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News 2011

August 10, 2011
Eugen Rosso (4th year BA, Romania)

Johann Georg Hamann is arguably the most extraordinary thinker and writer of the late 18th century, and studying his works leads one to wonder why he is so little known.

Compared with his contemporaries such as Immanuel Kant who was his friend, (although they were usually in radical disagreement on philosophical matters) and those who were influenced by him in various ways-he was the mentor of Herder, drew Hegel's admiration and Goethe's enthusiastic praise, and was a major influence on Kierkegaard, as important as Hamann is as a thinker and writer, few people nowadays have heard of him, which is a terrible loss.

One of the most important reasons for his relative obscurity must be the fact that Hamann's approach differed sharply from the common ways of thinking and writing of his time, which are in many respects very similar to ours. Throughout the whole of intellectual history there are very few thinkers who, compared with the time they lived in, can be truly called non-conformist.

Hamann, who was known by the nickname 'Magus im Norden' - 'the Magus of the North', had a very skeptical attitude towards the Enlightenment, and thus willfully adopted a writing style radically opposed to the prevailing one, influenced by Enlightenment ideals.

From our ISU Prussia readings so far, we are familiar with this latter style from reading the essays by Mendelssohn, Kant and Fichte, and also from our modern 'academic style' of writing, which aims towards similar standards: clear, orderly, objective, impersonal, with few, if any, references to tradition, the historical circumstances of the author, or the author's personal history-and, perhaps most importantly, serious in tone, with little, if any, humor.

In contrast, Hamann's own style goes completely against this ideal: he avoids systematic, ordered exposition and instead writes short essays, not treatises or books. He uses parody and satire extensively; he employs an enormous wealth and breadth of classical, Biblical, historical and personal references and allusions - mostly to humorous effect, and does not seem at all concerned with making himself clear and easy to understand.

Hamann's style was notoriously challenging even in his own age, and will certainly baffle a first-time modern reader. His works might seem like they consists of a series of obscure and oracular riddles, unless one has the benefit of a critical translation, footnotes and explanations of the relevant references, which is enormously helpful and makes studying him quite pleasant. Fortunately, there are very good English translations of this kind that have been published in recent years.

But dismissing Hamann as a thinker because he does not conform to our comfortable expectations of what philosophy should 'look like' would be a terrible mistake, if we are at all interested in going beyond what we are taught to be comfortable with. Likewise, his pervasive humor (Kierkegaard calls him 'the greatest and most authentic humorist' of all time) is not what we are taught to associate with 'serious', intelligent thought and analysis.

Yet, all these standards of 'serious writing' were already there in Hamann's time, and his refusal to conform to, or even compromise with them for the sake of public recognition, should itself draw our attention to him more than to any other thinker from the Enlightenment age - if we truly value independence and courage in matters of thought as much as we claim.

And there is indeed very much to gain, on all levels, from studying Hamann and taking him seriously (even, or especially, when he is joking). For example, we can look at his response and critique of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, titled 'Metacritique of the Purism of Reason', in which Hamann presents a very powerful counter-argument to the Kantian project, which he applies to the Enlightenment as a whole.

He argues, on linguistic grounds, that the Enlightenment drive towards 'purifying' reason of everything which is traditional and historical is bound to fail. This is because all Enlightenment theories about reason, Kant's system included (and any attempt towards systematic thought), inevitably employ language, which is itself a historical and traditional object that develops and changes its rules over time in decidedly non-rational ways.

Thus, the adherents of the Enlightenment cannot possibly justify their claims to universal certainty, independent of all history and tradition. Language must be used, reason is never 'pure', nor can it ever be, and thus it cannot claim to judge all reality 'from outside', or to be able to make a radical break with its own past. This is a weighty argument, then and now, against not only rationalism, but ultimately against ideology in all its forms.

Still, valuable as his critiques of his contemporaries undoubtedly are, I feel that Hamann's greatness as a thinker can only be gleaned from examining his original contributions to intellectual history. Let us look closely at one of his famous witticisms: "I look upon logical proofs the way a well-bred girl looks upon a love letter". On the surface, this is only a humorous analogy expressing his own position towards the rationalistic arguments common during the Enlightenment. But if we dig deeper into the meaning of this statement, we find that it conceals, so to speak, much buried treasure.

We have here a subtle reference to Plato's dialogue Phaedrus, which is centered around love speeches, and we need to examine the dialogue closely to find out how the activity of the philosopher, which for Socrates fundamentally involves the mysterious 'erotic art' (the only one in which he claims any skill), is inextricably connected with precisely such love speeches.

Then, we also need to examine Plato's Symposium, where Socrates gives an account of these matters which is interestingly different, but which seems to affirm the same fundamental thesis that not only is love philosophical, and thus love-letters are too, but philosophical writings are always love letters of a particular sort - we might venture to say love letters for the soul.  

This is very relevant for Hamann's project as the word for 'soul', psyche, is always feminine in Greek. And what better attitude might a student of such 'love letters' have in such matters than employing the self-control, modesty, awareness of the great value of what is at stake, and a healthy skepticism - all traits peculiar to a 'well-bred girl'?

Of course, I have only provided here a vague outline of the kind of argument that Hamann's witticism suggests. Indeed, it would take a book-length study of the Platonic dialogues involved to establish my thesis conclusively. But it is Hamann's thinking and writing which opens the door to such an unusual and promising line of thought, and it is this inestimably precious quality I have found in very few other thinkers indeed.


August 10, 2011
Gjurgica Ilieva (ISU'11, Macedonia)

The first few weeks of the ISU pushed us into a whirlwind of new impressions consisting of lots of historical and cultural visits all around Berlin, lectures and seminars on Prussia's history. In between, there are the small night escapades that all of us made individually.

Somewhere in the middle of ISU week two, I decided to stop for a minute and look back at these past two weeks. Something was missing, I realised, and after some thinking, it became clear that somehow we missed the social part of this summer school. How are we to rectify that I thought? How do we get to do some bonding?

The answer to this riddle came out of the blue, in the form of the short and completely spontaneous guitar show that we attended last Wednesday. Peter's birthday being the excuse for the gathering, we stayed on the lawn in front of our dorms and opened the evening with Radiohead's well-known Creep.

Before we knew it, other ECLA students joined in and we all sang along to fellow student Andrei's guitar riff. The familiar sounds of Nirvana, The Cranberries, Damien Rice and Beirut could be heard all around and it was amazing to hear us all coming from different parts of the world and yet sing in unison.

Interestingly enough, some hidden talents appeared out of the woodwork and we had the good fortune to hear Selbin performing in Turkish and Jelena performing Serbian songs. There were even variations of the famous Smelly Cat song by some of the older ECLA students.

By the end of the evening, everyone had the chance to demonstrate their guitar abilities, just to make sure that we equally participated in this enjoyable mini concert.

However, that evening was not the end to the musical events. The following Saturday, right after finishing our first essays, the ECLA community went on to attend the concert of the band The Loafing Heroes - an extracurricular project of one of the ECLA ISU faculty.

The evening was opened by Daniel Dye, a country singer from Ohio. His show was a most welcome warm-up for the real pleasure that was to follow afterwards - the performance of The Loafing Heroes. Although not many of us were familiar with their music, their catchy tunes took us in and we all plunged into the ethereal sound of their music. The warm songs of The Loafing Heroes made all of us wanderers feel like we were coming home.

Finally, the cherry on top for the night was the lead singer's recital of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, accompanied by the calming guitar sounds in the background. This gave a completely different perspective of the famous T.S. Eliot poem and crowned the evening. As the night closed in around us, we truly felt like "our loafing had won".

And so it was that all of us felt prepared for yet another week of exploring the fragility and formidability of Prussian history. Only, this week is different. Now all of us feel like we truly belong to ECLA's community, because for those with whom you feel free to sing along with are people whom you can call friends.

Indeed, now we all feel the bonding powers of music. Music is magical, and so here and there between all those lectures and seminars, let's unleash a little more of that magic now, shall we?


August 10, 2011
Christine Toft (ISU'11, Denmark)

Reading Kleist's stories hurts, he stabs a dagger into my heart, I feel the world is wrapped in hopelessness, I feel paralyzed, and I feel something is true. Living can be a difficult task and involves mistakes, and this is brought painfully to life in Kleist's writings. The uncertainty of life is brought forth in Kleist's story, and it draws me in. I like the way in which Kleist is able to portray the fragility of social life, that law and order is man-made and that trust is a vulnerable commitment.

The curriculum at ISU features two of Kleist's works and an exhibition focusing on Kleist's life. Hence, I have been given an opportunity to work with a writer that I was not that familiar with. A previous encounter with two of Kleist's stories had started a fledgling admiration for him and during this summer course, the admiration has not withered but only grown stronger.

When Kleist was still living, his fame was limited; a lot of critics blame it on Goethe - the Godfather of German literature - who did not like his writing. To Goethe, Kleist's stories were destructive not devotional. Morality and security break down, death and destruction are omnipresent, and as a reader you sense that the next catastrophe is just around the corner.

Besides the all-pervading apocalyptic atmosphere, Kleist also stresses the unpredictable aspects of life. At the end of the day we cannot plan our life no matter how hard we may try. We can act but never predict our opponent's reaction; we can only guess and then act accordingly but guessing is dangerous - it might lead to mistakes and failures. Kleist is extremely aware of this and he offers no illusions about a world where it will be possible to prevention catastrophe and acquire certain knowledge - such a place is a utopia and those places do not exist.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in his work "Poetics" that the most tragic is when misfortune is brought upon a common man not because of vice or depravity but by some fault on his own part; hence his fall is self-inflicted caused by an action with consequences he could not possibly have foreseen.

Reading "Die Verlobung in St. Domingo", one of Kleist's last stories, Aristotle came back to me. Deep down I knew the catastrophe was approaching, but a small hope that this might not be the case was nourished by the heroine's actions. Toni wants to save her lover and success seems within reach but all is changed because Gustav, the man whose life she fought for, misinterprets her actions and shoots her. It is so profoundly tragic because everyone else - the reader and other characters - know that Gustav is mistaken. Had Gustav only requested an explanation, had he only hesitated for a moment, this would not have happened. Alas, he realises this too late.

The bullet in Toni's heart makes everything irreversible. Kleist's characters live their life forward but can have no hope whatsoever of understanding what is actually going on before an event has taken place. Life can only be understood backwards - it is sad, it is true and can be very depressing. Understanding and insight always arrive too late and is therefore useless in guiding us through life.

On November 21st, it will be 200 years since Heinrich von Kleist committed suicide. He himself had faced the same uncertainty as his characters, he had realised that it was impossible to get to a deeper and truer understanding of the world. Kleist shot himself on the shores of the Wannsee Lake on the outskirts of Berlin and achieved the only certain thing in life: Death.

Death is the moment that puts an end to all uncertainty, where nothing more can be added to disturb the perceptions and interpretations of the world. When it comes the world stands still, not because we succeed in stopping it and get some perspective, but because we ourselves step out of the current of time.

Kleist's characters are caught in life and every action in life has consequences. When I think about Kleist's work, I really appreciated this aspect in his writing. He deals with the uncertainty of life in such a way that the reader is not left untouched. The characters live in the realm of uncertainty and this uncertainty finds its way into the reader's experience.

Reading Kleist, I will never be able to say: "This is what happened" or "This is true". I will never be able to make an interpretation that can contain the whole narrative or explain everything. I see the unpredictability of life in Kleist's fictional universe and I become aware that my own world - even though I have not yet found myself in a situation of complete destruction - somehow resembles Kleist's universe of fragility and velocity.

The uncertainty and unpredictability of life never goes away. This might be an obvious fact about life, and writing about it might be simple and unoriginal, but the fact is that Kleist makes it so powerful and vivid, and it makes me see further than before. His writing touches me, it strips me of my romantic, harmonious illusion about the world - and that hurts.


July 20, 2011

Gjurgica Ilieva (ISU'11, Macedonia)

The second weekend of July marked the official beginning of ECLA's ISU. It was a weekend abounding in novelties with new students trying to get to know each other and going on two trips to kick-start the international summer university on Prussia: Philosophy, Rebellion and the State. What follows is an account of these two excursions.

In accordance with the topic of this year's ISU, the trips covered the period of German history from modernity back to the era of King Frederick the Great, Prussia's main proponent of enlightenment. You might as well have guessed, but it is still my duty to unravel the mystery and candidly state that we visited the Reichstag and Sanssouci, King Frederick the Great's summer residence in Potsdam.

The seat of the German Bundestag, the Reichstag, was built in 1894 and again reconstructed in 1999 by the British architect Norman Foster. It is an imposing building which stands witness to Germany's "long and winding road" towards democracy.

Starting in the main hall leading to the plenary chamber, our guided tour passed through several galleries featuring art works of different artists, then we went on to see the largely perplexing and open-to-interpretations chapel in the Reichstag, along with the drawers of all democratically elected MPs (even Hitler's). Passing by the walls inscribed with graffiti of Russian soldiers, we finally arrived to the plenary chamber to listen to a short but insightful lecture into German Parliamentary democracy.

Finally, we went up to the upper part of the Reichstag and climbed up the stairs of the glass dome, the symbol of transparency and openness. The "Dem Deutschen Volke" inscription simply confirms that the Reichstag deserved the title of "the heart of German democracy".

The following day, we made a leap in time and a change of track, and went to visit Sanssouci, the summer palace of King Frederick the Great. Located in Potsdam, the state capital of Brandenburg, Sanssouci was built between 1745 and 1747 in rococo style. Often times called the German Versailles, this palace is smaller in dimension than Versailles but much livelier in spirit.

As you walk from the Entrance Hall through the Marble Hall and the King's different rooms-dining room, study room, and a small yet well-preserved library, enlightenment seems to speak to you from the paintings and wallpapers, and the statues and instruments in all of these rooms.

Finally, we went outside to get lost in the endless green of the gardens and to truly experience the carefree spirit of this palace. Indeed, this palace of modest dimensions still carries a grand significance in itself, for walking through and around it, one can truly feel the refinement and splendor that was left behind by the Prussian Frederick the Great.  

As the weekend drew to a close, all of us felt exhausted and awestruck in equal measure by the grandiosity of the two buildings. Not only do they hold a remarkable appeal for the ordinary tourist, but they also bear a great historical significance, which is of special interest for all ECLA students.

Personally, I was impressed with the idea of walking down the same corridors and galleries that were once inhabited by historically crucial figures in Germany. The heroes of history books descended into the real world and historical events unfolded one by one in our mind's eye.

It was probably that weekend that we truly understood that we have embarked on exploring a challenging, yet enjoyable topic, and we are looking forward to being "enlightened".


July 20, 2011
Mikhail Shakhanazarov (ISU'11, Kyrgyzstan)

The beginning never ended. Here we stand now and from here we move on. History has shattered.

I was brooding on this, when together with other ISU students, I went on a tour of the Berlin Museum of German History-a journey spanning over two thousand years of history, the living ashes of the Phoenix of human development, the twisted path of a nation, carefully crafted into an argument- "Wir sind ein Volk."

The central idea of the whole tour was to show the artificiality of history and its improper use as the objective representation of what has been, focusing on the room history allows for interpretation and humankind's tendency to transform it into a highly versatile tool - political, social, and economic. My goal is not to discuss the morality of the issue; rather, I will focus my attention on its necessity and meaning.

History is art. Just as a painter works with colors and obscures some aspects of a painting to shed light on others, so does the historian arrange facts, link together events into causal chains which he later uses to bind together a narrative. Lessons, dramas, joys, and tears - all of which comprise history, and none of that was really what it was. Just like any other art form, history cannot present an objective narrative. Still, just like any other art, it is based on a true story. This perhaps is an unconventional understanding of the concept, but it seems straightforward enough so as not to be too provocative or illogical.

What differentiates history from many other forms of art is its usage and creation. The Museum of German History is a very good example of the many ways in which history can be (and has been) used. It became very clear during the tour that the artifacts presented in the museum were arranged with much thought, and more importantly, with purpose.

As you walk up the staircase, a sign on the wall reads "The history of Germany, from the beginning to modernity." At the top of the staircase there is a beautiful Greek mosaic, and next to it, the gravestone of a soldier, fallen on the battlefield of Teutoburg Forest - the beginning of German history.

The very concept of the beginning of history can of course be argued to be meaningless, but in the art of history, the beginning is what makes the rest possible. It binds together the story of a nation, allowing the nation to exist, setting deep its roots and providing a background, against which its people are to stand out, united and unique. The very existence of a beginning is perhaps more important than its nature.

The beginning is established by historians. With a retrospective eye, they pinpoint an event that best suits the demands of modernity. At its root, history serves to make an argument and is focused on the present. As you walk through the museum, you see the story of the nation unfold. The Greeks, the armor of the fallen Turks, the towering Prussian generals, Napoleon - everything shows the history and greatness of Germany, but perhaps more importantly its unity as a state and a nation, defined through its culture and in contrast with its neighbors.

When viewed this way, history loses a large part of its value. Stripped off much of its romanticism by the almost cynical eye of an outsider, it shatters into individual destinies, into stories so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. The causal chains of events break. The system crashes; we see a pile of chaotically tangled lives, and we wonder what chances there were of us coming into existence. This is history.


July 20, 2011
Christine Toft (ISU'11, Denmark)

"So, are you looking forward to going to Berlin?" my dad asked me the day before my departure. I thought about it, wanting to reply genuinely, but the only answer I could come up with was "I don't know."

Of course I wanted to go, but I wasn't like a little girl on Christmas Eve dying of excitement and impatience. Why? The thing is it is hard to build castles in the air when you don't know the base on which to erect them, and I simply didn't know what to expect. I had no idea what the professors and students would be like, and with whom I was to share a room - I could have looked her up on Facebook (common nowadays) had I known her name, but I didn't. I had seen a list revealing people's first names, many of them impossible for me to pronounce, and the only thing I could conclude from this was that this summer school would bring about encounters that I would not have had, had I spent my summer in Copenhagen.

Because of my lack of expectation, it is impossible for me to say whether or not my first week at ECLA can be classified as a disappointment or a success. I can only reflect on what it felt like, and it felt good. Actually, it was a bit reassuring because no one, with a facial expression of "I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU!", asked: "Why the hell do you want to waste your summer away? What's so interesting about Prussia?"

Everyone is at ECLA because they want to learn and in one way or another, we all have some interests in common. Quite a few activities during our first weekend at ECLA helped to create a base of common experiences and got us to talk to each other because what are you supposed to do besides talk when you sit next to someone on the train, with whom you will be spending the next five weeks? Stay silent? That would be awkward.

The first days here were intense: the many new faces, the tours around Berlin, the many pages to be read - and all of these at the same time. I felt constantly divided between wanting to hang out with the people I was slowly getting to know and the knowledge that back in my dorm, there were hundreds of pages waiting to feel the presence of my attentive eyes, and this, I admit, made me feel a bit stressed. But now, as a daily routine has formed, studying here seems less stressful than what I'm used to, but that doesn't mean that I think the course will be a piece of cake.

The fact that everything is within a five minute walking distance, that all meals are prepared, that I only need to think about myself, my books and my laundry (ECLA has not yet hired someone to take care of this - too bad), has led me to the conclusion that ECLA is less stressful than what I'm used to - in a good way. ECLA is a place where I can devote myself 100% to learning, but I have realized that I will not only learn about Prussia, but also something about my own time.

For some reason I haven't thought about, before coming here, that I would be given an insight into different cultures and what it is like to be a student somewhere else in the world. Maybe I was just simple-minded, but now, after the first week, this intangible insight I got feels like a great gift, and I know that when summer is over I will be leaving Berlin enlightened in more ways than one, and hopefully I will also carry with me friendships that I couldn't have gotten elsewhere - those are my expectations for the rest of the summer. So I might have arrived without distinct expectations but now, with interesting lectures and good company, I have certainly got some.


June 16, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY'11, USA)

On June 11, ECLA organized a spray paint workshop in which a group of students got together under the leadership of student Josefina Capelle and the professional artist Guillaume Cayrac, whose work can be found throughout Europe, to learn how to create a stencil template and employ useful methods for cutting it out, as well as to try out different spray painting techniques that are used on various backgrounds. With the newly learned skills, black gloves and a lot of protective plastic sheeting, ECLA students set out to repaint the red walls of the student party room with our own stencils and freehand images. I am happy to report that the final result of our perilous endeavor can only be described in one word, and that word is "awesome."

But before discussing some of the pieces that are now on the walls of the student party room I would like to first thank our guest, professional street artist Guillaume Cayrac for his great ideas and for sharing with us his genuine love for spray paint art.

"I was commissioned many times to make small, sellable pieces for a big amount of money, but I don't want to destroy the art," Mr. Cayrac commented.

 Mr. Cayrac's love for his work was evident to all of us who participated in the workshop. With his enthusiasm, knowledge, and help we were able to transform the student party room into a work of art.

Making spray paint stencils is much easier than what one may think, provided that one has all of the necessary materials. Therefore, with simple instruction, even a rookie stencil artist is able to produce impressive work (as was the case with a number of our party room stencils). Step one of creating a stencil template entails choosing the image that one wants to work on. Not all images render great stencil pieces so choosing of a suitable image is an important and a necessary first step. For example, images that contain a lot of shading should be avoided by the beginner stencil artist because of their lack of visible contour lines.

The second step requires one to have basic computer skills, primarily photo editing, which is used to emphasize the contrast of the image. A strong contrast is preferable because of the confusion that sometimes arises in step three -- the tracing and the cutting process. Once the wanted contrast is reached, the image is projected onto paper and the contour lines of the object that is going to be cut out are traced. The missing or the cut out part will be the image of the final product.

If one is making a stencil of a face, which was the case for all of our stencils, one must be careful to leave little connectors attaching the facial features to the outside of the face so that the features do not fall off. And finally, once cutting is finished, one can proceed with painting.

The stencils that were created during the workshop range from Michel Foucault as a garden gnome to portraits of fellow students. ECLA students who have seen our final products know that I am not exaggerating when I say that the pieces we created this past Saturday couldn't be distinguished from professional work (mostly because Mr. Cayrac was there to correct our blemishes).

And finally, I couldn't end this article without mentioning the stencil that a fellow student Catalin Moise and I worked on. Our magnificent stencil is an image of Frank Faber, a restaurant owner/singer whose soul penetrating voice will not be forgotten by any ECLA student who dined at his restaurant during our winter trip to Braunlage. Frank Faber and the time I spent at his restaurant are very symbolic of my experience at ECLA this year. What Mr. Faber and ECLA have in common is their uniqueness. Both are charismatic, both are unapologetic about their ways (Mr. Faber allows his guests to dance on dining tables and he sports leather pants during his performances), and thanks to Stefan the Chef, both have provided ECLA students with delicious food. It is because of these reasons and many more that I will never forget my year at ECLA and my dinner at Mr. Faber's restaurant.


Month of Performance Art in Berlin
June 16, 2011
Aurelia Cojocaru (1st year BA, Moldova)

If someone had told me a year ago that I could participate in a performance art event, I would have been at least skeptical. I had always looked at avant-garde phenomena with a strange fascination, but this very feeling set boundaries. After having recently attended some of the events of the Month of Performance Art in Berlin (May), I am ready to declare that one, even if you identify yourself as a "mainstream" artist / thinker and these kind of happenings as avant-garde, the "mainstream" can only benefit from opening its eyes to the latter; and two,  ultimately, how "avant-garde" is it? Perhaps, a century after the first "wave," we should stop labeling.

The fortunate event which reconfirmed my impressions happened at the end of May (thus, close to the end of the Performance Art Month), when I participated in a writing performance / workshop at Freies Museum, playfully entitled "Autobiographiction".

In anticipation of the event, we received some letters from the authors of the concept (which made everything sound perfectly abstract, I must admit, increasing the suspense). Thus, in Nicolas y Galeazzi and Joel Verwimp's vision (the latter being the organizer of the event here, in Berlin):

"Autobiographiction is a permanent workbook in constant flow of dissemination. In a chain-reaction of events it unfolds itself as shared content dispersing performance on paper. At the Freies museum it now will be handed over to all the participants. The methods of creating content, editing and disseminating are proposed by VerlegtVerlag. The tools were developed over the past months in Helsinki (Baltic circle festival), New York (apexart) and at the Roter Salon (Volksbühne Berlin). The archive will now be considered anew during the research session in an economy of mutual dependency.

