Wednesday, March 31, 2010

oh, it makes me mad!

Imagine me sitting at home growling. Why am I growling, you ask? It's quite simple, really. Once again, I am questioning the purpose of the existence of academics and postgraduate students.

I went to a Postgrad Symposium for Humanities students today at the university I attend, Canterbury. Discussion: The end of the Humanities? (Literature, history, philosophy...)

It's disillusioning, you know, having to sit there listening to people who know how to talk the talk, know how to be provocative, know how to ARGUE - because that's what we "humanities" are good at - and disagreeing fundamentally with most of what is being said. According to one speaker, who is very eminent and very gifted and all that but who, I find, is on a completely different wavelength to mine, what the Humanities need to do to survive is to marry philosophy of the history of aesthetics with Darwinian psychology. Er, really? And how is your particular research interest, sir, practically supposed to work itself out? How exactly will this attract students? And how do you propose to make everyone think in the same framework?

Then you have to listen to people saying that maybe what the Humanities really need to do is to work out how to communicate to The Public so we can get more funding.

Or people saying that things have changed now and how worrying it is that modern third-year students refuse to read a 500-page novel for an undergraduate English paper; instead they'll just make something up when asked about it and it will sound okay.

And here is my opinion. (You knew that it was coming, right?)

The one thing I agreed on with the professor mentioned above was that the Humanities weren't killed; they committed suicide in the 70s and 80s. Suicide by deconstructionalism and postmodernism.

You want to know why the Humanities are disappearing from the priorities of government, university bosses and the public? It's because of cynicism. Cynicism created by academics whose sole purpose in life is to get more funding, like in the comment I mentioned above. More funding so they can put out more postmodern s*** that tells us that basically everything we do is meaningless and we can't ever know anything and "the fact" is an incredibly suspect idea. Cynicism created by departments like the English department at my university, who taught me so well that by the time I was in my final undergraduate year of my BA, I could churn out an English essay that I knew very well would get an A or an A+ because I'd figured out how to play the system; how to give the lecturers what they wanted, on questions I couldn't care less about or giving answers I fundamentally despised. You are taught very well by the Humanities, taught how to appear rebellious or original or boundary-pushing but how to all say the same thing, or how to all agree with your lecturer.

The only reason I didn't become completely disillusioned with the Humanities was that I had a history lecturer who cared very, very much about his topic and what he was teaching. I got idealistic. I became convinced that History is important, that it matters, that the memory of things like Stalin, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisitions, et cetera NEED TO BE PRESERVED. We must know why people did these things or put up with these things. We must keep our portrayal of our history honest. It won't necessarily regulate our own society today but we must try.

The Humanities must become humanitarian. We must care about what we study, we must let it affect our lives today, we must communicate this passion to our society. People want to care about what they do. They don't want to sit there listening to some angry, bitter lecturer deconstructing their favourite novel into a morass of constructs. What they want is something that matters.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


When I am overtired I tend to become a little bit silly.

My flatmate A. and I were asked to help with with some of the organisation of our campus church's camp this coming weekend, in beautiful Wainui. It involves allotting rooms, and making welcome packs that include some sort of sweet treat.

A. and I have had rather busy weeks, and by the time we sat down on Wednesday night to make a start, we were exhausted. I had just been shopping with the 5pm crowds at Pak'n'Save to buy ingredients for the coconut ice and Russian fudge; A. had made dinner.

It didn't take much to set us off. Flatmate R. said, "Allie, could I ask you a big favour?" Immediately, we started cracking jokes until we were basically splitting our stomachs laughing, unable to stop, in much pain, while R. sat waiting for it to stop.

Then there was the fact that our coconut ice turned out like this:

... and our Russian fudge like this:

I don't understand it because we were cooking at exactly the same time, using exactly the same ingredients, taking exactly the same amount of time: and somehow, my fudge AND coconut ice never set all that well, and A.'s fudge and coconut ice set a little too well. This in itself was hilarious.

Then we set about packaging our sweet treats (below). This was hilarious because my fudge was almost all unusable, while Anna's was crumbly, and we amused ourselves thinking of excuses (other than the fact that we're not very good bakers, evidently). And because we didn't have enough fudge, some of the beautiful little packages actually just have fudge crumbs, and this was hilarious too.

Then this morning, after not enough sleep, A. met me at university and we divided the list of those going to camp into bedrooms at the YMCA camp in Wainui. THIS was hilarious, because we put all the "Chris"es into the same bunkroom. Ha! Ha! It still makes me laugh to think of them in their bunkroom, and one of them says, "Hey, Chris?" and all four others reply, "Yeah?"

We're never going to be asked to help again!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Behind Closed Doors

Yay! The March issue of Halfway Down the Stairs is out. "Behind Closed Doors" is, I'm pretty sure, our biggest issue yet, and the submissions are multiplying for every issue - which is why we are happy to announce that from now on, HDtS issues will be published four times a year. The next one will be June, 2010, and the theme is "The Outsider". Submissions welcomed!

I think this issue is very attractive, thanks to our gifted resident web designer, and I'm quite proud of the quality of the writing, especially in the fiction section, which I have more to do with than the other sections (although from what I've seen so far, the quality there is excellent too). I would especially recommend Ethel Rohan's "More Than Gone" and Gail Taylor's "Tornado", and for those of you who enjoy reading Stacy's blog, her "Thrift Store Archeologist" is fantastic!

Welcome to this, our fifth year of publication.