Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Fifth Week of Wonders

I spent some of the week, as usual, struggling against the rising tide of London Review of Books issues. It's a pleasant struggle, but time consuming. Therefore, I wondered if others, having long since been forced to give up this particular struggle, might be amused by the letter sent in by someone in response to an article by Marina Warner about the bureaucratisation of the life of a university academic. The letter quoted in full another letter - ooh, framing device - sent in 1965 by an Italian historian called Arnaldo Momigliano to his head of department at University College London. The head of department had asked him to account for how he used his time and this is what he replied:

"Dear Cobban

In my Continental timetable of 24 hours a day I divide my day as follows:

(I understand that dreaming is now equivalent to thinking)>

2 hours' pure sleep
1 hour's sleep cum dreams about administration
2 hours' sleep cum dreams about research
1 hour's sleep cum dreaming about teaching
1/2 hour of pure eating
1 hour of eating cum research = reading
1 hour of eating cum colleagues & talking about teaching and research
1/2 hour of pure walk
1/2 hour of walk cum research (= thinking)
12 1/2 hours of research cum preparation (= reading, writing, or even thinking)
1 formal hour teaching without thinking
1 formal hour administration without thinking
24 hours

Yours ever
Arnaldo Momigliano.

The letter that contained this letter was sent by someone from the National University of Ireland and published in the LRB of 22 January, 2015.

Another letter that caught my eye was from the same issue and written by Emma Tristram (Fisher), who lives in West Sussex. It reminded me a) how easy it is to be glibly snide and forget that careless throwaway comments can hurt and b) how much more effective a gentle response to insult is than an aggressive one:

"I love Alan Bennett, of course, always read him with pleasure, and am in addition glad to find he watches the Tour de France for the topography, as I used to do when a single mother with a fractious baby. But I am sorry that he dismisses my grandfather with a single word - 'the dreadful Geoffrey Fisher' - without saying why. I try to interpret his tale as meaning just that Geoffrey Fisher would have been a far worse ex-archbishop of Canterbury than Rowan Williams to have witnessing one's own sermon. That may be so. But still that unspecified 'dreadful' rankles. The further clause, 'who when I was young was for years synonymous with the office' doesn't explain it. Was his dreadfulness so well known and all-encompassing that no reason needs to be given?"

(In the original draft of this blog post, I typed, "doesn't expain it", which also seemed to make good sense in the context - possibly better sense, in fact)

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