Saturday, 30 June 2012

Esther Ofarim



Stunned. Rubbled. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

UCAS Personal Statement


I've just spent the day doing Open Day meetings with potential applicants to my college for English, who were quite naturally particularly anxious about what to put on the UCAS Personal Statement. I thought I'd do something constructive and show what I would actually like to see from a sixth-form student applying to read English. So here's a fantasy UCAS form, with a commentary explaining why it is as eye-catching as it is. Just to be clear: I wrote this myself in the style that a VERY good Oxbridge applicant might just about muster. This represents the work of no actual candidate, and is merely one individual don's view of the features which would announce an applicant to be potentially top-drawer.


* * *

Jo Hertford: PERSONAL STATEMENT

Reading literature is my passion, and I'm keen to study English in order to broaden and deepen my knowledge and my engagement with literary cultures.

At school I've been studying Othello, and as an AS psychology student I was particularly struck by the range of emotional and psychic extremes in the play: Othello's induced jealousy and insecurity (very different from that of Leontes in The Winter's Tale), Desdemonda's hero-worship, Iago's terrifying manipulativeness and bleak sociopathy. I've become aware of how intricately these emotional contours are tied to and constituted by the different registers of language: when Othello tells Desdemona about his adventures, the bombastic language echoes Marlowe; as he smothers her, it anticipates Milton in its mixture of learned polysyllables and stern monosyllables. I've not seen Othello on the stage but I have had some exposure to Shakespeare live by visiting the Globe Theatre. Last year I saw The Tempest and I followed this up by reading the play and watching two very different film adaptations of Shakespeare's text: the painterly Prospero's Books by Peter Greenaway, which I found confusing though beautiful, and Julie Taymor's version with Helen Mirren as a gender-switched 'Prospera', which I felt was the less artistically successful of the two.

Beyond Shakespeare, I've tried to increase my exposure to poetry in English. In school I've read Carol Ann Duffy but also some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry, in which I found the mixture of vivid images with a prosy, structureless style fascinating but frustrating. I've also read Derek Walcott's Omeros for A2 and I was interested in the way that it rewrites---indeed, radically reimagines---Homer, and so is itself a kind of epic of Caribbean identity, a recursive transplantation of a great western classic. (I'm aware that critics have also seen The Tempest as an early postcolonial text, with Caliban, who gets the most beautiful verse in the play, as a kind of enslaved native.) I've also read Wuthering Heights, which startled me with its constant violence (child mutilation, casual animal cruelty). I was interested to see that level of turbulence and brutality enclosed, 'nested' really, within a narrative structure of remarkable complexity and overlapping voices. To find out more about the Brontes I read Jane Eyre (and watched the recent adaptation), and then from that I went on to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea---a novel which makes the (once again) Caribbean postcolonial subtext of Jane Eyre terrifyingly explicit. I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, which chimes well with my A2 study of Tudor history though I find the immersive first-person voice difficult to follow at times.

I'm conscious that some of the courses for which I've applied emphasise full period-coverage; I've not had much exposure to medieval English literature yet, so I find this an exciting prospect. Last Christmas (fittingly enough in snowy weather) I read Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the beautiful, ironic perfection of the poem's structure---as well as its vivid picture of slightly callow courtly life---impressed me deeply. I went on to get Jane Draycott's exquisite version of Pearl by the same poet, and though I got a lot from Bernard O'Donoghue's introduction I'm sure I was missing the deeper implications of this mysterious work, so I'd love to study it in the original.

In extracurricular terms I like singing and acting and going to the cinema; I'm an outgoing person and likely to flourish in a friendly and close-knit place. I'd be very grateful if you would consider my application.

* * *

Commentary


Jo Hertford: PERSONAL STATEMENT

Reading literature is my passion, and I'm keen to study English in order to broaden and deepen my knowledge and my engagement with literary cultures.

Completely straightforward, unshowy, and reasonable statement of fact. No artificial attempt to grab the reader's attention or impress, which usually backfires and sounds histrionic or vapid. ('Since I was a foetus I've been filled with a coruscating passion for English literature...')

At school I've been studying Othello, and as an AS psychology student I was particularly struck by the range of emotional and psychic extremes in the play: Othello's induced jealousy and insecurity (very different from that of Leontes in The Winter's Tale), Desdemonda's hero-worship, Iago's terrifying manipulativeness and bleak sociopathy.

