Dr Stacie Friend, from Birkbeck College, University of London, spoke to both branches of the Williams Project. She asked us why, when we know they don’t exist, do we still care for characters in stories and films? In particular, she asked if emotional responses to fiction are the same kind of emotions which we experience in real life, and, secondly, whether such emotions are irrational?
She set out these problems in the form of the ‘Paradox of Fiction’:
- We experience emotions toward fictional characters, situations and events.
- We do not experience emotions when we do not believe in the existence of the objects of emotion.
- We do not believe in the existence of fictional characters, situations and events.
It was a very interactive afternoon, with some very stimulating contributions. Stacie continued the discussion into the evening, and we are very grateful to her for her time and expertise.
The second Williams Project this term was presented by Nicholas Spice, publisher of the London Review of Books. He began the talk with an introduction to the LRB, with samples handed out to give us an insight of what it looks like. Then he gave us an extract from the first draft an LRB writer had produced and the actual published version as an example to explain how the editors do their job. He raised many interesting points such as how our views on a piece’s reliability can be influenced by the way we use words. He also talked about the link between journalism and literature and how it has changed with time and the development of technology. In the end he took many interesting questions from us and told us the story of how he became a publisher. He also made predictions regarding the publishing businesses and the dramatic impact on the traditional bookstores from some new platforms like Amazon. The LRB has a bookshop with a wonderful selection of books, and Mr Spice told us stories of the authors he knew and some anecdotes about them. The talk was impressive and it was a rewarding experience for all of us.
This time our special guest was Adisa the Verbalizer, a performance poet and a splendidly original and fresh artist. His first public performance in the summer of 1993 was shortly followed by a success of world-wide scale – Adisa came first in an international competition titled “New Performance Poet of the Year”.
“Answer any question with a poem?”: Adisa replies with “Challenge accepted!” And this was exactly the essence of our highly interactive session. Our performance poet was bombarded with varied questions, from “Do you have a dog?”, through enquiries into his political views, to the question posed by humanity from the beginning of time: “Does God exist?” The answers were as varied as the questions. Some were amusing, others entirely serious, but all were poems which left space for one’s personal interpretation and answer. The questions asked were aimed at ourselves as much as at Adisa, so the challenge for the participants was to tackle them individually.
Those wishing to find out more about Adisa the Verbalizer and performance poetry are welcome to his site www.adisaworld.com.
On Tuesday September 25th Old Chigwellian Dr Nicholas Perkins visited the WP. He now teaches English at St Hugh’s College Oxford, and spoke about Old English poetry: what makes it special and different, and how it has inspired writers and poets through the centuries. Using an excellent handout he took us through the principles of the alliterative meter, as well as the heroic subject matter of this oral medium. We read some Beowulf and compared the Old English text of The Wanderer with Auden’s Old-English-style updated version. We then moved, through Tolkien, to Heaney, where we focused on how he used his experience of Old English poetry to cut through the English/Irish antithesis of his Northern-Irish upbringing when writing about the the “Troubles”. And finally some riddles.
Overall a scholarly, clear and wide-ranging illustration of the powerful insights we can get from a chronologically long look at poetic culture.
Our own Mr Fletcher spoke to the WP about the stories of Dr Faustus, from the real-life prodigious scholar, and the stories his life generated in Germany, through its transition to Britain and Christopher Marlowe’s famous tragedy, to its reappropriation by the young nationalist “Sturm und Drang” movement in Germany, under their leader Goethe. Mr Fletcher showed us how, with Goethe, the story developed over his life from an innovative and powerful stage piece (Faust Part 1) to an extended meditation on life, the universe and everything (Part 2), which was completed in the year before Goethe’s death. We learnt how the man who had studied everything, but realised that he still knew nothing of importance, was corrupted by the devil Mephistopholes, ruined the life of the innocent peasant girl Gretchen, and was finally, contrary to most other versions of the tale, at the very end saved from damnation.
Alan Stubbs, an up-and-coming poet, and brother of the Deputy Head of our Junior School, gave three talks to the Williams Project on what he thinks poetry is, and what he thinks it’s for. His talk was illustrated by several of his own poems, including the Arvon-prize winning ‘a philosophical provocation’, an intriguing attempt to describe a tree in ways which take the reader through various stages of reality: from literal ‘scientific’ truth, to wonderfully rich ‘poetic’ sounds and images, to surrealism, and on to using the tree as a metaphor for the very attempt to describe itself – and all in 16 lines! Other poems included “To Ithaca”, the only poem Alan has deliberately ‘constructed’, written for his daughter’s marriage. It’s a haunting piece which uses the Japanese ‘kesa’, a formal garment made from reused silk, as an image for the ceremonial strength and deep-rootedness of marriage itself.
Ms Rex gave an adapted version of this talk to the IIIrd & IVth-form WP about what the great traditions, from Homer and the Old Testament, through Plato and into Christianity and Dante, have said about what of our selves survives after death. An episode of the Simpsons (“Heaven and Hell”) reinforced the ideas she was discussing.