Author: Elena Shalneva

In Defence of the Humanities

The Australian government’s recent decision to cut funding for university courses in the arts and humanities was greeted with rapturous delight by many commentators I respect. In addition to encouraging students to pursue “job-friendly” subjects such as STEM and nursing, the move was interpreted as a flip-off to the branch of higher education notorious for placing left-wing indoctrination ahead of scholarship. As much as I agree with the latter point, I cannot bring myself to join the celebrations. To the contrary, I find the Australian government’s decision highly unfortunate. That is because I firmly believe that a degree in the humanities is the finest start in life a young person can get. Or, to be more precise, I firmly believe that a degree in the humanities in its pre-1990s form is the finest start in life a young person can get. So, while I don’t wish to defend what the humanities have become, I still think it’s important to defend what the humanities ought to be. I have a humanities degree in one of the …

The Purpose of Imaginative Fiction

When I learned that the 2020 International Booker Prize was going ahead in spite of London’s lockdown, I rejoiced at the organisers’ resourcefulness and resilience. But then I began reading the posts about this year’s prize on the Booker website and my enthusiasm dwindled. Surveying press responses to publication of the shortlist, the organisers spotlighted the Guardian‘s observation that nominee Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is only 28 years old, “identifies as male and uses the pronouns they/them.” The New York Times, we are told, had noted that four of the six shortlisted nominees are women, and the Sydney Morning Herald had informed its readers that one of these women is a refugee who fled to Australia from Iran. A separate post made mention of “such enormous themes as intellectual freedom, sexual identity, political unrest, and loss.” I find it unfortunate that the literary industry, eager to advertise its diversity credentials, panders to the media’s obsession with secondary considerations such as choice of subject matter and author identity, rather than focusing on essential considerations such as talent …

That Elusive Feeling We Call Love

Every writer worth reading—from the good to the great to the canonical—has, at some point or other, explored the subject of love. Yet, despite some striking insights and equally striking metaphors, none of these writers has been able to answer the question of what love is. I don’t think anyone knows. I certainly don’t. But I know what love isn’t. Getting along is not love. Being married is not love. Being married for 30 years is still not love. Raising three kids together is not love. Having common interests is not love. Warmth, affection, and tenderness are not love (praiseworthy as they are). Duty and loyalty are not love. Sexual desire is not love (although, in this line-up, it is the only essential component). All of the above combined is not love. All of the above combined and raised to the power of 10 is still not love. It’s a relationship. A good relationship, solid relationship, long-term relationship. But still a relationship. And although the difference between love and a relationship is not in degree, …

Work—the Tragedy of Our Age

The only text I vividly remember from my university semester in Classics is a poem by Hesiod entitled Works and Days. I read Homer, of course, and Virgil, and Ovid, and the three tragedians, but their texts have long become a blur of strange names, strange desires, inventive use of parataxis and the word “destiny.” But I remember Hesiod. Memory is a peculiar thing. Hesiod is the seventh century BC management book writer. He didn’t write about digital strategy, but his poems drone on in the earnest monotone of an old-school sociology lecturer who—after years of correcting student papers—decides to try his hand at fine letters. Hesiod is ace at conveying fact, but not at re-inventing it. This makes him a fine chronicler, but not a poet. I cannot imagine anyone reading Works and Days today for anything other than anthropological curiosity. I don’t remember all 800 lines of Works and Days—just five stanzas: one for each of the Five Ages of Men. First came the Golden Age, in which the land was bounteous, the …

‘Girls Need Female Role Models’ and Other Bromides

There are a handful of dictums in the modern feminist discourse that are so omnipresent, so incontrovertible, so apparently obvious, that, whenever they are pronounced, the only appropriate reaction is enthusiastic head-bobbing. Or, if you prefer, solemn brow-knitting. Like two plus two equals four, these dictums are axioms, not to be discussed, let alone contested. Challenge them, however, and you’ll see how easily they fall apart. For example, consider the adage “What will we tell our daughters?” Each time I hear this phrase, I remember Emmeline Grangerford from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Miss Grangerford spent her short life writing funereal poetry and died of disappointment, aged fifteen, after failing to compose a satisfactory eulogy for a deceased neighbour called Whistler because she couldn’t find a word to rhyme with his name. What will we tell our daughters? Why not tell them the same thing we will tell our sons, our friends and colleagues, our Thursday night poker group—and that should be whatever is the fairest and most honest analysis of the situation. What …