Rising [Literature] Bollards

14 07 2007

It seems like it has both been far shorter and far longer, but yesterday was, in fact, Friday. There was the usual classes, me reading more Shakespeare (I’ll be dreaming with thous and thees by the end of the month), and a fairly good dinner at the end of the line.

In-between the end of classes for the week and dinner the Mason folks, among others, headed over to the opening gathering for the bookstore Heffers. Once there, we were plied with crisps, wine, and a 10% discount on all books in the store. On my Novel’s professor’s recommendation I picked up a novel called White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I also thought about buying The Satanic Verses by Rushdie. It might even have had some extra value, as I suspect the next printing will have a Sir attached to the front of his name. I didn’t get it (mostly because I really didn’t like Midnight’s Children, one of his other books, that much). I was somewhat surprised to discover that it was some pretty fantastical fiction (at least that was my impression from reading the summery on the back) that had gotten Rushdie banned from his own country.

After dinner and the evening lecture on Macbeth, at the invitation of the Mason professor who is our supervisor here, most of the other Mason students, a few others, and I headed off to The Anchor [Photos to come] for a sort of second dinner. We met up with a Mason alumni, one of the (only just) alumni who works here at Cat’s, and the Cambridge summer school equivalent of RAs for Cat’s. We had some interesting talk, ranging from guilty music pleasures, to American and British TV, to tax, to the specifics of the English higher education system, and beyond. Most interesting is the fact that all schools in England are played for by the country, essentially, they are all public schools (though an attempt is being made to change that). Surprising.

Also… free national healthcare. Man, I am definitely the citizen of the wrong country.

Also, we did a great deal of talking about the British grammar rules and how they apply to our essay. There are some minor differences (besides the spelling) that are very interesting and quite different from our American tendencies.

Finally, though it was earlier in the day, I want to note a conversation I had with one of the other students here (from the Ohio area) about how they teach Shakespeare here in Cambridge. Essentially (and I later noticed myself doing this unconsciously) we read in to Shakespeare our own present day politics and meanings. In a sense American schools teach us to read Shakespeare in order to pull out what we see as our own ideas reflected in the Bard’s writing, reinforcing ourselves and our opinions. When you think about it, it’s a very stereotypical American way to look at it. Here in GB, and I think it is a far (far? :P) better thing they do. They read the works of Shakespeare with an eye and mind towards what the Bard might have been experiencing at the time of the play. So we look at the political landscape and the natural landscape that Shakespeare experienced and how it is expressed in his work.

Perhaps it is a way of looking at things that we Americans might be better off applying, lest we find ourselves caught on the Rising Bollards of our own literary egotism.

A Night of the Word

12 07 2007

The front lawn of Cat’s, the college in which I’m staying.

The plenary lecture was especially interesting this Wednesday. The subject was “C.S. Lewis, Anglo-Irish critic.” You may not know Lewis beyond his best known books, the Chronicles of Narnia. However, Lewis is quickly gaining recognition in the United States for his writings on Christianity as well. The speaker, one Dr. Stephen Logan, presented a view of Lewis that seems entirely unknown by the public in the states. Lewis was, aside from his extensive fantasy and sci-fi writings, a frequent literary critic. Lewis had always wanted to write poetry, explained Logan, something he did not do very well in, which colored a number of his other writings and reviews.

Most interestingly, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Logan after the lecture and asked him what he thought about the sudden resurgence of Lewis’s Christian-based writings in the US. He explained that Lewis colored his critiques and written works with his Christianity, and was outspoken in arguing that a loss of bible study meant a loss of understanding of a number of references based in religious texts. As well, Lewis was well known for criticizing non-Christian critics for their writings against Christian texts. However, Logan continued, Lewis, who was widely believed to have lived in (what some might call) sin with the widowed mother of his war buddy, was hardly the figure many Christians in the US seemed to see him as. In fact, Logan told me, it was most likely that Lewis would be against the religious groups in the US who follow his work most reverently. Lewis would be, in fact, against the more extreme and fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

Something to think about eh?

All this was followed by lunch on the Sidgwick Site, at the inexpensive, though merely ok, Buttery cafe. After that was the second subject course. Then I hit up some gift shops and book stores, picking up a few things back home. I have yet to visit the really interesting bookstores, instead having checked out Boarders and a large British chain. However, I intend to remedy that. Afterwards we visited a bar for drinks before dinner. This one was distinguished by it’s two large parrots.

After dinner, I headed back upstairs and worked on Shakespeare, I’m finally catching up, so I’m pumping a bit more time into it. I reinforced myself via Tea from the sorta-kettle that had been included with the room.
It smelled a little odd, I think due to the heating element; but it got the job done. I was awake long enough to finish a good chunk of the Bard.