On clarity & transparency


(not UBC: Clare Hall, University of Cambridge: exemplary intellectual environment)

Things have been happening at UBC. I am optimistic. That may of course change: I may become less hopeful, or more hopeful. I am of course hoping for the latter, because it’s better to be happy than sad. Especially when you add to your own happiness that of other people. 

There will be more about all this later on. There’s plenty about it already around online, and now increasing press converage to add to individual voices, independent groups, collectives, and a growing sense of community as a whole. A community of positive energy, with a fondness for UBC, willing it to do and be good: a community that is a force for good, speaking and writing and acting in the greater good. There is a sense of a res publica. A revolution, a wind of change, reforming and rehabilitating and renewing a university that was in peril because it had lost sight of individuals and community, of caring and compassion, of accountability and transparency and responsibility; that was in danger of losing its own humanity.

Right now I am resting, and finally resting my ears, in the sublime peace and quiet of Clare Hall, Cambridge; visiting The Beloved who is here on sabbatical. It’s delightful to be able to enjoy short bursts of sabbaticalising myself in this way. The soundlessness is the most marvellous feature here, and this is only my first full day here. On this occasion, that is; I had a similarly lovely few days here in December, and had been here previously but as an active member of other colleges (Peterhouse, 1991-94; Girton, 2003-04) and as a “townie” working here (1994-96). I know there is much about Cambridge that I really didn’t appreciate then, especially when (the world’s sketchiest) undergraduate. The main one that strikes me right now is the quiet. That is, as I’ve said before and ranted and raved about, the one single thing that would improve the quality of academic life at UBC. As part of the working conditions necessary to academic work: to solitary scholarship, to collaborative work, to intellectual conversation, to teaching. 


reading nook, detail of a visiting fellow’s flat: one of many impeccable features designed around human scholarly inhabitants

The quiet here is enhanced by atmospheric conditions. So far, we’ve had all the classic February weather here: a changeable day with several different kinds of cloud; patchy rain-showers and some hail, “localised” in that they issued from a small cloud that moved. This is very western Atlantic archipelagic weather. In Cambridge, there’s the addition of a north wind that blows uninterrupted straight from the Arctic across the fenland flats and down through the town. This helps keep those clouds moving. This mutable weather, but with a constant of that freezing wind, may help keep thoughts moving too. That wind is cold, but it’s a clear cold, preventing the marrow-chill you get elsewhere in these islands’ muggy damp. 

Today is a different classic Cambridge February day. Crystalline blue sky. Luminous. Cool, clear, crisp. That wind is still there, off and on; it never really leaves. Keeps us good intellectuals honest. 

So I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity today. Blame the weather, blame current events at UBC. Later on, I’ll add what I’d been writing on Twitter; in the meantime, here are some dictionary definitions to enjoy. They’re from the Oxford English Dictionary which is one of my joint favourite dictionaries (the others are the Grand Robert, the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, von Wartburg, and some other crusty venerable ancients of medieval philology). Just as in the Grand Robert, each entry is also a collected literary anthology, with old friends and introductions to potential new ones, and some marvellous wit. So these are also two of my favourite books.




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