The Oxonian Review Sat, 23 Jul 2016 15:29:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wrap Up The Week: On Stupidity, Cynthia Ozick, Why Hate Poetry, Snow, And The Nobel Prize Sun, 26 Jun 2016 20:23:13 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents Wrap Up the Week, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. ‘The War on Stupid People’: Going back to the 1950s, David H. Freeman examines the shift in our cultural attitude to the ‘nonsmart’.

2. ‘Cynthia Ozick‚Äôs Long Crusade’: a portrait by Giles Harvey.

“The writers who insist that literature is ‘about’ the language it is made of,” she has said, “are offering an idol: literature for its own sake, for its own maw: not for the sake of humanity.”

3. ‘What‚Äôs The Matter With Poetry?’: Ken Chen reviews Jonathan Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry.

“I read The Hatred of Poetry as a referendum on the lyric, at whose altar Lerner worships, and which I find, to use the language of post-structural hermeneutics, kind of gross. While I may happen to disagree with Lerner‚Äôs often-conservative account, he is unique among contemporary poets for holding out a poetics and a position, which he discusses with remarkable amiability.”

4. ‘A Mind of Winter’: Charlie Fox ponders on artists’ fascination with snow.

5. ‘Mixing memory & desire’ : Dominic Green examines the choice of recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, with particular attention to Patrick Modiano, the 2014 winner of the award.

H. – A poem / a history Tue, 21 Jun 2016 12:41:43 +0000 Theophilus Kwek

The sum of his possessions when
We took him: mortar, pestle. An

Inkwell, dry. Fine dye, coins to weigh
Leaves of grammar, a pillow for

The wrist. Robes, bound in crisp paper.
Where he towelled his feet after

Rain, a stool, chiselled to a squat.
Outside the door a low stair led

Under the alley where they mourned
Their lost seamstress and her husband

To a musty basement, and here
We found last year’s olives in jars,

A little fruit wine, incense like
A talisman. Half of these we took

As gifts to the infirmary,
Leaving the rest for when the time came

To close the accounts, sell the house
With its furnishings complete. Those

Who moved in afterwards, we found,
Had all the right convictions.

Haggai of Oxford, a Christian Deacon and student of Hebrew, was burnt alive in 1222 after embracing the Jewish faith ‘for the love of a Jewess’. – The Dunstable Annals

‘I’m writing this in my favourite spot in Oxford – by the tall, clean windows of a cafe made famous by countless episodes of Endeavour, where the baristas know my order and, in the quieter hours, stop to chat. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of concerts, talks, literary events, and exams, all part of the all-consuming circuit of university life, and uncannily effective at shielding me from the events that have captured hearts and headlines at home and across the world.

I’m reminded that my beautiful city, with its bright windows and bustling community, hasn’t always been like this. A century ago, few of my ethnicity would have been admitted to the university – certainly none who weren’t royalty or otherwise well-connected, and even then, not without a grasp of Latin and the classics. It isn’t just about race: my college only admitted women in 1980, and its first female Warden in 1994. Previously, other markers – visible, invisible – would have ruled out many of my friends as interlopers, outsiders.

Last week, taking a break from revision on a clear evening, I cut across a less familiar part of the city: south from George Street on Bulwarks Lane, down Castle Street through Paradise Square, round the churchyard of St Thomas the Martyr, venturing briefly across Osney before finding my way back down Hollybush Row to St Aldate’s and the city centre.

Here were the landmarks of some of those less visible markers. St Thomas’ church kept a memory of its dedicatee alive after he was condemned by the crown, and later housed the nascent Oxford Movement when they were persona non grata in Oxford’s larger churches. Paradise Square itself, once the gardens of Greyfrairs Abbey, was turned over to planting, then paved over and built on after the Abbey was suppressed, but lived on (in its unusual name) as a folk memory of the frairs’ beautiful topiary. And St Aldates, formerly Great Jewry Street, was home to Oxford’s early Jewish community before many were expelled, and had their properties turned over to the University oldest colleges.

Reading around these spaces, I came across the story of Haggai – the name taken by a Christian deacon and student of Hebrew at the University – who converted to Judaism and was tried for apostasy before being burnt at the stake. His case, recorded by contemporary scholar Henry de Bracton (1210-1268), became a ‘landmark’ in England’s legal tradition for the prosecution of heretics and apostates.

Little more is known about Haggai: in fact, he is often confused with another, Robert of Reading, who also took the name Haggai upon embracing the Jewish faith half a century later. Even less is known about his wife, consigned to the footnote of a footnote. I wonder what persuaded him to embrace the lot of those which his city (and his church) chose to persecute – and what harrowing conditions this couple would have lived under before finally being brought before the authorities. At what point the medieval church, eager to condemn, decided to end this man’s life.

Oxford, today, is a much more inclusive space. The church I which I love and worship at (which has been part of the life of this city since Haggai’s time) has, in my time here, proven slow to judge and always eager to engage: a faithful reflection of Christ’s own example.

But of course within and beyond this city, these are no less pressing questions now than eight hundred years ago. One can’t help but hope that the windows will always remain tall, clean, and open; the light always as bright. The city I’ve learnt to love has, in its own way, been learning to love too.’

Theophilus Kwek is the author of three collections, They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), and Giving Ground (2016). He won the Jane Martin Prize in 2015 and the New Poets Prize in 2016, and was president of the Oxford University Poetry Society.

