Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Past Made New: Futurama and Middle English

Happy (early) X-Mas!
Futurama has always been one of my favorite shows, if not my favorite. Its witty brand of humor which mixes intellect and wacky adventure has tickled my funny bone for years. Recently, however, as I have been studying the basics of Middle English, I am remembered of an aspect of the show which I never thought a whole lot of—its use of language.

                In episode 204, “Xmas Story,” the Planet Express delivery crew finds their lives in jeopardy from a murderous mechanical Santa. Scary stuff, right? Also interesting—robotic Santa which thirsts for your doom? Yup, but you know what is more interesting? The sly lingual game playing in the background of this episode.

                Let me explain: early in the episode, after our titular heroes have gone skiing and are relaxing by the fire, Fry remarks “it really puts you in the Christmas spirit.” His friends and co-workers are baffled and it is not until Fry spells it out “X.M.Y.S” that they understand that by Christmas he means what they know as X-Mas. Leela remarks, “Oh, you must be using an archaic pronunciation, like when you say ‘ask’ instead of ‘ax.’” Needless to say, as someone studying Middle English, I now find this hilarious (or, at least amusing).

                In his pamphlet, Peter G. Beidler remarks that “our word ‘ask’ derives from the Middle English axen, a pronunciation now considered in some circles to be substandard: ‘I want to ax you a question’” (19, A Student’s Guide to Chaucer’s Middle English). So, let’s now consider the fact that Futurama is set in the year 3000 (A.D). What are to make of the fact that the denizens of this period denote ‘ask’ as an archaic pronunciation while ‘ax,’ the Middle English word, is the standard?

                Well, aside from the pro-secular stance on the use of X-Mas instead of the Christian ‘Christmas,’ this is an instance of temporal looping.

                In our time, it is ‘ax’ which is considered archaic, not ‘ask.’ But, a thousand years in the future, it is considered the norm—so it is a reverse of our present time; what is archaic to us is modern to the future, and so our modern is archaic to the future, with the past archaic now non-archaic. Typically, language changes over time and words are gradually morphed into new words with new, or altered, meanings. This is the case in our present with ‘ask’: it started as ‘ax’ and then morphed into ‘ask.’ It has the same basic pronunciation, and even, to a degree, the spelling (it remains fairly short). But in Futurama we have seen the opposite: instead of changing into a new spelling and pronunciation, the word has reversed, degenerated, into an older form.

                Why did this happen? Hard to say. In the Futurama universe there is many absurd happenings. But the general consensus is that of a loss of historical memory. What was in the past is lost and only survives as bits and pieces, and so medieval life and culture has taken on new shape but a shape divorced from the wider linguistic legacy. This would allow for the reversal of linguistic change, a faux shift. 

Or it could be much deeper or a mere fun alteration on the part of the writing staff. Who knows! The point is, I found it greatly amusing now that I am studying Middle English and will be sure to keep my eyes open for any other such references, in Futurama or otherwise.

 Works Cited 
Beidler, G. Peter. A Student's Guide to Chaucer's Middle English. Seattle: Coffeetown Press, 2011. Print.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Online Resources: Middle English Compendium & METRO

Behold: an English different from out own!
Hi y'all!

Since I am about to begin my exploration into Middle English, I have been doing a bit of research into language learning guides and linguistic aides. One of the resources I found online was this, a complete, and free, resource: the entire, 15,000+ page Middle English dictionary!

Just think-- now you do not need to spend over a thousand dollars on buying super-expensive print copies. Happy day!


But, that is just one facet of that resource: the compendium has, in addition to the dictionary, an extensive bibliography and other resources well worth checking out for the aspiring medieval scholar.


Other than that, I moshed on over to Harvard's site where the Middle English Teaching Resources Online (METRO) has a hefty number of resources, including audio recordings of various passages, help with manuscript analysis, and a glossary on the basics of middle English. Explore it for yourself and see what awaits!


Finally, I found "The Chaucer Studio" over on the BYU website, where they sell, fairly cheaply, CDs of Old and Middle English poetry readings (they also have a few products in a few other medieval, dead, languages). Additionally, they sell some interesting DVDs focusing on the religious history of the medieval period. I will eventually buy these texts when I have some dough; until then, have fun browsing!


Monday, August 29, 2016

Enchanted Assemblages: Artwork, at long last!

