PhD researcher Ciara Gorman joins Bryony Armstrong to discuss:
Content warning: this episode contains some discussion about violence against women and mental illness.
Credit note: the linguist referenced is Paula Teixeira Moláns who can be found here: https://www.gla.ac.uk/pgrs/paulateixeiramol%C3%A1ns/. As a clarification, in her talk she was discussing Galician, and said that: 'English has a limited vocabulary and relies on a spatial metaphor such as high and low pitch whilst other languages have other strategies. For instance Galician uses son agudo and grave (as in ‘acute’ or ‘pointy’, and ‘heavy’ or ‘serious’ respectively)'.
Artwork: Riduwan Molla https://www.canva.com/p/riduwanmolla/
Music: Madaan Mansij https://www.pond5.com/artist/mansij_tubescreamer
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Hello, and welcome to 'What's the Point?', the podcast where we discussed the need for arts and humanities today. I'm your host, Bryony Armstrong. We're living in a time when the arts and humanities are under threat. And I know this firsthand, having studied both English and maths at university, and now doing a PhD in English. Each week, I'll be joined by a guest talk about what arts and humanities do for the world. If you've ever wondered, what's the point of the arts and humanities, this is the podcast for you. My guest today is Ciara Gorman, here to talk with me about language learning, gender studies and contemporary culture. Ciara is coming to the end of her PhD at Queen's University Belfast, researching representations of female criminality in contemporary French crime fiction, and is also the web and media officer for Women in French, UK and Ireland. Let's get into the episode. So I thought we should start off by talking about how you came to kind of choose a humanities path. I know that you, like me, opted to do a joint degree during your undergrad. So your path has been kind of less linear than some people's. So can you tell us a little bit about how you kind of came to choose a humanities path?Ciara Gorman:
Yeah, you're right, I did a joint degree for my undergrad, which was BCl law and French. And actually, in my first year, I also took some English courses. And then I had to decide between English and French, as I was moving into my second year, but I decided to stick with French because in some ways it let me do all the things I loved about English, like, you know, literature analysis, for example, just in the language that I really love, and my exposure to French began, when I was a kid, I was very lucky, my parents took my sister and I, on holidays to France from a young age. And they used to always play in the car for us those language learning tapes that are aimed at young kids. So I very quickly became exposed to French and you know, when you're a kid, your brain is quite elastic. And, you know, you pick up second languages very easily. So then, by the time I got to secondary school, and I started taking classes in French, things really came, you know, quite easily to me. And I found that I had an aptitude for the language as well as a love of it, which can be two very different things. But they coalesced for me, and then by the time it came to choosing courses for college, it was a no brainer for me to continue with French and, you know, at the time, you know, I felt that it was a good option. You know, people always posit choosing languages as really good for your job prospects, which is not incorrect, right? I'm not saying that that's not true. It certainly is. And I think in an increasingly globalized world, particularly for students in Ireland, or the UK, given the situation with Brexit, or relationships to the European Union, you know, having a foreign language or a second language is a really important way to, you know, I suppose, enhance your employability but for me, it was so much more than that. Like, it wasn't really about my job prospects, it was because I loved the language and it, like, as I say, it, let me do all the things that I loved about English and had loved about English since I was in school. You know, literature, poetry, drama, politics, just in the language that I loved. And I think coupling it with law, which I'm not really sure is a humanities subject, I suppose is more social science, was really a choice grounded in, in fear. The crash happened kind of 2008 or nine, I did my junior cert in 2010. So I would have been maybe 15, that's the equivalent of the GCSEs. And I really remember at that time, people saying, you know, it's not, it's not a good choice to choose humanities, you're never going to get a job. The only things that are worth doing that will guarantee you a safe income and a steady income are STEM related subjects. And I could barely add with a calculator, so this was clearly not the direction that I was supposed to be going in or that my heart was telling me to go in. But I felt that law was a safe bet, maybe. But it became very rapidly apparent to me that I hated it. And that I really didn't want to, you know, continue it as a career. I wanted to stick with French in some capacity. And so, yeah, I finished out those two degrees. And then I did a master's in French literature and politics at the same university, Maynooth. And then I took a year out and I started my PhD then in French literature in 2019.Bryony Armstrong:
