Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Sonnet

Dear Trevor

Crowded solitaire, felt lonely for years
Existing in chaos outside of time
Blind eyes in the void, then filling with tears
Softly hear distant Christmas bells chime

Ruined memories of a hollow vow
The wrong kinds of people bound by a ring
Absolution in sadness, in Death's bow
Their souls joined in love and now their hearts sing

Their journeys were testing, traveling far
Two parts of a whole, no longer apart
The universe sent them a Christmas star
The eternal beat of two lovers' hearts

Heartbeat of Christmas is vibrating sound
Their miracle, true love is what they found

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Birthday sonnet

Happy birthday, my amazing man

Effortlessly they turn; universes
In this scale of things we are small
Your love reaches beyond the known blessings
Sublime state of mind where you are my all

Your mind awakened a feeling of pride
The time spent with you is ten times more worth
Our love is so strong it reaches outside
We will never be alone on this earth

The purr of you sleeping, comfort in sound
Erasing the decade of silence pain
Your hand in my hand when strolling around
Adoring the sun, embrasing the rain

Fluffy cirrus clouds floating high above
The soft giggles of our hearts deep in love

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Two years together

Pendulum of emotions when apart
The motion like a constant rhythmic beat
A level five tornado in its start
Leaving Kansas here, landing in your street

The wands of love in fairies' magic hands
Physical distance vanish with love's kiss
Magic brought us here - passion's hot glance
Bodies bound together - pure, naked bliss

Stepping out of time, dwelling in the now
Feeling every moment tells our story
Cooking, dancing, singing love, that's the how
Victorious in our strong love's glory

Your smile, your looks, your love, I know it's true
Amazing Trevor, know that I love you

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A peek into the Gaga mind

My music interest normally includes the progressional rock landscape, and Marillion and Steven Wilson are closest to my heart. I haven't really lent artists like Lady Gaga my ear. But in a subject called Reading Verbal and Visual signs in the Master course at university, I had to. I now find myself quite fascinated by the kind of bravery she shows, and how she is just as much a critic and provocateur of society as she is an artist, maybe even more so. Anyone can be beautiful and sing like an angel, but not everyone would dare to be beautiful and yet play on the ugly. But sadly it is easy to miss her comments in all the 'originality' she flaunts around. Or maybe what it is, is that you only find the hidden meaning behind the crazy costumes and strange behaviour if you're really looking, or if you're prepared to see behind the hit song and the Hollywood glamour?
I think I will have to look into her musical and visual career a bit more in the future. She is definitely a great singer, and the more recent music dives deeper into both difficult and taboo topics, and I highly respect that. And the beautiful and important song, Till it Happens to You, is absolutely heartbreaking. This entry, however, will be about a song from an earlier stage in her rocket career.

There is a meta element in her career; she's using her magnificent fame to talk about magnificent fame. And we could just say lightly that she's original and special, or we could look deeper and see that there is a reason to the madness. This blog entry is the latter. I will look at Bad Romance as I would look at a poem. I will search for hidden meaning, I will search for the obvious and the obscure. And I might conclude with what others have concluded with before me, or I might have gone even deeper, let's see, eh?

I have read a few comments on Bad Romance, and I realised that I only partially agreed, so I will focus on my own thoughts and findings. And I will also add that the following interpretation is my own, and therefore very subjective. I won't claim to have the answer to what this is all about, as I am pretty sure I don't. My teacher in Reading Verbal And Visual signs said that the wonderful thing about interpretations is that we can have different meanings as long as we can back it up with some sort of theory. And it is in that spirit I write this analysis.


The first image is almost a still shot where all the people participating in the video are presented. They are all motionless, and Lady Gaga is seated in the 'throne' in the middle. She's wearing a gold robe, and strange looking glasses of razor blades in the shape of sunbeams. She's in charge of when the real song starts and the fake cembalo music stops, even motionless she owns the room, but at this point there is no interaction with the viewer yet. Even with a close up of her face we feel detached from her, she is looking away, or so it seems, and her eyes are hidden behind the dangerous razor glasses.
When Lady Gaga then unleash the song, she also wakes up the monster. She has on several occasions referred to herself as a monster of fame, and this parable is taken further in the first bars of this song and the first frames of this video, when she (and her gang) are awakened by the sun. And here it is wroth noticing the Egyptian element. The sunbeam shines in on a dark room, and when it hits the mirror, the room lights up completely. They crawl out of what looks like ski-boxes to my Norwegian perspective, but probably are meant to be coffins. Lady Gaga's coffin has a cross and the word 'monster' written in red ink.
The group are all in white spandex, and they are all wearing masks that cover their entire face. Only small openings for the eyes. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, has a mask covering her eyes completely, stopping her from interacting with the audience even though she is facing the camera, but her mouth and nose are free. All of them are wearing strange looking crowns. The crowns could be meant to look like mad scientist hair, or antennas. They are definitely helping obscuring the human body. Lady Gaga has a very visible, sticking out spine, like monsters from history, it could maybe even be a link to the devil.
When they start to dance, they are lit up from behind, making them seem very silhouette-like.

All of this is taking place in the Bath Haus oF GaGa, and historically every single culture on the planet has had some sort of bathhouse. It was known as a public bathhouse, but taking it as far back as the antiquity, to be a member of the public one had to be a citizen, and only few got that title. So the bathhouse in history was to the rich and powerful. It was seen as a place to meet and greet, both in a friendly capacity and in a political capacity. So with the setting of a Germanesque spelling of the bathhouse, we have our stage for the video. All the different scenes in this video are shot in the same room, this white, shower room, bathhouse, changing room of some sort, they just change angle, props and costumes. Even the scene where Lady Gaga is a distorted monster with a bat on her head, completely naked, with bones sticking out everywhere, she's in a dim lit shot in one of the stalls in the same room.

When the song starts, the lyrics that is, we get a shot of a wide eyed girl in a bathtub. Even though she is looking at the camera, her eyes have been altered, magnified, so it is also distorted and wrong. Her hair is pale red, and she is portrayed rather child like. The next shot we get is her looking at us through a mirror, and through black sunglasses. Here she's all in black, with a black crown on her head. The black crown is an opposite to the white crown in the monster scene. She's still a queen...

