Bad Writing Day

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I had one of those days where you write and write and write, and at the end of it all you’re left with words that are total rubbish. DELETE DELETE DELETE!

It seems to be taking me a long time to get my head around Bentham and utilitarianism, which is what I (stupidly) chose to write an essay on. Part of my problem is access to BOOKS, especially old books published in the 1800s. I’ve got a PDF chapter someone uploaded to a dodgy site, and the Kindle version of one entire text, but yeah, that’s not much good for citation purposes.

What about POTUS and Ms Merkel. What was going on with that non-handshake? She seemed to be putting a lot of effort into projecting positive body language when they were sitting together, but I’m thinking that the meeting didn’t go so well! And his proposed budget cuts? I can’t figure out why he hasn’t been rolled yet. He’s just so…

The group project at uni starts this week. I’ve lined up a couple of blokes who seem to be ok – not ditherers or chatterers – and I hope things go alright. There’s always the possibility that other people will want to join our group, but I hope not. There’s a lot of talk amongst the other students about wanting to “help” people and “heal” the world, and I’m just over here rolling my eyeballs so hard they’re in danger of falling right out of my head. Also, it’s a bit weird, but we’ve got undergrad and masters students in the same seminars, because I guess it’s easier and cheaper for the university, but it makes for “interesting” times due to the different levels of knowledge in the room. I was banging on about an aspect of postcolonial theory the other day and got some blank looks. I don’t know. It seems like a recipe for dumbing down things, if you ask me.

I’ve stopped posting my “best” ideas to the (compulsory) discussion boards, because I found that some of the others don’t bother to come up with ideas of their own. Can I just say again how much I detest this whole “collegiate” vibe? ‘

Mr V is having an MRI this week. So, yeah, the aftermath might be a *fun time*.

I haven’t been reading anything good lately. I’m a bit sick of reading human rights theory, to be honest. I think we’re leaving the early theorists behind and moving forward to post WW II next week, so that will be a welcome change. I still have to write an essay on Bentham, though. Did you know that he wanted to be put on display after he died? His head was preserved, but it all went a bit wrong, so now a wax head sits on his dressed skeleton and “he” hangs out at UCL . Yup. I kind of like Bentham, because he was an animal rights advocate and a total fruitloop. I’m learning more about him than I ever wanted to know, really.

Ok. I’d better go and eat something and try to let my brain wind down before I go to bed. Take care, and send me good writing vibes if you have some to spare. 🙂

 

Loner: A Novel

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I finished reading a novel! Although I started the year on quite a reading high, that quickly slumped into the usual “chuck it on the Maybe/DNF pile”. Lately, I’ve been a bit busy with all my course reading, which includes a fair amount of philosophy – Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Kant, Bentham and Marx – and the theories of Freire, Boal and hooks. I’m really tired of all the gendered language and the patriarchal bullshit, that’s for sure, and I really don’t like the word pedagogy, which I have to use rather a lot these days. *sigh*

Anyway, I read Loner: A Novel by Teddy Wayne, in two sittings. This is most unusual for me these days, but there was something about the book that I liked a lot. It’s a campus novel (I do like campus novels!), but it has an interesting twist or two. I thought it was just very well done, with accurate sociological and psychological renderings of the characters. It’s not often that I actually like contemporary fiction, so I was surprised that I enjoyed Loner so much, but then I am probably always going to like reading about misfits, because I see myself reflected in their social awkwardness and distance from other people.

I didn’t set out to read Loner. I was at the library collecting a couple of inter-library loans I requested months ago, and I saw Wayne’s book on display. The title attracted me (of course!) and I picked it up and had a flick through the pages. The writing seemed good, and I had a couple of chuckles at a few of the send-up passages, so I decided to borrow it. Instead of wading through some more Bentham, I started to read Loner for a few minutes, and an hour later I looked up again.

I haven’t fallen like that into a book for such a long time. I went to bed early and stayed awake reading and reading until I’d finished it, and I’m still thinking about what I read. I wish I could find another book that would have the same effect, or that I could read that way all the time. I used to read with my full attention, but then I started to have difficulties with concentration, and generally failing to connect with fiction. I do wish the dreadful ennui I feel when reading most novels would go away.

Anyway, now I’m reading Marx, and thinking about the Theatre of the Oppressed, and planning three essays at once. I’m supposed to contribute at least twice a week to the discussion boards for each unit I’m taking, and that’s proving really difficult. I don’t like this collegiate collaboration style of course delivery, which they call dialogic learning. I think it just makes it easier for the academics to find time to do all their required paperwork, while the students “teach” each other. I don’t like the way that some students can just coast along on the thoughts and ideas of others, and not have to think for themselves. I don’t want to feed them my thoughts and ideas; I guess I just don’t want to share my stuff. *sigh* We’ve got a group project thing starting next week, but I haven’t found anyone I want to work with. There are only three of us signed up for this one particular topic, so I guess we’ll have to do it together. I might have to try to channel Mr V and be the “grey person”, the invisible one who hovers in the background and does what is necessary, but doesn’t reveal themself** or get involved any more than is absolutely necessary.

