Adrian, our 4th Year Video Blogger, joins us to show us some of the places Shimer-in-Oxford students get to explore when not reading the entirety of the Republic and then some each week:
Adrian, our 4th Year Video Blogger, joins us to show us some of the places Shimer-in-Oxford students get to explore when not reading the entirety of the Republic and then some each week:
Here we are at the end of the term in Oxford, and I regret that I haven’t sent our news for more than a month! So let me offer a belated season’s greetings with some news from a more-than-ordinarily-chilly Oxford. We have finished up courses and embarked on our various holiday plans: travel, reading toward tutorials and theses in the Spring, and just relaxing after a very busy term.
I realize I haven’t said much yet about the range of subjects folks are studying here. So I want to pay tribute to everyone’s hard work this term with just a list of some of the tutorials that they’ve undertaken over the last few months - the list isn’t exhaustive, though it might exhaust you just reading it: “Christian Mysticism,” “Druidism and Paganism,” “History and Practice of Observational Astronomy,” “Early Writing Systems,” “Chinese Literature,” “Feminism,” Proust,” “Philosophy of Mind,” “French Lyric Poetry,” “Psychology of Religion” and “Classical Guitar” to name, literally, a few. Next term promises just as rich a harvest of ideas, with “Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,” “Government and Politics of the U.S.,” and “History of Consciousness through Material Studies” a few of the courses we have planned.
Meanwhile a number of us have been making the most of their time in Oxford getting out of tutors’ rooms and the Library in extracurriculars (like Lance Dyke in the 2008-2009 program*). Bob Carpenter has been up at around 5 every morning through the term to train with the Hertford College crew. We look forward to cheering him and his boat on when they compete in the “Torpids” races on the Thames just south of town in February. And Ari Robbins’ been studying with the Cafe Reason Butoh Dance Theater in nearby Headington; he’s planning a tutorial on Butoh next term to dovetail with the topic of his thesis. And, of course, Adrian has been getting to know the geese in Port Meadow!
Finally, before I sign off, I will leave you with some visuals. The first two shots below were taken in the Chapel of New College. New College has been giving us rooms (as they did our last time through) so we occasionally have had classes in the “Rew Nooner Spoom.” (The room was named for William Spooner, Warden of New College from 1903 to 1924 and eponym of the “spoonerism,” the transposition of letters in phrases to sometimes hilarious effect: Spooner is reported to have bellowed "Three cheers for our queer old Dean!" to a Hall full of undergraduates on the occasion of one of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s birthdays. How’s that for some amusing Oxfordiana?)
We went to the Chapel following the end of our last class last week. We had been reading Henry Adams’ Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and we thought it’d be a good idea to take a look at some of the very fine Gothic architecture Oxford has been graced with (though it post-dates the Cathedral at Chartres by a few centuries).
Click on this last image below and you’ll get a clip of a little gathering we had in rooms lent us a former Shimerian-in-Oxford, Kim Gumino, who is in the process of setting herself up here. As you’ll see, we had tutors and students in for what in Oxford is known as "end of term drinks,” though I assure you all the fun was perfectly good and clean. I offer the video clip as evidence of this. It’s of Howard Ruan, who studied Classical Guitar this term. You’ll hardly believe me that he’s studied it seriously only since he’s been in Oxford; he is primarily a bassist. He and his tutor, Rikky Rooksby offered bravely to perform some duets for our end of term party. (Some of you may have had the chance to learn from Dr. Rooksby as well - he has a widely popular line of instruction books on guitar and composition.) So, I leave you with a bit of their gracious playing and wish you all a similarly beautiful holiday.
* (See http://shimerinoxford.blogspot.com/2009/02/fencing-part-deux.html on Lance's career as a fencer for Oxford University.)
As we roll into the beginning of the end of the fall semester at Shimer, please join our intrepid video bloggers for their Shimerian insights.
4th year video blogger Adrian shows us around her digs in Oxford, and comments On Agression and the local water fowl:
Adrian also gives us an idea of what her workload is like as a Shimer-in-Oxford student:
While we hear from Jean-Paul Sartre, standing in for a rather stressed out 2nd-year video blogger:
Our 3rd-years turn out to be masters of explaining Shimer jargon:
And our 1st year, upon realizing that winter in Chicago may require strategies unknown to her while growing up in Texas, appeals to a wise grandmother for help:
This afternoon we all (minus Sara, Adrian and Bob) took a trip to Burford, Gateway to the Costwolds, with Genevieve Hawkins. Genevieve, you should know, has been part of the Shimer in Oxford Program for almost as long as the program's existence. She started tutoring Shimer students in French in 1973, and has had tutees on pretty much every one of Shimer's trips to Oxford since then, including two this term - Katy and Eugene. She also has a penchant for parish churches. In fact, she's on a quest to visit a thousand of them in England. She's currently up to 953. So I asked her if she would take us to one of her favorites and she very graciously obliged.
