A Conversation on Justifying Related Literature and Defending Taliban Poetry.

Hello! I'm back! It's nearly summer! Winter is over! Spring is on it's way out! Birds are singing 24/7! The sun is intermittently shining and I have finished my

BA in 'English & Related Literature' 


I always try to get that 'related' bit in there when talking about what I stud(ied)y. I chose this degree for that one little word addition, 'related'. Conversations about it usually go something like this:

"Hi my name is Ailish and I study English... and Related... Literature, that part is important y'know... let me tell you why..." 

Then I'm off, boring the poor soul who has to listen about why literature is so much more than just epics written by old, white, English-speaking men. But it's when I explain that, 

"I wrote my dissertation on poetry written by Taliban members, no Wordsworth here, this is all guns, swords, sexism, warfare and contemporary Afghanistan,

that things start to get a bit tense. I'll try to insinuate that Taliban poetry counts as real literature and go on to defend the individuals behind the movement as -shock horror- human beings, who are of course capable of creative expression. But I'll hear words coming out of my mouth that sound like I'm defending their brutality. I backtrack, try to make it 'relatable', I start to compare the Taliban poetry to William Wordsworth... the main themes of my whimsy argument relate to the industrial revolution, destruction of modernity, embracing of nature and so on. But lo and behold, I seem to have dug myself even further into trouble. You're on dangerous ground, Ailish, eyebrows are getting raised, you just compared a literary God to an extremist movement. Pick yourself up, untwist your tongue and quickly!

I defend the validity of reading poetry by the Taliban, I try to ensure that the person I'm talking to (who is sometimes also a student of E&RL) does not get the false impression that I defend and support the Taliban but just that I think literature is literature, whatever form it takes, whoever wrote it, and that unpopular individuals or groups have as much a right to be considered in the literary world as canonical figures. The person I'm discussing this with will usually say something like, 

"but Jane Austen was ground-breaking for her time. She didn't have to be a cold-blooded murderer for her work to be considered important and canonical. Why should we give the Taliban the time of day let alone read their poetry? It will all be laced with hatred and encouraging suicide bombings and religious extremism anyway, won't it?"

Yes and no, I'll say. I'll agree with them, 

"Jane Austen is important, but so are the Taliban - and maybe they are arguably even more important in today's society. There is that saying that goes something along the lines of, 'to defeat an enemy you need to know them as intimately as you would a friend'. Enemy or no enemy (depending on your opinions), don't you think everyone who shares their voice is worth at least listening to, regardless of if you agree with what they say or wholeheartedly and fundamentally disagree?" 

Usually the response will be something like, 

"hmm yeah I guess, but not the Taliban" 

or perhaps simply, 

"no, criminals just don't deserve a voice." 

The latter, I think, being a somewhat hypocritical answer since there are many writers who are considered canonical but who were -or even continue to be- highly controversial. 

The Taliban is a sensitive issue though and perhaps rightly so; the movement is deeply ingrained in contemporary society and recent history. Everyone knows who they think the Taliban are and most people have an opinion, - whether informed or not - of what the people behind the movement must be like. In this hypothetical (but very much, 'has occurred') conversation, I usually go on to try and defend myself, defend the poetry, defend the 'related' element of my degree and sweeten the blow with confirmation of the canon and its validity too:

"I'm not suggesting work that's considered controversial is more 'important' than Jane Austen simply because it has the shock factor, only that it is equally worthy of study and consideration. I don't agree with the actions of the Taliban but I do believe their poetry should be studied in order to gain a broader knowledge of how they think that goes beyond an uninformed stereotype. Yes, the poetry is, most of the time, shocking and brutal, but it is also fluid, creative and expressive. Many of the poems sing of the beauty of nature, of the grace of a lover and sometimes are also critical of the destruction of war as well as the influence and damage the movement has had not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan where they are situated, but globally. I am not suggesting studying Taliban poetry just to be controversial, I genuinely believe that we should want to learn more than what institutions tell us we must read if we study literature. I think we should try and look beyond texts written in English by white men or women - but mostly men - and refuse to accept that is all that there is to a literature degree. It is important to know where literature has come from, I agree with that and I decided to do this degree initially because of two inspirations. Maybe surprisingly, the first being a love for Wordsworth and Coleridge, and secondly because of a short novel: 'Anthills in the Savannah' by Chinua Achebe. In AotS, Achebe writes about corruption, modernity, dignity and hope, and it was through discovering a world of literature outside of Shakespeare & co. (though admittedly also written in English, but that is a whole other issue) that I realised my degree could be more than just a study of the traditional texts thought of as the literature. I was able to look further afield than just the Romantic Poets, Austen, Milton, Shakespeare, Dickens and the Brönte sisters. I chose E&RL because it had a broader outlook and a more diverse approach to written material beyond The Western Canon. It meant that in my first year of university I could read verbatim plays and texts written by prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It meant that in my second year I could go abroad and write fascinating papers on trans* people in countries where anything 'queer' is considered punishable by death and because I could choose to research and write on the power of protest art in relation to the abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. And finally, I chose my degree because in my last year I was encouraged and given the freedom to do my dissertation on poetry by the Taliban without being told it is not worthy of study within the framework of a degree in literature."

