Sunday, 23 September 2012

Our students investigate Cheltenham's cultural delights

Induction week is over. We combine work and play as best we can, and try to get to know each other a little before classes begin. English Literature students and tutors enjoyed a visit to Cheltenham's gorgeous Everyman Theatre , recently restored to its late-Victorian glory.


For an hour and a half, we walked around the theatre, onstage, backstage, under the stage, up in the lighting galley, in the props room and the scene-painting area, the green room, and out onto the roof. The theatre is like a small factory dedicated to producing illusion and fantasy, challenging us to think about the relationship between reality and representation. Dick Whittington is the Christmas panto in 2012. We're going. Oh yes we are!

The visit formed the basis, or at least the inspiration, for the Induction week project, Literary Cheltenham: Writing the Town. Students researched some aspect of the town's cultural and literary life and history, and in a very short time - with a late night on Thursday, I hear - produced some sterling presentations on their findings. In the session I attended, discussion ranged from theatre architecture to Byron, from Lewis Carroll to C. Day Lewis, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, from Stephen Fry to Geoff Dyer, from the local jazz scene to Jilly Cooper. We were impressed not only with the quality and engagement we saw, but with students' poise and confidence. It was a great start to the academic year. Our thanks to all English Literature students who took part.

Photos: H. Weeks

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Two passings

This week we read the sad news that the feminist writer Shulamith Firestone had died. Her work is little read now, a neglect that ought to be rectified. Her book The Dialectics of Sex: the Case for Feminist Revolution (London: the Women's Press, 1970) was one of the first works - certainly the most famous in its day - to combine Marxian and feminist analysis.

Just as we have assumed the biological division of the sexes for procreation to be the fundamental 'natural' duality from which grows all further division into classes, so we now assume the sex division to be the root of this basic cultural division as well. The interplay between these two cultural responses, the 'male' Technological Mode and the 'female' Aesthetic Mode, recreates at yet another level the dialectic of the sexes - as well as its superstructure, the class, and the economic-class dialectic.

(Quoted from Maggie Humm, Feminisms: A Reader (London: Harvester, 1988), p. 69)

We'll be reading a little of her work, in tribute, in the EX302 Modern Literary Theory module later this year.

Eva Figes died last week at the age of 80. Her most noted work, Patriarchal Attitudes, also appeared in 1970 - a remarkable year for feminist writing. Figes was perhaps a more controversial and politically active writer than the reserved and private Firestone. However, few remember her work on behalf of authors and their rights, as Tim Jeal notes in The Guardian.

You can read more about these writers in their obituaries at New York Times and the Guardian.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Welcome, and welcome back

Voices are returning to Francis Close Hall. The Virginia creeper has turned red. An autumn of reading, learning, hard work and delight is upon us. We love September, the best month of the year. See you all next week.