Better late than never?

You know how it is: you start a new blog, intend to keep something of it going and then circumstances change and it all goes a bit awry. Well, that happened.  Here’s a brief summary of life over the past 8 months.

Firstly, I didn’t do anywhere near enough work in Semester 1, and the blog was not the only thing to suffer.  I’m catching up but this week, having been Freshers’ Week, I’m nowhere near target either, so procrastinating here probably isn’t helping greatly.

Secondly, it all kicked off at work: we had a sudden closedown of the trial I work on. That meant having to fit 2yrs worth of work into practically 3 months. My study work didn’t suffer much but everything else did.

Finally, there has been a lot of things to do with organising and administering RPGSoc and related outfits to be done.

Of course, that wasn’t the half of it: what else has been going on?

RPGSoc won the National Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Championships in Manchester: I’m the current Champion of D&D 5th Edition and Large Model Painting.  I have been playing 5th Edition on Thursday nights still: our gaming group has changed with the change of storyline, and it’s not as good anymore (the group slightly, the storyline mostly), but it’s still brilliant 😀

I’ve been to no airshows since the loss from the air of Vulcan XH558, but I did go to both Bruntingthorpe Cold War Jets open days with my friend from Essex who’s recently moved to the area and I also went to Newark Air Museum’s Fleet & Foreign Open Cockpits thing (although only for the Foreign-y bit), as well as City of Norwich Aviation Museum while I was visiting Emilie and the East Midlands Airport Aeropark with my Mum.  I also visited the Avro Heritage Museum last December with Matt.  So that’s four new Vulcans on the ‘visited’ list 🙂

We went abroad to Austria for the first time in ages and I remembered how much I miss Graz.  Some friends moved back to Nottingham and it’s like the family came home.

My Masters has really kicked off: I’ve been to loads of conferences as a participant so I’ve travelled well!  I’ve also met lots of very interesting and lovely people.  My supervisor thinks my work is very good (it has been described as ‘excellent’!) so it can’t all be that bad.

Let’s not leave it another eight months, eh?  Well, I’ll try my best.

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Philosophy of Language

I am interested in philosophy of language, but I don’t really understand it: I read the suggested reading and understand it as I read, but as soon as I finish, it’s gone from my mind.  To really make sense of it, I have to make notes as I go, which is time-consuming, but is it worth it?

I went to this seminar having read all the recommended reading, understood it and, as just mentioned, entirely forgotten it all (making extensive, time-consuming notes was not worthwhile for this seminar given my other responsibilities).  But I learned some things in the seminar which were useful, and backed up my ideas: that’s crucial, because if my ideas had been wrong I would have been too demoralised to even think about looking at it for my research.

I consider myself a novice in this area: I’ve always had more to do in the linguistics side than the philosophy side.  It also doesn’t help that it’s all generally written in a high register which I now have difficulty understanding, but was probably fine when I was constantly immersed in high-end academic writings (so, 2002-6).  But I think it might be worth looking at.

As I am looking at interpretation of song lyrics, the philosophy becomes important: it is all about relevance, inference, meaning defined and meaning received.  So I will read the book the lecturer kindly lent me and make extensive notes on it, and then I will decide if it’s worth including.  At the very least, it is worth looking at because it is interesting, and at worst I will have more things to think about.

Gender Theory and its Impact

This week appears to be ‘gender week’.  At University, today’s Research Skills seminar was on feminism and gender studies; tonight’s inaugural Popular Culture lecture is on masculinity (amongst other things) in James Bond.  On the radio on Monday there was a (lighthearted) discussion about male and female brains.  Via Twitter yesterday I read an article about language and gender: interesting moreso because our Research Skills class is for ‘language’ students (well, students in Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, so predominantly language students of some sort).

In exciting news, it does appear there is a ‘term’ or two for who I am, but it’s problematic outside of the academic sphere.  Also problematic was a fellow (non-native English speaker) postgrad’s use of the term ‘deviant’, although that in itself led to an exciting discussion about language use, lack of language capable of describing things and even the use of language to include as a means to degrade.

The first article I read was by Halberstam on female masculinity.  Unsurprisingly, I immediately picked up on the tomboy parts of the article and would now like to refer to myself as a perpetual tomboy (as if perpetual student was not enough): Halberstam talks about tomboyishness as avoiding adultness, specificlally adult feminism.  The fields I operate in (roleplayers, SF addicts etc.) are full of people who don’t want to ‘grow up’ in many varied ways, and it is also a very accepting, diverse field, which I think helps.

So, now you’re prepared as my stereotyped diversity-accepting public, here’s my other identifier: queer.  Not queer in the ‘popular’ sense (non-heterosexual), but queer in the ‘academic’, gender sense.  Nonconformist.  Contrary.  More than ‘a bit’ different.  It’s nice to know someone’s thought of me and I’m not the only one: sometimes it’s nice to have a pigeonhole to go to.  I like the German language explanation (same root) using quer, across, which is pretty accurate: just because I like planes and wargaming, and usually dress in men’s clothes and enjoy power doesn’t mean I’m attracted to women or don’t enjoy looking like a woman sometimes (although, again, that’s a power thing because it shocks).

