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NEWS 2010

ECLA Choir Sings at St. Maria Magdalena
May 24, 2010
David Duncan (PY '10, USA)

The mixed student-faculty ECLA Choir, led by their director Yvonne Frazier, performed at St. Maria Magdalena Church as part of a special Pentecost service.  Pentecost, called Pfingstmontag in Germany, is a national holiday and it commemorates the reception of the Holy Spirit by the twelve Apostles in Christian theology.  

A group of ECLA students and faculty were also in attendance to observe the service and support the Choir. St. Maria Magdalena Church is located at 22 Platanenstrasse, in between student housing and the lecture halls. Although students pass the building every day, most had not had any previous opportunities to see the inside of the Church.  The event also gave them the chance to meet fellow residents of Pankow.

The Choir sang two songs in English: the popular spiritual "Kumbayah" and the American gospel song "This Little Light of Mine."  The acoustics of the Church assisted the choir's powerful performance.  The congregation showed their appreciation for the Choir's musical efforts by applauding at the end of the service and personally thanking members of the choir afterwards. 


Building a European Public Sphere: Carl Henrik Fredriksson
February 11, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

On Thursday 11th February, State of the World Week hosted a new guest: Carl Henrik Fredriksson came from Vienna to speak about the translator's political and cultural context. Reflecting on the question "how much in common must a community have?" seminar participants embarked on a two-hour discussion of the European public sphere. Fredriksson is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Eurozine, an online magazine and a network of European cultural journals. He is President of the association Eurozine - Verein zur Vernetzung von Kulturmedien, and former Editor-in-Chief of Sweden's oldest cultural journal, Ord&Bild.

The core problematic discussed in the lecture was the difficulty of identifying a shared European identity. In Europe, most people have a national or a local identity, and sometimes perhaps a regional one, but "in the absence of a shared European identity, there is no true and sustainable European community", argued Fredriksson. In an era in which every institution is viewed in terms of global relationships, he claimed, the role of the state has had to be rethought. "The State can no longer be defined in national terms. It has become an international actor. Therefore the fourth estate - journalism, the press - also has the obligation to define itself in those terms," says Fredriksson. He adds: "If politics has changed, then of course the entity that is supposed to oversee it also has to change. This however has not yet happened. Daily newspapers are still very much nationally defined".  

Faculty member Ryan Plumley queried the possibility of a common transnational public sphere: "Aren't publics always multiple, terribly fragmented, and indeed aren't all forms of publication oriented towards a specific public?" Fredriksson responded that in fact certain sources within the public sphere always carry more weight than others: "this is why big investors want to buy a newspaper, because they want to put out a certain political message," explained Fredriksson. "Yes, there has always been fragmentation in the public sphere, but newspapers - and that is one of the problems here - have played the key role in nation building. That is exactly what newspapers are for: they have created a national community, built that community." Print and visual media continue to reinforce the national identity and strengthen particular political possibilities, while undermining and ruling out others.

Fredriksson argued that, when discussing how to build a public sphere, it is better to talk about practices and not values, since this latter term will shift the focus to how identity is constructed and defined. He gave two examples of how a transnational public sphere can put practical pressure on the assumptions and self-perceptions of the national space. One was of a series of articles written by a Swedish journalist of Polish origin, about the forced sterilization policy implemented in Sweden from the 1930s to the 1950s. None of the evidence presented in the articles was new-it had even been uncovered by Swedish researchers-but they were eventually translated into English. As a result, the Swedish government received inquiries from the international media about whether the victims would be given compensation. A similar outcome followed the case of a Norwegian journalist who, on the occasion of the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, chose not to write about his compatriots' resistance to Nazi occupation, but rather about anti-Semitic persecution in Norway before the War. Once the article was translated and reached a wider audience, the authorities were forced to commit themselves to providing compensation.

ECLA Dean Thomas Nørgaard raised his worry that in the search for a common public sphere, there would be a simplification of certain issues which might encourage the emergence of a superficial or frivolous culture. In response, Fredriksson cited Eurozine as a publication which could be the model, if not the basis, for a new public sphere. A project which grew gradually from the participation of journalists and translators over a number of years, Eurozine is a network of European cultural journals, linking more than seventy-five partner journals as well as associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries. Publishing articles in their original language, it also offers an accompanying translation into English. Eurozine's use of the internet as a mechanism of distribution rather than a technology which often downgrades content-forcing it into abbreviated or hastily digestible forms-reflects Fredriksson's ambitions for the European public sphere, as a space which borrows its character from the traditional high quality and identity-building function of the national newspaper.

Translating Philosophy and the Philosophy of Translation 
February 10, 2010
Sarah Flavel (PY '10, UK)

On Wednesday the 10th February a group of students and visitors gathered for a seminar, as part of the State of the World Week, under the supervision of ECLA faculty member Tracy Colony.  The seminar - "Translating Philosophy and the Philosophy of Translation"- focused on translations into English of the work of Martin Heidegger.

The task of translating Heidegger's writings presents a uniquely difficult challenge on a number of counts.  Firstly, due to the strict regulations on translation methods imposed by those responsible for overseeing Heidegger's estate at the philosopher's own behest, the world of Heidegger translation is subject to a strict code of intellectual conduct.  Further, Heidegger's consistent deployment of compound technical terms, which forms a vital dimension of his unorthodox manner of doing philosophy, calls for careful and often challenging translation decisions.  Attempting the task of such important translation work demands a delicate understanding of the nuances of the German original, for which a comprehension of the play of etymological meaning and of the subtle conceptual substructure of the writings as a whole is indispensable.

In preparation for the seminar, students and guests were asked to read the 'Review and Overview of Recent Heidegger Translations and Their German Originals: A Grassroots Archival Perspective' by the eminent Heidegger scholar, Professor Theordore Kisiel.[1] The focus of the seminar discussion fell on the massively contentious first-and highly anticipated-translation into English of Heidegger's Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis). The translation, by Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, of Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) is characterised by Kisiel as a "major disappointment".   Discussion of this text provided the group with the opportunity to consider what has been widely criticised within the community of Heideggerian scholarship as a translation disaster of epic proportions.

The translators, as Kisiel derisively points out, have on multiple occasions elected to translate Heideggerian terms into strikingly opaque and often unwieldy English neologisms. One such example is the rendering of the German verb ersehen with "to ensee". This is a particularly awkward choice given the existence of the alternative "to envision" which is already present in common English usage.  A plethora of similarly obtuse words using the prefix 'en' appear throughout the translation.  In addition, so claims Kisiel, the translators appear to have entirely neglected the significance of Heidegger's characteristic employment of the double genitive throughout the original text.

 The unfortunate consequence of these and other infelicities may be an unnecessary obscuration of the original work through the interventions of the translation. As Kisiel notes, such ostentatious translation decisions only work to render even more opaque what is already a very difficult text- especially where, as in the case of ersehen, the terms in question have readily available equivalents in English.   It might well be suspected that these translation choices represent a desire to forcibly exclude, or at least to discourage, readers who cannot grasp German to a level sufficient for reading the original. Such an aim would obviously undermine the motivation for translating in the first place. Particularly disconcerting is the concern that the ramifications of the now notorious translation blunders of The Contributions will have conspired to mar the reception of the text, especially amongst those non-specialist readers less schooled in the technical lexicon of Heidegger's thought: those less prepared for the frustrating task of wading through the "mire" of Emad and Maly's translation. 

