While I miss the comforts of my home department at Hopkins and am greatly looking forward to my spring semester schedule (s/o to the Course Catalog Overlords for this year’s bountiful offerings), it has been beyond rewarding to continue my education in a city known for its illustrious literary history and vibrant cultural community (free museums! everywhere!). Two courses in particular have engaged me in ways that are rooted to the city itself, one through its London-based literature and the other through weekly class sessions held in different museums & galleries from Millbank to Soho.
Utopias & Dystopias in 20th Century Literature
Considering that I hadn’t read a truly dystopian novel since high school, I was really excited to take this module, especially considering how many of the works are set in the U.K. We’ve analyzed Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in relation to the broader historical context of London’s socioeconomic (and physical) landscape at the time it was published, versus Huxley’s futuristic version of the city: skyscrapers a hundred stories high, the infiltration of exaggerated American culture, and a complete lack of monarchical tradition. Right now, we’re reading a novel entitled The Drowned World, which is centered on a London that’s been submerged by melted ice caps and extreme climate change — even the Ritz Hotel is underwater. Ironically enough, Ballard’s novel was written before there was any real concept of global warming, and is simply a hyperbolized fantasy that uses London’s real life underground rivers as mechanisms to “drown” it and create a dystopian world. Walking around the city with all of this in mind has given me a newfound appreciation for the richness of its history, not to mention for the opportunity to study in a place that inspired such works.
19th and 20th Century Art in London Collections
I’m not an art history major, but LUCKILY for me, UCL has courses specifically for non-majors who still want to dip their toes into the serene waters of the London art world. Too vivid a metaphor? The course is a survey of art from the mid-1800’s and onwards, with most of its focus on 20th century contemporary art. Each week, my classmates and I make our way to a different museum or gallery space in the city to meet with our lecturer, who then takes us to specific works for the group to discuss in more detail. Thus far, we’ve gone to the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and, on a particularly windy day, took a brief walking tour of several public art installations near Shoreditch. It’s one thing to read about the works in preparation for class, and an entirely new level of learning to experience them in person, in London. I’ve even seen works I learned about at Hopkins last year, which makes it all the more dope. In the coming weeks, we’ll be even attending a temporary exhibition that will only be up for the next few months or so — if I hadn’t studied abroad here, I never would have seen it, let alone had class in it! Anyways, here is me, having a millennial moment with a work by Donald Judd after our lecture on Minimalist art — forgive me for falling into the selfie trap just this once.