Landscape and Politics from Reef to Desert Mon, 20 Jun 2016 07:01:58 +0000 Benjamin Pope


Island Home: A Landscape Memoir
Tim Winton
Picador, 2016
ISBN 978-1509816910
£12.08 (hardback)


Tim Winton’s “landscape memoir”, Island Home, begins with his sense of dislocation as an Australian expatriate in Europe, takes us back to his formative years in Western Australia, and to his eventual return. Winton is known in Australia not only for the Booker-nominated Dirt Music and The Riders, but also for his environmental activism, being especially famous for leading the campaign to preserve the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. In his breakthrough novel Cloudstreet, I found it difficult as a schoolboy reader to disentangle my distaste for its cloying sentimentality from my anxiety about its excessive revelry in the cultural cringe. In Island Home, Winton reflects, “what troubled many critics was a potential loss of face in front of our ‘betters.'” When he recounts how he was asked, regarding Cloudstreet, about “what were they supposed to make of it in New York”, I felt a painful recognition of the anxiety I think all Australians have felt at explaining our culture to others – especially in a place like Oxford.

In this memoir, Winton takes on an altogether different tone from Cloudstreet, alternating academic discourse on Australian history, geology, politics and environmentalism, with gorgeous personal commentary on his experiences growing up, moving away, and coming home. He uses it as a frame for an erudite and passionate discussion of the importance of landscape and the natural world; it is perhaps one of the only failings of the book, that Australia is very much the protagonist and Winton, as always, the narrator, and I was left wishing, unreasonably, he had offered more of himself. The land’s starring role is, at least, executed admirably, and is the thread that ties together his politics, his life and his intellectual interests:

In my own lifetime Australians have come to use the word ‘country’ as Aborigines use it, to describe what my great-great-grandparents would surely have called territory. A familial, relational term has supplanted one more objectifying and acquisitive.

The erasure of place from politics is not simply an erasure of identity – it is an expropriation of it, of all the pasts to one present. Paul Kingsnorth has sparked controversy with a recent essay in the Guardian, `England‚Äôs uncertain future’. He baits controversy, blaming left-wing internationalism and immigration for at least some of the problems of England. On the face of it, this is a thesis that is hard to like, and I have no intention of trying. I nevertheless find it interesting that Winton and Kingsnorth, with quite different ostensible political orientations, are both reclaiming the value of place and the parochial: Kingsnorth asks

Is there a future, I wonder, in a kind of ecological Englishness – an identity that sees everyone in England as part of its landscapes and thus its history, and that has us all paying closer attention to them: nurturing them instead of concreting them over in the name of the future, or driving past on the way to somewhere else? Could this help build an identity to compete with, and perhaps replace, both the tired pomp of establishment Britain and the deconstructed coldness of the internationalist left? Could that old, smaller England come out from behind the shadow of Britain once more?

This is a stirring statement of an idea creeping now into mainstream discourse in Britain: George Monbiot’s calls for rewilding Britain, and Robert Macfarlane’s lyrical adventures through place names and old ways command the bestseller lists across the country. But while English landscape and native-Englishness are objects for the Right, as in the case of Kingsnorth, as a colonial state the Australian equivalent is tied intimately and exclusively, so far, to traditionally left-wing issues. This movement must necessarily take a different form: as a land traditionally known not by the Bronze Age ancestors of Macfarlane’s Old Ways, but stolen within living memory from the stewardship of Australia’s Aboriginal people; and as a country whose vast, largely-intact wilds are under attack and conservation is a mainstream political issue. Winton moves freely between these two themes and builds a careful study of his relationship as a white Australian to both issues.

Before colonization, before the dispossession and the genocide, Australia was a quilt of songlines shared by or differing between three hundred thousand or so people in three hundred or so broad nations. Winton notes how

People were chanting and dancing and painting here tens and tens of thousand [sic] of years before the advent of the toga and the sandal. This is true antiquity. Few landscapes have been so deeply known. And fewer still have been so lightly inhabited.

Across language families more diverse than English and Turkish, Banumbirr the Morning Star’s journey was told across the hot north, taking in rivers, forests, coasts, plains, the wet and the dry and the cycles of time. Cultures of disparate customs were and still are tied not only by threads of myth and legend, kinship and exchange, but also by the commonality of the land’s conditions and the particularities of their manifestations. On the 23rd anniversary of his famous Redfern Speech on Aboriginal land rights, former Prime Minister Paul Keating spoke again about Aboriginal Australia:

Aboriginal art and culture draws from the land, for Aboriginality and the land are essential to each other and are inseparable… Whatever our identity today is or has become, it is an identity that cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. For their fifty thousand years here has slaked the land with their resonances, their presence and their spirit. Our opportunity is to rejoice in their identity, and without attempting to appropriate or diminish it, fuse it with our own, making the whole richer.

Winton is careful to neither appropriate nor diminish: he refers extensively to Aboriginal philosophers and activists David Mowaljarlai and Bill Neidjie, ‘Songlines’ author Bruce Chatwin, conservationist and documentary presenter Vin Serventy, and poet Judith Wright, and indeed takes his title from Warumpi Band song ‘Island Home’. I admire his attempts to understand and learn from the Aboriginal relationship to country, which he writes about sensitively and with caution, but I worry that as a cultural movement there is a fine line to tread between respect and appropriation and erasure. Winton treads the line well, but I nevertheless feel uncertain in the broader cultural context.

Winton is on firmer footing discussing environmental issues. While his folksy style occasionally leads him on tangents, for example in a rather trite chapter on our relationship with cars, ‘The Steel Coccoon’, more often, his writing soars with a love of the strange beauty of the landscape, as when he climbs the Cape Range, the shore of the Ningaloo Reef, finding a pair of mummified kangaroos in a cave “like an ancient priestly caste keeping vigil” while “zebra finches animate the middle distance like midges.” His enthusiasm for the Ningaloo is infectious and his activism inspiring, and despite the dire condition of the Great Barrier Reef on the other side of the island continent, Winton reminds us that hundreds of thousands of activists were able to conserve the Ningaloo and there is hope that the same may yet be done further east.

