Newsletter No. 395

10 No. 395, 4.4.2012 …… 如是說 Thus Spake… You once mentioned that there is a shared values crisis across our increasingly globalized and materialistic world. How can the Department of English respond to this crisis? Any humanities department can and should be responding to this crisis. The world is increasingly secular and obsessed with the immediate, as well as increasingly materialistic. This means that an increasing proportion of our values conversation and reflection has to take place somewhere other than in the religious or spiritual spheres, where a good deal of such reflection has traditionally happened. It has been recognized in European literary scholarship for a long time, at least since the Romantic era, that great literature, along with the evaluation and discussion of it, has always been one vital place, maybe the most vital of all places, where this can happen. But you could say the same of philosophy, or historical studies, or quite a number of the ‘liberal arts’: including of course the study of religion itself. In any case it seems that a great university should aspire to being a place where such values conversations and recognitions happen widely and regularly. We try to play our part in filling this values space by helping our students understand and work with probably the most influential of all the world’s modern languages and literatures. Like any language and any literature, English has values concepts and dilemmas almost coded into its DNA; students can’t help but come to terms with them in some way. Teaching is by far the most important thing we do. Our job isn’t to ‘teach values’ in some way: but part of it is certainly to make our students aware of the complex values-world we all live in. What’s in the pipeline for the department in the next couple of years? Same as everyone else in the University: a double cohort, a new curriculum and a certain amount of financial uncertainty! We have revised our course offerings to reflect the new (or returning) four-year curriculum, and we are looking for new resources to provide our students with more opportunities for experience in native-English- speaking environments. Our Shakespeare Festival has become a landmark annual feature of the university calendar on the mainland and in our region, and we’re hoping to build on that success too. We are especially keen to expand our postgraduate offerings, since with its large number of native English speakers allied with its ‘Chinese University’ title the department is an attractive destination for mainland postgraduates. Meanwhile we are in the later stages of developing a new ‘capstone course’ for our final- year undergraduates which we hope will help them pull together and reflect on everything they have learnt with 賽馬會公共衞生及基層醫療學院黃仰山教授 Prof. Wong Yeung-shan Samuel, The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care 下期預告 Coming Prof. Simon N. Haines Chairman, Department of English 英文系系主任 us, and then present their findings in a ‘mock-interview’ setting which will help prepare them for job interviews and presentations. You have written extensively about how the modern self is made and how it evolved over time. Could you tell us about your latest writing project? My most recent focus is the concept of redemption in the works and lives of Romantic poet William Wordsworth and philosopher Immanuel Kant. We’re all sinners. Christ died in order to redeem us. But what happens when the Christianity that says these things is no longer a faith for most people? These concepts live on in a secular environment. Redemption as nature-worship in Wordsworth shows how this formerly Christian concept can mutate. In my book on The Making of the Post- Christian Imagination , due out later this year or early next, I discuss a secularized concept of redemption in Wordsworth and Kant. Why Wordsworth? It was during the Romantic period (1780-1830) that for the first time in