A few words on Shakespeare

Dear friends,

Every time I sign onto this platform, I always end up thinking “it’s been a while!” And it has been, for which I duly apologise. Today’s the day, the date that I’ve been reciting to almost everyone who has asked me about my course (it’s due on the 3rd of September!), ‘it’ being my dissertation.

So, as I write this, two copies of my dissertation are sitting in my backpack by my desk, printed and bound, ready and raring to be handed in and fervently read by two markers: my supervisor and a secondary marker.

All I can say is that these past two months have been, at the very least, a difficult trek. Paradoxically, though, each day spent writing a dissertation seems to be the most mundane in existence; I basically slept, ate, and read for most of these days. However, I also learned the importance of breaks, and much of my break time was filled with music, culture and art. I managed to make my summer in London (post Street Orchestra) one full of music (my own playing as well as going to the BBC Proms, a must-do for a Londoner), the arts (I managed to see King Lear with Ian McKellen as well as Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe), and some more London touristy things (like touring the state rooms at Buckingham Palace, or going to the National Gallery for a Thomas Cole exhibition).

I’d like to remark on one of those past experiences. Being able to go see Hamlet was, in a sense, somewhat of a full-circle event. The reason being is that in my final year of high school, I was in this class called IB World Lit. 2. Each year, this class had a certain focus and we were lucky enough to be focusing on drama throughout the entire year. This led to us studying two works by or related to Shakespeare, the first being Hamlet, and the second being Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (by Tom Stoppard). Now, as much as I may have loathed reading Hamlet (in high school I thought that I was this science-heavy, brainy student (surely a bit arrogantly)), faint memories of our analyses and discussions managed to stay tucked away in my brain until the day I stepped into the Globe to watch the play again.

Whenever I step into a venue to see Shakespeare, I always enter with a bit of fear. What if I’m not going to understand what’s going on? Maybe I should have studied Shakespeare a bit more up until now… and I find myself quickly googling “[insert Shakespeare play] plot notes” moments before the play starts. It always seems that I develop an acute sense of frailty, specifically regarding my familiarity with the play I’m about to see.

So far I’ve seen three Shakespeare plays in London – Pericles, King Lear, and Hamlet. Each time, I’ve had this same feeling of dread that I’d walk out of the play and be embarrassed about how much I caught on to as compared to the friend with whom I was seeing the show. However, as I started to settle in to each play, the ‘barrier’ that is Shakespearean English managed to get smaller and smaller, such that I eventually reached a deeper level of comprehension early on in the play.

This feeling was no different with Hamlet, but even greater because the play started to open the vault of memories that were locked away somewhere deep in the folds of my mind from my high school english course (included was Mr. Frye’s overly zealous look in his eyes when reading through lines of Hamlet). Although I can’t remember exactly what we managed to analyse in the class, having at least a bit of familiarity with the plot helped me dig deeper into the ideas presented in the play.

All this is to say, I think, that we mustn’t shy away from the depth of thought and beauty that Shakespeare managed to give us with his writing. In fact, if one is a native English speaker, it would be an utter shame for us to not realise the beauty in Shakespearean english, only for the sake of being worried about not being able to understand the language. Each time I walk away from a Shakespeare play, I feel a settled sense of comfort, that which very few authors have managed to do with the English language.

I am highly doubtful that I would ever be able to reproduce anything that Shakespeare did, but I do see it as a mission of sorts to create works of writing that might approach a similar, settled sense that I felt from Shakespearean english. The English language is, according to my belief, not very prone to beauty in its prose, and it takes a lot of thought, work, and sometime genius (like Shakespeare or, perhaps, Arthur Miller or T.S. Eliot) to create assuredly good works of writing. However, that’s not to say that ‘genius’ is not accessible – in fact, I think we can all surprise ourselves at how far a little effort goes in comprehending, or even producing, a work of art with this language of ours.

***

This post will be a series of many this week, as I do believe that I owe you all more posts than I’ve written. Stay tuned, then, for a recounting of events, thoughts from my summer, and updates on what I’ll be up to after this fellowship.

~Jeffrey

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A break from work

Dear friends,

Instead of doing the lauded eight chapters of reading I had thought I would accomplish on this flight back to the US, I managed to start Miles Davis’ autobiography and watch the movie, Call Me by Your Name. I’m trying to devote some time away from writing about philosophy with this post, so hopefully this is a nice, refreshing embodiment of such.

The following writing is quite simply a stream of consciousness, trying to sort out my thoughts from the film. I’m going to leave out an explanation of the film and leave anyone who hasn’t watched the film to watch it if they want context. I also wasn’t sure what the limit was in terms of what sort of thoughts I’m meant to share on this blog, but I feel so moved by this film that I don’t think I can refrain from posting my thoughts. Professionalism or not, people still have feelings, irregardless of the formality of the situation, it’s just how much we choose to let the feelings through to others depending on the setting.

