Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Complexities of "Modern Legacies"

Like all new semesters, Winter Semester 2008 promises all the pleasures of a complex and unpredictable new beginning.

This is especially true for me this year because for the first time I'll be teaching a class for the Honors Program called "Modern Legacies." 25 years ago I taught a slightly different version of the course for Vanderbilt University honors students, and the good memory is still with me.

Like the photo I took through the entryway window of Lyn's and my house in which it's hard to distinguish between reflections from outside and the stairs and windows inside, the idea of "modern legacies" has so many variables that it's hard to know just where to focus.

I've decided to start with four of the lenses we must look through, no matter who we are, as citizens of the 21st Century: the work of Wollstonecraft, Darwin, Marx, and Freud. With those tools in hand, we'll move from Boccaccio through Voltaire to James Joyce and Kafka -- writers of short fiction all -- and try to make some sense of how each of the authors conceives human nature. Just who are we? And how will we change once we have read and discussed these stories?

With about 15 students, each of whom will bring expectations and expertise to the class, it should be a stimulating journey.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The stairwell of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. My eldest son Joe has found a window that gives his cell phone access to a signal. And I've found a striking double image: Joe and his shadow.

You see differently after you've been worked over by works of art. Shapes and colors become more vivid. Images more suggestive. Thoughts more graphic.

It was a family trip to hear Joe's brother Tom play his senior recital at the New School University in Manhattan. We stayed in Brooklyn, and spent a long afternoon exploring this museum, looking into artistic mirrors, surveying our souls.

Here's Tim, for instance, taking a picture of himself in front of an ornate concave mirror. And Maren picturing an Egyptian artifact.

And I, of course, am making images of the children who are, in part, images of myself.

We walked from painting to painting, exhibit to exhibit, and I found myself the eager parent, anxious to teach my children everything I know, and equally anxious to see things through their eyes.

And that brings me to teaching.

I have a lot to teach. Even a slow learner picks up a few things over 58 years. But what thrills me, still, about walking into a classroom, is what will come back. At the end of a class (or a stroll through the Brooklyn Museum with my children), I'm never the same person who walked in.