Last Tutorial and Jekyll and Hyde Play

Thursday, June 20, 2013

So today was my last tutorial. I cannot believe that it is over already. It was on Othello. I must admit. This was not my best work. My ambitious mind got the best of me, and I went for too much, but Dr. Ballam said he respected the effort. He still gave me an A. I had to write three 8-10 page essays in like nine days, and I was not used to that. By the time I got to the last one, I got burned out! I will get an A for the class, and again, he reiterated that he likes the way I think. He says I still have some work to do on tying in all the ideas I have learned from other classes in a more coherent way. Nonetheless, he said he likes the fact that I tie in all those ideas, and called it “very impressive.” I am such a better scholar after this month, and I cannot help but say, “God, thank you!”

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I have been busy the last few days trying to get everything together for my next research project at Stanford University, which starts on Monday. I have felt obligated to juggle the end of this time here with taking care of business related to Stanford, but it is so worth it.

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I went to see Jekyll and Hyde at Blackwell’s Bookstore (which by the way, is one of the most famous bookstores in the world, and it is in Oxford). It was great. I had never read the book, but I kept up with the play fairly well. It has a gothic feel to it, and it deals with issues related to the limits of science and knowledge, and of course, split personality. One person plays all seven characters, and he did a marvelous job with it! Molly and I (we went to the play together) got a picture with him afterwards. Also, they had a lecture afterwards by a professor who had written the foreword to the last edition of the novel. Well, actually it was a panel, but only two people really talked on the panel. It was a great day!

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The Architecture of Oxford – Ghosts and Clouds of Witness

 The architecture of the University of Oxford is very different from that of Mississippi State University, and most other schools in America. There is no point of me trying to describe the technical phrases of what type of architecture this or that building is. Instead, I will simply tell you about how the architecture speaks to me personally. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters, right? The first main point is to realize how much this university, and the city in general, piles upon one the weight of historic associationism. These buildings are very old, and they are not ashamed of that reality. Quite the contrary, they are proud of it. The rust takes on a beauty of its own. Inside many of the buildings continues in this vein by putting many pictures of wealthy and influential men on the walls. History piles up op top of you. It is quite overwhelming, but it is also inspiring. I was having a conversation about the architecture of the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford with Dr. Snyder one day and he said that schools that follow this Oxbridge old-style architecture have a strong conviction that great architecture inspires great art. I agree because I have been very much inspired by my time here. By keeping the same architecture, in a very real way one feels one is walking in the footsteps of the great people that have walked these streets, dined in these halls, and listened in the same lecture rooms. It reminds of a passage from the Book of Hebrews from the Holy Bible. The author of the books lists the names of the great saints of Israel who have done great things by faith in Chapter 11, and then in Chapter 12 he says that they are like a cloud of witnesses watching and encouraging the present saints that are going through their current troubles. It is a way of the author encouraging the saints in their trials and tribulations. Oxford evokes this same of idea of this “cloud of witnesses” that is watching you, encouraging you to give your very best or else face the inner guilt of not living up to such a prestigious legacy. By contrast, in America, there is a prevalent way of building things called “planned obsolescence.” In other words, the constructors build things with a plan for them to become obsolete in a few years. I am not sure why this is popular. I know that it costs more money to build things to last, but is the trade-off that much different to not build it to last once and not have to continually build, tear down, and then build again. It just does not seem to make sense. Having to continually build and rebuild also separates you from the history of the school. America is utterly convinced that new is better, but England thinks the exact opposite. England prides itself on the old legends and stories, and in remembering that those clouds of witnesses are somewhere in the heavens goading you to do good work. If not, the ghosts come out at night, and scare you into carrying on the sacred tradition or else!

