Monday, December 22, 2008

The Ennui of Christmas

It all drags on far too long really. I love certain aspects of Christmas - the procession through Advent, the twinkling lights in the dusk, the anticipation of the first Mass of Christmas, mulled wine, frosty starlit nights, leisurely family meals....

But some stuff I really don't like at all. The rampant greed that can be seen in the shops, the elbowing, the mean acquisitive faces, the commercial overload, that slightly nauseous feeling of tinsel in sunlight and the tedious days where, completely sated, morning slides imperceptibly into night with no sense of pleasant tiredness or achievement. Every surface is covered with plates or cups or undisturbed gifts. No-one wants for anything, but nothing is actually wanted. Sluggish ill-humour is the order of the day. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no money left anyway. And then the ultimate cynicism: all those carefully chosen, purse-searching gifts, so well-meant are consigned to the bargain bin in the highstreet stores.

Shorten it all. Shorten it all, I say. End this tacky gift-swap. Spend Christmas and Boxing Day with your loved ones. Eat, drink and enjoy each others' company then go home. Leave the telly off. Sleep well and then return to the daily fray. Forget New Year and its sentimental treacle, this year's best, Auld Lang Sine, Jools' Hootenanny and his washed up celebs, the hangover, empty promises and regrets...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Books Than Sense

(just a small section of my bookshelves)
The ever-excellent Barbican bookshop - of my favourite local emporia - has recently acquired a whole swathe of second-hand International Critical Commentaries, including (as luck would have it) Robertson and Plummer's 2nd Corinthians. Needless to say at a mere £6, I snapped it up. I also spotted the Plummer-only 1st Corinthians nestling alongside and was about to add that to my basket when I just couldn't remember whether I already possessed that one or had only borrowed it from the library in the dim-and-distant days of my undergrad final year. So, pausing a moment, I tried to picture my bookshelf: I knew that I had Fee's First Corinthians, a number of Galatians commentaries (inc. Lightfoot and Betz - remnants of my MA year where it was easier to buy than run up overdue charges and chance someone else requesting them), books on Pauline theology, Lightfoot' Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, other ICC's - OT and NT; Proverbs, Isaiah vol.1,Matthew, John, Thessalonians, Phil&Philem, Hebrews, Pastorals and both volumes of Revelations...but could I remember if I had 1st Corinthians? No, I could not. Guessing that there probably would not be a run on them overnight, I went home and made an inventory. No 1st Corinthians in sight, so this morning saw me add it to my collection. What a sad case!

I have to admit that they are pretty ancient - 1st Cor. published in 1911 and 2nd Cor. a 1925 reprint - but to say that the oldest is nearly 100 years old, in fine condition. Looking at some of the more recently produced books in my possession, and particularly at the new Oxford or Bristol Classical texts (not cheap!) with their photocopy-quality pages and glued spines, I'm fairly certain that they will not be doing the rounds a century hence. The quality of books today is appalling: I'm sure I'm not the first old reactionary to say this, nor will I be the last. During my earlier years of Greek study I bought the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary because it was one of the few Greek dictionaries with the English to Greek section essential for prose composition. It didn't even weather the degree years, the middle leaves coming loose at the end of the second semester. What on earth is the good of a poorly-made dictionary? A book that will almost certainly see heavy use, lots of back-and-forth page turning? I had to stump up for the middle Liddell, a vast improvement, and when I got truly serious, the Big One, which is still giving good service.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tired but Happy

Well, Rome WAS lovely and we managed to pack a lot in our two days. The weather was merciful in that the rain occurred mostly during the hours of darkness (except for a magnificent thunderstorm while we were sat on the steps of San Francesco in Ripa, waiting for it to open), and the temperature was pleasantly mild. Highlights? Apart from the usual stuff (Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps etc.) I really enjoyed exploring the Mithraeum under San Clemente, going up the new panoramic lift at Il Vittoriano (staggeringly good views) and some new churches in Trastevere. We'd not really explored that side of the Tiber before - last time we ventured into it it felt a bit 'other' so we'd scuttled back over the river. This time however, armed with an itinerary and opening times we boldly strode through the winding streets and were utterly entranced by the area. Santa Maria in Trastevere had the most wonderful mosaic apse that easily rivalled (when we fed 50 centys into the metered light) those of Santa Prassede and San Clemente. San Francesco in Ripa housed Bernini's 'Ecstasy of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni' and in the basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere we saw Maderno's marble recreation of the saint's remains (see photo). Diligent searching ensured that we enjoyed some excellent meals at the oldest pizzeria in Rome (on the via Genova), La Gallina Bianca off the via Torino and La Fontanella Sistina (via Sistina off Piazza Barberini) where our rather grumpy wait for a table was rewarded with the finest tiramisu ever tasted. Tazza d'Oro just off the Piazza Navona provided a reviving caffe corretto. A tour of St Peter's (up the cupola, down into the crypt) was, of course, mandatory. A wander up and down the via Veneto ended in the atmospheric ossuary of the Capuccins at Santa Maria della Concezione - a sobering reminder of mortality. An unpleasantly early start Saturday morning (5am) saw us trudging up to Termini to catch the Leonardo Express to Fiumcino, and our early (and rather turbulent) flight saw us back in the UK by half-ten.

Exhaustion caught up later in the day: sitting slack-jawed in front of the telly heads started nodding in the very early evening. Bed summoned by 8.30pm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rome in October

The OU Latin course is now over so I am free to concentrate on other studies. I have to say I really enjoyed engaging with Book 2 of Virgil's Aeneid on a line-by-line basis - it took me back to my (very happy) undergrad days. You can't beat teasing apart the fibres of language as a method of understanding how it works. The past week has been largely spent sitting in my study (in the sunny bit if possible) and working my way through Michael Morris's introduction to the Philosophy of Language (see my 'Metalepsis' blog). I am conscious that half-term is once again looming ever closer which means, study-wise, a week up on blocks. Still, I am far from despondent as we are all travelling to Rome for a short break. Fantastic! I can't wait - there are a few things I am determined to schedule, including a visit to the church of San Clemente which not only has some marvellous mosaics, but sits above a well-preserved Mithraic temple. We've only managed to get into it once before, Roman opening times being what they are, so I want to go back with the children and give them a real sense of how history builds on, and absorbs, what has gone before. The Mithraic religion is enthrallingly gory, and the shadowy subterranean tunnels echo with the rushing of a nearby river. Or possibly drain - I'm not sure which. High on the kids' agenda is the Colosseum ('only from the outside', I cautioned, having coughed up the exorbitant entry fee last time), possibly the ossuary at Sta Maria della Concezione, where the bones of the Capucin friars have been used to create an atmospheric memento mori, and the Trevi Fountain (by day and by night). Other definites on our list are: climbing St Peter's dome (which will necessitate an early start) an espresso in the Tazza D'Oro coffee shop near the Piazza Navona (best coffee anywhere) and Stas Maria and Cecilia in Trastevere, which we've never got round to visiting before. Rome in the Autumn is glorious if the weather is sunny - the walk along the Tiber, kicking the russet leaves, is simply beautiful. And what better way to celebrate my fiftieth birthday - in a beautiful city surrounded by the people I love.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

'Mens Sana in Corpore Sano'

The pleasant sunny weather has sparked a resurgent interest in 'going to the gym', an activity that had become rather sidelined since the summer holidays. I had been on maintenance routine i.e. only going when I was being nagged by either children or spouse, the former to accompany them to an organised class (sadly, not the boy since the fractured wrist footie incident); the latter probably because he fears the return of my whale-like state that accompanied my final undergrad/MA years. Well today I went, and I really enjoyed it! I suppose that the endorphins had kicked in, because I've felt really healthy and motivated for the remainder of the day.

