Sunday, 21 July 2013

Academic Viva - Sunday Sample "A,B&E"

What two more exclsuionary roles could there be for women than to be the wife of an Oxbridge academic or the wife of a gangster? Karen Dash the protagonist of the novel "A,B&E" has been both. A strong woman with forthright views, but constrained by these two male milieus. In the sample below, Karen is regaling her Greek poolside audience with her summary of the different academic types.

"My open university dissertation into the closed university world.   

ART HISTORY: Perennial gloating grins smeared across their florid faces. As they glory in the preposterousness that taxpayers actually stump up the funds, for their life of sedentary aesthetic appreciation and extravagance. Only percolated by the occasional obligation of having to deliver a lecture. Affected dandyism in everything they do, except wading into the copious wine vaults, at which they bare their teeth. In ten years’ time, at the present rate of connoisseurship, the brittle venous patina of their skin will need considerable restoration work.

ARCHITECTURE: Would-be art historians, except that their more humble origins entailed parental advice/exhortation to train for a solid profession. Seven years of study, just to end up teaching others and without a building to their name, they have never quite reconciled themselves to the irony. At no time wholly present when conversing with a woman. Preoccupied with lashing their suppressed patricide to a mast, while simultaneously refining their design for a mausoleum.  

ECONOMICS: These permatanned but unshaven young turks, cut a dash amongst their dusty peers. Only, their oblique expressions seem to harbour guilty secrets. Microeconomics is predicated on the rational consumer. Macroeconomics shows us all to be indentured to the world economy and unable to influence our own destiny. Perhaps this explains the shiftiness. They engage themselves in Game Theory in the quest for self-justification, while on the side they supplement their stipend with shrewd stock market investments. The highest turnover of any department, as they soon slink back to the outside world. 

LAW: Lecturers undoubtedly, but academics? I think not. Standing there year after year, boring on about the same landmark judgements. Drilling in case studies and droning about the incontestable facts, only the facts. The fact is they don’t have opinions of their own, only precedents. Despite their limpet-like tenacity, I avoided them to be honest. (Ironic, given my future submersion via Damon). Having a sociologist for a husband aided me in repelling them. The facts, only the facts? They bored me rigid.

HISTORY: The porcine smile of the fanatic. The pedlar of a cause. The only people who truly can ever be said to be making history. All those periods of time, all those events, what rationale do you employ to choose one for study? Apart from it being an undiscovered seam in the market perhaps. You would credit them empathically to enter the historical mind, through chroniclers, clerks, notaries and pamphleteers. Yet where are the testimonies of the yeomen, slaves, footsoldiers and women? They posit either the progression of reform/revolution, or the conservatism of counter-reformation/ revolution, according to their political tastes. It all depends precisely where they establish the datelines for their period of teleology. It’s as maggoty as that. To the victor the spoils. 

CLASSICS: No discernible difference from school Classics teachers. Crumpled corduroy jackets, gowns and chalk dust, like they were emerging from an excavation. Which of course they never were, given that their body of texts was and is never likely going to increase in scope. The language had no new insights to throw up. The philosophy is available in Penguin paperbacks. Dead, dead, dead. Even the lawyers no longer paid lip service to them.  

PHILOSOPHY: Either I didn’t exist, or they didn’t and they could prove it to boot. Never, ever bumped into a philosophy Don. Presumably too cool for school (if I may be so bold as to employ an anachronistic idiom picked up out here), they were off partying with the students. Which is exactly what I myself do now. Though with less inductive justification.

ENGLISH: My pick of the crop. They didn’t look down at me and were all too happy to debate. One-to-one personal supervision. My very own reading group. They gave me pointers that opened my literary vistas up to many wonders. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake. A panorama of human emotion, expression, language and an insight into diverse human periods (eat your hearts out historians). They complained to me how their students never read the original texts. I informed them of the students’ wails that they never had the time to read anything but the literary criticism, such was the welter of literature to plough through. They thanked me for my input, but were then struck down by institutional inertia. That which dictated they only had to sit it out for three years to see off each fresh wave of student dissatisfaction. While they themselves would fall prey to the longer-term predations of time. Ensuring Beowulf would still be studied ahead of Kafka and Beckett, long after they surrendered life’s tenure. Because it had always been thus.

MODERN LANGUAGES: Divided into two camps. Those native speakers, gathered from all points of the compass. Among whom I was welcomed as an honorary member, in some sort of inverse ex-pat community. Conversation rather than discourse. And those English-borne linguists, scowling their way through foreign cultures and literature they evince little interest in. Having drawn the professional short straw, to instruct British youth in the way of the modern world and diminished eminence. The former’s company I felt very comfortable amidst, the latter were simply estranged. They’d love it here in Britain-upon-Ionia. 

MATHS/PHYSICS: Since I could reasonably hold my own within their discipline, much depended on how they reacted to me personally. Those that were happy to spread the gospel of the metaphysical nature of their subject, per the spiritual dimensions of matter that they could not pin down, would blithely indulge me in playing cat’s cradle with their string theory. While those that were affronted by my forwardness and presumption, retreated behind hyper-specialisation and rendered me two-dimensional. The beaming, open demeanour of the former, was more emblematic of proselytising missionaries. Please believe. 

BIOLOGY: Molecular to a man, I think the Department had garnered some Nobel prizes. They always seemed to look at you as if they were decoding your entire DNA. With such complex detail to attend to, they invariably carried an air of distraction. They have taken over from the physicists as the archetypal mad professors. Evolutionary geneticists have developed an interest in Game Theory too. (See Economists).

MUSIC: Pederasts. Organ scholarships in this irreligious day and age? Organ, get it? They certainly did. From the choirboys who sang in the Chapel in the main.

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