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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


Serendipitous Blogging

Friday, March 26, 2010

I suspect that if I told many of my fellow academics that I kept a blog, they would tell me that I am wasting my time, and should get on with some "proper" writing. To a degree, I can understand their sentiment. One assumes that blogs will not exactly register in any new Research Excellence Framework, for all that they represents one possible "outreach" activity that the government seems so keen to encourage in academia.


Nevertheless, I am continually surprised by how beneficial blogging can be, both as a way of maintaining my writing skills at times when the demands of teaching kick in, but also because of the number of times a post has developed my thinking about a particular topic, in a way that I could pick up later in my mainstream academic activities. A perfect example of this came the other day, when I was teaching A Doll's House for the Open University.

I have taught this play for several years at my other institution, but this was my first time teaching it at the OU, and the approach was somewhat different. Whereas I had previously taught the play for its relevance in terms of the advent of dramatic realism and the turn away from the well-made play conventions of the preceding nineteenth century, for the OU the play was treated in relation to its performances of gender. My students and I were asked to think about the ways in which the play might be updated to a more contemporary setting, and how this would affect our perceptions of Ibsen's original.

Whilst the play may have been well-familiar to me, this approach was new, then, but it did not take me very long to think of a way into teaching it. Last year, on this blog, I posted the day after I had seen a performance of the play which set it in the 1950s. In that long post, I wrote about the intriguing stage set of the Northern Stage production, which used transparent walls and a 1950s living room; both aspects were really thoughtful interventions. The transparency highlighted Ibsen's dramatic method in exploiting the gap between what an audience knows about every character, and what any one character knows about any other; the 1950s setting  helped to construct Torvald as a man who we knew, with historical hindsight, would be thrust into the radical changes of the 1960s soon after Nora's final exit.

This, then, was one of my routes into teaching the play, and the implications of updating and directing.the drama. Now I am pretty confident that had I not spent a morning - at that time arguably a wasted morning - writing a semi-essay about the play last year, I would not have remembered it now. The delight of blogging, as with all writing, is that it forces one to develop and tease out ideas; had I not written about it, my immediate reactions after the performance would have drifted away almost as quickly as the crowd flowing from the theatre. Of course, one could say that I could have written about it without a blog. The theatre diary, for example, has a long and privileged heritage. However, I do feel that the public nature of a blog, where my thoughts would be shared and, in the case of blogging about a theatre production, picked up by others searching for reviews of the play, stimulated me into writing when I might otherwise have gone on with other, allegedly more important, things.

I will admit to feeling a slight sense of smugness, then, when my preparation for this topic came round. I could not have known when I blogged back then that it would be relevant. But a blog, capturing seemingly trivial and ephemeral incidents and thoughts, turns out once again to have been serendipitously prescient and relevant.

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Posted by Alistair at 10:02 am

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