The combination of physical and intellectual activity is one that the ancient world understood well 'mens sana in corpore sano' etc. So now I've got over the initial reluctance to down pen, I'm going to make a commitment to keep going on a (more) regular basis. If I go first thing in the morning after the school/dog run, it'll scarcely impact on my working day. Plus all that oxygenated blood should do my mental processes a world of good. I ought to add that the husband made it quite clear that further self-funding of the PhD rested on me keeping myself fit and healthy, so pass me that dumb-bell!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Full Timetable = Bliss

I have returned to the fray with renewed enthusiasm for study - the Summer's ennui and uncertainty forgotten as I happily bury myself in a drift of PDFs and books to be read. As usual I am approaching the topic in my usual centripetal fashion; reading the background and the tangential before homing in on the core material. This year the background stuff is pretty intimidating; Philosophy of Language followed by a general study of linguistics. It's certainly far more demanding than anything I have tackled before, but the nature of doctoral study demands that. I am cheered on by the way that previously totally alien concepts (eg referrents, propositional attitude constructions, Sinn und Bedeutung) are gradually gelling to such an extent in my mind that I am returning to Steven Pinker's excellent 'The Stuff of Thought' and realising that I understand his writing at a much deeper level.

Other projects include the acquisition of some ability to read German (at my supervisor's behest) and some Syriac-Aramaic. The former is quite easy to fulfil and to that end I am plunging into an introductory grammar - I can recall quite a bit from my pre-'O'-level years. The latter is proving somewhat more of a challenge: Syriac grammars are harder to come by. Trawling the internet, I chanced upon a slim (very slim) volume that proved to be the product of self-publication: interesting but doesn't quite fill the brief. The textbook suggested by one of my new contacts looks promising (Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar by J F Coakley 5th Ed. 2005 since you ask), but is rather expensive and I don't think I'll find anyone to buy it for my upcoming Big Birthday. I believe it is in the uni library, but since I'm not down there until early December, I'll have to make do with mix-and-match sources. Having done some Biblical Hebrew I am not anticipating too many problems once I actually get started......

Also being read at the moment is E Randolph Richard's 'Paul and First Century Letter Writing': most enjoyable but pads out the kernel of what we know with more than a modicum of invention. And this is a problem that I am encountering again and again in the field of Biblical scholarship: hard-core facts are few and far-between and the temptation to 'join the dots' with well-intentioned but ultimately unprovable supposition (obviously by its very nature supposition is a form of fantasy). This is where the confessional scholar has the advantage over the the other sort. Many of them (and I must emphasise by NO MEANS ALL of them) feel quite at liberty -nay, almost compelled - to fill the interstices between known facts with what they think must have been the case or explain mysterious discrepancies by invoking mystery. In the same way Channel 5 documentaries blithely move from 'could have' to 'would have' to 'did' within the space of their allotted hour, covering measly facts with a veil of interesting fallacy. Whereas I would feel quite at home grabbing the programme makers by the scruff of the neck and demanding evidence, I note that there is a tendency to fight shy of forcing the well-intentioned evangelical (or member of any other denomination) into a corner to explain him/herself! This comedy of manners is quite amusing, but ultimately leads to two discrete fields of scholarship that to the uninitiated (like me) are not always discernable at first sight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pastures New

Well - Induction Day on Monday went a lot more smoothly than I had anticipated. I tend to such days as a procession of hurdles that need to be successfully overcome. First, Train No1 was waiting in the station in the chilly 6am light....the computerised reservation system had failed so it was rather difficult to locate the correct carriage, let alone the right seat. The cross-country line is slow and there are regular stops along the way so journey No1 took three hours. Train No2 runs at approximately 15 minute intervals and arrived within a very short space of time so that I managed to disembark at my destination at 9.25. That left me 5 minutes to complete the 15 minute walk up to the department, but academia running as it does, I arrived in time to make myself a cup of lousy coffee before we were shepherded across the hall for the usual meet and greet stuff that makes up these things. It concluded with gratifying alacrity and I managed to have a few words with Academic Supervisor No2 before walking back downhill to the branch line station where I travelled one stop up the line to the main campus. It's rather a pleasant green-ish space surrounded by utilitarian brick-built units and a couple of remnants from the age of successful Victorian enterprise (the Great Hall and an enormously tall clock tower that seems to act as a giant sundial). Obtaining my student ID card I made my way (after a fairly decent latte) to the library that books! I found a few useful volumes and, having checked them out, proceeded to lunch on a baked spud and coleslaw. Early afternoon I had my first meeting with my PhD supervisor: it went very well, and I think that we should be able to work together excellently. Having discussed targets and arranged the next session, I made my way back to the branch-line station ...but not before I'd checked out the on-site Waterstones and made an appropriately reduced-price purchase courtesy of my new student card! Finding myself with a few spare minutes at the main station, I had another hot drink and waited in relative comfort in the passenger lounge before boarding the 16:30 home. I eventually arrived back at our house at 7.30pm, much to the excitement of the dog, who'd been wondering where I'd been all day.

The upshot to all this is that the things that I had worried about prior to the event didn't trouble me: I pushed through the 'comfort zone' and am pretty sure that next time I won't feel anything like as apprehensive. Success.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ageing and Nervousness

Next Monday I have to go for the post-graduate induction meeting at my new university. I have to admit that I have got beyond the excitement of having a new pencil case and freshly sharpened pencils and am now feeling downright apprehensive about the whole business! I am not very good at spontaneous conversation with people I don't know very well and my mental processes tend to grind to a halt when confronted with a question that I was not expecting: I go red and stammer away incoherently. God knows what'll happen if someone asks me to sum up my PhD proposal in a room full of people! I'll probably implode....

I recognise that as I get older I am becoming less initially confident in unexplored situations, and sometimes I have to force myself to push through my 'comfort zone' and do stuff that I'm not feeling too positive about. In fact it seems to be a widespread symptom of aging: The unwillingness to engage is possibly a biologically programmed mechanism to protect the elderly (and hence more vulnerable) from 'risky' situations, and it makes me wonder if the old folks who lead solitary unengaged lives are not so much deliberately excluded or ignored by others as imposing restrictions on social involvement upon themselves.

Just as muscles ache and protest at unaccustomed exercise, and the mind atrophies through lack of stimulus, so the social persona withers unless exposed to new social situations. Often an opportunity is greeted (either internally or actually) with 'No, I don't feel like it'. This excuse must be rigorously examined and teased apart until the fibres of the true reason can be seen. Quite often the fear of failure or humiliation is a factor in rejecting an invitation or an opening. The thought that we may be exposed to scrutiny is quite daunting, especially if our confidence in our physical appearance or intellectual capacity is waning. But we owe it to ourselves to push out the comfort zone, do things we maybe feel unsure about, because if we start to say 'no' to life our world starts to contract bit by bit until we are the folk sitting fearfully alone at home. If I can keep doing new things, experiencing new situations and meeting new people, maybe I can keep the 'shrinking world' at bay: There are, out there, some wonderful, really old people and despite their wildly different backgrounds, what unites them is their unafraid zest for life. I want to be like that and, however hard it seems to be to get out there and live, I'm going to make it a priority to accept any opportunities that come my way. Moreover, I intend to make my own opportunities, as I have been doing for the past few years. Aging? 99% in the mind!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Autumn Draws On

Well, this month has just flown by! The children are settled into their new routines, the weather is rather wonderfully Autumnal; misty mornings, heavy dews, sunlight filtering through the changing leaves....we even have grapes turning purple on the vine. I am trying to get my head around copious amounts of reading matter, mostly for my doctoral studies which kick off in earnest at the end of the month with a post-grad induction day. I am feeling rather nervous about it - not only is there a three-and-a-half hour train journey to get to my new university (lots of potential for being late and getting flustered), but I'll be meeting lots of new people and having to talk off-the-cuff about myself and my proposed PhD: not something I'm terrifically good at. I am excited, of course, but it's debatable whether the nerves or the excitement is winning. To this end I have invested in my own copy of Susan Jeffers' 'Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway' which I have found tremendously useful for boosting self-confidence and calming nervousness in the past. Just reading her soothing prose makes me realise that everyone's nervous most of the time in new situations: I just have to tell myself that I can handle anything that comes my way. So I will!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The New Academic Term

First day of the school term and the children, looking as smart as they ever get, happily trot off.
I sit at my computer, black coffee at my elbow with a tremendous sense of relief, well-being and achievement. The sun is actually shining for once and the whole day has an autumny feel to it. Oh the excitement of packing the new pencil cases! Oh the bag full of books! Oh the tingle of anticipation and fear at the unknown!
And this year it applies to me too! Unlike last year, when my MA was moving into its final month and I felt rather gloomy (see 'Nostalgia and Melancholy' August 29th 2007), I am feeling somewhat perkier. Despite not receiving any funding for my proposed doctoral study, I have decided to firmly commit myself to doing it part-time.
The more I think about the part-time option, the better and better it gets. More time, less pressure. Brilliant!
Best of all is the unexpected boost to my self-esteem: now I can label myself, to 'name' what I am (I have been reading Doris Lessing recently), which didn't strike me as important until it seemed that the PhD was slipping off-screen.

