Sunday, March 28, 2010

Counting my steps

Last night walking through the courtyard of Christ Church (Tom quad), amid the throngs now allowed in for the literary festival, ourselves coming from a debate between an optimist and a pessimist taking part in the lit. fest, passing the fountain, I felt the urge of tragic outpouring begin to arise, how could it be that I won't be coming back here, how can it be that one can find the very place where one can be wholly oneself and be asked to depart, or at least not to be begged to stay, and from this perhaps you may think me aligned with the pessimist, but no, I'm not, though I often flee from optimists like they would drain all my self-attentiveness & honesty to notice without controlling and contriving what it is that swirls around my mind.  Naya asked, while our footsteps echoed around that beloved courtyard, and cellos seemed to play in my head, "Are you an optimist or pessimist?"  And I replied that I don't like how either of them cap, tie up, smother what they are feeling.  I said I wouldn't have studied at Oxford for these three months if I wasn't the finest of optimists; yet, if I were true to optimism I would right now shove the lamenting down and make myself flutter about something else.  I will flutter in time.  But not until my body gives the go ahead.  So I respect the pessimists because they'll often let themselves go to the places the optimists won't, i.e. deep tragic human feeling, which is utterly beautiful in its longing.  I wouldn't give that up for any monotone nirvana of continual, relentless happiness.  Yet, the pessimists are tiresome when they won't ride the wave that does also arise in the body and carry one away to heights that I've never known to be for me except at Oxford.  So, I think there must be another term coined that better describes those that feel what it is that they are feeling, rawly, savagely, longingly, with ecstasy, twitterpattedly, forever tumbled by the rise that seems to take the breath away, capable of much awe, followed by falls from heights that feel excruciatingly hard to survive.  This particular emotional aptitude is not a composition I'd necessarily wish for my daughter, but it is who I am, and it is brutally, artistically open to what actually is.  I said something of all of this to Naya.  Poor child.  Lucky child.

Then we came around the north corner of the quad and a bowler-hat-clad porter looked up and smiled so beamingly at us and said, "Well, it sure is nice to see some familiar faces amid all of this hubbub!"  Could he know how much that was what this tragic character needed most to hear---because it fanned my fire--he recognized me as one who belongs in that quad, oh sweet comfort of that!  Yet he has no idea that he soon won't be seeing us, oh depth of sorrow, familiar lover of mine, why do you visit so loyally?  I replied appropriately instead of all of that with, "It is so good to see you too."  And it was.  I will miss three of the porters in particular.  Him especially.  He blocked us one night and didn't believe I was a student just after our arrival...but another porter knew us and so said...from then on this porter seemed to treasure us and tip his hat, with a twinkling eye, and kind, jolly phrases always aimed to make us smile and feel welcome.  We walked in the opposite direction from him.

Coming around the last corner before walking out Tom Gate, under the grand arch & bell tower & clock,  here walked another familiar face, who met my gaze and smiled so wholeheartedly I found myself smiling warmly back without the usual reserve one has with strangers.  He was a doctoral student I'd sat next to or across from at dinner many times, and exchanged nods and smiles many times, yet never talked.  No exception now, no words passed across the gap.  Yet again, this sense of belonging, of being of this quad surged me heavenward.  And then the fall--I had imagined so thoroughly coming back again for dinners here in the fall that I hadn't pushed on some of these connections.  It seemed there was no need to hurry and push.  All would unfold.  All these friendships would have chance to flower with ease.  I would have the chance to learn my favorite porter's name, and befriend this doctoral student & others for a walk around the meadow, for a debate over port.

Yet Oxford says it isn't so.  Or so the woman on the phone said.  My letter still has not arrived.  The optimist in me says aloud to Naya, "What if the letter came on Monday and said 'Congratulations, Ms. Brigette, on your admittance to the Master's of English (1900-present).  You, unfortunately, have not been granted the colleges you listed on your application as Magdalen and Balliol are satiated, however, you have been assigned to Christ Church.  We understand you to be of the substance of that place.  We hope this pleases you.  Warm regards, your fellows."

The pessimist weeps for the sweetness of such hope.

Two more days in Oxford.  I feel I'm counting my steps to the gallows.

What about you, optimist or pessimist?  & why or what for?