Any account of politics which purports to be universal must also be particular. It must be rooted in the places and experiences which are shared by a community, and also alive to the personal and the private. An Australian identity and an authentic Australian politics must be of this sort: a bond of solidarity based on diversity but also commonality, a fostering of love and respect not for a flag or the pervasive military mythos of the ANZAC Diggers, but for summers at the shining beach and miserable sweaty offices. For old trees cracking pavement and jasmine on railings in spring and jacarandas blooming for every child of the Baby Boom and heralding the crisis of exams. I am drawn to Kingsnorth’s phrase: “A nation is a process, not a fixed thing, but it has continuities nonetheless. It may be a story, but it is not fiction.”

Tim Winton is an ambassador for this Australia. I was particularly struck by one passage, where he describes his reaction as a 14-year-old to protests against whaling in his native Albany, WA:

I was troubled by the high-handedness of some protesters. There was a contempt for working people in general, and country folk in particular, that disgusted me. The inclusive, democratic impulses of visionaries like Judith Wright and Vin Serventy were too often subsumed by something cultic and exclusionary, and the memory of these excesses helped temper my work as an activist later in life.

Given the tortured relationship between the Labor Party and the Greens in the recent and present Federal election campaigns, seeing the common ground between red and green will be crucial in finding any coalition capable of overcoming the nation’s relentless destruction of the natural environment and its heartless persecution of refugees and Aborigines.

Australia is not, though its leaders might be, a “country of second rate people.” Nowhere is. But it is a country of second rate history: it has tried to impose one vision on a continent, a one-size-fits-all just-so story of blokey Diggers and battlers. The history wars are a chronicle of exhausting, slow, bitterly opposed attempts to open things out a little. I am delighted that this book exists, as it gives me hope that a synthesis can be made between the sides of our polarised national identity.

Benjamin Pope is studying for a DPhil in Astrophysics at Balliol College, Oxford.

Khetwadi Hush Mon, 20 Jun 2016 07:01:36 +0000 William Ghosh

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All
Until 6 November
Tate Modern, Bankside

In a 1962 New Yorker profile of R.K. Narayan, the essayist Ved Mehta coined the phrase “Malgudi hush”. “Malgudi” ‚Äì the setting for each of Narayan‚Äôs novels ‚Äì was a small, fictional town in South India: “an infinitely simple place” whose “landmarks ‚Äì the Albert Mission College, the Regal Haircutting Saloon, the railway station, the temple [‚Ķ] ‚Äì all, from book to book, chaotically change position.” The “hush” referred to the quietness of these provincial towns: between the silence of the village and the cacophony of the city. For Narayan, this “halfway house between a static village and an anonymous industrial city‚Äô was the ‚Äòbirthplace of a good novel.”

Bhupen Khakhar was born in Khetwadi, in Maharashtra, in 1934. Like Narayan, a Tamil who lived in Mysore, Karnataka, Khakhar ‚Äì from a Gujarati family ‚Äì did not grow up in his ancestral or linguistic homeland. Also like Narayan, he was (in Mehta‚Äôs words) an ‚Äòhomme de ville‚Äô, “happily urbanized,” yet more at home in a provincial than in a metropolitan setting. “Although it was notionally in South Bombay,” Amit Chaudhuri writes, Khetwadi was “distinct from it [‚Ķ] a small town in a big city, one of the many provincial settlements in a Bombay that made claims to be a great cosmopolitan metropolis.”

After initially training as an accountant, Khakhar studied art criticism at the Baroda School of Art, again (at that time) a small provincial town. Baroda provided the source material for some of his first mature works, his “trade paintings” (as he called them) of the early 1970s. These portraits ‚Äì of a barber‚Äôs shop, a tailor, a watchmaker ‚Äì recall the simplified landmarks Mehta picked out in Malgudi. Painted as if from the street, the square canvas of Barber‚Äôs Shop (1973) shows the barber, tall and rigid, staring out at the viewer, while the customer looks away, absorbed by his own image in the mirror. The “WEL-COM” and “Good-Luck” signs over the door and in the doormat suggest transience and traffic, but the barber here is isolated from the customer, from the street and from the viewer. Depicting contiguity but not closeness, loneliness but not anonymity, it is an arresting portrayal of the melancholy of the provincial high-street.

The title-piece of a major new retrospective ‚Äì which runs at the Tate Modern until November 6th ‚Äì develops this theme. You Can‚Äôt Please All (1981) shows a single, nude man, in the foreground on a raised balcony, looking down on a provincial street scene below him. A man‚Äôs torso disappears under the bonnet of a broken-down car; two men talk; two sit on a donkey; through a window a group can be seen at prayer; a child is seen trying to beat down an orange from a tree. The title of the painting is taken from one of Aesop‚Äôs fables, in which two men are successively ridiculed and censored for walking beside, then riding, a donkey. The moral, Khakhar concludes in a video accompanying the picture, is that “if you can‚Äôt please all you might as well please yourself.” In one sense, the man at the front of the picture does please himself: he is naked and at leisure. But he is also detached from the life of the village, high up on his balcony, leant behind a grey-stone balcony to hide his nakedness from the public gaze.

Dovetailing their interest in townscapes and the provincial, the curators give similar emphasis to the homosexuality of the artist. If small-town life is generically lonely, it can be singularly lonely – or so these paintings suggest – for gay people. Khakhar was openly homosexual and male figures dominate throughout his work, but his portrayals of same-sex love become more explicit in his middle age. Khakhar’s fascination with the penis becomes an object of self-satire in his An Old Man from Vasad who had Five Penises Suffered from Running Nose (1995), whilst Two Men in Benares (1985) and Yayati (1987) are more serious, tender paintings.

