From The Guardian: Thoughts on Contemporary African Literary Criticism

One of the prime tasks of the literary critic is conservation; conservation of a tradition that has been formed in part by the books that have come from that very tradition. Yet this is a function that is wanting, alerts Professor Tony E. Afejuku, in African Literary Criticism.There are too many books in the inventory and not critics enough to catalogue them for the public and scholars. Another problem is the provincialism, nationalist and ethnic, that prevents African critics from identifying as such. What can we, the patron-saints of underrepresented books, do to help you, Professor Afejuku?

Illustration for The Guardian

Illustration for The Guardian

Why do our contemporary critics wait for the West to applaud our writers before they themselves do so? We must now learn to discover our writers (and critics) for the West rather than the West doing the discovery for us. This is imperative for the growth of our contemporary literature and criticism. Indian literary scholars have been doing this for years. They do not wait for the West to tell them who is a good or talented Indian writer. They objectively and faithfully sell their writers to the West. Doing what I am hereby recommending will give Nigerian (and African) literary community its greatest happiness in no distant time.

Big Brother comes in two forms:one censors, the other patronizes. Afejuku writes before the closing no-thanks extracted above about the various ways in which critics at home can help African literature rise to its natural dignity, which means not depending onthe Western patronage that feels so solicitously obliged to dispense its charity. Could we atleast applaud that, Professor?

Read his full post at:

Thoughts on contemporary African Literary criticism

From The Times Literary Supplement: Steve Bannon, heir to Plato

Steve Bannon (good name) believes in a cyclical theory of history. We do not have the evidence for it, which is just the point, sincethe argument then becomes circular. The nice thing about cycles is that it suggests revolution, something we like here; the bad thingis thatBannon feels perhaps that he is the spearhead of this revolution, representing the vanguard that will finally bring democracy for Wall St.–so get your vanguard up; if his program is anything like that of his hero, Lenin, then we are in for some trouble. Nicholas Barret at the Times Literary Supplement gives this as background before going on to speculate the reasons for arguing that Lenin and Bannon share a common ancestor in Plato. Bannon has read the least, so for better or worse we know that his zeal is informed by his own ideas:

 Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Brendan Smialowski/AFP

It is increasingly evident that perceptions of freedom and democracy are changing in a way that seems to lend some credence to Bannons (and Platos) views. According to research published in the Journal of Democracy, the percentage of people in Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the US who maintain that it is essential to live in a democratic society has nose-dived as the memory of the Second World War has faded away. The figure is now below 50 per cent among millennials in all six countries. Platos fatalistic theories of regime change may seem farfetched, but it is difficult to deny that some vast structural shift is now underway.

We imagine the structural change that is spoken of will shift the scales in favor for the downtrodden on Wall St. So there is one more sense in which money for social welfare will be going to build the Wall, though perhaps this is too soon to say. But a question that is left unanswered is if Bannon is the heir to Plato, where do we place Trump in the lineage?

Read his full post at

Steve Bannon, heir to Plato

Weekly Round-Up, 2-17-17

Good afternoon, scholars! This week we cover events around BU campus, two plays, and a new museum. Read on:

  • Around Campus: CFA presents Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Stephen Pick, next Wednesday (Feb. 22) through Sunday (Feb. 26). General admission in the Lane-Comley Studio 210. (See, there’s so much Shakespeare in this world that it’s spilling into a second weekly round-up.)
  • In case you missed it: Three Questrom students thwarted a would-be thief last Monday, February 6. Five artworks from Galerie d’Orsay on Newbury Street were almost stolen, including etching by Picasso and Rembrandt and lithographs by Joan Miro and Marc Chagall.

Galerie dOrsay owner Sallie Hirshberg (CAS 90) alongside Chris Savino (Questrom17), Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom17), and Jesse Doe (Questrom17).

Galerie dOrsay owner Sallie Hirshberg (CAS 90) alongside Chris Savino (Questrom17), Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom17), and Jesse Doe (Questrom17).

  • An Iliad, written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare and based on Homer’s The Iliad, reflects on the pain, especially that of women, in the face of war. A solo performance punctuated by music, the play, directed by Jacole Kitchen, will take place Thursday through Saturday at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, CA, beginning February 26.
  • A museum celebrating the teachings of Confucius, aptly named the Confucius Museum, is set to open later this year in Qufu, Shandong province, China. According to Yang Chaoming, a member of the provincial political advisory body, “visitors will be able to gain a more in-depth understanding about Confucius and his teachings via images, modern technologies and relics related to the sage.”
  • Hedgerow Theatre Company presents Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with humor and “crackle.” Directed by Kittson O’Neill and adapted by Brian Friel, the performance takes place through March 5 in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania.

