Reading and writing

I have gotten out of the habit of annotating books.  I started underlining and note-making in the margins when I studied GCSE English literature, and continued to do so during my A-level in the same subject, and in the books that related to my literature modules on my undergraduate degree.  One strong motivation was that during this period I sat many open-book examinations, and my annotations helped me to locate quotations swiftly.

Re-reading (any version of) any text includes as part of the experience a re-visiting of one’s former reading self.  With a well-annotated text, though, that aspect of the experience becomes both sharper and deeper.  One can read a precise record of what one thought about a particular word or passage (or what other thing/s one was prompted to think about when reading it), and get a sense of what seemed worth commenting on during that earlier reading.  (And what didn’t; I wanted to begin this entry with a quotation from a writer who noted that one of the things that most struck him upon re-reading a marked-up text of his own was that he had passed over in silence passages that now seemed wonderful to him.  I’m fairly sure that Wayne Booth was the writer in question, but have been unable to locate the quotation.  Perhaps if I annotated more thoroughly…)

In the case of famous intellectuals these matters can become ones of public interest.  I remember reading in an article by Carlo Ginzburg on ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes’ a point which rests upon the author’s knowledge of things that Freud had in his library, and could therefore be taken to have read.  (Not a watertight assumption!  There are still more books than I would care to enumerate that remain unopened on my shelves.  [Which makes me think in turn of Gatsby, and D’Angelo Barksdale’s reading of a particular detail of that character’s character.]  A book cannot be annotated without having been read though…)  Freud’s library is still preserved; I’m sure others’ are too.  My point here is that for any dedicated reader there is surely at least personal value (and value for one’s interested descendants or other loved ones) in leaving material traces of the thoughts that accompanied one’s reading activities.

I say my habit of annotating books went away, and this is true; yet I am a rather prolific annotator of photocopied materials.  (And though I do not use them that much, I am also glad of and sometimes avail myself of the note-making possibilities afforded by .pdf files and most e-readers.)  So why not books too?  I understand and sympathise with the fact that some students endeavour to keep the books they buy unblemished with a view of selling them on later.  But I never really wanted to – want to – sell any of my books.  (When I was particularly hard up I did part with a few books that earned a good price.  [One of them, appropriately for the topic of this post, was Genette’s Palimpsests.]  I’m glad I didn’t have to sell many though – and in fact, I could really use right now copies of two of them I let go: The Practice of Everyday Life and Being and Time.)

I confess I am slightly precious about the appearance of my books.  When I transport them between work and home I will sometimes wrap them up, or more often sandwich them between two library books (!).  A related bibliophilic instinct is a reluctance to alter even with a deliberate and careful act the appearance of a nicely-presented object (and most books are nicely-presented objects).

But I’m thinking that these are not good enough reasons to continue to abstain from entering into a pencilled dialogue with authors in the margins of my books (I’m not a monster: pencil is a better choice than pen, and I still would never countenance annotating a book that was not my own).  I have known this in the past to be invaluable to the processes of both thinking and writing, and I intend to resume the habit in the hope that it will prove so again.

I’d love to hear from others about their annotating habits.

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Things people say at conferences

The modern conference resembles the pilgrimage of medieval Christendom in that it allows the participants to indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self-improvement.  To be sure, there are certain penitential exercises to be performed – the presentation of a paper, perhaps, and certainly listening to the presentations of others.  But with this excuse you journey to new and interesting places, meet new and interesting people, and form new and interesting relationships with them; exchange gossip and confidences (for your well-worn stories are fresh to them, and vice versa); eat, drink and make merry in their company every evening; and yet, at the end of it all, return home with an enhanced reputation for seriousness of mind.  David Lodge. Small World. Secker & Warburg, 1984.

The conference circuit is different things to people at different stages in their academic career.  Doubtless it offers pleasures (and irritations) at all of these stages, but perhaps it is most fun for those towards the beginning or the end of their careers.

At the beginning, it can be, as Ross Geller once observed, like being a regular person (I am paraphrasing) in the presence of celebrities (perhaps this never wears off entirely; it hasn’t yet for me).  ‘So that‘s what x looks like!’  If you’re lucky, you might even wind up sitting next to them at dinner.  There might be some nerves to overcome in the delivery of one’s presentation, but only the meanest of fellow attendees would give a really rough ride to someone who doesn’t have a PhD yet.  And a young academic need not angst over how well-known they are, nor too much over how well-received their paper is.  (One thing I remember about beginning to attend conferences, or dinners after a guest speaker visited a university, was being surprised that, instead of talking film studies or whatever, many of these big names/big brains would instead chat about the food they were eating, their journeys to the event, the weather, or their pets.  It was like having to learn all over again that these figures, like your parents and primary school teachers before them, are also people, with the same everyday concerns as other people.)

