Wednesday, 9 April 2008

And what will you do with that?...

From time to time I get asked the obvious question. "Oh, so you're a medievalist. And what will you do with that?" Without getting all romantic about it, it is the kind of subject that you study for it's own sake. I plan to use it, whether that be in academia or in the 'broader knowledge economy', but I hope that it will stay with me no matter where I wind up. It isn't often that I read a good response to the question, or any similar question, along the lines of why one would work in the arts as an academic. Paul Zumthor was a Swiss medievalist with many many publications (only one of which I have read so far). This passage, explaining how he sees his career as a medievalist, is beautifully written and is as good an answer as any:

That is the domain [Medieval Studies] in which, almost without interruption, I have taught and pursued my modest course of research. I have had fun doing it; I have also known hours of deep pleasure. These circumstances concern only me, and I attach no general value to them. Nonetheless, they have allowed me, little by little, a slow and delightful experience whose effect, on the level of imagery and ideas, was so marked that I would be untruthful not to acknowledge it now in whatever I say: from the place that was mine by choice and by profession, windows looked out in all possible directions; one gesture sufficed to open the shutters; all things were offered to this appetite for seeing, for experiencing - and, if possible, for understanding.
Paul Zumthor, Speaking of the Middle Ages

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