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News 2011/12

Photo: Irina Stelea

February 20, 2012
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

The influence of literature on popular discourse, and more surprisingly, the dependence that a society has on this discourse, came to light in a lecture by Professor Thomas Rommel of Jacobs University. During the 18th Century Britain became a primary site for the intensifying relationship between political and cultural concerns. Eventually these concerns became popular themes depicted in literary works.

Thomas Rommel began his January 31st lecture discussing the literary references used in coverage of policy issues in The Economist to show how the relationship is still prominent today. These references served to orient the audience in how best to interpret and understand contemporary problems in a society.

18th Century Britain in particular saw the development of the novel as a response to, and new ways to engage with, the political and cultural arguments that were taking place in clubs and coffeehouses at the time, and in an increasing number of publications such as magazines and newspapers.

But what were the ideas actually discussed in publications like The Spectator and other literary forms that drew from or defined the political, economic, and social concerns and struggles of that society? Rommel showed how the debates around some major contemporary philosophical issues, such as the role of self-interest and sympathy as articulated by Hobbes and Locke, pervaded the public discourse. A very complex and enjoyable literary expression of these debates is, so Rommel, Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, a narrative poem first published in 1705, which used the analogy of bees and hives to portray the lives of corrupt but successful individuals who helped maintain a structure of society where the wealth of the rich relies on the work of the poor. The moment the bees consider living more justly they become poor, and society less stable. The poem deals with fundamental economic principles such as the division of labor, which would be presented in recognizable terms by Adam Smith seventy years later.

When Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations there existed no separate discipline of economics, and themes of his work were of concern not only to individuals and institutions dealing with financial policies, but also to the literary and philosophical circles. Smith, in a similar way to Mandeville, was interested in the possibility that self-interest and sympathy toward others may not be opposed to each other in a better society, but rather complementary. The aristocratic culture of 18th Century Britain saw the development of a public sphere which shared a democratic concern for the policies and practices of their society, and this communication drew from and contributed to that culture's literature. The juxtaposition of Smith and Mandeville is an exemplary depiction of this.


Photo: Irina Stelea

February 20, 2012
April Matias (2nd year BA, Philippines)

On February 1st, ECLA Professor Bruno Macaes led the first winter term meeting of the Politics Club regarding the Eurozone crisis. Bruno is currently a senior policy adviser to Portugal's Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and is on leave from his teaching duties at ECLA.

Bruno's firsthand account of the inner workings of Portuguese politics was perhaps the biggest draw for the audience made up of students, faculty and guests, as Portugal's national government tries to stave off risks of a sovereign default. More importantly, he provided better insight into the understanding of the financial crisis as the definitive historical moment of the twenty-first century so far.

In comparison to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which he views as the unwinding of old events reaching as far back as the First World War, and in comparison with 9/11, which he argues was a rearguard movement against modernization in the Arab world, he looks at the financial crisis as a global change in perceptions of power, from what seemed to be a progressive and unparalleled West to something more precarious. He points out that just years before the financial crisis, China was a common target of critics because of its communist regime. Now, China is lauded as an economic model. The European Union, upon its establishment, was seen as the definitive institution of the continent; five years into the financial crisis, people question whether the Union will survive.

Turning his attention to Greece, he delivered a very brief account of how the heavily indebted country spiraled down to its current state. Having entered the European Union, Greece found it easier to borrow, particularly since investors espoused two important assumptions: that no EU country would default, and that the bigger countries would act as shields from the threat of sovereign default. Bruno claims that the financial crisis, at its root, is a problem of knowledge. Simply put, financial markets heavily rely on predictions, and when these predictions fail to match reality, it becomes a crisis of knowledge. Knowledge in financial markets interacts with the reality it is supposed to mirror. With the case of Greece, the perception that its debt level was sustainable did at first help make it sustainable, but this prediction was tested and stretched beyond its scope of validity, so disillusionment came after failure to fulfill the demands of an exploding debt. The challenge now is to find a theory that better accounts for reality when generating predictions.

The discussion turned once more to politics as a student expressed concern about how these indebted EU countries (i.e. Greece, Italy) seem to be held hostage by a supranational institution, overruling their elected democratic representatives and installing individuals who are seen as more capable of implementing solutions to the financial crisis (inching closer to a type of technocracy). Bruno agrees, but also points out the interesting case of Italy, where Mario Monti now finds more support than the ousted Berlusconi who had survived many scandals during his time as a prime minister. In the case of Portugal, he finds that the notion of a "representative economy" might salvage its representative democracy, coining the phrase "democratize the economy." He admits that it is dubious to trust the phrase to shape policy, but it is meant to frame the proposed structural reforms for the country as increasing participation in economic life.

More questions arose regarding the seemingly neo-liberal proposals for Portugal, but as one Professor pointed out-it comes down to the question of whether rationally responsive markets will be the norm of the future or just another bubble, another paradigm. Though Bruno Macaes himself is uncertain, he believes that the economy should be respected as a separate sphere from the government or the state.


Photo: Irina Stelea

Max Whyte on the
Nazified Nietzsche
February 17, 2012
Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

On January 30th, Max Whyte, Harper-Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, gave a lecture at ECLA entitled "Nietzsche and the Third Reich", in which he presented and analyzed some of the ways in which Nietzsche's philosophy was used for the political purposes of the German National Socialists. From the very beginning, the lecturer stated his position: it is an exaggeration to conclude that Nietzsche's appropriation proves that the ideologists of Nazism were completely "ignorant of and wrong about" the nature of Nietzsche's beliefs, but it is necessary to compare the phases and process of this appropriation with the content and form of Nietzsche's thought, in order to differentiate the "Nazified Nietzsche" from the philosopher's other guises.

The lecture was structured around four main themes, corresponding to stages of Nietzsche's Nazification: 1) the identification of Nietzsche as a political resource; 2) the legitimization of this approach (facilitated by earlier phases of appropriation ); 3) confrontation (internal disputes over the meaning and strategic use-value of the philosopher's work); 4) indoctrination (Nietzsche as "an article of official indoctrination").

Providing a short outline of the phases of the philosopher's work (early, middle and late periods), Whyte emphasized that it was especially the late period (the period which produced the concept of the will to power and of the Übermensch, 1882-1889) which attracted the Nazi ideologists. They avoided the more ambiguous, "free spirit" phase (middle period, 1878-1881), which was less compatible with their premises.

A veritable "gold-mine of possibilities," in the words of Steven Aschheim, Nietzsche's work remained ambiguous and protean in the public mind up until the First World War. After that, the philosopher came to be regarded not only as a "friend of war", but also as a herald of the great change that was awaited by European civilization and society. These became common themes in the works of, as The Times of London referred to them, Nietzsche's "conscious and unconscious followers."

The philosopher's sister and virulent Nazi supporter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, made an important contribution to the history of Nietzsche's adoption by the Nazis. From the early years of the Weimar Republic, Nietzsche's ideas were used in support of nationalism. Influential figures like Thomas Mann emphasized the German-ness and manliness of Nietzsche, while Ernst Bertram compared him with Dürer's knight, unswervingly pursuing the Holy Grail of spiritual salvation. A Heraclitean view of Nietzsche, drawing upon a vision of the world as site of endless becoming and conflict, brought heroic features into the foreground; Ernst Jünger's "heroic realism" has a kinship with this tendency.

An agonistic image is created through references to Nietzsche's 1872 essay "Homer's contest". In his lectures on Nietzsche, Heidegger evoked such an image (although Heidegger's attitude, as a whole, is more ambiguous). In 1930, with the publication by Alfred Bäumler (one of the most influential academic philosophers in Nazi Germany) of the book Nietzsche, The Philosopher and the Politician, the Nazification of Nietzsche became official. In 1941, advocating the birth of a "new Europe," Goebbels quotes Thus spoke Zarathustra without attribution.

Moving on to the phase of confrontation, Max Whyte pointed out some of instances in which, contrary to the general contemporary trend, Nietzsche's thought was considered incompatible with Nazi ideology (among the detractors were the Nazi Wagnerians, who "never forgave" Nietzsche for abandoning Wagnerianism). In some cases, for instance, the critique offered by the educator Ernst Krieck, Nietzsche's philosophy was condemned as elitist, individualist, and antithetical (particularly in its attitude towards Jews) to Nazi racial thinking.

However, these objections did not hinder the progress of Nietzsche's appropriation, and his figure was invoked in the mass communication programme of the regime. Cheap editions of key texts were printed and Thus spoke Zarathustra took its honourable place next to Mein Kampf in the vault of the Tannenberg Memorial. Hitler visited the Nietzsche archive, to the delight of its founder Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. In a famous photograph, Hitler is said to symbolically "subject" Nietzsche (his bust, in the photograph) to his own views. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Nietzsche was seen as a guiding and inspiring figure in the war against communism as well as the visionary prophet of a new Europe.

The celebration, in 1944 at the Archives in Weimar, of the hundredth anniversary of Nietzsche's birth, while in the background of a profound crisis, confirms his influence and his aura. On this occasion, Alfred Rosenberg, one of the key political figures of the National Socialist regime, produced a speech in which Nietzsche is said to represent, among many other things, the guiding answer to the question of whether human greatness is still possible. On the occasion of the centenary, Mussolini sent a statue of Dionysus to the Archives as a symbolic gift.

Having reviewed the main themes and dynamics of Nietzsche's appropriation by Nazism, Max Whyte emphasized the need to critically consider the details of this process, without automatically rejecting the Nazified Nietzsche as a false invention with no basis in the philosopher's preoccupations and claims.


February 9, 2012
Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

After the lecture for the Forms of Love 1st year core course, Jennifer Clarvoe came back on January 24th, to give a public reading of her works. What our professor David Hayes announced in the beginning of his laudatio took me by surprise: it was the first ever proper poetry reading at ECLA. I had had the feeling that, to cite our professor, "poetry has been around" (and I was thinking, what about his hosting of a poetry night every autumn). Be that as it may, the lecture hall hadn't been poetically consecrated. It was about to be, and with good, true poetry. Let me explain this in less poetic terms.

A good poetry reading does not need good poetry only. The poet also has to become an actress, in a performance in which she is playing herself (an older self, of this or that poem); sometimes the poet does not sound like her own poems; some poets just cannot read their own text. In this sense, Clarvoe has a risky but in the end successful tactic: not only was she performing her poetry (the older selves), but also playing the poet, disclosing this or that secret about the making of the texts. How much should personal experience enter the verse, whether overtly or (mostly) covertly? How does poetry express these experiences? This issue was, not only for those of us who write poetry, as interesting as the works.

To David Hayes, who connects his experience of Clarvoe's poetry to an image of a baseball game on the folder she had at the reading he attended, not only are things, "thrown at her" but she, unlike other poets, negates passivity and really 'plays' the game, here and now.

Clarvoe's poetry itself is very self-referential and often sets out to answer these questions. Throughout her first and second books (Invisible Tender and Counter-amores, respectively), the poetic self is both an observer, perceiving the landscapes (not just in a physical sense, but because a sense of linguistic exploration is added) and an answerer. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that to answer became the leitmotif of the evening. Clarvoe anticipated her reading by reciting Robert Frost's The most of it, which gives the motto to her second book: "He would cry out on life, that what it wants/ Is not its own love back in copy speech/ But counter-love, original response." 

This answering mode is perhaps best expressed in Counter-amores, which Clarvoe wrote in response to Ovid's poems the Amores. However, the poems of Counter-amores do not follow the path of mirroring or simply citing Ovid, rather the poems, "are meant to stand on their own," the author says in her notes to describe the cycle. As if such confirmation was necessary, someone told me, soon after the reading, that he felt the power of the Counter-amores, having not read Ovid.

But how immediate is the poet's answer? Study of the English-Turkish dictionary later (possibly, after years of maceration) evolves into a poem, in which the eight meanings of the Turkish word for 'thirst' are translated into different aspects of a surreal, existential landscape. In another poem "Counter-amores 1.1" the Italian song Bella, ciao connects to Virgil's "bella, horrida bella" [wars, horrible wars], and describes a passionate moment in the middle of a protest, in the heart of Italy, where "the bells rang 'la bella vita' into the Roman air," against the war in Iraq. These are a couple of examples that point to how the 'game' functions: it is catching the objects thrown, arranging them on an infinite shelf, from where they will be extracted, if, and only when, they will be required to create a constellation. But it is also to follow the trajectories in the air, trying to recreate the lines they describe and interweaving those lines. In this game the winner is he or she for whom there is no longer a difference between objects and words.


Photo: Irina Stelea

February 7, 2012
Androushko (1st year BA, Bulgaria)

On January 23rd, ECLA was happy to welcome Jennifer Clarvoe, poet and professor at Kenyon College, to talk about Ovid's Amores, one of the poetic texts for our core class Forms of Love. Jennifer's specialty is twentieth-century American Poetry and her particular interest lies in poetic rhythm, and poetic form in general.

True to her main interest and the topic of our class, Jennifer Clarvoe began the lecture by inviting us to think about forms of love and forms of poetry, and the relationship between them. Before the plenary session, we were given different translations of one of Ovid's poems to prepare for a discussion of how language gives expression to the meanings the poet seeks to convey. What Clarvoe stressed is that Ovid himself invites such contemplation; in his poems he often highlights the question of poetic structure by matching form to subject matter.

The question that Ovid' s Amores addresses is what the forms of love are and how each of those forms, as Clarvoe suggests, "move and have their being" in poetry. She went on to explain that the forms themselves are paradoxical and "move" by means of paradox. Because the form remains the same, it threatens to become bound; to remain static and unmoving. Whereas our desire--with love, poetry, and language--is to move, to evoke a response or a certain change, therefore calling into question the static nature of the forms themselves. And so, the question we are faced with becomes the question of all language: what do we mean when we say: 'I love you'?

If the task of Ovid's poems is to convey and teach the meaning of love, then we must first ask what it means to teach a language. To illustrate the problem, Jennifer Clarvoe recounted a story about Dr. Pepperberg, a scientist who taught birds to speak. One day the parrot Alex, said to her, as she was leaving the lab: "You be good, see you tomorrow, I love you." Surely most of us are tempted to say that the bird just reproduced mechanically certain phrases that he was taught. What is uncanny for us is that the parrot's expression of love links to no emotional reality.  This is also a problem with the expression of love and its language in human relationships:  we want someone to tell us that they love us, but we also want them to mean it. But how do we know whether one truly means what one says? Jennifer says, "[to] explore the forms of love in language is to be vulnerable to being rejected and mocked; made and unmade by words." This is also what Ovid's poems offer us: the making and the unmaking of a man in words, one who is searching for the proper form of love, the proper meaning, and the proper language, in which this proper intersection of form and content can be found.

Poetry always asks for response, and in terms of its language, we are the recipients of Ovid's words and we are also the addressees of his poems. In the "light form" of language, in its playfulness, we find the gravity of the poet's deepest feelings, his vulnerability in conveying the meaning of the words 'I love you'. This is the ultimate form-the paradox: the playfulness of Ovid's poems is "light", but the responsibility to respond and to understand the meaning of the depth of sentiment is grave. The forms of love "move" by this paradox: they have to move us, the recipients, but not just with words; we have to respond with meaning to meaning.


Photo: Irina Stelea

January 27, 2012
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

For the last couple of months there has been an abundance of conversation about the acquisition of ECLA by Bard College, New York. Our students and alumni were given an open forum to have any questions they wanted to pose answered on January 22nd with a visit from the President of Bard College, Leon Botstein.

Also attending the event were administrators, faculty members and alumni of both Bard and ECLA. Not only was this a forum to have students' queries answered, it also gave a first glimpse into what the institution "ECLA" will look like. Botstein began his remarks by giving a summary of the process that ECLA has gone through to reach its new status, and the future that Bard envisions for it. He mentioned that the Endeavor Foundation which supports ECLA always had the intention of looking for partner institutions and sources of support. In 2009-2010 the Foundation began to search for a new home for ECLA, one that would be sympathetic to its mission. Bard stepped up to the plate, and ECLA became a satellite institution of Bard.

