichotomy allows for a unique privilege here–since Boston and New England generally (unlike New York, Texas, Florida, and the Bay area) has only one major baseball team, wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could root for two teams–AL and NL. While in principle this anarchic suggestion could lead to fans of teams traditionally opposed to one another (even Yankees/Dodgers, or (god forbid) Red Sox/Mets), in practice this sort of carelessness/sinfulness is very rare.

I mention all of this as a lead-in to the notion of fan-switching, or allegiance-switching. I grew up as a Boston boy, and a Boston fan–when I was 10, the Bruins and Red Sox were in their decline, the Celtics were in ascendance, and the Patriots were still six years away from contention. I was a fan of all four teams, although I cheated terribly on the Patriots, since from 1984–1987 I avidly followed Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears, and I was agnostic toward the Bruins––I knew about half the roster, but they were rarely on TV, and were being eclipsed in the mind of a shameless 12-year old by the Billy Smith/Denis Potvin/Mike Bossy/Bryan Trottier Islanders (who were entombed wonderfully by Strat-O-Matic hockey, in which they were almost unbeatable (except for a sad Edmonton team led by a child named Gretzky).

I mention it because I have one ballcap that declares my allegiances. One, that reads “B”, meaning Red Sox. Several people have assumed I was a bandwagon fan as a result, which offends me far more than is reasonable, although any sports fan who reads this will understand. There are, I am sure, many bandwagon RedSox fans since 2004, 2007, and 2013. I am not one of them…and while it can be understandable when a child changes sports allegiances with the times…it is pathetic when an adult does. And…for a forty-something to do so is a disgrace! Please, please, please…stop assuming that the forty-something fellow running in Schenley park is a RS-fan Johnny-cum-lately…! I earned it…oh yes…!

May 28th, 2014 by Anthony


I like to identify as an expat, I think. While true foreignness should only be recognized by the tongue of another tongue, I have, for most of the past fifteen years, felt as if I were a new and finless fish in a new sea. First in Toronto, which is by all accounts a lovely city, and where I toiled for years and years at my doctorate, then in a series of smaller burgs, and shorter stays—Knoxville TN, Birmingham AL, Providence RI, and Waterville ME. Each topos prompted initial intrigue, and some even held it…I liked Birmingham very much, and would have been happy to stay there, while Knoxville, despite the marvelous sushi and music, held far fewer charms; Lovecraft’s own city would have easily become a home of my own, were the stars right, and the students at Brown were like family; whereas Waterville, despite its Atlantean location, despite its Walmart, and despite Colby’s splendid outdoor track, is far less missed.

Now I am an expat in Pittsburgh, at the outermost house-edge of Pennsylvania. The hills and declines that lace the Steel City’s topography strike a chord in this exiled San Franciscan’s heart, yet it is not quite the same proclivities and declivities that incite and startle the denizens of the Pacific’s chiefest urban jewel. I miss the fog, and I miss the sun. Someone asked me recently what SF has that Pitt has not…and my answer was, besides Web 2.0 wealth and $3,000/month real estate…light. The sunlight of San Francisco is difficult to apprehend if you have not been there, and if you have not been to Italy, but trust me…it is most rare and wonderful to behold. I don’t know whether the San Franciscan architects understood how generous the almighty was being with them when they designed the city piece by piece, but the end result is like heaven in stucco and cable. Don’t trust me…just go and visit yourself. And have an El Farolito burrito while you’re there…

April 13th, 2014 by Anthony

Jesse Winchester’s Passing

On April 11 the songwriter Jesse Winchester died. He was 69, and had been battling cancer for some time, first that which attacked his esophagus, which he was able to overcome, and then which invaded his bladder, which he could not. I learned about this from random tweets in my timestream, which also pointed me toward this video, Jesse Winchester on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle…in the clip, Winchester sings a song from his 2009 album Love Filling Station, ‘Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding’. If you are a long time in love, or newly come to it, or if you just appreciate the sound a raspy voice and elegant acoustic guitar playing can make when combined with poignant expression, please listen. And once you have done so, if you do not continue reading this slight post, you will not be held accountable for your emotions and your distraction on the Day of J. It is a beautiful song, beautifully performed, and it is a performance made almost unbearably keen when one has the additional (and unnecessary) knowledge of Jesse Winchester’s health at the time…the (often noted) reaction of Neko Case speaks for all of us who could not be there on the chair, next to an man forced further into age by disease, singing a young person’s song, one that would not have been improbable for him to have written a long time ago…it is a pretty few minutes of video, and Elvis Costello’s reaction might speak for everyone who was paying attention…

