every text i studied at university this semester: RANKED

So, I just finished university for the semester, and would you believe me if I told you that it was absolutely awful? Of course you would, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, everything has been awful all the time, it feels like. Things aren’t actually awful all the time, naturally, there’s been many Good Things and many Bad Things all smooshed together. While I’m increasingly of the opinion that you really just have to focus on the Good Things to get by, this article is about one of the Bad Things: the semester of University just passed, obviously.

University itself was not bad; I’m a nerd, love learning, I want to go to grad school maybe. So, I like university (there’s a Good Thing). The Bad Thing was that it was online this semester for obvious reasons. And while that was done for our safety, I cannot, in all honesty say that, if offered the chance, I wouldn’t have gone to a face-to-face class in a heartbeat, pandemic or not. But I wasn’t offered that chance and as I was lacking a social life, I did the next best thing. I threw myself into my studies extra hard.

A Good Thing: I achieved the best marks at university thus far.

A Bad Thing: I couldn’t go get drunk at UniBar after my final exam, and thus do not feel like the semester has really ended, and thus have no closure.

That’s what this article is about. I’m discussing every text that I studied this semester in an attempt to put a nice neat bow on the whole experience, and then purge it all from my life forever. I wasn’t going to rank them originally because the last article I wrote (before a two and half month hiatus, whoops) was another ranked piece. But rankings are fun and arbitrary and no one can tell me what to do.

I’m going to quickly outline the subjects I studied this semester, because understanding what’s what would be helpful for understanding this article (assuming you actually read it, because it’s not really “for anyone” except, like, me).

I studied:

  • Understanding Literature and Film — In which I, a fourth-year student, did an introductory English Literature subject because I decided now might be a good time to start a new major.
  • Dreams and Visions in Literature and Film — A mix of medieval and modern dream-vision texts, taught by one of the best academics at the University of Wollongong.
  • Future Cultures — A digital media class in which we watched science-fiction films and live-tweeted about them.
  • Contemporary Theory and Research Practice — In which I wrote a whole-ass mini-thesis.

Now that everything’s clear, let’s get into ranking at these texts.

31. Ready Player One “by” Steven Spielberg

For babies and idiots, honestly.

30. To A Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was my first text of the whole semester. A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelly, who’s a Romantic. Here are some totally unrelated fun facts about me: poetry is my least favourite of the Major Literary Forms and I HATE the Romantics. Like, ok, we get it Percy. You can’t see the skylark, but you can hear its call and it’s beautiful and that’s kind of like Christian faith or whatever, great, who cares? Sublimity is dumb, poems about nature are dumb, eat some bread and calm down. Moving on.

29. Parliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer

Remember two paragraphs ago, when I said that the Dreams and Visions subject was taken by one of the best academics at the University of Wollongong (who I shall call… Annie, as I’m not sure if I can/should use her actual name). Well, Chaucer is one of her all-time favourites. So, sorry to Annie but I, uh, just cannot stand Chaucer. At all! I can appreciate that he was very influential in the formation of the modern English language, but that doesn’t mean I have to like his dumb pro-monarchist poem where birds = political commentary or whatever.

28. Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñel

A dumb film made by a bunch of dumb Freud stans. They claim in their “manifesto” that they were just recreating their dreams and filming them, but I’m pretty sure they actually made it all up as an excuse to grope the boobs and butt of some woman (sidenote: maybe I should write a manifesto?) Anyway, when I first watched this I gave it three stars out of five on Letterboxd out of “respect” for “classic” “cinema” but I’m going to lower it to one and a half stars because, to be perfectly frank, this is as pointless and wanky as Birdman but sans a wonderful Michael Keaton performance.

27. Dream of the Rood by Unknown Author

This is the third Dreams and Vision text in a row so it may seem like I really hated the subject, but I didn’t! It was actually my favourite of the semester. I just tended to fully hate or fully love the texts with little in between. Um, anyway, not much to say about this one. Uh, loses points for being a poem (yawn) written by an anonymous author (anonymous authorship is literary cowardice, take ownership). Gains points for being like “what if my dream about a tree was actually about Christ’s crucifixion which is actually a metaphor for a rebirth of faith?”. Additional points for playing my catholic guilt like a fiddle.

26. 2040 by Damon Gameau

Watching this well-meaning but naïve documentary about “how the future could be good, actually” felt exactly like when I explain The Problem With Capitalism to my science-student housemates. Any documentary about sustainability that doesn’t acknowledge that 71% of all global pollution is caused by just one hundred corporations doesn’t have a leg to stand on and that’s that on that.

25. Robot and Frank by Jake Schreier

My tutor for Future Cultures (who we’ll call… Cam) says this is one of his favourite movies. Truthfully it is fairly mediocre, boring, and has pacing issues like nobody’s business. Sorry, Cam.