In terms of the future, Botstein outlined a number of potential policies that are elements of the partnership. Bard students will have the option of spending their first year studying here at ECLA; or to split their collegiate education, spending two years in Berlin and two years in Annandale, New York. Botstein also emphasized support for ECLA's educational philosophy, including its core curriculum, small classes, and use of tutorials. He noted, however, that the natural sciences should be integrated into ECLA's academic purview and that its class sizes will grow to some degree.

Following these remarks was a little over an hour of Q and A. Some questions concerned the future of financial aid and admissions. Botstein explained that Bard pursues a "redistributive justice" policy, whereby students with no income resources pay nothing, while those with the ability to pay contribute to the cost of their education. Bard will also pursue sponsorship and support from a variety of sources. One student asked about the extent to which the ECLA population would remain highly international. For Bard, this is one of the attractive features of ECLA as currently constituted and they intend to maintain it.

As a response to a student's question concerning immediate adjustments to take place under Bard's stewardship, Botstein responded that the changes will not be as painful as perhaps feared, but will be greater than some may desire. He emphasized the imperative of making ECLA sustainable and economically viable, a goal required for the institution to continue to excel in pursuing the liberal arts mission it has set for itself. Some of these changes include altering the third year options for BA students, putting ECLA on a semester system in order to bring into alignment with other academic calendars, and accommodating those who wish to attend ECLA as off-campus students.

New management under Bard undoubtedly brings good changes. Botstein spoke of ECLA having a more prominent Fine Arts component and also of offering an MFA degree in the future. Bard also wishes to draw on the resources and contributions of academics working elsewhere in Berlin, in providing students with a wide variety of internship experience. The development of existing and recently-acquired building resources on ECLA's campus will continue. ECLA students also now have a link not only to Bard but to its other partner institutions, with possibilities of exchange and cooperation with the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, Al-Quds University in Palestine and Smolny College in St Petersburg, Russia.


January 27, 2012

Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

Along with the new term came a new core course for AY and BA1 students. Forms of Love: Eros, Agape, and Philia, coordinated by ECLA faculty member David Hayes, engages with various texts on love throughout the centuries, and makes up the core course that students have to take in Winter Term. Brendan Boyle from the University of North Carolina, Marcela Perett, who we are glad to welcome to ECLA as a postdoctoral Fellow this term, and faculty member Geoff Lehman, make up the rest of the teaching instruction staff for this course, each one leading seminar groups and offering individual lectures.

While the autumn core, Plato's Republic and Its Interlocutors, - was structured around the reading of various texts that were interspersed with--and usually always referred back to--the ten books of the Republic, this term's course will be significantly different. Even though Plato-his Symposium--will come up again, there will not be a fixed text at the centre that the other texts will revolve around, but the focus of the reading will continuously change and progress through history. From the Symposium, Aristotle's Nichomacean Ethics, Ovid's Amores and Art of Love to the Bible and Gottfried von Strasburg's Tristan and Isolde, we will make our way to Dante's Vita Nuova and, finally, Swann's Way, by Proust.

Another major difference to the previous core class can be seen in the structure. This term, there will be fewer guest lecturers as opposed to the many interesting interlocutors that we had with the Republic, such as Glenn Most from the Scuola Normale in Pisa, Jarrell Robinson from the University of Chicago and Claudia Baracchi from the Universita di Milano-Bicocca. Instead, several Thursday nights will be spiced-up with film screenings, such as It Happened One Night (1934), Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Decalogue 1 (1989), including follow-up discussion on the depiction of love in each. This week we've had a guest lecture and a poetry reading by Jennifer Clarvoe, a professor of English at Kenyon College, who won several poetry prizes. She responds to Ovid's poetry in her newest piece, the Counter-Amores.

This term, nine weeks of teaching lie ahead of us; nine weeks that might leave a bigger impression on us than we think. In this close engagement with various external concepts of love, we will sooner or later also begin to reflect upon our own. What is to happen then, I cannot predict, but it was our dear Plato who once said that, "at the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet." A promising prophecy, indeed.


Photo: Irina Stelea

Interview with the winners
January 24, 2012

Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

From January 15th to 19th, public attention was focused on the first ECLA Academic Senate Elections. This new mechanism of self-administration, which replaces the specialized councils that were made up of students and professors, has been adopted in light of the latest developments in the university's status. Each of the categories represented within the Senate (academic staff, administration and students) choose their own representatives after a short period of campaigning that ends with a vote.

From the seven students who nominated themselves, the two students who won the status of representatives were Dzmitry Tsapkou, with 19 votes out of 36, and Zachary Barnett, with 15. Maria Androushko and Sarah Junghans will be their substitutes. I have spoken to Dzmitry and Zachary in order to find out more about their opinion on the mini-campaign and about their plans and expectations before the first session of the Senate. Although neither of them is ready to discuss concrete plans of action yet, there is no doubt that each of them has, "their own axes to grind," says Dzmitry, who detailed his own view of the new role: "The way I see myself in this whole scheme of things, apart from technicalities, is performing the 'sanity check'. Now that we get to be heard, we'd better have something of value to say."

Asked what made him nominate himself as candidate, Zachary also insisted on valuing this democratic mechanism: "I want to be able to represent those students who may feel like they don't have an opportunity to, or that it's not their place to, raise questions to the faculty or ECLA's governing body." He attributed such hesitancy to the small size of the community and says that, "there's a danger that people lose the ability to raise questions, suggestions or concerns in a more formal environment." Dzmitry, on the other hand, set his explanation of the decision to nominate himself in more abstract terms: "It is a question [of] character, of projections for the future, and of interpretations of the past, in other words beyond me." He confessed to have no previous similar experience and jokingly admitted to having had 'beginner's luck'.

As to the campaign itself, which mainly took the form of e-mails stating the candidates' intentions and plans, Dzmitry decided not to engage in any kind of self-promotion. He explained his decision thus: "Campaigning involves promises. Apart from bare minimums such as, 'I'll put an effort into performing my duties well,' I don't feel comfortable promising anything more specific yet. [...] All I could comfortably offer is, so to say, myself- a certain attitude and a certain sense of reality. And only at a tiny place like ECLA, where everyone knows everyone, one could actually waive the option of self-promotion." Zachary courteously saluted Dzmitry's choice, but thought it is precisely the small size of the community that imposed, for him, the need for an active campaign: "As a first-year and relative newbie, I felt I needed to openly justify my motivations. As ECLA is so small it would've been easy for this to have become an election won by popularity rather than consideration of the candidates' intentions."

One last question that I asked concerned the rate of participation, which was of 57.1%. Is it a good rate for a healthy democracy at ECLA? What is needed to maintain and stimulate further students' receptivity and involvement in the mechanism of the Senate? Both Dzmitry and Zachary seemed to be happy with the statistics. Dzmitry discussed his opinion: "I was surprised by the turnout because I was expecting it to be much lower." Zachary decided to draw examples from his country's political life: "To put it in perspective, that's only slightly less that the percentage of the UK population who voted in our last general election." Of course, our Senate representatives will admit, there may be cases when students "genuinely don't care," but as Zachary added, "the majority of the student body cares what happens concerning the Academic Senate, which reassures me that it's an important pursuit."


On February 6-10, 2012 ECLA will bring together faculty, students and guests for its annual 'State of the World Week' event. This year the week of seminars and lectures will focus on the topic of "censorship". In addition to examining the familiar - current and historical -- manifestations of censorship as a tool of repression, this year's SWW considers the more subtle and unexpected ways in which censorship may operate in environments ostensibly open to freedom of expression, and in particular the role of technologies, cultural conflict, and institutional frameworks in determining what can be articulated and how.

The list of guest speakers includes Roger Berkowitz (USA), Martin Krasnik (Denmark), Miklos Haraszti (Hungary), Karsten Voigt (Berlin), Christiane Wilke (Canada), Jutta Lietsch (Berlin), Eldad Beck (Israel), Heba Amin (Egypt), Evgeny Morozov (USA).

The lectures and panel discussions will take place from 9:30 to 12:00 Monday through Friday at EDEN, Breite Straße 43, 13187 Berlin / Pankow, and are open to the public. Seats are limited, however, and if you are interested in attending, please register by sending an email to by February 1st. You can find the full programme here.


January 21, 2012

(Emma Hovi, 3rd year BA, Finland)

Emma is spending her Third Year at McGill University studying history and environment and reports about the student movement at the hosting institution.

"By hard work, all things increase and grow."
motto of McGill University 

In planning my third year of the ECLA BA programme, I wanted to use this opportunity to tailor a year to fit what I was interested in. Nevertheless, I found myself worrying over ending up somewhere random, somewhere where I would be disappointed. I wanted to choose wisely.

In fact, this was not really a pure matter of picking something you think you like out of a bunch of offers. Some doors closed on me pretty early on. For instance, in a flash of enthusiasm, I tried to get in touch with an eco-village outside of Buenos Aires in Argentina. My hope was that I would be offered an internship in their permaculture centre for a couple of months. No reply. I also realized that what I was asking for was not very reasonable, as taking care of long-term interns would mean an increased work-load for those in offering the internship.

I abandoned the idea of doing an internship. I admitted to myself that I tend to heavily romanticize manual labour and practical activities while immersed in academia. Instead, I started browsing websites of a handful of universities, more or less well-known. The universities each presented a well-polished virtual façade, beyond which it was difficult to reach.

I believe a genuinely-informed choice could only have been made had I had the opportunity to visit these places and get a feel for what a website cannot mediate. What are the students like? What are the professors like? What are the dominant attitudes and energies? Would I feel comfortable? Would I be able to work and learn in this space? I feel these questions are potentially ever more urgent than asking about what classes the university offers - no class will ever prove valuable unless taught in a nurturing environment.

This realization is part of the reason why I decided on McGill University in Montréal, Canada. McGill is a traditional research university-among the oldest in Canada-with a student body of around 34, 000 including both undergraduates and graduates. After two years under the wing of the tiny liberal arts community of ECLA, McGill seemed like an interesting, albeit temporary, switch. 

After four months of going to class and speaking to people at McGill, I could cite numerous students who, like me, find the McGill community imbued with a competitive, individualistic and thus potentially damaging impetus. No wonder that the campus is full of small stickers and posters offering a range of services for students wrecked by stress, instability and the like. 

It is very likely that a majority of McGill students would disagree with me. However, my point is not to say that ambition is always harmful. It is just a matter of how energies are channelled. Often, in cooperation with students from other universities in the city, students at McGill organize their own projects. I was happy to see that here collectives serving free food on campus are standard building blocks of the social fabric of the university. Recently, a bunch of students created a platform for alternative, free-of-charge education informed by ideas of collective learning. Additionally, there are a myriad of opportunities to get involved in on-campus reading circles, publications, green-house activities and solidarity networks-all of which invigorate the traditionally-rigid structures of university studies.

Finally, I should acknowledge my peers' centrality to my learning experiences thus far. It is definitely my fellow students who have made the time spent in class more than worthwhile - a desirable dimension of McGill is that it has the resources to break also the largest lecture-classes into small discussion sections, where students have a chance to share thoughts and questions and learn from each other. Group projects and peer-editing sessions are also standard building-blocks of most classes here. For me, as someone who is not bound by a specific major- or minor-programme here, this anatomy of teaching and learning has given the opportunity to blend with and learn from students from a host of different departments and schools. 

This is how I have made sense of my new environment. Not only have I made sense of it, I like it here. On some level, I even feel like I belong. As for the coming semester: I am excited, to say the least.


January 13, 2012
Una Blagojevic (3rd year BA, Serbia)

Una Blagojevic is currently spending her Third Year at Goldsmith, University of London, and is reporting about her most recent experiences.

So far, I have been really enjoying studying at Goldsmiths. The reasons for my appreciation of it range from very banal to more sophisticated ones. Not only is the college situated in an old red brick building, behind which is a vast grassy area usually packed with students even on a rainy day, but the general atmosphere in the college is very inspirational. It is situated in the diverse south east area of London, which reminds me of Kreuzberg with its eccentric stores and unique people that can be seen on the streets. A more sophisticated reason is that one can, for example, hear the orchestra class playing, while getting lost in almost maze-like building, when trying to find the right seminar room. Above all, I'm impressed by how fascinating and engaging my courses are.

One of the classes that I am taking is "Democracy, Nationalism and Dictatorship in Eastern Europe in the 20th century". Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the History department at Goldsmiths has a course dedicated to this topic, something I have always been very interested in. Perhaps what I value most about this course, and Goldsmiths in general, is that the system of teaching is such that the tutor usually informs students about outside lectures, or an art exhibition, or anything else that can lead us to further research. Most of my tutors want us to research independently from the classes. Lectures are informative, and they do not end in a definitive conclusion but leave the space for us to find an interpretation and bond deeply with the issues.

For instance, we discussed the Second World War and the ideologies of this period, when our tutor suggested that we pay a visit to the Royal Academy of Arts, which is hosting the exhibition called Building the Revolution. I stayed in London during the winter break mostly for the purpose of exploring the city more and visiting galleries and museums, and was able to visit that exhibition as well. It portrays Soviet art and architecture from 1915 to 1935, which is shown through a collection of photographs, sketches and paintings; however the absolute highlight of the exhibition for me came even before I entered the building. In the courtyard of the Royal Academy, a replica of Tatlin's Tower took me by surprise. This replica is 40 times smaller than its actual size, however it still appears monumental and majestic. Its presence is even more enhanced by the fact that it is surrounded by the classical façade of the Royal Academy of Arts. The recreation of the tower which was to be a Monument to the Third International, outdoing even the Eiffel Tower in its greatness, is placed just opposite the monument of Sir Joshua Reynolds holding his palette and a brush (Sir Reynolds was the founder of the Royal Academy of Arts and also a painter). Whether intentional or purely coincidental, this arrangement attracted my attention and stirred my curiosity even more.

Soon enough, I was in the building looking at the exhibition that examines the establishment and development of new building types through the language of the Avant Garde; to describe it in one word: geometry. Lines, triangles, cubes and other simple geometrical forms were repeatedly present in all the sketches and paintings, reminding me once again of Sir Joshua waving with his brush in the front yard. The new and radical visual language was to support the creation of the new world of Soviet Socialism. Thus, looking at the pictures of the buildings displayed, one could notice that the creation of communal housing was the best possible way to adhere to the goals of socialism. These new types of building were such that they almost forced tenants to interact with one another in a different way than it could have ever been imagined before. The best example of this in the exhibition was the Narkomfin building. The building, as it was written, offered communal kitchens, a laundry and public nursery-in one word everything that would convey the idea of collectivism: these worker's houses served as an "imposition of social change through the introduction of communal housing."

The message that was constantly echoing throughout the gallery, communicating itself to all visitors, was that an emphasis on function could and did dictate the artistic language of the early twentieth century. It was fascinating to see in person the interplay between art and architecture contextualized by this historical moment. The exhibition made me more than excited to do further research on this topic and added a new dimension to my understanding of this period. And even further, it helped me to recognize the topic which we have been examining in the seminars and lectures from a different perspective. My experience at the Royal Academy also made me aware of the inexhaustible diversity of possibilities that London constantly offers. I am happy to say that I feel lucky to be studying in London at Goldsmiths this year, and that it has already proved itself to be a very inspiring and a constructive year.