Friday, March 26, 2010

the darling buds of may

















a question that keeps arising in this mind o' mine:
if Shakespeare lived in England
why did he say "rough winds do shake the darling buds of May" in that favored sonnet
instead of the darling buds of March?
because these buds are budding,
or perhaps he had a certain bud in mind
like a later sort--roses?
or perhaps global warming since 1600ish to 2010
has shifted England's budding-time from May to March?
or perhaps he was scripting it for a woman from the mountains who wouldn't see buds until May?
or perhaps he was just tired of figuring out what rhymed with "How shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and so went with May?

anyhow one of the points of all of this silliness was really just to show you how lovely the buds of March are in England right this moment.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As though of hemlock I had drunk



Not having been granted continued access to these behind-the-wall-things of Oxford, I am feeling a bit melodramatic and melancholy today.  It is not from a pitying state, however, that I look to the TB-consumed Keats for comfort but as a reminder that what I feel is reasonable for one that wants little else of life than to be swept, tossed, drowned, picked up gently, warmed by the fire by the insatiable restless mind that is mine.  This mind sighs vulnerably today making my body sorrowful that it might choose the unreasonable again as it always has.  It is more devoted to itself, its intricacies, fervor, wonder, fatalistic tendencies than it is devoted to its long complacent continuation.  I don't speak of hemlock, no, not that.  But I do speak of listening to what it is that I am, bowing down to that, not talking myself out of it.  My life is a slave to this mind that will die if it is not continually swept into a fury of emotion, into a fury of breath-paused captivation by being surrounded with the things those Oxford walls now stand against it seeing.  But other doors will open, for this hand will forever knock on behalf of its weeping, longing, melodious mind that will not rest.  Will not rest until this hand can no longer knock on doors.




(If you were me you would hear Terry Davies playing "Sebastian" in the background as you read the above paragraph, followed by Mark Bradshaw's "Ode to a Nightingale" as you read what is below.  Thankfully you are likely not--like me.)

Ode to a Nightingale
John Keats (1795-1821)

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, 
    But being too happy in thine happiness, - 
        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, 
              
  In some melodious plot 
    Of beechen green and shadows numberless, 
        Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been 
    Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth, 
Tasting of Flora and the country green, 
    Dance, and Proven├žal song, and sunburnt mirth! 
O for a beaker full of the warm South, 
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 
        With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 
                
And purple-stained mouth; 
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
        And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 
    What thou among the leaves hast never known, 
The weariness, the fever, and the fret 
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 
    Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 
        Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 
                
And leaden-eyed despairs, 
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 
        Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 
    Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 
But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 
    Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 
Already with thee! tender is the night, 
    And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 
        Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays; 
               
 But here there is no light, 
    Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 
        Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, 
    Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, 
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet 
    Wherewith the seasonable month endows 
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; 
    White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 
        Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves; 
                
And mid-May's eldest child, 
    The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, 
        The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 
    I have been half in love with easeful Death, 
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 
    To take into the air my quiet breath; 
Now more than ever seems it rich to die, 
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 
        While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 
           
     In such an ecstasy! 
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain - 
        To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 
    No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
    In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
        She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
               
 The same that oft-times hath 
    Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 
        Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 
    To toll me back from thee to my sole self! 
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well 
    As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. 
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 
    Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 
        Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep 
                In the next valley-glades: 
    Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 
        Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

A pretty girl I saw in Oxford

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

While awaiting something that will change your life one way or another, perhaps best to acquire something like Dante's 'Divine Comedy: Inferno', just in case you need a lift after the envelope and letter fall to the floor

So while I await THE letter in the post
(from the Oxford English Department
on my MSt. application
due to be decided the 19th of March)
I have done just that

Prepared to descend into the bowels
of despair
where I will be reminded
that there are far worse things
imaginable (--imagination--all in one's mind--perspective--not real--fictitious--imaginable)
to the human mind
than a decline
from Oxford

                                                                       dante alighieri

Yet I will read Inferno either way (& probably Paradiso & Purgatory too)
because I haven't yet
and because I want to swirl with Francesca da Rimini
in either swooning exuberance for seizing onto the thing in life that must be just like the taste of blood to a vampire (ie admittance into Oxford minds for another year)
or in sheer despair for being condemned to vegetarianism for the eternity a vampire cannot get out of (ie barred from what is behind the walls & skulls of Oxford past next week).

