MA Semester Two, Week Eleven

All my classes are on a Monday.  I managed to orchestrate this from the start, not because I've got anything so inconvenient as a job to get to, but because it seemed neat and I'm a fan of the elegant solution.  (Not that you'd believe me if you saw the squalor of my apartment - but, in my defence, piles of books and papers are talking points, right?  Right?)  So, obviously, bank holidays screw with the system.  Our contemporary fiction class was rescheduled to Wednesday, but I sat in on the regular Tuesday group instead because I had Important Things To Do on Wednesday (all of which were ultimately cancelled anyway due to a bastard head-cold, but there you go, and I'm typing this in my pyjamas with the duvet and a mug of Lemsip beside me), and the workshop will be tacked onto next Monday's class, resulting in one giant, formidable, exhausting, ultra-workshop, the workshop-from-hell, the work-shop-of-doom, the doom-shop, the killer class.  Etc. So there's that to look forward to next week; in the meantime, I hear you ask, what did we talk about on Tuesday?  (That was either you asking me a question, or the germs upping their assault on the insides of my head.  I'll keep typing either way.)

This week was a sort of continuation of the 9/11 discussion from last week, but this week we were looking at the British take on events.  We were to read Ian McEwan's Saturday and a short story from Martin Amis's The Second Plane, as well as articles the two of them published in the Guardian in the week following the attacks back in 2001.  So.  I read Saturday a couple of years ago and I didn't reread it for the class - I remembered it pretty well, I'm not writing a paper on the topic, and I was in the middle of Solar anyway and enough is enough - and, embarrassingly, I totally forgot we had to read the Amis short story and by the time I remembered, there wasn't enough time to get hold of the book.  Excuses, huh?  We all know I love Martin, but hey, even I have my reading-time limitations.  So I was probably at my least-prepared for this class, and had the beginnings of a cold, so my notes are rather limited and incoherent.  We covered similar ground as last time - why novelists rather than journalists were presented as the chroniclers of events, and how different novelists approached the topic.  Looking at the Guardian articles, Amis did a pretty pompous piece about species-shame which irked the class; McEwan was more populist in his article but veered towards condescension when he explained to his dumb fool readers what 'empathy' meant; Salman Rushdie took a Bush-like line, urging people to go out and eat bacon and kiss in the streets in a fist-shaking message to the East; Arundhati Roy placed the attacks in the context of a long history of America's assaults upon the rest of the world.  Most people in the group took great umbrage to her piece, which surprised me; it might not have been the most delicate or sensitive, but it was politically astute.  I remember reading it at the time, on a nervous plane trip from Prague to Dublin, and clipping it out of the paper, worried that the air-hostess would see me and complain.  I've probably still got it somewhere in my mum's house.  Anyway there was a discussion about how most of the writers used their rhetoric to create a sense of community, an us-versus-them mentality with the writers and readers on the side of the rational, the good and the Western, and the great unknown Other out there in the East.  Most of the writing around the topic we were able to find or reference was white, middle-class, usually male and overwhelmingly Western, and we talked about that; though I imagine that being based in England and reading the Guardian sort of biases things in that direction anyway.

We didn't talk about the books much; McEwan got a bit slated for his research-heavy prose (Solar is a way worse offender than Saturday, I think) and people weren't convinced by his characterisation, saying that his fictional 'family' was a mere device for yoking different viewpoints together.  The Amis story got slated.  That's where my notes and memory run dry - and that's where contemporary fiction comes to an end.  We've got one more week of workshops and another visiting lecturer person next Tuesday, and then it's dissertation all the way.

Excuse me now while I finish the Lemsip and worry about a looming Tory government.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Loved this piece - thanks for sharing - it is strange to think back to the original response, it seems like so long ago and I guess that so much has happened since. I wouldn't worry too much about the tories - I think that we are in for a hung parliament - consensus period #2 here we come...


Valerie O'Riordan said...

Thanks, Hannah! It is strange, isn't it? Life before 'suspicious packages' and all the rest.

Roll on polling day! I'm in a staunch Labour constituency anyway, and apparently my vote counts for 0.02% of a vote or something equally dreadful, so I doubt the Tories will be getting a leg-up around here. Consensus period indeed!

Emma said...

Hi Valerie - another witty and entertaining post... Having finished my MA last Nov, I'm enjoying experiencing yours by proxy. How is the novel going??!
Emma (NZ)

Valerie O'Riordan said...

Hey Emma! The novel's going at a glacial pace - one step forward, two steps back! But it's trundling along all the same. I seem to have moved past the 'must write it before I turn thirty aaarrrghhhhh' panic and am taking it at the pace it seems to need. (Which is probably good, seeing as I turn thirty in less than two months!)