Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Archive
Campus Life

“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.

Read more

The Book Cover for Michel Houellebecq’s English Edition of Submission. (Credit: https://www.waterstones.com/)

Huge bookstores have always made me feel as excited as a little kid in a toy store. The possibilities of what you can find there – good or bad – gives me the sense of going on a Sunday afternoon adventure. So when I went to Dussmann a few weeks ago, looking for no book in particular, I found myself reading the first two chapters of Michel Houellebecq’s Submission [*1] – a book of speculative fiction about the Islamic take-over in France made possible by a grand coalition aimed at defeating Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

It felt so wrong to enjoy writing from a man I had heard to be notoriously bigoted — it was a justified kind of shame. It was probably the opening line to his second chapter that got me hooked: “The academic study of literature leads basically nowhere, as we all know, unless you happen to be an especially gifted student, in which case it prepares you for a career teaching the academic study of literature – it is, in other words, a rather farcical system that exists solely to replicate itself and yet manages to fail more than 95 percent of the time”(10). It tapped into my greatest fears of being a literature major: Why am I doing this? Who for? How likely is it that I am one of the talented ones who gets to teach this discipline to the next generation of readers?

Reluctantly, I bought the book. I had to see what this book, whose central theme is politics, looked like, knowing that its author belongs to the social class that would vote for Macron but who doesn’t have a strong partisanship and claims to only cast a “Yes” vote on a “Frexit” referendum. When I bought it, I have to admit, I wasn’t consciously doing so to “engage with the other side”. It was more of an experience elicited by an almost morbid curiosity – it was going to be my guilty pleasure that I was to tell no one about. I had hoped that reading Submission would be like watching a movie whose message you didn’t agree with: You might not like it, but you move on.

However, this is not what engaging with my first Houellebecq book was like. 

Read more

From the road, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Credit: Claire August)

In the center of town, a group of men played oversized chess.

H. told me how, after the war [*1], many countries donated trams to Sarajevo, and this is why the trams came up and down the narrow street in various shapes and colors: they were from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, to name a few.

From the road at sunset, we look into apartments with rooms so obscure their thick color reminded me of dark red bedsheets. Between the roads, emptied out valleys. It’s possible to forget how flat Berlin is and to forget what hills are like. Hills remind you of the size of a place. Berlin feels like neighborhoods put together like puzzle pieces, while Sarajevo raises its city-edges towards you. It was winter in Sarajevo but it was no longer winter when we got closer to the border with Croatia, where it blushed with warmth and we pulled off the road to eat oysters. They were ice cold. The waiter pointed and said, they come from the water right over there.

(Recorded as H. and I walked through the center of Sarajevo.)

In H.’s house there were 12 jars of honey. We counted.

Trinken wir lieber ein Glas zuviel. I am listening to this song [*2] as we drive, and it reminds me of what it is like to travel. I’ve heard people say that they travel but that they are certainly not tourists. I don’t think this is possible. All recreational travel is plainly indulgent; to avoid the word ‘tourist’ (thereby avoiding all of the word’s negative connotations) is to also avoid this truth of indulgence. Travel like this is to drink a glass from a country that is not ‘yours,’ and to sometimes drink one glass too many. Is all travel a form of excess? I’d like to think not, at least not in every case. Travel can, of course, be an educational experience.

Read more

Gotta get your partyin’ in somehow (Credit: Sabrina Slipchenko, BVG)

“Life’s not all about dancing, kid” I say with a pointed finger. I’m in the mirror giving myself a pep talk. There are readings to do, papers to write, yadda yadda- but I just wanna boogie. And why not, anyway? I didn’t come to Berlin to spend my Saturday nights in bed with Christian Joppke’s treatise on liberal democracy. The angels of my better nature are all a buncha nerds.

But there’s something exhausting underneath this necessity. There’s a scale underneath, weighing “cool” experiences against “not cool” experiences. If I don’t balance book learning with wildness, somehow I feel like a failure. Maybe I don’t have to take the night out, just because it exists. Maybe I don’t have to feel like life is moving too fast, without me. Maybe well-being means something other than staying up ‘till 2 am breaking a sweat. I just don’t want to be 80 years old, on my rocking chair, thinking of all the readings I’ve done. Or maybe it’ll be less lonely that way, later.

“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.

 

Read more

Charlottesville Anti-Racist Counter-Protesters Face White Supremacists from the “Unite the Right” Rally

I had thought that the scariest sight that weekend would be the images of the “Unite the Right” rally. Men can be scary enough on their own. Men with violent ideologies are simply terrifying. The white supremacist rally was toxically masculine, looked utterly fascist and sounded like a historical period that should never be repeated. The Nazi and KKK symbology, the light from their absurd Tiki torches, the Confederate flags, the rampant anti-Semitism, the collared shirts that made them look almost respectable, the chants of “Blood and Soil”, the Swastikas. Even following it online was too much. The white supremacist rally on August 12 felt too evil to be real, yet it wasn’t quite surprising or something out of the blue.

But then that car ran into the protesters, and it was worse than we could ever imagine. 19 people were injured and one was killed in a deliberate attack by a fascist extremist.

“Just stay safe please,” I irrationally felt compelled to text someone I care about simply because 1) he happened to be – although a hundred miles away from the action — in the same state at the time of the chaos, and 2) because he had gotten his life threatened by white racists in Virginia years ago in Obama’s supposedly post-racial America.

Post-Trump, though, it seems that even white people can be victims of white supremacy. Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, died that day while fighting fascists. The last post on her Facebook wall has turned her into a martyr for anti-fascism: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”     

Read more

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.

 

Read more

Radiohead Promotional Banner. (Credit: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Together with my family on June 16th, I attended one of the best live shows I have ever seen: Radiohead played in a park in Monza, Italy, in front of more than 50 000 people. We accidentally bought fan pit tickets and got to be only 20 meters away from the stage. Even the opening acts left me with unforgettable, and amusing memories: a 50-something white guy wearing a baseball hat danced a little too enthusiastically to Michael Kiwanuka’s “Black Man in White World” while James Blake messed up one of his songs and joked about not knowing his own music. And then, as the sun began to set, Radiohead’s two-hour long concert opened spectacularly with a light show and the song “Daydreaming”, which was  written for Thom Yorke’s late wife. I will forever remember the guy with the purple bandana next to us who seemed to be Radiohead’s biggest fan, jumping with such enthusiasm to every jumpable song — from “Idioteque” to “Myxomatosis” to “Ful Stop”. I couldn’t help but find the middle-aged couple in front of me adorable as they kissed every time Thom Yorke sang “You’re all I need” in the song “All I Need”. I even enjoyed the concert when my brother, I, two guys in the back and the guy with the bandana asked for “Let Down” to be played but didn’t get our wish; the irony is not lost on me, and somehow the other 25 songs they played more than made up for it.  

About a month and a half later, as much as I loved the concert and kept looking back at the awkwardly cute family selfie we took, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ongoing controversy over  one of the concerts in the band’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” tour: on July 19th, Radiohead performed in Tel Aviv, Israel.  

Read more