On Thursday, March 27, at 5:00 pm, acclaimed science fiction writer Ted Chiang will be coming to Clark University. Chiang, a graduate of Brown University and the writer of celebrated works like Stories of Your Life and Others, will present his paper “Technology, Memory, and the Narrative of the Self” in Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons as part of the Higgins School of Humanities’ Future of Everything series.
The presentation will
concern our growing reliance on technology, and particularly video recording,
which Chiang posits may significantly alter the previously constant use and undisputed
importance of human memory. Chiang’s contribution to the Future of Everything series, sponsored by the Science Fiction
Research Collaborative (an organization committed to collaborations between
faculty and students in interdisciplinary study of science fiction literature
and film), is bound to be an incisive look at increasingly alarming social
implications of the role technology plays in our lives.
If you are interested
in science fiction, computer science, or simply thought-provoking discussion on
current events, be sure not to miss Ted Chiang’s talk!
UPDATE: Check out this interview Professor Betsy Huang conducted with Ted Chiang just last year to learn more about him: http://aalrmag.org/specfictioninterviewchiang/
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Clark University: a campus where students love to sit out on the green to do homework, throw a Frisbee around and occasionally take selfies’ with Sigmund Freud in Red Square during the warm Spring/Summer months. The winter storms in the Worcester area unfortunately hinder the outdoor activities of Clark students, but leave a breathtaking gingerbread house-like icing of snow on the buildings around campus. Clark University’s Anderson House, home of the English Department, looks as if a perfect snowfall had landed softly on its’ roof. Although the snow makes travelling around campus a frigid and snow blown experience, the Worcester winter is a natural wonder that most see as a scenic time to say the least. Currently for cumulative 2013-2014 snowfall, Worcester Massachusetts is ranked as the 9th snowiest city in the US by the Golden Snow Globe National Snow Contest Committee. As this relentless winter drags on into the month of February, residents of Clark University sit back and watch the icicles form until the warm weather of spring begins to appear.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
So tomorrow marks the third week anniversary of my arrival in Cape Town, South Africa. So far I've met amazing people, seen unforgettable landscapes, and begun to catch a glimpse of the Capetownian lifestyle. Now that I'm starting to settle in, I've begun the overstimulating task of processing all these new experiences. Visiting a local township last week was one activity in particular that's required a lot of retrospection. The ethics of a shanty town tour were a big concern for me at first; the idea of a group of Americans walking through a neighborhood with cameras and objectifying gazes was discomforting, to say the least. My hesitations were met head-on by our enthusiastic guide and township local, Mike Zuma. With a conscious effort to avoid these issues, he provided us with introductions to residents and candid explanations of culture that allowed us to engage rather than observe. The visit challenged the common perception of most outsiders of the population as stereotypical "starving Africans." That story definitely exists, but it's not everyone's. As one resident put it, "I may live in a shack, but I have a satellite dish and an awesome car. We are not poor because we don't have enough; we're poor because we still want more." While different in many ways, I couldn't help but draw connections to a trip I made last year to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Having had sufficient time to process that experience, here's my take on the perception of slum-life there.
I’d never had so much fun going through airport security. It was an odd form of pride handing over my passport to the bored TSA employee and watching the smile form as they inspected my boarding pass. Yes, it was two days before New Year’s Eve, and yes, in a few hours I would be away from the slushy DC weather and in the arms of the famously beautiful Rio de Janeiro. While I nodded, said thank you, and reattached by belt and shoes, I neglected to shatter their image of a fabulous hotel vacation on Copacabana Beach by mentioning that my precise destination was somewhere in the heart of Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.
For those of you who haven’t seen City of God, a favela is the Brazilian version of a slum or shanty town: countless little cement boxes literally stacked on top of each other and reaching up into the mountainy region between São Conrado and Gávea. As I would later discover, a twenty-something white American choosing to vacation in Rocinha (pronounced ho-seen-ya) was perplexing and met with near disbelief to the city-dwelling natives. Even I only had a vague idea of what I was signing up for, but my mind was set on two things: catch up with an old friend who had moved to Rio, and experience firsthand a city famous for having one of the most sharply defined divides between the rich and the poor.
