Even weeks mean work
And so another week has passed during my time studying in England at Oxford, that has yet to rain on my parade more than one day in a row.
The weather wasn’t the only thing that went well this week. The tutorials were also fantastic. On Monday, I met with Alistair, my modern British drama tutor. It went really well, aside from the smell of the cleaner that the scouts had used on his toilet. It smelled sneakily like rotten eggs. His office was at top of Emden tower and had an excellent view of the peons walking in the rear-quad below. The shelves overflowed with books and records.
More importantly, the conversation that we had about Samuel Beckett plays was really stimulating. While Lizzie prefers to pick out quotes from my Shakespeare papers, Alistair prefers to hear me read the entire thing out-loud, and he interrupts and challenges when he hears weak arguments or descriptions in the essay. For his essay I wrote about two plays: the infamous Waiting for Godot and the obscure Ohio Impromptu. While I thoroughly enjoyed Ohio Impromptu, I felt ambivalent about Godot, which I think is appropriate, if you know the content.
Reading Ohio Impromptu was ironic because I am here on the other side of the globe, reading British drama, and here is a play that was written and performed initially for a Beckett seminar at Ohio State University. The play has two people on stage. Reader reads passages from the last chapter of a book. Listener hears him and knocks on the table apparently controlling or emotionally responding to Reader’s book. And then when reader gets to the end, there is nothing left to tell. It is a really beautiful play, and it is really short, which makes it interesting to study. At several points during the tutorial, Alistair and I found ourselves kind of spinning in a logic that went like: Beckett’s plays don’t mean anything, but in that they don’t mean anything, they actually mean something, but you can’t really know what they mean, so they must mean nothing. Quite frustratingly circular. Kind of like the theory I established for seeing the meaning: the concept of zero, which is nothing, but represents nothing and therefore is something.
Shakespeare was challenging, because as soon as I finished working on the Beckett essay, I had to begin preparing for Shakespeare. A lot of leg work in the library, but when I finished my tutorial on Thursday, I felt like I had done not only a lot of work, but some very good work. While I am not anywhere close to being a Shakespeare scholar, I feel like I am beginning to see what this really looks like and what sort of thinking is shaping this vast ocean of thought today. It is really exciting. (wow… I didn’t ever plan to say that about Shakespeare…)
Thursday evening I also got to do some more rowing. I think my technique is starting too improve. Rowing is largely meant to be done with the legs, and last night I felt the burn in the leg muscles and not in my back and arms (which is where its not supposed to be). This was really encouraging. Afterwards, I learned (the hard way) that the gates to the university parks (where the boathouses are) close promptly at 6 pm and that there is only one that comes close to being scalable. I tried the three most direct fences first. What a humiliating walk home in the rain. 15 feet of cast iron is still intimidating, even in the post-modern age.
This weekend, I have a homestay with a British family. As long as you promise not to tell them, I will tell you what I made as a house-warming gift. I was really struggling with what to do for this. I had to really think about what happens in Ohio at this time of year. After much deliberation, I decided that peanut butter buckeyes would best represent autumnal Columbus, Ohio. So this afternoon, I have been making buckeyes. I’ve never done this before, but I’m quite proud of my work in my little kitchen. They are surprisingly easy to make. Hopefully my host-family doesn’t have anyone who is allergic to peanuts, because then I will end up with a stomach ache from eating them all myself.
Oh! Almost forgot. Thursday night I had my first experience with the Oxford Union debate society. They staged a debate on the following proposition: This house would vote for change over experience. Both the opposition and the proposition sides had 3 university debaters as well as an American representative. It was really interesting to see the Oxford Union hall packed with mostly British students who apparently have motivated interest in American politics. Many of the initial arguments were grounded in establishing how American politics inevitably affect the politics of the rest of the world. I never really thought of this till I left the country, but I think it must be true. The German Obama rally that fetched over 200,000 people last summer was my first clue. The Obama posters all over Paris were my next clue. The packed hall of Oxford Union full of students from all over the world to see a debate on American politics was the clincher. Unfortunately, the Union officer responsible for securing external representation on both sides of the debate did a mediocre to poor job of finding someone who could defend the opposition. The gentleman they did find spoke ineffectively and digressively about terrorist activity in Afghanistan and Iran. I was a little disappointed, but I nonetheless learned a lot, and I can’t wait to see another debate there.
And that about does it for this update from Oxford and the IfSA-Butler study in England program. Tune in next week for news from the home-stay and Shakespeare’s history plays.