Our trip didn't add to Gen's tally, but she chose well in taking us to see Burford's Church of St. John the Baptist. It bears revisiting. It's one of those places (of which Oxfordshire has more than its share) where historical time gets foreshortened, in which the long, complex past becomes intimately vivid. The stones speak: on the baptismal font there's a bold graffito scratched in by "ANTHONY SEDLEY 1649 PRISNER" (yes, his spelling was thus, and his Ns were backward). Sedley was a "Leveler," a democratically-minded member of the republican forces of Cromwell's New Model Army who refused marching orders against the Irish. As a result, he and a small party of others were locked into St. John the Baptist to await their fate only months after King Charles I had lost his head to Cromwell and Parliament. Sedley reportedly watched from the roof as three fellow prisoners were executed in the churchyard. In fact, the church's stones seemed to bear a litany of dark moments, including this one further on in our tour:
But all in all, Burford has been just as prosperous and peaceable as any town its size, if not more so. It did a rich trade in wool and was at the center of hiving quarries of the golden Cotswold stone that built much of Oxford and the surrounding towns. Now it keeps up appearances mainly through the bursting tea and knickknack shops along its steep High Street, lined mostly with upscale medieval houses that give the whole place a charmingly diminutive stateliness. Burford is also an old center of Quaker worship; past resident Friends include the forebears of John Hancock (he of the Declaration) as well as Genevieve's uncle. The latter was an antiques dealer, and donated more than one of the items in the fascinating collection to be found in the local history museum to which we went following our tour of St. John's. But - enough of me nattering - here are some more pics of the day.
Genevieve and Ari at the tomb of Sir and Lady Tanfield.
(Guest writer/student Robert Carpenter asked us to post this update on goings on in Oxford on his behalf)
Thanks to some extensive legwork done by Professor Patterson, a few of us were able to get Oxford Union Society memberships in time to attend a talk given by former president Alvaro Uribe of Colombia (the country). The Union Society is one of the oldest and most prestigious debating clubs in the world. Founded in 1823, the Union has gained a sterling reputation for the surgical precision and unerring oratory of its debaters. Many future politicians from a huge number of different countries trained here during their time in Oxford. The grounds are gorgeously well kept and the buildings are equally beautiful, especially the lavish interiors which have been kept up without any thought for modern aesthetic tastes. The place positively exudes history.
In attendance on behalf of Shimer were professor Stuart Patterson, Juan Guerrero, Jesus Avina, Eugene Lim & Robert Carpenter (all pictured above in this order, save Eugene). We promptly took up a place in the back of the hall where the view was spectacular. President Uribe entered to thunderous applause and after an excellent introduction from the current president of the Union Society he began an hour long talk that touched on his campaign experiences, his presidency and the future of Colombia.
With regards to his campaign trail he spoke of the decision to stop at colleges and spark debates among the students in order to bring these sometimes disenfranchised groups closer to the political arena. He championed three cornerstones of his political platform: the desire to cultivate social cohesion, democratic security and an improved business infrastructure to attract investment.
The largest criticism of his time in office was the country's human rights record, which he defended in an interesting way. He responded to such attacks with his plan for democratic security, which was meant as a pathway to reassure the populace that their lives and livelihoods were safe, that freedom still endured. He made it a point to avoid employing the use of the military/para-military groups as a strong arm force. He was especially careful to avoid the institution of martial law. Although he acknowledged that his human rights record was less than perfect he was quick to point out that foundations take time to grow into robust institutions. In the years since his terms in office the country has made vast strides to improve this troubled area of their history and President Uribe was pleased with this trend.
During the Q&A at the end a young woman stood up and spoke of her dual citizenship in Britain and Colombia and asked what she could do to continue to combat the erroneous stereotypes that still plague Colombia, that of the den of drugs and kidnapping and other nameless villainy. President Uribe proceeded to cross examine this young woman, asking when was the last time she had been in Colombia, whether she had brought any friends with her on that trip and did the people that accompanied her leave with their assumptions intact or shattered? Her response spoke of a wonderful experience for all involved and most importantly that none of her companions left feeling that Colombia was still a place rife with violence and drugs. The president then spoke of how important it is for those who wish to know Colombia to travel there and see for themselves the great changes wrought in the last few years. For my part I was hugely glad to have watched the President employ a bit of Socratic dialogue with the questioner so that they could arrive at his answer together.
