Reviewers Comments Tuesday, Jan 9 2018 

Not often you get reviewers comments like this! I will let you know when the publication is available.

Outside Review of “Cosmology, Psychopomps, and Afterlife in Homer’s Odyssey”

This is an excellent article that should be published as is. It is well-written, well-researched, and well-argued, with abundant examples from the primary text that the author explicates in such a way as to convince readers that the thesis holds up. The author brings a fresh perspective to the question of what “afterlife” means in Homer’s Odyssey, extending the idea beyond the realm of Hades to other states of existence and consciousness, namely “darkness,” “the dream state,” and “anonymity.” The author shows convincingly how these states connect with Homer’s concern about questions of death and the nature of heroic immortality. The article gives new insights about Odysseus’s character and the nature of his journey home. The author makes a convincing argument about the centrality of the god Hermes to all of Odysseus’ transformations and transitions. I thoroughly agree with the conclusion that Hermes’ central role as a god is not that of a messenger but a transformer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. It made me want to read the Odyssey once again to think about the issues raised and what they mean for interpreting this famous epic in a new way.

Epiphany* Thursday, Oct 13 2016 

The past days (since the Academia Is Failing Its Young post) have involved a lot of tears, emails, phone-calls, and soul-searching for me. You see, I have wanted a Doctorate since I was about ten years old, and that was the one and only plan I ever stuck to throughout my life. I always felt like I knew where I was going, and that I had the advantage over those poor indecisive fools who did not even know if they wanted to go to University, let alone what subject to do or what career to follow…

But the problem is I stuck to that plan relentlessly in spite of all obstacles. Which was either brave, or foolhardy. It is hard to tell which when you are in the middle of it, and friends and family being naturally a little sycophantic does not help to clarify matters either. It also does not help when you are not really informed or aware of the realities of life, regardless of the reason (see U-naive-rsity). But I was not diagnosed with fibromyalgia until I was in my first year of university. During the first year or more I was pretty much in massive denial, or at least not realising the full impact of my conditions, when it came to not considering my future options. I just pathologically stuck to what I wanted to do as it retained a sense of normality I felt was lost to me when I found out my life would never be normal.

I failed to see what impact the FM would have on my plan of ‘just studying for a doctorate’ but the truth was I barely attended my lectures, could not go in frequently enough to see my supervisor, and most of all – my pride led me to take on additional stresses (like producing a play) so I could prove to myself that I was the same as everyone else and could do all the normal things other people do. Languages were the major struggle for me because, while I enjoyed them in general, I could not attend every single class consecutively. And once you miss one, you struggle with the rest as you miss a key concept (like what the past tense is). In sum, language-class attendance is essential to high-performance and failure to attend = low performance, and low performance drags your entire degree grade down. So I thought it best to avoid them altogether, for the sake of the higher grade at the end. Made sense at the time. Still blindly thinking I would be able to do a PhD and ignoring the language requirement as it reminded me of how limited I really was in my skills, and desperately trying to compensate for them elsewhere – by home study etc.

Ultimately, I did not come out with a first, and my dissertation was fractions short of a first. My supervisor admitted that it was largely errors in verbal presentation which could have been avoided had she seen more of the work – but I did not go in enough / overworked myself in subconscious response to my feelings of inadequacy. I still did not change my plans or take stock.  But plunged straight into the Masters as ‘a Doctorate is the one and only plan’ and my illness does not affect my brain so why should it affect me studying? Still blindly ignoring the fact that I just was not qualified enough, and that being able-bodied in whatever small way does play its part in my education. Even if it just the added time and stress given over to proving my conditions, or seeking help, or the absolutely soul-destroying despair of having no money because you are waiting on benefit claims (which took up the first three months of my MA).

It has taken the turmoil instigated by that one small request on the Classics List.Serve group, and the many responses both extremely kind and more off-putting to make me reconsider. My first reaction (‘I still want a Doctorate’) was to apply for a long distance part time course to give me as much time and flexibility as possible. But part of me, deep down, was still uneasy though I did not know why. Then I had another email which, whether right or wrong in its opinion, brought it all home to me…

Why?

Why are you still pursuing this unrealistic goal, as if nothing has changed, as if you are qualified?

And perhaps more importantly… Are you even enjoying it any more?

I love learning. I have always loved learning. I have a ravenous interest in so many subject areas. But, no-one is making me stress and suffer, and cry, and feel useless, or like I have made a mistake, or that dread feeling of despair that I have no future  because the original plan is no longer viable. Only I am making myself feel that way by relentlessly pursuing something that I just don’t enjoy any more. All the inquisitiveness and the joy has been sucked out of my studies this year. I have begun to despise the work, (not the knowledge) but the endless writing of essays I have no interest in, or the petty corrections (humankind not mankind!). Then I realised it is all entirely self-induced. It is all my choice.

And, I choose not to do the PhD any more. At least, not any time soon. I cannot afford it – I live on benefits with no disposable income. I am not qualified enough, and possibly never will be because I despise language learning. There is no funding for over-enthusiastic under-performers. There is nothing to stop me reading, nothing to stop me writing, nothing to stop my theories and my summaries, nothing to stop me telling or teaching others. Nothing to stop me learning. But why should that ‘learning’ come at such ridiculous cost, under such ridiculous stress, with such little support? For a piece of paper?