So that's me then....a 'doctoral student'. Yes, I like the sound of that! And I can update my profile to boot. Hooray!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Most Beautiful Book.......Hmmm....

Anyone who has read any of my posts will know that I am a shameless devourer of books and that my appetite is more gourmand than gourmet.

It will come as no surprise then that I caved into my addiction once again (well, it was payday last Thursday) and have purchased 'The Most Beautiful Medieval Bibles' edited by Andreas Fingernagel and Christian Gastgeber.
Well, the display copy was beautiful, but I made the mistake of actually buying a cellophane- sealed one that I reasoned would be somewhat less dog-eared. Bit of a mistake: the copy I bought was poorer in reproduction quality than the one I looked at in the shop, the plates being duller and the pages having a peculiar dusty feel. So now I am in a quandary: do I return my purchase and ask for it to be exchanged for the display copy (this will entail carting it back into town: it's no light-weight tome and there's no guarantee that the display copy will still be there - there appeared to be only two copies in total) or keep the one I've got and feel slightly cheated. I have a feeling that this is a cynical marketing ploy, unload the second-rate repros, sight unseen. Consequently I feel miffed and annoyed with myself - usually a canny book-inspector - that I fell for this rather underhand tactic, if tactic it was.
Guess it serves me right if I get indigestion occasionally.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Well I Never....!

Imagine my surprise on turning on the radio yesterday after blogging to find that Doris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook' is being serialised on Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour'!

Presumably they'll omit the explicit bits. Tee hee!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Before ten a.m., and I am already on the computer, second cup of coffee and a cigarette. Not terrible, but I am finding the last few days of the school holidays are starting to shred the nerves. We are all quite bored: we've been to all the places we want to go, done most of the things we can afford to do and are mostly just kicking our heels waiting for the new term to start. The children have taken to staying awake late, their sleep-banks having been stocked up over the past six weeks. Consequently, they wake late too, hence my early occupation here. The juggernaut of family life creaks slowly into life no earlier than mid-morning, by which time my enthusiasm for it all is already starting to wane. I am reading 'The Golden Notebook' by Doris Lessing and wryly recognised the protagonist Anna's (or is it her alter ego Ella's?) statement that she disliked the enforced discipline of being a mother, disliked what it had turned her into; disliked the list of things to do that made 'normal' life possible, but understood that this petty routine was necessary to prevent her falling into formless chaos (tautology? can chaos be full of form?) and indeed, underpinned her personality in other spheres - up to a point.
So that's me then: both resentful and dependent on my dutifulness to give me discipline. Because I know that the liberty that I will gain when the school term starts is largely illusory and that I will still sit, open-mouthed and vacant and wondering what to do next. Because there is no freedom in freedom. Freedom is to be found in the interstices of routine.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Diana, San Pio, the Odour of Sanctity and a Whiff of Scandal.

Whilst on holiday in Sardinia, I was intrigued by the seemingly widespread devotion to San Pio of Pietrelcina (formerly known - before his canonisation - as Padre Pio). The local supermarket had a prayer card pasted above one of the tills, and sold exclusively San Pio votive candles, a favourite restaurant of ours had a portrait of him on the wall, the Assumption procession contained a section headed by a San Pio banner (see photo), and - most bizarrely - we noted a young man on the beach sporting a sizeable tattoo of the saint.
It would appear that the body of the saint is now on display at San Giovanni Rotondo having been exhumed and tidied up for exhibition.
Apparently the body was in a fair state of preservation, which church authorities were quick to point out was probably because it had had at least some attention from the embalmers, an injection of formaldehyde at the time of death.
[incorruptibility being a sign of 5-star, solid gold, fur-lined, ocean-going, Vatican-endorsed sainthood, the sort embodied by St Therese of Lisieux, St Bernadette of Lourdes, not the sort of sainthood forced upon the reluctant and sceptical church by the groundswell of the pious faithful].
Embalming immediately cancels out the possibility of spontaneous incorruptibility, leaving us with what we might term a '3-star' saint.
Diana, the late Princess of Wales, has a very powerful hold on the popular secular imagination, seen by many a credulous soul as 'a saint' in the making. Little surprise, then, that she was embalmed almost before she was on the mortuary slab, filleted of embarrassing evidence and consigned to an unhallowed grave.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hooray for Friends!

Got a phone call this lunchtime from a good ex-undergraduate friend of mine who is currently an inhabitant of the town of Dreaming (or is it 'Gleaming'?) Spires, which cheered me up no end: there's nothing like hearing from a like minded soul and receiving encouragement from them to dispel the Slough of Despond. I promptly cut the lawn.

Putting the Wagon in Motion

Nearly there: the last week of the school holidays - seven days to go!
The husband returned to work today, although in reality, for him, most of the weekend was a slow-motion anticipation of the dreaded event. The house is in complete squalor, but there seems very little point in devoting energy to something that will just require redoing very shortly. And redoing over and over again.
More worryingly 'my desk' is in absolute disarray too. 'My desk' is actually a metaphor for my mental/psychological/intellectual self. I am surrounded by both pressing tasks (an upcoming assignment) and half-finished projects that I embarked on enthusiastically enough at the time. All fall down before the terrible sense of inertia that I am seized with.
I know that I should meet up with the reading group tomorrow, but I really don't think I can be bothered to organise the children and haul myself thirty miles for something that I am, in truth, only an occasional and peripheral member of. (Don't bother me with the 'incorrect' syntax of that sentence: I consider Webster a complete arse)
I should (really should) invite my daughter's friend around for a reciprocal day of well thought out play and social opportunity - but I lack the energy to do so.
When I see my childrens' bright and lovely faces, I despise myself for being such a poor excuse for a mother, and yet more and more I come to understand my own mother's terminal frustration with her life. Her tense boredom and unhappiness stems from an intelligent and creative personality that was never given the opportunity to thrive and stretch itself, other than in a series of short-lived financially controlled, 'approved' hobbies/handicrafts/pastimes. Being a woman of her time (financially subjugated), demanding more of her life was never an option. Even now, when I suggest that something like the OU might give her a sense of achievement and purpose, she is reluctant to embark on something that might upset the status quo i.e. my father not getting his tea on time.
She, like me, needs intellectual involvement to prevent festering, a toxic introspection that robs the personality of energy, optimism and good will.
It is quite true: if you want something doing, give it to a busy person - they are the ones with the energy already in motion that will see a task through. An unengaged person must first of all overcome the moment of inertia: the busy one hits the ground running.
And so it is my goal today to get the wheels on this particular wagon rolling. Experience has taught me what I must do to achieve this: DO ANYTHING!
Activity breeds energy, energy begets energy, energy means achievement, achievement means happiness. Ergo, activity = happiness.
I am off to sweep the floor.

It does occur to me that I really need to set up another blog: this one has become hijacked by personal reflections, which although it is a useful exercise in thinking stuff through, was not really what I set out to do!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Sun Also Rises...

