Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Experimental Seances

The experiment has come to an end and we await the results. While we are aware that the experimental hypothesis was impeccable and the protocol was reasonably complete, we are not yet sure how effective and error-free the experiment has been. All of you are now on holiday and some of you will never use your brain cells again. We, of course, are not on holiday yet, still stalking the hallways like the unquiet dead.

Well, here are some activities you can pursue if you do not want a fate like ours. Check out this link. The rest of Velcro City is also pretty amusing. Typical Brit humour, gone global.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop (1969)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mailer Error

Norman Kingsley Mailer died this morning, aged 84. He was an irascible and somewhat perverse man of letters. I will always remember him for a traumatic O-level year in which he published Ancient Evenings. It was a very interesting, meticulously well-researched piece of ridiculous social rubbish. It was also 704 pages thick. I wasted a lot of time on it. At the end I knew two things: Norman Mailer was a wonderful writer, and this was certainly not a good book.

All the same, wherever he's gone, I hope it's not to his ancient Egyptian hell. There is such a thing as too much description.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sense and Sensitivity

As IB students (and soon, graduates), you're supposed to develop an international outlook - open, tolerant and sensitive to other peoples and cultures.

When you write in your essay "Huck Finn meets the nigger Jim and they run away together", you will show yourself to be an insensitive - even racist - oaf rather than the IB student we had all hoped for. This is because, as you know, the term "nigger" is an offensive term to many people. So, if you intend to use it in your essay, you must fence it in with quotation marks, to show that you are quoting Mark Twain, and that you are not the one calling Jim a "nigger". OK? Do you know what I mean?

In the same way, please stop saying that white people or the entire white community is corrupt, heartless and hypocritical. Twain does not make that generalization - you are the one doing it. He has many examples of good-hearted white folks in the book. When you malign an entire culture/community so carelessly in an essay, you show yourself to be an insensitive Asian chauvinist. This is not the way to impress your examiner.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Corrections

If you feel like working your Paper 1 muscles today, you could take a look at the extract below. It's from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001). Alfred and Enid are an older couple and Alfred is developing Alzheimer's.


Enid could hear Alfred upstairs now, opening and closing drawers. He became agitated whenever they were going to see their children. Seeing their children was the only thing he seemed to care about anymore.

In the streaklessly clean windows of the dining room there was chaos. The berserk wind, the negating shadows. Enid had looked everywhere for the letter from the Axon Corporation, and she couldn't find it.

Alfred was standing in the master bedroom wondering why the drawers of his dresser were open, who had opened them, whether he had opened them himself. He couldn't help blaming Enid for his confusion. For witnessing it into existence. For existing, herself, as a person who could have opened these drawers.

"Al? What are you doing?"

He turned to the doorway where she'd appeared. He began a sentence: "I am --" but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he'd entered, he would realize that the crumbs he'd dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn't quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren't uniform, weren't an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he'd encountered the word "crepuscular" in McKay's Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult life he'd seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn't just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he'd sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he'd entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods -- "packing my suitcase," he heard himself say. This sounded right. Verb, possessive, noun. Here was a suitcase in front of him, an important confirmation. He'd betrayed nothing.

But Enid had spoken again. The audiologist had said that he was mildly impaired. He frowned at her, not following.

"It's Thursday," she said, louder. "We are not leaving until Saturday."

"Saturday!" he echoed.

She berated him then, and for a while the crepuscular birds retreated, but outside the wind had blown the sun out, and it was getting very cold.

Think clearly, write to the point

Hope everyone's papers have been going well!

If you're looking to get into a good frame of mind for Paper 1 tomorrow, I suggest that you look at some subject reports, to remind yourself of what IB examiners want or don't want to see in your scripts.

I've put the last 5 subject reports (May 2005 to May 2007) on LMS, so you can download it, scroll to the right pages for Paper 1 (it's somewhere in the middle, after Internal Assessment, aka IOC, and WL), and take a look at their feedback again.

A few reminders:

- Keep an open mind tomorrow when you read the passage and poem. Try not to jump to conclusions about what the piece is about (i.e. if you see a few references to war, don't assume immediately that the piece is about the futility and horror of war; don't make easy assumptions based on the title and year at the bottom - these assumptions are often wrong; etc). Allow the piece to speak to you - every piece will have its own set of concerns and style, allow them to come through. Sit there quietly and listen to it. Don't be too quick to impose your judgment on it. Spend the first 15 mins wisely. Read carefully.

- Do not write a super-long essay. A hefty script at the end of 1.5 or 2 hours may reassure you ("I have a good essay! It's 10 pages!") but it will dismay the examiner before he/she even starts reading ("#%^&*!! Another 10-pager! What is with this school and its students??"). It might be counter-intuitive for you, but please restrain yourself from writing a long essay. We value quality so much more than quantity that when we get a concise essay with good ideas, we are desperate to shower marks on it to show our appreciation.

So when your friend next to you raises his/her hand for the fourth time for more paper, restrain yourself. Write a concise and good essay. That will get you a '7'. Length will not.

- Write neatly. It matters. If you don't believe me, read the subject reports.


That's it from me for now. You guys have the intelligence and the ability to do well in this paper. Go out there tomorrow and show 'em what you've got! :)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nov 2006 Paper 2 (SL and HL)

Why are so many people asking me for this paper? It's on LMS - I put it there a week or two ago and I just checked and it's still there.

Go look again, OK?