Sitting here and thinking

That I can do it, write it, finish it, understand it and then discuss it intelligently, arguing for its main points, interpretations and conclusions. But, heavens above, I’m a woman of average cognitive capacity, whose verbal output is mostly characterised by an intense dislike of repetitions. I wonder how my students put up with it. My PhD supervisor told me that a doctoral thesis should not be a review of a thesaurus – or something to that effect. Easy for him to say. He is Irish and has the gift of the gab. I seem to remember writing an article about that once, about the Irish propensity for telling stories, spinning them out of nothing, on the spur of the moment. Their stories confirm the validity of their existence: an experience narrated is an experience shared. That commonality of life, of lives lived separately yet according to parallel plans, is what brings about a sense of human community.

I like writing, only wish it were more substantial. Here is a link to a Spectator article on insubstantial writers, flimsy, lightweight, un-earnest: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/09/leading-writers-inhumanly-cool/

It struck me as accurately describing a phenomenon I happened upon several years ago in Poland when I started reading something by one Krystyna Kofta, a popular writer of well, stuff. Fluff. Couldn’t put my finger on it then, except for identifying a distinct feeling of un-(not dis-)satisfaction. Like swallowing cotton wool. Apparently that’s what models do to keep their weight in check. If it weren’t for the unpleasant texture, I’d try it myself. I don’t eat, I’m hungry. I eat, I’m fat. What to do? Drink? My friend suggested smoking. Must take it up. In earnest.

This is a piece of fluffy writing. I’d be good at that! No idea about the photos except for the painting – it’s by my friend Asmaa. Oh, maybe the one with the Omani flag was taken by me in 2013 when I was in Oman with family (minus son).

 

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Grammar etc.

Broca’s area in the brain is responsible for the production of grammatical sentences, says Gardner in his Multiple Intelligences. But which area is responsible for making me actually LIKE grammar – in any language that I have ever studied?

Anyway, I’m posting links to these articles here so I have them handy whenever I wish to re-read them.

http://www.economist.com/style-guide/singular-or-plural

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/29/grammar-pedant-personality-type

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/09/unhand-that-comma/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9381417/Its-cruel-not-to-teach-children-grammar.html

 

 

 

Mid-week dullness

Never underestimate dullness – quite out of the blue, it may turn into diabolical excitement and who wants that, except for the media? So, I’m savouring the dullness of this mid-week afternoon on a yellowish, sandy Tuesday, although I should be correcting my final draft. But the peace and quiet of the empty house is… benumbing. I’ve even switched the BBC off – it’s either paralympics, or Trump, or refugees, or Syria that they are showing and frankly, I’m over-informed on those issues. Too much noise, too much repetitive action.

Inactivity, even if it seems dull, is good: it’s a perfect state of equilibrium, stasis. It is during such periods of cessation of liveliness, that things actually grow and change – because real change is always imperceptible, surreptitious (what a delicious word is “surreptitious”), leisurely. Like a foetus growing in the mother’s womb, or a pupa slowly transforming itself into a butterfly. I remember when we learnt about it in biology at school. I must have been very young, but I was rather puzzled by the apparent improbability of the slimy pupa turning into a butterfly, a blast of colour and movement, some Peacock or other Red Admiral. Initially, I didn’t quite believe it. But I had no option, the evidence was overwhelming. It didn’t make me like pupae any more than before, but I stopped chasing and murdering butterflies.

So here it is, slow change is the only change that actually changes anything. It is the same with education, one has to wait forever to see a new thought emerge from a young and hitherto thoughtless head. But once it does emerge from the recesses of an underdeveloped mind of a dim student, it has the potential to change the student’s life, imperceptibly and subversively. I’ve seen it happen. I’m waiting for some more.

salvador-dali-butterflies

 

On writing such as it is

I’ve just read a rather nice article in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/17/tracy-chevalier-my-writing-day) on writing as a magic trick (annoyingly, cloyingly cute). One good bit in it is the bit on procrastinating and finding oneself distractions – that’s what I do. Plus, the author (a woman, obviously, who else would write so nicely) quotes Yeats and Beckett at the end of the article – that’s always a winner with me. She could have included Oscar Wilde, only she didn’t.

So here is a selection of OW’s quotes on writing (and reading, what the hell, can’t be bothered weeding those out):

1. All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.

2. I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

3. If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

4. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.

5. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

6. An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.

7. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

8. I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.

9. A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

10. Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are perhaps the worst. Words are merciless.