A heartfelt discussion with my dear, long-suffering husband (when will you get a job, dear?) and Captain Creditcard has put me in a more optimistic frame of mind: how (he said - husband, not Cap'n Creditcard) about a part-time PhD? Half the yearly fees (just manageable if self-funded), five years minimum to complete, certainly less intense pressure. Why did this not occur to me before? Well, because if one wants serious funding, full-time is the best course of action. But that was not to be.
But part-time is better than no-time.... and besides, my offer is firm from the uni.
Sadly, my tiny daydream of a new all-singing, all-dancing, dedicated laptop and generous book fund has to go by the board, but hey!
So the coming weeks will see me filled with renewed optimism and cheerfulness. Things are looking up!

p.s. I might go and ogle Procopius' 'Anecdota' at The Book way of a consolation present!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nothing. Niente. Nada. Not a bean.

OK, so the crossed fingers did not work.
I have absolutely NO funding or scholarship for starting PhD work this forthcoming academic year.
Nothing. Niente. Nada. Not a bean.
And as I have self-funded my way through both my BA and MA, there is no way I can do it for a further three years (minimum). I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed - so disappointed that I daren't examine my thoughts too closely for fear of seeing the yawning chasm therein. I need a major brain-shift, a total reassessment, a new plan.
I shall survive: I don't know quite how yet........but I will get over it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back into the fold...or not, as the case may be

Ah well! Over too quickly but fantastic while it lasted....farewell sun and the relaxing Mediterranean lifestyle, hello grey skies, overgrown lawn and unanswered mail.
I felt the usual post-holiday fatigue, which is a combination of travel exhaustion (how can just sitting in airports and planes be so tiring?), withdrawal from alcohol, lack of sunlight, good food and the general sense of anticlimax, plus the knowledge that it'll take another year of solid saving to repeat the experience. A brisk trip to the gym and a swim drove out some of the lethargy and accumulated CO in the system and today I feel considerably brighter.
Sadly the major source of funding for my doctoral studies has not deemed me worthy of an award (again) so I am desperately hoping that I get an in-house scholarship from my chosen university. Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board for a serious reassessment of my life plans.
I knew my chances of scoring with the AHRC were slim (does anyone know anyone who has got funding from these people?), but I hadn't anticipated being as disappointed as I actually was. Mentally my compass over the past year or so has been fixed on starting doctoral work this autumn and now it is looking less and less likely, I find myself panicking rather, and wondering what on earth I will do if it all comes to nothing. I need some serious thinking time to map out a new route, but that'll have to wait until I have some quiet family-free time - another couple of weeks at least. Meanwhile, I feel somewhat downcast and rather tense. A scholarship would be a tremendous boost to my confidence, a real lifeline to the scholarship that I deeply and passionately love. I daren't believe I won't get one: I promise that I would be an exemplary student and treat the three years as professionally as I would treat a job. I have so much to offer, and so much I want to say. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ha! I Told You So!

Done it - translation of 804 lines of Virgil's 'Aeneid' put to bed (or rather in a box file until after the hols)!
So we went out briefly and mercifully the rain has given way to a blisteringly hot and sunny afternoon. What an unpredictable climate.
Was immensely cheered to see the sentiments of my post 'Why Women Don't Produce Great Art' given a bit of support by TWO writers for the Times:

Am off to sit in the garden and finish Michael Psellus' 'Fourteen Byzantine Rulers'. I have to admit I am very tempted by Procopius' 'Anecdota'. Maybe when I return after my trip abroad....

I Am Weary, A-weary..

I am so tired today. Picking my way through small and completely unrewarding, unstimulating tasks, in this humidity I am soon cold and clammy to the touch. There seems no end to minutiae. Fluff-wads have accumulated around the skirting board, the flow of washing, drying, tumble-drying is unremitting. I have a dull headache and my eyes seem worse today. The weather is grey, interspersed with downpours of monsoon proportions. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do that we have not done to the point of boredom. Hence I am sitting here, moaning and blogging - bloaning, mogging whatever.
Today is already a day of epic caffeine consumption: a six-cup pot is on the hob and I have already consumed one two-cup pot and a mug of instant. No wonder I have a headache. Palpitations before noon, I suppose.
The good news is that I've only got 35 lines of translation to do. Eminently achievable. Hooray!
I am going to set-to after my next cup of coffee and press on until it's completed. then I'm going out!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Aeneid Through Gritted Teeth

Our annual hol. is only a matter of days away now and I am really, really looking forward to getting away from the daily grind and take in some Mediterranean sun and life. Funnily enough, the school holidays bring an even more rigid routine to my day: necessary if I am to achieve anything before nightfall! I have stuck to my pledge to make our day a combination of mental, physical and leisure activity to counteract the natural predisposition to loaf aimlessly and then feel slightly nauseous by tea-time. It seems to have worked rather well, with only minimal bickering and everyone getting a couple of hours to do their own thing, be it gaming, reading or in my case translating Book II of the Aeneid. Again my decision to complete only one photostatted page of text per day (circa 25 lines c/w transcription of vocab. and a 'fair'(-ish!) draft) has proved to be a sensible and achievable amount. Thus I am now at line 720 (out of 804) with only two days of feasible study time before we fly. Realistically, Friday will be commited to rounding up stuff for packing, ordering currency, final washing/ironing etc. so that leaves tomorrow.
I could get up very early tomorrow and finish it off - that would give me a good 'clean desk' feeling (so important for that true holiday feeling!). Problem is, I'm starting to feel a real aversion to the task in hand, just like I did when I was finishing off my undergrad. dissertation and the MA thesis. Oh dear. The barely suppressed resentment, the gritted teeth.
It's not that I don't really enjoy the Aeneid - on the contrary, it's been a revelation to me, the poetry is fantastic. It's just that when it's reduced to a mandatory task to be endured and completed, I get seriously mentally itchy. My own fault, I know, I know - I am the only person who is standing over me arms folded, tutting loudly. So....should I make a final push to finish off BkII, or let it go until I get back? Can't decide, which is why I am blogging not translating. What a waster!

Interestingly enough, as I have been working through the poem, I have had two translations at my side as a guide (having abandoned the prescribed West version earlier on): the Loeb Fairclough/Gould (correctly in the historic present, occasionally conspicuously poetic and archaic - not necessarily a bad thing), and a cheap-as-chips 'Wordsworth Classics' translation by Michael J. Oakley. This latter has proved astoundingly close to the original Latin, astounding in that I've never been recommended this translation or heard of Oakley. Occasionally I've had some minor quibbles (the temple of Ceres is itself described as 'forsaken', rather than it being described as 'of forsaken Ceres' [BkII:715], despite the obvious agreement of 'desertae' with 'Cereris' rather than with 'templum'), but all in all I heartily commend it.

