Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New Genre Wednesdays: Sarcastika

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 3: Still

What is the awareness of the other person -- the other person, whom you have not seen and will later studiously cast your eyes in a wide berth around so as not to glimpse -- although a person whom you will, later still, slipping back to your locker to retrieve your laptop with half these words already spilling in your head, with slight frustration, accidentally glimpse -- what is this awareness of this other person, whom you have not seen, but who seems to be as light and as restless a sleeper, and perhaps as desperate a sleeper as you are, this other person with whom you share at least these pointless qualities, this other person with whom you share also not exactly a bed, but exactly two beds, squeakily interwoven into one rickety structure, a set of bunks that creaks you into wakefulness again and again, that steadily disciplines your own tossing and turning into the most fastidious stealth, that once more and once more again rocks you asleep and stirs you awake like a cup of black coffee immiscible with its own milk?

This awareness must be the estrangement of intimacy. It must be the very familiar thing, of lying sound asleep but always a little awake, here beside the other other person whom you lie beside almost every night -- in, it has to be said, a very big bed -- only made strange.

Or (flip quietly onto your other side, forests of fidgets, and spoonings sprouting into sporkings) it must be the strange made familiar.

It must be the strangeness of those nights when you and she can't get to sleep, those fidgeting nights of prickles and frets and crabs, where the world of bed becomes a thicket of thorns. It must be one of those nights, only made safe and inhabitable, technicized and mechanized, and made as comfortable and hospitable as possible, while preserving the essential texture of snarls and crotchets, made hospitable and comfortable and in a sense therefore familiar both by this little metal infrastructure that keeps your distance for you ...
... and by whatever invisible infrastructure distinguishes your lives, whatever invisible infrastructures keeps distances that are not even "your" distances between you, keeps the stranger below a stranger. Beds within beds, wheels of milk within wheels of black coffee, dawn within midnight, trying to show kindness while you are asleep within waking from the dream that you are awake. It must be the strange within the familiar.

And there is a small but non-zero chance that the person in the bunk below you has written books you have read and perhaps been intimate with. And then what would shift or stir?

It is only because this is what has sprung to mind, this is what you have to compare it with, and cut a path toward it with, that it becomes this particular estrangement of a familiar intimacy, and the de-estrangement of this intimate disquiet. It could have been something else estranged last night. Paddling in a canoe, steering it together, trying to keep it level and its course true.

Or -- I think this is right, although I haven't had much sleep, for reasons I won't get into -- it could be an estrangement of some new something else which you retrospectively create in order to be that-which-is-estranged, and I think that is why estrangement can be political still.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 2: Flushed With Pride

I spend a not inconsiderable time yesterday tweeting about these little signs at WorldCon. This thread goes right round the U-bend.


I wonder about the distinction between moments of estrangement in which the estranged person has a clear sense of for whom such moments are estranging, and for whom they are not, vs. moments in which the estranged person is simply disquieted in a way that offers no such distinctions, and a way in which they perhaps may assume to be universal.

I don't know yet how well that distinction would map onto the distinction between cognitive and non-cognitive, let alone how it might relate to science fiction, fantasy, horror, the weird, etc. What do you think?

Read the thread, if you like. This small sign being a text, might it offer an instance of literary estrangement? Was your first thought, "Why would you put up such a sign?" or "Why would you leave poop papers piled in a corner?" or "Good, that might help" or "If only I had a boss who would put up a sign like that"?

If the sign does offer an instance of estrangement, literary or otherwise, where does it stand as regards Suvin's distinction between the cognitive and non-cognitive? And can its status as cognitive and/or non-cognitive be reconfigured through conscious effort? Does reading the thread shift it from non-cognitively estranging to cognitively estranging? Or does it shift it from estranging to non-estranging? Or is there some other shift? Or is there some other shit?

The concept of "cognition," for Suvin, is loosely informed by Kantian critique (and less directly, feminist epistemology): cognition has something to do not only with recognising your object, but with recognising who and what you are.

