Red: Religious Buildings

Let’s begin with religion…

The red pins on the map are for religious buildings I visited. As I said before, some of the places I visited that would’ve fallen under certain categories are not shown, for they are not on my map of Central London. Some people suggested that I guesstimate where the pins would fall and plot them anyway, but I decided against that. This map is the only map that I personally used throughout my entire trip to London. It’s torn and has some highlighter stains on it (as did a pair of my shorts I had to get rid of); the places not shown, such as Highgate Cemetery, were places that I relied almost solely on the directions my professors provided the class with. I didn’t use a physical map to get to those places, so I’ve chosen not to physically map them.

There are four red pins on the board: Westminster Abbey, St. Mary Le Bowe, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and St. Clement Danes. It was hard to find some of the churches on the map because there are so many churches in London! Jeez! Red crosses can be found every few centimeters on the map. This study abroad session has shown me that religion plays many roles on Englishness. I’m not a very religious person myself; yes, I believe in a higher power and try to live a good life and pray sometimes, but organized, institutionalized religion is not exactly governing my life. While in London, I noticed how people, including myself, were affected by the inescapable presence of religion due to the abundance of churches on every corner.

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My class went on a church tour, visiting all of the churches mentioned in The London Scene by Virginia Woolf. St. Paul’s was the first stop on our tour, where some very noticeable things happened. Michel Foucault said in an interview that, in order to understand an architectural space, one must consider “the effective practice of freedom by people, the practice of social relations, and the spatial distributions in which they find themselves. If they are separated, they become impossible to understand. Each can only be understood through the other.” While visiting the churches, I kept an eye out for these factors.

“one must take him – his mentality, his attitude – into account as well as his projects, in order to understand a certain number of the techniques of power that are invested in architecture

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The actual cathedral of St. Paul’s can be seen from miles away; the architecture is breathtakingly enormous and asserts the power of the church for all to see. How everyone was occupying the space around the building was equally as fascinating as the architecture itself. People on the steps of St. Paul’s were eating lunch in business suits, congregated in groups or taking pictures, students (both elementary and college level) and learning about the history of the cathedral; everyone was casual and seemed to move relatively freely about the stairs. What was interesting was how everyone was talking; the noise level was super quiet and respectful, especially for the amount of people around. Though from a distance it might’ve appeared that everyone outside St. Paul’s was oblivious to it, once you took a closer look (and listen) the presence is felt by all. People control their voices and keep them down to a quiet, meditative level that is unobtrusive to those surrounding. Everyone is a bit more respectful of each other here than in other places I visited.

DSC_0694St. Mary Le Bowe’s and St. Clement Dane’s were quite different from St. Paul’s; the churches were much smaller and this affected how people occupied the space. Mary Le Bowe’s has a cafe in the basement, which seemed to receive more attention than the church itself. Clement Dane’s was located in the middle of the road and the inside is no longer open to the public. The smaller sized churches were easily forgotten about; one can argue that this is because of their size and where they are in the city. Mary Le Bowe’s might be using the cafe to try to get more people into the church, while Clement Dane’s simply faded away. Either way, the people occupying the space around these two churches were almost completely unaware of their presence. Mary Le Bowe’s is a tiny little church wedged into a street; Clement Dane’s is in the middle of a busy highway and out of the way. These factors definitely contribute to the fact that they are less frequented by the public.

I won’t go into detail about Westminster Abbey (there’s a whole other blog post about that one- check it out!) but even though some of these buildings have fallen out of use to the public, they still contribute to the overwhelming presence of Christianity in London. These buildings perpetuate the dominance that Christianity has over Englishness.

Stringing it together…

Time to string!

Time to string!

Tying together the loose ends

String, super glue, wire cutters & scrap paper

   Now that the pins are in place, it’s time for the final step! 

While in London, I stayed in Connaught Hall, a college dorm located in Bloomsbury. This became my home base during the stay; for this project, I marked Connaught Hall with a silver nail, and used it as the center point. Every string on the board leads back “home.”

 

 

Starting on the pin side, I used a tiny bit of super glue on the string and wrapped it around the pin, holding for about 20s. Once dry, I worked the string over to the nail and glued it around there. It started to get hard towards the end! There was just the right amount of space on the nail.

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DSC_0692The end result might not be that appealing to the eye, but that will be fixed once the board is hanging on my wall. Seeing how far I traveled to go to certain places and how local I stayed for others is fascinating…Time to ponder that in another blog!

Beginning to Physically Map London!

Time for me to start physically mapping my experience!

