All 6 entries tagged Research

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July 27, 2010

1950s Record Stores

At the moment, I’m trying to write a story, part of which is set in a 1950s record store. I’ve found some fantastic pictures on the internet which I share below:

Record Store

February 14, 2007

Funding Cuts for the British Library

I am sure most of you are aware of the budget cuts the government is proposing to impose on the British Library. According to a press release on the BL website, these cuts may force the library to start charging for users to access the collections (see:

If you think, as I do, that this is a really bad idea – please sign the online petition:

And do tell your friends to sign it too!

According to their website, the BL is actively campaigning against the proposed cuts and Lynne Brindley has asked those who feel strongly about this issue to contact the library and explain “why the British Library is important to you” and give us permission to use your letter in our campaign.

Please e-mail with your name, contact number and message, or write to Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.

So if you have five minutes to spare, do send an e-mail or letter too.

January 08, 2007

A Definition of Stoicism

A unified logical, physical, and moral philosophy, taking its name from the stoa poikile or painted porch in Athens where Stoic doctrine was taught. The first recognized Stoic was Zeno of Citium, who founded the school c. 300 BC. Other early Stoics were Cleanthes of Assos and Chrysippus of Soli. The middle stoa, whose members included Panaetius of Rhodes and Posidonius of Apamea (c. 135–c. 51 BC), was responsible for introducing Stoicism to the Roman world, where it had a lasting effect. The late stoa was Roman, and its most distinguished members included Epictetus and Seneca. As a professed system Stoicism fought running battles especially with the sceptical philosophers of the Academy.

Stoic epistemology was based on the phantasia kataleptik or apprehensive perception. A perception has to fill certain conditions in order to be veridical (ie. truthful or accurate), and these conditions (clarity, common consent, probability, system) were variously attacked by sceptical opponents. The cosmology of the Stoics was firmly deterministic and orderly, as the eternal course of things passes through returning creative cycles (see eternal return), in accordance with the creative principle or logos spermatikos. Stoic proofs of the existence of God centred on versions of the argument to design (hence the name Cleanthes in Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion).

The capstone of Stoic philosophy was an ethic of the consolations of identification with the impartial, inevitable, moral order of the universe. It is an ethic of self-sufficient, benevolent calm, with the virtuous peace of the wise man rendering him indifferent to poverty, pain, and death, so resembling the spiritual peace of God. This fortitude and indifference can sound sublime, but also sound like stark insensibility. As Adam Smith objects, ‘By Nature the events which immediately affect that little department in which we ourselves have some little management and direction…are the events which interest us the most, and which chiefly excite our desires and aversions, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows’ (Theory of the Moral Sentiments, vii. 2. 1). By being above all that, the Stoic is also less than human, and the pursuit of Stoical indifference becomes a celebration of apathy (see also agent centred morality). However, the generally individualistic cast of Greek ethics is tempered in Stoicism by the need to recognize the creative spark in each individual, giving the Stoic a duty to promote a political and civil order that mirrors the order of the created cosmos.

May 23, 2006

Notes on Canonicity

Harris, Wendell V. ‘Canonicity’. PMLA. Vol. 106, No 1 (January 1991), 110 –121.

Harris opens his paper controversially:

The canonical facts about the canons of English and American literature, are, first, that there are no canons and never have been; second, that there have necessarily always been canons; and third, that canons are made up of readings not of disembodied texts. What is contradictory in that statement results from play on different connotations of the word canon – a critical strategy that is constantly, though often more subtly, in use. As with many another critical term, the fisrt step in understanding canon is to unpack its meanings. (110)

Harris reminds us that ‘canon’ comes from the Greek kanon meaning rule or measure. Harris notes that the idea of measuring, of providing norms has clung to the word canon as a term that refers to selection, but he is adamant that ‘the criteria for selecting literary texts are not derived from authority but from chosen functions’. (110) The use of the word canon is traced from the Bible to ‘classical’ texts and Romanticism. Harris seems to be arguing that it is not the term ‘canon’ that is at fault but our use of it, as he explains that ‘catalogs [sic] identifying especially valuable works not only varied considerably, they did not fence others out’. (111)

Harris objects to the colouring of literary theory by Biblical canonical authority. He quotes Frank Kermode and criticises his belief that universities hold absolute control over canons.

Under the heading ‘A Multiplicity of Canons and Pressures on Them’, Harris cites Fowler who suggested six kind of literary canons:
•the potential canon (all of literature);
•the accessible canon (that part of the potential canon that is available);
•selective canons (anthologies, syllabi etc.);
•official canons (blending of the lists above);
•personal canons (the choices of individual readers);
•and critical canons (for those texts repeatedly treated in articles or books).