Through a performative praxis, we hope to create a tension in the conceptual limits of research, mutating the way we appropriate space. This tension arises from recalibrating our own position which in the case of autobiographiction, departs from the archive XY in relation to the reuse and further development of VerlegtVerlag's objects and models. Locating this practice in a continuous dialogue between visual and performance art develops situations that frame the event by building a space that becomes VerlegtVerlag's speculative environment."

Having now confronted you with just a fragment of the whole conceptual construction (It does sound quite abstract, doesn't it?), let me tell you what factually happened (although the philosophy of the event is to precisely erase the limits between appearance and reality).

Over the course of one day, people freely enter a wide white room in the museum, in which the only pieces of furniture are 10 or 12 chairs and, somewhere in the corner, a small table with a suitcase and a box with folders. You choose a folder or an object from the "archive." For the next two or three hours (the moment you stop is completely arbitrary, in fact) you will talk in a quasi psycho-analytic flow about your own biography, but provoked by what you actually find in the folder. The other(s) will write it down, filtering this again through their own vision. Or vice versa: you will be writing while the other(s) will be talking. It is less important (less obvious) how the constellation of individuals is arranged.  What is really important (more obvious) is the final product: a complex, multi-layered biography of a fictive individual Z, which somehow encompasses the identities of all those Xs and Ys who have, at some point, contributed to the "narrative". Interestingly, the two artists who initiated the project possess each other's archives. Through these kind of events, they are, in fact, writing and rewriting each other's biography. But, because of the multitude of "rewriters", these could no longer be simply biographies, but rather, as the title suggests, autobiographictions!

Needless to say: what this does to the ideas of biography and authorship is simply hallucinating. This so called (by the authors) amorphous authorship (or agencement) simply annihilates any boundaries between the initial owners of the archives (the two artists selecting specific moments from their biographies), the secondary owners (the two artists "managing" each other's biography) and the tertiary authors (those who, through re-writing, include their own biography in the equation). The outcome is neither more nor less than a "colonial" identity. Plus,  it is not clear when the two artists will actually stop rewriting and tie together all the threads of this new biography of Z, this child of fiction (at some point, the materials produces by the participants at the workshop(s) could themselves be used as starting points).

Ultimately, I'm not sure that actually that mysterious Z hasn't changed my own biography. The reason why I say this is that, from the pile of folders, I chose one which had a map. Strangely, the map contained an itinerary which, by coincidence, I had also undertaken. From the very moment I saw this, all abstractions and equations collapsed. By talking it through and writing it through, my life was simply happening.


June 16, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, Pakistan)

If a painting is presented to two people, each of them would probably see something different in it. They might even disagree about what they see to the point of drawing daggers. Art involves the viewer in a very unique way and the experience of looking at something and feeling something is individual. As we study Renaissance art this term, we look at how objective or subjective this art is, by analyzing the different methods of drawing used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci over the course of history.

ECLA invited Dr. Frank Fehrenbach, who is currently living in Italy, on sabbatical leave from Harvard University, to give a lecture on basic questions related to Renaissance art. His lecture focused on various aspects of Leonardo's art.

He started his lecture by describing the 16th century art period as a "revolution within a revolution." He went on to describe that the revolution of three-dimensional art had started during the 13th and 14th centuries - the early Renaissance period during which artists began depicting images in a more human and real way. The 16th century was a step further in the direction of naturalism and realism. The beauty of 16th century art lay in the way it was painted to involve the viewer in an extremely inclusive experience. It defined the methodology of art and influenced later art. We would now take techniques of perspective as a given in modern art, in the same the way we take the solar system for granted, but at the time when this technique was discovered, it was revolutionary.  

Leonardo, as Dr. Fehrenbach put it, changed the meaning of reality and 'natural'. He started his study of art from the inside of the object and went on to paint the outside as well. Dr. Fehrenbech showed the drawings Leonardo had done in preparation for his work and explained how those drawings showed the inner workings of his mind. He showed us how the drawing clearly dealt with each and every minute detail of the work with the intention of showing the very way the actual thing would be. In as many words, Leonardo made people see the reality for what it was and the way he viewed it. In his work, there is a play with the idea of objectivity and subjectivity.

Dr. Fehrenbech also very clearly laid out the autobiography of Leonardo and linked it to his process of creating works of art. It was a surprise for me to know that as a child Leonardo dropped out of high school, which would never allow him to learn Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. Yet, his genius was indubitable when it came to creating highly technical equipment for war or for the city. He also identified himself as an engineer and not as an artist in a letter written to a ruler of that time, when offering his services to him. Leonardo produced unlimited works of art during a very short period of time, but he embraced his artistic side in the most difficult and psychologically depressing periods of his life. When he struggled most with his work, he produced the best art known to mankind.

Dr. Fehrenbach's lecture highlighted some of the most important aspects of Leonardo's art techniques and the message to take home was: what exactly is reality and nature in Leonardo da Vinci's view?


(Or what does Europe want?)
June 2, 2011
Aurelia Cojocaru (1st year BA, Moldova)

Although I promise myself, each and every year, that I will stop watching the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), this annual moment of laughable grief (meaning that the initial enthusiasm that accompanies some of the songs is ultimately destroyed by the final results), I always end up doing the opposite.

2011 couldn't have been the year when I actually kept the promise. First of all because ESC had "come" so close (Is it following me?!?). The events took place in Dusseldorf this year, after Germany's victory in 2010. Second, because thanks to some of my colleagues' initiative, a screening of the final show, which took place on the 14th May, was organized in one of the dorms, so that we ended up sharing in the convulsions and the blubber of that night of self-exorcism that Europe seems to perform every year. A night of "snacks and circus", I would say (I myself chipped in with some "thematic" fruit jelly Euro cents.).

Our fellows from the other continents (those who, hesitantly, joined us) couldn't at first understand the cause of our bizarre excitement, but once the show started everyone entered the frenzy, not to mention the treat that the voting process, the famous douze-points-giving, was.

I won't make extensive comments about the songs (be it for the fact that I was bound to have a favorite), but I will say that, just as it does every year, Europe came onto the stage well-adorned, with strange hairstyles and straining voices, covering, as usual, a most hallucinating span of genres (even opera counts, with France as an example). Europe sang in English, sometimes even in macaronic English-French (like Lithuania). Europe brought on the stage dancers, actors, and other celebrities just to make the performances "fuller." Eccentric decors and letters-on-jackets forming the name of the singer (see Russia's performance; memorably, in 2008 they won with Evgeny Pliushenko on the stage!). All this, combined with the gigantic screen projecting parallel motifs, made it vertiginous.

One couldn't find time to comment upon everything concomitantly. The experts in art focused on the visual effects (Greece had hip-hop elements, with ancient columns projected on the screen!), others detected here a crystal Celine Dion voice, there a false note, but ultimately most of us were part of a strange "yes or no" spontaneous jury. Whenever the representatives of one the countries whose natives were among us performed, everyone clapped and was merry.

Merry-go-round as this all is, one gets the strange feeling that nothing actually changes, as years pass. It's a carousel. Every year you could trace this or that underground relation to a previous contestant or song. Every year-the persistent beginners, then, some ex-pop-stars trying to resuscitate their glory, then sometimes winners coming back as if craving a failure (The German winner of 2010 obeyed this logic and participated this year.), sometimes those who didn't make it the first time winning on their second try, and so on.

There is even an "ESC style" of music, which one immediately recognizes. Although it's not always the case that this guarantees victory (and that's when rock, for instance, takes over the unadventurous pop, eventually with some ethnic vibes). 

 But all this showbiz swing doesn't really mean anything without the usual political controversy (i.e. the final vote). It is enough to say that some call it all "Neighborvision".

We ourselves came to the conclusion that there's no better way to understand Europe and its (political) climate than to look at how each of the countries' votes are distributed. Thus, following the well-known logic, the Balkan countries will support each other.  So will the ex-Soviet countries. On the other hand, it's no surprise when Moldova exchanges twelve points with Romania, Greece gets its twelve from Cyprus, and Italy from San Marino, etc.

Whenever an exception to the rule happened, everyone was electrified. Iceland and Hungary amazed everyone with their incredibly "diverse" votes. Or what about Israel voting for Sweden (after a more or less recent diplomatic conflict)? The question was, each time: Is country X making a political statement by giving fewer points to Y this year?

We can only hope that the exceptions (not few, I guess) prepare a more non-political Eurovision. But I also couldn't help being disappointed at the end. Alas, it's the last time I will watch it (I promise)!

All in all, there was too much of Europe in Europe that night. A paradoxical unity, I would say (the organizers decided to "celebrate" it by making the intro video for each country . . . a portrait of an immigrant.). Now that we know the winner (Ell/Nikki from Azerbaijan - "Running Scared"), we can ask ourselves: What kind of music does Europe want and why? Ultimately, what does Europe want?!? Europe wants, in torturing "adoration," to "run scared tonight." And also Europe wants to . . . imperceptibly glide. To Azerbaijan.


(Or Culinary Tales and Theories My Mother Taught Me)
June 2, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY'11, USA)

"You better learn how to cook or your life will be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," was what my mother's advice sounded like four years ago before I left home for college. Despite being a big fan of Thomas Hobbes, my mother prepares the most delicious food known to man. Her food is not extravagant and she doesn't add any herbs or spices to her dishes. The only additive that my mother uses to transform the everyday ingredients into pure finger-licking deliciousness is love.

However, I dismissed my mother's wisdom primarily because I was developing my "sandwiches are sufficient" theory, in which I claimed that a variety of sliced cheese (e.g. some of the Amish classics, such as Brick or Provolone) along with sliced Fegatelli or Milanese salami placed in between two pieces of toasted rye bread that was previously smeared with cultured butter, would be an adequate diet for any college student. Unfortunately, my theory was discredited then.  And again a few weeks ago, when I decided to re-test my old theory while waiting for Mr. Stefan Will, ECLA's new chef, to arrive and take my food worries away. For three weeks I lived on sandwiches and yogurt, and with each Skype conversation that I had with my mother I was reminded of both the soul-crushing and repeated failure of my sandwich theory as well as my protruding collarbones and my thin wrists.

And then came the morning of the 9th of May, a morning that I will remember by hot coffee, five or six different kinds of bread, and by a stabilization of my bowel movements. As I was about to bite into my fresh and crispy croissant, Mr. Will came over and cracked a joke or two which made coffee come out of my nose. We laughed about the coffee incident, patted each other on our shoulders, and I thought to myself: "It's been a long time since I felt this warm and fuzzy on the inside." My joy was further expanded when for three days in a row there was at least one potato option for lunch.

In the small, Christian Orthodox town in Bosnia that I spent my childhood in, potatoes were praised and celebrated with same fervor as God himself.

"Life is meaningless without potatoes," my grandfather would often say as he cut the local "Torotan" cheese to eat with his boiled potatoes.

In fact, boiled potatoes and "Torotan" cheese were exactly the ingredients of the sturdy foundation that kept my grandparent's marriage intact despite their poverty, countless doubts, and constant bickering. As far as I can remember my grandparents spent nearly all of their days squabbling over the pettiest issues. For example, whenever my grandfather left his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor instead of putting them in the basket, my grandmother felt that her husband was walking all over her and disrespecting her in the most despicable way. The act of walking was also a frequent topic of their quarrels. My grandmother always whined about how my grandfather walks too fast for her and she believed that the purpose of his speedy steps was to get her to walk faster as well. It is true that whenever my grandparents walked somewhere together my grandfather would walk about two to three meters in front of my grandmother and she hated this because she needed to yell every time she needed to tell him something.

"My Hercules can't even hear me when he is right in front of me," my grandmother would complain to her friends, "but he just speeds in front of me as if he has somewhere important to get to." 

The only time of the day that my grandparents spent in peace was during dinner while they peeled and ate their boiled potatoes. Every night, for fifty-two years, my grandparents have eaten boiled potatoes with cheese, and every night at seven o'clock while their mouths are filled with mushy potato deliciousness, my grandparents gaze into each other's eyes and flash their smiles of satisfaction which convey to each other that it was worth sticking together for five decades. Who would have known that the secret to creating a strong and enduring relationship is found in boiled potatoes? Trust and understanding can keeps the couple's union firm only up to a point but the power of properly baked potatoes takes hold of the lovers' souls and enmeshes them together for the eternity. With the last reminder about the importance and deliciousness of potatoes, I would like to welcome our new cook Mr. Stefan Will and his employees to the ECLA community and ask them to keep up the good potato work.


June 2, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, Pakistan)

We spent the whole of last term talking about love and the many different ways it strikes us. Coming from the East, I was introduced to a whole different set of values associated with love and its manifestations. A very basic observation is that in Eastern cultures when people fall in love, they avoid public displays of affection whereas in the West these displays are a norm which strengthens the bond between two people. My close study of love in the Western tradition made me see the differences between the West and the Orient in the political, social and economic sphere.

C.S. Lewis talks about four different kinds of love in his book The Four Loves. By closely reading the text along with Plato's Symposium, one understands that in the Western tradition love is not only a source for sexual mating between two lovers but it is also a tool used for transcendent thought. A very big misconception which rests in the Eastern tradition about Western cultures is that relationships in Western cultures have lost their value because of the presence of pornographic media. But one is pleasantly surprised to read about the sacred concept of love present in Western literature.

Love, as described by C. S. Lewis, can exist between friends, acquaintances, and lovers.  It can also exist in the form of 'agape'. Agape, or Charity, is practiced by human beings for the love that people have for God. The ultimate message of Christianity is to love and serve your life by helping each other.

The question which a Saracen or a non-Westerner asks while living in present day modern society is, where do you see or feel this kind of love that is being advocated in the Bible and some ancient texts. Do people actually look for transcendence when they fall in love? What effect does this kind of love have on the modern day Western liberal democracies? The answer to these questions can be a long and hard one but on some investigation I was able to craft a response, which satisfied me and hopefully will do some justice for my readers as well.

The contribution of Western societies in the field of knowledge has been very significant; one of the most distinguishing contributions has been the methodology of research, which was unknown to the world. Although the ancients contributed a lot in various fields, their ways of conducting research were not very well refined. Research techniques were something which mankind still had to discover and establish. Research as a practice, requires the subject to study the object in such great detail that he has to be immersed in it to find out in great depth what that object is and what value it holds in the modern world. This practice then gives birth to new ideas emerging from the old one established. It is in the same way that Copernicus was able to refine the then known information existing in the world.

The point that I made at the very beginning of this article was that love and research are very closely connected. The concept of love asks you to honestly and sincerely dwell on something, to get married to it and devote your life to it. This kind of devotion not only promises transcendence, which students and professors together experience in universities and learning centres in the West, but also plays a huge role in the development of the society.

An important factor to note here is that although Western civilization has achieved remarkable success in the area of knowledge, they paid a very big cost for it -- the cost of family life. The life of a Westerner is so fast-paced that it is impossible at times for him or her to acquire a normal balanced family life. Often times, my Westerner friends would even laugh at the concept of me planning my marriage, while I should be only focused on my career and academics. I admit that my marriage or family responsibilities change the dynamics of life, but the important question to ask is, how happy will I be with all the important qualifications and career moves? Is it not important to have human beings as your prime motivation for success in your life? This is something that Eastern societies do not miss: Family.  

The Eastern lifestyle promises a lot of comfort and genuine love, which families and communities enjoy within them. The concept of love in the Eastern tradition does not consist only of what comes from the Islamic tradition. Chinese and Indian traditions have also played a huge role in shaping that concept. It goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss the details of love as a metaphysical or social concept within each of these traditions.

But one thing that Eastern societies have achieved is a great place for human relationships and bonding. Something that is considered a waste of time in the West, would be considered mere selfishness in the East. My friend Oumaima Gannouni would be witness to this dichotomy. In the East, everyone has time for everyone. Neighbors, family members, parents, and siblings - all are overflowing with love and support. This network of support and love actually plays a very big role in shaping healthy minds and bodies. Stable marriages breed stable souls. It is a divine comedy that although you find these minds in Eastern societies, the lack of opportunities and infrastructure does not give them an opportunity to  outshine. Part of the reason why there are fewer opportunities in the East is because people lack a sense of proportion when it comes to emotional ties, which then leads to easy going behaviors and less efficiency. Moderately governed emotional ties actually breed very useful minds, which then are transported to the West in the form of a brain drain.

The two different forms of love that govern the world, contribute in different ways. It is now important for social psychologists and philosophers from both worlds to sit down and think about various ways to cut down the cost which development has brought in the Western world. The world would be a Utopia the day that both elements could co-exist simultaneously in the East and the West.


May 20, 2011
Snezhina Kovacheva (ISU'05, AY'09)

Dear ECLA, 

This is to proudly share I graduated from Columbia this weekend. The ceremony was outstanding, with an inspiring speech by Kofi Annan. The speech is here.

I would like to thank you for my time at ECLA before Columbia. While I have undoubtedly learned a lot this year, it all fell in place onto the foundations that ECLA built. I swept through challenging assignments with a confidence that can only come after having done the kind of thinking that only ECLA can put you in the position to do. I committed the usual sins of an ECLA graduate - I often found myself asking questions with the word "values" in them, persistently inquired about the ultimate goal, thought about social justice, and had the courage and eloquence to disagree when I didn't see important considerations involved in a discussion. 

It has been a long road, above all metaphorically, from when I first started at ECLA's international summer university. I still remember talking to Thomas Norgaard about PY vs. AY and wondering what will come at the end of a semester dealing with Plato's Republic. Somewhere along the way, I forgot about the journey's destination. And this is when my real journey began...

It is not completed yet, and I am ready to embrace it as a life-long process. I am still not sure what exactly I will be doing after Columbia. I know I will be coming to Berlin and ECLA on Monday, and spending a week in Berlin. Over the last three years, a few apartments, rooms, street-addresses, cities and countries have been changed. But my spiritual home remains fixed at Platanenstrasse 24. 

All the best from New York,


May 20, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, Pakistan)

The art of speaking is hard to master.

It is with the intent to master the art of public speaking that I began my debating career almost three years ago in Pakistan. Slowly and gradually I climbed the ladder of public speaking. It was right after I had achieved a big break in debating that I came to Berlin and found myself in one of ECLA's seminars, dumbfounded and numb. The article below will reveal a lot of the things I discovered speaking and expressing myself in the seminars and as I started debating with the Berlin Debating Union.

ECLA seminars demanded extreme honesty on extremely difficult and demanding texts. Not only was seminar participation focused on your input about a certain text but other people's ideas and questions instigated one to participate. It took me some time to understand the actual meaning of this participation and I struggled to speak my heart and mind about philosophers I esteemed. I was so scared having never meddled with them so casually before. I was also learning what it meant to engage with a literary idea with all your heart and soul. The peer pressure was humungous. Initially everybody noticed your way of speaking, what you had to say and the recurrent theme in your questions and ideas. In close quarters, everyone discussed each other's way of speaking. Some people were permanent favorites and others marred for good. 

I questioned my own ability to talk and present something in public. Back home, I had received a celebrity status in my own college for my talents in oratory delivery. But who knew that an ECLA seminar would be just a lot more than speaking and presenting your ideas. As I was struggling to acquire a firm grip of this methodology I came across the Berlin Debating Union and I started debating with a group of people passionate about world affairs and debating itself. It was a classic case of going from theory to practice. Where in a seminar I was learning to speak from my heart, in parliamentary debates I changed my approach towards speaking and I brought the two worlds together, to much benefit.

Every Tuesday night before the motion I stood. Even now as I stand, saying "This house believes that . . .", I force myself not to just reproduce what I read in the Economist. Instead, I do what we all do in ECLA seminars: emotionally, spiritually, and rationally associate with the text.

In the beginning this resulted in me being unable to deliver a speech during several debate sessions, as I was trying to focus very hard on what the topic meant for me. But as time passed and as my fellow debater friends have witnessed, my debating skills have become much more refined and sophisticated. As I travelled to attend some debating tournaments, I saw what superficial and bad treatment scores of debaters gave to the topic at hand. Whatever they had learned through bits and pieces of news, they would puke out in the seven minutes they would get in the debating match. The seminars at ECLA had helped me so much, as I was passionately able to associate myself with what I was speaking.  Not only that, I was able to deeply analyze a topic which remains the prime concern of any good debate.

The challenge that I faced in the form of preparing for ECLA seminars helped not only in getting reasonable grades, but also helped me in refining my thought process and the understanding of the subject matter as a whole. 


The "Future of an Illusion" Foretold
May 20, 2011
Aurelia Cojocaru (1st year BA, Moldova)

On good authority, I know that many of the people who came to attend Julia Kristeva's lecture ("The forces of monotheism confronting the need to believe") at Haus der Kulturen der Welt on March 8th, did so me more for the speaker than for the subject as such. And how could you not get excited?   As "Mrs. Structuralism" came onto the stage, I myself thought there comes a time when the idols from the textbooks descend into the real world.

But this is not to say that the lecture itself didn't promise to be at least intriguing, if not controversial. Let's take a look at the title, for to me it sounded like a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, of course, you wouldn't expect an expert in psychoanalysis to preach, but why then the title, "the need to believe"? And how do the "forces of monotheism" (anticipating, in a way, broad references to "the genius" from Freud's Moses and Monotheism essay) "confront" it? So, the very forces of monotheism oppose the belief?

Not to take the speculation too far, I'll mention that right from the beginning of the lecture Kristeva struck a somewhat balanced position between all of these possible contradictions. It's a "new approach" that Freud constructs. Psychoanalysis just sets "question marks," not "truths" (Kristeva takes a prudent step here, were it not undermined by extensive and confident references to the "genius"!). What post-Freudian figures such as Lacan and Lévi-Strauss, along with proponents of feminist-inspired movements, do is to simply add new meanings to the "question marks."  For instance, Lacan's definition of the "symbolic" is derived from the incest taboo whereas the feminists' attempt to "deconstruct" the monotheistic through meditating and researching such areas as motherhood.

Ultimately, in Kristeva's view, the major discovery that psychoanalysis made was "the Other[ness]," or the idea that "belief" is first and foremost that which enables human connection, communication as such.

So the six themes which were developed in the talk (alas, Kristeva never got to the last theme due to lack of time) departed from the idea of "believing and knowing" as seen by psychoanalysis and continued with the hermeneutics of religious texts (focusing on how "the subject in man" is born from "taboo and sacrifice" in the Bible), just to get to the idea of the father-son in Christianity (which seemed to be the backbone of the lecture).  Skipping references to Islam (namely, a discussion on "Islam and the problem of murder"), the lecture ended in a dilemma, broadening into issues of "secularization and cultural diversity." The last part made not only an enquiry into the possibilities of psychoanalysis to shape our future within the monotheistic foundation, but also a whipping summary of intellectual history.

Perhaps one of the most interesting shifts that Kristeva mades with respect to the paternal figure within the psychoanalytic view of human development was in seeing it initially not as an authority figure (with which one identifies, through what Freud called "primary identification"), but on the contrary, as a source of the "confident recognition offered by the father-who-loves-the-mother and is loved by her."  This kind of identification with the father triggers utterance.

"I believed and therefore I have spoken" (Corinthians II, 4:13) - this seems to be, in Kristeva's view, the parallel between the one who has faith and the child making his first "steps" in his linguistic development. This moment of identification not only teaches the child the lesson of otherness (i.e. that the child is "other" than the mother), but also marks the beginning of a long, we may say endless, struggle: knowing.

To what Lacan considered the motto of psychoanalysis "you can know," Kristeva confidently adds, "if you believe." Psychoanalysis, in its practical, curative form, should also function according to this principle. Could, then, this mode of experience within psychoanalysis "save" us from the "death drive," as Kristeva affirms?

But how far can the omni-efficiency of "Other[ing]" be taken? I ask myself. In our speaker's view, the Bible reconfirms and extends this phenomenon: through its dichotomies (pure/impure is one of the most important) and through the privilege of taboo over sacrifice, the Bible sets up the necessary "gap" between the Other (the Creator) and the human being. What Judaism obtains through its emphasis on taboo is more than fear of God's abomination; it is "the emergence of the subject in man." Seen from this perspective, the existence of the state of Israel is neither more nor less than an "anthropological necessity."

