Archive for the ‘rolandht’ Category

RolandHT back up online!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

He even has his own URL now:

If you’re just tuning in, that’s my dissertation over there.

MLA ‘07: an unexpected rush

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Chicago-town has strange weather. I got in on Thursday to a dry, near-freezing city very similar to Boston – but yesterday there was a wet-snow storm that was gorgeous, diagonal and swirling, out the huge hotel windows but left almost no snow on the ground. That’s lake effect for you.

I’m here for the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. MLA is an odd beast. With about ten thousand attendees a year, I’m pretty sure it’s the largest humanities conference in North America. (I’d be curious to find out that I’m wrong! If you know of a larger one, tell me.) It’s of necessity impersonal, and filled with stressed-out people interviewing for jobs, sitting in one committee meeting after another, taking every advantage of being in the same town as far-away colleagues to cram in as much geeking-out about their favorite geeky topics as they can, losing sleep in the process.

OK, that last part is true of any academic conference. But still, MLA isn’t generally thought of as an exactly enjoyable event.

This year, though, the organizers seem to have gone all out in promoting digital humanities sessions. The poster/demo session I was in, “Electronic Literature: Reading, Writing, Navigating,” was mentioned in the Winter 2007 newsletter – a big deal, considering the thing goes out to 30K members. The result was a rush: the hour-and-fifteen-minute session was packed with people, and I didn’t get to see my colleagues’ work until the very end because pesky people were coming up and being all interested in RolandHT (poster, 1MB, and teaching modules, 31K, both PDF files) .

I loved every minute, of course. The whole thing left me flyin’, feeling much like I do at Digital Humanities conferences. This was both unusual in the context of MLA, and a welcome respite from the past few months’ job search both in and out of academe. So, if you’re reading this and were there: thank you! If you have any further thoughts on the project, please comment here or email me, username vika at this domain.

I’ll post a few session notes later on. For now, breakfast.

Purple Blurb

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

This coming Tuesday, September 18th, come to MIT for the first in the Purple Blurb digital reading series. “The readings will start at 6pm at MIT in 14N–233 (second floor of building 14, in the wing that is across the courtyard from the Hayden Library),” says organizer Nick Montfort in the announcement.

The first reader will be Robert Kendall, and I’m very sorry to miss it due to a prior obligation: Rob’s words tend to transport me somewhere familiar I’ve never been before. At the next event on October 18th, I’ll be reading from RolandHT and talking a bit about narrative threads running through it. The other two readings this semester will take place on November 13th (Barbara Barry) and December 4th (Andrew Plotkin).

For a good time, call on Purple Blurb.


Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Once again I keep getting these flashes of “should really blog that!” and then immediately “but there’s so much unsaid over there.” So, in short:

I defended and graduated.* To paraphrase my landlady, I’m Vika Zafrin, Ph.uckin’ D. That paraphrase involved changing fewer letters than you might imagine. For the first time in my adult life I am not a student pursuing a degree full-time at an institution. Mostly there’s a giant feeling of relief, but I already miss research. Although that balances out, because I sure don’t miss the constant insecurity, the “not good enough”ness, the 24/7 feeling like I have to be working.

OK, I still mostly feel like I should be working. But it’s getting easier to compartmentalize, and you know what? There’s a whole big life out there, with books and spiritual practice and cooking and friends and friends’ children and visits with mom, who lives in driving distance for the first time in thirteen years. Who knew?

Ethan and I have moved up to Boston. Best move we could’ve made. Wanderlust is tugging at my pants leg already, but I could be happy living in Boston for a long while. Given that wanderlust is my muse and near-constant companion, that’s a hefty statement to make.

The house we live in has seven human residents, five cats, a dog and (temporarily) a bird. Gods bless the marvel that is modern allergy medicine. Our two cats have established relationships with the three who have lived here for long. Nochka the tiny black cat has a hissy fit any time DJ Spooky, the black boycat thrice her size, comes into our bedroom seeking food. And there’s the impossibly beautiful lynx-y Winter, who is afraid of almost everyone. Other than that, feline people are chill. Humans are also mostly chill, and really, how bad can it get when you live with geeks and musicians (and a funny man who inexplicably deals with insurance all day)? A circus band occasionally practices in my living room. Beat that with a stick.

The past three months have been spent largely acclimating to the new house, the new life rhythms, the big questions like where to go from here and how to plan out the long term. I’m working outside of academe now, but who knows how long I’ll be able to stay away?

