From The Chicago Maroon: Read it and Weep

(“Read it and Weep” might not have been the best entry into one’s column). As all of you probably know, our world has experienced a tragedy recently, and some of us are still finding it difficult to recover from the sounding of the death-knell: Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: Literature? Isn’t he a folk singer? Music? What does that have to do with words? In the windy city of Chicago these answers are apparently blowin’ in the wind. For some of the confused frustration was voiced recently in a column for The Chicago Maroon, a shade darker from Crimson.

Peng-Peng Liu. Image for the Chicago Maroon.

Peng-Peng Liu. Image for the Chicago Maroon.

Put aside for a minute the arrogance of a committee that demands praise for bestowing book awards on musicians. Put aside the fact that Nobel Committee ended a 25-year streak of not acknowledging American authors to honor Bob Dylan, of all people. After all, the slight isnt exactly new: Mark Twain, Henry James, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Vonnegut are just a few American giants snubbed by the Nobel committee. It would appear as though the Nobel Prize for Literature generally acknowledges excellence by ignoring it.

What really boggles the mind is how unsurprised we all are by the Dylan fiasco. Shouldnt we be more shocked? Shouldnt we care? Does anyone worry about the future of readingor is fretting over it now sort of like slapping a band-aid on a cold corpse?

Maybe Dylan is indeed a worthy recipient of such a prize in an era in which pleasure readers sometimes seem like members of an endangered species. Even here, at an elite university, pleasure reading is a chimera. Who has the time to read for fun? Ask students the last great book they read of their own volition, and youre likely to discover that theyhavent, not since high school. Ask students what their favorite novels are, and youre bound to assemble the standard curriculum of AP English. These books certainly belong in the pantheon of great literature, but it reflects a certain lack of intellectual curiosity that students only read novels when forced. But you probably shouldnt bother with these questions at all. Conversations about pleasure reading usually end with both parties feeling guilty and depressed.

Yet while putting aside all those considerations the author might also be pushing aside others that must valuably feature in any serious conversation about Dylan’s art: there’s one more reason to be guilty during conversations about reading for pleasure. For many of the great artists were in their time read for both pleasure and study. And many of these have touched us with their art in mediums other than words. Shakespeare, for example, wrote plays. Yet these are not brusqued aside as undeserving of literary study. When considering the art of musicians, then, we should be careful to assess each of these mediums on its own merits, while being careful to watch that our judgment of the art as a whole not be monopolized by the criteria of any particular one. That is, we must not let the fact that Dylan was an extraordinarily gifted musician blind us to the one that (though it might be hard to believe for those who are trying to avenge their favorite authors) the committee was able to see: first, that music uses words, and second, that in the case of Dylan, these were of tremendous imaginative power.

Read the full post at The Chicago Maroon

Weekly Round-Up, 11-25-16

Greetings, Corelings! We hope you’re filling up on pumpkin pie and turkey/non-meat turkey substitute! And what would it be without an installment of weekly links?

  • The Ashmolean, the University of Oxfords museum of art and archaeology, is currently hosting Sensation: Rembrandt’s First Paintings, an exhibition featuring early works of Rembrandt on the five senses. It closes this Sunday, November 27.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The spectacle-pedlar, circa 16241625, Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Spectacle Pedlar, c. 1624-25, oil on panel. An allegory on the sense of sight.

 

President Obama pardons a bored-looking Abe on November 15, 2015.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama pardons a bored-looking Abe on November 15, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

That’s all for now. Enjoy the rest of Thanksgiving break, and be sure to send your articles of interest to core@bu.edu.

From Quartz: Women are horribly under-represented in the world’s top literary prizes

Aamna Mohdin at The Quartz has alerted her readers that female writers are not being treated fairly by the judges of the world’s top literary prizes. The apparently trite cliche that one should never judge a book by its cover seems due for renewal or revision especially now. But this itself is hardly news to anyone, which just goes to show that the persistence of the problem is all the more shameful. She writes:

"A persistent disparity. (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovsk)" Image for Quartz

“A persistent disparity. (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovsk)” Image for Quartz

Its notable that of the awards we looked at, those in English have a much higher proportion of female winners than those in other languages. This seems unrelated to how long ago they were established. (One might have expected a lower cumulative share of women in prizes created long ago, when women suffered more discrimination in general).

Right at the bottom of the gender parity list is the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious award in Spanish literature. First established in 1976, the award has been given to men 90% of the time. Only four women have won the award so far; Mara Zambrano was the first in 1988.

