Thoughts on the Alienation Effect

Hi everyone! I know it’s been an absolute age since I last posted, and this one is going to be a quickie, but I have some good news to say that I will hold on to now for later (and not too much later).

I had a little confidence wobble as well recently regarding the PhD, but I guess the fear is understandable – it is a massive title and not a thing to be sneezed at (although it might ruin the paper of the thesis only a little). I’m not new to wobbles, let’s say – my nerves are like a massively woven tightrope so I’m used to it! I had one of those late nighters where I thought to myself – right, just calm down and get to it, and have hopefully got back on track. I should think back to my driving lessons, as I used to panic on hill starts so much that I actually went off course just to avoid waiting at a traffic light on a slope. Yes, I was that much of a pussy (or skitty kitty, whichever you prefer). Ahem. I was perfectly capable of doing it, but the panic just knocks everything over like a Jenga tower on the most simple of tasks.

Anyway, I was reading up on the Alienation technique, most commonly used by our old playwright friend Brecht, and a passage in a book I’m reading reminded me of something I asked my Dad a while ago. I asked him now that his children have flown the nest, if it feels weird to see us out of context i.e. in a shop or on the bus (the latter of which is likely as I spend most of my life there nowadays). It reminds me of this particular passage:

“The alienation effect, to be sure, is the most eminent task of art, but art has no patent on it; it can be observed step by step in social reality as a “procedure of daily life”: “For a man to see his mother as the wife of a man,” so we read in a note to the “New Technique of Acting,” “an A-Effect is necessary; it occurs, for example, if he acquires a stepfather. If a person sees his teacher oppressed by a bailiff, an A-Effect arises; the teacher is torn out of a context in which he appears big, and transferred into a context in which he appears small.” (Holthusen 109)

It’s quite interesting because we generally think of Art being the main source of feeling this way – which I’m trying to link across to cognitive estrangement in Science Fiction. The teacher and the bailiff scenario is a pretty odd choice as well – reminds me of that Simpsons episode when Bart and Skinner are temporarily friends. I wonder how many readers of this blog I’ve actually encountered (obviously I know a few who do), and seen me swear at a tree or something or singing to myself, thinking “what a weirdo”, then return and read this blog. Haha! That’s quite scary.

 

80 years on and it’s still a Brave New World

Baby, it’s [still] cold outside!

On Friday, I made my virginal trip to the Senate House in Gower Street for the BNW conference, dealing with its legacy 80 or so years after its publication. I was very fortunate to come across this nugget of information, and as usual, it was an impulsive trip that ended out very well!

The rooms, although grand and ornate and downright gorgeous, however, is not always conducive to the talks as the temperature can fluctuate and the chairs are just a little *too* comfortable, but superficialities aside the talks were all great. Angles from speculative fiction to technocracy and high art to the  autobiographical stories behind Huxley and son (an amazing opportunity to hear such personal accounts) as well as the tropes of mass manufacture, eliminating justification for pleasure and shortening the route between want and reward, to seeing how writing novels in the future can be seen as old fashioned – the “anachronisms” show us just as much about the present as it does for the future, if not more so. Of course, the hedonistic, mass manufactured society with its “Imax/3D” esque “Feelies”, the parallels between Apple and Ford, the visible increase in promiscuity and so on are very much a part of our society now – threads of the real woven in with these little knots that tie the novel back to its actual time. There was something that I pointed out at the seminar having re-read the book after 7 years, that surprised me. Remember the scene where Lenina Crowne decides whether or not she wants to erm, dip her toes in the water in terms of her sexual availability to others?

‘”I’d simply love to come with you for a week in July,” she went on. (Anyhow, she was publicly proving her unfaithfulness to Henry. Fanny ought to be pleased, even though it was Bernard.) “That is,” Lenina gave him her most deliciously significant smile, “if you still want to have me.”‘ (Chapter 4, Brave New World)

What struck me as a misnomer was the word “unfaithful”. In this world, there doesn’t seem to be a context or meta text of faith in that sense. People are encouraged to be promiscuous – monogamy is obsolete and pretty much vaporised from the vocabulary. Bizarre!

It was lovely to see researchers from different universities and get a handle on what everyone is working on. I also happened to have a nice sushi dinner with them in Bloomsbury (because there’s only so much sandwiches can do, although they were lovely) and overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! Here’s to more!

Oop North – oops!

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting – I’ve been up north to Northumberland for a week as a little break before my PhD starts – I can’t believe I started this blog in April – poised in anticipation for the term to begin – it’s flown by, as clichéd as it sounds. I got a preview to the cold winds but rather glorious sunshine in a great holiday home overlooking the sea and managed to see some great sights in Almouth, Seahouses and Berwyck-on-Tweed (am guessing all these spellings btw). Loved Barter Books – the combination of fireplace, an onslaught of books and a train track that snakes through all the shelves – well, that’s me sold!