At the other end of the scale, there are the late-career academics, some of whom will be basking in the glory of keynote status and all the conference-related perks that go with it.  (People outside the academy are often still initially perplexed upon hearing that most people have to pay for the privilege of attending conferences – or rather, get their institutions to do so.)  What one also sees from some later-career academics and which I really take pleasure in, even to the point of having begun to harvest them, are off-the-cuff remarks offered from a position of no longer feeling a burning impulse of having something to prove.  I’m not talking about take-downs, although they can sometimes be pleasurable and/or warranted.  I’m thinking rather of the slightly salty, the plain-speaking, the rambunctious – comments usually offered as self-reflection rather than diagnosis of others.

One reason that this plain-speaking occurs is that when they make these utterances, these people are not expecting them to be immortalised in print.  It would therefore be ungallant of me to attach the following few quotations to individuals or events.  They can in any case stand on their own merits.  Here are just three little pearls of tough wisdom that were tossed out by some brilliant minds.  Words worth pondering, and sometimes worth living by!

1. (This was not in fact an academic, but a well-established director in conversation with a film studies person.)  ‘Mise en scene?  I just turn up with a few jokes.’

2. ‘People always talk about research agendas.  I never had a research agenda.  I just write about stuff.’ (That one is probably a slight paraphrase.)

3. (In response to the suggestion that censorship should be defined as anything that imposes limits upon the representational context of an artwork.)  ‘But that’s just life!’  (This one is my favourite of all.)

Perhaps readers have treasured, conference-culled phrases of their own?

Close reading; or, my teaching timeline

On the module of my PGCHE focused on classroom practice, one of the first activities we were invited to participate in was to draw up a ‘teaching timeline’.  We had to cast our minds back as far as we could remember, and map a chronology of our experiences of being taught, highlighting particular memorable moments, periods, or teachers.  It was a great activity, which I would recommend to anyone.  The first response it provoked in me, besides nostalgia, was immense gratitude.  My feeling is that I’ve been particularly lucky to have encountered so many great teachers, of so many different kinds.  (The first learning experience I remember in any detail is Mrs Reed, a semi-retired and quite elderly woman – or so she seemed at the time! – coming into one of my classes in perhaps my second year at primary school and teaching us some of the basics of grammar.  Those lessons have never left me.)

The main thing that I soon came to recognise, though, was the primary importance within what I might somewhat loftily call my ‘intellectual formation’ of one method of inquiry: close reading.

The apex of my experience of this method during my days of being taught was my two years studying A-level English literature at Ridge Danyers College (now Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College), principally by two truly great teachers: Julia Wilde and Tony Cassidy.  We spent two years studying only a handful of texts: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Color Purple, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Bell Jar, Othello, The Tempest, and some Ted Hughes poetry (there may have been one or two others, but I don’t think there were).  That works out at just over one text per term (although in practice there were overlaps – meaning, in fact, that we spent longer than a term on each text!).  We were not given lectures, and I don’t remember much in the way of secondary critical literature (a point I shall return to later), though I do remember being chastised in the feedback to one of my essays for parroting a reading that I had found in a ‘Critical Guide to…’.  What we did, for two and a half hours, twice a week, was sit in a circle with the teacher, read passages of the set texts together line by line, and talk about what they meant.  It was amazing, and I still (that is to say in part, after a subsequent first degree in film and literature) count Cuckoo’s Nest, The Bell Jar, Othello and The Tempest as amongst the texts I know best of all, and admire the most (these two things of course being closely related).

University study (in my experience of the courses I’ve been on or looked into), and not just that of literature, tends to be very different from this.  For an undergraduate, a more typical pace is to have one set text per week of term.  Often, there will only be two hours of contact time per text, and one of those hours will be a lecture.  And that is per module; depending on the institution, a student may be juggling between four and six modules per week.

