6 Jul 2017

A Long Year

Hello readers!

It has alas been some time since I have last written to you. But rest assured that a great deal has been going on; in fact, the purpose of this post is to recount on this year’s events. There are many, and I will split it into three broad sections: academics, writing, and a few tidbits about my personal life. In my usual style, these reflections will be paired with a few wayward analyses.

Until then, a quick update regarding my present situation: I am now in Romania, after a long day in airports. I will be visiting Vatra Dornei, a mountain town; there I will take photos (which of course I shall release) along with inspiration. Or, well, that’s the plan.

Anyway...

The Wonders of Academia

Having completed my first year at Amsterdam University College, I have a number of observations to make regarding both the university and academic life in general.

To begin with, the former. The AUC, as it’s handily abbreviated, is uncommon in its teaching model: it has a student body of only 900, and they are rather diverse, ranging from all four corners of Europe—be it Sweden or Italy, Albania or Portugal—and beyond, from the Americas, New Zealand and Russia. Indeed, the AUC’s motto is “excellence and diversity in a global city” (which the students lightly mock by calling themselves “the excellent and diverse people of AUC”).

Despite this, the student body is also remarkably uniform. Partly this is as a direct consequence of its size: with only 900 kids, it’s much harder to capture the smorgasbord of life experiences that a university of 30,000 can. Partly it’s as a result of socio-economics, with few Muslims or people from African descent to be seen (at least relative to other places). And partly it’s as a result of its politics—the AUC is Liberal with a capital L.

Anyway, the more personal question I should be asking is “Have I enjoyed my time here?” And for the most part, I have. I have made very good progress, obtaining a number of As and A–. The workload has been... managable, really. I have after all managed to do a hell of a lot of writing (of which you will learn soon).

It hasn’t been entirely rosy, of course. One reason, as I irrelevantly put it, is the wonder of academia. The prevailing academic culture is dry, formalistic, and devoid of common sense. I should precede that statement with the qualifier “mostly”—there are wonderful exceptions, full of clarity and wit—but they are exceptions.

A good example of this are citations. We learned three types of citations in our academic writing class—APA, CSE and MLA—and all three are a pain in the arse. There’s also Harvard, Chicago, and numerous others; each is more tedious than the last.

To explain, these citation styles all require that the author follow very strict, unhelpful, and inflexible formats for how they cite sources. APA asks for (variable-1 variable-2) where variable-1 is author name—last name, mind you—and variable-2 is the year of publication. MLA asks for (author-name page-number) in the same format. If you need to cite a source written by unknown authors (which are actually fairly common) you have to resort to other complicated rules. If your source is an ebook, MLA is a pain; if your source is historical, APA also looks weird.

An example:

APA: Stupid sociologist A believes that weird concept x is useful in explaining whatever; but stupid sociologist B argues that weird concept y should be used to explain it. (Woodward 1990; Back 1990). However, yet another stupid sociologist C thinks both concepts are needed. (unspellable name 2000).

APA cont.: Marx (1857) in his Das Kapital argued that...

Mises (no page number because it’s a fucking ebook) argued that...

And this is before we even get to the bibliography/works cited/references/whatever synonym your style demands. The rules there are so complicated that it’s impossible for a normal, sane human being to try and remember them; we’re left to using software to do it for us.

Does a solution exist for this? Is it possible to cite academic sources in a pain-free manner? Of course; it’s only a question of imagination, and maybe some good quality software design. In-text citations could be done with a number, like [1], perhaps followed with an optional field for additional clarity. The optional field could be an author name, the name of the work being cited, or really anything that is appropriate in context. So the above could read:

Sociologist A [1][Woodward] believes that... Sociologist B argues [2][Back]

Marx [1][Das Kapital]

Mises [1]...

Bibliographies could be structured logically rather than arbitrarily, so instead of:

Ayer, A. (1936). Propositions about the past and other minds. Language, truth and logic (1952nd ed., pp. 19). New York: Dover Publications.

