Director’s LetterLetter to the Class of 2022
May 20, 2018
Dear Language and Thinking Students,
Welcome to Bard! My name is Bill Dixon, and I’m the Director of the Language and Thinking Program. I am writing to tell you about some of the work that we will be doing together in August, and to let you know what you need to do to get ready for it.
This year our program will be considering a difficult question. What needs to be the case for things to be otherwise? The question is harder than it looks. This is in part because it is so slippery. The “things” to which it refers are not specified by name, and the “otherwise” part is also left wide open. So, the first thing that you might do to get ready for August is to work with this question for a few minutes in writing. Take ten minutes and write about it. What is it really asking? Think about the different parts of the question. You might even test the question out on a topic that you care about, say, a piece of art, a short story, a work of music, a political issue, or an historical event, or something else entirely. Time yourself, keep the question in mind, and just write – write what comes out on your page without stopping.
This question will re-emerge in many different ways – across genres, disciplines, sciences, and art-forms - throughout our work together in August. We will think about how history becomes otherwise with Layli Long Soldier, Karl Marx, Edmund Burke, and Alexis de Tocqueville, and we will consider what needs to be the case for imagining the American future with James Baldwin, E.O. Wilson, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Martha Nussbaum. We will see the strange (and exhilarating!) entanglements of art, art-making, and ecology at the Hessel Museum, and we will also listen to how Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated a distinctly Russian musical voice against the clamorous upheavals of the late nineteenth century. We will think, and read, about other manifestations of this question too, in concerts, films, lectures, seminar discussions, dance workshops, and on the hiking trails of the Tivoli Bays – in conversation and in writing, alone and in community.
The second thing you need to do to get ready for August is to read and purchase two texts: Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation and Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” translated by William Arrowsmith and found in the collection Euripides V edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Rely on the ISBN numbers provided below to be sure that you have the right book. Note well: You will need the correct edition of Euripides!
Lear and Euripides each tell very different stories, but there are important parallels. Both stories center on a young leader who is confronted by something utterly otherwise to everything he thinks he knows. Both leaders also make fateful decisions for themselves (and others) when the otherwise becomes all too real. Without giving away too much, I can tell you that, in the end, one lives and one dies, but as each leader grapples with his fate, both learn vital lessons about kinship, authority, beauty, and time. Their stories also tell us something about the power of dreams, mystery, and prophesy in an unforgiving and unbelieving world.
The third thing you will want to do is to write a bit about both books after you’ve finished reading them. You might also return to our guiding question and see what difference these two stories make to your understanding of it. Again, try just writing about each book for about ten minutes.
I do look forward to meeting all of you soon. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me by email if you have any questions.
The Language and Thinking Program
Required Summer Reading
Jonathan Lear Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press) (ISBN-10: 0674027469)
Euripides “The Bacchae,” translated by William Arrowsmith, in David Grene and Richmond Lattimore ed. Euripides V (Third Edition) (University of Chicago Press) (ISBN-10: 0226308987)