Another key difference that I found (in my particular but I believe quite widely-applicable experience) between studying humanities at A-level and at undergraduate level was that in the case of the latter there was a much greater emphasis upon engaging, both in the classroom and in one’s essays, with existing academic material on the topics and/or texts one was studying.  Again, this is a point I shall return to towards the end, after offering some thoughts on the issue of speed and depth.

The virtues of taking a ‘deep and narrow’ approach

I have offered above a general sketch of the way university teaching will often be conducted: one text per week, one lecture, one seminar.  However, there are of course plenty of exceptions to this general trend, and plenty of eloquent and prestigious voices in favour of close reading.  I’m not going to talk here about contemporary voices in educational theory that argue (correctly) that the pursuit of coverage is often at the expense of the cultivation of the skills that would allow students to stand back from the rapid-fire tour of modular copses the better to see the woods of the discipline.  (This is one of the arguments of those who advocate ‘threshold concepts’ – the topic of a future blog, perhaps.)  I am also consciously eschewing the ‘contemporary information overload’ argument (which re-emerges every time a new communications technology is disseminated, and is at least as old as the invention of writing).  I find Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ interesting and provocative, but that line of argument is not the one I am pursuing here.  I take it that we live, as we always have, in a world where there is more information available than any one person can hope to become acquainted with, but that we also live, as we always have, in a world where there are a range of ways of responding to this fact.

In a previous blog entry I quoted a short passage from a great interview given by communications scholar John Durham Peters.  Here is Peters again, in the same interview, advocating reading in depth as a vital accompaniment to attempts to achieve breadth of coverage:

Truth is robust.  Though there is too much to read, many minds will light on common truths.  So instead of angsting about how to encompass it all, find an angle and start digging and you will soon discover roots and branches that connect you with other perspectives.  Dig into Weber far enough, and you’ll be able to figure out Marx and Durkheim.  This is the wormhole principle: the key thing is to figure out how to access the network.  So instead of dictating a canon of specific titles, I would encourage people to find their scripture, their text that can help interpret the world for them, and then read and reread it.

The main source of reflections upon this topic that I have been reading lately though, the one that prompted me to write this entry in the first place, is the introduction to Robert B Ray’s book The ABCs of Classic Hollywood Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2008).  One thing that Ray cites there as a way of introducing his own method is an interview with Carlo Ginzburg, an historian whose work I admire enormously.  Ginzburg is talking about the thing in his teaching timeline that led him down the professional path he chose:

I didn’t even consider history because I found it so boring.  What changed my mind was a seminar in which [I] was asked to spend an entire week analyzing only ten lines of a book written by a leading 19th-century historian.

It was the slowness that fascinated me.  Every phrase, every word had to be dissected for their possible implications.  I came to understand that texts can have hidden, invisible meanings.  It was not an easy lesson.  In my speech, my writing, my judgments about people, I tend to be very quick.  I learned the importance of reading and rereading one page, even a single passage, for days, weeks. (Qtd. in Ray, xviii)

Ray’s book itself abides strongly by the ethos of close reading.  Not only this: it arises from Ray’s experience of teaching film to undergraduates not by presenting them with a new film each week, but instead by spending fourteen weeks studying four movies (he describes his book, brilliantly, as ‘a kind of lab report concerning what can still be done with four famous movies and a few basic critical texts’ [xxv]).  His experience of this teaching was that, ‘[f]ar from wearing out the films under investigation, the intense scrutiny enhanced both my own and my students’ interest in them’ (xviii-xix), and that his students ‘produced the most consistently interesting work I have seen in my 25 years of teaching’ (xxv).  (I have, happily, experienced some measure of this closeness in my own university film education.  The University of Warwick’s Department of Film and Television Studies, as a rule, screens each module film twice to its students, and expects them to attend both screenings.  I found this to be a great discipline to cultivate, and looking back, I also see that it greatly enhanced the quality of discussion that occurred in the seminar room.  V F Perkins in particular would often spread the study of a single film across multiple weeks in his teaching.  One of my fellow Warwick alumni has since moved on to the University of Bristol, and has told me that there is a final year undergraduate module there on which students spend several weeks studying a single film from a range of perspectives.  I am sure this list could be extended further.)

The (secondary?) place of ‘secondary’ literature

I agree with Peters that it is not worth having a passing acquaintance with a huge number of texts if one does not also possess intimate knowledge of at least a handful of favourites; indeed, that a lack of experience in close reading of some texts will condemn one to a superficial grasp of all texts.

