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News Archives 2008

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: David Colander on Economics and the Liberal Arts
November 17, 2008
Snezhina Kovacheva (2009, Bulgaria)

On Thursday, 30 October 2008, ECLA was visited by Professor David Colander from Middlebury College, VT, USA. Colander engaged the ECLA community in a seminar discussion about what it means to think as an economist, what the future of the discipline is, and what its role is in the context of liberal arts education.

Colander began by pointing out that the goal of economics lies beyond textbook catch phrases such as optimization and efficient allocation of resources. Rather, it should be the creation of excellent decision-makers, who are instrumental not only in achieving society's goals effectively through rigorous quantitative analysis, but also in defining these goals.

To do that, one needs broad understanding of the inter-relations between various disciplines, as well as big-picture thinking in the tradition of the liberal arts education. In this context, Colander criticized the tendency within the economic discipline - especially at graduate level - to shape specialists, who devote more time to deepening their understanding of a narrow niche, and less time to addressing those fundamental questions which can be answered differently, depending on different criteria; which have no definitive solutions but also tend to be the most interesting. This phenomenon, Colander explained, might be related to the incentives for professors to do research, given that more publications usually mean faster advancement in one's career.  

Colander said that although being a specialist does not preclude a broader trans-disciplinary grasp, it is nevertheless very challenging to strike the right balance between depth and breadth of knowledge (another version of this question is the allocation of time between a student's major and so-called "general education" classes at liberal arts schools). In aid to this quest, Colander saw broader applications of technology in education, which might transform profoundly the way universities operate with the changes either imposed by the emergence of other competing models for education-provision, or internally driven by the institutions themselves.

Colander discussed what he considers two differentiated branches of economics: the "economic science" branch, and the "political economy" branch, which uses the insights of the discipline to address normative goals. Colander related the origin of the former to the deductive methods of mathematics (one assumes the existence of particular conditions and works from thereon), and the origins of the latter - to moral philosophy and what John Steward Mill refers to as "the art of economics." 

Professor David Colander is the C. A. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics at Middlebury College. Prior to Middlebury, he was the Kelly Professor of Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University. Colander has authored, co-authored, or edited over 35 books and 100 articles on a wide range of topics. He has been president of both the Eastern Economic Association and History of Economic Thought Society and is, or has been, on the editorial boards of numerous journals, including Journal of Economic Perspectives and the Journal of Economic Education.

November 17, 2008
Brindusa Birhala (2009, Romania)

The end of the first month at ECLA was marked by the group trip to Dresden and the beautiful region of Sächsische Schweiz, where the Elbe seems almost ubiquitous. At least, this image persists strongly from the trip, mostly because it was the conquest of physical striving. By leaving Berlin on Friday, ECLA students and faculty said goodbye to the urban scenery for the first part of the weekend, and set up for a closer encounter with natural scenery, trains, trekking and magnificent views. We were comfortably hosted in a small hostel in Radebeul-Weintraube, and engaged in the first ascent of the wine hills to capture the view for the first time. This small town, at the outskirts of Dresden lies on the Saxony Wine Road and has been well-known for its vineyards ever since the beginning of the fourteenth century. Having just stepped out of the train, we were welcomed by what it seemed to be an ancient toy-model of the same means of transportation, running fast and loud through the city. None of us was courageous enough to step in for a ride, but contented with taking pictures of this train making its way to the Baroque castle of Moritzburg on a narrow gauge railway.

Ex post, we can testify that the city of Meissen should not be missed during one's stay in Saxony, first of all because of the enchantment which the narrow cobblestone streets and the Medieval and Renaissance architecture produce in each visitor. We just had to climb up winding streets, to find and enter the Meissen Cathedral, one of the smallest in Europe, but also one of the most representatives for the Gothic style. The evening was dedicated to dining together, and small-scale celebration of Halloween, as a remembrance of which, we kept the pumpkin students so artistically carved.

Saturday was all about climbing, with the luck of good weather on our side. Thus, first objective conquered- the Königstein fortress, one of the biggest in Europe, also called the "Saxon Bastille", on account of its prison and refuge roles throughout history. It took a heartening upwards walk through the forest to reach it, but the effort just augmented the wonder at the sight of the 750 year-old walls, which defended elegant gardens and buildings inviting to leisure. What followed was the ascent of the Bastei, one of the main outdoor attractions in the region, which is said to have inspired landscapes by Kaspar David Friedrich. Nature competed with human ingenuity for our attention in this case too, because at the top of the massif we crossed the 76 meters-long solid bridge know as Basteibrücke in order to see a new turn of the Elbe. Despite its unbeatable image, the bridge collapsed under attacks during the 30-Year War, and was much later reconstructed in several episodes, up to the present version which dates from the 1850s, and stands at 165 meters above the valley.

The evening made the passage from the silence of the day's wanderings to the cheerfulness of spending time together in a historical restaurant which carefully conserved its brewery aspect, but blended it with the luxury of a ball house. Later on, some took to explore a bit of Dresden by night, and bravely face the traps and trials of public transportation back to Radebeul.

The culmination of the trip involved a few impressive sights of Dresden by day, a ground level view-for a change- of the Elbe, and the museum tour of the Old Master's Picture Gallery, where unsurprisingly, the Sistine Madonna captured most of our interest, making the struggle with time bitterer.


THINKING BIG: The ISU 2008 Speech Night
August 11, 2008
Alin Ivascu (ISU 2008, Romania)

The night before Barack Obama delivered his speech in front of the Victory Pillar, in a covert location in Pankow suggestively referred to as '24', ISU 2008 students came together to practice their oratorical talents and reward the best among them. Professors and students of the ISU gathered - outside the classroom this time - to listen to some of their most courageous and creative give philosophical or satirical dissertations on the big questions.

The voluntary participants were asked to hold 4-5 minute speeches in front of their demanding peers and, of course, a jury composed of the ISU faculty. Depending on their field of choice, students were given a statement and had only ten minutes to prepare speeches on their respective statements. The task was demanding, but the hours spent on Marx, Nietzsche, or Dostoyevsky seemed to have inspired passionate rhetoric on politics, economics, religion, and art.

"Democracy is dead" - a statement that left the audience pondering - was fiercely debated by Anna Michalkova (Slovakia), Vasil Vulkov (Bulgaria), Rilind Latifi (Kosovo) and Mila Sanina (Kazakhstan). The statement for the economics section - 'Greed is good' - would have certainly scandalized Marx or Engels, but ISU students Sascha Azarhoush (Germany), Dinara Ismailova (Kyrgyzstan) and Tuvshinzaya Gantulga (Mongolia) told different stories. The echoes of a plaintive "Oh my God, why have you abandoned me?" were taken up by Lior Fadlun (Israel) and Anastasiya Prymovych (Ukraine) in a real display of theatrical talents. Last but most definitely not least, given the importance of arts at ECLA, Yevgeniya Ovsiyenko (Ukraine) and Iulia Mihai (Romania) tried to demonstrate or disprove that "art corrupts".

The competition was close and certainly productive, giving birth to lofty inquiries and insightful, entertaining statements. The audience was intellectually challenged with questions that were complex in their simplicity: "What is democracy?" (Anna), "Has democracy in fact ever been born?" (Mila) or "Who reads Marx today except ISU students?" (Tuvshinzaya).

After the speeches, the winners were announced and pompously rewarded with champagne - sending the students once more to good old Dostoyevsky for some references. Anna, Sascha, Lior and Iulia were the proclaimed winners, but of course, congratulations extend to all the other brave and creative speakers.

The event also served as a beautiful way of officially thanking Prof. Melinda Harvey for her inspiring lectures and seminars at the ISU 2008. Melinda will be returning to Australia where her semester is starting and we would like to thank her for her commitment and dedication. Once the festivities had ended, arduous discussions and friendly chats filled the room; from ongoing chess games to cultural exchange, no subject was left untouched.

ISU 2008
August 8, 2008
Cholpon Degenbaeva (ISU 2008, Kyrgyzstan)

ECLA's International Summer University has welcomed its 5th class of students from across the world. This year's ISU opened its doors in Berlin for 37 students from 18 countries. For six weeks, students and professors will work together in a core course "The Mantle of the Prophet: Demons, Saints, and Terrorists." Also for the first time, the ISU will offer a drama elective for its students.

Terrorism, and its implications for individuals and society - this is the main topic of the ISU courses. By raising the questions of ideology, morality and politics connected with the phenomenon of terrorism, the course prepares for a broad investigation of the topic. Students are encouraged to relate theories with real life problems and to find historical connections between the past and modern world.

"I came here to find different perspectives and angles, to go beyond conventional thinking," shares one of the participants, Anna Michalkova (Slovakia). "I came to get more profound knowledge in the field, and that is what I am getting." Among students, she is one of the few, who have previously conducted research work on issues of terrorism. Nevertheless, she studies together with students from completely different backgrounds and interests. ISU students represent the diversity of academic and professional experiences: in the same classroom there are recent high school graduates, university students, together with university graduates.

Turgenev, Nietzsche, Camus, Schmitt - these are only few authors, whose works are studied by the class. The open discussions between students from different academic backgrounds take place in lectures, during seminars and after special film screenings that complement the course. To name a few films, ISU program includes Burnt by the Sun, La Chinoise, The Battle of Algiers, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, as well as other masterpieces. Also, the ISU helps students advance in critical reading and writing skills. Each week there is a writing workshop that each student can attend.

In accordance with the key theme of terrorism, ISU for the first time offered an optional elective in drama. This course is dedicated to exploring a link between terrorists and society. Based on Simone Weil's play Venice Saved, the play focuses on the psychological motifs of individuals and their acts. With the emphasis on creative approach, the students in the class can not only act, but also write scenes and contribute to the depiction of the plot. The final goal of the students' efforts will be presented at a public performance at the end of the ISU in August.

Graduation of the class of 2008
August 7, 2008
Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania) and Samantha Williams (2008, United Kingdom)

On Sunday 15 June the European College of Liberal Arts held its graduation ceremony. The event was an opportunity to celebrate the year's achievements and to say goodbye to the class of 2008. Academic and Project Year students gathered with professors, administration staff, parents and friends to receive their certificates from ECLA's co-deans, Peter Hajnal and Thomas Norgaard.

The ECLA choir, conducted by Musical Director Michael Geisler, opened the ceremony with Gaudeamus Igitur. Offering musical interludes between speeches, the choir charmed the audience with a small but delightful repertoire. The choir even managed to engage audience participation, with a stirring African number, prepared as a counterpoint to the more classical pieces on the programme.

In his opening speech, Thomas Norgaard told the story of Scott Buchanan, an educational pioneer, who in 1937 introduced the 'Great Books' programme to St. John's College in the United States. While stressing the differences between the Great Books programmes and ECLA's own approach to liberal education, Norgaard cited Buchanan's as one of the most interesting educational experiments of the 20th century, and worthy of study. After giving a brief history of the great books movement, Norgaard went on to focus on Buchanan himself. He held up Buchanan's example as praiseworthy, demonstrating not only a willingness to experiment but also the willingness to learn from those experiments: For Norgaard, Buchanan's criticisms of the 'Great Books' programme that he created may be as instructive as its creation. To mark the day, Norgaard donated to the ECLA library a book of interviews with Buchanan. He closed by thanking professors, administration staff and students for all that they had contributed to ECLA this year.

