Category Archives: book review

Great feast of fellowship, what a thing it is!

Education is quintessentially utilitarian. it is the soul of a society that grows into a collective human civilization in which individuals become cosmopolitans of the global village. William Butler Yeats saw education as “not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In fact, education is the beginning of enlightenment, the road to Alpine Path to reach the peaks of your dreams and goals in triumph, no matter how rigid and challenging it may be. It is, therefore, a human right belonging to all ranks and titles, and it is this very reason that I was very glad to come upon this wonderful website “Working Class Academics Conference” on Twitter.

The conference is a congress of academics with honorable intentions to form a supporting network of collegiality that encourages their increasing presence and voices in academia where normally is dominated by scholars and academics of the affluent middle-class and privileged high class. It purposes to signify, acknowledge, and salute the achievements of working-class people embarking on an odyssey of their own in search of will to meaning in life via education despite biological, social, and cultural inhibitions against the elitist currents of Higher and Education and the University often unfriendly toward their peers of another class. It is Parliament of Kindred Spirits and Faeries that guide their fellow academics of similar socio-economic backgrounds to climb to their due respect and well-deserved recognition from the mainstream academia. 

In fact, there have been many notable figures of the working class who rose above social and biological planes that would not dispirit their noble, unyielding spirits flying high over the mountains of existential difficulties. Take Charles Dickens. Although Dickens’s family was originally of the middle class, his debt-ridden lawyer father took his family to a debtor’s jail and even sent very young Dickens to a factory for livelihood, which practically makes Dickens and his family working class. However, his talent for words and literary aspirations overcame the vicissitudes of hardscrabble life and made him arrive as one of the greatest writers in English Literature. Then there is also Ben Jonson, a leading neo-classist in the Elizabethan era who was abruptly driven out of his much-beloved the College of St. Peter at Westminster by his bricklayer stepfather at his youth to be set to work at bricklaying for living. And yet, Jonson tried to preserve a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on social recognition by relentlessly pursuing his literary ambition to be justifiably on par with his contemporary less-talented stiff upper lipped university-educated dramatists, poets, and scholars. Speaking of which,the immortal Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare also worked as an actor as well, ruffling the feathers of his expensively educated high class contemporaries and to our contemporaries to this date.

In conclusion, the conference is a great feast of celebrating the fellowship of working-class scholars whose existence in academia is often regarded as slighted lesser equals who dare to hobnob with their academic peers of privileged class on equal terms. These fellows of solidarity do not brandish placards championing a campaign against expensively privately educated scholars or academics in a frenzy of excitement fulled by their class-related jealousy. On the contrary, the conference is a celebration of their achievements, a festivity of who they are, a festivity of where they come from. And I want to praise them for the following virtues: pleasant without affectation, welcoming without exclusion, audacious without impudence, learned without pedantry, and brilliant without sententious bromides.

‘Books and Reading in Shakespeare’s England’ – essay

“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man,” said the Elizabethan man of letter Francis Bacon. Reading was, in fact, a social experience, a public act, in the realms of academia, ecclesia, and civil service in the early 16th century England before the Reformation era, which was still reminiscent of medieval traits in general modus viendi. Reading was an expensive activity of the literate accessible to Greek and Latin texts, and books were not so much a necessity as a luxury. So much so that going to a theater was cheaper than buying a book. This Elizabethan culture of books and reading was the topic of the delightfully informative podcast interview “Books and Reading in Shakespeare” with Stuart Kells and Jason Scott-Warren, which I came upon while I was reading a book about the culture of Elizabethan England with a mental exclamation: Geronimo!

Shakespeare used historical contents, contemporary literature, and translations of classical continental source texts to use them as his poetic imitations. The existence of Shakespeare’s library is always elusively ethereal, but the poetic dramatist was himself a walking library; carrying all of the source texts in his head and drawing on a wealth of the information, he created a polyphonic work that elegantly and wittily interwove multiple strands. With Shakespeare as an illustrative example of personalizing books to use them as source texts to create his own works, we see the Elizabethan England changing from the elitist medieval academic institution to the popular readers’ club with members from various social strata wallowing in simple pleasure of reading books to their liking. This cultural character of the era is marked by individualism; that the responsibility for your achievement is attributed to yourself was the ethos. This growing self-confidence in awareness of individualism permeated writing as well as reading by personalizing the knowledge of others to make it your own.

