The bodies of birds

I’m getting a sense of myself in a performative role as I move from the morning into the Mellon School. I have been searching around for copies of The Chester Cycle a group of medieval mysteries from the early part of the 14th century that is supposed to present an more streamlined approach to the program of Christian Salvation than my beloved York Cycle. As of yet, I am confounded by paywalls and unavailability. The thing itself seems buried under writings about the plays: objects I ignore on principle until I’ve spent time breathing the air of the Middle English for myself. I give up eventually and buy the used copy of the paperback on Amazon along with a packaged edition of Everyman and Mankind. The latter I think of as insurance for my prelim reading. I’ve always had more of an interest in mystery and miracle than in morality. Though the explosion of the human condition, internal, external, and cyclical into breathing singing figures over a weathered wagon is a sight to behold.

By the time I’ve concluded getting and spending the Dillon Seminar is about to start. The focus on everyone’s mind is the Felski lecture from the day before. The interest is in her treatment of phenomenology. Dr. Dillon questions what role the cultural and political play in developing a theory of attunement. We return to envisioning databases: what they claim to provide, where their limits lie, where they rub up against the ephemera of the ancient internet. I’m put in mind of Close to the Machine where Ullman talks about the rapid nature of obsolescence in her work as a programmer, how disconnected she feels from her own body as she still holds up her role as “a person who builds things”. Unlike days preceding, the questions laid out are strict in their DH application. We are divided into groups and my group is sent out to poke around in CFRP’s immense and officious database. I am stymied by my lack of knowledge of the time period. We are all stymied by the enormity of the work in front of us. There is more than one mention of exhaustion. I am incredibly aware of myself as a body in possession of an animus. It is enough that I want to take the hands of the people I’m speaking with, to close my eyes for a second in real time and get my center back underneath me before I try to answer.

In discussion, we address the great phenomenology question with the concept of Actor Network Theory. Murmuration is mentioned in how likes and ideas are built up together. This week has been filled with birds in one way or another. I read an incredible piece for workshop that laid out theatre as a place where home is created in part as we migrate and are displaced from ideas of homes like birds. In Cesaire’s masterful post-colonial reworking of The Tempest the compromising, aspirational Ariel is made all bird, imbuing their nature as the soul of the island Prospero has subdued and deadened to his will into every native and living tree of the place.

I am living in my parent’s house between leases and before the fall semester. I come home from school every day like I am seventeen again. I turn off my computer and watch my mother for signals, this is when we can get a beer, this is when we move outside. After a year of solitude on the Texas plains, I am ungainly and measured in my role as a chorus member. We’ve sat outside every night since I’ve been home and watched a hummingbird dipping into the feeder right above our heads. The rains have filled the grass with lightening bugs, and I find I have developed an attachment to flying. In discussion we state that we are trying to avoid the grand language of the spiritual when speaking of the discovery and change of taste and enjoyment. In my mind, the idea of scale is wrong-headed. The spirit is grand and yet it is as small as a lightning bug and as ordinary as a pump of blood through the capillary system: the rhythm of which is never guaranteed and a surprise only in its absence. I am grateful for the work I am doing. More invested than I have been to my scholarship in a long while. Call this attachment if you will. I will call it a re-discovery.

See also: Elizabeth Perry