(Christchurch, my college)

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He Who Demands the Most Praise – An Observation from the Ashmolean

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In Virginia’s Woolf’s “Waxworks at the Abbey,” she writes about the effigies in Westminster Abbey, and she gives the utmost praise to Queen Elizabeth. Being the good feminist Virginia Woolf is, she makes the subtle subversive move of placing the woman in a higher place of power than the man. In this short piece, she discusses Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Wellington, and many other monuments that “solicit attention.” However, it is the queen that dominates the room – “as she once dominated England.” My favorite quote from the piece is when she says “There are many other hands holding other scepters and orbs,” but she says they all seem “insignificant” in comparison with the Queen.

In the Ashmolean, I felt a similar vibe when I went into the room concerning the topic of image-bearing. It cataloged how various people from various time periods have served as archetypes for certain characteristics in humans. The one that demanded the most attention was the sculpture of Augustus Caesar. He is said to typify both youth and vigor to the Romans. No one is sure if he really looked like the sculpture makes him out to be. It is quite an impressive sculpture. It is the biggest and the brightest, and you can nothing but stare it in honor. All the other images in the room might have had some type of power, can conveyed some type of image, but it is he who demanded the most praise. They all seemed insignificant to him. The museum is quite intentional on who they want you to pay attention to.

I would like now to further explicate a theme I hinted at earlier in this piece: “No one is really sure if he really looked like the sculpture makes him out to be.” What he really looked like does not matter, but what he represents does. This is something all cultures do in order to represent themselves in a way that they are proud of. The image of Augustus is not really attempting to portray Augustus accurately; it is trying to portray Roman history in a honorable way, regardless of the inaccuracies. Augustus is only a means to that end. As stated before, all cultures do this. Whether it is a tiny image on a coin, or a macroscopic sculpture of one of the most decorated men in the Western world, it is always about what the image represents for the people, and to the world at-large. Augustus could have been a little ugly runt, but that really does not matter. What matters is that he was a stable figure for the Romans to look to feel proud of their selves. This is what I’m finding out history is all about anyway: how winners want to be portrayed. Losers rarely get any say, and it rarely has any real interest in objective reality. Why does Caesar demand the most praise in the room? Well, Rome was one of the greatest empires in the world, and it has had a great impact on culture today. To put in one word: power, or influence.

I hope I do not sound too cynical. To be honest, postcolonial studies can make one become pretty bitter towards history in general. It is no coincidence that a Roman statue gets the most praise. Like Virginia Woolf, I have a problem with this. My quibble is a bit different though. I agree with her feminist argument, but I also dislike the Eurocentric vibe I get when I go to many museums. He should not demand the most praise, maybe equal praise, but not the most. I am sure there are many Native American and African and many other cultures’ rulers who did great things, too. And I know nothing about them. That is the whole point of this problem. Museums, and history books and so forth, do not talk about them much so it is hard to learn about them. It is too imbalanced, and Europe should try a little harder to undo some of the evils it has perpetuated for so long.

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London, London, Let Those Sculptures Go!

