Dr. Ian Watson: First World War Poetry

I saw this lecture in 2014. Dr. Ian Watson is an independent scholar and poet who spent many years teaching at the Bremen University as senior lecturer. His lecture covers first world war poetry from Ireland, which is a topic he claims to feel intimately connected to because of his own experience, hearing stories from war veterans as well as reading poetry from the time. Watson proposes the idea that the suffering experienced during that time has created poetry that is filled with intense poetic expression.

Watson makes some important distinctions between (a) combatant and non-combatant poets, combatant poets being those who actually fought in the war, (b) survived and didn’t survive, referring to whether or not the poet made it out of the war alive, (c) patriotic or critical (anti-war), judging the sympathies of the poet in context to the war, and (d) established poets or newcomers, referring to the level of acclaim, which the poet has already come to.

Combatant poets were Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Lt. General John McCrae, and Isaac Rosenberg, who also fall under the category of non-survivors, while those combatant poets who survived are Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden and Laurence Binyon. Non-combatant poets were Jessie Pope, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Sir Henry Newbolt.

Critical poets were Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, D.H. Lawrence, Isaac Rosenberg, Rudyard Kipling, and Thomas Hardy, while Jessie Pope, Rupert Brooke, Lt. General John McCrae, and Sir Henry Newbolt were non-critical of the war. Kipling was non-critical until 1910, experiencing a change from being highly nationalist and pro-war to a more liberal view, when his son was killed in the war.

Watson chooses three war-critical poets to focus on in the lecture: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas. Both Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen did not survive the war. Siegfried Sassoon, however, managed to exit the war alive. Watson highlights the differences between these three war-critical poets by setting them is contrast to poets who supported the war. He also outlines the differences between those poets who survived and those who did not by comparing their work.

After briefly introducing the audience to a pro-war propaganda poem by John McCrae from 1915, which utilizes symbolism a to convey a patriotic message, Watson shows the audience what he calls the most iconic first-world war poem: For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. After that he discusses Vitai Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt, which expresses pro-war sympathies, metaphorically turning the endeavour of war into a sports event, which would appeal to youngsters.

Watson then describes the difference between Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Own, who dealt with the war very differently, not only because of their unlike background, Sassoon being from the upper class, and Owen from the lower class, but also the fact that Sassoon survived, while Owen died in the war. However, Watson explains that, after meeting Owen, Sassoon was highly influenced by Owen’s work. Sassoon engaged in a type of angry anti-war satire poetry. In comparison, Wilfred Owen’s poems are of a more realist nature. Watson describes the difference between Sassoon and Owen as one of satire versus compassion. While Sassoon shows a more privileged perspective of the horrors of war, but still highly critical of the war, Owen’s work details the horrific events that took place in a more realistic light. A further anti-war poet whom Watson introduces the audience to is Edward Thomas, whose poem As the team’s head-brass, details how Britain changed due to the war.

In brief, Watson’s lecture introduces the audience to the different kinds of Irish First World-War poetry and the different perspectives from which it is told.

 

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#BlackLivesMatter Activism and Popular Music as a Challenge of Racial Profiling and Police Brutality

When we look at the history of African-American protest, one of the most prevalent issues being challenged is racial profiling and institutional brutality. And when the topics of racial profiling and institutional abuse of power, namely police brutality, are discussed, two facts become abundantly clear: (1) the two are closely related. The tendency of police in the United States to show a bias towards specific groups and the even more disturbing tendency of police officers to use unnecessary physical force against those specific groups unfortunately tend to go hand in hand. (2) The issues are not as recent as some would think, with the major evidence of this being the ubiquity of said matters in popular African-American media culture throughout history.

However, it is important to acknowledge one fact: Movements and reactions to fight racial profiling and police brutality against African-Americans have become increasingly strong with activist groups having managed to use popular media to their advantage to spread a message of awareness and resistance. The fact that almost all modern liberal news providers have sections for the coverage of issues related solely to African-Americans proves that there has been a surge in media interest in the matter as well as the movements which are created as a counterculture to the popular zeitgeist of apathy and obedience to a system which still promotes institutional racism and shows a terrifying tendency to systematically disregard the lives of African-Americans.

Music has always played a major role in the fight against racial bias, especially covering issues of racial profiling and police brutality. From Jazz to Rap music, African-American musicians have, for many years, chosen to use music as a way to challenge political and institutional systems and have been successful in spread their message of discontentment and anger. The discontentment is directed not only at a system which expects obedience from groups it chooses to disregard and systemically prejudge, but also at one which discourages support for their cause. Apart from entertaining people, music is often used as a tool to help people either see the misrepresentation of the African-American community and to encourage changes or to help people who are at odds with their own identity, see that they are, in fact, being misrepresented and prejudged and how to go about finding healthy ways of dealing with those feelings and fighting the issue.

