Saturday, 22 December 2012

'Anthropology of an American Girl' by Hilary Thayer Hamann

I recently read a terrible book called Anthropology of an American Girl. You can read why I felt that way about it here, but in the first fifth or so, I have to admit that there were some perfectly expressed passages. I wanted to note them here, because I have every intention of passing this book out of my sight and onto a charity shop for some other poor soul to find.
'Boys will be boys, that's what people say. No one ever mentions how girls have to be something other than themselves altogether. We are expected to stifle the same feelings that boys are encouraged to express. We are to use gossip as a means of policing ourselves. This way those who do succumb to the lure of sex but are not damaged by it are damaged instead by peer malice. We are to remain united in cruelty, ignorance and aversion. We are to starve the flesh from our bones, penalising the body for its nature, castigating ourselves for advances from men that we are powerless to prevent. We are to make false promises, then resist the attentions solicited. Basically we are to become expert liars.' (p. 29)

'It's strange to realise you have sustained yourself on a memory of a person that has become untrue.' (p. 40)

'I moved on because I had to, because pain gets heavy when you carry it far from its source, like a bucket of water hauled miles from a stream - it acquires a whole new value, which is the sum of its primary essence and your secondary investment.' (p. 115)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Enfin fini!

I know it is unwise to wish away my last few months of university, especially since this time next year I could well be doing absolutely nothing, but my constant thought of the the past month or so has been "please be over, please be over, please be over". I am so incredibly relieved that Christmas is finally here. I remember around in this time in second year, although it was still quite hard, it was basically just a case of being fed-up of writing essays. In this case, in final year, it is a case of pure exhaustion in every way conceivable.

This academic year has been really, really difficult so far, and I'm aware it's about to get worse when the next semester starts. I have ten hours a week class time, but the workload is indubitably enough to fill up those idle hours. Not only do I have to be reading books for courses about literature and history, doing translations, and all the other things you'd expect from a modern languages degree, but I have to be ceaselessly honing a skill. That's what makes it hard. If you go a day or two without, for instance, listening to a radio programme or reading a magazine in the target language, you definitely feel the burn. If you slack, you have to pick up all the pieces again. Foreign languages will also infiltrate your free time - I do love music and cinema in different languages but it can be unnerving how little you actually consume things in English. You walk around all day with all these words buzzing around your head; some of which you are sure you have never come across before, but automatically know the meaning of. It's sort of magical when that happens, and reminds me why I'm doing all this, but it does take a lot of work to get to that stage. Not only are you learning grammar and vocabulary, but you're learning an entire culture's way of thinking (I mean this in the least generalised way possible). An entire culture's Weltanschauung.

The change is even more shocking considering the relative doss of third year - my friends, most of whom spent semesters at universities in France, Spain and Germany, did not have to do much studying at all and had plenty of time to enjoy themselves. Last semester (so odd to think that - it was over 6 months ago!), I was working thirteen hours a week, if that, and earning enough to really make the most of life in Austria. So we're all completely in agreement that it's taking its toll.

During the last two weeks of term, I was focused on two oral exams, which are given in the form of a presentation. It's funny how I have no qualms about approaching a native speaker of French or German and just starting a conversation, but doing a presentation in either of those languages still makes me somewhat nervous. It's no longer about a fear of making language mistakes - as it was in first or second year - but more about not saying everything I want to say and not expressing myself in the best way I know I can. Plus, everyone around me panics, causing me to wonder why I'm not panicking too (if I've hitherto been relatively calm about it all). Above all, I guess conversations are much more realistic situations, you can use a much wider variety of register, mistakes are more forgivable, and it's not pre-planned. In a presentation - what we call an exposé or a Referat - you have to remember specific vocabulary about a topic, stuff that you would be unlikely to use in everyday situations (or that whomever you are speaking with would be unlikely to care about if you didn't know or got wrong). Evidently you need to have certain things down, but at the end of the day, language is about communication, not worrying about how many marks you lost by forgetting to use the subjunctive mood in the spur of the moment. I suppose that what I mean is I would rather be out in the world applying what I know, than making sure I do everything in a certain way; a very restricted way.

I've identified some areas I need to work on, and I hope I can clear those up soon. I have to do that in parallel to thinking about what the future holds for me. It fills me with anxiety sometimes because it's the first time I've genuinely not known what's going to happen (at least when I left sixth form, for example, I knew I would end up at some university or another). I can't really make any decisions until February/March, when I will know whether I've been shortlisted for a certain amazing position I've gone for. I'm trying so hard not to think about it, but when it's the only thing that's motivating you to get through your work, that is near impossible.

I'm going to try to relax for the next week or so, anyway. It's the holidays, after all.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Albums of 2012

How are you supposed to write a list like this? Unless you're a music magazine or an established music blog (where it's usually more of a collective effort anyway), I don't really believe in listing more than twenty albums of the year. Twenty is a good number because it gives you more leeway than ten, and it is enough to give a broad overview of your year in new music. More than twenty and I think it comes off a bit like, "these are the albums I checked out once or twice this year and didn't find to be completely terrible, please validate my music taste!".

For example, 2012 was the year that No Doubt released a new album after eleven years, but it didn't make my list. The Mountain Goats, who already have a boundless back catalogue, also released something, but I can't have listened to it more than three times so far, so that is not going to make my list, either. Just because your all-time fave artist releases something one year, it doesn't mean it's going to be amazing, and I think people need to keep that in mind when writing these lists.

Anyway, I give you my top twenty:

  1. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
  2. Grizzly Bear - Shields
  3. David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant
  4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
  5. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
  6. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
  7. Tall Ships - Everything Touching
  8. Soap&Skin - Narrow
  9. Lower Dens - Nootropics
  10. Liars - WIXIW
  11. Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery
  12. Beach House - Bloom
  13. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
  14. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
  15. Shoes And Socks Off - Miles Of Mad Water
  16. Yuna - Yuna
  17. Grimes - Visions
  18. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon
  19. Hurray For The Riff Raff - Hurray For The Riff Raff
  20. Cat Power - Sun