 A principal theme of the seminar discussion was the significance of interpretation for the task of translation.  Once again, the group considered Emad and Maly's Contributions as an example of how a lack of interpretive sensibility can lead to a loss of meaning in translation.  Tracy Colony gave the example of the translators' decision to render die Mitte (the middle, centre, medium) as "mid-point."  This decision, also described in Kisiel's paper, opts for a "calculative" rendering of an important Heideggerian concept, the connotations of which are intended to extend well beyond the notion of an exact geometrical position.  The original term, die Mitte is used by Heidegger to denote the idea of the middle as a site of mediation.  Die Mitte also has important resonances with the Greek vox media (middle voice).  The translation as "mid-point" is therefore grossly reductive - "a ruinous relapse into calculative thinking" which also "clearly loses the sense of a mediating middle region".[2] Emad and Maly's decision here betrays a decisively un-Heideggarian indifference to the etymologically loaded substance of Heidegger's writing.

The critical consideration of Emad and Maly's text allowed the seminar's participants to explore the dangers of mistranslation, as well as providing the opportunity to attempt to rescue from obscurity some of the weightiest philosophical terms of Heidegger's later philosophy. The seminar was particularly topical given the upcoming publication of Tracy Colony's own translation, the first into English, of one of Heidegger's early lecture courses - Phenomenology of Intuition and Expression (Continuum, June 2010).

[1] Studia Phaenomenologica V (2005), 227-300
[2] Theodore Kisiel, 'Review and Overview of Recent Heidegger Translations and Their German Originals: A Grassroots Archival Perspective' Studia Phaenomenologica V (2005), 227-300

Photo: Defne Ayas

April 29, 2010
Press Release

Three-Character, Realist Play Presented as TV Production, Durational Performance and Behavioral Psychology Experiment.

Who: David Levine, Watermill Center Spring Artist-in-Residence

What: Presentation of Levine's new project, Habit

When: Saturday, May 1 at 12:00 P.M.

Where: The Watermill Center, 39 Watermill Towd Road, Water Mill, NY 11976

Admission: Free. RSVP required:

In residence at the Watermill Center, the New York-born, Berlin-based artist David Levine is developing Habit, a production co-commissioned by another prestigious champion of new works for performance, Toronto's Luminato Festival. At the center of Habit is a new three-character realist play commissioned from Jason Grote and set in an American ranch house. The play will be performed inside a fully functioning  house, specially built inside the gallery space, creating an installation that questions our asumptions about spectatorship, performance, routine, reality and realism. Levine and his collaborators-playwright Jason Grote, set designer Marsha Ginsberg and threeprofessional actors-will offer a preview of the new work, which fuses TV production, durational performance, behavioral psychology and theater, at Watermill on Saturday, May 1. 

Habit will be set in a four-walled, fully furnished, functioning ranch house (stocked fridge, working stove & plumbing), designed by Marsha Ginsberg, with room for audiences to circulate around the outside of the set. Actors will inhabit the set for nine hours a day, performing the play on a loop, communicating only through the dialogue, improvising staging as it suits their needs: If they're hungry, they cook; if they're dirty, they wash-and the needs of the characters. Spectators will circulate around the enclosure during exhibition hours, observing the actors through the apartment's windows, two-way mirrors, or in a separate room on a live, eight-camera video feed. The "privacy" of the apartment will allow the actors to employ a more "private" acting style-improvisatory, relaxed, filmic-even while they're in full public view. Sometimes the fight scene happens while someone's making a sandwich and someone else is taking a piss; sometimes it happens as one person's trying to watch Oprah and the other one's about take a shower-just like in real life.

In the final phase of the project, each of the video iterations will be burned onto DVDs, creating both final documentation of the project and 80-90 unique films. Habit will premiere at the Luminato Festival in Toronto in June, 2011.David Levine's work encompasses performance, theater, installation and video. His projects, including Bauerntheater and Venice Saved: A Seminar, have been seen at Documenta XII, Gavin Brown's Enterprise@Passerby (NY), Galerie Feinkost (Berlin), Brown Gallery (London), François Ghebaly (Los Angeles) HAU2 [Berlin], PS122, the Sundance Theater Lab, the Vineyard Theatre, Primary Stages, the Atlantic, and Cabinet Magazine's exhibition space. He will be a featured artist at MoMA's Symposium: Audience Experiments this May.

About the Watermill Center

Watermill is a laboratory for performance founded by Robert Wilson as a unique environment for young and emerging artists from around the world to explore new ideas.

Watermill draws inspiration from all the arts and cultures as well as from social, human, and natural sciences. Watermill is a global community of artists where living and working together among the extensive collection of art and artifacts lies at the heart of the experience. Watermill strives to be a haven for a next generation of artists while supporting their work among a network of international institutions that embrace new interdisciplinary approaches.

Watermill offers a wide range of programs and activities throughout the year. For the well-known International Summer Arts Program, Wilson invites 60-80 artists who come from over 25 countries-48 countries so far-for 4-5 weeks of intense creative exploration. There are daily workshops with Mr. Wilson and his collaborators, based on new projects they are developing in all areas of the arts. Residents also develop their own work under Wilson's guidance. A lecture series completes the ambitious programs.

For the Center's Fall and Spring Residency programs, which take place from September to June, a high-profile committee of practitioners in the arts and humanities-including Wilson, Marina Abramovic, Alanna Heiss, Albert Maysles, Gerard Mortier, John Rockwell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Richard Sennett, Nike Wagner and others-selects over 15 groups, individual artists and scholars in residence to workshop their own creations. The residencies are complemented by educational programs with schools and other institutions; public events such as open rehearsals and lectures, seminars and symposia; and tours of the building and grounds.

Founded in 1992, the Watermill Center is a 22,000 square foot facility located on the six-acre site of a former Western Union communication research facility on Long Island's East End.

Press Contact for the Watermill Center:

Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates, 718.643.9052 or

Catherine Toal

Translating Terror
February 28, 2010
Diana Martin (AY '10, Romania)

In 1966, Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu issued the 770 Decree, and with it an entire generation came into being; a generation subsumed under the derisory name of "The Decree Generation". The general prohibition of abortion, along with the lack of availability of contraception, represented an extension of state power into the intimate realm of the body, systematically enforcing the subordination of women to a single primary function: the bearing of children.  Children born in the years from 1972 to the late 1980s were used to hearing as early as kindergarten that Ceauşescu was their father: "in many cases, this is in a macabre sense true," concludes the Nobel Laureate Herta Mueller in the essay "Tod oder Knast oder Kinder," first written for the Berlin Tageszeitung newspaper in 1988, which Catherine Toal translated for discussion in one of the State of the World Week seminars.

The seminar aimed to explore the features of Mueller's technique of evoking the totalitarian restrictions governing the fate of women's bodies.  Just as the 770 Decree brutally and unrelentingly asserted its influence over women's lives, the narrator eschews lyrical description in favour of a lapidary style: short sentences, harsh sounds, and an abrupt and apparently matter-of-fact introduction of character and situation.  Indeed, the form of Mueller's portrayal imitates the approach of secret-service sponsored reportage on the everyday activities of citizens, the documents which recorded even their smallest movement or most trivial conversation with a view to discovering dissident intention. Like such reports, Mueller's narrative accumulates small anecdotes, from the story of a student posthumously expelled from school after a failed self-induced abortion, to the story of a man who boasts that he knows how to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancy "himself," by hitting his wife twenty times with the cellar door. Rather than exercising a malign suspiciousness, the reader's task is to divine the depths of suffering visible beneath the details chronicled, and also, ultimately, the inescapable relevance of the Decree, and the aims and attitudes which created it, to every aspect of life. Through the anecdotes, Mueller gradually builds a representation of a subterranean female world in which secret codes, methods, and actual recipes for coping with the official state policy had to be devised. Her approach culminates in a bald enumeration of the various ways in which an abortion can be induced and their degrees of dangerousness, e.g., "insert the plastic tubing of a round knitting needle into the uterus" ('medium' on the scale of threat to the woman's health and survival).  Once the 'recipe' and the conditions which make it necessary have been described, the reader is ready to decode anecdotes which do not seem explicitly to deal with the problem of the Decree, and yet which turn out to have it as their unmentioned subtext.