The first proper interaction we get with the artist is an extreme close up of her face, where she's natural looking, and her eyes are staring into the camera. But even in this shot we are tricked into seeing another truth than THE truth. It took me a while to actually see this detail, as I first mistook this for the 'honest' part, where she's looking at her audience, making them interact and maybe even get some sympathy for her. But then it struck me. The artist behind the character Lady Gaga has brown eyes. Her eyes in this close up shot are blue/green. So even in this show there is a veil of deception before the gaze hits the audience.  This could easily be interpreted to meaning that we shouldn't believe a single thing we see coming from the entertainment business, or news as such, that we never know the full picture. Which of course is the same when looking at a close up. A face can say a lot, but it cannot reveal whether or not the person is bound on hands and feet, or if they are naked or wearing clothes, if they are bruised or have scars, and things like that. A close up tells the truth, but only parts of the truth.
Another element to this is that she's probably, though beautiful and natural looking, the MONSTER in this shot, as she's actually wearing the albino bat on her head. We're only seeing the face, not the full picture.

Then she's dragged out of the bath house and 'drugged' (I read somewhere that the vodka the 'models' force her to drink is the MTV-approved drugging - forgetting that the most dangerous drug of them all is alcohol...long live double standards...), and dressed in diamonds to dance her Salome dance for the Russian audience. I was first looking for seven dances of seduction in this video, but realised she plays more roles than seven, a fact I will return to below.
They are all drinking a vodka that has cunningly been named Nemiroff, and I believe this is to make us think about Smirnoff. This Nemiroff vodka has been made by LEX, which is Latin for law. And many links could be drawn to these details.
Her saying she's a free bitch, and a close up of a Sphynx cat hissing, can be interpreted as yet another link to Egyptian mythology. We already have the link to Ra, the God of the sun, both in the first shots when she wakes up, and also in her words...'Rah Rah ah ah ah ah' But this could be a coincidence...Though I doubt that there are any of the sort. I think every step of the video, the song, the performance and the presentation are results of the bravery behind a creative process of this kind. And I think we, the audience, know so little about how this world really is, that we are ready to believe whatever we are presented with...And maybe most of us just think...well, that Lady Gaga sure is original...
The dance of the seven veils (Oscar Wilde - The Bible), could be present in the fact that we never see the artist as she truly is, we view her through her characters of various seduction, through different veils. There is also a madness element present throughout the whole video. The only rational character she portraits is the one who is meant to look natural. But then we can ask if she's mad because of the circumstances, or if she's mad because that's who she is? Or maybe the madness is a conscious choice? And then we can ask if it is madness at all?

The most interesting scene is the one that is the most obscure, I think. When she's naked in the shower...but she's hardly human anymore. She is a full blown monster with a spine that is sticking out, and her body has been altered to look more insect, or animal like. There is an albino bat on her head, and the shot is presenting her as a creature of the shadows. I am tempted to look at this from many angles.
It could be how she truly views herself.
It could be how she believes the world view her.
It could be how she believes men view her.
Another thing with this part is that because of the lack of lights she seems even more marginalised than any of the other characters.
If this is, in fact, the body of the close-up face, then she is playing even more on the beauty-ugly metaphor. And she's definitely toying with us. When we see a fragment of a whole, we still expect the rest of the image to correspond with the fragment...when it doesn't, we can almost not believe it. Also this took me a while to see ;)

At 3.16 or 3.18 something interesting happens.
Some have said that she's making the sign of a pyramid, and knowing that there is a definite Egyptian element in this video, that could be true...But I think she's making the sign of the cross. She is a Catholic after all...isn't she?
If it happens at 3.16 (as I think is the most likely, I just don't have the equipment to stop the video at the right moment), then this is probably a link to John 3.16 'For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' Is she saying that she's got eternal life through her fame?
But her making the sign of the cross could also happen at 3.18, and if it does it could be the light and the dark within her fighting. The holy trinity at one side, and the number of the beast on the other.
Of course, having mentioned that I don't have the equipment to stop the video at the right moment, it could be happening at 3.15, in which case it might mean something different completely.
Also, Lady Gaga makes a triangle sign with her fingers framing her eye, and this is an element she adds in all of her videos...Some say it's Illuminati again...I believe there is a Christian element, the good girl vs. the girl who does exactly what ever the hell she wants...the light and darkness fight we all have within.

Then she's dressed in black lingerie surrounded by suspended floating diamonds. In front of her private parts is a diamond cross, and she's wearing a mask and has a harness on, that she's holding herself. The cross on her private parts could be there to shock and cause debate. It certainly doesn't look like it is because of her virtuous attitude. Maybe she's suggesting that she is innocent and virtuous to make the spectators think she's all that, when in fact she's on sale? This could be her contemplating the 'prostitution-part' of the business she's in? Of course, I am only speculating here, and my guess is as good as yours :)

The part where she's a freaky fashion diva, striking poses (with a clear Madonna link), I believe she's commentating on the non-free will of the business. Be here, stand there, do this, sing that, dance on that stage, wear that designer's dress on that award night, be what we want you to be, never what you want to be. And I think Lady Gaga is one of those artists in the business that is a free spirit, and that dealing with her is like dealing with a storm. I can imagine that she has only a few people she can trust, and that who she really is, is a well kept secret (as it should be. None of us really have any business digging in public figures' private lives...but we do, greedily as such. It has become a business of its own; to snoop around famous peoples' lives, and think that our opinion of their shape, clothes, lack of makeup or too much, is really any of our business).
This part portrays her almost statue like inside orbiting planets, or something. It could be a link to the Illuminati, with a Gaga-version of Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man, or it could be her as the centre of the universe. I think both interpretations can be valid.