As distasteful as the common perception of slum-life seems to be, the quality of life in Rocinha and the surrounding favelas was surprising--and not just because they had the bare necessities of what is considered to be a modern lifestyle. Safety was ensured by the machine gun-armed police force stationed throughout the streets, every small business from haircuts to internet cafes could be found within the neighborhood, and, while the water delivery might be a day late, at least you could unfailingly find and access a Wi-Fi network. The surprising part was not that these amenities existed, but that some of those in the favelas were better than those in the city. Having divided my time between Rocinha and the mostly upper-class neighborhood of Botafogo, here is an overview of some of the most surprising differences.
Safety: As I mentioned before, the police in Rio are heavily armed. The difference is that in Rocinha the police make sure you know that they’re heavily armed. Within the last few years, the drug lords who governed the favela were pacified by the police who are now stationed sporadically throughout the streets with automatic weapons in plain view. This was shock at first as I had never seen a loaded gun in real life, but the trepidation passed within a day and I actually felt safer out in public than in my current residence of Worcester, Massachusetts. My friend, who had at this point lived in the city for a couple years, put it like this: anyone living in the favela who would potentially rob you was out robbing tourists outside of overpriced restaurants, not harassing their neighbors. While the pacification of Rocinha was beneficial for personal security, it did come with a few drawbacks:
Amenities and Utilities: Rocinha offered all the amenities of modern living you could hope for, but in previous years is was governed by drug lords. Recently the police pacified the favela by overthrowing the drug lords, creating both safety and a lack of supervision in the utilities department. The electricity that’s “included” in your rent is really wired into the favela through legally questionable methods, so while they’re willing to turn a blind eye, it’s unlikely that the government is going to repair your connection when it breaks. Some other issues come from negligence: the police threw out the people in charge of making sure the water was delivered to the roof tanks every week, so now there’s significantly less attention paid to the slum-dwellers and there was a two day period where we were waterless. Staying hydrated was easily solved by buying jugs of water down the road, but not being able to shower after climbing the enormous hill in 100 degree weather was a far greater price to pay. While the transition to a pacified neighborhood is still in progress, one thing the Brazilian government paid extra attention to was transportation.
Transportation: Getting around in the favelas can be difficult because of the haphazard development of houses. Rocinha is built on a hill, so its streets are winding and steep. Our apartment wasn’t even accessible by road for a large portion of the way and we had to find our way home through mazes of back alleys and slanted staircases. Two forms of transport were essential to getting anywhere in the favela. At the bottom of the hill, what appears to be a motorcycle gang is actually a group of moto-taxi drivers that are authorized to take you anywhere in Rocinha for R$2.50 (although the real fun can be had by paying a little extra to have them remove their IDs and take you outside the neighborhood—nothing is faster and more badass than showing up at the club or beach on the back of an illegally hired motorcycle). The other method is a series of vans that have specific routes throughout the entire city—R$5.00 (about $2.50) will let you stop at any point on the ride. While these vans are now officially recognized by the city government, they’re still considered a non-option by the middle and upper classes because of the stigma associated with the favelas. One of the most awe-inspiring forms of favela transportation is the billion-dollar sky tram looming over the vast Complexo do Alemao, which solves the issue of streets-too-narrow-for-cars by carrying you over the neighborhoods for the unbeatable price of R$1.00 (As a point of comparison, the tram leading to Pão de Açúcar was R$53.00)
Experiencing the city of Rio from two opposite points of view was an unforgettably fortunate way to glimpse a new culture. If you feel comfortable, going to a favela can offer a rich experience that is largely free of the influence of the tourist industry (although ethically questionable tours have already begun to grow in popularity); nothing beats a favela funk, the transportation can get you where you want to go faster than physics should allow, and climbing up the mountain side to get back to your apartment will undoubtedly give you killer calves. My favela flat had an ocean view and was in walking distance from the beach--all for a rent that was maybe 5% of an apartment in Botafogfo. And before you criticize the trash on the streets and stray dogs in the alley, remember that anywhere you go in Rio is sure to smell like garbage.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
In my second post “Featuring” post, I turn to my other English course in my schedule, ENG 253/353 Advanced Shakespeare, taught this semester by Professor Vaughan. Like almost all of the English Department Seminars, Advanced Shakespeare is both an undergraduate- and graduate-level course, my classmates being mostly English majors and English M. A. students.