The objectifying style of Mueller's narrative parallels the objectification undergone by individuals during the years of communism. The sharpness of Mueller's tone suggests a separation of the body from the mind, indicating that the narrator's creation of a distance from herself is the necessary condition for the communication of her experience and that of those around her.  In her essay, as throughout her work, Mueller renders the image of a culture of mistrust that penetrates one's very being. Fearful, suspicious, and resigned, Mueller's Romania is tragically portrayed as, to borrow her words, a nation of subjects rather than of individuals.

Catherine Toal's seminar brought to light both "the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose" for which the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Herta Mueller.

The Novel in New Lands. Bruno Macaes' SWWE Seminar
February 27, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

The end of the State of the World Week brought us Bruno Macaes' seminar "The Novel in New Lands," analyzing the topic of cultural exchange by looking at a particular cultural referent: how national heritage and habits in literary production remain sovereign over the foreign influences they receive.

Bruno argued that the History of Literature shouldn't think of novels in terms of national boundaries, but as a world-wide production. The theme that was looked at in this seminar was cultural exchange as another expression of globalization. The main difficulty lies in understanding how can it take place, since the cultural form -in this case, the novel- is one individualized element, and cultural exchange presupposes that the same cultural form belongs to different cultures at the same time. It is fully absorbed, and yet remains foreign.

The examples for this seminar were the novel in China and Russia. In the first case, there exists a native form of the novel, whereas in the second case (similar to what happened in Japan), the novel as a genre was imported, it came from outside and then was assimilated to the native culture. For this cultural expression, there is a form that is foreign, but has a native content; hence, it is not entirely national.

If this analysis is taken further, and looking at foreign impact, if there is such an intercultural influence in all cultures, we may pose the question: are there only hybrid national cultures? The impact of globalization cannot be taken that far, because then there wouldn't be any cultures at all. "If all cultures are hybrids, there are no national cultures that could merge in the first place", Bruno stated. His theory is that there should be cultural individuality, while at the same time there must exist a capacity to communicate and exchange. Cultural exchange has to happen, but it has to be limited by sensitivity to cultural difference. On this topic, the authors of the readings for the seminar had something to add. Davis Gasperetti -author of "Reluctant Imitators", in The Rise of the Russian Novel- affirmed that "Influence is more of a cultural phenomenon than a literary model". Henry Y. H. Zhao -author of "Western Influence on Chinese Fiction", in The Uneasy Narrator; Chinese Fiction from the Traditional to the Modern- stated that "Western influence was extensive but not decisive".

However influenced Chinese literary production may be, it also has its very own distinguishing characteristics. Looking at Lu Xun's "A Madman's Diary", the double consciousness arises as a key element in the development of modern literature. It usually shows when the narrator reports what a character says or thinks and the character's voice is incorporated within that of the narrator. This recording embedded within another recording creates a double consciousness. When narrating in the first person, this literary resource can also appear in describing the reaction of other characters to the narrator's speech. In any case, we have two consciousnesses completely merged together, so we cannot any longer tell what is real. In Western literature, there is a resistance to this, since it is of capital importance not to lose individual consciousness.

This type of analysis arises in the search for genuine elements that define the novel. To determine the origin of that cultural referent by looking at the author's nationality is very simplistic. Again, the problematic of individuality shows up. Masao Miyoshi -author of "The Accomplices of Silence: the modern Japanese novel"- says that in the case of the novel, the form comes from outside, but since the content is locally determined; the form doesn't really fit the content. "Novelists need people - men and women with their own motivations, their own mannerisms, their own style of intelligence, their own unique expression and appearance", he says. The focus is again on the individual being. Japanese novels don't have individual characters, yet this is a distinctive characteristic of the novel as a genre. A central protagonist is not the core element of narration in the Japanese novel. Is it valid to say, then, that Japanese productions are not novels? Not really, it is important to understand where exactly the two cultures meet. For Bruno, though, such different civilizations don't just meet, they clash. The only way characters can be incorporated is when writing about writers, the only people seen as truly individual in the society. In Miyoshi's own words, "the problem for the Japanese novelist is that there is no general acknowledgement in his culture that noticeable personalities should be allowed to exist. The situation is not unlike that prevailing at an early stage in the development of the European novel".

In a triangular diagram with the three main elements -the culture of origin, the foreign culture and the cultural referent- we find that for a culture of origin (such as Japan or Russia, for instance) the only way to have access to the cultural referent (in this particular case study, the novel) is through a foreign culture. If we take as a starting point the foreign culture (Western), the only way for this to have access to the culture of origin mentioned earlier, is through the cultural referent, since it is adopted and transformed following cultural patterns. In any case, it is obvious that for a culture of origin such as that of Russia or Japan, it is an indirect access to the novel. How, then, is it going to deal with the cultural referent in a different way? Bruno claimed that there is no way to have a universal access to the cultural referent. It is always an individual, personal approach.

The Japanese literature remains different, even though it relates to the same cultural referent, because it has its own specific characteristics. Bruno pointed out two. While the Western novel relies pretty much on the idea of the plot -a series of events linked together through cause and effect-, this doesn't exist at all in the Japanese novel. Opinions are divided as to whether this is good or bad, in any case, the Japanese novel is informed with other elements that make it properly such. The second element is the idea of silence. Japan's is a less verbal culture. There is a social decorum by which silence is rewarded. If we translate this into the analysis of the novel, we see that certain passages have to be seen and not heard in order to be understood. In a dialogue, for instance, what is often important is the silence between speeches, not the dialogues themselves.

The seminar provided an enriching environment where we could learn to further appreciate what an important role translation has: it renders new literary expressions and hence broadens any given culture's horizon.

Freud in English: A Case Study of Translation
February 26, 2010
Lydia Azadpour (PY '10, UK)

What does it mean to say that the subject of psychoanalysis is the 'the soul' rather than 'the mind'?  On Thursday 11th February, students met for the seminar 'Freud in English: A Case Study of Translation', as part of ECLA's State of the World Week.  Led by ECLA faculty member Dr. Ewa Atanassow, the group involved discussion of questions arising from the ground-breaking work Freud and Man's Soul, by Bruno Bettelheim. 

Written in 1982, Freud and Man's Soul took issue with the translations of Freud that had become established as the official English version of his work.  This Standard Edition had previously been seen as the authority and became an established basis for psychoanalytic study and practise in the English speaking world, and as such, had deeply shaped the understanding of Freud among English-language readers.  Bettelheim's exposition drew attention to Freudian concepts that had not only lost connotations present in the original German in their translation, but also gained new ones.  A most crucial example of this is what Bettelheim sees as the eradication of references to "die Seele": the soul.  "Die seelische Organisation" (organisation of the soul), for example, is translated as "mental organisation".  This word loses not only the deep spiritual connotations of the original German, but also too its breadth.  "Instinct", too, occurs in the Standard Edition translations but is a word bearing a German equivalent that Freud chose to avoid, along with its deterministic, teleological connotations.  To Bettelheim, these examples - among many others - represent the obliteration of a Freud writing from a humanist position.  Further, he wishes to show that this interpretive choice aimed to place Freud's work firmly in a certain type of scientific tradition: a tradition which does not share the wider scope of the German term "Wissenschaft" but rather partakes of the more limited, positivistic connotations of the English "Science".  Bettelheim writes that, "There really was no reason - apart from a wish to interpret psychoanalysis as a medical specialty - for this corruption of Freud's references to the soul" (p. 76).  Bettelheim is concerned with the extent to which Freudian psychoanalysis should be interpreted as an applied science under the wing of psychiatry, thus he is wary of translations with a more rigid, technical meaning that appear to manifest what is to Bettelheim a reductive motivation.  Through examination of Bettelheim's discussion it was seen that the interpretative work of translation had at stake not only Freud's modelling of the psyche but also his views on the task of psychoanalysis itself and the nature of the human in general.