I think studying and understanding literature is not really about judging the worth of writers though, it is about informing ourselves; to learn in order to know, and to know in order to act with a less bias or ignorant view of individuals and cultures. I am not suggesting that I 'know it all', of course nobody can always be partial and fully researched into all facets of every kind of literature. However, I think my degree allowed me to make a few steps in a more open and understanding direction because I've been given the freedom to experience literature written by all kinds of people, canonical and non-canonical. I defend studying Taliban poetry because I think it is right to be challenged - the poems make us question justice and reconsider our own interpretations of it. By pushing our preconceptions we can understand the Taliban on a more human level; the poetry can be controversial and shocking, but it can also be beautiful and believe it or not... relatable.


If you've made it this far, I suppose I can update you on the life-admin front: things are just chugging along quietly. I'm filling my days with reading, drawing, researching, applying, chatting, eating, sleeping, searching for jobs and becoming an eBay-selling queen. I was the first of my friends and housemates to finish (they all do much more serious ;-) degrees which involve long exams...) so I've mostly been quiet and not requesting evenings out because they're all working hard to finish up. Saying that, it's just Phillip left now and he'll be done with his last exam on Thursday so obviously that's when the party will start. By party I mean playing music a wee bit louder in the kitchen and maybe, maybe, going to the pub for a couple of beers if the time is right (no Willow going down here...!) I kid, it's going to be great because the sun is popping in and out (better than none at all, #amiright?) and we're in York for a few more weeks, only the best city in the North.

Oh, and we're moving to Berlin at the end of the summer, that was unexpected eh? SOAS is deferred until next year and we are currently looking for places to live and deciding how to move all our stuff over... so many options, all so expensive... car hire? boxes shipped? removal company (we don't have that much stuff), suitcases and flying...? Reckon we're just going to sell a lot of things and move over with what we need, maybe post one or two boxes, then bring stuff bit by bit. Serious life changes coming, but for now, some fun is going to be had, enough talk of the Taliban for today.


Babo for Easter

We went to Germany again for Easter, something which has become somewhat of a tradition for us over the last few years. We go to a small village in northern Bavaria where Phillip's grandparents have a house and so I thought I'd share some pictures from our trip.
It was lovely to switch off for a few days and remember what it's like to live without phone signal and internet...
Hard! This is especially so, since the majority of hours in the day at the moment are being spent at my laptop finishing up my final essay and working on my dissertation. I've got an intense four weeks of all this left before my hand in - then that'll be my degree wrapped -phew-! So for now, this post is short and sweet.

York Train Station on our way to the airport via. London
Quick breakfast pitstop at the Bishopsgate Kitchen after spending the night at my parents' in London.

Unexpectedly snowy roads delayed our drive down - but beautiful so worth it!
Katrin and I excited about the snow at Wasserkuppe

Beetle in Bamberg

Paragliding at the snowy Wasserkuppe

Spring arrived in the forests

and the flowers finally started budding on our final day!

Happy spring and have a good four weeks all, I'll be resurfacing again once I've handed in my dissertation!


Filling our lungs with sea air

We spent a day breathing in grey and salty air along the Yorkshire Coast, stopping first in Robin Hood's Bay for a quick 'splash' in the freezing cold water and a big cup of hot chocolate and then nipping over to Whitby for some freshly-caugh-freshly-cooked fish (haddock!) and chips. We took a meander up to the Abbey and pottered around the town just enjoying the break from screens, books and general university stresses.

On a small(ish) life update, I've accepted an offer to study for my masters at SOAS, I'll be doing 'Human Rights Law' and will (fingers crossed I get the grades they ask for) be moving back home to London this summer. Phillip is waiting to hear back between other London universities and options in Berlin, so we are unsure if we're about to face another year of long-distance or whether we might both be in London. 

At the moment I'm working on my penultimate piece of writing for hand-in and then it's just the dissertation left. I have finished all classes, no more undergraduate seminars, workshops or lectures again!
I'm looking for as many postgraduate funding options as I can so if you happen to know of any do let me know, all paths are being followed on that front! 

It's just Phillip and I at home at the moment, our housemates have gone back to their respective countries (Luxembourg/Norway!) for the long break we have over Easter. We'll be heading to Germany soon and will be celebrating Easter with Phillip's grandparents as has become tradition for the past four years, this will be the fifth! Tonight however we are eating steak (!!!)

I've been taking ballet and pilates classes again and am really beginning to notice that I'm feeling a lot more positive and less melancholic or fatigued which is good.

I can't promise there will be bounds of posts in the next couple of weeks whilst I wrap up this degree, but come summer I should be back on board ship!

Take care to all who are reading and thank you for reading!



On weather and needing a kick

So my good friend Sarah (do you remember her? This gem from last year) she's on the other side of the world in New Brunswick, Canada. At this very moment she is existing amongst piles and piles of snow. I mean snow, I mean serious, real, snow snow.