It was then the turn of students to take the stage, offering an alternative perspective on the year. Lena Schulze-Gabrechten (Germany) and Cholpon Degenbaeva (Kyrgyzstan) were chosen by their peers to speak on behalf of the student body. They held the audience with their witty and insightful commentary on the year's experiences. In a few, inspired words they managed to pin down how each member of the ECLA community had contributed to the year and thanked the deans, administration staff and professors.

Each student was called in turn to receive his or her graduation certificate, to audience applause and congratulations. The ceremony ended with dinner, an opportunity to browse the yearbook for pictures, stories, interviews and individual student pages.

The graduation ceremony was one of a clutch of events that saw out the academic year. On the previous Monday evening there was a student-led discussion, '60 years of Nakba: The changing faces of the Palestinian nation', to which students and faculty were invited. ECLA student Duna Tatour gave an impressive and personal presentation about the situation of the Palestinian minority in Israel, of which she is a member. The presentation focused on the Arab/Jewish question and on issues of Palestinian-Israeli identity. Duna explained that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 had, among the Palestinian people, become known as nakba or 'catastrophe', leading to large-scale dispossession, and creating the so-called Palestinian refugee problem. She went on to discuss the issues that have faced Palestinians, both within and outside the state of Israel, from 1948 to the present day.

On Friday PY students presented their finished projects to faculty and fellow-students. Those learning French gathered for an 'après-midi François' on Saturday and on Thursday the German class headed to Berlin's famous Prater beer garden to watch the Germany v Croatia Euro 2008 football match.

Final farewells were said with a Nietzschean twist on Sunday evening, after the graduation ceremony. It was decided that, after a whole year of faithful service to Apollo (god of measured speech and clear argument), the time was ripe to give Dionysos, (god of wine and revelry) his due. Coordinated by Ewa Atanassow (faculty), students and faculty assembled one last time. It was an evening for the disclosure of hidden talents, members of faculty impressing with their various aptitudes: at the poker table (not for money, of course!), dancing and playing guitar. After endless group photos, goodbyes and hugs, the year drew to a close, and in the early hours of Monday morning the music stopped and the lights were turned out.

The final page of the ECLA experience will not be found in the yearbook, but in the moments that live in the memory of the class of 2008.

The Twilight Hours of the Class of 2008
July 14, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

June 2008 - the last week of the Academy and Project Years. The first article I wrote on this website raised the question of identity, whether we would live in the tradition of previous years and how we would create our own ways. Looking back, it seems that it is now possible to recognize a group identity, albeit an unusual one.

In my view, this year's class is not characterized so much by a group spirit so much as by a group of individuals living and studying together. Visiting alumni have told colourful stories of a close-knit community atmosphere, passionate couples, late-night parties and inspired student initiatives - students acting together with one voice. But the experience of this year represents a contrast. It all began in the winter term, with the study of Plato's Republic. Investigating the question of education, the dominant reading of the term saw the Republic as fostering the 'Socratic fire' of individual self-realization.

Individualism then is probably the most fitting description for the class of 2008. Everyone has been doing his or her own thing, some spending all their free time exploring the vastness of Berlin, others focusing on their studies in Pankow, or on future plans. This is not to say that people disliked each other, on the contrary, but the pattern of this year was that people hung out and got to know each other on a one-to-one basis, rather than in groups. Many of us confronted ourselves this year, discovering our own needs and tapping into sources of inspiration. Indeed it seemed to be a year of self-reflection for a lot of us.

Now in the final week, students are writing their last essays and preparing for the coming goodbyes and post-ECLA life. People talk about future plans and some are planning to visit each other over the summer. Teachers are this week giving special seminars in which they can teach on matters of personal interest, covering Dostoyevsky, Borges, Walter Benjamin, Henry James, Georg Simmel and a movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

Academically, this has been a successful year. Of course, everyone has a favourite term and a term that did not work out, but there have been many inspired discussions. Throughout the year students seem to have improved their faculties of posing critical questions and preserving intellectual honesty. Guest lecturers are reported to have been impressed by the questions and arguments put forward by students. For many this has been a year of academic discovery. Students found out what and how they want to study, or what and how they certainly do not want to study. Around four or five of us will stay for another year at ECLA. Others move on to other liberal arts colleges, state universities or prepare for internships and an exploration of the working world.

This then, if anything, defines our year. Soon the rooms will again be vacant and ECLA, its teachers and administration, will open for the next batch of students to come, for new people to find their own group identity through liberal education between the walls of ECLA and to find their own ways to unlock that treasury of experiences called Berlin.

TURIN WORLD FORUM: 'Water & Cultures in Dialogue'
July 14, 2008
by Cholpon Degenbaeva (2008, Kyrgyzstan)

It is difficult to change the way people think, but it becomes possible if we learn first to listen and to accept changes ourselves. I saw this phenomenon at work first-hand when, between 20th and 25th May, I went to Italy to attend the Turin Youth Forum 2008 on 'Water & Cultures in Dialogue'.

The trip to Turin was organized as a follow-up to the State of the World Week at ECLA 2008, held earlier in the spring term to examine global water issues. The trip initially seemed to me to be an opportunity to tell people about what we had done at ECLA to develop ways of thinking about the several issues connected with the global water problem. However, the forum turned out to be a place in which I learned, through others' efforts in this field, to open up our project to engage with the challenges of the current world situation.

During State of the World Week the complexity of the water theme was brought out in the presentations of the various guest speakers, as well as the audience reactions that their presentations provoked. Coming from different areas of expertise, each of the speakers presented a different paradigm of thinking about water as a resource. We heard the voices of a human rights activist, an historian, a scientist, a social entrepreneur and a political theorist. Their visions of water and its place in the human environment served as a basis for further discussion of problems of water scarcity and accessibility, and for developing initial models for their potential solution.

Arriving in Turin with this preparation and knowledge, I worked together with 75 participants from across the world, all of whom were taking part in the Forum. For five days the Forum became the heart of discussion about water issues among youth leaders from both civil sectors and research institutions. Working together and focusing on their own experience, participants addressed the problems of water deficit, climate change and water management.

'We are working for concrete solutions,' said one participant, Stefano Montale (Italy), explaining the goals of the Forum. Sharing ideas to reach concrete results proved a challenging task. The debates that were taking place during each session revealed the necessity of creating a multi-dimensional solution that would not be restricted only to one paradigm, but would create a platform open to diversity.

The initial step of creating such a platform was successfully made, with participants unanimously agreeing that the idea of water should be seen as a message of love, peace, and hope among nations. This message was seen as a uniting basis for the declaration for further cooperation and progress, which participants prepared to undertake in future joint actions. With this declaration, participants could work out specific projects for the development and improvement of water management. The final results were presented as recommendations to the City Council of Turin.

'What is needed is an effort of talking to people, raising awareness, and without such awareness it is impossible to change things,' concluded a Council official - an appeal with which we could all agree, and which arguably confronts us all, not only in the context of water, but across the spectrum of challenges that face us as members of a global society.


ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Roger Scruton on 'Hegel's conception of private property and its critics'
July 14, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On Thursday 29 May, ECLA was visited by academic heavyweight, Professor Roger Scruton, who delivered a guest lecture on Hegel's idea of property and its role in the larger framework of Hegelian philosophy.

Scruton introduced Hegel's theory of property in the context of the work of Locke, one of the so-called 'social contract' theorists. Locke suggests that, because we are free individuals, we can appropriate things and constitute contracts. In contrast to Locke's view, Hegel believes that we are only potentially free; the process of actualizing this freedom requires the fulfilment of conditions which often depend on social interrelations. For Hegel, we are social before we are free, reversing the assumption held by social contract theory.

The idea of social interaction plays into a larger aspect of Hegelian philosophy, the dialectic, in which an immediate form of consciousness requires conflict, opposition and alienation in order to progress into a more self-conscious state of being. For Hegel, self-consciousness arises only once we become able to see the self as an object, in other words, when we can look upon ourselves as others look upon us. It is in therefore in other people that we properly face ourselves and become free, self-conscious agents.

Scruton continued with a discussion of the famous 'Master-Slave relation' in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, which would go on to influence Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre and others. Because the recognition of other people is necessary for freedom to be constituted, individuals enter into a 'life and death struggle' for recognition. Two parties risk their lives, but eventually only one of them will value life above freedom and retreat, resulting in enslavement to the victorious party. This creates a relationship in which the master is independent and free to use the other, the slave, to provide for his or her needs. Although the master does not recognize the slave as a full human being, the slave begins, in working for the master, to recognize himself or herself in the products of that labour. Through work, the slave has the opportunity to see his or her will objectified in real things. Meanwhile, the master becomes increasingly alienated from the products of the slave's work, not knowing exactly how the things are made, and so becoming increasingly dependent on the slave. The relationship between master and slave thus reverses, with the slave becoming self-conscious and independent by working on things.

Scruton interpreted this part of Hegel's theory in the Phenomenology of Spirit together with the Philosophy of Right, in order to understand better the effects of things on people. In the Philosophy of Right the subject matter has three elements (or 'moments'): abstract rights, morality and ethical life. Property belongs to the category of abstract rights, which are the primary conditions for existence as a free subject. These abstract rights together constitute the state of affairs necessarily prior to a subjective perspective. Owing to their anteriority to subjectivity, such rights are, in Hegel's analysis, necessarily universal. In appropriating, making and having things, we project ourselves onto objects and perceive ourselves as one object amongst them. The rightful designation of something as 'mine' signals that a subjective will has become part of the world of things, allowing one to recognize oneself as an object, to become conscious of the self as such and, simply, to become self-conscious. It is therefore in dealing with things, in appropriation and ownership, that subjectivity is made real, in a movement similar to that by which the slave becomes self-conscious in dealing with the products of his or her work.

Finally, Scruton explained the fierce reaction of Marx to Hegel's understanding of the way in which subjectivity is realized in private property. For Marx, the expression of the will in the products of labour alienates one from oneself; the translation of our will into objects entails the loss of that will in the object, culminating in our enslavement to material things. This criticism was thoroughly analysed in the subsequent discussion, becoming one of the topics of an animated, in-depth exchange between Scruton, students and faculty.

Professor Roger Scruton is Research Professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Oxford and Washington DC. He is a writer, philosopher and public commentator, specializing in aesthetics. An established conservative thinker, Scruton engages in contemporary political and cultural debates. His most recent books include: Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, Oxford University Press, 2003; News from Somewhere: On Settling, Continuum Books, 2003; A Political Philosophy, Continuum Books 2006), Culture Counts: Faith and Healing in a World besieged, Encounter Books, 2007; and the third edition of A Dictionary of Political Thought, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.


ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Julia Peters on 'Hegel's Theory of Freedom'
May 27, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On Thursday 22 May Julia Peters, future post-doctoral fellow at ECLA, helped us to understand the notoriously difficult ideas of German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. In a focused lecture, Peters traced Hegel's argument for the institution of private property as a necessary condition for human freedom.