Such choices in translation have not been limited in their effect to the individual reader of Freud but have radically influenced the entire English speaking Freudian tradition and have also shaped the practise of psycho-analysis in the Anglo-American world.  Bettelheim is especially critical of what he perceives as an emphasis on 'adjustment' in American psychoanalysis, which he attributes to the Standard Edition Freud translations.  The motives for interpretation in the original translation, along with the rationale behind a certain manner of appropriation, were both discussed in the seminar.  Further, consideration was also given to the wider influence of translated work.

A complication arose for the group, where the question was raised as to why Freud himself had given the Standard Edition his stamp of approval if it indeed was distortionary.  In addition, the further issue was raised as to the impossibility of an interpretation which does not reflect the desires of the translator, or even, to a far lesser extent, the reader, in the original language.  Indeed, Bettelheim seemed to envisage in himself an affinity with Freud, and was careful to show how his life, in some respects, mirrored Freud's; for example, in his move from Austria to an English speaking country.  How honest - it was asked - was Bettelheim about the extent to which his critique of other translations was based upon his own desires, his interpretation of Freud's vision?  And further, how far was his own interpretation based on what he wanted Freud to have said?

Bettelheim, Bruno.  Freud and Man's Soul. 1st ed. New York: Knopf, 1982

Truthful Mediators, Thieves, or Tricksters?
February 13, 2010
David Duncan (PY '10, USA)

ECLA's fifth annual State of the World Week kicked off with a lecture titled "Truthful Mediators, Thieves, or Tricksters? - Translator Figures in Fiction" from guest lecturer Dr. Sabine Strümper-Krobb. The lecture concerned her work on the role of translators in fiction.  Dr. Strümper-Krobb raised several provocative questions. What are the ethics of translation? To what degree is the translator also an author?  Is true neutrality possible in translation? She examined the official discourse behind translation, how these terms are followed or not followed in fiction, and the seriousness with which translation is regarded. Additionally, she investigated various contractual codes of conduct for translators, and she demonstrated that their promises of accuracy and honesty are structurally similar to pre-modern oaths.

 The lecture contained light moments as well. Dr. Strümper-Krobb gave a humorous example of an unreliable translator in a short story by the Hungarian writer Dezső Kosztolányi called "The Kleptomaniac Translator." The story is about a former kleptomaniac who, once reformed, goes into translation. At first it seems the theft-prone protagonist has become an upstanding member of society, but eventually it is discovered that while he is no longer stealing physical objects, he has been stealing fine objects from works of fiction and replacing them with cheaper equivalents. Stately manors become modest homes with significantly less acreage, diamond broaches, silver finery, and other opulent objects disappear entirely. The friends of the protagonist were ready to tolerate his theft of real objects, but find his fictional appropriations unacceptable and he is run out of town. Although this is a humorous short story, it touches upon the serious issue of fidelity in translation and the sense of betrayal that comes with less-than-complete conveyance of the facts.

Her lecture was followed by an interesting discussion, with questions that ranged from the validity of comparing fictional tropes to the work of real translators, to the epistemological problems inherent in the notion of truth. The experience was a rich overture to a week of lectures, seminars, and presentations dedicated to gaining a deeper understanding of the questions and difficulties raised by the theory and practice of translation.


Poetry Night closes State of the World Week
February 12, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

State of the World Week came to an end on Friday, February 12th, in a very elegant way as the ECLA community gathered at Wilhelm-Wolff-Str. 43 to share a poetry evening.  Students, Faculty and Guests enjoyed a variety of cheeses, fruits and wines.

The evening commenced at 19.30, and quite a few of the attendees decided to share a special poem with the crowd spoken first in their mother tongue and followed in English translation. Writers from all over the world filled the air with their words. Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges were the Argentinean voices of the night; Ingmar Heyze represented the Dutch poets; David Hayes translated Sappho; Joseph Brodsky was the Russian poet of the evening; Anisa read "Dastoor", by the revolutionary Pakistani poet Habib Jalib; Cristina read quite a number of poems by the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu. More often than not, the translations were made by the students themselves. Emily, a student from the UK, highlighted how important it was to hear the poem in its original language, since even though one didn't know the words, the audience could still hear the tonal intimations of the verse through its foreign sounds. The value of translation was given in the fact that the poetic verse had a diverse meaning for everyone in the room. It was remarkable how each poem conveyed a different manner of writing, and in this way provided a window to a foreign culture.

Around ten at night, students and faculty started their way back home, satiated by the warm feeling of cheese, wine, and an evening of shared verse.

February 9, 2010
Film Night: Lost in Translation

On Tuesday night, two days into the State of the World Week, ECLA students, faculty, and visiting lecturers went to a private theater to watch the Sofia Coppola film "Lost in Translation." The film touched upon issues of translation and disconnection in the relationship between two Americans visiting Japan.

After the screening, faculty member David Hayes led a group discussion of the film. The discussion ranged from consideration of the meaning of the film, the relationship of the two characters, and the problems of translation both between and within cultures. Various theories were presented and critiqued concerning the relevance of the film to the overall State of the World Week theme of "the translator." The discussion permitted a consideration of the problems of translation that exist not only between different languages but between people who share the same language. The discussion was friendly, often humorous, but also not without theoretical heft. The conversation went on so long the group was almost late for dinner.

Dinner was another adventure in translation at the Voland Café, a traditional Russian restaurant. Food and drink orders took place in Russian, German, and English, as the waiters rushed from table to table. Soon enough, everyone had a steaming bowl of Borscht and a glass of wine or beer in front of them. Here at last, after a long day of lectures, seminars, and a film screening, all the problems of translation dissolved into the universal langue of a good meal.

Guest Lecture: Dr. Mark Edwards on Saint Augustine's Confessions
February 20, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

On February 2, this term's core course on Forms of Love (AY, BA) had a new guest: Dr. Mark Edwards, who lectured on February 1st & 3rd on Saint Augustine's Confessions. Dr. Edwards is a graduate of Oxford University with a PhD. in Literae Humaniores. He is now a Tutor in Theology and his main interests are Early Christianity, the New Testament and Platonism.

The focus of his lectures was a comparison between love in the Greek tradition and love seen from the perspective of the Christian tradition, with Saint Augustine's teachings guiding the discussion.

Dr. Edwards started by pointing out the need to find a new word to express the Christian notion of love between God and man since there are a few reasons why the Greek word eros does not fulfill the task. "Nygren was the first to draw a distinction between agape and eros", he said. "Eros means seeking of the good by means of the beautiful, a sentiment by which human beings discover their need for the divine, and eventually become united to it. Agape works in a different way. Faith, which is its main manifestation, is what is established by God when he reveals Himself to human beings; otherwise there would be no such feeling. God was not searching for anything when he came into this world. It is only giving love, it's not about self-fulfillment, as is the case for eros", Dr. Edwards explained. However, Dr. Edwards said that it is in fact the sexual connotation of eros - and not its intimation of selfishness - that accounts for the substitution of agape in biblical texts. But in Saint Augustine's Confessions, the two kinds of love work together in synergy.

In the search for a different word, other terms were also discussed. The Greek word philia is used to describe the love between equals. It is often translated as friendship, but can also be applied to the love between a child and parent. Nonetheless, it is not applicable for the love between God and man, since each belongs to a different category of being. The Latin word amor corresponds to eros, but doesn't necessarily imply any sexual attraction. The word dilectio is weaker than amor, and is more likely to be suited to non-personal objects of desire. It is often translated as affection, and is equivalent to philia. The Latin word caritas is more common in the Christian tradition than in classical vocabulary. It is used as an equivalent to agape in biblical translation. Etymologically, it means lack, and is less likely than amor to express acquisitive desire. In this way we see that the best word to express the love between God and man is agape, a term that doesn't connote any passion at all. Dr. Edwards also highlighted that the idea of carnal affection is not enough, since that feeling has to be transcended.

