Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Thursday Afternoon Vole

Maybe I'll institute a regime of single daily posts rather than a stream of random Reckons. What do you think? 

Here's a moody, wintery little shot I took on my phone the other day. 

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." (James Joyce, 'The Dead').

I've been quiet today because a) I stayed in bed longer than I should have and b) I've been doing astonishingly boring tasks. Administration Hell is very different from Marking Hell. Marking Hell is at least exciting. There's a fresh torture coming along any second: a bigoted comment, a stolen paragraph, a missed apostrophe or a misplaced preposition, all finely tuned to press my particular buttons. But Marking Hell also has its pleasures: there are – despite my sardonic whinging – informed, passionate and fluent students who turn in elegantly stylish essays. 

Administration Hell lacks both the stimulation of the Diabolical Essay and the snatched moments of relief afforded by a good piece of work. For instance, today I was updating the electronic module guide for a single-semester module (remind me to tell you one day about our four – or is it five? – timetables. We have two electronic systems, because an integrated one would abolish Administration Hell. There's Evision, which holds Module Guides, student details, submission details and the like. Then there's WOLF, which holds Module Guides, student details, submission details and the like. Did you see what they did there? They don't talk to each other very well either. And Evision carries stern warnings like PRESS SAVE BEFORE EXITING OR ALL YOUR HARD WORK WILL BE SACRIFICED TO THE ADMINISTRATION GODS AND THEY ARE VENGEFUL, MOCKING DEITIES WHO SCORN YOUR PUNY SACRIFICE except that on many pages there isn't a Save button. Instead, there's a Store And Exit button. But I don't want to Exit and I don't trust this programme's grasp of synonyms and therefore don't believe that Save and Store are the same thing at all and besides I haven't finished working out what the difference between Assessment Criteria and Assessment Requirements are yet and oh gods what if this is all some kind of horrible test and if I get it right they make me an Associate Dean in one of the Lower Circles of Administration Hell?

But it's OK because we're all going to be moving to Moodle and percentage marking schemes whether we like it or not and once in the sunny uplands everyone will get first class degrees (seriously, that's the justification for changing schemes). 

Anyway, I've just nobly ceded my The Sorrows of Young Werther lectures to my Romanticist colleague for a first-year module. I'm really looking forward to teaching it: it's central to the Romantic notion of individualism and the individual's relation to knowledge and reality. When it first came out, rumours spread that it caused multiple suicides. I've already been ticked off on Twitter for being flippant about this, but obviously I'm rather more thoughtful and sensitive in class than my online persona might indicate. I'll be teaching the legend and reception of the novel, but won't be cracking any more jokes about assignments, student retention etc. But I can't help looking forward to giving the students a novel about a self-dramatising, self-regarding young man…

In other news: good books in the post. David Williams' A World of His Own: The Double Life of George Borrow (just too late to add to my Borrow/Edwards paper, but I was already up to the word limit), and two books on the decline of British Communism: Geoff Andrews' Endgames and New Times: The Final Years of British Communism 1964-1991 (by which he rather presumptuously means the CPGB) and Francis Beckett's Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party. I went to a conference in 2004 called Reds! The Story of the CPGB. It was fascinating. All the major players from the Party's previous decades were there, acrimoniously blaming each other for minor doctrinal deviations which had destroyed the coming Revolution. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that spending 60 years following every twist and turn of the CPSU's policy and never seriously trying to build a mass movement based on the UK population's needs just might have been a strategic error. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

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