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USAGE: Survey

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Friday, March 14, 2003, 22:55
Thank you, Rachel and Elliott, for your survey answers.  I want to thank all
of you for taking the survey, Celticists or not!
Firrimby ry!

I have one last question for those of you who are Celticonlangers, and you
can respond privately or publically:

Does the "Celtic" mean something to you outside of its linguistic
eccentricities?  Does it appeal because of a wider sense of mythology,
culture, magic, poetry, and strangeness?  I'm interested in understanding
the aura of "celticism," whatever that is--probably something partially
invented, egged on by Mythopoeia, Creative Anachronism and
nineteenth-century sentimentality.  Patrick Simms-Williams of Cambridge
derided the stereotype of the "Visionary Celt," one that is consonant with
other ethnic stereotypes (pace!): the forthright Englishman, the inscrutable
Chinaman, the effiminate Frenchman, and so forth.  The "visionary" Celt is a
person of the country who lives with his sheepdogs in a world of music,
poetry, and second sight, and can therefore be excused if he is not paying
too much attention to the economy or the affairs of the world (a paraphrase
of something PSW quotes from some godawful conference proceedings in the
seventies).  If that stereotype offends you, I want to know.  I also want to
know how much British mythology, creative anachronism, the world of Tolkien,
etc. contributes to this aura of the Celtic, drove you to invent a
Celtic-based language, or whether it was primarily the language game of
fusing Brythonic or Goidelic with something else.

Note that the Welsh themselves took advantage of their perceived
"barbarousness."  There's the wonderful story told by Gerald of Wales about
the emissary from England, newly conquered by the Normans, who met with the
Welsh guide.  The Welsh guide was informed that he was to take the emissary
into Wales by the best roads and show him the best towns.  Of course the
Welsh guide took the emissary by the backroads, or by no roads, horses and
men alike wading through muck. He frequently stopped and pulled bunches of
grass and ate them.  The emissary returned to London and said that Wales was
a uninhabitable land that had no roads, and whose people were so poverty
stricken and uncultured they resorted to eating grass.  Therefore it was not
worth invading.

There is also the example of my own class.  They are perplexed by the
literature of medieval Wales (in translation).  We read The Gododdin, we
read samples from Taliesin, we read The Sick Man of Abercuawg and other
poems associated with Canu Llywarch Hen, we read some of the Biddiau, and
other gnomic lists, we read the Mabinogi and the two indigenous Arthurian
Tales.  The long lists, the different development of narrative, the
impossibilia, the comedy, the repetitions... they were gobsmacked.  This is
not what they expected.   We had a little talk about it.  Where were the
stories of gods and goddesses?  All this euhemerization.  Where was a tale
well-told?  They expected a Celtic Iliad, they expected Malory, they
expected Susan Cooper, they expected the Silmarillion only in a real
language... they expected anything but these grass-eating Welsh.  It was
hard to convince them that Welsh literature was consonant with quite a
number of other medieval literatures in its penchant for lists,
impossibilia, humor, and so forth.  They expected something other, I think,
because of the loaded term "Celtic."  Even the Annwn was not what they
expected.  And now they've got the Tain to look forward to, and all the
strange Irish narratives.

To those of you who conculture in the Celtic mood, to what degree are you
emending it of this "aura" or running with it?  What does the "Celtic" even
mean?  Has the term outgrown its connotations?

Sally Caves
Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.
"My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."


Sarah Marie Parker-Allen <lloannna@...>