Going back to the Confessions, there we see that Augustine is looking for love, for objects of love. "He doesn't actually know what his object of desire is. This was a quest for him, and not a quest for God", the guest lecturer said. It is in this way that eros and agape can be synergic: what could first be a manifestation of eros, then eventually turned into pure love for god, a complete renouncing of physical things. Augustine's beliefs are often expressed in comparison with his previous convictions. The saint used to be part of the Manichaeism religion, one that had no conception of the transcendent. However, when Saint Augustine has his own experience of the divine, he can only desire the love of God, and he has to leave everything behind, because everything is inferior to that. He can see more clearly the love of God in the creations of the world.

Dr. Edwards also spoke of the revelation that Augustine shared with Monica to explain what love of God actually means. "This joint experience, an experience together of God, is very rare. The encounter with God in his vision is not described in an ordinary way, he doesn't speak of the beautiful", Dr. Edwards said. He then moved on to the difference in perception between Platonism and the Bible. In the Greek tradition, the highest principle is there to be reached by human beings, and is described through vision. In the Bible, the highest principle is made manifest through hearing. "Hearing is the inescapable sense of human beings, we cannot chose whether to hear. This indicates that our relation to God is one of obedience. Love of God in Saint Augustine is not only legitimate, but also mandatory", explained Dr. Edwards. In this way, and going back to the different terms, what we learn from the Confessions is that loving God is a matter of the correction of desire, and not the extinction of it. Hence, from a Christian point of view, fear, desire, grief and rejoicing are all appropriate feelings, provided they are aimed at the right objects.

For Saint Augustine, the mystical experience implies both obedience and God's task for us, and this is the only way that can lead us to God himself. As regards the experience of the highest principle in the Biblical tradition, one could argue that both vision and hearing can be avoided. "However, hearing implies that one has been spoken to. One always reacts to this; not listening is also a response", Dr. Edwards said.

The Confessions is an account of Saint Augustine's experiences, his life. How is this knowledge of God? "Saint Augustine goes back to his memories and discovers that he can only think of himself as a creature of God. It is in this way that self knowledge is knowledge of God. Going in search of the self is acceptable so long as it is also a process of seeking God", Dr. Edwards explained.

If we look further into the structure of similarity between Platonic philosophy and Christianity, in the former the good is not described as any known beauty, it is anonymous. There is no personal relation, one could not even address it with a proper name. In Christianity the relation between the human and the divine becomes something specific. The good now has a name and it also knows your name, you can respond to this. The difficulty with Platonic philosophy lies in the fact that it does not support any dimension of specification; hence, it is difficult to love something that is so mysterious. We could take this comparison even further in order to understand the concept of obedience towards God. For Socrates, there is no dogma, no prescribed rules that one might follow in this search for the greater good. There is no church. In Christianity, on the other hand, one becomes good through obedience to a very specific set of rules.

In both traditions, however, the human being is understood as incomplete. It is what links us to the higher good that makes a difference. In the Greek tradition, the mediator between the human and divine spheres is that of the intellect, one is compelled to use the mind to move upwards; whereas in the Christian tradition, there is the Word, a figure of mediation, which is Christ.

This structure of comparison continued in the second lecture. Dr. Edwards began by noting that Plato did not believe that the creation of the world was a good thing. From the point of view of Christianity, God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son. "It is not possible to conceive of God, Jesus or the Church, unless we understand the concept of charity. This is why Augustine explains the Trinity". In this way, no work is good unless it is informed by the love of the Holy Spirit. Love of God, which is self-sacrificial, is not limited to incarnation. It is manifested through the Trinity: the Father, which is memory; the Spirit, which is love; and the Son, who enables our understanding of the highest good. Therefore, as Dr. Edwards explained, there must be a Trinitarian understanding of God. He rejected the idea of Plato that we tend toward the good, and higher knowledge, because it is in us as potentiality. The love of God, then, is an experience of those three aspects of his Being. In his Confessions, Saint Augustine explains how all three can be God, rather than separate entities. Love is a fruit of knowledge, since it is only because we have knowledge of God that we can love him. Before this knowledge comes the desire for it, which is generated by an imperfect understanding.

Guest Lecture: Dr. Simon May on the Unconditional Love in the Christian Tradition
January 18, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

On January 18, Dr. Simon May visited ECLA to lecture students on Christian love in reference the gospel of Matthew. Dr. May is Fellow in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. Dr. May's lecture focused on two related questions: firstly, how did Christianity develop the idea of love as the supreme value? Secondly, is Christian love really universal or unconditional?

The guest lecturer started by pointing out that Christianity embraces many manifestations, but there is one idea that applies to all; "That love is a godlike power", he said, "since with it we can rise above the human". This, in turn, can also be a sacrilege, since with love humans have the power to become like gods. However controversial this is, love can be seen as the core Christian value against which all other values have to be measured.

Simon May then moved on to explain how the idea of Christian love that we have today has more to do with later interpretation of the Gospels than what Jesus himself said. "Jesus hardly talks about love. Nor is it clear that love as he describes it is unconditional", Dr. May said. The guest stated that Christ in no way sees love as something that goes beyond everything, and that he spoke of love in a far more modest way than was later claimed in his name. How exactly, nonetheless, is love the supreme value in Christianity? "Since love is the way in which God reveals his nature, it becomes the highest good. It is the measure of all values", Dr. May explained. Without an all-powerful God to reconcile the humble and the godlike aspects of love, those values could have developed in different directions, either positive or negative.

In the New Testament there are two ideas of God's universal love. One of them is marriage: God's love, though the medium of marriage, is granted only to those who deserve it; many are called but few are chosen. The other idea is of the grace of being chosen. Dr. May then stated that Christianity has transcended reward-based morality with a religion of universal love, even though rewards continue to play a role. However, "It's not clearly universal. What does it mean that love is unconditional? It has to do with God's forgiveness, which is far from unconditional", he explained. An unconditional love would mean - as Protestants believe - that God loves everyone, regardless of the sins they have committed. However, in Catholic Christianity, God forgives only those who truly repent , not those who sin while relying on their faith in God for salvation. At the same time, God is indeed omnipotent and available, hence divine love also is. All human love is, on the other hand, conditional and transient. Dr. May then brought his lecture to an end: "Love has been raised as an unconditional ideal in order to sustain the idea of an undefeatable God in an era that seeks to destroy anything divine".

Guest Lecture: Norbert Blößner On the Formal Aspect of Republic
November 25, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

November 25 brought some fresh air to AY and BA students: Professor Norbert Blößner, guest lecturer at ECLA, addressed the formal aspect of Plato's Republic. Blößner is a specialist in early and classical philosophy, particularly Plato's dialogues. He studied at the University of Regensburg, were he received his PhD; and is currently working on Plato's "Politeia" and participating in the Excellence Cluster Topoi.

Professor Blößner began by pointing out some basic aspects of this classic text: "What is the main question in the Republic? In the first place: what is justice? Thereafter, the question arises as to whether it pays or not to be just. If we conduct an analysis of these issues, we will encounter two different levels. The descriptive meaning of adjectives constitutes the first level, and the value those adjectives have is the second. When it comes to justice, everyone may have a different opinion as regards descriptive meaning - what justice is - however, everyone agrees on the second level of analysis: that being just is good", he stated. In order to be able to answer the main question in the Republic, one should be able to determine the variables that define such interrogation: justice - or the just - and the good. This is exactly the process that Socrates develops. Blößner stopped here to highlight another important aspect of the dialogue. "Socrates makes a big argument without knowing if he is right, or stating that he knows for certain. He improvises a discussion. This is very important for the analysis of dialectic narrative", he said. We should ask ourselves what does it mean that the philosopher doesn't have all the answers; what does Plato make of this dialectical construction? According to Blößner, Socrates plays two different roles. There's the "Historical Socrates", that is only questioning and doesn't state anything; and there's the "Answering or Stating Socrates", who has arguments. The later doesn't only contradict the opinion of others, but also has his own opinions.

