Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Macro Zoom

Below: the Hazel Knight!
Right: the Black Knight!
Their mighty steeds stand ready for the joust ahead! Their lances are poised for brutal combat! Their eyes focused on the trial ahead! Their helmets are squarely on their heads!

Iris and I have a new ritual in the morning at school. Oliver goes off to his big kid class with us cheering him on (and today, he went with a bit of a spring in his step, brave lad); Daddy takes Eleanor down the hall to her class (she knows there's no school for her on Wednesday and Thursday, so vowed to make the most of today) ; and Iris and I sit on the Thinking Bench, where we think of her drawing and story project for the day. Vannes clearly made an impression on her because she was looking for the word "the Lists," the jousting grounds still visible in the midst of the city (have to use your imagination to get past the fact that it's a parking lot, but the dimensions and lay-out are all there). We've introduced a new character in the Baby Pink Dragon stories (actually, several - key is Baby Green Dragon, complements of Eleanor), and his name is the Hazel Knight (the Green Knight was already taken). Iris's eyes are turning hazel a bit, so it seemed only right. He's a really good guy, and is fighting Krichelieu's evil minion, the Black Knight. Want to know how the match went?

This is an amazing bird's eye view of the jousting - the Black Knight is advancing from the left, and the Hazel Knight from the right. The reddish sand kicks up beneath the horses' hoofs, the stands rise up on either side...

The explanation forthwith (transliterated): "The Battlefield of Wonder. This is a Battlefield I have copied off of some great things. The world will be a new place when you open this thing of wonder." Battlefield of Wonder = Badol Feeold uv Wudr. Sometimes, I feel as though working through Iris's writing is like paleography training all over again. Doesn't her intuitive spelling look like some form of Old English? It would make sense, wouldn't it? That those would be the fundamental sounds embedded in the language, those that first emerge in writing. Or some such. In any case, I fear that Iris's English spelling is getting worse; but her stories are only getting better and better. Oliver and Eleanor are all oral tradition, so their grand tales are harder to transmit (but ooo, once I figure out how to post videos!).

Final drawing transliteration: "This is a castle I saw except for the flag and I love it it looks so beautiful (byodfol). There was a house (haws) next to it, it was an old old house. They are lucky to look out onto the castle. I like it very much." And yes, that little French flag is taped on - it waves bravely on in the winds of change. :-) Iris's teacher said this morning that she's starting to answer in French. I gasp in admiration.

I probably need to start posting the results of time on my Thinking Bench here at home in what Mac now calls our "atelier" - basically, the study. It's the history of the education of princes I'm reading up on - I know lots about what Louise prepared for François but I now need to make sense of that within a much broader historical context. So I'm thoroughly enjoying Daisy Delogu's wonderful book, Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign; the rise of the French vernacular royal biography, especially those tensions between Augustinian and Aristotelian principles of kingship (I'm realizing how Augustinian the Roman de la Rose (Jean de Meun) actually is in its preoccupation with justice, in its declarations that laws and kings necessarily followed after humanity succumbed to desire and all its problems). This is the stage of research where it's a bit torturous to be an art historian: I'm reading this fantastic literary criticism and always in the back of my mind are thoughts darting in and out of images, or questions asking how text and image work together here. But I enjoy that tension, those questions provoked. For example: written language moving from Latin into the vernacular in a pursued fashion as of the 13th century is an enormous revolution. Is there a visual vernacular? There is secular art certainly, and its preoccupations with antiquity and chivalry - but does the content produce a new form? I want to argue that no, it does not produce a new visual form (artists often painted Books of Hours one week and chivalric romances the next using similar images) - but I do want to argue that it produced new ways of seeing - intertextual (images do a great deal of calling back and forth within the physical object of the manuscript - cf. Sylvia Huot, or the MS. Douce 195 manuscript of the Rose); performative (in its connections with the multiple authorial layers of vernacular oral tradition); deliberative (images will push the interpretation of the text one way or the other - will the reader always agree?). Now, sacred images do some of this work as well, but vernacular texts' invitations to readers to debate by leaving ethical positions undetermined (something sacred texts definitely avoid doing in their attempts to steer readers down a clearly delineated ethical path) is amplified by the visual vernacular: what are we to do, to think, to feel when we see Saturn being castrated, or Nero's mother cut open (I'll spare you those images for now)? The text certainly doesn't tell you; the images provoke you.

I do think of the new visual and ethical frame that is the internet. The internet is also an ethically undetermined space: you come across images and the onus is entirely upon you in terms of what you are to do next - do you go further in your image search? change direction? now that you've seen that painful image, what do you do with it? ok - things are getting abstract here. What I really want to say is that Louise's manuscript collection, and specifically those manuscripts illuminated by Robinet Testard, was filled with vernacular texts whose images pursued and amplified the ethical dilemmas of the language. What is the role of these images in the moral education of François? That is the big question that I'm after. Anne-Marie Lecoq's phenomenal François Ier Imaginaire provides all of the iconography and iconographic sources, and I want to build on that to try to further understand the experience of these manuscripts. How do these new ways of seeing associated with vernacular texts construct/adapt to late medieval modes of thought about kingship? An even trickier question arises when we consider Louise, mother and patron, and the role these images had in her self-fashioning as mother of a king, and (twice) as regent queen.

If you're still reading, it's definitely time for a group hug. Brave souls! Why is this important to think about? I do think a good deal about the ethics of seeing in the age of the internet - many of my students have said they "don't know what to do" with the images they see on the web. Or even images of themselves they randomly put up. What is our ethical responsibility to what we see? Do images of Haiti prompt donations to the Red Cross? Should they? Shouldn't they? The internet allows for that intertextuality (now we call it hyperlinking), performativity (YouTube anyone?), and debatibility (comments on every web page) - it's worth thinking about within a historical context.

Perfect to end with the fêves from the girls' Galette des Rois triumphs yesterday - that's Galileo on the left and Neil Armstrong on the right (shot with the phenomenal macro zoom function on our camera) - onwards and upwards!

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