Archive | March 2012

Easter Sunshine

Is there anything as lovely as being woken by birdsong? Lying in bed this morning, a dense, complicated pattern of chirps, warbles and tweets filled the already warm air in a way that made me think of a rainforest or a jungle. It’s 19°C here today and absolutely beautiful. Wandering outside in summer clothes, or sitting indoors with the windows wide open, it feels like being abroad. I want to sit in an outdoor cafe drinking ice-cold beer, eating ice-cream, and looking over some unfamiliar map. Why am I sitting at a computer?

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All Saints Park is a haven for students now on holiday. Here are a few photographs from yesterday, including one of some colourful papier mâché easter eggs hanging in the trees.

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The Courage of Truth

It’s important to take part in aspects of University life that aren’t directly related to your subject area. This is something I’m becoming ever more convinced of as I read and write about academic subject and discourse communities, inter-disciplinary work, shifting contexts of idea formation and reception, and the dialogues (or conversations) between tradition, innovation, and diverse schools of thought. All this to say that I’ve been going along to the Philosophy Department’s Friday morning Michel Foucault reading group! Actually, I have been using some of Foucault’s ideas in my work – the historical a priori, the political structures of truth, technologies of self and so on…but mainly, attending this group is a chance for me to hear what’s going on outside the wonderful world of Info Comms. It’s excellent to be challenged by a way of thinking and studying that’s not second-nature – and to realise that actually, it has plenty to reveal that’s relevant to my discipline. Hearing a new vocabulary and learning about a whole new bag of concepts is really rewarding. In my view, inter-disciplinary mash-ups are possibly one of MMU’s real strengths. 🙂

Public truth-telling can be complicated

The text we’ve been reading from is The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II; a lovely volume comprising transcripts of his last ever set of lectures (1984) at the Collège de France. It’s fascinating to try and follow Foucault’s logic as he leaps from idea, to example, to observation, to sweeping and bold statement, usually referring to a variety of well known and obscure (for me anyway) sources and willing the reader/listener to keep pace. Apparently he used to get a little lonely and frustrated that after so much effort, the audience would often not engage with his ideas; not offer a challenge or analysis. What a shame. I can’t help but wonder what he would have had to say about blogs or websites and the ways in which they encourage participation. If Michel blogged, the servers would doubtless crash!

There is one place in the book which really amused me. It’s a wonderful example of the truly “disruptive” effects of new technology. I have reproduced the footnote that appears on Page 14 of the Palgrave Macmillan edition. This is Foucault’s 1 February 1984 lecture: First hour. Warming up to his argument about different modes of truth-telling, he informs his audience about the professional techniques of the Ancient rhetoricians. So popular were his lectures that the theatre would be packed to the rafters; people could hardly breathe, so keen were they to hear him speak. Students would record bootlegs on their little portable cassette machines, eager to be able to replay and share with friends after the fact. And so the following…

Michel Foucault is interrupted at this point by pop music from one of the cassette recorders. We hear a member of the audience rush to their machine. M.F.: “I think you are mistaken. It is at least Michael Jackson? Too bad”.

Drinkable Roses

I went for the first time this weekend to Teacup, a cute and lively little tearoom/café in the Northern Quarter, owned by local DJ and cartoonist Mr Scruff and his manager, only 5 minutes from where I stay. The assortment of loose leaf, herbal, flower and fruit teas, generously portioned cakes, and comforting (poached eggs, bagels) or exotic (falafel, houmous, halloumi) lunches on offer made choosing difficult! When it arrived, the tea set was reminiscent of some kind of enchanted Alice-in-Wonderland scene. Stored in bright pots, with china or glass cups and bowls for serving, rainbow-coloured egg timers make sure you pour at exactly the right moment. Not a cheap place but worth it if you don’t mind getting rid of a fiver; and Spring is nearly here so it’s a nice chance to start sitting outside again.

The Teacup tea set makes you want one of your own!

The rose flavoured tea reminded me of those perfumes you used to try and make as a kid, mixing water and petals together in a futile attempt to devise a “signature scent”. All I can say is that the technique works a lot better for beverages!

Simple Sets and Shifting Sands

The number of concepts, terms, and associations that are relevant to my PhD research is vast. Sketching and diagramming can provide an excellent way to explore the logic of a project. Thinking about how best to present ideas and describe relationships can be very useful at the early stages of the process – long before you start analysing and making sense of your original, empirical data. With that in mind, I thought I would have fun creating a simple Venn diagram to illustrate the present state of our public, private and semi-private spheres. Well, one possible version of them anyway! For this one, I decided to mess about with the very handy graphics software at Creately.com. Please click to see it in all its roughly sketched glory! Because this blog isn’t self-hosted I can’t embed their nifty viewer, sadly.

