As might be expected from a blog post entitled “Diversions”, written for an online journal aimed primarily at PhD students, this one starts by stirring up images of articles left half-finished and monographs lying shut upon a desk, their unturned pages crying softly through their unbent spines to be read. Pressing as it may be for the contents of these no doubt worthy sources to be imbibed by their, you guessed it, distracted reader, he has far more diverting things with which to occupy his time than concerning himself with reading a Marxist critique of this, a Freudian analysis of that. From a dust jacket, a certain pessimistic German theorist from the last century stares out towards the unoccupied chair in which a diligent young researcher should be sitting, his disapproving gaze threatening to burn a hole in the upholstery. But enough context, it’s time to come to the point of this post. Continue reading
“This is your PhD,” my friends said, proudly presenting a cake decorated with plastic animals. “It’s a farm! And you do farming, yeah?”
Sort of. I research agricultural labour in eighteenth-century England (with an emphasis on the “labour” bit). But there was no labour in this cake-world: no farmers, no dairymaids or ploughboys, no gangs of harvest labourers, no carters or threshers. Human labour was entirely absent. I thought this was quite funny and ate the percy pigs happily.
And yet, the unearthly green icing hinted at something deeper and darker than its inner chocolate layer. Staring into the glowing blue eyes of the monstrous cat-like creature in the centre I realised my birthday cake was not the simple-yet-adorable attempt at representation it first seemed, but in fact a sophisticated and devastating critique of the ideology of the eighteenth-century landed gentry. My friends had (inadvertently) produced a brilliant pastiche of the idealised pastoral scenes found in some landscape paintings, depicting a mythic countryside of ease and abundance populated by fluffy sheep and golden wheat. Continue reading