Term Break

Only 3 weeks (whoops 7 days) ‘til back to school.

 

The break started with good intention: the goal of finishing my term paper about the relationship between Jackson Pollock and Tintoretto to make it publisher ready.

Thomas Hart Benton had taught Pollock about Tintoretto, and I used him as a surrogate for the more elusive Tintoretto. But Benton’s character came through so strongly that the presence of Tintoretto got lost. This was inevitable given the strength of Benton’s character. I therefore needed to make Benton invisible but still show his influence.

I had tied Pollock’s move to larger scale works to his interest in the Mexican Muralists, especially Orozco. I knew that the Orozco’s mural that Pollock most admired, the one at Pomona College, was derived from El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian. However, the connection between painting composition learn from Tintoretto and the lesson of scale from Orozco was rather disjoint. What I needed was a means of tying Pollock, Tintoretto and Orozco (or large scale work) together without the strong emphasis on Benton.

In the break, I found the magical connection between Tintoretto and Orozco’s painting at Pomona College.

El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian on which the Pomona mural is based, was thought to be derived from a similar painting by Tintoretto. Although it was painted after Tintoretto painted his painting, there is a strong connection between Tintoretto and El Greco. For Pollock, the problem in studying Tintoretto is the absence of monumental works in the USA. Hence the lessons of Tintoretto’s ‘grand design’ that Pollock learn from Benton would not have been visible in the works he saw, but it would have been present in the mural by Orozco.  The mural at Pomona provided in essence a monumental El Greco, and by association, a monumental Tintoretto.

So, I have resolved the outstanding research problem. I just need to state it succinctly in writing.

 

As a continuation of what I had learnt during the last term, I read “How to Write Faster” by Liz Hayes. This goes a lot deeper than what was covered in class and has some really useful examples, including to write the first draft in narrative form, and not to focus on the details (e.g. spelling and style) in the earlier drafts as these may not even make it into the final version. By reading other books about writing, I am also discovering that being a good writer does not necessarily make one a good writer about the art of writing.

 

I lost my writing momentum when I started to catch up on my backlog of Minerva, Ancient Warfare, Ancient History and History Today magazines. This is not a major problem because my interest in writing originated when I noticed how in these magazines, good writers not only write well but have a clarity of thought. My goal in studying writing was to develop in myself this clarity of thought. For me writing is a means and not an end. However, treating it merely as a means will never let me get the full value from it.

 

Luckily, I did get to read one of my bucket list books: Venice and Vitruvius by Margaret D’Evelyn. Interestingly, at the start of the book, she emphasizes how architects in the Renaissance advocated that being a good architect was not enough; being able to write well about it was essential. Unfortunately, the book does not follow their example. The book is a major chore to read but full of amazing information. The writing does not do the research justice. It reinforced for me the importance of good writing. The Review is below.

 

Now, I am reading Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia by Gregory Aldrete. My aim is to complete the Pompeii class text before the start of class. I have also completed the Great Courses class on Experiencing Rome by Tuck. This and other Great Courses truly great courses. I have also browsed a lot of books apart from the texts so that I know where to get details. The book I wanted most was Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space by Laurence and Newsome. Although only just published in the USA, this was previously published in England, and the GMU library had a copy.  This is a great resource for class. It actually contradicts some of the basic assumptions about Pompeii, such as the idea that you can track traffic in Pompeii by the depth of the cart rut marks in the stones. They state that the marks were more likely caused by the vehicles doing the excavation and are not historic. This is a really provocative statement.

I still have not made scones or done any cooking.

 

Yesterday morning, I booked Amtrak to New York to look at the Boscoreale frescoes at the Met and see the show on Roman silver at ISAW. There was only a four week window to see both these and the Delacroix mega show at the met.  The show includes my two favorite Delacroix paintings: the Mount of Olives and Medea. I saw Medea in Lille in the 80’s and again at the Met several years later. As the show at the Met included studies and drawings for the work, the evolution of the image could be observed. The Medea is an amazing painting.

 

Oh well back to school soon. Three classes is a hell of a load for an old guy. Will be interesting to see how my knowledge of history stacks up against student knowledge. But I have cheated. I have already done my homework.