I’ll post up some pictures when I’ve got them off my phone – including broomstick training at Alnwick Castle. Also, I am writing a post on transhumanism due to an article I read in New Scientist (essential bathroom reading, haha!) and my long awaited review of the British Library event, Writing Britain. Thoroughly worth it!

So… you’re doing a PhD then?

This is probably one of my worst kept secrets – along with my upcoming driving test which will be imminent SOON (all I’m saying is soon, but not as soon as this month…). The people who do know me in person have asked me a variety of questions, but not the same as when I embarked on a degree (obviously then I had a lot more to prove and I was probably more prone to undergoing a casual character assassination due to my age).

Unusually enough, the most common question was “What will your PhD be in?”, which I actually relished secretly. To know that I could be considered as a scientist (well, I’m dealing in Pseudo-Science at best) or artist or someone delving into the physics of string theory or the soothing patterns that certain notes do in harmonizing our internal sensors (I don’t know!?), it was nice to feel that I was versatile. My PhD is along similar lines of my BA and MA but with a little twist. The little twist for me in this case is dramaturgy.

Another question often is “Oh, won’t your stipend be so small?” – hm hm hm. If i told you that the majority of my previous work experience was stage management, art gallery management and working in copywriting, would that make you reconsider that question!? As it stands, I am seeking funding at the moment so a stipend would have been really cool – but I am willing to persevere!

My favourite has to be “Can I call you a doctor then?” –  I love it because although technically I won’t be until I’m 28 (aaaahhhh!!!) it would be awesome for me to exercise that title until then. However, a lot of my friends are already neck deep in the whole academic and PhD ball game, so I’d have to call a lot of them Doctor without seeming like a huge hypocrite!

There’s a lot to look forward to! Find out how I get on with the dreaded F word (funding), see how I enter my past (High school reunion), present (Brunel University MA Graduation) and the future (the PhD!)

Speak soon!

The inclined mind – Why do a PhD?

People often say that despite the number of choices you have, you’ll gravitate towards the one your heart chooses. Of course it’s really the mind that does this, but I appreciate the sentiment. But what if your mind is having a really crap day and is grasping at straws to find solace? Are events that are chosen impulsively not worth the pathways that have been carefully trod over and over again?

For me, it’s a bit of both. I loved University, despite entering it with the mindset that is only now taught to students – uni life won’t be the utopia of free love you’ve been mindlessly force fed (unless you really work hard at it, I guess) and ever since, I end up gravitating towards study again – I can’t help it. I flirt with the professional world but it’s usually a fling at that. I worked in online marketing for a year and really enjoyed it, more than I thought I would, but studying always beckons to me. Of course, the PhD is a different kettle of fish, but it’s a choice that I’ve stuck by despite the monetary fear.

I guess it boils down to this: if you asked me whether I’d have a  husband, mortgage car and 2.4 children and knowing exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing or studying something that I really wanted without a clue of what the future holds, I’d go for the latter. I’m a bit of a weirdo, aren’t I?

Hello world!

It’s rather apt that the title “Hello World!” (yeah, I would’ve capitalised the W) is the one I was going to use before I saw the default setting on the blog. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been brainwashed by computer programming and its need to signal arrival of anything new with this rather tedious greeting!

Some people may know me as the editor of Enigma Magazine, whose humble presence is also shared on wordpress. It’s nice to swing back and forth between the personal and professional like this. Some people may also know me as a writer and occasional performance poet – although I regrettably haven’t done that much as of late.

So, with the rather odd greeting, I welcome you to the life and times of a prospective student of a PhD – as you could’ve figured by the name. Skitty Kitty is appropriate as I’m rather prone to a nervous disposition and well, I like cats. I’ve seen many a blog that deals with the tribulations and trepidations that come with such an extreme academic undertaking, but what about the countdown to the beginning? All those UCAS fearers will know what I’m talking about. The excitement and extreme nervousness never dies away for me, at least.

Do I feel 17 again? Well, hmm… not entirely (although my hair is short again!), which is for me, a pretty major achievement. The precipice and the plunge look so much better from a more mature set of eyes.

At the moment, I’ve become hamster like – hoarding all information I can, giving me solace before the term begins. Unfortunately, I should also be hoarding money, but information is more easily accessible.

With the rather strange hibernation before the winter, I will be poking my head out and about, looking for funding ventures, events and tidbits of information that will hopefully sate your curiosity that little bit more. Look out for me!

Susan