The man had presence. It was truly incredible to hear him speak. We are all looking forward to many more such events at the Union Society, called the heart of Oxford, and clearly for good reason.
Especially for those of you taking "Humanities 1" this semester, let me offer a few photos I took recently of the Last Supper. As you may have already guessed, I haven't made a quick trip to Milan, and this isn't Leonardo Da Vinci's work. It's a copy, on canvas, (probably) by Giampietrino, a "shadowy" contemporary of the master's who seems to have made something of a career doing knock-offs of his work. The painting was almost certainly done in the presence of the original, though probably not under Leonardo's supervision. It's moved a number of times in the last 400 years, first around Italy and thence in 1790 to London, where it finally came into the hands of the British Royal Academy. During World War Two it was rolled up for safe keeping and stayed that way for decades in the Royal Academy's basement. At long last the Academicians went looking for a place where they could show it to best effect, i.e. up high where the perspective wouldn't be distorted, rather than simply sitting at eye level as it had for the century or so that Academy students had been set to copy it. And so it came at last in 1993 to the antechapel in Magdalen (pronounced 'maudlin,' or just 'maggie') College, Oxford (which space is also roughly contemporary to the painting, as it happens).
That's where I saw it a couple of weeks ago on the one day a year that Oxford opens its doors wide to the public and we all troop through seeing sights that are otherwise difficult of access. As you can see from the photos, while it sits suitably high on the wall as intended, this makes the painting hard to examine in much detail. I had to scramble around a bit just to get these shots without the antechapel's north pillar (or "pier" in the technical lingo) in the way. So, my apologies to those who want a good close look.**
Then again, you might be consoled to know that Lord Piers Rodgers, Secretary of the Royal Academy (and no relation to the pillar) admitted (on the occasion of its formal installation at Magdalen) that another reason for hanging it up so high was to keep viewers from being confronted by what he politely called the "rather overemphatic handling of some of the figures." In fact, when the painting was unrolled for the first time right after the war, pre-eminent British art historian (and former Magdalen College Fellow) Sir Kenneth Clark pronounced it an "ugly thing" and had it rolled back up. And those of you who are reading (or have read) Leo Steinberg's book on the Last Supper know what a hard time he gives most copyists (though I admit I can't remember what he says of this one specifically).
Yet as much as Steinberg also demonstrates that Il Cenacolo was painted to be seen (felt?) within the confines of the Santa Maria delle Grazie, I was happy enough with my distant brush with it at Magdalen. In fact, I am thinking about arming myself with a proper tripod for my camera and going back in to get some more detailed shots (a challenge in the chapel's low light). Till then, I hope you'll not look too askance on my own modest copies of a copy.
** I point the adventurous to a nifty "virtual" tour of all of Magdalen College, including the antechapel, at this website:
If you click on the circle at the far left of the Chapel on the map (the biggest dark-blue bit down at the lower right hand corner above the "High Street") you will be able to get a 360-degree view of the entire room, including the painting (though with the pier in the way, I'm afraid). Here's a view of Magdalen from "the High" just to give you a sense of the place:
Yesterday, I joked with Simon, Katy, Howard and Sara in our first Hum 3 class here that "only the dead know Oxford." I was hoping that they might have read the story by Thomas Wolfe whose title I was ripping off.* It fell flat, as my jokes will, but it seemed a propos since we were reading the Apology and Crito by Plato, and in our conversation it became clearer to me that (in Plato's way of looking at it at least) the dead know more than the living, or at least see things more clearly. So I thought of Wolfe, whose story begins:
"Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh goddam town."
Thus: "Ere's no man livin' wot nowz Awksfd end to wend, for id'take a bloke a lifetime jus to find 'is way around the bleedin' town."
In Wolfe's story, some nameless lug pulls out a map on a subway platform asking for directions. This starts an argument about how to get to "Eighteent’ Avenoo an’ Sixty-sevent’ Street."
Here in Oxford, the same kinds of arguments get started as to the nature of the University and its relationship to the city it occupies (I choose my words here advisedly). Just for starters, there's a long-running (centuries, that is) rivalry between three colleges - Merton, University and Balliol - as to which is the oldest. And then there's the fact that the University itself (i.e. as opposed to University College - you begin to see what I mean) was here even before any of the Colleges. And even people formally attached in whatever way to the University and (38 and counting) Colleges are pretty hard put to describe how the place works. I occasionally quiz people here on it, and like the crowd on the platform in Wolfe's tale, they all have strong opinions and reasons to back them up, but none are quite alike.