Halberstam did go on to say (s)he* was not going to investigate heterosexual female masculinity in the article I read as there wasn’t much of it about, so I’m still in the ‘a bit weird’ category for some things!  But at least I don’t have to suffice with describing myself merely as ‘heterosexual female’ anymore, although maybe I will stick with ‘perpetual tomboy’ outside of academia…

So what about gender in my research?  That’s got to be important, right?  Oh yes, and I did come up with lots of interesting stuff while doing the reading for the seminar, not least from Flax.  I am not, however, going to attempt to include much in my research for the following reasons:

  1. It’s only a Masters and I can’t afford to include too much beyond the direct topic: it risks taking over.
  2. I have more personal interest than professional interest so I’ll leave the gender theorising to more qualified people.
  3. It is something I don’t know much about in the Russian context, nor am I sure where I’d even begin to find out.

I’m not going to ignore it: that would be stupid.  But I think it is important to not dwell on it too long as I don’t want to get sidetracked.  It is important, and there are so many aspects to it in Western metal (female participation, female fans, androgyny, homosexual lyrics…), but it’s not something I can afford much time on and I know I would be horribly unfocussed, as I often am when I’m interested in something from a personal level but not really as an academic.

So, now I have reviewed feminism and it’s James Bond reference (GoldenEye), let’s see what Nathan Waddell has to say about Bond and masculinity.

* Halberstam was a woman when the article I read was written, and is now a man.

My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

Ice dragon

The Three Metal Operas, Part One: Treasures of Epidemiia

In this post I would like to introduce Epidemiia in the same way that I discovered them: though their metal operas.

Epidemiia are a power metal band from Moscow. I first discovered them by picking up a CD in one of St. Petersburg’s ‘505’ outlets in 2004. I was attracted by the stylised dragon design and because I recognised the name of Ariia’s then lead singer, Artur Berkut. I had some experience of rock opera, but metal opera was a new thing to me. Power metal was something I had only got into more recently too: as a classic metal fan I had only in the last year been exposed to such bands as Iced Earth and Helloween.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaiia Rukipis' album cover

A stylised gold dragon with participants’ names and bands around the edge

I was hooked: as a fantasy fan in general, the language, themes and characters were instantly appealing. The music was great too: powerful, expressive, emotive. This was their first metal opera, El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’, ‘The Elven Manuscript’. I chose the transcript as my language project for my final semester at University, which was when I discovered the Dragonlance references. This is a series of books set in Krynn, one of the worlds associated with Dungeons & Dragons. I am familiar with it although I would not call myself well-read in the series.

Briefly, the story follows a half-elf called Dezmond as he tries to save his world, Eniia, from invasion by the evil Deimos who lives in the sister-world to Eniia. The songs are good, but not outstanding, and the storyline is excellent.

Epidemiia: El'fiiskaia Rukopis' - Skazanie Na Vse Vremena album cover

The dragon is now ‘stained glass’ and the names are gone

After this I looked at Epidemiia’s other albums and found I enjoyed them. A second metal opera, following directly on from ‘The Elven Manuscript’, was released in 2007. I unfortunately did not manage to get a physical copy of this until recently, but I downloaded the transcript and lyrics. It is called El’fiiskaiia Rukopis’: Skazanie na Vse Vremena (The Elven Manuscript: A Story for All Time). This time, Dezmond and Torvald (his human friend) must help Deimos prevent an invasion to his world, Ksentaron, by the daemoness Minatrix who has sought help from Deimos’ erstwhile companion Skai, the blue dragon. The songs are better, in my opinion, and the storyline is not as strong but carries quite well.

Epidemiia: Sokrovishche Enii

A whole new style for a whole new outing

Finally for the trilogy, Sokrovishche Enii (Treasure of Eniia) was released in 2014. With the weakest storyline but the best songs, it follows on again from the previous opera but less directly as it takes a tangent and follows the gold dragon Giltias and dwarf Drogbar as they investigate an unused portal between Ksentaron and Eniia. It features a star-studded cast and was performed in full in Moscow and St. Petersburg during 2014: I was lucky enough to see the latter (a review for a later post).

I hope this post has given you an insight into Epidemiia and my opinions on their Metal Operas. If you would like more information, you can visit their official site at www.epidemia.ru but it is all in Russian; Wikipedia carries an article in English at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemia, as well as a page on the first metal opera, but there is little else English-language out there for non-Russian speakers. Hopefully I can add some useful insights for the English-speaking community into my favourite power metal band!

All pictures from epidemia.ru; click album covers to go through to the corresponding page