I guess I had better get on with some more reading. I hope things are going well with everyone. Do check out Loner if you like a well-written campus novel. 🙂

** I have to get used to using gender neutral language. In my class, there was a whole thing during the first seminar where people announced “their pronouns”. *sigh* I’ve started using they and theirs instead of he/she and his/hers just to be on the safe side. It’s so grammatically borked, but that’s the way of the world these days. I’m a bit sick of all this identity politics stuff, to be honest, and the last person who referred to me as being “cis” got an earful about how hypocritical it is that while they expect me to respect their gender identity, they think it’s ok to make assumptions about mine. Oh, yes. I’m feeling a big F*** Off factor about some things these days.

Excellent Reads:

Meghan Murphy on the need for feminism to get get radical again.

Becca Reilly-Cooper on the word TERF .

Here We Go, Again.

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The first semester of 2017 started last Monday, so I’m getting back into the swing of study + life in general. My first impression of the new course is that there are a couple of rather impressive lecturers and tutors, and things seem reasonably well-organised and interesting enough. Horror of horrors, though, one of the first assessments is a TEAM task! We have to choose one of six topics, divide ourselves into groups of 4-5 people, and work TOGETHER on a project. This is my idea of total hell, but I guess I’ll have to deal with it. It would be good if I could slap an INTJ sticker on my forehead, so that the extraverts and chatterers could just avoid me and save us both the trouble.

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For a bit of light relief, I’ve started reading Danielewski’s The Familiar. I’ve been buying each volume as soon as it was released, and I started reading volume one a while ago but got distracted. I started re-reading it from the beginning and I’m really liking it so far. I’m being driven slightly crazy by trying to figure out what the marks in the centre margins represent – a timeline, a code, an image? At this stage, I think that maybe it’s some sort of timeline or songline, but who knows. Perhaps I’ll have to wait for volume 26 for all to be revealed!

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Things in the USA seem to be lurching towards *something*, but who knows what? This level of dysfunction and craziness can’t be allowed to continue, can it? I still can’t believe that anyone voted for Trump. He just seems so unhinged, and his enablers, manipulators and minions are terrifying. I hope that the US constitution is robust enough to thwart them, if not haul them into line before too long.

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I don’t know how often I’ll get around to blogging in the coming weeks and months. I have a lot of course related reading to do, and essays to write, which will take up most of my free time. And then there’s the thesis lurking in the background, but I’m not thinking about that yet. Sometimes, I wonder why I do this to myself, when I could be reading for pleasure and napping instead. I guess it’s got a lot to do with proving to myself that I can. The thought that “young me” would one day be doing this is so outlandish, and sometimes I wonder how I got here at all. This is not the life I was meant to have, and that is exactly my point. We don’t have to live the script written for us by our parents and our society, and I guess I’m still proving that to myself.

Testing Times

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I’ve been watching the crazy circus that is US politics these days, but I don’t have anything to add to the oceans of words that have been spoken and written about it all. It’s just so bizarre that this stuff is happening in the USA. And the whole POTUS vs Mr Trumble (they couldn’t even get our PM’s name right) is more than weird, considering that Australia has been the USA’s most faithful sycophant ally for the longest time. We’re treating it as a huge joke, of course, because that’s what Australians do, although secretly we probably don’t like it that our PM was so brazenly humiliated. It all just goes to show that we’re not really the USA’s “special friend”, after all. It’s a wonder POTUS didn’t remark that Mr Trumble spoke pretty good English for an Austrian (George W Bush once got Oz mixed up with Austria), but I doubt that in a verbal battle POTUS would get the better of our prolix ex-barrister PM. And for the record, Mr Turnbull is actually the Prime Minister of Australia; we don’t have a President. However, we do have a completely shameful record of mistreating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Our current refugee policy is the cause of much dissent and impotent rage amongst those of us who give a damn, but sadly, the majority of Australians support the government’s warehousing of  “boat people” on pestilent tropical gulag-islands. We can’t say a single thing about the USA’s recent foray into racist immigration policy, because we’ve had our very own for years now. :/

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So, I’ve been trying to find a more efficient note taking system, but I have to admit defeat. I tried reading PDFs on my iPad and taking digital notes with a variety of apps, but I simply couldn’t come to grips with all the digital text. For whatever reason, my brain doesn’t process digital text in the same way as it does text on paper, so I ended up reading a lot of PDFs and typing a lot of notes, but the next day I’d realise that I couldn’t remember much about what I’d read or noted.