For this project, I took my map of Central London that I constantly used while studying abroad and glued it to a piece of cork. I also included a map of the tub underneath.

My map of Central London and the Tube on cardboard

My map of Central London and the Tube on cork

At Michael’s craft store, I bought a box of “map pins” to mark off all of the places I visited in Central London.

Map Pins

Map Pins

 

 

Some of the places I went to during my stay are not  located on this map, so they will not be included in the  “Mapping London” project.

 

 

 

 

Mapping!

Me mapping!

 

I hadn’t realized how difficult it was to navigate a map when you aren’t actually on the streets, figuring out how to get to your destination. Even using Google to find the address of the places I was trying to map wasn’t much help!

 

 

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Why so lonely?

Hmm, this looks interesting…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas about next few blog posts started to percolate…Why is there a group of multi-colored pins clustered over here? What’s the significance of the lonely yellow pin in the corner of the map?

Race, Ethnicity and Class in Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album

Writing from my room in Bloomsbury

Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album was filled with tension between races and classes, so much so that it’s difficult to discuss all of the representations in one blog post. Another reason this post is difficult that due to the amount of political and historical content in the novel that I didn’t understand, a lot of reasoning behind the tensions in the novel was lost on me. That being said, I’d like to focus on the tensions between Deedee Osgood and Riaz (and his friends), and Shahid and his sister in law. Deedee Osgood, a professor of English, is portrayed as the privileged professor with all of the knowledge. In the beginning of the novel, Shahid, the narrator, is entranced by her wealth of knowledge. “How had he lived so long without this knowledge?” he wonders while in one of her classes, “Where had they kept it? Who else were they concealing it from?” (36). Because of her white privilege, Deedee exists freely in the world. She is invited to insane parties where she has access to whatever kind of drugs she wants to take, her and her husband cheat on each other as long as the person they are seeing doesn’t come into the house, and she can teach the material she deems important to her students. Her position in society had given her these liberties.

Unlike Deedee, Shahid, Riaz and the rest of his group exist in a restricted part of society. They aren’t ascribed with privilege and by the first few pages of the novel, the characters are acutely aware of it. “Why can’t I be racist like everyone else? Why Do I have to miss out on that privilege?” Shahid exclaims to Riaz. The  Muslims in the novel are oppressed and seen as others in the society. Deedee tells Shahid that another student in his position felt that he felt “I am homeless…I have no country,” and this is true for the others in the novel. They are confined to certain parts of the city, specific building, even on the streets; they must be very careful of the space they inhabit. If they don’t stick to the space they’ve been allotted, it might have horrible consequences.

What’s important about Kureishi’s novel is that in the end, both Shahid and Deedee must deal with the repercussions of trying to exist in parts of society they are not allowed to occupy in this tense turning point in history. In one of the last scenes of the novel, Deedee tries to interfere with the burning of the book and the crowd gets angry at her. Deedee is asked, “are the white supremacists going to lecture us on democracy this afternoon? Or will they permit us, for once to practice it?” then told to “get off, white bitch!” The white privilege she uses to get her way throughout the novel is no longer protecting her; the people her privilege has oppressed have taken action against her. 

Later that night, Riaz and everyone else invade Deedee’s home with Shahid inside. The Muslims are trying to regain the space that they were denied because of their lack of privilege, and physically storm Deedee’s house as an extreme display of their struggle. Shahid, Deedee and Chili (Shahid’s brother) are all somewhat injured from this attack. At the end of the novel we see that both sides of the battle have suffered some sort of loss. The only person that presumably remains unharmed is the only white male character of the bunch, Dr. Brownlow. Throughout all of this tension and violence, he escapes and isn’t directly affected by it. The most privileged one of the bunch, Brownlow, escapes, while the two oppressed groups duke it out and leave with damage. Kureishi, in the last few chapters of the novel, show the reader through Brownlow that the white privileged male chooses to stay safe and let those less privileged groups, women and Muslims, fight for something beneath him.

Glastonbury: Myth and Englishness

Writing from the basement and my room in Connaught Hall, Bloomsbury

Site of King Arthur's Tomb

Site of King Arthur’s Tomb

This sign, standing among the remains of Glastonbury Abbey, reads:

Site of King Arthur’s Tomb. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south site of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to the black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.

Take a second to read over the inscription another time. Initially, the sign seems to be marking something of immense importance, of sheer greatness. But going back and reading it through a second time, the greatness starts to show a few cracks. The bodies of Arthur and Guinevere “were said to have been found,” though there was no definitive proof it was their bodies (let alone they actually existed). And their supposed tombs were moved to this spot “until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539,” which means that the tomb isn’t there anymore. So, why the sign focused on the greatness?