history, poets started to think of their writing as redemptive. But for poetry to feel redemptive, it had to become less poetic and more philosophical, or argumentative. The most representative figure of that kind of poetry in English was William Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s poetry imbues rocks, rivers and landscapes with moral qualities as it pleads for the conversion of others and of himself to a state of moral goodness through a belief in poetry. And conversion, or for that matter, salvation, atonement and forgiveness, are just some of the manifestations of an underlying desire for redemption. So while Christ paid with his life, language was the poet’s ‘coinage’, what he paid with by spending his life writing it. What’s it like teaching English majors at CUHK? As any university teacher will understand, this is the most important and enjoyable thing we do. Talking about something you regard as the most important subject in the world (which is how we all tend to think of our disciplines) to intelligent young people who are there specifically to learn about it—this has to be as good as it gets in life! Writing books and papers is rewarding in a different way, but it isn’t the same as reaching those minds directly in the classroom, or at least trying to. Socrates said this: no writing is as important as the direct impression made on the soul of the listener. But as for teaching at CUHK, as opposed to other universities, my only comparisons are with universities in the UK and Australia. I’d say that there one could naturally assume a greater breadth and depth of reading in English, and more familiarity with the idea of critical disagreement. But here there is a higher general level of enthusiasm and the wish to succeed and do well, in a subject which may have an important bearing on one’s success in any future career. CUHK has some top-quality English majors, and whether or not they are planning on academic careers (many of our best graduates do not become academics) they know that fluency in English will make a big difference to them. Also, it’s often more interesting to teach in a field where the students still have a great deal to learn. They are appreciative, and the teacher for his or her part is obliged to think more carefully and broadly about the subject. 你曾說價值觀危機蔓延整個漸趨全球化及物質主義 的世界,英文系可以如何應對? 任何一個人文學科學系都有能力和責任回應這危機。傳統 上,有關價值的討論及思考,多在宗教和精神層面出現,但 是世界愈來愈世俗化,執迷當前,注重物質,這意味着在宗 教與精神以外的領域將出現更多這類討論和思考。長久以 來,最低限度從浪漫主義時期起,歐洲的文學界有識之士 一直認為文學巨著與其伴隨的評價及討論,為有關價值的 思考提供了一個重要甚或是最重要的園地。但你可以說, 哲學、歷史,甚或「博雅」學科,當然包括宗教研究,也同 樣可以創造這樣的空間。無論如何,一所優秀的大學是應 當致力讓本身成為價值討論和思考蓬勃發展的場所的。我 們嘗試發揮填補價值討論空間的功能,靠的便是協助學生 理解及使用這大抵是全球最具影響力的現代語言及文學。 就如任何語言和文學,英語的價值觀和局限早已存於其基 因中,學生只得自行調適與之磨合。教學顯然是我們最重 要的工作,責任不在於「教導價值」,而是讓學生省察我們 是活在一個價值複雜的世界中。 未來數年,英文系有何計劃? 就如大學各部門一樣:應付雙班年、新課程以及財政上的 少許不明朗。學系已修訂課程陣容,以配合新的(或可說 是回歸)四年制課程,並發掘新資源,讓學生有更多沉浸 於英語本土環境的機會。我們有份主辦的中國大學莎劇比 賽,已成為內地和區內大學界年度盛事,期望可再接再厲, 發揚光大。英文系積極擴充研究生課程,學系有為數不少 以英語為母語的教員,加上「中文大學」這名號,對擬繼續 深造的內地生可謂十分吸引。此外,專為四年制準畢業生 而新設的「總結科目」,籌備工作已近尾聲,希望這安排可 協助學生把在大學所學整合沉澱,並利用「模擬面試」,為 日後求職作好準備。 你就現代自我觀如何形成並隨時代演變著述甚豐, 可否談談最新的作品? 我最新的研究是從英國浪漫詩人威廉 ‧ 華滋華斯和德國 哲學家康德的著作和生平中,探討他們對救贖的理解。按 基督教的說法,我們都是罪人,基督之死是為了拯救我們。 但倘若基督教不再是大部分人的信仰,那又如何?這些概 念在世俗環境仍然存在,華滋華斯將救贖視為對自然的崇 敬,便顯示了這原屬基督教的概念可以怎樣遞變。我即將 出版的 The Making of the Post-Christian Imagination ,談 的便是華滋華斯和康德的世俗化救贖概念。 為甚麼是華滋華斯? 有史以來詩人首度賦予詩作救贖意味,是在浪漫主義時期 (1780 – 1830)。但是詩作要帶救贖性,便得少點詩味,多 點哲理或思辯。在英語作品中,這類詩人的表表者當數華 滋華斯。他賦予筆下的自然山水充沛的道德性,籲請眾人 及自己透過對詩歌的信念,尋求轉化,回歸高尚的道德情 操。轉化、又或由此導致的救恩、贖罪和寬恕,均反映潛藏 深處對「救贖」的渴求,這樣說,基督付出的是生命,而詩 人所付出的,就是窮其一生,用其語言來寫詩。 在中大教授英文主修課,感受如何? 任何大學教學人員都會體會到,教書是工作中最重要又 最有樂趣的一環。向一班天資聰慧、專誠求教的年輕人傳 授你認為是世上最重要的學科(賣花讚花香,這是當然的 了),人生夫復何求!著書立論又是另一種滿足感,但跟 在課室中直抵(或起碼嘗試直抵)學生的心靈又不一樣。 蘇格拉底曾說,言傳在聽者腦海直接刻畫的印象,遠非任 何撰述可比。提到在中大任教跟其他院校的相異之處,我 只能與英國和澳洲的大學比較。在那兒,你可假設學生有 較廣較深的英文閱讀經驗,也較慣於批判性爭論;至於這 兒,他們普遍較熱衷於追求成功和出人頭地,對有利於將 來事業發展的科目十分積極和努力。中大有一些頂尖的英 文主修生,無論他們將來會否走學術的路(很多高材生未 必會晉身學者之列),他們都明白英語流利就是不一樣。 此外,教授一個學生尚大有進步空間的學科,總是更為有 趣的。學生心存感激,當老師的自會對其教學更謹慎從事、 深思遠慮了。