She's wearing the fake skin of a polar bear when she's walking to the altar of love. Behind the bed are two gazelles, and their antlers could easily be linked to devil worshipping. But again I will disagree with the assumptions made previously, as the gazelles can be found in many of her videos. Certainly in Paparazzi. Though, having said that, she is 'killed' by a man under the gazelles in Paparazzi, so maybe it has a link to devilry. I believe it is more iconic. Horns doesn't mean devil. It can mean masculinity, it can mean phallic elements, it can mean something as benign as symmetry. And symmetry in a face means beauty to the human eye, and beauty is what Lady Gaga plays on in many of her videos, or diverge from.

At last she is 'waking up' on the floor, wearing a red costume reminding me a bit about the costume worn by Leeloo in The Fifht Element (if you haven't seen this film, then that is your homework for next time, as it is probably one of the best sci-fi films in the world...).
Here I think we meet the most honest Lady Gaga. She's looking directly at us with her own brown eyes, probably her own hair, and she's entering the part of the song where her emotions come through in her singing 'I don't wanna be friends'...meaning she wants a proper connection to audience and to her male companions. A proper connection with LOVE - LOVE - LOVE.
She's presenting herself on the floor, almost throwing a child like tantrum, 'I don't want to...'
I have read that Lady Gaga wrote this song, whilst in Norway actually, and that it is about how she finds it difficult to make proper lasting emotional connections with men...but I also think that once an artist has released a piece of work, that work takes on a life of its own, and can mean whatever the viewer (in this case) wants it to mean.

If you have been counting, I think you will see that she is in thirteen different costumes in this video (some of them have additions, and you could say that she's in more costumes, but I count 13 characters - even if the monster/close-up character is one and the same, but I think they are two different characters as they are meant to throw us off a bit...). The thirteenth being her smoking a post-coital cigarette next to her 'victim', almost like a human mantis, having bitten the head off her mate (though in this case she's stripped his flesh off...). She's the Judas of her Last Supper, sacrificing her own virtue and innocence in the name of fame (and having looked into the artist's career a bit, I know she's made a song called Judas, so I'm going to allow myself to draw this link...farfetched as it may be.)

Some think that the last scene, where the man is burning up, is him being sacrificed to the devil, and that this part is her disclosing her occult side. I, however, believe the symbolism is far more loaded here than just meaning devil worshipping. Twice in the song she sings, 'I'm a free bitch, baby'. She's not owned by a male dominated syndicate, and she never will be. She's not willing to be sacrificed for the sake of money or sex, and she's in charge of her own career and life. The fact that the man that 'bought' her ends up as a skeleton, protecting his private parts (a link to when she was protecting her private parts just before the dance of seduction started), is a reversal of the historic virgin sacrifice. Turning it completely around, making the female be in charge in a male dominated both business and society as such.
It is also addressing the fact that for a woman in her position it might be difficult to find a romantic connection with someone. How will she know what kind of intentions lie behind any kind of suggestion? I also think she's thinking about the honesty, or lack thereof, in the whole business.

Even though she is the one showing skin, and seemingly is objectified, in the end, the tables are turned. The male participants in this video, in this story, are shallow and undeveloped. They might want to come across as strong and masculine, but they are concerned with 'one thing only' and actually end up being objectified. She ends up being the character with depth. She's an innocent girl, she's a monster, she's a sex goddess, she's a distant public figure, she's an artist, she's a fashion icon, she's the sun in an entertainment solar system, and she's definitely not someone you mess with.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Literacy and Patterns of Mind

Annotation on Holme, Randal. 2004. Literacy: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Chap. 14

Literacy and Patterns of Mind

In this chapter on literacy and the patterns of the mind, the author is discussing the mental processes at work when learning to read; the framework needed to manoeuvre between metaphors and understanding in order for the learner to crack the code of reading. He is also discussing the meta-angle of reading and writing, both in a contemporary and a historical perspective.
            The chapter goes through the different frames and schematics (mental patterns) needed in the decoding process, such as images and conceptual metaphors. Without an understanding of conceptual metaphors, the abstract ideas surrounding and interacting with humans at all times will elude the reader, thus losing grasp of content.
            The author also covers the discourse of genre and how it is important to recognise the literary practices connected to the genres. Further, he says that the full potential within each genre, or image schema, can be accessed through writing.
            The metaphors connected to reading and writing, how humans seem connected to, and captured by cause and effect, and the representation of origin seem important in this chapter. Reading and writing in a historic perspective could be as simple as a method of recording our ‘raison d’être’. Historically this could be shown as a family tree, or a totem pole, or other written evidence of human existence. Genealogy, spatial metaphors and lineage could be shown as an ascending spatial order in images of family trees, and wisdom, from for example the Middle Ages.
            Towards the end of the chapter, the author contemplates all the various versions of literacy, and how to extend the spatial metaphors through which we grasp and analyse abstract meanings from, for example, the grammatical analysis of sentences.
            He concludes with seeing a link between practices, frames and schemas. The metaphors used in the search for knowledge, through reading and writing, belong within a discourse.

The main themes of this chapter seem to be that reading and writing are both mental and physical processes that have to develop together to give the learner a higher understanding and fuller capacity to develop further within the field. It is also my understanding that to be able to function within a society the learner has to familiarise him or herself with the commonly perceived metaphors, figures and tropes to be able to understand reading, and produce writing, thoughts that are strangely compelling.
            Further I understand that the way we relate to the world of letters and fonts, images and visuality is coded within us in a way we do not contemplate on a daily basis, and it becomes intrinsic and internalised through the process of growing up. Also, the author is making the point that to be able to recognise discourse is as important as learning to spell and getting the motor skills to write. It is a part of a far bigger process than isolated spelling and pencil movement.
            Writing exists in history, while the action of reading is more ‘here and now’, and by mastering both, the learner opens up access to the past as well as the present and in some way a prediction of the future.  We use literacy daily to access our history and our reason to be here. To make use of metaphors to understand is one of the elements that make us human. The tree-metaphor stretches beyond the representation of the physical tree in the forest, and can be applied in situations and arenas not normally connected to wildlife, for example in sentence analysis and in describing family, or even corporate constructions. To comprehend this metaphor (the tree metaphor being a metaphor for metaphors in general) it is important to know that one word can have a variety of connotations, and this knowledge comes with experience.