Hegel endorses the idea that institutional constraints allow for freedom - a counter-intuitive standpoint, which Peters set out to explain. More usually, subjective freedom is defined as the individual's unconstrained and undetermined choice of action. Hegel takes this more usual conception of freedom as a starting point, stating that one is free only when one reflects on a situation and abstracts the action from the contingencies that motivate it. One is to act on the basis of reflection if one is to be free. This is somewhat problematic, as Charles Taylor (an important interpreter of Hegel) pointed out: if all actions are truly viewed in the abstract, so as to separate them from their ends,it seems impossible to choose a particular course of action. Peters explained Hegel's solution: there is one purpose which cannot be abstracted from the potential action attached to it - that of freedom itself. To abstract the goal of freedom from its action, would be to contradict the possibility of reflection and rationality itself. As subjective freedom is an end for free action, so must be all the objective conditions that make this free action possible. Among the necessary conditions of freedom are the institutions of civil society and the state. Thus for reflection to be consistent with the freedom that facilitates it, it can drive only those actions in which the institutions that guarantee freedom are sustained. Freedom and its necessary conditions are the rights of any human being in Hegel's view.

The second part of Peters' lecture addressed Hegel's ideas on property. Property is one of the institutions of civil society that Hegel lays out as objectively necessary conditions of freedom. Peters detailed the process of how private property becomes necessary for freedom in the argument of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Private property consists of three elements: physical possession, exclusive use of the object, and the possibility of passing it on to another owner. Physical possession also has three components: appropriation, modification and designation of the object as 'mine'. This structure reveals the way in which Hegel relates private property to self-perception, for example: changing an object makes one's will and desires actual and visible in the real world. It is this manifestation of one's will that enables self-perception through the possibility of receiving the recognition of others. A system of private property allows for the mutual recognition between people that for Hegel is so crucial in achieving a sense of self. Peters ended by relating this conclusion to the first part of her lecture: private property is an objective condition for perceiving oneself as a free agent.

Julia Peters will join ECLA next year as a post-doctoral fellow. A specialist in German Idealism and Aesthetics, she is researching the connection between philosophy and art in Hegel's philosophical system, on which she has published several articles. She studied at University College London, Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University and is the co-founder of the London Aesthetics Forum. She is the recipient of a Jacobsen Fellowship from the Royal Institute of Philosophy.


ECLA GUEST LECTURE - Aileen Douglas 'A home of her own: female independence in Jane Austen's Emma'
May 27, 2008
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

On 19 May ECLA welcomed Dr. Aileen Douglas of Trinity College Dublin, for a lecture on Jane Austen's Emma.

As in other Austen novels, Emma explores the relationship between marriage and property, connecting the development of the characters and the unfolding plot with wealth and proprietary status. However, Emma represents an exception, in that the title character is a young woman whose secure financial position allows her freely to decide against marriage. As Aileen Douglas pointed out, this innovation by Austen means that the plot need not advance in accordance with the conventions of the novel of the period. Instead, Emma follows this self-sufficient heroine in her endeavors to fictionalize other people's lives and emotional affairs. As a consequence, the plot emerges from Emma's own profound errors in reading other people's emotions and desires, as well as from a detailed evocation of typical social gatherings and bonds.

Secure in her fortune, and denying every implicit proposal of marriage, Emma looks for active engagement in the social world around her, by trying to secure marriage for Harriet, her new protégé, who, as an illegitimate child with no fortune, is relegated to a much lower social status than Emma. The independence that Emma strives for in opposing marriage, therefore, does not seem to be reinforced by the nature of her day-to-day activities and concerns. Yet at the same time, Emma's plans for Harriet subvert the class and gender restrictions in force in her society. Aileen Douglas argued that Emma's own eventual marriage also carries a double implication, since it may be interpreted as a capitulation to the demands of patriarchal society, and as an exercise of independence, since her new husband moves into her own family home.

Finally, addressing the question of the authorial example, Jane Austen's own life seems to offer a possible embodiment of what independence might have meant for women of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Austen herself never married. She dedicated her time instead to writing and exploring the social obligations of women in realistic novels which deploy free indirect speech in the portrayal of their characters' psychology, as well as ironic and witty social commentary.

Dr. Aileen Douglas is a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. She holds a Doctorate from Princeton University and for several years was part of the Faculty at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research and teaching interests are in the field of eighteenth-century writing, contemporary Scottish fiction and working-class fiction. Her publications include: Uneasy Sensations: Smollett and The Body (Chicago University Press, 1995) and Locating Swift: Papers from Dublin on the 250th Anniversary of the Death of Jonathan Swift with Ian Campbell Ross and Patrick Kelly, (Four Courts Press: Dublin, 1998).

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay. Kleist, Kohlhaas, and the quest for justice" by Sean Allan
May 22, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On Wednesday 14 May, Sean Allan from Warwick Univeristy gave a comprehensive introductory lecture to Michael Kohlhaas and to the background of its author, Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist. Pointing out the paradoxical subtleties within the character of Kohlhaas, Sean Allan warned against one-sided readings of the novella's plot, which regard the character as either a madman or a hero.

The story evolves around the horse dealer Michael Kohlhaaswho is mistreated by the Junker Wenzel von Tronka. When Kohlhaas sues Tronka, Tronka's family ties protect him, forcing Kohlhaas to seek justice higher up on the legal ladder. But everywhere Kohlhaas is faced with similar corruption, until he sells his land and takes up violence to obtain justice. The novella was written in 1811 by Kleist, a controversial and often misunderstood German writer. As Allan explained, Kleist is perceived in different ways: as a Prussian nationalist, a romantic idealist, or a radical intellectual. This complexity of character enabled groups to appropriate Kleist, including the Nazi party and Communist groups. As well as the Reformation and the French Revolution, the philosophy of Immanuel Kant was a major influence on Kleist. In particular, Kant's Enlightenment ideals of basing morality solely on the individual's use of reason and good will (instead of on moral sentiment, or on a calculation of consequences) seem to find expression in the character of Kohlhaas. After situating the text in Kleist's biography and oeuvre, Allan went on to examine its substance.

Although Kohlhaas is radical in his pursuit of justice, Allan was keen to point out that the narrator informs us that Kohlhaas has 'a realistic sense of the imperfection inherent in the order of the world'. In his own way, Kohlhaas is reasonable; he just wants recompense for his mistreatment. Yet he resorts to measures which may be considered unreasonable (plundering the villages of the Saxony bureaucrats, for example) in pursuit of this reasonable end. Kohlhaas seems to be aware of this, reflecting aloud that perhaps he has made sacrifices disproportionate to his cause. It is often neglected that Kohlhaas seems to be aware of his actions and always takes full responsibility for them. Allan linked the escalation of violence in Kolhaas to social contract theory: as Kohlhaas' rights are not defended he is cast out from the community, entering into a 'state of war'. Kohlhaas is not an anarchist and never aims to overthrow the State; he simply claims the right to justice, which, under the social contract, the State promises him. It is this motive which explains how Kohlhaas can succeed in his violent rampage: whereas it is relatively easy to contain mad aggressors, it is difficult for the corrupt Saxony to suppress Kohlhaas' claim to justice.

Just as we should be careful about ascribing specific beliefs and intentions to Kleist, we ought to resist the temptation to reduce Kohlhaas to the categories of mad villain or justified hero. Allan's lecture drew our attention to the human elements of Kohlhaas' torment - the righteousness and reasonableness that accompany his radical tendencies.

Dr. Sean Allan is Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in German Studies at Warwick University, focusing on German literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and on German cinema. He is the author of The Stories of Heinrich von Kleist: Fictions of Security (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2001); The Plays of Heinrich von Kleist: Ideals and Illusions (Cambridge: CUP, 1996); and DEFA: East German Cinema 1946-92 (co-edited with John Sandford), (Oxford: Berghahn, 1999).

STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK - Student Project Water Fund
May 20, 2008
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

During State of the World Week at ECLA (SWWE), projects initiated by students complemented the theoretical framework generated by the guest lectures and the seminars offered by ECLA professors.

Such a project, initiated by ECLA student Cholpon Degenbaeva (Kyrgyzstan), under the guidance of the ECLA professor Rafael Ziegler, had as its goal research and proposals which would go into the creation of the 'water fund', which would support projects by people from regions of the world where water scarcity is a day-to-day issue. The idea was prompted by the WasserStiftung, a non-profit organization in Germany, which is dedicated to providing people with clean water. The organization has already implemented projects in countries across the world, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Palestine, Afghanistan and Chile. The findings of the water fund project would be presented to the WasserStiftung, which might then implement the project.

Throughout the SWWE, the challenge for students (with the help of guest lecturers) was to write the charter and proposals for the water fund, consisting of a mission statement, objectives and the selection criteria for projects to be supported. The project was a thread of continuity throughout the week. Every day the guest lecturer joined students in discussion about the creation of the water fund. All bringing different disciplines to bear, guest speakers Maude Barlow, David Blackbourn, Tony Allan and Michal Kravčík, helped to shed light on the project's mission, according to their expertise, respectively in human rights activism, historical thought, global economics and hydrology.

As a conclusion to the SWWE on Friday 9 May, Cholpon Degenbaeva gave a presentation of the water fund as it had become, shaped by a week of discussions and consultation with guest speakers, students and faculty members. After the presentation we asked Cholpon to explain how the Water Fund came about.

Q. Cholpon, how did your interest for this project, and your collaboration with WasserStiftung, start?

A. The WasserStiftung had shared the idea of creating such a fund with our professor, Rafael Ziegler. As a result, ECLA students together with Rafael decided to develop the idea further. This project is a collaborative effort towards a meaningful contribution to a solution to the real world's problems. As for my interest in the project, it is based on my personal belief that everyone can make a difference in such matters.

Q. How did you feel about the presence and the contribution of the guest lecturers in the seminars which were dedicated every day to this project? Did they have an extensive influence on the final form of the charter?

A. The guest lectures were, indeed, the stars of the State of the World Week. Each speaker brought new and valuable insights for the project. Their participation in seminars helped us move forward.

Q. What was the outcome of the several discussions at the end of the State of the World Week? Where is the Water Fund going, now that SWWE is concluded?

A. The State of the World Week ended, but the work on our project is still going on. Currently, the project has three proposals to present to the WasserStiftung. These proposals are aimed at different areas, but they are all connected with the issue of water justice and a human right to water. We are hoping that these proposals will be useful and that in future we could continue working with the WasserStiftung.


STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK PANEL DISCUSSION: 'Berlin's Water Management - an Example for others?'
May 20, 2008
by Lena Schulze-Gabrechten (2008, Germany)

One of the student initiatives during State of the World Week was to stage a panel discussion, the focus of which would be the issues surrounding the ownership and management of Berlin's water. This would be placed in the context of global concerns about water access and water management, both in general, and with specific reference to China. The invited experts were Eva Sternfeld (China Environment and Sustainable Development Reference and Research Centre), Mrs. Härlin (Attac; Berlin Wassertisch) and our guest speaker of the day Maude Barlow (Blue Planet Project). Much of the organization for the panel was carried out by Lena Schulze-Gabrechten (Germany) and the high point of her involvement was the privilege of moderating the discussion. Here she candidly describes how it felt to preside over a panel of experts, in front of a sizeable (and lively) audience of students, faculty, other invited guests and interested members of the general public [Ed].

'I try to scan about forty faces in one gaze. Mainly interested faces (only one person obviously sleeping), and nobody looks at me in a shocked or irritated way - I call that potentially successful!

The audience in the ECLA lecture hall actually seem to follow the statements of the three women sitting to my left hand side: Eva Sternfeld, who worked for the China Environment and Sustainable Development Reference and Research Centre for eight years, Mrs Härlin, a member of Attac and the Berliner Wassertisch, and Maude Barlow, head of the Blue Planet Project and recipient of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. They are all gathered here to discuss water privatization, comparing Berlin's experience with that of other countries, for example, those in the global South.

