in Daily updates, Oxford

Appropriate sign

Five days until the qualifying test

I am excited about the upcoming term, not least because Oxford is going to be populated again. Spending so much of the break out of contact with Claire, Emily, Bryony, Margaret, and others has been less than excellent. It has also been less of a spur to study than one might expect or hope. For me, the social element of academic work is crucial. The shared experience of being in the program is a major motivation that erodes a bit in the relative isolation of revision periods. That said, I am managing to buckle down fairly well for the last few days before the exam.

As I acquired a keycard to use the laundry room at St. Antony’s, I decided that I will pay little heed to what Alex told me about ‘migrating’ between colleges as an M.Phil student: namely, that it cannot be done. By stealth, I will become a fixture of the St. Antony’s laundry, dining, and social facilities. Library access, I am told, is out of the question. I am undaunted; after all, there will always be the SSL.

  • I want to read the new book of Seamus Heaney poetry, but I must resist until after the QT. I was proud of my UK sophistication when I instantly recognized the significance of the title.
  • Much as I like talking with all of you, I am on a self-imposed Adium ban until the QT is over. Adium is a free Mac program that talks to MSN, ICQ, Google Talk, AIM, and other instant messenger programs. If you see me on one of these services, shout at me until I go study instead. For those with a burning need to speak with me, I suggest email or a comment on the blog. I may also be on Skype from time to time.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. April 16, 2006 at 4:44 pm

Amusing sign.

Good luck with the exam.

Anonymous April 17, 2006 at 1:25 pm

Oxford has long been fabled as an enchanted city of dreaming spires and a cradle of scholarship. I’m sure like all others who embarked upon coming here, I harboured great hopes of finding in Oxford a wellspring of intellectual activity, and, with it, some intellectual edification.

Alas, in so many ways, Oxford has failed to deliver on its alluring promise. Perhaps I came with exceedingly grand ambitions. Perhaps I haven’t yet found that niche for which I’ve been searching. There’s no doubt, however, that my forays into Oxford’s intellectual life have left me a little frustrated, somewhat disappointed, but most certainly disillusioned.

Let me dispel some myths. Think of an Oxford scholar and you almost immediately cast your mind to the image of a brooding, elegant youth with an air of insouciance, and a voice of assured learning. (Well, at least, that’s the stereotype.) He (or she) is a cultured mind, broadly read, versed in witty repartee, and equally adept at considered debate across the gamut of contemporary controversy.

Like all stereotypes, it’s a somewhat inaccurate caricature. For in my daily engagements, I’ve found it more common to come across Oxford students of a far poorer intellectual quality. This sounds arrogant, I admit. But hear me out.

The problem is not that the students here don’t have a capacity to engage intellectually. There’s no shortage of talent in that department. The people I’ve met here include some of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever come across. Many will go on to occupy positions of prominence in the public life of their homelands.

However, there seem to be many here who are guilty of that most reprehensible of intellectual crimes: pedantry. These are the ones who confuse pedantry for precision. Who confuse their own obsession with obscurity and definitions with analysis. It’s almost impossible here to have any kind of conversation about something contentious without it lapsing into an argument about definitions or semantics.

Call me simple, but why can’t we have intellectual debate using plain English? Why can’t we use terms as we would use them ordinarily, rather than “analytically”? It’s sad, because so much potential is thereby squandered. There will be many great minds who will have gone through Oxford, but will never be able to communicate their ideas to broader publics, simply because they cannot communicate to ordinary people. But then I get the impression that many here in Oxford are not interested in that at all — after all, why would you want to communicate to ordinary people when you have a degree from Oxford?

Milan March 19, 2007 at 4:53 pm

Note: the original name attached to the comment above has been removed, as requested by email.

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