What's the betting that I'll be up at first light tomorrow? Oh, we'll see.....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

'The Trees of the Field Do WHAT!....' Isaiah 55:12

One of the very popular 'folk hymns' (shudder) at the childrens' school starts 'You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace...' which gets them rollicking in the aisles as it gets faster and faster. The chorus goes 'And the trees of the fields shall clap their hands (x 3) as you go forth with joy.' Clap their hands? Where did that come from?
Looking in my Swete copy of the Septuagint I find

καὶ πάντα τὰ ξύλα τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐπικροτήσει τοῖς κλάδοις

which, if my LSJM is correct, translates as

'and all the trees of the field shall rattle their branches'

which rather lacks the anthropomorphic element! My Biblical Hebrew is not up to much, so I can't tell whether the original Hebrew text

ה וְכָל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶ ה יִמְחֲאוּ־כָֽף׃

is echoed more correctly by the LXX ἐπικροτήσει τοῖς κλάδοις , or by the English translations (from KJV onwards) of 'clap their hands'.
I am rather puzzled. How did this strange interpretation come about? Are their any other similar examples?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Inertia

A curious dull sort of time, the approach to one's annual vacation. I am filled with listlessness: that is, I know that I must make out some lists detailing the articles still required for making the holiday as smooth and as hassle-free as possible (e.g. Do you really want to find yourself without wet-wipes just after you have eaten a three-scoop gelato in the blazing sun? Or paying way over the odds for some antihistamines when the mozzy bite turns nasty? I think not!) This task is seen as mandatory by the bossy, schoolmarmish side of my brain, the one that barks up the stairs 'Have you done your teeth yet?' every morning. And yet....and yet....there is a part of me (presumably the opposite side) that just wants to roll up at the airport with a backpack containing the bare essentials plus some holiday reading, arrive at my destination cool and unconcerned, organise my accomodation on spec (Oooh! Look at that lovely Etruscan well-cover in the courtyard. There! Under the walnut tree!), drift through the weeks unrestricted by schedules and timings, enjoying long lunches and late dinners.
But it'll never happen. At least not in the forseeable future of family holidays where I seem to be chief motivator and organiser. I don't know if it's a question of pride or guilt (See what a fabulous facilitator I am! I have brought TWO sorts of moisturiser!/Oh my God the children will get sunstroke just because I, their incompetent mother, forgot to bring their sunhats!), But I despise myself for being unable to cede control. Moisturiser and sunhats CAN be bought, at shops, by their father if necessary.....
Even knowing this, I fully intend to make a foray into town tomorrow to buy the necessary outstanding items. The languorous woman at the airport is not, and probably never will be, me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Thoughts on Similar Lines

An elderly gentleman of my acquaintance:

"We've got a lovely garden, but I don't enjoy it. If the weather is sunny I am obliged to undertake all sorts of gardening tasks: mowing the lawn, cutting the hedges, weeding, thinning out shrubs, mulching, sometimes moving plants that I'm told 'don't look right where they are' or 'would do better over there'. It can go on all weekend with no let-up. It's a tyranny. Our neighbour just has a rectangular lawn and a few roses. When it's sunny, he just gets out his deckchair and sits and reads in the sun. I would settle for something far less pretty than ours, if only I could get to enjoy it!"

Similarly an academic friend of mine:

" I used to love reading, but since I started on this course, I've grown to dislike it intensely. I've got so many set texts that I have to devote a good portion of my day to just keeping up with them. Then there's the secondary scholarship: vast, in my field. A lot of it is really old and dry as dust and largely discredited, but I need to understand the evolution of the arguments. Sometimes I find that I have been just scanning the words and turning the pages - and I realise I haven't taken any of it in. It's just words, words, words.... Now I get really agitated when I sit down with a book and look forward to making a coffee or whatever - even before I get started. It's horrible: I don't get any pleasure out of reading now. It's just a chore. When I see people with the latest best-seller or a magazine I get really envious."

Today's Gospel reading (Matthew 13:44) concerns the man who discovers a treasure of great value buried in a field. He covers it back over, goes and sells all he has and buys the field.
My question is this:
What if he later realises that the treasure he uncovered is not worth the price he paid for it?

Just wondering....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Et In Aporia Ego

The sun is out, the sky is cloudless. the butterflies are flitting hither and yon. The garden beckons. The neighbours' burglar alarm has been sounding off for about 40mins (ever since the postman shoved a wad of letters through their door). Typically, they went abroad on holiday yesterday FOR A MONTH, with the in-laws, so there is no one to appeal to to sort out this racket. I think I will expire if I am forced to work inside today with the windows shut: pass the cotton wool please, I am going outside. I may be some time.....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sinaiticus Online! Huzzah!

I am salivating at the prospect of the Codex Sinaiticus (good old aleph!) being available online would that it had been thus available for scrutiny during my MA year! Any chance of P46?

The Demonisation of Men

The sun teetering on the edge of shining has necessitated a morning spent inside, doing the usual humdrum stuff and listening with increasing irritation to the radio. What seems to be a trend (maybe increasing, maybe it's always been there) is the demonisation of men: men represented as 'other', wholly hostile, lacking in redeeming features. What is particularly striking is that the language used and the attitudes assumed (what do you expect, they're men, they have no empathy, can't multitask, are inferior carers for children) disturbingly echo superior end-of-empire attitudes to 'foreigners'. I would be tempted to add '.....and what makes it worse is that this demonisation comes from women!' but that would undermine my following argument.
Having moved from a position of passivity to one of notional equality in the social and economic sphere (OK that's debatable, as some will no doubt point out), some women seem intent on completely overturning the male/female roles and behaving towards men in a way that would have been abhorrent to them had the positions never have been reversed. And for this we burnt our bras? The point of equality between the sexes is surely that of equality. Men and women are, after all, human beings: this commonality should overcome and perceived sex-differences.
But this doesn't seem to be the case. Like the child in the playground who bullies and whines until it is given the best toy, women seem to have run scampering into a corner mouthing streams of abuse over their shoulders. There is a terrible complicity in 'sisterhood'. Friends of mine are complicit in their condemnation of their spouses and partners, treating them as they would recalcitrant children who have to be coerced and manipulated into performing what are seen to be appropriate activities; shopping, decorating, childminding. This is often accompanied by general head-shaking and chortling which would be intolerable were the boot on the opposite foot. It appears to me that women are 'getting their own back'. It's an ugly, crass attitude that negates the improvement in womens' status in the last few decades. We are debasing ourselves.
Likewise the 'feminist agenda' and 'readings' that are retrospectively applied to texts that do not require any particular sort of reading to be applied to them. They stand on their own merits, written for humankind. By humans. So what if women don't get much of a mention?
Similarly any other sort of agenda is divisive. It's not clever scholarship: it's corrosive, divisive and demeaning to both those who apply it and to those works to which it is applied. Get over it please. Lift your eyes to see what is good and noble and binds mankind together. Stop squabbling. Grow UP!!!!

Thus Far Thus Good

Thursday and the skies are overcast again: the temperature is pleasant enough, but there doesn't seem to be the promise of the wonderful sunshine of yesterday. Having got the routine tasks out of the way in the morning (dog walking, admin., one full page of Aeneid BkII translation) we made a brief foray into town. Grabbing a couple of muffins and a thermos mug of coffee en route, we went and sat under the lime trees in the central park. All very pleasant. Families were sitting round eating picnics or ice-creams and the atmosphere was one of relaxed cordiality. Quickly popping into the Art Gallery (I know, I know.....but just 'popping in' is better than not going in at all, surely: at least I feel we're maintaining a toe-hold in culture!) and into the obligatory clothes, games and book shops on the way back to the car, we arrived home to a simple bread and cheese lunch and then..........aaah!
I took my new paperback (Michael Psellus' 'Fourteen Byzantine Rulers'), a mug of tea and my packet of French rolling tobacco out into the back garden and, sitting under the vine-clad pergola, read and read and read until the sun move right over and shone on me from the west. Bliss!
The book was surprisingly gripping, dealing with the reminiscences of an 11th century courtier (Psellus) about the machination and intrigues of the Byzantine imperial court. As usual in books of this sort, the first chapter was a tough orientation exercise, with new names flying in from left right and centre. However, after a while, the identities of the characters crystallised and I became engrossed in the details of the Empress Zoe's marriages, John Orphanotrophus' connivings and the arbtirary cruelties and kindnesses of that era. Not for nothing did the adjective 'byzantine' attain its subtle meanings! Having read and enjoyed Judith Herrin's excellent 'Byzantium' it seemed a natural progression to read some first-hand witnesses, and Psellus' conversational style makes for an ideal starting point. I look forward to reading some more very soon......hopefully the sun will come out later....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Happy Days are Here Again

Contrary to all my expectations, the weather forecast for this week looks relatively promising. No imminent downpours, pleasant temperature and a high probability of some sunshine.
Immediately I feel optimistic, being a light and warmth-loving creature (photophilous? thermophilous?). The planning centre of my brain springs into action: long walks across the grassy chalk uplands; grasshopper spotting in the poppy-spattered hay-fields; picnics in the abbey ruins; lounging under dappled willow near the glassy river.
Of course none of this actually happens. The dog throws up in the car; wasp-stings; braying adults and screaming toddlers; someone falls in and wants to go home. But this is not the point. It's the whole mindset that accompanies the prospect and arrival of real summer weather that I relish, the clarity of light and colour, the feeling of well-being and calm. I dislike being penned in, oppressed, restricted in my movements either mentally or physically. But in reality, I am not prevented from doing things at all - it's all in my mind. Thus I have to admit that, like the grasshopper who springs into chirping action on a hot summer day, I am (psychologically at least) a slave to the sunlight.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Here we go...

