Nick Frangipane’s SF 1176 “What is a Fact?” course was recently profiled in a Suffolk news story: read Homing in on the Truth here!
On a rainy November afternoon, Maria Zervos asked a group of students what it meant to be immortal.
“Who thinks they’re immortal here?” Many students responded, stating that immortality is never dying or going away. So, is it really just that?
Zervos, a visual artist, poet, and translator from Athens, Greece, is known for her vivid artistry and her investigation of themes including poetry, artwork, politics, nature and social criticism. She uniquely embodies the ancient world, as well as the modern artist.
The discussion, which was hosted by English professor George Kalogeris and his “Tragedy and Literature” freshman seminar focused on the idea of being present in our everyday moments. Zervos started off by talking about a lyric poem by the ancient Greek poet Telesilla, which she translated from Greek to English. In the poem, the Mother of the gods, who gave birth to everything, becomes a woman in exile when Zeus attacks her, demonstrating the conflict between the different genders.
“Today, we talk about equality and the difference of the sexes, like it’s something that is quite contemporary, but this poet [Telesilla] did the exact same thing in 494 BC.”
Zervos asked the audience to participate in an experiment in which she had four volunteers stand at the front of the classroom and read lines from the poem. Each student had to read one line of the poem, and each had to start reading his or her line before the previous person finished. Repeated three times.
“So, what just happened now?” asked Zervos, as stumbling words and laughter died down.
“We all became immortals. How? Because we’re present. We’re here and we forgot time. That is performance. That is theatre. That is philosophy, and that is literature. To forget there is some time there, and some time before. We’re here now.”
Zervos then went on to introduce a video she produced titled, My Half of the Sky, My Half of the Earth. In the visual piece, a silent group of Olympians emerge from the woods before journeying to Mount Olympus in stillness and movement. They are dressed in bright, distinct colors in the middle of an earthly raw landscape. A narrative of the hymn poem by Telesilla also accompanies the video as the gods transcend Mount Olympus.
“I had this idea based on the poem by Telesilla to activate myself in terms of being an artist and performer, and sometimes an actress,” Zervos said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to have to go on top of Mount Olympus’ because I thought one element of being untouchable, immortal is to cross borders.”
Moreover, Zervos explained her experience climbing to the top of the mountain, and how she was able to activate a sense of immortality, even though she felt she initially failed.
“When you’re actually at the top of [Mount Olympus], you don’t see the top. Climbing it was a striking moment for me, because you don’t see the mountain as you’re going up, and I kind of felt like I failed, even though I knew I was up there.”
“I don’t know how many of you are familiar with contemporary art,” she continued, “but much of the contemporary art today activates technology, and very fast, like advertisement.”
“Instead, I believe movement is activated by stillness. The most difficult thing is the first step. Then, you go on, but the first step is crucial.”
Zervos painted a picture by using her choreographers, dancers, performers, and actors, who at one point asked her what she wanted them to really do. She answered by telling them she trusted and believed in the future of dance and performance, and how it is embedded in stillness.
“As an artist, I feel like there is sometimes almost too much information,” she went on. “We don’t really know what’s happening, so there’s a moment where you just have to wait a minute and see what’s there.”
Professor Kalogeris also explained how the video was a parallel to the class’s study of ancient sculpture. “We looked at ancient sculpture, and particularly at the first step, and how the sculptures are often taking that first step, which is perpetual movement,” said Kalogeris. “The statues themselves are still, but they’re stepping forward, so they’re in perpetual motion if they can get that first step.”
That is, to be immortal takes courage, and it is not an easy task to be present. Zervos continued the discussion by showcasing two of her additional video projects titled Nomadology (The Route) and Peripatetics [ATHENS], and another poem titled Artemis. In Nomadology (The Route), Zervos documents a trip she once took to Chile, where she stayed with a tribe of Native Americans in a remote place, inspiring her to explore the themes of remoteness, and the nomad— the one who doesn’t have a home and is always on the move.
“For me, this was an amazing experience, because I documented the images of a ceremony they were having from afar,” she explained. “I stayed in a car, and that position was incredibly interesting because I had a glass window separating me from reality, which was performed in front of my eyes, without knowing what it meant. I was there, but not there.”
Thus, the images Zervos captured were comparable to individual lines of poems. With a ritualistic element and approach, Zervos successfully activates a different iconography, blurring the lines between documentary and witnessed reality. In Zervos’ most recent work-in-progress, Peripatetics [ATHENS], the camera is focused on a performance that is taking place in a city square of Athens. The area is filled with locals, immigrants, and tourists alike, emphasizing the act of walking.
“In my Peripatetics [ATHENS], it is not through walking that will get us to philosophical arguments, but the very act of walking and being present itself,” stated Zervos. “There are no filters. I’m there present without adding my lines. The images are coming from a contemporary politicized ideology that we’re looking for, so it becomes a new philosophy.”
