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Credit: Plato and Aristotle in discussion (Credit: Raphael, from “The School of Athens”)

In the context of the two recent Liberal Arts days on BCB’s campus that sought to examine the meaning of liberal arts studies and the role of discourse within them, a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Dying Art of Disagreement” was shared with the student body. In his speech, former Wall Street Journal contributor Bret Stephens details the allegedly tragic loss of ‘proper’ discourse on American college campuses, by which he means discourse which contains productive disagreements. He illustrates a world in which the ideologies of “junior totalitarian” college students engender the “bullying” of speakers they don’t like. He paints their vitriol against mostly conservative speakers as the result of an early “miseducation,” as the ugly culmination of an illiberal culture that has engendered a culture of ideological intolerance, in which those who would seek to educate themselves in higher thought irrationally bar the thoughts of those with whom they disagree. He decries a phenomenon that has been discussed ad nauseam in regards to U.S. institutions of higher education. What usually follows from these debates is an ambiguous call for the return to an alleged prior culture of ideological tolerance — a call that assumes such a time existed and ignores the fact that historically marginalized people’s voices have rarely been welcomed in the realm of this “tolerance”. Whether or not this is Stephens’ goal, his proposal ultimately amounts to a call for the rectification of the alleged “infantilization” of today’s youth in the US.

To support his arguments, Stephens calls forth his time at the University of Chicago, where he was taught the art of “interrogation.” His time there, he says, was not blemished by dogmatic instruction, but rather enriched by the freedom to interpret the texts he read with an open-mind: one could say he engaged in charitable reading before considering and potentially disagreeing with the ideas the texts presented. This form of education, so central to the project of the liberal arts, is being lost, according to Stephens. The liberal education that he received is being replaced by a reflexive, almost dogmatic opposition to those who  have unpopular opinions. At the University of Chicago, Stephens learned to “cultivate an open mind” and to “treat no proposition as sacred.”

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Stepping through gauzy curtains (Credit: Clara Fung, Institute for Art and Architecture, University of Fine Arts, Vienna)

Spatial memory is a term often used to describe the neurological process of recalling where something happened or where an object was placed. This type of memory is also used to project into the future, to plan a route to a desired location.

It is hard to consider spatial memory without invoking a poetic light. What is this intangible part of us that is tied to places and our memories of them? How is it that we can still recall the layout of a childhood home despite not having stepped foot in it in years?

The themes of the “Tread Softly” exhibit included “the city, migration, and memory”. The title is an allusion to the W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cloths of Heaven”, where he writes, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” [*1] It considered how the cities we live in become the space in which we operate, tenderly attending to ideas of spatial memories, among others.

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“Plato Goes Live” Poster. (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

The contest “Eine Uni – ein Buch” invited German universities to pick a book, any book. The goal: to inspire a semester of events, ideas, and extensive, diverse participation… all with this single text. BCB students entered with Plato’s Republic. And we won. We were among ten universities who received the scholarship. Yay, us! The result: seminars, debates, conversations, film fests, and “a Long Night of Plato” sprouted from the seminal work of an infamous, bearded Ancient. (Shout out to the sponsors: Stifterverband and the Klaus Tschira Foundation, in co-operation with DIE ZEIT.)

Full disclosure: I’m not a student in the Plato course, not a Plato-phile in the slightest. Even so, last Tuesday curiosity led me to the “Wandering Image” event at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry. It was one of those ruggedly sleek buildings tucked away in a Prenzlauer Berg courtyard, packed with well-dressed intellectuals.

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“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   

∙∙∙

RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.

Notes:

  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.

 

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Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

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The Speakers and Moderator of Panel VII (credit: Tamar Maare)

Organized by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam in co-operation with numerous esteemed institutions including our very own Bard College Berlin, the three-day conference titled The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime brought together researchers, artists, historians, academics activists, journalists and students from all over the globe to reflect, act and help resolve current issues facing Europe’s outdated migration structures and discourses. Divided into 7 discussion panels, performances, and an art exhibition, the conference aimed to tackle highly politicized and controversial questions surrounding how Europe’s migration regime is reacting to recent demographic changes and migration movements. The conference challenges the regulation of migration and further complicates the notions of ‘integration’ and diversity by looking at the history behind global migration movements.

Chaired by Dr. Kathrin Kollmeier (ZZF Potsdam), Panel VII on Crafting New Narratives considered how the forms in which migration narratives are verbally (re)produced not only influence the way academics conduct historical research but also how humans, as active cultural agents, conceive of and perpetuate hierarchical social structures and categories of knowledge. The speakers examined the interwoven nature of discourse, politics and identity by tracing discursive labels throughout history and analyzing the views of the employees in the Ausländerbehörden (Immigration Offices), ultimately putting forward a redefinition of ideas of national belongingness, collective identity and inclusion.

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L&T performances (Credit: Andrea Riba)

Students from all corners of the globe arrived in Pankow this past August to participate in a two-and-a-half week writing intensive called the Language and Thinking program. These academic exercises were at times trying, new, or unusual, but certainly left an impression on students and teachers alike. Over dinner in the cafeteria, we chatted about the nature of the program and student’s reactions. A special thanks to Ido Nahari, Hanna Bargheer, Hans Stauffacher, and (of course) the graduates of this year’s L&T program.

 

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Tuvshinzaya during the 2012 Commencement ceremony, held at Rathaus Pankow. (Credit: Personal Archives)

On the BCB campus, it’s not uncommon to find students who switch seamlessly between their three mother tongues. Someone might hesitate before answering the question “Where are you from?” or “Where will you be next year?”

Last month, I sat down in front of my computer to chat with Tuvshinzaya Gantulga, a BCB alumnus who is also always on the move. Born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Tuvshinzaya was studying economics at the American University in Bulgaria when he decided to come to BCB (then ECLA*) to attend its Academy Year program. Before the year was up, he had decided to stay in Berlin and complete his BA studies at ECLA as part of its first graduating class in 2012. Upon his return to Mongolia, he worked in a grassroots NGO, founded the Mongolian Rowing Association, and headed the American Chamber of Commerce in Mongolia. My webcam caught him in Manhattan, New York, where he had just graduated with a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Over the course of a few hours we talked about Berlin, rowing, and education: what does a liberal arts education offer to students who are exceptionally mobile, and what can being mobile offer students who are exceptionally curious?

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