In recent years there has been an increase in media interest in the matters of racial profiling and police brutality as well, largely due to technological advances such as smart phones and cameras making it a lot more likely to catch police in the act of physically assaulting or even killing African-Americans. Such as was the case with Trayvon Martin, a young African-American whose killing encouraged people all over the United States to come together in an attempt to assemble a countermovement against racial profiling. This movement started as a hashtag on the social media forum Facebook and was called #BlackLivesMatter.

The movement encouraged musicians in the American music industry to challenge institutional systems in an attempt spread awareness of people losing their lives due to racial bias. It can be claimed that this recent increase in activism has a lot to do with mainstream music scene while the music scene is profiting from the exposure of the matter. This almost symbiotic relationship between the social activism behind #BlackLivesMatter as the major representative of modern day ‘black’ protest and the mainstream music coverage of the matter and how both have created social change will be shown in this analysis by investigating some prevalent examples.

 

to read the rest, please check out my ebook:

http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/352625/we-gon-be-alright-analysis-of-the-relationship-between-blacklivesmatter

 

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“Reflections on how to read Africa”. A lecture by Dr. Louisa Uchum Egbunike

Dr. Louisa Uchum Egbunike is a lecturer at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, who presented her fascinating lecture at Bremen University in 2016. Her focus of research is African literature, specifically Nigerian literature and its authors. The lecture topic is representative of her PhD thesis topic ‘The Igbo Experience in the Igbo Nigerian Novel’, which proposes that African literature tends to utilize specific techniques to challenge the way in which Africa and Africans are seen and understood. One way in which this is achieved is proverbs, which Dr. Uchum Egbunike highlights in her lecture. She puts specific focus on Igbo proverbs from Nigeria.

Dr. Uchum Egbunike explains that, in West African oral tradition, proverbs are a commonly used form of artistic and philosophical expression. Usually highly metaphorical, proverbs are used to “illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration and advice” (Uchum Egbunike: 2016), and often connected to philosophical concepts, which give the reader a specific insight into the world they represent by means of implicit conveyance. In this way, proverbs add something special to language, which specializes and focusses meaning to convey a sense of the environment they stem from.

To exemplify the use of proverbs in Nigerian literature, Dr. Uchum Egbunike introduces the audience to author Chinua Achebe, a prominent Nigerian author, poet, critic and professor. One such utilized proverb in Achebe’s work is “Onye ije isi awo ihe ama”, which Uchum Egbunike explains as being representative of an idea that, by far, exceeds the literal translation. She explains that the proverb supports multiple assumptions: Firstly, it details the Igbo experience of the traveller, who is commonly understood within the Igbo community as someone who has something very special to offer to his environment. Secondly, the proverb introduces the construction of a hierarchy which is based on the perceived wisdom and worldly knowledge of the traveller. And thirdly, it suggests the idea of a fixed homeland, portraying the Igbo people as homebound and showing patriotic sentiment. This is further detailed in Achebe’s novel No Longer at Ease (1960), which Uchum Egbunike describes as representative of the described sentiment conveyed in the proverb. The novel tells the story of an Igbo man who leaves his home to study in Great Britain. While telling his story, the novel details the protagonist’s feeling of being pressured to perform, and the tensions created by the sense of distance. Uchum Egbunike describes that the protagonist comes to an understanding of himself as a Nigerian person, which is largely due to the distance from home offering him a new perspective.

Uchum Egbunike also details another novel which is exemplary of the idea portrayed by the proverb: Our Sister Killjoy (1977) by Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo. The novel tells the story of a young Ghanaian woman who studies in the UK. It strongly utilizes the idea of returning home, explicitly and implicitly, and is closely linked to Ghanaian history, while expressing strong sentiments against the historical disruptions caused to Ghana by the slave trade, with a specific focus on Ghanaian women. Uchum Egbunike theorizes that Aidoo makes use of symbolism such as the Sankofa, which symbolizes a return, and utilizes choppy typography to instil a feeling of “structural anarchy”, which is functional as a textual subversion of structural norms, to rebel against white male centred narratives, while constantly alluding to the idea of the travel strengthening the sense of home.

In brief, Dr. Uchum Egbunike illustrates clearly in her lecture that West-African proverbs are vast in meaning and are commonly used to convey philosophical concepts in a simplistic way.