I guess I just feel stunned, unable to think about anything but the raw emotion that I couldn’t shake after the film had ended. Just this empty feeling, to know that someone you have loved deeply, perhaps not out of choice, but out of nature, simply may never find their way back into your life again. That thought is terrifying, a stunning thought for which I have no words. It’s this romanticism that I think I despise, yet can’t help from digging into the very heart of the pain.

Trying to understanding a love so deep that one just simply cannot ignore… it’s that kind of love that just bubbles up from inside, that you only feel after learning how to pay attention to yourself. And in listening to only oneself, there isn’t a space for what others are telling you to be, or who to love.

Many a time, when facing the sort of shunning, outcasting, ignoring, or non-celebration of non-heteronormative ways of being, we ask, “Why?” – Why is it so that anybody who doesn’t ascribe to what was ‘traditionally’ (and even today) a norm in society is simply not given the proper respect they deserve like anyone else? However, I think asking “Why is this [social norm] so?” is simply regarding this norm as a norm that exists and will continue to exist. Instead of asking why must one face the undeserved social struggles of holding any sort of non-heteronormativity (being gay, lesbian, bi, or another), why not just just act, just be, in a state that holds no judgement, but more importantly holds no regard for current social norms, ’norms’ whose end goal is ironically creating a non-normal elite?

(When I say ‘norm’, I am by no means justifying the norm, rather my ‘norm’ here refers to a strict heteronormativity that is not inclusive of non-heteronormative ways of being.)

This conversation aside, Call Me by Your Name was a film about love, about heartbreak, about a story that can be felt and told and known by Elio, by Oliver. I recognise this story as a love story. I would think that this film would be regarded as a gay love film, because this is such a strong strain through the film and is so beautifully portrayed. Yet at the same time I don’t think this means that we need to create a category of ‘gay love’ that is different than ‘heteronormative love.’ The fact that I have to reason about gay love versus heteronormative love may seem quite angering (and it is), as it is obvious to many that love is love, no matter who the love is between. However, this sort of obviousness is not present in much thought within our society, and I think a film like this that rips emotions out of me, regardless of whatever story is being told, needs to be regarded as a beautifully nuanced and worthy film to watch by so many.

I’m a bit unsure of what to think of the end of this film. We don’t know who Oliver got engaged to, but to the best of my interpretation, he seemed to be engaged to a woman, as he remarked about how irate his dad would be if he knew what sort of relationship Oliver had been in that summer. If he was engaged to a woman, it does hurt just a bit more to know that after this whole struggle of learning who one is, who one wants to be, and the risked that one took to get there, is left in a state of pain and desire.

Regardless, the film made me engage with raw feelings that drew up so much of what I’ve managed to push down deep enough to perhaps not engage with until now. Some lines I wrote, immediately post-film:

 

What’s just happened?

To avoid feeling anything

For the sake of feeling nothing

What kind of foolery is this?

 

Whatever feeling runs down my spine

I do not know

I’m blindsided,

A warm cold that I have never

Come to know.

Stunned, is all I feel.

 

The romanticism of living in an old, European,

Sepia’d town

With one you love.

He never said he loved him,

Merely addressed him by his own name.

 

Such an action intertwines the Lovers

With means of language and presence,

But also with means of self.

Sharing the self, calling the other

By the self.

 

What intimacy.

 

(One should know that I’m not trying to make generalisations here. We have a duty to understand anyone’s situation for what it is, not how it applies to a certain mode of thought or a mode of being. Ultimately, and in the end, someone’s mode of being is determined solely by them, the singular human, and that cannot be changed by someone outside of the self who is making that decision.)

Lessons from (the play) Oslo

Dear friends,

I hope to leave you with some thoughts today after this blog post. I’ll give a few updates, and then keep on with what I was able to experience last night. Firstly, I am currently working in this bookstore called Waterstones, which is a bookstore basically right across the street from UCL. I took this morning slow, sleeping in after a late night and spending the morning getting some administrative things done before I could go out and do what I wanted for the day.

As much fun as I have been having with getting adjusted to London and experiencing life as a Londoner, it has been a tough ordeal getting used to the commute that I have from my apartment to campus. My place a solid three miles west of UCL, and it takes me 30 minutes to bike there if I don’t get lost on my way. I guess I’m learning how to pack for the entire day so I don’t get bogged down with travel time, but ideally I would be a little closer to campus so I can have an easier time with involving myself in on-campus extra curricular activities. We’ll see what happens with housing, but I do have some applications in to a few places that are closer to campus. But if I do stick with where I am currently living, I’m sure I will get used to the commute that is to follow!

