Books

Turning Cultural Analysis ON/OFF?

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Wordify-2014-10-09 14-04-58When I first had a taste of cultural studies I was in my first undergraduate year. Although my programme focused on English literature and linguistics the coordinators thought that the content was interdisciplinary enough to afford including some courses on media globalisation and later on a beginner’s course in representation. Although these types of courses are not taught within the programme anymore, one could still chose to take them as electives. Judging by how decided I was then that I will go on with literature, I doubt it that I would have chose something like that on my own, so I am very thankful that cultural studies entered my life in that way.

That first course was considered hard by many of my colleagues, including me. It dealt with things like globalisation of the media, standardisation, panopticism, etc. It did more than teach us some theories and present us with some new authors, but showed us how to think differently. For me it was an eye-opener and ever since then I looked at the world in a different way— a more critical way.

I remember we were talking about panopticism and Michel Foucault and at some point our teacher advised us to not think about these issues too much because it might confuse us, distract us, make us “lose it”. I have to admit that thinking about those issues is everything I have been doing ever since he said it. I have heard people talking about this problem of the cultural analyst who cannot “turn it off”, cannot stop himself/herself from analysing things or questioning everything. But I disagree when people talk about this in that term of “turning it off” as if it were a switch or a button. You either have it on or you have it off. I can definitely not turn it off nor do I aim to do that at any point in my life. What I need to get better at is to stop talking about theories and their applications with people who find it boring or confusing. I realise that not everyone thinks cultural studies and cultural analysis is fun, that I can become annoying if I keep pushing people into talking these subjects, and I need to temper myself. But every lecture is exciting for me ever since we started MACA (Master of Applied Cultural Analysis) and every fieldwork I conduct teaches me new things about things I thought of as simple and straightforward before.

In one of the previous lectures in my actual programme we have tried to define culture. We reached the conclusion I have always suspected: you can’t. How can you define something that is everywhere and in everything? Culture is something I learn about and work with, therefore my field is immense. So how then, can I find a switch that “turns it off”? Turn off what? My world? My every conscious moment when I look around and see things which I interpret a certain way, perhaps a different way than other and perhaps not. It’s hard to impossible to do such thing so I guess all I’m left with now is the realisation that I need to stop analysing everything aloud and convince my friends I’m still a person who can watch TV normally (although that would be a lie because TV is for a cultural analyst what a candy shop is for a 5 year old).

On a side note, I do realise I need to blog more but things have been more busy than I though they would be when I started this. I promise I will do what I can and, more importantly, when I can. I have ideas I want to leave out here “in the open” and things I ponder upon that I would like to write about, but time is passing fast and I can’t seem to find a way to move with it.

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The Book is dead. Long Live the e-Book. Part II

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1A while back I wrote a post where I declared that my stance regarding the rise of the e-book is somewhere in the middle. At the time I did not have an e-book reader but I was pretty committed on buying one. I remember I made a mental note after publishing the post to come back to it after I had my Kindle and see if I still thought the same about the whole thing. I’m still quite ambivalent since books and literature are things I feel quite passionate about. It’s never black and white I suppose…

First of all, I do not regret buying the Kindle. I love it, love it. It’s light and I can carry books in my purse that would otherwise need a bag of their own. The fact that I don’t need two hands to flip the pages (it’s done by a button on either side) allows me to hold my drink/shopping bag/ metro pole/etc. with the other hand and conveniently so. I can choose from a large variety of protection sleeves to make it more “mine”. The contrast of the letters is good and my really sensitive eyes never had a problem reading for hours and hours. I can upload .pdfs of the articles I’m reading that I would otherwise have to read on a computer screen or print them (I often need to read about six lengthy articles a week for school). The battery lasts long, the menu is as simple as it can get. But… Read the rest of this entry »

The Alnwick Garden.

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Alnwick garden logoSeeing as winter is almost here (we had all sorts of weather lately except good), my mind wonders to all the magic places I’ve been in the last past months. I wanted to write about Alnwick Garden sometime late December when I will visit Alnwick Castle. However, I have much to say about the garden only. Even though I went to see the wonderful Alnwick Garden in November, I think it will be a welcomed post seeing as all there is outside these days is just wind, rain, hail, and other horrible things. So let’s cheer up and hope for a real December with real snow soon!

