Sláinte

Phew. My To-do-list is finished for the time being. Before I’m off to Scotland tomorrow and you probably won’t hear from me for three and a half weeks, here are some of the things that I have managed to do:

First of all, I’ll be teaching another tutorial next semester – and this time, it’s about Pratchett, Pratchett and more Pratchett. We are going to read The Colour of MagicThe Light FantasticWitches AbroadMen At ArmsHogfather and Raising Steam. The goal of my course is to highlight the development of the Discworld in the light of postmodernism and narratology (amongst other theories). So yes, it’s basically me discussing my PhD thesis with 30 other students and getting precious, precious feedback. I’m really looking forward to this!

Secondly, I will present my thesis to a larger audience at my university this autumn. In order to encourage fellow students to write a master’s thesis or a PhD, me and other doctoral students are going to talk about our projects, our ups and downs and in-betweens. Also looking forward to that, although I still have no idea how to express all my ideas in ten minutes…

Thirdly, my conference in August has turned into a small trip. I planned on paying a short visit to H.P. Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence after Mythcon, but now I’m staying for nearly another week in Boston! If anyone of you lives near the area and would like to meet up, let me know… I promise not to bore you too much with my thesis!

But for now, I wish you pleasant days and safe journeys. If I’m lucky and get enough internet running, there might be a picture or two of Scotland coming up in the next weeks… have a good time!

Don’t trust the labels

Warning: This has turned into a gentle semi-rant as I wrote it.

Ok, here goes. I have recently cross-read two articles claiming two very different positions on Tolkien’s place in the literary canon.

Article No. 1 says that Tolkien was a hidden modernist. While he wrote fantasy, he should be counted amongst modernist giants like T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce because he addressed similar topics: Finding new ways of expressing language, a quest for identity, a feeling of loss.

Article No. 2 says that Tolkien was a keen anti-modernist: He valued tradition, monarchy, and nowhere in his works any shattering of old orders to “make it new” is to be found.

And the same happens to Pratchett, except he is accused of Postmodernism. Some critics claim the Discworld picks all the best pieces of fantasy and pop culture, shuffles them and then rearranges them playfully into chaotic story lines with no clear ending or beginning. Others underline that the novels have beginnings and endings, and that for all his referencing and rearranging, Pratchett still uses classic plots and characters from myths and fairy tales to make fun of.

I think both Pratchett and Tolkien would shake their heads at these arguments and point out that they simply like writing stories. Certainly, they are products of their time – no story develops in a cultural vacuum – but waving just one flag and claiming that this is the ultimate truth (™) is like saying Pratchett is a “funny” author or Tolkien was a “creative linguist”. In the worst case, this means labelling one aspect of a person and thinking all the others will fit into the same category.

I know that I have my labels as well which I am attaching to Pratchett again and again like pinning a tail to a donkey, but I hope I will still be able to see the human underneath them at the end of the day. As a teacher of my girlfriend once wrote, literature is like telling a joke: If you have to explain it, it’s not fun anymore.

Two minds

Finished translating an old soon-to-be-published seminar paper about Jack Vance and sent it off to my helpful proofreaders. The weird thing is that I don’t trust my German even though it’s my native language. I have spent the past few days moving phrasings from English to German and it felt like thinking with two different minds – none of which is my own. To be honest, I’m really happy to switch back to English again…