So this is day one of the School Hols, aka The Six-Week Break, a time when normal time fractures and its disorganised shards eventually coelesce into some sort of 'other' routine. Being very much a creature of time and motion, I find the whole business highly worrying and not a little troublesome. My day is very nicely organised. thank you. Once the children are deposited at school (the school-run economically incorporates the dog-walk), I take my place at the computer with my cup of strong, black coffee (radio on; Start the Week, Midweek, In Our Time, Desert Island Discs, according to day) and start work. First the quotidien admin; replying to emails, scanning articles or blogs before settling to a solid chunk of work or study (lunch or not as the mood and stomach dictate). Various diversionary activities punctuate the week in accordance with the dictum mens sana in corpore sano; Tai Chi, deadlifts and other powerbuilding exercise, cardio work or swimming. Occasionally I am lucky to meet up with friends. I like this life.
And now I must weave together a different sort of routine that will suit all the parties involved.
Unfortunately the most effective way of doing this is to act as the sergeant-major.
"Right you 'orrible lot, get out of them beds and get downstairs, eat your breakfast then we're walking the dog. Thirteen hundred hours we're orf to the gym where you will partake in physical hexercise then we will make a quick sortie to the shops to secure provisions. Sixteen hundred hours will see us back at barracks for approximately two hours R&R, then dinnah, then I will spend approximately one hour on admin. Lights out will be at the usual time."
And everything will run pretty smoothly. The temptation, of course, is to just let them drift through the holidays stuck to their various electronic games, which would indeed keep them quiet. And they are very inclined to do so. However, I am determined that the day will have some sort of form, that exercise will alternate with creativity or some mentally engaging task, that food will appear at regular intervals. Spontaneity is fine, but is often used as a cloak for laziness. Still being in your jim-jams at lunchtime is not going with the flow. It is moral decay, damn you!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why Women Don't Produce Great Art

Listening to Radio 4's self-consciously pro-feminist 'Woman's Hour' this morning I was appalled by the discussion on 'Helen Mirren in a bikini'. I was immensely relieved when on of the Friday panel - author Tim Lott - practically refusing to discuss this banality, saying that it was a pity that women had any interest in this sort of thing and they really should grow up and get over their obsession with appearance (I paraphrase from memory). Cheering silently, I reflected that this is EXACTLY what I have thought for a long time (ever since I first read Simone de Beauvoir at the age of 17). Women are constantly shooting themselves in the foot by becoming hung up on triviality: it's little wonder that they're not taken seriously. Get over it! This isn't knowing ironic feminist self-parody - it's a vapid neurotic obsession that keeps you from achieving or being taken seriously. Many very talented women spend an awful lot of time mentally observing and analysing their actions: it doesn't help that the very people who should be applauding their successes end up bringing the attributes of physicality into the discussion - looks, lifestyle and family in particular.
And this is why women don't produce great art. No, they don't. Don't pretend that textiles and ceramics and all the other second-rate detritus that women artists trot out are in any way equivalent to say, a Rembrandt or Mahler's Second. They're not, and all the politically-correct chin-stroking will not make them so. And don't bleat about the repression of women, patriachalism etc. Women don't produce great art because they are so busy hand-wringing and agonising and pleading their bellies. Women deal in minutiae. Most of the literature produced by them deals in 'relationships', their eyes never rising above the horizon of their locale. I quite agree with Brian Sewell's recent comment that there has never been a first-rank woman artist and that only men are capable of aestheitc greatness. No doubt this was greeted with howls of protest, but he's quite right, and right again to pin it on 'babies'.That there is, in this day and age, a programme called WOMAN'S Hour is shameful. That women actually consent to act in commercials for domestic air-freshener and online bingo is shameful. That they claim to enjoy films like 'Sex In the City' and 'Bridget Jones' is shameful. That they buy magazines that home in on the images and imagined shortcomings of 'celebs' is shameful. If women still aren't taken seriously, they only have themselves to blame. Don't be so SHAL-LOW!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hubris and Hamsters

Reviewing my posts for 2008 thus far I am struck by the fact that I am a complete tosser.
I start with good (nay, grandiose) intentions of doing this, that and the other, but generally these wither or disappear in a puff of dust. True, I feel somewhat hamstrung in that I can do no constructive academic spadework until I find out whether I am going to get funding for my doctorate. There is absolutely no point in reading a load of stuff that may or may not be relevant come October. If it DOES become relevant, I will not be able to remember what I have already read (I need an immediate goal in mind when I read; an essay to be written, a precise point to be proved etc).If not then.....well, it wont BE relevant anymore and it will just have been pointless and a bit sad.....
More realistically, I have come to realise that I am terribly overambitious with my time. I try to schedule in too much material into too little time. I haven't made any recent efforts with Biblical Hebrew; I wimped out of both Arabic and Akkadian, the latter before I had even really started.
As for my musings that I would commence translating my 'Patristic Greek reader' when the weather got warmer (see April 1st's post)......Pah!!! I'm still waiting, and the children finish school for the Summer break TOMORROW!!!! It ain't gonna happen is it? I've still GOT to pursue the OU Latin. Fortunately, at least that's going to plan and I am really enjoying Book 2 of 'The Aeneid', painstakingly, line by line. It's very addictive for someone like me who is a translation freak......I think a page of photostatted text per day would be possible (25 lines? Yes, I think so).
Yesterday saw the very sad passing of little Myrtle the hamster. Only six months old, what looked initially looked like an impacted pouch/?abscess turned out to be a massive malignancy that had grown with such rapidity that the awful pain she must have been in dare not be imagined. Having anaesthatised her and carried out an inspection of the lump the vet gave me an 'I'm very sorry to have to tell you....' sort of phone call. Surprised and sad, I had to give the instruction to end this little life with no more suffering. Picking up the tiny cooling body from the surgery (wrapped in a blue paper-towel shroud), I wept and felt stupid and couldn't imagine how people manage to make this decision for their dogs, or cats, or horses.....Burying her in the garden, the sunshine seemed dim and I felt wretched, like a murderer. Telling my daughter wasn't easy either. We had expected Myrtle to be back at home that evening, nursing a sore pouch and guzzling antibiotics. The initial brave face of a 'cool' eleven-year old crumbled when she saw the empty place where the cage stood, and the open packet of hamster treats that would delight no more.

Monday, July 14, 2008

School Holidays Suck

OK I really need a plan. School holidays are no longer on the horizon, they are looming large, as in 'start next week'. No, that's not large, that's HUGE. That's a HUGE amount of time to fill in between now and September. Hands up all the Mums who are actively looking forward to six weeks at home, in Britain, in the rain, constrained by rising fuel costs, ridiculous entrance fees, disappointing interactive exhibitions and unrealistic expectations! Just as I thought......not that many. I suppose there will be a handful of Cath Kidston-clad optimists who are relishing a bug-hunt on the allotment followed by a floury afternoon round the Aga - there always are. They hang round the school playground on the first day of term weeping as ***** enters the system for the first time bewailing the shortness of childhood and the tyranny of the school run. But not many.
There is a conspiracy of silence amongst mothers who don't know each other too well. Everything is fine and dandy. They love spending as much time as possible with their children. They love the cooking and the cleaning and the sheer mindlessness of the daily routine - it's their JOB after all. Funny though, when you get to know them better, the facade starts to crack.

