Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Contemporary Relevance of Francis Bacon's Essay "Of Studies" by Hoor Banu

The Contemporary Relevance of Francis Bacon’s Essay “Of Studies”

Hoor Banu: All Smiles after a fruitful day at Osmania University

The paper won "Special Paper"  award at the "Paper Reading Contest" organised by Department of English, Osmania University, Hyderabad, 18-19 August, 2017 


“Reading maketh a Full Man; Conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”, wrote Francis Bacon in the essay, “Of Studies”, published in the year 1597. Francis Bacon was a revolutionary lawyer, scientist and political figure of sixteenth century England. However, among students of English Literature, he is valued for his pioneering work on content and style of the English essay. Influenced by French writer Michel Du Montaigne, Bacon developed his own compact and formal style of essays. Some of his other popular works include, “Of truth”, “Of Travel”, “Of Atheism”. I have taken up for my study the essay, “Of studies". One may think, why in an age of information overload, when the dynamics of the way we read, write and study has undergone inexplicable changes, I choose to go back to Bacon? What is the relevance of remembering Bacon in the context of studies when our knowledge systems are being updated and altered every day at a maddening speed? In my paper, I would like to elaborate the importance of the essay, “Of Studies” as a testament to the culture of education and knowledge. The essay, is not only Bacon’s criticism of sixteenth century scepticism towards objective way of attaining knowledge but also useful to understand some of the academic trends in our times too (Zagorin 379). In the paper, I shall highlight the way  in which Bacon has illustrated the purpose, protocols and impact of studies.

Purposes of Studies
One of the most famous images of English Renaissance literature is of the picture of the title page of Bacon’s Instauratio Magna; it shows the ship of learning sailing back from the straits of Gibraltar traditionally thought to be the limits of knowledge, returning with new ideas an discoveries (Vickers 495). In “Of Studies”, Francis Bacon, in a precise and lucid manner describes the three primary purposes of study. The first one is“Delight”. Bacon states that certain people study for gaining pleasure. They wish to enhance their knowledge so that they can engage in academic studies of interesting ideas.  For example, one may be an accomplished scientist but studies equestrian life as he or she desires to become an expert in horse-riding. The idea supports the popularity of many hobby-courses and art workshops taken up by working professionals whether working in corporate or other fields these days. Such studies are meant for self-advancement, a desire that defines the Renaissance outlook of  Francis Bacon. The second purpose of Study is for “Ornament”: people who wish to come across as educated and refined while in conversation in polite circles may take up studies. They attain knowledge, not to improve upon themselves but to impress others. Bacon’s observation reminds me of Facebook and the erudite conversations on gender-rights, corruption and other such topics that many people take up in social media without being an expert in any of them. The third reason for studying is for enhancing one’s “Ability". The knowledge of subjects enables such people to improve their skills at work and the capacity to take decisions to make work possible. Bacon is here taking about educated professionals, like teachers, engineers, managers who use their education to complete their work successfully.

However, if we all are able to use our education in our jobs then why do we complain about the quality of our work? Often, in colleges, companies who come to recruit students complain that students have technical knowledge but lack  quality. I have been able to trace the answer in “Of Studies”.  Bacon clearly mentions that our academic knowledge can be perfected only by experience and observation. Thus, I have felt the need for an education system which is activity based and enhances the  critical thinking capacities of our mind.
But how should we do that in times when we are almost sinking in the sea of information around us? As a solution, Bacon prescribes, a few protocols.

Protocols of Study
Bacon, through common place metaphors, states that books are like food; Some are to be tasted, that is read in parts, others swallowed, to be read but not curiously and few to be chewed and digested, to be read with diligence and attention. Bacon even elaborates the importance of reading subjects like history which make men wise, poetry which lends wit, mathematics that sharpen our senses, philosophy that give us a moral ground, logic and rhetoric that enhance our ability to analyse and argue. These ideas by Bacon encourage us to devise methods to make our study more focused and impactful. For example, these days we not only learn from books but from the internet, television, radio, social media and cultural events. If we are asked to write assignments on Shakespeare’s Tragedies, we have a number of sources to flood us with information, some of them might not even be correct. If we carefully follow Bacon’s suggestions then we may devise ways to filter the information we receive and use only those that are relevant. Bacon’s ideas are for posterity, as they not only show us ways in which our approach to studies can change but also the impact it has on our lives.

Impact of Study
Abuent Studia in Mores; Studies influence our lives, writes Bacon. He then offers a list of subjects and their impact on our minds. Bacon confidently concludes that, “every defect of the mind may have a special receipt”; just as diseases have medicines, similarly our mental needs can be satisfied by study of appropriate subjects. Such a useful observation by Bacon has made me query about the impact of literature on my life. Many people have asked me, "why literature"? And sometimes, I ask myself. What do you all think? Do you ever ask that question? Well, I am no expert and have simply taken my infant steps in the ever widening world of literature, but I go back to Bacon and understand that literature has given me knowledge beyond the limits of  my academic interest, my  culture and  the possible boundaries that I thought existed in my mind.