Khakar’s unusual way of drawing human figures – the limbs are long and rubbery, the hands and feet enormous – preclude these works from being erotic (the nude in You Can’t Please All, my friend noted in the gallery, looks like he is made up of sausage meat or yoghurt). Instead – for example in Yayati – what is prominent is the urgent attention the two men pay each other. Here, unlike for example in Barber Shop – the two men do not just occupy the same space but look into each other’s eyes. The Yayati legend, in the Mahabharata concerns the contrast of age and youth: King Yayati, sentenced to old age in the prime of his life, allows his son to take on this premature age in his place. Khakhar was interested in mixed-age relationships, and in his version a middle-aged man with silver hair (evidently a self-portrait) descents – with angelic wings – to embrace a blurred, disintegrating figure, gaunt with age. Here, as in many of his pictures, Khakhar includes a doorsein – public scenes in the background of his canvas: two men walking on the river front, three at prayer by a temple – but here, unlike in earlier works, the two central figures have no awareness of the outside world.

In 1998 Khakhar was diagnosed with prostate cancer, succumbing to the illness in 2003. The work of his final years shows a further development on his earlier style. Now, genitalia and anatomical fluidity become grotesque. At the End of the Day the Iron Ingots Came Out (1999), He Took Enema Five Times a Day (1999) and his last painting Idiot (2003) each show the body – and in particular, the penis – draining. In this last painting, the stream flowing from the penis becomes a third limb, running into a shoe, whist a second figure winks at the audience, mocking the grimacing man.

There has been some controversy in the British press about the quality of Khakhar‚Äôs painterly technique, and the organisation of the retrospective. The collection, which includes some juvenilia, is not of a uniform quality. The best pieces ‚Äì some of which I have described here ‚Äì do sit alongside experiments, fragments, and some less successful works. Moreover, the contexts of some of the later, more explicitly political work such as Bullet Shot in the Stomach (2001) was not always sufficiently explained. Nonetheless, Bhupen Khakhar: You Can‚Äôt Please All ‚Äì offers a glimpse into the mind of a fascinating, mercurial artist, and of the provincial, urban world he inhabited. Khakhar‚Äôs provincial “hush” is not the same as “quietness” ‚Äì to hush implies constraint, the suppression of noise, a murmur rather than a silence ‚Äì and the retrospective, accordingly, is not silent but has an understated story to tell. His canvases offer vistas of a now-vanishing mid-century landscape and milieu, and make difficult, sad suggestions about loneliness, constraint, and old age

William Ghosh is a DPhil candidate in English at Exeter College, Oxford.

Rooting Rastafari Mon, 20 Jun 2016 07:01:14 +0000 Alex Assaly


Rastafari and the Arts: An Introduction
Darren J.N. Middleton
Routledge, 2015
ISBN 978-0-415-83188-5
£26.99 (paperback)


In October 2011, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) released their nominations for that year‚Äôs British Academy Children‚Äôs Awards. Amongst the nominees was Rastamouse: a popular stop-motion programme about a crime-fighting reggae band called Da Easy Crew. The programme had debuted in January and before the end of its first 26-episode series the BBC had received 200-odd complaints regarding its stereotyping of Caribbean life. One vocal opponent of the show was Keith Valentine Graham (Levi Roots): the man behind a jerk barbecue sauce called ‚ÄòReggae Reggae Sauce.‚Äô A dialogue between these opposing sides suddenly feels deadlocked. Even in the context of a productive discussion on mainstream media‚Äôs depiction of Caribbean culture, one finds oneself unable to avoid the reductive commercialisation of Jamaica‚Äôs Rastafari. Convenience stores across North America now stock a green tea and honey drink called ‚ÄòMarley‚Äôs Mellow Mood,‚Äô meant to “relieve stress” in a kind of intimation of the effects of smoking marijuana. Plush toys (‚ÄòRastanana‚Äô), clothing (‚ÄòCooyah Clothing‚Äô), hairstyles (‚ÄòSisterlocks’), and soaps (‚ÄòItal Blends‚Äô) offer consumers access to the “moral and cultural capital associated with Rastafari,” as Rivke Jaffe writes (2010), without the stress of leaving the comforts of their class or the law. Consumers facilely find Rastafari, but in a form deracinated or dismembered from “the domain in which it originated.” And, in this commercialized and dislocated context, Rastafari is not discussed as a coherent belief-system; but, rather, as an arbitrary set of decorative symbols: a Lion of Judah, a marijuana leaf, or a chorus of red (‚Äòites‚Äô), green, and gold.

In Rastafari and the Arts: An Introduction (2015), Darren J.N. Middleton makes an authoritative move beyond the commercial stereotyping of Rastafari. His study is enlivening. Middleton gives place to a number of etic (outsider) and emic (insider) perspectives and, by doing so, complicates both the mainstream and the academic discourse on Rastafari. Interviews with Ejay Khan, Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, Geoffrey Philp, Asante Amen, Reggae Rajahs, Benjamin Zephaniah, Monica Haim, Blakk Rasta, Rocky Dawuni, and Marvin D. Sterling give life to Middleton’s rooting or remembering of Rastafari’s complex origins, its developments, and its more recent non-Jamaican incarnations. Rastafari and the Arts is a serious and comprehensive synthesis of and contribution to the current literature on Rastafari.

