Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Two people wading through Irma’s flooding (Credit: USA Today)

Various Caribbean island states and the southern coast of the United States were devastated this summer by a sequence of catastrophic hurricanes. Killing roughly 241 people, hurricanes Irma, Maria, Harvey, and Jose wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands, literally sweeping away livelihoods and costing 100s of billions of US dollars in damages. Mainstream media outlets in the US have covered these disasters extensively with CNN reporting on the tragedies of fathers killed by flying tree limbs and dolphins found on front lawns. In reading these sorts of stories, I found myself troubled, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their subtle ideological slant. Yes, mothers and fathers have been killed by these hurricanes; this is most certainly tragic. But in the narrative media tragedies being displayed to the public, I sensed a veiling of the further-reaching travesty of these hurricanes: that these events are the ominous manifestations of a changing climate.

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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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Modified Pride graphic. (Credit: trinityeverett.org)

“I used to beat on queers.” My dad’s words were pulled from his throat like a prime bass on a fishing line. We watched it, muted, as it fought for air at our feet.

My girlfriend’s hands were clammy with nervousness and July. My family’s hands were blissfully unaware, a few yards away, dancing breezily on the patio, lazily choking the heads of beer bottles, drunk with barbeque. My dad’s hands were across from us, folded calmly, faintly rainbow with past blood.

He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to attach “ma’am: and “sir” to the ends of my sentences. Before I grew front teeth, he taught me not to stick my hands on the stove. I did anyway, I got burned, I should have listened, he “told me so.” I developed a subtle but unwavering faith in him; after all, he had lived forever.

Somewhere, in the pits of my eager subconscious, this faith grew muscles. I learned to trust authority figures like I learned to trust my dad. They told me so, and so I listened, and so I avoided being burned. Teachers, government officials, policy makers, and religious leaders were to be trusted. It was for my own good. I only notice this faith now that it is gone.

I am sure I owe it to that Fourth of July. I was ten years old, stumbling out of the closet with no moral compass of my own. When I approached the light my eyes were dazzled; blinded by a naive heart, I paraded Justine around to my family like the first light bulb. Eureka!

They all thought we would be better off as friends. In a time warp, before my dad grew teeth, he might have assumed that we would be better off as stains on his knuckles. With barbecue sauce still on our shirts, he sat us down and confessed how disgustingly unnatural we were. It was for my own good.

He still bought me a birthday present that year. The “I love you’s” still flowed, unchanged. However, the waters flowed on too, and I have not stepped in the same river since. On that day, a dangerously rebellious question began to sprout on my psyche: “but…why?” Why was person-plus-person love so offensive? Why was everyone offended but me? Who was wrong? Nothing felt wrong. Nothing felt wrong, except him feeling like we were wrong. What else was he wrong about? His opinions on same-gender relationships clashed violently with mine; my sudden doubts about his morality knocked me out cold. The newfound skepticism tasted like fresh blood.

If I continued to let my dad’s lessons mold me, unfiltered by own reasoning, I would be left with an inherited and impersonal rulebook for living. The conflict on Independence Day became a catalyst for my own independence, an acquaintance with truth. I was to counteract, to question, all that I accepted blindly from authority figures. It was for my own good.

 

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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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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.”     

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Book Cover of Meat Market by Laurie Penny (Credit: Hana Khalaf)

“There is something paradoxically feminist about the violent inverted logic of eating disorders – a desperate and deadly psychological stand – in for the kind of personal and political freedoms we have not yet achieved. Women and girls who have been denied their own autonomy find a measure of that autonomy in physical and psychological self-destruction of eating disorders: a rebellion by self-immolation, by taking society’s standards of thinness, beauty and self-denial to their logical extremes.” – Laurie Penny, Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism

Some say it was self-harm.

Some think the notion of self-destruction is romantic:

Too many great writers took their lives, after all.

It was destruction, but not in the glorified sense.

It was self-annihilation. Erasure and dissemination of my female body and feminine existence

For many years. Yet I never ceased to be.

It wasn’t just mental

It was outright political.

A screeching cry for justice

For humanity.

Romanticized notions of starvation

combined with capitalism made me call them

Ana and Mia

I looked like them

I was triggering to some, and disgusting to most

They were my only trusted companions.

And today feminism saved me.

Or rather, empowered me to save myself.

I no longer want to die.

Especially not from a fetishized and glamorized

Erotic capital disorder

I will not be a victim of sexual abuse

Nor a textbook case of bulimia

I will continue to fight, love, live, cry and feel.

I will dismantle the systems that made me lose years of my life.

Consumed by hunger and the classic self-hatred

Existing, but not really alive. Not there. Not functioning.

The systems that the voices of many continues to challenges,

yet their structures never cease.

The systems that survive off their disintegration and consumption of lives.

Dreams, laughter and ambition.

Like zombies feed off brains.

The systems that enforce the shrinking of the female body and call for erasure of its power

Masochism will cease to take over.

I no longer want to stick my head in the oven like Sylvia Plath.

My death will not be tragic and won’t have the hint of romance.

The capitalist patriarchy that sucked me dry and left me an empty

Bony shell will never win.

I will never let it happen.

Because my life is worth the fight.

I’m hungry.

Not just for food, but for life

Love, education, air, politics, water, literature, beer and the sun.

For my own sexuality and empowerment.

To reclaim my own body, my long-alienated self.

To occupy the space with my body and voice echoing defiance and unabashed anger.  

I’m hungry

for the perfect imperfections of all humanity.

And for myself.

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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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