The author is playing with all of these thoughts in a complicated, yet comprehensive way. It is sometimes a bit hard to follow what medieval images and sentence analysis has to do with the process of learning to read and write, but he makes his case in the conclusion, where he states how he wanted to take an unorthodox look at a the mental challenges involved in something as normal as learning to read and write. It is highly respectful to brave taking on the philosophical side of language and identity, and language development through reading and writing in a discourse where the linguistic view stands out as the most acknowledged.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Learning new things

I am currently working on my master degree in English literacy, and through this I learn so many interesting things. A subject we have had this semester is 'Reading Verbal and Visual Signs'. As a part of that we analyse images, as we would analyse poetry.
This is my first image analysis.
               Our professor said there would be a competition on who could find the most interesting image (it was an optional competition, and only myself and a couple of others entered). I submitted two images, and I won with the latter.

Image analysis

Image number one:
Tulkas and Melkor

This is image can be both centred and polarised in its composition.
The fists of Tulkas are in the middle, and may be the salient part of the image. His character is also in the foreground. He is looking determined and angry, and covered in symbols of almost angelic meaning. If you know the story of the War of Wrath from Silmarillion, this image is a fan made piece of art, taken from the moment when Melkor’s strength finally is overpowered.
Tulkas was a Maia who was given Valar powers. He came last to Middle Earth and tipped the balance in favour of the Valar.
            Much to Tulkas’ delight it was decided that Melkor had to be removed. This was a war to make Middle Earth peaceful for the coming of the Firstborns, the elves. Tulkas wrestled with Melkor and bound him with Angainor (chains) forged by Aulë, the smith.

The reason this could be viewed as a polarised image, even though the other character is further back, is that the character in the back actually engages with the audience. The character is the evil Melkor (later known as Morgoth the destroyer). With breaking the fourth wall, Melkor’s character becomes more than the lurking darkness at the back.

The two characters are getting the same kind of attention because of how they are placed. Maybe as you see it first, Tulkas is in the front, but the moment you see Melkor in the back, it is as if he is forcing his way to the front.
In this setting Tulkas is the New, and Melkor the Given, which is a twist of how we normally read the Given and the New. It is normally from Left to right. In this setting it is from right to left.
            Tulkas represent the light and Melkor the darkness. And even though Melkor is surrounded by flame, it is not the light of day that drives him. It is the false light of the flames. Tulkas is glowing from his inner light from Aman.
            We can also draw a line from Tulkas’ glowing eyes to Melkor’s glowing eyes, as a kind of horizon in an image without both heaven and light.

If we divide the image into two, the one of Melkor could be a triptych, with him in the middle and the two Balrogs on the sides.
            All the spears of the soldiers are pointing the same way. And the spears are also prolonging the angle of the mountains. Making the mountains go on forever.

This particular war shaped Arda (or Middle Earth), and the fights made even the land move, that’s how violent it was. The violence comes through in the image.

The mountains almost look like fangs, like the teeth of a dragon surrounding them, or about to devour them.

The sight is compromised by the blizzard, and there is no light other than the one Tulkas embodies.

If I were analysing this image from a position where I did not know where it came from, I would probably put it in a Norse mythology tradition. This could easily be Thor and Loki in battle (though there is no hammer).

Image number two:
Fifth Element

Triptych in composition
Three images, three faces. The interesting thing about this triptych is that it can almost be called a classic triptych with a religious theme. The story is a classic good vs. evil.
            The character in the middle, the salient, is looking straight at the audience, making a connection. The character to the left and the character to the right are looking in the same distance, maybe looking at the same thing?
            The space ships are flying towards the centre, increasing the importance of the middle character. Funnily enough, the character who IS the Fifth Element (Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovich) is to the hero character’s (Corben Dallas, played by Bruce Willis) right, and not in the middle. He might then be a representation of the Given, and she of the New?
            To his left, in good medieval image style, is the evil character (Zorg, played by Gary Oldman).  However, if you have seen the film, you will know that the real evil is in the shape of a planet. And this planet is showed in the middle at the bottom of the image. The planet is red, almost as if it is covered in flames, and the characters at the top are surrounded by almost heavenly blue, even Zorg, who actually in the end becomes a sort of a comic character, rather than a true evil General. This is a rather classic depiction of good vs. evil, a blue and serene heaven vs. a burning chaotic hell.
            This whole composition is quite symmetrical, and the light of the ‘Fifth Element’ becomes a horizon line, dividing between heaven and hell. But it can also be seen as the bottom of a sword, though that might be stretching it a bit far.

The two characters at the sides are almost mirroring each other. Or they could represent the opposite? I believe they are opposites. They are the two characters who represent the earthly good and evil, and the planet becomes the Devil, and in a sense Corben Dallas becomes God. I am only speculating here, and this is a rather superficial analysis. From an image point of view, then, Zorg and Leeloo becomes opposites, and the planet and Corben Dallas becomes opposites. 
Leeloo becomes the weapon Corben Dallas eventually wields to beat the evil. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

To What Extent was Anglo-Saxon England a Literate Society?