Middleton knows that a developed discussion of a religion‚Äôs character needs both etic and emic perspectives. He also knows that these two perspectives frequently conflict. In Rastafari and the Arts, such tensions surface from the outset. A study of the Rastafari “religion” is inevitably problematized by the very fact that insiders reject the term. “Religion” implies, as Middleton writes, “a public affiliation with an official religious institution and/or assent to authorized denominational ideas and ethical positions.” The structure and beliefs of Rastafari are too dynamic, too living, too energetic to accept such a rigid term. Rastafari is, instead, a “levity”: a way of life or spiritual lifestyle that is expressed internally (by “living in concert with the vital, pulsating energy that inhabits and animates most, if not all, natural phenomena”) and externally (by practicing rituals that both reflect and promote this energy). “Livity” captures this theological and ritual energy: while the religious worship a “dead god” in the sky (transcendentalism), Rastas worship a “living god” who animates and is accessible to “His” creations (immanentism). To the former, the dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah writes, “stop praying to polluted air” (‚ÄòCan‚Äôt Keep a Good Dread Down‚Äô).

Nevertheless, Middleton uses Ninian Smart‚Äôs “dimensional theory of religion” to define Rastafari. His intentions are constructive. Middleton wants Rastafari, as Marvin D. Sterling does, to be taken seriously as a “coherent and generationally sustained movement, which as such entitles Rastas to the human right to freely and openly practice what [‚Ķ] international law and so on might term as their ‚Äúreligion.‚Äù” Yet, Middleton‚Äôs identification of tenets that all 700,000 to 1 million affiliates (of a “religion” that lacks a central authority) can agree upon proves to be a difficult task. Rastafari is and always has been diverse. “Historically,” Middleton writes, “Rastas have affiliated to one of the three major‚Äô subgroups or ‚Äòmansions‚Äô of the movement: the Nyabinghi, the Bobo Shanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” With the addition of new mansions like Priest Dermot Fagan‚Äôs School of Vision and the rise of non-Jamaican incarnations of Rastafari (Ghanian and Japanese Rastas are discussed at length in the book‚Äôs closing chapter), finding points of communion is becoming increasingly strenuous.

Middleton uses Smart‚Äôs “phenomenological and cross-cultural method” as a functional starting point. Following Smart, Middleton organises his discussion of Rastafari into seven dimensions: doctrinal and philosophical, ritual, ethical and legal, narrative and mythic, social and institutional, and material. He begins with the doctrinal. The primary faith-claim of Rastafari is the divine nature of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 2 November 1930 until his deposition on 12 September 1974. Until recently, Rastas have agreed that Selassie was (or, is) “the Living God, the Returned Messiah and the Representative of God the Father.”

Haile Selassie‚Äôs “sacred throne,” Ethiopia, also holds a special place in Rastafari theology. For Rastas, Ethiopia is not only a holy site, but Zion, the place of salvation, “the heaven of the black man.” The first-generation of Rastafari longed for “repatriation”: a mass exodus to Ethiopia and an escape from the “Babylon system” (“late modern capitalism‚Äôs radical depersonalization of men and women through the cash-nexus alliance”) in which they lived. Rastas found in repatriation a hope of freedom from white dominance (European colonialism and post-colonial capitalism) and a chance to reclaim “a self and ethnic character denied by Babylon.” In recent years, the fight for repatriation has given way to a trust in “rehabilitation”: the “Africanization of the West, which involves opposing racial discrimination, seeking regime change, and affirming the black family as well as community life.”

Rastas supplement their central faith-claims with an assortment of ritual acts. Daily prayers, community gatherings and reasoning sessions (‚Äògroundings‚Äô or ‚Äògroundations‚Äô), drumming and chanting (‚Äònyabinghi‚Äô), the use of marijuana (‚Äòganja‚Äô), distinctive speech (‚Äòdreadtalk‚Äô), and an organic diet (‚Äòital‚Äô) typify the ritual dimension of Rastafari. Many Rastas also find significance in the ritual reading of the Bible. The exegetical approach of Rastafari is particularly noteworthy. A theological corollary to its anti-colonial sentiments is a deep mistrust of traditional Christian interpretations of scripture. To avoid these Christian viewpoints, Rastas approach scripture “through” the ideas propounded in the other texts they deem sacred: the Kebra Nagast (14th Cent), The Holy Piby (1924), The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy (1926), and The Promised Key (1935). The result is an Afrocentric re-shaping of the Biblical narrative. Since they consider the holy patriarchs their forefathers, Rastas understand themselves to be participants in a sacred and specifically black history. The “historical sensibility” of Rastafari (their awareness of the “presentness” of the past) wrenches Biblical “truths” from their historical stasis and brings them into the present. For Rastas, “Babylon” is not only an ancient kingdom, but also a still-oppressive regime; “Israel” is not only an ancient people, but also Rastafari; and the fight between good (Israel) and evil (Babylon) is a never-ending battle.

From the 1930s to the late-1960s, the tension between good and evil enacted itself in the hostile relations between Rastafari and Jamaica‚Äôs middle-class. Two police raids (1941; 1954) on Leonard P. Howell‚Äôs Rastafari commune (‚ÄòPinnacle‚Äô) marked the culmination of this mutual antagonism. To quell mounting tensions, the theorist and Rastafari elder, Mortimer Planno, persuaded academics at the University of the West Indies to publish a study on Jamaica‚Äôs Rastafari. The Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston Jamaica, pressed to the public in 1960, encouraged the Jamaican population to recognize Rastas as peaceful and working citizens. The UWI Report, as Ennis B. Edmunds writes, became the “impetus for a thawing in the conflictual relationship between Rastafari and the rest of Jamaica.”