I mentioned that as well as not being diluted by greater coverage of a larger corpus of literature, my primary focus upon a small number of texts during my A-level literary study also largely eschewed any engagement with secondary literature on those texts, or on literature more broadly.  Looking back, do I believe that my engagements with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Tempest would have been deepened with the help of other critical voices, or that being taught, at that stage, how to stage a dialogue with existing sources would have made for sounder ‘training’ for the further studies in the humanities that I was about to embark upon?

I would answer each of those questions with a confident ‘no’.  I should immediately add that I believe that engaging with other voices, among them existing academic literature, some of which sometimes goes under the name of ‘theory’, is a fundamental element of study from the undergraduate level onwards.

There was a stage in my university studies where I was a close reading ‘purist’.  What I mean is that I, semi-unconsciously, measured the closeness of my reading by the extent to which I excluded references to ‘theory’.  Theory dealt with the abstract; I was dealing with the particular.  (I’m caricaturing slightly for the sake of clarity: my work was never ‘theory’-free; it was only during particular passages and for particular purposes that I would eschew secondary material.  I still believe there are occasions where this is justified.)  However, I do not see things this way any more.  I still think that ‘theory’, when used badly, can lead to what Kristin Thompson (I think) called ‘cookie-cutter’ criticism: every text that the theory comes into contact with comes out looking the same.  But not all theoretical writing offers its readers a reductive procedure for pigeonholing texts and their components, reducing them to deathly sameness.  As Terry Eagleton puts it in After Theory (Penguin, 2004),

At their most useful, critical concepts are what allow us access to works of art, not what block them off from us.  They are ways of getting a handle on them.  Some of them may be more effective handles than others, but that distinction does not map on to the difference between theory and non-theory.  A critical concept, even a useless or obfuscatory one, is not a screen which slams down between ourselves and the work of art.  It is a way of trying to do things with it, some of which work and some of which do not.  At its best, it picks out certain features of the work so that we can situate it within a significant context.  And different concepts will disclose different features. (94/5)

I still think that offering alive, detailed, sensuous descriptions of individual texts and the experiences they offer is one of the most important and valuable tasks of work in the humanities, but I now have no residual guilt or qualms about using ‘theoretical’ material to help me achieve that goal.

We are what we read, and as Carr suggests in his article (quoting Maryanne Wolf), we are also how we read.  I would go one further: we are the order in which we read.  I believe there is a big difference between, on the one hand, watching Vertigo and then reading ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, and, on the other, reading ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ and then watching Vertigo.  (The example is hardly random or innocent, but there are plenty of others I could offer, and I invite the reader to think of her or his own.)

I think, though (I recognise the possibility that I could be wrong about this), that without that crucial formative period of closely studying literature, largely untroubled by what others (beyond those others in the room discussing it with me) thought about it, I would not have the same respect for aesthetic texts and their autonomy (and what I am even tempted to call ‘rights’ in the face of hermeneutic endeavours directed at them), nor the same taste for losing myself in details and close analysis, nor the same primary reliance upon my own engagement with the text, as a first step, at least (to briefly invoke once again the ‘second screening’ system at Warwick: another part of its logic was that one would have the opportunity to watch a film once with only one’s own preconceptions, before hearing a lecture about it, and then again afterwards to allow one to measure the evidence of the text against the words of the lecturer, and to do so in light of one’s own initial response).  This is why, although one of the leitmotifs of my life is to find myself saying ‘I wish I’d known that sooner’, and although there have been darker moments in my university life where I have cursed my greenness in the face of certain types of academic cut and thrust, when I look back at my teaching timeline I am glad that the encouragements to adopt particular approaches to my objects of study came at the times and in the order that they did.

On the decking

An annual chore which I certainly don’t relish is scrubbing clean and then painting the decking.  As I was hosing it down this evening, even though I was listening to Bruce, strains of Elvis popped into my head, and my mind started to wander…

(With deepest apologies to Mac Davis.)