1.    Introduction

This paper addresses the question as to what extent England was a literate society in the Anglo-Saxon period (ca. 500-1100).  It will present brief historical and linguistic backgrounds, and discuss some of the surviving documents. It will look at what being literate meant historically, and compare briefly contemporary and historic views on literacy. It will also consider what texts were produced, and what influences these had on society.
            First this paper addresses Anglo-Saxon history, how Anglo-Saxon tribes came to Britain, and what consequence it had on the development of both written and spoken language in the whole period. The paper goes on to look at what documents actually survive, and whether they can determine if the society was literate. Then this paper considers the impact and importance of the runic system as a separate alphabet, and as a parallel to the Roman alphabet. The Roman alphabet, and text production in both Latin and Old English will be examined. As will Anglo-Saxon England as a literate society, talking about literacy from a modern and Anglo-Saxon perspective. This takes the discussion to the importance of the church and religious literacy. Next the emergence of pragmatic and cultivated literacy in the vernacular will be explored. Lastly, this paper discusses King Alfred and the significance of his translating campaign.
            Whatever modern assumptions we have on literacy, it is important not to apply them to circumstances of earlier cultures (Clanchy 1993:8). Written records provide historians with material to study, and in this historic light literacy emerge as a measure of progress. In a modern perspective, literacy is such an important aspect that it is difficult to not see it as a civilising force. Having said that, Clanchy (1993:7) says that observing third world societies literacy in itself behaves like a technology. He further identifies literacy as the technology of the intellect.
            Discussing literacy in this time period is based on a lot of educated guesswork and assumptions. The material available from Anglo-Norman England, make it easier to map the degree of literacy. This is not so with Anglo-Saxon England where the information is sparse. However, enough evidence survives making the following discussion possible.

2.    Historical background: The Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxon period is usually defined as starting with the coming of Anglo-Saxon tribes, and concluding with the Norman invasion in 1066. According to Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731) Germanic speaking groups settled in different parts of the country from the middle of the fifth century onwards (Barber, Biel and Shaw 2009:105). This was a lengthy process, as Anglo-Saxon domination in England was not assured until late in the sixth century (Barber, Biel, and Shaw 2009:105).
            For the Romans, England was always a colonial outpost, but it was also of high value with important resources and fertile land. The Roman and the British societies (Britons, consisting of the Celtic populations) were, according to Amodio (2014:4) two separate cultures that did not mix. However when the Anglo-Saxons arrived they replaced these cultures with what eventually became a united Anglo-Saxon culture with a Germanic language.
To begin with, the Anglo-Saxons did not absorb the Latin culture at all. The Latin influence on language and literacy came at a later stage, with the arrival of Latin speaking missionaries at the end of the sixth century (Amodio 2014:11). Latin was then re-introduced as a mainly written and ritual language by the Church. Even though the Anglo-Saxons had a native writing system, the runes, there is little evidence of literacy before the Christianisation of the previously pagan Anglo-Saxon society.
The Anglo-Saxon period lasted for almost 600 years. It is exceptional in a European perspective, as English became an early example of a written vernacular able to express both knowledge and culture. When writing was introduced with Christianity, it was in Latin. However, the written Germanic vernacular developed alongside Latin literacy. Accordingly, two languages, in which written records were produced, existed side by side.
Even though Latin was the more common written language at the time, the very existence of Anglo-Saxon texts from this time period is unique to England (Amodio 2014: Preface xi). Both original Old English texts, as well as translations of Latin texts, have survived. King Alfred (r.871-899), also known as ‘the great’, is understood to have commissioned the first Old English translation of parts of the Bible, as well as several other Latin works (see section 4.4).

3.    The evidence of literacy in Anglo-Saxon England

Written records in Old English do not start to appear until the eighth century, and then in larger quantities in the tenth century. The earliest records represent two different writing systems, the runes (see section 3.1.) and the Roman alphabet. Anglo-Saxon literacy is the result of a complex history, where both Anglo-Latin and Anglo-Saxon prose and poetry were produced by the Anglo-Saxons (Amodio 2014:24).
            The evidence that remains today, such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, King Alfred’s translations of various important texts, his prefaces, and epic poetry like Beowulf, are the texts that make investigations of literacy in Anglo-Saxon England possible. However, the majority of the people who lived in this time were not literate, and whatever dealings they had with texts, it was through aural tradition rather than by audio (Amodio 2014:28).
            The vernacular literacy is modelled on the Latin traditions (Amodio 2014:24). It is not fully understood as to why and how the vernacular gained respect, both in terms of ecclesiastical and secular literacy, when the rest of medieval Europe employed Latin for such discourse (Amodio 2014:26).
            The sub categories will provide a deeper look at the evidence of literacy from the Anglo-Saxon period.

3.1.        Runes and writing systems

The Anglo-Saxon tribes that settled in England, as mentioned above, brought with them the alphabetic writing system known as runes. The earliest settlers left behind a small corpus of runic inscriptions (Kelly 1998:36). Runes had been in use by Germanic and Scandinavian tribes from at least the third century, and was to compose shorter texts of various kinds. They were carved, scratched or chiselled into a flat surface, such as wood, stone or metalwork.
            The alphabet was known as the Futhorc from its first six letters.
            The runic alphabet and the Roman alphabet existed side by side for a while, and some of the runic letters, þ, ð, and ƿ were assimilated into the Roman alphabet, as they represented sounds the Roman alphabet did not have, and that the Old English vernacular needed. Words like ða (it) and þæt (that) needed the extra voiced and unvoiced fricative represented in the runic alphabet. The wyn ƿ would evolve into the ‘w’. Ð, æ and ƿ disappeared out of the Roman alphabet by the thirteenth century, but þ remained in the written language a long time after Anglo-Saxon reign was over.
            The fact that these non-Latin letters found their way into the Roman alphabet is, according to Kelly (1998:37) an indication that some of the Anglo-Saxon scribes and clerics were literate in runes. Kelly (1998:38) continues to suggest that the Roman alphabet was introduced to the Anglo-Saxon parts of Britain late in the sixth century.
The two writing systems did not only represent two different systems, but also two different languages. The Roman alphabet would represent Latin, and the runes would represent Old English (Graddol 2002:48).
            The runes are connected to mysticism and magic, but to the Anglo-Saxons they were simply a writing system. Even though the word ‘rune’ could mean ‘mystery’ or ‘secret’, and some inscriptions were thought to have magical powers, according to Barber, Beal, and Shaw (2009:113), they were used interchangeably with the Roman alphabet, even in Christian literacy as well. Documents can be found with a Latin main text, a translation in Old English, and then lastly a translation into runes.
            The English version of the runic alphabet contained almost doubly as many characters as its Scandinavian equivalent. Page (2003:4) confirms that the Anglo-Saxons used runes before the Roman alphabet took over.
            The shape of the runes made them ideal to use on inscriptions in stone and wood. Wood is a material that does not endure time as well as for example stone would, and this is most likely the reason why so few runic inscriptions from the Anglo-Saxon period survive to this day.
            Some Anglo-Saxon relics and remains have runic inscriptions on them, and these reflect dialectic differences and variations, as Graddol (1996:46) points out. The longest surviving inscription is on the Ruthwell Cross, a massive stone cross from the Scottish borderland. Its inscription dates from 700 AD and is in both Latin and Old English. The inscription is an Anglo-Saxon poem known as ‘The Dream of the Rood’. This specific inscription represents one of the very few longer runic inscriptions from this period (Kelly 1998:36).