So who encounters estrangement here? In the thread, among those whom I hint are less likely to encounter any sharp estrangement are:

  • Finns
  • Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, etc.
  • Women
  • Cleaners

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Power Couples of WorldCon: A Field Guide

Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart. Of PodCastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, & Cast of Wonders. Podder Couple.

Malcolm Devlin and Helen Marshall. Travellers to antique lands frequently flock to Shelley's two vast and trunkless legs of stone. But why not squint up with the locals into the desert firmament azure, where hover two vast and trunkless arms of flame, Helen and Malcolm?

Patrick Nielson Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Grandmasters of the Worshipful Company of Editors, these two have long since stopped editing your manuscripts directly, and simply edit the fabric of reality so that they have always already edited your manuscripts.

Emma Newman and Peter Newman. Of Tea and Jeopardy. Power Cuppa.

Geoffrey Landis and Mary Turzillo. Of poetry. Pictured here gigglingly bestowing 600 feet of badge ribbons on grateful Cosplay Rapunzel who accidentally locked her golden hair atop her lofty tower.

Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. Of Big Book of Science Fiction. Ann here pictured deftly brushing a fragment of rheum schmutz from the inner canthus of the left eye of a jetlagged Jeff. Zoom in and you'll see it's a delicate scrap of film-strip-like ribbon: Jeff's dreams must be physically exuded by a miniature mechanical heirloompunk gland bequeathed by Jeff's really-great-great-grandmother, Greta VanderMeer. Greta, who arrived at Ellis Island Greta AvantDreamer, invented the practice of dreaming, today widespread throughout many parts of the world.

Me and you. You, it will one day be recognized, did most of it.

Elsewhere: all the Podsibilities.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Notes on Estrangement 1: Quick skeptical comment on WorldCon academic track in Helsinki

This may just be the blazing Finnish sun and that weird walnut drink talking, but.

During his paper, Andrew Butler discussed Darko Suvin -- the theorist whose ideas are totally indispensable to our distinctively coherent, and focused, and totally packed-to-the-gunnels enclave conference here in Helsinki -- and in a throwaway comment, mentioned that Suvin thinks only a small fraction of SFF is any good.

Another way of putting that: Suvin might say that only a small fraction of SFF is actually cognitively estranging. (And btw, the more recent Suvin would certainly see cognitive and non-cognitive estrangement as braided together within any text, rather than functioning as a big distinction between SF and fantasy, or differentiating good books from bad ones).

I suspect that he'd see non-cognitive estrangements (which are mystifying, politically useless, conservative or reactionary in their effect) as fairly common. I think I would see them that way too, too, at least for the sake of argument!

I've been to two sessions and seen some fantastic papers and enjoyed them whole(withered)heartedly. But could that very enjoyment point to a problem? Is there maybe a pattern developing here? Do we perhaps systematically overestimate the political usefulness, or revelatory power, of the SFF we happen to love and/or happen to be researching? And/or if these texts do contain radical potentials (via cognitive estrangement or some other mechanism), do we systematically overestimate the ease with which we may access and elaborate those potentials as critics?

To take a crude example (and without doing justice to the nuance of the papers we've seen!): what if the figure of the cyborg does not rupture, but rather reinforces, the binary between nature and technology? What if chimeric human-animal hybrids likewise do not rupture, but rather reinforce, the binary between human and non-human?

(Or perhaps, what if these binaries have become like playthings that texts can rupture as often as they like to little or no effect, while unwittingly reinforcing other equivalent binaries, whose namelessness and elusiveness are part of their resilience and power? Equivalent binaries or other structures which nevertheless are quietly carrying out ubiquitous and obscure work on behalf of anthropocentric domination?)

I find the idea that We3 or Oryx & Crake or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? disquiet my deep normative structures halfway convincing. I also find the idea that they reinforce those structures halfway convincing.