In the meantime
after my four day break from reading
I am compiling my own reading list for the remainder of this week:
1. Andre Gide's Strait is the Gate
2. Maupassant's Bel-Ami
3.  Zola's L'Assammoir
prep work for Brussels & Paris.

Three more things:
(1) I'm ready to depart for the continent (europe),
(2) though biking around Oxford's alleys aimlessly today
with my books in my basket
I realized yet again
this place stirs me, moves me, unhinges me in very charming ways
which isn't all good because (3) After giving a presentation yesterday to Naya's class
on conservation in the Rockies--on being a backcountry ranger in Glacier--and spending hours gazing at wall-size photos of our backpacking/peak-climbing/wildlife photos from over the years, I want to go home and nestle in with nature and forget all this human stuff
that is at the very heart of it
something I am not loyal to
in any way
as much as I am
(at the end of wolf article
by Chadwick
in the current issue
of National G.)
to wolves being allowed
to be.

Okay--there's a (4) Yet
without
human minds
like those you might find in Bodleian skulls roaming over books
voraciously
wolfishly
pressing at human philosophy, etc.
we may never arrive to a place
(not even talking collectively--that would be asking too much--but just a handful)
where humanism actually
finally
recedes
enough
to see what we humans
are actually capable of
when we
are being
smart animals.

grey wolf in montana

                                                                  jane goodall & friend

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dance, then, wherever you may be


My little Naya bug hurt her neck quite a bit on Thursday & we've been a bit stressed since.  Taking it easy, resting, stretching, massaging, hugging, watching movies, reading books... Today she's staying home from school as her neck isn't quite ready for a full day of school with swimming.  

This morning I left her upstairs in bed resting & working on her new hobby of stitching with embroidery (thanks Helen!), went down to make breakfast & bring it up to her.  When I came back up she was twirling around singing this song they've been learning at New Hinksey primary for Easter--so sweet to see and hear, particularly since she has seemed quite pensive and sad since her neck injury, and not in the twirling mood.

You all know, by now, my dislike for the surety of religion, however, what you may not know is that I love the sentimentalism, sweetness, hope of what is behind religion.  I appreciate it most keenly particularly when standing below a statue of Mary in a cathedral or peering at the effects of oil dabbed precisely on canvas to make one sadly bow the head or brush a tear for humans hanging humans on crosses, other humans taking them down, mourning, painting, singing songs, etc. etc.  Below are the sweet lilting lyrics of the song Naya was singing & below that is a video of a little old man singing the song:

I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem
I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn't follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John -
They came with me
And the Dance went on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black -
It's hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I'd gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That'll never, never die;
I'll live in you
If you'll live in me -
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The things that happened today:


1) Went jogging for a really long time down on the river paths & around Oxford & noted that reading 800 pages a week for 8 weeks though righteously bodacious is detrimental to one's relaxed cheetah-mimicking stride.  Shrug.  So.  Can't do it all--all at once that is.  Can do it all in stride, however.

2) Laid in bed with Aldo Leopold.  Sorry.  I like saying things like that on this blog.  It's a cheap thrill.  Studying ecocriticism & literature & what easy-on-the-mind reading to find Leopold's A Sand County Almanac in my hands among Heidegger, etc.  I've been known to say that the one I seek to do life with is an Aldo Leopold/Robert Frost sort of bloke.   Astounding as always to me the brilliance that precedes us well beyond what most of us have any notion of.  "Progress" and the unfurling fad of progressive "consciousness" are no lovers of mine.

3) Booked the two apartments we'll be luxuriating in, tittering in, window-leaning from in Paris.  One is beside the Louvre with big windows looking down on the street! click here for photos: 1st arrondisment flat  And the other is on the Ile St. Louis (the island on the Seine beside Notre Dame).  click here for photos: 4th arrondisment flat .  We have one week in each one.  (Also booked tickets from Venice to Paris April 6th---this means we must get from Oxford on March 30th to Venice by April 6th--hooray!  Probably through Salzburg and Vienna, or maybe through Prague and Vienna, that's to be arranged when I find the right tickets).

4)Received word from Oxford Professor #1 that he judged my essay work/aptitude/bantering capabilities to be an "A-level" grade.  I'm calling it an Oxford A, because, wow, I've never pushed it that far before. So thankful--totally didn't expect to earn more than average--the bar here is so high--weeped a bit today after hearing this.  If Humble and Pride could be lovers, they would birth me at this very moment.

