Thursday, 1 November 2012

'…mend your speech a little, lest it may mar your fortunes''

I was thinking just now about why my blogging output has declined in recent months. There have been peaks and troughs before of course, matching my moods or my activity. Sometimes I bore myself, and resolve not to bore you into the bargain. At other times I'm simply too busy, or my head's too full of things I guess you lot wouldn't be that interested in. On the rare occasions I find time to do some research, it's in a field which is too small even to form much of a community, let alone a readership. Perhaps, too, Twitter has soaked up too many of the passing thoughts that might once have formed the kernel of a Blogging Disquisition. And there's only so much Uppal-baiting a vole can manage before anomie sets in.

But one thing I don't think I've done is fall for King Lear's line here. Cordelia listens to her sisters construct beautiful flights of dishonest rhetoric when their father asks them to enunciate their love for him in return for large tracts of his kingdom. Realising - hundreds of years before the structuralists and post-structuralists that language is a bar to communication rather than a tool - Shakespeare has her reply that she can say 'nothing', to Lear's horror: for him, love and words of love are transactional.

It's a good lesson. I shouldn't blog simply because the performance of blogging is important to me. 'I blog, therefore I am' is a fast route to becoming a bloviating bore, a disease widely known in the old media as Clarksonia Majora. In fact, I've found myself blogging less because my opinions are becoming calmer and rarer. Perhaps it's because I'm happy (happier) at work: the top level of management is no longer hostile to the values the teaching staff hold dear. There's a new sense that though we still have all sorts of problems, management and staff perceive them in similar ways. The office of the Vice-Chancellor is no longer occupied by an Emmanuel Goldstein. In short, I have been defanged: firstly by the fear of persecution under the old regime and now by kindness under the new one. It's weird not existing in a state of mutual antipathy - at least then we all knew where we stood. I bumped into the VC in the canteen the other day: not something that would ever happen under the old regime. He asked me if my employment status had been resolved. Formerly, that would have been a veiled threat (who's been reading dossiers then?), but these days it's at least possible that it indicates attention to detail and actual human interest. I can't deal with it! At this rate I'll have to hand in my Impossibilist membership card and take the walk of shame towards my very own Executive office. Oh god… the Syndicalists were right.

Even when writing about the wider world, I'm flagging. It's hard work remaining this angry about the government and its individual sleazebags: there are so many of them and there's no chance they'll ever repent. It's even harder to retain readers and communicate the righteous zeal for reform I feel when the same sickening ills repeat themselves day after day: after four years of blogging, I feel I'm becoming repetitive and monotonous. Just like my lectures… I've certainly become aware of a certain nagging predictability in my writing. Reading Simmonds' comic strip about the Weber family, I'm conscious that I've become a stock character: the frustrated bourgeois lefty Guardian reader adrift in a sea of consumerism and aggression when I'm fairly sure that there is (or used to be) more to me than that.

Perhaps blogging's a young person's game.

Anyway, enough of this moaning. What consumer goods have temporarily distracted me from the existential gloom this week? Well, I've received Phillip Pullman's new versions of Grimm Tales, C. J Sansom's DominionI'm vaguely planning a paper on invasion novels and the Celtic nations - see also Sheers' Resistance and Jan Morris's wonderful Our First Leader because the intersection of Celtic nationalism and imperialist German and British nationalism is always interesting: Sansom sees the Scottish Nationalists as homegrown Nazis, while the founders of Plaid Cymru were certainly close to the ultra-reactionary Catholic blood-and-soil French fascists, though the party is now a post-1968 socialist anti-colonialist body these days. Sheers' book is interesting because its tale of Welsh farmers quietly disappearing into the hills to resist echoes Owain Glyndwr's revolt: he too survived to disappear into the population and was never heard of again.

I also got Kevin Jackson's day-by-day history of modernism, Constellations of Genius, which Zoot Horn informs me is seriously good. I've been listening to the alienated machine noise of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (the ! changes place with every album release) and I've been hard at work on a lecture about Ben Jonson's Volpone.

I'm resistant to the usual blatherings about dumbing down, but looking at my old student notes, I can't work out how we managed to cover Shakespeare, Jonson, Marston, Dekker, Haywood, Chapman, Wycherley, Tourneur, Kyd, Middleton, Marlowe, Webster and a whole load of other playwrights in the Drama stream, while going into similar breadth in all the other genres. Weeks of lectures about the Edinburgh Review, Steele and Addison! Now I'm teaching a module called Shakespeare, Milton and the English Renaissance: it's thoughtful and detailed, and yet we seem to cover so few texts. We haven't dumbed down, but the space seems to be shrinking. Still, one of the things I'm really determined to do is set Shakespeare's work in a literary and cultural context, rather than leaving him on a pedestal - which is why we've discussed the 'happy ending' versions more commonly performed in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example. At least a blast of Jonson will help them understand that there's more to the Jacobean stage than Shakespeare.

Anyway, back to my lecture-writing…


Ewarwoowar said...

Mid-life crisis Voley?

The Plashing Vole said...

I'm hoping for a mid-life respite from crisis actually.