There is a rich tradition of Marxist literary criticism, to which Suvin surely belongs, which takes as its starting point the powerful recuperative capacities of capitalism and its intermeshed systems of oppression ... a tradition which begins by viewing any object of culture as probably complicit, in at least most of its aspects, with that dominant order. Are we in danger of forgetting that tradition here?

In the WorldCon booklet, there's a splendid and indispensable field guide to academics. One important factoid is: academics do not squee, they critique. Behind it there hovers a gentle tongue-in-cheek recognition of the passion and pleasure of many SFF academics: shhh, don't spoil it for them, critique is just a scholarly squee -- nobody spoil it for them!

It feels a little close to the bone.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CfP: Science Fiction and Economics

SCIENCE FICTION AND ECONOMICS:
Robots, Rayguns, & Rent-Seeking

Vector is pleased to invite proposals for short articles (2,000-4,000 words) exploring science fiction and economics (as well as economic history, economic sociology, economic anthropology, economic humanities, finance, political economy, IPE, and other adjacent disciplines and fields). Please submit abstracts of 200-400 words to vector.editors@gmail.com by 31 August 2017. If accepted, the submission date will be 31 May 2018 [TBC].

Is mainstream economics in crisis? The discipline is interrogating its own foundations with increasing ferocity. Pressure is growing, from inside economics, and especially from without, to diversify methods and perspectives -- and perhaps even to think thoughts that economics has traditionally deemed unthinkable. So how might science fiction contribute to the ongoing evolution of economics? And what might creators of science fiction, as custodians of radical visions of social organisation, draw from economics at this critical moment?

We particularly welcome proposals to explore women’s writing and/or writing by BAME authors. Although issue’s focus will mainly be SF, we are also open to non-SF genre works, e.g. Max Gladstone’s Craft series, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, Karina Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy, and to themes such as magic and economics, economies of honour in epic fantasy, etc.

We would love to see proposals from potential contributors from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds (including, of course, economists), as well as interdisciplinary collaborative work. As well as articles, we would also be interested in hearing ideas for unusual and/or innovative forms of contribution, and other informal thoughts and queries.

Ideas for topics include:
  • The economics and political economy of utopias and dystopias
  • Imagined systems of economic thought
  • The role of speculation about the future across SF and financial markets
  • Property and its alternatives in SF
  • Imagined collapses of and alternatives to capitalism
  • Near future SF and the socio-economic impacts of emergent technology
  • The idea of “rigor” in science fiction and the social sciences
  • Picturing and pitching the future: futurism, entrepreneurship, design fiction, and diegetic prototyping
  • Economic extrapolations of the novum
  • Fintech, cryptocurrency, blockchain
  • Debt in SF, e.g. Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth meets the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood
  • Adhocracy, commoning, and self-governance, e.g. Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway (2017) meets Elinor Ostrom
  • “Adam Smith’s invisible great clomping foot of nerdism”: the economic dimension of worldbuilding
  • Science fictional demoi and publics
  • Scarcity, post-scarcity, “alt scarcity”
  • Automation
  • Matter replicators
  • Latinum, Melange, Adamantium: precious science fictional commodities
  • Capitalism, communism, third ways, fourth ways, fifth ways ... nth ways
  • The corporation in cyberpunk, post-cyberpunk, and other SF
  • Malthus and immortality
  • Markets, data science, and algorithmic governance
  • Complexity economics and chaos, complexity, and non-linear dynamics in SF
  • Algorithmic governance and the socialist calculation debates
  • Commensurable and non-commensurable value, e.g. Viviana Zelizer meets Karl Schroeder’s Permanence (2012)
  • Economic models as science fiction; readings of the thought experiments and pedagogic narratives within political economy texts as science fiction, e.g. Georg Simmel meets Ruth Levitas
  • AI and economic decision-making. How should economic agency be understood when it is dispersed through digital constructs – including Intelligent Personal Assistants and financial investment robo-advisors – whose algorithmic ‘reasoning’ is intrinsically opaque?
  • Communism and alternate reality SF
  • SF and capitalist realism
  • Science fictional experience; SF as lived experience
  • Science fictional estrangements of markets and money
  • Alienation, reification, commodification, and estrangement
  • Unreal estate
  • Economics without economies, economies without economics
  • Subjective theories of value and the Quantified Self
  • Neural interfaces, affective computing, and the formation of economic demand and political will
  • Homo economicus, “xeno economicus”, and economic rationality in SF
  • Prisoners’ Dilemma and other game theory in SF
  • Platform capitalism and SF, e.g. Tim Maughan’s ‘Zero Hours’
  • SF and platform co-operativism: imagining just, democratic, and sustainable digitally-mediated labour relations
  • Division of labour in SF
  • Affective labour and technologies of quantification
  • Barter in SF
  • Interstellar trade
  • Money and the trees it grows on, e.g. Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Money Tree’, Clifford D. Simak’s ‘The Money Tree’
  • SF and ecological economics
  • Quantifying, representing, and/or marketising the unquantifiable
  • Markets as computation, computation as markets
  • SF’s non-capitalist markets
  • Class in SF, e.g. Samuel R. Delaney’s Nova (1968)
  • Secular trends, e.g. Rosa Luxemburg meets Michael Swanwick’s ‘From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled...’ (2008)
  • Social credit and financial credit in Karen Lord’s Galaxy Game (2015)
  • Gift economies and other non-market exchanges in SF, e.g. Erik Frank Russell’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (1953)
  • Economics and deep time, economics and galactic scale, economics of terraforming, economics of megaengineering
  • Markets and states on interstellar scale, e.g. Susan Strange meets Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood (2013)
  • Estranging money
  • Energy and value, e.g. Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing (1993)
  • SF in relation to time banking: e.g. LETS, ECHO, time-based currencies, Falk Lee’s ‘Time is Money’ (1975)
The issue will be edited by Jo Lindsay Walton and Polina Levontin.

