Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sample Summary

Tim William Machan's "Chaucer and the History of English" appears in Speculum 87.1 (January 2012: 147-75).  In the article, Machan asserts that Chaucer's place as the focal point of traditional histories of English is predicated on a flawed perception of his representativeness of a coherent Middle English.  He situates the tendency as one beginning even among Chaucer's immediate successors, and remarks on the long history of critics of English as a language citing Chaucer as their major point of reference.  Machan points out as a primary proof of the instability of Chaucer as a foundation for understanding of what "Middle English was really like" (to paraphrase loosely) the inconsistency of use of the second-person personal pronoun.  His analysis asserts that Chaucer's usage of different numbers in that pronoun does not seem to conform to a grammatical principle, and so understandings of the character of Middle English grammar based on Chaucer's usage are necessarily suspect.  While he does admit to the restrictions of his study, Machan does well at pointing out what he purports to point out, and his well-written article indicates a promising field of inquiry for other scholars.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Students, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, "The Establishment of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as the Standard Text of English-Language Arthurian Legend," today.  This completes the course of study for the PhD.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sample Longer Paper

Students, below appears an example of the six- to eight-page longer paper, discussed on the course website here.  In this case, it is derived from the earlier contrast paper, although you are not obliged to expand upon your own contrast papers to put yours together.  When formatted as it ought to be for submission as a paper--which it is not on the blog--it is of a good length for submission.

As in previous semesters, I color-code to highlight various parts.  The text brought straight over from the earlier version appears in white, as it did before.  New material in support of my thesis is in blue.  The counter-argument and its materials are in red, while the rebuttal and its are in green.  Please do not color-code your own papers; I do so as a convenience for you.

The typifying features of good citizens are their normal adherence to and participation in the structures of public order coupled with a willingness to set aside those structures when they become unduly oppressive or otherwise untenable. Both Corran Horn from the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Asimovian Hari Seldon are figured as good citizens by their respective authors. Of the two, however, Seldon is clearly the superior example of good citizenship.

Of course, there is not consensus that good citizenship is in something as simple as participating in public order while being willing to step outside of the structures that support it.  In one sense, criminals and villains--who are not normally considered good citizens--appear to be good citizens when good citizenship is measured by the rubric of participation in structures of public order and the willingness to set aside those structures.  Certainly, they fit the latter; crime is, by definition, a transgression of the prevailing social contract, a setting-aside of public order, so that criminals by their very criminality begin to adhere to at least one definition of good citizenship.  And in doing the latter, they can be argued to do the former.  One of the things that any structure requires to define itself is something in opposition to which to define itself; we know what we are as much by what we avoid as by what we do.  Criminals and villains provide a foil for public structure, and in so doing, they support those structures by giving them something against which to align.  So to label citizenship merely as participation in public structure coupled to willingness to step outside of it appears to be overly simplistic, and therefore a poor basis for judgment.

Appearance, however, is not necessarily truth.  Although it is true that by their actions, criminals and villains provide a useful focus for the structures of public order and therefore help to guide and focus them, such participation is not typically considered "normal," a status for which the earlier definition calls.  Also, being willing to step outside requires that there be a common state of being inside the structures, and criminals and villains are generally not regarded as being within the systems that they oppose.  And in any event, the definition of citizenship as participation in and selective exception from the structures of public order accords with a summary of definitions of citizenship reported in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Dominique Leydet, who labels citizenship as membership in a political community along with the assumption of the rights and duties thereto appertaining.  One of the duties commonly understood as attendant upon membership in a group is to work to maintain and enrich that group, which from time to time means that the group's practices and policies must be evaluated--which can only be done from outside.  There is thus a prevailing concept of citizenship that requires the ability to stand outside the system to support it.