Aware of the setting and of my job as moderator, it crosses my mind that the first vision of this event I had was certainly different: we had originally had other locations in mind and surely somebody else would have been the host! Still, it now seemed fitting to be able to welcome our guests to ECLA for State of the World Week. So, back to reality: as I glance down at the paper in my hands I have a hard time trying to fit the next question to the panellist's last answer, now fading rapidly from my mind… "Transition…?"; "Bridge…?". What do they have in common? Water perhaps?

Maude saves me by directly answering the last remark and telling a funny story suiting the context. I am very grateful and feel the ground beneath my feet again. As I plan to leave at least twenty minutes for questions from the audience I check the time and cross out the next question but one. Then, as a second check, I look at Rafael Ziegler (faculty coordinator), with whom I organized the panel and, as I don't feel any desperately hectic gestures directed at me, I feel supported in my time management.

"Mrs. Barlow, the Berlin case gives us an example of a public-private partnership in water distribution. As Mrs. Härlin pointed out, and as the movie that we watched, H2O for sale, underlines, it has not been a successful one. In your book The Blue Covenant you argue for a global water contract that only allows for the water supply to be held in public hands - you specifically mention public-public partnerships. Could you please elaborate on that?"

The panel discussion seems to stimulate questions and comments that would have comforted the missing representative from the Berliner Wasserbetriebe (Berlin's water provider), whose empty chair and empty glass are on my right-hand side. After a slightly hesitant start the discussion becomes more passionate, taking up the respective benefits of democratic accountability on the side of a publicly-held water supply and, on the side of privatization, the desirability of the government's being able to independently control the activity of a third party supplier. I am sorry that I have to cut off the last questions - but it is really time for water, wine and fingerfood...'


STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK LECTURE: Petra Dobner on 'Crossing the Jordan: Global Water and Transnational Constitutionalism'
May 15, 2008
by Samantha Williams (2008, United Kingdom)

On Friday 9 May Dr. Petra Dobner visited ECLA to deliver a guest lecture, 'Crossing the Jordan: Global Water and Transnational Constitutionalism', as part of State of the World Week. It was fitting that Dr. Dobner's lecture should be the last of the State of the World Week series, as it served to bring together many aspects of water addressed throughout the week and to situate the water problem within the power structures of the globalized world.

The old 'sandwich' model of the state, which posits a determined territory, on which a determined people resides, and over whom a determined power is exercised, is outmoded, Dr. Dobner claims. In the globalized world, powers outside a state may impact on its freedom to exercise power over its own territory: the people may not all be located within that territory, or may have strong associations without. Other transnational or international power structures may make claims of the nation state, and on its people. Even the territory of the state has become unstable. The effect of these tendencies is to create a constitutional problem. For where the elements and interests of the nation state are intermingled with those of its neighbours, as well as with transnational organizations, the constitutional principles that act to constrain power become uncertain in their application and effectiveness. Power structures which exist beyond the boundaries of nation-state competence cannot be subjected to state control and thus begin to take on an unconstrained character. The problem for twenty-first-century political theorists is how to submit these power structures to 'constitutional' control. This is the project of transnational constitutionalism.

Dr. Dobner demonstrated that as the most fundamental human needs, such as water access, are politicized on the global stage, the need to constitutionalize global power is pressing. Globally, water issues (like many others) are addressed by international institutions, such as the World Water Council, and also by interested NGOs, Greenpeace for example. The key problem for Dobner with this method of establishing international administrative networks is one of legitimacy, because they wield significant and effective power. Members of global institutions tend not to be elected, but co-opted or appointed from pre-existing networks, most of which either represent the concerns of global interest groups (often business, but also NGOs), or are made up of representatives from nation state executives. For Dobner, legitimacy is crucial. She distinguishes criteria of 'input' legitimacy (established before the event) and 'output' legitimacy (established after the event). Each of these can be fulfilled in two different ways: input legitimacy is established either by election or by stakeholder participation; output legitimacy is established by consensus or by achieving an efficient solution. These four smaller categories have, for Dobner, a cumulative effect, such that the more of them any given institution can exhibit, the more legitimacy it can claim.

Dr. Dobner's lecture focused on the administrative networks presently in place to address global water scarcity and found that within these power structures legitimacy criteria are only barely fulfilled. She argued that Guiding Principle No. 4 of the UN Dublin Statement (1992), which underlies global approaches to water policy, prominently introduces the idea of water as an 'economic good' and finite resource, offering tacit support for water privatization in pursuit of UN goals. This economic focus may, it seems, overshadow the rights-based understanding of water needs promoted in the same document. Dobner went on to outline her research, which suggests that within the administrative bodies charged with the making and implementation of global water policy, there exist close prior connections between administrative personnel with other interested global actors. She found, for example, that sixteen of the twenty-one members of the (UN-established) World Water Council have connections with the World Bank, which favours privatization.

Dr. Dobner closed her lecture by explaining that there are, at present, theoretical attempts to find ways of constitutionalizing the power networks controlling global issues, such as water policy. Explaining that what it means to 'constitutionalize' these relationships is subject to interpretation, Dr. Dobner's lecture posed fundamental questions about water, but also extending beyond it: is it sufficient to codify the global power networks in place, thereby subjecting them to some kind of formal control? Or does globalized society demand of transnational constitutionalism a substantive attempt to push back the steadily encroaching powers which the globalization process has accrued to private actors? Is it ever possible to legitimize or democratize these relationships in any meaningful way? Dr. Dobner's answer was that it should be possible to find a form of constitutionalization but, whatever happens, transnational constitutionalism will not approximate to the old, Western democratic model of the nation state, which exerted power subject to a democratic mandate and inviolable constitutional rules. These old notions of constitutional values must, it seems, cede to newer versions more suited to the globalized context. What these will look like, we shall have to wait to see. However, as indicated by the political tussles over the fated EU Constitution (to be replaced in a nomenclatural climb-down by the Lisbon Treaty) the process will be a painful one.

Petra Dobner, DR. RER. POL. is a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin, where she is a member of the research group, Konstitutionalismus jenseits des Nationalstaats [constitutionalism beyond the nation state]. Her research interests include water policy; social policy and theory; and politics and justice. She has published extensively in all of these areas. Her Habilitation thesis is on water policy. Dr. Dobner studied Medicine, Philosophy and Politics at Freie Universität Berlin.

May 14, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On 8 May 2008, the fourth in the lecture series of the State of the World week on Water, Ing. Michal Kravcík expounded a new paradigm of thinking about water. In the old water paradigm, we believed that humanity has little impact on the natural water cycle and that this cycle has a negligible effect on global warming. In contrast, the 'new water paradigm' includes the realization of humanity's effect on the water cycle and the major role this water cycle plays in climate change.

The lecture started with a short documentary by Katerina Zackova, 'Air Conditioner Breakdown', which draws a disturbing connection between our approach to water and the current increase in floods, droughts and other greenhouse effects. The documentary was an effective springboard for Kravcík's advocation of a shift in water paradigm. Water particles in the air not only function as filters that bind greenhouse gases, they are of prime importance in heat regulation: plants evaporate water cool to down the atmosphere and stabilize heat fluctuations. As Kravčík later explained, while a surface of asphalt heats up and dries the atmosphere, a surface of vegetation cools the atmosphere and retains water in the surface layers of the soil. Unfortunately, our attitude has always been to remove water from the land in as fast and controlled a way as possible, for example, through canal systems. Additionally, since most of our crops require dry, steppe-like conditions to grow, we have been drying out the soil for centuries, such that now, large pieces of land start to resemble desserts, with high fluctuations in temperature and with only concentrated periods of heavy rainfall.

From the perspective of the new 'water paradigm', Kravcík proposed several realizable and cheap solutions to the problems stated above. First, we should stop draining water from the soil. Land is normally urbanized in such a way that water cannot enter the soil because it is covered with asphalt and drainage systems. Instead, we should reserve a greater area for vegetation, for example, by planting more greenery in the cities and on the roofs of our buildings. Similarly, the use of more vegetation on agricultural land would be beneficial. It would counter the greenhouse effect by the cooling effects of water evaporation. The soil would become capable of absorbing more water, reducing the chance of water streaming on top of the soil and turning into a flood in the event of heavy rainfall. The message was clear and persuasive: we should stop drying out the land and start thinking of water as something that can be used to protect ourselves from environmental calamities.

Ing. Michal Kravcík, CSc., (1956) is the founder of the People and Water NGO, a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize and a member of ASHOKA: Innovators for the Public, an international network of innovators who work for public welfare. The People and Water NGO has been awarded the EU-USA Prize for Democracy and Civil Society Development. He has also made many important contributions to research on the construction of waterworks and water management.

STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK LECTURE: Tony Allan on 'Global systems enable local security: virtual water - the water, food and trade nexus brings water security and sustainability'
May 13, 2008
by Samantha Williams (2008, United Kingdom)

ECLA was particularly honoured to receive Tony Allan to deliver a State of the World Week lecture. Just over a month before his arrival, Professor Allan was awarded the 2008 Water Laureate prize by the Stockholm Water Committee for his 'pioneering and long lasting work in education and raising the awareness internationally of interdisciplinary relationships between agricultural production, water use, economies and political processes'. A significant part of Professor Allan's contribution to water awareness is his discovery of 'virtual water', a concept which gets to the heart of complicated ecological and geographical, political and economic dilemmas. It was virtual water which formed the backbone of his lecture.

When we think of water scarcity, the most powerful images that come to mind are those of people dying of dehydration or of unsanitary conditions and water-borne diseases. This, however, as Professor Allan illustrates, is only the tip of the global water scarcity iceberg. The most significant sources of water are in fact invisible. Soil water, which hydrates the land, may not be drinkable, but it allows a country to grow crops. Countries which have to use drinking water to hydrate the land have less for their people to drink. Food commodities are also crucial, for the water quantities required to produce these commodities are substantial. For example, each individual needs access to only 1m3 (1,000 litres) of drinking water per year, plus another 200m3 for washing and work. A massive amount of individual needs are hidden in food: each individual requires a 1000m3 of virtual water in food for the most basic sustenance each year. This represents the amount of water needed to produce the food that he or she consumes. What is more, the amount of water required to support our nutritional needs depends very much on the diet we adopt. A vegetarian diet requires only half the amount of water in food (2,500 litres per day, approx.) of a red-meat intensive diet (over 5,000 litres per day).

Using virtual water models, Professor Allan addressed the interrelatedness of water to food, trade, and global and economic security and sustainability, and the need to maintain balanced relationships between these different elements. Encouragingly, Allan predicts that with prudent resource management and reallocation, the world's water resources are sufficient to sustain its future population. He suggests that at the heart of this nexus lie three virtuous 'marriages': making water with clean energy, making clean energy with freshwater, and using global trade in energy and commodities to solve local water scarcity problems. The task then is to facilitate these marriages and avoid the two 'funerals', of climate change, which damages the atmosphere's production of water, and of water resources, in which water is squandered through careless management, ignoring the underlying fundamentals of the ecosystem.

