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Pure Indulgence

Part of the joy of holding any sort of position of academic leadership is the need to respond quickly and imaginatively to unexpected bits of randomness appearing out of a clear blue sky. This week it was our student newspaper publishing a story about whether arts students get value for money for their student fees; they’d acquired some figures from the university under a Freedom of Information request, and divided a total for teaching expenditure in each department by the student numbers, yielding a figure for ‘spend per head’ that could be compared with the standard £9000 fee. Not surprisingly, arts students were revealed by this calculation to be ‘subsidising’ scientists to the tune of many thousands of pounds per year – with one striking exception: Classics students appeared second in the table, just after Clinical Dentistry, apparently subsidised by everyone else by more than £6K pa.

Once we’d got over the hysterical giggling, it was imperative to work out what on earth was going on so as to demand a correction, in hope of preventing the appearance of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob of disgruntled English and History students from marching on the department. Continue Reading »

Sehnsucht

Another key theme that had unmistakably emerged by the end of the first day of Deep Classics (see previous post) is the nature of the (our) desire for the past, and its possible consequences. As Adam Lecznar remarked early on, “aren’t we just here to talk about our feelings?” One implication of developing a Queer Classics is a greater emphasis on the personal response and a concern about how to communicate this – should we be moving away from traditional academic impersonal pseudo-omniscience in favour of polyvocality, or does that risk oppressing or erasing our personal voice? Why is so much of our engagement with antiquity a purely intellectual, or at least mental, experience, when we really want to fondle it? Continue Reading »

Wir Rezeptionsgelehrten

We’re now 25% of the way through Bristol’s Deep Classics conference (which I’m also erratically live-tweeting), and some key over-arching themes and questions are already becoming clear. One is of course focused on the cultural connotations and possible subliminal messages of the name itself: is this intentionally or unintentionally referencing Deep History, or the Watergate mole, or a 1970s porn film, or the Bee Gees? Another focuses on the nature of the project and its possible hidden agenda: is Deep Classics effectively Queer Classics, as Sebastian Matzner seemed to suggest in his paper this morning? Or is it Anti-Classics, as implied by Helen Morales in her passing discussion of the conference in a review in the TLS earlier this year? Anti-Historicism, Post-Historicism or the New New Historicism?

A third theme, inevitably suggested by Deep Classics’ emphasis on the fragmentary nature of our knowledge of the classical past and “the very pose by which the human present turns its attention to the distant human past” (Shane Butler’s now much-quoted phrase), is that of its relation to Reception Studies – is this an alternative, or a development, or even a repudiation? Continue Reading »

The Outer Limits

As followers of my Twitter feed will know, I’ve spent the last two weekends away from home, giving papers and attending conferences at St Andrews (post-classical libraries) and Regensburg (migration, mobility and innovation in pre-modern cities). The cats are still barely speaking to me for abandoning them, I’m not sure my wife is a lot happier, and I feel thoroughly exhausted, but both were great experiences – if nothing else, it’s wonderful to spend some time thinking about things other than university admin, and to realise that I can actually still have ideas if given a bit of space in which to have them.

Of course, that then leads to the problem of not having any time to do anything with those ideas. Continue Reading »

I am, as you will doubtless have gathered, a pedant – a term which is actually less synonymous with ‘academic’ than you might expect. This manifests itself in many ways, the most obvious being an obsession with the defining of key terms and the potential abuse of words with a range of connotations, and a tendency to fetishise referencing and bibliography. Of course, justifying the former is easy – concepts shape thought, so slipshod or naive conceptualisation is a sign that the thought doesn’t need to be taken too seriously – and one could produce a reasonable argument that scrappy, incomplete and/or inconsistent referencing is a clear sign of lack of care in the work as a whole. But this is actually a tribal thing; this is how I recognise people of like mind and similar values, and in the case of students it is how I identify those with the right sort of qualities and spirit. The amount of ink I spill on correcting random capitalisation in book titles, inconsistent provision of publication details and the like is fully explained once it is recognised as an exercise in separating lambs from kids. I have always made it clear to my students that what really matters is consistency, whatever system they choose to adopt, and that is true – but most of them are smart enough to realise that there are preferred formats within which to to be consistent, and less favoured approaches. This doesn’t affect the marks I give, or even the feedback; I suppose it’s possible that the tone of my voice may vary slightly when talking to a student who has shown themselves to be on the side of the angels, for by the Harvard name:date system shall ye know them… Continue Reading »

I’m So Not Glad

It’s Reading Week next week – or, as it really should be known, Essay Feedback / Academic Progress Tutorials / Soothing Brows of Neglected Research Students / Yet More Exciting Meetings / Extra Training Sessions / Desperately Catching Up On Admin In Vague Hope Of Getting To Do Some Research Some Time Before 2017 Week. One of the most depressing aspects of being quite this busy is that I can’t spend so much time engaging with people on the internet, other than sending out sarcastic tweets during really exciting meetings; there’s any number of things I’d like to blog about, not to mention all the blogs I’d like to be discussing, but this sort of thing is still regarded by the Powers That Be as an irrelevant distraction from the ‘real’ job, useful for advertising now and again but something that must be set aside whenever time is tight, regardless of the risk of losing what audience I have ‘cos it’s gone all quiet here. Anyway, this is just to say that I’m still alive, for readers who don’t follow me on Twitter (@NevilleMorley if anyone’s interested) – and, in honour of the late great Jack Bruce, here’s one of the more interesting examples of classical reception in modern rock music…

#insomniacademics

One of the interesting side-effects of spending a reasonable amount of time on Twitter is the sense it gives you of the rhythms of global activity. Of course one gets an inkling of this from the way that the internet gets unmistakably slower from mid-afternoon in the UK, when the bulk of the US East Coast has woken up, and almost unusable by the time California logs on, but it’s far more noticeable when you follow a decent number of people and can get a sense of the timing of their bursts of activity. I’m sure there must be exciting ways of rendering my Twitter feed in graphical form (albeit well beyond my technical capabilities), so I could see shifting colours and patterns as the twittering line follows the dawn westwards, with new voices waking up and then fading away fourteen hours or so later – until the dead hours, around 5 am, when most of the US people I follow have gone to bed and the Europeans haven’t got started yet. Which is really a sign that I need to start following more people in Australasia and Asia, to keep the feed ticking over and give me something to read once I’ve finished catching up on the Yanks – any recommendations?

Of course, the dead hours are not wholly dead in the UK; they’re roamed by those whom I decided some time around 6.30 this morning, two hours after giving up on trying to sleep, to name the insomniacademics Continue Reading »

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