It's because of the persistence of taboo that we leave behind this loving paternal figure and the "path is thus paved in the unconscious for the Oedipal father." What about the relation between Jesus and the Father? Kristeva asks us to observe in the figure of the former not only the "beaten Son," but also the "beaten Father." This enables "virile identification" with this figure, which becomes an "ego-ideal." Briefly, the incest taboo is symbolically suspended with this "association" through suffering -- suffering which is necessarily experienced as "marriage." The sublimation of the prohibited desires thus can only happen by acknowledging them. The way to a new kind of suffering ("divine," "Christic") is paved: it is not pure Law and guilt that composes the substance of the religious feeling now, but "jouissance in idealized suffering." This ultimately only encourages "symbolic activity" (since sublimation of these sadomasochistic tendencies triggers aesthetic representation).

What, then, does secularization change? In Kristeva's opinion, it is not only the universal phenomena observed by psychoanalysis that still function within the subject (Note that the emphasis is on the subject formed within the Greek-Jewish-Christian tradition.); similar to the redefinition of the Oedipus complex within this tradition, "modern secularization" treats the transgression of Law as "invitations" to create "new legalities." Surprisingly, Kristeva extends the influence of psychoanalysis to the subjects developed within different religious traditions. Globalization itself imposes psychoanalysis. What assertion of the universality of psychoanalysis could be stronger than the confidence that it is "beyond the clash of religions," that, in a secular "context," it can "reflect on all traditions." This is justified simply because the "need to believe" is "a pre-religious and pre-political anthropological necessity" (that is also to support for instance, Hanna Arendt's view, namely that "turning back to religion" for political reasons is not an option). The result could be, we intuit, a middle path between religion and "extravagant freedoms," between the "course" and the "broken course." Turning again and again to the Jewish tradition, Kristeva stresses the "dignity in difference" which the meaning of Akeda/the sacrifice (see Genesis 22) conceals. 

  To the "normative" and "critical" forms of "Jewish modernity" (the latter seen through the figures of Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt), our lecturer adds the psychoanalytic perspective (with respect to religion, it can mean a serious "re-foundation" which modernity definitely encourages). Kristeva identifies the rupture with the "mythic past" at two crucial moments: the birth of Christianity and the Enlightenment (with "seeds" in Baroque); but it's not only "cutting off" tradition that is here at work, Kristeva claims, but a deep need to "recreate," reshape the foundations. As Freud himself seemed to imply in  Civilization and its Discontents, the discovery of the unconscious by psychoanalysis is another such leap into a new kind of modernity. Facing "today's conservatisms and fundamentalisms," only this "analytical" modernity could help us in re-linking "normative" modernity and "critical" modernity. This is the path to "refoundation" and it could be applied, the speaker is confident, not only to the Judeo-Christian situation (observing the model as such means understanding how "mutations" within modern religions happen).

I ask myself, together with Julia Kristeva who asks herself, whether she is not "too optimistic" about this possibility "to reinvent/recreate a refoundation?"... But I can't help being sympathetic towards the idea that monotheism is ultimately capable of reinventing itself and that the religious phenomenon can be more than a story about obeying (i.e. the need to believe and punkt) but also a story about "knowing."


May 11, 2011
Gabriela Ionascu (PY'11, Romania)

On April 27 Madalina Rosca, Sarah Junghans and I journeyed to Kyrgyzstan to attend the international student conference on Freedom and Responsibility organized by the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). Although free, responsible and legally aged, we didn't go alone. Bartholomew Ryan and Bruno Macaes also came, to offer us their support, and nonetheless a bit of their expertise.

Given the fact that we arrived two days before the conference started, we had some time to discover the beauty of Bishkek and its surroundings. And so the adventure began…

Following Bruno's suggestion, we decided to rent a cab and to visit the famous Issyk Kul Lake. It took us four hours to get there, four hours in which some of our talents and interests have been revealed. Thus, we discovered Madalina's hidden talent for Russian language- she was the only one who could communicate in Russian with the taxi driver Stanislav who didn't speak English, although we all ended up having no problems understanding each other by the end of the day. There was one mercurial Russian word "remont" which remained the word of the day that seemed to be applied to everything. Bartholomew equally amazed us with his curiosity in the politics of Kyrgyzstan and his ambition to learn the most necessary Russian words ('privet', 'kak dela', 'spasiba'- he even took notes!). Speaking of Russian language and culture, Bruno has discovered that he likes music after all. He showed a real interest in the radio "friendly" oriental rhythms and an authentic passion for the songs in Tolstoy's language. Our trip didn't stop at Issyk Kul. We made sure that we didn't miss one single place of worth around Bishkek.

On April 29 the conference commenced. An enormous, scary room with stage, microphones and lots of seats welcomed us. Fortunately (or unfortunately for our teachers) we didn't have our presentations there. The organizers of the conference prepared us two cozy rooms, ready to encounter our flourishing dialogues. During the two days of the conference, the small ECLA group had the opportunity to exchange ideas with students and teachers from Bard College (New York), Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts- BISLA, and AUCA. With different perspectives and arguments, the students reached the same conclusion: social and political participation do count and one individual can make a difference.

Our adventure didn't end with the last speech of the conference. On April 30 our wonderful and gracious hosts Makhinur, Mary and Jamby from AUCA organized a traditional Kyrghiz feast in Ala Archa National Park. In a small yurt we enjoyed a piece of the fabulous Kyrghiz culture: from paloo, horse meat, and kymyz to folkloric songs about shared and unshared loves. Animated by a genuine desire to discover the surroundings, we got in the middle of a traditional race. Even though we didn't understand the tradition of the game, the rules seemed pretty clear: first, the one who runs faster wins, and second, the young women should compete with the other young women, elderly men between them and so on and so forth. The moment Bruno saw the contest, he knew that it would be a great occasion to teach his students the true meaning of competitions. Without hesitations, he ran to compete with the elderly men. Although his result didn't classify him among the best mature runners, he taught us that competitions are not only made for winning. Bartholomew equally joined the race. This time the lesson was different. ECLA students should not be afraid of competitors and try to do their best. For this purpose, he decided to compete with the young men. Life is not always as in movies, so Bartholomew's result was not the winning one. If you, my reader, are disappointed that ECLA had no champions in Kyrgyzstan, let me tell you the story to the end. Sarah and I got involved in the competition as well. In spite of my efforts to get the Kyrghiz start signal and to keep my dress in a decent position, my performance didn't equal the one of Sarah. Despite having missed the start, Sarah ran faster than everyone else. She was simply unstoppable.

After the race and a well-deserved Kyrghiz dessert, we went back to the hotel. We needed to get ready for the trip back to ECLA. On 2nd of May, we were back in Berlin, a bit more responsible and freer.


May 11, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, Pakistan)

One of the biggest attractions of the academy year program is the Florence trip, which takes place every year before the spring term starts. The trip to Florence promises a very extensive education on Renaissance art and architecture interspersed with a glimpse of the political and historical ramifications of those works of art.

When I came to ECLA, students who had attended the program the previous year fed me their anecdotes about what Florence was like and what they did. Nothing of that reappeared except for the physical structure of the city itself.

The Florence trip is a cut out of ECLA's usual time frame.  It places you in another framework altogether -- with different parameters of academics and relationships. During the one week that I spent in Florence along with 30 other students and professors, I strongly felt the changing dynamics of our relationships with each other and with knowledge.

For the first two terms, we studied the meaning of justice and what Socratic education is like. We also looked very deeply into how we understand the notions of love and passion. The last string in the series of knowledge was to see how art and architecture bring forth the complete understanding of what knowledge is and how we as human beings relate to it.

In trying to understand the creations of Ghiberti, Donatello, Raphael, and so many more artists and architects we closely observed the creation of knowledge and its manifestations in great pieces of art. With aching feet we stood with art historians and our professors, trying to absorb the meaning of creation, a process that will in turn affect our ability to create something in the world in which we operate today.

My dire question as to whether the philosophical training that we receive at ECLA is useful or not was also gradually answered.  In a candid discussion with Peter Hajnal and Jakob Dreyer, we all agreed that philosophical education enhances peoples' ability to contribute to the world. Philosophical education does not just consist of some big ideas that appeal to us on the basis of their popularity.  Rather, it helps us to create by providing us with foundational ideas, just as philosophical ideas were the foundations of creation in the Renaissance.

On a lighter side, during the Florence trip, we already began to see new musicians cropping up.  The Waldstrasse Boys made progress on their new albums and made the trip ever so joyful.

Not only did this trip help me engage with the creation of knowledge in such a genuine and honest manner but it also made me see the new developments in our interpersonal relationships. It would not be wrong to say that at ECLA we all exude very high level of energy. Relationships are intense and meaningful.  We all tend to bring energy from the seminars into the dorms. The spirits of learning, competitiveness, admiration, and jealousy, all seem to co-exist at the same time. Our very beings, however you might interpret "beings," develop in various dimensions, due to the many ways in which we relate to one another and the various texts we read.

Art also helped our beings to expand. We were able to absorb a deeper sense of each other by engaging with the pieces of art that we looked at for hours.  Michelangelo's nonfinito sculptures raised questions about the ideas of perfection and imperfection. Nobody knows what perfect is. Sometimes a half finished piece of art can be considered perfect and give that artist a legendary status.  For me personally, a certain kind of humor that sometimes seemed condescending now appeared more human -- special courtesy to Anna Krasztev-Kovacs and Jelena Barac - as a result of understanding the ambiguity in the notions of human perfection and imperfection.

Art did wonders for me. As we reached Berlin with aching feet and bones, our minds and hearts were fresh as ever and the spring term welcomed us with open arms.


May 11, 2011
April Matias (1st year BA, Philippines)

A week's worth of immersion in Renaissance art requires both time for contemplation and occasion for discourse. As such, the spring term's core course on Values of Florentine Renaissance commenced with a guest lecture by the prominent Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller.

Professor Heller broached the topic of historical interpretation by briefly discussing Goethe and Hegel's views about the Renaissance, particularly the view that the primary concern during the said period was beauty. Professor Heller carried the idea further by saying that the Renaissance's preoccupation with beauty is one of many expressions of a greater development, which she called the dynamics of modernity.

These dynamics manifested themselves in the processes of questioning conventions, standards, and traditions, and of searching for answers, which eventually burgeoned into an all-encompassing social movement. In time, the individual stepped into the spotlight and developed into a creature of choices. The application of knowledge and improvements in technology only served to amplify these changes.

Professor Heller looked to Giotto and the discovery of perspective in painting as fitting examples of these changes. Perspective endowed works of art with a sense of stylized reality, wherein seeing in painting tries to emulate seeing in everyday reality. The technicalities of perspective are not as important to the discourse as the manner in which the technique affects an individual's viewing experience. In Giotto's works, the body was given meaning. Clothing functioned as an allusion to the nakedness of figures, giving flesh to characters in religious narratives. Divine images were no longer mere representations and also drew the audience into commune with their framed realities, opening up questions about truth and beauty among others.

Professor Heller emphasized individual choice, particularly one's own choice of history. Autobiographies became fashionable; as much as people of Renaissance Florence saw the seemingly real in works of art, they may have been equally satisfied by artful treatments in their personal histories. Language also turned into a matter of choice, as the use of vernacular grew more popular and Latin was slowly marginalized.

Heller then turned her sights to politics, starting with Machiavelli's political philosophy. In The Prince, Machiavelli manages to separate politics from morality, where the former is defined by its results or outcomes while the latter deals with intentions. What was previously viewed as a singular choice transformed into a pluralistic concept of the good. Conflict became useful, even productive.

To Professor Heller, the Renaissance was defined by its pluralism. One can choose to view the Renaissance as the merging of Ancient Greek and Roman traditions with Christianity, but it was not simply a revival of the past. In art, politics, and religion, the era was marked by its achievements in re-creation-in using what one chooses from history and developing from it something of one's own.

Professor Heller defined historical interpretation as the mediation of the past and the present. From 19th century views of the Renaissance as an era focused on beauty and humanism, to the current political narrative of it as one marred by conflict and the so-called the first fundamentalist Savonarola, it seems that intellectual thought is indelibly marked by the dynamics of modernity.


May 3, 2011
Catherine Toal

On April 26 the students and faculty of ECLA had the privilege of welcoming Agnes Heller, one of the greatest living European intellectuals. Heller has become an outspoken critic of the political changes occurring in her native Hungary, where she now lives after many years teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1929, Professor Heller experienced the death of her father and of many childhood friends in the Holocaust. The attempt to confront the genocide-the problem of human evil, and the nature of the social determinants that unleash it-lies, she says, at the centre of her work. Because of her belief in a Marxism that promised a practical human liberation and a creative, culturally-rooted response to the challenges of the modern world, Heller repeatedly found herself in opposition to the orthodoxies imposed both by the Communist party and by the Soviet-backed regimes that preceded and followed the brief period of pluralist openness glimpsed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  Ultimately, to escape government harassment and surveillance, Heller and her family chose exile in Australia in 1977.

The best-known and most important influence on Heller's intellectual development was the Hungarian Marxist philosopher György Lukács. Lukács occupies an unusual position among radical Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century: he rejected the embrace of modernist innovation explored by the members of the Frankfurt School, becoming the foremost theorist of 'realism' in literary aesthetics, a concept which he updated to encompass the intellectually intricate narratives of Thomas Mann, through the idea that historical causality could be revealed in the representation of social 'type'. Lukács was also unusual among Marxist aesthetic theorists in playing an actual-if controversial-part in historical events. He was twice a member of politically-progressive Communist governments (after WWI and again in 1956), and despite marginalization and persecution, remained committed to a position of reformist critique and close attention to the fortunes of his country. Lukács's influence on Heller can be seen not only in their shared concern with how to describe and respond to contemporary conditions, but in her emphasis on involvement in the political life of one's immediate context.

It was an especial pleasure to welcome Agnes Heller to ECLA because so many of its courses are and have been dedicated to the central currents of twentieth-century ethics, aesthetics and political theory to which her own work is a vital contribution. On the day of her visit, we were to experience the enormous range and command of historical, philosophical and literary knowledge at Professor Heller's disposal. She gave the opening lecture to the second-year BA core course on the Florentine Renaissance. The talk provided an overview of the fundamental concepts at stake in the course and their significance. Pivotal in Professor Heller's account of the Renaissance was the notion that it involved a championing of the individual, in particular the sensuous reality of the individual human body. This transformation had the power to overturn tradition, kinship, patriarchal authority-as in the sexual choices of Shakespeare's Juliet, and his Desdemona-and also the primacy of religious piety in the visual representation of ostensibly sacred figures and tableaux. This change was not without its unsettling dimension: she noted the 'evil' attributed to the "natural" (illegitimate) son Edgar in King LearSimilarly, the separation of morality from politics as an art of calculating discrete strategic interest, theorized by Machiavelli's The Prince, gives rise to a sense of disquiet, and even to the misunderstanding encapsulated by the insult 'Machiavellian.'  Professor Heller observed that the reaction of Savonarola to the aesthetic achievements of the Florentine Renaissance can be seen as a kind of 'anti-modern' fundamentalism, a wish to return to the certainties of the past-although she acknowledged that this interpretation is one that has only become visible as a result of conflicts in our own time, and that Savonarola's revolution was also a violent attack on the inequalities of wealth that made lavish Renaissance patronage possible.

Professor Heller stayed on in the afternoon to address the 'Politics Club', ECLA's extra-curricular discussion group for contemporary political affairs. She spoke of the current situation in Hungary and its origins, arguing that the repressiveness of the current government is facilitated in part by a longstanding refusal to address bygone suffering and trauma. The experience of transition from Communism was one largely imposed from above, and there has been little attempt to process and acknowledge the wrongs and divisions of the more distant past, in particular: complicity with the Holocaust, and the silences and betrayals wrought by the pressures of totalitarian rule. Discussion moved to an exploration of the reasons for the rise of a right-wing populism across Europe, whether characterized, as in Germany and Denmark, by intense media debate about the problem of 'integration', or, as in Italy, by overwhelming private political monopolization of the media itself.

Apart from expressing warm appreciation for the sophisticated level of commentary exhibited by the German newspapers, Professor Heller declined to remark on those contexts with which she as not personally familiar, but noted three important things: firstly: in Hungary, the situation is now such that dissent from the government even on a non-political issue can result in the loss of one's job. She also suggested that the rise of right-wing sentiment principally has economic causes, wryly noting that student activists in the far right 'Jobbik' party are much less likely to be found in an engineering faculty. Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party (which heads the present government) deploys populist, anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric in order to appeal to a broad disaffected mass, but in fact it is itself funded by and caters for rich supporters, the main beneficiaries of its policies, a contradiction that leads Heller to call its ideology "Bonapartism."  Finally, she refused any fatalist idea of 'inevitable' repetitions or regressions, observing that swings back and forth from left to right are a normal dynamic of political history, and that such changes are "pushed" by the agitation of individuals and groups, making the active participation in the pursuit of justice all the more important. ECLA students and faculty were left with the impression of someone who has herself lived this principle, and whose vibrancy of intellect and enormous generosity of spirit have been preserved by her commitment to it.


April 20, 2011
April Matias (1st year BA, Philippines)

I am about to make a bold claim-that for ECLA's Italy trip, the experience is much sweeter in hindsight.

Our professors warned us that the trip was no spring vacation, and rightly so. I believe I recited several litanies of complaints along the way to Florence and in the city itself: about the inhumane 3a.m. wake-up call to leave for Schoenefeld Airport, countless hours sitting in a bus, the packed daily schedule, hordes of tourists (as if I weren't one myself), limited internet access, expensive meals, brusque museum personnel, horse dung, excruciatingly long walks on cobblestone streets, and even longer treks up a hill to San Miniato or the Cathedral's bell tower, either which might have qualified as experiences in which Florence literally "took my breath away." For eight days, I hustled, pushed, looked, talked, listened, pouted, thought, and plodded, until I finally dropped dead on a narrow hotel bed at sundown.

It should be no surprise that everything sped by, with hardly any time to fully digest information or to entertain whims of adventure in an old, historic Italian city. I know I ought to talk more about visits to churches and museums or the usually entertaining and very informative discussions conducted by professors, but I have no desire to, at least not at the moment. I have a whole semester to look forward to before being able to speak substantially about Florentine Renaissance. By its end, I hope to acquire the confidence, and of course the understanding, to back up what I have to say.

What made the trip memorable were oddities-incredulous and inappropriately hilarious events, which somehow bridged moments between being glared at or shushed by on-site guards and standing in awe of the surroundings. I guess this should not have been entirely beyond my expectations, having heard about the annual excursion's history. From last year's unexpected volcanic eruption to this year's airline strike precisely before our flight to Rome, the trip seems to have a tendency to be entangled in misadventures.

The first survival tip I learned is that there is strength in numbers. The only way to see a sculpture or that marvelous Baptistery door is to have a bunch of students moving in a coordinated direction to take up as much space as possible in front of the artwork, shoving aside enterprising tour guides who become irate at being prevented from feeding (mis-) information to uninterested middle school kids or starry-eyed septuagenarians.

There is also the option of getting up and walking around very early, which I did once at the suggestion of a friend. We found that at 6 am, the city, as well as its residents, was friendlier. The Piazza del Duomo seemed to have been drained of people, and only a road sweeper could be seen. The vehicle went buzzing around the piazza and washed the pavements-a 21st century invention for a 12th century edifice. The streets on the way to Ponte Vecchio were lined with muted motorcycles, and the famed bridge's shops were locked up. Without vehicles eager to run us over, my friend and I felt Florence stir, pregnant with its ancient secrets but still a living, breathing city. It is not so much the aversion to people that makes the crowds menacing but the sense that every day, millions of people pay to pry those secrets open, until what becomes of Florence is a gallery of stone and flesh, held together by the desire to make monuments to a romantic notion of the past, and in the process, to make money out of it. I know that is a pretty heavy indictment, but then, I would be at a loss too, if I had in my purview a city that was very much part of Western civilization's development.

Hijinks also abound on the Italy trip. Some of ECLA's grown men seemed to revert into little rascals. From administrators being reprimanded by a priest for playing Frisbee on the churchyard to a classmate gleefully chasing after horses in the green fields of Villa Peyron, there is no shortage of activities which prove that boys will always be boys.

After Florence, we traipsed through Rome until our feet hurt. But for my part, nothing beat the joy of seeking out and then buying books in historic Italian towns. My friend and I scoured the city of Rome for bookshops of which we visited seven before reaching the beautiful district of Trastevere and discovering a cozy little shop of used books and VHS tapes. If anything, the experience can be amplified by a good bargain, and perhaps none more serendipitous than one particular purchase I made in Florence, of an anthology of poems previously owned by a member of ECLA's faculty. This has yet to be confirmed (if it were only a namesake), but I am not one to spoil a good mystery.

All in all, there is nothing quite like soaking up the bright Florentine sun.  


April 20, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY'11, USA)

A tourist here, a tourist there, there are tourists everywhere.

Before going to Florence, just like any other good tourist I researched in detail what the web had to offer about the Italian customs, you know, the little nifty tricks that could save one a euro or two. Some websites recommended having quick breakfasts, coffee and a bun with butter and jam, maybe a croissant with some Nutella. But most importantly, it was recommended to drink one's coffee at the counter because sitting down for a cup of cappuccino will cost one thrice as much, a mistake that I actually made during our visit to Urbino. After passing Assisi, Urbino, San Sepolcro, and Arezzo, we finally arrived in Florence and even after a ten minute ride to our hotel it was clear that Mary McCarthy really was right in her book The Stones of Florence, where she writes that Florence is a city of stone, a dark, manly town overfilled with banks, loan agencies and insurance companies.     

But Florence is much more than a big business center. It is an historical gem decorated with countless monumental cathedrals and churches, palaces, public houses and squares that were erected with Gothic or Romanesque architecture and built by Arnolfo di Cambio, Filippo Brunelleschi and many others. Florence is also a city that is infested with pests wearing cargo shorts, expensive cameras swinging around their necks, pointing and coyly smiling at the buttocks and genitals of different statues. Luckily for them, there is a lot to point and laugh at because numerous statues are dispersed throughout the city and next to the dozen or so statues located in the Piazza della Signoria, primarily a copy of Michelangelo's David positioned outside the Palazzo Vecchio and Baccio Bandinelli's Cacus and Heracles, one can find bronze statues in the Indipendenza Square depicting crucial historical figures for Italian unification such as Bettino Ricasoli, an Italian statesman and a fighter and Ubaldino Peruzzi, the first mayor of Florence. The statue of a sculptor, painter and musician Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio bridge is another must see in the sense that it cannot be avoided. Besides being located on the famous bridge, Cellini's statue is the point that is desired and fought for by many winking and lip licking street artists, primarily the Spanish ballad and 'No woman no cry' types of guitar soloists who, with the drops of sweat on their foreheads and unbuttoned shirts, woo the short-skirt-tourists who have come to Italy primed to be overawed by the fatal fragrance and romantic ways of handsome Italian men.   

Mary McCarthy writes that Florence is congested with obnoxious tourists. Innumerable groups of tourists lead by their tour guides who usually dress in bright colors and are holding a flag so that they could be more easily spotted in case a member of his/her group wanders off or is swept away by a wave of other identical tourist groups. The student tour groups are energetic and loud, measuring each other as they pass or happen to be in front of the same piece of art in a museum. They observe each other more than they observe the art work, probably thinking: "We could so take them in a fight." Professors and tour guides are behaving in a similar way, laughing at their competition's incompetence and waving their flags and pointers uncomfortably close to the noses of their foes. A group of older tourists bashfully glimpse at the younger groups, thinking: "We are so behind. We should have done this tour long ago."

Tourists that have decided to stroll the city on their own or with a friend take many pictures under the statues that they know nothing about. What is important is to have a piece of concrete evidence, pictures that show that they were in Florence, in a place that is of great historical importance, at least according to the art historians and other experts. They were there and they have pictures and key chains to prove it. And while the adults are taking pictures of monuments and beautiful architecture for the show-off purposes, two Italian teenage boys spot a young lady tourist with big breasts and politely ask her to take her picture next to a copy of Michelangelo's David. Two other young women count and fight over which one of them received more 'ciao bellas.' In the Piazza della Signoria the same songs play over and over again. They are the theme music from the movie Titanic and the other one is Andrea Bocelli singing Con te Partiro. A handful of tourists languidly close their eyes to fully enjoy these melodies while a thought pops into their heads: "I have heard this somewhere before, this is what Italians listen to, we are experiencing genuine Italian culture."

