Comment & Analysis
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Apr 6, 2017

The Arts Dean Passionate About the Role of Literature, and of Universities

Prof Darryl Jones is the quintessential academic in his beliefs that college is a place to challenge ideology.

Isla HoeStaff Writer
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Stephen Paul Paclibar for The University Times

From Jane Austen to feminism and vampires, Prof Darryl Jones’s interests are quintessentially academic. Jones, born in Wales, has taught at Trinity since 1994. A former head of the School of English, Jones was elected in 2014 as the Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. While his distinctive style may make him instantly recognisable, there remains far more to Jones than what initially meets the eye.

English is something that has always been crucial to Jones’s life. “I had no choice”, he grins. Speaking to The University Times, he admits that “it never struck me as though I had the opportunity to do anything else. It’s the only thing I’m capable of doing. It chose me”. It takes a unique type of person to have the love and dedication to remain immersed in the world of academia from the age of three. Hailing from a house that was full of books, Jones read his way through his local library. Books became enmeshed in his way of life. As many young students do, Jones found a degree he could study “as far away from home as possible”. This took him to the University of York. Jones remembers thinking at the time that “if I’m sad and miserable, I can’t just get on a train and go home”.

From the outside, it can be very easy to see English as a stuffy and uptight subject. It often appears inaccessible to those who don’t have a great love for 150-year-old poetry or novels that are difficult to read. Jones, for example, has had an everlasting interest in Jane Austen’s classics. “There’s something very seductive about reading Jane Austen,” he remarks. He continues by saying that the books “convey this idea they are on our level when we are not”. Believing in “a level of cultural literacy”, Jones writes off anyone who doesn’t get Pride and Prejudice as “beyond redemption”.

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There’s something very seductive about reading Jane Austen

His interests, however, delve further than that of classics like Austen. Most of his current work is on horror and supernatural fiction, stories that concern the most evil of monsters and the occult. Jones found his niche in these areas when he realised that these movies and books weren’t discussed, studied and taught to their full potential. He had his students look at vampires and the kind of culture they embody.

In a world where there is so much “screen time”, Jones notes that, although people are still reading books, he is worried about the future of novels due to the enormous commitment of time and attention they can require. “People are on constantly on the go. So much that, sometimes, it’s the fact that it is such a time-consuming activity that one doesn’t believe they have time for it any more”, he reflects. It’s only by talking and sharing ideas that we gain more knowledge and it is this that Jones thinks studying humanities is all about, yet acknowledges “that it’s increasingly difficult to find the time to do this”.

From Teen Wolf to The Vampire Diaries and Twilight, today’s popular culture is riddled with the supernatural. Despite this, few of these shows and films look at the reason why these monsters were created in the first place. This area is of particular interest to Jones. Vampires, for example, are constantly changing and adapting with each generation of viewers re-imagining them in reflection of the current culture that surrounds them. “Vampires cast no reflection in the mirror and there’s a reason for that”, explains Jones. “The reflection they cast is actually ourselves. We see ourselves looking back at them. Our vampires tell us a lot about ourselves.”

It is professors like Jones that take these theories apart and look at them under a microscope as a method of understanding a generation’s current fears, anxieties and desires. Looking at the mass obsession with something like Twilight, for example, shows the current fascination with youthfulness. There is this constant fear and loathing of mortality and death. Jones is “distrustful” of Twilight due to the fact “it does not transgress any taboos”.

Us men it turns out are very anxious people. We seem to be terrified of women’s bodies

The ability to transgress taboos is perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Jones. Previously, Jones has supervised a PhD topic entitled Menstruation and Female Blood in Horror Fiction and Film. When I ask Jones about this particular project, he didn’t shy away from the subject. He immediately launched into an explanation about how men are obsessed with women. The argument of the thesis surrounded the idea of the vagina dentata, the vagina with teeth: “Us men it turns out are very anxious people”, notes Jones. “We seem to be terrified of women’s bodies.” Jones praises the feminist movement as being the reason that this can even be discussed in any capacity.

Speaking to The University Times Amanda Piesse, Associate Professor of the School of English, notes that “everyone is aware of his individuality” but for Piesse, Jones’s primary characteristic is his “integrity”. She further notes that the master’s degree in popular literature “wouldn’t be there without him”.

“One of the exceptional things about Daryl”, continues Piesse, “is his real facility for being clear about things. So while he publishes with first class publishers and in first rate journals he’s equally able to communicate his research to a general audience on the radio or the television.”

Another one of Jones’s fascinating qualities is his innate understanding about why the arts are still relevant. Although it is vastly different to science, maths and technology, he firmly believes that it is just as important to our survival as a race. It’s so easy to split arts and humanities away from science subjects, but it’s not often considered that they can work together. Even the physical separation of the science and arts buildings in Trinity is an example of this. “I think the arts are important”, says Jones, “but in saying that, it’s not that I think they are important and the sciences are not.” He believes that it is the responsibility of the arts to keep people human. Arts demonstrates the “ability for imagination, obstruction, narrative, symbol, ritual, myth, art”, which Jones comments “are an intrinsic part of us, without this we would die”.

Speaking to The University Times, Madison Porter, a former English and drama student in Trinity, describes Jones as a fascinating and captivating lecturer. “He was the most interesting lecturer ever and clearly very excited about his stuff”, she says. Students would “look forward to his classes”, and actually want to pay attention. Jones is described as quirky and someone who is completely at ease with who he is and where his interests lie.

Universities should be sites of resistance, resistance to dominant ideology’s, because that’s the only way we can generate new ideas

One thing that Jones understands is that universities are more than a place where people come in to take notes, do assignments, sit exams and go home. He explains that a university “is a living thing”. To him this means that “it has a soul and a heart and we need to be mindful of that”. Back in 2014, in a debate against his fellow candidate, Prof Louis Brennan, for the post of Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Science, Jones explained that universities “should act as a site of resistance to the conventional wisdom”. He continued by stating that a university “is not the sum of its budgets”.

Piesse notes that “politically, he’s a very principled person”. She continues, stating that “over the 20 or so years we’ve worked together in College, he has always been very clear about the reasons for what he does and he will always act in the pursuit of fairness. Especially for junior staff and in standing up for his own area”.

In a world that is becoming ever more dominated by fake news and alternative facts, Jones strongly stands by the fact that universities need to provide an opposition to this: “Universities should be sites of resistance, resistance to dominant ideology’s, because that’s the only way we can generate new ideas.” If no new ideas are formulated, if opinions and discussions dont grow and adapt to the ever-changing outside world, the university itself has abandoned its responsibilities of providing that ever changing mindset. He is an intensely interesting and eccentric person, from his passion for education and discussion to his handmade clothes, he is one lecturer that you walk away from a conversation with feeling enriched.

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