Dumbing down at universities?

This is an excerpt from an exam I took in my first year at Leeds University in 1974. I have to say that I think most of my own students (and probably those at other institutions) would have great difficulty coping with these questions.

FIRST YEAR ENGLISH LITERATURE, Paper II: Renaissance Drama, Leeds University 1974.
Closed book.
Time allowed: 3 hours. (Three questions, one hour per question).

3. Either: (a) The idea of time seems to be very important in Shakespeare’s last plays. Describe the presentation of this idea, and indicate the nature and effect of its operation. You may, if you wish, restrict your answer to any one play.
Or: (b) ‘Her [Nature’s] World is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.’ (SIR PHILIP SIDNEY). In what ways might this comment be applied to the works of the English Renaissance dramatists? Discuss at least two dramatists.
Or: (c) Outline the features which, in your view, are characteristic of Shakespeare’s ‘Romances’.

4. Either: (a) ‘The progress of the minds of the central figures towards deeper and deeper self-knowledge, the approach to the impenetrable mystery of fate perceived in the moments of intensest suffering and action, which are also the moments of clearest insight.’ (ELLIS-FERMOR). Illustrate and discuss this aspect of The Duchess of Malfi.
Or: (b) Examine, with reference to Hamlet or to The Revenger’s Tragedy, the ways in which imagery and symbolism are used to create, and sustain, a particular tragic mood.
Or: (c) What are the features which commonly distinguish the Tragedy from the Revenge Play?

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The satisfaction of seriousness: the Peterson Phenomenon.

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“SERIOUSNESS,” SAID LEONARD COHEN in a TV interview, “is profoundly satisfying to the human soul.” The truth of that statement is borne out by the popularity of Dr Jordan Peterson, who has emerged as the most unlikely intellectual celebrity of our day. Just watch a couple of his videos – either his university lectures or his talks and interviews, it doesn’t matter – and you’ll see what I mean. This man is serious. He talks about serious things: life is painful and tragic; the monsters of malevolence and totalitarianism are not only found outside of ourselves but inside our own psyches; happiness is a worthless goal whereas meaning is supremely important; people should stop whingeing they’re victims and take responsibility for their own lives before trying to change the world.

Read on.

“Telling lies to the young is wrong” – Yevtushenko

LIES

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world is wrong.
the young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

“Lies” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi. From the Selected Poems in the Penguin Modern Poets series, 1968.

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Please don’t encourage the young to “change the world”.

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AROUND THE INSTITUTION posters have gone up exhorting the young folk to become global activists. “Change Your World,” says one of them. “You must be the change you want to see in the world,” says another (good old Gandhi). “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons,” comes the voice of Malala Yousafzi. In the communal dining area the words of Saint Mandela are printed on the wall up high: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

As a now aged man who has seen and endured the results of people wanting to change the damn world — purportedly for the better and with our interests at heart, of course — I wholeheartedly disagree with this advice.

 

At The Fortnightly review.

Towards the new gulag one vote at a time.

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzheitsyn.
Solzhenitsyn’s short masterpiece should be essential reading for all young people. It’s a reminder (or perhaps the first encounter for some) of the horrors of communism in the Soviet Union. Socialism, communism, Marxism, whatever you want to call it, ends inevitably in labour and death camps or in complete social collapse, as is happening now in Venezuela.

Here’s the blurb from Penguin Books about One Day…

Bringing into harsh focus the daily struggle for existence in a Soviet gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is translated by Ralph Parker in Penguin Modern Classics.

This brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Discover the importance of a piece of bread or an extra bowl of soup, the incredible luxury of a book, the ingenious possibilities of a nail, a piece of string or a single match in a world where survival is all. Here safety, warmth and food are the first objectives. Reading it, you enter a world of incarceration, brutality, hard manual labour and freezing cold – and participate in the struggle of men to survive both the terrible rigours of nature and the inhumanity of the system that defines their conditions of life.

Though twice-decorated for his service at the front during the Second World War, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was arrested in 1945 for making derogatory remarks about Stalin, and sent to a series of brutal Soviet labour camps in the Arctic Circle, where he remained for eight years. Released after Stalin’s death, he worked as a teacher, publishing his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich with the approval of Nikita Khrushchev in 1962, to huge success. His 1967 novel Cancer Ward, as well as his magnum opus The Gulag Archipelago, were not as well-received by Soviet authorities, and not long after being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, Solzhenitsyn was deported from the USSR. In 1994, after twenty years in exile, Solzhenitsyn made his long-awaited return to Russia.

If you enjoyed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, you might also like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, available in Penguin Classics.

‘It is a blow struck for human freedom all over the world … and it is gloriously readable’
Sunday Times

For a more detailed and more gruelling read, there’s The Gulag Archipelago, also by Solzhenitsyn.

Are the snowflakes melting into Gen-Zed?

FOR THOSE PEOPLE despairing of the millennial generation and their demands for safe spaces and trigger warnings, and their blue-haired, social justice snowflakery there are glimmers of hope that things are changing for the better. Behold Generation Z (zed to us in Blighty, zee to our friends across the Atlantic).

Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010 (roughly), are, according to various sources, including Jeff Brauer of Keystone College, socially liberal but more conservative in terms of security and economics than their predecessors. They are also the first generation who are true digital natives, in that they have no experience of a time when there was no internet. The upshot of this is that they are wired (as us oldies still say) and used to getting their information from the net rather than from the mainstream media.

 

Read on at The Fortnightly Review.

Scott-King’s Modern Europe by Evelyn Waugh

‘Then what do you intend to do?’
‘If you  approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.’
‘It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.’
‘There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.’

from Scott-King’s Modern Europe, by Evelyn Waugh