From The Nation: After the Inferno

It is one of the most valuable purposes of reading imaginative literature that it allows the reader to sympathize with the values of a culture different from his or her own. Having done so, memory, strengthened by the force of narrative, will also preserve those values. Peter E. Gordon therefore aptly begins his review of When Memory Comes, amemoir of historian of Nazism and the Second World War, Saul Friedlnder, by relating Canto 16 from Dante’sInferno,in which the pilgrim is beseeched by shades of the Florentine nobility to remember them once or if he makes it back up (as we know, he way overshoots the mark, landing in Paradise). For Professor Friedlnder (good name), though having managed with his family to escape Nazi persecution, nevertheless held powerfully in his conscience the tragedy which we are fortunate to learn about from the safe distance provided by the history books. Of the relationship between history and memory

Saul Friedlnder in Paris, 1978. (Ulf Andersen / Getty Images). Photograph for The Nation

Saul Friedlnder in Paris, 1978. (Ulf Andersen / Getty Images). Photograph for The Nation

Friedlnders two-volume Nazi Germany and the Jews suggests an answer to this question. Theorists of trauma have noted that first-person experience is often fractured, resistant to summary. Allowing such memories to punctuate a historical synthesis undoes the illusion of completeness; it reminds the reader that historical understanding is not just an obligation but a privilege. Historical scholarship occurs later, at a safe remove from the horrors it describes. In this crucial respect, the it was of history often differs from the I was of memory: The first integrates and promises comprehension; the second disintegrates and conveys incomprehension. The work of the historianand this is Friedlnders singular achievementis to unite these tasks so that the reader can understand, however imperfectly, experiences of trauma that would otherwise seem to surpass understanding.

The memoir closes the distance between reader and experience like the distant retelling of history cannot. Friedlander lost his parents in the camps; they succeeded in getting him to safety, and he succeeded in Proustian fashion to preserve their memory; but as his own memory fails, the least we can do is make it a part of our own by reading his memoir.

Read more at The Nation


Weekly Round-Up, 3-3-17

Good afternoon, scholars! Before you shove off for spring break, we hope you’ll take the time to read this week’s links.

  • The earliest-known image of Confucius was found in the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun, who briefly (and we mean brief–we’re talking less than a month) reigned as emperor of China in 74 B.C. Discovered on the wooden cover of a bronze mirror, the philosopher’s likeness is included alongside two of his students and 2,000 Chinese characters detailing stories not found in other Western Han Dynasty documents.
  • Prof. Philippe Desan of the University of Chicago spills the goods on a certain French Renaissance philosopher and politician in his new biography Montaigne: A Life.

“Que sais-je?” Montaigne: A Life, by Philippe Desan. Translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neal. 2017.

  • Harlem School of the Arts Theatre Alliance reshapes Euripedes’ The Trojan Women to give it a contemporary flair. Set in a modern city, the play is directed by HSA Artistic Director Alfred Preisser, and it will take place from February 24 through March 19 at HSA Theatre in New York City.
  • The Martha Graham Dance Company recently wrapped up their season at the Joyce Theater last Sunday, February 26, with performances working with the theme of Sacred/Profane. One program in particular, by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is inspired by Sufi mysticism and incorporates Middle Eastern music.
  • The Boston Philharmonic’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano, receives a favorable review over at the Boston Globe. The Boston Trio (featuring Irina Muresanu on violin, Joan Ellsworth on Cello, and Heng-Jin Park on piano) played Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 last week at Sanders Theatre and Nec’s Jordan Hall.

The trio.  Via Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

The trio. (Via Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.)

Well, that’ll do it! We hope your break leaves you well-rested and ready for the remaining weeks of the semester.

March Books, Free to Good Homes


Spring Break is upon us, and we are thinking about spring cleaning.

That includes paring down the inventory of hundreds and hundreds of used books which the Core office has acquired over the past little while, donations from members of the Core community. We invite you — students, alumni, and friends of the Core — to peruse the list below. If any of the books spark your interest, they are yours for the asking!

All you have to do is email the Core office, letting us know what book you want, and to what mailing address we should send it. (Or if you’re in the Boston area or plan to be soon, you can let us know that, and we’ll set the book aside for you to pick up in person.

Read More »

From Literary Review: Righteous Reformations

Eric Ormsby at Literary Reviewengages in his latest review with Christopher de Bellaigue’sThe Islamic Enlightenment. The relationship between the two has not been easy, but that it has been unrequited for either is a misimpression that has gained popularity in some circles, namely populist ones. That is too bad, because de Bellaigue argues that the Sunny side of the Islam has been getting brighter for the last two centuries (Shi’a right… Ormsby thinks):

De Bellaigues title turns on a paradox. We seldom, if ever, think of Islam, at least in its current form, as exemplifying, let alone promoting, enlightenment. Yet his intention is to demonstrate that non-Muslims and even some Muslims who urge an Enlightenment on Islam are opening the door on a horse that bolted long ago. He goes even further when he states that for the past two centuries Islam has been going through a pained yet exhilarating transformation a Reformation, an Enlightenment and an Industrial Revolution all at once. This seems to me somewhat overstated.