 

 

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/247017

http://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/berthouville

https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/delacroix

https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/devotion-to-drawing-eugene-delacroix

 


 

Amazing content but clarity of presentation is lacking.

 

Venice and Vitruvius is an amazing piece of research which leaves no stone unturned.

 

Part 1 deals with the history of architectural books and is the distillation of her thesis. As such, it is polished and tightly focused.

 

Part 2 is the bulk of the book and examines Daniele Barbaro’s view of Venice as being and becoming Vitruvius’s ideal city. In this area, the book has an immense amount of research. Not only does it deal with Barbaro’s commentaries on Vitruvius but also tracks the various versions of the book and the reasons for the changes.

 

The study of the evolution of the commentaries is fascinating. That Barbaro’s commentaries could be less descriptions once Palladio added his illustrations shows an interesting symbiosis between the two. Palladio’s removal of references to Alberti is an interesting insight into Palladio as a person. The evolution of Barbaro’s commentaries would have created a very powerful isolated study, especially if demonstrated through the collaboration of Palladio and Barbaro in Venice’s architecture. It is easy to see Barbaro as simply a humanitarian patron, but the book only just hints at him as an architect in his own right, although he did not see himself in that role. However, the other authors mentioned could have been better addressed as a separate part after or associated with the first part. Isolating the story of Barbaro and Palladio would have created a fantastic story.

 

The overall structure of Part 2 is that each chapter deals with a structural component of a building. The building component structure is not strong enough to carry the book.

The weakness of this structure is demonstrated by the fact that the last chapter is the first to address caissons, which are a basic foundation element. This should have been addressed in the first chapter which dealt with building foundations.

 

Several sections start with a single sentence as a narrative description of Venice and what it is like to walk around Venice, but then the thread ends. This an opportunity missed as she obviously has a good understanding of Venice. Elsewhere, the reason for the haphazard layout of ‘streets’ in Venice is well explained. Repeatedly, we travel back to Piazza San Marco and walk along the waterfront looking at San Giorgio Maggiore, but these passages are not contiguous and therefore do not build on the experience. The view from Piazza San Marco across to San Giorgio Maggiore is probably one of the most beautiful vistas in Venice, along with the vista to its right to Il Redentore. Both churches are by Palladio and although mention of them is sprinkled throughout the narrative, they warrant focused attention. A rich (almost personal) descriptive narrative would have enforced the primary narrative. This would have exhibited the love and understanding of the special arrangement of Venice that the author obviously possesses.

 

 

 

The book examines the evolution of Scuola Grande di San Rocco in detail. I felt this was a misplaced focus and may have been better served by just consolidating the sections on the Piazza San Marco or a Palladio building.

 

There is some information which should have been omitted. For example, the similarity between the placement of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda within the landscape and that of the emperor’s box in an amphitheater is phenomenal and an eye-opener. However, Villa Rotunda is not in Venice proper and not relevant to the point at hand.

 

In summary, the book would have been better structured into more than two parts. There is so much discussed that each individual topic: Barbaro and Vitruvius, Venice and Vitruvius, components of buildings, the vistas of Venice, the passageways of Venice and the Piazzas deserved a separate focus that would have been provided by isolation.

 

There are some issues in the use of voice in the writing. The writing style of Vitruvius and Palladio creeps into the author’s narrative. This and the use of passive voice makes the quotations and the author’s comments merge. Direct voice on the part of the author would have made the points more clearly and worked as a powerfully voiced commentary.

 

 

Despite the issues of readability due to a weakness in structure, the book is well worth reading. The content is amazing. I think that its best use may be as a reference book on specific Renaissance aesthetics topics as opposed to a book to give an understanding of Venice or Vitruvius.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Feeling the Pain

 

Two weeks ago, I handed in my English term assignment.

I am finally in class as opposed to being a part of it.

The work load has hit.

I am back at school, as opposed to going back to school.

 

There is a computer expression that you never know a topic until you feel the pain. I felt the pain. Feeling the pain is great. You power through it to a new level.

