Freedom from fear

Note to reader: this is a postgraduate study blog entry.

In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the State of the Union speech where he lists four essential human freedoms:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

Today, I shall misrepresent his points above by saying that I want:

  • Freedom to voice my opinion without having to back things up with academic quotes
  • Freedom to worship my favourite lecturer without being seen as a teacher’s pet
  • Freedom from want (to read every book there is)
  • Freedom from fear (of my first assignment)

The fear is real.  It is exaggerated, of course, whereby it is more of an anxiety rather than fear, but I like to dramatise.  A short case study to be written in less than 1,500 words and due in ten days; it is occupying most of my thoughts nowadays.

So what happened in the week gone by?  Anything interesting?  Perhaps.

We learnt some basic things about texts for research and how to determine useful sources and also what problematic sources would be.  We learnt that Wikipedia is not a good source.  No, really.  This received a mocking response from the class, but I understood why it was brought up seriously and why it was stressed.  I worked at an awarding body (examination board for those who are not familiar with British education organisations) before and when we did moderation of students’ works that that have been marked/graded, we found that Wikipedia was one of the most commonly used sources; both for citing and plagiarising.  Of course, these are youths who have not had much experience or exposure to research, but what I am painfully aware of is that there are also many tutors or adults who do not fully understand the internet are not conscious of how misleading Wikipedia and similar sites are.  Those of us who have a bit more experience with the internet, or are exposed to academic research methodologies may assume that this is a laughing matter, but it is a serious issue.  We do have a large percentage of the internet community (old and young) who do not understand what real, verifiable information is from ‘somebody random’s opinion’.

Saying that, we looked at a whole load of art & technology pieces online for our Creative Digital Technology class; reviewing and discussing some online visual arts, creative life-changing mobile applications and real-life games through technology.  The world of art in creative digital technology is one with patrons and contributors from different parts of the world with very varied backgrounds and career.  Very few are actually full-time artists with many new artists working as programmers by day.  Since a lot of the new forms of digital art comes from manipulation of technology, it is not surprising that there are more programmer-artists today than before.  Many study programming because of art; or even approached both in parallel.

Surprisingly (or not?), there still seems to be more boys than girls in the world of technology.  This brings us neatly to the other popular topic of the week, gender and sexuality.  I attended my second visiting seminar which was by Anna Katharina Schaffner from University of Kent who spoke about Havelock Ellis and the Literary Imagination.  It is very interesting to learn about how sexology took a lot from literature from the 1800s onwards and that in the recent years, the roles have swapped and literature seems to be informed by sexology.  Havelock Ellis, though British, published his first book in Germany in the mid-19th century and then in America afterwards.  Though sexology became very popular in Europe at that time, Britain remained conservative and would not engage in discussions, not even in medical terms.

Havelock Ellis was also good friends with Olive Schreiner, whose book ‘Story of an African Farm’ we reviewed and discussed in class.  Not a read of choice for me, where the language used is weird and the book is laden with religious references.  Olive Schreiner has been claimed to be “the only woman of genius South Africa has ever produced”.  The book questions everything from gender, class, race/ethnicity, nation(atlity) to sexuality.  As with Villette that was discussed the week before, this book, though three decades later, sparks the discussions and ideas about the New Woman of the time.  When listing the characteristics of the New Woman, it makes me question whether we have ever stopped trying to push the feminist movement on, even today.

Discussions on gender and sexuality are not only feminist.  It also looks at areas like homosexuality and homosociality.  We discussed this in terms of patriarchal society, using the writings of Kosojsky Sedgwick.  Probably the most difficult theory to understand so far, Sedgwick teaches us to look at literary text indiscriminately from its author or source.  We learn that literary text in itself can be gendered regardless of who it was written by, in what voice and for what audience.  ‘It also does not matter what the author had set-out to do or is consciously doing as the narrative (text) impulse shows through that the ideological assertions are untrue.’

So, contemporary criticism and literary theories are going to be a steep slope for me to climb.  I am bracing myself for some interesting times ahead in trying to understand crazy modern thinking, but I am very excited about formulating my thoughts in this area and (hopefully) being able to support them with some academic arguments.

Heigh ho, onwards we go.  But before you do go, can I still have my freedoms please?

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