Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, August 9, 2013

Devil as Image and Icon

I see things in patterns- how colors, forms, and lines come together. When I take notes in a book, it is the pattern my highlighting and notes form that are what I learn and reference, and that make it easy to find references, not the individual words on the page.
So, perhaps it makes perfect sense as I begin to think more and more on my thesis, and the introduction, that it is the images that keep popping up in my mind.

To start, if you're going to write your dissertation on Satan, it's hard to miss the imagery. If you're going to trace his history in a way that hasn't been done before, the art, the images, the icon, becomes part of the story that gets told.
It's also probably no surprise to anyone who knows that my research interests also lie with popular culture, that the image below is how I see this unfolding. Large, gigantic images on a screen, that appear one way to the audience, and then come to appear in a completely different way upon examination.

Depending on your background, you may recognize the classical artistic interpretations of Satan first. But perhaps recognize is not the word. You may not recognize the context, or the artist, but you KNOW who the figure is.
Maybe the Satan of popular culture is more familiar to you- Al Pacina, Robert DeNiro, Peter Stormare, Viggo Mortensen. Perhaps less with these than the classical art, but you probably recognize the character they play, even if you haven't seen the movie they play it in. While the imagery of Satan has changed, and evolved over the years, he is still a character you KNOW.

So HOW do you know? What is it that allows this character to be recognizable across so many different generations, platforms, and backgrounds?
Is it that religion is so prevalent in everyone's every day lives? I would argue not.
Is it that he's remained static, and therefore it's the icon people recognize and not the character? Again, I would argue not, as the brief slideshow above demonstrates.
Is it instead that WHO this character is, WHAT he represents is so much a part of our common knowledge, that we are able to KNOW him, even if we can't place the details? Yes. It is this folkloric trait, this characteristic of Satan that has not been explored, and which I plan on illustrating in depth.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fall Classes: "Always Be Closing"

Well, it's almost here. The thing I've worked towards for the past few years- my PhD program.
Classes start in little over a week, and I find this quote/scene going through my head.

"Always Be Closing".

If you're going to work towards something, something you want, then it only makes sense that everything you do be done to reach that goal.
One of the required books for one of my classes is Graduate Study for the 21st Century. I enjoyed it, even if a lot of the advice is advice I've encountered online and in blogs the last few years.  One thing in particular that struck me was the advice to have a plan, from the first day of class, on how each class you took could help you write your dissertation, and that each class should be chosen with that purpose in mind.
Now, I realize that for someone entering having just finished undergraduate, in a combined MA/PhD program, this may seem unrealistic. But with someone with a Masters in Education, and one in English literature, this seems perfectly reasonable.

So, my class schedule:



NCVPS Office Hours

12-1250 ENG 101
1230-145 ENGL 500 Introduction to the Professional Study of English
12-1250 ENG 101
1230-145 ENGL 500 Introduction to the Professional Study of English
12-1250 ENG 101

2-315 ENG 551 Old Norse

2-315 ENG 551 Old Norse


4-630 ENG 537 Teaching Composition

4-630 ENG 537 Teaching Composition
4-630 ENG 551 Uppity Medieval Women




  • ENGL 500: Introduction to the Professional Study of English
  • ENGL 537: Teaching Composition
  • ENGL 551: Uppity Medieval Women
  • ENGL 551/LING 590: Old Norse Language and Literature
 I am starting this experience knowing exactly what I want to write my dissertation on.

How Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost is our modern concept and tracing the history of this character from its folkloric representation, beginning with Old Norse mythology and Loki, to Milton's incarnation.

I've been researching, and framing, and revising this idea for three years (four years ago it began to niggle in my brain with a Milton class I took, three years ago it took shape under another class). Since then, I've been using conference presentations, and blogs to refine it.

So I chose my classes carefully (well, the two I could choose, the first two are mandatory for all incoming students. Having three years experience presenting at conferences, and twelve years of teaching experience, I'm interested to learn about the school's culture and norms through these classes).
I took the Uppity Medieval Women class because the professor is a medievalist (obviously) and I'm thinking that with so much of my research being 700-1500, that a medievalist will be able to help the most with advice. Also, the idea of how women of the medieval age viewed devils, and the Devil, is one that I haven't encountered in my research. (So that's a gap I need to address, and if I can't address, point out this strange gap).
I took the Old Norse, because for me, my argument starts with Loki and Old Norse mythology, migrating over to England with the Anglo-Saxons and influencing English folklore. I had to take it as a linguistics course (it's listed as both) because it is also listed ENGL 551, and the computerized registration wouldn't let me register for the same extension, but different courses.