Vanya (Adam Altman) and Astrov the Physician (Jared Reed), having a good time. (Credit: Ashley Labonde of Wide Eyed Studios)

Vanya (Adam Altman) and Astrov the Physician (Jared Reed), having a good time. (Credit: Ashley Labonde of Wide Eyed Studios)

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the long weekend!

BU in Athens 2016 Recap

Current students have been hearing all about the marvelous time that was had by participants in last summer’s Greece program, and are likely thinking about applying for a spot in the 2017 trip. By way of providing more information to people thinking about submitting an application, we’d like to share the following recap of last year’s program, written by Prof. James Uden for the Department of Classics website. He writes:

BU in Athens: the Philhellenes Summer Trip, 2016

At 4:45am, the beautiful seaside town of Nafplio in the south of Greece is still asleep. But four hours before the bus departs for the archaeological site of Mycenae, Boston University students are already climbing the legendary 999 steps of the eighteenth-century fortress of Palamidi, hiking up the narrow path in order to get the perfect photo of the sunrise over the Peloponnese. This was one of the many adventures our students had in the five-week trip to Greece in Summer 2016 as part of the Boston University Philhellenes summer program. Twenty-three students our largest and most diverse group ever also learned to sail on the Aegean Sea, swam in blue ocean waters off the island of Aegina, and rode donkeys up the steep cobblestone streets of Hydra, experiencing for themselves the hospitality and passion for life of the Greek people. Who could resist? By the end of the trip, we were all philhellenes.

At the top of Palamidi in Nafplio. Photo by William Tengtio

The students enthusiasm was fueled by their interest in Greek art, history, and language. Students complete two courses for credit as participants in the program: an art history course taught at the American College of Greece, which includes trips to many notable ancient sites, and a course in either Modern Greek with Professor Kelly Polychroniou or Greek History with Professor Jay Samons. A tour of the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square gave students a fast lesson in modern Athenian politics. Many students came with no prior knowledge of these subjects, but they got up to speed quickly, and many are now continuing their studies of Greece in the upcoming semester at BU. Outside of their usual Monday-to-Friday classes, students also learned how to cook Greek food and dance in traditional Greek style, skills to practice in their kitchens and dorm-rooms when nostalgia for Athens starts to set in.

Swimming near the island of Aegina

This was the fourth annual trip to Greece, and there were some new additions to the itinerary. For the first time, students got a chance to visit the extraordinary Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens, which celebrates the intricate artistry of Greeces most famous twentieth-century jewelry designer, and they spent time with the museums director, Ioanna Lalaounis, on the museums rooftop terrace. One weekend, they travelled through the region of ancient Sparta and explored the fifteenth-century town of Mystras; in another, they saw the picturesque churches and windmills of the island of Tinos and visited the stores and restaurants of Mykonos. Through it all, the students were engaged, eager to learn, and hungry for even more adventures. Even those who had no previous interest in Greece came back with a new passion for the country and its culture. They were even willing to get up at 4:45am and have the photo to prove it.

The program would be impossible without the valuable sponsorship and support from the Greek community in Boston. The Scholarship and supporting funds this year were provided by: the Hellenic Studies Fund, the NEH Distinguished Teaching Professorship, the John & Sonia Lingos Family Foundation, the Alpha Omega Council, George Danis, VII Capital Group, Greek 4 Kids, Brothers Kouzina, Desfina Restaurant, and the Weston Road Caf. We are grateful to you all for your help. We also thank everyone at the American College of Greece for their collegiality again this year, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Nafplio for their hospitality. Finally, we must acknowledge all the hard work devoted to the program by Professors Samons and Polychroniou.

Read testimonials from former Summer Study participants here. Click here for further information on theBoston University Philhellenes Project. Finally, click here to access theSummer Study 2017 FAQ.

Life Advice from Aristotle

In his first vlog on his Youtube channel The Classiest Beard (and yes, before you ask, it is indeed classy), Philosophy major and Core-ier Juan Andres Cabrera Saturno condenses Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics into eight pieces of advice on leading a great life. Needless to say, we had to share this on the Core Blog! CC102 students should find this particularly helpful in understanding Aristotle’s work.

W.E.B. Du Bois and the Paris Exposition

Via Library of Congress.