Photo: Catalin Moise

January 11, 2012
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

Since publishing her book Cultivating Humanity in 1997, Martha Nussbaum has been a major voice in arguing for the importance of the liberal arts. Her follow-up book, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, was published in 2010. In it Nussbaum sees education in an even more dire predicament, since it is increasingly defined in terms of its contribution to economic growth. At a lecture on December 15th, as part of a conference sponsored by Universität Konstanz on the 'Future of Humanities in a Multipolar World', Nussbaum outlined the main points of this later book. Education that focuses on teaching technical skills while giving little attention to literature, history, and the arts, produces a population composed of little more than useful machines. In Nussbaum's words, a technical education leads to "moral abstruseness," while a formation in the liberal arts has the greatest potential for producing complete, morally conscientious citizens.

As Nussbaum is aware, her argument is hardly a new one. These are the essential ideas of the Enlightenment and, as she herself argues, of Ancient Greece as well. What is novel about our contemporary circumstance is not the recognition that education in the humanities produces better human beings, but the typical and often persuasive claims of the opposing side. An overview of the situation in the west shows that economically-developed countries are mostly sustainable democracies with a wide range of civil liberties and an active public sphere. Developing countries in Africa and Asia have understandably taken this as a model, concluding that economic improvement naturally correlates with every citizen having the right to, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Nussbaum points to China and certain states in India to disprove this claim, as they have great economies, but poor or non-existent democracies. The best way for a state to safeguard the capabilities of its citizens, which Nussbaum believes democracy is a necessary condition for, is not essentially economic growth but education.

During her lecture Nussbaum used psychological experiments by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo to show the individual's natural tendency to obedience to authority and subordination to peer pressure. Nussbaum suggested that such habits are usually what allow moral atrocities to happen, and are easily conceivable eventualities in an economically-developed state with poorly educated citizens. Human nature overcomes its malleability and habit of obedience through a liberal arts education. The latter has a unique capacity to teach students critical thinking rather than merely training them. Nussbaum expounded on different areas of this kind of education that she said should be attended to from the very start of a child's schooling. First among them is history, which should be taught with an international scope in order to minimize the feeling of strangeness induced by exposure to different cultures. She also offers a substantial defense of the role of literature and art, decisive in constructing what she calls the "narrative imagination." This makes one fully capable of stepping into another's shoes, imagining the perspective of the other. Ultimately, the ability to identify imaginatively with people from varied cultures and societies encourages students to treat those peoples with the utmost respect.

One must consider whether Nussbaum overvalues the power of education. Many would be hard-pressed to say that education can ever be overvalued, but Nussbaum has a particular type of education in mind, primarily an academic one. The education that children receive from their parents, that individuals receive from their friends, that the pious receive from their religion, is often more determinative of one's moral character than their academic rearing. In order to produce like-minded egalitarian, cosmopolitan citizens it may be preferable that children and young adults receive most of their moral direction from school rather than church or home. For some reason, however, most in the liberal state cringe at the idea of an academic education configuring one's moral constitution. I fully support Nussbaum's advocacy of the liberal arts over purely technical education, but one must acknowledge that the institutionalization of the former is harder to achieve, precisely because of its power to confront the values we hold nearest and dearest.


Photo: Irina Stelea

January 3, 2012
Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

On December 4th the whole ECLA community gathered for the traditional Christmas celebration, which included a performance of the ECLA choir and a festive dinner.

 Already in the days prior to the celebration, Christmas trees and colorful decorations had made their way into each of the buildings on the campus, including the cafeteria and student dorms. Perhaps, some of us felt it was too early for a Christmas celebration, either because - as in my case- the smell of the conifers reminded me of holidays at home and of childhood, or because, in general, such merrymaking avant la lettre would of course be a moment of relaxation, but would still cause some confusion in our perception of time, being that it was right before the final week of the Autumn term. But these were only covert ways to anticipate what proved to be a really vibrant celebration.

At 6 PM everybody assembled in the common room of one of the student dorms, which on the occasion transformed into a mini concert-hall, for the performance of the choir conducted by ECLA's Choir Director and Vocal Instructor Yvonne Frazier. The concert programme included Bach (such as Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben), as well as anonymous but mesmerizing carols (such as The Holly and the Ivy). There were solos and ensembles. There were English, German and Latin lyrics. But, more than that, there were seven wonderful voices which sounded a bit different than what they usually are, in seminars or during breaks in the cafeteria. Yvonne's short introduction to the pieces acted as interludes and described the different histories and backgrounds of the carols (for instance, the different versions of Jingle Bells that preceded the well-known version).

After the musical performance we hastened to the Cafeteria, where our Chef Stefan Will and his staff had prepared a very special Christmas dinner. Just like at the choir performance, I really felt that the Christmas atmosphere is not really dependent on the day that you celebrate. The dim lights of candles and the garlands, a glass of wine and a delicious meal (for which Crème brûlée and Kaiserschmarrn were a perfect conclusion)-all of these details are also a part of what one may consider a true celebration.

One very special moment during the dinner was the Secret Santa procedure. On the suggestion of one of the first-year students, Zachary Barnett, each participant, both students and faculty, bought a present for someone else, on the condition of complete anonymity (thus, in the end, each becomes a Secret Santa for someone else). When someone dressed up as a Santa came in to distribute the presents, I saw that everyone involved was really nervous and excited; everybody thought of two things: What present did I get and from whom? and Will the receiver of my gift like it?

But this was not to be the end of our joyful Sunday evening. Late in the night the sound of guitars and of voices trying to synchronize to sing songs from The Killers or Bob Dylan could still be heard on Waldstrasse.


December 22, 2011
April Matias (2nd year BA, Philippines)

In Berlin, even before snow sets in and the decorations are put up, holiday spirit abounds. You can go to your friendly neighborhood supermarket in November and see a bevy of seasonal sweet treats like: Stollen, Lebkuchen, Pfeffernüsse and Spekulatius. Still, Christmas markets (Weinachtsmärkte) must be the most anticipated holiday fixture in the city, which seem to fill up every major thoroughfare in the German capital.

There are several things one can expect from Christmas markets: large crowds, pastries and delicacies from other countries, and most importantly, Glühwein. This year, I decided to get a group of ECLA students together to visit one of Berlin's biggest Weinachtsmärkte in Schloss Charlottenburg.

That night there was a nice holiday chill in the air and I came with a mission to find a Bayerischer Bierkrug to take home (to Manila) as a souvenir. Soon enough, my single-mindedness of purpose turned into wide-eyed gaiety over the knick-knacks and bric-à-brac that filled the shop stalls in Schloss Charlottenburg. From microwaveable stuffed toys to beach wear, there is just no telling what one can find at the Christmas market.

Food soon turned into the primary object of attraction, as it is not likely something that one can avoid at the Christmas market. The aroma of freshly baked quark balls filled the packed rows of shops, and as I turned around the corner, I caught sight of roasted almonds and other nuts. The 'foodie' discovery of the night, all thanks to a friend's introduction, was a kind of pastry called kürtőskalács or Hungarian chimney cake. It was an euphoria-inducing moment to taste something new to my palate. After downing a cup of glühwein (to keep up with tradition), it was off to the palace.

Had our group arrived a little bit earlier, this would perhaps be the most attractive part of going to Schloss Charlottenburg's Weinachtsmarkt. But when we finally ventured to walk around the palace, it was already too dark to see anything else of spectacle but the palace itself, standing there with such grace and grandeur.

Soon enough it was time to head back to the dorms for another day's worth of readings, but we returned with a boost of cheer, having been delighted in new things discovered and feeling that people had come out to celebrate the season.


Photo: Irina Stelea

December 22, 2011
Johanna Fü
rst (AY'12, Austria)

It's that time of the year again-the time of pomegranates, peanuts, and these tiny baby oranges that seem to have a thousand different names, which has so far led to quite a few heated lunch break discussions. December has started, and what would have been a better way to begin it than with a Christmas Baking Session?

Enthusiastic members of the administration and the student body gathered in the cafeteria to spend several hours of excessive cookie baking time together, while others stopped by just at the right time to appreciate the delicious baking results. During the previous weeks, many students and members of the faculty had sent their traditional baking recipes to Stefan, who then made sure all the various ingredients would be provided. A mountain of yeast, saffron, flour, vanilla sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, confectioner's sugar, ginger, melted butter, cream, honey and baking powder piled up on the middle of the table-it didn't take long until we all had been turned into dough-covered cookie monsters.

Since there were several different recipes to work with, participants split up into groups. A few members of administration had brought their children along, so the task of cutting out cookies was taken care of. Katharina was sculpting a delicate Christmas tree out of dough and Zoltan was stuck up to his elbows in a bowl of Hungarian honey and cinnamon dough, while a few others were already waiting in front of the oven for the first batch. The only project that hadn't been started yet, seemed to scream our names: Ginger Creams-a recipe from Ryan Plumley's mother. After putting on aprons, to get at least some sort of protection from the sweet stickiness of the cookie dough, we were ready to face the challenge. But where to start?

Collecting the ingredients that were spread all over the room turned out to be a good opportunity to learn a few necessary words in German: shortening, molasses, nutmeg and cloves had to be translated in order to identify the right ingredients to work with. With all the busy bees running around the room, this proved to be quite difficult, but eventually we succeeded in having all the items ready. Because the recipe was American, we stuck to using cups as measuring tools and were surprised about the huge mass of dough that miraculously appeared in the bowl. As soon as the problem of properly cracking the eggs had been overcome as well, the dough was finally ready for the spices. The recipe told us to use four tablespoons of ginger, but they might have turned into six or seven in practice. With the dough spiced up, we began to get very excited for the results. Next, it was time to shape the little delicacies on the baking tray, but while the recipe said to drop them by teaspoonfuls, we thought the bigger the better, and produced cookies of monstrous sizes.

Meanwhile, the first butter biscuits had cooled down and were greatly appreciated by the baking community, along with home-made Glühwein. According to our schedule, we were still supposed to make the icing for the Ginger Creams and got great tips from Katharina on how to do it. The icing itself turned out to be almost irresistibly delicious, and we made it even fancier by stirring in red and blue food colouring. I guess that the children in us were coming through again that day, and I am sure that many of us were reminded of the good old days, when we had gaps between our teeth and cookie dough smeared across our faces. A joyful feeling was in the air, and more and more people arrived to "see what was going on in the cafeteria" after many classes had ended at 16:45.

I cannot point out enough, how great this afternoon with the ECLA family was, since it got us in the wintery Christmas mood and distracted us from the end-of-term workload. And the Ginger Creams? Spicy, buttery, red and blue deliciousness that didn't survive the rush for too long.


Photo: Irina Stelea

December 22, 2011

Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

It was then that the fox appeared.
"Good morning," said the fox.  [...]
"Who are you?" asked the little prince, and added, "You are very pretty to look at."
"I am a fox," said the fox.
"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."
"I cannot play with you," the fox said. "I am not tamed."

                                                            Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

Life on the ECLA campus was never the same again after this happened.  Some of us were still dreaming of an ECLA pet, when, on one October evening, a student encountered in the heart of the campus, a fox. The enthusiasm and surprise spread rapidly, since none of us had ever seen a fox outside the zoo, let alone in a city. All would have sounded like a fantasy, had not it happened again and again in the following weeks. In fact, it turned out that, on our campus, there are at least two foxes. As time passed, we discovered that there is an entire population around Pankow. Some of us happened to see the red slender miracle crossing the street at the traffic light, others-going into one of the courtyards in the neighborhood. It was officially a phenomenon, and, luckily, we didn't need a pet anymore.   

The encounters were always peaceful. Although some of us felt like being chased by the fox, it was more like a magnetic interaction at a distance, a tango of backward-and-forward motion. To paraphrase A. de Saint-Exupéry again, "[…] no one has tamed us, and we have tamed no one." What was clear was that they are far from being our pets. Mr. Fox, as some of us started calling one of them, was the expression of a freedom that we, inhabitants of the big city, seemed to have lost.

Only later I found out that there is a 'Wild Animal Telephone' in Berlin and that, usually, people call because they don't know how to react when they meet the intruders (or, should I say, when they intrude into the natural habitat of the animals?). According to the recommendations they usually give to people, we were behaving correctly (don't feed them because this way you don't help them; stay away. Basically don't do anything-that is to say, in my interpretation-respect each other's freedom).

As was to be expected, the phenomenon is not confined to our campus Apparently, foxes have even more 'extravagant locations'. Commentaries and playful interpretations have sought to respond to people's concern. On the 8th of November, the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin opened a thematic exhibition entitled Wildes Biopolis Berlin, in which the curators, among them the photographer Florian Möllers, combined photography, sound installations and informative panels attached to the Haltestelle (bus and tram stations) columns that you see all over Berlin. Although I did not endorse the curators' decision to complete the whole setting with stuffed animals (after all, isn't it about the beasts' natural freedom that we are talking about?), I found the exhibition truly informative and entertaining.

Rather than showing endless enthusiasm, Wildes Biopolis is an attempt to balance different views and issues connected with the so called explosion of biodiversity in Berlin. For instance, it reminds us of the danger of infestations or of the unfortunate incident in London when a fox entered a house and injured a child, or about the dangers posed by other rodents. But it also stresses Berlin's successful administration and even augmentation of biodiversity (for instance, the 2005 contest between Berlin Tierpark and New York Central Park, in which the former won). But, of course, there's also room for pure, unconcealed enthusiasm, such as in pieces of information like "there are some 50 raccoons in Berlin" or "for each of the three and a half million Berliners there is at least one pair of birds."

One of the last panels I saw was a table describing the most common habitats in Berlin for some of the species. It turns out that foxes inhabit mostly "private homes."  Crooked as the deduction may be, our campus is like a "private home". In which our freedom does not hinder their freedom, and vice versa. And thus we live, beautifully untamed.   


Photo: Yulia Babenko

December 15, 2011
Maria Androushko (1st year BA, Bulgaria)

On December 5, ECLA was happy to welcome Claudia Baracchi, professor at the University of Milano-Bicocca and Visiting Professor at the New School for Social Research. Claudia's main areas of expertise include Ancient philosophy, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Continental philosophy, philosophy of history, feminist thought, philosophy of art, political philosophy, and ethics.  Claudia was invited to give the final guest lecture on Book X of the Republic and Book XXIV of the Iliad for the core class on Plato and His Interlocutors.

This was the first time that Professor Baracchi visited ECLA, but she said that she has been and still is "very curious" about our small but unique college. In the opening minutes of the lecture she noted that we have to deal with an ending, but a "festive" one. With Professor Baracchi we were also to take up the task to start from the beginning -to revisit Plato's piece, so to speak, for with the Republic we are never dealing with something static. The text is never something fixed one can absorb once and for all. It is not a text, "which we have to read between the lines either, but one, whose every line must be read".

These initial remarks set the tone of the whole discussion and Claudia Baracchi's voice, her text, one might say, mirrors the voice of the Republic itself: every time one looks or turns to it again, it becomes alive; the fixed 'dead' interpretation one might have had is undone and the new doing of it starts again. The subject of doing and undoing was, in fact, one of the main underlying threads in Baracchi's lecture.

From Book VIII of the Republic and on we witness the undoing of the city-in-speech. Why was it erected in the first place, and are we going to do away with it towards the end? The city was created as a magnifying lens for that which we were not ready to see. We had to undo the city, so as to see what lies inherent in it: "the dynamics of justice and injustice", or the dynamics of the human soul itself. We had to build something ideal, something which appears perfectly stable, to discover that it rests on the unstable power of desire.

The beginning of the city-in-speech, or the beginning of philosophizing, is found in Book II, where the very "language of the text is that of desire". Glaucon and Adeimantus desire to hear Socrates speak in favor of justice. They have the desire to know the taste of justice, for they perceive it as intrinsically "sweet", despite the arguments against it. Thus, philosophy is concerned with desire from within. "It is not extraneous to philosophy. It is its condition."