Right after taking this photo, I turn behind me and look out onto the grass between other ruined parts of the abbey. Chairs have been set up, as well as a sound system and an altar, in preparation for what appears to be a mass service. My mind is filled with even more questions: Why hold a church service in the presence of the mythical tomb of Arthur and Guinevere? Yes, an abbey is a religious building, but there is no proof of their existence, so why practice a religious belief it’s safe to assume that people attending the mass full-heartedly believe in? Geoffrey of Monmouth’s passages about King Arthur were believed to be complete fact for years, but then came to be understood as myth. Is the fate of the religion being practiced in the abbey to face the same fate?

I hope it’s become evident that as I’ve been Mapping London, the idea of Englishness continues to be challenged by my experiences. Each blog entry defines and redefines what it means to be English, as seen from the eyes of a 20 year old American student. Glastonbury Abbey and it’s affiliation with the myth of King Arthur is fascinating. Seeing so many people still to this day visiting the tomb of King Arthur and Guinevere makes me wonder what is so important about this myth? Returning to Monmouth’s text, one encounters not only the myth but the importance of religion tied up with it. It’s hard to define what is truly part of the myth and what is truly part of religion, it’s all woven together. Values such as purity, chivalry, and the sacred are presented. If we jump to Sir Thomas Malory’s Arthur, we see the same set of values. Every chapter is marked in time by a Christian holiday; the knights must be pure (virgins) and honorable in order to fully complete quests; men sacrifice themselves. Looking around Glastonbury Abbey, it’s safe to say that people don’t believe in everything written in the Arthur myth, yet the importance of religion is still quite strong. The Arthurian myth seems to be prevalent in contemporary Englishness because the themes and values in the myth continue to be seen as important for one to be considered “English.” But an identity built on myth, how sound could it be? Perhaps as sound as the inscription on the sign seems; mighty at first, but with visible cracks.

Oxford, Woolf and Privilege

Writing from the basement in Connaught Hall, Bloomsbury

Visiting Magdalen College, one of the colleges in the University of Oxford, was quite different than I had expected. The buildings were breathtaking, the gardening was cultivated; what about the education? In the chapter titled “Woolf, English studies, and the making of the (new) common reader,” Melba Cuddy-Keane explains some of what Virginia Woolf felt about education and where it needed to go. Both the visit to Oxford and Cuddy-Keane’s chapter frame how I think about education and how it has progressed today.

Cuddy-Keane tells us some of Woolf’s views on education, which are expected from the way she writes about it, saying “education not be constrained or governed by class..been the domain of a privileged class, and the universities had long been formed by those privileged classes” (59). While touring Magdalen College, we were informed that it’s incredibly expensive to attend the college (and the primary school run by Oxford) and amount of students studying there is small. Someone that graduates from one of the colleges at Oxford University is perceived as exceedingly intelligent and successful; this education comes at literally a high price, which makes it available to those that can afford it. Does this keep people from certain economic positions unable to attend, regardless of their intelligence? Or are there scholarships designed to help equal out the opportunity for all students to compete for a spot on the same level? Of course, I forgot to ask these important questions while in Magdalen College (or any questions at all, for that matter) and I’m left to speculate on my own.

In the radio broadcast “Are Too Many Books Being Published?” Cuddy-Keane informs the reader that in the broadcast, “Virginia suggests that the need is not for fewer books but for more writers producing fewer books each…She welcomes an overall increase of publication, however, as a way to broaden the field of writing, away from its current domination by the professional class” (66). Woolf was portraying one extreme side in the conversation about the publication of books, but this excerpt seems to echo some of the themes in A Room of One’s Own. In that essay Woolf encourages women to continuously write and create so that women can develop their own writing style and voice in the literary world. Substitute the phrase “professional class” with “male authors” and it sounds like a quote taken from A Room. The production of literature and knowledge, in Woolf’s time, was dominated by men. Cuddy-Keane observes that Leonard and Virginia:

draw very different implications from the same scenario, largely because Leonard focuses on what has been lost from the past while Virginia speculates on what could be gained in the future…Leonard appears as the static straight-man, nostalgically confined to the past, while Virginia moves increasingly toward a visionary future (66-67).

If we view Leonard as a symbol of the history of male dominated literature and Virginia as the symbol of future female literature, themes from A Room are again heard. Knowledge needs to shift from being only in the hands of the privileged and become a place where everyone has access to, whether to learn it, add to or challenge it.