I suffer enough. Every day. I fight to get up the stairs, I fight to stay well, I fight to live the dregs of a normal life. Why should I also have to fight tooth and claw to prove myself to people who will never accept and support me? Why choose to struggle so hard and pay so much for the incredibly critical recognition of others? It is like Newton and Hooke all over again. I do not need shining acclaim and public acceptance to produce knowledge of worth, or to follow what I am inquisitive about. I can do that myself, in my own way and in my own time – and ultimately on my own terms. I know the decision is a right one because I no longer dread 2014. I feel excited, and I am eager to end this daft course to start again and once more be doing something that I love.

So, this September (or December) will see the end of an era. No longer a Classicist, no longer a student. But the birth and manifestation of the one talent that I know I possess – the writer.

 

 

*This blog post has been imported from womeninecstasy.wordpress where it was posted in 2013

Academia is failing its young* Thursday, Oct 13 2016 

Now, I do not know about other universities or disciplines, but for all you other supremely intelligent people, am I the only one who thinks university was a complete let-down? Or that the experience, knowledge and wisdom you hoped to get for the (now) £27,000 you paid was about as much use and value as… well… it wasn’t any use or value? Yes you were probably taught the subject matter in either too many or too few lectures, so the university are kind of doing their job there. But they were taught largely by lecturers who were more interested in their own research than teaching effectively, who don’t like undergraduates/students/anyone, and probably don’t speak English at an effectively communicable level. (That isn’t some kind of Euro-phobic bigotry, it is a fair expectation that anyone who works in a communicative job in England should be able to communicate in English, in much the same way as I would not teach in Spain unless I were fluent in Spanish). So, you learn everything you can from your lectures, and yes, if your attendance is poor then don’t be disappointed when you don’t understand as much about that particular area as you probably should.

University Marking Systems

But then, alongside the lectures, in the Arts at least you have this wonderfully arbitrary system of marking. Whereby every student I have come across in the Humanities has complained at some point or other that they are having to cater different essays for different markers because otherwise they get penalised for their style or their argument depending on the temperament of the marker. However, I have had it explained to me, in certain terms by a senior member of staff, that such arbitrary marking within departments is not the reality. Yet, some of the brightest or most successful students manage to get over 70 repeatedly from one tutor, and under 55 repeatedly for another, and they can’t all be terrible at that second subject, surely. My recent experience with another university has also corroborated the truth of this arbitrary marking. In a particular module under a particular tutor I received the marks 75, 76, and 70 (in a grade boundary system of 70-85 = 2.1 pass). When I appealed the 70 and was shifted to another tutor, my mark was changed to 85 and my subsequent essays have also been 85. This has led to an investigation of the other two marks. So, it seems that your mark can jump nearly two grade boundaries dependent on the tutor marking it. This is not that surprising when you consider that they too have no doubt come from different university systems and received their doctorates after different training and different emphases, no doubt because they had to pander their essays and papers toward a particular bias at their university… and so the cycle goes on. Meaning there is no objective marking system within higher-education (at least in the Arts). Of course, most essays are second-marked in the interests of fairness, and you do not know who this second marker is a majority of the time so you can’t cater your essay for them like you could the original marker. But I don’t think I am the only person who gets the feeling that second markers just see the first mark, scan the essay and agree with it, minus/plus one or two points. When they are dedicated in their marking – there seem to be discrepancies which just highlights the issue already at hand – namely, that university level marking is entirely subjective and therefore – that university degree marks are arbitrary and not truly representative of the student’s talents or intellect. Of course, one will expect even the gifted student to perform poorly at one or two essays in their entire undergraduacy and much as it comes as a shock, these students will generally accept that they did rush it off or weren’t really concentrating when they produced that particular essay. They also learn to appreciate that while they may never have got under 90% at anything in their life, university marking is different, and that the essay writing is harder and entirely different to everything they have been taught before. But you would expect such talented students to gradually improve as they learn the system and not peak and trough depending on which modules they are taking under which tutors.

This leads to another problem which arises from the subjective marking of tutors – namely that most students who wish to perform highly that I know of, in either their second, but definitely their third, years – chose modules because of the tutor and not the subject matters. This means they are choosing modules that they have no interest in, and that will not be helpful to their careers or their postgraduate education because they know the marks will be better. What a sorry state of affairs that students in liberal arts are not pursuing their interest fields for the sake of their final mark because of the shoddy marking system they have to contend with. Furthermore, it is not surprising that there should be discrepancies in the marking of the tutors when they have all been taught different essay-writing techniques themselves, and worse that the students aren’t taught how to write university level essays to a departmental guideline. The university/department, I expect, thought we would be taught that at high school or college/sixth form. But, depending on the schools you went to, some children aren’t taught how to reference (let alone the difference between Harvard, Chicago and the million other systems), in fact most of them do not know what footnotes are or how to produce a bibliography. Secondly, they are not taught how to quote, some high-schools still teach that quoting should be in italics. Students are not taught how to critically approach a source, or how to find material. The sources they are taught to study in history are not the same as academic sources or scholarship and so most first year university students don’t know how to quote, reference, or effectively use any modern scholarship. If, by chance they have gone to a higher performing or private school where they have been taught academic protocol then there remains the likelihood that this academic protocol does not corroborate with that of the university anyway. Therefore, in the interests of balance, and giving their students a proper start to their degree – the department should be enforced to teach essay writing skills and allow the students a practice essay or two which will be marked on presentation, and style. But, some may say, the first year does not count toward final grades (at some universities) and so that is the practice year. True as that may sound, I know that I wasn’t given adequate style and presentation guidance on my essays in my first year. Luckily, I had learnt mine at another university which seems to have a better handle on breaking students in to higher level writing.

