Monday, October 30, 2017

Education and the Pitfalls of Purity

Professors like me can’t stay silent about this extremist moment on campuses

An atrocious story from Reed College about the anti-intellectual and anti-free speech actions of supposedly progressive students. This article is an opinion piece by a Reed faculty member, Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who describes herself as an "untenured, gay, mixed-race woman with PTSD" - the kind of professor that one would hope progressive students would support.
At Reed College in Oregon, where I work, a group of students began protesting the required first-year humanities course a year ago. Three times a week, students sat in the lecture space holding signs — many too obscene to be printed here — condemning the course and its faculty as white supremacists, as anti-black, as not open to dialogue and criticism, on the grounds that we continue to teach, among many other things, Aristotle and Plato.
In an article on Reed in Inside Higher Ed, she described herself as "female, mixed race, American and Peruvian, gay, atheist and relatively young. I study poetry that is basically the opposite of me: male, white, British, straight, God-fearing, 500 years old. And I love it."
Saying that Hum 110 “perfectly captures the importance of origins and instability to what we do as scholars and students, regardless of the disciplines we pursue,” Martínez Valdivia asks students to “say yes to the text.” In other words, she says, one “should read things in good faith, understanding the distance, the strangeness from our own historical moment. If we get distracted by Plato’s misogyny or Lucretius’ imperfect mastery of physics, we miss the point, the bigger pictures of these works -- the way Plato structures his arguments, for example, or the fact that Lucretius was driven to theorize about the nature of the physical world when that just wasn’t something people did.” 
Martínez Valdivia notes that the course is technically called Introduction to Humanities: Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean, not Western Humanities, “in part because much of it is drawn from geographic areas not traditionally considered Western areas,” such as Iraq, Iran and Egypt. She says she’d be hard-pressed to eve n define “Western” and that the concept is challenged through course. 
Everything that is now canonical was once innovative, she adds. “This doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge problems, weaknesses, inaccuracies, that we can’t question these works; rather, it means that we should do so productively, in good faith. Don’t write Plato off as a misogynist. Instead, try considering how it is that misogyny is a logical result, for him, of his reasoning.”
To go back to the protest: she wrote that the faculty and administration allowed the protest to continue all year, "In the interest of supporting dissent and the free exchange of ideas." The course is taught by a wide range of professors who teach about their areas of expertise. She taught the poetry of Sappho. But others found the circumstances far too intimidating: "Some colleagues, including people of color, immigrants and those without tenure, found it impossible to work under these conditions. The signs intimidated faculty into silence, just as intended, and these silenced professors’ lectures were quietly replaced by talks from people willing and able to carry on teaching in the face of these demonstrations."

During the first class of Fall 2017, the protesting students escalated. The first lecture was going to be a "panel introduction of the course." Before the professors even had a chance to introduce the course, "the protesters seized our microphones, stood in front of us and shut down the lecture."

She wrote: "The right to speak freely is not the same as the right to rob others of their voices."
No one should have to pass someone else’s ideological purity test to be allowed to speak. University life — along with civic life — dies without the free exchange of ideas.
Her teaching philosophy expresses what I also think of as the crucial strength of humanistic study:
I ask one thing of all my first-year students: that they say yes to the text. This doesn’t mean they have to agree with or endorse anything and everything they read. It means students should read in good faith and try to understand the texts’ distance, their strangeness, from our historical moment. Ultimately, this is a call for empathy, for stretching our imaginations to try to inhabit and understand positions that aren’t ours and the points of view of people who aren’t us.
The students who are protesting Hum 110 and trying to shut it down are doing the exact opposite: they are reading in bad faith, they refuse to try to understand the texts in their distance and strangeness, and instead try to force them into the straightjacket of the present. They show no empathy either for the texts or for people who disagree with them. They have chosen to limit their imaginations rather than widen them, all in the name of anti-racism.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem

Attributed to `Abd al-Razzaq by Jahangir, black and white sketch attributed to Bihzad by Dust Muhammad, probably by Qasim Ali (pupil of Bihzad), like most of the other 22 paintings in the 1494/5 Khamsa. In the collection of the British Museum. 
This image is of Muhammad being flown from Mecca on his wondrous steed Buraq to Jerusalem. He is still in the skies of Mecca, above the Ka'ba.
This next image is of the same stage in the mi'raj - Muhammad above the Ka'ba in Mecca.

The Mi'raj (Night Journey of the Prophet) with the Ka'ba in Mecca Below, Page from an unidentified Manuscript (image 2 of 3). Iran, Shiraz, circa 1600.

The Edwin Binney, 3rd, Collection of Turkish Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.85.237.44)

Plate showing the Night Journey (Mi'raj) of the Prophet Muhammad on the mythical steed Buraq with the archangel Gabriel and two Prophets, Noah and Idris, in the Second Heaven. 

One of 60 miniatures in Mir Haydar, Mira‘j-namehTimurid illuminated manuscript from Herat in Afghanistan showing other episodes in the Journey. 

The texts are in three languages: Turkish in Uigher script (main text), also Arabic titles and Persian and Arabic captions. Bibliothèque Nationale de France

"The Mi'raj or The Night Flight of Muhammad on his Steed Buraq", Folio 3v from a Bustan of Sa`di. From Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

More from Charlottesville

Nazis in Charlottesville again tonight!

Breaking: Nazis Are Marching With Torches Again in Charlottesville Tonight

Richard Spencer and his band of Nazi idiots are marching again with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, tonight.

They're chanting "You will not replace us" and "The South will rise again."

A link:

Marching to protest the racists, also in C'ville - Black Lives Matter chanting "All Black lives matter."

Harvest Moon over Empire State Building