Skip to main content


Showing posts from May, 2011

Humanism as Alibi

I remember when I was an Oxford undergraduate, I did an 6000 word essay on Adorno and this fellow described it as not dialectical enough, whilst a series of essays on Derrida were described by the tutor who pretty much saved me for English Literature as too dialectical
Excitingly, I got to use exactly the latter criticism on one of my own students this week: it is quite hard to take apart first-class essays, after all - since I only give a First if an undergraduate has surprised me, made me think again about something. Anyway, the issue was the relationship between scientific naturalism and humanism: that is, between the framework of a purely empirical, material universe and a framework of value based on the human. At first, they seem sweetly suited: arch-atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins describe themselves regularly as humanists, and indeed the rejection of theism, the embrace of human reason/potential and the privileging of science seem to form a natural constellation.
I'm not s…

Irony and Capitalism

This is something I wanted to write about after attending a very interesting lecture from a month ago on Douglas Coupland and cultures of work. As is the case with most of everything this month, it's rather disconnected.
One of the things that came up in the lecture was so-called 'cappuccino resistance' (at least I think that's what he called it; maybe it was decaffeinated resistance; coffee was definitely involved somewhere) - that is, workers who find certain corporate cultures absurd, but carry them out anyway. One major example, and the topic of the speaker's paper, was the kind of buzzword-suffused, 'transformational' management training cultures, so effectively skewered in a first series episode of The Office. Yet, I think we could expand the scope considerably outwards: not only to other aspects of corporate life (where the disjunct between the ideal and the real is often fairly radical, particularly when there is something to be branded and sold), b…

Keats, Mnemosyne, Time

Just been re-reading Keats's two Hyperion poems.

I'm not going to question that the Odes are Keats's most perfect poems (although I can never decide whether 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' or 'To Autumn' is my favourite), but I think the Hyperion fragments are possibly his most profound texts. In particular, for reasons connected with my research, I've been thinking about Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory. In both texts, Keats positions an encounter with Mnemosyne as central. I've also been thinking about time, and the past, a lot recently, so here's a few loosely connected observations, based around a reading of 'Hyperion', rather than 'The Fall of Hyperion'.
Firstly, the young Apollo thinks of Mnemosyne as elusive and fugitive. He does not recognise her, and yet he recognises her: How cam'st thou over the unfooted sea? Or hath that antique mien and robed form Mov'd in these vales invisible till now? Sure I have heard those…

A Note on Language

Arbitrary jotting:
There seems to be a rough assumption that language is opposed to the world. The relay of sign and referent implicated in representation severs the re- from the presence. Critics and theorists who absorb themselves in analyses of language flirt with irrelevance; writers whose work obsesses with words are less concrete, less real somehow, then those who obsess about things like politics.
This doesn't seem right to me. If there is such a thing as a pre-linguistic 'thing', it would petrify us with its uncanniness. We exist in language. As Heidegger says in his 'Letter on Humanism', language is the house of Being. We dwell among words, breathe them as easily as air. It is the space of our every thought; it is perhaps the space of our most fundamental and most profound creativity, and thus freedom, insofar as language is an instrument of play, of figure and invention. It is also the medium of intersubjectivity, and thus of our most human existence, as w…

Difficulty and Pedagogy

I've been thinking a little bit about pedagogy recently, partially because this is the time of year that the feedback questionnaires come flooding in, and partially because of this article in The Guardian.
One thing that strikes me is that there is an increasing demand for university teaching to include a certain element, embodied by the 'good' lecturer, of being 'engaging' and 'accessible': indeed, to some extent, for the classes to be 'fun' or even 'easy'. Delivery is privileged over content, and there is the underlying assumption that the lecturer must work to gain his or her students' attention.
Of course, I don't think good modules simply teach themselves, and I try to think insistently about style, and about form, and about bringing my own horizon of understanding into contact with an undergraduate one - which involves bridging historical difficulty (why is this text important and interesting?) or formal difficulty (what does thi…