This piece originally appeared on Public Seminar. Republished with their kind permission.
The Washington Square Park Arch and World Trade Center lit in the colors of the French flag. Credit: Ajay Suresh.
Ever since the dust began to clear after what President Hollande rightfully called “the horror” of Friday night, my media consumption — yes, especially my Facebook feed (constantly refreshed with reflections from Public Seminar) — has mostly consisted of two things: (1) people, in various ways and with differing degrees of what could be called “reflective awareness,” offering expressions of solidarity with the victims of the terror attacks in Paris; and (2) people condemning the fact that this outpouring of sympathy (I emphasize this word for reasons disclosed below) is heinously selective. Specifically, the accusation is that while many “Westerners” have seemingly limitless reserves of concern for Europeans, they are not the least bit disturbed by the loss of life in Africa or the Middle East.
Fall scene. Credit: Valerii Tkachenko
A poem to the boy who owes my heart some heavy-duty patches, and soon, before it heals all crooked
For awhile you were happiness
A type I had never tasted before
Somehow familiar –
like nutmeg and cinnamon,
fragrant and warm –
a body and soul
Your taste was new
This happiness was …
Laura Kuhn drawing. Credit: Gaia Bethel-Birch (AY 2016)
Ten Bard College Berlin students set around the factory building tables on a Friday evening, each provided with only two dice, pen, paper, and twelve rocks they were curiously required to bring with them beforehand. As Laura Kuhn, the director of the John Cage Trust and the John Cage Ryoanji Drawings workshop leader took out a thick book with a minimalistic cover and introduced it as an old Chinese oracle used for guidance and inspiration, the cynics among us moved uncomfortably in their seats. Some of us were vaguely familiar with John Cage’s work while others knew nothing about it, but none of us knew what John Cage had to do with the I Ching. John Cage (1912-1992) was an American post-war avant-garde composer, music theorist and an artist most known for using unorthodox musical instruments and “chance operations” as he derived them from the I Ching.
Francis Bacon, ‘Self Portrait’, 1972.
In little rooms stacked like blocks, lining the pristine streets, they wait. Eyes big as street lights shine from their heads, heavy with anticipation, swaying side to side under the weight of waiting. Small bursts of excitement leave their lips like barks. Nervous bones lead to pacing and strange habits.
From left to right: Michael Weinman, David Hayes, Andy German, Stuart Patterson. Credit: Gaia Bethel-Birch (AY 2016)
I am surprised that it took me this long to figure out just who exactly this “Plato” guy was. Growing up, I heard the names “Plato”, “Socrates”, and “Aristotle” often, usually in relation to one another, but did not understand what these names contributed to Western philosophy and science. Until recently, the mention of one of these three conjured up only imaginings of bearded faces and wise, earnest discourse in my mind. My knowledge went so far as to connect the names to Greek philosophy. Happily, my first semester of a liberal arts education has brought me further in my understanding.
Street Children playing Tammurriata, late 1800’s Naples, Artist Unknown
The weekends of my first semester at Bard College Berlin were not spent the way many might assume, considering that this is one of the nightlife capitals of Europe. Rather than clubbing till 5 AM, I found a different path toward the Dionysian release we all need from time to time. I was deeply excited to find a group of eclectic people with whom I could share one of my most beloved forms of music. With five or six of us gathered in a dorm room, we would listen to the folk music of each of our homelands (something special about going to this school is how many nationalities can be found in the small student body). When my turn came, I would play the music of my mother’s country, Italy, where I had spent much of my childhood (either living there or visiting). Then the dancing would begin, and, as everyone spun wildly around one another until collapsing from exhaustion, I could see from the joy and intensity on my friends’ faces that, though this music was so culturally specific, so un-globalized and relatively unknown outside of Italy, something essential was being translated. The primordial ecstasy it evokes could be felt by anyone with the sensitivity necessary to really listen and really dance.
Mais Hriesh performing at Bard College, Annandale.
The last dregs of sunshine filter through the thinning green leaves of the trees at Bard College Berlin’s cafeteria as I sit down on the mossy grass with Mais Hriesh, a third year exchange student from the Bard campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, to find out more about her story. The first time we met she had told me she was Palestinian, double-majoring in Human Rights and Music. She had told me she played the flute. I remember nodding, interested, but not imagining all she concealed behind her casual words. It was only later that I found out about her earnest dedication to her music and the opportunities her talent has given her, including the opportunity to study at the Bard Conservatory.