Showing posts from 2015

Celebrating epic novels - the long view

The Guardian recently selected Richardson's Clarissa as No. 4 on its list of the Top 100 great Novels of all time. Are such lists a snap-shot of current reading habits. Perhaps the choice of this 984,870 word text from 1748 is pure nostalgia. In my view, however, it sometimes makes sense to spend the entire week on Clarissa , or Middlemarch , or Tom Jones , or Bleak House , or War and Peace ; at other times several sonnets command the same investment of spirit, intellect and emotion. Clearly the great epics also repay re-reading, or at least selective re-sampling, of favourite passages and turning points. With regard to Clarissa , the reading process is an ordeal, a pleasure, and a discipline (rather like Foucault on sex). Reading an abridged version is perhaps like the difference between a one night stand and a longterm relationship... It's a different question how well these longer novels function academically in an over-crowded superfast highwa

Networking and Impact in Academia

One of the advantages of Academia is that it is a quick and efficient way to share your work and connect with scholars across the world, whether employed in public or private universities, or working elsewhere as independent or retired scholars. Although the statistics provided by Academia are not a measure of scholarly ‘impact’ they do help to illustrate the academic ‘reach’ of this site and its efficacy in empowering the free dissemination of scholarship. Admittedly, the statistics do not evaluate whether those academic ties are ‘strong’ or ‘weak’; but they do indicate the range of connectedness and suggest the vibrancy of a public sphere that is far greater than the physical international conference circuit, which is often unaffordable for the majority of less affluent academics across the globe. As an example, my work has connected with scholars in the following countries: Venezuela, Ukraine, Mauritius, Mexico, Czech Republic, Albania, Armenia, Argentina, Aze

Sundry reflections on academia

Toronto: University College, 1858 Its marble towers of urbanitas ; its fertile meadows of pastorale ; its lofty epic contests; its festivals of comedy and its fleet footed intoxicated lyrics ;   the grins and grimace of the satyr and the harsh winter land of tragedy ; this other academia and that ... “It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article's niggling mindlessness, its funeral parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.” ― Kingsley Amis. "There is this tremendous body of knowledge in the world of academia where extraordinary numbers of incredibly thoughtful people have taken the time to examine on a really profound level the way we live our lives and who we are and where we've been. That brilliant learning sometimes gets trapped in academia and never sees the light of day." — Malcolm Gladwell. "If I stay in academia, I might end up going someplace random." — Lauren Wil

The Art of Dedication

Anaïs Nin Dedications, like Prefaces, are a neglected field in the study of book construction and creative composition. But they can reveal quite a lot about power and politics; authorship and authority; celebration and bitterness. In critical terms deconstructionists would argue that a preface displaces and defaces the text that follows, perhaps (humorously?) tripping it up, or tying it up in precursor knots.Often Jacques Derrida never got past the deconstruction of the preface, or a footnote therein, in order to make his 'point'. And you probably recall all the levels of ludicrous entrapment that Jonathan Swift employed in A Tale of a Tub (1704) ? Have dedications grown shorter and more ironic (or bitter) since the dec line of aristocratic patronage? Are they still a zone of praise or insult? What about this one, taken from Herman Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1854) TO His Highness THE BUNKER-HILL MONUMENT (Discu

Association, causation and the purely random: ideology and astrology in the classroom

Since the replacement of the octagonal mahogany dining tables with pine benches you can never be quite sure who you'll end up sitting down beside during the lunch break in the Senior Common Room. Yesterday, Dr Ptolemy Macrobius, Reader in Paranormal Psychology, was expounding some of the key advances that had taken place in reaction to the limitations exposed in Theodor Adorno's dialectical materialist debunking of the topic in The Stars Down to Earth and other Essays (1952-3 / 1994). Yet this work deserves a little respect! I responded: “It pretends to a higher level of scientificness than the supposedly more primitive forms of esoteric wisdom without, however, entering into the argument itself: the lack of a transparent interconnection between astronomical observations and inferences pertaining to the fate of individuals or nations… Astrology attempts to get away from crude and unpopular fatalism by establishing outward forces operating on the individual’s de

A Ticklish Subject

Slavoj Žižek The anxious researcher is unsure about placing the entry on philosophical humour between phallic ritual and physical comedy . Encyclopaedic collisions and incongruities abound. Is this a breach of academic decorum? Would it be safer simply to abandon the alphabetical approach to comedy and humour in this book on Aspects of Comedy ? Another anxiety: is this entry concerned with the philosophy of humour, or humour in philosophy? How much space should be allocated to Slavoj Žižek? (A philosopher, a public intellectual, and a comedian). In parenthesis --- ("there is a case to be made that Slavoj Žižek is really the Ken Dodd of post-Lacanian Hegelianism." --- Lindesay Irvine, Guardian , 6 January 2012, here ) --- And how funny is Žižek's The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontology (Verso, 1999)? I have my doubts. I guess his work will always divide opinion. Take a look at his highly controversial review essay on Benig

GCSE - SOS Q&A - What to do next

Can I improve my exam and/or revision technique? Absolutely. You can typically improve your exam performance by working on technique, and by having a better revision strategy. Seek out the other tips on this site for more information. You might be able to improve your grades by 5-25%. T ry this programm e. How important are GCSEs ? It depends. Our culture is traditionally dominated by paper qualifications. Typically you will need Maths and English for career progression, plus 3 other subjects. But GCSE performance does not predict success at A-level or at University, unless you've scored 10 X A* . Remember that life skills, social skills, volunteering and other experience are also valued by employers. I have to confess that despite my C in English Literature, I went on to receive the class medal, and first class honours in this subject. What should I do if my results are not up to scratch? Consider re-taking key subjects such as Maths or English. Seek advice fro

City Scenes, Or, A Peep Into London

City Scenes, Or, A Peep Into London,  for Good Children (1809) COME, peep at London's famous town, Nor need you travel there; For one foot up, and one foot down, In future, you may spare: At home, a hundred miles away, 'Tis easy now to look, At City Scenes, and London gay, In this my little book.       (“Introduction”) I've recently been examining a wide range of sketches, illustrations, scenes and caricatures from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I'm particularly interested in the inter-connections between visualised text and the 'reading' of images. I'm also interested in how other senses are called upon to suggest the smell, feel and touch of the writings and depictions. There is also the deconstructive question concerning the image/text relationship. To what extent does the one silence, screen, or block out the other? Does the book as supplement to a real jounrey engage with an imagined journey that supplants the

Caption and commentary

Discriminate. A companion to "don't." a manual for guidance in the use of correct words and phrases in ordinary speech , (New York: 1891.) instructed its readers Discriminate in the use of CAPTION and HEADING. It is a perversion of the word caption to use it in the sense of heading , although this is frequently done in the United States. Caption means seizure or act of taking, and not headship. Don't say, “The caption of a chapter, section, or page”; use heading . (p. 22) In his Dictionary of Americanisms: a glossary of words and phrases, usually regarded as peculiar to the United States (1848), John Russell Bartlett explained Caption , this legal term is used in the newspapers where an Englishman would say title, head , or heading .   On the other hand ... Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1995) noted You will find few of them who object to December being used for the twelfth month, when