Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Final" Thanks

My sincere thanks to all of you for an very enjoyable Term: I will remember this fondly.
Credit deserved also for good hard work on the Final. How many noticed that the first two sections were a bit of a 'gimmie'?
  • In Section One, five concepts were required .... and five choices there came straight from the lecture notes posted on-line;
  • In Section Two, three concepts were required ... and three choices there also came straight from the lecture notes posted on-line!

Best wishes to all, and please stay in touch if I can be of any future help.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Course Topics in Wider Community

If you look today at the indispensible Arts & Letters Daily you will see under the 'Essays & Opinion' column links to a new article each on Kipling and Wilde which you will likely find informative....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Answers to Pt 1 - "What I don't understand is..."

  1. Childe Roland can be read as an impressionist poem: the interpretation of the work can be from how the poem leaves its impressions -- perhaps sadness, fear, desolation, futility -- on your sensibilities.
  2. John Ruskin was a writer at the heart of the nineteenth century: his ideas and publications were topics of discussion high and low. His significance tends to be difficult for our Age to comprehend, because Ruskin's subject was æsthetics; which for us is at best an 'optional extra' or even a frivolity. Historically, however, it is we who are eccentric: indeed, geographically we are eccentric: every previous century put beauty, form, appearance close to the foundation of understanding, and other civilisations today -- Japanese, African, for example -- still do. So, when reading Ruskin, look for the importance he gives to the æsthetic dimension; even the fact that a particular type of ugliness can be important, founded in an understanding of Gothic architecture, as presented in lecture
  3. Look up 'succubus' (and every other unfamiliar word) in the OED. It's significance to the mysterious disappearance of, and female control over, men in Cranford.
  4. The Victorian grandeur ended, in my opinion, because of the incalculable disaster of the First World War -- and of course because sic transit gloria mundi.
  5. Via media -- the middle way -- is strictly the Anglican Church between the extremes of individualist chapel Christianity and the ecclesiastical Roman Catholic Church. More broadly, it is the English attitude of moderation and compromise.
  6. All the assigned readings will be in play equally for the Final Exam.
  7. Darwinism and Capitalism, considered formally, are the same idea: to wit, Individualism. Darwinism is Individualism applied to biology, where Capitalism is Individualism applied to economics. The identity between the two is perfectly understandable biographically: as discussed lecture, Darwin's wife's family, the Wedgewoods, were powerful Industrialists: indeed, they drove from the vanguard the social changes in the early nineteenth century which turned England into a Capitalist society. Darwin's own family were themselves wealthy and powerful upper bourgeois. [1.] Specifically, then, Darwin presented an explanation for the development of life where individual units act for their own survival: development of species is simply the aggregation of genetically-similar organisms who have survived in their particular environment. These individuals survive on their own fitness: there is, Darwin and Darwinists emphatically insist, absolutely no guidance, direction, plan or design from any higher agents, such as God. [2.] Likewise, mutatis mutandis, for Capitalism. In Capitalist theory, individuals make independent and free decisions on what to buy, what to sell, and if and when to make contracts to enter into groups (companies, labour unions, etc.) The larger economic system is (exactly like in Darwinism) simply the aggregation of these individual actions and decisions. There is, Capitalists emphatically insist, absolutely no guidance, directive, plan or design needed from any higher agents, such as the State. Adam Smith described the action of this aggregation metaphorically--an "Invisible Hand" -- a metaphor which, obviously, applies with equal effectiveness to Darwin's 'natural selection.' [SIDEBAR: We should note that within Darwinism, as a grand system of thought, there are competing sects and creeds, equivalent to what we see in other grand systems of thought: say, Christianity. Regarding Individualism, there are roughly three Darwinian sects or churches. One sect believes that Darwinian selection happens on individual groups -- such as tribes, or countries, for instance -- and we can call these the Darwinian Catholics. Another sect of Darwinists claim that selection occurs on individual genes within organisms (plants, people, pelicans, etc.) and we can call followers of this creed the Darwinian Fundamentalists. In between these two extremes, as a kind of via media is the church of Darwinian Anglicanism where the plain individual organisms themselves -- you and I, our cat and dog, our houseplant -- are the vital unit of selection. In all these Darwinian sects, however, you can see that they agree on the creed of Individualism.]
  8. The 'Women Question' is a Victorian term -- a media term, in effect -- covering the changes in social function consequent upon Industrialisation, as they effected women.
  9. The interesting aspect of the debate which our Longman Anthology picks up is the Victorian writers who re-conceive the debate on their own, gynocentric, terms. Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, for example, presents a closed matriarchal society where men mysteriously disappear or if, like Captain Brown, cross the matriarchy, die. The society at Cranford is emphatically domestic, and represents a direct rejection of the androcentic view of the domestic as being the lesser sphere of power in relation to the political and the commercial spheres. In Gaskell's conception, primary power is domestic power, and women control it, by their (learned) ability to recognise and use small and minute details: "I had often occasion to notice the use that was made of fragments and small opportunities in Cranford." This position is powerful presented in Tolstoy's great War and Peace, Pt III, ch. 9. It is also given support by Conan Doyle's androgynous "A Scandal in Bohemia" (the text presents Sherlock Holmes in female terms and the female protagonist in male) where Holmes' genius and success comes from his supreme ability to observe minutiae ("You see [Watson], but you do not observe.")
  10. The point of view here -- the power of the domestic sphere -- can be seen, perhaps, in several idiomatic instances. "The hand that rocks the cradle rule the world" is one. Its importance can be seen in the the fear that men have of it: "petticoat politics" is a belittling masculine phrase which speaks of an uneasy awareness of this real power. And a clear understanding of the phrase "old boys network" is also directly relevant. The phrase is not, or is not originally, describing a network of boys -- i.e. men -- who happen to be old (or, a 'good old' network of boys. The word boys is crucial. The phrase is British, and refers to the public (i.e. elite private) schools in England -- Eton & Harrow -- and of course, secondarily, Oxbridge. The phrase refers to a network of "old boys" -- i.e. Old Boys are graduates of these schools. In other words, the implicit domestic -- familial, personal, situational -- connections and links are far more basic and important than the explicit codes of business, government or organisational.

Class Projects

There is a stunning and entirely breathtakingly high level of quality to the class projects that I have seen so far.

The blog Vintage Vivants is one such excellent case: a memorable and exquisite engagement. And there are many more avalible among us. Please consider sending me copies of your group's project: I intend to use these as a resource for students in future iterations of Engl. 206