Weekly Round-Up: Epic Times Edition, 2-1-17

If you are a recipient of the Epic Times, the weekly email newsletter of the Core Curriculum, you may have noticed a familiar inclusion at the bottom of the most recent email. That’s right–we got a special shout-out this week! So in case you missed it, here is the extra round-up created especially for the Epic Times.

David side-eyes Rome to the south. (Public Domain)

  • The Polish government recently bought the Czartoryski art collection, one that is comprised of 250,000 historical manuscripts and documents and 86,000 museum artifacts, including Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan as well as a number of the artist’s sketches.

There you have it. Have a lovely week!

From The Guardian: The Souls of Black Folk

Robert McCrum at The Guardian writes appreciatively of a figure whose kind is desperately wanting in our present time, W.E.B. Du Bois; and he rightly places him in the activist tradition whose standard bearer, Barack Obama, has been replaced by somebody who we can barely stand, representing the opposing tradition. It is not only for its literary merit, then, thatThe Souls of Black Folk, is considered by the folks at The Guardian as being among the top 100 non-fiction books of all time, but also for the activist function it has served in being one of the foundational texts of the civil rights movement.

WEB Du Bois: much of his rhetorical power came from knowledge of the King James Bible. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

WEB Du Bois: much of his rhetorical power came from knowledge of the King James Bible. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Du Bois, once one of Americas greatest social activists, has become sadly neglected, but his work was far ahead of its time. The ideas expressed here not only inspired the renewed black consciousness of the 1960s, exemplified by the differing careers of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but also contributed to establishing The Souls of Black Folk as a founding text of the US civil rights movement. This is at once a work of advocacy, rhetoric and literature, a vital thread in the tapestry of American prose. In the acclaimed 2016 novel Home going by Yaa Gyasi, the narrator describes Sonny reading The Souls of Black Folk in prison: Hed read it four times already, and he still wasnt tired of it. It reaffirmed for him the purpose of his being there, on an iron bench, in an iron cell. Every time he felt the futility of his work for the NAACP, hed finger the well-worn pages, and it would strengthen his resolve. This is how classics of this calibre work their way into the literary bloodstream.

We look to the past for consolation and inspiration. Dubois’ service is therefore one to humanity, only one part of which is the literature that is read for its own sake and sometimes even as agitation. Combining the force of his rhetoric with the justice of his cause, DuBois nobly reminds some of us cloistered in the ivory towers just how dark things used to be out there, and invites us to take a peek yet once again, even if itmeans having to step down and lose a peak of another kind. MLK, BLM…History seems to have a penchant forword-play just as it does rhyme.

Read the full post at The Guardian

Florence, Italy, Comes to Boston: Botticelli at the MFA

Sandro Botticelli and workshop, Venere (Venus) (detail), about 1484-90. Oil on canvas, transferred from wood panel. Galleria Sabauda, Turin.

An exhibition entitled “Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting between the Medici and the Bonfires of the Vanities” is set to tour the United States this year, and the MFA is one of the stops on its list. A collaboration between our own MFA Boston, the Muscarella Museum of Art in Virginia, and the Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi of Italy, it boasts sixteen paintings by the Italian master Sandro Botticelli, six pieces from his master, Filippo Lippi, and works by Lippi’s son and Botticelli’s pupil, Filippino Lippi. On the exhibition, the director of the Muscarelle Museum, Aaron De Groft, states:

We are extremely proud to be able to bring to this country a ground-breaking exhibition of one of the worlds greatest artists. … The Botticelli show continues a tradition of internationally important exhibitions, following Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci in recent years, in which exhibitions of great original works of art provide the lens for us to explore the themes and ideas that inspired their genius.

One of the highlights of the show is the inclusion of a painting of Venus, one of two that the artist ever created. (Of course, this doesn’t include the grander and more famous depictions such as the Birth of Venus.) Venere and more will be on view from April 15, 2017 to July 9, 2017 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Read more about the exhibition on Artnet.

Weekly Round-Up, 1-27-17

Good afternoon, scholars. How was your first full week of classes? If it involves Core, then it was probably the height of excitement.