My WorldCon Schedule

Wednesday 12:00 - 13:00, 204 (Messukeskus)
TRANSLATING HIS ARBITRARY ANTLER-TURNS INTO SOME CORNERS OF ALL Y'ALL'S NEW ENLIGHTENMENTSES

Wednesday 13:00 - 14:00, 204 (Messukeskus)
APPLES: SIN'S SELFIES?

Thursday 14:00 - 15:00, 101a&b (Messukeskus)
TRAPPED, HOWLING GHOSTS? -- UNTAPPED RESOURCES OF CLIMATE RESILIENCE

Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, 101a&b (Messukeskus)
SKEEP-BEEP DE BOP-BOP BEEP OLM BO-DOPE, SKEEP-BEEP DE BOP-BOP NEWT BOP BO-DOPE: SCAT (SOME INLAID WITH SALAMANDERS)

FULL WORLDCON 75 SCHEDULE

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The First Draft and the Academy

Creative Writing pedagogy and assessment is often (and for lots of good reasons) oriented toward the mature or final draft. Where the assessment requires some kind of reflective commentary, for instance, the process of redrafting and polishing creates lots of fruitful material for discussion. Besides, many skilled creative practitioners encounter their own tacit competence as an inaccessible opacity. So the existence of multiple versions of the same creative work, layered with feedback or theoretical input, may help to bring aspects of the writer's creative practice into the realm of explicit argumentation and evaluation.

There are those rare writers whose work really does spill out fully-formed, and they are presumably a little let down by this emphasis. But I'm not really concerned with them here (mainly I'm just well jels of them). I'm more interested in the more common type of writer, whose work by-and-large gets better the more they revise it.

At PhD or MFA level, writers have a chance to submit novels, plays, feature length film scripts, collections of short stories, etc.: drafting them, revising them, reflecting on them, and buffing them to a sheen. The last metaphor is more appropriate for some writers than for others. Some writers like to correct their draft manuscripts; others like to wrong them. But what about Masters level? There's a good case to be made for offering the writer the option to attempt a full-length work, even though student-teacher contact hours, and the practicalities of marking, don't really allow for it to be developed and assessed in the same way it would be on a terminal degree.