So much is changing. Mostly I like it. Some of it is hard growth, but on the whole I feel like I’m stretching after a long sleep.

*Oh, and my work? Here, in its entirety. Get yourself Firefox and enjoy. It’ll take half a minute or so to load, but is thereafter very fast.

[RolandHT] Lesson learned today.

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Even if I have a ton of material to write out, under “normal” conditions (i.e., deadline is not within two or three days) there seems to be a word limit to what I can write. It’s a loose word limit, but it’s there — and it does not matter how much time I spend on writing these words. Happily, this limit is generous enough that I’m pretty optimistic about finishing.

Also, having less time and/or a firm stopping time — a dinner date, for example — helps productivity in direct proportion to how much time I have left. In other words, work tends to speed up if I know I must stop at a certain hour. But that’s not news.

Anxiety and timing(s).

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Three months left to finish the dissertation, get comments on it, fix the dissertation as per comments, and defend it. The urge to panic is great.

Support, though, is abundant – and I’m grateful for it. From all sides: family, friends, colleagues, relative strangers.

It’s not that I don’t think I can do it. I can… I think. It’ll help to have comments from my thesis readers (who will hopefully get two chapters and all of the interface from me Wednesday or Thursday), so that at least I’ll know more or less what they’re thinking. Part of me is worried that they’ll be disgruntled, because I’ve veered away from (and so haven’t addressed) some things that were suggested at my prelims. But another part of me knows that this is par for the course: dissertations change direction, and this isn’t even that radical a change. It’s “just” a shift in emphasis. But there’re three months left, so – panic.

Anxiety, more like. I’m told (and also know) that it won’t go away, so it helps to let it flow through me instead of dwelling on it and making it whirlpool somewhere near my solar plexus. Sometimes the flowing works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s nice to have some agency over it.

This topic is overwhelming. It’s so poorly explored; there’s so much to do. Most importantly, it’s so interdisciplinary, and I feel like the ultimate dilettante. That’s a-ok with me, but what about the rest of the world? You know, potential employers and such?

One of RolandHT‘s early premises was that acquiring knowledge can be done in two ways. You can take in (read, listen to, whatever) large chunks of information, one by one, each of them in its entirety, and analyze each as a whole and in context of the others you’ve taken in so far. Like learning literature by reading novel after novel. Or, you can dabble here and there, follow thematic threads that interest you, and slowly build up a more or less cohesive picture of the world, or a world. The Roland project is the latter; it acquaints you with the archetype(s) by letting you jump around centuries and media and locations. I do this because I think that this is how we learn almost everything we know: building up a worldview by observation, by living and paying attention.

That works very well inside my head; finding words to make it coherent is another thing. Words are coming, slowly but surely. It’ll get there.

The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Yes.

RolandHT, and ask the internets.

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

I’ve put up the latest version of RolandHT. It can only be viewed with (freely available) Mozilla/Firefox, or another XSLT-aware browser. I don’t know of any besides Firefox, so if you do, please let me know the browser and the operating system(s) on which you’ve used it.

The site definitely needs a help section, and some more intuitive navigation. For now, a few usage notes:

– The links up top don’t do anything yet.

– Pick an excerpt from the list on the left. Mouseover themes/characters/imagery that show up over the sword, and see what happens. Then click on a theme or character or image, and see what happens now.

– Click on the red “reset” at top right to return to initial state.

– For three other nifty features, find the excerpt named “Missionary Work.” Click on the “i” beside the name of the work; click on the quill in the second stanza; mouseover any underlined word.

– Check out also the excerpt, near the very bottom, titled “Battle Near Saragossa.” Click on the image.

– If something seems aesthetically or functionally wrong, it would be lovely if you emailed me to let me know.

– This is a work in progress. If you see the word “check” where you expect information, I’m working on it.

In other news, a couple of questions for the internet. The first, in two parts, is Roland-related – I’d like to know more about two geographical locations. One is Terra Major:

“Could one achieve that Rollant’s life was lost,

Charle’s right arm were from his body torn;

Though there remained his marvellous great host,

He’ld not again assemble in such force;

Terra Major would languish in repose.”

Is TM a region? Is it in Europe? If not, what is it (another name for Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire?)?