The Alnwick Garden, together with the majestic Alnwick Castle (Harry Potter anyone?) are situated in the small but lovely market town Alnwick. The Duke of Northumberland lives in the castle together with his family, making this one of the few castles in UK that are inhabited. I and my friend went to visit the garden only, leaving the castle for December. This visit remains as one of the dearest memories in UK so far due to its imaginative and inspirational display. Visiting it in the autumn made the whole experience unforgettable due to the explosion of amber colors, children playing in the foliage, and the ongoing of one special event. But all in due time. Read the rest of this entry »

Haunted Newcastle. And Yes, I Live Here.

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haunted newcastle One of the unavoidable things I did when I came to Newcastle was to find my way to a good bookshop. Some people would choose to locate the nearest hospital or police station. I need to locate the nearest bookshop. Priorities first, you know…

Once located, I started to slowly make my way through the shelves. I needed an England Lonely Planet guide, a notebook, and an hour or two of undisturbed browsing. And it turned out that the before mentioned hour of browsing had some surprises in store for me (see what I did here? In store? Right? Because I was in a store… OK never mind). Under local literature, other than the local tourist guides and historical books, there was an entire shelf dedicated to paranormal activity around Northumberland. And as you might have guessed, I started to worry. I am ready for whatever this exchange experience has in stock for me except poltergeist activity type of stuff. I mean…they don’t really prepare you for this stuff in the Kick Off meeting at my home university. I probably wasted too much time just browsing through those books. I didn’t buy one because there were seriously too many to choose from… Last Monday I gave up and bought Haunted Newcastle by Darren W. Ritson. I thought it was more than fitting as Halloween was around the corner and all that. So here are my thoughts on this book…. Read the rest of this entry »

Falling in Love with the Barter Books Bookshop.

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DSC_0464 If there is magic anywhere in England it’s in this bookshop. Did I say bookshop?  Barter Books is so much more than that- it’s the home of the most intense passion for books that walls can contain. And what great walls they are…

Location, location! Barter Books is one of the biggest secondhand bookshops in England, located in an old Victorian train station in the historical town of Alnwick. The owners, Stuart and Mary Manley, put a lot of passion in creating a world dedicated to old books. They started the shop in 1991 and it has since proved to be such a success that it has been called by the New Statesman magazine “The British Library of secondhand bookshops.” The best landlord in the world and my dear friend Laura brought me there last weekend. It has proved to be an unforgetable trip, something I will probably talk about a lot to everyone that will listen. So please listen… Read the rest of this entry »

The Hunger Games and Academia.

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The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games. Ah! Now that’s a movie! So you think it’s not that great? Well wait until you have to analyze the living soul out of it. Then again, it could maybe suck every trace of fun in it but I seem to enjoy these things much more than I legally should be allowed as a student. Knowledge is power indeed, and I do like things better the more I know about them. The Hunger Games might seem like a pretty simple, young-adultish movie, but when you really start to think about it, it’s can be so much more. OK, so perhaps I’m pushing it now.  Perhaps I’m too tired. Perhaps the two hour lecture on Themes and Issues in Contemporary Media got the best of me, especially since it was followed by a film viewing of The Hunger Games. Again. Yes, it’s the second time this year when The Hunger Games is a compulsory viewing/reading for an undergraduate course. First time I saw it because it was trendy and like the sheep that I am, I followed the flock and saw the damned thing. I enjoyed it, I really did. Then I did a Children’s Literature course that required us not only to read the first book but to see the movie. So I did see it again. And I guess I enjoyed it a bit more since I watched it through the perspective of young adult literature. And now, studying something completely different, here I am again…in an university (compulsory) film viewing of the same bloody thing. And I’m not necessarily complaining, although I realize that at this point I come out as rather whiny. I’m just puzzled at the way Hunger Games attracts lecturers to use it as helping material to illustrate concepts. Are the themes in The Hunger Games so flexible one can push them into different directions starting from teaching injustice and class systems to kids, all the way to illustrating Baudrillard’s view of postmodernism? Well, I guess they are. So I thought that for now, I should share the wealth and tell you what I learned from The Hunger Games movie through two very different perspectives at two very different university courses. Enjoy the ride, I sure did! Read the rest of this entry »

Reading What I Need Vs. Reading What I Want.

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English: Open book icon

 

As an English student there is a constant battle within me to read the books I really want to read or the books on my syllabus. Sometimes, if I’m taking a literature course, balancing things is impossible (like the time my class was going through one novel every week) but sometimes it’s more flexible and I can squeeze in some favorites. I normally try to read two things at one: one for school and one for myself (it helps keeping my sanity intact). If I happen to read British classics for school, I try and make my choice something completely different, like sci-fi or something (although that rarely happens).