The increasing availability of books in English language resulting from the Reformation encouraged people to teach themselves to read, including women. A variety of subjects, ranging from recipes for meals to Scriptures, in English gave access to those who were often excluded from a feast of knowledge enjoyed by a privileged few, and now more people could share the joy of being knowledgeable and creative thanks to the democratization of reading in general as a result of the mass production of books in the vernacular language that captured the shift to a more literary culture in comparison to the continental counterparts.

In short, reading practice in Elizabethan England reflects social changes in the religious climate that permeated people’s literary interests: the Bible became the ultimate self-help book as well as philosophy and literature that made readers inquisitive and intelligent by trying to ascertain the meanings of the Gospel, which was the office of the clerics before the reformation. Now the time changed, and people read the Bible directly, using their own faculty of comprehension and imaginativeness. Consequently, the democratization of subjects and accessibility of books gave the power of knowledge to people to enter the truth of the world and the beyond. Blimey. For reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Lion’s heart wrapt in Sari – on Jayaben Desai

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The Unlikely Fighter: Jayaben Desai

It was one sweltering summer day of 1976 when 43-year old Jayaben Desai finally culminated over the demeaning mistreatment and delivered her tirade against her manager of the Grunswick Film Processing Laboratories in London and stormed out of his glass office that sealed her outcry of frustration and indignation that had been smothered under the daily duties of existential needs for livelihood for years. So when her manager told her to work overtime at the very last minute as usual, again and again, Desai couldn’t take it any longer. For Desai’s personal life and her right to freedom after work meant nothing to the management whose discriminating attitudes toward their southwestern Asian immigrant workers were beyond pale. No More Docile Asian Woman who, unlike her English counterparts, would acquiesce to her despotic manager’s orders. This time Desai transformed herself into a lioness unafraid of the goading. This time was hers, and hers and her fellow immigrant workers. 

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A Lion’s Heart wrapt in sari

Upon reading the article “We are the lions, Mr. Manager” in my subscribed BBC history magazine, which was about the famous Grunswick Strike in 1977 led by then-unknown former Grunswick employee, Jayaben Desai, I could not help but take pen to paper for the following reasons: (1) it was about the first remarkable calling for a solidarity for the rights of workers on the periphery of social recognition;(2) it was the first and foremost Asian women’s strike against the industrial injustice backed up by the establishments, including that which they claimed to be for the people and by the people; and (3) it manifested the deep-seated general British public’s sentiment towards their Asian immigrant neighbors who were regarded as socially and culturally inferior to theirs based on race and culture. 

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Despite Desai and her collaborators, mobilized support from politicians and trade unions was conspicuous by its absence.

What really made me incendiary about the one woman’s protest against the exploitation of the race and gender for dignity and justice was the absence of massive support from her fellow English workers. She was reminiscent of a lone frontier woman in a duel against her heartless landowner with hoots and holler from his ilk. Although supports from people with goodwill and conscience were impossible to ignore, a majority of established social organizations did not lend helping hands to Ms. Desai and her fellow hardscrabble workers sending a distressed SOS call to their English peers. Where were their so-called English contemporary counterparts who were also economically disadvantaged and socially oppressed? Was the outcry of their fellow immigrant workers only a barbarous shouting trying to threaten their jobs? 

Although Ms. Desai’s heroic legacy has left an indelible footprint in the world’s social history encompassing racialized minority workers on social radar, labor disputes concerning the exploitation of race and gender are still rampant. What’s more, it still happens in our digitalized social media-governed age all over the world, including here in the States. How to stop or ameliorate the social ill shouldn’t be treated as a stylish, popular subject to gain constituents for political party ideology. Until then, the exploited will remain invisible in the dark and dank corners of the society willfully ignored and utterly abandoned.   