11. In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.

12. I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

13. With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?

14. The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.

15. A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.

FROM: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/15-oscar-wilde-quotes-about-reading-writing-and-books

Trunk aka wedding chest

Her bedroom looks forlorn, deserted, slightly dusty – before she went back to Manchester on Thursday, she put her stuff away, obsessively tidy that she is, so there is nothing there on any surface, all has been hidden out of sight.

In her grotty residence hall room she is busy organising herself for the new academic year at uni, but this afternoon, longing for her presence, I went into her bedroom and took a picture of this rather lovely trunk, aka Qatari wedding chest, made to order a couple of years ago, in Doha’s Souq al Ali, by the Immigration Roundabout. It was a small shop, managed by a friendly Pakistani, owned by a Qatari man or man-and-wife tandem. The wife was silent and completely veiled, the husband – in customary local garb – didn’t speak any English; both probably from a Bedouin tribe (didn’t get their name). I summoned whatever I could remember from my Arabic course and somehow managed to order myself this exquisite piece of local carpentry, complete with its cheap and gaudy decorations. But it’s traditional, it’s like what they used to make them, so who cares about good taste. I had been wanting one for a long time – since my first year here, when I saw an old wedding chest in someone’s house (that someone had been married at the age of fourteen to a man twice her age). Hers was really old, ancient even, maybe 30 or 40 years old, an antique by local standards. I loved it and wanted it badly, but she wouldn’t part with it…

When my Qatari wedding chest was finally ready and I brought it home in the boot of my four-wheel drive, it became clear that it was too heavy for me and Komla to carry upstairs to the flat. In fact, it was too heavy for me, Komla and Ian to carry upstairs. It sat in the car for a while until we managed to convince the compound maintenance to send their people. It took three big guys to haul it up two flights of stairs and into the apartment. Thank goodness we have a door with two wings – both had to be opened for the bastard to get in. But when it eventually did, well, it was given the pride of place in the living room where it blended in nicely with some other local – or regional rather – pieces of furniture. It looked perfect!

But Katherine set her heart on it and, as usual for Katherine, she got her way in the end. I had to buy myself a new chest, but that’s quite a different story. Now it’s time for my reheated curry from a  very cheap and shabby Indian place nearby where they have fantastic food – though best brought home and not eaten there.

trunk

Globalisation as a snack

I have just noted this on FB, but am copying it here for posterity (just in case posterity is not on FB).

Early lunch today: I raided the fridge (seeking not so much nourishment as distraction from work, as usual) and found random snacks leftover after daughter’s visit. She ate out more than in, but I still tried to have some of her favourites handy. Will now have to finish them off and buy me a whole new wardrobe for my expanding self. But anyway.

The snacks were simple – only nothing is simple any more. So, the olives were Greek (with one stray Spanish one), bought from a French supermarket in Doha, the bread – pumpernikel – made in Poland for a German company, radishes – Dutch, cheese from New Zealand, garlic in it (secret recipe, my own) from China, and the best one was the pickled cucumbers: Polish (polskie ogorki on the label), imported by an Australian company, but made in… INDIA! Not only am I stuffed now, but also globalised to bursting point.

 

 

Freedom to speak

Started the day with D. Bromwich’s article, “What Are We Allowed to Say?” in the LBR:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n18/david-bromwich/what-are-we-allowed-to-say?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3818&utm_content=ukrw_nonsubs&hq_e=el&hq_m=4418421&hq_l=9&hq_v=00bfd90040

It made me feel even more unsettled/confused/ambivalent when it comes to censorship… Western liberal rationalism buckles under its own weight of freedom for all. But the concept of free speech, or indeed the value system proposed by the said Western liberal rationalism, can only work for people who already believe in it. Others – well, no. Marx was aware of this when he said, in The Communist Manifesto, “Don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just like your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class.” (In: A World of Ideas, 6th ed., 237)

OMG, have I just quoted Marx?

Anyway, the censorship vs. freedom of speech issue probably just boils down to having a choice – not to read, not to watch, not to listen. It would follow that for different people (villages? groups? cultures?) there will be different choices…  So, why the urge to impose one such choice on others, why make this one option obligatory for those who would rather have another option of what to read/watch/listen to or not? It’s because we like to censor what we don’t like, while allowing ourselves the freedom of writing/showing/speaking about what others don’t like, and/or doing it in a way that offends them.

DANGER: speaking against the system that allows you to speak against it may result in its own ruination, which will effectively cancel your right to speak against it.