Intellectual Communion en Masse (Excuse the Pun and Read Along)

Heidi Zheng
January 26, 2015

Lectures are my raison d’être here in Oxford. Fingers crossed that my tutors, past, present or future, never come across this post, but sometimes I feel the weekly tutorials and all the hard work they entail are the dues I need to pay in order to earn the privilege of access to some of the most brilliant minds in the world, fifty minutes at a time. I get my work done way ahead of time just so I can squeeze in as many lectures as possible; in fact, I now schedule my own work (and meals, and gym; just life in general) around the lectures that I blocked out in Naught Week, the minute the lecture lists for the term went live online.

Lectures typically start five minutes after the hour indicated on the schedule and finish five minutes before, so one can theoretically make two consecutive ones on time. Not for me, unfortunately. My interests lie primarily in continental philosophy and critical theory that, in the most analytical-minded university on earth (Sorry, Cambridge), is almost always listed under French or German Literature and thus lodges in the wonderful Taylor Institute, fifteen minutes away from English Faculty, the homebase for literature lecturers and also one street down from Catz proper. Having to prioritize one over another is torture. Religion and Theology, my major back home, is curiously located amidst the Math Institute, center of primary care, and various medical research facilities on the other end of the town. Cursèd is that 30-minute power walk or, if you are like me, a 25-minute sprint.

I do own a bike that I rode only once, on the wrong (aka right, hashtag cognitive dissonance) side of serpentine lanes paved with pebbles, in the perpetual drizzle, shouldered by huge trucks and unpredictable phalanxes of tourists during morning rush hour, and have been thoroughly traumatized since. So I walk. But the vast amount of time and energy spent on the road is so, so, so worth it. A friend of mine last term said she was transported by the Classics lecture she went to; I found this the pithiest description of that incommunicable yet incontestably palpable chemical combustion that just detonates your whole mental faculty, a private carnival that only your fingers, furiously typing away, betray. It is almost a mystic experience. Three stars.

One word of warning before you close the tab and dismiss me as a maniac: once you sit down in a lecture, you cannot leave halfways. I have definitely had my fair share of less-than-majestic lectures, sometimes because of wrong expectations, sometimes due to, let’s be frank, subpar delivery of the lecturer. But my advice would always be, when in doubt, give it a go. After all, this is Oxford. Even if you feel slightly understimulated by the bulletpointed slides on Orientalism, you can always look out onto the hallway, where the world’s leading scholar in Islamic Art is making coffee in sweatpants.

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Heidi Zheng

<p>I am a Religious Studies major and Literary Translation Certificate candidate at University of Rochester, an aspiring academic of continental philosophy and/or intellectual history, a part-time writer and a life-long reader, a connoisseur of all things dairy, a glutton for podcasts, a procrastinator of uploading photos to Facebook, and, for this school year, a visiting student at St. Catz, Oxford.</p>

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