First lectures of term

Thursday 10 January 2019, First year

by Charlotte Stevenson

First lectures of term

Charlotte Stevenson
Now that freshers week is officially over, it's time to get down to the basics of all things literary at York St. John. It was a little intimidating to get out of bed this morning and to know that the busy day ahead of me would formally introduce me to all things seminar and lecture wise but it was also really exciting to be able to place in my bag each of the dog eared books from this past summer and to know that this would be the beginning of sharing their stories and their characters with new class mates, all possessing their own different ideas.

The first two classes of today were based on Reading texts 1, which is one of my three modules for this semester. In reading texts, we get not only a lecture but an additional seminar. In the first term, we are also lucky enough to have what are known as personal development sessions. They are quite similar to the other classes in ways, so perhaps the best way of defining them is some where between a seminar and a lecture. Over the next few weeks, we also get divided further into study groups which we can use outside of class to keep our ideas going and to keep up with everything that is going on. The main aim of that class, which I think is really lovely, is that we feel more at home and more secure generally in our university studies. It feels already like this is a family of people who have one another as a moral foundation to lean back on should things get a tad too difficult to handle.

We covered a lot in those classes, which we applied in the last class of the day which was our seminar for reading texts. The main focus was on reading and what it means to be an active reader. Engaging with the text is something which has always been important at every level, but stepping up to the challenge of university also means adapting and changing to fit what is expected of literature students at this stage. There is a standard we all hold for ourselves, and now is the time to use our creativity and our research skills to reach it. Of course, it is impossible to reach that standard if the reading is not done or if it is not done to the full effect. The whole point of reading, as I have fully realised today, is to be an Active Reader. This means many things, but for me it means:

- Reading the texts as far in advance as possible so that there is plenty of time to get through it.
- Going that extra mile with secondary reading so that I can develop my thoughts further.
- Reading with a pencil in hand, just in case anything is particularly striking.
- Identifying different features of the content in front of me by looking for them (harder than it sounds, but eventually it apparently becomes habit)
- Keeping a book journal so that Ican see my own progress and ideas taking shape
- Having a time table for my reading so that it gets a place every day
- Having a study group to discuss ideas with before class
- Keeping an open mind

Open mindedness is everything in the field of literature, and of the arts in general. It means you can read eclectically and still enjoy something. As one of our lecturers put it today, when we read with an open mind we allow ourselves the opportunity to be surprised - we invite those questions which come with a good book almost immediately. And to quote something else I read somewhere sometime (there will be better bibliographies than this in the future, I promise) the best books do not give up their secrets straightaway.

One exercise I really enjoyed from that particular series of lectures today was the analysis of a passage of 1984 by George Orwell. You may or may not have heard of it (it's the origin of the TV programme Big Brother) and is basically about a tyranny and how this affects the world as a whole. The extract we analysed was from the very beginning of the book and yet somehow people were able to immediately grasp a lot of what 1984 was about - the coldness, the fear/intimidation etc. It is remarkable how much you can extract from and engage with in a piece of writing if what you are reading has been well written. It links back to that aspect of questions arriving before you can stop them - questions before you even know if there will be answers and, more so, before you have even turned on to the second page. That is what a good book is and how amazing authors go about constructing their work. When it is well written, there is always something to find.

My second to last lecture of the day was led by a poet, and was focused on the work of Ovid (Metamorphoses) This book was really scary to me at first because it contains over 200 stories, is based on ancient mythology and is over 2000 years old (as of 2008) Yet once I began reading, it was so easy to just sink into the comedy and the chattering style of Ovid. This translation will clearly differ vastly from the original but it doesn't stop it being what it is - and what it is is an ancient text that we can still relate to/empathise with in some ways today. It's a remarkable thing to come across. One of my favourite stories in the book, which we unfortunately didn't really cover today, was the story of Orpheus - a man who is greatly talented as a musician who goes to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld. He succeeds in convincing the God's to bring her back to life, on the condition that he does not look at her until they have both made the journey back to earth from the underworld. But he looks back of course, as human flaws go, and Eurydice must return to the underworld. It is a bittersweet story, but it is one of enduring love, of being human and being flawed, but most importantly about music!

Making new friends and getting involved with other projects alongside my classes, means that already I am starting to feel a balance. I even know where to get my post from now! Campus feels less like New-York city and more like an easily manoeuvrable campus which is always a positive sign. But I also just remembered that I didn't tell you that we got to have a lecture featuring the wonderful poetry of Jack Mapanje last week for one of our welcomes. Definitely look into his poems! They are so incredibly moving, and I can't wait to read more of his work. There will be more on that in the near future, but for now I don't think I have the words to describe just how fantastic it was to begin the year with him reading some of his work to us. So, on a final note, here is a photo from that class:
That's all for today folks! Thank-you again, so so so much for voting for me as blogger of the year 2016 - it is an achievement I am really proud of which makes me smile just thinking about it!
Thank you also for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
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