Recommended reading: “How to Build a Universe”

If you’ve been driving yourself batty, scouring Amazon and the shelves of your local bookstores in search of a copy of Building Universes…for Dummies, we know why you’ve been unsuccessful: that particular book does not exist. However, if you’re dead-set on building your own universe, look no further than Daniel Hudon’s “How to Build a Universe.” This short work of imaginative, cosmological DIY was re-published in this year’s Core Journal, Volume XXIV. From the piece:

Consider first the type of universe you’d like to build…your main choices are finite and infinite….factor some advertising into your budget so that people can actually see the wonders of your universe. If you just broadcast the existence of your newly created universe to all and sundry, people will likely see you as a crackpot, so we don’t recommend that.

Hudon’s easy-to-follow, conversational tone provides a solid 101-foundation for those of us who really just want to make our own universes.Let us know if you have any luck in your own world-building experiments.

The Quest for Wu-Wei

As the core office is situated on a college campus, we have, ever so often, heard variations of this unfortunate conversation:

Timmy: “How’d you do on the paper, Josh?”

Josh: “I did alright. You?”

Timmy: “Oh you know, just a 98. I’m surprised though. I started the book yesterday, watched TV until 1am. Wrote it mostly this morning, and turned it in right at 12pm when it was due.”

Josh: [Deflates and looks with chagrin at his perfectly decent, stressed- over- for-a-week-paper, which received an 83%] “Oh. Cool. I like, I … hey is that a man walking a miniature pig down Comm Ave? Let’s say hello!”

Timmy, who put in no apparent effort towards his schoolwork, obtained stellar results. Josh, who tried hard, did only so-so. How annoying.

In a piece in the New York Times, author John Tierney defines the Chinese terminology for this paradox–“wu wei,” or “effortless action:”

“Pronounced ‘ooo-way,’ it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics, and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”

The real question is how does one achieve this sense of “wu-wei?” Is it, as Confucius suggested, through the disciplined practice of virtue? Or is it, as the Tao suggests, through accepting the world as it is, and going with the flow?

Perhaps the answer lies in the words of a wise, somewhat green Jedi, who said: “Do or do not do. There is no try.”


What We Lose if We Lose the Canon

As the Internet becomes a larger and larger part of our everyday lives, many aspiring creators use the platform to launch their artistic careers. For better or for worse, anyone with an Internet connection can post their illustrations, novels, music, or films for others to see. (Here at the Core blog, we always strive to land in that “for better” category.)

Importantly though, this, in conjunction with the pleasure reading of popular fiction, may have changed our perception of the literary canon, says Arthur Krystal of The Chronicle Review in a recent article. He fears a loss of appreciation for its greatness as new artists turn out works that will never have the same resonance as, say, a Shakespearean sonnet or a Homerian epic.

Literature has always been a conversation among writers who borrow, build upon, and deviate from each other’s words. Forgetting this, we forget that aesthetics is not a social invention, that democracy is not an aesthetic category; and that the dismantling of hierarchies is tantamount to an erasure of history.

What do you think about the role of the literary canon in our studies and in our everyday lives? What place do popular fiction authors and independent writers have in our perception of what is “great”?

Spain finds Don Quixote writer Cervantes’ tomb in Madrid

CC201 students know Miguel de Cervantes as the elusive author of Don Quixote. Some of the mystery surrounding him has been recently abated: forensic scientists have uncovered his remains beneath a building in Madrid.


Though badly damaged, scientists found his bones alongside those of his wife and other individuals who were buried with him. Cervantes’ crypt is scheduled to be opened to the public next year to coincide with the 400th anniversary of his death.

Read the full story here!

Tenth Circle Added to Rapidly Growing Hell

To current and former Core students, Dante’s Inferno brings to mind images of a nine-tiered Hell filled with sinners of various sorts. CC102 students, studious as they are, know the nine circles and their inhabitants like the back of their hands.

Reporting by the Onion, though, indicates that Dante’s descriptions are out-of-date: recent years have spawned sinners “far more evil than the original nine circles were equipped to handle.” Built for the likes of downsizing CEOs, telemarketers, and TV-exercise-show personalities, the new tier is known as Corpadverticus, or the Circle of Total Bastards. It promises to alleviate the serious overcrowding issues at the price of skewing the realm’s carefully arranged allegorical structure.

To read more about Inferno’s recent expansion, check out the full article here.

How we came to wonder about Jane Austen’s slapstick

austenFirst thing in the morning, the Core office checks Arts & Letters Daily, a site run by The Chronicle of Higher Education where, each work day, links are posted to some of the best essays, reviews and articles from the worlds of criticism and scholarship. It is, in other words, our one-stop shopping destination for the best that’s been printed recently in all those publications we wish we had the time to read.

