Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
FOOTNOTES TO FANDOM #11    | FOOTNOTES Page | Obituary Page |

The Pursuit of Knowledge rather than Instant Expertise

My excursions on to Open University courses have been purely self-seeking, in search of guidance and information on subjects in which I have had an interest – whatever I learned was the immediate end, rather than any ambitions to acquire degrees and recognition. So I found myself out of step with tutors and other students most of the time.

Some tutors were horrified because I didn't conform, the occasional one became quite friendly when he sussed out my motives for study. I acquired a reputation as a 'perfectionist' on several occasions because I liked to probe in depth rather than skim over the material to keep up with the academic schedule; most of my younger fellow-students didn't seem to know quite where they were going most of the time and were solely concerned with acquiring enough 'instant' expertise to pass the exam and get a credit towards their degree. No doubt they'll finish up qualified but not very knowledgeable.

The last course I tackled (and I probably won't be able to afford any more !) was the Modern Art & Modernism, a revamp of the earlier Modern Art course that raised the issues of Modernism and post-Modernism. It soon became obvious that the course was not actually about its proclaimed subject, but rather concerned with art historians and their manipulations of art history. So while fellow students were busy assimilating the 'right' opinions to see them through the course and exam (some right sycophants there), I decided it was time that I tried to assess how I'd arrived at my present views, after growing up in the 'modernist ambience' and absorbing so many ideas uncritically.

So, I'm still In effect progressing the course under my own steam, with time to fill in all the neglected gaps, and follow up all the 'recommended reading' lists and tracking down sources. I've accumulated more and more related books – many of the American books quoted in the course were out-of-print, and now, a couple of years later, have been reprinted as paperbacks, making it easier to get to grips with the material instead of having to rely on selected quotas.

I still attend classes at Manchester University to provide a basis for my present activity; at the moment I have a particular interest in events in the thirties, events that shaped my life in unsuspected ways. There's no end to the probing!

So, all in all, now I'm outside the confines of the academic establishment, it looks as though I have embarked on a slightly narcissistic course. The self-indulgence of old age.

There are all sorts of other projects linked with this... I'm also catching up with a six-months accumulation of records: the hi-fi conked out just before we had the builder into No. 10 to do some structural alterations during the summer. As the place was in such a mess, with dust floating everywhere, and we had to move possessions and ourselves round various rooms as the work proceeded, I gave up any ideas of immediate repairs. I recently got around to a fault-finding session, and with the minimum of upset actually got everything working again so far as record reproduction was concerned, so now we are back to surround-sound 4-speaker stereo again.

While working through the new records I've also been revisiting the Collection (which needs existing shelves to be reinforced, and a considerable footage of new shelves to house it.) I did once think that I would give up buying records on retiring, and spend the rest of my days playing through the Collection, but it hasn't worked out that way. Though I still have an occasional urge to spend a whole day and immerse myself in some musician's work, to really get to hear what he's saying.

Ideally, the scenario would be an early start in the small hours of the morning, on one of those finds, glorious summer days that seem endless; I'm alone in the house, and the rest of the family are elsewhere pursuing their own interests. I have all the records of, say, Charlie Parker, lined up and start playing them in loosely chronological order and carry on right through the day, playing and comparing all available takes of each track, dipping in the discographies and relevant books - a real 'In Memorium Charlie Parker' day.

I see there are 65 Parker albums on the shelf (and sundry tapes) so maybe a day will not be enough to play through team... let's see, 35 LPs with an average playing time of 35 mins, that would fill some 40 hours... All right, a 3 Day Parker Festival ! I guess there will be complications when I got around to Mozart and Haydn; I just checked and I have some 90 Mozart LPs and 113 Haydn LPs, Problems, problems. I can see that I shall still be busy when it comes to post-retirement.

(Is there life after retirement ?).

From a letter to Mal Ashford, December 1988.

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