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Academic Writing Competition
The Academic Writing Centre
AWC Competition Winner 2014-2015
This year's first prize winner is Esther Waters, a final year student of Creative Writing (BA Connect), English, and Legal Science.
Shopping lists, with items ranging from baking soda to hairspray, reminders to meet people for lunch and to put a white wash on, the contact list on one’s mobile phone– all of these are part of the universal process of list-making. People write lists in order to remember or in order to fool proof their memory against forgetfulness, but why should a simple reminder list be considered literature?
Ezra Pound listed in his essay ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’ (1911) twenty-three tips for aspiring poets which included, ‘Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something’ (p. 201). Lists are a celebration of the precise use of language; no words are wasted and adjectives are placed firmly to one side in favour of unambiguous and functional expression. One can argue that people have the necessary clarity of language when writing lists that many writers strive for when writing in prose or in verse as list writers write of the ‘thing’ and not the idea of the ‘thing’. As a result they are using language unselfconsciously and with unusual precision.
A common issue when writing is self-censorship due to apprehension of what people will think upon reading the piece. However, as lists are personal reminders to oneself and not subject to the scrutiny of others, this allows people to be frank and forthright in their writing of them. Joan Didion included her packing list in The White Album (1979), which lists everyday items such as stockings and toothpaste alongside more specific items such as bourbon and ‘aspirin, prescription and Tampax’(p. 35). Didion has always been generous with the details of her life, publishing many books of autobiographical writing, but the simple listing of ‘face cream, powder, baby oil’ (p. 35) strikes the reader as being particularly intimate.
A packing list is a statement of habit; when Didion writes of face cream the reader is aware that they are witnessing her daily rituals that surround the listing of face cream. The reader can imagine Didion slowly dabbing it on in a hotel bathroom, tired and jet-lagged. Equally, the reader might imagine Didion slapping it on in the morning, refreshed and ready for work. It demystifies the author and, one can argue, that literature is a means of reconciling people with the process of being human: making the strange less strange.
Lists are truthful. They are genuine reflections on the reality of a person’s life, mixing quiet aspirations with monotonous chores that deftly plot out the geography of a person’s day– they function as honest testaments to the life of the list writer. There is, after all, an undeniable poetry to glancing at a person’s to-do list and noticing they have included ‘call home’.
Didion, J., 1979. The White Album. London: Flamingo.
Pound, E., 1913. A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste. Poetry, [e-journal] 1(6), pp. 200- 206. Available through: James Hardiman Library website <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20569730> [Accessed 12 February 2015]
The AWC Competition Runner-Up Essay 2014-2015:
Forging Ahead: Smith is the Hero of The Matrix
Erinn Geraghty (First Year, Arts)
The 1999 film The Matrix depicts the world as a simulation designed to keep humans oblivious and content, when in reality their bodies are kept in pods and used as an energy supply by their machine overlords. Led by Morpheus, Neo and Trinity are rebels working to liberate all of mankind from under the machines’ control. Agent Smith protects humanity by seeking out those who threaten the simulation, as its stability is the only way the human race can truly live in peace.
The seemingly noble plot to free the human race is riddled with issues. Morpheus entirely neglects to mention where billions of freed humans will go, exactly. There is only Zion, a dungeon of a city placed deep underground near the planet’s core for warmth. As the Earth’s surface is uninhabitable and there is no sunlight, resources must be scarce down there. If all humanity were shunted into Zion, then overcrowding, illness, and death would lead to power struggles and, ultimately, war. By attempting to stop the rebellion, Agent Smith is protecting humankind; he has the capacity to recognise that an illusive life lived is better than that one where humans are conscious but caged.
Agent Smith only wants to remove Neo and Trinity from under the influence of their cultish leader. Smith brings the hacker Neo into custody and asks for his help to help stop Morpheus, offering Neo a clean criminal record in return, but Neo refuses and hurls cheap slurs at the Agents, comparing them to Nazis. It is only when these attempts at negotiation fail that Agent Smith is forced into more decisive action.