And then there was me, sitting in my white V-neck t-shirt, wearing my loafers without socks, writing into my notebook with leather covers. In Florence, tourist-superficiality really knows no end. After a week of visiting museums and seeing many perfect works of art that will prevent me from drawing anything in a long time out of feelings of shame and incompetence, I am happy to be at the ECLA quarters, relaxing and getting ready for more Renaissance. Florence was a great experience, with art, blisters and gelato and I wouldn't have it any other way.



ECLA's International Summer University, July 7th-August 12th

The International Summer University is ECLA's longest-established programme. Every year since its foundation the College has welcomed students from universities all over the world to participate in a residential programme exploring philosophy, literature, film, the history of art and of course the attractions of Berlin.

Appropriately for the year in which ECLA was recognized as a German university, the theme of the Summer University 2011 engages directly with the history of the place in which the College is located. ECLA is already part of the extraordinary historical layering characteristic of contemporary Berlin: its buildings are former embassies to the East German Communist state; its campus lies north of the palace and parkland of Berlin's Majakowskiring, where the elite of the Communist regime lived in luxurious seclusion from the rest of the city's population. ECLA's students are fully involved in the life of the city as a place which, with its distinctive neighbourhoods and unique architectural spaces, invites young people from across the globe to test their creativity.

The International Summer University 2011 focuses on the entity that brought Berlin into being as a European metropolis: Prussia, the only Power of nineteenth century Europe that no longer exists in any form. Many students of German philosophy in the English-speaking world are unaware that the great figures in this tradition defined their preoccupations in part in relationship to the demands of this unusual kingdom. One of the reasons 'Prussia' does not exist any longer-even as a regional designation-is that it came to be associated with the worst features of political order: unquestioning obedience and a cult of military discipline. This outcome was the more paradoxical for the fact that, in the eighteenth century, Prussia was a byword for 'enlightenment' and, in the nineteenth century, for progress in education and in the functioning of the state itself as an institution.

The core lectures and seminars of the ISU examine how Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Marx responded both to the promise and to the repressiveness of the Prussian state. We also examine the state's impact on literary figures, in particular the dramatist and storyteller Heinrich von Kleist-whose centenary is being marked in Germany this year-a restless genius who shot himself by the Wannsee lakes, on the outskirts of Berlin, in 1811.

The programme also includes an introduction to German art-especially the Romantic tradition made famous by the eerie landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich-and to the art and architecture of Berlin and its surroundings, in lectures and tours by the art historian Aya Soika.

Alongside the main section of the course, ISU students have the option of enrolling in a range of seminars on related topics given by ISU faculty. Max Whyte of the University of Chicago will give a seminar on the concept of the 'Sonderweg', or the idea that Prussia's political characteristics created the conditions for Nazism and the Third Reich in the twentieth century. Ulrike Wagner, of Columbia University, will give a seminar on Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, and the salon and cafe culture of Berlin's Jewish Enlightenment.

A full list of seminars, as well as the complete syllabus and schedule, can be found on the ISU section of the ECLA website. Application forms (also on the site) must be sent to ECLA by May 9th. All students applying are eligible to apply for financial aid; ECLA provides financial assistance up to the full cost of the summer programme, depending on the needs of the student.

For any queries about this year's ISU, please contact Catherine Toal:

For admissions enquiries, please contact Fiona Schnuettgen:

For financial aid enquiries, please contact Sara Galbaatar:


March 16, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, Pakistan)

The winter excursion came to an end with ECLA students dancing to the tune, "Neun und Neunzig Luftballons," with local Germans in a small town restaurant. The excursion was full of merriment and joy, partly because the students had gotten to know each other so well and partly because of the scenic beauty of the area.

The excursion took place right after fifth week of the term. Although most of the students decided not to join and the bus was half empty, the trip became one of the most memorable in the lives of many. The excursion took place in the Harz Mountains near a town called Braunlage. Many had planned to ski and sled but the weather did not allow for these activities. The excursion was small, simple and yet very much needed and rightly timed in the term.

The first evening Zoltan convinced one student out of twenty, to join him for a walk in the woods. The rest of us planned to go ice-skating. For someone who had never ice-skated ever before in her whole life, it was like learning to walk on the moon. Those who already knew how to skate danced to the beat of Black Eyed Peas and helped people like me to at least reach the center of the rink by the time everyone decided to leave. But if there was one thing which ice- skating taught me it was to balance myself. I didn't learn much about skates in general -- they still would haunt me, I guess, in times of falling down and crisis -- but I did learn that what would really matter is my ability to balance myself.

The ice-skating left us tired and hungry and we all headed back to our youth hostel at the top of a small hill. On our way, some of us ran into a very interesting German lady. It is very interesting how locals of small towns differ from people of bigger cities. The lady smelled us right away as tourists and started giving us some useful information about the city. After a while, we were all looking at each other, wishing and hoping that our German language skills would magically re-appear and we would understand each and every thing. But that lady didn't stop. Rather, there came a point when she told us about a place, verbally motioning, where we can find men and women with very delightful physical appearances. Her description was so explicit that we labeled her as the crazy lady of the town.

By the time we got back, we heard some people talking about a "naked peoples' festival" which was to take place the next day. On further inquiry, it was discovered that every year in this town there takes place a "naked sledging competition." And so the next day was pretty much planned, a long walk in the woods for those who wanted to go and then off to see naked people.

What happened during the festival can be summed up in two words, boring and overrated. Not only were the people sledging only topless -- which meant that the women stood out as being slightly more naked than the men -- but also the view was blocked by people. The competition was an excuse for many to party outside during the afternoon.

One of the most interesting and everlasting experiences was the long walk in the woods. The woods were all covered with snow. The trees were sliver and shone brightly in the clear sky. Only seven of us including Zoltan decided to go for the walk, as the Harz trek was to last for almost about five hours. The biggest moment of the walk was the climbing of the Achtermann Mountain. Difficult and tiring as that whole walk was, the way back in the cable car made things oh so memorable. As evening fell, it was hard to tell whether my legs carried my body or my body carried my legs, but an amazing feast at the restaurant did not stop me from dancing the night away.


March 16, 2011
Maria Khan

David Levine's class visited two extremely different and unique plays in Berlin. The first one was Nach Moskou and the other one was Othello. Both the visits were arranged as a part of the class "Acting and Authenticity." The actors/students were to study the acting skills and discuss what exactly they understood by acting. Questions such as "Does acting mean mimicking someone or does it mean being a different person in terms of selfhood?" were to be tackled after the theatre visits.

The visit to Nach Moskou was not only shocking but also was a nerve wracking experience for many people. Many students who were not students for the acting class left the theatre building in utter disgust during the intermission. The students in the acting course had to bear another two hours of shouting, yelling, and howling from the actors on stage.

The play was an adaptation of Chekov's Three Sisters. It was performed in German and actors kept on adding improvised lines and expression. Russian subtitles were displayed on the screen at the back. An interesting thing that appeared on stage was the intervention of a man with a camera, filming the actors' expressions closely and especially those actors who were a bit further away from the central action on stage.

By the end of the play, we left the hall with headaches and strained eyes. David Levine's optimism about this play seemed incongruous. In the class discussion that followed the play, many of us argued for the play being a burlesque attempt to portray Brechtian theatre, but we had not seen the play which was to come the next week: Othello

Everyone looked forward to an awe-inspiring production of Othello. The play started off with water on stage and an incredible ensemble starting off the first act of Desdemona and Othello initiating a love-making scene. Gradually other actors on stage took their places and came forward. As the play progressed, despite excellent lighting, acoustics, and set design one thing came out as a very big problem for the audience: the acting. Othello and Desdemona came forward with their rhetorical dialogues, wanting to impress the audience with their authenticity but hopelessly failed to do justice to their roles. Both of the actors sought the audience's attention with their constant wailing and desperate cries. They seemed over-directed and even misdirected. The over-acting on the parts of the actors turned the tragic parts into clearly comic ones. The most hilarious moment of the play came when Othello howled and wailed at his loss of trust in Desdemona and in respect the audience sat back and wondered at the stupidity of the actor when suddenly David Levine gave in and broke out into a loud laugh followed by the whole crowd.

The follow up discussion of Othello helped us understand several questions about acting and the idea of authenticity present in it. In Nach Moskaou, although the actors overdid the howling they did not lose contact with the audience. They seemed to inhabit their characters as themselves. In Othello, however, it was difficult for the audience to relate to the already distant themes of the play, especially because of the actors' failure to inhabit their characters. The two persons, the actor playing Othello and the character Othello were both visible on stage and made the experience utterly boring and disappointing for the audience. The acting class is still in search of the true meaning of acting and the quest for this answer is opening up new methods of acting and many more interesting revelations about the right find of acting.


March 9, 2011
Aurelia Cojocaru (1st year BA, Moldova)

Making "small steps" as the long, impatient queue at International Kino meandered, I had the feeling that they were "giant leaps"! And indeed, wasn't Berlinale a kind of lunar expedition for me, both into cinema (since all my life I had stubbornly passed it by) and into Berlin itself (in other words, Berlinale as Berlin-aller)? What's more, I had in mind, among other films, Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," that is, a true (or rather 3D?) expedition into the Chauvet Caves, in which one can see the oldest known cave paintings.

So, with all senses gaping, ready to see every detail hyperbolically, with the feeling that my life was entering a new order, ready, so to say, for the multivalent expedition, after one and a half hours I finally reached the blessed box office, with the feeling that I was going to buy the very ticket to the moon. And, suddenly, the verdict: sold-out. Yes, for all the screenings. For all the prices. For all the venues. I, the excited neophyte, was being left behind. I felt betrayed (as some would say, wasn't even the great adventure of Armstrong & Co. a clumsy film-hoax?). I had lost the "contest"… I looked around. I looked blank. I looked at the great screen on which the crowd was projecting all its hopes (next to the title of each film you could see a small semaphore indicating whether the tickets had been sold-out or not) and checked again my rumpled schedule. All this within seconds. After all, I told myself, no expedition without technical problems! So that… no, this text is not going to be "about nothing" (to cite Howard's Nemerov "Style").

The next on my list was the no less exciting "Utopians" by Zbigniew Bzymek (USA 2011), part of the Forum competition (i.e. experimental films, not designed for "mass consumption"). I remember that, after hours and hours of searching for the titles to watch at Berlinale, no other film had promised to be so psychedelic. And indeed, I was not mistaken.  "Utopians" ultimately gave me the feeling of weightlessness I had been looking for (enough to say that, on my way back to the dorms, getting off the tram at Platanenstrasse, I wandered for a couple of minutes around the street sign trying to understand where exactly I had "landed").  The ingredients were a truly minimalist cast and setting, a story of the hopelessness of humans in general, grounded in a medical story -- one of the three main characters (Lauren Hind as Maya) is a schizophrenic, and the fact that the film was partially inspired by a dog bite (unless the confession of the director himself, in the talk following the screening, was not a grotesque continuation of the script).

If it wouldn't be an offence to the aerial-abstract creation of Zbigniew Bzymek to talk about "plots," let me try to give a very brief summary: Maya (Lauren Hind) is released from medical observation, and meets again Zoe (Courtney Webster), her girlfriend who has recently come back from military service. They both seem to rely on the support of Zoe's father, Roger (Jim Fletcher), a failed Yoga teacher who gradually loses all of his students as the two young women destabilize his already unstable life (he seems to have no home; together with Zoe and Maya he camps in the woods). Things take a radical turn when Morris (Arthur French) asks Roger and co. to help him with the renovation of his house (so that the three temporarily move in, being "provisional masters" and, at some point simply barricading themselves, to the owner's desperation). Ironically, no "renovation" happens: the three seem to obsessively move tools and materials around, in a strange eternal postponing, as if "renovation" of the psyche and identity were more important. But, tragically, nothing changes (even if Zoe symbolically burns Maya's medical certificate).  On the contrary, now the three of them, in their triangular relationship, all seem to show signs of schizophrenia. Disparate elements "invading" the main plot(s) only make things more complicated (for instance, an aggressive dog that Roger rescues and brings to his Yoga class literally chases away his last students).       

All of this is rendered in a hallucinatory, perfectly non-linear manner (with parallelisms and breaks in the …collage, perhaps echoing psychoanalytic dream-theories). Rather than being a perfectly tightened canvas, the film deals with innumerable dead-ends, all the "threads" joined in an irresolvable, murderous Gordian knot: the disease itself. The only structuring "devices" are leitmotifs, such as isolation (Maya is isolated for medical care; the three lock themselves up in Morris' house; Zoe locks Roger in a "room" at the strange location of the Yoga classes) and height (one of the most important objects to be renovated is an old wooden staircase; a moment of tension is when Maya climbs a tree, escaping from Zoe; Roger's literally upside-down vision of things as he is in the "upward bow" Yoga position and sees his students coming to take their belongings). Beyond this, there are the dead ends, the real ambrosia of abstraction, the zero-gravity of cinema: the image of the dog biting the air stream of the vacuum cleaner with which Roger is trying to clean a brand-new but useless mat is simply my favorite.             

Before people left their seats, I tried to understand if ultimately there was something that had brought us together to see "Utopians" on that cold Saturday night. All my attempts at statistics failed. Perhaps it was just the need to make this expedition to an unreal / surreal world. Perhaps the title explains it all.


March 9, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY '11, USA)

A life without love, devotion to a person or a profession, and a life without delicious food and drink is a cold and gloomy one. The lives of Martina and Philippa, two sisters in Babette's Feast, are cold and gloomy. During the State of the World Week, ECLA students, faculty, as well as our guests, were treated to one of the most subtly disturbing films that I have seen in a long time.

While the film is definitely worthy of seeing, the story of Babette's Feast is depressing, and it is depressing precisely because it pretends to be otherwise. It is meant to be cute, hopeful, and ultimately a merry little film that induces warm and fuzzy feelings and makes our lives warm and fuzzy as well. The film follows the lives of two sisters who are born to a charismatic but nevertheless controlling minister in a desolate and secluded 19th century town, located on the Jutland coast of Denmark. After the father passes away, the strict and pious sisters continue to lead their father's little congregation and cook for the town's miserable elderly folk. Furthermore, they continue to reject an individual life. For them, singing-despite one of the sister's gift of a powerful voice-is time wasted, and romance taken to be just as useless. Both sisters are gorgeous and desired by many men some of whom even come to town and attend church liturgy just to steal a glance at these two profound beauties. But not even a charismatic military officer or a famous French opera singer succeeds in luring the sisters away from 'their' world and into another. Instead of love and fame, sisters devote themselves to God and to their small town and its peoples.

The lives of the sisters, as well as the lives of the people in the small town are dark and depressing-that is, until Babette, a mysterious French friend of a friend, barges in and injects the sisters and the village with a minute dose of vigor.  She spices up their porridges, flirts with the local store owner, and finally spends her lottery winnings on a feast for all. The feast helps the town's people enjoy themselves for at least one evening, but at the same time it serves as a reminder to them and to the viewer of all of their other grey and cheerless nights. The film does present the viewer with the ascetic gloom, self-sacrifice, and discarded ambitions during the first part of the film, but it disproportionately allocates its second part to a one night feast that serves as a comic portrayal of the essentially terrified and lonely souls. The town peoples' God-fearing austerity, lack of knowledge about anything outside of their community, and their excessive distress for allowing such a big deviation in their never-changing diet, hurls them into a state of paranoia in which they perceive Babette's unusual cuisine as the sinful work of wizardry. And while the town's peoples' collective anxiety and excessive prayers for God's intervention and guidance to help them remain unaltered after the consumption of Babette's odd potions induced pity in me, it caused many chuckles and laughter at what must have been perceived as old folk's cute and irrational beliefs and their overall silliness. 

The theme of old folk "cuteness" and "silliness" dominates the feast scene. The town folk's amazement and later joy over the imported goods-fine wines, a gigantic turtle, and roasted birds to mention a few-is manipulated to provide a subtly uncomfortable comic relief. Watching the "silly" and "cute" old people anxiously and tentatively approach the strange looking meals induced in me the same kinds of feelings I felt when I observed my grandmother try and fail to read my second grade geography book. And while my uncle thought that Baba's failed attempt to read such a simple text was worthy of stomach clutching, knee slapping laughter, I was very surprised and disturbed. Similarly, watching the town's folk guzzle the wine and food and failing to understand the military officer's proper dinner talk was a combination of "silly" and "cute", but sad and slightly disturbing as well. The silliest moment of them all and the apex of my unsettling emotions during the film happened in the scene when Lorens Löwenhielm, a prominent and handsome and now old and retired cavalry officer approaches Martina.  After 35 years of absence, he returns and whispers to her that she has been with him throughout these three and a half decades. But one could claim that Babette's Feast is not a movie about repressed Puritan girls regretting their lost opportunities at love and more importantly an individual life. However, Babette's Feast is disturbing not because it doesn't include a happy love story or an assertion of one's autonomy and will, but it is disturbing because it turns Martina and Philippa's harsh reality into "warm," "fuzzy," "silly," and "cute."

The townsfolk in Babette's Feast are goodhearted, sad, brainwashed, paranoid folk whose reality deserves pity and tears as much as the comments: "this movie made me happy," or "it gave me hope," or the most disturbing of all "it was so cute," comments I overheard far too often as the ECLA community exited the theatre. In the discussion following the film, only Professor Matthias Hurst noticed that the candle and the candle light held by one of the town's people at the end of the film was blown out by the wind, perhaps suggesting their return to the bleakness of the reality. After a few hours of joy and amazement, celebration of love and friendships, and a few "Hallelujahs," townsfolk returned to reality, their cold and lonely existence and we returned to ECLA. Happiness and joy was felt, but it was felt only for a few hours, the amount of time that is not enough to transform lonely and sad lives into warm and fuzzy ones.


"Alicia with iPhone" 2008 by Evan Baden

March 9, 2011
Logan Woods (PY '11, USA)

Pope John Paul II introduced the world to the "Pope-mobile."  Pope Benedict XVI's Church of the new millennium gives "mobile" new meaning.  Released only a few weeks ago, the app Confession: A Roman Catholic App, available for iPhones, iPods, and iPads, allows those who are equally devout to their smartphone as to their faith to take their penance on the go.

The app was not designed by the Catholic Church but it has received an official imprimatur from a bishop. This is like the Church's gold seal of approval. With its penchant for bureaucracy, this certification by the Church in effect endorses the new smartphone feature as a legitimate means of practicing the faith.

The Catholic Church has been in the process of updating its image lately.  The Pope is now on YouTube, and he recently issued a statement encouraging the flock to make use of modern technology for religious endeavors, albeit with a caveat of caution. "Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others," he said, "provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world." (Reuters, Jan. 24)

About the same time this app came out, Transmediale 2011 here in Berlin explored the very question of what it really means to live enclosed in a virtual world.  What happens to our definition of the body as we invest growing trust in the communicative ability of our interfaces?  Anyone who has had a video chat on Skype understands that uncanny feeling of somehow being simultaneously close to a person yet also incredibly alienated.  Increasingly, the interface is regarded as a body.  After momentarily forgetting the screen you're peering into, your sympathetic gaze is suddenly arrested by digital static. The face you've been speaking casually with brusquely becomes clumsy and unreal. Though the reality of your laptop seems suspended while you speak to the face before you, a rude reminder is issued when the face is robbed from you without warning. The presence you've been engrossed in is actually a mere whirring plastic conglomerate of elegantly concealed wires. You almost feel duped when you think about the fact that you've been so freely sharing sincere ideas and emotions with such a completely unfeeling inanimate object.  These fractures of experience, these rapid alternating moments of blindness, of punctum-where reality clicks from faith in a person to the deception of a machine-blur the margin of human and interface just as much as they starkly remind us of the distinction. The fact that we feel surprise when our interlocutor's face vanishes into the fog of cyberspace indicates precisely just how potent the effect of the illusion actually is.

So what happens when one's access to the divine is mediated by an iPhone?  For the record, the app is designed for the purpose of preparing a penitent for confession, not to act as a substitute for the actual ritual. The app provides users with a checklist of the Ten Commandments and a short list of questions related to each.  There is, however, a step-by-step guide through the confession ritual.  Though the Vatican does not share the following speculation, this ready‑made sacrament does enable someone susceptible to the Deadly Sin of Sloth and a penchant for self‑manipulation to perform a DIY faux‑confessional, with only the artificial company and oversight of their mobile device.

Two familiar factors have interestingly involved themselves in this new technology.  Both echo the concerns that bellowed long ago during the Reformation.  First, the dependence again on an interface-one that can be transported into the home-is reminiscent of the once violent debate over the use of icons.  A real magnet for controversy, though-and another issue that rings of familiarity-is the fact that there is a fee for this liturgical upgrade.  The app, available through iTunes, costs $1.99.  According to a February 9 article by Reuters, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi says explicitly that this is meant to help prepare for the sacrament of confession, not act as a substitute.  But despite the Vatican's desire to impose a comfortable distance from the app, their endorsement retains the implication that this new feature does help.  And this infallible opinion insinuates that those who can afford a 4G network might have a leg up on those who do not.  Suddenly, access to the elevator for that sought after condo in the sky becomes a bit more exclusive.  Though not as heinously as it did with the selling of Indulgences in the 15th century, the Catholic Church is again, to a lesser degree, charging admission for salvation.

We are not all religious people, but for those who do take refuge from life's gaping uncertainties by choosing to satiate a desire for the divine, this development poses many risks. The introduction of an app to liturgy in some ways reflects to the role of icons and the myriad other examples of our attempts to express the divine, but the trending completeness of virtuality in new technology indicates a significant departure from previous dilemmas.  This warrants more serious examination. 

From issues involving the intersection of phenomenology and technology to the intercession of the Church on Joe Catholic's right to an equal opportunity savior, the Confession app brings a lot of charged issues to light.  One has to ask then, in the face of all these concerns, is it possible for divine illumination to shine in the glow of an iPhone?  The horrifying probability is that the emergent conversion of an analogue divine to a digital one might hopelessly damage the resolution of its already frail image.


February 23, 2011
Bardhi Bakija (3rd year BA, Kosovo)

I am going to tell you a story of a young man who found love. (Or the other way around). Enchanted by Beauty, sponsored by a 'Valued' group of people who once pointed at the villa of history... (this is too dramatic, but I can see you falling for a love story...). Let me try it another way...

...Thinking back on my decision to come to Rome I am somewhat able to discern my infatuation with going south. Being an almost-Mediterranean myself, I was longing for something exotic, maybe something irrational and fantastic which always comes along with the idea of heat. Back then, the cloudiness of my thoughts was aided by my ECLA companions who, on a continual basis, would nourish in me the ideals of beauty engendered in the Italian soil. It was much more the magnitude of beauty - the dizzying, euphoric enchantment - shoved right into my face during our annual trips to Florence and Rome. It was not any concept or idea (I still do not know what Beauty means, and I guess that's what  makes me an ECLA student)...

... As it is proper to euphoria to be ephemeral, so it was with my enchantment (euphoria-ephemeral-enchantment!). I do not mean to say that my love for Art is gone; that would make me lifeless. It is just that this enchantment is bound to acquire form once the monsters creep in: history and values.

(longing for beauty - a degree in 'Value studies' - a city where history lives on triumphantly)

'Western civilization could have not been possible without Rome'. A friend of mine remarks that the sentence is too big and pretentious. Fine, but I remind him of the Roman law which most of us still abide to to this day (I couldn't help but think of Monty Python's hilarious scene from The Life of Brian when the leader of an anti-Roman revolutionary group in trying to incite them asks the fatal question "what have the Romans ever given to us?" Unfortunately for him, the group can come up with too many concrete positive examples ). Then, I go into a fury of fragmented arguments from popular knowledge in order to prove my point. I remind him of the concrete out of which all our cities will be built; a 'clientele system' - a kind of a 'primitive lobbying'. And then I ask, 'What about the Roman domus, isn't that like your father's villa in Ostia? Conscious of my friend's love for Shakespeare I ask: 'Could you imagine a Western civilization without Shakespeare? You know that he based five of his plays in ancient Rome?' (It is another matter that we wait for the tram every morning in Largo Argentina with an anonymous crowd, totally oblivious that we arere standing at the same spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-four times.)

To further diminish pretentiousness from my statement, I challenge his Grecophilia with my uprising Romophilia. We go for a stroll by the Tiber river. The spell of the pictoresque landscape lets fall on my friend  the rushed sentence that 'Rome was too militaristic to acquire the subtleties and refinements of Greek art'.

I am excited and I feel determined to pursue my crusade further. I decide to seduce my friend, utilizing my impeccable freshly-acquired culinary expertise of pasta, olives, vegetables and Parmigiano cheese. My friend is struggling between the given intellectual arrogance and an increasing love for humanity sponsored by that which Hemingway called 'the most civilized thing that ever existed on Earth'.