Of course, we are all now well-provisioned with maps of the city; a major activity here is dodging all the little knots of people that move randomly around the place while gazing at a piece of paper to know where they are or want to go. (as Wolfe's Brooklynite puts it: "an’ so help me, but he’s got it - he’s tellin’ duh troot - a big map of duh whole goddam place with all duh different pahts mahked out.")
And we've already had a tour (from the best Blue Badge guide in town I am told; there we are below, everybody one day off the plane). And I and Heath (Oxford '08-'09, who visited for a few days before heading to Edinburgh to start a master's program) have been doing our best to give hints about life in Oxford, where to go and how to get there.
But we're getting our footings, and beginning to leave our maps behind. In fact, Sara announced to me yesterday that she'd already managed to get lost for a while this past weekend; a triumph. I am hoping that we all get lost a few times before we finally find our way back to Chicago.
So, we'll check in now and then just to let you know we haven't fallen off the deep end. But if you wonder where we are, just know that we might not know ourselves. No worries.
*"Only the Dead Know Brooklyn."
Adrian Nelson, our 4th year blogger, will next be blogging from Oxford:
And Dorian Electra Fridkin Gomberg, our first year blogger, who reflects upon (and here, dramatically reconstructs) her first class. No Shimer students were harmed in the making of this film...
It's been a while indeed. Some people are far better at managing their time than I am, and have been able to blog while simultaneously doing the Shimer workload; alas, I did not manage that this semester. But it's over now, and I have to face what's coming: my last year at Shimer.
I don't want to think about it, really. Not just yet. But I did have to end an era a week or two ago: the house I've lived in off-campus this past year. Our lease was up, and the first week of July was moving week.
Our Shimer collective was called Versailles (Ver-SIGH or Ver-SAILS, if you hail from either France or Ohio) and five of us - Sam, Emily, Allie, Ari and myself - inhabited the five-bedroom bungalow.
Note one of our two resident cats adorning the chair. Dickens belonged to our facilitator Harold before he was bequeathed to us.
It was Versailles because my more aesthetically-talented roommates decorated it lavishly.
Versailles was a twenty-minute bus ride from Shimer, and the place to hold gatherings, dinner parties, cookouts, and much more. Possibly my favorite room:In which many a cooking experiment took place.
Versailles was home to me in a much different way than the dorms (where I was my past two years) were. Versailles was much more our own space than IIT; more people could gather here, and we had more privacy. I admit that I missed out on some of the community (a major hub of which is in the dorms), but I really enjoyed having my own room.
The upkeep of a house is different from a dorm room - while it's nice not to be inspected every semester, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with chores and cleaning when you have 60 pages of Kierkegaard or 100 pages of Jacobs to read that night. Nevertheless, thanks to tireless roommates, we received our security deposit back in full, as the house was in good condition when we left. Although we tried hard to find other Shimer folks to move in for the next year, most are in Bridgeport, and our landlord decided to sell the house instead of continuing to rent it. So the third year in my Shimer education comes to an end. So it goes.
Looking back on three years now, I know I am an immensely different person from when I started, and that's a good thing. Friends made here are friends for life. I came in thinking I knew what I wanted (to be a writer), and may come out wanting something completely different (travel and cookery). But I still have one year left (in Oxford!) - one year to change, and grow, and think and do.
Shimer is the first academic experience I have wanted not to end. I was happy to get out of elementary, middle, and even high school, but coming to the end of Shimer? Sometimes I wish I was still in MSV with the other twenty-odd Shimerians my first year. But I don't want to lose what I have become either. What have I become? Not better, necessarily, but different; importantly, comfortable with myself, for the most part. A little more knowledgeable, if only of how much I have yet to learn. More people known. But most of all - living, and changing, and loving every minute of it.
And that's what Shimer does for me.
The opinions expressed by the Shimer bloggers are theirs alone, are subject to change upon each blogger's reflection, and do not reflect the opinions of Shimer College. Shimer is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of any of the information supplied on this blog and strongly encourages you to contact the Shimer Admission Office directly if you have questions about Shimer. The entries on this blog belong to their authors and to Shimer College. Shimer encourages and deeply values discussion, but the college is not responsible for what is posted by commenters and reserves the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever. Deletions will likely be made if commentary is commercial, irrelevant, abusive, profane, rude, or destructively inaccurate. Shimer students on the regular staff of this blog are modestly compensated for their efforts.