This is what it looks like:

I'm a million times jealous. I don't know what it is about weather extremes, but what I do know is that I want them, I really need something exciting with the weather to happen - I feel it'll help me out of a rut - probably bullshit. I do want it to get so cold that we get so much snow though. Or at least a consistency with some sunshine and blue skies... anything but just grey-in-grey-out. I probably shouldn't be saying I want extreme weathers - I am likely endorsing global warming over here by announcing that. I'm not - we gotta take care of this planet!! There is something about snow though that just stops the everyday from being so 'everyday', so mundane! I like a bit of drama, I want to have a bit of a struggle to open the door in the morning and to have to shovel away mountains of snow - or to clamber through it (with my padded warm clothes of course) before I can get out (I'm also totally aware of the naivety of this comment... But please, let a girl have a romantic-snow-imagination... just today!)

February in Yorkshire (combined with the stresses of the final year of uni) though, that's a whole other matter (I just wrote January here by accident before deleting it and remembering that we're more than half way through February by now... that's saying something about my general feelings at the moment.) There's no chance of any more snow or probably even any more sub-zero temperature days in this neck of the woods - and it's frustrating.

It's been a funny few weeks of ups and downs. I was accepted onto my top choices for Masters programs at SOAS, King's College London and UCL - these were major ups for me (more on this to come).
Last week though, Phillip battled a nasty cold - & I accused him of having a serious case of 'man-flu' - but I spoke too soon. I have it now too, he's feeling mostly back to normal thank goodness, but I'm now on day four. I think perhaps yesterday was my 'peak' day. I'm feeling a little better today, though still feeling rather stuffy and peaky. All my apologies have gone out to Phillip over my man-flu accusations - it's really a pretty nasty little kicker of a pre-spring cold. All in all we've both been knocked out for almost a fortnight and it's reflected in our moods and general spirit.
It's not just us, it seems (and is so) that everyone has a lot of work to do (myself included) and I know a lot of us are feeling pretty wiped out and lacking in energy (or enthusiasm... something along those lines)

So, I'm needing something to pick me back up, a kick or something. (some snow would do the trick, I'm sure of that)

However, looking on the bright side, February is almost over, and I'm hoping there will be some days of productivity to come - that will help all our moods too I should think - we're a house full of busy heads at the moment, but we all have lots of exciting things to look forward to and I know for sure this is just a brief slump!

In order to counteract the lack of 'extreme weather' we get over here in York, out of our kitchen window we are blessed with more often than not, some really beautiful sunsets. Here's a parting one from last week:

my own.

More writing (and jolliness) to come soon!



A new space

Today I thought I'd tell you all about a new project I've been working on lately...

As a bit of a follow-on from Ailish Goes, I have decided to create a whole new space where I can discuss other issues that are not to do with travel/lifestyle/misc. bits & pieces.
Ailish Goes will remain more of a personal blog and will continue to be updated 
on the sporadic basis that is currently is.
Ailish Scoops however, is going to (hopefully!) become more of a space for commentary and thoughts on current affairs and human rights issues.
I wanted to have a seperate space to be able to express some more important thoughts. Over the last year or so there has been the odd post on Ailish Goes that seemed to not quite 'fit' with the rest of the theme of my blog - nice photos, travel thoughts, general musings & nothing too important. The reality is however, that there is another side of me that I want to show, but I want to do it in an appropriate place.

I hope that maybe some of you will pop by to have a look and maybe engage/leave your thoughts on articles, it would be amazing if we can get a little conversation going on - this is something that I personally feel should happen more with blogs -  there is so much potential!

If there is anything you would like to see or discuss, please let me know! 

Either here or there, Ailish.



Have you guys tried Headspace?
I'm just about finished with the free ten day trial pack and am considering paying for full membership.
The idea is to carve out ten minutes of your day to make yourself a little more mindful. To take a breather, to focus on yourself and to switch off from the grind of day to day life through 'mindful meditation'.
I've had a lot going on lately, from postgraduate applications, to essay/dissertation writing, meetings and generally exhaustion from 'life planning' - what will I be doing this time next year? Needless to say it's left me continuously tired and to be honest, a little anxious and worried about things.
A couple of friends of mine had been using it and suggested it to me, and I've not really looked back.
(though, I did it solidly, every day for 8 days, and then took a 5 day break - and I noticed the difference)
Today, I went on to do day 9 and tomorrow will be my final day of the first block.
I would recommend trying it (no affiliates here!) if you feel like you are getting overwhelmed with life, be it big or small things, or, even if you're perfectly happy and content it is a great chance to just have a few minutes to yourself each day to pause and reflect.


"we who seek justice will have to do justice to others"

M.K Gandhi credit here

I read through Gandhi's Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule today and was struck by one line which read: “we who seek justice will have to do justice to others”. I found this a particularly poignant quote in regards to how we so often find ourselves asking for justice, presuming justice and seeking out justice, yet, in order to gain it we must afford others the same treatment. I suppose it is also about giving others the time and space to express themselves before making a judgement of them - treating people well, and giving others' opinions and beliefs the respect and consideration necessary to allow us to live in harmony with one another.

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