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Dr. Derrais Carter: Refusal and Possibility in Black Narrative History

Dr. Derrais Carter is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. I watched his lecture and felt it would be prudent to summarize it for anyone interested and on a path to researching African-American history. His lecture explores the ideas behind a research project he has been working on, which puts into question “the way in which Black history is and should be told, to give historians the options of refusing to include certain details to protect people involved” (Carter: 2016) and be critical about the documents representing the history in question. Carter uses a 1919 scandal as an example for his argument, which is basically that there is a problem with the way in which Black voices are treated and represented throughout history.

The scandal in question involves self-proclaimed scientist and researcher Herman M. B. Moens, who focussed his studies in the late 19th and early 20th century on racial mixture and proposed the idea that there was a close link between Black people and apes, before changing his theories later on and asserting that Black people were actually the next step in human evolution. However, while being funded and supported by African-American organizations which challenged racial injustice, he systematically used his supposed research, which included photographing naked African American children, as a way to get close to young African American girls, which he had become sexually interested in. Later, Moens was investigated and surveilled by the FBI, which used one of the African American girls which Moens had been sexually assaulting, to get proof of his actions and the FBIs theories of him being a spy. Carter explains that the fact that the 17-year-old African American girl was wrongfully utilized as a tool in an FBI investigation against Moens, and the FBI documents showing that they were aware of Moen’s actions for years, as well as the lack of the school system’s care for the situation of the children shows not only extreme institutional racism but also leads to the question of the credibility of the FBI reports as historical evidence. Moreover, the documents in question follow of narrative which represents the young African American girls as sexually deviant and guilty of their own shortcomings, which is symbolized by referring to them as grown women rather than young girls.

The scandal and its documentation supports Carter’s argument that there is a difficulty in portraying history for African Americans. The young girl’s accounts of the events were only briefly included in the FBI’s documentations, all the while depicting her as a sexually available woman, when, in reality, she was inappropriately used and sexually assaulted by Moens. Carter introduces the idea of excluding everything from the historical account other than the voice of the young African American girl, without using her name, thereby embracing the limits of the research to tell her story only. The common exclusion of the victim’s accounts in African American history is a problem which has been analysed also by Professor Christina Sharpe, whose theories Carter bases his findings on.

In brief, Carter’s lecture presents the audience with the problem behind the telling of Black history and exemplifies this by presenting the case of the young African American girl who was sexually abused by Moens and used by the FBI as merely a tool, all the while being disregarded as valuable enough to actually be heard in the documentation used to describe the scandal.

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How the Liberal Media Strengthened the Monster via ‘Linguistic Neglect’: Trump

Donald Trump’s rise to fame started before he ever decided to run for president. His muppet like antics and his inability to watch his mouth are something many stressed out, pissed off, overworked and large-dreaming Americans love. He is entertaining. Not in the way Bush was, I mean, you would not want to have a beer with the man, but you would definitely want to listen to him give a pyramid scheme type speech about how to become rich AF. And you would believe him. Because he talks like you. He doesn’t seem to have a higher IQ then you, either, which makes it very likely that you could achieve what he has achieved.

And, let’s admit it. The media loves the guy. He is just so damn newsworthy. Scandals reigning as if TMZ’s editor in chief was running the show. And it isn’t just the Republican news sources that love talking about him. News sources claiming alliances to the Democratic party are as much part of the problem. How? By talking about him as much as they did and by adding certain linguistic features to their articles that are naturally going to get us thinking about his legitimacy. I mean…could he be right after all? He seems scary. Life is scary. Should I follow him?

There have been many ideas and thoughts circling around claiming that the media is at fault for Trump’s rise in popularity. They have been covering his presidential campaign like it was going out of style. Like he actually had something important to contribute. But the manipulation goes much deeper.

So I took it upon myself to take a closer, linguistic look at the array of news articles covering the Republican presidential campaign to see if I could find a pattern of subliminal Trump-Love coming from the liberal news sources. And, OMG, did I find it. I am sorry to say this but I am pretty sure the liberal media actually helped people cross over to the dark side. Not because they said nice things about him, but because they made him seem larger than life, like he could not be beaten. Like he was a small man with a huge force of power behind him. Up there on that pedestal with Darth Vader and Leather Face, he achieved what every entertainer…uhm, sorry… politician wants. FAME. Americans love famous people. They soak it up and bathe in it. Even liberals  (Don’t lie!) So thank you, liberal media, for, rather than opposing or even distracting from Donald Trump’s bullshit campaign…you pulled out the red carpet.

