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Saturday, December 17, 2011

(Bad) language and literature

Many people consider university days to be the best days of their life.  Whilst I was lucky to meet good friends, and had fairly decent accommodation, life has definitely got better since not surviving on Tesco Value pasta, going to nightclubs where the toilets would regularly overflow (actually, make that "going to nightclubs", full stop) and moving to a city that isn't entirely comprised of hills.

Add into the mix that for my three years at Bristol it rained twice; once for one year, and then a second time for another two years.  A lot of students end up with Fresher's Flu; I actually started to grow mildew.  It wasn't until I'd lived in London for a good six months that I felt myself drying out.  This is only partly a joke.  In my third year, I went to the doctor as my ears felt like they needed to pop all the time.  I wondered if they were blocked and needed to be syringed.  The doctor told me that after flu and contraceptive enquiries, ear problems were the most common ailment they saw; the air in Bristol was so damp it actually buggered up people's sinuses.  The problem went away as soon as I left the city.

Anyway, I was clearing out my PC's hard drive recently, and stumbled once again across the folders of essays I'd written at university.  All of them were carefully referenced, with full bibliographies.  Some of my tutors had set incredibly baffling essay titles, presumably to make themselves feel better about their own intellects.  Favourites include:

  • Acting is antithetical to romance
  • "'The nobility of poetry, says Wallace Stevens, 'is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.' It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality." (Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Reason)
  • 'It makes little sense to define "ethnicity as such", since it refers not to a thing-in-itself but to a relationship: ethnicity is typically based on a contrast.' (Werner Sollors)
And my all-time favourite nonsense intellectual wibble (described in a previous Plog):
  • ‘The romances explore what it means to be a subject: an agent of the self, within the state, seeking for satisfaction.  And so the epitomic figures are the ones denied their place at the centre, not only the rogues, slaves, fishers, and vagabonds, but the itinerant princes, and, crucially, the exiled women.’ (Palfrey) Discuss with reference to Jonson and/or Shakespeare. 
If that makes any sense to you at all, I would be delighted to hear from you.  I remember reading it out to myself seven or eight times in a row, thinking, "Surely this is an Emperor's New Clothes type of thing.  Surely we're supposed to go back to the tutor and tell him that this is a fuckload of bollocks."  Turns out not.  You live and learn.

Despite writing the essay, I still have absolutely no idea what "an agent of the self" means.  Still, I got a 2:1.

Which may explain, by the time we got to the third year, I'd really rather had enough of it all.  I'd had enough of the fact my ear wouldn't pop.  I'd had enough of walking uphill no matter which direction you went.  I'd had enough of the fact that my clothes wouldn't dry out, ever.  I'd had enough of agents of the self, of fishers and vagabonds and of fucking Seamus fucking Heaney.

And so I wrote my dissertation on Philip Larkin.  Specifically on Philip Larkin and swearing.  Last I heard, I still had the Bristol University record for using the world "cunt" 32 times.

Though apparently I shouldn't have said it to the head of department, whilst handing the essay in.  You live and learn.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Just reading those essay titles again reminds me of how long it took me to realise it wasn't 'just me'.

There should be clear, black bordered cigarette-style warnings on most Humanities departments stating something like 'Warning - you are about to enter an area of high-bullshit and encounter individuals indulging in inexplicable self-gratifying academic anus gazing Class A blather'.

Helpful volunteers should hand out self-help leaflets about not forgetting that it's you who's normal and they that are not.

Sigh.