I think that's a really common experience that people have at school, the sort of fearmongering that begins at a really young age about choosing the humanities, and what will happen if you choose humanities. And it's interesting because it sounds like on one hand, you had encouragement to pursue French from some areas, but then fearmongering. So where did the encouragement come from? And then who kind of perpetuated the fearmongering about job prospects?Ciara Gorman:
Oh, well, my parents were very supportive, you know. Teachers, as well, also play this role, like, I was very encouraged by my French teachers at the time, you know. And law I, the choice of law came also, I suppose, in some ways, from kind of extracurriculars that I was doing at school, like I was on in the debating society, and I was able to, like, put some sentences together. So I felt that maybe law would help me to align with the things that I was good at, rather than being a vocation. But, you know, parents naturally are concerned about their children's earning prospects and their job security. And, you know, as I say, like, this was all taking place in the context of the post-recession era for me, so like, there was a lot of concern about, you know, where people were going to find jobs, and you know, what kind of money they were going to earn. And I think we're still having those same conversations now. And so it's not surprising that, you know, parents of people that I knew really encourage their kids to choose STEM-related subjects. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. You know, parents have been worried about their children choosing creative arts, for example, as a career, you know, since time immemorial, we find that a lot in in, for example, Agatha Christie novels, right? People are quite concerned about their sons or daughters or relations going on the stage or becoming artists or whatever. Because, you know, I think this idea of like hand-to-mouth living is kind of baked into our idea of what, you know, living off Creative Arts is, but that's not always true. And it doesn't apply equally to everything in the humanities. And what's great about the humanities is their flexibility, their applicability to everything, because what it teaches you is creative thinking, and how to lean into relationships with others and analyze the world around you. And I think that sometimes gets lost because we conflate humanities with "artsy degrees that don't lead anywhere or to a direct employment". For listeners, scare quotes around all of that. I did flirt briefly for a time with choosing Greek and Roman civilization as one of my degree pathways. But I felt that that would be an unwise and unsafe choice. And I feel very sad about that. I don't regret this. But I just feel very sad that there are so many really interesting subjects that people choose not to do, because they're, they're afraid that it's not going to lead them to a secure job, you know, and I think your university education should be about much more than funneling you from school into employment with no regards to what makes you happy.Bryony Armstrong:
Definitely. And we've talked about this in the past before, but it really is a myth that humanities degrees don't lead to jobs. I mean, even if we want to take that sort of particular capitalist economic argument of people getting "high paying jobs", it's not the case that that's true, because there are so many vocations that you can go into directly from humanities such as journalism. But aside from that, sort of, you talked about not being good at STEM. And the idea that people should pursue things that they have no aptitude for is kind of a ridiculous idea. Because is that what we really want for people? To all end up...I mean, I don't particularly want someone who designs a bridge I walk across to be someone who's no good at engineering. And I do want someone who writes the front page of my newspaper to be a brilliant writer, and to have had an education that enables them to be a brilliant writer. And we read things every day and interact with different forms of communication every day. And I want those people to get humanities degrees so that I can have complicated concepts communicated to me so that I can understand them. I'm sure most people interact with news in some way. And I think that's just one good example of where humanities takes people. But I know that you're very passionate about the study of languages. And so that started from a young age. I'd love it if you could share with us maybe some of the things that language study, you think, contributes to society that you've come across?Ciara Gorman:
I think, you know, my answer is really grounded in two things. One is like my own love of the French language and culture and how learning French has enabled me to connect with you know, a country and a history and a people outside of my own that bring me great joy, and I think, have enabled me to find new ways to express myself to understand my place in the world. to describe myself. You know, we often talk about German, for example, as having these, you know, very long kind of like compound words that describe very complex feelings that are not really translatable into English. And that's the thing, if you're learning German, and you, you know, you're learning these words, you're finding new ways to describe how you're feeling. And in the same way that, you know, that happens in French, and in all other languages, you're finding ways to describe the way you feel and the way you relate to other people that are beyond the confines