Saturday, 26 December 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 highway curriculum. Increasingly, core courses select shorter fictions. Perhaps in the future we'll be studying a ceaseless flow of the most enigmatic and witty tweets. (And many long works are currently being tweeted daily.)

I've recently read Ngugi wa Thiongo'o's epic satire Wizard of the Crow, but I seldom come across any postcolonial scholars who claim to have read this fantastic book. And many people have unread copies of A Suitable Boy on their shelves.

In addition to finding time for the 1,000 page book what about a sustained run through of the complete works of Zola, or Balzac, or Walter Scott? Just for the sheer pleasure of it? 

Does anyone nowadays have the space for such a project?
On the other hand, the average person will "spend" 25 years sleeping, 12 years watching TV, 6 years online ... etc. 

At present I'm one third of my way through a second reading of Tolstoy. I vaguely recall that there's some prolix theory of history coming up, but I know for certain that I was too you when I accomplished my first reading as an adolescent.

And what happens when Tolstoy meets Thiong'o ? Now there's the beginning of a new book or an academic thesis.

Another Top Ten Long reads is also published by The Guardian .... here.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic) 

Friday, 4 December 2015

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, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Barbados, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burundi, Benin, Bermuda, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Algeria, Ecuador, Estonia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guam, Guyana, Honduras, Croatia, Iraq, Iceland, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Moldova, Republic of Montenegro, Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic Of, Myanmar, Macao, Malta, Maldives, Malawi, Malaysia, Namibia, New Caledonia, Norway, Nepal, Oman, Peru, Puerto Rico, Palestinian Territory, Occupied, Qatar, RĂ©union, Serbia, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Senegal, El Salvador, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Virgin Islands, U.S., Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe; in addition to FORTY other nations.

I would welcome improved options for social media functionality on the Academia website, in order to forge stronger ties with many of my visitors, and to find out more about their work.

In the meantime, it’s great to keep in touch with so many people through blogs, Twitter, and to a lesser extent through University English on Facebook.