Stratford-upon-Avon: Willie’s World of Bardolotry

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October 20, 2013 · 7:58 pm

Perspectives

Whew! This week was heady. I just had my mind blown last night at Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, a play that somehow manages to blend chaos theory, existentialism, the time/space continuum, and literary philosophy in a cleverly wrapped 2 hours and 45 minutes (thank God for the mini ice cream cups sold during intermission, so I could regressively swing my legs in the seat and decompress for a bit). I knew Stoppard was genius in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Shakespeare in Love, but this guy’s brilliance is even more remarkable knowing he fled Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia as a kid – an amazing success story in its own right and a well-deserved honorary doctorate at Oxford this year (http://www.ox.ac.uk/staff/news/encaenia_2013.html). This week also found me at a book discussion on The Value of the Humanities by Helen Small, who, regardless of her overuse of the words “polemic,” “rhetoric,” and “fiscal discourse,” gave further insights into the reasons we should teach and study art, literature, and philosophy (not one of the least compelling being that it just makes us plain happier!). And of course my Children’s Lit course continues to blow open the limiting box I had originally put “kids” stories into, giving me much deeper and richer perspectives on what I thought were simplistic tales like Peter Rabbit and Wind in the Willows – man, was I wrong.

Perhaps this ability to shift perspectives is what I find so compelling about travel and education (two things I’ve never, ever, regretted spending money on). They change you. They change the way you see the world and the people in it. While I understand that we travel with a certain amount of metaphorical baggage and lens on the world, I think changing location and surroundings offers us a chance to strip ourselves of our old identity and see in a fresh new way. Call it the proverbial mountaintop, but my life back in San Francisco looks different when removed, when I can see the bigger picture. And speaking of pics, this week’s view on my world all seem to revolve around the idea of shifting perspectives, altering realities, and ultimately calling into question who we are…or at least who I am. Perhaps still searching, but having a ball doing so.

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Musings on Nostalgia

We’ve all felt it. That “ sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past” (Oxford English Dictionary).  My own nostalgia for university life is, in many ways, the reason I became a Professor and, in many ways, why I’ve returned to campus life at Oxford during my sabbatical. The Beatles sung about it in “Yesterday,” Woody Allen scripted it in Midnight in Paris, British television even has a “Yesterday” channel. Pining for a time of idealized Edenic innocence before any knowledge of loss, separation, or death seems to be in the very fabric of human culture and condition. The Golden Age of Edwardian children’s literature speaks to this glorified time in what some have called a creation of the “cult of childhood.” King Edward VII’s reign from 1901-1910, saw an era of British patriotism, imperialism, and prosperity (especially in contrast to the two great wars which would follow in 1914), and with it, an explosion of today’s most beloved children’s classics like Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, and The Secret Garden, all reflecting and celebrating a time when life seemed simple and carefree. Aren’t we all longing to go back to Neverland, The Hundred Acre Woods, or the Secret Garden, a place in which we had none of the challenges we face in our present day – no divorce from a spouse, no death of a parent, no aching nights of quiet desperation. Robert Hemmings’ article “A Taste of Nostalgia: Children’s Books from the Golden Age–Carroll, Grahame, and Milne” argues that children’s literature is really for adults and “that the nostalgic impulse of such books is imperialist by nature. The adult is the imperialist who shapes childhood as subjugated ‘other’ with his own values and desires, and anxieties about those desires.”  This microcosm of imperialism perfectly reflects the macrocosmic imperialist values that the middle and upper-middle class economically and socially benefited from during the golden age. Not surprising then that all these children’s texts are written by authors of privilege and set in middle to upper-middle class worlds. For most of us then, this idealized childhood did not exist and yet we still seem to long for it as if it were our own.

While America can relate to nostalgia in its affection for a mythical world of Norman Rockwell paintings and 1950’s idealized sitcom families, it seems the British sense of nostalgia is much more acute. Some speculate it is due to having seen war up close, on its homeland, or perhaps it’s just because England has such a long and proud history. But whatever the reason, the reverence for past in this country is everywhere. My recent visits to the Pitt Rivers Museum (an antique’s road show explosion) and the Sheldonian Theater (a veritable tomb to St. Christopher Wren) show an adoration and nostalgia for history, tradition, a time before that was somehow more grand, more perfect, and arguably more English.

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Romeo and Juliet…Done Right

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Hey all you Oregon Shakespeare Festival friends who rubbed in my face how great this 2013 season was and how I was a complete fool to miss it. Well, I’ll see your Midsummer, Taming, and Lear bravado and raise you the coolest R +J I’ve seen in years if not ever.  While the pundits are ambivalent about the the latest Broadway production Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, tonight’s performance at the Oxford Playhouse (or more correctly, the Burton and Taylor Studio experimental theater connected to the OP) was inventive, moving, and downright fun. Just two actors  run through the entire play exchanging roles, riffing off other characters’ lines, involving audience participation, and playing with the language (the morning lark becomes a school bell). The modern adaptation including The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” cell phone selfies,  and a fist pump explosion could have been camp but director Clive Judd pulled it off brilliantly.  It’s said that by the time an actor knows how to play Romeo and Juliet, he or she is too old to fit the part. Not in the case of Ed Hancock and Sophie Steer. Be watching for these two in the future. An absolute gem of a night. And unlike Broadway, this was just 10 pounds and a block from my door.

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Literary Walk (or stumble)

I’m dizzy. There is so much literary history dripping from every Coral Rag stone in this town that a lover of letters like me finds it hard to process it all. Now I know why there’s a pub on every block. But sure enough, as soon as I think I’ve caught my breath from the Christmas morning of writerly excitement, the ghosts of authors past follow me into the very well-worn wooden seat I’m sitting in. They say San Francisco is the city that drinks and thinks, but Oxford must be staggeringly inebriated on ale and intellect. This morning alone, I chanced to discuss world health care with a professor of public health at Oxford and Columbia, only then to meet a Fields Medal mathematician. And this is all over a full British breakfast before 9:00 am – mind blowing. With that said, the following pictures are a mere sprinkling of the literary seasoning I’ve discovered in my short time here so far. For a much more comprehensive look, check out:

http://www.oxfordcityguide.com/ee2/index.php?/FunStuff/LiteraryOxford/

http://www.cslewis.org/resource/walkguide/

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Day 2 and 3 – So Meta.

Day 2 and 3. I’m absolutely captured by the architecture, art, and literature of Oxford and love how it all intersects and intertwines in a symbiotic way – each aesthetic  just a different medium to express emotion and thought. And with every artist’s expression comes the audience’s impression, a connection to that same emotion and thought,  transcending time and space. Art reminds us that we are all interconnected and that creativity and creation allow us immortality. “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee” (Shakespeare “Sonnet 18”).

 

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Day 1 – Getting reacquainted with an old friend called Oxford

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October 4, 2013 · 1:37 pm