In this way, the guest lecturer went on to challenge one of the most popular theories on the Republic: that Socrates is Plato's mouthpiece. But, so claims Blößner, the dialogue is not telling us what the disciple thinks, it's something else. It is about the importance of argument, why it is essential. "Argument is needed; otherwise, Socrates as an educator would have failed. He needs to allow for discussion. As a philosopher, he has to live a life that is justified, he has to give reasons why he decides to live in a just way. Otherwise, his life has no meaning", he stated. Here is where the presence of the characters Glaucon and Adeimantus play an important role: they are young, they have to make a decision as how to live their lives, and one cannot live one's life on the basis of opinions. However, we cannot achieve true or comprehensive knowledge. We only come close to it, we strive for it. This brings a paradoxical conception: why should we strive to achieve knowledge if its successful attainment is impossible?

Going back to the first question, Blößner described the three steps Socrates takes in order to determine what justice is and whether it pays for someone to be just. Firstly, he describes the ideal city, and how justice and injustice arise in it. Secondly, he details how this regime becomes corrupted, and moves on to describe the four regimes, saying which is more just and which more unjust. He also describes each soul that corresponds to each city. Finally, on a third step, he compares the most just to the most unjust regime and says which one corresponds to happiness. For timocracy, happiness means being the primary person (something similar to an Olympian winner); in oligarchy, it consists of having wealth; for democracy, happiness means having no rules; and in a tyrannical regime, it is about having true or absolute power. In this way, happiness turns into an objective value, it is analyzed from outside the person, somebody else decides for the individual. "All of these visions of happiness are egoistic. The good or happiness is not divisible. The real good is found in the city-in-speech, because it takes into consideration the community as a whole. Some people say Socrates sacrifices the happiness of the citizens for the happiness of the city, but this is not true: the polis IS the people, not the houses or streets", our guest lecturer explained. Is it possible, then, to realize such an ideal order? No, Blößner says, because people don't have a clear knowledge of the good. True knowledge - of fundamental values, in this case - and the good city are only possible, then, as approximations.


Guest Lecture: Dr. David McNeill
November 18, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

"The title of my lecture is going to be 'Prisoners like us', the phrase Socrates uses in Republic Book VII when he describes the allegory of the cave", David McNeill, guest lecturer at ECLA on November 18 began. McNeill received his BA from St. John's College, in Annapolis MD, and has a PhD from the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought. For the hour and a half following, the BA and AY students embarked upon a consideration of one of Plato's most famous and often-quoted passages: the allegory of the cave, asking what it might mean and why it was first developed.

After reviewing Book V, Dr. McNeill proposed that the facts presented in this chapter develop later into the description of Plato's cave. After drawing a thorough plan of the ideal city, which includes a supposedly necessary undermining of people's freedom and the implementation of ways of organizing the community of men, women, and children, the question is no longer "can this be possible?", but rather becomes "how can this be justified?" Given that the city is founded on a set of 'noble lies', the justifications previously given cannot be sufficient. It is for this reason, according to Dr. McNeill, that the text introduces the idea of the philosopher-ruler, who has the knowledge and superior understanding necessary successfully to achieve the construction of the ideal city.

Book VII begins with a description of the well-known allegory of the cave. David Dr. McNeill suggested that the cave allegory functions as metaphor for education and for its failure. Evoking the scenario recounted in the allegory he noted: "Our perception of the world is formed by the shadows cast by those objects, objects that were made by somebody who is no longer there", he explained. He went on to propose that in the context of The Republic, imitation is always presented as having a fallible structure. "The similarity between imitation and the actual thing is often very distant", he said. How does the role of the philosopher function in this structure? The allegory tells of a man who was able to free himself of the chains and to leave the cave, for the first time seeing things as they truly are. The question then is: should he come back to the cave and attempt to show his former community the real truth of things? If a parallel is drawn with the city-in-speech, philosophers there - unlike in other communities - are bred within the city; the entire city is responsible for their education, in a true communal spirit. After the philosopher has escaped the cave, he is supposed to answer to the community from which he came. "But suppose it's by nature he gets out. In that case, it wasn't due to the society, or its legislation, that he was enabled to gain knowledge", Dr. McNeill suggests. He then went on to say that in a certain way, it looks like the philosopher owes the city something, and at the same time, it seems he doesn't. "This is the kind of dialectical study The Republic gets into", he stated.

Socratic dialectical reasoning is the process of submitting one's assumed knowledge to a test through questions and answers, a proper dialogue, in order to see if there is any inconsistency in that knowledge. "The problem with dialectical education is that an ordinary man would have learned to ask questions, and realize the philosopher ruler doesn't have all the answers. If to this we add the fact that the philosopher must also provide an answer to the noble lies, this would lead into a profound scepticism regarding former assumptions", David McNeill explained. Then, one could wonder, is it just to demand political engagement from philosophers? Should the philosopher be obliged to return to the cave in order to free his previous companions? Does he have such a responsibility?

In any case, what seems to further complicate the issue is the method of dialectical reasoning. What is most properly dialectical is to take up different ways of understanding the world, to filter and refine them through careful philosophical argument. But why is dialectical reasoning better than learning the truth from poets, for example? It is Socrates who introduces this method, and what lies behind the thinking of contrary perspectives is the risk of a loop, a never ending questioning that leads to a paradoxical aporia. What does Plato's account of philosophy promise us? "The higher good is the good of thinking itself", Dr. McNeill states. Ewa Atanassow, ECLA faculty member, added that "by thinking, we are more fully realising our nature, our being. It is a more full realization of what is properly human".  

As with any great philosophical lecture, Dr. McNeill's presentation left us with new questions and further insight into the complexities of Platonic pedagogy.


February 8, 2010
Press Release

This week The European College of Liberal Arts brings together faculty, students and guests for the fifth annual State of the World Week.  This year the week of seminars and lectures will focus on the topic of "the translator".  While "translation" itself is often a subject of theoretical inquiry, "the translator" as a figure remains relatively unexamined.  It is widely held that the translator does his job well insofar as he does so objectively, extracting his own presence from the product of his labour.  Yet his presence persists in the work of translation, and this in itself gives rise to a number of theoretical questions regarding the ethics and methodological demands with which he is confronted.  The State of the World Week will be held over five days, each of which will focus on one aspect of the theoretical and practical considerations of translation.    

For more information, a detailed description of the events and biographies of the guest-lecturers, visit the official State of the World Week at ECLA website (  


Guest Lecture: Martin Puchner
January 15, 2010
Diana Martin (AY '10, Romania)

Week 9 of the fall semester brought Martin Puchner to the ECLA students and professors in order to further engage in the study of our core text, Plato's Republic. We thus discovered Plato in his dramatic dimension, one which can offer an alternative to the Aristotelian paradigm of the theatrical enterprise and under whose influence we can find modern dramatic writers such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

Martin Puchner's lecture, Plato's Shadows: Theatre and Philosophy, aims at debunking a preconceived reading of Plato, namely the one which affirms that Plato writes against the dramatic genre, considering it incompatible with philosophy. Professor Puchner's thesis is centred around two claims: that theatre and philosophy have much more in common than it is usually admitted and that the relation between theatre and philosophy as it is found in the Platonic dialogues imposes a new dramatic paradigm and allows us to look at the history of the theatre through the dichotomy between Aristotelian and Platonic theatre.