5) Received word from the University of Vermont that I've been admitted into their MA literature & theory program for September--Burlington, VT; and, that I'm on the waiting list for having a Teaching Assistantship (full ride, stipend, and housing costs covered).  (That makes--3 yes, 2 no, so far).  Come on Oxford.  March 19th should be the day.  I'm almost feverish over the waiting.  Thankful for my other options though.

6) Found out about our friends' giant sweetheart St. Bernard, Canyon, having to be put to sleep yesterday & feeling glum.  Dog friends are too amazing for such brevity.  Yet, nature, life cycles, vulnerability, death are perfectly beautiful to notice so keenly as one does when loss occurs.  I wouldn't like to live forever, I told Naya recently.  It would create a cesspool of a world to have all the humans ever made forever clinging to it, but also I like the feeling of having to work with a finite time--it fosters the very feelings and drives that make me feel alive and lit up.  I like feeling vulnerable.  And I imagine becoming sick, old, injured and thus dying to be just as meaningful and captivating as any other set of moments.  It is why if I come across an injured creature gasping I have a very hard time deciding what to do--because what if our idea, my idea of putting things out of their misery actually takes away the richness of something being experienced that we can't possibly understand.  i want to be allowed all of my experiences, all.  yet for other things i can't bear the witnessing of writhing or angst.  tricky business.

7) Ate dinner in Hall with my best mate, Naya, who laid out her life plan to me as she often does now in that Hall as we eat--tonight she said, "I'm definitely going to be a philosopher and do art."  Pause.  Chewing of a buttered roll.  Eating of spanikopita.  Swallow.  "And who would you be if you could be anyone up on the walls in here?"  I answered, ah, tough, either Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), Queen Elizabeth I, or her dad, Henry VIII.  Naya said, "Well, I want to be Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway."  But she's not up on the wall, I said.  "Okay, then Queen Elizabeth."  I said, okay then I'll be Henry the VIII and maybe I'll let all of my wives live this time around.  Then I asked her where, if she could live anywhere in the world in any sort of house or situation, would it be.  She gave me an elaborate multiple choice of options with very funny details to try to trick me and clue me in at the same time, with the correct choice being "A really big farm in Sweden with horses, chickens, rabbits, my kids, my husband and I'll teach art to kids in a school nearby."  But then she said she was worried about this because she knew I'd want to live in Paris or Oxford or Whitefish.  But we sorted that out.  We'll have a dedicated spare room for each other, and we'll make lengthy visits lasting for months like happened in old Russia.

8) Went to a play about semi-old Russia, "Three Sisters," three hours long, really brilliant.  They wanted always to leave their dull town for Moscow which they put on an intellectual pedestal (hmmm...sound familiar?)  But they never manage it.  But they always want it.  It breaks their hearts in different ways that they don't, yet, of course, the meaning and purpose they seek in life, would not be found in Moscow anymore than it would in....forgot the name of their town....so let's just say it was called Whitefish.  The meaning and purpose they seek in life would not be anymore readily found in Moscow than Whitefish...though perhaps other things would have been more readily found, but perhaps not.  One can't help leaving the play wishing they had gone to Moscow, at least for a time.  It was a meaningful play at this particular juncture in my life, to be sure.

9) Now I am going to finish the second half of the film, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."  Did not feel a kinship for the most part with the Sabina of the first half.  Anyone reading this have any opinions of this book/film?  I heard an intricately woven earful the other night from my Italian landlord, Erminia--another unexpected highlight of this wonderland called Oxford.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Feeling like Francesca da Rimini this afternoon


Ary Scheffer, The Shades of Francesca da Rimini and Paola Malatesta Appearing to Dante and Virgil, 1855

Let the storm wash the plates. 
(last line of Edwin Morgan's 'Strawberries')


Thursday, March 4, 2010

This House believes that politicians shouldn't do God


Just home from another Oxford debate--(to generalise) the UK and Europe pity us for our god-laden politics, i.e. even someone as intelligently articulate and socially aware as Obama closes every speech with 'god bless america.'  whereas here in the UK, sitting in this debate room, listening to the liberal, brilliantly conscientious nature of even those in opposition to keeping god out of politics, who don't argue that god is something to believe in, but that if their politicians believe in god and are thus making their decisions based on superstitions that they want to know it and not have it hidden, thus they want 'politicians to be allowed to do God' and subsequently for them not to be voted in (the whole Tony Blair thing, for instance)--without sitting in this debate room i wouldn't remember that the US was once viewed and admired to be the most tolerant, intelligent nation. & of course w's funding of africa with the stipulation of no contraceptives with the $ (due to his faithful lack of basic tolerance and religious freedom) & resultant increase in HIV in the financed countries was brought up.  makes this atheist want to put my head in my hands and say, 'oh lord.' 