Really, it would be nice to go into the library to browse the novels without ****** screaming at the top of her voice, without the toddler wanting me to sit down and read the same old book to him on the big, ugly puke-stained fish-shaped cushion in the kids' section, read him that bloody book about the caterpillar that I can't stand in the steady controlled voice that tells everyone what a great mother I am.
Sometimes I just give them pizza and chips.
Sometimes I am so knackered and bored that I've opened the wine by teatime.
Sometimes I wish I could just run off, screaming into the arms of some young man.
Sometimes I feel so desperate for adult company I welcome the chance to chat to the chuggers and the surly postman and the double-glazing salesmen.

This is what I hear. Not tales of satisfaction and contentment, but stories of frustration, boredom and despair, urgently whispered by women who straighten up and add that they DO realise how lucky they are really.

So I approach the six week holiday with trepidation. Again. Knowing that by August's end I will be like the woman who sweeps her own square foot of bare earth with a switch of leaves, over and over, looking to neither right nor left, just at the patch of soil in front of her,which is what remains of her sanity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

Yep. I bought books. Five to be precise: Newman's 'Apologia Pro Vita Sua', an International Critical Commentary - Matthew, a catalogue of the highlights of Gaston Phoebus' 'Book of the Hunt', a new paperback copy of Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' and also 'Baudolino' for good measure.
After the rush of buying there is the inevitable remorse. I really ought to get myself banned from bookshops, just like compulsive gamblers can from the bookies.
My excuse for number one is that interest was sparked by Roger Pearse's blog , for number two; that I am building a complete set of ICCs for the New Testament, for number three; my mother is currently interested in medieval painting, for number four; see yesterday's post; for number five; an extrapolation of number four!
There! that sounded reasonable didn't it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lingusitic Determinism and Disappearing Books

Well...the summer sun has briefly triumphed over what may be the wettest (thus far) July for a while and I think I shall venture out to visit some of the nearby second-hand book shops. It is, I admit, a great weakness of mine but as far as I am aware, morally neutral. I will probably come back with a couple of musty paperbacks and if I'm really lucky an International Critical Commentary to add to my growing collection. It's funny how when you are not actively seeking a particular book they seem to be widely available, but when that book is your goal it disappears from view! So it is with Umberto Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' which I want to read again, having had my appetite stimulated for 'that sort of thing' by the marvellous short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. What an incredible writer Borges was! I can't believe I haven't come across his work before. (if anyone has any recommendations along similar lines they would be more than welcome) So I am seeking the 'Pendulum', but am quite open to other tempting purchases.
Reading Stephen Pinker's 'The Stuff of Thought' the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by the theory of Linguistic Determinism - roughly the idea that language forms concept rather than vice versa. It is a staggering thought that we may be formed by that which we can formulate and articulate in words , that people are blank slates onto which their lexus imposes notion. I imagine that it is a highly contraversial theory, smacking of elitism etc. I have read no further as yet: I don't think Pinker subscribes to LD - no doubt I shall find out as I read on, but the concept was so arresting that, as I have said before, I had to put the book down and ponder what I had just read.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Orality, literacy and computers

I am reading with interest Mark Goodacre's blog on orality It leads me to wonder what, in the distant future, will remain of this ongoing debate? Where do blogs, email and the internet fit into the oral/literary matrix? Is there a possibility that there will be no transcribed evidence to witness that this debate, or indeed any other, has taken place?
If everything becomes digitised, as some would suggest, and we become a truly paperless society what is the literary legacy of our society to the future? Will our back-up disks survive and be readable? Or will the late 20th/early21st century be perceived as the new dark age?
Just wondering.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Renaissance Woman/Jack of all Trades

I have got myself into the sort of mess that is a regular feature of my life: I am too interested in too many things and I haven't got enough time to allot to any one of them to make that study worthwhile. I think it comes from being mentally rather undirected. When I was doing my MA, I had a definite goal in mind and all my efforts, reading and thoughts were absorbed into the process, and if I am lucky enough to start on my doctorate, I shall once more have a particular motivation to organise my thoughts. As it is however, I am flailing around in a quicksand of information. There is my OU Latin course (which I originally envisaged as filling a mental gap this year) - I could spend a lot more time on it, but I am curiously unengaged. In an attempt to 'spice it up' I am attempting to translate something 'on the side'. Needless to say, my interest in that is unsustained. I have circuitously become re-interested in neo-Platonism and having read Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy have discovered Stoicism, hence the current reading of the Essays of Seneca and (and I can't be bothered to explain how), Montaigne, both of which I love.

I was reading a book on the development of European Language, but inexplicably lost interest half way through. I am listening to the radio as I type this and Salman Rushdie is holding forth on his latest book, which I have half-decided to order from the library, regardless of the fact that my newest fictional purchase is lying abandoned on the bedside table. What a complete flake I am. What a fraud! I think that I desire intellectual stimulation, and yet I shun it. I think that I have a lot to do, and yet I do nothing, restlessly starting and abandoning one project after another. Really, I need a break: do nothing and regroup my energy. As it is, I am merely sitting here reinforcing my apathy.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Chrysalis

I love this time of year. The Earth practically throbs with the expectance of new life: the spring bulbs burst into flower, the birds manically gather nesting material, the evening light speaks of hope. A blackbird sings its heart out in the wolf-light of dawn. I feel inexplicably cheerful, down to the core of my being. I am filled with a sense of anticipation, that I am about set off on adventure that will lead me who knows where. I await to emerge from the cocoon that has encased me during the winter months. As I gradually strip away the fat from my frame I see the muscle emerge beneath my skin, useful flesh that has been dormant and underused for many a year. I am reshaping myself. I am aware also that my mind needs the discipline of a new regime too. I need to slough off the superfluous accretions that impede my progress, to concentrate, to refine, to train my intellect to accept new challenges, to abandon redundancies. I aspire to both a mental and physical metamorphosis: to still be me, but a leaner, more muscular, more astute version.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Midnight (and Morning) Oil

Having got the nightmare that was (and is) funding application out of the way, I now find myself unsure of how to proceed. The vagaries of the church calendar have ensured that this year the Easter school holidays followed hot on the heels of spring half term, so the activities that normally spread into the better weather of April are this year confined to the still oft-chilly and windy latter end of March. We are all metaphorically drumming our fingers. Still, the absence of compulsory research has left me with the ostensibly pleasurable task of leisurely reading and the garnering of information that Might Come In Useful. The problem being that it is mostly of an ill-directed and meanderingly eclectic nature that will probably be filed in the memory bins as Ultimately Superfluous! The Latin course proceeds at an even pace. I love the acquisition of language skills, but am largely unenthused about the Classical authors that I once held very dear. Still, I am looking upon it as an additional string to my bow if I am called upon to read the Latin Church Fathers in the original during my doctoral studies. I occasionally translate a few lines of Jerome's De Viris Illustribus, which is none too difficult althought the vocabulary is somewhat outside the realms of my Oxford Pocket Latin dictionary! What I really need is the equivalent of Walter Baur's magnificent 'Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature'. (I was staggeringly lucky to pick up the Index for it for a few pounds in my favourite second-hand book shops the other day - what a find!) I love Jerome's rather gossipy style and really should make time for him on a more regular basis.
Rodney Whiteacre's 'Patristic Greek Reader' is also awaiting my attention. To tell the truth I am saving it for the sunnier days when the children are back at school and I can sit outside under the vines, savour and translate some good chunks relatively undisturbed.
Boethius is my new early evening read (as a salve to my Latin conscience). I love the writings of Epictetus and feel that Boethius' 'Consolations' will slide efforlessly into the same slot. As usual I am reading further into the Pauline field in preparation for the Autumn (hopefully), however I am perennially disappointed by the way that some well-respected authors feel the need to let their own denominational prejudices show. I respect your scholarship, but do you really need to let me know that you condemn homosexuality? Did I read your book for that? No, I did not... and it has clouded my opinion of you and tainted my view of your scholarship.
Translation issues continue to absorb me: Peter Newmark's slim volume 'About Translation' is a wonderfully clear exposition of the problems facing all translators and about the impossibility of objectivity (see my previous posts). A wider foray into the realm of linguistics beckons, but without knowing what the next academic year will bring, it is hard to read in a directed fashion.
I think I need to have a back-up project in mind: my Greek needs to be kept up to speed, so I think that a textual commentary on the Greek text of Philemon may fill the gap, or possibly Philippians if next year comes to nought funding-wise. I shall tackle it as I did Galatians and it will be fun to familiarise myself with new witnesses. If I go with Philemon I may look to the UBS Greek testament apparatus criticus which contains more Church Fathers than that of NA27; if Philippians, I shall probably confine myself to the latter.
I'm afraid the Biblical Hebrew will have to wait awhile yet. It was much easier when I had a study-mate and was obliged to do prep.
I still make an unconscionable amount of time for reading drivel and regularly drowse or fall asleep over some disappointing novel or biography. I excuse myself by saying that, as I am in no fit state by this time to read anything of value, the loss of consciousness during this inanity is no loss at all!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Objective vs subjective morality

