Saturday, October 08, 2005

Officially an MA Student

Well, I guess with the passing of the first week of classes, I can now officially consider myself an MA student. It was actually kind of funny, at one of the orientation week welcome events, the head of the Middle East Studies department was mentioning how, because of the interdisciplinary and flexible nature of the MA Near and Middle East Studies program and the Islamic Society and Culture program, two people could take the exact same three courses, but designate themselves as either a Middle East Studies major or an Islamic Studies major and he was saying that the perennial question he receives from students is whether to be one or the other and his response was "Well, it depends whether you want to present yourself as an expert on the Middle East, or an expert on Islam..." and I thought to myself having "Middle East Expert" next to my name had a nice ring to it, no?

Enough of my delusions of grandeur though, classes have been, and it'd be difficult to overstate this, incredible. I mentioned in a previous post that there are lots of things that let me know that I'm where I'm meant to be, and my classes are definitely at the top of the list. The structure of the program here is that we take 3 courses, a major course in which we write a 10,000 word dissertation, and two minor courses which count for exactly the same as the major course, require the same amount of work during class term and everything, but we are not supposed to write a dissertation for them. So my major course is Politics and Society of the Middle East and my two minors are Israel, The Arab World, and the Palestinians; and Social and Political Dimensions of Modern Arabic Literature. I'm also going to be auditing a course on the history of Zionist ideology.

As some of you may recall, I had become rather disillusioned with the statist, elitest approach to politics that my undergraduate political science degree had taken. No such problem here. In fact, one of the first things that our politics prof said in his introduction to the course was that politics is not simply about the interaction of governments with other governments or governments with its citizens, but also about the interaction of people within societies (hence Politics and Society of the Middle East). The professor for the course is Charles Tripp, a rather well known expert on the Middle East who has recently published an extensive political history of Iraq which I haven't read, but is said to be impeccable.

I am also very excited about my Zionism and Israel, Palestinians and ARab World courses. Both are taught by the same prof who also appears brilliant, though I suppose that should come as no surprise. In seminar the other day he posed the question of why Sharon chose this particular juncture in time to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and after getting input from all the students, he proposed his hypothesis regarding Sharon's ideological background (or lack thereof, he argued Sharon was not an ideologue but first and foremost a pragmatist) and gave a fascinating background into Sharons movements throughout the various now-defunct Israeli political parties and how he wound up with the Likud. Anyways, fascinating stuff all of it, I'll explain it to you all over a pint one day if you're really interested.

Finally, and I think I've saved the best for last here, there's my Social and Political Dimensions of Modern Arabic Literature course. Truly, here, I've found my home. On the first day, when introducing the course, the professor said exactly what I'd been thinking for some time, and it just made me think "YES!" He said how, in Middle Eastern societies, where academic and intellectual freedoms are so curtailed, one can learn far more about the goings-on of the area through its literature than through any formal history or political text. Reading Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy or Ghassan Kanafani's Men in the Sun reveals much more about Egypt at the turn of the 20th century or the Palestinian condition of exile respectively than one could possibly have gleamed otherwise. I find this to be a truism, and am incredibly excited to finally combine my affinity for literature and the politics (real politics, not just elitist claptrap) of the Middle East.

Though it is a bit premature, I think I'd like to incorporate all three of my courses in writing my dissertation and write about the politics of Palestinian literature. I'm thinking of "Writing the Wrongs: The Politics of the Palestinian Literary Narrative" as my working title, thoughts?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some Pics!

As promised, here are some pics. I've refrained from taking pictures of my room as it didn't take long for it to get into a really messy state. Currently I have laundry that needs putting away all over the place. Once my room is clean (stop laughing!) I'll post some pics of it so that you can see my humble abode. These pics are from the Fresher's Fayre, when all the campus clubs and societies set up booths to try to recruit new people.

As soon as I stepped onto the courtyard which is kind of the central point of the campus, I was met by these two posters, courtesy of the campus Socialist Society (top) and the Anti-Racism Organization (bottom):

So, clearly things were looking up. In fact, the most right-wing and/or conservative group to be found was the Labour Party Youth Against the War. Not an Israeli public affairs committee to be seen.

I think this one was from another campus socialist organization:

The main entrance to the campus:

Me next to a statue on campus. I read that plaque at the bottom, but I don't remember what it says

The courtyard which divides the two main campus buildings during a typical London deluge:

Note: I actually started this post at the beginning of this past week, but uploading pictures with my rather slow internet connection is a tedious process. In the future I'll have to reduce the picture file size. In the meantime, many more picture have been taken which I will try to post asap.