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Learning to be original

Date Released: Fri, 7 May 2010 12:12 +0200

Professor Laurence Wright, one of South Africa’s most distinguished English Literature researchers, was recently awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Senior Research Award. Wright, a Professor of English and Director of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), is particularly acknowledged as the most prominent scholar on Shakespeare in Africa. 

Prof Wright has taken a broad interest in the role of English in this country, ranging from language policy and teacher education matters, to archival research and the role of the humanities in public life.

Prof Wright’s lecture, titled “Learning to be original”, was the second lecture in a new series of lectures showcasing excellence in research at Rhodes. At the beginning of his lecture, Wright said that “I’m touched by this award, first because it comes from colleagues whom I value.”

He added that he appreciated and was moved to see several of his former teachers among the audience. “First, I make no claim to be original, no more than anyone. Everyone here this evening might be described as original, unless of course, there are clones present,” joked Wright.

He said that individuals, even whole societies struggle mightily to place themselves within the space of being original. This is because we are born into a way of life, with particular sets of values and traditions of behaviour.

People accept these traditions as universal until they learn better, that is, until they meet another culture. When they meet other cultures and realise that their culture is not universal, that is when there is potential to be original.

Prof Wright said that being original involves crawling to the very edge of what is known. He said that this is the core business of a university. University graduates have to be able to think, create and carry out new ideas and concepts. They have to find ways of being original and then report these back to the human community as students and researchers.

This can only be achieved through frequent reading in search of a mind more original than our own. Through engaging with the world’s great artists and thinkers we are pushed towards the edge of what we know, we’re pushed towards being original.

For the past 25 years, Wright has been researching, teaching and living Shakespeare. He has been made Honorary Life President of the Shakespeare society of Southern Africa. For Wright, Shakespeare has such a mind.

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