Sunday, August 08, 2010

London and Oxford, July 2010--Part 5 (The Last Part. I Really Mean It).

Okay, this is it--the last blog posting about my UK visit this month. I have many other things I want to write about at this point, but I want to finish up before I become swallowed up by Fall semester preparations...

Thursday was the last day of the Oxford Round Table, and presentations ended at noon. It seemed like it would be a fairly tame morning. There was a presentation on John Donne and the biological/evolution in literary forms. I noticed the presenter focused on Donne's use of dramatic monologue in her discussion. My problem with dramatic monologue has always been that it's a fence-sitting position--the poet, assuming another identity, can claim that the thoughts and sentiments voiced in the poem aren't his or her own. (Dr. Dell would have called it the "cop-out" literary form). I'm not sure that dramatic monologue tells us anything real about Donne or his views. But I didn't get to mention this, as there were many questions and not enough time for all of them.

The presentation after this first one was a doozy. It was given by a woman who is very nice and outgoing, but who clearly has been watching too much Fox News, in my opinion. After giving her paper, ostensibly on religious tolerance, but full of right-wing political conspiracy, many people at the table visibly recoiled--myself included, I imagine. She mentioned her recent retirement from her university, after she published this paper and was "persecuted for her religious beliefs". It's clear that she takes an eschatological view of history, but this is merely opinion and in no way supported by real facts, in spite of the "research" she did for the paper. To put that in an academic paper, along with her blatant anti-progressive politics--it certainly made sense to me why her university wanted to distance itself from her views. Certainly anyone is entitled to their worldview, but in academia, one must be careful. I happen to believe in astrology and many other things, but in no way would I write an academic religious paper trying to credit that point of view. I think a lot of what is going on in our country now is due to a difficult aspect between Saturn and Uranus. Is that my personal opinion? Yes. Is it academically credible? Absolutely not. It's personal, and should stay that way.

The rest of the papers covered Lutheran ministries, views of tolerance from exceptionally conservative viewpoints, and a proposal for a church/state model from an Oklahoma pastor who was trying to find a reasonable ground between literalist views and secularism. Our distinguished law professor at the Round Table pointed out that the things he was asking for already existed under the law, but it was clear that it wasn't perceived to be that way by his community.

I was glad to head to lunch with Pip that day. After a meal at the Turl Tavern (and trying their Summer Ale), she took me inside the gates of New College, where the old Saxon city wall is located. The Round Table had a banquet that evening, the final event of the conference--and I made the decision to visit with Paul and Pip one more time before leaving on Friday instead. We had a lovely Italian dinner, and it was nice to spend some more time with them before leaving. Paul and I also met up for one last drink on Friday, before I got on the train for London. Since I rarely get to see Rob, Paul, or Pip, it was really nice to have that face-to-face time.

I stayed in Oxford until about 1:30, when I had reservation to go back to London. After breakfast I was able to leave my luggage in the college common room, so I could walk around and take some more pictures, stop for some coffee, and have some final chats with Round Table attendees. I spoke with Josh, who was a student acting as a jack-of-all-trades for our conference. He noticed that I was reading M.R. James, and mentioned that he'd done his thesis on James and Victorian ghost stories. I told him about a story James wrote for the Morgan Library, which I came upon by accident in a used bookstore in Morristown, New Jersey. I'd never seen the story before. I also spoke with Chad and his father William again, and Martin Lockley, all of who were waiting to leave. It was nice to have a last chat before heading out. I was sorry to leave Oxford.

Back in London, I checked into my hotel, and was supposed to meet up with Karborn at 6:30, but he was held up at a freelance job, so we were supposed to meet on Saturday instead. There were some complications so that didn't end up happening, but I did spend some time in the Bloomsbury section of London--going back to see what was new at the British Museum, spending some time reading and relaxing in Tavistock Square, and doing some writing in the British Library. I saw some of the manuscript pages of J.G. Ballard's novel "Crash", which is new to the British Library archives. It's amazing how many edits are on the original typewritten page. On this trip, as on all others, I brought a London street map with me, but this was the first time I didn't have to use it. I'm starting to know my way around quite well.

I went to bed fairly early, as I had to get to Heathrow by 8:30 in the morning. I had a relatively painless trip to the airport, and the flight was basically on-time (30 minutes late), but the lines for U.S. immigration were obscene. I think 12 flights must have arrived at the same time. The citizen's line was as long as the visitor's line. While on the line, I saw our university president and his wife, who had just come back from a trip to our university's sister college near Banbury. I thought it was a rather random encounter, and gave me a mental reminder of how much work awaited me when I got back to my office. I did get home in a reasonable amount of time to my hysterical cat, who has finally gotten over his angst at my absence. But that whole first evening, all I heard was this angry mewling, and I literally had a shadow everywhere I went--I couldn't take a step without the cat wrapping itself around my legs.

So--back to "normalcy"--at least until the next trip...

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