Gets straight on with it. Attractively written, alerts us to other AS/A2s beyond English and shows that the applicant can think about the links between subjects. Unusual Shakespeare play dropped in, and rather sweetly demonstrates in parentheses the crucial ability to make thoughtful comparisons BETWEEN plays. Lots of potential questions here.

 I've become aware of how intricately these emotional contours are tied to and constituted by the different registers of language: when Othello tells Desdemona about his adventures, the bombastic language echoes Marlowe; as he smothers her, it anticipates Milton in its mixture of learned polysyllables and stern monosyllables. 

Ties it down to language and intimate knowledge of the play; the observations come from Harold Bloom, but the candidate has the sense not to mention him.

I've not seen Othello on the stage but I have had some exposure to Shakespeare live by visiting the Globe Theatre. 

Anticipates obvious question.

Last year I saw The Tempest and I followed this up by reading the play and watching two very different film adaptations of Shakespeare's text: the painterly Prospero's Books by Peter Greenaway, which I found confusing though beautiful, and Julie Taymor's version with Helen Mirren as a gender-switched 'Prospera', which I felt was the less artistically successful of the two.

Striking: shows excellent engagement and capacity for extracurricular reading. Lovely to hear about adaptations of Shakespeare and the plays in performance. Nicely directs us to questions the candidate would like to answer. ('Tell us more about why you thought...')

Beyond Shakespeare, 

aware of importance of variety

I've tried to increase my exposure to poetry in English. In school I've read Carol Ann Duffy but also some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry, in which I found the mixture of vivid images with a prosy, structureless style fascinating but frustrating.

Interesting, unusual: gone from Shakespeare to the 20th century: bearing out the earlier comment about breadth.

 I've also read Derek Walcott's Omeros for A2 and I was interested in the way that it rewrites---indeed, radically reimagines---Homer, and so is itself a kind of epic of Caribbean identity, a recursive transplantation of a great western classic. (I'm aware that critics have also seen The Tempest as an early postcolonial text, with Caliban, who gets the most beautiful verse in the play, as a kind of enslaved native.) 

Well written: shows the candidate has read a very unusual text, anticipates obvious question ('How does it adapt Homer and why?'), and also shows that the candidate is capable of reading either the introduction to her Arden text of The Tempest or looking at the wikipedia page. Demonstration of awareness of critical traditions.

I've also read Wuthering Heights, which startled me with its constant violence (child mutilation, casual animal cruelty). I was interested to see that level of turbulence and brutality enclosed, 'nested' really, within a narrative structure of remarkable complexity and overlapping voices. 

Away from drama and poetry to the novel: again, wide-ranging and engaged. Lifts us out of the level of plot-recitation by commenting on narrative structure.

To find out more about the Brontes I read Jane Eyre (and watched the recent adaptation), and then from that I went on to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea---a novel which makes the (once again) Caribbean postcolonial subtext of Jane Eyre terrifyingly explicit. 

Capable of following own intellectual lead: more novels, awareness of intertextuality. (Also demonstrated in discussion of Omeros.) Evidently a wide reader: excellent.

I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, which chimes well with my A2 study of Tudor history though I find the immersive first-person voice difficult to follow at times.

Keeps abreast of contemporary literature; links between subjects studied again.

I'm conscious that some of the courses for which I've applied emphasise full period-coverage; 

capable of reading a website...

I've not had much exposure to medieval English literature yet, 

Sweet! And honest, without great reams of self-promotion...

so I find this an exciting prospect. Last Christmas (fittingly enough in snowy weather) I read Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the beautiful, ironic perfection of the poem's structure---as well as its vivid picture of slightly callow courtly life---

very observant

impressed me deeply. I went on to get Jane Draycott's exquisite version of Pearl by the same poet, and though I got a lot from Bernard O'Donoghue's introduction I'm sure I was missing the deeper implications of this mysterious work, so I'd love to study it in the original.

Humble, and yet learned and observant. Has now demonstrated reading in four periods, in multiple genres, an ability to write, clear analytical power, and an attention to the way texts reflect or speak to one another. Exemplary.

In extracurricular terms I like singing and acting and going to the cinema; I'm an outgoing person and likely to flourish in a friendly and close-knit place. I'd be very grateful if you would consider my application.