of you know, your own language. And I think that really helps us to understand people's experiences as well. And I suppose this is the second part of my answer, then, is that, you know, I feel that part of the value in language learning is, is about teaching people ways to connect with each other and experiences outside of their own. And, you know, in the current...the current political climate, it's very obvious that insularity is going to be the death of us, right? That we need to be able to understand other cultures and histories to understand our own and also to make connections with...with people so that we can move forward together as a unit and you know, fight the rising tide of fascism, etc. And we can't do that if we can speak to each other. So, and that's about much more than being able to use the subjunctive correctly. That's also about being able to understand where people come from in their history. You know, the books that they read, the stories that they tell themselves, the stories they tell themselves about other people, and languages, the study of languages is the gateway to all of that. It's the gateway to new understanding about the world. And I think there are, I personally think there are very few things more powerful, you know, very, very few tools more powerful than this that are available to us in the current moment, to being able to, you know, find a way forward together.Bryony Armstrong:
Absolutely. I recently attended a workshop about sense methods, and people in the humanities studying the senses in different ways. And there was a brilliant linguists talking about how in, I can't remember, she said it was German, or Russian, but one of those languages, when you describe pitch, as in musical pitch, we in English use spatial metaphors. We say high pitch or low pitch. But in that language, they have a particular word for it. And it's just like you say, as soon as you study another language, it opens you up to a different kind of subjectivity and seeing the world. And having empathy is kind of what that is, which is such an important skill. And I mean, these things, being able to describe the way you're feeling, or being able to describe anything in a different way, that has huge implications for something like diplomacy. And then you mentioned Brexit earlier, or even something like medicine, like when you go to a doctor, how you describe the way you're feeling, because your GP, the only thing your GP has, apart from like, being able to observe signs is the way you communicate to them.Ciara Gorman:
Yes, so, no, you're so right. Um, my sister is actually a physiotherapist, and she works in a hospital. And, you know, one of the most striking examples I think of, for me, of the, you know, the lack of attention that we give to the need for languages, is in hospital settings where people are coming in, where, you know, English maybe isn't their first language, or they don't have the required vocabulary to explain in a healthcare setting, what is wrong with them, or understand what a doctor or healthcare worker is saying to them? And I think, you know, in that situation, it's unbelievable to me that we don't have a trained set of interpreters and translators available within really important settings like healthcare, financial services, all of that kind of stuff. And I don't know, is that just a money thing? Or is that because people don't think about it, because they haven't got that experience themselves? You know, learning a language allowed me like when I was...when I was living in France on Erasmus, like, it really opened up my eyes to the experience of migrants, or you know, people who move to a different country where the language spoken in that country isn't their first language, or they haven't learned it yet, and how difficult that can be. It's a very white privileged, you know, attitude for me to have, obviously, that I didn't really think about that until I was 21 and living abroad in the context of Erasmus, not fleeing from a totalitarian regime. But that...that was my experience, and it really changed my perspective. And that doing things in foreign languages is really hard. And so in the healthcare setting, in particular, if more people studied languages, or if we, you know, we had a more robust commitment to, you know, teaching modern languages to kids or, you know, fostering that kind of learning as they grow into adults, you know, I wonder what else will change. The healthcare landscape, the...you know, the way we relate to people beyond that, like it it's the ripple effects of investing in humanities and in particular for me language learning, they're so wide.Bryony Armstrong:
Absolutely, and I think as well some of the things I was just thinking of while you were talking there is that idea that some people learn language by choice, and some people learn language by necessity in a migrant experience. So picking up there on what your sister said about the idea of communication, that there's not enough thought necessarily going into the importance of words. This is one of the things that really amazes me about people diminishing the worth of humanities, because we are speaking to each other all day, every day in a variety of settings, from learning to work, to hospitals, to construction sites...anything...and the way people communicate is probably one of the most important things that we do since it enables most things. And yet, the study of that form of communication and how we do it in English literature, or language study, or even history in the way we've communicated in the past, is so disparaged. And that's always amazed me, because in a hospital setting, this is life and death, really. And I think this is why medical humanities is becoming, or it has, in recent years, really grown I think as a as a topic and lots of universities.Ciara Gorman:
Yeah, and it's not even life or death situations, right? It can be something as banal as the advertisements that you watch on TV, you know, and if you're not thinking critically about what it is that you're being fed, you know, you get swept up in things like diet culture, for example, and whatever it is they're trying to sell you. And you know, without those skills of, you know, critical thinking, media analysis, we miss all of that, you know, and even something like Tiktok, right, a Tiktok is just a story in and of itself, and the misinformation or active disinformation that is spread on media sites like Tiktok, or Twitter or whatever, that's enabled because people don't have critical thinking skills, because they're not encouraged to develop them, or they think it is limited to the, you know, the poetry that they hated when they were doing their leaving cert. You know, like, humanities is so much more than slogging away at Macbeth, which I really loved, by the way, no shade to Macbeth. But it's so much more than that. And I think it does a disservice to the ways that humanities help us to interact with and decode and construct new worlds, to reduce it to kind of, you know, "you're sitting around reading a book all day". It's the very fabric of who we are, and how we relate to one another. I can't...I can't think of anything more important than that. And that's not to say that STEM subjects or science itself, or technology, don't have parts to play, you know. Science is really beautiful, like maths can...can describe and predict, you know, the way particles in our atmosphere move. Like, I think that's, that's really gorgeous and profound. It's just not the thing that I have aptitude for, or that speaks to me. But everything is interlinked. Because, you know, it's great to be able to describe the way the particles move, but humanities, in some ways, for me do the practical application of that work, you know, what are the ripple effects of that on society? I think people often think that humanities isn't a discipline of practical application. But for me, I can't think of anything more practical than thinking about the way that policies that we make are used to construct, you know, power and the power relations in society, or the way as I say, like our advertisements influence our...our spending and saving choices. And, you know, we can't understand these things if we're not trained to, and we won't be trained to if they're consistently denigrated, from the time that we're kids, you know. Kids aren't stupid. I think people forget this, you know, when you're a teenager, you're picking up on not just what people say to you about, for example, the humanities, but also what they're implying, ie, you know, if humanities are a waste of time, and "you shouldn't study them, because you're not going to get a job", but humanities is the only thing that you feel called to and good at, does that mean that the things that you love are a waste of time? What does that say about you as a person? You know, again, the ripple effects are astounding, and to denigrate a whole, like tranche of existence for people and the way that they relate to the world, just because it's not concretely valued in the way that STEM is, I think, is to do a disservice to what makes us human.Bryony Armstrong:
It's so beautifully put, and as you say, it it's, it's the slogging away at Macbeth, for example, when you're 13, that then trains you to have the skills to do these things later. And one thing I've always found funny and interesting as someone now working on an English literature, PhD is that sometimes people who pick STEM routes think that humanities doesn't change. So we've all slogged away at Macbeth together when we're teenagers, but things change after that and you move on to a higher skill set and things become more challenging, and you have to demonstrate different skills. And for some reason, people think that I'm still doing the same things that I was doing in my GCSE English classroom, which is not true. And I'm sure...I mean, I definitely was...I'm sure other listeners will have been very triggered by that idea of,"oh, you just sit around reading books all day". The amount of times I've heard that! And I mean, just I, for people listening who won't know, I did an English and maths joint degree. And I think that the sort of...the, the learning process of sitting and reading a book and learning skills in English literature is similar to the learning process of doing question 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., etc, etc, question 2, 3, 4, 5 on your maths example sheet, over and over again, to train you to then do higher level more complex things. So I have always found it very interesting that people don't seem to think that your reading skills develop and alter as your education moves on.Ciara Gorman:
Exactly, and that you're not talking just about, you know, rhyme and stanza, like you're looking at, you know, for example, poetry in the context of the social structures in which it was written, its cultural context, its relationship to the history of poetry before us, and you know, the developments that came after it, what it says about politics, race, gender, you know,. The stuff that we did at secondary school was, you know, base level, it prepares you for going on to do much more complex things. And I think what humanities does for me is make complex discussion and thought attractive. It's...it stokes and encourages curiosity, to look deeper and to look beyond, you know, not just to look at, for example, Macbeth, right, as a text that you have to learn segments of, and then repeat in your exams. It's encouraging you to look at the text and, and, you know, see what's going on between the characters, how that relates to wider society, what that means for you, how that can help you relate to other people. It's...humanities encourages, in the same way that science encourages, a depth and breadth of thought that we need, if we are going to move forward as a society. Like, the kind of like anti-intellectual trends that we have seen in recent years, notably, since that, like the 2016 US elections, but obviously predating it, like actually just made me very sad, you know, this resistance to complex thought. And I think that encouraging people to follow the humanities as a path is the only way that we're going to get out of this.Bryony Armstrong:
I have to agree. You mentioned that...looking at when you're studying humanities, at gender and power, and the relationship between the two of them. I know that you're currently doing a PhD that intersects with Gender Studies. Gender Studies, is, I think, a research area and also a degree topic that gets a really bad rap. And I potentially made the horrible decision yesterday of googling some memes about gender studies, because I've seen them in the past, and I just wanted to refresh my memory. I really wouldn't recommend looking at them, because it's pretty depressing, but essentially, a lot of people disparaging this topic, and I saw one meme that said something like, "oh, yeah, I heard they're opening a big gender studies factory near you", you know, making fun of the idea of job prospects. This, to me is obviously very sad. But I'd love to know, as someone who looks at this stuff all day, why you think the bad rap that gender studies has and all these memes is unfair?Ciara Gorman:
I would maybe answer your question to start with by saying, you know, why does it exist? And...and the the bad rap for Gender Studies exists because people are afraid of what gender studies will reveal about the allocation of power, and how power can be can be reclaimed from misogynist capitalist structures, which aim to keep women you know, out of positions of power, or utilize them to further white supremacist goals. And Gender Studies helps us to understand the way those mechanisms of power work. And so that's why people give it a bad rap. That's what people call, you know, call people "angry feminists" or you know, "killjoy feminists", to borrow Sara Ahmed's terms. And I think that just actually makes me laugh. Because, you know, whose joy am I killing here? You know, I think that's a really interesting question to ask because if I am watching a film, which features a lot of, you know, violence against women or perpetuates quite misogynistic attitudes towards women, and I say "this is actually really hurtful and damaging and I'm not enjoying it" and somebody says,"oh, you're such a killjoy", like, you know, are you getting joy from this? Is this what makes you joyful? Or am I pointing out the fact that actually this is...this is, you know, a narrative that only creates, inverted commas, "joy" for a certain section of the population based on the degradation and devaluation of another segment of the population, you know, so that's why the bad rap exists in the first place. And then I think, you know, why is it unfair? I'm quite happy. You know, I don't consider myself a depressed or angry fem- um, well, I am angry, but I'm not upset about things all of the time. And I think that gender studies helps me to articulate my rage at the world into a productive channel, you know, I have to do something with what's burning inside of me, this is what I have chosen. And I quite enjoy being able to expose what people try to keep hidden in terms of, you know, power relations, gender relations, and how those things structure our society and our perception of people around us. So for example, in in my work, I look at criminal women. And what's interesting to me about criminal women is that in some situations, particularly women who take revenge against former abusers, for example, or, you know, other people who have harmed them, is the way that that revenge or their, you know, their anger gets invisiblized as madness, as hysteria, as you know, she's got some kind of, like mental illness or imbalance, the way that rage against oppressive structures and toxic relationships, gets hidden in favor of a really, really old discourse that connects women with irrationality, with imbalance and separates them from masculine worlds of logic and rationality. Right? And so I'm interested in how those really old discourses are either being replicated or, you know, potentially subverted in a post#MeToo era, you know, where women's rage really came to the fore, and had space and was validated. And I'm wondering how that has all filtered into the way that we talk about criminal women of all stripes. So gender studies, then, for me, is a way for me to do my own revolutionary work, I guess, because I'm not the kind of person who's going to organize a march or you know, like...this is my version of activism. And I think everybody has to find an outlet for their...their need for change and for justice in the world. So I think we all have that that desire. Most of us do anyway, and for me, this is the way that I'm channeling.Bryony Armstrong:
Absolutely. And I think we've talked about before that Virginia Woolf famously said "thinking is my fighting". And I actually have that on a pin that I wear on...on dungarees sometimes. And speaking of pins as well, I love that you mentioned Sara Ahmed, and "killjoy". Because at...for Christmas I actually bought my sister and my cousin a pin that says "feminist killjoy" after reading Sara Ahmed's 'Living a Feminist Life'. And I really have to agree. I mean, gender is something that affects all of us every day, you know, socially, politically, economically. It...it shapes the world. And to not study it, it does seem bizarre, and like you say, it seems like something that's based in fear of change. And that fear is obviously particularly allocated to dominant groups who benefit now from the system the way it is. And I know that...that criminal women is your...is your research, and, actually, just this morning, I was listening to the audio book that Angela Davis has just herself recorded of'Are Prisons Obsolete?'. And she talks about exactly what you've just talked about, that the criminal justice system has historically put women into mental health institutions and men into prisons, because deviance in women, like you say is...is read differently. Yeah, so I wanted to ask you a bit more about studying criminal women. And this sort of immense popularity at the moment, I suppose of...as...I know you study things like the police procedural or crime fiction...looking at criminal women on screen or in fiction is...is a way that a lot of people choose to spend a lot of their time at the moment. I mean, some people will literally spend hours watching something like 'Line of Duty'. (And I don't know, I haven't actually watched 'Line of Duty', I don't know if that has women in it.) And people will literally spend hours of their time binging a Netflix show or reading a book, and yet don't think that something they will spend hours of their time on is particularly worthy of study. And so I wonder if you just wanted to comment on, teah, your experience of studying criminal women and the popularity of this topic at the moment?Ciara Gorman:
Yeah, it's really fun to be studying stuff that's, like, in the extreme contemporary. It's rough because new stuff comes out all the time, and you're like, I have to cut myself off at some point! But I think what attracts me to it is that, you know, these are the stories that we're telling about ourselves right now, in...about the moment that we live in, these are the things that shape the way that we interpret shifts in society, shifts in the allocation of power, and, you know, constructions of what the future is going to look like. And I think we often, you know, don't give enough importance to how significant those narratives are. So a great example that I use all the time is the film'Love Actually', which is, you know, a classic, it's a favorite of many people. You know, we watch it all the time here at Christmas. And I hate 'Love, Actually', because I can't unsee now the the really, you know, hurtful and damaging narratives that it perpetuates, particularly about women. And, you know, that's another feminist killjoy moment. But what happens is, you know, you watch that all the time as a kid, and you basically imbibe those views and outlooks and then you become an adult who's got all these complexes. And not that, you know, I'm holding'Love Actually' responsible for mental ill health in people. But it's...it's a cultural product, amongst many other cultural products and artifacts that shape the way we think about ourselves. And so I'm really interested in in the current...current moment, you know, what are we saying to ourselves, about women who act out, you know? Especially in a moment when women have been acting out visibly more and more, and you know, #MeToo going mainstream, Time's Up, all that kind of stuff, you know, women coming forth with stories that they previously would have felt that they have to keep hidden. And the astounding lack of response from the justice system, in relation to that. So on the one hand, we've got, you know, women being very open about things. And on the other hand, we've got the state kind of shrugging its shoulders, about a lot of things. And in terms of, you know, you mentioned, like genre studies, which I also do, looking at the police procedural, for example, which has always been a bastion, kind of, of what people imagine as like comfort and reassurance, ie the police are going to come in and you know, Poirot is going to do his denouement speech and the criminal is going to be taken away at the end and things will are like order will be restored. That really doesn't hold up in the current moment where trust in the police has been eroded over decades and has now come to breaking point. And, you know, so what I'm interested in then is who...what these stories have to tell us about who merits justice? And who meets it out? You know, and where are we going to go forward from here?Bryony Armstrong:
Absolutely, because, yes, safety...safety in different communities looks different everywhere. And some...some communities have historically seen something ending in an arrest as safety, whereas other communities have found that to be the opposite. And that...going back to 'Love Actually' as well, that is, as you know...we've talked about this before...that I have always loved 'Love Actually' until I suppose my mind has been slightly opened to, I suppose, how much that has shaped my view of romantic life. And I mean, Colin Firth coming in at the end and doing a big speech in a restaurant...Ciara Gorman:
I love that scene! And I love that scene! And you know, I love it because of languages, because it's language learning in action, you know, in the romantic context, and I'm a sap and I love that scene! But that's...and I'm not here to say that 'Love Actually' is a terrible movie and shouldn't be watched, it's not that at all. It's more just that like, we also need to be aware, you know, and there are lots of people who would prefer that we weren't aware. It is an act of resistance to commit to awareness, to critical thinking, to analysis.Bryony Armstrong:
Perfectly put. And, as well, going back to sort of my point of the way people spend their time is incredibly important. And if, if your romantic life, for example, if you're somebody who wants to partake in a romantic life, it takes up a lot of your time and energy, then that's important. And therefore the way that we shape those narratives are important. And that comes from the narratives that we watch from a young age. So studying those narratives and discussing them in sort of academic and non-academic environments, it matters!Ciara Gorman:
And being curious enough to even have that conversation in the first place. You know, even if it's not something that you take for, like, let's say you study humanities at college, you do an English degree, whatever, and then you choose a career that's very different. Like the fact that you had that knowledge in the first place, or that curiosity, you carry that with you for your life. And, you know, it doesn't have to lead to like a concrete degree or job, I should say, you don't have to, you know, be able to trace a neat line from starting a college to ending up in a job that goes right through your degree and, you know, it's a comprehensible narrative or comprehensible trajectory. The fact that you've got that curiosity in the first place makes your life so rich, you know. Like, I think...I think all the time about that scene in the 'Dead Poet's Society' film, Robin Williams was giving a speech and he's quoting Walt Whitman. And one of the lines is like, you know, like "medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for". And it's not enough for us to move into, you know, the technological revolution 2.0(which is coming down the line for us, you know, whether we like it or not) it's not enough to, for us to move into that and say, "this is going to be what our life looks like", without also taking with us the desire to...to read, to watch films, to talk about them, to have a richness that isn't robotic. You know, there has to has to be room for both of these things, wherever we're going, you know, and if we don't encourage that curiosity and desire to...to engage with these things, now, I really fear for where we're going in the future.Bryony Armstrong:
And I think the stay at home orders in so many places during...I mean, it's not over...but during the COVID-19 pandemic has showed us that, yes, we will be sustained by medicine and science and technology, you can go to hospital, you can order something on Amazon, and it'll arrive the same day. But people will find a way to try to get poetry and art and watching a play into their lives, and music. And that is what sustained us spiritually during COVID-19, you know. A stay at home order without anything to bring us joy and sort of spiritual nutrients...that's mad to me that people want a world without that.Ciara Gorman:
And it's about how we understand ourselves, I think sometimes, to bring it back to the humanities, right? Like, STEM courses get a lot of credit, and positive praise, because they are seen to be producing knowledge that is applicable in the current moment, you know, with real world effects. And humanities produces knowledge that's maybe a little bit more intangible, you know, and when you start a PhD, you're reminded that what's going to come out the other side of this is, you know, a small contribution to the body of human knowledge. That is a worthy goal in and of itself. Because the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and our past and where we're going in the future, you know, that's what it all comes down to. Are...you know...we can't understand where we are right now, if we don't look to the past as well, the more that we know about the past and ourselves, like, you know, the better. Just because those products don't have like a tangible value to some people doesn't mean that they're not worth it.Bryony Armstrong:
Thank you for saying that. I think we all need to hear that sometimes, especially people like me who have embarked on a humanities PhD, and need to know that it's worthy to contribute to, like you say, the kind of body of human knowledge. Thank you so much for coming on'What's the Point?' It's been amazing to hear all your thoughts on humanities.Ciara Gorman:
It's been my pleasure, Bryony, thank you.Bryony Armstrong:
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