Can a first draft be marked as a first draft? Would something like this be, I wonder, bonkers? Is it anything like this already on offer somewhere?

5,000 word excerpt (polished)
+
60,000-120,000 complete first draft, 1,000-2,000 words synopsis + plan for further development (30%)
2,000 word reflective commentary (20%)

The excerpt is assessed as normal. The rest is rapidly skimmed, with careful reading of a few random samples scattered throughout, and is marked on a different set of criteria. How complete does the draft appear? Does it appropriately lay the groundwork for the second draft? Does it appear to align to the synopsis? Are its weak and/or inchoate aspects addressed in the development plan? Are there lacunae or obvious continuity problems? The examiner is not primarily focused on skill or imagination, but on the preliminary sweat-of-the-brow of building a framework for later acts of skill and imagination.

I'm interested in the practicalities of this, of course, and also, really, the wider questions about the quantification of the provisional. Although I'm not sure what those questions are.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction

Since these are so often reproduced in abridged form, I thought I'd put these here.

It seems a pity that somebody cannot invent a kind of crook film in which the crime will be enacted in front of the camera exactly as it took place, but will be turned into a mystery by the simple expedient of releasing the film backwards. So highly specialized a form of art will need, clearly, specialized rules. And the detective author, alone among authors, cannot even in this libertine age afford to break the rules. The moderns will attempt to write poetry without rhyme or metre, novels without plot, prose without sense; they may be right or wrong, but such liberties must not be taken in the field of which we are speaking. You cannot write a Gertrude Stein detective story. For the detective story is a game between two players, the author of the one part and the reader of the other part. The reader has scored if, say, half - way through the book he has laid his hand on the right person as the criminal, or has inferred the exact method by which the crime was perpetrated, in defiance of the author's mystifications. The author on his side counts the victory, if he succeeds in keeping the reader in a state of suspended judgment over the criminal, or complete mystification over the method, right up to the last chapter; and yet can show the reader how he ought to have solved the mystery with the light given him.

As with the acrostic, as with the cross - word competition, honourable victory can be achieved only if the clues were 'fair'. Thus, when we say that the detective story has rules, we do not mean rules in the sense in which poetry has rules, but rules in the sense in which cricket has rules - a far more impressive consideration to the ordinary Englishman. The man who writes a detective story which is 'unfair' is not simply pronounced guilty of an error in taste. He has played foul, and the referee orders him off the field. I laid down long ago certain main rules, which I reproduce here with a certain amount of commentary; not all critics will be agreed as to their universality or as to their general importance, but I think most detective 'fans' will recognize that these principles, or something like them, are necessary to the full enjoyment of a detective story. I say 'the full enjoyment'; we cannot expect complete conformity from all writers, and indeed some of the stories selected in this very volume transgress the rules noticeably. Let them stand for what they are worth.

I. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. The mysterious stranger who turns up from nowhere in particular, from a ship as often as not, whose existence the reader had no means of suspecting from the outset, spoils the play altogether. The second half of the rule is more difficult to state precisely, especially in view of some remarkable performances by Mrs. Christie. It would be more exact to say that the author must not imply an attitude of mystification in the character who turns out to be the criminal.

II. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. To solve a detective problem by such means would be like winning a race on the river by the use of a concealed motor - engine. And here I venture to think there is a limitation about Mr. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. He nearly always tries to put us off the scent by suggesting that the crime must have been done by magic; and we know that he is too good a sportsman to fall back upon such a solution. Consequently, although we seldom guess the answer to his riddles, we usually miss the thrill of having suspected the wrong person.

III. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable. I would add that a secret passage should not be brought in at all unless the action takes place in the kind of house where such devices might be expected. When I introduced one into a book myself, I was careful to point out beforehand that the house had belonged to Catholics in penal times. Mr. Milne's secret passage in the Red House Mystery is hardly fair; if a modern house were so equipped - and it would be villainously expensive - all the countryside would be quite certain to know about it.