 

No more computer classes apart from the one at Nova that I wanted to do in the first place.

No horticulture classes unless tightly focused. The ridiculous price of the texts helped to decide this.

I need to focus.

 

Everyone was already in the classroom when i arrived. They are talking but I am not part of it and really cannot join the conversation as I have no idea of the subject. I still feel that I am not part of the group but to use a cliché: I am not here to make friends. However, I have a common interest with the other students. And that is writing.

 

I am here to learn writing.

The end goal is writing and not the learning.

 

Last week, we had a peer review of the paper.

The feedback was great.

I expected it to be too art focused for the rest of the group, but this was the case.

Students focused on the characters in the paper but not what they were saying. I need to my characters more transparent. It was interesting that some students wanted more of one thing, others wanted less of it. I think a more cohesive focus of the paper will solve that. I wanted to have multiple interpretations and levels of the work, but I think there needs to be one very obvious message and several more subtle ones. I need to state the main point and leave the others open.

Now I revise. More pain, but it is necessary pain.

 

GMU TechAdvantage: A+Classes Begin

It is always interesting to compare the demographics of two professions, and looking at the demographics of university classes is no different.

Last weekend, I started the A+ course at George Mason Professional and Executive Campus in Arlington. The school offers a series of continuing education classes under the label of TechAdvantage. For my first course, classes will be both Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm every second weekend. It will be 5 days long. It was also possible to do courses in a less concentrated evening form, but I wanted to take courses in a weekend format as I thought I’d be in class with more dedicated students.

The A+ course is a prep for the CompTIA 220-901 and 220-902 exams to gain CompTIA A+ Certification. As such, it is an entry level computing class suitable for those who want to assume a help-desk role. This class can then be followed by classes to gain Cisco Certified Network Associate Certification in networking or CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 Certification in security. Both are more advanced entry level certifications into the computer industry.

 

The most obvious difference between this and GMU writing classes is the students.

My GMU writing class consists of about 14 students. The common theme is that they are all professionals in the field of English. They are either undergraduates specializing in English, or English graduate students working in their field while they complete their master’s degree. For variety, there is one older geographer now admitted to the MFA. There is also an older woman who has spent her life teaching English. We are all English majors, since to attend graduate level classes I was required to be admitted as a graduate student in the English department. There is a mix of full-time and part-time students.

The Tech Advantage class is about 12 students. There is nothing that could even be contrived as a common profession. There are two fitness trainers looking for a change of career, one GMU graduate in criminology trying to get some career leverage, and a couple of people who have or are currently working help desk. There is only woman in the class, whereas GMU writing class is predominantly women with only three males. The sole woman is trying to transition from HR. There is also one guy who wants to learn something about computing so as he said, he can stop having to wait on the help desk for assistance. He appears to be the only one with no interest in a career in computing. Again, I am the odd duck, as I have no real goal apart from personal interest for taking the class. I am at the end of my computing career.

 

The TechAdvantage students are all professionals looking at transition to another profession, unlike the GMU Writing class which consists of people in their first profession.

I have found that GMU computing classes are a lot easier than writing classes. I have a lot of prior knowledge of computing, even though my knowledge is “past the use by date”. But that is not the reason that it is easier.

Writing is unbounded. It is like most creative subjects. It requires a very personal commitment, necessitating a lot of giving of the personal self. There is no end point for each exercise because one knows that they can always do better; it is an obsession.

The computer classes are bounded. We disassembled a computer on Sunday and reassembled it. It did not require any inner searching and once done, it was done.

After a weekend doing tech classes, I am nowhere near as tired as I am after 3 hours of writing classes. Writing is a sort of exhilarating exhaustion. I think I prefer it.

Vignette 4: On Writing and Sculpture

In art, we talk about the importance of process, but we only have an end result despite our best attempts to show our process.

In writing, the process is actually the piece.

 

When you create a sculpture you can always pull it together at the end.

You cannot do this in writing. In writing, all of your process is visible and a final conclusion is just not enough.

Class Day 5

No class tonight.

I feel guilty that relieved, although this will mean that I have a week’s break before starting weekend classes at GMU Tech Advantage campus in Arlington.