“Peripatetic” means traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods. It is Aristotelian and refers to his teaching methods. “This activation is not fragmented, but can happen because of different fragments of reality,” said Zervos.
She concluded the discussion by reciting her poem Artemis and echoing a sentiment that is present in all of us.
I am the child of Artemis.
of goods in the market is haunting.
My mouth is full of Greek.
My fingers touch my tongue.
I’ve got no problem climbing mountains.
The clouds are lonelier than my lips
while the naked palms of dreamers
touch the snowflakes
slowly falling to become the ink
of my fingerprints.
“When you find what you want to tell, you find another step in you: the art. The project becomes you. To create something that is yours, that you are so embedded in, that is so synchronized by your own heartbeat, is immortality.”
“So, who thinks they’re immortal here?”
Perhaps all of us, you could say.
Connie Ruby Lai, Student Reporter, Class of 2017
On November 17, in the Poetry Center, Dr. Candy Leonard gave a presentation about how the Beatles changed the world. Dr. Leonard is a sociologist, Beatles expert, historian of the nineteen-sixties, and author of the highly acclaimed Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World. She conducted the first sociocultural analysis of the Beatles phenomenon and has been a Beatles fan all her life. She has dedicated her professional career to studying the Beatles profound impact on the Baby Boomer generation.
Dr. Leonard was introduced by David Gallant who for the last decade has taught a Seminar for Freshmen course at Suffolk entitled “The Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere.” Professor Gallant has presented, along with Dr. Leonard, at Beatles events over the last several years, including the West End Museum’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance in Boston and Harrifest, the annual celebration of the life and music of George Harrison. An eclectic mix of approximately 40 students, faculty, and staff members comprised the audience.
Dr. Leonard began her presentation by describing who the Beatles were. The band was not just a catalyst for cultural change in a time of tumultuous politics and war, but also an object of a non-stop cultural obsession. In the 6 years that the Beatles were together, they released 45 songs, made millions of dollars from merchandise and record sales, but also changed the way an entire generation looked at gender roles, drugs, war, civil rights and civil liberties.
Beatles songs were repetitious, mesmerizing and easy to get lost in the lyrics of. The Beatles, as Dr. Leonard explains, really started the “Pop Music Renaissance” of the sixties. The Beatles, without them knowing it, became a mass movement dedicated to free speech, treating one another with respect, and breaking down societal stereotypes. Sure, parents of that time period were hesitant, even threatened, by the kinds of ideas the Beatles were exposing their children to. However, no one could have possibly imagined that one band, against the backdrop of the Cold War, Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, would have been so culturally significant that it would influence an entire generation – for the better.
John Burke, student reporter, class of 2018
On October 6, 2016, Professor Ryan C. Maness of Northeastern University visited the “Global (In)Security” seminar taught by Professor Roberto Dominguez. The seminar included a presentation, as well as a question and answer panel at the end. Professor Maness presented the results of his research based on his book “Cyber War versus Cyber Realities: Cyber Conflict in the International System,” (Brandon Valeriano and Ryan C. Maness, Oxford University Press, 2015) as well as quantitative data from his most recent research.
During the seminar, we discussed the efficacy of cyber coercion in international politics. Cyber coercion is a revolutionary dimension of modern-day conflict. Cyber conflict, Professor Maness states, is the battle over information. Cyber coercion is used primarily between rival state-actors and is defined as the power to use cyber technology to bend the will of your opponent to your advantage. Cyber coercion is another form of cyber conflict used alongside other strategies such as manipulation (espionage), denial (compel/deter) and punishment (disruption). Cyber technology has no real stake in traditional warfare yet, so long as a cyber kinetic weapon remains in science fiction.
Professor Maness’ studies reveal that espionage and disruption are the most effective forms of cyber conflict, not coercion. He hypothesizes that cyber coercion may be efficient if used as an auxiliary within state interactions like diplomacy, sanctions or military threats. His latest research seeks to test this thesis. To conclude, Professor Maness reminded us that we are only in the beginnings of the era of cyber power – and states must consider caution in operations of cyber strategy.
submitted by John Burke, student reporter, class of 2018
“I felt like being silent and stoic wasn’t the best approach. My conviction that it might help other people in some way was something I leaned on.”
Those were some of Zoe Zolbrod’s opening words last Wednesday afternoon as she shared her experience writing her memoir, The Telling, with Professor Amy Monticello and her students in the seminar “In the First-Person: Storytelling in the 21st Century.”
Zolbrod, an acclaimed novelist, is at the frontline publicly, speaking about topics like child sexual abuse and trauma. The Telling, which came out this past May, recalls her long-kept, devastating and disturbing secret: she was repeatedly molested by her teenaged cousin between the ages of four and five.
In the casual discussion setting hosted by Monticello, Zolbrod answered student questions and discussed the complexities of sexual abuse, shame, and the power of storytelling.
