Salutations from the Solstice

December.

Brown leaves linger – decomposing streaks on recomposing streets whose lights and likenesses change to suit the season.

I’m set to return soon, where no such sodden mulch is to be found.

Another semester past. Another set of exams sat. My Auslandsjahr edges ever closer.

My degree stipulates that I must spend my third year in a country that speaks the language I am studying, namely German. It is this which I must seriously begin to plan and organise over the coming weeks. However, I have already applied to a semester at a German university – Leipzig being my first choice (no particular reason apart from a daunting deadline, interesting alumni and an irrational affinity with the East).

As you may have noticed I have only applied for a single semester, which means that I have half the year to fill with something else (that is, assuming I get in). Personally, I didn’t want to spend the whole time at university, and from a pragmatic perspective getting some kind of work experience will potentially result in better career prospects in the long run. Therefore, I am going to apply to teach English with the British Council, and simultaneously to work as part of a cultural exchange programme via the Scottish Government in Mainz.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the positive correlation between the number of people you tell that you are going to do a certain thing and the likelihood of you actually doing it. In a way this is what I am doing with my blog. So, as terrifying as the idea seems – don’t let me back out!

Keeping with the German theme, I’m currently involved with the department’s production of a contemporary adaptation of Die Räuber by Friedrich Schiller. “Rehearsals” are not fully underway yet. Most of the sessions have been ideas-based – only yesterday I was helping to mend plot holes and drag the 18th century play into the social media age (the action revolves around a falsified letter). The production is gender-swapped too, adding further complications.

Now for some general realisations about life. The time for blame is up, both on a personal level and politically. Laying responsibility at the feet of another is all very well, and will give you a temporary ego-boost but is no long-term solution. There is no point blaming yourself, or those with whom you associate – self-pity is not constructive. Rather, take action. Change the way you live in the present moment. Learn from the past and don’t repeat it just because it’s easy.

Secondly, I see no benefit in assuming superiority or inferiority on most issues. To take one example, a lot of my student life has been justifying my degree to others and being made to feel superior or inferior as appropriate. With regard to English Literature it has a tradition of being dismissed as (from the humanities corner) a “poor man’s Classics”, worsted only by Theology, very ‘middle-class public school girl’ or even by one of the lecturers himself as only useful for having interesting dinner party conversations. From the sciences corner, the humanities are dismissed for their lack of utility and concrete skills/technically applicable knowledge. However, the criticism goes even further than that and into flagrant superiority of the STEM subjects. It is this absolute position I take issue with – we need both of these areas for our society to function and progress. To dismiss someone who studies a humanities subject as an ignorant technophobe who struggles with arithmetic is just as stupid as assuming a science student is an uncultured, tone-deaf philistine.

To return to the class issue associated with humanities, vis-à-vis private school and gender bias, this stratification is only perpetuated by a fee-paying system (which granted does not exist in the same way in Scotland) that inevitably undervalues these subjects as an educational investment. By engaging in this (an over-used word these days I know) polarised discourse, those who profess superiority are only sustaining the exclusivity of alleged “high culture”. These hierarchies of media, subjects and modes are extremely unhelpful and ultimately lead to the anti-intellectualism so prevalent today in that they represent a block to critical thinking.

Further honing down on the subject of superiorities/inferiorities, let’s look at the other side of my degree: German. Shamefully I cling to the distinction of German as separate from the romance languages as a one-up on my French/Spanish/Italian (don’t you dare leave out Romanian you racist, yeah but no one studies it – ah well then, the university is the discriminator) studying colleagues. In this area I bow down to those who are plugging away at Chinese, Arabic, or Russian for example. I have come to realise that I am much too Euro-centric in my thinking, restricting myself culturally to a geographically diminutive catchment area. There is a hackneyed saying that goes something like “the boundaries of my language are the boundaries of my world” or that Nelson Mandela quotation about how speaking to someone in their own language is the way to communicate with their “soul” as opposed to intellect. Tactically it seems I’ve restricted myself in going in for German as a language of choice, yet it has a wider sphere when we consider second language speakers. Additionally, there is little to stop me from learning others simultaneously, which neatly brings me to my next point.

I want to go to Spain. Southern Europe anyway. Probably something to do with the Hemmingway phase I’ve been going through. I’m tired of this dreich, northern mentality – it suits me, but I need something to invigorate me. A new way of thinking.

What else is new? Gigwise things have been pretty good. Went to see Happy Meals through in Glasgow. A French-speaking analogue synth pop duo: transcendent.

I sincerely hope you all have a fabulous yuletide and that 2017 avoids the lows of the current annum.

Yours faithfully,

 

Alasdair

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About alasdairflett

I live in Orkney and I am interested in alternative and indie music.
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