This term things are a bit different since I’m not studying literature at all, but media. However, there is loads to read (textbook chapters, articles, massive amounts of googling to be done). This gives me the possibility to read more literature of my choice. Happy days ahead! Read the rest of this entry »

Studying Media in England and Loving It.

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English: Quadrangle, Newcastle University Cate...
The Quadrangle, my favorite part in the campus.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been in Newcastle, England, for two weeks now. I’m an exchange student and although this title would imply I am doing some serious studying, I’ve been pretty much spending my days as a tourist. No, I have not skipped school- Newcastle University has one great week of introductory meetings and lectures for international students, followed by a week of total freedom to roam the streets of the “Toon” (Newcastle) and go to their numerous day trips outside town. So all I did for two weeks was to get accustomed to the campus and the town, figured out where to get this and that, visit York, and had chips on the Tynemouth beach. As awesome as all this might sound, you get really tired after a while. At least I did. I really wanted to start school, which is exactly what happened this week. Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen King’s On Writing, and How I Got to Read It.

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stephen-king-on-writingA couple of years ago I took a course that required me to try my hand at writing small texts on different themes. It was fun and made me realize how much I enjoyed writing, how good I thought I was, and how horrible I really was… .This was a course that simply asked me to write small texts, not literary masterpieces, but I always felt that if I am to show someone a text I produced it has to be good. I didn’t want to “just pass” a course, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to catch the attention of the teacher, I wanted to be THAT student that tries extra much. Basically, I wanted to know that I did everything that I could do before I submitted that assignment. The problem was, I never felt like I did everything I could for my prose; I always had the sensation that I could have done more, like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. It was a dilemma, since the course itself didn’t offer any support on writing technique and I felt like I was lost at sea and my boat was leaking as hell. And so I thought that maybe I should just buy a book on writing. Upon googling around this subject, I concluded that there are two major groups: people who think that writing is just something you have or you don’t, a gift that can’t be learned; and people who think a textbook is vital to get you started, giving the young writer a solid base to build upon. I personally believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle (doesn’t it always?) I think a textbook can improve your writing a lot, giving you ideas and hints on how to find your inspiration, or answer some questions you might have regarding the craft itself.

It so happens that whenever I really like an author’s style I tend to google him/her and see if I can find an interview where they talk about their writing. This, combined with my before-mentioned dilemma, helped me find a great book- On Writing by Stephen King. Yes, I came to find the book because I am a great fan of King, but this has really nothing to do with him or his books (in essence). The book contains some really good advices for beginner writers like me. Since I finished reading this book, I got my hands on other creative writing books and I took a real course on it (I am actually doing the second part now), but every now and then I come back to this one for reference. There are small things that stayed with me, like his thought on the overuse of adverbs: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. I never really understood what he meant until I saw it in my own prose. And when I stopped doing that mistake, my peer reviewers appreciated it, the text flowed better, and my paragraphs stopped sounding like something out of a novel with a couple making out on the cover (yeah, you know which ones, you are as guilty as I am). Read the rest of this entry »

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Teaching Children and Adults About Immigration.

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cover

Shaun Tan is one of the most talented artists when it comes to children’s literature, and this is not merely my opinion. Winner of the most prestigious children’s literature prize, The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Tan manages to reach out to both children and adults by bringing up contemporary and important themes wrapped in a beautiful world of fantasy. The Arrival is a wordless book, winner of many prizes such as New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award, Children’s Book Council of Australia, Western Australian Premier’s Book Award, and many others.

I am not here to list Shaun Tan’s accomplishments, but to explain how I believe The Arrival can be enjoyed by both adults and children, and used as base material for explaining important social issues.

The Arrival is a picture book containing no words. When I say ´´no words´´ I do mean it, so except the title you won’t stumble upon any other written language you can decode. This is smart for three reasons: firstly, little readers won’t have to know how to read about subjects that often have to be explained in ´´big words´´ and ´´complicated phrases´´; secondly, the readers will have to decode the illustration’s meanings themselves by looking at the pictures and letting their minds work (which is a great creative start); thirdly, the adult and the child can have much more fun making up names for the characters and places, or narrating the action themselves, which is a much more interactive way of storytelling than the classic adult reads- child listens approach. Read the rest of this entry »