Now I am tempted to use another weapon: the joy of walking without destination in Rome. The fresh memory of having found myself amidst many hidden mysteries fueled my desire. I take my friend along partly driven by a malicious desire to persuade him and partly from a Kantian imperative to prove the universality of my taste.

The Medieval bridge of Ponte Sisto brings us to fancy Trastevere; we climb up the Gianicolo hill and pass some ugly fascist monuments to arrive at a beautiful Spanish church. In the courtyard we gaze at this ideal temple built by Bramante: the embodiment of Renaissance. My friend is disturbed  a little bit, as if something has dissolved. I sympathize wholehearedly.

We walk through Campo de Fiori - one of the oldest markets in Rome. The smell of basilico does not allow him to see the big bronze statue in the centre of the square. A gloomy figure of Giordano Bruno stands erect in the liveliest square of Rome. His looming presence remains since being burned in stacks at the same spot some centuries ago. We move on towards Piazza Navona and on to the Jewish Ghetto where we stop at the Church of Saint' Luis de Francois. A mass of people crowded in one corner of church is a sign that 'something important' is there: the chapel of St Matthew painted by Caravaggio.

Our next stop is Chiesa Sant' Antonio dei Portoghesi. The sounds of a Bach fugue clear our ears filled with the noise of motorinos. It is like traveling in a time-machine back in the days when music had a home; my friend however thought it was a pity that it was the preacher's home... Being overwhelmed by all these churches, it was the perfect timing to put forward another point: 'Do you know, my friend, that many saints came to die here, in Rome?'

As if carried in clouds we rush towards Villa Borghese where I thought it would be appropriate for my friend to speak to ducks, swans or have a conversation with the statues of Goethe, Pushkin, Byron or Raphael. We do not have time, but I remind my friend that fifteen museums  surround us in Villa Borghese.

Finally, I wanted to give my friend a sense of that which did not make it into history. I knew we had to go across the walls of Rome. We pass the huge wall built by Marcus Aurelius towards San Lorenzo and we join a public reading in the square. It is the famous 'What is to be done?' by Lenin and -befitting the idea of the book- we sit in a circle with Bolivians, Marochans, Bangladeshi, Russians and Italians. And to top it all off, the reading is given by a Canadian woman.

My friend is overwhelmed and I do not wish to bug him with any more arguments. We go home, and I remember preparing a playlist: Donizzeti, Puccini, and Rossini. Before saying good night my friend asks me what day it is tomorrow, and I myself cannot really decide whether today had been a long or a short day.


February 23, 2011
Blerina Fani (AY'11, Albania)
Photo by Josefina Capelle

Food to eat and food for thought on food and eating. Although a very tautological sentence, this statement truly summarizes this year's State of the World Week hosted by ECLA, where the word 'food' was put to use in its fullest sense. Although this topic seems to provide a variety of areas for discussion, I would like to focus my attention on food for thought. The past days have provided us with a lot of issues to think about, from the theoretical to the practical. Nevertheless, if one were to ask the question as to why we are discussing food in the first place, especially from the "What shall we eat?" point of view, then Monday's panel discussion with Roger Scruton on his essay "Eating our friends", which makes an illustration of the relationship between humans and animals in the context of the food chain, provides a good starting point for answering this question.

One of the last remarks made before the closing of the discussion was that animals- although not moral agents- are moral subjects. I particularly took note of such a statement because it seemed to incorporate the two main diverging arguments expressed during the discussion. The first being in favour of vegetarianism and against the purportedly unethical action of eating and killing an animal (especially one with which you have a bond), and the second being against vegetarianism, denying the presence of an ethical issue in the first place. As a member of the audience, however, I was not able to say whether I agreed with either side by the end of the discussion. I found myself in the middle, partially relating to both arguments.

Although I am not a vegetarian I would certainly feel nauseated should I kill and then eat an animal which I had raised myself and to which I showed some kind of affection. On the other hand, I do not shudder when my meal is composed of meat and for the most part do not give so much thought to its prior existence. From this perspective one can't help but wonder how do people become vegetarians in the first place? I don't think many of us have raised cows, pigs or chickens and therefore probably don't feel any particular obligation to these animals, but is this what it means to be a vegetarian? To feel empathy only for the lives of the animals we can relate to, or on the contrary to all animals? And if indeed to all animals, is that because of the characteristics of the animal's life as it is or because of the characteristics that we attribute to the life of the animal?

Going back to the idea mentioned earlier, about animals being moral subjects it would result that such feeling of empathy is a pure outcome of the projection of our own feelings onto the animals, but does this still mean that the emergence of such empathy is to make one a vegetarian or does it only make someone a selective meat eater? In fact it was interesting to see that the question as to why people choose to be vegetarians was never exactly answered during the discussion and the few arguments there were given inclined more towards aesthetic and sensory experiences. However one would think that if eating animals was ethically wrong this would have to be so right from the start, simultaneous with the aesthetic and sensory reactions. Not to mention that even this sense of morality is not an exclusive feeling of vegetarians but as I already mentioned can be found also in the so called "selective meat eater".  Therefore the underlying issue connecting both arguments seems to be that of the conditions of the animals' upbringing.  But should we limit this issue to the upbringing of the animal in relation to us, or just to the upbringing in general? At this point it seems that the likeliest answer would be the upbringing in general. Being a carnivore does not mean being indifferent to the life conditions of the animal. However, if it is humans that attribute morality to the life of the animal-- because in reality the latter's life is not composed of it-- then we should first try to look for this morality in ourselves.

Therefore the bigger question is that of "how shall we eat?" rather than "what shall we eat?".  Meat‑eaters will not become extinct, so the conversion to vegetarianism is not the answer, as it was pointed out during the discussion as well. Therefore the immediate matter is to try and work out with this reality, and refine the way we eat. It is a question of being educated on health and nourishment, learning what we need and on what amounts we need it. It is not the existence of carnivores that has brought about battery farms. It is the lack of awareness and excessive eating habits in a voracious consumer society. In fact, the question of education and information seems to be a leitmotif to all of the dilemmas and problems related to food consumption that were discussed throughout the week. Therefore instead of insisting in transmitting to one another firm, pre-developed dietary options or beliefs, the more effective approach would be that of dispensing and making information available so that everyone of us could reach its suitable diet on its own conviction. So, if there truly is a question of morality, I would say that it is first and foremost a question of morality towards ourselves, in the way we respect our own body and feed our appetite, because once we focus more on how we eat, the morality in what to eat cannot but follow.


February 23, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY'11, USA)

"Teacher: How was the Roman Empire cut in half?
Pupil: With a pair of Caesars!"

On Friday, 4th February, 2011, Professor Peter Heather of King's College London gave a lecture on the fall of Rome to  students of the 'Conservatism & Reaction' course. Professor Heather began by stating that the Roman, Ottoman and British empires have fallen; that the American empire is falling; and that according to this trend, the forthcoming Chinese Empire will also fall at some point.

"No empire lasts forever," Professor Heather said, and added that the fall of the Roman Empire continues to be an interesting and popular topic precisely because "empires are often ending."

How did something so immense and so long-standing like the Roman Empire lose its power? Professor Heather discussed various factors such as Christianity, monetary problems, military troubles, and the Barbarian invasion that scholars claim to be the causes of the Roman Empire's collapse. Furthermore, there are different models of thought that emphasize some of the just-mentioned factors while dismissing others.

Professor Heather first delineated the 'Old Model' claims about what instigated the Roman demise. Up until the 1960's, academic research mainly attributed the fall of the Roman Empire to the Roman Empire's internal turmoil, its deep structural trouble. Furthermore, the role of the Barbarians was not thought to be significant. Instead, they were thought to be what Glaucon was to Socrates, or what Storge is to Agape in C.S. Lewis's "Four Loves," or what Patricius was to St. Augustine, just mere supporting actors that mindlessly stand somewhere in the background, far away from where the true, significant action is taking place.

Mom says "Alcohol is your enemy" . . .  Jesus says "Love your enemy." Excessive alcohol destroys the brain, heart, liver, and lungs, and so did the Barbarians. If Romans had only thought of the alcohol logic, perhaps the Roman Empire would have lasted longer.

According to the Old Model, the rise of Christianity -- and particularly three specific aspects of it -- contributed to the weakening of the Roman Empire. First, there were the expensive churches and places of worship to be built. Second, the best and brightest Romans became Bishops and church personnel instead of strong political leaders. And finally, there was the Christian pacifism and teachings to love and care for one's neighbors. The love that Christian teachings are awash with also encompassed the love for one's enemy, and this colossal love turned out to be a weakness. According to the Old Model, Christians welcomed Barbarians for whom all-encompassing love was not the highest priority, and so the latter beat upon the former.

The Old model also highlights the third century economic problems, internal fighting, and numerous civil wars that weakened the empire and rendered it unable to defend itself from the Barbarian intrusion. During the third century, Rome was struck by hyperinflation and the Roman elite significantly decreased their donations to local towns. To protect itself from the intruders and to keep things in check, panic-stricken Rome was forced to expand its army. Roman soldiers were paid in silver coins and therefore to expand the army, more silver was needed. Unfortunately, the desired amount of silver was nonexistent and Roman leaders resorted to debasing silver-coins with other less valuable metals. Simply put, producing more debased silver coins to pay for imperial spending diluted the value of the silver coin. The consequence of this careless action was hyperinflation, which in any Era causes higher prices for goods and services.

A response to the third century crises was the formation and rise of bureaucracy. Professor Heather states that the creation of bureaucracy provided only a short-term solution and that many long-term problems came from it. For example, in 250AD, there were only 250 Senior Administrators for the entire Roman Empire. By the year 400, there were 6000 administrative positions that were held for 10 years. Additionally, there was a negative correlation between the rise of bureaucracy and the decline of the town council positions. Instead of serving on a town council, a position that was previously greatly respected and desired, fourth century land owners wanted to get away and become Imperial bureaucrats. A town council position that once rendered one power to control and direct resources was now in the hands of the central state. Therefore, instead of becoming a powerless member of a city council, land owners sought after the positions of an imperial bureaucrat or Honorati. A new way to be a dominant figure in the Roman Empire was to serve as an imperial bureaucrat for 10 years and then come back to one's town where one was given a power to sit on trials with governor/judge and help decide court rulings.

So far I have provided a synopsis of the Old Model's outlook on the causes of the Roman Empire's demise. Professor Heather stated that since the 1970s, the archeology of rural economy, that is the archeology of farms, revealed staggering new evidence that demonstrated that many of the old model's understandings were partially, or in some cases fully, erroneous.

Since 85% of the Roman economy was generated through agriculture, evidence found through the archeology of the rural economy is the optimal way to discover information about the Roman Empire. This new rural survey, which was conducted with the help of modern plows, machines that dig deep and bring to surface ancient artifacts and specific clay pots that were sold in Roman shops and can therefore be dated with great precision, produced a plethora of evidence that shows that the late Roman period (end of the fourth century), was the era of highest population, maximum activity, maximum productivity, and economic output.  Contrary to what was previously thought, Rome at the end of the fourth century was in fact awash with peasants who inhabited and worked in the countryside.  

There are many other examples, some contentious and others definitive, that assert that many other old model claims are erroneous. Professor Heather stated that neither the expense nor the loving nature of Christianity played a significant role in the fall of Rome. He states that expenditures for the erection of churches was more than compensated for with the destruction of pagan temples and profit that was generated through the sale of pagan relics. Furthermore, Professor Heather stated that Christians were always ready to wage wars and that Christianity was in fact an imperial realm. Bishops and church authorities did not remain within their domain. They were state figures who were involved in important state matters. In short, Christianity was a career path within the imperial system.

So what was the chief cause of Roman Empire's demise? According to Professor Heather, the answer revolves around the BARBARIANS. During the third century, Persia became a superpower that was able to compete with Romans in all areas, but particularly in warfare. Three Roman Emperors were killed by Persians and one was skinned and made into a wine drinking receptacle. The threat of Persia was so great that it took three generations of Romans to respond and reestablish the Eastern Frontier. The majority of assets and resources were directed toward stabilizing the Eastern Frontier and therefore very scanty amounts of supplies were left to be utilized in Western regions of the Roman Empire. The concentration of resources in one place made the rest of the Empire vulnerable to foreign intrusion.

There were Anglo-Saxons in Britain, Visigoths in Spain, and Vandals in North Africa but Professor Heather spoke mostly about the two large group invasions, one that took place from 360-380AD and another from 405-408AD. Neither group was big enough to individually conquer the Empire. Instead, their goal was simple: survive on Roman soil, increase in size, and control bits of the Roman Empire until they were able to take away additional bits. Wealth in the Roman Empire was based on land. Roman aristocrats that happened to live in the places that Barbarians settled were left with two choices: to flee and compromise their wealth or befriend Barbarian Kings and save their homes. This reduction and loss of property was followed by the reduction in tax revenue that the Roman Empire relied on in order to pay and retain an expensive army. Without a large army, the Roman Empire was ever more vulnerable and ever more heading towards its end.    

It was not a 'pair of Caesars' that were responsible for the Roman demise, and according to Professor Heather neither was the rise of Christianity nor the internal economic and political struggle. These two factors might have contributed to the fall of Rome but there were a number of other causes. Professor Heather emphasized the rise of Persia and the Barbarian invasion. The former rendered Rome vulnerable to the intruders by forcing it to allocate most of its resources to the Eastern frontier while the latter, slowly but surely, chipped away and conquered patches of Roman land. Dispersion of resources weakens an empire and renders it weak and vulnerable and it makes one wonder whether the current United States Empire is crumbling for the same reasons.


February 7, 2011
Logan Woods (PY '11, USA)

Shortly before the end of last term I investigated the three exhibits showing jointly at Kulturforum Berlin. Sadly, the show has just closed its doors, but for those who missed it, I'd like to guide you through the scopic metamorphosis I experienced from this compelling Austellung, because it left a truly extraordinary impression on me. Schrift als Bild (Scripture as Image: Calligraphy writing and art from the Middle Ages to Modern Times), Welt aus Schrift (World of Words: The 20th Century in Europe and the USA), and Einfach realitätsnäher! Leipziger Studenten zeigen Schrift  (Simply more realistic! Leipzig students show type), collectively surveyed nearly a thousand year's worth of inventive European and American typographic production. As a curatorial endeavor, it redefined the perception of the written word and reaffirmed its pervasive involvement across many cultural fields. Alhough the fact of the text's pervasiveness in visual culture may at first seem obvious, viewing the show reminded me just to what degree it is taken for granted.

Each exhibit presented a specific thesis. Schrift als Bild investigated the phenomenon of letters being composed either of mimetic images or of decorative patterning. The works of the exhibit -- including a gigantic print by Albrecht Dürer - are primarily liturgical illuminations of Germany. Many of these fine prints and drawings are so unbelievably intricate that their viewing could benefit from the use of a magnifying glass. An example of this is the genre of "micography," a style of portraiture that either defines shadow or contour exclusively by dense compositions of text. The letters building these images are sometimes no bigger than the tip of a pencil.

Reflection on Schrift als Bild got me thinking about the real meat of a symbol, or at least what it could be. I left with a more sensual interpretation of what our expression of writing entails. The stuff of letters - the intuited spirits within the ink - felt nearly biomorphic after observing this collection. If you recall the first time you gazed into a microscope and saw within the leaf of a tree the minuscule and normally invisible network of cells intermingling to construct a more complex structure, then you can imagine the similar feeling had after focusing on this compilation.

Now, from such a precise gaze, imagine zooming out. Tremendously. Welt aus Schrift was a salon of text-based media that is a nearly overwhelming visual assault. Housed in two separate rooms - each a massive space with ceilings reaching two stories high - this exhibit bombarded the viewer with text from every angle. From floor to ceiling on all four walls of each room were works of art, advertising, graphic design, and typography. After squinting through the Schrift als Bild exhibit, I felt myself shrink in this new cavern of brightly lit works. Most of the pieces, for example the original design of the taken-for-granted "Apotheke" logo we see dozens of times each day, were originally intended for the public sphere. As a consequence, every piece screamed for attention, effectively trumpeting a colorful yet silent cacophony through the hall. Having internalized the first exhibit, with that newly discovered sense for the substance and living element of text, this sensitivity infused itself into the interpretation of this visually loud space. The awareness cultivated from Schrift als Bild projected itself onto the walls of Welt aus Schrift and I practically felt gazed upon myself.

Finally, Einfach realitätsnäher! topped off the show with creative trends in contemporary typography. After moving through dramatically different spaces and histories, the more or less neutral space that houses this exhibit let the work speak for itself. It is here that a glimpse was caught of the future of image and text, and how the two will continue to mingle productively.

When observed holistically, the three exhibits speak of the ingenuity expressed via text by Western culture and document the impressions this vision has made upon the cultural landscape. Far from being provided with a simplistic, linear, historical survey of alphabets, visitors were presented with works from German Biblical illuminations from the Middle Ages, prints from the English Arts movement in the late 19 Century, typographic creations of Art Nouveau and early Modernism, Dada and the propaganda media of the 30s and 40s, paintings, prints and collages from the Pop and Fluxus movements, concrete poetry, tattoos and digital media. What may sound like a visual deluge of dissonance actually articulated - in a beautifully concerted composition - a very particular subject in visual culture: the unique and sometimes vague margin between an image and a symbol.

When I left the gallery doors, my perspective of the metropolitan world I've walked through was unquestionably changed. The triad of exhibitions worked conversationally to persuade me into relating differently to the text that surrounds me daily.

After experiencing this visceral, dimension-based tour through semiotics, I left with a hyper-sensitivity to the simple act of opening a book, or peering down the sign-littered street. The show taught me how to imagine what it means to investigate the even emotional material of a single letter. Congrats to Kulturforum on an excellent show.

February 7, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY '11, USA)

There are many practical benefits that come along with nudism. For example, a nudist never has to worry about staining one's clothes, a nudist never has to bother holding out his hand to see if it has started to rain, aesthetically unpleasing tan lines are never a problem, and for a nudist the toughest question in any person's life ("what to wear?") is seldom asked.

SPOK is the area health and fitness centre whose facilities are regularly used by ECLA students. After working out, many students leave their sweaty and sticky clothes in their lockers and they enter the SPOK sauna to recover and restore their good health through additional sweating and the purging of diseases and toxins. A visit to the SPOK sauna renders many health dividends, but it is also a place where extreme discrimination takes place. A SPOK sauna is where even the tiniest article of modesty-ensuring clothing is severely frowned upon. "Those who don't accept the buff aren't tough enough," is the tacit and often explicit rule of a SPOK sauna.

Wearing a swimsuit in the SPOK sauna is like consuming pizza and vodka at the same time. Neither of these two should ever be mixed because they often lead to tears and embarrassment. Furthermore, if you enter a SPOK sauna in your swimsuit you'll be instantly be labeled as squeamish and narrow-minded. And if coy smirks and furtive glances of your sauna-mates don't pulverize you into a pulp of shivering shame, chances are that the SPOK authorities will come to inform you of the error of your ways, saying that "you must take your shorts off."     

"Why must I take my shorts off?" is never a good question to ask in a sauna. Not only will it incite laughter, but it might also result in a lengthy lesson on why nakedness is healthy. Naked people in public places know why they are naked. They will tell you that the Ancient Greeks regularly flung away their restrictive armors so that they could stretch and wrestle in the buff. They knew that clothes were a turf conducive for the development of countless kinds of bacteria and fungi. They - the SPOK sauna users and the Ancient Greeks - were both aware of the positive correlation between the amount of clothes one wore and the number of urinary tract infections. And perhaps the most important benefit that nudity brought not only to the Ancient Greeks but to nudists from any age, including today, is that nudity increases acceptance of one's body and therefore acceptance of oneself (no wonder Achilles fought and Socrates thought with such confidence).   

On the other end of the spectrum there is me. Nudity, especially the nakedness of strangers, has never boosted my self-esteem. On the contrary, this subject has often made me skip my meals and has been the theme of my most gruesome nightmares. My uneasiness with nudity can be traced back to an incident that occurred when I was twelve years old. At that time I was my neighborhood's milk boy and for very low pay my task was to distribute bottles of milk to elderly people. This fiscal injustice was cause for the fierce and unforgettable protests by the milk boys throughout my city that resulted in the famed Gacko milk boy union, and oddly enough had significant repercussions on nudist rights.

It all started on a mild and benign spring morning. It was a quick shift of work that day and only one bottle stood in my way to freedom. Since most of the people were not at home when I brought their milk, I never rang the bell, nor did I knock before entering customers' homes. My boss, the evil Boss Slobodan, (who also often loved to work shirtless), gave me the keys to all of the houses I delivered to. My last stop on my rout was the Janjic Household that consisted of only Mr. Janjic and his overweight cat that drank the milk I delivered. I entered Mr. Janjic's apartment and walked into the kitchen. When I got there, Mr. Janjic was standing in front of the fridge, butt-naked, holding yesterday's empty bottle of milk in his right hand and a sandwich in his left. He was startled. I was startled. He shouted. I shouted. He covered his private parts with the empty (see-through but magnifying) bottle of milk and I covered my eyes with my hands, dropping and breaking the new bottle of milk on the floor. "I wish I had my shorts on," is all that Mr. Janjic said before he threw me out of his house.

"I wish I had my shorts on," is exactly what I thought to myself when I ventured into the SPOK sauna. "I wish that we all had our shorts on," was my second thought. "Shorts are great," was my third thought. "Why must I take my shorts off?" is the question that I will ask next time I am told to strip down in front of strangers at SPOK. I will ask this question and then I will tell the SPOK authorities about my milk boy days and about the incident with Mr. Janjic, and they will surely see in their hearts the unforeseen damage their policies have caused on the injured souls of the anti-nude minority. Viva la revoluciˇn.

February 7, 2011

After spending week three deliberating on various part of the Bible for the AY/BA1 core course on Forms of Love, we waded deeper into the ocean of Christian ideals by reading St. Augustine's Confessions. Acting as an intellectual lifeguard of sorts, Johannes Zachhuber was our guest lecturer for Monday. He studied theology in Rostock, Berlin and at Oxford, where he received his doctorate. He then went on to teach at Humboldt University before taking up his current position at Trinity College, Dublin.

The first question Dr. Zachhuber asked was about why we talk about the history of love and why we suppose that love should have a history at all. It would seem more appropriate for things less abstract like a people or a country to have histories. However, one way of looking at history is to regard it in the light of a genealogy of ideas. Things like freedom, power, and love only exist insofar as people continue to have ideas about them.  It cannot be disregarded that there is a subtle interaction between the reality of a phenomenon and paradigms people attach to it and thus, the lecturer reminded us, it is important to remember that St. Augustine's society affected where he decided to look for love.

The reason why Augustine is central to an understanding of Christianity is because he is a theologian who reflected on the massive change in Christianity to the point that his ideas became quite dominant. The fundamental theme of his ruminations on the subject was that love's desire for what attracts it is what deserves to be loved. The supreme good is ultimately God and God should therefore love his own being without heeding humankind's needs.

One could say though, that the love of the New Testament is different from Greek Eros. There has been speculation that this is a perverse idea because love always will be desire and once you desire what's superior, desiring that which is weaker is not that far behind (and this can be seen in the larger concept of God loving the world).

People who argue against Christianity usually see this quality of being able to love as human conflicting with the idea of God as being a self-sufficient and unalterable being. Conversely a defense of Christianity states that Christian love is not Eros but is about a person who possesses some good and out of their own abundance decides to share it with others. It now makes sense that God should out of the fullness of his being want to give away part of it.  This desire to give without seeking reciprocation is the essence of agape. One must wonder if this kind of love ever becomes condescending in assuming the figurative king-subject shape. If so, the object of love must become insignificant and love does not remain any longer about giving.

An intriguing nuance of the subject was how erotic love played into the equation. The love of the New Testament seemed detached from sexuality and the only mention of it came in the Old Testament's Song of Songs where the language of erotic love is applied to the relationship between God and mankind and then Jesus and the Church.

Dr. Zachhuber presented a few theses about love: First, that love is something we desire in itself and not as a means; second, that the fundamental structure of desire is present in all humans and that this desire will always seek the Good that is God (Desire though, has to be tended towards what is good or it will prove destructive.); third, that only what is the supreme good can be fully and justifiably loved and thus the only true love is for God. Things lower on the hierarchy like material goods should not be desired in themselves and only used but never loved.