In order to show the theatrical character of Plato's work, Professor Puchner takes as a starting point Diogenes Laertius' account of Plato's interest as a young man in writing theatre in the conventional way and of the fact that later on, before turning to philosophy, Plato burnt all his plays. The puzzling question that underlies the present enquiry is why Plato did such a thing. According to the traditional interpretation, if you want to become a philosopher then you have to give up literature and drama. Martin Puncher's answer follows a different line. He suggests that Plato continued writing tragedies even after this event took place, but in a new mode: that of the philosophical dialogue. Dialogues such as The Symposium and Phaedon illustrate perfectly well the dramatic dimension of Plato's works. Philosophy in the form of dialogue is for Plato a kind of dramatic genre, although one that did not fit the theatrical horizon of the time. In fact, in his Poetics Aristotle mentions the Socratic dialogues as an odd new dramatic genre, which appeared at the time together with the mime. Let us keep in mind that Diogenes Laertius also reads Plato's dialogues as part of the theatre scene of Athens, mentioning the fact that Plato used to write tragedies and that he incessantly engaged in theatrical activities. This connection between Plato and drama was lost in the subsequent period and Plato was read only through the lens of philosophy.  This is mainly because the tradition of the philosophical dialogue later on lacked the dramatic imagination to be found in Plato's writing.

In hindsight, the dramatic adaptations of Plato's dialogues come to confirm the hypothesis of considering him a playwright. Two questions can shed significant light on the subject: one is related to what can be extracted from these adaptations and the second looks at the way in which playwrights have adapted Plato throughout the history. Plato's dramatic influence has been exercised in Giovanni's Paisiello's opera Il Socrate immaginario, which features the aria "All I know Is That I Know Nothing", and also in theatre adaptations, both tragedies and comedies. The subject of tragedies is, recurrently, the death of Socrates as depicted in Phaedon. In the 17th century, Milton proposes a manifesto for the return to classical tragedy not intended for performance, while in the 18th century Joseph Addison takes Socrates as a model for his play Cato. Later on, in the 19th century more spectacular scenes are added in the representation of Socrates' death.

Professor Puchner observes that there are some problems posed by the tragic depiction of Socrates since there are many elements in Plato's dialogue that do not appear tragic. On one hand, classical tragedy is built around elements that pertain to Greek mythology. On the other hand, Plato's dialogues, just like the comedies of his time, contain figures of contemporary Athens, characters who are drawn as mundane beings, having a low status or being socially inept.  These are intended as an object of ridicule for the viewers. This influenced writers like Voltaire to follow Plato's intention of not imitating classical tragedy, but instead blending it with comedy. Aristophanes went further on the comedic line, but by doing so he disturbed Socrates' reception among his contemporaries, thus contributing to the misinterpretation and public denunciation of Socrates. The best way to depict Socrates in a comic manner without grappling with the problem raised by Aristophanes' treatment is to be found in the tradition of the comedy of ideas.

Further on, Professor Puchner proceeded to propose a theoretical dichotomy between Aristotelian drama and Platonist drama. This distinction would be relevant for the case of modern theatre, which, following Brecht, was described as anti-Aristotelian drama. Professor Puchner highlighted the fact that the dominant practice is to look at the history of drama through an Aristotelian lens. The question that can be raised is whether the philosophical dialogues of Plato can offer the proper lens to view the traditions of Modern drama. Professor Puchner's provocative thesis, exposed in more elaborate detail in his book The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy, is that what is put in negative terms as anti-Aristotelian drama can best be described as Platonic drama.

His argument is supported by the fact that the twentieth century brings adaptations and plays influenced by the Platonic demands of theatre which stand in opposition to the Aristotelian requirements of mimesis and catharsis. Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, August Strindberg, Luigi Pirandello, Georg Kaiser: all used platonic dialogues as prototypes for promoting the ideal of a non-imitative art. George Bernard Shaw, who coined the term "drama of ideas", shows in his plays the influences of his idealist socialist conception mixed with platonic philosophy.  This is best revealed in Man and Superman, the play whose subtitle is, not insignificantly, "a comedy and a philosophy". The German Expressionist writer Georg Kaiser imposes in his play Alcibiades Saved a new view of modern drama, formulating the maxim for a new drama entitled "the drama of thought."

At the end of a lecture which earned our most enthusiastic applause, Professor Puchner concluded that once you shift the perspective from Aristotle to Plato one can notice that modern drama has been influenced by Plato's vision of how theatre should be. Plato was critical of the Athenian theatrical system and he aspired to impose a new paradigm. As such, by reintegrating Plato into the dramatic cannon we can trace back to his dialogues elements of modern drama, such as the mix between tragedy and comedy, writing in prose, the introduction of the dialectical drama and the promotion of a theatre of ideas. But this is a retroactive step, one that projects the afterlife of Plato's dramatic method from the authors back to the dialogues.

Martin Puchner holds the H. Gordon Garbedian Chair in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he also serves as the co-chair of the Theatre Ph.D. program. After studying philosophy, history, and literature at the University of Konstanz, the Università di Bologna, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Irvine, he earned a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1998. He has taught English and comparative literature at Columbia University since 1998 and at the moment is Fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

His writing and research fall under three broad rubrics: drama, philosophy, and world literature. In Stage Fright (2002) and Against Theatre (ed. 2006), he uses drama and theater to highlight the values and contradictions of modernism. This interest also informs his editorial work in drama, including an edition of Six Plays of Henrik Ibsen (2003), a new edition of Lionel Abel's Metatheater (2003), a four-volume collection of critical essays on modern drama, Critical Concepts: Modern Drama (2008), The Norton Anthology of Drama (2009) as well as his editorship of Theatre Survey, the leading journal in theater history. His interest in philosophy materialized in the books The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Oxford UP, 2010) and also in editing Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings (2005) and publishing in English Alain Badiou's Rhapsody for the Theatre (2008) in a special issue of Theatre Survey. Puchner is  currently working on a new book entitled Between Theater and Philosophy.


Final Installation Showings
January 10, 2010
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

For eight ECLA students, there loomed a particularly stressful date in December: Wednesday 9th, at 19.30, when the final autumn term Installation showings were scheduled to take place.

For a number of students, with elaborate projects in mind for the final showing, the race against time started a few days in advance. This event was distinct from the previous presentations in many ways as the students were no longer restricted to working in their own studios. They could use any platform to develop or display their art work, so long as this was connected to their working space somehow. Hence, the kitchen was invaded with tiny dinosaurs, dying for ever in the sink, the toaster or the fridge. The wooden deck in the garden was occupied by a giant dying light bulb, which created a 'hospital scene'-encountered by many with a feeling of pity -intended to evoke the consequences of the global energy crisis.

Furthermore, this was a chance for some students to re-exhibit their previous installations, with a few technical improvements. Varushan's stop motion movie was projected again in his studio, while his new installation took place in the garden. Nastya's video was projected again in her work place, with sound improvement, while her dinosaurs were becoming extinct in the depths of the kitchen. Finally, Luzie projected her video in the hallway.

The final Installation showings brought more visitors than past events.  The guests were offered a table of salty and sweet bites, together with red wine.  The event provided to be a chance to see the students' achievements. The students had now managed to find their proper way to express ideas or feelings, which made each installation very unique. Vira's slap-in-the-face showings were a must-see, as well as Varushan's highly elaborate work, or Anna's quieter pieces, to name just a few.

However stressful the showings may have been, the students always highlighted how much fun they had preparing for them, and how enriching the process was. Still, this is not quite the end: for the first time in ECLA, there will be an advanced studio class that will enable these aspiring artists to further explore the methods and mediums of artistic expression developed within the first term.

