The Limits of Allusion #4 
Saturday, October 8, 2011, 09:51 AM
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I was reading a discussion of Sandys’s Ovid (1626) by Liz Oakley-Brown in which she draws attention to his use of the word ‘cleaving’ in the translation of the tale of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Salmacis, the desiring nymph, prays to be united with the reluctant youth, and they are metamorphosed into a single androgynous being:

Her wishes had their Gods. Euen in that space
Their cleauing bodies mix: both haue one face.
As when wee two diuided scions ioyne,
And see them grow together in one rine:
So they, by such a strict imbracement glew'd,
Are now but one, with double forme indew'd.

As she points out, it’s a felicitous word choice as it can mean both to split and to stick fast. He is doing his best to split, whereas she is clingy. These lines made me think of Milton’s description of good and evil in Areopagitica (1644):

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world.

Milton is known to have drawn on Sandys’s translation of Ovid, and I wondered if there was some memory of Sandys’s hermaphrodite at work here – particularly because the word ‘cleaving’ also has the same double-edged force in Areopagitica, describing two opposites (good and evil) which are yet complexly intermixed. Milton’s reference to the apple’s ‘rind’ seems slightly superfluous, and that perhaps strengthens the case for seeing these lines as a faint echo of Sandys’s image of the shoots, ‘scions’, which cleave (together) and then cleave (apart).

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Early Modern Exchanges 
Sunday, September 18, 2011, 09:11 AM
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This conference saw the launch of MHRA Tudor and Stuart Translations. I’m co-editing the two Ovid volumes (with Andrew Taylor) and participated in a panel discussion arising out of the series. In ‘Ignotum per ignotius? – Editorial issues in Redoing Douglas’s Translation of the Aeneid (1513)’, Gordon Kendal discussed the particular problems posed by Douglas’s wayward spelling, which he has chosen to regularise. Gordon made a suggestive comparison between the roles of editor and translator, and it is certainly true that editing raises some knotty problems which demand subtle and creative solutions rather than just the mechanical application of a set of guidelines. In the case of Douglas, for example, the process of modernisation is complicated by his use of Scots – and Gordon described how he tried to establish an appropriate balance between English and Scots usages, reflecting (though also regularising) Douglas’s own rather miscellaneous use of the two forms.

Fred Schurink’s paper, ‘The Continental Source Editions of Early Modern English Translations of Plutarch’s Moralia’ convincingly argued that it was important to get away from a simple two way model of reception (classical writer/English translator) and take more account of mediating influences from the Continent. The effect of this mediation can be seen in different ways. The most obvious evidence is linguistic – Fred offered the example of Thomas Elyot, clearly following the Latin translation of Guarino in places, rather than the original Plutarch. More subtly, the mediating translator might affect the whole publishing context of any later translation - thus when Blundeville presented his English translation of ‘The Learned Prince’ to Queen Elizabeth , he echoed Erasmus’s earlier gift of a Latin version of the same work to Henry VIII.

My own paper, ‘The Early Modern Myrrha’ also examined the way in which a range of sources in different languages might contribute to a translation. I discussed three early seventeenth-century versions of Ovid’s tale of Myrrha’s incestuous passion for her father Cinyras. These bore traces of several earlier texts – other episodes from the Metamorphoses (including the tale of Myrrha’s ancestor Pygmalion), Golding’s much earlier English translation, and Shakespeare’s popular treatment of the tale’s ‘sequel’, Venus and Adonis – Adonis was the son of Cinyras and Myrrha. I also suggested that one of the poets had added a new character to the story, a satyr called Poplar, who could be seen as a kind of avatar of the poet (Barksted) himself.

He falls in love with the erring Myrrha, and, at the end of the poem, before metamorphosing into the tree which bears his name, ‘vanished so,/ As men’s prospect, that from a mirror go.’ This rather unusual comparison is just one of the hints which encourage the reader to associate the satyr with his creator. The rather unruly, hybrid, shapeshifting Poplar seemed like a good emblem for the Renaissance translator, who typically wove together several different source texts to form a new whole.