The lecturer returned to St. Augustine and emphasized that his notion of love was essentially Platonic with two modifications. The first is that how we think of God when we desire Him is important. Augustine's view of humanity as 'fallen' causes this intrinsic desire to become much more complicated because our true self is tangled up in a messy combination of beings which have been perverted by the Fall. The second is that the will is influenced by forces other than the intellect so that when we agree to something, we may not necessarily want it. Augustine is largely responsible for highlighting the tension between sexuality and Christianity. Sexuality is singled out at the area where desire is the most ambiguous and the Self at the peak of conflict.

The lecturer proceeded to point out that Augustine's concept of love was criticized for being too other-worldly. Hannah Arendt, for instance, posits that the idea of all love as love for God becomes detached from social necessities and directs love away practicality. There must be some kind of love for a neighbor without it being a reflection of God.

Dr. Zachhuber then concluded on a thought-provoking note by asking us to think of Augustine as someone who might help us contemplate love in a time when the highest salary and prettiest clothes make the value of life when ultimately that may not be the kind of life one might want to live. Conducted in a manner that was wonderfully intellectual and witty, the lecture brightened our Monday morning by framing the discussions we would have for the rest of the week holistically and informatively. We hope to see Dr. Zachhuber make a return to ECLA again!

January 25, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY '11, USA)

During the Christmas break, our Dean Peter Hajnal proposed a trip to Erika Hess Eisstadion Ice Rink as a holiday gift to the students who refused to desert ECLA's stronghold during the winter break. All of us high-fived each other in excitement and the impatient wait for our ice-skating excursion began.   

A few days of waiting for the eagerly anticipated Wednesday afternoon allowed me to fully prepare, both physically and mentally, for my first face-off with an ice rink. While waiting for our excursion I watched countless figure-skating performances and I learned all of the important phrases such as: "Don't land that Triple Lutz Double Toe so close to the wall," and "You need to improve your Toe Pick Jump Takeoff." Additionally, I researched in minute detail all of the important ice-skating tricks and techniques. For instance, I carefully studied and memorized the following questions: "How does one turn when one is moving really fast," and "when one jumps and spins, is it better to take off and land on one's dominant leg?" questions that unfortunately would have absolutely no use for me when I stepped onto the ice.

Even before stepping onto that ominous looking ice, I discovered that ice-skating is a daunting diversion. For example, putting on the ice skates is a far greater and more grueling struggle than it would appear. It took fifteen minutes, a few liters of sweat, a number of cuts and bruises, and a tear or two for me to put the ice-skates on my feet. And after this initial exhausting battle, I was confronted with a huge rink of ice, the arch-nemesis of balance. After thirty minutes of only managing to move backwards a decimeter or two, I regretted not proceeding with my initial plan of purchasing and wearing a spandex shirt on which it said: "Who needs a triple Axel when you are this adorable?"

However, the highlight of our ice-skating excursion was a fellow classmate Aung Ko Ko Latt whose skating style and technique was not only aesthetically pleasing but philosophical as well. Just like me, Aung had never skated before, but unlike my spineless attempt to patiently and prudently learn how to skate, Aung literally dived into the unfamiliar.      

Aung's bold character, his refusal to conform to the orthodox way of skating, and his eccentric ice-skating philosophy served as palpable and concrete evidence of Aung's individuality, of his strong will to devise his own meaning. To be an average skater, to blindly follow the conventions of ice-skating with nothing but an ambition to survive and complete a full circle was not enough for Aung. Instead, Aung was a Napoleon on ice, someone who transcended the established rules, a person whose unique character exempted him from ice-rink regulations that applied to everyone else.

Instead of following the usual counterclockwise movement, Aung (sometimes deliberately but often because of his inexperience) skated clockwise, asserting his will to power like a true existentialist. And when Aung was satiated with skating, he practiced falling. With full speed, he would skate towards the middle of the rink and fall, an act that looked to be the most fun that one can have and an act that I would never dare to try. 

For Friedrich Nietzsche, it is absurd to look for a stable and permanent truth in the world that is ever-changing. What one must do is remain as flexible as possible and to try to look at the world from various perspectives. The truth should be perceived as if it was a three-dimensional piece of art. One should view it and analyze it from many different perspectives. One should walk in front of it, walk around it.  One should squat and see it from a lower position. The more perspectives one can attain the better. Flux instead of fixity is what Nietzsche declares. The search for stability stifles creativity. Stability is the language of the "herd," because it provides one with a sense of security that is desperately sought after. Nietzsche urges to embrace the flux and abolish fixity, and this maxim is precisely the maxim of Aung Ko Ko Latt's skating style.

So next time you go ice-skating, disregard the convention (but don't get arrested) and try something different.

January 25, 2011

Week Two of the winter term kicked off with a discussion of the Forms of Love. To enhance our perspective on the topic, Craig Williams, who studied Classics at Yale University and is the author of Roman Homosexuality and Reading Roman Friendship (forthcoming), as well as various articles and reviews on Latin poetry and Roman culture, was the man chosen for the job.  The agenda for the day was Eros and love in relation to friendship in poetry. Williams focused on the conjunction (whether copulative or comparative) of Eros and friendship, a tension that has never really been resolved in most languages.

'Love and friendship' has shaped a whole scholarly industry. In the tradition of friendship as a form of love, a sharp distinction has been drawn between love between friends and erotic love. We were asked to consider Eve Segwick's term 'homosocial,' which ponders the idea of bonding between two similar individuals regardless of whether or not Eros is present.  Segwick's notion adds a nuance to the existing attempts to divide Eros and friendship.

Even so, it was impossible to implement this "neurosis" of separating the two in the Roman Age, since homosexuality was common.  Amor (love) and Amicitia (friendship) found themselves constantly interwoven. Latin literary tradition allowed for a strong elevation of male-male relationships, depicted as the highest and most valued of loves. One of the most prominent Latin writers, Cicero wrote an essay on friendship in 44 BC where nobles gather and ask why two men are drawn together in friendship. The central speaker of this essay concluded that 'the immortal gods have given humanity nothing better' (than this bond), putting friendship before everything.

This connection between friends has even been linked to nature as in Manilius' Astronomica, which seems to imply that the conjunction of the stars has led to people being bonded and this lends the relationship a higher importance. Others like Montaigne have even seen friends as each other's alter egos, as one soul split into two bodies. This relationship, through time, was persistently cast in terms of the bond between two men.

A closer look at the assigned texts for the day led to a discussion of Catallus' use of language, which produced warm evocations of the joys of friendship and how often the use of different words, no matter how close they sound, will take the reader into ambiguous realms where the lines between the erotic and the platonic blur.

The lecturer took us through the trials and tribulations of love and friendship and ended on a final contemplation of the application of the language of Eros to friendship and vice versa. Nevertheless, it can be said for sure, that Eros and friendship share a dialectical affiliation.

Unfortunately, the shortage of time designated to the lecture coupled with our unfamiliarity with the Latin tradition, failed to give us a deep enough understanding of the essence of the poetry.  Regardless, the lecture was definitely a thought-provoking initiation into new territory.  One must dare to hope that a deeper exploration of it will be part of our course of study this term.

January 25, 2011
Emma Hovi (2nd year BA, Finland)

When the opening meeting of the ECLA Politics Club was announced, it did not take long before someone came up to me and suspiciously inquired whether the Politics Club was a cheesy debate club. I found this pretty funny and guaranteed the person in question that this was not the case. "Good," she said, "then I'll be there."

Fair enough I thought, for who would possibly want to join a club devoted to banal platitudes and pretentious rhetoric? There is an annoying superabundance of that stuff anyway. To be perfectly honest, I also think that Politics Club is a rather poor label. The almost snotty implications of the word club are enough to lead anyone slightly astray.

What, then, is the ECLA Politics Club all about? Well, the real question is not what the politics club is, but what one makes of it. The Politics Club is very much in its genesis.

The idea of a political forum outside the classroom has been nurtured by several ECLA generations. Yet the transition from idea to practice happened only last year, fueled by a keen group of students and faculty.

At this time, substantial groundwork was carried out as the founders of the Politics Club searched for possible ways of running a forum that would satisfy ECLA students' eagerness to more seriously engage in contemporary politics. The Club had to work out how to confront the myriad opportunities for learning and contribution presented in news, local political circles of Berlin, and its members' own individual experiences. In this process, sketches of both purpose and realization were conceived. Eventually, a few trips to lectures and talks in the city were organized and a few guest speakers were invited to host sessions on campus. A few, yet determined first steps.

As such, the Club is definitely still just warming up. What the present protagonists of the Politics Club have inherited from previous years is not so much a set of fixed patterns of organization and activity as a zeal accompanied by a possible design. It was on the grounds of this modest history that a few handfuls of curious ECLA-dwellers gathered in early November to negotiate the heritage and set out new paths for the Politics Club under the guidance of Faculty member Katalin Makkai.

"We want the Politics Club to be a student-run forum in which, for example, outside speakers are invited to come discuss with the community current and pressing political matters, and in general to be a place where members of the ECLA community can discuss together matters of politics in theory and practice," Makkai said as people made their way out of the lecture hall.

This is, I think, a fair articulation of the prevailing feeling of the crowd: the Club will exist only if and when the need for it is felt and for as long as there are student forces to keep it running.

Yet the real question that stared us in the face was that of where to direct our efforts. What are we interested in? Now we know that democracy can be time-consuming and therefore amusingly nerve-wracking, even at its best. Indeed, we would have managed to be far more efficient had we asked ourselves what we were not interested in.  Poor Katalin had a rather hard time taking note of all of the suggestions that flung all over the place. Eventually, we had before us an eclectic spectrum ranging from civil disobedience to urban gentrification. After a vote however, we singled out Politics and Media and Immigration to be our leading motifs for the present academic year. 

To prevent our enthusiastic minds from falling prey to that obnoxious heedlessness that occasionally hits even the best of us, we decided to act rapidly and keep up the work. We invited Dr. Andrea Despot, deputy director of the European Academy in Berlin, to think through issues of Europeanization and European Identity together with us on the first evening of December 2010. After the session, I caught Andrea as she was snacking on grapes and cheese, chatting with a handful of students. I asked her why Europe is important to her in the first place.

"Speaking on behalf of the European community," Dr. Despot said. "Europe is everywhere. Whether we recognize it or not, it has an effect on all of us . . . what we eat, the air we breathe. Our age is not one of nation states, but of more complex political organization. The decisions which shape our every-day life are no longer made on a national level only, but are most often negotiated in Brussels. It is, I think, worthwhile to raise public awareness of this connection in order to enable and encourage participation in the political project of Europe."

Given her response, I asked her to give me a clearer sense of what the European Academy of Berlin is all about.

"As an independent organization providing political guidance in European affairs,"she said, "we provide information and training for multipliers such as teachers and other pedagogues. We are not out there to declare,'Europe is great!' but to offer a chance for the interested public to engage in European matters. We work with creating open spaces where people can take part in dialogue, such as seminars, workshops, and simulation-games."

Certainly,  had she entered the ECLA lecture hall only to declare the illustriousness of Europe, Dr. Despot would have been in trouble. Her audience harbored some serious skepticism about the European project and its present undertakings. Enthusiasm alone would not be enough to respond to this skepticism.

ECLA students and faculty questioned even the existence of that which, in common language and political discourse, is referred to as "Europeanization." What exactly is meant by Europeanization?  In response to these confusions, Dr. Despot offered a model in which "Europeanization" involves processes of uploading and downloading.  The result of these two distinct processes is a Europe which serves as a melting pot for certain ideas, norms and values.

However, Europeanization could and should also be considered an identity issue. We might not be willing to claim that there exists, in the minds of the citizens of the European continent, a common European identity. Still, we need to take note of the fact that there are strivings towards the creation of such a thing - even if we refuse to acknowledge it as something real.

Thus understood, Europeanization is no trouble-free business. How, for example, are these processes to be managed without harming the restoration of post-conflict societies? How are socialist experiences and various experiences of democracy to be accounted for in the building of a European identity?

These are questions, Dr. Despot argued, which need to be considered within yet a broader framework: How are ideas, norms, and values generated by the Europeanization processes to be translated into domestic contexts marked by unique cultural and historical parameters? In light of these questions, Dr. Despot made the case that successful Europeanization must consist in adoption, appropriation, and re-interpretation. 

Still, there remained voices in the crowd who expressed concerns about the articulation and validation of the project of Europe being in some sense hollow, or lacking in content. If, as we are asked to believe, there really is substance to Europeanization, why do we have a hard time seeing it? Revolving around this question, much was said about whether or not European citizens and governments actually feel and act as if they do, so to speak, sit in the same boat. If so, the value-structure seems nevertheless to be constituent of values that are not necessarily unique to the EU. What then is the difference between the European Union and, say, the US? 

Dr. Despot, while inviting us to think of the EU within the framework of global processes of alliance building, willingly granted that there is indeed a need to find a new raison d'ŕtre, specifically for the European project as such. Offering a personal opinion on this matter, she made the claim that at present Europe needs to isolate and address the issue of securing social peace. These thoughts were accompanied with a request for patience of behalf of those who doubt the actual contents of Europeanization.  Europeanization is happening, but slowly.

As much as we are entitled to demand evidence for the existence of a process that closely knits together ideas, norms, and values within Europe, we need to remember that these things are not always immediately evident or tangible. With these words, which are in no way unfamiliar to us, we still felt it was time to round off and re-direct the focus of our analytical minds to the contemplation of the food and drink waiting for us outside the lecture hall.  

Christmas Break came and went, and so did most of the students. To the delight of many of us, the Politics Club stubbornly squeezed itself onto the agenda of the very first week of classes with a screening of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. I am not going to report on this particular film screening - not because this event was wholly undramatic (it was not), but because I feel that reporting on it would ridicule the very value of news-reporting itself.  You will surely understand what I mean here if you are familiar with the documentary in question.

Be that as it may, it still remains for us to see where our Club is heading and how. All I know is that my Club colleagues from last year would be happy to see their brain child being so well taken care of.

January 14, 2011
Maria Khan (AY '11, Pakistan)

The very idea of a Jewish Museum in Berlin speaks for the change in the global political and social scenario in the past fifty years. A visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin by ECLA students was arranged by Ryan Plumley, primarily for the "What is History?" class. The Museum visit was one of the most interesting museum visits for many of us, especially for those who had only read about the Holocaust in books or had seen movies based on it.

The Jewish Museum starts with an airport-style security check, which instills 21st-century anxieties of terrorism, that seem to set a tone fitting for a place that meditates on the terrorism that besieged countless communities during the Second World War. Each and every person is asked to leave all belongings, even eatables, at the checkpoint, and in some slight way this incidentally mimics the anxiety instilled in many Jewish communities across Europe. The conflict, although it is over on the surface, can still be felt through the danger that the community itself feels. Or many people would simply say that old fears die hard.

The most amazing thing about the Jewish museum was the architecture of the museum. The museum was designed without any objects and only the architecture itself was to convey and narrate the history of the German Jews. The New York architect Daniel Libeskind designed the exterior, the lower level, which is interestingly the entrance to the first exhibition of the museum, as well as the ground floor. The basement had two different planes, one of the planes leading towards the isle of the Holocaust and ending in the tower of the Holocaust. One of the last planes opens up a new avenue in History, the present relationship between Germans and Jews. This plane opens in the Garden of Memory where the plants grow around the inkling memorial. One can now see people taking snapshots, loudly chatting and some trying to impress their dates with their knowledge of history, walking through the memorial and the long shoots of plants. Here one can see a new door that has opened in the relationship between two communities, a relationship of love and mistrust at the same time.

The floors above were very intricately divided in several different parts, one specifically designed for the exhibitions and the other to cover the history of the Jews in Europe, from Middle Ages to the present. One of the most harrowing parts of the museum was the long-term temporary exhibit Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) put forth by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman. In a dark, dingy corner of the museum, an angular deep space had been left vacant and now has a haunting carpet of rusted, round steel faces. The whole place echoed of clinking and clanking sounds as people gingerly walked on top of the thousands of faces. The very feeling of placing one's feet on these faces- the feeling that hundreds and thousands and millions of people died and their faces and there identities remain unknown- sends a chill down one's spine. The piece is dedicated not only to the victims of the Holocaust, but all innocent victims of war.

Another part of the museum that actually takes the visitor back in history is the Holocaust tower. It is hard to imagine though what it would be like in real life, but the Holocaust tower is still a good reminder of one of the darkest incidents in human history. The tower opens in the aisle of the Holocaust where pictures and different memory icons are visible and displayed. At the end of the tower it becomes absolutely dark and then a huge black door allows you to enter the tower. One feels the darkness and the walls closing in, through which you can still feel the voices of the dying people. The tower is dark and yet at the same time a ray of light is allowed to enter from one part of the wall, intuitively suggesting that perhaps "there is light at the end of every tunnel."

January 14, 2011
Riana Betzler (AY'11, USA)

Two days after New Years, my collie Marley and I strolled into the dog park on Madison Avenue in New York.  She, with her shiny sable coat, a striking resemblance to Lassie, and joyful demeanor, attracts a lot of attention.  As I let her loose to play with the other dogs, a dog-walker approached me and asked, "Is that a collie?  A full collie?"  She sounded surprised.  You don't see many collies in the city. 

I sat down on one of the benches off to the side of the park.  Marley pranced over to me and lovingly wiggled her body against my knees.  I smiled at her.  Her sheer delight at being alive and outside on a bright, brisk January day washed over me, contagious. Then she bolted off, eager to greet the other dogs.  She sniffed their noses and their butts, leaned in teasingly close on her front haunches -- tail wagging high in the air -- and then hopped backward only to skip coyly away. This was her friendly dance, the dance that said, "Come play with me!" far more expansively than my words ever could. 

A few feet away from me, another dog-walker surveyed the scene. He held three leashes in his hand and monitored the behavior not only of his own charges, but of all of the dogs present. He clearly knew many of them. He was a regular.

He also seemed to be simultaneously at the centre of a number of conversations. In his thick Bronx accent, he "chatted up" the "girlfriend" who had just arrived (a woman who, I later found out, was not actually his girlfriend), talked to the man to my left about the structure of roofs and how best to keep mice out of them, and commented to another man across the park about the behavior of the dogs. 

At first, I found all of this very difficult to follow.  I hesitated to say anything myself, unsure of whether he was talking to me and where to jump in. But after only a few minutes, the three threads of conversation fused together. We soon found ourselves talking about the "girlfriend's" sex life (she desperately needed to get laid, she confessed immediately), cognitive psychology, the dogs, mice in roofs, and the spectrum running from masculinity to femininity. Needless to say, the conversation was one of the most varied I've had in awhile. 

Having sensed my initial hesitation to join in, the man with the three leashes asked me where I was from. 

            "New York," I replied, "But I live in Berlin."

            "So you've been away for awhile then," he observed. 

            "Yeah, kind of," I agreed, frowning puzzledly.

I didn't think that I had been away for that long, but I certainly did feel out of practice when it came to engaging in spontaneous conversation.  I wasn't sure where my hesitance was coming from.

Having random conversations on the street has always been part of my life in New York. I find myself talking to people in cafes, in parks, while in line at the grocery store, and while waiting at the crosswalk. I am not always the initiator of these conversations. I don't consider myself to be an especially garrulous or assertive person. When I was a young child, I was actually quite shy. But I deeply enjoy listening to people, hearing their stories and sharing mine. Perhaps this leads people to perceive in me a certain openness, despite my quiet countenance. And of course, the presence of my cheerful dog Marley helps to invite conversation. 

These random street conversations are not present in my life in Berlin. I have a lot of great late-night discussions with ECLA students in the kitchen. But sustained spontaneous conversation outside ECLA happens only rarely. I can think of only two occasions off hand. Once, I was sitting in a cafe in Prenzlauer Berg when the cafe owner struck up conversation with me. Another time, when I was on the bus to the airport, I got to talking with a Humboldt University student from Turkey.

Part of the difficulty is the language barrier. I hardly speak any German and I feel quite rude presuming that the German people around me speak English. Thus, I often keep my mouth shut unless I absolutely have to ask someone a question. And when I do finally ask, either in broken German or timid English, I find that the interaction ends immediately. Conversation does not take root. 

There might also be cultural differences at work. Perhaps Berliners are just less likely than New Yorkers to strike up random conversations. Even if I spoke fluent German, I might be considered totally weird for trying to talk to a stranger on the street. I have a hard time telling whether these cultural differences are present or not, given that my sparse knowledge of German also prevents me from eavesdropping on others' interactions.

I didn't realize until I left New York just how important it is for me to have spontaneous interaction with people in my community. When I walk around Berlin, I feel distanced from my environment. This distance makes it easier to retreat into my own world of thought and observation.  It makes it easier to focus when reading a book in a cafe or on the U-Bahn.  But it also makes me feel very closed off from my community, nearly invisible, present and absent at the same time.  When I walk around New York, I feel engaged in my environment and enriched by that engagement. I miss feeling that kind of connectedness with my community. 

This year, I hope to cultivate openness in my interactions with people out in the city of Berlin. My German is improving slowly but surely and perhaps I'll find a tandem partner to work with. Hopefully that will help with the language barrier. As for the cultural differences, I won't know if those exist until I try testing them out. And even if they do exist - even if Berliners don't randomly strike up conversations on the street with one another - hopefully I'll find other ways of connecting with my community. 

The connection doesn't need to happen in the same way that it does in New York. I don't need to have conversations about sex with strangers on the street, as I did with the dog-walkers on Madison Avenue. I just don't want to be a silent, distant observer anymore. I want to open myself to becoming more a part of Berlin.

January 14, 2011
Milan Djurasovic (AY'11, USA)

Robert Frost advises that "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors." This concise statement prompts one to think about boundaries and personal space. For me, the notion of the "personal bubble" defines and emphasizes the borders or the ends that give one his/her shape and define him/her as a separate entity. One's character and one's individuality resides inside of these boundaries. Unfortunately there are many circumstances in which one is compelled to deflate one's bubble and allow a foul breath or an undesired hand to penetrate it. Crowded buses, concerts, stores that offer large discounts and student dorm buildings are good examples of places where one's personal bubble is always at risk of being punctured.  

The question is how one can preserve the desired shape and size of one's bubble. One potent solution (which I have tried) is to wear a large orange "no trespassing" sign around one's neck. This simple and nifty trick warns that "you will be punished if you enter my private zone." With the 'no trespassing sign" one will never have to worry about the personal space intruders who when discussing an issue, love to place their mouths just a few millimeters in front of yours. With a large sign around one's neck one will never again have to worry about taking an awkward step back to regain some breathing room or to anxiously tell a person that your eyes and cheeks are awash with their spit.

But since the "no trespassing" and "Beware of dog" signs are made to be placed on the front yard fences and not around people's necks, one is compelled to look for alternative solutions. Luckily for me and a few other ECLA students, the art room/studio provides us with space where we can go to inflate our personal bubbles whenever they are squashed by the intruders. Vira Sachenko, a fellow avid art room user states "I scream as soon as I enter the art room because I feel so free." There are no intruders in the art room. Even when there are few people working together at the same time, the personal bubble is never jeopardized. Alone-time is an essential requirement and an effective energizer in ECLA's frequently rapid-fire atmosphere. The ambience of the art room is conducive for the desired shift in focus from interconnected and interpersonal to solitary and intrapersonal. 

I have studied happiness for the past 22 years and I have discovered that people often get in a way of my attaining it. Time spent alone provides one with a necessary respite and a chance to detangle the thought knots and to at least for a moment clear one's mind of the intellectual residue left by intense lectures and demanding essay writing.  So if you are overwhelmed and you think that it is time to start making "room" in your hectic schedule for yourself, come to the art room! In the art room we take care of your bubble! In the art room we believe that "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors."

Photo by Enver Hirsch

December 10, 2010
April Matias (1st year BA, Philippines)

Alina Floroiu was busy doing her project year at ECLA when she got selected for a fellowship in the Philippines sponsored by Dekeyser and Friends. On November 10, 2010 Alina delivered the first of a series of international evenings where she gave a presentation about her six-month stay in Cebu as she learned and labored to build a village where poor families from dumpsites could relocate and start new lives.