24. The Dead by James Joyce

Allegedly, this is the best short story ever written. I must politely disagree on that one. While it has one of the most beautiful final lines of anything I’ve ever read (“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon the living and the dead.” Like Jesus Christ, calm it James), most of the time it just reads as a rough, rough, rough draft of what Arcade Fire would one day hone into their critically acclaimed 2004 indie-rock debut album, Funeral.

23. Johnny Mnemonic by Robert Longo

Under different circumstances, I probably would have loved this particular film and spent the next few months annoying my friends by constantly explaining to them that it was secretly good. However, those particular circumstances involve me being very drunk, which I was not when I watched this. Without alcohol, this movie a slog, and it was made worse by the fact that we didn’t end up touching on it in class, which made the whole thing feel like a real waste of time. 90s Keanu Reeves pre-The Matrix is always a blessing, however.

22. Westworld by Michael Crichton

A thing I should mention is that my Future Cultures class was at 8:30 in the morning on a Thursday. Thus, every science-fiction film on this list was watched at 8:30 on a Thursday. This meant that my responses to them were all delirious, manic, and downright insane most of the time, as I was trying to stay awake while watching while live-tweeting while trying to extrapolate ideas present in the text into a futurology framework. Sometimes this went really well. Other times I fell asleep. I fell asleep watching Westworld.

21. The Drovers Wife by Leah Purcell

Objectively, this exists.

20. The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe

Ok, listen. I wish I had liked this more than I do. I really, I really, truly do wish that more than most things. Sorry again to *checks notes* Annie, because this was another one of her favourite texts on the Dreams and Visions reading list and again I just did not vibe terribly. Great book, in theory. Margery Kempe (original mad lad) wants to be a saint so she goes on pilgrimages and wails all the time, and then has “divine visions” where Jesus tells her not to sleep with husband, and then she and Jesus have sex, and then she feeds Mary soup? None of it makes a lick of sense, maybe Margery invented feminism? While I didn’t vibe, I highly recommend to everyone, it’s a great time.

19. Response’s to The Book of Margery Kempe by Various Authors

Outranks Margery proper ever so slightly if only for the fact that I found this essay from Aeon about how Margery invented fanfiction with The Book of Margery Kempe deeply touching for reasons inexplicable to me. Sidenote: Margery did NOT invent fanfiction, Dante did when he wrote The Divine Comedy, more on that in a moment.

18. Minority Report by Steven Spielberg

The self-control it took not to scream when Colin Farrell’s character introduced himself to Tom Cruise as “The twink from the Fed”.

17. Mulholland Drive by David Lynch

I feel like my opinion on this movie is going to make all the film bros mad. That opinion being, it’s fine, alright-ish, pretty good in places. David Lynch strikes me as less of a genius auteur and more just a guy who’s just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. That doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad! The only thing inherent about it is that it exists. You get out as much as you put in, so really it’s just about how willing you are to assume there’s a grand design to the nonsense. I’m skeptical, hence the ranking.

16. The Dream Work by Sigmund Freud

Freud was a repressed gay and we let him ruin society because of it.

15. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Both a very good and very bad book to read in the midst of a global pandemic. Vonnegut survived the Bombing of Dresden (a pretty bad thing) and yet he also cannot stop writing about the Bombing of Dresden. This does not bode well for the future of literature, as I cannot think of anything worse than the concept of “Quarantine Lit”.

14. Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve

Can safely say I have recovered from my complete break from reality in 2017, when I honestly thought that this was better than the original (it’s not).

13. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick

Film bros will be mad that I ranked this lower than Alita: Battle Angel, but Film Gays will understand that I am:

  1. Right to do so, objectively.
  2. Doing so as an act of protest.

Anyway, I’m pretty critical of Stanley Kubrick (he’s a terrible man for what he did to Shelly Duvall and A Clockwork Orange is fucking abhorrent) but honestly, this movie pops-off. All of its spiritual sequels are better though, especially Ad Astra.

12. Metropolis by Fritz Lang

Strongly considering doing an edit of this film where I remove the beautiful Gottfried Huppertz score and replace it with various gay pop anthems. At present, I’m thinking ‘Vroom Vroom’ by Charli XCX over the final scene where the mob chases down False Maria and ‘Juice’ by Lizzo over the scene where Freder hallucinates the machine transforming into Molach and eating the workers. If anyone knows things about editing video’s and other such things, please get in contact.

11. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Probably my least favourite Austen novel (I should note that I haven’t read Persuasion), but it’s still an Austen novel which makes it better than most books. The entire first half in Bath is really rough; oscillating between excruciatingly boring shopping list descriptions and absolutely cracker-jack romance gossip with little in-between. Once they get to the titular Abbey it settles into a funky rhythm, I just wish it got there sooner. Also, Catherine innocent!