So, this morning like most mornings, we dial over to; and what do we find? The following expression of editorial puzzlement:

The Monty Pythonesque slapstick of… Jane Austen? Her juvenilia &emdash; not intended for the public &emdash; was full of crude practical jokes >>

Jane Austen? Crude practical jokes? This we must see. For there comes a moment when every reader of Austen &emdash; even the fans, and we are fans &emdash; when one tires of comedy of manners, and wit, and churning feelings, and one begins to hunger for something bluer and bawdier. So: we click the link and are taken to a piece by Paula Byrne on the website of the Times Literary Supplement, reviewing several new volumes of the writings of the younger Austen. An excerpt:

Re-reading the youthful writings, one is struck again and again by the violence. A group of characters threaten murder by dagger, which shall be “steeped in your hearts blood”. A sister poisons another sister and is “speedily raised to the gallows” for her perfidy. A child bites off her mother’s fingers.

Fingers! Bitten off! By a child! Sign. Us. Up. Why didn’t Prof. Nelson mention this kind of Austenian atrocity in her recent lecture on Pride & Prejudice, we wonder? We feel deprived and, frankly, let down. (That lecture, by the way, can be found on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2.)

In any case: we hope you enjoy the review in its entirety (and remember that the Core office has a TLS subscription, so come by any time to peruse the hard copy), and that you might begin to make ALDaily part of your daily habits as a reader.

(Image above: Illustration by Joan Hassell for “Love and Friendship”, from the Folio Society edition. Source: TLS.)


crime-and-punishment-movie-poster-1951-1020676093Look, we’re readers in the Core. We’re readers of big books, huge ones, even. But there’s a certain point when the book goes on too long. We’ve all been there:

Crime and Punishment. Perhaps you’re thinking, “maybe I should read that canonical novel!” I’m going to stop you right there.

Emphasis mine. Luckily, this is the information age, and the internet is here to rescue you.

1. Young man Raskolnikov is losing his mind. See also: extreme angst.

2. So he decides: SCREW EVERYTHING. Then he takes an ax to an old lady and her sister. Granted, the old lady is a swindler, a loan shark and an unsavory sort, and killing her is no biggie. But her sister isn’t, and he kills her anyway. He’s a jerk.

3. Then he’s like OH NO I MURDERED PEOPLE and plunges into a fugue state. Really nice people inexplicably rally around him.

Click here to read more.

Alumni update: Grecia

As we look down the road to the 25th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Core Curriculum (taking place this May 1st and 2nd… hope to see you there!), we’ve been getting in touch with Core alumni to find out how they’ve been doing in the years since they left BU. We’re gathering these updates at the Class Notes page, but will also be cross-posting many here to the Core blog.

Here is an update from alumna Grecia Alvarez — CAS 2007, a double-major in English and Spanish, and Fulbright Award-winner — now living in Cadiz, Spain:

1. Tell us about your life since graduation!

After graduating in 2007, I got a job at the office of the BU Madrid Study Abroad program, and was there for a year. I then returned to Boston to begin working toward my MA in Library and Information Science at Simmons College, which I obtained in 2010. I was able to study abroad in South Korea at Yonsei University during the summer of 2009, which was a highlight of my graduate career. During my MA program, I got a job at Children’s Hospital at the Center on Media and Child Health but was soon beckoned away by the promise of exotic adventures in Morocco, when I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (the photo above was taken in the medina of Assilah in Morocco).
Read More »

Who was Homer, really?

Homer is known to CC 101 students as the author of the Odyssey, but surprisingly enough, not much more is known about his life story. Even his place of birth and gender are a mystery to us.

A recent article published in the National Geographic suggests that Homer wasn’t a person, but a tradition. Adam Nicolson, author of Why Homer Matters, writes that the works attributed to him actually go back a thousand years earlier than originally believed.

I think it’s a mistake to think of Homer as a person. Homer is an “it.” A tradition. An entire culture coming up with ever more refined and ever more understanding ways of telling stories that are important to it. Homer is essentially shared.

Check out the article here for the latest press on this Core celebrity.

Uber reviews for Charon, boatman of Hades

The taxi service Uber is taking Boston by force. With its mixed reviews in the media, riders wonder about their drivers as well as what services are offered outside Beantown. Lucky for us at the Core office, Professor Hamill left a copy of the New Yorker open to an article providing Uber  reviews for Charon, boatman of Hades, who offers rides to anyone seeking cheap cab fare across the River Styx.

His services were met with mixed reviews: one rider complained about Charon’s refusal to play Beyoncé, and another rider was frustrated about his being wrapped in shadows and stabbed with a thousand blunt daggers upon attempting to delete the Uber app from his phone. Another rider appreciated Charon’s acceptance of different forms of payment, including ancient drachmas, babies’ blood, and Chase QuickPay.

What do you think, Core-ites? Has Charon become more or less accommodating since Virgil described him all those years ago?