As a bird flies
On a warm and dry East Yorkshire eve
A man scrubs down upon his knees
On the decking (On the decking)
Then the wood it dries
And if there’s one thing that timber needs
It’s oil that rejuvenates and feeds
On the decking (On the decking)

People, don’t you understand
The wood needs a helping hand
or it’ll rot, it’ll splinter and fade to grey
Once a year is all it takes
What a difference it makes
A wax-enriched barrier
Against water and decay

Well the world turns
It’s a hot mid-summer day and the sky is blue
An ideal time for a barbecue
On the decking (On the decking)

And the charcoal burns
It took an awful long time to light
Oh, but now it’ll glow
It’ll glow through the night
On the decking (On the decking)

Is it just trendy decorating?
A nuisance to maintain?
Do you reckon, in years to come
People’s decking will be thought dumb?
Every fashion dies

Winter comes around and there’s rain and there’s snow
Moisture penetrates cracks and algae it grows
On the decking (On the decking)

Then it’s summertime
On a warm and dry East Yorkshire eve
A man scrubs down upon his knees
On the decking (On the decking)…

Related content: http://betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/music-and-lyrics.html

Cultivating a community of reflective teaching practice

What if we assumed that learning is as much a part of our human nature as eating or sleeping, that it is both life-sustaining and inevitable, and that – given a chance – we are quite good at it?  And what if, in addition, we assumed that learning is, in essence, a fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply social nature as human beings capable of knowing?  What kind of understanding would such a perspective yield on how learning takes place and on what is required to support it? Etienne Wenger. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Most academics are extremely adept at talking about their research in a number of ways.  Several of the longstanding practices of the academy are designed to facilitate such exchange – most obviously, conferences and symposia.  We think nothing of travelling for two hours (or sometimes even two days!) each way, to give a twenty minute ‘paper’.  And this is, broadly speaking, as it should be.  The instantaneous and vigorous exchange of ideas and knowledge is one crucial way in which those things move forwards.  It is also one of the key ways in which academics recognise and honour the fact that they are part of a social ‘community of practice’, to use Wenger’s simple and powerful term.

What about our teaching practice?  Do we go to the same lengths, take the same care, in talking to our peers about that other activity that is supposed to command at least some (!) of our professional energy?  As well as travelling across countries, or continents, to discuss our research, do we travel across the corridor to discuss our teaching?  Not as much as or in the ways that we ideally ought to, I would suggest, and I invite every academic reader to ask whether the same is also true for her or him.

For the first time this year, HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) are collecting data from HE institutions concerning the formal teaching qualifications of staff involved in that activity.  How these data will be used and how they will feed into league table positions, prospective student decision-making, and so on, remains to be seen.  However, along with the Higher Education Academy and its Professional Standards Framework and National Teaching Fellowships (with related awards), it is another move designed to incentivise the formal professionalisation of teaching in the sector.

To be sure, professionalisation can be a mixed blessing, and one frequently hears horror stories from one’s colleagues across the UK about the type of provision that institutions develop in order to tick the relevant boxes.  Some of the blame too must reside with the academics who, when they reluctantly return to the classroom, adopt the behaviours that they rightly condemn in their own students, and adopt a surface or achieving approach to the material (even when that material is trying to help them to recognise deep learning, what facilitates it, and why it is better and ultimately easier than surface learning!).

It would be a real shame if ‘getting one’s teaching qualification’ simply became the latest in an already too-long row of bureaucratic hoops, because if it did, then individuals and institutions alike would be losing out on the real and deeply transformative benefits that can arise from undertaking to learn about teaching.  My own experience of studying towards a PGCHE has prompted me to embark upon what I expect will be a lifelong process of engaging with educational literature and my fellow teachers, not with the aim of becoming a scholar of education, but with the aim of becoming a better and a reflective practitioner.  (The literature on ‘reflective practice’ is vast and multi-disciplinary, and I am only beginning to dip my toe in it.  Schön (1991) is an important early reference point.  More recent publications that I have on my shelf are Ghaye (2011) and Tarrant (2013).)

Bringing together the ideas of communities of practice and reflective practice, it seems to me that a reflective community of teaching practice would be a good thing to cultivate and sustain at the programme or subject area level in higher education.  There are of course benefits in meeting and exchanging ideas with teachers who work in other disciplines.  However, when a group of people share responsibility for the overall learning experience of a group of students, there are obvious benefits to them engaging in ongoing reflection on their collective teaching practice.  Indeed, it would seem strange if this did not occur.

One place in the literature on higher education where this type of activity is examined and models are offered is in the literature relating to peer observation and alternatives to it.  David Gosling’s (2000: 5) seminal work in this area identifies various different potential models.  To briefly summarise just two: An ‘evaluation model’ seeks, as its name suggests, to confirm proficiency or ‘identify under-performance’.  The benefits mainly accrue to the institution, and the scope of the observation is narrow (‘teaching performance, usually within a single session).  By contrast, a ‘peer review model’ encourages ‘engagement in discussion about teaching’.  It focuses not only on teaching performance but other aspects of the learning environment, and the observer and the observed stand to benefit from the process.

