Sunday, June 17, 2007

What is this "Renaissance" of which you speak?

A few weeks ago I joined Evey, her husband, and some of the other young faculty from her university for some beers. It was a pleasant night out until near the end of the evening, when I happened to use the word "Renaissance" in describing something that I teach or work on. "Renaissance?" Said a certain junior faculty member. "But you're talking about the seventeenth century--that's not the Renaissance."

Since the guy isn't a native English speaker (nor is he a historian or literary scholar), and his educational background would likely have focused on continental Europe, I wasn't surprised by his remark. Instead, I went into the little spiel that I do for my students about how the Renaissance happened in different times in different places.

"But really--Shakespeare? He's not a Renaissance writer! That's so late."

Good-humoredly, I expanded my earlier explanation.

"But, the sixteenth and seventeenth century isn't the Renaissance. That's the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation. That's the baroque."

Less good-humoredly, I trotted out some other ways of thinking about the English Renaissance as a coherent whole and defining its parameters (developed in response to a particularly jerky question I'd once been asked in a job interview). I also floated the term "early modern," which interested him not at all.

Instead, he just kept shaking his head and saying, disbelievingly, "The Renaissance!"

Then it got worse: one of Evey's colleagues, a creative writer, decided to bust in with his theories about a "Renaissance sensibility," and how we could see this in writers from all different time periods--like Emily Dickinson and T. S. Eliot. Every so often, Guy One would interject, "But, the sixteenth century! That's not the Renaissance!"

We went around and around like this for at least an hour, and it was one of the more tedious hours of my life.

But you know--it was still an enjoyable evening on balance, so I quickly forgot about the way it concluded.


Until I got an email from Guy One suggesting that we discuss the Renaissance and the baroque some more, maybe over drinks.

Riiiight. Because our previous conversation was so much fun.


phd me said...

Perhaps it was all a ploy to ask you out for drinks! I've dated guys who think argumentation is some sort of foreplay, like I'm going to get all hot and bothered listening to you disagree with me when you don't know what you're talking about. I'll get hot alright! I can't believe you aren't interested. :)

A White Bear said...

Ugh, Flavia, that's incredibly annoying. I think this is how a lot of men deal with being attracted to women who do academic work, even when they're academics themselves. Feeling superior is easy when you can pick at discipline-wide issues and always mistake the irritation of your conversation partner for a heated, frisson-laden excitement. Blech.

RageyOne said...

I agree, that is annoying! It is as if that person couldn't think outside of what he knew about Renaissance. Can we not expand our knowledge somewhat and not live in bubble people? Jeesh!

Susan said...

Telling you you don't know about your field is such a great pick-up line. Another piece of evidence (were one needed) that academics are not necessarily selected for their social antenae!

Anonymous said...

oh flavia, flavia, flavia, flavia, flavia, flavia. i'm so sorry and embarrassed.

Flavia said...

His email was clearly an invitation for a date, but I don't think the conversation itself was initially intended as flirtation--the dude does have a legitimate academic interest in some stuff tangential to what we were talking about. He also wasn't really being argumentative; I think he thought he was showing real interest and keeping up his end of the conversation. But was there some implicit condescension there? Oh yes. And is that attractive to me? Oh no.

And Evey: no need to be embarrassed! Without you, I would have had no outing whatsoever, but would have sat sadly at home twiddling my thumbs.

Dr. Virago said...

Well, everyone knows the *first* renaissance was in the *12th* century.

I kid! I kid!

Seriously, how annoying. I have many similar stories, unfortunately. I wonder if our male colleagues have as many?

The Combat Philosopher said...

Ahh yes. The 'fight over a single word' syndrome. Philosophers are especially prone to this malady. It is rather sad. The thing that I always find the most curious is that the less training/historical/relevant knowledge a person has, the more beligerent they tend to be.

The Combat Philosopher

Carlton said...

He may be a toad, but at least he's a toad with good taste.

medieval woman said...

gag me with a smurf.

Ancarett said...

I guess you're supposed to be so overcome by his manly surety that you will swoon at his feet over drinks and monologuing?

Anonymous said...

What's funny is that I had a conversation not too long ago with some soon-to-be colleagues, and I can't remember how it came up, but they started referring disparagingly to someone's description of either Elizabeth I as a Renaissance monarch or Shakespeare as a Renaissance writer (I can't remember which exactly was the problem), like this was completely ridiculous. And I'm thinking, "Um, but s/he was!" and felt very confused, esp. since these were historians I was speaking with - and one was a British historian! All I could think was that their training must have been firmly in the Renaissance = Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries and NOTHING ELSE. (I should say, too, that one of the people was an early modernist who may well be invested in making a clear distinction between the Renaissance, as a relatively narrow intellectual phenomenon, and the early modern period generally.) For instance, the European history survey at this place ends the Middle Ages at 1350, which means that the whole century-and-a-half that I, a medievalist, work on is missing!

It was very disorienting.

And I'm ROFL at Telling you you don't know about your field is such a great pick-up line. ;-)