Dr. Berlin - English
"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
(Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.)
Tell me the four mute letters.
I tell you one is mind, the second is thought, the third is writing, the fourth is fear.
(From the Old English Adrian and Ritheus)
How long does a rhinoceros last
after he's moved to compassion?
(Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions)
If any of the above quotations appealed to you, you may enjoy this section. This is a course about questions--choosing them, posing them, exploring them, and, as Rilke says, living them. In this section, in addition to working with the questions raised in Asking the Right Questions, we will examine the larger question of what it means to be human and how we can do a good job of it. We'll start by looking at a medieval world map, the Hereford Mappamundi, created around 1290, which maps out not simply places, but also knowledge and beliefs of the period. As a part of understanding the map, we'll be looking at a medieval bestiary (book of beasts and their meanings), a genre that combines state-of-the-art medieval knowledge of animals with religious allegory. Next, we will consider wisdom traditions, medieval and modern, including Old English riddles and gnomes; riddle contests--such as those between Solomon and Sheba in Jewish folklore or between Odin and the giant Vafthrufnir in Nordic texts; the still-living Zen Buddhist koan tradition, which poses questions impervious to logic in order to break through the curtain of what we believe about reality, and 20th c. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions, containing 320 verse questions aimed at preparing the imagination for an inner quest. The course will conclude with a novel, Song of Solomon, embodying the quest for self, in which belief and knowledge, appearance and reality, keep shifting.
Mr. Chimonides - Fine Arts
“The artist is a creative intellectual, not an inspired idiot.” - 1956 Brown Report, Harvard University
In 2012, I believe a deep acquaintance with the creative arts to be an essential component of a strong college education. Not only are the arts enriching personally and socially, but in a knowledge economy where professional roles change rapidly (and many college students are preparing for positions that may not even exist yet), the skill set needed is one that prepares students for change and continued learning - and what is that skill set?
It is the cultivation of personal creativity.
Learning to express original ideas in writing, speech, performance and imagery, knowing how to find information and synthesize concepts, developing interpersonally and collaboratively — these are all solid background skills for a wide variety of future roles - both personal and professional and it is precisely these skills, which form the spine of Dramatic Art. In much the same way that sports participation and marching band instill young people with valuable life skills and experiences, (regardless of their future career path), drama inspired education teaches its participants imaginative and performance confidence; invaluable assets in today’s rapidly (and exponentially) changing world.
As a passionate dramatist (and an artist / educator who is infinitely curious about existence and the universe), I innovate ways to apply dramatic / creative pedagogy to the liberal arts education and thus enliven personal and social growth.
Drama, or the “performance of ideas,” is to me not a domain limited to the Theatre, but rather, it presents a worldview, a lens for exploring reality - and its images encompass innumerable genres (Theatre, Dance, Music, Television, New media and of course, that primary ritual medium of the contemporary world – Film). In my Honors Core unit this semester, we will start with the assigned question and explore it through the lens of the dramatic imagination.
Let me be clear, however, this exploration will not be systematic or traditionally “academic,” but rather, it will be creative and intuitive; inspired by the energies and curiosities of the students in each seminar.
It will also be highly interactive and for some of you, this may test your “comfort zone”. In my courses, we think, we discuss, we play Theater games, we expose ourselves to an incredible variety of artists and ideas through readings and video, we create myths and screenplays and songs and skits and fairy tales and Haikus. And yes, we read texts and write about them as well, naturally – but not always in ways that you may be used to. Or may prefer.
In my Fine Arts Honors Core seminars, we labor to stretch our learning beyond conventional college classroom activities and seek to make a transformational connection. In a way, the class itself is a community art project of sorts with the core question as its organizing theme.
In closing, I offer a recent student reflection; and though each person is different, I feel it’s a good illustration of the kind of growth one can expect to experience, provided they are open and committed to the course:
“At first I was extremely uncomfortable with having to express my opinion as we went one-by-one around the class. However, one of my largest take aways came from listening to the opinions of others. The individual reflections not only required me to step out of my comfort zone and express my opinions, but it taught me to truly listen to and respect everyone’s thoughts and opinions. The more time that we spent reflecting, I felt that the reflections became more in depth as a result of the practice. As the class progressed, I found myself to be surprised by my own thoughts. I was unaware that my mind was capable of reflecting on pieces of artwork because I used to simply just write it off as not being my “thing”. Overall, this unit not only informed me of the importance of art, but it helped me to evolve as a person. The openness that the entire process required scared me without a doubt, but it brought me into an entirely new way of thinking.” -- Kelsey Shaulis Jason Chimonides
Dr. Finegan - History
“On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, ‘I decline to accept the end of man.’ I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”/
On the podium while accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, Latin America’s (and quite possibly the world’s) most famous and talented novelist, Gabriel García-Márquez uttered the words above in an effort to revive the human spirit in an era of disillusionment and desperation. Throughout his speech that day in Stockholm, he was primarily concerned with the distinction between reality and legend, between what really ‘happens’ and what we – as human beings - ‘imagine’ to have taken place. And to be sure - at least in García-Márquez’ world - magic and imagination are indeed part and parcel of what is ‘real’, what we know, what we believe, and what we do. Later in the speech, he stated
/I dare to think that it is this outsized reality (the history of Latin America), and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. /
If this notion that reality consists essentially of things that are not necessarily ‘knowable’ (“/A reality not of paper/”), then how do we, as humans, determine what is indeed real and what isn’t? Or is life not really about the dualities and dialectics suggested by comparing what is ‘imagined’ and what is ‘real’? And what is */our/* role in all of this? Humans simply inhabit a small place in this world, full as it is of complexities, convolutions, conundrums, mysteries, and enigmas at least some of which – if not most – rest comfortably beyond even the most sagacious thinker’s realm of true understanding and knowledge. If that’s true, then indeed and perhaps, we cannot fully ‘know’ much of anything at all.