In the building of the city, we find that justice is sweet because it harmonizes with what is properly one's own: one's own activity and being. It is the unity among difference, which constitutes the invitation to authenticity, "the initiation of self-discovery and actualization of what is most one's own." The gradual construction of the city magnifies the construction and constitution of the human soul. The former's tripartite hierarchy corresponds to  the tripartite division of the latter. What seems to be at the top is the logon: calculation and reason. It is only an apparent hierarchy, however, because philosophy could not be possible with pure reason alone, and without passion. The logon is privileged because it does not overwhelm the other two constitutive parts. It oversees them and develops them in truth, in what is most properly their own. It watches over passion. The city and the soul models will become one - will achieve their harmony only when the philosophical becomes primary.

But in Book VI, we notice a discrepancy between Socrates and the philosopher-king. The latter possesses the knowledge, whose goodness and ruling stem from it. In order to rule, he must know what is best for the ruled. Socrates never asserts that he knows and the fact that he is the one leading the discussion of the city brings the issue of what is best into question. Book VII further casts doubt on the stability of knowledge in relation to the city: the cave analogy forces us to consider the "unending circularity of going up and down, while each going down involves something taken from above without possessing it." Knowledge is movement, not a condition.

In Books VIII and IX we witness the undoing of the fixed city and knowledge and the doing or creation of mythology. The pure separation of being from seeming which was undertaken in Book II is, not coincidentally, now undone, because in the end we find each other always already in appearance(s). The end of the Republic is, then, "saved" (Republic, Book X, 621c), because the doing of the logos in myth is to be undertaken now.


Photo: Irina Stelea

December 15, 2011
April Matias (2nd year BA, Philippines)

As a culmination of the autumn term's art history elective on Representation a group of ECLA students visited the Hoffmann private collection of contemporary art on December 3, 2011 . The gallery, owned by Erika and Rolf Hoffmann, occupies two floors of an apartment building located at Sophienstraβe near Hackescher Markt.

Walking to the gallery is an experience itself, as Sophienstraβe is lined with cozy cafés and little curiosity shops, amusing diversions on the way to Sophie-Gips-Höfe, the entrance of which faces an early eighteenth-century century Baroque church, Sophienkirche. The courtyard of Sophie-Gips-Höfe opens onto a refurbished old factory building with brick exteriors, a home to artworks produced in recent decades.

In the foyer of the exhibition space a short stop-motion animation film titled "Weighing and Wanting" was playing. The film, by South African artist William Kentridge, transformed itself and re-ran through the use of drawings that were repeatedly erased. It shows a man's brain scans which slowly turn into scenes with a woman, depicted in an alternately affectionate and violent manner. As the film progresses, the woman's bodily curves eventually sketch out tall transmission towers which stand monument to mankind's rapid industrialization. The film served as an icebreaker as the tour guide engaged ECLA students in a discussion about the political underpinnings of the film. Outside the film viewing room, Kentridge's sketches for the film are displayed.

The group next saw some works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American artist who had worked with Andy Warhol. His graffiti are reminiscent of Andy Warhol's early collage work of black-and-white ads, with a hint of Cy Twombly's deceptively childish-looking marks and drawings. In the same room, his street art treatment of a shipping crate is also displayed.

The group moved on to text-and-image art by Bill Beckley. Encountering a private guest over a meal in one of the Bill Beckley rooms was a reminder that the gallery also serves as living quarters for the collection owners. One impressive work by Bill Beckley is titled Roses are, Violets are, Sugar are which clearly references Barnett Newman's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV, even recreating Newman's "zip painting" technique by using a thorny plant stem, a plant vein and a streak of sugar. These elements can be read in relation to the botanical process of photosynthesis which sustains the life of a plant.

Soon enough, the group was led into a room with three photographic recreations of Manet's Olympia by Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra. One features an elderly lady on a bed posed as the reclining nude while the other two feature the artist herself: in one instance a faithful recreation of Manet's protagonist with the exception of the fiery red hair, the second showing the reclining nude on a hospital bed. The hospital scene was quite striking as an image of a hairless nude woman makes a strong reference to cancer. It puts Manet's work in a very different light, particularly when compared to how Manet's critics at the time harshly judged the woman as ugly and the painting as scandalous and immoral. The photo recreation goes against the typical view of the woman as an object of spectacle when death and illness are clearly impinging on whatever erotic sensation may be attached to the female nude.

The next room seemed to have an opposite take on the female body as the walls were covered by photographs of naked women, bound and contorted into apparently painful positions where some women seem to be tied and suspended on air, occasionally punctuated by a photo or two of the Tokyo skyline. These photographs were taken by Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki. Hung in the middle of the room are several traditional Kimonos whose sheer breadth and volume seem to obscure and disrupt the eroticism of Araki's works.

Two works shown at the end of the tour were really awe-inspiring, inducing gasps among the group of already wide-eyed ECLA students. One was by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, consisting of a long white gown suspended on air through what must be hundreds of web-like yarn stitches that enclose the gown and are enclosed by a steel frame. It truly captures a sense of marital claustrophobia, encompassing the viewer within its imposing cobweb structure.

The last work on display was by Australian hyperrealist artist Ron Mueck - a silicone sculpture of a squatting naked man with his arms stretched out and his head hidden and turned towards his body. The astonishing detail of this sculpture, from the microscopic hairs, light blood clots on the skin to wrinkles on the entire body, was daunting to process. The Representation class, having started with Plato's indictment of imitative arts, had gone full circle and saw what might truly be an alarming art piece to those who espouse Plato's argument against art in Book X of The Republic.

The Hoffmann gallery tour, which also served as the last session for the Representation elective, was a succinct summary of all the art historical narratives discussed in class, but most importantly, it proved that for the art being made today, traditions and conventions are alive and well-recognized, and are being modified and challenged such that even an art critic like Arthur Danto might be tempted to revoke his claim about the "end of art".


December 15, 2011
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

My autumn term at ECLA included one of the most fascinating and beneficial courses I have ever taken. It was offered by guest professor Naomi Sussmann under the title "Terror(ism), War, and Violence." I originally registered for the course because of an attractive reading list that included Hobbes, Arendt, and Schmitt. It may have been wiser to consider the course description  as aiming to understand terrorism and war "from a distinctly philosophical perspective - which is to say that its perspective is explicitly not practical but analytical and abstract." At the core of the class was the analysis of just war theory, which goes as far back as Augustine and Aquinas, but finds an authoritative contemporary articulation in the work of Michael Walzer. Half of the course was dedicated to his book Just and Unjust Wars, and I may have broached the issue of not reading enough of continental philosophy, but I soon learned that an immersion in his insights was a highly valuable exercise.

 As one who is quick to criticize violence, even when the motivations and ends are honorable, I found myself appalled by Walzer's defense of preventive attacks, such as killing members of a military who don't engage in combat, and by his lack of concern for individual responsibility in war. The primary morally redeeming facet of Walzer's thought is his unconditional defense of the civilian. It is essential to Walzer that combatants be distinguished from noncombatants, as it could never be a just practice in war to kill the latter, no matter how unjust one believes their political representatives or associates to be. Many Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings were spent debating these positions, which while sometimes "analytical and abstract" in their basis (even though Walzer draws abundantly on historical examples) still managed to engage us more and more intensely as the term went on.

But we had yet to discuss terrorism directly, something which, in this historical moment, seems to me a more pressing category than war. With a Professor from Israel, me from the United States, and another student from India, our seminar would inevitably drift toward the "practical" perspective of how terrorism manifests itself in the world.  When we addressed analytical philosophy on terrorism our discussions consistently made use of real-world examples, though the authors often seemed to avoid these. Understanding the analytical treatment of terrorism did help us to look beyond our subjective political positions, and there were poignant moments when we felt like spectators surveying this world in an age of terrorism. One hopes that such a perspective, one that the analytical and abstract approach hopes to inhabit, puts us in a better place to make judgments about the phenomenon.

Our return to the reality check was embodied in a viewing of Waltz with Bashir alongside an in-depth discussion of the 1982 Lebanon War, during which Israel invaded southern Lebanon. The film focuses on guilt over Israel's involvement in the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The massacre was executed by Phalangist Christians in Lebanon, implicating the Israeli Defense Forces, who were surrounding the camp, in the crime. IDF failed to prevent the massacre even though there was significant evidence as to what was going on. The features of this war and its portrayal in the film captured much of what was stressed in our discussions: the killing of noncombatants, the question about the appropriate response to terrorism by a state, the justifications given for killing combatants and the relation between these reasons and the cause or political goal in question.  This course gave me a substantial and helpful share of analytical and abstract treatments of terrorism and violence, but what made it invaluable was its willingness to engage with the practical perspective and not deny the passions experienced when confronting the destruction of the lives and livelihood of others.


December 7, 2011
Maria Khan (AY'11, ISU'11, Pakistan)

Maria Khan attended the Academy Year at ECLA in 2010-11, as well as the ISU on Prussia this past summer. While at ECLA she was a regular contributor to the news section. Currently Maria is back in Pakistan, working as a production manager and a dancer in the staging of The Taming of the Shrew, which will be shown at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in May 2012.

Susannah Harris Wilson finished her graduate studies in Drama at Stanford University in the summer of 1960. After finishing her degree, when Susannah began looking for a job, someone shared with her a listing for an opportunity in Pakistan. The principal of a liberal arts college, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, was looking for a person to help with the schools' theatre department. Susannah took the big leap and in the autumn of 1960 she travelled to Lahore, Pakistan. What was to be a four-month tour became the most memorable four years of Susannah's life. Lahore was a city rich in arts and culture and Susannah enjoyed and greatly supported the theatre, arts and music scene of the city. She made many different friends; "[a] second family and home," she still claims. Her production of Amadeus there is still widely remembered.

There were two things that inspired her greatly about Pakistan: the women and the Pakistani sense of humor. Susannah often says that she admired the strength of Pakistani women and that she was always taken by their wit and the ability of Pakistanis in general to laugh at themselves-even when going through the worst of times politically and socially. In 2007 when I was a sophomore at Kinnaird College, I met her for the first time. I worked with Susannah on Shakespearian Rags, a performance which consisted of seven different scenes from seven different Shakespearian plays performed in seven different settings. Susannah and I have remained in touch since that time.

In February 2011 when I was at ECLA, Susannah called me from Oxford, where she lives now. She told me very briefly about Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's festival Globe to Globe 2012. The Globe Theater had invited countries from all over the world to perform Shakespeare in their own language while staying true to the text and meaning of the play. She had taken up this project for Pakistan and had asked a senior Pakistani TV/Stage Director to direct the play. She herself remained the producer; managing finances and other logistics of the play. She asked me if I would like to join the production after my Academy Year was over. At that time, I was walking around with an admissions offer from a graduate school in the UK, but with no money to fund the education. I kept hoping to start graduate school by October, but fate had something else written for me: I found no money for my graduate school and returned to Pakistan in a state of uncertainty. Susannah called me and emailed me. She encouraged me to start appearing at the rehearsals which had already started in April. Amongst a cast of 12 members, I was to play a dancer and also be the Production Manager for the play. Gradually the play became an important part of my life.

Pakistan's submission will be The Taming of the Shrew. As Susannah puts it, "nobody could have done Taming of the Shrew better than Pakistanis; it is a tale of an educated, stubborn woman who would only settle down for a clever and chivalrous man, a story of female femininity and the power which lies in it and last but not least a story of servants and multiple social layers of society."

Susannah urged the translators to not portray the protagonist, Katharina, as beaten and miserable; rather she should be a figure who finds strength in her womanhood. As a Pakistani woman, the play constantly prompts me to learn and unlearn my very own tailor-made concept of male-female relationships. Katharina (Kiran in Urdu) from The Taming of the Shrew faces the same conflicts that a contemporary educated Pakistani woman goes through. At the end of the play she arrays herself like a shy traditional bride yet is portrayed as having formed a considered judgment of the partner with whom she will spend her life, and of the situation she finds herself in.

Our production of the play is full of Persian and Urdu classical music and dance and depicts Lahore as the cultural equivalent of Padua, a center of education and learning. The play has educational value, as it places great emphasis on the arts as a medium of education and also conveys that the arts can spiritually and emotionally purify a human being, while at they also sharpen the mind and thinking process. This experience has led me to rethink my educational plans. I have decided not to apply to graduate school to study what I had intended to before, philosophy and public policy. Instead, my involvement with this project, combined with my full-time job at a teacher's training institute, has urged me to look into the field of Arts Education. I now plan to study Arts Education, focusing on how using folk arts as a pedagogical tool can enhance creative and critical thinking in the educational system in Pakistan.

Working on this production of The Taming of the Shrew allowed me to meet new friends and also participate in an exciting travel experience. The play will be staged at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in May 2012, followed by performances at Said Business School and Oxford University.


Photo: Irina Stelea

December 7, 2011
Michael David Harris (AY '12, USA)

What connection can be made between Socrates and Marx, men separated by over two thousand years, but both hugely influential on the history of Western civilization? Are they both intellectuals? Certainly. Both philosophers? Possibly. Both revolutionaries? Not necessarily. The question that ECLA gathered on November 18 to discuss was their relevance for contemporary controversies over the family and individual rights.

The organizers of the event, Professors Ewa Atanassow and Ryan Plumley, publicized the "Marx v. Socrates?" event as a debate on their respective positions. With these texts at our disposal-Friedrich Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State and Book V of Plato's Republic-we arrived at interesting conclusions about their pertinence to current debates. Both promote the equality of women and men, essentially through a destruction of the family structure as these figures knew it (and, for the most part, as we know it today). What are the limitations of Marx's and Socrates' accounts, and why might we be hesitant (or not) to call them feminists? Furthermore, what do similarities in their declarations suggest, given that they are separated by a span of two thousand years?

Before moving forward, we must consider if the arguments that have come down to us can even appropriately be ascribed to Socrates and to Marx. As Ewa noted during the discussion, the two texts analyzed both make the claim of representing an authoritative voice. The text by Engels was published after Marx died and claims to be a synthesis of his notes on Lewis H. Morgan's anthropological text on clan structures: Ancient Society. The authenticity of Plato's representation of Socrates in The Republic is even more doubtful, such that the claims made in Book V suggest that Plato may be producing an image of Socrates that calls itself into question and bears an ironic relationship to historical reality. Nonetheless, the ideas that we have of Socrates and Marx are substantially informed by these ambiguous records offered by Plato and Engels.

In the first instance, two quotations from these texts appear to have a certain resonance. Engels states, "with the passage of the means of production into common property, the individual family ceases to be economic unit of society […]. The care and education of children becomes a public matter. Society takes care of all children equally, irrespective of whether they are born in wedlock or not." And from Plato (through Socrates): "'all these women are to belong to all these men in common, and no woman is to live privately with any man. And the children, in their turn, will be in common, and neither will a parent know his own offspring, nor a child his parent". The destruction of the family as a unit of private property is a shared element in both theories, but while Engels advocates the public care and guardianship of children, Socrates describes a condition of common ownership of women and children by men.

Further differences also emerge from a similar basic proposition in both philosophies. For Engels, the end of the family's link with private property creates the possibility of a voluntary monogamy based on feeling, or true "sex love" as he puts it, as opposed to the hypocritical structure of the bourgeois family, devoted to the reproduction of children and relying indirectly on the institution of prostitution. For Plato, the end of the private family unit dedicates all citizens to the public good, including the efforts of women themselves, who have "the same nature [as men] with respect to guarding a city" except with regard to differences in physical strength. What a comparison between these two texts ultimately showed is that any debate on the arrangement of the family is also a debate on the structure of society, on the rights of individuals, and the relationship between those individual rights and the demands of reproducing and raising children, as well as the connection between sentiment and political order.