  










i feel happy to be here tonight (an ocean away from the US's bizarre religious hegemony), just to know that america's dumbed down, tightly grasping, defensive, proselytizing version of faith isn't representative of a human condition with faith.  europe/the uk handles its faith and faith questions quite differently than we do.  if the US could first give up thinking of itself as the most progressive nation on the planet, and forcing our kids into dogged devotion to it, we might have the chance of respectable, collective intelligence once again.  for now, however, we are sending our US kids to school every morning where they pledge allegiance under one god, where we overlook the fact that not even our liberal president is brave enough to actually separate church and state, and where many of us still have to feel the oppressive pressures of religious fundamentalism forcing prayer at a holiday meal, forcing hand to heart and allegiance to a nation and a god we may or may not believe in to fit in with the group, forcing abortion, sex, etc. to be non-discussable topics between divergent views of it, for instance.  oppression is wicked if anything is.  i will never understand how christianity (& others) doesn't see this of itself.










i for one feel readily willing to acknowledge that we, the US, have slid into some barbarianism, and all of us that shrug it off as we pay with our 'in god we trust' money each day, etc. endorse  a lowering glass ceiling, even for those that do trust in 'god'.  for if we are to see those with faith as intelligible versus superstitious, they must begin to demonstrate an awareness and humanitarian tolerance that theirs isn't the only approach to being human in this complex world of finding meaning.  those of faith that profess a love for their neighbor, should be the foremost advocates against forcing others into their faith.  this approach would reflect actual wisdom, love, and compassion toward their fellow humans in contrast to what has always been done--heavy-handed oppression and coercion so that people will either cower and fake it, or will give up something they held dear out of fear, guilt, pressure.  it almost makes me sad for christianity when i see it in this manipulative way--like the bully on the playground who never has any true friends.




i, with the majority here tonight, walked out the door that said "Aye."  "Aye, this house believes that politicians shouldn't do god," and by politicians I mean anyone who has sway over anyone else.  Faith should be a private matter and not a coercive, guilt-laden tactic of interacting with other humans. I daresay it would be beautiful for all faiths to evolve continually as we discover our various blindspots, intrusions, and oppressions, as it seems to me these thirteen bishops in the UK who just this week endorsed gay marriage demonstrate as a possibility, or the chaplain in an Oxford University chapel who is openly gay with a partner in a town that brings it up with pride at its debate hall.  Cheers to the UK as a nation I admire more and more as I get to know it.  



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Reading List

                                  Today at the Union Society Library

My Reading List for Hilary Term (since January 15)

(any not read in their entirety have been left off this list)
**not bragging (on the contrary, as it is a bit like revealing a heroin habit), but am just listing for posterity & to let you know what I've been up to & perhaps give you the backdrop on the restraint/unrestraint from previous blog post**:

A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf
The Waves, Virginia Woolf
"Woolf's Servants Get Their Due," Anna Mundow
essay #1 (tutorial 1) on Woolf 
Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Hegel
Hegel, Peter Singer
essay #1 (tutorial 2) on Hegel
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
"A Distinctly Modern Novel," Howe Irving
"Jude the Obscure as a Tragedy," Arthur Mizener
The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy, Dale Kramer
The Life of Thomas Hardy:  A Critical Biography, Paul Turner
essay #2 (tutorial 1) on Hardy
"Theses on Feuerbach," Karl Marx
"The German Ideology:  Part One," Karl Marx
"Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:  Intro," Karl Marx
"Preface to a Critique of Political Economy," Karl Marx
Marx, Peter Singer
"Marxist Literary Theories," David Forgacs (Modern Literary Theory)
essay #2 (tutorial 2) on Marx
Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
Early Modernism, Christopher Butler
"Joseph Conrad and the Modern Temper," Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan
essay #3 (tutorial 1) on Conrad
"The Death of the Author," Barthes (Modern Criticism and Theory:  A Reader)
"What is an Author," Foucault
The Order of Discourse, Foucault
The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault (Intro)
The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard (Intro)
"Universal History and Cultural Differences," Lyotard
The Postmodern Explained to Children, Lyotard
The Death and Return of the Author:  Criticism and Subjectivity...
essay #3 (tutorial 2) on Universal History
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
James Joyce:  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, John Blades
Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, Derek Altridge
essay #4 (tutorial 1) on Joyce
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
Murphy, Samuel Beckett
"Three Dialogues," Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit
A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett, Hugh Kenner
The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera
essay #5 (tutorial 1) on Beckett
Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence
The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford
final essay #6 (tutorial 1) on Ford
The History of Sexuality, Foucault
The Greenblatt Reader, Stephen Greenblatt
The Political Unconscious:  Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act
The New Historicism, Veeser
Practicing New Historicism, Gallagher & Greenblatt
essay #4 (tutorial 2) on New Historicism
Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee

&
four+ theory books on eco-criticism (tbc),
and one final essay
(for tutorial 2)
=
really tired eyes (particularly the left one),
a sleep-deprived manic,
an insatiable mind smiling,
&
all requirements fulfilled for my BA in English lit. March 12, 2010




Friday, February 26, 2010

The Oxford Narrative (or, What the World Looks Like If You Spend Your Days at the Bodleian and Your Nights at the Oxford Union For 9 Weeks Without Reprieve)

the laces are only tightened so severely in Oxford, criss crossing up the back, along the neural pathways, in the approach to essay writing or text interpretation or debate tactics or attire so that they can be released more completely with one sharp slice, directing one’s mind (with the swiftness of  aufspritzen/ejaculation/a rocket) down neural corridors that it hadn’t seen before, that hadn’t been there before.  the Oxbridge sex blog, underwear at busstops, "the pull," macabre bicycle seats like limbs and body parts in the bushes, oscar wilde’s sweeping of velvet in the wind that blows down cobblestoned alleys, dorian grey in every lowered lash, in between the lines of every theatre production, the physics student with a quill and red ink spilled at the bodleian, and the distraction of undone collars.  

one is released from everything at oxford.  one doesn’t have to smile.  one can forego pats on the back for nicking the knife edge to the laces of one’s comrades.  one is released from the everyday niceties in favor of argument, even the niceties of everyday banter for ripping debate that takes on the form of being brought to one’s knees by a wave of the hand and a bold, ‘no thank you.’  one is released from the nervous, isolation-oriented, how are you, i'm fine, so busy, so great, neuroses of the modern gaze, to find eyes to be direct and smolderingly-confrontational, everyone smoldering, or with bothered indifference that your smoldering or your misunderstanding is like a fly in their butter, or a twist in their lace, but still they look on with intrigue.  one can be, think, act in any way at all, so long as it is truly leading to the epitome of the unrestrained, in the way that one knows restraint, precision, resolve, determination, discipline, utter withholding of basic needs like sleep, and then at some exact moment opts to cut the corset up the back, and revel in the unrestrained one can only feel in oxford. 

some say oxford lives in a bubble, that it hasn’t come into the 21st century from the 16th, but it seems those people haven’t walked its corridors, stood in its debate rotunda, read its house-bound books, walked its spiral staircases, eavesdropped on its conversations, slunk along its puke-ridden alleys in heels, haven’t tightened the laces and sharpened the blade, or they would know that the bubble oxford dwells in is something not archaic/outdated but is a humanity that has followed a different branch from what one thinks of as our current collective state.  encompassing all that humanity has ever been, holding it in the palm, aware intoxicatingly, precisely, unrestrainedly of what it is the palm holds, that it is crushable, that it is delicate, that it is kissable, that it is meaningless, that it is indestructible, that everything depends upon it, and then lifting it to warm, swollen lips to press against it so that the breath pushes out of it in agony, only to take a gasp of deepest inhale after in sweet repose. 