June 18, Tuesday, 2013

On February 17, March 2011, Dr. Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge wrote a piece for BBC entitled, “Lord Elgin – Savior or Vandal?” The story goes as such: Lord Thomas Elgin, a British ambassador, goes to Athens and takes a great portion of their sculptures from the Parthenon. There has been controversy about these actions from the beginning, and the debate is still hot to this day. Did Lord Elgin get permission to have these sculptures, or did he essentially steal them? Should they be returned to Athens?
The British History Museum argues that these sculptures belong to the whole world; in London, more people have access to seeing these great sculptures. Moreover, it fits into the whole idea of their museum, which shows the evolution of art in Western Culture, and their idea of an Universal Museum even more broadly. Moreover, the museum is free, and The British History Museum claims to have taken better care of the sculptures they have than the ones the Greeks have. London feels that the Elgin Marbles “belong” to them now (because they have been there for around 200 years) just as much, if not more so, than Athens.
The Greeks, on the other hand, have good counter-arguments to all these points. Firstly, they think that Lord Elgin never had permission to take these sculptures. Secondly, they point out that the British History Museum has not taken as good care of them as they claim to have. In fact, quite a few of the sculptures have been mishandled and defaced. Lastly, Greece has museum in Athens that would offer a better contextualization for the sculptures than in the British History Museum.
So who is right? I, being the postcolonial critic I am, feel obligated to side with the Greeks. It is hard for me trust anything that comes from the center of Empire, and who could blame me? I question their motives, and think they stole them. Moreover, I do not think that, just because they have been there for 200 years makes them “theirs now.” I think that it is a pretty silly argument. What if kidnappers used that same logic? I can hear them now, “Well, I mean your child has been locked in my basement for ten years now, and they are just as much my kids as they are yours.” Not one person with a conscience would buy that argument, but this is not really much different. It is no coincidence that many artists compare their work to a child. It is always and forever something they birthed, and something they are indelibly attached to. London needs to hand the sculptures over.
Another point many people make is that if they give the sculptures back to the Greeks, they will have to give tons of things back to many peoples they have plundered from. And what is wrong that? Integrity and honesty matter more to than “pretty museums” with “fitting themes,” and I would like to think that enough people in the world feel the same way as I do, and thus do what it takes to get these marvelous works of art back to their rightful owners.

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Tutorial #3: Complete!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Now, after meeting with Dr. Ballam today, I have one more essay and tutorial left. This one today was on Antony and Cleopatra. I got another A, a 72. I did not have much time to write this one. My last tutorial was Friday, and this one was Monday. Thankfully, I foresaw this time crunch, and planned accordingly. Still, I felt the essay was rushed. Nonetheless, my ideas were original, and I felt I contributed to the body of knowledge surrounding this play. Man, I love Harold Bloom’s essays on Shakespeare. His book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human have been great entries into thinking about my own ideas. What I would do without him?

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Dr. Ballam is an awesome guy also. We had another great conversation. He knows everything! I mean, really, he is one of the most well-versed men I know – what a wellspring of knowledge. Nothing gets pass him. He has taught me so much. Every time I leave I wish I could stay longer. Antony and Cleopatra is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. The plot is amazing. I literally could not put it down while I was reading it, and basically read the whole thing in one sitting. I feel I am really getting what Shakespeare is about now. I always liked reading him, but I now see why people talk about him so much. This guy was on another level. His insights into human nature are mind-blowing, and not even Dostoevsky, Twain, and Ellison (that hurts to say because Ellison is my role model!) come close.

(Dr. John Ballam)

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Bath and Stonehenge Trip

June 15, 2013

This Saturday I went to the Roman baths in Bath, England. After that, we went to see Stonehenge. They were very nice sights to see. Not a terrible amount to say about it though. I had fun. Good talks with newly made friends, and unfortunately, my last trip with my two roommates from IWP, Mike and Chris. Man, I am going to miss those guys! It was also my list trip with the WISC/OSAP Program because I am leaving a week early and will not be going to Blenheim Palace with them in the last week. Oh, well… it’s been real. Check out the photos!

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And these two photos are my way of saying goodbye to my roommates from IWP: Mike and Chris. Man, I love those guys. I consider them real friends, and I do not make real friends easily. They are good guys, and I am a better man for knowing them. They are definitely pretty crazy guys and a lot of different than me, but that is what makes them so great to be around.

CHEERS:

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Tutorial #2

June 14, 2013

My second tutorial went well. Dr. Ballam gave me another A – this time he said it was a “resounding A,” in fact. This essay went up 5 points to a 75. He said that I have the unique ability to call a spade a spade and still sound academic. One particular phrase he attributed to me was that I had an “idiomatic tone.” One reason I think I write this way that is because I love Ralph Ellison, and that is how he writes. In many ways, I instinctively think like him now, and it comes out in my writing. Hey, he is not a bad person to imitate!

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The tutorial this week was on Merchant of Venice. What a play! Shylock is one of the most memorable characters in the history of the Western literary canon. I enjoyed our discussion about it.

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