Don's Diary

December 4, 1998


Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study. Wonderful, monastic spot in a house in woods like Virginia Water. The Dutch government pays for it in the name of the international life of the mind. Forty-odd scholars congregate annually to bash on with their latest mighty work, some thematically grouped (eg southeast Asian economics), some not; only half of them Dutch. This is munificence on a Renaissance scale. The institute is modelled on Princeton and linked to a clutch of such emporia, particularly Wolf Lepenies's magnificent Wissenschaftskoleg in Berlin. No such thing in Britain of course.


Back to Sheffield to found an institute of advanced study of the cultural industries and social values. This is not a research fantasy, though it may become a nightmare. I have been prompted to do it by ruminations on the desirability of research institutes and the way they might keep up communication with the future. The boss has encouraged me to have a try, the university will chip in. I tap on the doors of great moguls of liberal-spirited public communications, news-paper barons, television caliphs, princelings of capital in Yorkshire and ask timidly for Pounds 250,000. Taxi to Whitehall, ask Alan Budd: this wheeze is important, this place would be priceless, it would be cheap.


Marvellous old Richard Hoggart talking in Sheffield, still so engaged, so principled, so steady, still talking over the heads of the dreadful auditors and assurance merchants as though it were near enough to the beginning of the world, as though "Degrees-R-Us" had never started and it remained the first business of a university to tell the truth, to expose lies, to conceive of the good society, to make culture as beautiful as it can.


Rallying my tutors for a new MA in creative writing for film and television starting next October: Steve Attridge, Andrew Davies, Jack Rosenthal, Olwen Whymark. Beat that for a list. The idea is for the reading and writing sessions to take place in half a dozen bursts of high-intensity study, with students working solidly for a nine-hour day, five days at a time. Then they push off back home or to work, polish what they have done, come back for criticism. There will be a couple of actors and actresses on hand to perform the stuff, so students can see how it looks, and some cameras, of course. The idea is to mimic the conditions of television and film script production, or at least teach as much about its real foundations as possible.

It will be a new kind of degree - practice-inseparable-from-theory, criticism-with-creation, work-and-value. It will, I hope, turn study back into a love affair, restore that old excitement at learning that is like terror.

Fred Inglis

Fellow-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and professor of cultural studies, University of Sheffield.

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