3.2.        Taking over the Roman alphabet: text production in Latin and English

There are no surviving written records of the Anglo-Saxons until after their conversion to Christianity. This introduced them to the Roman alphabet, making it possible to write considerable texts, Barber, Beal, and Shaw (2009:112) say. However, when using scribe methods, ink and parchment or vellum for example, the runes could be, and would be applied for longer texts. Writing was a process normally handled by the clerics, and the Christian content was at the base of the written evidence (Barber, Beal, and Shaw 2009:112).
            David Graddol (1996:50) describes the process of book production in the Anglo-Saxon period. It was a task that fell to both nuns and monks, where they worked as scribes in their respective monasteries. Becoming a nun was most likely one of very few ways for a woman to seek out literacy in this time. Women of a higher social standing were in a position to be taught to read and write, but this was the exception rather than the rule. Not even kings needed to know how to read and write according to Clanchy (2003:8). They would surround themselves with learned members of society, and writing would be provided if needed.
            Latin represented power and the church. Yet, despite this, Latin documents gradually made way for Old English because of the use of the vernacular, as seen by the ruling elite.
            In the late eighth century Viking raiders began to attack the monasteries throughout England, destroying existing religious literature and reducing the continuation of text production. The scholar traditions were no longer exclusively maintained in a religious setting, and moved closer to population centres. As a result, the use of Latin was reduced because of the Viking influx, and this may have aided the development of Old English literacy (Amodio 2014:24:25).  
One of the most important duties in monasteries was book production and copying of texts. The process of making sheets of parchment into a leather bound book was complicated and time-consuming, and it involved a considerable number of people in different, and specialised positions.
            The concept of copying books and manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon monasteries is far removed from our twenty first century concept of copying. Today we would take it as read that perfect similes would be produced. Copyright laws, which began to be put into statute from the late 17th century, now create legal repercussions for any unregulated or erroneous duplications.  In the Anglo-Saxon period, a patron would commission an author, possibly in the form of a King or nobleman. This patron would pay the author a set sum to complete the work. The author would then have no further claim to ownership of the text. Copies would be made to order. More beautiful and elaborate versions could be created but would incur a higher fee. The produced document would be unique, made directly to the customer’s specification or to fit their price range.
Work produced at monasteries, the most exemplary examples being those from the monastery at Lindisfarne in the north-east of England, would include the transcriber’s colophons or ‘footnotes’. In these, the copier would both identify themselves and communicate directly to the reader. A result of this division of labour was that notable and important changes to each exclusive copy are apparent, causing the text to alter significantly over the years with each newly commissioned piece of work.
It would often be the case that originals of the text were unavailable so copies would have to be made of copies. Because of this, it is a complicated process to determine the original text. Each piece of work would be presented as a perfect, often leather bound, luxurious edition.
It was not until sometime after this paper’s time period that the fledgling universities created what is called the pecia system. A student, for example, would lend a part of a text, copy it down, then take the ‘original’ back in an unaltered state. This way the copies came from the same source.

4.    Anglo-Saxon England as a literate society

The noun ‘literacy’ is formed from the Latin litera, meaning ‘letter’, or ‘being lettered’. It means the quality or state of being literate. In its literate meaning it is pointing to the ability to read and write. Metaphorically, in a contemporary understanding, it is also pointing to being in possession of knowledge, in a separate field, or knowledge in general. Clanchy (2003:8) argues that ‘Literacy has become the shibboleth of modern societies because the individual demonstrates through it his acceptance of, and success in, the industrialised schooling process.’ The modern society has long since accepted that literacy, meaning knowledge, is probably the deepest foundation of modern development. With this perspective it is not fair to compare literacy between now and older cultures.
            In the Anglo-Saxon period, reading and writing was not just about being able to produce or make use of literature, it was as much a question of power. The people who were literate were mostly connected to the church or the monasteries.
            Clanchy (2003:7) says, as mentioned above, that literacy today can be viewed as a technology, further that it is not the defining force behind a civilised society. Today there is a clear link between literacy and how to be a part of, and climb socially in, the society. However, in the Anglo-Saxon period, the most substantial parts of the populations, those who did not rule or go to war, would not stop ploughing the fields or feeding their families just because they did not know how to read or write. They would be bound to one place where traditions and deeply anchored customs governed their lives far more than the potentially unstable government.
            To be literate means, in a very general understanding, to be able to read and write. But literacy embodies something more. A literate society is a society that makes use of reading and writing in all parts of its structure, it is likely to assume that it is the foundation of any modern, democratic social grouping. According to Clanchy (2003:8), the degree if literacy is today a measure of success.
            In the Anglo-Saxon period to be literate was to be able to read and write Latin. But the majority, who were in a position to learn, only learned how to speak Latin. As Clanchy (2003:8) said, people in power did not need to be literate. They would sign a document with a cross, as the cross was representing something holy and unbreakable, making the documents legitimate. The cross was a symbol of Christian truth, and it was not until after the Reformation that the cross became a symbol of illiteracy when used as a signature (Clanchy 2003:8).
            Anglo-Saxon England was in a special position because it had an official and a vernacular language. The official Language was Latin. And with Alfred the many texts would be made available in the vernacular (see section 4.4.).
            According to Parkes (1973:555), there were three types of literacy in the Anglo-Saxon period, the professional, the cultivated and the pragmatic. Below all of these types will be discussed in turn.
            The professional reader was a man of letters (Parkes 1973:555). In the early days of the Anglo-Saxon period, the professional reader was a man who was connected to the monasteries. This changed, as discussed above, with time, and Viking invasions. The professional reader could be found in other parts of the society, connected to for example the kingly courts, or in other legal capacities (Parkes 1973:555).
            The cultivated readers were the ones connected to recreation. It is in this classification the poets are found. And it is in recreational reading the great epic poems emerge, such as for example Beowulf (Parkes 1973:555).
            The pragmatic reader is he who read and writes in the course of business (Parkes 1973:555)

