I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Encouragement ...

Going up for these big grants is undoubtedly daunting. So I was very cheered the other day when a senior colleague buttonholed me and asked if I had thought about putting in for this big fellowship/grant I am thinking about. She has had loads of experience winning grants and mentoring other people, and has also sat on the committee that awards them. I said I was indeed thinking about it; and without even mentioning my project, talked about some of the structural and strategic stuff that was already in place, or that I was working on. So far it seems I'm on the right track; and she has also agreed to mentor me through the process. (I will also have a mentor through my own school who is encouraging me to send her a few pages when I am ready to get things started.) It made me realise anew how rare and wonderful it is in the university when someone above you tells you you are doing a good job, or suggests you might aim higher, and go to the next stage with a project.

I have also started thinking about the research team, and about ways of both expanding my project (the face, the body, body language, representation, graphic novels, medieval manuscripts, digital archives of fiction and poetry, other languages, newspapers, reported speech -- more on this later), and also keeping it precise and deep.

I have also had a preliminary chat with someone in linguistics, who's already giving me some useful secondary references and an introduction to some neat terminology, and a sense of how that field manages the "as if to say..." trope.

So in between deadlines, teaching and other writing tasks, the project is rumbling along (I'm sorry to say, I first typed "bumbling"!). I'm pleased I've already started; and every time I come here to blog an update it makes me think again about the possibilities and how to shape and direct my inquiries. Only five and a half months before I submit the application!  

Thursday, August 08, 2013

First Blush: The Talking Face and disambiguating my research projects

I went to a meeting yesterday of our school's research committee where we were discussing the need to workshop grant applications early. They are mostly due in February, and all too often our committee and the grant shepherds receive drafts to look at in January, by which time it is far too late to give feedback of the structural kind (i.e. re-shape the inquiry and the disciplinary orientation; find a new writing partner or research team, etc.).

While I'm not ready, just yet, to declare the overall shape and orientation of my application, and I am very far from having a draft ready to be looked at, I'm going to stick with my intention and blog a little about what I am thinking about, at any rate. So, I'm making a start. 

When I sought advice from the research office about eligibility, etc. they said the main issue for me would be to make sure my new project did not overlap too much with the work I am doing in the Centre for the History of Emotions. This is a big logistic stumbling-block, but I think I am close to finding a way around it.

One of the projects I am working on in the Centre is on the expression of emotion on the human face. I was planning to write a book that (like my last two books on Chaucer and the Order of the Garter) ranged from medieval to contemporary culture. So, I was thinking about a chapter on Chaucer (medieval poetry), Shakespeare (early modern drama), George Eliot (nineteenth-century fiction) and then perhaps someone like Oliver Sachs (modern non-fiction). And I may yet do that, though I am now thinking I will focus just on medieval English literature.

The new project would emerge from that, but would be quite different, I think. I can't decide whether to call it The Talking Face or The Speaking Face. 

This would definitely be a long-range project, that would stretch at least from western medieval tradition into contemporary culture. It's built around the figurative trope by which a face is read as saying something. 

Here's an example from Jane Austen's Persuasion. 

Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, -- a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, “That man is struck with you, -- and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.”

So, direct speech is important here, as is the flash of sudden illumination on the face — a glance of brightness. 

I gave a talk last night at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in a series organised by the Centre for the History of Emotions, in which I sketched out some examples and possible lines of inquiry.  I have also talked a couple of times in the last few months about my favourite example from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

“To Troilus right wonder wel with alle
Gan for to like hire mevynge and hire chere,
Which somdel deignous was, for she let falle
Hire look a lite aside in swich manere,
Ascaunces, ‘What, may I nat stonden here?’
And after that hir lokynge gan she lighte,
That never thoughte hym seen so good a syghte.”

  (Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1386) 

Here it's Criseyde's changing expression that is to attractive to Troilus.  Her face speaks, though in a rhetorical question, so there is an added degree of difficulty.  I do have a chapter on this example coming out in a book from Manchester UP later this year (that's my first tick: a pre-history to the project in published form). 

But I would like to move this new project into some broader territory: viz. 

  • the relation between textual and visual representations (HUGE for me as I have no art history training)
  • the extent to which a body can speak, as well as a face
  • the relation between still and moving images (cinema??? probably not: just textual representations of moving faces)
  • what I call interspecies ventriloquism - the way we project emotions and expressions onto animals (has anyone else done any academic study of lolcats???)
  • philosophical and historical understandings of a face's capacity to speak
  • the differences (?) the novel makes to this trope; and the question of direct speech
  • the relation between text and image in medieval art at least (thinking about caption banners, banderoles, etc.)
  • possibly extending into modern graphic novels
Ok, and lots of other things. Next post I might run through my talk from last night, but for now, can I just say this is a HUGE blog post, to start talking in public about my grant application that is so early in development. 

I have also started, in an extremely preliminary way, thinking about how this project might have a digital humanities component, if only to help identify and track examples of this trope in literary texts. 

But in the meantime I am starting a little collection of examples. So, my friends, if you come across examples where faces (or bodies) seem to speak or say things, I'd be extremely grateful if you could paste them in the comments box!! I'm mostly thinking of literary texts and textual examples, but any ideas from the visual arts would also be great.