In this way, she goes on to illuminate the issue by discriminating the different ways in which cultures are treating their female writers, and discusses how books that feature a women as the protagonist fare against ones that features a male. Another question that is salient in this discussion is whether there may also be discrimination against women trying to get their books published. If so, then we would expect the gender parity among those who are able to get their books published reflected in those who are selected for awards. The judges then would not be wholly culpable, and the problem would seem radical; that is, something to also be treated at the root, which is where feminists are more and more having to operate to win meaningful change. Our present time is rare in that they are having to mobilize just as rigorously against those who do not read books as against those who do.

Read her full post at Quartz

From The Conversation: Guide to the Classics–Michel De Montaigne’s Essays

Montaigne is perhaps the most widely celebrated essayist in the Western Canon. And it is his essays that have also elevated him to classic status not only in literature but also philosophy. The two are often thought to go together harmoniously, yet literature shows a tact which philosophy often brusques aside for concatenation. Montaigne is rare in his ability to reflect on the mundane without attempting to subsume it within a grand imperial theory. Matthew Sharpe at The Conversation writes that in doing so Montaigne could be said to have inspired our modern age, yet speculates also the various ways in which Montaigne himself might have been inspired to write what he supposedly invented. One possibility might not have been so much an inspiration as a recourse. Sharpe writes:

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533  1592)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533 1592)

Some scholars argued that Montaigne began writing his essays as a want-to-be Stoic, hardening himself against the horrors of the French civil and religious wars, and his grief at the loss of his best friend Etienne de La Botie through dysentery.

Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles. It was what one more recent admirer of Montaigne has called a way of life.

Montaigne has little time for forms of pedantry that value learning as a means to insulate scholars from the world, rather than opening out onto it.

He writes:

Either our reason mocks us or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment.

Indeed:

We are great fools. He has passed over his life in idleness, we say: I have done nothing today. What? have you not lived? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious of all your occupations.

A great irony is in Montaigne’s urging the reader to go out and live while he himself remained cloistered in the library. But living in his time might have meant either witnessing or partaking in the horrors of the French Civil War. Isn’t there also the notion that life can be lived more beautifully within the mind, a reason that must also have compelledMontaigne to seclude himself? These kinds of ironies and paradoxes crop up again and again not only with Montaigne, but also with others that would be less welcoming of having them illuminated. Montaigne would embrace them.

Read his full post at The Conversation

Weekly Round-Up, 11-18-16

Happy Friday! This week’s links take a look at a festival, Jane Austen, McDonald’s in Florence, and more.

  • Remember Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), the fresco of Jesus that was, uh, renovated a few years back? You know what the best way to preserve this memory in the seas of time? A comedic opera, that’s what.

Spot-on. Credit: Observatorio de Restauacion via Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0).

  • A festival dedicated to Virginia Woolf, the first of its kind, takes place November 25-27 in Monza, Italy.
  • “Almost everything we think we know about Jane Austen is wrong,” according to author Helena Kelly, who aims to set things straight in her novel Jane Austen, The Secret Radical, published earlier this month.
  • Ronald Wimberly’s Prince of Cats, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that explores an early 80s inner city setting through the point of view of Tybalt, has been re-released in hardcover. It also includes this gem dedicated to an ice cream truck:

When heat doth bind gelled sandal to sidewalk, listen
For song that parts summer’s writhing miasma
And calls forth God’s wandering children
To the chariot of Mr. Soft-e.

That’s all for this week. Core hopes you enjoy your Thanksgiving and eat abundantly! (And don’t forget to send any articles of interest to core@bu.edu.)

From The Business Insider: How Donald Trump Could Abolish the Department of Education

In his first hundred days as President, Donald Trumps plans to shutter the Department of Education. Top legal scholar, Laurence Tribe, has regrettably affirmed that there is no constitutional limitation against such an action. Assuming that Congress will give its consent, and that we make it past the first 100 days, this seems dangerously likely. As a Great Books course, the Core Curriculum might suggest that to make America great again might involve its more rigorously studying the Great Books again. It is nice that Donald Trump wants the United States to be a great country, but bad that he seeks to accomplish this by making it more like Donald Trump. Naturally, step one would be to do away with education, recommended first in his ominous oeuvre, Crippled America. Abby Jackson at the Business Insider writes:

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri. Image for Business Insider

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri. Image for Business Insider

This makes Trump’s pledge to eliminate the Department of Education a legally possible feat, though it would certainly not be something he could achieve on his own.

“No president could eliminate the department unilaterally, by executive order or otherwise,” Tribe said.

Education policy was largely a second-tier issue during Trump’s campaign, which focused instead on issues such asnational security,trade, andHillary Clinton’s email scandal.

Still, in the plan for his first 100 days in office, he described his intention tobring educational supervision to local communities. It remains to be seen whether he reinvigorates the call to abolish the Department of Education.