There is admittedly no question that Corran Horn is a good citizen, thusly defined, in the Star Wars universe. Certainly, he participates actively and amply in the structures of public order across a significant span of time. His initial in-storyline appearance is as an officer of a local constabulary, one conducting an investigation into a kidnapping (Stackpole, Omnibus); as a member of the constabulary, he is necessarily a participant in the structures of public order, since it is in many respects law enforcement groups who are the primary points of interaction between the general populace and governmental structures. When he reappears in the story, he does so as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of the New Republic, one seeking entry into an elite unit (Stackpole, X-Wing 1-28); commissioning as an officer is a specific and somewhat rarefied recognition of status among the structures of public order, being a position of command in the vital maintenance of the public against external enemies. Both his positions and the actions he takes within them quickly assert his deep engagement with the structures of public order, showing him as willing to offer his skills and his life at some of the highest levels of performance and utility to an underpinning of public order. Some years of storyline after his attempt to enter an elite New Republic force, Horn is a ranking officer in that same force, showing that he has remained engaged with it in a substantially acceptable way (Stackpole, I 10). Horn’s ranking as a captain, and therefore position of command within an elite unit,  represents his display of significant ability in the support of public security and order, and therefore engagement with them.

Most importantly, Horn accepts his role as a Jedi, taking a place among "the foundation of stability in the galaxy" (Stackpole, I 482). In doing so, he lodges himself firmly as a member of the core proponents of order in the Star Wars universe, so that his involvement in the supporting structures of the public is absolute.  And he does more in that regard; he rises, in time, to the rank of Master in the Jedi order, speaking on behalf of the Jedi to various interplanetary governments (Allston 8).  In doing so, he displays himself as participating in high levels in the structures of public order, since diplomacy cannot be conducted absent those structures, and it is not carried out by the mean.  By occupying a position of command among the very underpinnings of public order, therefore, Corran Horn cements himself as a participant in them.

Just as there is no question of Horn’s participation in civic structures, there is no doubt the he does, at times, set aside his participation in them to serve other ends. During his constabulary service, he deliberately misleads an overseeing officer from higher governmental authority. Not much later, he participates in a firefight to protect people who are themselves engaging in illegal activities, not only protecting them, but also inflicting property damage on non-combatants and allowing those he protected to escape any consequences for their participation in illegal actions (Stackpole, Omnibus). In neither case does he adhere fully to what his participation in social structures would require--as a peace officer, he should not aid and abet illegal activity, and he certainly ought not to violate the rights of others in doing so--although in both cases his actions serve the greater good. The same is true of an incident in his service among the military elite of the New Republic--an outgrowth of an illegal rebellion whose legitimacy was still contested (Stackpole, X-Wing 99). In the incident, he effectively commandeers a squadron for a run on an enemy, a contravention of military protocol and in fact a violation of direct orders (Stackpole, X-Wing 229-35, 241-42). Even though charges against him for his breach of discipline are dropped (Stackpole, X-Wing 259-60)—itself something which smacks of a detachment from social structures, since the maintenance of public order requires that deviations from it be dissuaded, typically through punishment for transgressing—that they are brought is an indication that Corran Horn is willing to set aside the structures of public order, even though he more commonly is an avid supporter of them. Taken together, they validate him as a good citizen.

The Asimovian Hari Seldon, however, is a better citizen than is Horn. For instance, his participation in civil structures occurs at higher levels and is more varied than that of Horn, so that it can be spoken of as stronger. In Asimov’s Forward the Foundation, Seldon begins as the head of the mathematics department at a major research university in the governing seat of a galaxy-spanning empire (6-7). The position is one of some responsibility, not only in teaching--which is itself a significant civil structure, since it is through teaching that social structures are inculcated into new participants in them--but in research and in administration; it is itself an iteration of and privileged position within a social structure, so that Seldon’s tenancy in it situates him as participating in the structures of public order. Later in the novel, he is appointed from that position to the highest non-hereditary post in the empire, that of First Minister (112). In a very real sense, in his appointment as First Minister, he becomes the structure of public order, so that he necessarily is a powerful participant within it, and to a degree much greater than any warrior in service, however skilled the warrior or elite the cadre in which the warrior serves. Moreover, much later, Seldon serves as the founding editor of an encyclopedia described as being a comprehensive collection of the knowledge and understanding of the galactic empire (Asimov, Forward 456-61). The attempt to encapsulate the sum of a society’s knowledge for its preservation cannot be anything but an intimate engagement with the structures of public order, since public order is built upon a society’s knowledge of itself.