This Venn is only tangentially related to my thesis. I hope to create various maps and models 3 years from now that will illustrate and explore the intersections between New Media, Academia, and Participatory Theories. What I have confirmed (to myself anyway) – by comparing this one to older work on the same topic – is that the nature of our public/private worlds have changed a lot in recent decades; not least as a result of new media, new technologies, and new types of political, social, and commercial activity.

Jürgen Habermas presented his ever popular (but sometimes contested) understanding of the Bourgeois 18th century public sphere with “The usual reservations concerning the simplification involved in such illustrations”. Very wise!

Armchair Theatre

At the last minute, my friend offered me a ticket to go and see an excellent new stage production of Alan Sillitoe’s classic novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – which most of us know from Karel Reisz’s 1960 film version starring Albert Finney. I had never been before into the beautiful Royal Exchange Theatre which sits, futuristic, neo-classical, and surprisingly snug given it holds 800 people, in the centre of an old Cotton Exchange. Experiencing its 7-sided “theatre-in-the-round” and watching actors run on and off from all directions instead of into the usual “wings” was a treat in itself. As for the play, the lead performance by Perry Fitzpatrick can’t be faulted. He had so much pent-up energy, cock-sure charisma and bravado, that combined with spot-on delivery of some shocking and funny lines, it was difficult for the multiple actresses he shared the stage with to keep up! They did keep up though – every one was compelling. Jo Hartley as Emler was a thorny, darkly comedic gem.

From what I remember of the film, the part of Brenda is more stylised here – sensually as well as sexually charged, and less hardened somehow. She is more glacial, more mannered. Actually, I am not quite sure Clare Calbraith’s depiction would fit in working class Nottingham! Her sister Winnie, who for reasons of plot simplicity didn’t make it into Reisz’s version, was boldly and convincingly played by This is England’s Chanel Creswell. Anyway, all of the “love interests” were more attractively dressed and coiffed than Rachel Roberts was. Tamla Kari was more than equal to Shirley Anne Field as Doreen. I wonder if some link might be made here with the aesthetic development of a “soap” like Coronation Street (I mention this only partly because actors Graeme Hawley and David Crellin were in both!) which after all, once shared common “kitchen sink” concerns with the work of “new wave” writers and filmmakers like Reisz, John Osborne, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson. It’s interesting to note that Coronation Street was first broadcast in the same year that Finney’s Arthur challenged audiences to consider the factory floor and not the drawing-room.

Pre- and post- performance photography is allowed!

Rather than paying solemn homage to the British new wave or relying on a gritty sense of “black and white” grime, director Matthew Dunster and designer Anna Fleischles’ version is uniquely inventive, cleverly witty, and it plays games with us, now and then giving the audience a knowing wink – props fly on and off stage on an automated rail when a scenery change is required; two actors sit beside audience members to mime being at the cinema; Arthur suggests with a gesture that we might act as witnesses to a disagreement between himself and his boss. The ways in which he is caught up in something both metaphysical and potentially political are foregrounded sympathetically. Just 22, Arthur despises (or is it fears? grudgingly admires?) the Russians, the taxman, the rent collector, politicians, union organisers, the “Yanks”, the army, blokes in bowler hats, and even the wives who cuckold with him their half-suspecting husbands, in almost equal measure. He does not quite know what he is, what he stands for, what it is that he opposes. All he knows is an instinctive compulsion to make a lot of noise being an angry rutting “Billy Goat”. Yet there is a lightness of touch and feeling of intimacy, even fragility. Some scenes are potentially quite graphic (for instance Brenda’s attempted bath-tub abortion) and some are delightful (ghost trains, fairground carousels, and eventually fighting at Goose Fair); these combine into an eventful contradictory ride where tone is hard to define. The working class characters here are not caricatures or stereotypes but beautifully observed and captured, recognisably deeply human even when apparently hardened to life or struggling not to be beaten down by it. Ultimately, like most people, Arthur is searching for love.

As they say in the Royal Exchange’s publicity material, “Our policy is to express the bewildering, complex wonderment of life through the full spectrum of theatre.” This is certainly what they did last night and I am definitely going to go back as soon as possible!