However, I still had to submit the class exercise that was due tonight:

Bring to class a two-page description of what you think your story or essay will be about, what information you’ve found so far, and what information you still need to find.

 

My topic is Jackson Pollock. My aim is to show how the work of Jackson Pollock is strongly rooted in the art of the Renaissance.

Jackson Pollock’s training from Thomas Hart Benton in the 1930’s created a sensibility to the art of the Renaissance (especially Tintoretto) which was always present in Pollock’s art even when it was abstract.

The influence of Benton over Pollock ends when Benton leaves New York, and Pollock marries Lee Krasner.

Even though Pollock and Krasner publicly deny any debt to Benton, Pollock is still privately talking about Renaissance art.

This is the conflicting thread of the story.

I thought I would have difficulty associating Pollock with Tintoretto, but I found this quote about one evening when Pollock was at the height of his career:

       Jack brought out Cahiers d’Art and analyzed Tintoretto in great detail, explaining the composition of this and that; what he was doing was bringing me pure Tom Benton: Venetian       Renaissance to Tom Benton, Tom to Jack.. He talked especially about the composition that night, and Lee Krasner came down several times to say, ‘Jackson, come back to bed…’ But we were on until dawn with Jack describing Tintoretto… (Abrams p177)

Now the story becomes not about if Pollock was influenced by Tintoretto, but about how he was influenced and why we have conflicting information about the influence.

 

Source materials I have used so far:

Pollock. Dir. Ed Harris.  With Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2001

Thomas Hart Benton. Dir. Ken Burns. With Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Danto, Burl Ives, Hilton Kramer. PBS Paramount. 2004

Pollock, Jackson. American Letters: 1927 – 1945. Polity, 2011.

Abrams, Henry Thomas Hart Benton: Discoveries and Interpretations. Columbia: University of Missouri, 2015.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Pollock and Tintoretto (Renaissance) art.

Source materials I have access to but still need to use:

Pollock sketchbooks from Met Museum of Art and related materials

Archives for American Art: Benton. Krasner and Pollock archives.

Class Day 4

Last night’s class (February 21) was probably the most productive class so far.

Before class, I was even able to pick up a facsimile of Jackson Pollock’s sketchbooks from the library.

 

We usually are required to complete 3 readings before class. We then discuss those as a group. We also have two short writing exercises.

 

The first class writing assignment was a one sentence description of our topic:

My topic is Jackson Pollock. My aim is to show how the work of Jackson Pollock is strongly rooted in the art of the Renaissance.

 

The second writing exercise was to describe a traumatic event either in our lives or from our topic.

Pollock was drunk. Pollock was often drunk. He had started drinking on Saturday morning, and it was now 8 p.m.

He picked up his mistress, Ruth Kligman and her friend, Edith Metzger at Montauk station [sic].

Pollock was not only drunk. He was angry. 

Saturday August 11, 1956 was worse than most days. His wife, Lee Krasner was in Europe. She was the only person who could control Pollock. Today, he was drunk, angry and out of control.

Edith Metzger had not wanted to get in a car driven by Pollock who had a reputation for crashing cars while drunk. Pollock and her friend Ruth had convinced her to travel with them.

 

Jackson Pollock, artist, age 44, cause of death: car crash.

Edith Metzger, hairdresser, age 34 [25], cause of death: car crash.

Ruth Kligman, model, age 33 [26], sustained minor [serious] injuries.

After note: Ruth Kligman had invited Edith Metzger to join her at Pollock’s to try and reduce Pollock’s increasing possessiveness of her. Pollock was annoyed at Metzger’s presence.

 

 

I’ve had issues trying to define a structure for the term assignment. There is so much information which must be presented in one coherent sequence. Pollock will be the main character, and Tintoretto, my chosen Renaissance artist, just a passive passenger.

There are two other characters, Thomas Hart Benton and Lee Krasner. Since Pollock learnt from Benton and continued to maintain a friendship with him, he is important in providing the historical link to the Renaissance for Pollock. Lee Krasner presents a conflict in that she insisted that Pollock owed nothing to any teacher, and maintained strong control of the marketed image of Pollock. She was instrumental in getting him his first gallery representation with Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery. The gallery was named “Art of This Century”, hence the desire to minimize any influence on Pollock of earlier art.