10. Alita: Battle Angel by Robert Rodriguez

The live-tweeting session for this one was so wild. Halfway through the #alitaarmy caught onto us and flooded our replies and the entire thing was an out-and-out mess. That being said, I still really like this movie. It’s silly in all the right ways (she slices her tears in half with a sword!). If it got rid of the romantic subplot it would be even better, but also a huge fan of the fact that she decapitates her boy to save his life.

9. Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock

This movie and The Phantom Thread are exactly the same. Both are metatextual films where the director reckons with their highly demanding creative style and strange relationship to women. Both star an ageing but absolutely dashing character actor as said directors self-insert. Both are Very Serious films that I thought were kind of boring the first time I watched them, but now I think they’re actually secretly comedies. Both are also the directors second best film. Alfred Hitchcock’s best is Rear Window. Paul Thomas Anderson’s best is the music video for ‘The Steps’.

8. The Matrix by Lana & Lily Wachowski

Not as good as The Matrix Revolutions, which itself is not as good as Jupiter Ascending, which itself is not as good as Speed Racer, which itself is not as good as Cloud Atlas, which itself is not as good as Sense8, which is perfect. Still, however, a masterpiece. Never not laughing at the fact that this movie’s imagery has been co-opted by the far-right when it’s literally a queer text tolerance and the power of love. The Wachowski’s outsell, always.

7. Inferno by Dante Alighieri

LITERALLY A FANFICTION. Yeah, so, this is the major exception to my whole “don’t really care for poetry” thing, mostly because it’s the length of a novel and also just really, really fun. Dante literally writes himself into the story so he can hang out with his idol Virgil, which is funny to me. And then he has the gall to also insert every major poet he’s ever admired and have them all come up and tell him he’s super talented and right to hate on certain parts of the Catholic Church. Iconic behaviour really.

5. The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

No jokes or snark here, just want to say that this is a really singular novel. I decided to write my research essay for Dreams and Visions on this, which was stupid of me because this book is very complex and beautiful and deserved better than the half-baked analysis that I had to offer. Highly recommend that you (yes, you) read it, although fair warning, it is very dense and challenging in places.

4. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

I have decided that in my thirties, after an academic career where I make waves for my striking analysis of Donna Tartt novels, I’m going to pivot into filmmaking. After an underrated but winning indie debut, I will make a lauded masterpiece. It will win me the academy award for best original screenplay and a nomination for best director, which I will lose to Greta Gerwig (nominated for her sequel to her upcoming Barbie movie, Barbie 2: Raquelle’s Revenge) Following the academy award, I will make my obligatory superhero film, it will be a Young Avengers film, specifically adapting the Allan Heinberg run. Disney will try to remove any trace of Billy and Teddy’s relationship, but I’ll fight them on it, and be celebrated for my push to diversify representation in the genre. I will then cash in my superhero film bucks to make an adaptation of this short story, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginner’s. It will divisive upon release, considered a mistake for a decade to follow, and then it will be reevaluated and seen for the flawed masterpiece that it is. I’ll never be trusted again and forced to make Young Avengers sequels until I die.

3. The Beach Bum by Harmony Korine

Unique among the texts on this list in that it’s the only one that I got to choose! Wrote a whole 5000-word mini-thesis on this bad boy. 90% of the reason why I chose it was because I find it endlessly rewatchable and very calming. Has the exact same soft energy as a Paddington movie, but instead of a kind talking bear it stars a perpetually stoned Matthew McConaughey who commits crimes. (Also, if anyone would like to publish a deep dive on representations of class, status through aesthetic in this film, please let me know, I don’t want to have written the mini-thesis for nothing.)

2. Blade Runner by Ridley Scott

Not to sound super lame, but I’ve watched this movie so many times and it never gets old. Vangelis just let’s rip on the soundtrack, Sean Young kills it as Rachael, all the evil replicants are wilding out (especially Priss, love you queen) and Harrison Ford does the absolute bare fucking minimum—I love her lack of energy, go girl give us nothing! Everyone in my class was put in the unenviable position of having to interact with me during the live-tweeting session, which must have been awful for them because literally all I want to do is condescendingly explain this movie to people, which I did.

1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Not only the best text I read all semester, but likely the text I’ll read all year (close contenders are The Secret History and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). Lily leant me her copy and honestly, she very nearly didn’t get it back. Wonderfully constructed, genuinely funny considering just how heavy it is a lot of the time. If you are any brand of queer, then it is an absolute must-read. I propose a new Bechdel Test. There’s just one question: have you read Fun Home? If you answer yes, you are valid. If you answer no, you are not.

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