But what does this have to do with my trip to Oxford? That’s I’m not 100% sure of. The style of teaching at Oxford is still one on one tutoring according to our guide, Reverend Dr. Michael Piret, though there are some disciplines that have groups of two or three students tutored at a time. Once more, this echoes A Room of One’s Own, in which Cuddy-Keane explains that “A Room of One’s Own launches a radical critique of the exclusionary practices on which Oxford and Cambridge were founded, expressing Woolf’s frustration as a woman at being locked out and depicting the deformity caused by the male fellows’ being locked in” (68). The exclusion of women seems to have lessened over the years (though I cannot say that with certainty because I haven’t researched it at all; this assumption is based solely on the fact that women are now allowed to attend the college); what I’m focusing on is the latter statement, that the fellows are being locked in. Both the fellows and the students at Oxford seem to exist in a sort of seclusion from one another, at least in terms of academic work. Reverend Dr. Piret told the group that it’s typical to have an hour meeting with the professor based on discussion, then go read a novel or two and write a paper by the next week. Unlike class dynamics that I’m used to, where there is lively discussion and interaction between students and the professor, the style at Oxford seems, as Woolf put it, “locked in” and away from other happenings in the world. Circling back to privilege, it seems that the both the cost of the college and the function of the college is encased in privilege unattainable by many.

A Stroll Around London: In the Style of “The London Scene”

Writing from my room in Bloomsbury and my room in New York

Postcards, t shirts and video games have shown me time and time again an artistic representation of Big Ben; I’d been in London a few days already, it was time for me to meet him. He is, based on his fame in the States, one of the most important faces of London, though I’ve heard that his face isn’t the most reliable, and taking the Tube for a visit was the least I could do to satisfy the inner tourist inside of me.

As I beheld this integral piece of Englishness in my eyes, I suddenly felt something against my hip. Glancing down, I catch a fleeting glimpse of a white hand grasping into my pocket, hoping to come up with something of value, perhaps my cell phone or wallet; thankfully it comes up empty, for my mother taught me well and I secure all of my important belongings in zippered compartments in my bag, which is held tightly against my side at all times . My eyes disinterestedly scan the crowd for the owner of the begging hand, knowing she or he is long gone, then make their way back to Ben. He stands completely unaware; my heart is pounding, beads of sweat have congregated around my hairline, my body feels violated. Yet his face hasn’t changed. Maybe it’s the distance, but I cannot make out the second hand on the clock. There is no evidence of change in the air, not even on the face that seems to see everything from his vantage point. The personal, almost-trauma of the last minute goes unnoticed by all. I lock my eyes onto the hands that are visible from where I stand, nod at Ben, and cross the street.

How could I have been so deaf, so blind? On the corner of the street I cross onto stands a man and his fiddle; the boisterous, playful music tickles my ears and rejuvenates my walk. Music is what brings me back, even if it only stays with me for a minute or two. The comfort of the notes seems to have spread to those around me. Everyone seems to have joined together, taken a simultaneous, deep breathe in, held it for a moment, then let the breath go and continue on their individual journey.

I must’ve been a bit preoccupied trying to absorb what just happened, for I practically missed Westminster Abbey. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know exactly what to expect; Westminster Abbey is a bit less famous in the States. I’ve seen a photograph once or twice, but not enough to be familiar with it. Oh, there it is! Beautifully lush trees obstruct my view quite a bit, and that’s not the only thing keeping me from properly appreciating this piece of London; bells have begun to chime. I search the buildings around me to try to find the source, but the trees have kept me from the bells. Hoping to escape the cluttered streets around the abbey, I follow the group and walk under an archway.

Air: fresh and new, unlike the oxygen-depleted air the streets outside Westminster provided. Standing in a cluster of human beings to just stare at an old building seems to have made me a bit lightheaded. Thankfully, the English have found a cure for this proximity and provided the people with open spaces to replenish. A few moments of sitting on the grass make it easier to focus on my surroundings; neat buildings all connected surround me, not a single tourist from down the street, staring up at the abbey or Ben can be heard. But my mind can still not totally piece together everything I saw and experienced within the half a mile walk from the Tube station to my place on the grass. My pleasure and pride in London was not instilled by the buildings themselves, for those seemed to be detached and unaware of anybody coming to experience and appreciate the wonder that surrounds those historical, tourist ridden buildings. The London that struck me was the London that cared; I may be a mere American individual, having my existence acknowledged what I’m longing. Staring into the face of Ben, one only receives a blank, unfazed stare back: these immense structures of Englishness stand proud to be unaware of one’s minuscule existence.