Keeps the non-English stuff to an absolute minimum; sensibly, as it is barely relevant to anything. Clean, adult, straight-up close, without any frothing, fawning, or flummery.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tales


I asked the Unconscious for a dream the other day to illuminate a particular emotional problem, and promptly got back two unknown Canterbury Tales. The first---The Tale of the Tailour---was a beast-story along the lines of Androcles and the Lion. The second, The Prologue and Tale of the Clerkesse, was about my dear friend Melanie, and I can just remember some of it:

Hire shoon in sooth were redde and blakke,
And in hire scarlet ledyr sacke 
She carried Tully and eke Jherome;
And yet she wold nat goon to Rome,
But ysettled was in Chirche of Engelond,
For there had she gret joie yfond;
But for al that verray mirth and blyss
Housbonde hadde she noon, ywis...

So...that was helpful. Perhaps more will emerge.

Monday, 18 June 2012

'My cold mad father, my cold mad feary father...'


...to quote Finnegans Wake. Families are funny things. I've popped back to Canterbury for the weekend, and walked straight into a saddening row with my dear old father.

A little background. My dad is an odd fellow, and over the years I've learned---have had to learn---that the price for his splendid beholden-to-no-man, I'll-do-as-I-please eccentricity is a certain tendency to enter a bewildering state of fugue when confronted by any emotional obligation. (The minute my grandmother died, he went off to play his usual Sunday game of tennis; my mother, bereaved of her much-loved mother that very hour, was left to drive herself home from the hospital.) In other words, he will sometimes behave as if the feelings of other people close to him do not exist, and as if any attempt to argue for their claim upon his time is an outrageous form of persecution. He's also, I should add, a generous, kindly, amusing and reliable man, who loves nature and gardening; in many ways I resemble him.* I love him very much.

Anyway. On the 18th of August, my mother and father are coming to Oxford to attend a half-cousin's wedding (my grandfather's second wife's granddaughter). They are staying overnight in my college, which I've arranged, and the next morning are going to see the wonderfully-refurbished Ashmolean Museum, which is five minutes' walk away. The row happened because dad made it clear that he would not want to---and would make no plans to---'socialise' with me while they are in Oxford, despite staying in a room fifty feet from my flat: 'If you can just get us the room and the parking space, that would be great.' He was actually quite angry at the suggestion that they might walk up the stairs to have a cup of coffee with me and see my flat. (I feel rather upset writing this.) 

Further background: my mum and dad have never visited me anywhere I've lived since I left home at 18, and never expressed any desire to do so. They never saw my old house and garden in Lake St; they never visited Cambridge. And yet this time they are staying the night in the building in which I live and yet dad seems horrified by the idea of dropping in. Why?! He's always delighted to see me when I come back to the family home. 

I think I understand it a little. Like me, dad's a committed Taurean and he just really hates disruption to his routine, or (worse) any sense, as I noted above, of being obliged to take someone else's feelings into account in determining how he behaves. (My friend Bill aptly quoted Auden at me today: '...so obsessive a ritualist, / a pleasant surprise makes him cross'). He will have things on his own terms or not at all. Nevertheless, I found the idea that when I see mum and dad we are 'socializing' particularly odd, as though I cease to be their son when not chez eux, but become something between a meddling nephew and a tiresome golfing acquaintance. Talk about alienating. I find it bizarre that they had decided to stay overnight in Oxford some months ago but clearly weren't going to mention this fact to me; until I got them the room in college, the idea that they might visit me had clearly simply not occurred to them. It's all just a bit...mad, and rather reminiscent of the time I was trying to help my dad access his voicemail and found that my number is in his phone under my full name, complete with surname. I mean, wow.

I'm trying to decide how to proceed. Mum, of course, would love to see where I live and have a tour of Lazarus College; Father Williams wants to be out of there as quick as possible, ideally (and this has been made overt and explicit) without seeing me at all, even for ten minutes.

I suppose you just have to take people as they are,  don't you?


* * *


* When I got home on Saturday I went to open a door near the front of the house. 'Don't open that!!' hissed my father. 'It's full of bees.' What next? A gnu under the stairs? Clockwork Nazis in the attic?! It baffles science.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Orvillecopter



Reproduced without comment.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Normal Service

Sorry, all: I'm marking a half run of scripts for English Finals, c. 345 individual essays. It's not, in all honesty, one of the happier tasks demanded by academe, but I promise that will come to and blog again shortly. Just clinging on until the end of term here.
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