MA Week Five

Week Five?  It seems like many more weeks than five have passed; what kind of strange time-warpy university is this?  Unfortunately, though, I still seem to be aging at the same pace, and I can't manage to reach the giddy heights of beer-consumption that I recall scaling last time I had a student card with my leering mug on it.  Bah. So, Week Five it is; and next week is Reading Week, which actually translates as Reading 'Day', seeing as Monday will be the only one affected by the glorious lack of classes.  So, next Monday, I'll read Dubliners and Labyrinths and The End Of The Affair and then I'll have lunch and consult the list to see what's up for afternoon consumption.  Wonderful.

This Monday, though, we discussed Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.  I'd read plenty of Woolf as an undergraduate, so this was one of the more straightforward seminars - I felt extraordinarily well-prepared, dragging half-remembered theories and interpretations out of the depths of my knackered brain.  We talked about structure, shifting points of view, the interplay of past and present in the narrative, repeated motifs (clocks, birds, flowers), external events (like the chiming of Big Ben) as stabilising devices linking the different characters, internal and external time, mortality, and memory. We looked at the novel as an example of modernist literature; the way Woolf uses different narrative perspectives to illustrate a character or event, much in the same was the Cubist painters, like Picasso, sought to portray multiple angles simultaneously, to give a truer version of reality than the standard classic form of realism.  Contradiction is the more accurate approach, in this methodology, than affirmation or agreement.  We discussed the notion of 'stream of consciousness': whether Woolf's fairly consistent narrative voice truly presents that stream; if the third person narration presents an unavoidable mediation, an organising, external intelligence that prevents us from accessing the characters minds; whether pure stream of consciousness is ever possible, or whether the sheer act of narration always draws our attention to the construct of the prose.

Then, later - drum-roll! - I had my workshop.  Despite a blistering attack of last minute nerves, it turned out fine.  I reread my piece, a chapter of a projected novel, on Sunday night and identified a whole load of flaws.  It had been a week since I'd gone near the text and that slight distance helped me to isolate a bunch of structural issues.  By and large, these were exactly what the workshop group and the tutor picked up on - things to do with pacing and exposition that illustrated my background as a short story writer and the difficulties I was having in adjusting to a longer narrative form.  So I can see with more clarity now where I ought to space things out, add detail, give the story a greater sense of time and place - all in all, a very positive experience.  My next workshop submission and my first essay have to be submitted within three days of each other, so lord knows what I'll have fixed up or ironed out by that point, but we'll see.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about Amis Seminar number two; are you fraying round the edges in anticipation?  You should be.

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