Setting: the Quiet Room (G22), 19 George Square. Time: somewhen between the e-Grieg-ious composer puns, the circulation of historical pornography by one of the ‘EdJo masters’, the high-quality academic writing, and the in-depth feedback. The window wasn’t open - but something moved through the room anyway. Papers rustled, blinds twitched, the door opened and closed again. Thoughts were stirred. Naturally, thoughts first turned to ghosts. It’s an old building, after all.
Furthermore, we’re all quite used to negotiating presence and absence. Some of us study the past: out attention is locked on something lost forever and existing only in scattered fragments. But even for those of us in the room more concerned with the present or even the future, we have betaken ourselves to the blank environment of a room, in a university, with not much more than chairs, tables, and wifi therein to consider the meaning of phenomena that are mostly quite far away. For this, incidentally, we are extremely grateful to the organisers, the ‘EdJo Masters’.
It is not as though our environment is featureless, however. It is spring and new generations of wasps continually find ways of entering the room (they have, for the most part, been humanely escorted from the building). Street singers’ voices waft to us through the gardens. We ourselves eat, tire, and have our daily, self-determined targets to meet. We manspread and we exercise. So much is old and unchanging, yet time does not stop, and the wasp accidentally crushed by the closing window reminds us that it can bring about sudden, inexplicable violence. We are in the middle, creating our own permanent monuments of script, like Ham’s pillar.
I journeyed through the building to the Music Room. Someone once characterised music as glorifying mortality, making beauty and meaning out of the passing moments that lead inexorably towards our deaths. It turned out that there was a ghost there too, although this ghost was not flying by, leaving only thoughts in its wake. This ghost lives in George’s teapot. Whenever tea is poured from this pot and however adroitly this is done, brown tea (?) stains spot the sides and spout of the pot. Is s/he struggling to get out? Or feasting on the tea, as s/he will for evermore? Ut poeta dixit: ‘music is a monster that needs feeding’. Or is s/he simply winking gently with reminders of the past, reminding us that stains, blotches, imperfections can be legitimate aspects of our identity, that they are meaningful?
As we strive to produce or improve our articles and thesis chapters, it sometimes doesn’t feel that way. Personal identity is one thing but academic writing is about something more than ourselves. Lisa and Mary Elisabeth have been giving us excellent advice all week, but I was particularly struck by today’s discussion about reader-centred prose. Essentially, our academic writing should be about the reader and not about self-expression or a pure, philosophically sound treatment of the subject at the reader’s expense. We their “guides” must “make them smart”, we must make whatever material or subject meaningful to them and make them masters of it. Our mastery comes not from what we can claim but from what we can liberate and make communal.
Are we carving pillars that will withstand the Deluge or shall we, as authors, diminish and become like ghosts, our sudden breaths and cryptic tea-stains examined, interpreted, and a world already being made new? Or will there be a day of resurrection when all, authors and readers, students and masters, the quick and the dead, are equal?