But we can believe, right? And we do ‘do’, right? Well, maybe…at least sometimes…maybe…
Of all the disciplines, history may very well be the one best equipped to address these questions and statements, at least from a purely humanistic point of view. After all, historians have been tasked for millennia to record and reconstruct the past as best we can. What we speak and write is, indeed, ‘real’ in some sense, right? Do we not tell stories and offer interpretations of what happened based on actual, touchable documents and other leftovers from the past?
Certainly historians are much to blame and deserve at least some credit for “what we know and what we believe.” As such, during this unit, we will pass over these philosophical questions again and again using historical references, tools, theories, and sources as our guides. More specifically, we will position these inquiries squarely within the historical scope of Spain and Latin America, regions whose pasts have inspired García-Márquez’ mind and pen to challenge the distinction between what is real and what isn’t.
Back down to earth, we will begin Unit A with readings and discussions centered on Medieval Spain during an era called the Reconquista. This long period (711-1492) provides an ideal point of departure for students to appreciate the mentality and behaviors associated with the Iberian discovery, conquest and subsequent colonization of most of the Western Hemisphere in the 15^th and 16^th centuries. After the Reconquista concludes in the early 1490s, Columbus, of course, ‘discovered’ the Americas and Spain’s and Portugal’s explorations and exploits across the Atlantic began. We will spend several class periods making the connection between the Reconquista and the Iberian Conquest/Colonization in Latin America before wrapping up Unit A with an analysis of Spanish efforts to purge Native American religious beliefs in all conquered and colonized areas. This ‘spiritual conquest’ was alternately successful and an enormous failure. It just depends on how we choose to look at it.
Dr. Williamson - English
This course introduces you to important works of literature (a memoir, a novel, and two books of poetry) from a variety of cultures and perspectives. For the first half of the unit, we will focus on systems of knowledge and belief (as well as systems of not knowing and not believing) in relation to political, moral, and aesthetic conflicts. Using Asking the Right Questions, Heda Margolius Kovaly’s Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968, a complex memoir about Czechoslovakia’s relationship to Soviet communism, and Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a recent novel that explores the brief history of the nation of Biafra during the Biafran/Nigerian civil war from 1967-70. As we consider the relationship between literature and history, we will explore the ways in which knowledge and belief shift and turn during times of conflict. This half of Unit A will prepare you for Unit H of HNRC 201 (Must the need for social order conflict with the need for individual liberty? What, therefore, should we do?) a course of study you will pursue in your junior year. The second half of the semester will be devoted to poetry and metaphoric transformations. We will read Poems from Arab Andalusia (a collection of poems written in Arabic in Spain from the 9th to 13th centuries, then translated into Spanish and English during the 20th century) in order to approach knowledge and beliefs about beauty, power, and helplessness. We will conclude with Ranier Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus (in a German/English dual language edition), a sonnet sequence written after the First World War that considers knowledge and beliefs about death and love. This half of Unit A will prepare you for Unit G of HNRC 201 (How do we understand the sacred? What, therefore, should we do?) a course of study you will pursue in your junior year. Knowledge and belief are never finite and absolute; they are always fluid, shifting as time shifts. This does not mean, however, that the difference between knowledge and belief is relative to particular circumstances. There may be no absolutes when it comes to knowledge and belief, but there are some important principles that cannot be explained away by shifting one’s perspective. We will see how the movement between uncertainty and certainty affects peoples’ lives as time and circumstance intervene in the way they imagine themselves, what they know, and what they believe. What, therefore, should we do? A starting place might begin with the importance of being able to transform, record, and perhaps even resist the worlds that others impose on us. This is a literature course, so although politics, history, and religion will be important aspects of this course we will be paying careful attention to literary composition, literary genres, and literary language as we read a memoir, a novel, and two books of poetry.
Required Readings: You must purchase your own copy of each book, and you must have your own copy of each book BEFORE we begin our course readings.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi Half of a Yellow Sun
Browne and Keely Asking the Right Questions (ARQ)
Franzen, Cola. Poems from Arab Andalusia
Kovaly, Heda Margolius Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968
Rilke, Ranier Maria Sonnets to Orpheus (David Young translator, Wesleyan University Press – you must have this edition
Clifford, W.K. “The Ethics of Belief”
Plato “The Allegory of the Cave”
Daily Readings from The New York Times – you should be able to find, present, and discuss relevant articles at a moment’s notice!