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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

Daily Diary: Andrew O'Hagan

Monday, January 18, 2010

I read very little today, not even a blog or news report. Instead, I am busy from 8.00 in the morning to 7.00 at night, partly with preparing my OU tutorial, and partly with marking essays.

Around lunchtime, I run into town for a meeting about a report I am writing for one of the University's research institutes, before I jump back onto the computer. The trouble - though also great flexibility - of the OU's marking system is that it is all done onto digital versions of the essays. This does allow me lots of space - perhaps too much - to write detailed comments and track corrections, but does mean I am tied to the screen.

At 6.00, my OU teleconferencing tutorial on Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring" and Keats' "To Autumn" begins. The students are really excellent, teasing out the ambiguities and multiple possible readings encoded in the ostensibly transparent poems, and confident in using the technical, formal terms. A couple of them disagree with each other, and this is when the real problem of holding tutorials via telephone is apparent. In a physical group, I would be happy to let them get on with their own debate, using eye contact and body language to provide some sort of control, or to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak; on the phone, however, I have to be more systematic, inviting one person to speak, then the other. It lacks the organicity of a real-world tutorial, but even so, by the close, and with such a positive discussion, I am on a post-teaching high. It is no exaggeration if I say that I find that, when a session has gone well, I find my adrenaline flowing, and it is hard to sit down and relax. This is the buzz of the profession that makes marking, and dealing with emails, and admin, all worthwhile.

By 10.00, finally in bed, I get a quick chance to pick up a book, and I read Andrew O'Hagan's essay on the sludge boats of Glasgow. Apparently, the pair of these municipal craft used to carry 3500 tons of sewage twice daily down the Cylde, dumping it at sea. The ironic juxtaposition is that atop the tanks of festering waste, boat loads of pensioners would cruise in a smart cabin, eating cucumber sandwiches courtesy of the city council, who offered this as a perk. O'Hagan typically makes the most of this contrast. Sadly - or not, from the environmental point of view - the last boat sailed in the late 1990s.

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Posted by Alistair at 10:39 am


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