I have only one Jesse Winchester LP, his eponymous 1970 album. The cover shows a young, bearded, haunted man—his eyes dominate the near-sepia landscape, framed by a scored and scarred wall: he might be pausing for an engraving before his execution. The album contains several of Winchester’s most famous songs, such as ‘Biloxi’, ‘Brand New Tennessee Waltz’, and ‘Yankee Lady’; and I fond from the start of ‘That’s a Touch I Like’. Nostalgia, and regret, and extraordinary attentiveness to memory, plies each of these songs…which is probably why they spoke so loudly to me, even as a green eighteen-year old. Jesse Winchester is a tremendous discovery for me to make these days, in any days, because I never associated any of its songs with the girl I was mad for when I was so green, so 18, and so hopelessly in love. I remember trying very hard to fit his lyrics to her face, and I remember failing to do so…they didn’t quite describe her, nor my feelings for her. Perhaps it was because it was the late 1980s, and hearing a honky-tonk piano and a native Louisianan drawl, or a stuttering folk guitar and a sweetly hoarse voice (made hoarser and more tentative from his exile in Canada), seemed enough out of “tune” that I resisted applying the Winchester wisdom to my own situation…yet it’s a good thing. Too much of my music from that age, that stage, of my youth has been altered by the gravity of that love, and it’s honestly awesome to rediscover music I knew back then that has no hint of that trouble on its (LP) sleeve…

Which brings me back to ‘Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding’…I was ecstatic at first, and suddenly I realized that this song, from 2009, and recorded by a man well-ready for AARPa, thrust me back to that fall of 1987, and that same old love. For I had purchased Jesse Winchester in October 1987, at the only record store in Middletown, CT, and sklunked home to peruse its vinyl mysteries on my still young turntable (R.I.P. 1992), only to find it missing in significance…until the other day…suddenly, it was as if Jesse Winchester had purposefully held off singing the important stuff until it was either far too late, or (maybe) just in time..

You were neither tan, nor seventeen, nor did we ever really dance, and while your face orbited my imagination, I held no deep attraction for you; but I was a teenager falling in love, for the first time…whenever I saw you, I floated in space, like a strange moon orbiting the dull world of common sense. I was so shy, and I suspected you knew so much about my hopeless crush, that perhaps you were like one of the old folks who could make no sense of the silly rhymes and schemes that occupied my silly mind…I don’t blame you, and never did: some people were meant to sing along, and others scribbled melodies as they dreamed…

There is a marvelous counterpoise in that video. It almost makes everything okay—all the foolish pain and punishment from loving so hard and so hot. It is always a dance, and those who forget it step on our own toes…and when we are able, near death, to sing such beautiful music, and seem so deeply wise in such frivolities, then we have made wisdom our custom, and can be happy to have lived so much.

“…shing-a-ling said everything for me”—J.W.





July 23rd, 2012 by Anthony

July 23: A New Hope

I have been planning this blog for some time now, and have been putting it off for several reasons, one of them being my dislike of the various themes, which have not yet captured my idea for how it should look. I have a vision in my mind as to what it should be, and so far I have hesitated to do anything. But it seems that a far better approach would be to start writing, and then tweak the theme, rather than fret and hand-wring for another summer. So here goes.

My vision for this involves posts about medieval studies, my courses (both those ongoing and those that I am planning), miscellaneous book reviews–really mini-essays on books I am reading), and observations and reflections on various and sundry stuff. I desire an outlet for some creativity, however, minimal, and an excuse to spark my imagination and “writing work ethic” on a daily basis.

I would hope also to be able to incorporate sound clips, video clips, and photographs, using my favorite gadgets and developing my skills in these forms (all poor at the moment!).

May 4th, 2012 by Anthony


Gazing on Calamity: Wounds, Words, and Things in the Middle Ages

Last October, I had the luck to meet several scholars of material culture at a conference that took place at the California University of Pennsylvania. They were, specifically, a historian of medieval medicine (who was also a practicing surgeon) and two archaeologists who specialized in the study of human remains. One ongoing project that was presented at the conference is the Towton Mass Grave Project, an excavation of a mass grave in Tadcaster, England, near the supposed site of the Towton battlefield. As many of you will know, the conflict that took place on a snowy Palm Sunday, March 29th, 1461, has long-been considered one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, with contemporary estimates of as many as 28,000 slain. The discovery of the mass burial pit has encouraged the hypothesis that these remains are from those who fought at Towton, and that, for the first time, we might glimpse of the grimmest of the fifteenth-century slaughters. Read the rest of this entry »

April 10th, 2012 by Anthony


In the course of preparing the Tristan discussions for this week, I was reminded of Brodkey’s claim that modern writers can claim expertise in sex, the way that 19th century writers could claim a special knowledge of manners. I modified this a bit for my students, substituting love for sex, for probable prudery, because they would not find it strenuous to make the leap between the two, and also because Tristan is more interesting as a document of love.