4.1.        Religious literacy

Throughout the Middle Ages literacy was closely connected to the religious institutions. According to Amodio (2014:16) there is not much evidence, if any, to indicate that any but ecclesiasts and their students had access to the technology of literacy. In time the educated parts of the population would include members of the laity as well as the clerical class. As mentioned before, scribes and clerics would familiarise themselves with other writing systems, such as runes. They would educate themselves in contemporary, secular writings such as poems and romances.
            The literacy evolution, not just in England, but in Europe as well, shared a defining fact: Most of the writing was handled by this certain group of religiously trained scribes and clerics, in the form of monks and priests. It is obvious that they had an agenda spreading the word of the Gospel (Barber, Beal, and Shaw 2009:112).
            It was possible to speak and understand Latin without being able to write it. Clanchy (1993:186) talks about literatus. The literatus could read and write Latin, for example a priest. But a person would not be considered literatus if he only knew how to read and write Old English, then he would be considered illiteratus. However, Clanchy (1993:186) says that ‘to be literatus meant to know Latin and not specifically to have the ability to read and write’, which can be confusing. Literatus is Latin for literate, and to be literate would indicate having the ability to read and write. So the discussion is concerning Latin, to learn the language by ear was not the same as being able to read and write it.

4.2.        Pragmatic literacy

Pragmatic literacy is one of the classifications of the different types of literacy in the Anglo-Saxon period, a classification made from a modern perspective. As briefly mentioned above, Parkes (1973:555) argues that literacy could be divided into three different groups: the professional reader, the cultivated reader, and the pragmatic reader. To find evidence for pragmatic literacy has not been the easiest of tasks Parkes (1973:558) says, but by the time the Normans invaded, the pragmatic literacy was increasing in the literate society. The general reader starts with the birth of the pragmatic reader. Even though the general reader will not become a reality until the thirteenth century (Parkes 1973:572), it started when humans realised that reading and writing could have another purpose than just to preach the word of God.
            Reading and writing was not available to everyone, as this paper has shown. But with various reforms, such as the one King Alfred implemented (see section 4.4.), Anglo-Saxon England saw the advent of a better-educated clergy, according to Parkes (1973:555).
            In a European perspective, the largest collection of pragmatic records survives in England; this shows the start of a rising legal profession (Parkes 1973:558). In the legal profession there was an early need to document by writing, agreements and terms. Necessity here produced a profession outside of the church. And when the monasteries on the east coast were ransacked and destroyed, the scribes would venture into other spaces in society where their talents were of use.
When discussing literacy in Anglo-Saxon England it is impossible not to mention charters, writs and wills, as they make up most of the remaining documentation from the period. Clanchy (1993:85) describes charters as public letters issued by a donor. They can refer to property, for example, and are serving as a kind of open testimonial.
            The surviving wills is another element to add to the pragmatic literacy. The wills could have been penned by anyone from a Kentish reeve from around 840, to kings (Alfred and Eadred), to queens, to various men of literacy wanting to make sure their wishes are obeyed in the events of theirs passing. Kelly (1998:48) says that the society, as well as the single individual, gradually acknowledged and recognised the value of recording this kind of information. And this was a pivotal step towards the ‘general reader’, as Parkes (1973:572) mentioned.
            A writ was, according to Clanchy (1993:67) a standardised command issued by a legal administration to automate and depersonalise the legal process; To justify the ways of God to men. A writ could be sealed, and eventually this caused the royal seal to have the same power as what was written on the inside, maybe even higher.
            A charter is a legal document providing proof of ownership, for example concerning land. The document would only be significant in the beginning of the process. Once the deal had been made, the written charter was no longer as important (Parkes 1973:558). Kelly (1998:43) says about the Anglo-Saxon charter that it is reflecting the church’s wish to have proof, in addition to someone’s word. But a written document in a mostly illiterate society could represent conflicts. This lead to a compromise: a charter was valid with recognition of the written word by the laity, a group of people agreeing orally to what was written in the document. Some of the documents were written in two stages where the list of witnesses was added afterwards (Kelly 1998:44).
            We can account for less than 2000 charters and writs from the Anglo-Saxon period, and many of these are copies of originals that have been lost in. But they are the best way of keeping account of literacy in this period as they were widely distributed. With only less than 2000 charters and writs surviving, it is easy to assume that a substantial amount was lost, and also that this time was a more literate society than one might have thought.
            The most accessible proof of Anglo-Saxon literacy, a proof of their interaction with the written word, is the Latin land-charter, and other vernacular documents concerning land and property (Kelly 1998:39).
            It has been a challenging process determining the authenticity of the various documents that survives from the Anglo-Saxon period. One point that could decide whether or not a document, or a charter, was authentic, was if it was written in Old English. The Latin texts had often been altered or falsified completely, Kelly (1998:39) says. The charters that did survive are evidence of how the Anglo-Saxon society gradually acquired the ecclesiastical writing skills in pragmatic writing (Kelly 1998:40).

