A Touch of History - About The Cohortians

History evolves and develops. We often have fond memories of our journey but vaguely remember how these memories where shaped and formed. As we leave our mark as the first Cohortians at OISE we felt it would be appropriate to leave behind a little background history of our name and motto.

At the first formal dinner with the faculty and program advisors, David Schleich addressed the gathering and coined the term "Cohortians.

During a number of our ListServe discussions once again it was David Schleich who would signed off with "Keep the Aspidistra Flying". While a number of us scurried to our dictionaries, it was the brave Barbara Thistle who opened up the issue about what the phrase meant.

After our first reunion in an e-mail to the group (08/06/01) David wrote:

"The aspidistra plant was widely used in British pubs in little pots because of its pleasant aroma and because it thrived on beer. So, the innkeepers would put the "remainders" from beer mugs [little bits here and there] into a central pot in which aspidistra plans were growing.

Now, Orwell has aspidistra plants planted on his grave because he was so familiar not only with the plants but with the "ambiance" in which he frequently saw them. Thus, his grave site was decorated with the very plants which remind him of the camaraderie of his pub evenings with friends. So, keeping the aspidistra flying means keeping the collegiality flowing. It also refers, of course, to Sleeman's Ale, Joe's favourite."

On the same date, Professor Michael Skolnik joined the discussion with this e-mail:

"Ordinarily I would not venture into a discussion relating to literary references where David has already tread. However, since it is George Orwell who is the subject in this case I will make an exception. Orwell has always been one of my heroes, and you may have noted the reference to his his novel, Coming Up for Air, in my R.W.B. Jackson lecture.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying was the title of one of Orwell's novels. The protagonist, Gordon Comstock, was struggling poet torn between living in poverty as a poet making a decent living for and advertising firm. In the end, he accepts that his talents are better suited to being an advertising writer than a poet. The aspidistra, generally kept in front of a window (as it was on my copy of the novel) was a symbol of middle class respectability in Britain in the 1930s. Comstock's friends continually admonished him to give up his romantic dream of being a penniless poet and conform to the strictures of middle class life, which eventually he did, aspidistra and all. Orwell loved in or on the fringe of poverty for much of his life - really until Animal Farm and 1984 took off, but he died shortly after that. I think there is a lot of Orwell's struggles and conflicts in Gordon Comstock. Orwell tended to take the hard way at every juncture, so I suppose that Gordon Comstock's was for Orwell the road not taken, but certainly tempted.

A few years ago there was a movie of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, thought it had a different title (which I forget), probably because no one would know any more what the title of the book meant. I thought that the movie die a pretty good job with the book.

I like the symbolism David attaches to the aspidistra better than what it was in the novel Alternative, we could use that expression, keep the aspidistra flying, to symbolize cohortians continuing to press on their dissertations until they are finished."