In a community where more than 25 countries are represented, sharing one's cultural experiences is a given. However, it is still strange to actually hear someone else, a foreigner, tell stories of your obscure motherland to an actual audience. Thankfully, I got the opportunity to sit down with Alina one afternoon and talk to her in more detail about her fellowship in the Philippines.

I had reservations about the trend of voluntourism- which, according to Time, "sends travelers around the globe for a mix of volunteer work and sightseeing"[1] -- and its increasing presence in my country, so I wanted to listen to Alina's views on the matter and how she sees her fellowship in comparison to volunteer travels.

Her response was both honest and relevant to today's youth. Alina said that fellowship is rooted on "the assumption that there's a gap between the younger generation and the older one. The people with professional experience and the foundation [Dekeyser and Friends] feel that there needs to be some sort of mediation."

The foundation, with the slogan "Be Inspired," purposefully creates projects for the personal development of its chosen fellows, bringing them together from different backgrounds to gain valuable knowledge from mentors who have spent decades working toward improving lives.

Alina has always been motivated by a commitment to volunteer projects, and the Cebu program seemed to be a perfect fit for her.

"It had the learning component, which for me was very important in anything that I choose to do, the development part-building a house that I always wanted to do, and also just the description of the program was very reassuring," Also, she continued, "It spoke of building relationships and friendships with the Filipinos and working with the community."

In the six months, Alina taught children in a makeshift classroom that stood right atop a mountain of garbage, whereby the slightest waft of air brings in noxious odors best left unimagined. She spent the nights with foster families in remote hillside towns with little to no running water or electricity, planted papaya plants, and carried building materials on her back up and down a mountainside. She had to endure the heat and humidity of the tropics and witnessed firsthand the absolute poverty in my country and its seedy consequences. By the end of the fellowship, a village center stood at rural Compostela, signifying hope for many families who had spent most of their lives in a dumpsite.

After all that hard work and then flying right back to Berlin for her last term in ECLA, Alina has barely had the time to decompress and mull over the past months. Still, she believes that her most significant gain from her volunteer stint is cultural awareness.

"There was an incredible amount of cultural sensitivity that we had to learn and to take in incredibly fast. There were so many cultures that I wouldn't say clashed but interacted in a very hyper way … I've learned to really see how much cultural background plays in to what a person decides to do, and I'm curious about that now. I see it more in my interactions at ECLA now."

Traversing cultural lines is part and parcel of studying at ECLA, and Alina considers her fellowship as both an application and a natural extension of the intellectual work she has done at ECLA.

The afternoon wound down, and the interview ended. I walked along Kuckhoffstrasse feeling quite pensive. Here was someone who talked the talk and walked the walk-not some touch-and-go charity excursion but a real immersion in the culture I was born into and grew up with. And after having seen the worst of the living conditions in my country, she still came out of the experience with more optimism than I ever had in recent years. Meanwhile, I have just become part of the great number of Filipinos who have left the country.

I recalled Alina's impression of Filipinos: "the Pinoys always, always find a reason to smile. More than a simple coping strategy, smiles are like the national currency."

Here I was, at one of the world's cultural and intellectual capitals, and suddenly, the prospect of going back and sharing what I learn just became much sweeter.

Perhaps, that is how inspiration works.


December 10, 2010
Diana Martin/Logan Woods (PY '11, Romania/USA)

The second lecturer that was invited to enrich the discussions of the PY Core Progamme - dedicated to the relationship between vision and knowledge - was the distinguished professor and intellectual historian Martin Jay. For three hours of entertaining and fertile thought, Martin Jay presented ideas from one of his yet to be published articles, followed by an inspiring discussion related to previous aspects of his work and ways to expand it further.

The lecture was based on a work in progress, The Scopic Regime of Modernity Revisited, where Professor Jay returns to some of his previous ideas in order to ask what we can now say, twenty years later, about the concept of "scopic regime" as a critical tool of analysis. The term was first coined by Christian Metz in his book The Imaginary Signifier and was used then solely to distinguish between cinema and theatre, superseding the distinction between cultural and technological.

Although the concept of "scopic regimes" was familiar to film theory due to Metz, it was Martin Jay's essay published in 1988 in a collection on "Vision and Visuality" that brought it into the other intellectual discourse as well. In his study, Professor Jay inflates the meaning of the concept so to encompass three different regimes of modernity, where vision and knowledge meet and influence one another. It was an enterprise inspired by the question raised by Martin Heidegger in his seminal work The Age of Image Picture, whether every age has a world picture (Weltbild) or whether this feature is characteristic only to Modernity?

The concept of Weltbild comprises a relation between vision and knowledge that was lost in Dilthey's Weltanschaung. It also suggests a distinction between objects that can be conceived and grasped as image, as opposed to a subject that views them. The constitution of world in image emerged only in Modernity. It was brought about by a radical opposition between the viewing subject and the viewed object, originating in Descartes' split of the subject and also in an attitudinal shift that no longer viewed curiosity as a vice.

In his talk, Martin Jay proposed Heidegger's assumption to be too limiting and invited not only to distinguish between three concomitant regimes of modernity- with that of Baroque reason and Dutch descriptivism standing beside Cartesian perspectivalism- but also to enquire about a possible range of applications for the concept in terms of scale, given the new division between macro and microscopic.

Martin Jay (born 1944) is the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley and current fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. His most influential publications include The Dialectical Imagination (1973;1996); Marxism and Totality (1984); Force Fields (1993), Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (2003), Cultural Semantics: Keywords of the Age Refractions of Violence (2003), Songs of Experience (2004). Currently, Martin Jay is working on his new project Magical Nominalism: Photography and the Reenchantment of the World.

December 10, 2010

We all seem to be hardwired to want answers. We started looking for a potential few nine weeks ago in our discourse and contemplation of Plato's Republic. Each new seminar and guest lecture brought with it the hope of finally reaching a resolution, a culmination of loose ends and meandering dialectic. The expectations from the guest lecture on Monday, November 29th, were no different when Thomas Bartscherer, Assistant Professor of Literature and Director of the Language and Thinking Program at Bard College came to talk to us about Eros and Tyranny in Book IX of The Republic.

He started by telling us that he had come intending to give us a problem (one that he was uncertain had a solution). It had occurred to him on the plane journey to Berlin that The Republic had as grand an architectural structure as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony playing on his headphones. For this reason, he handed out cards with digits corresponding to each book of The Republic we had covered so far, from one through nine, written on one corner and asked everyone present to recall what we learned in the book from the prompt on our cards. This exercise resulted in a quick run through of everything we had done and proved useful as a reference point when Bartscherer turned to the actual discussion of Book IX. We were able to note five important facts laid down by The Republic: one, that the core of the dialogue rests on the idea of the just being better than the unjust; two, that the philosopher was the most just man; three, that the tyrant was the most unjust man; four, that the dominant passion in the philosopher's soul was Eros or desire; and five, that the dominant trait of the tyrant's soul also seemed to be Eros. The basic premise of the lecture was the tension between the heavenly love of the philosopher and the hellish love of the tyrant. Bartscherer goes on to day that although Socrates goes to great lengths to distinguish the characters of the tyrant and philosopher, he does not differentiate between their Eros even though he could have and still stayed consistent with his habit of refining and polishing concepts.

The lecturer took this opportunity to then discuss the stinging biting nature of love as described in The Symposium and further went on to share with the audience the connection between the drone and the philosopher, thus highlighting a significant tension that presents itself to the reader -- this man, the philosopher, who 'loves the sight of truth', is idle, extravagant, poor and plays no substantial role in the city. The philosopher is not so very different from the drones or the tyrant.

We, the students, were asked to compare the desires and pleasures of the philosopher and the tyrant. Bartscherer walked us through the portions of the text that supported the claim that both the philosopher and the tyrant held desires that were lawless, insatiable and unnecessary, although arguably the objectives of the philosopher's desire were different from the Eros of the tyrant. Despite this, the emphasis remained in the similarity between the two types of Eros and it did not work to say, as Pausanius did in The Symposium, that they were just two categorically separate things. Even to argue that the object of the Eros is different is not wholly plausible because The Republic does not offer an account of how the objects might be distinguishable.           

Professor Bartscherer urged us not to be satisfied with the arguments of Book IX, as Glaucon and Adeimantus seem to be, for Socrates might say that the philosopher loves the Good but then he does not follow it up with an adequate description of what the Good might be. There is a suggestion in the book that even the philosopher might not know what constitutes the Good. The tyrant on the other hand, seems to be in love with loving, to want wanting. The tyrant's pleasure is neither of the spirited or of the appetitive part of the soul.

The lecture ended with the lecturer presenting us with various views of authorities on the subject of Eros in The Republic. Leo Strauss, for example, states that the parallel between city and soul is an abstraction and that there seems to be a tension between Eros and the city and therefore Eros and justice in the soul. David McNeill, however argues that Eros is really just Thumos in disguise, and that The Republic is based on the hypothesis that everything we might desire to know is created by our own discursive activity. The bottom line is that the idea of Eros has more subtleties and layers to it than meets the eye and we should take The Republic's account of it with a grain of salt.

November 29, 2010
Logan Woods (PY '11, USA)

On Thursday November 25, 2010, ECLA celebrated its very first Thanksgiving under the impressive leadership of Lili Pach and Riana Betzler. Students and faculty alike contributed their culinary wisdom to prepare three golden turkeys and a 'tofurkey', a large bucket's worth of mashed potatoes, and all the essential fixins' of a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, right down to the pumpkin pie dessert. There was no official headcount, but the estimate is that 20-30 were happily in attendance. Being a unique celebration of Thanksgiving where non-Americans far outnumbered Americans, some post-food-coma reflection on what it was that just took place might illuminate the community to what this phenomenon of Americana culture is all about. The following are some of my own reflections.

The satisfying and soporific spell of tryptophan has been cast upon me, and its languorous effect is quite welcomed.  Let this American abroad take the time to say: today was a wonderful Thanksgiving.

To the non-American eye, Thanksgiving may appear a bit unorthodox as far as holidays go. Being neither of the religious, federal, or Hallmark holiday variety, it remains difficult to place within standard categories of public celebration. Don't feel alone, however, as most Americans themselves have only an approximate sense of what the holiday is all about. In point of fact, their understanding of the holiday has been inherited from only a slim number of generations prior who had a seasoned understanding of the tradition. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the end of November ritual became settled.

When you ask an American what Thanksgiving is all about, you will probably receive broad statements about 'sharing' and expectedly 'thankfulness'. But is that it? Is it so simple? Why does it take place at all? After a seminal speech on the meaning of what Christmas is all about, one may expect Linus- from the classic American comic series Peanuts- to be a trustworthy guide on matters of ceremonial significance. He administers the prayer in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: "In the year 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought ninety of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. […] Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: 'We thank God for our homes and our food, and our safety in a new land.  We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world with freedom and justice.'"

Following this respectful tip of the hat to the ghosts of Thanksgiving past, Snoopy performs as a skilled shuffler and dealer of pre-sliced bread before carving a golden turkey, presumably a Butterball, all the while donning a grin and a Pilgrim's hat.  Is the meaning of this odd American tradition buried in this scene?  Surely there must be a logical connection between the bounty of Wonder Bread and the proverbial first fowl of the original Thanksgiving, right?

As Linus tells us, the Pilgrims of 1621 certainly did celebrate the triumphs of their first harvest. During his pre-banquet benediction, however, Linus doesn't expand on just how much this ragtag bunch of religious fanatics and government separatists had to be thankful for. Try putting yourself in their brass-buckled shoes: just five months after their arrival at Plymouth in November of 1620, the population of the original colony was reduced from 99 'first settlers' to a shocking 44, following a brutal winter of disease, starvation, and one may assume- second thoughts about how much they hated England. That would be like half the ECLA community- the people you see every day- simply dying off over the course of a single term, sometimes more than one per day. Their extreme circumstances and their worldview created a feeling that is nearly impossible for us denizens of the 21st century to fathom. "These were people with the farming skills of Mr. Magoo," observes Sarah Vowell, historical essayist, "and if that weren't enough they were religious zealots, so they believed they deserved every misfortune visited upon them, because their beloved God apparently decided their lives should suck just a little bit more."  After Squanto, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims the next summer how to fish and harvest corn, and after the tribe leader Massasoit graciously donated food reserves to the struggling colony, a day of observance was marked to give thanks for all they had been given and for what they had endured. Perhaps if the Pilgrims were a less repressed people we would recognize this day in accordance with the emotion most probably felt after a three‑day feast that was still in the shadow of such a catastrophic first winter in a new land: 'ecstasy'.

Today, the bounty is more plentiful, but its contrast to the daily grind is less pronounced.  We can stuff our turkeys with bacon and pass out in front of a mollifying radiant screen that depicts hyper-fit athletes, paid millions of dollars to provide us with a vicarious conduit to passively experience carnal brutality. On the topic of carnal brutality, a Pilgrim's tale of his first winter would probably prove him a more knowledgeable subject on the matter. After his day of thanks, he returned to the stark reality that another wintry hellscape was not far off. For the next week we, on the other hand, can lather Miracle Whip on vitamin-enriched pre-sliced bread with the dark meat of a turkey we had only to purchase at the supermarket down the street. With these indulgences in mind, one may run this risk of painting contemporary Thanksgiving quite bleakly, bemoaning that the message has been lost. However, I would argue that the potential remains. Awareness of the things we have does not require one to feel guilty for indulging in the contemporary luxuries the common man can now afford. On the contrary. Comedian Louis CK makes a noteworthy observation about today's world: everything is amazing and nobody is happy. "People come back from flights and they tell you… a horror story. […] 'First we didn't board for twenty minutes and then they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes.' Oh. Really. What happened next?  Did you fly through the air like a bird and partake in the miracle of human flight?" Imagine the thousands of raucous celebrations potentially to be had after each take off the world over.

If you do feel a bit hedonistic celebrating Thanksgiving, go ahead and embrace that feeling and strive toward understanding the less acknowledged humbleness to be had in facing the vivacious sea of Dionysian ecstasy. I guarantee the Pilgrims were savoring every single subtle flavor of every sumptuous turkey morsel. And if they could have stuffed their turkeys with bacon, I bet they sure as hell would have. As some of us may ourselves be in a new land, or starting new chapters in our lives, learn from history and celebrate what you've got. Whether you're grateful the technology that allows you to see and speak in real time your friends and family on the other side of the globe; or the fact that for the price of a cab from Pankow to downtown you can buy a Ryanair ticket and partake in the miracle of human flight and go for a weekend to London; or for the fact that you have colleagues who spend unquantifiable efforts to prepare an absolutely spectacular meal for all our enjoyment- take the time to simply give a nod to it.

When this annual exercise is done right, it can prepare fruitful material for developing enriching meditations; or at the very least, some really tasty meals to share with the good folks around you.

November 26, 2010

The first international dinner of this year provided everyone with a reason to put their culinary skills to good use. Those who cooked, despite having spent the day in various classes and then frequenting the supermarket for ingredients, produced highly tantalizing dishes native to their individual homelands.

The common room in K24 was packed with students and faculty members all looking forward to sampling the Ukrainian beetsoup, the Romanian mamaliga, the Hungarian Rakott krumpli and Turogomboc, the Kyrgyzian bread, the Pakistani pulao, some Arabian mashed potatoes and vegetables, spicy Indian noodles, Filipino seafood rice, and other delectable dishes. There is indeed something to be said for the ritual of gathering in one location and sitting down to a tasty meal and pleasant conversation.

Dessert was definitely a highlight with everyone queuing up for an Albanian chocolate covered fruit and biscuit concoction, Finnish egg pudding, and Tunisian cream fruit.

We ate, drank, and made merry into the wee hours of the night only to eagerly anticipate the next international dinner, even if it meant repeating culinary mishaps in a kitchen bursting at the seams with people and spending way too much money on biscuits.

November 26, 2010
Maria Khan (AY '11, Pakistan)

On Thursday November 11, Simon Trepanier honored the ECLA audience with an enlightening lecture on Plato's Republic. Trepanier is a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Edinburgh and has a BA and PhD in Classical Greek thought from the universities of Ontario and Toronto respectively.

The first question that guest lecturer Simon Trepanier asked was, "Are philosophers pasty-faced nothings?" This is also brought up in the Republic when Adiemantus questions Socrates about his thoughts on philosophers. The question is an extremely essential one as it lays down the whole foundation for knowing why philosophical education is important for us human beings and what kind of philosophical education should we aspire to.  Over the course of the lecture, Trepanier tried answering these questions in light of Socratic and pre-Socratic teachings.

Trepanier dedicated the first part of the lecture to discussing the basic arguments put forth by Socrates. According to Trepanier, we as ECLA students along with him were going to play a game, which the puppets of Sesame Street play: " This is my house, this is my street, this is my city, this is my world and this is my universe." He, in his one and half hour lecture, dealt with the whole subject matter in layers, very candidly and profoundly.

Books 5, 6, and 7 of Republic remained the main focus of attention for Trepanier during the lecture. His choice of words remained very economical and simple. He drew the audience's attention to Socrates'  basic underlying thesis which would be that only through the philosophical and scientific knowledge of the visible world can you achieve the invisible good. He went on to explain the concept of good which is presented in the Republic through the divided line. By explaining the many portions of the divided line he gave the audience a clear vision of where the "good" is found on the line, and how we humans can reach that good. Trepanier also stressed that according to Socratic teachings, this good is the source of the soul. The soul has to reach back to its source to approach the good. How does that happen? This is further explained in the allegory of the cave.

The second half of the lecture focused very much on the form of literature that was being produced  prior to and during Socrates' time. An important aspect that he brought before the audience was the reason why Plato wrote literature as opposed to papers and literary critiques. During pre-Socratic times, the philosophy of life was preached as the Bible is in many religious circles today.The philosophers would gather people together and give sermons about how to change their lives.  Plato's writings were different.  They involved dialogues that were loaded with irony, wit, and reason.

The form that Plato chose to educate people remains effective today and has a great influence on the human soul. Trepanier also pointed out the pre-Socratic philosophers who had also dealt with the idea of soul's immortality and the form of the good. And these ideas certainly have influenced Socratic thought in many ways.

The lecture ended after a brief question and answer session and the audience left the lecture hall after a very refreshing lecture and discussion with Dr. Trepanier, looking forward to another amazing weekend in Berlin.

November 19, 2010
Diana Martin (PY '11, Romania)

Midway through this semester, ECLA's PY Core Course on Objectivity invited
Professor Fehrenbach to deliver a lecture on his most recent subject of research, the significance of the point in Leonardo's drawings and its connection to the aesthetical category of vivacità.  This was a subject most appropriate for the students of the PY program, who in previous sessions have engaged in discussions about the relation between visual experience and its mathematical representation or to that of the depicted world.

Frank Fehrenbach initiated his talk with a presentation of the history of art and optics in the Italian Renaissance. In his words, Early Modern Italy saw a re-evaluation of the status of the visual arts that was meant to define its role in the ensemble of culture, especially in relation to science. As such, intellectual figures like Paragone immersed themselves in debates on the pre-eminence of arts, with the aim of establishing relations between cultural enterprises that could not easily fit into the curricula of the universities of that time and the existing disciplines of study. In the 14th century, liberal arts were consisted of a group of disciplines based on the study of language such as grammar, rhetoric and dialectics - known then as trivium - and the quadrivium of the scientific disciplines of exact measurement which consisted of music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.

The attempts then were of challenging this closed system and of finding a place for visual arts in this intellectual establishment, and the region of Northern Italy was most active in this endeavour. The university centre of Padua had already developed a significant interest in natural philosophy and considered optics to be the means in which observation and mathematics could be linked. As such, visual arts faced the new challenge of becoming part of the mathematical sciences, supported by an acknowledgement of their inventive component.

The first clue to the possibility of visual arts to enter the university curricula appeared in the 15th century. In Florence, Andrea Pisanno depicted the profession of painter among the seven mechanical and theoretical practices that decorated the Campanile of Santa Maria de la Fiore. In the same period, the artist Francesco Squarcione began teaching proportion and perspective at the University of Padua, with the year 1445 registering the official introduction of visual arts among the curricula of sciences studied here.

The re-evaluation of the status of visual arts is also connected with the struggle of the artist to obtain a social rank. And the lobby for introducing visual arts among other sciences in the corpus of liberal arts must bring an answer to the question of their relevance or any the possible contribution to the field of science or of culture as a whole. In his 1528 Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione addresses the ideal of culture and makes an apology in favour of an education pursued both in the spirit of science and of visual arts and poetry, as necessary to ennobling man.

The appeal to the significance of visual arts is further reinforced by the revival of Aristotle in university centres, with his expressed primacy of sight in acquiring knowledge. This invites one to reconsider not only the role of sight in sensory experience, but also to evaluate the relation between images and words. Leonardo is the most preeminent figure that supports the dignity of visual arts in comparison with all other cultural enterprises. His conception is supported by a belief in the universality and impact of visual images, unlike that of any other cultural product. Visual images also represent the primordial human invention, as fundamental to the production of literal and mathematical works. In this light, the painter is conceived as an inventor rather than mere manufacturer.

Given the pre-eminence of sight, further questions are raised on the role of eye in the process of seeing. As such, the eye appears as a means to perceive both nature and a painting in a similar way, where things are given simultaneously and not in frozen moments of time. According to Professor Fehrenbach, perceiving things simultaneously creates the impression of innate harmony and the eyes are the ones that capture best the evidence in favour of an ordered universe. What followed was an attempt to establish a relation between visual arts and mathematics, by proposing the translation of visual experience in terms of mathematics. 
This enterprise received the most support from the part of clerics and theologians such as Robert Grosseteste in his treatise De Luce, John Peckham and Roger Bacon. Culminating with the invention of perspective, painting earns her status as science. Furthermore, Professor Fehrenbach explored the way in which Leonardo imposes a certain mobility of the gaze, most evident in his Study for the Kneeling Leda. As the curved hatching technique would suggest, the process of becoming of the natural world requires a mobile gaze in order to perceive movement and, for Leonardo, the representation of the world must take into account not only perspective, but also the mobility of the eye.

At the end of his talk, Professor Fehrenbach focused on the mathematical aspect of Leonardo's paintings and presented ideas from his forthcoming article 'Leonardo's Point' and of the research conducted at
Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. His study is centred on the idea of the point as an ultimate principle of composition meant to separate the visible from the invisible and nothingness from what exists.  As such, the point stands at the origin of the aesthetical category of vivacità, capturing that stance specific to the living organism of situating itself at the borderline between what can be perceived and what cannot, a state of continual, ungraspable oscillation.

Frank Fehrenbach is Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He studied Art History, Medieval and Modern History, and Philosophy at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen and at the Universität Basel. Previous publications include The Pathos of Function - Leonardo's Technical Drawings; Un Nouva Paradigma - Il Diluvio; Coming Alive - Some Remarks on the Rise of Monochrome  Sculpture in the Renaissance.

November 14, 2010

On the morning of November 3, 2010, AY and first-year BA students gathered to hear Dr. David McNeill deliver a lecture with the title, "Life, Death, and Antigone's Autonomy."

Dr. McNeill is no stranger to ECLA having once given a talk here in 2009. With a PhD from the University of Chicago, a BA from St. John's College, and a recently published book to his repertoire of accomplishments, he is also involved in a research project at the University of Essex ('The Essex Autonomy Project'). So there could not have been a more appropriate person to talk to us about one of the most perplexing and central issues in Sophocles' Antigone: her strange relationship to the concept of autonomy.

Autonomy, McNeill clarified, consists of two sub-words in the Greek -- 'auto,' meaning 'self,' and 'nomos,' translated as 'law' -- which combine to mean 'a law unto oneself''. The word 'autonomous' itself has only been used a handful of times in the past 500 years of Greek literary and philosophic tradition, one occasion being Pericles' message of warning to the Athenians about the dangers of autonomy.

"We are familiar with being self-governing, self-regulating agents and contemporary modern and political theory has explicated the limits of our powers of self-determination," said McNeill, giving us the example of the debate concerning whether an individual should be able to voluntarily choose death.

McNeill added that the Chorus connects Antigone's uncanny relationship to life and death with the context of autonomy. It reveals the odd, incestuous begetting of Antigone and her siblings. Her actions could, as one reading of the text goes, be the result of a damaged personality deeply affected by a "self-generating coupling."

 The audience was asked to consider the possibility that it was not autonomy that led the protagonist to her end but the choices of her father. Antigone is then a victim of Fate. Regardless of this, she does share in an unhealthy connection to death, as exemplified by her obsession with her deceased brother and her repeated claims that she is already dead.