Through the course of this absorbing review Mr. Ormsbymanages to insert his opinions while also interesting the reader about what the book has to say. A question that proved especially difficult for the Muslim intellectual of the nineteenth century was that of the seeming inequity of divine dispensation: why do the spiritually awry get more of the share than Muslims? A question that provoked the Christians too centuries before, and still does today even if in a different from. If after this stage of puberty Islam will settle into the moderate mildness like Christianity before it, then there is certainly a Sunny side at least in the future.

Read his full post at Literary Review

From boingboing: “brain scans” of artificial intelligence processes

Graphcore is a start-up company that has recently secured $30m “to deliver massive acceleration for machine learning.” One of its latest findings has been posted by Mark Frauenfelder at boingboing: “brain scans” of Graphcore’s Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), which is likea rudimentary brain that can performbasic processes related to learning and memory. Here’s an image of its computational graph (used to help interpret information from data):

Image of Computational Graph for Graphcore

Image of Computational Graph for Graphcore

As for the most pressing concern: when will these things take us over? We do not know yet. But meanwhile we might spend our time pondering the kind of questions we’ve come to think ofas being typical at the Core, and perhaps even for the folks at Graphcore: the relation between appearance and reality. When that reality has to do with our perception of it, then introspection can only get us so far at a proper understanding. It reached its limits centuries ago, for the processes of the brain responsible for our sensation are not accessible to reflective analysis. We need the mediation of the kinds of instruments and machines that companies like Graphcore are working to develop. What’s truly interesting is that– *STATIC*… HELLO, MY NAME IS IPU:


Weekly Round-Up, 2-24-17

Hello, Corelings! Enjoying the uncommonly good weather? We’ve compiled some equally good links for this week’s round-up that might strike your fancy.

  • Ipsa Dixit, by American composer Kate Soper, explores works by Aristotle, Plato, Freud, Wittgenstein, Jenny Holtzer, and Lydia Davis in an evening of theatrical chamber music. Alex Ross gets to the bottom of the performance in an article over at The New Yorker.
  • A lost novella of Walt Whitman was recently discovered by grad student Zachary Turpin at the University of Houston. An anonymous work, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Auto-Biography; In Which The Reader Will Find Some Familiar Characters (which is a fantastic name, we may add) was published in a New York newspaper in 1852 three years before Leaves of Grass.
  • The National Portrait Gallery in London will be showcasing rare Old Master drawings, including those of Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, in an exhibition The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, starting July 13 of this year.

Figure studies by Rembrandt that will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery. (Credit: The Henry Barber Trust/Barber Institute/PA)

Figure studies by Rembrandt that will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery. (Credit: The Henry Barber Trust/Barber Institute/PA)

  • Go! Go! Gilgamesh!, A Ragged Man production, takes place from February 15-28 during the 2017 FRIGID Festival of New York. Written by Phoebe Kreutz, the musical features a “super sexy cast” (including Kreutz herself) and “joke folk” songs.
  • A theory suggests that Beethoven may have suffered from cardiac arrhythmia, or more specifically a premature ventricular heartbeat, and that it influenced the “stuttering rhythms” of some of his works.

An electrocardiogram depicting multiple premature ventricular contractions. (Via Zach Goldberger)

An electrocardiogram depicting multiple premature ventricular contractions. (Via Zach Goldberger)

That’s all, folks! We hope you have a lovely last week before spring break.

Christopher Marlowe and the Mythology of Shakespeare

Gary Taylor, lead general editor of The New Oxford Shakespeare, departs from the usual collections of Shakespeare’s plays. For the first time, the three Henry VI plays add the name of Elizabethan tragedian and “bad boy of the English Renaissance,” Christopher Marlowe, as co-author alongside the Bard. But that’s not all–fourteen other plays from the 37-work canon feature other co-authors, including but not limited to Thomas Nashe, George Peele, John Fletcher, and several others.

Wild child. A 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe (allegedly) by an anonymous artist, 1585.

Wild child. A 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe (allegedly) by an anonymous artist, 1585.

Do additional authors make Shakespeare’s plays any less, well, Shakespeare? For many years now, various theories have cropped up regarding the playwright, including the Victorian era conspiracy that Shakespeare was more or less the pseudonym or public persona for an aristocrat, as New Yorker writer Daniel Pollack-Pelzner points out. Nowadays it is understood that a final screenplay, even from the sixteenth century, is the work of “many hands”–indeed, “individual hands” that the New Oxford Shakespeare has been able to identify. Another theory claims that Shakespeare’s authority in Western literature stems from the mythology of the playwright rather than his skill, and that plenty of Renaissance writers existed who were just as good, if not better. But these aren’t new ideas, Pollack-Pelzner tells us. Instead, the most interesting point that the New Oxford Shakespeare brings to the table is that:

[T]he canonization of Shakespeare has made his way of telling stories–especially his monarch-centered view of history–seem like the norm to us, when there are other ways of telling stories, and other ways of staging history, that other playwrights did better. If Shakespeare worshipers have told one story in order to discredit his contemporary rivals, the New Oxford is telling a story that aims to give the credit back.

The New Oxford Shakespeare hopes to challenge the assertion that Shakespeare is a flawless playwright. This belief is the same that prevents many of us from accepting that there may have been others at work alongside the Bard as he penned works that would be studied and performed for generations to come.

Read more about Marlowe as co-author of Henry VI and the mythology of Shakespeare in The New Yorker.

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!