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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Postgraduate Diary: Fun Beginnings, Footnoted Ends

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In this week's Education Guardian I read two articles that resonate with my experiences. In the first, postgraduate Patrick Tomlin writes about his first experience of living in a University town during the holidays. For him, the benefits are "finding books on shelves (even the popular ones!), reading without ringtones, getting a seat in the pub, making my way to the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? machine without having to push past several people." For myself, as I commented in Postgraduate Diary: Return of the Natives, relief comes from being able to "get seats in the cinema, to go out without feeling surrounded by people who are (surely?) to young to be in the nightclubs, to go shopping without lines of girls stretching across the street, woven together into an unbreakable arm-in-arm chain." But we both of us noted that the calm is not necessarily preferable to the storm of voices and bodies, since these are so often full of humour, energy and passion.

Sadly, as Jonathan Taylor observes, these are traits which get lost as one moves from being an English undergraduate to being an academic. As he entered university, he remembers that "studying English was a synonym for laziness, hippiness, laid-backness...[English students] were fascinating because they studied a subject that they actually enjoyed, yet frustrating because they never seemed to do the subject they enjoyed so much." But by the time they have completed their PhDs, lecturers seem to undergo a magical process of embalming, or "dry-ification", in which "old hippies lose their bodily moisture and start wearing ties, using words like "scholarly" and quoting institutional regulations."

I don't wear a tie, even when I teach, and in my mid-twenties I can get away with a hoodie and jeans. But what to do if ever I do get a full-time university post? If I wear my casual clothes, I become a comedy Cameron, trying too hard to be "street"; but if I dress smartly but dispense with the tie and wear a white t-shirt beneath my suit, I present myself as a dilettante artiste. Yesterday in the pub (I'm clearly not a fully embalmed academic just yet) my friend showed me two books, and their author photographs. The one showed a man in a muscle top, looking not unlike Jack Black in wrestling comedy Nacho Libre. He may have been literal example of what Jonathan Taylor calls the "academic bouncer," one who ironically in spite of his hard-man look was dedicated to "making sure all who enter have sufficient footnotes and footnotes of footnotes in their work." the other showed a feminist, dressed to kill, in sharp suit with hair tied tightly into a pony tail. I suspect she may indeed have felt that "Joy is a deeply suspicious character who is probably working for the bourgeois."

Although my thesis is going well, my writing starting to flow after the break of Christmas, I wonder if I should try and slow down somewhat. I just bought Project Gotham Racing 2 for the Xbox. An afternoon spent playing that should reawaken the remnant genes of undergraduate life that are still dormant within me.

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