  • A cooking blog called The Little Library Cafe features recipes based on books, including titles by Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. We’re hoping that the chocolate eclairs based on Mrs. Dalloway find their way onto the menu at the next high tea at the Core House.
  • The very first statue of Jane Austen in the world, which we find hard to believe, is in the works. Marking the 200th anniversary of her death, the statue, by artist Adam Roud, will stand in Market Place, Basingstoke, England. In the meantime, a maquette has been unveiled, granting us a sneak peak at what is to come.

Adam Roud’s maquette (a sort of wax or clay sketch). (Via BBC)

  • Professor Chad. C. Pecknold of the Catholic University of America is experimenting with a seminar on St. Augustine’s City of God–over Twitter. We’re kind of (see: very) interested. Read an interview over on the National Review here.
  • A new musical about Machiavelli? We’re already excited. A sneak peak of Machiavelli the Musical took place last Friday, January 20, at the Golden State Theater in Monterey, California.
  • A group of nine artists called Chitryog have taken to Gurgaon, India, to paint a mural depicting the Bhagavad-Gita and “scientific themes … used to emphasize on the themes of the Gita,” according to Hunny Mor, art director of the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon, which commissioned the work.

The mural, located in Gurgaons Civil Lines area. (Credit: Manoj Kumar)

That’s a wrap. Study hard, readers. You have the whole semester ahead of you!

Ariel Dorfman: In Exile with ‘Don Quixote’

Lorenzo Coullaut Valera’s 1930 monument to Cervantes in Madrid. Photograph: Luis Garca (Zaqarbal). (Public Domain)

It is October 1973, and men and women crowd the Argentine Embassy of Santiago. A coup has just dismantled the Chilean government headed by Salvador Allende, and novelist and activist Ariel Dorfman finds himself and 30 other refugees gathered around a copy of Don Quixote. As they read aloud, a certain kinship to Cervantes seems to grow amongst them. Victims, prisoners, and exiles, their experiences hearken back to the Spanish author’s five-year imprisonment at the hands of Barbary pirates. Upon his return, met with indifference, Cervantes realized that, while his body may be crippled, his soul was not, and he was free to despair or create in response to that pain. He chose the latter, and Don Quixote de la Mancha was born.

Cervantes realized that we are all madmen constantly outpaced by history, fragile humans shackled to bodies that are doomed to eat and sleep, make love and die, made ridiculous and also glorious by the ideals we harbor. To put it bluntly, he discovered the vast psychological and social territory of the ambiguous modern condition. Captives of a harsh and unyielding reality, we are also simultaneously graced by the constant ability to surpass its battering blows.

Don Quixote fully exemplifies that freedom that Cervantes, Dorfman, and the refugees in the Argentine embassy all honored above all else. And some things remain in our power despite the manacles that surround us, as Cervantes makes evident in the second part of his work:

Sancho Panza has been made governor of a fictitious island by a frivolous duke. The lowly squire proves to be a far wiser and more compassionate ruler than the noblemen who mock him and his master. One night, doing the rounds, he comes upon a young lad who is running away from a constable. The boy gets cheeky, and the ersatz governor sentences him to sleep in prison. Infuriatingly, the prisoner insists that he can be put in chains but that no one has the power to make him sleep: Staying awake or not depends on his own volition and not on anyone elses commands. Chastened by the lads independence, Sancho lets him go.

Today, these manacles, Dorfman reflects, are not often as literal as those that bound the famous Spanish author. Instead, they are “violence and inequality, greed and stupidity, intolerance and xenophobia,” realities that some avoid in a dreamlike state, only to wake up when it is too late. Nonetheless, Dorfman reminds his readers:

“Nobody has the power to make us sleep if we don’t wish it ourselves.”

Read the rest of Ariel Dorfman’s article for the New York Times here.

From The TLS: Whatever her persuasion

(It is a felicity that the elision in the title allows one to pronounce it as ‘Whatever persuasion’, so that it suggests at once something peculiar about Austen but also about ourselves, making it then something not peculiar but universal, acknowledged or not).Dr. Looser (LOE-sir) at the TLS has very likely bemused some readers in her latest article by turning into adverbs words that really must be left as adjectives: ‘conjecturally’, ‘conjugally’, ‘unblinkingly’, ‘glancingly’. It is a nice surprise, but one that we don’t understand. The effect is to have the reader come away with the sense of having read something cringingly. Her purpose was to review two of the latest on Jane Austen. One is a new edition of Mansfield Park, edited by Deidre Shauna Lynch; another is Jane Austen, The Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly, who tries to radically politicize Austen by rediscovering her as a radical.