Last year, I began my Shakespeare journey by taking Intro to Shakespeare last spring semester. I took the course mostly because of Professor Vaughan’s reputation for being a highly-regarded Shakespeare expert and knowing she was retiring after that semester. The course was amazing, our TA Stephanie Grace was fantastic both directing student performances and taking on an entire play’s worth of teaching, and the students were really engaged with the material considering it was an introductory course.
I knew I wanted my last English Department seminar (I am a second semester senior) to be Advanced Shakespeare, and when I heard Professor Vaughan was being kind enough to come back for one more section of it, I was thrilled. The class is full of some of Intro alums, graduate students, and some undergrads who are interested in the topic. The class, while very different from Intro in structure (taking on a more student led discussion set up, working through a greater number of texts, and incorporating more literary criticism) has a great energy with everyone engaged with the text and willing to voice their opinions and consider the thoughts of others. I’ve enjoyed every minute so far—and that is saying something, because currently we are entrenched in Shakespeare’s histories, my least favorite category of Shakespeare’s works.
|The huge "Brick o' Shakespeare", better known as The Norton Anthology of Shakespeare|
This week I am presenting on both Richard II and 1Henry IV. These histories are the first two in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. My research question is regarding the continuity between the two works as they share three characters. Henry Bolingbroke who becomes King Henry IV is, in my opinion, the most interesting character to see transform. While I will not get into the details of my presentation here, I will say this: the second tetralogy appears to begin a meditation on the relationship between king and subject, more precisely reflecting on how one is to be a good ruler and how one can create stability when rule is interrupted. I am looking forward to what my classmates have to say on the topic.
Monday, February 10, 2014
This week I embark on a project I hope will prove to be a success. My hope is to feature some of the exciting and unique course offerings that are provided within the English Department, so as to show prospective students what they could do in their coursework and to celebrate what current English majors and minors and students outside of the department achieve in their English courses.
|Professor Giaimo and students from ENG 165|
American Ethnic Writers is one of the Department’s survey courses, which fulfills one of the Historical Survey requirements within the major. The class is intended to overview some of the many contributions that ethnic writers have made to contemporary American literature. The reading list this year includes Drown by Junot Diaz, Soldier by June Jordan, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and Who’s Irish by Gish Jen, among many more texts.
Although the class may count towards the major and the reading load is intense, this semester’s class is full of a wide variety of students across a variety of disciplines, which speaks to the importance of the subject matter. As the professor of the course, Professor Genie Giaimo, said, Ethnic American Writers is a class about searching for origins. In this way, the stories of Ethnic Americans can connect us all, across discipline, across race, across culture, for aren’t we all in some way looking to understand why we are here and how we fit in to a larger narrative? Yet we cannot forget that Ethnic American authors also are writing about a controversial and fraught subject. Already the class has read articles on the immigration bans of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Eugenics movements of the early 1900s, and the recent controversial ethnic studies ban in Arizona. The fear of foreign influence still infects our political and national discourse.
This past week the class discussed short stories from Drown by Junot Diaz. As the class broke out into sections, Professor Giaimo circulated among the groups and contributed to their discussions. My group focused upon “How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie.” Together with TA Ayesha Sindhu, we analyzed the short story, performing a close textual analysis in order to develop a short thesis regarding the story. Each student brought a different interpretation to the discussion; we were all fascinated by different aspects of the text. And the interests and topics that came out of group discussion grew exponentially when the class came back together. I am not sure if we will ever be able to complete the course work intended for one class session in English 165, but I think that speaks to the importance of American Ethnic Writers, and the richness of their texts, which are more than a site of academic interest; their work is significant to our everyday lives.
Friday, February 7, 2014
In my three and a half years here at Clark, not once had I ever been to the Kneller Athletic Center. That is…up until 3 weeks ago, I’d never been. Now, I find myself going regularly, and even wishing that I’d gone in previous years.
About three weeks ago, I decided to take up the Couch to 5K Challenge. It really was a fluke decision. A sort of halfhearted attempt at a New Year’s resolution. In the summer, I love to go hiking as I live pretty close to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. So I’m not totally inactive. But during the winter season and while I’m away at college, I’m pretty inactive overall.
The first time I went, I was pretty nervous actually. I’d never been to a gym before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was feeling pretty self-conscious. Although given how warm of an atmosphere the Clark Community is in general, I’m not sure why I was so hesitant. Because, just like the rest of this welcoming campus, the gym was no different.