In the Film Studies subject area at the University of Hull, we are about to embark on an exciting process of peer development.  In the run-up to a process of curriculum redesign, which will be occurring across the university, we are going to engage in a series of activities designed to develop our ‘reflective community of practice’.  We will be drawing initially upon a ‘Journal Club’ model that I used on the second module of my PGCHE (‘Evaluating and Improving Practice’).  The members of the club read two or three pieces of academic literature on a given topic.  Then an online discussion wiki is open for a pre-agreed period (on the PGCHE we found that a fortnight worked quite well).  The ground rules for participation are that each member must make at least three decent contributions to the forum, at least one of which must me the creation of a new discussion thread, and at least one of which must be a response to a thread started by someone else.  This way, a combination of initiating and engaging in discussion is ensured for all members.  Such a set-up allows one time to reflect and formulate, and also allows participants to contribute at times suitable to themselves (summer is of course the key time in the academic calendar where sustained research and writing is possible).  The idea is that by the end of the summer, we will be primed to turn our informed, collective attention to the delicate matter of curriculum design.

The initial plan is to hold three discussions over the summer.

1 The broad and fundamental issue of teaching philosophies

This forum will not quite fit the template format in the respect that there will be no academic literature to read.  Instead, each member will be invited to complete an online Teaching Perspectives Inventory and report their results to the group, reflecting upon whether the survey is in line with what they thought they thought about teaching, or whether it held any surprises.  Each member will also be asked to respond to the question ‘What are the key things that a student ought to have learned upon leaving our programme?’

2 Designing teaching at the modular level

Readings relating to Biggs’s notion of ‘constructive alignment’ and the notion of ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ (Brown, Collins and Duguid 1989) should prompt interesting discussions about the principles that ought to underpin module design.

3 Assessment and feedback

Finally (for the summer session), we will turn our attention to these crucial areas.  Readings will be decided at a later date, perhaps taking into account discussions that have occurred during earlier forums.

I will report back on how our experiment (which I am resisting giving an official title to!) progresses, and I hope that my colleagues will too.

References

Brown, John Seely, Alan Collins and Paul Duguid (1989), ‘Situation Cognition and the Culture of Learning’, Educational Researcher 18: 1, pp. 32-42.

Ghaye, Tony (2011), Teaching and Learning Through Reflective Practice: A Practical Guide for Positive Action, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.

Schön, Donald A (1991), Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions, Oxford: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Tarrant, Peter (2013), Reflective Practice and Professional Development, London: Sage.

Wenger, Etienne (1989), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

One of the heartfelt aims of this book is to popularise the possibilities of film (of all moving sound-images) by reinventing the language of its description.  Too little is written about the power and impact of images – the writing on film that reaches the public is almost exclusively led by plot and acting and cultural references.  My argument is that reconceptualising film as thinking will hopefully allow a more poetic entry to the intelligence of film.  Filmosophy does not just offer a linking of thinking to film (not just an interest in making the comparison), but an analysis of film as its own kind of thought.

Daniel Frampton. Filmosophy: a manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema. Wallflower Press, 2006.

A brief bit of gush about John Durham Peters

John Durham Peters opens his mouth, and TRUTH and WISDOM shine forth!  I was in a major rut with my book when I read his, Speaking Into The Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 1999), and suddenly there was excitement and there were possibilities once again.  What follows is a brief extract from a lovely interview from last year on the Figure/Ground Communication website (available here).

My most emphatic piece of advice for any intellectual outside of the STEM fields is to master (or try to master) a foreign language.  (No one ever masters any language.)  The domination of world scholarship by English is an advantage to native English speakers, since they command the language, but also a major loss, since they are unable to think outside of the empire.  Learning another language remodels the mind, and provides a flexibility and confidence that opens up a key to learning.  Learning a language is absolutely humiliating and infantilizing, which is one reason most people avoid it; but on the other hand, language-learning is a small paradigm of the discovery of truth, of bumping against something recalcitrant and intellectual that you can’t boss around.  Even more, language learning is fountain of youth.  If you want to stay young, you should do what the young do: ride steep learning curves.  Forget lipo-suction and Botox: language learning will keep you fresh.