Professor Allan's concept of 'virtual water' radicalizes our notions of water needs, helping to explain how relatively rich economies, such as Israel or Egypt are able to overcome water shortages through trade. While trade may give a country the wealth it needs to import its water deficit in commodities, water-short countries exporting water-intensive foodstuffs may be subject to criticism if they fail to supply their own citizens with the drinking water and sanitation required to meet their basic needs. The power and success of Professor Allan's virtual water model lies in permitting political economies and societies to re-allocate their water needs in such a way that is politically feasible. Invisible and silent, encouraging peaceful trade relations and ecological sustainability, the insight of virtual water lies in Professor Allan's understanding that vexed global problems demand politically astute answers.

Tony Allan is Professor of Geography at King's College London and at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is a member of the KCL/SOAS Water Research Group. Winner of the 2008 Stockholm Water Laureate Prize, his research focuses on the social and political contexts which influence and usually determine water use and water policy. A particular focus of his research is in the Middle East and North Africa.

STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK LECTURE: David Blackbourn on 'Conquest and Conservation: German Waterlands since 1750'.
May 9, 2008
by Rob Boddice (faculty)

On Tuesday 6th May ECLA hosted Professor David Blackbourn as part of the State of the World Week on Water. Blackbourn's lecture, entitled 'Conquest and Conservation: German Waterlands since 1750' drew largely on his recent book, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany (2006), a broad-ranging and fascinating history of Germany's 'battle' with 'nature' from the time of Frederick the Great.

Blackbourn was keen to point out the historicity of the concept of 'nature', and the fact that so-called 'natural' landscapes are rarely free from the influence of the shaping hand of man. He established the important distinction between nature and nature in itself, suggesting that the latter concept of a pure or untouched landscape was often confused with the former, the convenience of which belies extraordinarily complex processes of the interaction of humans with their surroundings. He was able to demonstrate this through his focus on the German case.

The leitmotiv in German rhetoric on nature, according to Blackbourn, is the 'battleground'. Nature was something to be 'conquered', 'civilised' or 'tamed'. To 'defeat' nature was a sign of human progress, an indicator of national greatness, and a maker of individual heroes. Blackbourn gave numerous examples, from the reclamation of land from marshes (to create more agricultural land), to the straightening of the Rhine (to prevent flooding and improve shipping), to the building of dams (to provide water and power, and to prevent flooding). From these stories the political, social and cultural history of Germany emerges, since the vast undertakings of the 'Conquest of Nature' involved all the machinery of the modern state. The material landscape provides an entry point for understanding the German cultural past. For Blackbourn, it is not adequate to consider German cultural history entirely at the level of discourse, but instead to locate the 'imagined community' in very real spaces. Cultural and material aspects meet in Blackbourn's work.

Of course, historical notions of progress, national greatness, and heroism often look, from the vantage point of history, like regression, hubris and arrogance respectively. Blackbourn wants to avoid the spurious balancing act required by those who would want to judge, by various value sets, the social, political and (perhaps most prominently) environmental consequences of the history of the German 'battles' with its water. There are empirical data showing the unintended effects (positive and negative) of these activities, but the interpretation of such data as 'positive' or 'negative' at different times precisely serves Blackbourn's point that meanings derived from 'nature' and man's place in it are historical. The changing of the German landscape tells us something about what it meant to be German; but what it meant to be German also helps us understand why the landscape changed.

David Blackbourn is Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard's Center for European Studies. Besides the Conquest of Nature, he is the author of a number of books, including Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany (1994) and The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918 (1997).

STATE OF THE WORLD WEEK LECTURE: Maude Barlow - Blue Covenant. The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
May 8, 2008
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

On Monday 5 May 2008, ECLA welcomed Maude Barlow to deliver the opening lecture of the State of the World Week. Maude Barlow is a human rights activist and author of several books, the most recent being Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. Based on the research included in this book, Barlow lectured on the global issue of water scarcity, which leaves one billion people without access to drinking water and more than two billion without adequate sanitation. Barlow's analysis establishes connections between this water shortage and the global trend towards water privatization.

Co-founder of the organization Blue Planet Project,whose avowed aim is to stop the commodification of the world's water, Maude Barlow made an incisive distinction in her lecture between those political groups which consider water a commodity, and activists, including herself, that advocate a human right to water, and therefore consider it as a commons property.

The issue of the human right to water ran throughout Maude Barlow's lecture and is derived from the definition which has been accorded to it by the UN. In 1948, when the General Assembly adopted the text of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, water was implicitly incorporated through other human rights, but not explicitly formulated. In 2002, to mark the UN International Year of Freshwater, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 in which water is recognized, not only as a limited natural resource and a public good but also as a human right. With the exception of Somalia and the United States, all the UN member countries worldwide signed this document which recognized this right, which, however, has no force of law.

Maude Barlow's concern for the future of water, she explained, includes an explicit formulation of a human right to water, an ambitious solution to which would be the creation of a global covenant on water. Such a covenant would be made up of more specific, component covenants, including covenants to protect water conservation, water justice and water democracy. For Barlow, therefore, the human right to water is situated within the broader context of concern with global and economic equality. Barlow doubts, however, that one person or organization would be able to design the 'blueprint' to realize this 'dream'.

Maude Barlow's discourse incorporated well-documented facts, such as global water conflicts, e.g. in China and Tibet, and the involvement of international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations in promoting the water privatization model. Personal examples, extracted from her extensive travels for field-research purposes, enriched and refined the message of these data. This research has brought her into contact with the communities and peoples of Africa and Latin America, who, aware of a human right to water, are now fighting for it.

Barlow's language of a right to water does not rely solely on the entailment of this right in General Comment No. 15, but draws further on a philosophical perspective, rooted in the terms of religious or customary law. Although the struggle against the global water privatization trend represents a challenging task, Maude Barlow's lecture shed light on the importance of thorough investigative work when addressing essential global issues such as the legitimacy of a human right to water.

Maude Barlow is a Canadian author and activist, head of the advocacy organization The Council of Canadians. She is also director of the International Forum on Globalization and co-founder of the Blue Planet Project organization. Her publications include: Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Fight for the Right to Water (with Tony Clark); Blue Gold: The Battle against Corporate Theft of the World's Water; and Profit Is Not the Cure: A Citizen's Guide to Saving Medicare.

SWWE: 'Doors open on State of the World Week at ECLA 2008'
May 6, 2008

Yesterday (Monday 5 May) saw the opening of the State of the World Week at ECLA (SWWE) 2008.

This year SWWE takes water as its theme for the week. Also chosen as the 2008 topic for the UN-decade Education for Sustainable Development, water is now at the heart of a number of key global political problems, such as inequality, environmental degradation and gender discrimination. The State of the World Week aims to explore these issues in the light of the term's AY Core Course on Property.

The event is the culmination of a planning process which started in January 2008. A team of faculty members and students worked jointly to produce the final programme. The event also sees ECLA open its doors to undergraduate students from other universities, to ECLA-alumni and to other interested visitors. The SWWE 2008 is built on a set of morning lectures by international speakers and on group projects.The lecture series for SWWE 2008 includes the following contributions:

Tony Allan, Professor of Geography, King's College London and winner of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize is presenting a lecture 'Global systems enable local security: virtual water - the water, food and trade nexus brings water security and sustainability'.

Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold, recipient of the Alternative Nobel and founder of the Blue Planet Project is giving a lecture based on her recent book, The Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

David Blackbourn, Professor of History, Harvard University, and author of The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany is presenting a paper, 'Conquest and Conservation: German Waterlands since 1750'.

Michal Kravcic, Hydrologist, founder of People and Water, and Ashoka Fellow, discusses the 'New Water Paradigm'.

Petra Dobner, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin,is lecturing on 'Crossing the Jordan: Global Water and Transnational Constitutionalism'.

The first day of the State of the World Week closed with a panel discussion, which took 'Berlin's Water Management - an Example for Others?' as a topic for discussion. The panel featured Eva Sternfeld, China Environment and Sustainable Development Reference and Research Center, Maude Barlow, and Dorothe Härlin from the Berliner Wassertisch.

Special seminars spanning several disciplines examine different aspects of the issue of water. Seminars address the philosophy of water, the human right to water, dam-building, water as memory and culture, and the metaphorical implications of water and of the shipwreck in particular. Other events at SWWE 2008 include round table discussions, film screenings and a presentation based on an art exhibition. A student 'water fund' project features as an important component of the week's activities.

Student coordinator Lena Schulze-Gabrechten said:

'Considering water as a political issue the State of the World Week tries to connect the global(ized) dimension with the local one. In the form of a public panel discussion, forexample, current developments of water privatization in Berlin are included. I hope these attempts are helpful to make the issue more relevant to everyone.'

The annual State of the World Week at ECLA was set up to give students an opportunity to reflect on how liberal arts studies relate to issues of the present day. Established in 2003 as a forum for inquiry into current affairs, the SWWE fulfils an integral part of ECLA's educational mission by demonstrating the relevance of liberal arts studies to contemporary world events. Students choose the theme of the week and play a substantive role in the production of the programme.

Last year, in May 2007, SWWE examined the theme of 'social entrepreneurship'. The event won a UNESCO award for education in sustainable development and prompted faculty coordinators Catherine Toal and Rafael Ziegler to organize an elective in social entrepreneurship for the fall term of 2007. Catherine and Rafael are also in the process of editing a book of essays based on the event and the elective, Social Investments: Transformations of the Entrepreneurial Spirit

For further information, please see

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Thomas Docherty on the German Ideology of Marx and Engels - 'Modernity and the Language of Real Life'
May 6, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On 28 April 2008, Professor Thomas Docherty came to ECLA to deliver a penetrating lecture on the German Ideology. Focusing on the elements of Marxist thought that was to have a determining influence on critical theory in the twentieth century, Docherty explained Marx's views on theory, language and the materialist method.

In the German Ideology, Marx and Engels reacted to the Young Hegelians, a group of students and young professors who believed that Hegel misconceived the Prussian State as the end-point of his dialectical progress. For the Young Hegelians the actual state was not fulfilling the role assigned to it by Hegel's ideas. They theorized how to reform the actual state, so as to continue Hegel's dialectical movement to its proper conclusion. Marx and Engels criticized the Young Hegelians for disputing over mere phrases, failing to offer a true critique of Hegelian philosophy and remaining fully within its system. Implicitly, Marx and Engels also attacked Hegelian philosophy itself for being 'totalitarian' (as Baudrillard would later suggest) by reserving a place for criticism within philosophy, whereby the philosophical system appropriates to itself all criticism. Therefore, Marx and Engels argued, one cannot criticize the Hegelian philosophy with words but only with action and a language rooted in material reality, a 'language of real life'. To change the world, one cannot use mere words, Marx and Engels contended.

Docherty expounded the idea of a 'language of real life', using it to explain central Marxist themes, such as materialism and alienation. Marx conceives of the human being as a pivot between past and future. What we are at a given moment is fully determined by the material conditions in which we find ourselves; nevertheless we are still free in this position to 'open up a new, unpredictable future'. Man is historical insofar as he changes the course of the future. Awareness of the material conditions that determine a particular class and the action that befits it are crucial in this change of the future. Class struggle is, for Marx, the mode of history.

