Friday, 13 October 2017

I think I can feel the skull beneath the skin

Too busy working to have opinions this week, which I'm sure is devastating news to you all. Come to think of it, between exhaustion and a hefty dose of the traditional Freshers' Flu, I can barely think what I've been doing all week.

I did see Bladerunner 2049: a visual and sonic feast, wonderful performances and a decent storyline, though not as philosophically groundbreaking as the original film. There were even a couple of jokes. I did wonder about the nipple count: in this dystopian future only women get naked, and the core of the plot is maternity. Still, about a thousand times more intelligent than everything else on at the moment.

Teaching: this week we've done The Tempest, Gerrard Winstanley's Digger Manifesto The True Levellers Standard Advanced, and Jez Butterworth's play Jerusalem.

They're all on different modules but they all seem to have shared interests if I think about them long enough. Away from work a Renaissance theme emerged too: I just read Nicholas Blake's 30s detective thriller Thou Shell of Death (Blake was the pen-name of poet laureate C. Day-Lewis: he claimed to churn out the detective novels for cash but he's very good at it). If you know where the title's from, you know who the murderer was and how it was achieved. I also read, on a Twitter friend's recommendation, Reginald Hill's An Advancement of Learning, a title (and chapter epigrams) lifted from Francis Bacon's Renaissance work of the same name. It's a campus murder mystery: efficient, witty, well-plotted and with a real sense of HE in 1971, but astonishingly and authorially sexist (women are always and only characterised by the size and shape of their breasts - in one case, 'hive-shaped', which beats me). A shame: I enjoyed his Austen pastiche, The Price of Butcher's Meat. Next week's classes aren't quite so coordinated: Ballard's short stories, Gwyn Thomas's All Things Betray Thee, Jilly Cooper's Riders and another session on The Tempest. 

I'm also reading a PhD on masculinity in Welsh twentieth-century fiction, MA dissertations on drugs in dystopian SF and on reason in Winstanley and Milton's works, and racing through a collection of essays on working-class fiction for the event I'm chairing tomorrow at Birmingham Literature Festival. An ironic cheer to the publisher for getting the book to me…today. I did manage to get along to the Cheltenham Literature Festival for an hour, for research purposes: Vince Cable and Stanley Johnson were plugging their books. It was very low-calorie entertainment and mostly covered Brexit in various depressing ways, but I got some useful material by listening to the audience and observing the authors' throwaway comments on being a politician novelist. Johnson went for the full sprezzatura effect, claiming never to have been a serious politician or writer, while Cable saw his novel as a way of exploring the effect of political life on the soul – closer to the didactic tradition. Johnson's latest is a cut-and-paste job ramming together the Trump and Brexit stories as products of a Russian plot. At the event he announced that he thinks Angela Merkel is a Russian spy (echoing one of the mouth-breathers who shouted out the same theory on Question Time recently), and that having been a Remainer, he now thinks Britain will leave the EU with no problems at all ('I wake up every morning and wonder why you're all so worried: what's the problem?'). Sigh.

I also staffed an Open Day on Saturday. Having sent a snottogram to our highly-paid, bonus-culture directors about the mean-spiritedness of withdrawing the limp cheese sandwich traditionally provided to staff and students who gave up their Saturday, I was cynically fascinated by the queue of managers lining up to claim that it was nothing to do with them, out of their hands and something they disagreed with. Sustenance apart, there was an uptick in visitor numbers, though I confess to being shocked that families are checking universities out while their children are still doing GCSEs. Given that my taster class contrasted Jilly Cooper's sex-and-showjumping novels with BS Johnson's book-in-a-box I was a  touch worried about innocent youngsters' being debauched, but it seemed to work OK.

But all this is mere hackwork compared to the Magnum Opus of the week: writing the Course Academic Enhancement Report, the annual masterplan that will transform NSS lead into TEF gold, or something. And on that note, I'd better get back to it.

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