At the turn of the twentieth century, author, sociologist, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois traveled to Europe for the Paris Exposition alongside collaborators Thomas J. Calloway and Daniel Murray. There, numerous photographs, patents, books, and more would make up an exhibition entitled “The Exhibit of American Negroes,” which showcased African-American life. Among these glimpses of culture and achievement were 58 charts hand-drawn by the author and his students at Atlanta University in Georgia. (Sound familiar? You may recognize Du Bois’ infographics from Theaster Gates’s “But to Be a Poor Man,” an art show earlier this year.) These infographics, beautiful in their own right, condense various collections of data concerning African Americans in both the United States as a whole and in Georgia in particular. Thomas Calloway, who ran the exhibit, provided some insight into its purpose in a quotation noted by business reference specialist Ellen Terrell of the LOC:

It was decided in advance to try to show ten things concerning the negroes in America since their emancipation: (1) Something of the negros history; (2) education of the race; (3) effects of education upon illiteracy; (4) effects of education upon occupation; (5) effects of education upon property; (6) the negros mental development as shown by the books, high class pamphlets, newspapers, and other periodicals written or edited by members of the race; (7) his mechanical genius as shown by patents granted to American negroes; (8) business and industrial development in general; (9) what the negro is doing for himself though his own separate church organizations, particularly in the work of education; (10) a general sociological study of the racial conditions in the United States.

Via Library of Congress.

Despite the awards that the exhibit garnered those involved as well as the exposure to about 50 million people, the press in the United States, with the exception of African-American-based periodicals, ignored its success. Nonetheless, as is pointed out by the Public Domain Review, the exhibit was “very much a milestone in the fight for equal rights.” Du Bois, as we know, would have gone on to publish The Souls of Black Folk three years later, not to mention his championing of the cause for equal rights in the coming years.

Read more about the exhibit on the Public Domain Review and on Hyperallergic.

From The Weekly Standard: What We Know of Shakespeare from His (Known) Portraits

Blake Seitz at The Weekly Standard reviews Portraits of Shakespeare by Katherine Duncan-Jones, an absorbing study, we are told, by an author who flouts the rule that tells us we cannot judge a book by its cover. Or if we cannot judge Hamlet from its cover, we can at least make a judgment about its characters, for whom the play itself serves as a kind of cover. Shuffling the syllogism (something Shakespeare learned to do very well, though this is not something that can be divined from his selfie), we understand that it is valuable to speculate (thousand words max)what Shakespeare’s appearance tells us about Shakespeare.


There are only three images of the man that are likely contemporaneous with him. But Katherine Duncan-Jones, emerita fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, here provides the historical background for each of the three images in forensic levels of detail and offers a compelling original thesis about the authorship of one of the three images. She also gives her appraisal of the images’ artistic merits and what they tell us about Shakespeare.

The images that historians are confident were created during (or near) Shakespeare’s lifetime have been viewed by his admirers with great disappointment. Two are technically amateurish, and they do not give the viewer much insight into Shakespeare’s personality or life. Only one, the so-called Chandos portrait, seems to do justice to the greatest playwright of all time.

A danger we can easily anticipate comes in the taking of this physio-know-me beyond its proper limits; but we are assured that the author is a tactful scholar whose analysis does not go beyond the forensics.

Read his full post at The Weekly Standard


Weekly Round-Up: Shakespeare Edition, 2-10-17

OK Corelings, we want to make a bet (mostly because we know we will win). What if we told you we could fill an entire round-up with current Shakespeare-related news and still keep it interesting? Read on:

  • Shakespeare in the Park, a summer festival that presents theater performances for free to the general public, is set to stage Julius Caesar and Midsummer Night’s Dream this season, according to the Public Theater’s announcement Thursday, February 9. “In our troubled times, the majesty of Julius Caesar and the joy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are as necessary as beauty,” says Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater.
  • Ever heard of actor-director Rajat Kapoor’s adaptations of Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, and As You Like It? They’re quite interesting, we’ve heard–especially considering the actors are dressed as clowns. All four adaptations are included in the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival, making stops in Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata before presenting its final performances in Delhi in April.

Does Yorick also sport facepaint? Please say yes. Hamlet–the Clown Prince. Via Live Mint.

  • That last bullet point was far too tame. Let’s turn Shakespeare up a notch. What about this? Three actors. Two hours. 37 Shakespeare plays. The Whirligig Stage of Greenville, NC, presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Thursdays through Sundays throughout the month of February, beginning this weekend.
  • Imagine your favorite Shakespearean play where everything is the same except one actor is very, very drunk. Coming to the Rockwell in Davis Square in Somerville, British theater company Magnificent Bastard Productions presents: S***-faced Shakespeare! Romeo & Juliet, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 pm throughout 2017.