Middleton uses Edmund‚Äôs summary of the effects of the Report as a turning point in his history of Rastafari. For Middleton, while the Report may have precipitated the quelling of tensions, it was really Rastafari‚Äôs artistic or material expressions that brought about Jamaica‚Äôs “attitudinal adjustment.” He dedicates the majority of his book to describing the contents of these material expressions and their effects on Rastafari‚Äôs relationship to Babylon and to itself. Following the Report, Jamaica‚Äôs acceptance of Rastafari was accelerated by the publication of Roger Mais‚Äôs Brother Man (1954) and Orlando Patterson‚Äôs The Children of Sisyphus (1964). Only a decade later, the films The Harder They Come (1972) and Countryman (1982) gained worldwide recognition; and Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers began playing to massive audiences both inside and outside of Jamaica. The quick success of Rastafari was double-edged: on the one hand, its true message of “peace and love” became clear; on the other, its protestations were drowned by the off-key singing of dancing white tourists.

In Rastafari and the Arts there is an implicit concern for the future of Rastafari. The “religion” is too stereotyped, too misunderstood. Middleton, perhaps, has hope. He sees, I think, in the liberalization (anti-patriarchal, anti-homophobic), secularisation (rehabilitation, the demystification of Selassie), and globalisation (non-Jamaican Rastas) of Rastafari‚Äîvisible in the novels Edgar Nkosi White, Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah, Masani Montague, N.D. Williams, Jean Goulbourne, and Geoffrey Philp, the dub poetry of Jean ‚ÄòBinta‚Äô Breeze and Benjamin Zephaniah, the neo-roots reggae of Asante Amen, Blakk Rasta, and Rocky Dawuni, and the documentary films of John Dollar, Bianca Nyavingi Brynda, James Ewart, Monica Haim, Oliver Hill, and Kevin MacDonald‚Äîa new and authentic dispensation.

But, are these trends enough to sustain Rastafari? The pessimist in me feels that Rastafari is, at best, deadlocked and, at worst, doomed. These ideological changes serve no anti-babylonian purpose (an element of Rastafari that I feel is imperative) without an equivalent formal change. Asante Amen and Blakk Rasta’s music sound too much like the Arthur theme song to be affective. What Rastafari needs, I stress, is formal exploration: the kind of sampling you find in Young Father’s “Romance” (2013) or the experimentation of Sun Araw & M. Geddes Genres Meet The Congos’s Icon Give Thanks (2012).

Alex Assaly is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Cambridge.

Three Poems Mon, 20 Jun 2016 07:01:02 +0000 campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning campbell hangover rosa tongues tiles linguist linguist morning Rosa Campbell

The Linguist

No one respects language the way we do. Ours
is sacred. Consecrated, conserved, reserved
for special occasions. Occasionally we play with it –
tongues pushing untouched food around these
soft palates – but more often it is locked away
like fine china, kept for guests and hidden
from each other. Our words are neat soldiers,
mother tongues at quiet war over fatherlands.
Troops held in reserve, we instead send envoys,
ambassadors who stay diplomatically silent,
sent to represent our love interests. (Careful,
catch that in your throat, keep it a prisoner
until the lights are out.) We have academia
to thank for our taciturn lingua franca, shared
between poetry and grammar: I, the lexis,
you, the syntax. But together we can’t seem to
finish sentences, our reticent tongues limp
behind clenched teeth. Consonants only. We
exist in the margins of the dictionary, the blank
space in the curve of a bracket, the breath
before the last line of this attempt to speak.


Second Person

[it’s a beautiful morning] and all I remember
is someone in my old kitchen telling me
that the way I wrote about my hangover
sounded “preachy,” their voice singing
off the hard tiles that I’m not even sure
we actually had in that flat. I used you
(I mean the second person pronoun but
arguably I should be sorry for that too)
and perhaps they thought that for once
I wasn’t talking about myself, perhaps

they had forgotten the necessity of the mirror,
the familiar address of the self, the daily
undressing of the you/I face off with
each morning. Yes, you, whose forehead I
furrow, whose head our hands half-shave
on the opposite side to mine. I use you,
adversary mine, when I peel sticky lines
off the back you turn to me, cold shoulder
in our bathroom, flinging them down
onto hard tiles that are definitely there.

[it’s a beautiful morning] and I am so glad
I own something. That hangover was yours
so it was mine and this is the only marriage
I think I’ll ever have. I can stand nose to nose
with you (O you, O enemy) and rip out
the studs I wore last night and your heart –
I have full rights over that too. I can preach
fire and hatred and the blueness inside you
will respond to my touch. Speaking of blue,
did I mention that [it’s a beautiful morning]?


You Were Right, I’m Sorry I Left

I regret not letting you hold my left hand
with your right hand, with your left hand
on the wheel of your car as we paused
at the traffic lights on our way downtown.

I was trying very hard to keep things easy
but when we sped through an amber light
and you hit the roof with your right hand
my left hand suddenly felt so empty.


Rosa Campbell is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews and Associate Editor at Valley Press.

‘The Linguist’ was originally printed in Icarus .

Permanency and Progress Mon, 20 Jun 2016 07:01:01 +0000 Edward Hicks

Oxford History

The University of Oxford: A History
Lawrence Brockliss
Oxford University Press, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-19-924356-3
£35.00 (hardback)


An Oxford historian writes a review for the Oxonian Review of another, far more qualified Oxford historian, who has written a history of Oxford University. So far, so parochial. This one-volume tome is, ironically, a concise and popular version of the weighty eight-volume behemoth of an official history written at the turn of the century. Yet a history of Oxford University cannot solely deal with the city and institution alone. It has to consider it within various comparative contexts, and in this weighty yet aesthetically pleasing book Professor Brockliss has managed to balance the parochial with the global. He crams in the origins of the modern tutorial system and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of Victorian student antics, not least their penchant for bread-throwing. He also compares Oxford’s unique model to her sister universities, first in Europe, to which she bore both similarities and differences (even by the end of the sixteenth century Oxford and Cambridge differed sharply from other European institutions), and later of the world. Internal developments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are considered within the envelope of the expansion of British higher education and changing government policies.