IV. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end. There may be undiscovered poisons with quite unexpected reactions on the human system, but they have not been discovered yet, and until they are they must not be utilized in fiction; it is not cricket. Nearly all the cases of Dr. Thorndyke, as recorded by Mr. Austin Freeman, have the minor medical blemish; you have to go through a long science lecture at the end of the story in order to understand how clever the mystery was.

V. No Chinaman must figure in the story. Why this should be so I do not know, unless we can find a reason for it in our western habit of assuming that the Celestial is over - equipped in the matter of brains, and under - equipped in the matter of morals. I only offer it as a fact of observation that, if you are turning over the pages of a book and come across some mention of 'the slit - like eyes of Chin Loo', you had best put it down at once; it is bad. The only exception which occurs to my mind - there are probably others - is Lord Ernest Hamilton's Four Tragedies of Memworth.

VI. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. That is perhaps too strongly stated; it is legitimate for the detective to have inspirations which he afterwards verifies, before he acts on them, by genuine investigation. And again, he will naturally have moments of clear vision, in which the bearings of the observations hitherto made will become suddenly evident to him. But he must not be allowed, for example, to look for the lost will in the works of the grandfather clock because an unaccountable instinct tells him that that is the right place to search. He must look there because he realizes that that is where he would have hidden it himself if he had been in the criminal's place. And in general it should be observed that every detail of his thought - process, not merely the main outline of it, should be conscientiously audited when the explanation comes along at the end.

VII. The detective must not himself commit the crime. This applies only where the author personally vouches for the statement that the detective is a detective; a criminal may legitimately dress up as a detective, as in the Secret of Chimneys, and delude the other actors in the story with forged references.

VIII. The detective must not light on any clues are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader. Any writer can make a mystery by telling us that at this point the great Picklock Holes suddenly bent down and picked up from the ground an object which he refused to let his friend see. He whispers 'Ha!' and his face grows grave - all that is illegitimate mystery - making. The skill of the detective author consists in being able to produce his clues and flourish them defiantly in our faces: 'There!' he says, 'what do you make of that?' and we make nothing.

IX. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader. This is a rule of perfection; it is not of the esse of the detective story to have a Watson at all. But if he does exist, he exists for the purpose of letting the reader have a sparring partner, as it were, against whom he can pit his brains. 'I may have been a fool,' he says to himself as he puts the book down, 'but at least I wasn't such a doddering fool as poor old Watson.'

X. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. The dodge is too easy, and the supposition too improbable. I would add as a rider, that no criminal should be credited with exceptional powers of disguise unless we have had fair warning that he or she was accustomed to making up for the stage. How admirably is this indicated, for example, in Trent's Last Case!

This Decalogue is, I suspect, far from exhaustive; no doubt but my reader is all agog to add a few more prohibitions to the list. Rules so numerous and so stringent cannot fail to cramp the style of the author, and make the practice of the art not difficult only, but progressively more difficult. Nobody can have failed to notice that while the public demand for mystery stories remains unshaken, the faculty for writing a good mystery story is rare, and the means of writing one with any symptom of originality about it becomes rarer with each succeeding year. The game is getting played out; before long, it is to be feared, all the possible combinations will have been used up.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tuition fees in the UK

Whoever moderates The Spectator message boards obviously felt this comment was too long or too high-horsey, so fwiw:

Btw, on the University of Life, I think I agree. I wonder how it fits in with the wider question of social mobility? The prospect of going into loads of debt puts people off going to university. Especially so if, for instance, nobody in that young person's family has ever been to university.

Now, the question for me is, are those young people -- the ones who are put off by debt -- are they just being divas?

After all, if they went to university, chances are they'd get a better paid job. If they didn't, they wouldn't have to pay back the loan. So anyone who can't see the value of investing in a university degree must be a deranged savage, incapable of basic financial calculation -- right? Or else some kind of pathetic, skittish self-sabotaging fraidy cat?

No, I don't think so.