Bath Gin, made by the Bath Gin Company The Bath Gin Company. Image for The Times Literary Supplement

The boundaries between fact and fiction in Austen-inspired books are strikingly porous. Of the two books under review here, the ostensible work of literary criticism, Helena Kellys Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, more often resembles a novel, offering readers a copious amount of what Kelly herself dubs truthful fictions. By contrast, the edition of Austens novel, Lynchs annotated Mansfield Park, has been amplified into a significant work of criticism, mostly contained in its jumbo side margins. To make this turnabout even more strange, it is Kellys novelish critical work that employs the bombastic rhetoric of right and wrong, while Lynchs edition gives us, within its helpful concatenation of facts, a more reasonable number of mights and perhapses.

The object of this review was good until Dr. Looser began to compare the two while seeming to be unaware that Lynch was performing the task of an editor and Kelly that of a literary critic. Both editor and critic must imaginatively analyze a text, but differ in the scope and liberty with which they may go about doing so. Dr. Looser does explore some questions worth pondering about the blurring of fact and fiction in Jane Austen.

Read her full review at The TLS

Theaster Gates’s “But to Be a Poor Race”

The artist sits beside his work “Reliquary,” a stone frame topped with fox pelts. (Credit: Laure Joliet)

“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.” – W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

At Regen Projects in Los Angeles, a powerful art show is taking place. Along stark white walls are data rendered into painted charts, poetry embossed in golden letters, and fire hose flattened into a tapestry. Markers of the post-Emancipation and the Civil Rights movement, they make up Chicago artist Theaster Gates’s “But to Be a Poor Race,” an art show that delves into the history of poverty and racism in the United States. Through his show Gates explores the not only the hardships but “the underlying richness of a culture borne out of a lack of resources in the aftermath of slavery” as well. “Reliquary,” a fox pelt-adorned stone frame, attests to his dual purpose, recalling the post-Emancipation class signifiers noted in the surrounding paintings, which incidentally had been gathered into data by W.E.B. DuBois. The abstraction of the charts and graphs of data and the concreteness of objects like the fur pelts and the fire hose is a striking juxtaposition, reflecting the artist’s interest in archiving history.

When Kanye uses seven samples in a song, or John Legend chooses to use a Bill Withers remake, theyre being archivists. They may not call themselves that, and people might not hear Bill Withers when they hear John Legend, but there comes the possibility of understanding Bill Withers, and that history starts to unfold. Im interested in how one simply needs to implement history. Perform it. Amplify it. Freak it. … This show is … some sincere quiet time to contemplate the symbolic things that are on my mind. Maybe the thesis will conclude that to be a poor race is to be a better race, or more interesting one.

Theaster Gates’s claim–and his show–is one that indeed invites contemplation. Those of us in Core may recognize the title of the show as a quotation from W.E.B. DuBois’ The Soul of Black Folk, a work now 114 years old. Gates, then, has drawn upon a history of struggle to highlight the depth of the culture that emerged as a result. The importance of archiving history and culture through material objects and numerical data is further emphasized in his renovations of buildings in Chicago as community centers and archives. There, as in the gallery, the artist points to the importance of remembering the past and comparing with the present.

Read T Magazine’s article on the subject here. “Theaster Gates: But to Be a Poor Race” is on view at Regen Projects in Los Angeles from January 14 to February 25.

Weekly Round-Up, 1-20-17

Welcome back to BU, Core scholars! We hope your break was restful and fun. Here’s this week’s installment of links to start things off!

  • What better way to bond than over obscure details from the Bible? Yaelle Frohlich and Yair Shahak do just that, earning them spots in the finals of the International Adult Bible Contest in Jerusalem, which sounds a lot like the identification questions on Core finals.