Harris demands further distinctions and he sees problems with the canons outlined above:
•the potential canon relies on one’s ‘political allegiances’;
•the accessible canon is inclusive ‘only fro one location’ and ‘varies with the sophistication of each reader’;
•personal canons are made up of ‘indeterminate interaction’;
•and official and critical canons are ‘precipitated out of the mass of selective canons’. (112)

Harris thinks that, ‘the only canons produced by systematic choice are the innumerable and heterogeneous selective ones’. (112) He also notes that the Biblical authoritative canon does not fit in these categories. In addition he argues that there should be a pedagogical canon, a diachronic canon and a nonce canon. (He leaves the question of popular canons open.) In relation to the diachronic canon, Harris notes that although it is partly a ‘canonical haven’ for others it is simply ‘canonical limbo’. (113)

Looking at a historical perspective, Harris notes that canons were hardly used until the eighteenth century, although Renaissance humanists like Erasmus demanded a kind of universal knowledge. Later formulations of canons were a necessary part of university teaching. Thinking about modern anthologies, Harris is adamant that editorship always problematises the quest for a Fowlerian potential canon.

Focusing on selective canons and the problem of criteria, Harris criticises New Criticism and the ‘claim that poetry has no propositional meaning’. (115) For Harris, this point fences itself into a corner, because ‘the ultimate implication of that position is the futility of critical discussion’. (115) Like R.S. Crane who is called on by Harris, the criticism is of ‘the automatic ascription of universal oppositions’ to any text. (115) Like Aiken, Harris draws on Arnold’s line about aspiring to a higher ideal of utterance and thinking, but Harris criticises Arnold suggesting that his intentions were bound up with class and that he makes an assumption that a hierarchy is necessary for society to function.

Harris now considers ‘the functions a particular selection was apparently intended to perform’. (115) He cites Barbara Hernstein Smith and her view that selctions are symptomatic of the selector’s needs and desires at that time. Arnold is seen as one such critic and Harris relates Arnold’s warnings against personal or historical estimates of texts and calls for a ‘real’ estimate. Yet in doing so, Harris recognises that Arnold is ‘looking for hallmarks rather than functions; perhaps he intuitively knew that if he looked for functions he would find all too many for his purposes.’ (115) Harris maintains that there are other functions of canons and proceeds to provide examples:

Providing Models, Ideas and Inspiration
Harris provides examples, such as:
•the Alexandrians who chose texts to display proper grammatical usage;
•Ciceronian and Quintillian canons promoted ‘social virtues’;
•and Golding’s interpretation of Griswold’s Poets and Poetry, the selection of which is based on moral purity.
Harris states: ‘Marxist and feminist arguments are no less appeals to assumed moral values than are Pope’s, Wordsworth’s, or Holme’s’. (115)

Transmitting the Heritage of Thought
This kind of canon provides the means for poets to interpret modern texts with respect to traditional ones. The goal here is for ‘cultural literacy’. (116) Harris quotes Harry Levin who describes knowledge as a dialogue between present–day writers and their ancestors. Harris notes that ‘efforts to overthrow the present canon are often endeavours to expand it, to enlarge our patrimony, and to enrich the “collective memory,” [sic] that is, communal knowledge and awareness’. (116)

Creating Common Frames of Reference
If a body of critics have a similar strategy for interpreting a text, it may be useful to have a canon that can be a reference point. This creates community.

This is where a writer manages to enter a nonce or modern canon ‘by their active espousal of texts or criteria congenial to their own aims’. (116) Harris gives examples such as:
•Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads ;
•Arnold, when he criticises his own ‘Empedocles on Etna’;
•the turn of the Victorian poets to an earlier age of poetry in order to displace Romantic classics (according to Strange);
•and the self–made canon of modernist poets.

Legitimating Theory
Harris uses examples to explain this.
•New Criticism preferred texts that could be used ‘to exhibit meaning as fully as possible’. (116)
•Deconstructionists select ‘texts with almost invisible seams that can be pried open to suggest gaping contradictions’.(116)
•Neo Marxists (Harris includes new historicists) use texts that reveal ‘unsuspected workings of political power’. (!16)
Harris summarises by stating that, ‘the texts each group is most likely to select are those for which it can provide the fullest, most dramatic, and most convincing readings.’ (116)

The issue of historical influences is the factor here. Harris ponders Chaucer and the representation of the pilgrim in fourteenth century England. Rather than thinking about how the world was at the time a certain text was written, critics now interrogate unspoken or unconscious assumptions in texts of a certain historical period.