More importantly though is what I was able to experience last night. A new friend who I met while at enrolment (yes, it’s spelled with one ‘l’) and I were lucky enough to get tickets on yesterday morning for a play last night, called “Oslo”. The seats were literally in the very back and highest spot in the audience, but they were half price, so who can beat that kind of deal?? We had to sort of lean over a railing to watch the show, so my back was a little cramped by the end of the 2 hours and fifty minutes of the play, but I would still say that this show was completely worth seeing.

What I’m writing about is going to be written sans any background investigation into this show, as I saw the show not knowing anything of what it was about, and I want to submit my thoughts to all of you having not been biased by any other information that I could have gathered from outside the show itself.

“Oslo” opened up with a scene between a famous sociologist and his wife, a prominent figure in Norway for international relations. They’re discussing the theories behind negotiation: how this task has been traditionally accomplished and how this sociologist’s new theory behind negotiation can function better that the traditional way. It seems as though this duo is a big “power couple” in international relations, and they’re seeking to use this status for the common good of the world. I thought it odd for this play to be set in Norway, because in my mind, Norway is a bit out of the way, a country so far north that it could happily avoid what’s going on in the rest of the world and carry on an independent and neutral pathway in life. Well, this is certainly what Norway seemed to be portrayed as, and this couple sought to use this neutrality for the better.

The current hot topic of the day, it seemed, was the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in the state of Israel. I wasn’t sure if the Palestinians quite yet had their own recognized territory (this is in the 1980s), but from this play, it seemed as though Palestinians were occupying the Gaza Strip and other parts of Israel. This power couple wanted, under the nose of the United States and other foreign powers, to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, for this would be one of the most pivotal negotiations in history and would end forty years’ worth of bloodshed between these two peoples. Apparently, this idea was unheard of, as there was a traditional way to carry out peace negotiations, and the U.S. usually had to have their hand in whatever went on (as they normally have to do so in any sort of foreign affairs). As an aside, I thought this show was a great precursor to being educated without a U.S.-centric point of view. As much as I love my home country, I love this opportunity to learn from a completely different point of view!

As soon as I learned of the subject of this show, I was a little worried, as I wasn’t very informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (thanks to my high school self, who was averse to any sort of topic containing the word “history”). Obviously my philosophy on history and the humanities has changed since high school! However, despite my being uninformed, I was surprised at how easy it was to understand most of the jokes (there were many) that were uttered in this play, as well as the topics that were portrayed.

Aside from the humor, the play did a wonderful job in describing the true abilities one must have to keep with or break certain sets of rules laid out in international relations. Sometimes, to make a true advancement on a stale topic that just won’t seem to change (peace accords were attempted multiple times between these two peoples in the past), one must take great risks and push or bend the rules of the game. After all, rules were formed by humans and sometimes they contain imperfections that we must be open to changing. However, this play leaves me asking, “How does one know when to break the rules and when to play by them?” “How far can I push without being seen as too disrespectful and out of line so much that I lose credibility?”

Especially in the field of international relations, or even global health, I thing we’re going to have to push the norm to start getting resources to those who don’t have them. This is exactly why I chose to study philosophy, so I would be able to take a set of rules, or a system, and investigate what fundamentally governs that set of rules. By seeing what lies underneath as motivation, I might be able to use that motivation to form a new set of protocols that better fit certain situations at hand. By acknowledging inherent motivation behind rules, and still following that motivation but while creating new rules that better fit a situation, I believe I could really meet governing powers with thoughts that aren’t easily contested or denied.

I think that Oslo taught me that breaking protocol, when sometimes risky, can be hugely beneficial. This act, when carried out for these specific peace agreements, had its moments of contention, but in the end created friendships and relationships that moved these two peoples forward, closer to peace. Another part of the show that intrigued me was how the negotiators (representatives from both Israelis and Palestinians) discussed business matters and then friendly matters. The director of the play laid this out so that the respective topics were discussed in separate rooms, and when in the “friendly matters” room, I could see that no matter the political struggles of any country or territory, humans still have families and friends, those relationships which we (happily) cannot avoid. With that statement, I want to leave you with a question. If you have ever been in any sort of rue or engagement with another party, have you stopped to think about who they really are, as another human? They have family and loved ones. They have their own set of struggles. They, too, have to learn how to function as a human, be it figuring out what to eat, who to talk to, and what their purpose is in life. If we stop to realize how human our adversaries are, we might stop thinking of them as adversaries and merely as other humans with whom we can connect.

Now, I didn’t leave too much about Oslo, so maybe you can go see it for yourself if it pops up near you! 🙂 Having now written this post, I think I’m going to go do my own research into Israel and Palestine so I am more comfortable with discussing this area of the globe.

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend.

~Jeffrey