“I came to believe these topics weren’t right for everyone to talk about or disclose, but I felt like I was contributing to hopefully mitigating and dispelling some of the myths,” said Zolbrod. “Educating ourselves about child sexual abuse could prevent some of it and alleviate some of the effects when it does happen, and for me, I was able to do this through writing.”
Professor Monticello’s storytelling seminar considers the forms, venues, and impacts of narrative nonfiction in contemporary culture, and how individual lives are shaped by different types of archiving, including heavy subjects like child sexual abuse and trauma.
Zolbrod spoke of how her decision to write something so personal helped to conquer her anxiety.
“I really tried to bring in the current day analysis and my thinking of now, and acknowledging things I may have not remembered. That became my device in writing this book. This book isn’t written as a novel. It’s not trying to present a chronologically clean narrative, and it’s not trying to assert a reality,” said Zolbrod.
Monticello explained to the students how instead, the memoir closely painted an extended analysis of life experience. She alluded to a scene in the book, where Zolbrod recalls finally disclosing the dark secret to her parents.
“That was one of the most powerful scenes,” said Monticello. “We’ve talked about the role of speculation in non-fiction, because so much of our mental activity is shifting between what happened, what we wish had happened, and what we wonder could have happened, or didn’t happen, and that has a place in non-fiction when we’re explicit about it.”
In other words, in fiction, a narrative is being told, and narratives move scenically. But in non-fiction, writers are able to overlay their understanding of what a narrative means, so the ways in which that is created becomes a discovery for both the writer and the reader.
Zolbrod answered questions of how examining the experience at different stages in her life helped to shape her understanding of the situation.
“In [regards] to how puberty affected my mental health and my understanding of the situation, it’s still so hard to untangle to this day,” said Zolbrod. “I can make stories up; that’s how we understand our lives, not that the stories aren’t true, but we frame things in such a way to say this and this is why this and this happened. I talked in the first chapter about how those years were hard for me and I hadn’t fully grasped what had happened to me until later on in adolescence.”
Zolbrod continued the discussion by dispelling a myth of child sexual abuse. “In my research, I found the rates of men and boys who are sexually abused to be much higher than expected. A lot of the discussion tends to be so gender-based, which is important but it masks something else that is going on, which is sexual violence can happen to anyone.”
According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), as of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual abuse. That means 1 in 20 males are victims of child sexual abuse.
Studies have also shown that males are less likely to report their sexual abuse, largely because of the emphasis on the role that males ‘should’ have, but part of Zolbrod’s mission is to dispel the social taboos that prevent abuse survivors from telling their stories.
Zolbrod stated, “My mission for this book was to provide helpful information, as well as my own individual story. My kids, including my son, know what the book is about, and I told them in a very matter-of-fact way that wasn’t so gloomy. If it were to happen to them, I would want them to tell me, and if they could see me being matter-of-fact and calm about it, it might make them less likely to freak about it and feel shamed.”
The conversation closed with a student asking Zolbrod if she had certain techniques that she used to help her remember everything she wanted to write down.
“I did a lot of solo traveling in my early 20s, in a completely different era, and I would be wandering around by myself in the dark in strange towns,” Zolbrod responded. “A lot of times, I’d be playing my life like a movie and I really think that helped. It was like, ‘I’m going to go watch a video, now.’ I retold my whole life to myself. Just lying in mosquito nets in some guesthouse in Thailand or something. And I attribute that to having really helped my memory.”
Monticello added to Zolbrod’s thought by comparing the act to picture taking.
“You can fill in the narrative gaps of that highlight reel that most wouldn’t guess what was going on…if you can look at pictures and ask yourself what else was going on then, you may be able to access some memories you didn’t even know you had,” said Monticello.
Picture taking has often been used to document and highlight positive experiences, but almost always, when looking at certain pictures in an individual’s life, they are able to see and remember other things that were going on, and not only the part visible in the picture.
As for the freshmen involved in Monticello’s storytelling seminar, they have only begun to explore the construction of storytelling, and the ways in which their lives are being chronicled by the narrations they create everyday.
A report by Connie Ruby Lai, student reporter, class of 2017
On September 22, 2016 Professor Robert Allison led Honors Seminar “Enlightened Insanity” taught by Professor Barbara Abrams on a Boston walk-about. We discussed the impact of the French Enlightenment on the leaders of the American Revolution, and the influence of U.S. Colonial thinkers of 18th Century on the French in a time of great turmoil change for both countries.
We visited the Granary Burial Ground and the graves of Peter Faneuil and Paul Revere. Then we saw the Birth Place of Benjamin Franklin and moved on to the Latin Grammar School on School Street where we discussed the friendship of Voltaire and Franklin.
Next on to the best part of the visit… the monument to St. Sauveur and King’s Chapel, where we heard the story of the best friend of Louis XVI who was killed in a mob riot in Boston Harbor. We had a wonderful time!
Thank you, Professor Allison!
submitted by Professor Barbara Abrams, 9/2016