I'm not ashamed to say that from day one I plan on looking for people that can help me write my dissertation. That I'm looking for an adviser, and for classes that will add chapters to it. Another great piece of advice in Graduate Study for the 21st Century is that you should start fleshing out your dissertation AS you're taking these classes (from day 1) while the research and notes are all fresh in your head, instead of returning to it two or three years in when it's just a stack of paper. That each class should be part of a chapter, or a chapter by itself. 
This makes perfect sense to me, so that's the plan.
I was also able last week to pull together the last couple of years of notes and such and come up with a working outline, which I'm hoping will be helpful in selecting an adviser, showing exactly where I want to go.

Thesis Prospectus Outline
  • Current scholarship
    • polemic
    • heretical tendencies
    • Forsyth, sources
    • Russell, devil character
    • function as epic/hero
  • Gaps
    • type of character versus history of character and/or sources Milton used
  • What this ISN’T
    • examination of demons/devils
Chapter 1: Satan’s Personality in Different Works and What it Reveals (Loki)
Chapter 2: Physicality
  • precedents
  • physical characteristics
  • how it changes through time
  • what these changes represent
  • images
Chapter 3: Actions
  • Old Norse myths
  • medieval morality plays
  • Jacobean plays
  • Shakespeare
Chapter 4: How Satan is Reflection on National Identity
  • Anglo-Saxons
  • Heroic myths
  • English folklore
    • German folklore/fairy tales → Anglo-Saxons?
Chapter 5/6/8: How the Character has been used by factions
  • Church →  sermons
  • Malleus Maleficarum
  • Polemics
  • King James → Demonologie
Chapter 6: Church Use
*Combine with 5? See if there's enough research to warrant breaking this up
Chapter 7: Representation of Knowledge (Blake, Bible, References)
  • Doctor Faustus
Chapter 8: Polemic Use
*see previous note
Chapter 9: Milton’s National Epic
  • by using the folkloric representation, and not the literary one, Milton references his own original intent to create a national epic
Chapter 10: Looking Forward
  • Whole new set of questions

And trust me, most of me knows that the uber-planning is part of my nervous energy as I wait for orientation and then classes to start. But I figure, if I have the time, and the ideas, I might as well make good use of them, right? 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Darkness in the Woods: Twin Peaks' Revival of Folkloric Evil

Once again, Twitter provides opportunities. 
Ross Garner (@DefConG) and I are working on putting together a proposal to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Twin Peaks- both analysis of the show itself, and its cultural legacy.
Below is my contribution, veering, as most of my work does, towards the combination of the folkloric and popular culture
Log Lady: [voiceover] Welcome to Twin Peaks. My name is Margaret Lanterman. I live in Twin Peaks. I am known as the Log Lady. There is a story behind that. There are many stories in Twin Peaks — some of them are sad, some funny. Some of them are stories of madness, of violence. Some are ordinary. Yet they all have about them a sense of mystery — the mystery of life. Sometimes, the mystery of death. The mystery of the woods. The woods surrounding Twin Peaks. To introduce this story, let me just say it encompasses the All — it is beyond the "Fire", though few would know that meaning. It is a story of many, but begins with one — and I knew her. The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the one.

Sheriff Truman: There's a sort of evil out there. Something very, very strange in these old woods. Call it what you want. A darkness, a presence. It takes many forms but... its been out there for as long as anyone can remember and we've always been here to fight it.

    The idea of the woods containing an evil, or dark force is an ancient one. It is a common motif in folklore- the woods often presented as an obstacle to be overcome, or as a segment of a quest, or as the end of a journey for a hero, with a damsel or evil to be found at its heart. In more modern representations of film, and television, such as Twin Peaks (1990), The X-Files (1993-2002), Millennium (1996--1999), Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007), Eureka (2006-20 12), Grimm (2011-), Primevil: New World (2012-) and  Supernatural (2005-), the Pacific Northwest, with its landscape dominated by the, often dark, rain forests, have come to stand in for these folkloric woods. Bushman agrees with Egan’s assertion that there exists “a "Northwest noir"  but states that he is “far more intrigued by the darkness, of both the characters and the stories, clearly a metaphorical articulation of the region's mise en scѐne.” 
In each of these works, the setting not only conveys much of the darkness of the series, but also becomes a character in its own right, always lurking in the background. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks where the presence of evil in the story can literally be traced to the woods. Premiering in 1990, Twin Peaks was the first in a long line of television shows set in the Pacific Northwest that used the setting to act as a character, a metaphor, and a plot device. While at the time, the choice of setting seemed quirky rather than influential, I argue that this creative choice of setting became a popular culture shorthand, used to instantly clue the audience in that there was something strange, supernatural, or evil around, in this way, reintroducing modern audiences to the folkloric dark woods.