Marx stresses the reality of physical, living beings, actual humans with beating hearts. The task is to find the language of this real life instead of the empty phrases of philosophy and ideologies. These empty phrases are the creations of the ruling class who, forgetting that their ideas come from their particular material conditions, hold them to be true for everyone. They thereby justify their position as the ruling class. Thus, through its universalization, a particular ideology comes to be a distorted image of reality, especially wrong with regard to the situation of the proletariat. Words and ideas are taken for real, while actually it is only material things and living humans that are real. Here Docherty drew an interesting parallel between Marx's account of mistaking words for the real things that they describe and the later structuralist division of signifier and signified. The Marxist conception of a 'language of real life', Docherty proposed, can be seen as a precursor to the poststructuralist realization of the central role of specific material context in relationships of signification.

Thomas Docherty is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Warwick University. A specialist in the philosophy of literary criticism, his books include a study of the poetry of John Donne (John Donne Undone, 1987), a genealogy of the category of 'authority' in modernity (On Modern Authority, 1983), and an investigation of the intellectual consequences of the theoretical turn in literary studies (After Theory, 1990). His recent works (Aesthetic Democracy, 2006; The English Question, 2008) explore the inherited burdens and the future potential of contemporary political, educational and literary institutions.

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Theodor Paleologu on Inequality, Society, and the Enlightenment
May 5, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On 21 April 2008, ECLA was visited by His Excellency Theodor Paleologu, ambassador of Romania to the Kingdom of Denmark and the Republic of Iceland. Paleologu presented a guest lecture on Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality, situating Rousseau's ideas in their historical context and reconstructing Rousseau's conception of the origins of political society and the moral self.

Paleologu positioned Jean-Jacques Rousseau between the schools of the radical and the moderate Enlightenment. The radical Enlightenment represented a comprehensive ideological shift with regard to epistemology, morality and education. Instigated by Spinoza and the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, it is characterized by emphasis on freedom of speech and anti-aristocratic politics. The moderate Enlightenment was influenced by British political thought, and principally by Locke's arguments for mixed government and constitutional monarchy, which preserved the dominant theistic worldview. In France, Voltaire was writing in the spirit of Locke and Newton. Rousseau reacted strongly against this. Rousseau's theism led him to take a position between the Jansenist belief that salvation comes only through Christ, and the Jesuits who believed that good deeds in a person's lifetime could contribute to salvation. In eighteenth-century France, where religion and politics were closely linked, the Jansenists favoured the parliament and the Jesuits supported the king. Paleologu explained how Rousseau struggled with these oppositions and how his refusal to take absolute sides in his writing eventually led him into conflict with everyone.

The Discourse on Inequality was Rousseau's answer to an essay competition set by the Academy of Dijon. In the Discourse Rousseau famously offers an account of the state of nature, which presents civilized society as a fall from man's primitive original culture into inequality and suffering. In his analysis Paleologu drew an important distinction between possession and property: The primitive human does have possessions, but only enters into a political society when he or she claims something as his or her property, to be protected by the laws of an institution. Although in the state of nature everyone is happier and healthier, Paleologu stressed that, for Rousseau, it is impossible for civil society to return to the state of nature, because of the many dependencies upon society that humans have internalized. Humans desire what they perceive others desiring and this process of mimetic desire multiplies the human passions, creating envy and the need for prestige. Paleologu explained how 'amour propre', a destructive self-love that strives to outdo others, grew out of the naïve 'amour de soi', a natural self-love that enables a person to care for his needs; in modern society humans need to be acknowledged by others, whereas in the state of nature self-affirmation sufficed. With regard to the individual way of life, Paleologu argued that Rousseau leaves open the possibility for human beings to 'return' to some of the tendencies of the human essence in its state of nature.

Theodor Paleologu taught extensively at ECLA until 2005, when he was appointed ambassador. He returns to ECLA at the International Summer University 2008. Paleologu was a research fellow at the University of Notre Dame, Harvard University and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. His publications include Sous l'oeil du Grand Inquisiteur: Carl Schmitt et l'héritage de la théologie politique (Paris 2004), De la Karl Marx la stenograme: Cronica anului politic 2004 (Bucharest 2005) and Meditaţii romane (Bucharest, 2006).

ECLA DISCUSSION: Richard Hersh, a Night of More than a Discussion on Education
April 23, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On Monday evening, just after dinner, students and faculty gathered for a discussion session on education in one of ECLA's three student houses. The night turned out to be maybe one the most serious discussions we have had and maybe one of the most honest community experiences at ECLA.

The discussion was introduced by Richard Hersh, a renowned expert on education, currently a Senior Fellow at the Council for Aid to Education, member of the advisory board of the Bringing Theory to Practice project and co-editor of the book Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk (Palgrave, 2005). Hersh presented his draft paper 'A Well-Rounded Education for a Flat World', in which he sketched out the current problems in the educational system of the US. Not only is depth lacking in the education in many disciplines but there are also serious shortcomings in the preparation for the professional culture, a '"flat" world of unrelenting, technology-equalizing, global economic competition'.

Hersh argues that student-teacher relationships in American universities are too shallow to provide for the intellectual and emotional well-being of the student, and are kept in place by institutional structures which prioritize research credentials over teaching qualities. The result is a growing disengagement with intellectual ideas among students, and a failure to make these arguments their own and to feel their emotional comport. Even at expensive Ivy-League colleges, education may fall short of helping students to become open-minded, reasonable human beings.

It is an unsettling picture that Hersh identifies, with high dropout rates, grade inflation, and psychological illness rife among students. Perhaps most worrying among the symptoms is students' lack of those character assets which could help improve the world for everyone. According to Richard Hersh, small liberal arts colleges may well offer a theoretical solution, but in practice suffer greatly from the 'consumerization' of students, who believe themselves better serviced by a fancy swimming pool than a high workload. It is in reaction to this state of education that ECLA was called into existence.

Richard Hersh's urgent and personal lecture served to open a long discussion, which continued well into the night. With education as the theme of the autumn trimester and over half a year of liberal arts education at ECLA behind us, we were more than prepared for the debate, which proved an occasion for sharing experiences. As the former president of several colleges (including Trinity College at Hartford), Richard Hersh openly shared his lively stories of students who, placed in a residential campus environment, are led to confront their own prejudices. ECLA professors continued in this vein, explaining the difficult pull between research and teaching, and the backbone needed to become a secure and authentic teacher. As students we disclosed our own experiences of studying liberal arts: the problems of having to compete with students wielding specialization degrees, the strength needed critically to doubt one's own dear-held values and, above all, experiences of living on a small international campus. A former student was in attendance to recount his experiences in previous years, making for interesting comparison with our own. The deans in their turn shared their own difficult experiences of trying to create the optimal conditions - both intellectual and communal - for a unique group of people each year.

Sometimes it was difficult to listen to others voicing the ways that you have affected them, sometimes it was just funny. Every voice was simultaneously academic and deeply personal - exactly what Richard Hersh had called for so passionately in his paper.

April 15, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

Early morning on Sunday 9th March our bus left for Florence and after only a couple of hours we were already analysing the frescoes of Perra della Francesca in the medieval city centres of Pienza and Arrezzo. The Florence trip was to allow students to place the studied material in its context so the days were filled with discussions of the art, history and politics of Florence that we had encountered in lectures and seminars.

On arrival in Florence we saw a beautiful but busy city full of tourists. This was not the Florence that we had studied. That Florence was hidden somewhere and the week enabled us gradually to reconstruct the Renaissance city in our minds, and to comprehend its historical and aesthetic influence. Monday started by climbing the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, which offered great panoramic views of the city. We then visited a number of beautiful churches, many of them designed by Brunelleschi, the early imaginative force behind Renaissance architecture. We could recognize his influence everywhere around us, with many buildings constructed according to Brunelleschi's designs.

On Tuesday there were tours taking in the Bargello and Uffizi galleries, and to Santa Croce church, wherethe great works of such giants as Michelangelo, Leonardo and Botticelli were on view. The artistic achievements of the Renaissance were introduced and related to historical Florence, enabling us to relate to the aesthetic values of Florentine culture. On Wednesday excursions to Siena, Pisa and Assisi allowed us to gain a geographical perspective on Florence. The sun started to shine and as well as being intellectually interesting it was a relaxing, fun day, whether taking in the sunset at the beach near Pisa or Assisi's amazing views over the Umbrian valley.

Thursday and Friday were the days to really feed ourselves on Renaissance Florence, with tour choices covering more political issues at Palazzo Vecchio (former residence of Niccolo Machiavelli), frescoes at the churches of Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo, and enjoying the more contemporary Italian pleasures of eating ice-cream at the old Palazzo, followed by a laid-back stroll through the Boboli gardens. In the evenings we could be found climbing hilltops in search of Florentine cityscapes where to savour a glass of red wine, or letting off steam in one of the easy-going jazz clubs.

The Florence programme culminated on Friday evening in encounters with Michelangelo's Slaves and the original David. In many ways this was the grand finale of the term and the trip, as the David forced us to re-evaluate many of the issues that we had tackled in the preceding weeks. Set in the context of the unfinished Slaves, we realized well the origins of the David and were permitted to see it as the apex of the artistic process.

For a week we became absorbed by the Florentine culture, seeing Giotto's discovery of the psyche's visible manifestations and Brunelleschi's mastery of complexity through geometric architecture. We saw the many aesthetic visions interwoven in the designs of the Cathedral; the frescoes that attempt to bring God nearer to us as human beings, historically branching out into those poetic expressions of Dante's, still pervading our minds. We saw the radiating layers of movement in Leonardo's sketches and Michelangelo's triumphant struggle against matter. This was historical Florence in all its aesthetic excellence.

Pilgrimages to the monasteries of Assisi and San Marco
April 15, 2008.
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

On Wednesday, 12 of March, after two roaring days in Florence, we split into three groups for day trips to Siena, Pisa and Assisi, with ECLA professors as our guides.

The trip to Assisi had something of a pilgrimage about it as we set off early in the morning. Once we arrived in the small Umbrian town of Saint Francis, we found ourselves climbing a soft path up to the monastery. We went to Florence with the curious eyes of those who, after nine weeks of studying, want finally to see what we had seen only in pictures. In this sense, Assisi also offered space for reflection and contemplation surrounded by nature instead of the noisy touristic groups in Florence. We took it as a good sign that it was the first sunny day after the previous days' rain.

ECLA professor Tracy Colony spoke about the emergence of monastic orders in the Middle Ages before entering the monastery, so that we could maintain silence and view the frescoes at our own pace once inside. The Franciscans emerged as a mendicant order between 1210 and 1215 during the pontificate of Innocent III. At this time the Roman Catholic Church was accumulating substantial wealth, necessitating an ideological accommodation. Along with the Dominicans, an order established a few years previously, the Franciscans embraced the ideas of poverty and of giving up material possessions in order to be closer to Christ's own way of living.

From outside, the monastery seems imposing but peaceful, and something about its setting makes people walk slowly up the hill to its entrance. The building of the monastery was begun after the canonization of Francis of Assisi in 1228 and completed almost twenty years later. The monastery is divided into an upper and a lower church, the lower church containing the saint's relics and tomb, exposed for veneration. The tomb generated different reactions among students, some considering it rather ostentatious for a saint who all his life preached poverty and abstention and who, on those principles, founded a monastic order. However, we also considered the difficulty of preserving the memory of a saint with proper dignity. Inside the church we studied Giotto's frescoes depicting the life of Saint Francis, occasionally whispering our thoughts and impressions. Beside the Giotto frescoes, there are wall paintings of Old and New Testament scenes by Cimabue, Pietro Cavallini and others.