There is a conflict not only in the representation of Pollock, but also in relationships with Pollock. Benton and his wife Rita were surrogate parents to the Pollock boys when they moved to New York. After Benton left New York to return to the mid-west, Pollock met Krasner. Krasner assumed the motherly role to Pollock.

The painting that I want to use as a part of the thread in the assignment is Pollock’s painting “Mosaic” which was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for her New York apartment. It has just been restored and we can now look at how it was painted, in conflict to how Krasner said it was painted. I hope to find a link to the working methodology of Renaissance artists.

I saw the painting “Mosaic” in both Venice and here, in Washington DC, where it is currently on display. Interestingly, in Venice, it was shown in an historical context. In DC, it is shown in a room only with Pollock’s work. The question of Pollock’s source is still open to debate, this time in a different context, and possibly for a different reason.

 

Tim Denevi, my professor for “Research for Narrative Nonfiction” had previously mentioned a clothes line technique for creating a narrative. Last night’s class exercise for each subgroup was to analyze a selected reading in relation to the clothes line. I finally saw how I could make it work for my term essay, although I still need to add the details.

The idea is that the story line is a clothes line on which you hang your facts. If you hang too much, your line will collapse.

First you attach your pegs to the line, and if these are sufficiently connected, they will strengthen the line. Then from each line, you hang the facts (or dense matter). The pegs help to add the “Narrative Arc” to the line.

 

For my story, my clothes line is the relationship of Pollock with the Renaissance artists.

The pegs are incidents in the life of Pollock with Benton entering, Benton leaving and Krasner entering. Peggy Guggenheim is the peg that introduces the painting ‘Mosaic”. The circumstances of Pollock’s death is not a peg as it does not affect the argument.

There is a competing thread of the line. The conflict on the line is Pollock’s learning from Benton, and Krasner’s refusal to acknowledge it. As a result the conflicting arguments of whether there is or is not a connection of Pollock to Renaissance art. The Krasner/Benton conflict will be presented only as it relates to the representation of Pollock.

From the pegs, I can hang character studies of Pollock, Benton and Krasner. Peggy Guggenheim and Tintoretto are only minor actors. These are all presented as a means of showing Pollock’s relationship to the Renaissance.

My seeing “Mosaic” in Venice and DC and the difference in presentation is another peg. The restoration of mosaic will be hung from this peg. That will also tie into the renaissance issue.

 

 

As Baldrick of “Black Adder” states “I have a cunning plan”.

I retired effective February 22. So I have lots of time for my cunning plan.

 

 

Key Dates
Pollock studies at Art Students League under Benton 1930 – 1932
Benton leaves NY 1935?
Krasner and Polockboth exhibit and met at McMillen Gallery 1942
Krasner visits Pollock’s studio 1942
Pollock signs contract with Peggy Guggenheim 1943
“Mosaic” 1943
Krasner marries Pollock 1945
Moves to Long Island 1945
Pollock dies 1956
Krasner manages Pollock estate 1956
I see my first Pollock in the exhibition “Two decades of American Painting” at Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. 1967
National Gallery of Australia purchases Pollock’s “Blue Poles” 1973
 Australian Labor Party loses general elections. 1973
Benton dies 1975
Rita dies 1975
I visit US to see modern art. I see “Lee Krasner: A Retrospective”, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 1983
Krasner dies 1984
I see Benton’s “America Today” exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2014
I see Pollock’s “Mosaic” in Venice 2015
I see Pollock’s  “Mosaic” in Washington 2015

 

Class Day 3

The novelty of being a new student is wearing off, although before each class I still wonder, “What am I doing here?”

 

I am more at ease in the class, and even though I am not an English major, I am starting to realize that I bring a valid perspective to play in the class.

Being an artist, I have an intimate knowledge of creativity and the creative process. Last night in class, I was talking about something in terms of spinning my plot, and stated “But that’s just being creative, and I suspect it applies to writing just as well”. The teacher smiled.