The other place is a bit more mysterious, partly because it’s in Middle English:

Roulond rod furthe—he wold not rest, I wene—

he sawe wher a Sairsin seche hym wold,

kinge was of Criklond, croun[y]d with gold.

What, pray tell, is Criklond?

And finally, a non-Roland-related query: what’s your favorite slow-cooker recipe? Things I’m trying to stay away from: large chunks of boiled onions (I’ve disliked them since forever), and really heavy dishes like mac and cheese. Meat is great, veggies are great, seafood that’s sturdy enough to survive a slow cooker is great, wacky but tasty ingredients totally get bonus points. Non-desserts is what I’m after.

Practical writing advice sought.

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

The kind of information I’m looking for, there’s a lot of it on the internets. But somehow it carries more weight when it comes from people I know personally, even if only through the blogosphere.

Say, hypothetically, you’re writing a dissertation (a book, any kind of long writing project). You were all set to dive into work, but life’s been uncooperative, and now that you can think straight again you’re dealing with fear, anxiety and vague waves of unattached guilt. How do you get from there to producing stuff of a quality at least good enough to propel you along?

Strategies I’m familiar with: freewriting, timed and non-; reward systems (I get to play videogames/have some ice cream/take a 15-minute walk for every X amount of work done); timed work schedules (must write 10-noon and not one minute more, every day); buddy systems; changing work venue every once in a while.

Freewriting works to a point, if I don’t let little things slow me down. Rewards work on a very limited scale. Timed work schedule works when I can stick to it and don’t have internet access. Buddy systems… well, they’re nice in theory but in practice there’s nobody I can do this with. Online venues like PhinisheD don’t really work for me either. Changing work venue actually works most of the time. But, although it helps deal with wanting to hide under the covers, it doesn’t help with the fear or anxiety. Or guilt.

So: aside from the above, what do you do?

Ask the Internets. (Roland!)

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Here’s one for history buffs. If you know anyone interested in this sort of thing, please pass it on: I’d love to know more about The League of Roland.

In 2002 I had the opportunity to visit the Oxford libraries repeatedly, and to dig out Really Obscure Stuff relating to Roland. Right now I’m looking at [part of] Roland: Country First, “published privately by The League of Roland, 45a, High Street, Market Harborough, Leicestershire.” They seem to have been a group of folks dissatisfied with the state of England, and proposing some crackpot ideas as to how to restore the Empire’s former glory.

It couldn’t be more stereotypically British, really. Check out the first paragraph:

This league is founded in loyalty to all existing institutions, by men confident in the health of the British people and their government, to help to fulfil the destiny of the British Empire and all Britons overseas. Its first aim is to support the government in winning the war.

The dedication reads: “To three trusted men – Mr. Winston Churchill – Lord Beaverbrook – Mr. Ernst Bevin – they are excellent.” So that helps date the piece: “the war,” one presumes, is WWII.

My question to you: who are/were these people? Google, Britannica and Wikipedia know nothing about them. Any information at all, including pointers as to where else I might look, would be appreciated. Please don’t suggest I go back to the UK, though: my resources are so scarce and the desire to see those hallowed shores so vast, that a suggestion of this sort would break my heart.

Great, now I’m starting to sound like them. Anyone? Bueller?

[Edit: what I’m looking for is information on The League of Roland, not the Churchill & co.]

Ho-ly cow.

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Behold what I found googling around tonight: the Digby 23 project at Baylor University. From their home and “About” pages:

The Digby 23 Project is an electronic archive devoted to the study of Oxford Bodleian MS Digby 23. This codex contains two works, copied during the twelfth century and assembled at a later date: Plato’s Timaeus in the Latin translation by Calcidius, and the Old French Chanson de Roland.


Upon completion, the Digby 23 Project will include:

(1) Detailed XML transcriptions of the Latin and Old French texts (including all marginalia and scribal notes)


(4) A database for the study of the language, themes, and poetics of the Old French Roland: by adopting a compatible format with the Charrette Project, scholars will be able to explore the similarities and differences between eleventh-century epic and twelfth-century romance;

(5) A detailed critical apparatus for the study of the manuscript.

Please, just try to imagine my glee right now. I just sent an email to the project’s general editor, with a Roland-related question and introduction. We’ll see if she responds; but man, the project is just starting out, and they’re doing (semantically encoded, I’m assuming) themes! I’d love to talk to these folks about Roland, and what themes they see fit to encode.

Ohboyohboyohboy. I feel about ten years old now.