The following day in Florence retained something of the peaceful mood of the trip to Assisi. San Marco is a Dominican monastery, in which the monks' small cells are each adorned with a fresco by Fra Angelico. A monk in Fiesole, Fra Angelico moved to the newly built monastery of San Marco as early as 1436 and commenced work on the frescoes at Cosimo de Medici's request. Intended as devotional aids depicting scenes from the life of Christ and painted in a modest palette, the San Marco frescoes inspire a feeling of humility and piety.

Viewing the Annunciation scene at San Marco, situated on the wall that confronts the visitor on entering the monastery, one senses the delicacy of Angelico's painting, the gentleness of shapes, heavier and stiffer in other depictions (for example, Giotto's Annunciation painting in the Arena Chapel at Padua), the simplicity of the interior and the care and detail in the surrounding nature within the fresco. Walking through the hallways of the San Marco monastery, and entering the small cells there, also gave us a keen understanding of the nature of the Dominican belief in the need for poverty and seclusion. With only a small window overlooking interior garden of the monastery, the monks would dedicate their time to prayer before the frescoes of Fra Angelico.

In these days spent in Assisi and in Florence we experienced two monastic orders in different ways and in different moments. As well as seeing the Giotto and Fra Angelico frescoes in each of the two monasteries, we came across the Franciscan monks walking the narrow streets of Assisi; and, although with a different eye, we also got a feeling of the Dominicans' day-to-day life, entering their cells in San Marco and seeing, perhaps, just a little, as they saw.

Mayor of Berlin-Pankow visits ECLA
April 14, 2008

Matthias Köhne, Mayor of Berlin-Pankow, visited the European College of Liberal Arts on April 10, 2008. Peter Hajnal and Thomas Norgaard, Co-Deans and Managing Directors of ECLA, introduced the guest to the College and informed him of the general development of ECLA and of the plans to start the ECLA Bachelor programme in 2009.

Mr. Köhne underlined the importance of an international institution settled in Pankow.

The exchange of opinions was followed by the Mayor`s participation in the core course, which this week focused on Aristotle's Ethics.

A tour of the campus and a lively discussion with students and faculty in the cafeteria ended the mayor's visit.

Mr. Köhne and the Management of the College agreed that mutual visits in the interest of the two parties should be continued. They look forward to a deepening of the exchange of views in the future.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN at Berlin's Schaubühne
March 27, 2008.
by Samantha Williams (2008, United Kingdom)

In the final week of the winter term the theatre lab went to Berlin's famous contemporary theatre, Schaubühne, to see Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Sticking reasonably closely to Miller's original script, director Luk Perceval reconceives the tragedy of the post-war American dream in post-reunification Germany. Here in Berlin, Miller's themes of unemployment and the broken promises of materialism assume contemporary relevance. Disenchanted salesman Willy Loman (Thomas Thieme) is in the twilight of his career. He lives on handouts from his rich neighbour Charley (Michael Rastl) and puts his own abandoned hopes into his two sons - layabout Happy (André Szymanski) and kleptomaniac Biff (Bruno Cathomas).

A forest of gum trees obscures the rear half of the stage. People from Willy Loman's life skulk in the bushes together with Willy's own evaporated hopes and guilty secrets. They struggle menacingly out of the undergrowth only to add to the explosive mix of betrayals and failures that destroy Willy. This jungle is carefully maintained by his wife Linda. Carola Regnier's performance as Linda is bewitching in its stillness, complementing the frenetic activity of Happy and Biff, and Willy's bursts of anger and despair. It is Linda who comes in for the lion's share of directorial criticism. Papering over the rotten past, she languidly observes as the present disintegrates around her and sends the future hurtling out of control.

Technology emerges as a sinister symbol of success and repression in Perceval's realisation. The Loman family's attempts at communication are stunted by their fixation on the television set dominating the front of the stage. Interrupting the audience's view of the characters, it seems designed to force a consideration of the way we replace authentic human interaction with digital makeshifts. Mobile phone tones and digital cameras intrude on pivotal moments of revelation, rendering Willy's attempts to define his success by how well he is liked both noble and pathetic. Willy Loman is a dinosaur who hasn't got a clue about technology, but is glued to the television screen. He is a salesman who can't sell and a consumer who is ultimately consumed.

Perceval's use of the bodies of the actors brings a raw physicality to the production. Biff lumbers clumsily around the stage in his underpants like an overgrown baby. The weightier nature of his thoughts are set forth in the stage presence of Cathomas, offset by the slender and virile (but vacuous) Happy. One hand rooting in his underpants, Happy delights in taunting his fleshy brother with his lightness of body and spirit, Szymanski occupying the stage with an effortless, speedy energy. When Willy fornicates with his 'kleines Mädchen' (Christina Geiβe) it is as a comic grotesque of an old man's skewed fantasies of his inglorious past. When Biff finally tramples over the family secrets, crushing his father's hopes with honesty, Cathomas' bodily authenticity is difficult to watch. Mouth and nose streaming, blue in the face, he does not so much shout his final confession as allow it to shatter his frame.

This Loman family is one trapped in a vicious dialogue between the dark nature of human weakness and the unnatural, thrusting insistence of a digital society, which frustrates attempts to rebuild understanding and refuses pleas for compassion. A riveting performance from the whole cast, this is the type of stuff for which Schaubühne is famous. The original script, a stream of consciousness in the addled mind of a man falling apart, lends itself particularly well to this bold staging, which brings Miller's themes crashing into the visual space.

Contemplating Art and Getting Ready for Florence
March 6, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

The experience of art is at the centre of this term's studies. So, among other questions, we ask ourselves: Is historical knowledge necessary for a full encounter with an artwork? Now, as we come to the end of the term, we head to Florence to see Florentine artworks of the Renaissance after learning about the history, ethics and politics of Florence in the period and reflecting on the influence this knowledge has on us and our experience of, for example, works by Leonardo and Michelangelo. Or, is it perhaps art that gives us insight into Florentine society and context? Such thoughts are very much on the mind of students, as they write their final essays and think about the interrelation between Dante and Alberti or Boccaccio and Machiavelli. Ultimately, all this is preparation for an intense immersion into Renaissance art during the week-long trip to Florence, a day-to-day confrontation between art and the informed viewer.

As we silently contemplate our final essays, we are simultaneously involved in the active life of organizing the excursion. There is a plane-ticket team, an hotel team and even a booklet team with student entries on the various art objects in Florence. And, through these preparations, students look at the photographs of statues and paintings, mindful of the exciting realization of the upcoming hands-on experience. What are still abstract questions of dealing with art will soon become very concrete and real attitudes of art appreciation, once truly surrounded by Florentine beauty.

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: David L.Vierling on "Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters: The Search for 'a Very Deep Feeling of Being Part of Something'"
February 26, 2008
by Matthias Hurst (faculty)

On February 19, 2008, David L. Vierling, a Berlin-based expert in comparative literature, media studies and film, working at the John F. Kennedy School, Berlin (Department of English), visited ECLA to present a lecture on "Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters: The Search for 'a Very Deep Feeling of Being Part of Something'". This guest lecture was part of ECLA's winter term film class dedicated to the films of Woody Allen. Analyzing Hannah and Her Sisters by showing clips of the film, looking closely at plot structure, important scenes and characters, David Vierling revealed some of the essential philosophical ideas and crucial artistic elements of Woody Allen's work and demonstrated how the director conveys concepts of life, love and happiness, including rather bleak ideas and desolate notions about the human condition, in his personal, sophisticated cinematic style.

With ample information on the life and career of Woody Allen and specific details about other Allen films, the lecture did not only feature an analysis and interpretation of the particular artistic accomplishments of Hannah and Her Sisters in a profound, yet entertaining way, but provided also a substantial and conclusive overview of the achievements of one of America's most distinguished film directors.

VISIT TO THE DEUTSCHE KINEMATHEK - Museum for Film and Television, Berlin
February 21, 2008
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

As a part of the 'seeing Berlin' programme, the visit to the Film and Television Museum in Berlin complemented the elective courses, Introduction to Film Studies, Heroes on Screen, and Woody Allen - a Poetics of Fun and Philosophy, held by film professor Matthias Hurst this year at ECLA.

Entering the museum gives a real sense of initiation into a different world: in the first room the ceiling, floor and walls are totally covered in mirrors. Greeting the visitor with a multiplicity of different images, the museum prompts reflection on the role of cinema in our lives. Large screens signal the path through this maze, displaying images of the most famous actors and actresses of early-German cinema.

Organized in periods and themes - Pioneers and Divas, German Expressionism and Caligari, the Weimar Republic, Film under National Socialism, The Post-War Years to the Present - the museum's permanent collection brought students into closer contact with the history of the German cinema, studied as part of the Introduction to Film Studies elective in the autumn term. Germany has a particularly important role in film history as the birthplace of cinema, just a few months ahead of the Lumière brothers in France. However, it was the rise of Marlene Dietrich that put German cinema on the map. The Deutsche Kinemathek has an expansive collection devoted to the actress and her most important films. It includes costumes, letters, props and recordings of her audition for Blue Angel, the film which took her from Berlin to Hollywood.

The museum's exhibits dedicated to German expressionism, and particularly to the film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919-1920), generated discussions among students for their influence on the subsequent development of the horror genre. The exhibit of the controversial work of Leni Riefenstahl, prominent film director in 1930s Nazi Germany, gave rise to further debate.

In the heart of Potsdamer Platz, the modern commercial centre of western Berlin, the Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum for Film and Television was built as early as 1963, but only opened to the public as a film museum in 2000. It presents parts of its huge collection in permanent exhibitions and in themed exhibitions which change annually.

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Stefano Evangelista on Walter Pater
February 20, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On 13 February Dr. Stefano Evangelista of Trinity College, Oxford, presented an inspiring guest lecture on Walter Pater's vision of the Renaissance as a state of mind.

Walter Pater (1839 - 1894) was an English art and literary critic at Oxford. Although he was a shy and peaceful man, his book The Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry caused great controversy, shocking the established art criticism of the nineteenth century with its ahistorical and amoral conception of studying aesthetics. According to Pater, it is the real sensation of the art object that matters, instead of the application of abstract concepts or a disinterested explication through historical facts.

Dr. Evangelista introduced the students to the book and the included essays on Renaissance individuals, such as Pico della Mirandola, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Through discussion of these individual essays, it was revealed how the narrative of the essays repeatedly present a frozen and dogmatic background, representative of the Middle Ages, against which the bright and innovative characteristics of the Renaissance-man present themselves. Just as Renaissance artists breathe new life into pagan symbols and classical aesthetics, so too does Pater attempt to breathe life into the art objects of the Renaissance through his own original and intense impressions. Pater's essays were shown by Dr. Evangelista to reenact the emergence of the Renaissance spirit itself.

Dr. Evangelista examined this tendency through specific examples, including Pater's striking reading of Botticelli's Venus, in which he traces the synthesis of the allegorical Christian elements in the landscape and the pagan figure of Venus. Venus appears reminiscent of the Virgin Mary, exemplifying how Botticelli injected new life into the visual depiction of Venus. This synthesis functions in light of a distinct sensibility that Pater sees at the core of the Renaissance. In Botticelli's case, psychological expressions obtain physicality and the world is seen in a new light, free from Medieval Christianity. On this basis Dr. Evangelista provided a compelling account of Pater's envisioning of the Renaissance state of mind, in which one is free to interpret the past, to abstract meaning from the object's relation to the viewer and to constantly reestablish the object's influence on aesthetic experience. Dr. Evanglista argued that "Pater does not aim to describe the art object; rather, he attempts to translate the artwork itself into language".

