Alana Joli Abbott (alanajoli) wrote,
Alana Joli Abbott

Changing Collective Representations (and the British Museum)

Three years ago, when I was the teaching assistant on the trip to Ireland, I mentioned Firefly, because it was quotable (and because I often reference it). Only one of the people on the trip -- a group of seventeen students and three chaperons -- had seen it. This eliminated a good chunk of my referential humor (since that had been one of my main staples at home) and counfounded me some. How had they missed that show?

This year, in the airport in Boston, a passenger with the first name Kaylee was paged over the loudspeaker. The conversation went something like this:

Mark (the myth prof): Everyone with the name Ceilidh ought to be required to break out into song and dance on request.
Cody Jones (student): I think anyone with the name Kaylee should be required to know how to fix my starship.

And on it goes. Several of the students on this trip are familiar with the works of Joss Whedon (I was able to give them the good news about Dollhouse, which I still haven't seen, and they told me the good news about Chuck). We talk a lot about collective representations -- the given understanding of what something is or means that's common in a group of people -- on these myth tours, and I think it's delightful that Joss Whedon has changed a collective representation here and there. It's been fun to see that pop culture understanding evolve with a very similar group of students over the past three years.

The students in this group are, no surprise, brilliant and interesting people who are much quicker to think Big Ideas and have Deep Thoughts than I am, in part because they're in so much better practice. I do think that the big benefit of being in an academic setting the majority of your time, particularly in fields like philosophy and myth, is that you don't have so much practical business getting in the way of thinking on things like Knowledge and Being and the theories of Existence. (All starting with caps, because I think often when thinking big, deep thoughts and conversing on the nature of the universe, capital letters are warranted.) I imagine I'll catch up reasonably well by the end of the trip, but in the mean time, I'm just enjoying basking in the conversation that's flying back and forth and the ideas swimming in the air around me.

We went to the British Museum today, in large part to see the Lindow Man, the body of a corpse, possibly the victim/subject of a ritual murder/sacrifice and discuss the implications/meaning of his death and the way he was killed, not just from a modern perspective, but from the hypothetical perspective of the people involved in the whole affair. Moving around the museum trying to see artifacts from that perspective -- trying to imagine what they might have been -- is both a good thought exercise and a good writing exercise, but is always challenging. The layer of glass between you and the objects can be frustrating -- it reminds you that you're in a museum, and that you're far separated from the people at whose objects you're looking. So much to my delight, the British museum had four stations in the building devoted to letting you touch old objects (and when I say old, I mean a stone hand axe dating back to, well, the stone age). Of the objects I touched, the most impressive were an idol from the UK, a small, copper figure of a god that weighed in the hand like a worry stone might, as though its weight was designed as a comfort; several silver dinari, worth, in their day, about 30 pounds each, from the varied reigns of Claudius, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius, who put his son on the same dinari that his head was on in order to insure proper succession, and who put his wife on a separate coin, opposite a peacock, in his efforts to make her a goddess after her death; a chunk of a vessel from a burial chamber from the Babylonian city of Ur; and a piece of wall brick inscribed with cuneiform that proclaimed it built by Nebuchadnezzar. It is a qualitatively different experience to touch pieces of history than it is to simply see them, and the British Museum has won itself an even bigger fan than it had before. Any time I return, I'll look first for the places where I can touch small pieces of history, and imagine those before me who held these pieces in their hands when they were new.

Tomorrow we're leaving London for Salisbury, where I may or may not have internet access. In the mean time, I'm taking pictures and reading books. No writing progress to report thus far (aside from the class exercises and this blog entry), but I anticipate having more done on my goal list when next I write!
Tags: browncoats, cody jones, england trip, ireland, joss whedon, mark vecchio, mythology, writing

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