Perhaps it was inevitable that, over and above the difficult and somewhat distracting Willets debate, this current occupation would find itself compared to last year’s. It was, no doubt, found wanting. Support was split, morale low, moods sullen.

To me, this evaporated, for a while at any rate, this weekend. A programme of talks, which culminated in a dialogue with well known activist Selma James and poet Jeremy Prynne, seemed to offer something new. Visiting the occupation over the last couple of days, my morale has been boosted a little, for sure.

In any case, this lack of current interest would seem curious given the extraordinary global #occupy movements, which this weekend the Cambridge occupation was clearly aligning itself with. During the day on Sunday, there were talks given by sociologists Brendan Burchell, Larry King and Jeff Miley, putting the #occupy movement in context, as well as the misguided fiscal objectives of our current government. Although the primary motive of the current occupation was opposition to the Higher Education White Paper, this wider context felt, at least to me, vital.

The strange mood amongst students in Cambridge did not enable spontaneous alignment with other student movements in America, or even (indeed) with Occupy London. This kind of current student apathy is, as it happens, not limited to Cambridge, with other university occupations around the country feeling it also.

But in any case, by Sunday evening, support was up.  Selma James, well known activist in the women’s movement, was encouraging, and spoke about how the student movement was important worldwide. She—without irony—was keen to link the current global wave of protests back to Tahrir Square. I’m not sure this is true, but it would be nice if it was. At least, many people across the world have realised the potential of popular movements to effect change.

James’ talk lead to a lengthy discussion about gender politics in the occupy movement. Talking in particular about rape, James encouraged students to take a firm line against cases of sexual assault in the movement (one such case was reported recently at Occupy Glasgow), but she caused some controversy by raising the case of Julian Assange. She said he would not be prosecuted for rape in this country—due to differences in Swedish laws—and that his extradition was malicious in intent.

Some students aligned themselves more with Assange’s accusers (the two Swedish girls) feeling that support for Assange on this issue amounted to female discrimination and dismissal of rape. James was adamant this wasn’t the case—and cited the extraordinarily low conviction rates for rape prosecutions in this country. Only something like 6% of rape cases brought result in convictions, and many are not reported. What this statistic hides is the very large number of women who are themselves prosecuted—for perverting the course of justice, slander etc.—for bringing rape charges.

This sobering discussion lead on to a very unusual (and the perhaps very last) reading by poet Jeremy Prynne, which was a treat. How ironic that in his first public reading in a very long time (reportedly since the 1980s) he would be plagued by a fit of coughs. Prynne, known for advocating practical criticism, is opposed for aesthetic reasons to public reading. He is, nevertheless, a wonderful orator, though it is arguable that his texts are not designed for oration.

He was reading a section from the recent Kazoo Dreamboats: or, On What There Is, which is more a piece of metaphysics than politics. My experience was one of fluctuating engagement—as delicious non-sequiturs and tightly wound constructions flowed past, the feeling of listening to Prynne is somewhat akin to wading. Perhaps this isn’t quite accurate, it really was more like canoeing in autumn—one watches one patch of leaf-strewn water run past, but is aware of the multiplicity of experience all around.

Prynne is, in any case, something of a maximalist. He described the process of writing this poem as one of self-imposed isolation, with its myriad poetic allusions coming through memory. Even in this writer’s exile, a feature of much of his career, a vast amount of influence—particularly noticeable to me was the influence of theoretical physics and ancient Greek atomism—seeps through.

It was really impossible to get to grips with Prynne’s work without having a good look at the text, and though I found it stunning, I think many in the audience found it somewhat alienating. (Will this occupation be one alienation after another, one wonders?) Conversations afterward about recent poetry also showed up my profound ignorance on this topic, one that I share with others no doubt.

But in all, Sunday evening was a great and engaging one, and one that I enjoyed. This occupation is just as vibrant as the last.

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