Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Blip: A look at English University culture




I’ve just started my first week at university; I’ve had a couple of lectures as well as a couple of seminars. So far I’m exceedingly happy with it; it gives me time to read all I can get my hands on without being so structured that it traps my subjectivity of opinion. This is the opposite of what English was like at school for me; We studied the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and then we dove straight into the middle of Shakespeare, which is like pre-empting your medium-rare steak drizzled in rich peppercorn sauce served with Portobello mushrooms and large-cut chips with a faecal matter and marmite sandwich with old pub coasters instead of bread. Even so, my teachers were all complicit at the time in forcing opinion on all of us. Countless times I would answer a question about a poem with my own opinion, however undeveloped and shyly presented it may have been, only to be told it was the wrong opinion. I apparently found the only wrong opinions in the whole world of art.

This course though, so far, is a totally different matter. The lectures are somewhat formal but still relaxed, the lecturers are willing to clarify certain points and their aim is to provoke discussion and further understanding over a rigid interpretation of the material. The seminars seem to serve as a great forum wherein people can develop their opinions and explore every possible angle of the subject. I even managed to have a fairly in-depth discussion with my lecturer after one seminar about a particularly distasteful dissection of Jane Eyre, displayed in a foreword, and at no point was I dismissed, patronised or ignored. Most of the students are plugged in, switched on and have a full three bars of connection; even those that have very little experience in this type or area of study, for example, those that haven’t learnt anything about the Victorian era before are more than willing to open up and learn, even in the first week, which is ordinarily dominated by the settling in of new students and staff; all seems well.

Although, notice I say most of the students are plugged in. There is a problem inherited from school that seems annoyingly prevalent here too. I didn’t study English at A-level but I had plenty of friends who did and they told me that many of the people were just there to coast through and get a grade because it was such an easy subject to pass. Perhaps this would be true at GCSE level and I’m sure A-level had its easy points but I wouldn’t have expected the same from a degree course, undergraduate or otherwise. Nonetheless there seem to be a few philistines in amongst the crowd who make themselves distinct by their passive level of closed-off ignorance towards literary endeavour and thinking in general.

I was glared at by one young lad for saying I adored Jane Eyre. I do adore Jane Eyre, it’s a classic, it’s phenomenally well-written in a voice that brings you up close with the main character’s mind and it is full of sub-textual content that challenges the socio-economic balance of the time. But then, it has a girl’s name in the title and it’s about girly things so perhaps I shouldn’t bother. It does make me wonder, though, why people would choose a coasting degree and not even make the effort to not make waves. Just like the girl whose ‘claim to fame’ was some all-too-familiar tale of adolescent inebriation that ended in profuse vomiting, the whole thing topped off by a round of proud, nervous laughter.

A saving grace: With the dropout rate being surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) high, the chaff is soon to be separated and discarded. Thence from the winnowing fork to the unquenchable fire. As they say. 

Blip (signature nearly done, university sapping available time)

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