The encyclopedia Seldon founds serves as a cover for a deeper and more vital work of maintenance of the structures of public order.  The research he had done as a department head was directed towards that work, as well.  For Seldon had become aware that millennia of progress were being negated and much that was good being lost, with a dark age of thirty thousand years to follow the dozen or so millennia of stable society at the end of which Seldon stood (Asimov, Foundation 36-37).  The encyclopedia project served to hide a nucleus for the immense reduction of the scope of the dark age, a seed from which galactic civilization could regenerate itself in one thousand years instead of thirty times that many (93-96).  The system relies on his ability to predict future events with mathematical rigor, dealing in broad probabilities in a manner analogous to that in which the behavior of subatomic particles can be predicted en masse (Prelude 15); the system therefore relies on a stable foundation (if the pun may be pardoned).  By setting up a system which would allow the structures of public order which he had served to renew themselves in a thirtieth of the time it would otherwise take them to do so, Seldon makes of himself something of a messianic figure, one who comes to be in fact the focal figure for systems of public belief (Foundation 158; Edge 7, 16).  Even more than during his stint as First Minister, then, he is an embodiment of public order, making his participation in its structures manifest.

At the same time, Seldon is regarded as setting aside normal social conventions. Apart from common accusations that the professoriate is removed from public life or, worse, that it is aligned against civic structures, Seldon is viewed as a threat to public order.   In Prelude to Foundation, Seldon spends quite some time as a fugitive from Imperial officials, which is hardly an alignment with the usual standards of participation in civil structures.  Further, while on the run, he violates a number of the socio-cultural norms of the populations which agree to hide him.  Most notably, he violates the sanctity of the Mycogenian Sacratorium both in terms of entering it as an outsider and in bringing a woman where women are forbidden, which hardly rings of going along with cultural expectations, espeically since his doing so is a capital offense (237-41, 259-65).  The death penalty is not capriciously handed out, so that the assignment of it to Seldon serves as a marker of just how far he has stepped outside the normal bounds of good conduct in order to further his scholarly mission.  Certainly, he goes further outside of it than Horn, who is up for rebuke but not for any kind of major punishment by the society against which he transgresses--and a disciplinary rebuke is far less than execution, so that the latter indicates a more grievous offense.

Also, in Foundation, he is brought up on charges of treason, not least because he asserts from the knowledge given him by years of socio-mathematic study that the empire in which he lives and which he once served so prominently is doomed to die (31-38). As a result, he is exiled along with his followers to a world at the end of the galaxy, one appropriately named for being at the end of it (42). Whatever the reason for his making the assertion--and he is correct in making them, it must be admitted--the mere facts of his statements serve to undercut broad belief in the stability of social systems, so that in making the statements, Seldon is disengaging from the structures of public order. More than simply disobeying orders as Horn does, he is undermining confidence in the ability of society to endure, which is a much stronger detachment from the structures than is bucking the chain of command. Seldon therefore goes farther afield from the normal dictates of society than does Horn, even as he is more thoroughly engaged in those structures during his long life—even to the point of being a messianic figurearound whom systems of belief are built. He is therefore clearly a superior example of a good citizen.

That Seldon is the better image of good citizenship serves as a reminder that older works—and Asimov’s novels of Seldon are older than Stackpole’s works with Horn—yet have much to teach.  They provide useful standards for judgment yet, and so they ought not to be set aside blithely.

Works Cited
~Allston, Aaron. Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi--Outcast. New York: Del Rey, 2010. Print.
~Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
~---. Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
~---. Foundation's Edge. New York: Del Rey, 1982. Print.
~---. Prelude to Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
~Leydet, Dominique. "Citizenship." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford U, 1 August 2011. Web. 5 March 2012.
~Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: I, Jedi. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998. Print.
~---. Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron. Vol. 3. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2007. Print.
~---. Star Wars: X-Wing--Rogue Squadron. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print.