Next, I tried the Cornell Notes system and got total writer’s block! It felt too structured, and it took too much mental effort to condense entire paragraphs of academic-speak into a few words. I started procrastinating about sitting down to study, which is something I seldom do, so I decided to give myself a break and go back to my old index cards, and free-form summarising (waffling to myself) in a notebook method, and hey presto! I got some worthwhile work done, finally.

This is so typical of me, this second-guessing myself. I had a system that had served me well for years, and I still thought I should try to get with the “digital programme”. I’ve never been able to do anything more than skim-read eBooks, and I always outline and mind-map with a pen and paper before I start typing anything important, so yeah, I should have just left myself alone to get on with it.

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I finished a book the other day – A Touch of Love, by Jonathan Coe. I liked it a lot, although it probably won’t be everyone’s idea of a good read. It was poignant and sad and witty, and I’d quite like to read more of his stuff one day. I was doing well with my fiction reading for the first few weeks of the year, and then all the POTUS stuff exploded and, suddenly, I didn’t feel in the mood for novels. Mostly, I’ve been reading about human rights and international relations, and the theory and philosophy of human rights. Seeing as how I’m situated on the far-left of the political spectrum, I’m finding quite a lot to interest me in the idea that “universal human rights” is a really a continuation of the imperialist, colonising project. It will be interesting to see if my thoughts change over time.

I read an article about human rights and FGM in which the author objected to the word “mutilation” being used and argued that Westerners opposing FMG fail to recognise the cultural and social significance of the practice. I can understand that point of view, but on the other hand, surely FGM is “mutilation”, and there are some cultural practices that simply cause too much pain and suffering to be allowed to continue? And then I thought about the growing phenomenon of labiaplasty, which is not only socially sanctioned, but is also legal in Western countries and carried out by doctors who swear the Hippocratic Oath. FGM is also considered a cosmetic procedure in some cultures, and although I totally oppose it because of the pain and suffering involved, and because girls have no choice in the matter, I do think that if we’re going to talk about universal human rights, our discourse probably needs to be less hypocritical and more considerate of cultural diversity.

In general, when it comes to human rights, it seems to me that in many ways we want to make all cultures in the world adhere to the tenets of  Western liberal democracy, whether they want to or not. Maybe we don’t take into consideration the possibility that other people actually prefer to live within another system of belief, and if they do want change, then change needs to come from within, rather than being imposed from without. Maybe our attempts to “do good” are not actually helpful. I read somewhere that human rights advocates should be aiming to support a “multicultural mosaic”, rather than create a series of “Western clones”. I like this idea, and it’s something I want to explore further.

I can see that studying human rights is going to be a LOT more interesting than studying DWM philosophers, or (it’s-acutally-fiction) history. I hope I get along alright with the other students, because my interest in human rights is probably a bit more academic than some of the others who are keen on “making a difference” in the world. I feel a bit too world-weary to gallop off on a crusade, and I certainly don’t have aspirations to “save” anyone. Primarily, I’m interested in asylum seeker and refugee rights, and the rights of children incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. Also, I’m interested in the rights of mentally ill people, disabled people, the rights of LBGTI people, the rights of Indigenous people, and women’s reproductive rights. Those are at the top of my list, anyway. An issue such as women being supposedly “forced” to wear certain clothing and headwear just doesn’t interest me at all, because I think there are more pressing problems in the world. HRH the Queen wears a headscarf, and no one gets upset about it, so I don’t know why people get so het up about Muslim womens’ attire. Also, men wear turbans, yarmulkes, homburgs, kufis, and all manner of other headwear that signify their religious faith, and  jubbas, thobes, kurtas, and all sorts of robes. No one says a thing about mens’ attire, but some people want to police what women wear. Truthfully, I would prefer Western women to dress more modestly, and I really don’t like the way clothing is used to sexualise young girls. In my daily life, I don’t want men “sizing me up”, so I don’t give them anything to look at, and I think that’s how the Muslim women I’ve spoken to feel as well. Not all women want to be the target of “the male gaze”, although many do, and that’s their choice. I think we need to be aware that not everyone thinks in the same way, and that “freedom” means different things to different people.

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Today, I spent four hours doing a weirdly intensive online academic integrity module. I had to watch a number of videos and read a ton of stuff about plagiarism, collusion, proper citation and referencing, and all manner of university rules, and read about and digest information on the wide range of penalties if you fail to meet the stringent requirements. Then I took a test, and scored higher than the pass mark, although I didn’t get 100% and the Perfectionist Imp that sits on my shoulder was not happy. Everyone at my new-to-me university has to pass this test or else their course results are not released and they automatically fail the semester. I was more than a bit disappointed with myself that I still seem to “need” to get 100% on everything. “Normal” people would have just have thought, “Whew, passed that, what’s for dinner?” The Perfectionist Imp is still nagging away in my ear. Near enough is never good enough for that bastard.