Cultural studies

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.

On (my) Choices.

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yellow road sign choiceIt’s been a long time since I posted anything, and that’s because I am now writing my final paper after which I will officially have finished university. For now. Because I’m going straight back, this time in the wonderful world of graduate level. Oh boy!

I seem to find less and less time for the things that I like doing (like blogging), as I’m pretty much just reading research, trying to wrap my head around literary theory, and keeping what’s little left of my sanity intact. I am now at the point where I know where I’m heading with my paper ( American Psycho and the critique of society) so things are not looking as desperate as they did when I started. That being said, I have made my application to a programme for MA level and my choice surprised many people (me included).

Choices, choices. It’s hard to make choices, I guess everyone figured that out so far. So you take a deep breath and you plunge head-first into an unknown world and try to make the best of it. At least that’s what I do. My choices regarding my academic life have been various and plenty. I like studying and I am a curious person so it’s very hard for me to decide on one what sole subject that I would like to study, work with, etc. Can I do a little bit of everything, please? But the more I work my way through life, the more I realise what are the things I like to study more in depth and what I would like to know more about.

When I was 18, still living in Romania, I dived directly out of high school to university life. Big mistake, but we won’t talk about that now. I was studying Math but I chose to go to Psychology because I felt like that was what I wanted to work with. In the end it felt…wrong. It felt as if I didn’t belong in a system that constantly made me feel uncomfortable. In that University I’ve met one amazing teacher and ten that should have never been allowed to teach. I felt cheated and was constantly reminded that I was too young to study and I should “ live a little”, whatever that meant. I struggled to make my way through books of theory that I had to later “regurgitate” in exams without a drop of critical thinking. Teachers would read the newspaper while we would write exams and it often felt like I was the only one trying to study, trying to understand. I had many friends who I would have loved to discuss the things that we all studied; that never happened as the only time we were together we were partying. There was no interest because we were not stimulated enough I suppose. This is not a critique of the Romanian educational system, but only a glimpse of how it was for me. I gave up during my second year, disappointed by the attitude of the teachers and of my fellow students. More than everything I was disappointed by my own attitude- I had lost interest. At 18 I had planned to change the world but I realised I did not want to go through a string of humiliations and disappointments anymore.

When I moved to Sweden I had to think really hard what I wanted to do. So I started from zero and got going in studying English (literature, linguistics, and a bit of cultural studies). It was a big step and an important one. In that program I could focus my passion for reading into something productive and understand how and why I wanted to read certain things. I could finally voice out my thoughts on literature. It felt like I have been keeping my love for the English canon inside and finally I was given a voice to communicate my ideas. I felt free, I felt happy. It had taken me some good years to find what I liked to do but it did not matter anymore once I was there. I had, and have, colleagues who were happy to go out for a coffee and talk about our studies, teachers who are inspiring and supporting, a creative environment. Even though by that point I realised I could not change the world, I was confident I could change mine.

In my 3rd year I dared to take a braver step, something that is very unlike me. I went to study abroad on an exchange semester. I went to England, and despite my hopes that I could find some nice literature courses I was only allowed to take cultural studies, something that i’ve studied before only briefly. And in England I was given an even better voice, one that could now scream even, that could confidently talk about critical theories. I became more passionate about cultural studies than literature. And so, every time I think/read/talk about a theme in cultural studies, I always apply it to a literature text in the back of my mind. To me, they complete each other; critical theories made me enjoy literature more than before. Jane Austen is more fun in regards to feminism; Kristeva’s text on abjection makes reading horror so much better; and I somehow always think of Postmodernism when I read newly published books (and it pays off sometimes).

So when I had to choose what I will like to study at MA level, I had to make a decision between literature or cultural analysis. And I chose the latter. I wouldn’t have guesses it myself a couple of years ago, but things have changed since my semester abroad. Choices such as these are hard to make but even the bad ones taught me something important. As I’m making my way through writing my BIG paper, I smile and think of the 18 year old me who once thought she will never figure it out, never whole-heatedly be able to say she wants to study X. But now I do. Education is great and vital, and I believe it to be at the core of who I am today. Nothing and nobody in my life helped me as much as what I got from simple lectures, books, exams, and good talks with my teachers/colleagues. Saying that, maybe BoldItalic will see more of concepts, theory and theorists, than book reviews this year. Or, ideally, a mix of both.

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 »