A watercolor painting done by an artist far better than I!

So, as I said previously, I have been anticipating when I would begin the art component to my project. In my aforementioned art post, I remarked how I decided to buy a decent set of starter supplies since I had decided to create all of my own art pieces, since it would be too costly and time consuming to hire someone. Well, a couple days ago my art supplies finally arrived!

Admittedly, I haven't done a whole lot, yet. I am still getting the hang of things is the reason why.

When the supplies arrived, I decided to start with the watercolors. I chose the watercolors first because that style, with my talents, would be the best way to nudge my way into art; I prefer abstract art, and watercolors, when you use wet-on-wet techniques, tend to produce suitably abstract blotches of color as they spread over the wetted surface. I thought I could use this to my advantage as I practiced some of the basics. And, I think I was right-- I believe that I am getting the hang of things!

But! I do have construction paper, collage, and 3D and multi-leveled images and structures to practice on as well, so the fact that I still have only scratched the surface of watercolors means that I have a lot to yet do and practice.

Even so, I have finished five, not-too-bad, watercolor paintings. I am quite proud of myself; not because I am thinking myself at risk of becoming the next great artist, but because I am happy to be crafting my adaptation's artwork with my own hands. The time, labor, and materials augment the experience of actually producing. Instead of mere intellectual work-- my usual occupation-- I am engaged in practical activities which also allow me a nice respite from my usual mental gymnastics; accordingly, this makes my undertaking here all the more poignant precisely due to its estrangement from my typical situation: instead of pure intellectual work (reading and brainstorming and the like), I now have moments of hands-on activities which act as a release-valve for stress. I like it.

I hear you ask, "what images have you been painting?" Good question! Just the materials for the introduction, so far: you see, I do not want to venture too far ahead with this game without having the subsequent materials crafted. So this just translates to me not wanting to blindly create images which do not yet have game-post to attach themselves to; likewise for the game-posts and images. So, I am writing five posts at a time, publishing them on my site, and then commissioning the images which accompany them so as to avoid the pitfalls of either having to do nothing but paint, or the other evil of having nothing to do but publish posts. In my view, a little of everything works well for my measured pace. We will see how this works in the future. But, for now, I am seeing all the colors of the rainbow and it is nice.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Long Shadows and the Dark Ages (Notes: 29)

Tabletop gaming, anyone? Yes? Too bad! This is NOT what this series of notes is about.

(Today, we being a new series of notes from my engagement with 'The Early Middle Ages' Great Course; it is hosted and narrated by professor Philip Daileader and spans some 24 lessons.)

In terms of historical memory, 300-1000 A.D is the period of history known as the Dark Ages. Because of its lack of resources many medieval scholars prefer to specialize either in the high (1100-1300) or late periods (1300-1500) of the Middle Ages. Why is it called the Dark Age? Some scholars call it that because of the aforementioned lack of information that we know of about the period. Others still call it ‘dark’ because of the myriad of social ills which plagued the epoch, from plummeting literacy rates, growing isolationism, and the decline of urban environments. Because of this, many scholars either see it was “too depressing” or simply, more realistically, do not want to deal with the relative difficulty of simply finding information to work with and prove theories/hypothesis.

Professor Philip Daileader asks his audience why people should study the early medieval world; his answer is three-fold: first, he asks a series of questions which command our attention and which can only be solved by taking a study recourse to this period: why did the Roman empire collapse, why did Christian monotheism become the dominant religion in Europe?; secondly, because of some of the people that lived during this time would command a domineering presence long after their death and direct the thinking of the post-early medieval world. Figures like King Arthur and King Charlemagne, for example are impossible to understand without understanding the early medieval world. Thirdly, we need to understand the early Middle Ages in order to understand how the material reality of the later medieval periods were possible and what they owed to the early middle age.

Englishman Edward Gibbon and Belgian Anacreon Perion stand among the most demanding historians of this period which contributed to our understanding of the late Roman Empire and the early medieval world. 

