Sounding brasses, clanging cymbals and love, potentially

In January we embarked on a new collaborative writing project. The brief: To compile a collection of individual responses to one stimulus piece with a view to starting a great conversation! We wrote independently without discussing our thoughts and are publishing them here as a series of posts.

The stimulus piece is: “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.


I am currently helping to organise a wedding. One of the tasks is to help choose readings for the marriage ceremony. Now 1 Corinthians 13 is an obvious choice (too obvious?). Thinking about this reading I was reminded of the scene in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ when the character George (played by Rupert Vansittart) reads, in a harsh, pompous, monotone, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am become a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” Gareth (played by Simon Callow) is heard to mutter “Good point!”.

And it is a good point. When we speak of learning using the words that have been moulded by the ‘cascade of neoliberalism’ referred to in the article we, like George, can remove all beauty from its meaning. On we go through our daily working lives, sounding our brasses and clanging our cymbals. Yet, speak we must if we are going to get our jobs done, and help others do theirs.

I think it is the recognition of our complicity to maintaining the neoliberal university that makes articles like the one we are responding to here so appealing. The authors outline a programme that provided them with an opportunity to deploy a ‘pedagogy of the heart’ when supporting colleagues through a period of professional development. I was particularly struck by the metaphors that the participants used to describe their experiences of the programme – both powerful and uplifting. So the article was uplifting in both style and content.

But after the uplift, there is the inevitable ‘come down’! I want to stress that this is not a criticism of either the programme or the authors’ account of it – more a reflection of feelings when you turn from the stories of love to look at the endless ‘to do’ lists that structure our working lives. So what turns those lists into acts and action? The last line of the reading from Corinthians claims “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Is it though?

sparklerI think faith (in what we are doing and encouraging others to do) and hope (that between us we are making some difference) are what underpin our everyday practices. When we reflect back on those practices, isn’t that when the love comes? Perhaps that’s why academic developers are so keen on reflection!

When Noujain (1987) tells us that sometimes it is more appropriate to think in terms of micro-revolutions rather than revolution, they are not saying we shouldn’t aim high. Rather that, if we are not going to be overwhelmed by a lack immediate fundamental change, we need to pay attention to ‘the accidents, the minute deviations, the reversals, the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that give birth to those things that have value for us’ (Foucault, 1971, p.81).

Back to Four Weddings and a Funeral….

Charles (played by Hugh Grant) and Tom (played by James Fleet) are talking after the funeral. Charles thinks it is remarkable that Tom retains such faith in the institution of marriage, and hope that he will get married. Tom responds:

Well I don’t know, Charlie, truth is – unlike you, I’ve never expected the thunderbolt – always hoped I’d just meet some nice, friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me doesn’t make her physically sick – then pop the question and settle down and be happy. It worked for my parents …well, apart from the divorce and all that!

So perhaps we all need to be a little bit more Tom. It takes until the film is almost over, but his reward for all his faith and hope is that he does eventually find love – complete with thunderbolts!


Foucault, M. (1971), ‘Nietzsche, genealogy and history’, in D. Bouchard (1977) (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Noujain, E. G. (1987), ‘History as genealogy: an exploration of Foucault’s approach to history’, in A.P.Griffiths (ed.), Contemporary French Philosophy, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press.


Four weddings and a funeral

Drowning – Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash



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