Everyone at the gym was very friendly and welcoming. Even the people at the front desk when you check in! The machines inside are all wonderful and varied. There are so many options. They have tv’s up with CNN and ESPN on. All of the machines have an option for you to plug your headphones into them so you can listen to the programs. There are plenty of people who sit on the cycle machines and read at the same time. Lots of people listening to music. Everyone is so focused on their own workouts that it really leaves you the space to try out new machines for the first time and get comfortable with the environment without feeling judged.
For now though, I’ve got my eyes on the treadmills!
What I like about the Couch to 5K Challenge is how flexible it is to my schedule. Each session only takes about half an hour to complete, three times a week. So it’s not impossible to find the time to still go, despite my busy schedule. You get to determine your own speed while jogging/walking as well. The average recommended speed is running at 6mph and walking at 3mph. But the program is not so much concerned with speed as it is on increasing the time and distance you spend running. Therefore you can readily set your own pace. Go slow if you need to, and steadily increase when you feel you can. There’s a lot of freedom and fluidity to the program, as you are the one to set your pace and choose when you go.
Although, with all of the freedom and liberty that’s granted to run at your own pace, you really have to be sure to commit yourself to doing the workouts as best you can. Sometimes I find myself missing the days of having a coach to yell at me. “Come on Cyr, you can do better than that! Take an extra lap!” Self-policing is key.
One time, I did manage to sort of psych myself out and convince myself to quit the workout. I left feeling pretty discouraged. But decided to go back again the next day and ended up surpassing my running goals. Guess it really is true what they say about you being your own worst enemy! So along with finding the time and energy to go to the gym every week, motivation and inspiration can be just as important!
On that note, being the English Major that I am, I like to motivate myself while I'm running by imagining different scenarios as to why I’m running. My favorites so far have been picturing that I’m certain characters from different books. So maybe I’m Octavia Butler’s Lilith, running away from aliens in a post-apocalypse society. Or maybe I’m Hermione Granger, running after Scabbers in the dark and dodging the Whomping Willow. Oh the possibilities.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Being an English major, I have often found myself having to justify my choice in major (as detailed in one of my prior blog posts which you can find here, http://clarkenglishblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-english.html). I have become used to the lectures about why my choice was a poor choice if I want to see a significant return on my investment. I have politely chuckled at the jokes of which I and my fellow humanities majors are the butts.
But no longer—well, probably yes, longer. In any case, people should perhaps think twice about teasing liberal arts majors. This week the higher education community was abuzz with a recent study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities which shows that over the course of a career humanities and social science majors make more than those who obtained professional and pre-professional degrees. (To read one of the articles for yourself, see http://chronicle.com/article/How-Liberal-Arts-Majors-Fare/144133/ or http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/22/see-how-liberal-arts-grads-really-fare-report-examines-long-term-data.) While professional degrees may serve graduates well in the first few years after college, the findings show that as humanities and social science majors get older, their average earnings surpass the earnings of their professional and pre-professional counterparts.
What does this really mean though? It means I am vindicated! Just kidding…sort of. What it seems to indicate is that humanities and social science majors are getting advanced degrees as they get older. Forty percent of the older liberal arts graduates had some form of advanced degree on top of their bachelors. By getting their masters or doctorate, the liberal arts majors are ultimately gaining the earnings edge over the other majors within the study. In other words, liberal arts majors may lose the battle, but they are winning the war.
There are three important points that I take away from this news. The first is that my degree is not terminal; I will be coming back to academia for another degree. It is something I came to accept long ago. So while I do not want to get my masters next year, I know I will want to get it eventually, and maybe even after that I will want a Ph.D. For some people that may be a deterrent from selecting a degree in the liberal arts, but I do want to make the point that this is probably also true for many other majors and many other professions. We are all going to have to consider that perhaps the coming trend in education and in the job market is that graduate degrees are expected. Maybe no undergraduate degree will be able to be a final degree. My second take-away is that the money you earn just out of college—and even beyond that—is not everything. I study English because I like it, because I am good at it, because I know I can do good things with it, and because it matters. I may not earn more than an engineer, but I know I will be happy in what I do, whatever that will be. My final point is that the humanities majors and social science majors of the world no longer need to stand quietly while people give those lectures and make those jokes, feeling awkward and without defense. I know the next time my father brings up how I should have been a business major that I will be bringing up this article. So take that, doubters! I am an English major, and I will do just fine.