Dr. Evangelista's lecture closed by addressing the notorious conclusion of Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry. A manifesto of art, the conclusion advocates the Renaissance sensibility as a way of life, of experiencing the most intense and precise impressions in the shortest moments possible. One is to absorb human experiences to the fullest and to open oneself to the aesthetic quality that art can give to one's life. The lecture ignited an energetic debate amongst students and faculty.

Stefano Evangelista is Fellow and Tutor in English at Trinity College, Oxford, and Lecturer in English at the University of Oxford. His main interests are in nineteenth-century English and comparative literature, the classical tradition, and the interface between literary and visual cultures. He is currently completing a book on British aestheticism and Ancient Greece, and is editing a volume on the reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe.

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Dr. Jobst Welge on the Decameron
February 4, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

On 28 January Dr. Jobst Welge of Freie Universität zu Berlin presented a guest lecture on Boccaccio's Decameron. Written in 1348, the Decameron tells of the brigata, a band of three young men and seven young women who flee from plague-ridden Florence to a pastoral idyll, where they feast and tell stories - ten stories a day for ten days out of fourteen.

Dr. Welge's introductory lecture placed the Decameron within the literary tradition of the novella. Boccaccio's technique of framing multiple novellas was shown to be an important influence in establishing a literature drawn from oral story-telling, a tradition that would include Chaucer, De Navarre and Cervantes.

Dr. Welge situated the Decameron in the social and political climate of Florence in the early fourteenth century - raging plague, political unrest, the development of Florence's mercantile culture, and the influence of oral literary tradition from the east. Set against Dante's Divina Commedia the Decameron seems to evidence a move away from Dante's 'high' style and claims to religious purpose, towards stories depicting secular life in a 'humble' style.

The structure and thematic development of the Decameron was taken as a measure against which to assess the manoeuvres of the text as well as Boccaccio's own claims for his work, such as the explicit invitation to readers to make their own moral judgment. Taking the first and last novellas, Dr. Welge revealed the apparent progression from the critique of courtly and religious practices in the first story to the affirmation of cardinal virtues in the last story, a progression nonetheless fraught with ambiguities.

Dr. Welge's introduction of the concept of the locus amoenus, the idealized literary space in which the brigata tell stories, prompted discussion of the role of literature in Florentine culture and in society in general. Is the brigata's flight from the plague to feast and tell stories mere literary escapism or does it express some role for literature as a means by which society can recollect itself in a time of crisis?

Dr. Jobst Welge is Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiterat the Peter Szondi-Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft. His current research interests focus on Renaissance and Early Modern literature. Dr. Welge is the co-author of the forthcoming Kultureller Kannibalismus with João Cezar Castro Rochaco. He co-translated The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concept and recently wrote an introduction and commentary to Curzio Malaparte's Zwischen Erdbeben. Streifzüge eines Europäischen Exzentrikers.

ENJOYING BERLIN, Public Lectures by Alain Badiou
January 29, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

Things happen in a city like Berlin. There is almost too much to do, too many things to experience. Ground-breaking exhibitions, grand festivals and public lectures by world-famous thinkers are on constant offer. So it was that on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 January, the renowned, left-wing French philosopher Alain Badiou gave two public lectures in Berlin, on democracy, and on art and politics. Someone at ECLA found out, an email was sent and two days later a large group of students found themselves amid the crush of academics, political activists, artists and students in the Senatssaal of Humboldt University.

The first lecture, titled '"Democracy" against Democracy', was an investigation into the conceptual relationship between philosophy, truth, democracy and politics. Badiou claimed that democracy is not reasonable: reason concerns itself with the truth, the favouring of one true thing above others; democracy concerns itself with equality. For Badiou, this fundamental realization gives rise to others, including a view according to which democracy is not an end in itself, but a means - just one possible route on the journey towards a new politics. Professor Badiou is a witty and charismatic speaker, true to the tradition of modern French philosophy. After the lecture, ECLA students and faculty split up to continue discussions in one of Berlin's many bars and cafés, stopping off for the traditional Döner at Hackescher Markt, in the hub of Berlin's nightlife district.

The second lecture, 'Art and Politics', held at the Institute of Contemporary Art, proposed an understanding of contemporary art as 'descriptions without a place'. Badiou connects the decontextualized state of contemporary art with that of contemporary politics, and drew upon his own interpretations of the poetry of Wallace Stevens as an illustration. Badiou envisages a new form of politics - a 'coming together' prior to and above any form of state or government. Quite a group returned from the previous day's lecture; others joined anew. The lecture inspired debates that ran seamlessly into the Berlin night. Having picked up a couple of revolutionaries and philosophers on the way, it was unsurprising the ECLA contingent found itself ending the evening on the couches of the infamous Communist party bar, which offers free entry to real revolutionaries. Students, unfortunately, had to pay!

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Lynn Catterson on Renaissance Sculpture
January 28, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

As part of the introductory week of the winter term, 'Art, Politics, and Morality in the Florentine Renaissance', ECLA featured two inspiring guest lectures by Professor Lynn Catterson from Columbia University.

On 8 January Professor Catterson's lecture 'Disrobing the Body Sculpted' introduced the history of sculpture, in particular its various styles and their movement with transformations in the cultural and political moment. Striking features of sculptures were traced to the general cultural context in which they belonged. Students were shown how, as the Romanesque style gave way to the Renaissance, the sculpture stepped out of the buildings in which it originated. Isolated events also had an impact on sculptural development - the competition between Brunelleschi and Ghiberti in 1401 to design new bronze doors for the Cathedral's baptistery and the hands-on experience of Donatello and Brunelleschi, brought about by the excavation of Classical structures between 1404 and 1407.

On 9 January Professor Catterson accompanied students to the Bode Museum for instruction in the more practical aspects of art history. By way of an introduction, she explained how properly to visit a museum and the importance of knowing how the collection came together and being aware of who is responsible for its state. Critical awareness thus raised, the question of authenticity proved essential while examining particular sculptures. Professor Catterson focused on the role of the material of a sculpture in judging its style, period and function. Students were taught about different kinds of relief, the use of busts and how to recognize different postures in statues. They were stimulated to practice their critical eye and actively to apply what was learned in the lectures.

Professor Lynn Catterson lectures in Renaissance Art at Columbia University. Her work focuses on Florentine sculptures. She is currently researching Michelangelo's early career in Florence and Rome.

ECLA GUEST LECTURE: Denise Budd, 'Painting and the Period Eye'
January 25, 2008
by Livia Marinescu (2008, Romania)

On 9 January, ECLA welcomed Professor Denise Budd (Rutgers University) for her lecture 'Painting and the Period Eye' on Florentine painting in the Renaissance.

Focusing on the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance period, Professor Budd analyzed the sources and evolution of painters such as Giotto and Masaccio, presenting their work in comparison to that of their predecessors and teachers. Giotto's paintings were further compared to those of Masaccio, whose innovations included the perception of space and a sharpening of space sensibility. Professor Budd also drew on the work of art historians Cennino Cennini and Alberti and their contributions to the understanding of the methods of Giotto and Masaccio.

Under Professsor Budd's guidance the subsequent visit to Berlin's Gemäldegalerie allowed students to view paintings discussed in the lecture, including Giotto's 'Death of the Virgin'. The Gemäldegalerie also presented the opportunity to consider the use of proto-perspective, emerging in the Sienese school of the fifteenth century in the work of Francesco di Giorgio and the use of the trompe l'œil method by Piero di Cosimo, a technique of depicting realist elements in order to create optical illusions.

Denise Budd received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2002, where she also taught. Her doctoral thesis was on Leonardo da Vinci and a reinterpretation of the documentary evidence of the first half of his career. She currently teaches at Rutgers University.

January 14, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

ECLA has lifted the veil on its fresh new look, the latest stage in its ongoing development towards a four-year undergraduate programme.

Intended to better express the character of ECLA, the new look is the result of a survey and analysis of its defining characteristics. . The design firm commissioned for the project delegated a three member team to live on Campus for a number of days. The process involved a classic branding exercise with a focus group consisting of administration, teachers, alumni and a visiting academic consultant.

The cornerstone of the redesign is the striking new logo. Designed in bold primary colours, the logo resembles overlapping speech bubbles, prompting reflection on the dialogue of ideas that characterizes the ECLA experience. The overlapping speech bubbles capture the nature of the intellectual encounters at ECLA, in which difference leads to shared experience.

In an interdisciplinary and international setting students are encouraged to combine values from multiple perspectives. The logo symbolizes the constant sharing of these thoughts, be it in the context of the classroom or in the halls of residence.

The next phase of the ECLA corporate redesign comprises the design of a new website and campus-wide introduction of the new branding. ECLA is also preparing the expansion of its Pankow campus in order to accommodate the planned four-year undergraduate programme. The plan is to invite tenders for 2008 for the overall design of the campus. This will involve the design of new structures as well as plans for a thoroughgoing renovation of the exteriors of the 9 buildings currently in use.

January 7, 2008
by Martin Lipman (2008, Netherlands)

For ten weeks at ECLA, drawing upon the debates of Ancient Greece, students and faculty have been weighing different views of the meaning of education. Students considered their position as learners at the same time as experiencing the 'other side' of the educational dialogue in seminars, such that the experience was of self-reflective education.

Two articles (Martha Nussbaum's 'Socratic Self-Examination' and Leo Strauss's 'What is Liberal Education?') set the tone of the core course and opened up a general discussion on the nature of liberal education. Nussbaum argues against the discernible political and social resistance to teaching students critical reflection, taking the view that liberal education should be Socratic, that critical argumentation underlies civic freedom. Strauss advocates the 'great books' programme as a model of liberal education which teaches students to stand on the shoulders of giants. Although these views are in no way models for ECLA's own philosophy, they set out some of the debates that surround the liberal arts. In the discussion that followed it became clear that there exists a wide spectrum of opinions. These differences established the relevance of the trimester's theme.

Turning to Ancient Greece, the course started with Homer and Hesiod, long held to be the principal educators of Greek virtues in Athens. The discussions focused on the poems' examples of heroism, tragedy and divine authority and the part they played in setting social values. The curricular thread of education led from Homer's Iliad to Plato's Republic and its influential founding thoughts on education. One of these, the moulding of the young, inspired a discussion in the fourth week on the content of children's books and their educational influence. The seventh week posed the question of what is meant by 'Socratic education' and how it measures up against our own understandings of liberal education. Issues that emerged from this session included the role of self-actualization through critical reflection of one's own understanding and if liberal education can be unbiased: whether, like Socrates' interlocutors, the student is not always, in some way, directed. A reading of the poems of Sappho and Euripides' Hecuba was set into the context of the Republic in order to consider the normative influences of art and culture in education. In the penultimate week of the term a final essay provided the opportunity to reflect on Socratic education and its relationship to the educational values of poetry and tragedy.

In the final week the curriculum allowed students to put their ideas into practice and to choose between seminars on Plato's Phaedrus or Sophocles' Oedipus Rex; the choice between the teachings of a philosophical dialogue and the self-enrichment of reading tragic poetry. The encounter with the intellectual flourishing of Ancient Greece has set an appropriate basis for the upcoming explorations of art, politics and morality in the Renaissance.