Linguistics

Provided you get over the arbitrary marking and the lack of skills you have been taught, and as a bright and confident-in-your-abilities type of person you have also taken the stomach-wrenching shock of getting something marked in the 50s, and 60s and/or generally had all the stuffing knocked out of you and your self-confidence and dreams crushed by the university system, provided you have got over all of that – what happens next? Well, some may say – you pursue postgraduate education.

This is where the real fun and games start. To begin, you may have gone to university with the sole intention of pursuing a Masters and a PhD. After all, you’re bloody brilliant and you’ve always found being clever is part of your identity and probably the only thing your good at. So it makes sense that people like you are the ones that get PhDs and become super world specialists in their fields. Wrong. Well, at least, wrong if you haven’t come from an affluent background. Don’t get me wrong, as a descendent of a Marquis I am no anti-elitist or radical socialist, but as someone who has also come from a disadvantaged background (or should I say quite average to good, free school for the general public), in Norfolk, I am pretty much bottom of the academic food chain with a limited chance of success irrespective of my intellect. No one discouraged me to pursue Classics, but nor did anyone tell me (including the university for the first year and a half) that to do Classical Civilisations or Ancient History or Classics or Archaeology etc. you needed, really, to have done Latin or (and!) Greek before university. Which is just splendid, considering only 10,000 pupils a year have the option to take Latin  (and I imagine less than ten of those are in Norfolk). So you are accepted onto the university course with no languages and no language skills, the expectation being you learn Latin and Greek throughout the degree – which means you only get to learn four other modules (opposed to the eight you can do without languages). Oh, it also depends entirely on you being a natural linguist which, with no linguistic experience, you probably aren’t. So, following the guidance of your departmental staff, you drop languages (which are ruining your overall mark) and are encouraged to broaden your general subject knowledge instead of wasting time trying to become an expert in Greek and Latin in two years (realistically, considering all the time you have off). If teaching is your goal, then you find out (too late) that to teach your subject, which is all you wanted to do, you have to have Latin to a high level (irrespective of whether you intend to teach Latin, or whether you might have passed Greek), which in other words means you had to have done it before and during uni (which no one explained to you), or you have been amazingly talented at learning it while at uni (probably because your school taught other languages which you were good at also). In other words you’re buggered. Another dream crushed.

But, then you think teaching was a back-up plan. I really wanted to get that doctorate remember? So you are accepted onto a postgraduate course, you are of course paying for this, because being clever is not, I repeat not the measurement for funding awards. Again, no one has told you that languages are the ball-breaker. Scholarship is of course written all over the world, and a lot of it isn’t translated into English. Which means you need to be fluent in some, most or all of the following: French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Russian, Turkish and even Korean. And as I learnt today, reaching out to fellow classicists for some help sourcing English translations may well lead to a public exorcism. Older scholars, or younger scholars from more advantaged backgrounds, forget that students are not taught Greek and Latin before university, and when they take these up during their undergraduacy, they do not have the time to learn three or more modern languages to a fluent enough level which allows for translation of specialist academic texts. And even if they did, they were never told they should so they remain ignorant to the fact while blindly pursuing a course they are hugely disadvantaged in. But of course, at least the institution has all their money from the student before they realise that ultimately, there is no where to go and they have probably wasted four or more years of their life because they are not multi-linguistic.

Much as I hate to pull the big D card, I find it disheartening that intelligence is not a compensatory factor for coming from money or being disabled. Stephen Hawking being the exception (probably because he is a physicist and not an arts scholar). So, if one is disabled and cannot earn the money to pay for a better education, or if one is intelligent but not rich, or intelligent, disabled and not rich – the chances of you succeeding in making use of your intelligence succesfully are poor compared to less-intelligent but better educated (yes that isn’t an oxymoron) well-moneyed types who can swan through with a broad array of languages (they probably went on holiday three times a year and put these languages to good use) but no other intellectual skills. So, to be an (Ancient) Historian not only do you have to outwit the system, pre-empt information that you are not privy to at decision-making ages, teach yourself the necessary skills in advance, but you also have to be fluent in four or more languages (two of them dead) at the age of twenty. None of this has anything to do with natural intelligence, or how studious you are, or how well you perform at GCSE and A Level – though of course you have to have nailed those too…

*This blog post has been moved from womeninecstasy.wordpress where it was posted in 2012,