Photo: Yulia Babenko

December 2, 2011
Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

This past November, the ECLA community was glad to welcome Tobias Joho from the University of Chicago for two guest lectures on Thucydides' text, The Peloponnesian War. Currently a PhD candidate with a BA in Literae Humaniores from Oxford and an MA in Classical Languages and Literatures, one of his main research interests includes Thucydides, especially his style of writing and the way certain terms are used in his text. In his lectures, Joho introduced us to the author's intellectual profile and the historical features of the Peloponnesian War. He also acquainted us with the differences between Spartan and Athenian modes of life and political organization, and explained to us how 'Eros' is considered by Thucydides to have effected changes in Athenian statesmanship; that transition from Pericles to Alcibiades.

Thucydides was born around 460 BC and died leaving his great work unfinished in the 390s BC. He was an Athenian citizen who experienced the war as a general in the Athenian army--sent into exile after he failed to save Amphipolis. He is widely regarded as the founding father of scientific historiography as we know it today. Living just after Herodotus, who had written the Histories, an account of the Persian Wars describing how Athens acquired a degree of power to rival Sparta's, Thucydides strove to understand and provide an objective account of the past of a kind that had never been seen before. Throughout his text, he continuously draws attention to his careful scrutiny of his own method and presents himself as a thorough investigator. To Thucydides, everything is based on the human motivation of power and self-preservation, in contrast to Herodotus' account, which emphasizes the importance of splendour, fame or god-like heroes.

In eight Books, Thucydides describes the different stages of war and peace between the Athenians and the Spartans between 431 BC - 404 BC. In this world of city states and multipolarity, several different regimes had formed. The two main opposing camps in this war were the Peloponnesian League, comprised of Sparta and her allies, and the Delian League, an empire under Athenian rule. Those two regimes were utterly different in their structure and mindset. The Spartans, ruling all of the Southern Peloponnesus, were famous for their strict and conservative attitude. Sparta's citizens spent their entire adolescence training for warfare, and as soon as they reached the age of 20, they lived together in small groups and focused on keeping the political order intact. It was a city of collectivism and obedience-an oligarchy. Athens could not have been more different. Given that it was a democracy, the assembly of the people was seen as the most important political body. Its citizens being free, a tolerant attitude prevailed. Pericles' funeral speech, in "Book II", Chapters 36 - 46, is the most famous celebration of classical Athens, and portrays the city as possessing qualities that should be mutually enhancing, like political equality and individual excellence.

Having provided us with this historical background, Joho went into more detail on Thucydides' treatment of Eros in his second lecture, exploring how the historian believed this force to have precipitated a change of government and a political downfall, causing Athens to lose its entire army at the end of the war and surrender to the Spartans in 404 BC. Pericles, an Athenian general who had been elected by the Athenian people and held his post for fourteen consecutive years, is accorded high respect by Thucydides in the text. He is an intelligent man, who bases his opinion on sound insight, and is the mastermind behind the building of the defensive walls around Athens. He is the symbol for imperialism but restrains himself from wild excesses. The political situation changes as Pericles' sense of right proportion is lost and Alcibiades comes to power. Alciabiades personifies a seductive access to desire and an inability to make profitable decisions for the city. Pericles' sense of the balance of power and self-restraint is tipped when the idea of conquering Sicily emerges and Alcibiades takes on a tyrannical character. These developments led the Athenians to a defeat, and their city would never again be as splendid as previously.

Tobias Joho was kind enough to join us for the seminar discussions following his lectures. We were delighted to be able to have the benefit of his expertise on this challenging and fascinating work.


Photo: Irina Stelea

December 1, 2011
Maria Androushko (
1st year BA, Bulgaria)

On Friday, November 18th, ECLA students organized a screening of short animation films called "TOONite". The evening presented us with the challenge and pleasure of revisiting the perspective of a child, questioning our normal conception of reality and imagination. Thanks to the organizers, Jelena Djokić and Irina Stelea, we traveled to different parts of the world and through different time periods with film selections spanning from 1966 to 2010 and with representatives of Italian, French, Belgian, American, Japanese, Serbian and British animation. Most of us were introduced for the first time to animation techniques that are quite different from those of Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks. During those two hours we were enticed to doubt that animation films are simply for a child's entertainment (if we ever thought so), and not a compelling medium to construct and reconstruct perceptions of reality. After "TOONite", I managed to speak to Jelena about her own work, how this joint project came about, her choice in the selection, and the underlying idea uniting such different shorts.

Initially Jelena wanted to gather the ECLA community to show her film, but she thought that it could also be a good opportunity for students and faculty to get together and see the works of other filmmakers. Many of the animations that we saw were well-known and received several awards in their field. The underlying idea for selecting the pieces was to visit different geographic locations and to become acquainted with various films that, "treat reality differently from feature films." We saw many distinct techniques used for the creation of this "reality", which in all cases challenged our perceptions. "TOONite" inevitably widened our horizon.

The first film that we saw was La Linea, an episode from an animated series produced by Osvaldo Cavandoli in 1972. Jelena chose this piece because she thought that it would add to the AY Core seminar discussions from the previous week about Plato's 'divided line' from The Republic. She also said that she has always been fascinated with how a single line might provoke us to constitute an entire and complete reality by relying solely on contours. Furthermore, La Linea appeals purely to the human imagination, since "it overcomes language barriers": the film does not represent a specific kind of animation, aimed at specific audience, particular to its time and genre, rather it puts its viewers on equal footing with regard to their capacity to create and construct what is not immediately offered to perception.

La Linea was followed by a more recent film from 2009, Logorama, by the French animation collective H5. The animation is almost entirely assembled from logos and brands, which amount to more than 2500 different images. The piece critiques, or takes to the extreme, our own reality and we become more aware of how "branded" our world really is.

The next movie, Chromophobia (Raoul Servais, Belgium, 1966) was the first film to treat the subject of World War II. It is an amazingly symbolic piece, which made us contemplate the idea that war erases all differences among individuals and deprives us of the "colors" of reality. There is a unified view of the world and it is monochromatic-black and white. Suffering is one and the same: there are degrees, perhaps, but not varieties.

Guard Dog (Bill Plympton, USA, 2004) also sees the world from a single perspective: that of a dog wishing only to protect his master. This vantage point shapes and defines his reality. It is the perspective of emotion. "Plympton is all about emotion", Jelena said, "and he tends to create an entire reality from a simple fact or something quite banal such as why a dog barks". I highly recommend this short film to anyone who has wondered why the neighbor's dog always barks at him or her.

SuperCool (Goran Radovanović and Jelena Djokić, Serbia, 2010) is a stop-motion animation created by five people in collaboration. It provides an answer to the question: "How would clothes grow…if they could grow?" Every piece of clothing has an information tag or a, "declaration about the material" and in the animation we see a cotton sock "grow" gradually from a tag that reads "cotton". Jelena and Goran shot the film frame-by-frame in eight days using stop-motion techniques, making about 7000 photographs. "SuperCool" has been shown at fifteen film festivals, including one in Serbia and several in Germany.

Skhizein (Jeremy Clapin, France, 2008) was the closing movie for the night. It explored the reality of the individual who is removed from himself, from his 'previous self', or 'previous' reality…by 92 centimeters. If we ever thought that we were going crazy, we probably felt at a distance from ourselves and from our ordinary, everyday reality. The piece looks at how and whether we cope with that and other strange feelings. I urge readers to undergo the experience for themselves.

I am looking forward to enjoying many more TOONights at ECLA, especially because Jelena and Irina are working on organizing two more events. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to see answers to questions we never thought of, or we never dared to pose because they seemed childish. Maybe we will allow ourselves to be childish from time to time and adopt a much more fun yet still, I believe, profound perspective on reality.

Photo: Irina Stelea

November 30, 2011
Eliza Little (PY'12, USA)

On November 16th, the 4th year BA/Project Year Core class was fortunate to host a guest lecture by Professor Theodore Ziolkowski. Professor Ziolkowski, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Yale Graduate School, is a distinguished scholar in the fields of Comparative Literature and German Studies, as well as a prolific author who has published over twenty books on both Ancient and modern literary works.  He is also a former recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation's prestigious Forschungspreis for his work on German Literature (making him a particularly fitting guest for the core class, which read Alexander's brother Wilhelm von Humboldt's On the Limits of State Action earlier in the term). The primary focus of his lecture was Goethe's archetypical Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, which is one of the key texts for the Bildung-themed core course.

Professor Ziolkowski gave a clear and incisive description of the contemporary historical and social themes at work in Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.   Contextualizing the work against the political backdrop of the French Revolution, he described the new understanding of individuality that was emerging in the 1790s when the book was written and the new theory of Bildung ('education' or 'cultivation' in English) that was being developed for the purposes of educating this new individual. As the breakdown of feudal class structures began to emancipate people from preordained social roles, the idea familiar to us today of the individual as a complex aggregate of talents and traits, came to the fore.

In Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Goethe illustrates the journey of one such individual, making an argument for a type of Bildung that-quite controversially-culminates in the social integration of the individual. The educational ideal underlying Goethe's work is thus a sort of "Romantic Socialism" in which the education of the individual towards internal harmony aims at the ultimate external harmony, that of society as a whole. Ziolkowski illuminatingly drew attention to the way in which Goethe's work catalogues different types of 'madness' and 'imbalance' in the text's supporting characters in order to demonstrate various modes of failure to attain this ideal.

Intriguingly, one of the social-leveling mechanisms that existed at the turn of eighteenth-century German society that is illustrated prominently in Wilhelm Meister is the secret society. Although it is easy to dismiss the secret society as a mere literary device, Professor Ziolkowski reminded the class of the many secret societies that are integral to famous works of literature, from the cult of Dionysus in Euripides's The Bacchae to the Illuminati in Dan Brown's infamous Da Vinci Code. Such societies, Ziolkowski argued, serve the very real purpose of facilitating the transitions between sets of social protocols by uniting their membership through privileged knowledge that transcends accepted class distinctions. This was an apt topic for the self-reflective educational project of the core course, which seeks to gain perspective not only on the nature of education in general but also on the nature of the particular project that we undertake here at ECLA.


Photo: Eddie Colla

November 25, 2011
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

For most students and faculty, including myself, the ECLA community lies outside of their home country. We live in a state of which we are not citizens. Nonetheless many of us retain an undiminished concern for the political conditions of the country where we were born. In such a situation, addressing the question of what one's citizenship means becomes all the more pressing.

This concern with the status of citizenship was the starting point for a lecture by Bruce Ackerman, Yale University's Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin on the 17th of November entitled "A New Progressive Agenda for the 21st Century". Ackerman is a well known expert on social justice policy and constitutional law in the United States. In his lecture, he proposed that in the contemporary world, citizenship has become little more than a commodity. This is primarily due to lack of civic participation and a weak sense of identity among the populations of most states. In the light of this situation, Ackerman offers four policies that he believes should be applied globally with local adjustments. He formulates them to address the existential crisis of the modern citizen and to give progressives a challenging agenda at this pivotal point in history.

The first area of public policy ripe for improvement is campaign finance. Ackerman thinks that political parties are not doing enough to pursue the votes of individual citizens. In particular, they are not listening to individual voters' concerns and demands. Ackerman proposes "patriot dollars" to alleviate this modern deficiency in the political sphere. This would give every person with a vote fifty dollars to donate to the candidate or party of their choice. The programme is designed to get parties to obtain votes from citizens by cultivating an informed and sustaining membership. Being in a position to fund the agents of politics, potential voters could be expected to become more specific and nuanced in their political preferences. This is tied to Ackerman's second policy proposal, which he calls "deliberation day".

In cooperation with Stanford professor James S. Fishkin, Ackerman has been involved in the development of "deliberative polling." This political science experiment takes a random sample of a population facing an upcoming election, polls the group on issues concerning the election, then arranges for them sessions of discussion and analysis involving those issues, and finally has the group take the poll again. The expectation of the experiment is that the results of the second poll will be significantly different because the group is substantially better educated on relevant topics, and aware of the reasoning behind contrary opinions. Usually, this outcome is achieved. Ackerman wants to institutionalize such a polling process, making it available across a country two days before any election. In order for a wide range of socio-economic groups to participate, Ackerman acknowledges that "deliberation day" must be made into a national holiday and small stipends given to participants.

The third proposal is a "national endowment for journalism" which funds journalists whose articles give readers a better sense of citizenship. Like many others, Ackerman is concerned about the threat to legitimate media from the internet's influence. The endowment is an attempt to ensure the survival of the free and informed press, and undermine the ubiquity of blogs as a means of informing citizens.

Ackerman's last policy proposal is certainly the most provocative. He believes that citizens must somehow be stakeholders in their state, and plans to achieve this through "citizenship inheritance". With this measure, a state appropriates any inheritance money that would have gone the deceased's descendants and instead redistributes it equally among citizens. Every young adult (the exact age dependent on whether the citizen is attending college or not) receives $80,000 to allow them modest autonomy in choosing the life they want to live. Citizens will then mature in a state feeling sufficiently acknowledged in it, garnering a strong sense of identity, and therefore having a stake in that state's future.

Are these four proposals compelling? Or are they much more radical and impractical than Ackerman acknowledges? The event at Hertie also hosted a respondent to Ackerman, Constanze Stelzenmüller, a Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and a major contributor to the formulation of German public policy. She gave a sustained rebuttal of Ackerman's proposals, invoking the idea that all social progress must be based on economic incentives. She expressed the hope that states would find better systemic approaches to addressing the problems of citizenship that he outlines, such as high quality education and a fairer and more comprehensive form of representative democracy.

In the end, the two goals Ackerman has for these proposals, establishing a better citizenry and giving the progressive movement practical policies to support, do not seem achievable by their means. In America, at least, most of these policies would appear radical and unpersuasive to the population at large, because they are far from any on the current political agenda. Regarding the question of citizenship, one hopes that a sense of belonging to one's nation is not based purely on the financial power that nation gives us. Even if a state is not consistently providing for us, we still have passionate concern for the political condition that state finds itself in. If there is a deficiency in the sense of citizenship, maybe it must be filled through one's own capacity for engagement.


Photo: Irina Stelea

November 25, 2011
April Matias (2nd year BA, Philippines)

On November 16th, students and faculty, led by Michael Weinman, came together for a seminar on Euclid's Elements which was a supplementary seminar to the Academy Year core course on Plato's Republic. The discussion aimed to relate Euclid's propositions to the concept of the divided line found in Book VI of the Republic and Socrates' suggested educational schema in Book VII.

In 522c of the Republic, Socrates discusses education as a way to "train" individuals to think dialectically by first learning arithmetic, which is then followed by geometry. The seminar somehow echoed this process presented in the dialogue, particularly since everyone had cursory knowledge of arithmetic and geometric forms and concepts from pre-university education.

The primary task was to follow the statements made by Euclid in Proposition 11 of Book II and Proposition 30 of Book VI of his Elements, which not only meant reading these statements, but also drawing them. If the proposition is drawn successfully, then the proposition is proven. I thought for sure that dealing with two Euclidean propositions need not take ninety minutes, but as it turned out, geometry was not as easy as I remembered it to be.

In 509d of the Republic, Socrates says "take a line cut in two unequal segments [...] and go on and cut each segment in the same ratio"[1]. Prof. Weinman remarked that the two propositions demonstrate the thought process behind the divided line. Indeed, it is not difficult to see the similarity between Socrates' statement of the divided line and a statement of Euclid's from proposition 30 in Book VI: "Let AB be the given straight line; thus it is required to cut AB in extreme and mean ratio." Much confusion ensued when interpreting these statements, among others like: "Thus it is required to cut AB so that the rectangle contained by the whole [...]" and, "Let there be applied to AC the parallelogram CD to BC [...]."[2] After completing the drawings of the two propositions, participants found the resulting figures visually inadequate to prove the statements made by Euclid. I did wonder whether that was what Socrates had in mind.

In the Republic, Socrates sees geometry as what enables individuals to conceive a form, and this ability ideally can draw individuals to philosophy. A shape like a sphere is imaginable, though none has actually been perfectly produced in nature or manufactured in laboratories. Such a conundrum can perhaps give rise to philosophical inquiries on the nature of existence or of knowledge.

