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This article is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Essaying in the Old Music Room...
An adventure in timekeeping, composition and conversation
Kirsty Gunn
Since the beginning of this strange year 2020,  as the Northern hemisphere has inched, day by day, out of a mild Midwinter into Spring, I  have been at Merton College in Oxford where, despite everything that has been going on in the wider world, life has continued in its calm unchanging way – much as it has continued, I imagine, since the College was founded in 1264. Bells have been calling me to Chapel, to Work, to Lunch and Dinner, to Study, to the Library, chiming out a day as in a series of Les Tres Riches Heures; each enclosed by borders of flowers and the patterning of quads and lawns within a medieval wall.

And every week, three times a week. I have been coming to a small but perfectly formed Georgian building – a grand sort of playhouse, I suppose is how I’ve been thinking of it - set at the end of a long path in the corner of the Fellows Garden.  This is The Old Music Room, where a group of us – colleagues and students – has been meeting to talk about a particular form of and approach to writing... An essay.

Or should I say, essai.  For the way we have been writing, reading, and thinking about this particular form of writing has been guided more by the ‘drawn from life’ observations of a Michel de Montaigne than those teaching and ‘Aims and Outcomes’ learning documents so beloved of educational bureaucrats  and politicians. For sure, the essays demanded by Humanities departments that are to be created in order to homogenise assessment procedures ...


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