The Launch of a New Book by Laura Scuriatti
November 24, 2009
Diana Martin (AY '10, Romania)

On Tuesday 24 of November, ECLA faculty members and students gathered at Berlin's Institute for Cultural Inquiry to celebrate the launch of a book co-edited by their very own colleague and friend, Laura Scuriatti. The Exhibit in the Text: The Museological Practices of Literature represents a fascinating journey into the influential role of museums in literature throughout the centuries. Starting in the eighteenth century and continuing up to the twentieth century, the book edited by Laura Scuriatti and Caroline Patey explores the way in which the presence of the museum as a setting, or of the concepts associated with museology, have shaped literary works.  Amongst those discussed are The Ambassadors by Henry James, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey, Romola by George Eliott and House of Life by Mario Praz.

The evening started with a warm and brief introduction delivered by Prof. Dr. Thomas Rommel, who highlighted the importance and topicality of the subject-matter. Laura demonstrated its richness in the hour following with an inspiring presentation of the threads of inquiry that the concepts pertaining to the sphere of the museum - such as collection, classification, catalogue or taxonomy - can produce. She noted its crucial significance in contemporary literature, for example in the books of Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk or Dan Brown. For many authors, the reference to museums provided more than a mere setting for the development of events. Museums contain an underlying metaphysics, in the sense that they represent structured and open accounts of what the world is and its way of being as it is. Collecting objects is thus a means of imposing a world view, through structure and explanation, and as such constitutes an attempt to translate infinity into a human format.

Further on, Laura talked about the principles by which a collection is assembled and how any collection contains a narrative line. In this way, any collection reveals itself as a focalized and narrated way of perceiving a series of events or objects through the perspective of a single subject. In a collection we have an open system of objects which belong together solely by the virtue of their being assembled by a certain person. Behind the practice of collecting lies a two-step process: the first step is a negative one that implies stripping the objects brought together of their function and their meaning; the next step consists in providing the respective objects with a new value as part of the whole. Through this process we are provided with a new ontology; the objects of a collection fail to communicate their original meaning and gain instead a new significance dependent on their place within the collection. Museums appear to be more than receptacles of public and private memory: they can recreate the world, a new world, from elements that were created in the past, solely through the act of assembling them in a specific way and investing them with a different and subjective meaning. Thus, putting together an exhibition is an operation that raises questions about the self: not only about the self of the collector who chooses which elements fit together, but also about the self of the visitor who follows and believes in the story created by the exhibition.

As an extension of the topic discussed by Laura, we continued the evening by viewing the screening of Nowhere Home. Space and Place in British Modernism, a documentary written by Caroline Patey and directed by Giulia Ciniselli. The film addresses the relation between the literary text and the site where it comes into being, inviting the viewers to wonder about the ways in which space may affect the literary creation. The footage shows the architecture and landscapes that accompanied the writing process of some notable British writers, as the camera travels from London's scenery of gardens and frenzied streets to where Virginia Woolf and Ford Madox Ford stepped towards the seaside of St. Ives in Cornwall. Back in London, we enter the austere room of Virginia Woolf with just a small desk and a drawer, and later on take a peek at Rudyard Kipling and Vita Sackville West's sumptuous houses. Ciniselli and Patey's film traces the geographical route which accompanied these authors in their writing, walking and day dreaming, as in an attempt to uncover, through the revealing of the places themselves, the muses that had dwelled here.

Later on, I approached Laura for a discussion about her passion for museums that constitutes the background of the book she just launched:

DM: How did your interest on the relation between literature and museology develop?

LS: Living in Berlin makes it is impossible not to get involved and interested in the history and meaning of museums. Since I moved here in 1996, the city has undergone a sort of musealization, a transformation into a huge museum of world history. The city lends itself to it, of course, not only because of its recent history, but also because large parts of it, notably the Museumsinsel, have been extensively rebuilt or created anew to house museums and to become themselves sites of memory. I have been following the heated debates about the management of memory and the past which exploded every time a new project was announced, and have started questioning the very institutions, their claim to authority, their impact on people's perception of history and learning, their role in the formation of taste and their political and social functions.

And the idea for a book on the subject followed naturally…

The idea for the book was the result of a stimulating discussion started a couple of years ago with my former professor of English literature at Milan University, Caroline Patey, who had been researching this topic for a while. I was working on the Italian literary and art critic Mario Praz, who was an avid collector and created a museum in his own apartment in Rome. My first visit to the museum was an eye-opener, and after reading Praz's own autobiography, written as a guide to his own museum, I started exploring the connection between literature and the museum in depth, also with the help of other colleagues. It turned out that many people were thinking about similar questions, but that there was hardly any comprehensive study on the topic - so we decided to have a go with the book.

I saw that you have previously given an elective at ECLA entitled 'Museums, Collections and Literature', in 2008. To what extent do you feel that the idea of the book that you edited grew from the work and interaction that took place during the elective and also how did the class benefit from the idea of publishing a book on this specific topic?

Museums are strange phenomena: most people visit them and are interested either in the exhibits or in the buildings, but take the institutions themselves for granted. I decided to teach the course because I realized that the type of questioning our project was proposing would fit the framework of Value Studies offered by ECLA. I thought that students might be interested in thinking about museums in political and historical terms too. The manuscript of the book was entering its final stages while I was teaching the course, and it was a wonderful experience: students' questions helped me to look at the book more critically and gave some really interesting ideas for my own chapter too.

International Dinner at ECLA
December 27, 2009
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

On December 27 most of the ECLA community put their culinary skills to test: the day had come to celebrate the much awaited International Dinner Party.

The three kitchens of the students houses and the major cooking area of the cafeteria were occupied with eager students, faculty and administration members wanting to prepare a representative dish from their own home country. Students were given a budget of 10 to spend on groceries and a green light to use the kitchens and equipment  as they thought best. More often than not communities of students put their money and effort together and were able to cook quite a large amount of food. Almost every student took part in the cooking for this event, something highly appreciated given that the total number of guests added up to forty.

The party took place in the common room of house 24, the largest of the three student residences. A long table occupied half of the common area, and dishes were arranged on top of it, with little flags indicating the origin and a note indicating the name. The students and guests had a chance to try Pakistani food, Ukrainian soup, Argentinean empanadas, Romanian stuffed peppers, Hungarian specialties, English pasties, American corn bread, and a variety of other delights. The food included more than just main dishes. Some people also cooked sweet treats and desserts, including Argentinean alfajores, Croatian pears, German cookies and Serbian cake, among others. The party was a nice opportunity to offer others something home-made, as well as to have and give a taste of the food we each miss.

By the end of the party, students gathered around the piano and sang popular songs. Given the heart-felt enthusiasm, this music session went on for a couple of hours, most of the time improvising jazz rhythms, accompanied by guitar and piano. Although the music spirit was eventually over, the party was not yet so. The ones left headed outside for an acrobatic demonstration from a couple of students where Sarah and Lucas, using staff and poi, performed fire spinning in the residential garden.  The mesmerizing images of the fire dancing around in mid air were a great way to close this night, with a strong taste of international coexistence in the heart.

Video Installation Showings
November 5, 2009
María Cruz (AY '10, Argentina)

Awaited by many, the video installation aspect of the Installation module finally arrived at Platanenstr. 98 on November 25th. This was a chance for students to practice editing skills as a new language. It was about understanding a new way of expressing ideas, with a different set of symbols.

The assignment was very specific: the video had to be a loop and could only be shot in one's own studio, among other specifications. However restrictive this seemed at first, it then proved to be quite useful. The fact that it could only be made in the studio helped students to focus more on what language they wanted to use, instead of bumping into a perfectly shot video of still nature, streets and touristic places. In this sense, some students focused on the formal aspect, creating a narrative of shapes and colors; while others focused more on the editing, a smart way to give meaning and to create a variety of messages with the same footage. The loop itself could be used to create significance as well, either because it generated different things each time or because it speaks, for instance, of recurrence in any given topic.

These Installation showings produced what was regarded as the best work so far for most students. The use of video media provided an encouraging perspective for these aspiring artists who have now to prepare for the final Installation exhibition.