It is in hindsight that I realized that the way most people, including myself, approach mathematics might be very different from Socrates' position in the Republic. Geometry, along with other branches of mathematics, is valued for its practical applications. Its theorems are the principles on which sound architectural plans are based or by which different ways of cutting a sandwich are demonstrated (there is in fact a ham-sandwich theorem which draws upon Euclidean space).

Practical use of mathematics is not to be lamented, for without it mankind would not have produced many of its innovations, but perhaps there is a value to Socrates' approach that should be instilled in individuals early on in their education. Should it be enough that children have memorized multiplication tables or that students can parrot algebraic solutions? If anything, an approach like the one stated in the Republic invites curiosity rather than inducing fear or frustration.

In this light, how did the seminar on Euclid hold up to Socrates' exhortation? Prof. Weinman offered a possible conclusion: that not only does the divided line work suitably with the construction of the divided line, but the propositions also demonstrate a way of following a particular principle or logos such that inquisitive minds can arrive at a starting point for learning and for doing dialectics. Students seemed to agree, and it is to be hoped that the upcoming winter term elective on logic and the nature of mathematical knowledge will pick up where we left off.

[1] Plato. Republic. Trans. Allan Bloom. USA: Basic Books, 1991. Print.

[2] Euclid. The Thirteen Books of the Elements. Trans. Thomas L. Heath. USA: Dover, 1956. Print.


Photo: Irina Stelea

November 22, 2011
Maria Androushko (1st year BA, Bulgaria)

I had this idea for a while: to write about the 4th year BA students at ECLA. Not only will they be the first class to graduate with a bachelor's degree from the Value Studies programme in June 2012, but they are students who have played a decisive part in shaping ECLA's academic culture. The present article will deal with the personal, individual-both unique and shared-experiences of three seniors, who talked to me about how they came to be part of the programme, what changes they underwent while students, and how they see their future after ECLA. I will share with you the stories of Eugen Russo (Romania), Tuvshinzaya Gantulga (Mongolia), and Maria Cristina Zavala (Nicaragua).

What I found in common in the personal recounts of Eugen, Maria Cristina and Tuvshin was that none of them had a clear idea of what they wanted to study before they came to ECLA, but they all had previous experience with a certain form of education. Eugen studied philosophy in Romania; Maria Cristina studied medicine in Nicaragua, and Tuvshin economics and political science at the American University in Bulgaria.

Eugen found out about ECLA through word of mouth; from friends. He came to ECLA because it provided a different kind of philosophical education, one that he could not find in his home country. His choice to come and stay has made all the difference. For him this kind of education gives one the opportunity to develop outside of an institutional framework. It is an education that "just happens" and is by no means perfect like "the places that are set up and function according to a model," but in its very imperfections it promotes great personal transformations. The nature of education, according to Eugen, is not to give people what they want, but rather a matter of willingness to learn not merely intellectually, but experientially. "How one treats this place has to do with one's own attitude towards life in general."

Tuvshin took and still takes his education at ECLA as a challenge. While he was still studying at AUBG, he took a class in philosophy and was told by a professor there that he should try the summer program at ECLA. He decided to stay after that summer, even though he found the intense immersion in philosophy somewhat difficult, because it undermined, in a sense, his confidence in his own knowledge by constantly questioning it. He says that he often leaves class feeling that he doesn't know anything, but he still learns every day. He faces this challenge to be willing to learn--rather than receiving some 'ready-made' package of knowledge-constantly.

Maria Cristina was also left utterly unsecure about her knowledge when she first came to ECLA for the Academic Year programme. Having started a medical education back at home, the philosophical texts that she read at ECLA were something absolutely different. She steadily acquired a fragmented picture, which she could not integrate into a coherent whole, for she had no idea about philosophical movements and their historical or intellectual background. After the year was over and she went back to Nicaragua, Maria Cristina could not exactly tell what she had learned. Only after a year of working and an everyday ordinary-lifestyle could she define what kind of education she received. She decided to come back when ECLA first offered the BA in Value Studies because she saw this education as an opportunity to develop as an individual; to better herself. She believes that the ECLA community promotes the understanding that what is necessary is not only an improvement in academic, but also in human terms. "In order to be a better philosopher, doctor, lawyer one needs to be a better individual."

Maria Cristina's understanding of personal development was brought out by her experience of Nicaraguan and European culture. She decided to focus on becoming a better individual because she believes that society is composed of individuals, whose relationship is that of individual-to-individual, rather than that of a daughter-to-mother, son-to-father, wife-to-husband, etc., the traditional understanding predominant in Nicaraguan society. This essential shift of perspective was promoted by the education she received at ECLA. She is interested in education and pedagogy and wishes to continue her studies in that direction. For now, however, she has decided to focus on her final year and not distract herself with preparation for the future. "I think I will take a year off after I graduate, because I want to devote my time to being here now, rather than look for options for my future education while I am still here and learning."

Tuvshin contends that what he finds different about an ECLA's education is that it teaches you how to express how you feel about a subject and not simply argue against or in favor of its aspects: "When you write an essay here, ultimately the question is not how you argue, but how you feel." He plans to go back to Mongolia and seek a job in public service or in the government, because Western Europe seems "too comfortable" to him and he wants a challenge. He believes that he will find it in a "developing country like Mongolia, for it's more risky and adventurous."

Eugen finds himself greatly transformed since the first time he set foot in ECLA. "It's hard to think what stayed the same, but I have a much better perspective on things. I am much better prepared to handle hardships. I am stronger." He said that before he took on the 'challenge' of ECLA, he felt as though he had missed out on many things, and so when he came he was, in some senses, forced to learn at a very fast pace. "It's supposed to be in a certain way overwhelming," he continued, but "one is able to see oneself in a different light here and do things that one could have never done before". At the same time, "we learn our limits and what we are." When I ask him about the future, he asserts that there are many things over which he doesn't have power, but he is more confident that he can deal with the ones that do depend on his volition. Finally, he says that even if his dream seems impossible, he has learned how to face the impossible and still believe in it. He has hope, he says, "this place has hope."

November 17, 2011

Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

For ECLA BA students, the Fall Term of the second year starts with a Core Course titled "Character". As might be expected, the questions one could ask with respect to 'character' are numberless: does it even exist and, if yes, what exactly is it, and how does it manifest itself? How do the classical notions of character and virtue, as defined in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, apply to our lives? What makes us still conserve these notions if most of us feel that they are practically unreachable? The two Core Electives (each lasting 5 weeks) that we choose in addition to the Core help us consider various literary and philosophical instantiations of the notion of 'character'.

When I chose as my second Core Elective, "A Stoic Guide to Character," I had the feeling that it would address one of the main issues in any ethical discussion, an issue that Aristotle himself points out by asking: do we intend to "contemplate" virtues and to prescribe ethical standards or should we better consider practical possibilities, namely find the answers to the question of what it is "to act well" and to have "a good life"?

The course dwells on that distinction from two points of view. Firstly, that our subject Stoicism itself, presupposes both a way of life and a body of ideas, although it is almost impossible to determine whether a way of life leads to ideas or vice versa. Our professor, Martin Gak, during the first seminar, raised the point that so many of the ideas of and about Stoicism are still employed to describe many of our daily life situations and that it has permeated many fields of thought (for example, religion) making the discussion extremely relevant for a contemporary context. Secondly, the ways in which our seminar discussions proceed seem to echo Antisthenes' requirements for precise expression and the disdain for "conceit" (Diogenes Laertius points this out in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers). Of course, nothing like Antisthenes' "ejecting [the students with] a silver rod" happens, but one certainly is made to feel the urgency of abandoning 'learning for the sake of learning' and start looking for real answers.

The issues that we started attacking in the first two seminars were connected with how our desires function with respect to the objects of that desire; namely the discontinuity between mental constructions and actual (real) objects. Looking closer at the ideas ascribed by Diogenes Laertius to the Stoics (Antisthenes and Zeno of Citium), we embarked on a long enquiry about what it actually means to "disregard feeling". What I noticed is that the more we tried to limit references to other philosophical concepts ('crutches' for getting to the answer), the longer it took to find the answer. After all, the fact that there didn't seem to be a precise answer made the whole experience agonizingly useful (I really took it as a cue to self-examination). Thus, understanding Stoic character requires Stoic character.

All in all, whether the Stoic way of life is or is not "the good life" doesn't seem to matter so much. In other words, whether the Stoic character is the good character we are looking for does not change the goals of our enquiry: is there something like character? And, more importantly, do we have it?


November 17, 2011
Vera Plümer (2nd year BA, Germany)

On Friday 21 October at the Brücke Museum in Berlin, ECLA faculty member Aya Soika presented, in collaboration with the executors of his estate, her catalogue of and commentary upon the work of Max Pechstein. The results were no light production. Weighing in at 8.4 kilograms, with 1188 pages and 1340 illustrations, the labour-intensive project took seven years to complete.

Research for the project began at the University of Cambridge where Aya investigated the idea of "Raumkunst" (interior design art) important to the Expressionist movement "Die Brücke", an attempt by the artists to go beyond the frame of the canvas to create total artworks that bridge different art disciplines. In order to pursue this aim the artists had to be incredibly versatile in their experiments. Pechstein, a leading figure of "Die Brücke" until his expulsion in 1912, excels at this versatility: he was trained as a decorative painter and began his artistic career creating murals, glass painting and mosaics. Only later in his career did he immerse himself in painting. This extensive catalogue focuses on his oil paintings but extends the genre "catalogue raisonné" by going beyond a mere encyclopedic documentation of each painting to convey Pechstein's aims and struggles in a thematic as well as an historical context.

Pechstein's experiences epitomized those of a whole generation of German Expressionists brought up in Wilhelmine Germany who survived the First World War, flourished in the Weimar Republic, and were eventually persecuted by the Nazi Regime.

As Aya made clear in her presentation, the project is of necessity shot through by "voids"-the losses inflicted on the artist's own collection of his work by the Second World War; the confiscations imposed by the Nazis in their classification of it-along with that of other contemporaries-as "degenerate". Even with the exhaustive compilation and investigative labour of the collection, there remains the possibility of permanent loss and ultimate mystery: "It is hard to estimate how much we have managed to collect of Pechstein's oeuvre. We might have gathered eighty per cent. I assume there are hundreds of paintings we don't know about", said Aya in the panel discussion following her talk.

These "voids" also created another obstacle that that the labour of compiling the collection had to confront: the exploitation by forgers of the apparent disappearance of works by Pechstein for which sketches exist. The main culprit, Wolfgang Beltracchi, was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for forging, among other works purchased at very high value, two Max Pechstein paintings. The careful work of assembling the catalogue-documenting paintings and verifying their provenance-was in part responsible for uncovering this forgery scandal, the most significant in post-war German history.

For further information on Aya's book and the forgery case (in German):

Renate Meinhof (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
October 25, 2011

Michael Sontheimer (Der Spiegel)
October 27, 2011


Photo: Irina Stelea

Improvement Informed by Difference
November 10, 2011
Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

This autumn term marks the beginning of an integrated writing programme at ECLA. The programme's primary aim is to provide additional support for the improvement of student writing alongside the tutorial system which accompanies the seminar and lecture meetings. Devised and directed by Postdoctoral Fellows James Harker and Cecelia Watson, the programme takes the form of workshops which focus on general writing skills as well as specific aspects of the essay writing process. Some workshops address the entire student body; some take place in smaller groups; other meetings are devoted to reviewing draft essays with students on an individual basis.

Speaking with Cecelia and James, it becomes clear that there is a paradox to the process of introducing a writing 'programme': in its purpose of assisting the student body in general, it may to an extent 'standardize' writing at ECLA. Both tutors agree that such standards are best realized not by the advance imposition of principles but by constant exposure to the attributes of good writing, in whatever discipline it may be found, and in whatever style it is manifested. Rather than deriving a set of rules from these models, the workshops have proven that they are dedicated to exploring distinct but nevertheless appropriate writing styles, and to detailing various techniques by which a text can be structured.

While it may to a degree standardize writing at ECLA, the writing programme also seeks to promote the highest possible degree of creativity. The meetings cannot be described as simple training sessions in good writing since they often evolve into a dialogue about why certain guidelines exist and what those guidelines mean for a text. They also deal with issues of persistent concern to students. One recurring subject for the workshops has been the topic of 'plagiarism'. Much debate has arisen from questions like: "What if the source of an argument is forgotten?"; "What if the claim a writer makes is obvious?"; "Should or can one cite what a classmate or professor utters during class?" This has led, I believe, to opening an issue of more fundamental interest, namely the appropriate use of another text in one's own writing, and to the question of whether there are some sources that can be considered illegitimate (for instance 'un-authored' internet sources) in the first place.

While acting as a forum for voicing worries about definitive rules such as the stricture against plagiarism, or as a location for discussing such phenomena as censorship, the workshops offer students substantial guidelines for how they might improve their writing. With peer reviews and individual meetings offered by Cecilia and James as part of the programme, students are strongly encouraged to complete first drafts well before the papers are due. This has the benefit not only of decreasing stress, but allowing a student to focus on making a paper great through revision. The writing programme can transmit and ensure the upholding of standards while facilitating the impassioned creativity of ECLA's student body.


Photo: Irina Stelea

November 10, 2011
Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

A group of ECLA students dedicated the weekend of November 5th and 6th to the Analogue Photography Workshop led by Joe Dilworth, a British photographer who currently works and lives in Berlin. He showed us how to use ECLA's darkroom along with the analogue cameras the College has bought in the course of the last years, both of which are always at the disposal of the students. We strolled through Pankow on an extraordinarily beautiful Saturday morning taking photographs and then, over the rest of the two-day workshop, spent many hours amidst all kinds of lamps and chemicals in the cosy atmosphere of complete darkness.

After gathering in the administration building, Joe introduced us to the basics of analogue photography. He taught us how aperture and shutter speed work in relationship with each other to create a correct exposure and we were able to practice this with the normal format cameras that use 35mm film, though each of them had small peculiarities that led us to use them differently. On our way to brunch, we got the first opportunity to take our own pictures and fell in love with the charming old machines. We got the impression that working with actual film cannot be compared to the digital photography every one of us is so used to today. Composing a perfect picture becomes so much more important when you cannot directly see the outcome on a screen; every possible influence on the photograph has to be considered before pushing down the release. After brunch, we took a walk through Pankow and up to Schönhausen Palace, and as we were to find out later, managed to take many impressive photographs of the neighbourhood.

The next day Joe had brought along a few of his personal medium format cameras that work with 120mm film, and which produce quadratic pictures; we all had the opportunity to try them out. After we used up all of the film, we made our way back to the darkroom, where for many of us, our first real-life encounter with film development began. We found ourselves in complete darkness, winding up the film on spools, mixing all sorts of chemicals together and cautiously shaking cylindrical containers in order to equally spread the liquid across the film. We learned how developer, stop bath and fixer are used to develop the negatives on the film. We washed the negatives and hung them up to dry and eagerly waited for what was going to happen next.

The next step was to create contact sheets by directly placing the negative sheets on photographic paper and exposing them to light. The sheets of paper remained invisible until we used the same chemical solutions mentioned above to develop them. Contact sheets showed small versions of the negatives of the photographs we took and allowed us to get a glimpse of what the final, printed results might look like. It was fascinating to see the details gradually develop on the paper after being put into contact with the first chemical in the tray. Now we could choose which pictures we wanted to print on a bigger sheet of paper. We felt quite proud of our own creations and everyone selected the photographs they liked most ―a difficult decision to make after these two days of creative work. We placed the negatives in the enlarger, adjusted size and focus, and again used sheets of photographic paper exposed to light to print the final version of the photographs.