Harris notes that in the 1890s and at the turn of the century, women and other minorities were better represented. However this slowly declined up to the 1950s according to Harris. He cites Lauter (‘Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon’).

Moving on to think about the reading of canons, Harris notes that canons are texts being read. Harris uses the example of the Christian Church when it read Greek and Roman philosophers in such a way to accommodate its belief system and he uses the example of Catcher in the Rye which can be subject to a number of interpretations. Citing Annette Kolodny, Harris argues that unfamiliarity is the key, since by reading unfamiliar texts and criticism, one ‘defamiliarize[s] texts in the current critical and pedagogical canon’. (117)

Here Harris comes to the point of his essay; that one should not be attacking the idea of a canon. Rather the canon exists as a site of contest. Harris suggests that ‘there will always be competing canons’. (118) This is desirable and necessary.

If the Canon no longer lives, the reason is that it never did; there have been and are only selections with purposes. If anything has been clarified by the last twenty years of critical alarms and excursions, it is the multiplicity of possible purposes. (119)

May 15, 2006

Abstract for a Paper for an Anthology entitled The Politics of British Literary Collections

Creating a Canon of Welsh-Language Poetry: Problems of Translation, Gender and Welsh Dissent

Welsh Map

This paper focuses on The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry , edited by Menna Elfyn and John Rowlands. The anthology features twentieth century Welsh–language poetry in translation and I focus on the decisions made by the editors to create a poetic canon for Wales. The paper questions whether Wales’ literary and cultural identity is anchored by this anthology or if it is divisive in its creation of a ghetto for ‘Welsh–language’ literature. I explore the case of Twm Morys who refused inclusion stating that if non–Welsh speaking readers wish to ‘join in, well they can bloody well learn the language’. In comparison to Morys’ view, I study the editors’ focus on communicating with an international audience.

Translation is a key issue in this anthology and I discuss the editors’ inclusion of contemporary Welsh–language and Anglo–Welsh poets as translators. I question whether a cohesive community of writers is being represented in this editorial decision. The methods of translation are analysed with reference to key poems such as T.H. Parry William’s ‘Hon’ and Gwenallt’s ‘Rhydcymerau’ and I discuss the significance of the editors’ decision not to incorporate the Welsh originals alongside the translations.

Finally, I focus on the editors’ choice of poets in relation to gender. I study specific poems that subvert the Welsh patriarchal tradition; Elin Llwyd–Morgan’s ‘Jezebel’ is discussed in relation to Welsh male poets’ anxiety about the female. I assess the anthology’s representation of male and female poets and I argue that the high proportion of male poets over their female counterparts is yet another divisive factor to exacerbate the tensions in Welsh literature. The oppositions of Welsh versus English, Anglo–Welsh versus Welsh–language and male versus female all inhabit this anthology in pervading forms.

Problems to tackle here
1. Issues concerning linguistic purity.
2. The choice of translators as constructing a group or network of writers that are committed to maintaining the Welsh language.
3. The problem of gender and the role of the 'Welshman'.
4. Outward looking or introspective practices?

May 14, 2006

University Spending of Top Up Fees?

Writing about web page

I have been reading on insite today about the spending of university top–up fees. For 2006/07 Warwick will receive 4.9million pounds. Of this, 1.5 million pounds will be spent on student financial support. This is good. 1.4 million pounds will be ploughed into merit pay and such things for staff. This is good too. The question is what about the other 2 million pounds?

Insite descibes a number of 'initiatives designed to improve the student learning experience'. Insite describes also how 'in preparation for the advent of top–up fees the University has already invested a considerable sum in the creation of the two Learning Grids, the co–location of the Student Support and Development Centre, improved sporting facilities (including a £1m contribution to a planned new indoor tennis centre at Westwood) and new academic staff posts'. The tennis court particularly suprised me – is this the kind of initiative that top–up fees are going to spent on? Who actually cares if there are new tennis courts at Warwick or not?

Insite lists 'developments that have already been approved':'further investment in IT infrastructure including e–learning development, improved student support and new software to improve services' and 'investment in the Library'. This seems fair enough, but shouldn't the university be funding these projects anyway out its own pocket rather than dipping into top–up fees. Other projects under consideration are fair: 'Additional support for the Students’ Union – including the refurbishment of Union South', 'Increased support for e–learning development', 'investment in improved student administration', 'extended support hours for IT Services'.
But who needs '24–hour Library opening hours'? Students need to learn to organise their time well and to have 24 hour library opening hours is frankly sending a bad message. 'Pulling an all nighter' should not be encouraged by the university.


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