I know some subjects as part of my life. The professor and a student in his 40’s were discussing researching the Vietnam War and looking at the old films as a source. I said “I remember actually seeing those films when it was happening. I was up for the draft during the Vietnam Era”. I think they realized that as much as they could talk about the Vietnam War and research it, I had knowledge of the time that they could never gain. Mine was knowledge of participation and watching it unfold without foresight of what was to come.

A lot of the students have English knowledge but lack non-English subject-matter knowledge or interests. While a lot of them are still debating what topic to choose, I have picked my topic and identified my sources.

The most interesting thing in the class was when the teacher asked me the name of one of the artists I had mentioned in describing my term topic. He asked the class who had heard of the artist Tintoretto. Not a hand was raised. He then asked who had heard of Pollock. All the students raised their hands. His point was that when you are immersed in a subject, you risk assuming that all of your readers have the same knowledge. That was really useful in helping me to structure the paper. What I realized was that although everyone knows who Pollock was, few understand at more than a superficial level what his art was about. I am writing about a period in his art unknown to most except those intensely interested in Pollock, because the figurative works run counter to the commonly promoted abstract paintings.

As the professor said, you have three types of readers:

Those who have no knowledge of the subject, who you can provide an introduction to the topic

Those whose opinion is totally different from you, to whom you can present an alternate view

Those who have similar insight, to whom you can provide even greater insight

So, I have a different problem to most of the class. I know my subject intimately. Not only must I learn how to write about it, but also write about it in a manner accessible to those unfamiliar with the topic.

What I wanted to gain from studying writing was clarity of thinking. I feel that I might be on the right path.

Vignette 3

Before the class commences, I ask another student if this is her first class with this teacher, and she says it is. I proceed to ask if all of the professors are like him. She asks me what I mean.

“Distracted.”, I reply.

She explains that this is her first class in the Creating Writing dept. and that she is a Technical Writing student. She is interning as an editor, loves it and never sees herself becoming a writer, and has no wish to become one.

I quiz her more.

The gist of her response is that the Creating Writing professors are basically all ‘flakes’. Not in so many words, but I get the point, although she would never admit or even realize that it was her perceived answer.

It reminds me of when I was at Sydney University studying Architecture. There was a Fine Arts Department, an Architecture Department and an Architectural Science Department. Each had their own levels of ‘flakiness’. I spent most of my time in Architectural Science. I wish I had been able to spend more time in the Fine Arts Department as Lloyd Rees (one of the greats of Australian Art) taught there. The level of disengagement between the departments is exemplified by the fact that Ross King who was associated with the Architecture department had two Lloyd Rees drawings of the building of Sydney Harbor Bridge in his office, and Lloyd was unaware of them.

Now I know that the English department is not one amorphous blob, and that if I don’t like the Creative Writing culture, others more suitable to my temperament (or personal ‘flakiness’) are available. If needs be, I have an alternate path forward.

 

Vignette 2

The class forms into working groups.

I take my new MacBook from my bag and place it on the table in anticipation of doing work.

I open the laptop.

“What a cute little baby”, says the female student to my left.

“Yes. And it’s only about 4 days old”, I reply, trying to remember if I bought it on Saturday or Sunday. (It is 4 days old.)

“Oh. I love babies”, glees the female student opposite. “Can I see it?”

“Here it is”, I say, pointing at the MacBook.

“Oh”, she replies looking totally disappointed at a pleasure only anticipated, and never fulfilled.

 

Class Day 2

 

When I first moved to the U.S.A, I found a serious disconnect between the philosophy “Give me your poor”, and the actual attitudes I was encountering working in Delaware. I wanted to discover if this had always been the case in American History.

The book I latched onto as my guide was “We the People and Others: Duality and America’s Treatment of Its Racial Minorities” by Benjamin Ringer. In the book, Ringer “examines the history of discrimination in the U.S., and looks at the treatment received by Blacks [sic], American Indians [sic], Chinese, Japanese, and Puerto Ricans”. They are all Americans but have different stories. The description does not do justice to the thoroughness of the book, as it also addresses other minorities: Jews and Italians. Each cultural story is unique and at times, the groups oppose each other and oddly at times themselves.

