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Showing posts from September, 2014

Seminar Notes #2 (Beachy Head)

I've decided to dedicate this blog to Charlotte Smith's Beachy Head, which means it is now a poem I have blogged about three times (see here for 2011 at NUIM, and here for early 2014 in Exeter), which I think is probably unprecedented! Regardless, there was some excellent, ranging discussions of it in my seminars this week.

1. Unity, Layer, Ecosystem. It was my general impression, last year at least, that students wanted to read Beachy Head in terms of discontinuity and fracture (see both the linked posts above for textual examples). What appeared to shift this year was a desire to claim that a sense of place or land or ground was, in essence, constant. Maybe it's a little trivial to claim that the poem is by definition unified under the facticity of Beachy Head itself, but students took such 'grounding' in several interesting directions.

So, for instance, some talked of the 'layered' nature of the poem. Not only is this an interesting way to reorientate ta…

Seminar Notes #1

One of the great things about seminar teaching - at least when you are teaching a truly rich text - is that free group discussion can verify and embody the well-worn assumption that literature is inexhaustible. Even if as a lecturer you've been teaching a text for many years, coming to it with a battery of 'expert' methodologies and critical histories, and perhaps even in possession of a cherished, published reading of it from your own work, it is still entirely possible for an undergraduate to show you something you had never seen or thought of before. And so it should be.

I've used this blog frequently if intermittently in the past to spin off from discussions and ideas raised in seminars, and I'd like to try to do it more systematically this term for my two seminars on Romanticism to Decadence, a nineteenth-century literature course running at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus. I'll try to make it as clear as I can what students said and suggested…

Commitment and David Hare's "Skylight"

Theodor Adorno, in a brilliant and provocative essay on 'commitment', gives us one of the most sophisticated critiques of art that is too closely tied to a political aim. (It should be pointed out, for those who haven't come across his work, that in no way does Adorno absolve art of politics: quite the opposite, in fact.) I thought of Adorno's essay recently, after seeing a NT Livescreening of David Hare's playSkylight.

Being such a died-in-the-wool academic, I don't feel totally confident commenting on a play without reading the script, but going on my first impressions, something left me unsatisfied.

The basic thrust of the drama is intimate (Hare notes he deliberately chose to right a 'one room' play because he'd never done so before). A school teacher living in a sink estate is visited by a father and son from a wealthy family with whom she had previously lived. It turns out she had had a long affair with the former, and left when his wife had f…