We developed, washed and dried the paper. Finally our images were created and it turned out that the workshop had resulted in many very extraordinary pieces of art. Thanks to Joe's fantastic workshop, we are now able to process analogue photography on our own, from inserting film into the camera to drying the actual print. Many of us will definitely keep pursuing photographic projects in the future.

November 10, 2011
April Matias (2nd
Year BA, Philippines)

On October 28th, a group of ECLA students got the chance to visit the temporary exhibition of works by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai at Martin-Gropius-Bau. On display were 440 works out of his oeuvre of 30,000 which were produced over a period of 70 years. His prolific career seemed to be matched by the number of visitors to the exhibit, and everyone, both young and old, showed that they were fascinated by the display.

Hokusai was an artist of Japan's Edo Period. At the time, Japan was isolated on the global stage, having expelled many trading enterprises from the West, maintaining connections only with Chinese and Dutch traders. The Shogunate maintained control of the country, causing monarchical rule to become purely symbolic. This shift of power, among other factors, contributed to the rise of a bourgeois (chonin) class which profited from burgeoning commercial industries. They poured their wealth into art and culture, in turn generating increased interest in theatre, literature and the visual arts. It was in this milieu that Hokusai the artist developed and consolidated his style.

Woodcut prints primarily developed as illustrations of literary works. Woodblock carvers eventually produced these illustrations as individual prints and the technique enabled these works to be mass-produced. These pictures became known as ukiyo-e, which literally means pictures of the "floating" world-the changing and fleeting sensibility found in various subjects and settings, such as landscapes, women, figures from Japanese myths and folktales. Hokusai, in his teen years, went into apprenticeship as a carver of woodblocks and eventually moved on as a designer of woodcuts. Hokusai's ukiyo-e works are marked by his full use of color and of layering of multiple planes of space to create depth.

Hokusai's development as an artist can be crudely traced using his change in name, starting out with "Shunro" as he was dubbed by his master Shunsho. He would adapt five more names (at least, those that are well-known) during the span of his career, indicating shifts in his focus of subjects, form and technique. The exhibition was curated to reflect these changes and added some organization to the great variety of works he had done, from woodcut prints and painting to maps, art manuals and manga-all of which demonstrate an impressive attention to detail.

In Hokusai's woodcut print of a "Green House" (a euphemism for a brothel in Japan, dating back to the practice of painting these houses in green), he depicts courtesans preparing for the New Year's celebration. Each courtesan is wearing distinctly-designed kimonos, through which the hierarchy among the women is depicted. There are women chatting and men preparing fire; the busyness of the figures captures the verve and anticipation of New Year's celebrations that must have been common at the time, and such a feeling remains easy to relate to for a modern audience.

In terms of audience reception, there is perhaps none more breathtaking than his series "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" of which his most widely-recognized print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is part. The Great Wave exudes dynamism as the towering wave from left seems to be seconds away from crashing down on the boats beneath it. In the center background, Mt. Fuji stands still but its shape is reminiscent of the huge waves in the foreground. Not all prints in the series feature Mt. Fuji in its foreground, and it is interesting how many of them focus on human presence and activity instead. The series is tied together with the idea that the iconic Mt. Fuji is a symbol of nature's omnipresence and strength.

While his landscape prints are famous and appreciated around the world, his more playful works have yet to gain mainstream popularity. One of his manga sketches the different steps of a Sparrow dance, possibly originated from the Japanese folktale "The Tongue-cut Sparrow", while another manga illustrates what its title encapsulates: "A Hundred Coarse Jokes".

If there is anything to take away from the exhibit, it is the incredible joy with which Hokusai imbued his works. It is hard to imagine the man as anything but jolly and free-spirited. As someone who calls himself Gakyo Rojin, literally "an old man crazy about painting", it is easy to see why a great number of people also find themselves mad about Hokusai.


Photo: Irina Stelea

November 2, 2011

Michael David Harris (AY'12, USA)

On the evening of October 27th ECLA was honored with a lecture by the highly-respected German scholar Heinrich Meier. Meier has written extensively on Carl Schmitt, a controversial political theorist whose work has received increasing attention in the past three decades. In the lead-up to Meier's lecture, Schmitt and his theories emerged as a topic of investigation, curiosity, and even anger among ECLA's populace. This became clear at a special reading group discussing Schmitt's The Concept of the Political, Leo Strauss' notes on that book, and letters between the two edited and presented by Meier himself. However, one of the central insights of the discussion was that, despite their very different historical positioning (Strauss, a Jewish academic, was forced to flee Nazi Germany, while Schmitt joined the Nazi party shortly after Hitler's rise to power), Strauss's reading of Schmitt fundamentally illuminates the central notion of the political.

The ambiguous alignment between the thought of Strauss and Schmitt, and furthermore their relationship during their lifetimes, informed the title of Meier's lecture, "Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: Re-enacting the Confrontation of Political Philosophy and Political Theology." Meier, who holds appointments at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, is undoubtedly conscious of the irony in such a framing of the relationship. After all, in The Concept of the Political Schmitt essentially defines the political as actions and motives that can be reduced to friend/enemy distinction. Much of Meier's lecture emphasized the interaction and interest the two thinkers had with each other, including a compelling utterance from Schmitt that until the moment of his death, he would be interested in hearing views from or about Strauss. Schmitt and Strauss communicated through letters only until 1934, when the former acquired an official position within the Nazi bureaucratic apparatus.

Most of Meier's lecture, however, avoided expounding either the historical context of the relationship or the specific doctrines concerning the political that each scholar developed. Rather, Meier's focus was on the existential position of each thinker that becomes apparent through their scholarship. For Schmitt this position is 'political theology' and for Strauss it is 'political philosophy'. Meier's claim is that these two positions are radically opposed.

Meier stated that the political theologian constructs a "political theory that understands itself to be grounded in the obedience of faith." He stressed that Schmitt was the first person to proclaim himself a political theologian after Augustine attacked the idea of political theology as self-interested in a worldly fashion. Schmitt liberates the term, and Meier ultimately understands "political theology" to be Schmitt's answer to the question, "How should I live?" The commandment of obedience to a sovereign God supposedly keeps an individual in accord with himself. When particular problems arise the political theologian considers that they cannot be solved by human reason but only by faith.

The enemy of the political theologian is the political philosopher. Meier believes that the way Strauss uses the term is substantially different from its being understood as a simple sub-discipline of philosophy. For Strauss "political philosophy" is the only way to make philosophy as a way of life viable. If philosophy is truly a way of life then for any individual it is in confrontation with alternative ways of living. Insofar as philosophy must stop itself from falling victim to a greater authority that dictates how we live life, then it should be understood as political. Political philosophy is aware that philosophy is consistently engaged in overcoming adversaries, which take the form of objections or intellectual challenges. Philosophy uses the tool of rational justification to make the objections as strong as possible and ultimately defeat them.

For Meier the political adds the element of self-knowledge and reflectivity to the identities of theologian and philosopher. When these two positions fully come into their own, however, they can only be radically opposed to each another. Meier, who noted that he has been doing scholarship on Schmitt and Strauss for two decades, drew upon their relationship to make a larger statement not only about the opposition of philosophy and theology, but also assert that the greatest knowledge of one's way of life comes through understanding an opposing view.


Photo: Yulia Babenko

November 2, 2011

Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

In a guest lecture for the BA1 and AY Core Course, ECLA was glad to welcome one of today's most distinguished classicists. Glenn Most received his BA from Harvard in 1972, continued his studies in Oxford for his MA and received his M.Phil. and a Ph.D. from Yale in 1978. Simultaneously, he received another Ph.D. from the Universität Tübingen. Since then, he has taught at many different institutions, such as Princeton, Heidelberg and the University of Chicago. Currently he is a professor of Ancient Greek at the Scuola Normale in Pisa.

About to publish a revision of a sixty-year-old translation of Euripides' play The Bacchae for the University of Chicago Press, Most introduced us to Greek tragedy in general, the peculiarities of this particular play, and the reasons that made a revision of Arrowsmith's translation necessary. The audience deeply appreciated Most's engaging manner, profound enthusiasm for his subject, and keen willingness to communicate complex and subtle details about his project and the history, reception and transformation of Eurpides' best-known work.

As professor, who had lectured in front of ECLA students before, Most showed great enthusiasm about having this opportunity once again. He began by giving us a biographical overview of Euripides' life. A man of few friends and many enemies, Euripides did not engage in his hometown's patriotic activities and eventually left Athens for a self-imposed exile in Macedonia in 407 BC. In The Bacchae, one of his most famous tragedies today, he shows how the Dionysian cult came from Asia to Thebes and dramatizes the antagonisms-while also blurring the boundaries-between Greeks and Asians, gods and men, and men and women.

In addition to the god Dionysus and the insanity he brings-a fundamental trope of tragic theatre-this play also carried a certain message to Euripides' former fellow citizens in Athens. Would they accept the tragedies of Euripides, a man famous for being an Atheist, in their city? Their situation parallels that of Pentheus, the ruler of Thebes, in the play, who will not acknowledge Dionysus in his city, and consequently has to face the god's revenge. According to Most, the narrative structure that supports the main plot, tragedy follows the logic of an emotional experience which is shown to be essential for the well-being of a city. In fact, when The Bacchae was staged in Athens after he had died in 406 BC, it won the first prize, which had never happened to any of Euripides' plays during his lifetime. During the Middle Ages, the play almost completely vanished, leaving to us only two very incomplete manuscripts. It was not long ago that the play was rediscovered and became one of the most popular today, being shown in many productions that mostly focus on a very orgiastic and sexual depiction of the Bacchae, which does not really correspond to their original description.

Following this detailed account of the play, Most continued by telling us about the work he is currently doing in completely revising Arrowsmith's rather old translation. By adding introductions and going over every word in every line, Most and a colleague from Berkeley collaborating with him on the project try to get as close as possible to the Greek original, while at the same time preserving the voice of the translator. Also, several passages needed a totally new translation since they contained many typographical mistakes. In this work Most and his colleague stumbled upon other issues in the old translation, such as its very Christianised character, which had been created by drawing upon the language of the New Testament. In addition there are textual problems in Arrowsmith's idea of staging. In order to present a less biased view, the two are working on a way to make clear to the reader where the differences between ordinary discourse, sung parts and chanted parts lie in The Bacchae, as well as seeking to use more a contemporary vocabulary.

Photo: Irina Stelea

November 2, 2011

Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

Every autumn term, after the first three palpitating weeks, the ECLA community departs on an annual excursion. And since beginnings are about exploration and searching, every year the autumn trip has a different destination, revealing the sometimes hidden marvels of Germany, bit by bit, town by town. On October 21st, students, along with the members of the faculty and administration, departed on a journey to Görlitz, the easternmost town in Germany.

I won't hide the slight uneasiness in my heart that I shared with my colleagues as we were leaving, since always before going on an excursion one thinks of the possible 'rupture' in the rhythm of academic life. But I will also say, though with anticipation, that with every excursion I feel more and more convinced that not only is it possible to harmonize the two activities of work and pleasure, but that the 'escapade' may become a catalyst for academic work.

Once we arrived in Görlitz, some people chose the way of the vita activa, hastily leaving for a bike tour of the town, while others went for an informal walk with Dirk Deichfuss, our German professor and the main organizer of the trip. Last but not least, some hid in one of the quiet cafes to read, or explored the local bookshops (I was surprised to find Romanian fairy tales translated into German!).

According to the information booklets we received before the excursion Görlitz is, "…for many the most beautiful town in Germany." Were I to speak of the beauty of it, I would perhaps point at the rich and well-preserved architecture-the gothic Peterskirche, or the renaissance Schönhof-or, of its natural beauties, the river and the mountain included. But, for me, the beauty of Görlitz proved to be something else: the German Görlitz is also the Polish city of Zgorzelec (let me advocate the one-ness of the town, in spite of the political border). Only a pedestrian bridge separates the two towns, and there is no passport control. And while for some it's a bridge that is reminiscent of the tumultuous era of European border-defining, crossing it a couple of times gave me an incredible feeling of freedom and unity-the mortal blow to the whole concept of "border" instilled in me since childhood.

The next day had only encouraged me to think about the whole excursion from precisely this perspective. It was the most active day and during the course of it we went from Germany to the Czech Republic and from the Czech Republic back to Germany; from Germany to Poland, and then back. In the Czech Republic we visited Frýdlant Castle, built in both Gothic and Renaissance styles. We stopped in Germany in a beautiful town of Oybin, where many of us took the challenge to climb the picturesque rock to the ruins of the Bohemian Royal Castle and Oybin Monastery. Back in Zgorzelec we had a dinner of Polish cuisine at a reconstructed timber frame farmhouse. On our way back to Berlin, we stopped in one last town, Bautzen, which is the symbolic capital of the Sorb minority.

Looking back to the whole experience of the trip, I began to wonder what my dominant feeling was. I celebrated the feeling of freedom and of a hypothetical "one-ness" that the bridge and the uninterrupted landscape gave me. But, then, I was overwhelmed by the pleasure that the incredible heterogeneity of these days, places and people offered: like that magical moment in Görlitz, when a stranger almost congratulated us, a cheerful group of some fifteen ECLA students, for being so diverse and interesting.

Photo: Irina Stelea

October 26, 2011
Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

In the late 19th century, when the German Empire had just been formed, a railway engineer excavated the city of Pergamon in what is modern-day Turkey. There he discovered an ancient sacrificial altar and took it with him to Berlin. Built to represent the Attalid dynasty's power in the Second century BC, the temple symbolised perfectly the imperial supremacy of the Germans at that time. Eventually, in the early twentieth century, the Pergamon Museum was built to house many of the objects discovered during the massive excavations. The late addition to Museum Island would be surrounded by conflict and disputes over possession in the years to come. On October 15th ECLA students had the opportunity to visit the Pergamon Museum and view important artefacts first-hand.

As we have been told by Hesiod, there was once a "grim battle" between the gods and the Titans, where, "[Zeus'] bolts flew thick with thunder and lightning from his massive hand". This battle scene is depicted in the frieze surrounding the lower part of the Pergamon Altar. One can have a close look at the dramatic and muscular portrayal of the gods as they fight back the half-serpent and half-human giants. At the end of World War II, the Red Army took these pieces to Leningrad as war trophies, but they were returned to Berlin in 1959 and were again put on display. Upon entering the exhibition room, one is faced with an overwhelming complex of stairs, sculptures and columns that makes the modern mind travel back to the golden days of this enormous harbour city. Additionally, the photorealistic 360°-panorama of Pergamon, displaying what the city might have looked like in 125 AD in the forecourt of the museum, is worth repeated visits and viewings.

Even though the Museum has been named after this one special artefact, many more impressive excavations can be found incorporated in the museum halls. Passing through the second-century Market Gate of Miletus, one reaches the Ishtar Gate of Ancient Babel, and is struck by the colourfully-glazed paintings of lions and daisies that managed to survive several millennia on the walls of the Procession Alley. The Mshatta Facade in the next room, dating from around 800 AD, was appropriately compared to "honey combs" by a student, with its delicate zigzag ornaments dragging the viewer into the long-forgotten world of the Jordanian Bedouins.

In fact, another relic that used to be exhibited has just been returned to Turkey a few weeks ago. The 3000 year old Sphinx of Hattusa that had been displayed at the Pergamon Museum since 1934 was fought over by the Germans and the Turkish in a battle about its legitimate ownership. Such disputes are very common today, since many countries want to recover artefacts they claim have been unlawfully appropriated. In the case of the Sphinx, victory was on the Turkish side, and Berlin is currently working on replacing the relic with a plaster copy.

Either way, this permanent exhibition abducts the visitor to the worlds of gods and heroes, of Bedouins, merchants and flying carpets, and while looking at the relief, one can almost hear, as Hesiod would put it, "the blazing glow of thunder and lightning" on Mount Olympus.