Overheard: ‘Why is it always women who talk about the really filthy stories?’

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'Cennin' at Moo Baa Oinc 
Saturday, August 27, 2011, 10:09 AM
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‘Cennin’ at Moo Baa Oinc

One of the highlights of a recent holiday in Anglesey was a visit to Cennin, a new restaurant in Beaumaris. It’s tucked away up a flight of narrow stairs at the back of the butcher’s shop (Moo Baa Oinc) which is part of the same concern – a surprising venue for a rather smart, though not overly-formal, modern restaurant.

For my first course I chose scallops cooked with cauliflower prepared in three different ways – including little fritters and a kind of cauliflower panacotta. This was delicious, and I rather regretted having promised to share it with my daughter. Then I had pork – it’s quite a meaty restaurant, and even the arty framed photographs on the walls are all of farmyard animals, though they do offer some interesting looking fish dishes. Again, this was cooked in three different ways – a particularly good forcemeat ball made of (I think) the cheek, pork fillet, and perfectly cooked belly pork.* For pudding I had chocolate and sea salt caramel terrine with passion fruit sorbet. Yumsk. Oh, and some Beaumes de Venise because everyone else was. My son recommended the lamb ...

And I'll Have The Lamb by alexbrn, on Flickr

Although the food was fairly expensive, the wine and other extras were well priced, and overall it seemed good value, considering the consistently excellent quality of the food. The staff were friendly and helpful, and children’s menus are available – my daughter was particularly pleased with her homemade burger and chips. It's only been open a few weeks - and seemed deservedly busy.

• Probably my favourite food. I’m a cheap date.

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Holiday Reading 2011: Marks out of 10 
Sunday, July 31, 2011, 02:29 PM
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Christopher Priest, Fugue for a Darkening Island Priest is one of my favourite writers, and skidmarx (over on Harry’s Place) prompted me to catch up with this early work. It’s decidedly edgy, as its premise is that a limited nuclear war in Africa causes huge numbers of refugees to flee to Europe, leading to clashes with the UK’s increasingly far-right government. My edition included a (rather uncomfortable) introduction by the author, explaining how he has updated it in response to recent charges of racism. Fugue fits into the cosy catastrophe sub-genre of British sf, exemplified by John Christopher and John Wyndham. It’s very bleak – fascinating, but less accomplished than Priest’s later works. It resonates with today’s debates about immigration and Islamophobia – and by making its central character an internally displaced British refugee it brings the problems faced by those in faraway conflict zones seem closer to home. 7.5/10.

Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates Another recommendation from the same thread on Harry’s Place, this time from Philiph35. This is a very entertaining sf/fantasy romp set in a near future world where time travel has just become a reality. A young academic, Brendan Doyle, who is an expert on the Romantics, is hired to act as guide to a party of wealthy tourists who plan to go back in time to hear Coleridge lecture on Milton’s Areopagitica. Needless to say, all does not go according to plan, and Doyle gets mixed up in all sorts of adventures involving sinister underworld figures, black magicians, Egyptian gods, beautiful women, and a replicant of Lord Byron. My one criticism of this jolly book was that it was perhaps overly complicated – but just remember that no one’s going to examine you on the precise ins and outs of the plot in a month’s time, and enjoy. 7.5/10.

John Harding, Florence and Giles My sister recommended this recent novel, a psychological chiller set in late nineteenth-century New England. Its narrator, 12 year old Florence, is an orphan, who lives in a large house with her little brother. The novel charts the strange events which take place following the arrival of a mysterious governess whose behaviour makes Florence suspect her motives. I wasn’t sure about the way the book was written – Florence affects a peculiar, obtrusively ‘inventive’ style – but it was certainly a gripping read. By chance it fitted in with some of the ideas I’ve been charting in my study of allusion and the uncanny. The book invokes names and plot elements from James’ The Turn of the Screw, but with subtle changes. Flora and Miles become Florence and Giles, for example. These tiny shifts are like those which typify the uncanny – in an uncanny story, such as this one, events and characters are almost, but not quite, entirely normal, just as Florence and Giles is almost, but not quite, the same story as Henry James’s. A great American Gothic page turner. 8/10.

Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine Joss recommended this. It was certainly a compelling polemic, and even though her analysis seemed rather selective and one-sided, it’s a clever thesis, and one which ‘works’ for events which postdate the book’s publication. Briefly, its argument is that corporatism and repressive, authoritarian policies go hand in hand, and that, far from promoting freedom and democracy, laissez-faire policies are associated with brutal clampdowns on freedom as well as extreme inequality. She also argues that crises are exploited because they are good times to introduce radical reforms. At the beginning of the book I was making sceptical comments in the margin, but by the end of it I was feeling rather bludgeoned into submission by the sheer weight of data – her methods thus have rather the same effect as those she criticises in the book! I’m not sure I’m quite in tune with its agenda – when it touched on issues I knew more about I became aware of (what I thought were) gaps and distortions – but the events and injustices she describes deserve attention even if you think they might have different causes or solutions. 8/10.

Jo Nesbo, The Leopard Jo Nesbo is a Norwegian crime writer, who has written a highly successful series of novels featuring the maverick, alcoholic police detective, Harry Hole. He’s sometimes compared with Stieg Larsson, but Nesbo is a far less obviously political writer – the nearest UK equivalent might be Mark Billingham. The novels are superbly paced and plotted – each one, if anything, better than the last. [8.5/10]

Tony Blair, A Journey This was a present from Alex – I’m still reading it in fact, and so far it’s excellent. He is, as one might expect, a very disarming narrator, and does candour most convincingly. It’s a highly enjoyable book – I found myself laughing out loud during the chapter on Northern Ireland – and also found his analysis of that issue genuinely thought-provoking.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead I’m not very good at getting round to reading serious contemporary novels, as I’m more drawn to older books or to modern genre fiction. But Gilead is superb – subtle, moving and original. The narrator, John Ames, is a minister who has married late in life, after losing his first wife (and baby daughter) in childbirth as a young man. He is worried he may not live long, and the novel is a kind of extended letter written to his seven year old son. Many details stick in the memory. For example, when describing his childhood relationship with his much older brother, Ames briefly notes that originally there had been four more siblings between the two boys, but all died in an epidemic, and, while he can’t remember them, his older brother and parents can of course all look back to a time when the quiet house was full of laughing children. The main focus of the novel is the return to town of Ames’s godson, a youngish ne’er do well, who, Ames fears, may be growing too close to his own (much younger) second wife and son. I definitely plan to read Housekeeping, Robinson’s first novel. [9/10]

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Anonymity and Peer Review 
Saturday, July 2, 2011, 09:06 PM
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I thought Julia Swindells raised some very interesting points in her recent letter to the THE. She argues that anonymous peer review may encourage academics to allow personal grievances or partisan spite to sway their judgment when evaluating an article or a book proposal for publication.

This is certainly a potential problem, but I still think, on balance, anonymous peer review is probably best. It’s important for publishers to get an honest opinion. Generally reviewers take no pleasure in writing a bad review, either pre- or post-publication (though most academics will have the odd counterexample etched in their memory) so anonymity can enable a franker evaluation.

Reviewers may have personal reasons to be hostile, and might feel inhibited from demonstrating this hostility if they know their identity will be revealed. On the other hand, if a reviewer knows that the piece under review was written by a highly influential scholar (or by his/her graduate student) there may be an equally distorting reluctance to criticise.

Editors have an important role to play. Ideally they should be able to filter out unfavourable reviews which arise from ideological differences, and build up a clear picture of all potential reviewers’ profiles. It’s important to be aware who is generous to a fault – and who is always grudging.

It would also be useful if reviewers were offered more feedback. If I peer review a manuscript or article I am not always made aware what the piece’s eventual fate was or if the other reviewer agreed with me. I’d very much like to see any other submitted reviews and know what the eventual decision was. It would be useful if academics had the same opportunities to refine and reflect on what we do as peer reviewers that we do when marking students’ work.

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