Noise vs. Sound

Silence is hot right now. On the market, it takes the form of headphones, train compartments, dishwashers, vaccum cleaners, and a whole lot of other products that have taken the absence of sound and packaged it up for capitalistic consumption. Not to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with this–but how does it reflect on our society’s reception (ha-ha) of sound? According to a recent New Republic article, the commoditization of silence is a testament to today’s consumer’s itch “to shed modern life’s “noisy” baggage: all those emails, texts, and bits of media—digital, social, etc.—that clutter our consciousness.” Ironically, the increase in the past few decades of aural turbulence, which has accompanied the technological revolution as it was ushered in, is responsible for a new trend of wanting some sort of simplicity or purity; in the case of “sound pollution”, this means silence. In the article, those following this trend are referred to as “disconnectionists”. Read More »

David Green on Core and the canon

Prompted by Dean Sapiro’s lecture on Mary Wollstonecraft to question why there are so few women authors in the Core Humanities, Prof. David Green had his CC 202 students this week  momentarily put aside Pride and Prejudice and the question of whether happiness in marriage is a matter of chance to consider the criteria for including authors in our curriculum. In the following guest post, Prof. Green reports on the results of those conversations, and gives his own reflections on the matter of Core and the canon.

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Another Facet of William Blake

William_Blake_by_Thomas_PhillipsWho was William Blake? Ask a CC202 student and they’ll tell you he was an English Romantic poet. They’re right but that’s not all. Blake was also a talented artist and many of his subjects will appear familiar to keen-eyed core students. We thought we’d take a moment to share a bit of this lesser known side of Blake.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786)




The Lovers Whirlwind illustrating Canto V of Dante's Inferno

The Lovers Whirlwind illustrating Canto V of Dante’s Inferno



Newton (1795)

Newton (1795)

Depiction of the Minotaur from Dante's Inferno

Depiction of the Minotaur from Dante’s Inferno



The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun (1805)

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun (1805)

What would Plato Tweet?

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With cerebral momentum from yesterday’s post on why philosophy won’t go away, let’s move on to another question raised by the same author, Rebecca Goldstein: what would Plato Tweet?

Goldstein likens the modern social media attention-seeking frenzy to the ancient Greek striving for kleos, which, as students will remember from CC101, is somewhat equivalent to “glory”. Goldstein does well to flesh out the definition:

The word comes from the old Homeric word for “I hear,” and it meant a kind of auditory renown. Vulgarly speaking, it was fame. But it also could mean the glorious deed that merited the fame, as well as the poem that sang of the deed and so produced the fame. The medium, the message, and the impact: all merged into one shining concept.

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Ascending to the Heavens in a Claustrophobic Box

Apparently, elevators have been much more essential to the development of our modern nation’s urban layout and cultural life than we ever thought to give them credit for. As the elevator enthusiasts of academia maintain, the invention of the elevator paved the way for a new, innovative high-rise style of architecture.


The Woolworth Building in New York, completed in 1913 and rising up to 792 feet in the sky.

Not only this, but elevators have also been credited by its appreciators for reshaping the social hierarchy of commercial and residential buildings. Originally, the top floors of, let’s say, a large house were reserved for those expected to hike up several flights of stairs–namely, this demographic included servants and staff. Before elevators, the well-off folks dwelled on bottom floors.

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On Marshall Berman, Marxist Intellectual of New York

Last fall, Marshall Berman, a Jewish American philosopher, Marxist humanist writer and professor of political science at The City College of New York, passed away. Vladislav Davidzon writes about his late teacher in Tablet Magazine, painting a portrait of him as a brilliant nonconformist and engaging teacher:

In hindsight, I am impressed by how neatly he synthesized the brackish world of 19th-century Russian revolutionary politics for American undergraduates, light-years removed from it. I see, on opening my notes from that autumn, that the first line I wrote down in my notebook in that class might be taken for Marshall’s credo. “Must we wait for after the revolution for joy?” This was followed by a resounding “No!”

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Why philosophy won’t go away

Are you living an examined life?

No, really, are you? In between texting while walking, daydreaming while note-taking, scrolling while sleeping, and sleeping while strolling, are you living an examined life?

It’s ok if you are not. Few are. But it’s an important question to ask oneself, and that’s why philosophy matters.

Clancy Martin, in his review of Rebecca Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, discusses questions that science cannot answer but philosophy can. Some extracts:

Goldstein wisely doesn’t take philosophy’s revival for granted in a culture committed to an increasingly materialistic worldview—materialistic in the philosophical sense, meaning convinced that the scientific study of matter in motion holds the answers to all our questions. The impetus for Goldstein’s ingenious, entertaining, and challenging new book is the theoretical version of the very practical problem I confronted when I graduated from college: Now that we have science, do we really need philosophy? Doesn’t science “bake bread” (not to mention make money) in a way that philosophy never has? Science is responsible for the grand upward march of civilization—so we are often told—but what accomplishments can philosophy claim?

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Keeping Kids Awake in the Classroom

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A Picture of Human Knowledge


On Friday of the week before Spring Break, Prof. Green was speaking with his classes about the importance of “human knowledge.” What brought that topic to mind? Well, on his way to work, walking down Beacon Street through Coolidge Corner, he’d seen the book pictured above propped up by some unknown person, against a lamp post outside a Russian bookstore. Read More »

e.e. cummings, the fearless

It seems impossible, sometimes, to delight in the new and exciting. Look at early critics’ and the general public’s reaction to most of modernism for instance. Scorned, scandalized, generally rejected (thank god enough liked it to keep it preserved). And the new can be exhausting in whole other ways. Most of us moved towns even countries to go to school at Boston University. Sometimes, most of the time, that’s excellent, and sometimes, especially when finals and papers rear their ugly heads, we’re homesick. It’s Spring Break now: some of us have stayed in Boston to take advantage of the studentless city; some of us are in all kinds of exotic locations enjoying the sun, the culture, what you will; and some of us answered the call and went home. Those times when we’re homesick, it can be helpful to look at the old and to comfort ourselves with that which is familiar, but we at Core always think turning to something new from the past can help guide us now, through anything.

Susan Cheever, who wrote an essay on E. E. Cummings (e. e. cummings) for Vanity Fair had a similar experience. Caught in a school she didn’t like that seemed to suck her soul out (not at all like BU but maybe like midterms), she desperately needed some inspiration, some drive. And in walks a famous poet, an old friend of her fathers.

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