When linguists want to find patterns, they analyze a collection of texts. I chose ten texts from different liberal news sources including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and The Huffington Post.

First I wanted to get a better idea of the skill level of the journalists, considering that their linguistic skill could have an influence on the word choice of the articles. I found that the overall lexical density of the texts, which is something linguists use to determine the proficiency of authors, mainly focused on their vocabulary, was about 39%. This number is very normal. It implies an average level of proficiency and is a very common result when investigating most articles put out by major news sources. So we could not blame the intellect or journalistic ability of the authors here.

After that I checked out the most frequently used words. “Trump” is the only candidate, whose name appears in the top 30 most frequently used words in the articles, with “Carson” coming in second. Terrifyingly enough, however, while the Donald comes in at Nr. 4 of the most frequent freaking lexical nouns, Carson is Nr. 29. I mean, that is a huge difference.

And not only does Trump’s name pop up a whole lot of times, but the words surrounding his name are absolutely terrifying: the most common verbs used in sentences regarding his presidential campaign are ‘defeat’, ‘fight’, ‘beat’, ‘oppose’ while the adjectives are usually words that imply a certain degree of status or power such as ‘large’, ‘radical’, and ‘super’.

So what does that mean? Well…it means we are supposed to fear him, doesn’t it? And what do humans do when they are afraid? What are the two most common reactions? – Submission or resistance.

Now if we take a look around ourselves right now. Go ahead, take a look out of the window! Do you see much resistance? Do you see people fighting their labor-slavery? No?

Me neither!

So  I guess my point is, the liberal media needs to stop following trends. If you really want to make a difference, be as progressive as you claim, then don’t hold people back by worrying about keeping up with gossip, fear-mongering and trends.

Because it is likely that Donald Trump becomes President of the United States and if he does, I BLAME YOU, because you should have known better!

 

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Great Britain’s Unwritten Constitution

 

Great Britain is a country with a vast history. It has endured many years of existence and many changes have taken place. From a political perspective, a written constitution is a considerable step in the establishment of a working government. Many civilized countries take it for granted. The United Kingdom, however, does not have one. It has an ‘unwritten constitution’ which is mainly based on statutes, common law and conventions. Common law is a law which is developed over time from decisions based on rulings of courts, which are called statutes, while conventions are simply customs that have been accepted as the norm over time. Conventions are not written down. This may seem preposterous to some people. Many citizens of the United States, for example, who love to proclaim their constitution as the ‘holy grail’ of their ‘god-given rights’ would, most likely, shriek at the idea of giving up their written constitution. Nonetheless, there are advantages and disadvantages to keeping the constitution unwritten.

The disadvantages may seem more obvious than the advantages at first look. What would a written constitution offer the citizens and what would it change for the government? First of all, a clear set of rules would exist. This would instil a sense of certainty in people. In turn, this also means that there would be a given set of human rights which would protect the citizens in their individual liberties. Giving the people a sense of political transparency may help people feel less endangered by the political identity of their nation. Since it is likely that the constitutional court would be represented by a decision-making-body that stands for justice, it would offer a system of fairness and neutrality. This would also change the relationship between the government and the people in a way that would make it more difficult for the government of the United Kingdom to impose its current system on the people. For example, the first-past-the-post election system would be more difficult to justify if a rule of democracy and fair voting were written down and exclaimed as a right of the public. However, constitutions change over time. Any adjustment done by the government could lead to a loss of the right to a certain liberty which was once taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why the unwritten constitution has its advantages.

First of all, an unwritten constitution is highly flexible. It has a much higher ability of adapting to changing times. In the case of a written constitution it would, therefore be much more difficult to change the laws and human rights that have been established, which is problematic considering the changing cultural morality of the public. This process would be much easier to bring about in the case of an unwritten constitution, as the laws are already in a constant flux of change. Furthermore, how likely is it that members of the constitutional court could be corrupted and coerced to no longer represent a just system? Should an unelected judicial body really be given this much trust to represent the rights of the citizens? Not to mention, a constitution is usually a document that is ridden with legal language which is hard for people to understand. So how hard would it be to deceive the people into thinking that it means something different? If it is mostly lawyers and judges who can understand the terminology, one should wonder: Who can afford the better lawyers? Another disadvantage of the written constitution and therefore representative of an advantage of the unwritten one is that it opens doors for political bias. A particular set of ideals and guidelines is established. This is, of course, highly generalized and does not take into account the many different backgrounds of the people. An unwritten constitution offers a system of less prejudice which may be more inclined to see people as individuals instead of representatives of certain predetermined dilemmas. This could provide people with a highly individualized way of being judged.

The unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom is a much discussed topic. Most people view their written constitution as a ‘pillow of safety’, when, in reality, it may not be and should, as anything, be questioned as to how much it really provides one with what people hold as their basic rights. It has become apparent all over the world, that just having a written constitution may not be enough to provide people with a basic set of laws and rights. The unwritten constitution seems to be more adaptable and more open to individualized ways of judgement while the written constitution provides a barrier for corruption and blatant disregard of human rights. It is hard to conclude which could provide the nation with a better basis for morality and liberty, because both seem to have advantages while, in nature, completely defying each other.

 

 

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Why Great Britain is not really a Constitutional Monarchy

The United Kingdom is considered a constitutional monarchy with a unitary government in the form of a parliament. This term will now be put under the microscope: Is it really representative of the current system? Here are some interesting facts: The Monarch is the head of state while the Prime Minister is the head of government. Her Majesty’s government controls the Executive power while the parliament of the United Kingdom regulates the Legislative power. Her Majesty’s government is the central government of Great Britain, which is said to govern in lieu of the Queen’s will.  Legislative power is regulated by the two branches of parliament, which are comprised of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Throughout this post it will become evident, however, that neither the House of Lords, nor the monarch have much influence. It will also become apparent that the first-past-the-post election system, which characterizes the British general election system, contributes greatly to the perpetuation of dominance of the two leading parties in parliament. On the surface, Great Britain represents an image of a co-operation of monarch and parliament, when, in reality, it is evident that the political image of a constitutional monarchy, which it tries to uphold, is not easily justified.

The parliament of the United Kingdom is composed of two political Houses, of which only one can truly be spoken of as having true influence. The House of Lords, which used to flaunt its hereditary aristocratic influence, has lost much of its power. Having been comprised of high nobility, including lords and priests, also called Lords Spiritual, it was viewed in the past as a perfect governmental representation of the monarchy and its ideals. The present-day situation looks much different. The House of Commons – the branch of parliament which is composed of its elected members – has the greatest amount of influence in the decision-making process. The Prime Minister, who advises the Queen on which members to appoint for the House of Lords, is also, by nature of the electoral system, the leader of the majority party. This Prime Minister also chooses the members of Cabinet, which is behind many of the major decisions. It is easy to conclude that a system where one party, if not one person, holds much of the power, cannot be understood as a just one. This becomes even more obvious when investigating the British election system and how it affects the ability of minority parties to be part of the ‘think-tank’ behind the major decisions.

The first-past-the-post system of the British government is a plurality voting system, in which voters are granted the right to vote for only one candidate. The candidate with the most overall votes is then elected to be a member of parliament. This implies that the elected member does not need an absolute majority. It also means that votes are often wasted or not well thought-through because of the limited possibilities. Since there is a limited number of possible members for parliament to choose from, one is likely to choose the one who had the best chance against the one who is in power, if one is so inclined to desire a change in the system. In a system like this, absolute domination of two parties in parliament, one of them playing the greatest part in the workings of parliament on an election-term basis, is inevitable. This kind of system is one of tactical manipulation which encourages a type of compromise on the side of the people that cannot be considered fair to the public. It looks like a just system on the surface when, in reality, it is highly limited and limiting.

Another issue, which has to be addressed when investigating the validity of term “constitutional monarchy” is that of the decreasing influence of the monarch. The Queen still has her royal prerogative, which includes appointing the Prime Minister and dissolving the government, if necessary, but most of her influence is merely ceremonial. To make it more formal, it has actually been established in the Magna Carta that the royal prerogative can only be acted upon under consent of parliament. The monarch is, undoubtedly, the most popular representative of Great Britain. The Queen, as well as the royal family she is head of, is celebrated in many forms and people all over the world are taken with the beauty of the rituals and traditions. However, that is the extent it takes. The royal influence has become a ceremonial facade, behind which the parliament ‘pulls the strings’ and makes the decisions which affect the citizens of the United Kingdom.

The workings of the British political system are, by no means, transparent or easy to comprehend. On top of that, much has changed over time, with many of the changes having played out in favor of a two-party parliament, with turns being taken on one of them perpetually leading on a basis of absolute power. The monarch has lost influence. The House of Lords has been cut out of the decision-making process and the voting system does not seem to really justly support the will of the people. So the question remains: Can Great Britain be referred to as a constitutional monarchy?

 

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