In contrast, the rebels are brutally violent, gadding about in their trench coats, merrily slaughtering the innocent. Between them, Neo and Trinity kill at least thirty people (allouttabubblegum.com, 2015). In fact, the rebels show several traits associated with psychopathic tendencies such as callousness, absence of remorse and lack of empathy for others (Tankersley, 2011). These traits can be noted in the infamous ‘Lobby Scene’, as the murderous pair brazenly stomp in to a government building armed with pistols, sub-machine guns and a rather unnecessary bomb, and proceed to massacre everyone when a counterfeit key card and a friendly wave would have sufficed. Little wonder, then, that Agent Smith needs to root the rebels out in order to prevent more civilian deaths. By eliminating their threat, he ensures that humanity remains protected and at peace.
Agent Smith is working in humanity’s best interests simply because he knows the Matrix is the only viable option for the survival and happiness of the human race. The cramped city of Zion is not a practical place for any number of people to live, and war and starvation would surely end up cutting short the lives of any who managed to survive there. Neo, Trinity and Morpheus have proved themselves to be violent and dangerous serial killers, and the only one who can stop them is Smith.
Allouttabubblegum.com, (2015). AOBG » The Matrix (1999): Body Count Breakdown. [online] Available at: http://www.allouttabubblegum.com/main/?p=5885 [Accessed 20 Jan. 2015].
Tankersley, D. (2011). Psychopathology, Neuroscience, and Moral Theory. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 18(4), pp.349-357.
The Matrix. (1999). [DVD] Sydney, Australia: Warner Bros.
AWC Competition Winner 2013-2014
This year’s academic writing competition winner is Niamh Clarke, a third year student of English and Philosophy.
We received several very well-written and engaging essays and would like to thank all those who took part in this year’s competition.
The Unsocial Social Networking
Social networking is celebrated in terms of its bridging distances that otherwise would be impossible. Robbins and Webster (1999) state that ‘[v]irtual relations are closely associated with ideals of intimacy, social communication and bonding – this is said to be the age of immediate communication, connectivity, and “being in touch”’. Spaces like Facebook and Twitter facilitate these virtual relations and offer idealised, and often polarised, accounts of people. Such social networking pages are shaped according to an individual’s or a company’s desired image of themselves. Information is posted in the conscious spirit of putting your best foot forward. People reveal what they perceive as the best pictures of themselves, the most imperative articles, news, and preferences, the most dramatic and humorous ideas. Disclosure of the banal, as in updates about the nuanced type of porridge consumed at breakfast, creates an illusory sense that this medium provides an everyday experience of the other. Social networking importantly remains a medium, and not a social experience. It is an addictive and absorbing creative space, a rhetorical space, and has acquired a realism that often obscures healthy conceptions of what it means to socialise.
This is not to outright condemn the medium itself, but to ask, after the celebration of bridging ‘distance’ loses novelty - is social networking not just networking? What is social about it when it demands that people spend more time engaging with interface as opposed to actual people and situations? Social networking as it stands contradicts its very title. Why baptise it social networking? If we acknowledge that human beings are social the insidious negativity of ‘social’ networking becomes obvious. Getting to know someone's avatar is not getting to know the person because we lose other media of communication that we have evolved to use as social animals: body language, chemistry, or, plain, old vibes. The so called social networking does not properly facilitate these essential phenomena.
The schism between social experience and social networking is highlighted in ‘Catfish: The TV Show’. ‘Catfish’ films people engaging in online relationships without ever meeting. The show highlights the ‘psychological vulnerability of the person with whom they’ve been interacting, who may not be as advertised’ (Lowry, 2012, p.15). Frequently these people get hurt because they forget it is advertisement, not that they are unintelligent, but because, as Lowry points out, they are vulnerable. ‘Catfish’, although a production itself, emphasises differences between the tools we use to be social, and the reality of meeting face-to-face versus online fantasy. (Social) networking is useful, but for many it confuses the meaning of being in touch. When people participate in networking sites, this communication does not provide them a social experience. This type of networking, conducive to information and organisation, has not yet earned the title ‘social’ in the full sense of that word.
Instantaneously exposing people to a multitude of concepts, text, advertisements, personal updates, images, and sounds is engaging but not social. Typing is not talking. There is a natural truth in interacting with people in the flesh, which is lost online Our own personal experience with other real people where we can actually face communication, or not?
Lowry, B. (2012). ‘Catfish: The TV Show’, Daily Variety, 317(1).
Robbins, K. and Webster, F. (1999) Times of the Techno Culture: From the Information Society to the Virtual Life. London: Routledge.