Does objective right exist? I remember debating my professor that there is no such thing, because we can never divest ourselves of our human mind. Everything that we conceive of is framed in human terms, relevant to our own experiences. For example, is it wrong to eat one's father? Our society, and that of the ancient Greeks recoiled in revulsion at such a notion, but Aristotle informs his audience that there was a tribe who ritually ate the bodies of their dead fathers, and concluded that for them it was right to do so. Thus we see that it can be both wrong (according to our norms and that of the Athenian Greeks) and at the same time right (according to the mores of Aristotle's quoted tribe). It all depends on our frame of reference. So where does this leave society and moral philosophy? If we cannot guarantee moral objectivity how can we make laws that can properly govern mankind? The answer is: act as if there are objective moral rights in order to halt the descent into brutishness and morally subjective chaos. Say that IT IS always wrong to kill. Full stop. Always wrong to injure, maim, torture; always wrong to oppress the weak; always wrong to defraud, lie, cheat, commit adultery. Always wrong to eat one's father. As humans we are too prone to slide about on the comforting grounds of acceptable attendant circumstance - he was in so much pain; the torture helped us find out where the terrorists were; they can't govern themselves; the banks have too much power and money; my wife doesn't understand me.....
Act as if there are moral certainties, although we can always justify the exceptions to our weak human selves, because that is the only way that society can function properly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

St Stephen the Great

I have been a sporadic customer of SPCK over the past ten years, so it registered slightly on my consciousness when my daughter informed me that their shops were to close. I soon forgot about that and it was only recently that I really noticed that the shops seemed to be stocking many more icons than they have done in the past. Now, I LOVE icons (I know that that is a phrase that irks the Orthodox believer, but I do). I love their still prayerfulness, their link to eternity, their history and their beauty. I have an icon of Christ the Teacher on my desk that has stood there since the birth of my third daughter ten years ago, the contemplation of which I am firmly convinced prevented a descent into pretty severe post-natal depression. The feeling of peace that it imparts is beyond price. I still go into the local SPCK shop fairly regularly, especially around Christmas, and felt vaguely cheered by their campaign to save and restore redundant churches. However the number of icons in the shop now seem to overwhelm the rest of the displays and I noted a large number of Eastern Rite prayer books prominently displayed. Somewhat intrigued by this turn towards the eastern tradition, I did an internet search and hit upon a video that describes the mission statement of the Trust of St Stephen the Great , who have taken over SPCK's shops in the UK.
All very laudable - saving Britain's Christian heritage etc. by reconverting derelict places of worship into Orthodox churches.
But hold on a minute.....since when was Orthodoxy part of the religious heritage of Britain? Does it not make more sense to revitalise the Catholic or Anglican communities? Surely there are more Western Rite Christians who might appreciate seeing a renewed church in their area? Who are the target congregations? Does St Stephen the Great advocate conversion to Orthodoxy?
The clue is in the name: St Stephen the Great fought against Islam, and when he was triumphant in battle he established a church at the site of his victory, on Muslim land. It is less surprising, then, that one of the rejuvenated churches funded by this charitable organisation is no great distance away from the second largest mosque in Britain; in Bradford, which has a population of 16,000 Muslims. Get it?
That Britain is becoming an inceasingly secular and morally floundering country is beyond doubt and any increase in moral and spiritual direction is to be welcomed wholeheartedly, but I am extremely dubious whether this neo-crusader mentality is either helpful or healthy. The leaders of this country's religions must work harder at establishing inter-faith dialogue in order to halt the descent into multi-cultural isolationism and insidious recruitment to mutually hostile cells.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Prodigal Son

Many modern scripture critics protest that the parable of the Prodigal Son is meaningless because the father in the story risked nothing by his actions. In his book 'The Cross and the Prodigal' Dr Kenneth Bailey counters this charge, stating that the humiliation of having a runaway and dissolute son would have been obvious to the parable's original audience, and that the father's spontaneous and undignified scramble to greet his arrival home would have been deemed most unbecoming to a man of his mature years and apparent social standing.
So what do we learn from this insight? That parental love overcomes all? Partly yes.....but more to the point that the father felt his family to be incomplete without the younger son. The older son, who had faithfully worked for his father for years without reward, did not compensate the old man for the absence of his other son. The relationship between the three, which should have been mutually supportive and beneficial was thrown out of kilter by the runaway, whose selfishness eventually led to his own abasement and despair. It was only when the prodigal realised his dependence on his father - love, interestingly enough is not mentioned - that he decided to return home and thus restore the status quo.
Families are fragile and inherently unstable things. When things go well, everything seems easy. When something unforeseen occurs, the whole structure is prone to collapse unless the parties involved make a concerted effort to pull together.
Many people today live in a family situation where some lack is felt - dissatisfaction with other members, work, education, leisure time, diet, emotional or psychological needs - and feel helpless to do anything to ameliorate the situation. This is because a lot of people refuse to do anything that does not let them experience immediate feelings of gratification and pleasure. They seem oblivious to the notion (recognised by earlier generations) that many things to not have an instant pay-off, that we may have to do something that isn't pleasant, or is indeed unpleasant, in order to achieve a distant goal. But the important thing is to keep this goal in sight, however far off it seems to be (see my earlier post 'The Season of Self-Loathing').
The father in the parable surely must have kept the hope that his younger son would eventually return to him, and meanwhile endured the uncomfortable feelings of society's pity and disapproval and his longing for the youth.
The older son selfishly did not seem to recognise his father's distress and yearning for the younger man, nor the instability of a home that was incomplete.
The younger son had to plumb the depths of depravity before he realised that he lacked what he once posessed.
Once reunited, the family unit was once again stable and, whether the less experienced of its members recognised it or not, were able to function again to survive life's storms.
We could, if we so desired, extrapolate this into a Trinitarian reflection....but that would be (and indeed might become) a different post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Season of Self-Loathing

The season of self-loathing is with us again. Emerging bleary-eyed and corpulent from the tarnished tinsel, I am seized with the need for renewal: spiritual, physical, psychological and intellectual. But where to start? It is all too easy to be overly zealous in the first few days of the New Year and over-commit to regimes that are soon abandoned because of the impingement of the daily round, leading to further feelings of inadequacy and self-disgust. As we shed our New Year resolutions like so much sloughed skin, our weak and feeble bodies and intentions are laid bare before us and, in examining our failure, we justify our own self-loathing. Far better then, to set very modest targets....and then half them.... and then half them again. This way we can be clear-eyed and realistic about what we can actually achieve, achieve it consistently, feel pleased with our achievement and pride in ourselves, and be renewed and refreshed as we intended.