Monday, June 29, 2015

An instructive rebuke

Professor McDreamy in Tweed uses the Socratic method of instruction where he asks critical questions to jump start our thinking. He is not afraid of a pregnant pause and faces down a blank stare  with patience. 

Today he rebuked me for not answering his question in a full sentence. He said "Let's practise speaking in full sentences, shall we?" The sting of his comment hasn't left me. I wasn't sure if this was his attempt to silence me (extroverts don't fare well in small classes).  If you've watched the Paper Chase where Professor Charles Kingsford played by John Houseman questions his first year law students,  you'll know what I mean. 

There is no question that I find this method intimidating and unnerving. My academic confidence  took a hit today. I didn't like feeling stupid in front of my class. I didn't like that he thought I was incapable of formulating whole sentence responses. I didn't like that he used his role in this way. 

But here's the thing: I didn't come to Harvard to be molly-coddled nor stroked. Discovering annoying aspects of yourself in this way chips away at your carefully constructed self-image,  but it also opens a path for self-evaluation and discovery. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dante's Inferno Canto II

Listen. Visualize. Isn't this just glorious?

"As flowerlets drooped and puckered in the night
turn up to the returning sun and spread
their petals wide on his new warmth and light

just so my wilted spirits rose again
that such a heat of zeal surged through my veins
that I was born anew."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Literature of Journey and Quest

Everyone needs a good stretch mentally and this second course is certainly going to provide me with that opportunity. We will explore the themes of journey in world literature with particular attention to the religious dimensions of those themes.  We will consider the relationship between interior journeys and journeys through external landscapes, between home and exile between it welder meant uncertainty and between the religious and literary dimensions of literature itself.

We spent a good deal of time today discussing what is a religion and looked at a dozen quotes from philosophers and theologians. What does religion mean to you? I'd like to know your idea. Even Virginia Woolf who was agnostic had a form of religion that guided her morality.

An anthropologist Arthur van Gennep studied hundreds of people who were on a quest or journey. He summed up his findings with these three commonalities: 

1) separation - we all have to depart, be a stranger, feel alienation
2) luminal stage - we have one foot in the former paradigm and the other exploring the new
3) re aggregation - where we are in a new state, and it's hard to go home.  

We spent fifteen minutes rush writing about our own journeys and then a few read. 

I am again in a wonderfully diverse class. Here's my take: 

Pregnant chaplain - Harvard Divinity School master's candidate

German pastor - from Switzerland and who left her medical practise to work on souls

Harvard Student # 1 - General education requirement just returned from Iraq where he shadowed a doctor for a month. He was appalled to see the dozens of young women with internal bleeding from being rated or involved in human trafficking by ISIS

Little Korean from Canada - a senior in high school who has not lived at home with her family since she was a child

Alien - a visiting college student whose father was a diplomat. He's been uprooted his entire life. Even when he is "home", he is a stranger. 

Outback Senior - a travel correspondent from Australia. He's in his 90s and here living his dream. 

Harvard Student #2  - general education requirement  who studies human evolution biology. 

Faculty Assistant - piano performance undergraduate who explored music therapy in a master's program but abandoned it to seek now a new path that will be more fulfilling. She accompanies a ballet school. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

The Great Code of Art or so says Blake

The long wait is over and it's time to roll up my sleeves. While I have studied the Bible since my VBS days, this is a broader view of the canon. We are going to look at how and why Judaism grew into a religion of rites, Biblical ideas concerning history, sin, faith, and the end of the world.  We will discover why the Bible remains an essential resource to understanding high art, popular culture and international politics today and how it shaped the arts in the West.

Pity we can't teach the Bible in school.

My classmates are diverse as the Bible itself. Here's my first impressions and descriptions of them:

British Accent - she's old, studied Economics when women couldn't enter into professional programs, she might be losing her mind because she seems to wander all over the place when she talks.

Porcelain Doll - she's a high school student in her senior year who is in pageantry. She assures us that beauty queen pageants aren't about walking across the stage in a pretty dress, that the women are very smart. I can't help but feel she's here at Harvard this summer to prove that point. She practises her smiling throughout the class.

Jewess with the very large hair - she wants to know about Kabbal and the mystics. She's also a senior in high school and ONLY plays the piano.

Harvard Senior #1 - he needs this credit to graduate, he has never opened a Bible nor been instructed in its teachings. He is a math and economics.  The prof is spewing out facts and drawing maps and HS#1 can't keep up with the note taking. He's discouraged. I wonder if he will be here tomorrow.

HS#2 - she is also a math major and needs this credit to graduate. She's the complete anthesis from Porcelain Doll.  She's late. She didn't read the updated email about class relocation. She loves when we have to draw the map of the middle east.

Catholic Journalist from "those islands near China" - I wonder why he doesn't just say he's from the Philippines? As a new  born again Christian, he wants to know the Bible inside out.

Chinese dance instructor - we all lean in to hear what she has to say because she speaks softly. I notice her note taking which is much like her voice: small and condensed.

Ex-Military War Correspondent - she's like me working on her masters and this is her last semester. She's from Alabama, the Bible belt, and yes she's picked cotton. She's travelled all over the world with her job. She looks you straight in the eye when she talks to you and I just liked her immediately for how authentic she was.

Our prof taught at Cornell for 12 years before he came to Harvard. He specializes in Milton and Shakespeare. The student review Rate My Prof suggested he was McDreamy in Tweed. He could use one of my shopping makeovers. He looks frumpy but who cares? This guy knows how to tell a story and keep us mesmerized. He follows the Socratic method of teaching. He brings in a very pagan crude statue with a large round "world" on top of a donkey and on top of the world there is a pregnant woman crouching ready to give birth. I'm not quite sure how this stature relates to the lecture. He assigns the first 25 chapters in Genesis for Wednesday. I'm feeling pretty good that I have already done this reading for another class that starts tomorrow.

Our evaluation will be based on two tests, a memorization (Pslam 137), a research paper and class attendance.