Born in 1737, dies in 1794, Gibbon led a privileged life. He served as a member of parliament and a protestant. He is a member of the intellectual class as marked by his affiliation with the European Enlightenment. He spends much time on the continent where he “rubs shoulders” with thinkers like Voltaire; however, he thought that Voltaire, and indeed many of the French Enlightenment, went too far in their critique of institutions. But Gibbon was hostile to the so-called Revealed Religions and was especially critical of Christianity, it being the most widespread Revealed Religion. He considered Christianity a superstition and wished that his contemporaries relied more on themselves and their own analytical power to explain the world around them instead of relying on religious dogma. Being not a humble man, Gibbon wanted a topic to study which presented challenges and which would make a name for himself: enter, the study of the Roman ruins. He soon knew though that he could not merely study the ruins in isolation and had to study all of the Roman Empire; and so he wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a testament to his study. Gibbon’s book was well-received by his contemporaries: they liked his powerful writing style and his explanation for the fall of the Roman Empire, that the Romans lost their civic virtue—something lifted from 4th and 5th century Roman Moralists—resonated well with his peers. Indeed, they would be of foundational importance for many thinkers to follow.

But to move onto Anacreon Perion’s life account. He was born in 1862 and died in 1935. He is a cosmopolitan figure and studies in France and Germany (in addition to Belgium). Perion, however, was not well-born and had to work for a living, hence his teaching at the University of Ghent 1836-1930. Perion’s life was interrupted by the First World War; he was subsequently crushed when his youngest son died fighting the German’s during their invasion of Belgium. In 1916 he is imprisoned by the Germans for his resistance to re-opening the university under German rule. He is not released until the end of the war in November of 1918. From 1922-3, Perion would publish some articles which explained the transition from the ancient to the medieval world not in a moral sense but in an economic sense (The so-called “Perion Thesis”) and so eschewed the personal and collective dimensions of previous scholarship on the matter. He challenged the notion that the collapse of the empire came from the Germanic invasions or because of the abdication of the office of Emperor. Life for the daily person post-these events remained much the same—whether or not an emperor existed did not affect very much the common folk, whereas, the Germanic invaders were not coming to destroy Roman culture but rather partake in its benefits. Economic trade, likewise, did not break down. The real break lied with the 7th century and with the Arabs with the conquest of Spain, North Africa, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and much of Asia Minor (Turkey). Such events ruptured the economic integrity of the Mediterranean. Europe became, as Perion put it, “Blockaded by the Arabs” and so the Roman Empire, now so dependent on the trade from those regions, could no longer survive as it once had with the Arab conquests now firmly entrenched. Europe thus become highly agrarian in nature and autarkic. Perion’s case rested on the vanishing of certain items such as gold coins which had to be done outside of Europe. What he views as clear evidence as losing access to certain parts of the world.

The influence of both of these writers are large even today. It will not be an issue of accepting or rejecting their theories, but of seeing what aspects of their theories work and what does not work as backed up by modern scholarship intermixed with an understanding of the social, political, religious, and economic realities of the time and place. The course, as prof. Daileader remarks, is divided into two sections: part one is Late Antiquity (300-630), while part two is focused on more distinctly medieval period as the first part is overlapped with the ancient world, so this is the middle of the seventh century to the year one-thousand.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Enchanted Assemblages: Notes on Technologies and Religion

The different dimensions illustrated.

Previously, I outlined the idea of The Cloud, a multi-dimensional space which allowed for unlimited storage of data that due to its restorative abilities was treated with religious-like devotion. Now I am talking about the opposite: if The Cloud was an Abrahamic construction, then what we are talking about today is the reverse, a pagan-construction.

But, before we do so, we need to take a detour into some of the technologies of this world.

Enter: Synthetic Intelligence (S.I.).

These creations are similar to artificial intelligence. Really, the only difference is that their minds are artificial, but not based on human minds; Synthetic Intelligences are based on the minds of alien lifeforms. Because of this, they are not operative as would fake intellect: they lack the degeneracy which informs A.Is as we usually imagine them in popular science-fiction.

Indeed, Synthetic Intelligence chooses to die. Effectively, they are immortal. They select their death after completing what they have designed as their 'Destiny.' When they do die they crystallize into a solid, particular form; often, this is a dual-form: since whatever they transition into still holds all of the memories of that S.I., but also possesses a unique which humans find otherworldly, thus encouraging the growth of many rumors and legends, the dead state of S.Is are highly valued objects.

Such objects are called "Earthen Machines." Usually, many are found in inhospitable places foreign to humanity. So their capture is usually the result of a large expedition or pure chance. Kings and powerful warlords or governors tend to be the owners of such relics due to their formidable and ultra-rare traits.