oxford is raw genius and human wildness smoldering as it laces and unlaces, and frightens the rest of humanity that might stop in for the weekend if they look closely enough to see they are finding a version of humanity that subscribes to a different narrative than one can find elsewhere, as if it is some non-mythical, rawer avalon, athens, atlantis, the stuff of literature, arias, paintings resides here still, the renaissance yet to die off beneath the cement, plastic, wifi, facebook one-liners we've been asked to contend with elsewhere. it is frightening enough to call the lacing and unlacing one will find here a bubble. it is intoxicating enough to cling to it and weep for having to walk out its gates.  or it can also just look nice in a photograph, ‘I went to oxford, here I am standing beside an ancient college where the smartest of the smart have studied for centuries in the smartest of smart attire.’  if only the lacing could be conveyed in such pictures, and the smoldering, and the sound of laces being cut with one deft maneuver, as neural pathways aren’t all that’s released, in every room, under every archway, at every busstop, along every press of lips, and in every gaze that undoes the thought that it takes a 4.0 to get in here and money.  it takes a willingness to hold one’s breath, to put a foot on the dresser to pull more tightly against that which wants to be lax, and to stow a sharpened blade along your inner thigh. that’s what it takes to get into oxford.  and by get into, i mean understand.

and of course there is the afternoon tea and scones if that is simply too much on occasion, or altogether.

(and this is just a post about a particularly prevalent thread woven through a town that has many other threads, i've not lost touch entirely, nor have i become a dorian grey, nor a reveler in surety, don't worry)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A few photos

Naya at a pub (The Mitre) in Oxford with hot chocolate & scones
chatting with her friends Jade & Ella (in Whitefish) on the phone



Naya at the Rollright Stone Circle north of Oxford



Common bird here that I'd never seen before--the Coot



The "Old Library" in the Oxford Union Society where I've been studying the last few days, 
an elitist alternative to the Bodleian,
as if one needed more than the Bodleian.



Naya and my mom in one of the Bodleian's courtyards



The entrance I use to enter the Bodleian, where most of the English lit. is



A walkway on the Christ Church grounds taken this weekend on a beautifully spring-like day



On a recent walk in the Cotswolds (Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter)



Naya and Opa at brunch in the Christ Church dining hall



At the Rollright Stone Circle



In the Christ Church courtyard ("Tom quad")



One of the Oxford colleges (Hertford)
 at sunset this weekend


I can't stand the idea of these being memories I look back upon, so much do I love the living of it.  We have one month left here & then will spend April in Paris with some side trips to Baden-Baden, Vienna, Prague...

Friday, February 19, 2010

hell, to me, is being surrounded by surety

I am curious what narrative you dwell in?

(because I've spent the last four days intertwined with an aspect of this question in every manner of scenario as I've been studying postmodernism--Lyotard in my second floor bed on Wytham Street with Italians spoken in the background, Foucault at the Bodleian, seat #207, Lyotard at a cafe filled with professors and students bantering, Lyotard at the Bodleian, seat #402, Foucault at the busstop, Lyotard for eight hours straight, Lyotard tucked under my arm to keep him out of the rain, Foucault like chinese water torture spread out in timed intervals, just when I think I can't handle anymore, there Foucault is again tapping for my attention because I hadn't even read half of what'd been assigned yet).



Sorry, I digress, so to be more plain by asking what narrative you dwell in, I mean what story do you tell yourself or those around you of the way the world has unfolded, is unfolding, will unfold?  As in, how do you make sense of your place in the complexity of life and the world (of postmodern life in the postmodern world)?  (Please please post below, as I genuinely genuinely want to know because it is interesting, but also because I want to know your interior more thoroughly.)



To be yet more plain, when you look at your life, or your niche/passion/career, or the way you interact with people, the way you parent, the way you love, or the way of history, or humanity, in what way do you see it?  Is it progressively stacking?  Progressively unfolding?  Does it have an overarching meaningfulness?  Is it a speck amid chaos, nonlinear, without purpose, without meaning?  Or are you one that tells yourself the narrative that the time for believing in purpose is past? Or are you free of even contemplating the world in this delineating way?  Or are you indifferent altogether and ready to hop off this tiresome blog post (I won't at all hold it against you, as one should mostly listen to one's needs--argh, narrative!)?