This would mean on the one hand that many states whose constituencies voted for Trump will be reading much more of the Bible, a book that must necessarily feature in any Great Books course. On the other hand, this also means that many states whose constituencies voted for Trump will be reading much more of the Bible to understand biology, physics, and if things go very wrong, Donald Trump.

Read her full post at Business Insider.

Weekly Round-Up, 11-11-16

This week we take a look at the earliest settlement in Australia, degenerate art, “Inferno” (and not the one you’re thinking about), and more.

Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice, c. 1625, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice, c. 1625, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund.

That’s all, folks. See you next week! As always, send articles and news of interest to core@bu.edu.

From the American Library Association: Parthenon Made Out of Banned Literature

Documenta 14 is a series of art exhibitions, hosted every five years to commemorate the values of democracy and freedom of expression–hard-won, but too easily taken for granted. Behind the exhibit is Marta Minujin, who sought inspiration for the exhibit from one of her earlier works. In 1983, after the dissolution of dictatorship in Argentina, she created a Parthenon made out of forbidden books as a symbol against the intolerance represented by the old regime. Ellie Diaz at the American Library Association writes:

The Partenon de los libros was constructed in 1983 after the dictatorship in Argentina. Photo credit: Marta Minujin Archive. Image for The American Library Association

The Partenon de los libros was constructed in 1983 after the dictatorship in Argentina. Photo credit: Marta Minujin Archive. Image for The American Library Association

Her Partenn de los libros celebrated the willingness toward a free society after the breakdown of dictatorship. The Parthenon of Books has a more ambitious goal, standing for 95 more days than the original and made with tens of thousands more books.

To accomplish this feat, documenta is relying on donations of banned and challenged books from around the world. The Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundationcontributedfour challenged books: two novels from Phyllis Reynolds NaylorsAliceseries, a graphic novel by Jeff Smith andTwo Boys Kissingby David Levithan.

After the 100-day exhibit, the forbidden books will be distributed to the surrounding crowd.

Usually the books that are banned are the ones we cherish the most. Nevertheless, if there are any youd like to sendfor the exhibit being held in Germany, more information can be found by reading her full post at:

American Library Association

Scenes from Euripides’ Hecuba, November 2016

The 2016 performance of scenes from Euripides’ Hecuba from today’s CC101 lecture has been uploaded to the Core Youtube channel for your viewing pleasure. Many thanks go out to Prof. Kyna Hamill and the 2016-17 Hecuba Players.

The 2016-17 Players are:

  • Giselle Boustani-Fontenele, co-director with Kyna Hamill
  • Flannery Gallagher
  • Priest Gooding
  • Seyedeh Hosseini
  • Hannah Jew
  • Christine Jimenez
  • Ziqiao Zhou

How Homer Matters

“The core of what is valuable about those epics is that they are intensely human. … It is an absolutely down-the-barrel look at the realities of who we are.”

In his lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, author Adam Nicholson argues the importance of Homer thousands of years after he wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. He examines the uncertain origins of Homer, the oral tradition of epic poetry, and the contrasting cultures of the Trojans and the Greeks. His talk is set against a background of archaeology and art history.

Here’s a quick synopsis of some key points throughout the lecture:

  • Homer’s origins are unknown, but that hasn’t stopped scholars from speculating. Some believe there are multiple Homers or that he was actually a woman or a group of women.
  • Homer’s epics are built on the foundations of oral tradition. Indeed, Nicholson says, the final versions of the Iliad or the Odyssey–that is, the written versions– is “the last Homer” of many who came before him.
  • Interestingly, oral tradition does not mean memorization of thousands of lines word-for-word, but instead involves a general idea of the plot and specific phrases and stanzas combined with on-the-spot composition.
  • Nicholson holds the controversial belief that Homer’s origins are much farther back than previously thought. Instead of a poet from 800 BC writing about a war that took place in 1200 BC, Nicholson claims that archaeological findings prove that Troy was an impoverished state at that time, but far wealthier a thousand years prior.
  • In the Iliad, Troy is defined by cloth, whereas the Greeks are defined by bronze, particularly in the form of weaponry. Each is a metaphor for their communities; the Trojans are marked by integrity in a closely woven urban setting, while the Greeks are marked by honor and individuality in what Nicholson calls a “blade” culture. Both have their pros and cons. The climax of the clashing of these two cultures comes from the meeting of Achilles and Priam after the death of Hector. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is, in a sense, the child of this meeting, combining the qualities of both cultures.

So what makes Homer important after all these years? “Homer is beautiful because he doesn’t submit to all the pains of existence,” Nicholson says. He depicts the complex beauty of life, complete in its delights and violence, joys and sorrows.