Which brings us to the Roundtable-- it is not an Earthen Machine, though it is similar.

Housed in an ancient, underground cavern part of a massive system of tunnels, the Roundtable is a semi-natrually forming structure which is connected to the "Mortal Plane" (re the realm of 3D biologicals) through the skin of a true, full-blooded Earthen Machine which coats the 'table' and allows cyborgs to "jack in" to the table.

Because the table is an anomaly, something which has the same properties of The Cloud but delivered in a modified manner which excludes the euphoric indulgence in lou of abstract contemplation, the Long Lasting Empire views it as a heretical phenomena and so deems it as Pagan and its alternative to The Cloud as an "Hell." And so, we see the remaining traces of the pre-shift world re-emerge as pale parodies of themselves thrown into a reification overdrive.

The Roundtable is actually a multi-dimensional object. This is why it is able to offer cyborg's roughly the same benefits as the Cloud, because it is essentially the same thing. The only true difference is, though, that whereas the Cloud is a six-dimensional object, this Roundtable is a ten-dimensional object, and so it is far more complex than the Cloud and is 'the same' only in the same that 1+1 and a complex set-theoretical equation can both be considered mathematical.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Reviewing "King Arthur: History and Legend" Great Course

From its earliest days to our contemporary epoch, the Arthurian legend and its manifold characters, scenarios, and variations has truly stood the test of time. Today, it is not uncommon to see a plethora of commodities based off of the Arthurian legend—from Rountable pizza to King Arthur’s flour—indicating that the legend has not only been maintained but commoditized. Artistically, writers from the medieval to the modern have reworked Arthurian material to better help them understand their epoch. Truly, if there is one thing that we can say about King Arthur it is this—he has been a figure of trans-historical importance the world over.

                But with a tradition so large and formidable, with literally hundred-of-thousands of texts, how is one supposed to separate what is worth reading from what is not? How is one to find those classical texts which any aspiring scholar need study? Furthermore, how to simply chart and get the basics facts and then some when so many writers have done so many different things with the tradition in so many different languages? Professor Dorsey Armstrong answers all of these questions and more.

                Hosted by The Great Courses, Armstrong’s contribution King Arthur: History and Legend, covers the whole Arthurian gamut. From the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain to the modern Hollywood films, Armstrong tackles the entire canon is a series of twenty-four, thirty-minute lectures. 

                What I found most handy while listening to each course was its emphasis on cornerstone details. Obviously, with a legend was rich as King Arthur, one could spend far longer on each lesson than a mere thirty-minutes. But Armstrong makes each lesson work: though short, they hit on all of the strong points without sacrificing nuance; you enter a session, learn the essential, and are encouraged to branch out on your own after the conclusion. So in this sense it is much like a university: you enroll in a course, attend lecture, and then are expected to uptake your own study independent of the course in order to get the full experience. Armstrong’s erudition is testament to how well one learns even should one decide to not uptake an independent study and merely listen to the course. 

                Personally, I found the course most handy in separating Arthurian fact and fiction. My secondary enjoyment was Armstrong’s charting out of the interconnectedness of the series of adaptations which were produced by medieval writers. Together, both of these facets of the course helped me in gaining a bird’s eye view of the legend and know who wrote what, and for what reason, and who adapted those writings for similar reason and how all of this influenced future generations, and for what reasons.

                Prior to this lesson I was unsure of what I was to expect from a study of the Arthurian legend. I knew that it was an extensive field of study but I did not know to what end it was extensive. After completing Armstrong’s course, however, I know that the legend is far more convoluted than I had previously imagined. Truly, one is not doing one’s self any good unless a handy guide, like Armstrong’s course, is purchased. There is so many adaptations of adaptations that the nuance and rationale behind each version will quickly be lost should one try and wade into this field without the proper precautions.

                In the end, I loved this course: it helped me appreciated the Arthurian legend in a whole new light and gave me appreciation for how and why it was adapted. It cut away the darkness of the newcomer’s confusion and helped shed some light on where to begin. I would be remiss if I did not give this course a five out of five.

King Arthur: History and Legend (The Great Courses)
Dorsey Armstrong
12:01:01 hours. Published by The Great Courses and Audible; Narrated by Dorsey Armstrong.