I think we ought to give these school-leavers a little more credit. For a start, they know their own lives are much more than some financial instrument reducible to risk and return. Above all, they know what it would FEEL like to be so deeply in debt. The pressure of regular assessment at university -- endlessly being poked and prodded and told how good or bad you are, endlessly being reminded that your level of academic achievement is going to determine on some fundamental level who you are in later life -- that pressure can be amplified tremendously by the experience of being in debt.

It's really crucial to recognise this.

When you're up against a deadline and then the printer jams and you hand it in late and you lose 10% automatically, how does that feel? It might feel annoying and frustrating and pointless. Or it might feel like this: "I gambled thousands of pounds that aren't mine trying to be something I can never be and now I have inevitably fucked up and soon everybody will know. I want to die."

For anyone who has tendencies toward self-doubt and self-recrimination, it may be very rational, sensible, and realistic just to avoid that kind of constant psychological pressure. You might just know yourself well enough to know that you wouldn't flourish under those circumstances.

Again, this is something that disproportionately affects young people according to the class and wealth of family and friends, and the overall bounciness of your safety net. Second, I think young people considering whether or not to go to university know that stress on the soul slowly re-shapes the soul. Almost as frightening as the possibility of not being able to cope with debt is the possibility of learning to cope with it ... and the kind of person you might become in the process. Crudely put, somebody who always thinks about things in monetary terms. Yes, money influences every single aspect of our daily lives. That doesn't mean that obsessing about it makes you a better person. Even if you do think it makes you a better person, you can see why school-leavers might not see it that way.

Third, perhaps school-leavers who are put off by debt have a good handle on the opportunity cost of a university degree? This is the main University of Life point. Let's say that the sole purpose of university is preparation for work -- a notion which the loan system inevitably propagates -- well then, a young person may quite reasonably identify some less risky way of entering the workforce. Again, this is something that disproportionately affects young people according to the class and wealth of family and friends.

I don't actually know that much about media studies degrees, so I wouldn't knock them just out of prejudice. What really interests me about this whole aspect is: what if somebody suspected that they would face greater obstacles at university because of their race or class or regional accent, or the education they've received to date...? If somebody suspects that the transferable skills that they might acquire in a History/Sociology joint honours degree would not be valued by employers, unless additionally catalysed by certain class markers...? Well, I think I'd try to argue with that young person and persuade them otherwise, but I wouldn't be sure of myself. And I would completely see their point.

Fourth, they may be justifiably sceptical that the terms of repayment will never change. To be in debt is to be in somebody else's power. Loopholes loom. Laws change. Does that sound paranoid to you? Spend a little time contemplating, for instance, the bizarre cack-handed grooming and Kafkaesque cruelty many benefits claimants have faced over the past decade. Do you know anyone who has been a victim of, let's say, one of those murderous Atos-outsourced "fit to work" decisions? If not, pretend you do. To add just a little more context: the most extreme forms of debt are almost indistinguishable from chattel slavery.

But take it all a step further. Finally, school-leavers are able to extrapolate from all the factors that influence their individual decision. From this, they are able to come to a judgement about who goes to university, and why, and what kind of place university is. Is it a crucially formative place filled with new freedoms and new challenges? Is it a place where you can test out your own latent qualities, and experiment a bit with who you are? Discover what you're good at, what fascinates and excites you? School-leavers might guess no. Or is it a land of debtors, many of them struggling to get by, their debts mixed up in their very spirits? Filled with hardworking, slightly haunted consumers of higher education, who have skipped a significant amount of self-discovery and self-fashioning, in favour of an off-the-shelf pro forma adulthood, partly designed for them by the sector where they hope to find some economic security, plus a debt they drag around that will make at least some of their decisions for them, and whose highest hope is that they may one day earn enough money to pay it back in small instalments? They may quite reasonably guess yes. Universities are not like that -- I was about to say "yet", but actually, I kind of hope it may never become that, no matter how hard the Conservatives try to make it into that.

BTW: in Europe, the UK is a real outlier. I think we should talk more about that.