Throughout the work Brockliss is keen to stress the interplay of conservative impulses with campaigners for internal reformers and the external pressures for change. He is broadly on the side of the reformers. He contentiously suggests that Oxford’s future may lie in a digital approach to higher education and discusses, without endorsing, independence from the state through self-determined privatisation. One feature of the contest between change and conservation which could perhaps have been further explored is Oxford’s remarkable capacity for inventing new traditions. As Finalists hurry forth to do academic battle in written examinations dating back to 1800, in subjects predominantly formalised into independent courses in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, they often sport carnations, a traditional dating back to the 1950s. Sub-fusc can be dated back to the statutes of Archbishop Laud during the seventeenth century, although it has long since been shorn of its role as an indicator of social class among the students. But modern Oxford is the product of less than two centuries. This is true of the city, which has expanded greatly in geographical and numerical size, as well as of the University’s courses, entry requirements, tutorial teaching method for undergraduates, its ever-growing numbers of students, its focus on research, and a surprisingly high number of its buildings. For postgraduate students, the changes have been even more substantial. In 1986/7 (when David Cameron was in his second year as an undergraduate) there were roughly three-times as many undergraduate students as graduate students, and the latter barely exceeded the number of undergraduates present in 1923/4 (the figures are helpfully tabulated in the book’s appendix). Contrastingly, by 2014/5 there was almost parity between postgraduates and undergraduates. Whilst undergraduate numbers have quadrupled since 1914, they have risen hundred-fold for postgraduates. Similarly striking, the percentage of women as undergraduates, having remained fairly constant in the mid-teens for fifty years up to the 1960s, has risen rapidly to near-parity in the following half-a-century, accompanied by the end of the gender segregation between the colleges. Their professors also have shifted in focus, from predominantly being teachers of undergraduates to researchers, whose job prospects depend above-all on publications and performance in the contentious research excellence framework. Professor Brockliss is therefore quite right to distinguish between the pre and post-1945 universities.

Yet merely glancing around Oxford at its cornucopia of architectural gems (and duds) guards against simplistically discounting the pre-Victorian University as irrelevant to today. Three main threads can be drawn out from amongst the multiplicity of topics covered in this history. These combine the parochial with the global. They fit within wider intellectual and political debates and developments, yet have particular Oxford elements to them. The three threads are: Christianity, class, and the purpose of it all.

Throw a stone in Oxford and you are almost guaranteed to hit a place of worship. Normally this will be a college chapel. Many medieval colleges owe their existence to the religious-guilt of laymen or the benevolence and/or egoism of an ecclesiastic. This side of things is well-known. Oxford was into the nineteenth century primarily a seminary for training priests, first for the Latin Church that stretched across western and central Europe, and then for the Church of England. Only one hundred-and-forty-five years have elapsed since the abolition of requirement for fellows to subscribe to the 39 Articles of the Church of England. Oxford gave its name to the famous High-Church Oxford Movement, one of whose members (John Henry Newman) is hurrying rapidly to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church, and another (John Keble) is memorialised in the college founded in his honour. But what is revealing and unexpected about Brockliss’s narrative is the role of Christianity in establishing the women’s colleges of the late Victorian era. He notes that a major driving factor was the expansion of secondary schooling to girls, with the requisite need, it was thought, for “well-educated but godly schoolmistresses”. The High-Church champions helped found Lady Margaret Hall, St Hugh’s and St Hilda’s, whilst the liberal Low-Church responded by founding Somerville. Even today, in more secularised times, the religious connections of Oxford persist. The impressive Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies commands the skyline overlooking Marston. The choirs of Oxford chapels continue to pour forth divine sound. Oxford colleges still determine the appointment of priests in far-flung parishes. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was the twentieth Oxonian to become ‘Primate of All England’. Grace continues to be said in formal halls; and even May Morning celebrations are marked by the singing of Magdalen College choir from atop their tower. Even in the institution of noted ‘New Atheist’ author and geneticist Richard Dawkins the spiritual still holds its own.

If religion has historically drawn Oxford into the national consciousness and heated debates, so class serves the same role today. This is nothing new. On the 8th July 1831 the radical MP Joseph Hume rose to oppose a Parliamentary grant to fund Oxford professors. Another radical, Henry Hunt (who had been arrested at the infamous ‘Peterloo’ massacre of 1819) joined his criticism, declaring “it was preposterous to expect that the poor weavers and other labourers who were nearly starving, should be called upon to pay for…the education of the sons of the rich.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring-Rice, defended the measure on the grounds that “many of the humblest received the benefit of education in those very institutions.” Admittedly these “humblest” incorporating men such Hardy, son of a naval commander and a servitor, who features in Tom Hughes’s account of Oxford in the 1840s, in Tom Brown at Oxford, the sequel to his more famous Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The relative wealth of Brown and Hardy triggers debate over wealth’s role at Oxford. Sadly these discussions are missing from Brockliss’s work, reflective perhaps of an under-emphasis (perhaps owing to space) on cultural depictions of Oxford, many of which, most famously Jude the Obscure and Brideshead Revisited, continue to shape impressions of Oxford far beyond its ivory towers. Modern parliamentary debates in Oxford would probably see calls for higher public spending on universities from the heirs to Hume and Hunt; whilst government ministers would assuredly censure ‘Oxbridge elitism’. The question of class is nonetheless dealt with insightfully in this history. Strikingly medieval Oxford was dominated by the sons of “yeomen and well-to-do husbandmen”, and in the case of Thomas Wolsey an Ipswich butcher, mainly competing for a small number of parish priest livings. Graduate unemployment and career difficulties are nothing new! The ruling classes, hitherto educated as squires in knightly households, began to populate Oxford through their commitment to the humanist education popularised by Thomas More and Erasmus. Numbers rose to record heights in the seventeenth century. But the civil war reversed this trend. Moreover poorer students, who had acted as servants to their richer colleagues began to see their jobs and income go to townsfolk. From the nineteenth century attempts to widen the demographic intake of Oxford have taken various different forms. These included establishing outposts beyond Oxford (notably Reading University). Ruskin College was another Victorian endeavour, which continues today. Less permanent was the creation of non-college places, which broke down when these students insisted on gathering together and eventually became St Catherine’s College. A more radical idea, proposed ironically by Lord Curzon during his reformist period as Chancellor of Oxford University, was a new college aimed solely at poor undergraduates. Nothing came of this, but abolishing the language requirements (for Greek and Latin) that impeded ‘access’, as it has become known, has come to pass. Sadly no mention is made of the origins of the myth-encrusted admissions interview. Oxford has evolved across the ensuing century into a resolutely middle class institution – how to continue this expansion remains a heated debate, inside and outside the institution.