4.3.        Cultivated literacy

Literature is something we can understand and relate to on a daily basis today, as it is a fairly modern concept. The kinds of literature produced were in many ways different from today. Literature as art is a modern concept. Poetry and stories often had an underlying purpose of validating power and the church, Allan (2008:1) argues.
            The oral traditions in poetry in the early medieval times are present in the written poetry in terms of style and presentation. The stories of heroic poetry from the Old Norse tradition can also be found in the Anglo-Saxon poetry. 
            The cultivated laity relied on the scop (‘poet’) to read out the vernacular recreational literature. A professional ‘singer’ transmitted this orally, and according to Parkes (1973:556) the ‘singers’ were probably illiterate.
            Anglo-Saxon England’s relation to recreational literature was complicated. Monks would take an interest in poetry and make poetic records for their libraries. Manuscripts such as the Exeter Book of Old English Poetry survived in monastic libraries (Parkes 1973:556).
            In Anglo-Norman times the nobility served as inspiration when it came to reading and what was read. People of lower classes tried to make use of recreational literature as their betters. This is a practice that started in the Anglo-Saxon period with reading for other reasons than praising God and proving ownership (Parkes 1973:557).

4.4.        King Alfred’s campaign and its significance

King Alfred the Great (849-899 AD) was probably the most important force behind the vernacular development in Anglo-Saxon England. Because of him the country experienced relative military and political stability, though he never really stopped fighting. But along with the famous burning of cakes, and the defeating of the Danes, his focus on Old English literacy in his time makes him a pillar of society. Culture and literature will flourish in times of political stability.
            In his mission to spread the vernacular in England, Alfred invited scholars from abroad to help revive learning in his country. King Alfred is supposed to be behind translations of religious and philosophical texts. It is likely that he has been given a more heroic status than he actually had, or that reflects what he actually did. But he focused on a stronger Old English, and in doing so he also opened the way for scholars in the vernacular. He normalised the language that up until Alfred had been viewed, in literacy connections, as less important. And when a person in power puts a political focus on a matter such as literacy in the vernacular, then it will be both noticed and inspiring. Historians agree that he definitely made some of the translations himself (Amodio 2014:25-26, and 35-36).
            King Alfred said, in the Preface to the Translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, that:

…So complete was learning’s decay among the English people that there were very few this side of the Humber that could understand their services in English, or even translate a letter from Latin into English; … Therefore it seems better to me, if it seems so to you, that we also should translate certain books which are most necessary for all men to know into the language that we can all understand, and also arrange it, as with God’s help we very easily can if we have peace, so that all the young freeborn men now among the English people, who have the means to be able to devote themselves to it, may set to study for as long as they are of no other use, until the time they are able to read English writing well. …
(Cited from Treharne 2010: 15)

From this it is possible to understand that is a Christian duty to pass on knowledge. All the books in the world have little value if no one can understand what they say, and this is a point to follow even today. The written word needs a reader; book and reader exist in a symbiotic relationship.
            Alfred also said that the churches in England had enormous collections of books, but after various invaders destroyed these collections, they fell into distant memory. But this comment is a strong indication that the numbers of documents that existed in the Anglo-Saxon period was a considerably larger number than the few documents that survived through time.
            He was also concerned with all the books and texts that were only available to those who could read and write Latin. The fact that he wanted to make important texts available in the vernacular is what made him special in a time when knowledge was an element of power and control. He was looking to history, and to the bible and found passages that could support his thoughts on translations. In a historic perspective texts were first translated from Hebrew, to Greek, to Latin. There was no good reason for letting Latin be the final resting place for a text: it had to be translated into Old English as well. He knew many of his subjects could read Old English texts, and this was another strong indication that literature in Old English existed in far greater numbers than what remains today.

5.    Discussion

Was Anglo-Saxon a literate society? When looking at literacy from a modern perspective, where reading and writing governs most people’s days, Anglo-Saxon England was not a literate society. Reading and writing was for some privileged few, and never really reached the ordinary man. The mentality towards it was also different from now. Today a person is an outsider if this person is illiterate, because knowledge is mostly acquired through reading. First a child learns how to read and write; then the child reads and writes to learn. Was this how the society as a whole developed, in terms of literacy? First it had to learn to master the literacy, and then apply it to new tasks in society?
            This paper has tried to show that Anglo-Saxon England indeed was a literate society, but within the boundaries of the contemporary educational system, if any, and with a deep connection to traditions and beliefs. The extent to which Anglo-Saxon England was literate increased throughout the period. To begin with it was a society with conflicting interests, both in terms of religion and in terms of who was leading the country. It was a society that had to withstand numerous invasions, and groups of settlers, from most of Northern Europe, Scandinavian and Germanic countries in particular. And in retrospect the invasions were not simply a subduing power that overtook the country and its people, it was a part of a cultural evolution, literacy fully incorporated in this evolutional process.
            Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England started with the runes, and then missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet, and the merging of two writing systems made way for the Old English vernacular in a society where Latin texts made up the main parts of what survives.
            This paper has discussed some of the important documents that has made any kind of analysis of the period possible, such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and some of the texts penned by King Alfred The Great, to mention a few. It has also looked at different types of literacy, as well as different types of documents that still are available. The stretch of time since the Anglo-Saxon period, and indeed the length of the period itself, makes it guesswork, as well as inconclusive, to piece together the information, making it possible to form an opinion. There were massive changes from the beginning of the period to the Norman invasion (that marks the end of Anglo-Saxon England), such changes that affected all parts of society, one of which was the end of the monastic period. The educated members of society that used to be placed in monasteries handling texts of Christian content, in Latin, would now be filling the more pragmatic parts of text production, handling and developing the everyday, pragmatic literacy.
            In the last part of this paper, the discussion entered into Alfred The Great’s campaign to increase literacy in England. Alfred could see how education would be useful to all free men, and that the texts that already existed in Latin needed to be translated into Old English, so that they would make sense to people untrained in the Latin language. For someone, even though he was a king, to claim that a vernacular text production is of great importance, actually made a massive difference, and probably sped up the process of making Anglo-Saxon England a literate society. And it was a contributing factor to the kind of literacy that already existed when the Normans invaded in 1066.
            Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England was much more than text production in the monasteries. Literacy in Anglo-Saxon England was legal charters and writs, and wills; it was a growing appreciation for recreational texts, such as epic poems and mapping of historic events; it was a place to nurture an early feeling of nationality and identity through a unified language; literacy in Anglo-Saxon England was the starting point of one of literacy in one the most widespread languages in the world.


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