The longest period I spent completely alone during this pandemic was one week. I spent the week reading the increasingly distressing news on my phone, desperately wanting to do something, to be a small part of some collective action against the tightening authoritarian grip of the Tory government. Instead, I sat alone in my rented room, waiting, worrying and reading.
A few years ago, a friend bought me The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. When I picked up the book, I drew no connecting line between these 4th Century monks sitting in their cells in the Egyptian desert, waiting for the world to end, and myself, sitting, in the 21st Century, in my room in South East London. Perhaps with good reason; these monks spent decades in near or complete isolation, barely eating, sleeping or drinking – I spent a week scrolling on my phone and eating takeaway pizzas. But eventually I did begin to ask a question that connected my experience with theirs: What am I doing in here by myself, when terrible things are happening to us out there?
The call came and I was told that my second period of furlough had ended. I would return to the workshop for three twelve and a half hour shifts per week, 7am to 7.30pm. The week my boss called, I’d been rereading Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil (1909-1943). Weil was a philosopher who worked in temporary teaching jobs, often being run out of town for her trade union-organising and activism. By the time of her death, Weil had built up a body of idiosyncratic, unorthodox, mystically-inclined theological writing, posthumously collected in Gravity and Grace. I read the final section, ‘The Mysticism of Work’, the day before my return to the workshop. After sitting in my room for three months, going back to such long days would be hard physically, which made it hard mentally; I didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice. At least I’d be able to search for Weil’s mysticism of work.
Content warning: mentions transphobia
As the Green Party lets its members elect its third member of the House of Lords, one candidate’s name has jumped to my attention more than the rest: Rupert Read. For those who don’t know, Read is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, a former Green Party Councillor in Norwich and, according to his website, a ‘climate and environmental campaigner’. Whilst this can be seen as an impressive list of roles and beliefs, these aren’t the reason that Read’s name caught my eye.
by Liv Barnett
Academics are often accused of failing to make their research matter to audiences other than themselves. Anthropologists are particularly criticized for writing theories and ethnographies that not only go unread by non-anthropologists, but are also too inaccessible to those they may be writing about. Here I hope to try and explain a central aspect of my PhD research in Papua New Guinea and share some of the ways it has got me thinking about politics and economics in the UK.
The stereotyped anthropologist gets criticized for using the experiences of a usually colonised ‘other’ for their own project of producing knowledge that counters the taken for granted understandings people have of humanity or society in ‘the West’, which are presumed to be universal to human nature. This is a legitimate argument which has to be taken seriously. Therefore, I self-consciously use some of my observations in Papua New Guinea (enabled by the generosity of those who I lived with in PNG) and the ideas of European/western social theorists.
by Laura Potts
The TARDIS programme at Chapel Break Infant School is an exemplary example of creative education and an inspirational learning environment. For 10 years, the programme has transformed classrooms into imaginative environments for young minds to explore and develop in. TARDIS stands for ‘Thinking Arts Reflective Dialogue Imagination Studio’. The aim of its resourceful staff is to immerse the children in philosophical and creative enquiry:
‘The learning consists of the development of a range of skills, including speaking and listening, debate and discussion, a variety of thinking skills, social skills, independence of thought and action and persistence. It builds a knowledge and experience of the visual arts beyond those that can be offered within the usual classroom setting.’
by Justin Reynolds
Overshadowed by the perennial pain of Brexit negotiations and fresh flurries of speculation over her leadership, Theresa May’s trip to China earlier this month passed with little comment.
Democratic freedoms in Britain’s former colony Hong Kong were briefly discussed. A few business contracts were confirmed. And the shimmering outline of some future post-Brexit trade deal could at times be briefly discerned.
What was remarkable about the visit was scarcely noted:Continue Reading
by Justin Reynolds
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, the classic novel by Mary Shelley that stands at the pinnacle of the gothic tradition and looks forward to the new genre of science fiction, was first published 200 years ago this month. Shelley’s visceral tale of the terrible consequences that follow the failure of brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein to take responsibility for the strange new life he creates, is both of its time and utterly contemporary.
It can be read as a high Romantic fantasy set against a background of electric storms, shimmering Alpine peaks, Rhineland forests and Arctic wastelands, and as a subtle meditation on themes of knowledge and responsibility that resonate with today’s hopes and fears for the possibilities opened by artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology.Continue Reading
by Eli Lambe
Rich with reference and metaphor, Ali Smith’s Autumn is a triumph. Published incredibly quickly following the chaos of the EU Referendum in June 2016, it fully captures the feelings of isolation, division, and distrust that seems to have characterised the 12 months since. The atmosphere of unreality is masterfully tied together with dream-sequence, ekphrasis, and lies. The principal character, Elisabeth sums it up concisely as an eight year old in 1993: “It’s about history, and being neighbours.”Continue Reading
by Sunetra Senior
When we think of having a ‘self-narrative’, there might be connotations of egotism and/or triviality, and some of us may even draw a complete blank. It isn’t mentioned very often, and when it is, there’s this fashion of deconstructing it: the notion of having your own conscious story as being strangely self-indulgent, or in its best light intriguing, but ultimately useless. But in a world that is increasingly trying to tell us who we are, where nationalism is on the rise, in even the most *apparently* free-thinking of countries and conformity is king, having a healthy self-narrative – the perception of how our life experiences have come to define and shape us – is not only valid and beautiful, but I would argue, key to rejuvenating our social freedom.
by Liam Hawkes
For many who choose to ascribe to it, environmentalism is a clear moral question. We have a moral responsibility to care for and not abuse our planet. This is possibly one of the most common and important aspects to any environmentalism as it provides a motivation for action. Not just sitting comfortably saying we should do things, but actually getting out there into the world and doing them. This active engagement with nature and the environments around us goes much of the way to ground environmentalism in the practical, not theoretical. This is why our own individual understandings of what and where nature is can be the key to unlocking the inner tree hugger in us all.Continue Reading