The happy couple conceals a fierce rivalry behind loving smiles. Probably. (via The Jewish Star)


  • In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, her home county of Hampshire, England, will host a year of events dedicated to the British author.
  • Confucian schools for young children continue to grow in popularity amongst the middle class of China.
  • Led by Italian conductor Paolo Olmi, a symphony orchestra sponsored by the Italian embassy in Tehran and the Iranian embassy in Rome performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in Tehran’s Vahdat Hall this Thursday, January 19th. This was the first time since 1979 that a Western orchestra has played in Iran.
  • “La Medea” transforms Euripides’s tragedy of Medea into a Latin-disco variety show opens tonight, January 20, and runs until the 22nd. It will be filmed in front of a live audience at Bric Arts Media in Brooklyn, New York.

Dancing queen. (via the Brooklyn Paper)

Take it easy, Corelings. Here’s to a great spring semester!

From The TLS: How Should the Humanities Make The News?

Rightly, Mary Beard in a recent article for the TLS takes for granted the question about whether the humanities should make it in the news at all. In a sense, it would be derogating from one of the signal purposes of the humanities if they were to be made the subject of more headlines. For if as Tennyson wrote, ‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers,’ then in the welter of information we are routinely bombarded with it is likely that not only wisdom but knowledge too would linger. Are there honorable ways in which we can proffer the humanities without their coming to be degraded in this way? In other words, how does the Core Curriculum accomplish this?

Illustration for The Times Literary Supplement

Illustration for The Times Literary Supplement

I remember a few years back I was giving a lecture at a northern university (with a particularly active press office) on the Philogelos or Roman joke book. They had hyped the lecture in a big way, as new insights (which in some important ways it was). On the train up, journalists kept ringing my mobile. Their first question was: where had I found this text? The right answer was obviously I dug it up from the sands of Egypt. When I said that I found it on the library, they instantly lost interest even though I was doing something with the text that no one (I think) had done before.

What counts as new and newsworthy is the question.

And that is exactly what my own august university struggles with. They have just issued on the website a top 24 of Cambridge research stories this year. On my reckoning, 19 of those are pure science; and, of the rest, the majority are fascinating discovery or rediscovery stories (whether archaeology or a lost musical manuscript). Hang on I think, what are the rest of us doing? Does it really need to be under the radar, compared with (say) the mating call of mice? Youd think from looking at this roster that none of the work that some of us do rethinking Greek tragedy, or the demography of the medieval city, or the impact of T. S. Eliot counted for a hill of beans.

ya, or for a waste land. Didn’t get it? Exactly. I think Mary would agree that (say) any university harboring one of the top Eliot scholars in the world should try to stir some excitement when he or she publishes an authoritative two volume edition of his poetry. The humanities ask that we pause to ponder, and this does not preclude our thinking seriously about what is probably the “mating call” of the media: ‘innovation.’ It, like all things human and therefore of humanism and the humanities, must not monopolize our respect, but lose some when coming into competition with other things just as deserving of our honor, such as remembrance, sympathy, and a great reminder of all of the above, T.S. Eliot (though his erotic poetry isn’t much good).

Read her full post at The Times Literary Supplement

Weekly Round-Up, 1-13-17

Hello, scholars! Can you believe the last full week of winter break is drawing to a close? Fine, fine, we won’t mention it, excited as we are for the next batch of Core classes to start. Without further ado, here is an action-packed group of links to spice up your week!

  • William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude,” addressed to fellow Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge, was recently published in a fully illustrated edition with an introduction and notes by Harvard professor James Engell and Wordsworth scholar Michael D. Raymond. Moreover, it was included in WBUR’s the ARTery’s “5 Poetry Books with a Boston Connection You Should Read.” How’s that for city pride?
  • Just for fun: Walt Whitman’s guide to “Manly Health and Training,” a roughly 47,000-word journalistic series found 150 years after its publication by a graduate student two summers back. Among other things, Whitman promotes a mostly carnivorous diet as well and decries inactivity. (For the record, the author of this blog post is 0/2 so far.)

The pinnacle of masculine fitness, Walt Whitman himself. (via Getty Images)

All right, show’s over. Everybody go home (or return to campus…?). Come back next week for the first installment of spring semester!