Conclusion: Relevance of Bacon
Francis Bacon’s “Of Studies” reminded me of the speech titled, “A Well Educated Mind verses a Well Formed Mind” by Dr SashiTharoor. In the lecture, Tharoor, explained the importance of critical thinking and creative, self-driven approach as a solution to many of the educational problems in the country. Similarly, Bacon proposes, us to constantly reinvent ourselves through studies. In the essay, Bacon highlights the importance of attaining and understating knowledge. In our generation, we use knowledge, to pass exams with excellent marks but does that ensure that we have understood what we studied or that our minds have been shaped by the books we read? We will become graduates in Literature but will that ensure that we shall become nation builders with suitable reading, writing communication and employability skills? 
Few of my queries have been answered by Bacon. The essay has acted like a catalyst to clarify the reasons we take up education or the study of a certain subjects. Bacon’s essay highlights the ultimate need for self-motivation and self-refashioning through studies(Cairncross). It shows that studies are simply not for an educated mind but a mind that strives to pursue excellence in service, character and moral growth.

Works Cited
Cairncross.A.S. Ed.  Eight Essayists.Macmillan. 1937 1st Edition. Print.
Vickers, Brian. “Francis Bacon and the Progress of Knowledge”.Journal of the History of Ideas.Vol. 53, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1992), pp. 495-518. University of Pennsylvania Press.Web.
Zagorin, Perez. “Francis Bacon's Concept of Objectivity and the Idols of the Mind”.The British Journal for the History of Science.Vol. 34, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 379-393.Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Company for some Spook and Science- Report on QLC Meet- 15.9.17.

Finding Our Inner Shell
Q.L.C. decided to explore some diverse genres in English literature in its meet-up on the 15th of September 2017. 

Chandana Deals
With The Last Question
Dr. Sumitra Jaiswal gave a brief introduction about the themes for the day- Gothic, corporate, and science fiction. She talked in particular about Prof. Jayant Narlikar, one of the first Indian writers in the genre of science fiction.

Sumitra Ma'am
 Talking Science Fiction
We began with Viola, Madhuri, Chandana, Meghana and Rakshita, who presented Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, under the science fiction category. The story deals with the development of a series of computers called Multivac and their relationships with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in 2061. It tries to answer the question how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted. In each of these eras someone decides to ask the ultimate "last question" regarding the reversal and decrease of entropy, which is often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system, which only increases over time. The answer is eventually unearthed only after the universe is dead. The story ends on a cliffhanger, challenging the boundaries of both science and theology.

Mahveen's Take on Company
We then proceeded to a world of constant entropy, as presented by Seema and Mahveen in the story Company by Max Barry under the Corporate fiction category. Company is an office-novel, a take on life in the modern American Corporation and on the management fads that influence how they are run. The story is both disturbing and hilarious in parts. The plot-twist leaves one caught off-guard, and raises various ethical questions about the corporate world. 

"That's the thing u learn about values,they are what people make up to justify what they did."

Megha and Team Bringing Ghosts into the Room

This was followed by a skit by Megha, Apoorva, Manisha, SreeLekha, Sumana and Keerthana. They portrayed a hostel room of girls and showed how different people have different perceptions on the existence of supernatural elements. Their performance made it easier to believe that they had brought a ghost into the room, and definitely send some shivers down our spines. 

Krutika Presents No Complaining Rule

Then there was a presentation on Jon Gordon’s  No Complaining Rule by Krutika,Grace and DhanaLakshmi. It dealt with wide-spread negativity at workplaces in the corporate world. The story revolves around a single-parent Vice President of an MNC who struggles with the challenges of her life, and is often pessimistic. The twist comes when Hope decides to stop complaining, and start finding solutions to the problems she is faced with. Then a survey was conducted to find out how many of us were complainers, and surprisingly, I turned out to be one.

Kirti, Rama and Gayatri then came up with a unique skit which seemed to revolve around a girl called Shell. Shell, who appeared to be lost in her own world, was often shown to be struggling with every-day tasks that most girls are adept at. All of her flaws were received with hearty laughter from the members. However the club suddenly turned introspective, when in the climax, Shell is somehow interpreted to be living inside all of us- like she is the one who adds essence the ­shell of our bodies.
The skit, although a little unsettling, made us look at ourselves differently, and allowed us to be more accepting of our own inner “weirdness”.

Navya Looking for an Alternate Ending

 Chetan Bhagat’s One Night @ Call Center was the next text to be tackled under the corporate fiction category. Presented by P. Navya, V. Navya and Meghana, who explored the problems faced by the six protagonists of the novel, the story wanders into the supernatural spectrum, when the characters get "a phone call from god". There followed a discussion on some interesting alternative endings for the plot, while we also analyzed the problems  that the call center workers were depicted to be facing in the book.
Asfiya Introducing
 the Kafkaesque

The next presentation was done by Asfiya, Hari Priya and Juveria on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. In true Kafkaesque fashion, it deals with themes like absurdity of life, the disconnect between mind and body, the endurance of the sense of alienation. The presentation also asked us to explore the limits of our own sympathy, when we were asked what our reactions would be if our own family members turn into a "monstrous vermin", like the protagonist of the story, Gregor Samsa. It was also about discovering the true sense of metamorphosis in the novel, which was made all the more interesting by Kafka's cryptic writing style.

Time for Some Spook-
Deeksha, The Ghost.
To wind up, we had a truly spooky performance by Deeksha and Aanshika, who dealt with the legend of the popular horror film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The chilly room, the dimmed lights, and videos of Emily Rose's exorcism playing on the big screen made for a perfect ending for a meeting that had us all down various lanes in the vast world of literature. 


Report by K. Meghana.