Brunel to offer a special sort of Self-assessment

'The young have fewer preconceptions' - Will Self talks to Jack Grove about his new professorship

February 23, 2012



Credit: Alamy
Self-aware: 'am I just going to wander in and spread a bit of the sparkle of notoriety? No, I will work seriously at it'


"I am worried," admitted Will Self, pondering his new role as professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University.

Not by the prospect of giving lectures, marking student essays or any criticism directed at him as academia's latest "celebrity professor", the writer added.

"I'm mostly concerned about the raw physicality of having to work with colleagues - it's something I have not done for 20 years," he conceded during an interview in a trendy cafe in Soho, London.

"Meeting with you here is pretty intense for me. I often go whole days without talking to anybody."

So, is Mr Self - known for his morose, misanthropic public persona - cut out for working with wide-eyed undergraduates?

The answer is a resounding "yes", he declared, based on the numerous public events he undertakes each year when promoting his books.

"It sounds a bit cheesy, but what I have found, in that public role, is that what I have most enjoyed is engaging with younger people.

"I have enjoyed it more since I've got older - younger people have fewer preconceptions, are less hidebound and are more excited by texts. Older people are often intent on recapturing that fine, fearless rapture they had in their youth and don't find it.

"There are only a few works that hit you in that way, and it's very exciting to be around people when they are in the throes of that experience - their first love affairs [with literature]."

Mr Self will teach at Brunel's schools of arts and of social sciences on urban planning, psychoanalysis and contemporary society.

The interdisciplinary role attracted him because it would enable him to "explore the more angular, difficult" aspects of his work, he said.

He will also be involved in some work with Brunel's creative writing department despite his "doubts" about its teaching.

"There are some very honest practitioners of it...but if you have 100 people doing the course, how many are going to make a living as a writer?"

Mr Self is mindful of criticisms levelled at other "celebrity professors", such as the PR expert Julia Hobsbawm, visiting professor of networking at City University London, and A.C. Grayling's stable of big-name academics at the New College of the Humanities.

"Am I just going to wander in and spread a bit of the sparkle of notoriety over my students? No, I will work seriously at it and attempt to be a good educator and communicator," Mr Self said.

"I'll be doing more in the region of 300 or 400 hours a year."

But does he mind Brunel trading on his star status to attract £9,000-a-year students?

"Yes, I do, actually. I wish the funding system were different. I would rather I were employed without being a necessary multiplier because of my public profile. But that's how it works - [Brunel] see it as quite a crude calculation."

Recalling his student days at the University of Oxford, Mr Self added: "I will be drawing on the fact that I wrote three essays and 7,000 words a week in total.

"I don't suppose they'll allow me to work my students at that pace, but I will certainly encourage the same disciplined reading and absorption in texts.

"My time at university was very odd because I was already in quite a lot of trouble with hard drugs. In fact, I sat my exams on bail. But at the same time I worked very hard - I really did."

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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