‘Adam Smith kidnapped’ by Stuart Kells – review

In the case of life imitating art, you tend to find meanings of events in life, to liken them to values of adversity in life, and to sublimate them to the divine auguries of purposeful human existence. In fact, this existential approach to the causality of certain human behaviors and characteristics can help you to understand whys and wherefores of the way people are and thus can even disarm all hostility towards strangers without prejudice. Such is the case of Adam Smith, the father of modern idea of Capitalism, author of “The Wealth of Nations” whose such proverbial reputation had piqued me no more than as a boring illustrative curriculum vitae of just another stuffy intellectual with privileged educational and social backgrounds until I read Stuart Kells’s article about the Real Adam Smith whom I might never have known.

Adam Smith, a posthumous son of a successful lawyer and customs official, was a rather melancholic, lonely, but humane thinker who liked to spend time with himself alone but also kept his foot in reality by observing everyday people’s lives and considering them to employ in contextualizing ills of society as a result of ineffective rules of law failing to protect the welfare of subjects. Smith’s brilliance shines on the simple and lucid illustrations of his thinking in common language that the literate and the illiterate could understand. He was a soul of the wit distinguished from his peers and progenitors favoring abstruse expressions of bombastic words pedantic of their academic learning. 

Kells enlightens us that this humane trait in Smith can be originated from the traumatic experience of being kidnapped aged four at the home of his Scottish maternal uncle allegedly by a set of vagrants called ‘Tinkers’ or a party of Gypsies, the Wandering Egyptians. Although who the real culprit of this kidnapping is still a mystery to this day, what the event affected the tender mind was all over but the shouting. It was Smith’s first interaction with the world outside the safety of class, the innocence of childhood, and the security of the family. Already fatherless, the very young Smith must have felt powerless, hopeless, and homeless at the hands of his kidnappers. And this melancholy spell cast upon him became his curse and bliss as it made him look into the pains of other people and meditate on the causes and effects thereof by sympathizing with their sorrows and emphasizing with the sorrowful. 

The kidnapping incident of Adam Smith read like a piece of sensational news to me, a kind of new awakening, the equivalent of modern-day news that a bestseller writer or a prize-winning writer hails from a poor family without expensive private high education. And it makes you think about what makes a person become who he or she is and appreciate the person’s values that overcome adversity. In this respect, Adam Smith is in league with Charles Dickens, who turned his suffering into works of art. It’s a triumph of the human spirit over the travesty of life. All in all, thanks to Kells’s telltale article about the wondrous event, I have abandoned my prejudice against Smith as a cold, stiff upper lipped economist and warmed to his humane side. Maybe I might even read “The Wealth of Nations” into the bargain.

New Order, New Oat Milk Drink

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Once upon a time, there was a natural beverage called Milk from a cow out of which people made a variety of victuals to live and enjoy. Then when the age of reason hit the zenith of ethical paeans and scientific progress, people engineered offspring of Milk to their likings and called them low-fat, 2% reduced-fat, fat-free, or even lactose-free. And that’s not the end of hubris. It bellows to encourage people to try extremes like that of Dr. Frankenstein. The results are almond milk, soy milk, and now oat milk, which Starbucks has recently added to its beverage menu.

It appears that Starbucks has finally nodded to the growing demand for vegan alternatives to dairy products, attracting more upscale, environmental and health-conscious clientele supporting Greta Thunberg’s noble environmental activism. Thanks to globally strategic campaigns about the alleged maleficent effects of cow milk on the grounds of health, environmental, and ethical issues, drinking cow milk has become something diabolical. Subsequently, dairy sales and related industries have drastically fallen and continued, causing many companies to file bankruptcy and even more people to lose their jobs. I wonder if these so-called upscale people have even worked at ordinary jobs and understand the dreadful consequences of unemployment, prior to pontificating about their virtue-extolling manifestoes.

I am unsure of whether Starbucks will hit a bonanza by selling the new vegan addition to its menu due to the facts that (1) only 13 locations in the U.S. Mid West and a few selected locations in the U.S. will sell the oat milk drink; and that (2) there are still many people who are not ardently militant against cow milk when it pairs deliciously well in their favorite cold drinks. For me, I may try the new oat milk drink if it becomes available in my location out of curiosity, doubled with a writerly responsibility to see if it’s really worth the replacement and the propaganda for me to jump into the bandwagon.