Photo: Irina Stelea

October 25, 2011
Maria Androushko (1st year BA, Bulgaria)

On Wednesday, the 12th of October, ECLA welcomed Jarrell Robinson as a guest lecturer on the second book of Plato's Republic for our Core course: Plato and his Interlocutors. Jarrell received his BA from St. John's College and his MA from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and has been a prominent part of ECLA' s educational community both as a professor and a guest lecturer throughout the years.

Jarrell opened the plenary session on "Book II" of the Republic by noting that there are many possible ways one can begin to read and interpret this chapter of Plato's work. He started with the question of what the education of the guardians has to do with justice and why even though "Book II" opens with the speeches by Glaucon and Adeimantus, who demand a clear argument from Socrates as to why justice is desirable and preferable to injustice, the discussion seems to break off at the point where the question of education arises. Jarrell asked, "Why does the conversation take a turn at that particular moment: is there an intrinsic connection between justice and education?" Although he says, "the Republic has so many turns that it is tempting to stop asking why," there is an assertion voiced by Adeimantus that the subject of education is pertinent. Thus, Jarrell invited us to follow him in tracing that "intrinsic" thread through Plato's development of the argument.

The speeches given by Glaucon and Adeimantus concern the issue of whether justice is a 'good' desirable in itself or only for its consequences (i.e. for the rewards one will reap if one acts justly), or if it can be both a 'good' in itself and for its effects. Jarrell described the content of the speeches as, "[the] opinions of the many said at all times and all places." These speeches present the view of the many and in doing so show us that what is, in fact, desirable is the appearance of justice; to have a reputation; to seem just, rather than to be just. If human nature is left unrestrained by social conventions, it will always strive to get more or "the better of" something; it would not concern itself with justice. The Greek word for this natural 'appetite' is pleonexia, and as Jarrell put it: "It is not a particular desire, but rather the essence of desire itself." The opinions presented by the two interlocutors of Socrates suggest that justice is the restraining of natural human desires, furthered in societies only for the rewards of honour, venerable reputation and the fear of suffering injustice. If justice sholud be conceived as the natural work of the soul, Socrates has to show what makes an individual just when all the external incentives are removed. He does so by noting that justice is present both in a human being and in a city, choosing the latter as the template for his inquiry.

Socrates accepts the assumption that 'pleonexia' is natural and the human is insufficient by himself, so that he is constantly in need, not only of something else, but also of someone else. This is the reason why people gather together and how the "healthy city,"1 which accomplishes the basic needs of human beings, is founded. Jarrell emphasized, however, that "this founding principle of need is itself a form of desire due to a certain lack, and although each man gives and takes, in a somewhat just way, the force of this self-interest cannot be lessened, for it emerges from a self that is defective and needs to cure itself." Thus, 'pleonexia' lies hidden in this city, but steadily grows and transforms it into a "feverish"2 entity because of the individuals' constant longing for more. This city eventually needs to wage wars to expand its territory and accommodate this ever-growing desire for accumulation. The city needs guardians, those whose nature should be both gentle and aggressive; a philosophic nature.3

Here we come to that turning point in the conversation where Socrates and his interlocutors discuss the education of the guardians. They are needed not only as protectors or warriors, but also as individuals, who can distinguish between friend and enemy, and thus, good and evil. This capability for distinction lies in their philosophical disposition, which is characterized by the desire for something higher in terms of value. Jarrell continued, "Their desire is directed towards the best and highest," towards a god that is entirely good and fixed in his form; unchanging and undeceiving". They herald the emergence of that city, which according to Jarrell, originates not from the desire for more, but from the desire for the higher and best. The guardians serve the desires of the city, but they want and need something higher. Hence, the education of the guardians will be modeled according to that ideal fostered by the image of such a good and furthered by the intrinsic human desire for the highest and best.

We sincerely thank Jarrell for the inspiring lecture and for his truly philosophical and Socratic approach in our seminar discussions. He also took part as an interlocutor in the Ethics and Political Theory Concentration seminar, "The Individual and the Society", and questioned our understanding of justice, leaving us with a more profound and informed approach towards investigation into the nature of justice.

[1] [2] [3] Allan Bloom, trans., The Republic of Plato (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 35-62.


Photo: Irina Stelea

October 18, 2011

Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

The first exhibition by the students of David Levine's Installation class can be seen on Wednesday, October 19, from 17:00-18:00 in the studios in Platanenstr. 98

In general, as a second-year BA student, one is more or less adapted to both the academic and the current affairs at ECLA. I thought I knew what to expect, even when choosing a 'studio art class' (Installation, led by David Levine). But, believe me, I wouldn't have expected to be writing this article in an empty room surrounded by: wires, bulbs, microphones, speakers, mp3 players, adapters (4 or 5 types) and other whatnots (from pieces of fabric to little bells). Since the idea for the first installation project has come to me, I have been frantically searching in shops all over Berlin, on the Internet and in and around the campus, for objects and materials that could potentially be part of it. And imagine that with every crazy material or object I find, the idea, in turn, also changes. I am literally haunted.

Now that I told you about the atmosphere in which I am writing, let me go into some facts. During the first class, someone asked David Levine, our guide into the technical and even possibly the metaphysical intricacies of contemporary art: "So, are we going to get a studio?" I intervene: "Yes, your room." David pauses with a questioning glance, "No, you're actually getting an individual studio, each. And you have a budget for the four projects you have to prepare." And here it all begins!

The course is structured around three main technical aspects of installation: sound, light and video. For each of the modules you have to produce a studio installation that is exhibited to the public after having learned the basics (or rather, I should say: after having struggled with the devices, and out of desperation, kept trying; switching cables and adapters until you managed to play something through the mixing board). For each of the project, you criticize and receive criticism. Meanwhile throughout the course, you get to know more about contemporary art, especially the 'genealogies' of installation.

To be honest, the reason why I decided to join the class is because of the special interest I have in performance. And I thought I knew how it felt to be 'haunted' by an idea that seeks expression because I write poetry. But, again, this is something entirely different. The range of possibilities of expression that one has when creating an installation piece is enormous. The space, the direct interaction with your spectator, the three-dimensionality of reality as it is at your will, in any movement, in any combination-all this is overwhelmingly open and beyond any medium (words, colors, solid materials, etc).

So, this is how things look just a few days before the first public show, when our colleagues and professors (and maybe some other people, too), will be stepping into these rooms as spectators. I finally manage to separate two channels of sound on my mixing board. I add some headphones. I change frequencies. I plug and unplug. I see how it all will happen. And then I go blank again. I connect a microphone and talk randomly. Soundcheck: "One, two. Testing. Testing. One, two. Three."

Photo: Irina Stelea

October 18, 2011
Johanna Fürst (AY'12, Austria)

What was originally meant to be a humorous remark by one ECLA instructor during the Academic Orientation Session-the first real encounter with members of the faculty-soon became a creed to the students. Too tempting were the sign-up sheets for Berlin Weekend, and too interesting were all the many new people around, to leave time for a fundamental need: sleep.

Time management received a completely new dimension as people tried to adjust their sleeping patterns to include all those little things they had to do and wanted to do during their first week in Berlin: discovering the surrounding neighbourhood of Pankow, picking up a truckload of books for seminar courses, rethinking the whole concept of education after working through Ortega y Gasset's essay "Mission of the University"-the first required reading for the year, moving around couches and tables in the common room of the dormitory and, finally, buying a BVG Monatskarte. Getting the monthly transport tickets turned out to be a bureaucratic ordeal, but once acquired, they were immediately put to use.

The days didn't officially end after dinner at 19:30, but rather, they would often stretch into the late hours of the evening because there were so many ideas to be discussed. Rumours have it that this week, Orientation Week, sparked a craving for coffee even in some of the most resolute objectors of that bitter, terrifying and ambrosian drink. Any room for afternoon naps? Unthinkable. And the events for Berlin Weekend hadn't even started yet.

Berlin Weekend was considered the warmest and most beautiful week of the "summer" by native Berliners. The lucky ones, who had already acquired that small but mighty Monatskarte, used it to go back and forth between Pankow and the inner-city as often as they could. Power napping on the way? A totally new and exciting opportunity. The 40 minute ride on the M1, going directly to the city centre, proved to perfectly suit this purpose. And as one of the students put it, "The problem is not finding something to do in Berlin, but choosing what to do."

Enthusiastic newcomers signed up for every event they could possibly take part in; even for the ones taking place simultaneously (we must have some time travellers amongst us!), and frequently would be seen hurrying from meeting point to meeting point. Groups of ECLA students could be found exploring the many facets Berlin has to offer: wandering through the national galleries, occasionally pausing to get Falafel, taking group pictures on the lap of a giant bronze sculpture of Karl Marx, and enjoying delicious ice cream. If it were possible, I'm sure everyone would have equipped themselves with a coffee-drinking helmet for the Berlin Weekend bike tour as well.

Interestingly enough, there was one event amongst all the options that seemed to directly speak to the ECLA students' restlessness: Nachtmusik at the Radialsystem V, an old pumping station that is now an arts and culture space. In an alternative approach to eighteenth-century music, a cellist and a viola da gamba player whisked us away to a liminal place-somewhere between sleeping and waking, while we curled up on yoga mattresses in a dark and cosy room. Some of us may have crossed that thin line, but to date it could not be proven.


Photo: Irina Stelea

October 7, 2011
Aurelia Cojocaru (2nd year BA, Moldova)

Something like a very poetic feeling overcomes me when I think about the beginning of this academic year at ECLA-my second year as a BA student. Before coming back I thought it would be either very easy to re-adapt because, in a sense, nothing changes, or very hard because, in another sense, everything changes. Things are, however, somewhere in between. It's a baffling mix of old and new things, and I keep oscillating between them; I keep oscillating until I start shaking with fear.

I open the doors with the confidence that one has at home, I walk on the narrow streets of Pankow relaxed, always ready to explain to the newcomers this or that. I know now how a seminar at ECLA functions, with a balance between patience and exuberance. I won't be very nervous before the first one begins. I know how the cogwheels of daily life should connect. I know the schedule of the M1 tram and I know exactly where it will take me. I won't get lost. I won't forget anything.

But I know almost nothing about the new people, just names and countries. Lots of names and countries. And then I just see them running, asking, laughing, eating, clapping, but most of all I see them coming, and coming. Suddenly I realize that they are the new ECLA; an ECLA that I don't know and one that has to be learned all over again. It feels like being a deep-rooted tree on a plain and suddenly you notice there are lots of colorful butterflies floating around, which you would never be able to catch because you can't move. Or, like playing chess, when you know perfectly what your next move has to be and suddenly you see that all the chessmen have changed their places. Or, it's as if some things are so well-known to your eyes that they have recovered their true proportions and are no longer troubling you, while some other things seem gigantic, as in childhood.

I won't continue these lyrical effusions. I understand that this poetic state has to stop so that I recover my equilibrium. But I myself made this task even more complicated when I signed up for the same events we had last year during the Berlin Weekend (a yearly program meant to introduce students to some of the most amazing places and happenings in Berlin).

First, there was the Art Gallery Tour in Mitte. Just imagine the confusion walking on the same streets and entering the same galleries that Geoff Lehman, just like a year ago, 'opens' to us. But the group that contains me is different. And in the small galleries of Mitte, fresh works have taken the place of those that I saw last year. Some things take the place of others, while other things look so familiar. Later on, the Poetry Night at David Hayes' place: sitting in a circle, reading poems in our native languages and then reading the translations, eating the same really good cake from the same patisserie. It's just that the poets and the poems were different-the people reading, the voices, the tones, the languages. Again, almost everything was the same and almost everything had changed.

These disproportionate feelings would have continued to trouble me had I not understood late in the evening when I got back to the dorms, that there is something that I can hold on to until this 'quake' passes. And that something is asking myself: "Isn't there something more essential, something above us humble individuals walking through the streets in Mitte, or reading poetry in Prenzlauerberg? Something like art, something like poetry, that brought us together for a couple of hours? Something that ultimately brought us to ECLA-old and new students alike? Some kind of fundamental curiosity? Some kind of search that doesn't regard you as an individual, but rather as a chessman and a 'searcher' with the object of the search still missing, still mysterious?"

But with lots of people engaging in it and taking each other's place, or rather, working it out for each other, that's when coming and leaving, new and old doesn't matter anymore.


Photo: Irina Stelea

October 7, 2011
Maria Androushko (1st year BA, Bulgaria)

When I arrived at ECLA, the first thing I noticed was the view from my dorm of the clear sky. I like to point my gaze upward wherever I go, taking the time to contemplate, for even just a little bit, the progression of human life and my life in particular. The sky is like a map of all the possible and potential paths, past, present and future: the white fluffy lines left by planes remind me of the various directions we take at one point or another, and the starry sky…well, the indigo star-filled night sky, navigates me through the very history of the Universe. In those moments I like to trace, to follow and guess what is going to happen next.

We all feel that need to think about life from time to time, and generally in that very instant, we tend to find ourselves very much alone. It is as if we are suddenly removed from the everyday bustle, which is like a fast stream we find ourselves looking at from the shore.

Surely, we can be aware and mindful of the fact that this is not an aberrant trait we somehow acquired and that this removal, pause, contemplation is bound to catch up with and envelop every human being at one point or another. The thing is, that very moment, in which our mind expands as if to assimilate, to engulf all of the possibilities, answers, directions, paths to the questions, ideas or problems it has engendered, is bound to be a solitary one; more often than not, it seems like you are standing alone on the 'shore'-that slightly altered reality-and you are talking to yourself.

This inquiry into life, in its deepest, most contemplative state puts one at an almost imperceptible distance from the things observed, from others, and, in a sense, from the everyday self, oblivious and even hostile to its separation from that, which simply is, as if to offer a panoramic view to a complete stranger who is eager to explore the various routes, a native would consider merely means and not goals. It is a beautiful, but very private activity, if not a lonely one.

Perhaps, this is the reason why we sometimes tend to get lost in those moments of questioning and searching; of that removing from the everyday 'stream of activity' and upon entering the stream of consciousness. The opening of this vast intelligible space offers plenty of room for wandering, losing and finding oneself, but we feel vulnerable in it so we rarely share it, even when given the opportunity.

But before I get lost myself, I would like to take the time here to talk about the chance to accept and offer this space as a mutual ground, the inviting of the other to the meeting of the human-to-human in it; I would like to talk about the possibility for dialogue.

Although I have been at ECLA for only about ten days now, I can say that one of the most characteristic things about it is its ability to foster dialogue. Everyone I have met so far is a wanderer, a private explorer in his or her own right, who is never afraid, but quite eager to invite the complete other, the complete stranger to share in that intelligible space and create a common ground for searching and finding.

It is a close-knit community, but mere proximity has little to do with this opening: it is a community of people, who rather than dreading those moments of solitary contemplation, in fact welcome them not only as an opportunity to learn, to see, to feel anew, but also and maybe more, as an opportunity for a true dialogue.

A genuine conversation here entails genuine questioning, genuine wonder when it comes to being, genuine response, and response-ibility, if I may add, in addressing the other as a human being, as the human being, in whose nature lies the desire to offer and engage in dialogue. At ECLA, people overcome the vulnerability of sharing the otherwise private space because of their awareness of the beauty of the meeting of the other, and the potentiality to move and create together.

Both faculty and students talk to each other not from any fixed position, i.e. that of an instructor or a student, but from that of a human-addressing-human. Every person here takes the responsibility to listen to and respond to the other from that vantage point of the 'shore' and welcomes him/her to stand and gaze, follow, and trace, side by side.The way we read, discuss, listen to and talk to each other is in terms of a dialogue.

So nowadays, when I go out on the balcony to look up the sky, there is not a thing I enjoy and crave more than to share in a dialogue with a fellow gazer.