Berkeley, B. (1710). Treatise concerning human knowledge (Dover Edition ed.). New York: Dover Publications.

Brink, D. (2014). Aristotelian naturalism in the history of ethics. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 52(1), 814.

You could have:

1. Title: Propositions about the Past and Other Minds.
Author: AJ Ayer (Alfred Jules Ayer)
Publication year: 1952
Publisher: Dover
etc...
2. Title: Treatise Concerning Human Knowledge...

This would make it far easier to both produce and read citations. But still, academia continues with this arcane, time-consuming and moronic practice.

I haven’t yet touched on the other absurdities that prevail in academic circles; indeed doing so would require more breadth than I have in a blog post. I’ll just leave you with this little bundle of joy.

This Article, a third in a series of related works, explores the representation of sexual identity within Critical Race Theory and other forms of anti-racist discourse. I argue, after examining representative texts, that anti-racist discourse is often "heteronormative" -- or centered around heterosexual experiences. Most commonly, anti-racist heteronormativity occurs when scholars and activists in the field fail to analyze the homophobic dimensions of acts or conditions of racial inequality and when they dismiss, either implicitly or explicitly, the "morality" of gay and lesbian equality claims. This Article recommends that scholars in Critical Race Theory and related fields adopt a more multidimensional lens for studying oppression and identity -- one that treats forms of subordination and identity as interrelated, rather than as mutually exclusive and unconnected.

—By some stupid academic. Sorry, no fancy citations here.

The Joys of Writing

Moving on, in another perhaps sarcastically titled section, I come to my writing.

Back in November, I made a huge decision: I abandoned my novel in progress, the Ark, and began writing Fallen Love instead. It was not a decision I made lightly—I had after all been working on the Ark for more than a year. But I feel that in the end it was the right one. Put simply, the Ark was not the book I was meant to be writing; the premise was incoherent, the conflict was lacking, and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it.

Fallen Love is also a challenging project, but it is one I am enjoying. I still have much work to do, but I am getting there. Partly, this has been result of perfectionism on my part: I am not easily satisfied. But a more detailed explanation will require another blog post.

In other areas, I have been with Red Pers—an online newspaper run by an AUC student—for more than six months now. I have written a large number of articles, many of which I have linked here. To make it easy for you, they can all be found here: http://www.redpers.nl/author/alex/

I am hoping to expand into paid journalism soon, details of which I will be releasing once I have something concrete.

Finally, I have also been busy writing essays. My first, entitled Fantasy versus Science Fiction: A Curious Divergence, will be published by Issues in Earth Science—for which they are giving me a modest prize. I have also written another essay, on university education, which I hope will get picked up.

The Vicissitudes of Life

Living in Amsterdam has thrown some challenges at me. Some of it has been largely predictable; it was Benjamin Franklin who remarked, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I have indeed paid taxes, as well as asked for benefits, and generally wrangled with the bureaucracy.

Another truism that has been proven is “there’s no such thing as free lunch”—because it costs money, and time to cook, both of which have been important aspects I have had to contend with. The financial side has been manageable, due to a combination of my parents, my grandparents, and the state. As for the cooking side, I have devised a number of dishes that meet my requirements: relatively low cooking time, health, animal welfare and impact on the environment. The exact details I may share later, but it has involved lots of wholegrain pasta, rice, lentils, and copious amounts of soy products.

Finally, there has been love, which I feel demands another catchy cliché. Perhaps: “When you’re in love, it’s like the universe revolves around you and the person you love. Actually nobody really gives a shit.” I am exaggerating, of course, but you get the point.

Conclusion

It has been a long year, as the title alludes. I have written countless essays, and taken countless exams; I wrote till my fingers bled; and I lived, experiencing the three permanent features of life: lunch, taxes, and unrequited love. Now, it is time for me to wrap up. I will write again, so keep following!

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