What I learnt from the book was the concept of “we” and “others”, although it was not the main theme of the book but one I continue to notice.

When a group of people are together and share some commonality (race, religion, ethnic background, prejudice), they form a “we”; everyone else is “others”. When the others leave, realignment is required. The ‘we’ group splits into a new “we” and a new set of others.

Groups not only define themselves by what they are, the “we”. They also define themselves by what they are not, the”others”.

 

On the first day of the class, because I was only student who was not an English major, I looked at everyone else in the class as “others. There were other times when I felt a part of a “we”, the three people of my own age. When I made a point that the teacher agreed with, he was part of my “we” (or vice versa) and the other students were the “others”.

By the end of second class, I felt like part of the larger “we”. I was no longer a part of the “we” differentiated by age, and I was no longer a part of a singular “we” of one non-English major student. As a result, I ws also no longer a part of the “others” that was their complements.

On day 2, I rarely felt a part of the teacher-student “we” of two. I now felt like a part of the “we” of students each trying to solve a problem and helping each other.

What had changed?

I suppose the simple answer is that the anonymity of the others had disappeared. Stating name, background and topic was interesting, but superficial. It established a connection, but not an association. Given that most people can’t remember people’s names, it was a tenuous connection.

Only when students started to discuss their research topic in detail did we see that we all shared a similar passion for our own subjects; an empathy. It was like a window into the soul. Even though we had very diverse topics, we shared a common goal and mutual respect for each other’s path. We felt that openly talking about our topic would not leave us open to ridicule because others were doing the same.

We all expressed doubts about our topics. Some were concerned about being able to get the information needed, some were concerned about the scope of the work and some felt that the topic under discussion was too personal to reveal.

This mutual trust (by sharing what we wanted to do and our personal fears) reminds me of a concept in creative nonfiction writing which I have discovered. It is called the contract between the writer and the reader. The writer presents information to the reader and states that it is true. If it is not true, the reader feels cheated and violated. This trust creates a bond; the writer and the reader become a sort of “we”.

Oddly, I don’t feel this same association with my professor. The association with other students was a process of discovery. If I wanted to discover my professor, I could just read his book “Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD”. His ‘inner self’ was not hidden. Nor did it need to be discovered. It is available on any bookshelf. It is not a mutual journey.

 

So, we have a real diversity of topics, and I only share those from my table (a table of 4 with each student presenting three possible topics). The one disappointed at my non-existent baby wants to discover if cloning a person also clones their soul. A student, who I suspect is the daughter of a surgeon based on the knowledge she had, wants to examine the treatment of the dead in different cultures, our attitudes towards crime, or an in-depth study of tea. My writing buddy to my left wants to examine why Japan still continues to have three alphabets, and why the Japanese Samurai used to test the sharpness of a blade by cutting some poor unsuspecting soul in half and why this practice survived for so long. And me; my topics are related to my personal interests. My topics are the collaboration of the Renaissance architect Palladio and the humanist Barbaro, Jackson Pollock’s painting “Mural” and its relationship to Renaissance painting, and a historical perspective on the press’s reporting of the Tet Offensive. The student to whom I spoke before class, although an American by birth lived in England for a substantial period of her life and wants to street gangs of the 1920’s in Birmingham England.

We each presented our topics and as a group we discussed the advantages and possible pitfalls of each.

For someone who considers that they have diverse interests, my topics were very narrow. Their topics were really board.

This is surprising since in our first meeting, they all l seemed to have the same interests since they all read fiction. However, for me, fiction is one amorphous blob. Maybe fiction has a diversity that I never considered. My diversity of interest in reading non-fiction has blinded me to a richness of variety in fiction; I am now reading H. G. Well’s “War of the Worlds”.

So, now I am part of a larger “we”; it is a “we” of “others’. It will be class of ever changing connections and common interests and problems. It will be interesting to see how ”we” and “others” fluctuate as we find similarities in our topics, and face similar problems presenting our research.