McNeill turned the argument on its head at this point and ruminated upon the possibility that Antigone's autonomy is because of her relationship to life and death. Antigone defies Kant's thesis on heteronomy, which discusses the subordination of will and adherence to an external moral agency, completely. She pursues her own desires and goes her own way.  For example, she opposes King Kreon's treatment of her brother's body despite the legal and mortal consequences to which this leads. The lecturer pointed out that part of Antigone's indignation comes from Kreon's failure to recognize the importance of the person who had died -- perhaps if it had been someone else who had been denied a burial, Antigone would not have reacted so strongly or fought so valiantly for what she believed to be the right thing to do.

She seems to be concerned with intention rather than efficacy and this is demonstrated by disowning her sister Ismene when she refuses to help her in her quest. Evidently, Antigone does not believe she is doing anything wrong even as she suffers for her beliefs and actions. It seems strange, however, that someone who applies the ancient Greek wisdom that striving for the impossible is good, is punished for her actions.

McNeill left us to deliberate this paradox, which seemed to exemplify the many others we encounter everyday in real life. Equipped with humor and a world of referential knowledge, the lecturer made for a welcome addition to our day and our grand scheme of philosophic enquiry.

November 14, 2010
Maria Khan (AY '11, Pakistan)

On a chilly November night, students and faculty members from ECLA attended a live musical performance by Magdalena Kozena. The performance turned out not only to be memorable and delightful, but also extremely enjoyable for people of all ages. As we entered the hall, we saw it brimming with people, all lovers of music and art. And then suddenly, Magdalena Kozena stepped onto the stage barefoot, along with her ensemble. She found her place at one side of the stage and, like a Greek Goddess, began the baroque Musical concert. Her voice, commanding and divine, put a spell on the audience and took them on an hour and a half long musical journey. 

Magdalena Kozena started her career as a dancer, but due to a slight foot injury she switched to learning Soprano music. As a young girl, she was spotted as a budding talent. Ever since then she has been performing classical music all over the world. On her recent visit to Europe, she performed at Philharmoniker Berlin, to promote the release of her latest album, "Lettere Amorose." The new album is based on the Baroque works of Fillipo Vitali, Giulio Caccini, and Gaspar Sanz.

During the Baroque period, from the 16th to the 18th century, the style of music in Europe changed from being complicated, abstract, and restricted to the elite class to bold and liberating.  Many people also argue that this had a great influence on the form and idea of love present in the literature, art, and poetry of the era. The role of the concept of love in Baroque music was especially interesting for the ECLA audience as this concert which came after a lecture by Sarah Burges Watson, in which she mainly discussed the forms of love in Orphic literature.  The concert indeed proved itself to be a delight as it brought together the ideas studied In the lecture hall and the live music at Philharmoniker.

Many, however, sat through the concert completely ignorant to what the singer was singing, due to their difficulty in understanding either Italian or German. Yet, the music provided an opportunity for catharsis and brought peace to the soul.

What made the concert such a relaxing experience was the fact that it was arranged on a Monday night. The first day of the week can be extremely stressful, especially for students who have a rigorous and challenging week ahead of them.  What could be a better way to loosen up than to spend an evening with playful baroque love songs?

November 5, 2010
Milan Djurasovic (AY '11, USA)

"Every time you lose at dodge-ball an innocent angel dies," is what my mother used to tell her once meek and sickly son in order to incite a competitive spirit. My mother's plan worked to perfection. From the very first time I heard that the lives of angels depended on my playground performance, I have seldom lost at anything. The consequence of growing up with this immense responsibility that entails guarding the lives of innocent angels was a firmly established competitive hunger that needs to be regularly satiated.

Coming to the European College of Liberal Arts, I thought that my competitive nature needed to be tamed in order to better fit ECLA's intellectual environment. But then I discovered the soccer field right behind my dorm. On it, I noticed this round thing and patches of burrowed grass and dirt which told me that the field was recently used. The competitive spirit inside me was suddenly roused and I was compelled to run around the field a few times just to calm down so that I could proceed with other daily activities.

The very next day eight of us gathered on the field, all brave and fierce, mentally and physically prepared to test each other's strengths and weaknesses, to bring the best out of each other, to push each other to the limits of pain and exhaustion, to give our 110 percent, and all the other clichés. We fastened our shoelaces, pulled up our socks, and waited for the sound of a whistle. As soon as we figured out that no one brought a whistle and that the whistle itself was a trivial detail, face-off took place in the middle of the field and the chasing of the round thing began.  

The chasing lasted for two hours and during this time all of the major skills of the game were covered: passing, ball control, heading, dribbling, turning, yelling, pretending to be hurt, running with the ball, shooting, defending and much more! And by much more I mean that we had a great time. Many of us had never played and many had played a significant amount, even those who had still played as if they had never stepped on a soccer field before. The skill level of our play spans from elementary to moderate and almost never adequate. To prove this point, our most prolific scorer Jakob Dreyer has scored many awe-inspiring goals, but at least a third of these bountiful and incredible displays of back-of-the-net action have resulted in goals for the opposing team.

And whenever any one of us begins to think for a moment that he is approaching something minutely athletically impressive (and do be aware that only very rarely does this happen because even the qualification of 'proficient' cannot be applied to the vast majority of play on this pitch), the rest of us promptly deflate his ego by assuring him that what he perceived as athletic is actually nothing more than pathetic!

It must be clear by now that confusion and bruises are the chief components of our soccer matches.  But fun and silliness also belong to this group of irreplaceable ingredients whose mixture is the treat that we call Wednesdays and Fridays at 4:00 pm. All of us are aware, some much more so than others, that athleticism and competition are not the things to strive for in our games, but instead to view our game as a great release and great exercise, and most importantly great fun.  And in case you may be wondering, my mother is quite proud to know that I've discovered a way to save the lives of countless innocent angels and have fun at the same time.

November 5, 2010
Emma Hovi (2nd year BA, Finland)

Consider the challenge faced by the ECLA administration in preparing for the current academic year: an enlarged student body and faculty, combined with the expansion of campus facilities still months away. The need for all to be comfortable remains an issue, so what can be done? For the sake of efficient use of space, communal areas were transformed into new student rooms and offices. Some casualties of these changes have been the art room- previously situated in House 16- as well as installation studios in one of the Platanenstraße office buildings. Spacious rooms with white-washed walls have been equipped with fitted carpets, tables and chairs. Easels, bags of clay, and the distinct smell of oil paints have given way to closets, desks, and office paraphernalia. 

Given that ECLA is a place where the examination of art is given serious academic attention and appreciation, it seems it would be self-evident that ECLA would invest in space for artistic practice. It also happens to be that the student body exhibits creative powers that need to be given a medium of expression outside the realm of academia.

It seems to me that the scope of challenges posed exclusively by academic work is too narrow to facilitate more comprehensive development of the mind. Some may believe that intellectual and artist development exist in separate realms, with each striving to advance in seemingly disparate directions, yet I believe it is not too odd to think of the relationship between these as one of mutual assistance. Artistic and intellectual exercise, insofar they are separate, certainly do mingle in allegiance with one another, allowing one to provide the other with substance and vice versa. The successful merger of these expands our creative resources as a whole.  

Some students prefer to engage in the performing arts and, accordingly, ECLA offers a studio for music, dance, and theater. Yet some would argue that the joys and pressures of rigorous intellectual work are best balanced by going crazy with paints, digging into a fine piece of clay, or composing a psychedelic spectrum of video projections. If you ask me, real stimulus is found when situated in front of a well prepared canvas, knowing that it is all yours to express whatever mind-blowing composition you happen to find stirring within you at that particular moment.     

With this in mind, the loss of the art room and the main installation studios leaves many students without the space to create and work on their art. This dilemma, however, gave us an opportunity to join forces and develop a common project of defining our own spaces for the visual arts, on our own terms.

Under the leadership of Josefina Capelle (AY, Argentina), Logan Woods (PY, USA), and a handful of others, the student have been working on new art studio space since the beginning of term.

"Although ECLA is not an art school, many ECLA students think it is important to have a special place to work on self-expression through visual arts and sculpture." Josefina says. "I know there is a need for an art room. Many people were disappointed in not having an art room this year and everybody was really supportive when the idea of reopening it came out, and many even volunteered to help even though they were not participating in it." Her expectations on the project as a whole? "I would love for ECLA students who are into art to find a place where they can do stuff together, share their own experience and also techniques and eventually do something with this, as a way to then share it with the rest of the ECLA community", says Josefina, who takes a personal interest in oil painting. Logan summarized saying, "Our goal is to provide for all skill levels, so that everyone feels welcome. I think it is going to be a great addition to campus life."

Currently, the team has finalized most of the preparatory tasks with excellence. There is a clear sense of where the new studio is going to be, what the prospective practitioners want, where to make cost effective purchases, and how to organize the labor required for getting the place in shape. As the deadline for the budget presentation grows near, details are being fine-tuned: final decisions on paints, clay and necessary tools are made while expectations on campus are mounting.

If all goes well, the art studio will open its doors in the basement of the former installation building on Platanenstraße 98 within a couple of weeks. Until then, we continue to use the margins of our notebooks and hand-outs for scribbling sketches and designs which hope to be taken to higher grounds. Once all is set and done, maybe they will.

For those interested in contributing to the art room initiative, contact Josefina for more information.

November 5, 2010
Diana Martin (PY '11, Romania)

In an ordinary day of October, the brave, the mighty and the talented of ECLA gathered at the SPOK fitness centre for the annual badminton tournament. Grouped in six teams, with each team playing a match against every other team, students and professor alike indulged in the pleasures and pains of badminton. After almost two hours of playing, a little tired, the participants headed towards the centre of the arena to find out the results of their Sunday effort.

Although nobody contested the triumph of the dean, with five consecutive wins and no losses, the announcement of the second place for the team formed by Karen and Jakob caused great stir amongst the participants. Milan, the initial third place runner up, contested the officials' Martin and Helmich criteria for deciding the final standings, considering it unjust and deeply unfair. After a re-evaluation of the situation that has taken into account the total sum of points achieved, rather than direct confrontations, everybody agreed that the definitive rankings should be:

1.      Gabriela Ionaşcu + Thomas Nørgäard: 5 wins, 105 points;

2.      Blerina Fani + Milan Djurasovic: 3 wins, 103 points;

3.      Karen Huang + Jakob Dreyer: 3 wins, 96 points;

4.      Doina Proorocu + Alina Floroiu: 2 wins, 90 points;

5.      'The Pink Socks' Sofiya Skachko + Nicola Pacor: 2 wins, 82 points;

6.      Nastya Geinrikh + David Luna Velasco: 0 wins, 56 points.

Taking part for the first time in a badminton competition of such scale, Gabriela declared her joy for what she considers to be a surprising result: "I used to play badminton as a kid on the street in front of my block, and when I came in the arena today my thought was at least to hit the schmetterling right. I guess I owe my first place to having Thomas as a partner." With powerful shots that proved difficult to return and an inspired tactics, Thomas is considered to be the objective winner in a competition in which many have struggled, but few have managed to find the weak spots of the opponents.

"All is well even if it ends well!" concluded the participants and then proceeded by eating the tournament's trophy, a box of chocolates.

Round Two in the International Community of ECLA
October 22, 2010
Emma Hovi (2nd year BA, Finland)

Despite being a second year student, enjoying the luxury of being familiar with the ways of life that characterize ECLA, I must confess that the first days of campus life felt more or less chaotic. Naturally, a bunch of people trying to settle down in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people is bound to generate a peculiar mix of tensions. Collective curiosity and anxiety blended into an overall feeling of restlessness. Our social capacities were pushed to extremes as new impressions and acquaintances required us to constantly stay alert and keep up conversation. And of course the attractions of the city of Berlin no doubt added to the already overwhelming first weekend.

When returning to ECLA, my mind was also preoccupied with trying to comprehend what it means to be part of an international community. I felt that I needed to return to my prior reflections on the matter. I guess every entrance into a multicultural sphere will inevitably provoke these kinds of thoughts, no matter how many international communities one may have previously been a part of.

It is obvious that ECLA is stretching, literally. Not only has the student body grown to unprecedented proportions, but also, the grounds for claiming ECLA as an international community have been seriously boosted. This academic year, five continents are represented amongst the ECLA students. Our community is a motley patchwork of nationalities, bringing together people with at times radically contrasting cultural and social backgrounds.

I thought the riches and peculiarities of the international community would somehow hit me with a little less intensity compared to last year, when just about everything about my life as an ECLA student had a stirring novelty to it. It turned out I was wrong.The effects of the expanded geographical and cultural scope of the ECLA community are very much present even in the seemingly most trivial dealings of day-to-day life on campus.

Every year at ECLA is distinctly shaped by the very characters found among the student body, faculty and staff. This year, however, I do believe that the abundant cultural diversity manifest in the student body has an impact on ECLA life that reaches beyond that of its phenomenal personalities. Distinct ways of life simply come to a crossroads where we find ourselves abruptly caught in sheer astonishment, or in conflicts that require us quickly to come to mutual understanding.

There's plenty of asking and explaining to be done - and it's great fun. This is what makes me feel so good about being an ECLA student. Despite initial social chaos and restlessness, the outlook for the upcoming year is most enticing. 


Guest Lecture: Dr. Ryszard Legutko on The Iliad and The Republic
October 22, 2010
April Matias (1st year BA, Philippines)

On October 13, 2010, ECLA welcomed Dr. Ryszard Legutko as guest speaker for the core course on Plato's Republic and its interlocutors. A professor from the Faculty of Philosophy and History of Jagiellonian University and translator of many of Plato's works, Dr. Legutko delivered a lecture on Book Two of Plato's Republic in relation to the Homeric tradition presented in The Iliad.

He first tackled how the premise that justice - as the advantage of the stronger - works within the framework of Homeric epics wherein abstract notions of justice are non-existent. As Legutko stated, justice in the Homeric tradition was primarily based on a code of chivalry, particularly in the setting of The Iliad, where warriors put their lives and reputations up for judgment by their peers.

Dr. Legutko evaluated the same premise in the context of Athenian democracy by asking the question: "To what degree do people comply with justice?" Athenian democracy took pride in affording its citizens individual freedom and equality, but different concepts of justice were sources of confusion for many Athenians. As articulated by Dr. Legutko, there were two prevalent concepts of justice in Athens at the time-the first being the meaningful distribution of honor, goods and privileges, and the second referring to justice as getting what is deserved.

Both concepts of justice are part of Book Two of The Republic, which features two brothers, Glaucon and Adiemantus, who present claims against justice in the hope that Socrates will refute their notions. Glaucon claims that it is human nature to satisfy all desires without fear of repercussions, and consequently presents two thought experiments to prove his premise.

In the first of these thought experiments, the Ring of Gyges, he puts forth a scenario in which external pressures and punishments are removed, making desires immediately attainable. This eventually leads the eponymous character to corruption and injustice by coveting another man's wife and usurping political power.

The second thought experiment, the scenario of the absolutely just and absolutely unjust, depicts a situation in which the unjust has more means of fulfilling his wishes and masking his true nature than the just. Following Glaucon's point of view, Dr. Legutko concluded that justice, in its absolute form, is self-defeating, while injustice is self-asserting.

Adiemantus further develops the idea of the triumph of tyranny by presenting religious beliefs, poetry of the time, and social customs as oligarchic arbiters in daily Athenian life. Justice, according to Adiemantus, is merely a system of rewards and punishments.

Dr. Legutko noted the implications of the limited concepts of justice presented by the brothers, which suggest that human nature cannot be fooled by superstructures of morality. This raised the question: Does justice exist by nature or in the soul? Here Legutko closed his lecture, arguing that where justice was external and divine in The Iliad, justice became personal and essentially human in The Republic.

After the lecture, faculty and students asked questions, particularly about the city-versus-soul analogy. Dr. Legutko responded with succinct explanations of traditional readings of The Republic. He also shared his opinion that Plato must have been a great lover of politics. His organized presentation was much appreciated, but Dr. Legutko's claim about Plato's fondness for politics became a point of debate in seminar groups. ECLA students expressed their desire for a more in-depth discussion of his views regarding Book Two of The Republic. It was in these discussions that one truly felt Socrates in action.


Off the Beaten Track
An Autumnal Walk in the Augustusburg Woods
October 22, 2010

My trusty point and shoot camera and I have shared some great views and preserved a few unforgettable memories. For this weekend trip to Leipzig and Schloss Augustusburg though, I deliberately left it in my dorm room. There was something exhilarating about the idea of being away from the components of modern life, to be footloose without letting a camera lens mediate my interaction with the physical world. Here was an opportunity to experience the freedom, beauty, and stimulation that are inherent in an exploration of a mountain's quiet secrets.

I was glad that I didn't have much more than a few layers of clothing and a bag of food on me when we set off on the nature walk. This event was significant for me out of the whole bunch of other things we did for one reason alone: walking meant movement and movement meant possibility.  Conversations about the philosophy of science or modern politics could develop as organically as the environment I found myself in.  This was a chance to get lost and retrace our steps uphill, teachers and students alike wondering about the right path to take and in the process, all the while stumbling across amazing vistas of a sepulchral Autumn landscape, adorned with auburn trees and restless, overcast skies. It instilled a sort of serene, profound stirring of the essence of moods, like seasons that are perpetually on their way out.

When you go walking, it's best not to ask 'how far?' or 'which way?' You just go.  It doesn't matter if the temperature isn't more than five or six degrees on a given Saturday morning or that you're with twenty odd people, the majority of whom share those lukewarm relationships of newly formed acquaintances. If you looked closely enough, Nature was giving you lessons in Life in things as mundane as a salamander crawling between a crevice, a grouping of wild mushrooms, a babbling brook under the bridge you all stood on. Cross it to get to the other side, find excitement and danger, jump, see the stars, step out into the world and know what it feels like to finally see everything with both your eyes for the first time.

Traipsing among trees with birds, the steady drip-drip of raindrops and the excited laughter of children in our ears became an extended metaphor of sorts for our arrival and future endeavors at ECLA. Wandering through the minds of some of the most exciting and influential philosophers, charting the unfamiliar territory of our own "Self" and learning that we "cannot know" can be an odd combination of frustration and delight. So we read Kierkegaard and Plato (who like to go bowling with each other deep in the woods on the weekend) on buses, hungering after the possible wisdom in their words. Our teachers, themselves perpetual scholars, navigate paths old and new to show us that there's a lot of knowledge to be had on the other side of each following page.

With what is sure to be an intellectual march of sorts ahead of us, it was an encouraging treat to act out the coming months in the form of a simple, steady, and sensory-satisfying stroll through the hills.


A Farangi's Journey
October 22, 2010
Maria Khan (AY '11, Pakistan)

Two years ago, I found ECLA while sitting at my computer in Pakistan browsing websites, looking for a liberal arts school in Europe.  I imagined actually coming to live at ECLA and thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like.  In Pakistan, everyone would label me Farangi, which when literally translated means "Fake White Man." This gave me confidence in my ability to merge into the hodgepodge of the unique Western world found at ECLA.

But it was not as easy as I imagined. From the moment I arrived in Berlin there were  a few lessons  to be learned. For a start, there was no one except me to make my bed, do my laundry, and wake me up in the morning. During my first week at ECLA, my friends dubbed me the "Princess of Lahore." Yes, I was demanding … I complained about walking for forty minutes when in Pakistan, my driver could have picked me up and taken me home. All of these differences between my life at ECLA and my life back home came as a very big shock to me, a Farangi who had lived all her life in Pakistan thinking she knew the ways of the Western worldand sheltered from the storm of real life.

The process of learning began on the very first day when I learned that the initials E-C-L-A was pronounced as one word: ECLA. A unique sense of belonging washed over me and I felt like I was becoming part of this community already.

But something very startling also happened.  I discovered ECLA's size. Getting used to the idea that there were only 57 people on campus was tricky. The majority of students came from bigger schools and colleges from around the world. During the first week, living in a small community was scary. Many of us felt unable to share ourselves with anyone for fear of getting exposed to everyone.

But ECLA embraced me with open arms. I will never forget my first week -- getting lost in Berlin, sharing my utmost fears with my Residential Assistant, leaning on a friend after a seminar and bitterly crying about my lack of knowledge of philosophy and that mischief-maker Socrates.  I was able to develop and find new relationships based on trust and care.  It surprises me now how close we all came to each other and how easily we were able to confide in people from  drastically different backgrounds and communities. And all this happened in the first few days.

It could well be that the ECLA community is based on the concept of relatedness and belonging, while at same time we find ourselves far from home and confronted by strange new ideas and perspectives from day one. At ECLA, everyone's concern is a mutual concern.  Soon, we were helping each other find our own place and voice in a new land called ECLA. 

ECLA has so much to offer.  The Berlin weekend kicked off the year and took us from the Museum Island to the Reichstag, on a bike tour and onward to the revelry of a poetry night. It helped us all find our own selves in the  large and endlessly spacious city that is Berlin and in a small community that is ECLA.

ECLA lectures and seminars always leave us thinking more deeply about life and its intricacies.  During the first lecture on Socrates' Apology, I was once again able to confront myself, talk to myself, and contemplate my innermost desires and perhaps even purpose on this pale blue planet.

Walking through the common rooms of the dorms, one hears Indian, Serbian and Arabian songs blazing out of laptops.  Nobody really cares what the poor singers have to say.  Rather, the music is an expression of the sheer joy of knowing and trusting each other, sharing our cultures and ourselves.

It is hard to imagine how the first two weeks at ECLA went by.  For me, every day was a new day and I woke up as a new and better person altogether. Who knows what tomorrow may bring...


Autumn Reading at ECLA
October 22, 2010
Diana Martin (PY '11, Romania)

Following the orientation week, ECLA was ready again to welcome its students for the start of a new academic year. This year ECLA hosts 60 students representing 30 different countries.  Students are spread out between three separate programs, each tailored for different student needs.  As the campus proceeds with plans for designing new residential and study spaces, ECLA is expanding while still keeping an intimate atmosphere where everybody knows one's name and discussions are often prolonged from the seminar classes over lunch in the cafeteria.

Students of the Academy Year program and the first year of the BA in Value Studies are focusing this first semester on a close reading of The Republic and of contemporary texts that approach the subject of education, like Homer's Iliad, Hesiod's Work and Days, Sophocles' Antigone, Aristophanes' The Clouds, Euripides' Hecuba and Xenophon's Hiero. The discussion stemming from these works explores core ideas for ECLA's approach to education, related to the form in which education can be pursued and to the value it represents for human life altogether. Veteran faculty members Ewa Attanasow and Tracy Colony, along with  newer ECLA faculty members Sarah Burges Watson and Michael Weinman, will all collaborate in guiding this course.  Guest lecturers will be given by Glenn Most (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa), David McNeill (University of Essex), Simon Trepanier (University of Edinburgh), Thomas Bartscherer (Bard College) and Julia Valeva (Bulgarian Academy of Science).

For the students who return for the second year of BA, the first semester engages with questions related to the notion of character- its meaning and its relation to the concept of authenticity and virtue. Such questions are explored through reading classical authors, such as Montaigne, as well as contemporary texts like Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Freud's Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis. These seek to analyze the ways in which a good character can be acquired or even cultivated and the role it could have in building a sense of self-fulfillment. Professors David Hayes and Sophia Vasalou will each offer a seminar based on Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics and MacIntyre's After Virtue respectively, two significant works that address the importance of a good character for a meaningful life and the way in which the notion of self and character gain their meaning in the context of social relationships.

The Project Year program continues to be concerned with the idea and ideal of objectivity.  This year the focus is on the relationship between senses and knowledge. Having Leonardo da Vinci's dictum "Saper Vedere" as the program's motto ("Knowing How to See"), the course questions the way in which sensorial perception can guide an objective view of the perceived world, and the ways in which our perception can be distorted by preconceptions or by mental faculties. Students, led by professors Bruno Macaes and Geoff Lehman, will have discussions which aim to shed a bit of light on the world created by human sense perception.  This topic will be explored through studies of artistic works such as Claude Monet's Rouen Cathedral, art history treatises like Gombrich's Art and Illusion, and Panofsky's Perspective as Symbolic Form. Other writings include works by Goethe, Baudelaire and Rilke.

The discussions developed in all classes, ambitious in the ideas put up front for debate and nevertheless not definitive in conclusions or fixed judgments, are held in a spirit of not knowing and maintaining an open-ended revision that would be held very dear to Socrates.