I personally have dwelt (do dwell) in one particular story-telling narrative, for as long as I can remember, where I see the world's purpose (and by the world's I mean my purpose, but also the purpose of interaction, the purpose of literature/art, the purpose of education from kindergarten to oxford) to be the removal of ever more hindering layers, the removal of ever more blindspots and assumptions, to expand and push at the edges of intellect and emotional intelligence, and to move ever closer to some thorough version of brilliance for ever increasing numbers of humanity, whereby someday we might collectively stop acting and thinking on behalf of these blindspots, assumptions, and copious layers, and might once and for all act and think from some truer/less encumbered/more brilliant/softer/kinder part of ourselves.



 In my narrative, the human world aims (through its art, philosophy, academia, and literature in particular; but even in its ecological mvmts, human rights developments, etc.) to arrive to its finest, its least held back, its most brilliant.  I see it everywhere to the point that it is amazing that five weeks of heavy-petting of the pages of modernist novels and postmodernist theory books can undo a lifetime of surety when prodded by two genius professors:  namely, that my narrative can be undone & I can step back (at least in moments) from my narrative and look at it and set it down.  And even more I can admit that what to me has seemed very genius and brilliant on my part is actually something dealt with much more thoroughly millennia ago.



Some examples of narratives that humanity has told/ is telling itself:  1) the Christian narrative (certainly we could insert a Muslim narrative, and a Buddhist narrative, an atheist's narrative, etc. here as well) that seeks comfort and surety by assuring us that faith means that nothing permanently bad will happen to us because solid infinity awaits if we will only aim the gaze over the heads of those around us, up and out, heavenward; 2) the 'narrative of emancipation from ignorance and servitude thanks to knowledge' (Socrates, Plato, Kant, Hegel, (S.Brigette), etc.); 3) 'the Marxist narrative of emancipation from exploitation and alienation'; 4) 'the capitalist narrative of emancipation from poverty through technical and industrial development'; 5)  the narrative I see in abundance in Whitefish/the liberal US is the abundance/mindfulness narrative--that angst and humanity's ancient sorrows and neuroses can be fixed if we are simply present with ourselves, our breathing, our blessings; 6) the postmodern scholarly narrative that there is no narrative, no unity, no cohesiveness, no objective that is universal except that, oops, now we are telling the narrative of no narratives; 7) the neo-religious narrative (modern Christian, yogi, new age, pscyhotherapy, otherwise)--that is almost precisely the same as narrative #1 except that it doesn't know it.  (this is by no means meant to be comprehensive & the quotes above are from Lyotard).



I'm rambling on about this (& sorry for the slightly edgy tone on some of the above) because unfortunately I still believe in my narrative (and apparently I am still untangling myself from Lyotard and Foucault).  In my narrative if we notice that we are operating under layers and heavy assumptions it counts for a whole lot more than being oblivious to those layers and assumptions, or even outright denying that they are removable ideologies.  So I ask you to consider your narrative, I suppose, in the hope that the world will be a slightly less opaque place if we take on this exercise together.  Though I am fairly sure that this goal, and my narrative, of making the world less opaque, is as impossible and implausible as any other unifying goal for something so vastly complex and non-unifiable as life and humanity.



Perhaps even more than all I've just said, my point is to clear up the reason that my face gets a bit cloudy and I sigh when people around me speak of their narratives like they are real.  Imagine then the beautiful humility I felt today when my professor's face clouded over a bit and he sighed because before him was someone (me) who spoke of her (my) narrative unknowingly as if it were a real force in the world whilst defending part of my paper.  I love that Oxford makes me acknowledge my blindspots with a rigor and swiftness that I've heard many people say (another narrative, no doubt) can only be accomplished with an intimate relationship where you are plainly mirrored for what you are and what you aren't by another who won't look away.   (Turns out, like all narratives, that this is untrue, we can be mirrored by a vast number of things beyond partnership.)



I hope that all of you who read this post will find that if we acknowledge these stories we operate in, and try to look at them together, we can be even greater/more thorough friends than we are now when we silently disagree, or moodily cloud over, or judge, or fawn over, or avoid certain subjects, or talk about the surface oscillations of our lives like the weather or how pretty the Bodleian is, etc.  How cool would it be if we could use some of the postmodern scholarly methods in our relationships--thorough and as free of assumption as possible, with neither party believing there will ever be a right way, just a multitude of ways to find interesting as speculation.  I won't assume you are going for a humanity filled with Socratic minds if you won't assume I'm going for a life that will lead me to surety.