Monday, 22 August 2011

A mundane day

[Written last night -- touched up this morning]

So why don't I try just writing this blog as a diary, simply recording what I've been doing, at least once in a while? Here’s today's bulletin, then, in all its quotidian tedium (though, to be truthful, I've enjoyed my day).

It's ten to nine on Sunday evening and I'm watching a programme on culture, Leavis, Snow, Raymond Williams.  Pretty shallow like so much TV, in sad contrast with radio.  But it was broadcast yesterday and I have a telly setup I really like that lets me record things, without all the hassle of a VCR. So I'm never stuck for something to watch when I feel like flopping.

I came through to watch telly because I’d decided I'd had enough work for the day.  The work was writing an article, based on a talk I gave at a conference in Germany, in the light of comments from the journal editor to whom I'd sent my notes. I'd been messing about with it in a writing program for the Mac called Scrivener but decided yesterday I'd be better reverting to pencil and paper and writing a fresh outline off the top of my head.  That went well and what I wrote seemed usable and worth typing out, so I turned to the dictation package I'd recently bought, Dragon Dictate for Mac.  I've used it a few times and while it’s impressive there seem to be more errors than there should be.  I put this down to the difficulty it's having understanding my speech because my nose is currently blocked by catarrh.  I say currently, but currently seems to have lasted all year; I always tend to get stuffed up but this year has been worse than any I've know -- is it something in the air, different pollen perhaps? (I don’t get hay fever.)

I persisted and in the end looked online for a Dragon forum that might give advice. I've been working through some good stuff that I've found.

That was most of the day.  Never went out although it was fine -- not good, but I don't usually fall into that pattern.  I've been less active recently because of a bad hip. On Friday, though, I was advised by the consultant to try painkillers and so far they seem rather effective -- I can walk more normally again and perhaps will even escape the need for a replacement, which I was expecting to be put down for at my consultation.

What else? some ongoing reading: Fredric Jameson's The Modernist Papers -- not an easy read and sometimes beyond me because I don't get the references to all that high theory but frequently exciting and illuminating -- the first very theoretical book on literature that I've read for a long time that makes me see more in the works; despite the grand ideas he’ll typically take a paragraph or two and subject them to an insightful reading, à la I.A. Richards, though picking on different sorts of points. Brilliant man.

Alongside, I'm re-reading The Castle by Kafka.  As I'm going back to Germany next month I thought a couple of weeks ago that I’d try to learn a bit of German by following the text in both languages.  Years ago I'd read two novels by Marquez like this and it worked: I retained a useful amount of Spanish.  Not so with German, however -- too much grammar, too many words that look similar, too many confusing prefixes.  Or perhaps it's that Kafka's sentences are too complex.  So I soon gave up on the German text and carried on with the English, finding it more and more absorbing.  Decided to scribble notes because I get so much more out of a book when I do. Often it’s some time after reading a section that I have thoughts about it, in bed perhaps or taking a nap on the sofa; if I then write them down, in the first place they begin to add up to something and also they make it more likely that I'll keep having ideas and retain them. To make the activity more substantial, I'll then dictate the notes, certainly if I can get Dragon to work more reliably.

The Kafka, of course, relates to Jameson's book on modernism, which in turn I got because I've long been confused about what modernism was and why it happened and why it seems now to be consigned to the past.  And it’s relevant to why teachers taught English the way they did in the period we’re investigating in our research project, 1945-65. The parts of Jameson I've read so far, though, have been about Mann, Proust and Ulysses -- terrific on the latter -- one of the great works that I not only respect but enjoy.

The telly programme has moved on via Richard Hoggart, Kenneth Clark and John Berger to Edward Said. It's actually very good as it turns out, allowing for what it tries to pack into an hour.  There was actually some film of Leavis lecturing -- never seen that before.

When I get to bed it will be with The Hugo Young Papers, confidential notes by a Guardian journalist of interviews with politicians from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair.  Sounds dry but actually fascinating -- not least for Young’s ability to recall it all (he took no notes and had no recorder). Also his confidential assessment of the interviewees’ characters. Chris Patten comes out well, and John Major; Portillo and most of the Labour lot badly (at least so far: Blair hasn’t won the election yet).

Not much email today -- August and a Sunday.  Talked by phone to my daughter and got an update on their building work (house improvements) and the kids' activities:  Lucy (4) went to a drama workshop and loved it so I hope she can get lots more of that: it's a terrific thing for kids to do on all sorts of grounds, and I wish I'd done more of it when I was an English teacher in the remote past.

Monday morning
I should have mentioned: re having ideas while relaxing and somnolent. I had three good ones in the afternoon while napping on the sofa and afterwards scribbled them down: I'll certainly dictate them today. One was about our next research proposal, one was relevant to our present research and was about the similarities between kids’ learning from teachers and teachers' learning from each other; the third, relevant to the article I'm working on, was a point about speech and writing. If I was in a full-time academic job, in an office in the university with the phone ringing and students pestering and emails harrassing and constant bloody meetings, how would I ever have the space to have an idea?

And earlier in the day, now I remember it, I’d had another thought I hadn’t had before -- and immediately emailed someone about it: it was about how the working-class side of my dad’s family (his parents, two of his siblings and their families) regarded the middle-class side (us and my other uncle’s family). I realised I’d never asked about that, or really been curious about it. Too late now, I fear.

1 comment:

Mary-Jane said...

Wish I was there to give you a crash course in German! If in doubt, make barking noises - there's a likelihood you'll utter something genuinely German ... Grettings from Hong Kong!