Via S***-faced Shakespeare.

How did we do? We think we’ve sufficiently proven our point. 401 years after Shakespeare’s death, the playwright still continues to capture the imaginations of the art world.

From The Nation: Marx’s Revenge

It is apt that a man whose life mission was incomplete should have biographers . devoted to making it seem more wholesome. A recent review by Benjamin Kunkel at The Nation .tells us that the latest such attempt, Marx’s Revenge .by Gareth Stedman Jones, tries to have us seeMarx as a relic of the nineteenth century.

Stedman Jones has something like the opposite purpose in mind: He portrays a Marx who, as a creature of the public

Illustration by Tim Robinson. For The Nation

Illustration by Tim Robinson. For The Nation

controversies and sectarian intrigues of his time, belongs to the past rather than the future, his thought a historical curiosity with little enduring explanatory power. Stedman Jones, a professor of history in England who was once a frequent contributor to the New Left Review but no longer identifies as a revolutionary socialist, dismisses the mythology surrounding Marx that had already begun to be constructed at the time of [his] death in 1883, especially in Germany and Russia. The mythology purveyed the image of a forbidding bearded patriarch and lawgiver, a thinker of merciless consistency with a commanding vision of the future. This was Marx as the twentieth century was-quite wrongly-to see him.

That is a major blow for those of us who are opening Das Kapital .to a random page forusing the first quote we see as oracular advice. But Jones does seem to be correct on the essential point–that much of the mythology not only surrounding but clouding and shrouding Marx is in need of being dispelled. One of the major ones that is still being purveyed as a fashionable trademark of American politics, left and right, is that the socialist experiment that went awry in the Soviet Union used Das Kapital, an unfinished work, as an instruction manual.

Read the full review at The Nation

TEDTalks: Elizabeth Lev, Michelangelo, and the Great Theater of Life

What is the unheard story of the Sistine Chapel? Art historian Elizabeth Lev intends to tell us, taking us on a tour through Michelangelo’s series of frescos and what she considers “the great theater of life.”

The Sistine Chapel ceiling. (Public Domain)

Against the backdrop of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas, an age of exploration, Michelangelo took on the Sistine Chapel at the age of 33, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508. 133 by 46 feet with a 62-foot ceiling, the chapel was a vast undertaking, even despite the earlier additions by artists like Botticelli and Michelangelo’s teacher Ghirlandaio. Not only that, but as Core scholars will likely remember from lecture, Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor, not a painter. Nonetheless, the Sistine Chapel remains a quintessential name in the history of Western art.

The ceiling is arguably the most well-known feature of the chapel. Nine panels make up the central progression, which contains episodes from Genesis. The ceiling itself, not counting the artist’s work on the altar wall, took 3 1/2 years, during which he spent many long hours painting above his head with a sparse team of others. In the creation narrative, Michelangelo focuses on the figure of God, on the figure’s movement across the frame, and on the act of creation itself, while the forms brought into being–the moon, the sun–take on lesser roles. Here, the role of Creator is stressed and, in turn, a subtle equation of the artist’s work with that original Creation in the very beginning of the book of Genesis. We can imagine the artist with his paint brush poised like God’s finger in the Creation of Adam, one millimeter away, Lev tells us, from issuing the spark of life into a previously lifeless form.

it's eve.

Eve (arguably). Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, c. 15081512, fresco.

The stories of man and woman–part of the theater of life, as Lev calls it–are intertwined from the start. Clinging to the arm of God, Eve looks down the outstretched arms into the eyes of Adam. In the central panel of the ceiling, she is drawn from his side at her creation. In every scene, the two are inseparable, even as they are exiled from the Garden of Eden. Sybils and prophets, not to mention the episodes from the life of Noah, make up the remaining scenes along the chapel ceiling. Vibrant colors meet the eye at every juncture.

Lev then moves to the altar wall, the Last Judgment scene. Upon Michelangelo’s return to the Sistine Chapel in 1536, some 24 years since the painting of the ceiling, the Reformation has shaken the world, and so the artist took on the theme of destiny. Juxtaposed above a crucifix, the image of a glorified Christ, assuming the role as the final judge, overlooks 391 figures, many of whom show their victory over adversity through instruments and signs of their martyrdom and especially by their muscular bodies.

The Sistine Chapel, Lev says, is like a mirror. As the viewer gazes at the various scenes along every surface, they wonder their role in the great human drama that Michelangelo depicted nearly 500 years ago, a drama that continues into today.

Watch Elizabeth Lev’s TEDTalk here.