Another subject on which external impressions and internal views markedly contrast on what is the purpose of an Oxford education. Brockliss highlights a dichotomy between what academics perceive as Oxford’s defining feature (cutting-edge, high-quality research) and public impressions of it as the intellectual grove of the British and global elites, which puts the focus on teaching. This poses a question about the curriculum. In the sixteenth century the humanist critique of the medieval ‘schools’ with its hefty dose of speculative philosophy and theology had been its practical uselessness even for clerics. The same criticism was levelled in the twentieth century. Some academics, such as Godfrey Hardy, Savilian Professor of Geometry in the inter-war years, revelled in it. Hardy reputedly “delighted in telling audiences that pure mathematics brought no public benefit whatsoever.” Such attitudes, despite lamentations about the functional, utilitarian, even philistine nature of successive governments, has receded. “Impact” is the buzzword of research; and the university is adorned with various “schools” dedicated to various vocational subjects. Admittedly a welcome component of these changing attitudes has been the rise of the natural sciences to an eminence equal with Cambridge and with the arts. Equally, whilst some may condemn (on intellectual, architectural or ethical grounds) the Saїd Business School, refusing to engage with the grubby world of commerce looks strange given the business-like nature of colleges as financial institutions and retains a whiff of anachronistic snobbery, however dressed up as hostility to capitalism. Oxford has not, so far, lost out because of the research excellence framework. Moreover, as Brockliss highlights the greater structural question in higher education is less about tuition fees and more about the ways in which people learn.

At times modern Oxford can seem a bundle of paradoxes – an old-fashioned teaching institution mingled with excellent modern research, medieval architectural masterpieces alongside award-winning modern gems, and sometimes stridently left-wing political views jarring with its image as a bastion of conservatism and the establishment. Yet this imperfect institution enjoys a higher reputation and benefits from higher standards of intellectual endeavour among students and academics alike than at any time in its history. Thus, the main message to take from this book would seem to be that Oxford flourishes best when it reforms to conserve, and doing so invariably changes what it conserves.

Edward Hicks is in his third year of a DPhil in history at St Anne’s College, Oxford.

Wrap Up The Week: On Quizz Show Culture, Animal Metaphors, The Demise Of Orality, The Tyranny Of Taste, And Dave Hickey’s Art Criticism Sun, 12 Jun 2016 01:55:52 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents Wrap Up the Week, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. ‘The Totality of Facts’: Christopher Fenwick examines trivia culture

2. ‘Minds Like Ducks: Micah Mattix expands on our tendency for animal metaphors

3. ‘How philosophy came to disdain the wisdom of oral cultures’: Judith E H Smith retraces the gradual abandonment of oral-formulaic traditions

4. ‘The Tyranny of Taste’: Jessica Johnson discusses You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Tom Vanderbilt’s latest book.

5. ‘The Inside Outsider: On Dave Hickey‚Äôs Criticism : Jarett Earnest delves into America’s infamous art critic

Wrap Up The Week: On The Canon, Picasso, Meeting ISIS, T.S. Eliot’s Issues, And Modern Campuses Sat, 04 Jun 2016 15:32:01 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents Wrap Up the Week, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. ‘The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway.’: Katy Waldman advocates for knowing the Canon, without which no real understanding of literature is possible

2. ‘Picasso and the Fall of Europe’: T.J. Clarke’s on Picasso’s mid-career sombreness

3. ‘The Road to ISIS’: Tom Bartlett recounts how anthropologist Scott Atran came to meet with ISIS members

4. ‘Old Possum’s Nest’: Marjorie Perloff delves into T.S. Eliot’s more ‘tasteless’ poetic efforts

5. ‘Free Speech & the Modern Campus’: Camille Paglia on how much the political life of campuses has changed

Wrap Up The Week: Wikipedia the Great, Butterfly Genitalia and Literary Works, The Academy And Physical Exercise, The Limits of Reading, And Against Self-Criticism Sat, 28 May 2016 00:34:38 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents Wrap Up the Week, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. ‘The all-conquering Wikipedia?’: Peter Thonemann points to the danger of a monopoly of information

2. ‘How Butterfly Genitalia Inspired Nabokov‚Äôs Masterpieces’: Susie Neilson explores the connections between entomology and the writing craft

3. ‘When Wellness Is a Dirty Word’: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela identifies the scholarly distrust for physical exercise

4. ‘Expert Texpert’: James Ley negociates the limits and use of reading and critiquing

5. ‘Against Self-Criticism: Adam Phillips on How Our Internal Critics Enslave Us, the Stockholm Syndrome of the Superego, and the Power of Multiple Interpretations’