Newsletter No. 395

10 No. 395, 4.4.2012 …… 如是说 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 赛马会公共卫生及基层医疗学院黄仰山教授 Prof. Wong Yeung-shan Samuel, The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care 下期预告 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. 你曾说价值观危机蔓延整个渐趋全球化及物质主义 的世界,英文系可以如何应对? 任何一个人文学科学系都有能力和责任回应这危机。传统 上,有关价值的讨论及思考,多在宗教和精神层面出现,但 是世界愈来愈世俗化,执迷当前,注重物质,这意味着在宗 教与精神以外的领域将出现更多这类讨论和思考。长久以 来,最低限度从浪漫主义时期起,欧洲的文学界有识之士 一直认为文学巨着与其伴随的评价及讨论,为有关价值的 思考提供了一个重要甚或是最重要的园地。但你可以说, 哲学、历史,甚或「博雅」学科,当然包括宗教研究,也同 样可以创造这样的空间。无论如何,一所优秀的大学是应 当致力让本身成为价值讨论和思考蓬勃发展的场所的。我 们尝试发挥填补价值讨论空间的功能,靠的便是协助学生 理解及使用这大抵是全球最具影响力的现代语言及文学。 就如任何语言和文学,英语的价值观和局限早已存于其基 因中,学生只得自行调适与之磨合。教学显然是我们最重 要的工作,责任不在于「教导价值」,而是让学生省察我们 是活在一个价值复杂的世界中。 未来数年,英文系有何计划? 就如大学各部门一样:应付双班年、新课程以及财政上的 少许不明朗。学系已修订课程阵容,以配合新的(或可说 是回归)四年制课程,并发掘新资源,让学生有更多沉浸 于英语本土环境的机会。我们有份主办的中国大学莎剧比 赛,已成为内地和区内大学界年度盛事,期望可再接再厉, 发扬光大。英文系积极扩充研究生课程,学系有为数不少 以英语为母语的教员,加上「中文大学」这名号,对拟继续 深造的内地生可谓十分吸引。此外,专为四年制准毕业生 而新设的「总结科目」,筹备工作已近尾声,希望这安排可 协助学生把在大学所学整合沉淀,并利用「模拟面试」,为 日后求职作好准备。 你就现代自我观如何形成并随时代演变着述甚丰, 可否谈谈最新的作品? 我最新的研究是从英国浪漫诗人威廉 ‧ 华滋华斯和德国 哲学家康德的著作和生平中,探讨他们对救赎的理解。按 基督教的说法,我们都是罪人,基督之死是为了拯救我们。 但倘若基督教不再是大部分人的信仰,那又如何?这些概 念在世俗环境仍然存在,华滋华斯将救赎视为对自然的崇 敬,便显示了这原属基督教的概念可以怎样递变。我即将 出版的 The Making of the Post-Christian Imagination ,谈 的便是华滋华斯和康德的世俗化救赎概念。 为什么是华滋华斯? 有史以来诗人首度赋予诗作救赎意味,是在浪漫主义时期 (1780 – 1830)。但是诗作要带救赎性,便得少点诗味,多 点哲理或思辩。在英语作品中,这类诗人的表表者当数华 滋华斯。他赋予笔下的自然山水充沛的道德性,吁请众人 及自己透过对诗歌的信念,寻求转化,回归高尚的道德情 操。转化、又或由此导致的救恩、赎罪和宽恕,均反映潜藏 深处对「救赎」的渴求,这样说,基督付出的是生命,而诗 人所付出的,就是穷其一生,用其语言来写诗。 在中大教授英文主修课,感受如何? 任何大学教学人员都会体会到,教书是工作中最重要又 最有乐趣的一环。向一班天资聪慧、专诚求教的年轻人传 授你认为是世上最重要的学科(卖花赞花香,这是当然的 了),人生夫复何求!著书立论又是另一种满足感,但跟 在课室中直抵(或起码尝试直抵)学生的心灵又不一样。 苏格拉底曾说,言传在听者脑海直接刻画的印象,远非任 何撰述可比。提到在中大任教跟其他院校的相异之处,我 只能与英国和澳洲的大学比较。在那儿,你可假设学生有 较广较深的英文阅读经验,也较惯于批判性争论;至于这 儿,他们普遍较热衷于追求成功和出人头地,对有利于将 来事业发展的科目十分积极和努力。中大有一些顶尖的英 文主修生,无论他们将来会否走学术的路(很多高材生未 必会晋身学者之列),他们都明白英语流利就是不一样。 此外,教授一个学生尚大有进步空间的学科,总是更为有 趣的。学生心存感激,当老师的自会对其教学更谨慎从事、 深思远虑了。