ACLA Call for Papers: (under-)Graduate seminar on “Stories that Do: Narrative Arts and the Wider World”

As in previous years, the ACLA 2017 will host a seminar for BA and MA students. Looking at current changes in the political climate and in what is acceptable political discourse in Europe and America, this year’s (under)graduate seminar will examine the role of literature, media, and the narrative arts as agents in society, whether for change or stability.    The role of the arts as a mobilizer in society is in no way an unexplored arena. Edward Bulwer-Lytton first coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than sword” in 1839, and Thomas Hardy reflected on the way reading fosters critical literacy for social life when he suggested that in reading fiction “our true object is a lesson in life, mental enlargement from elements essential to the narratives themselves and from the reflection they engender.” Unsurprisingly, art’s capacity to engender this critical reflection of society has intermittently resulted in book bans and burnings.    In recent times this potential, its limits, and its actualization have come under close scrutiny. James Baldwin caused a stir in 1949 when he published his essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” characterizing protest fiction as a “rejection of life” and dismissing its paragon Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) as self-righteous and dishonest. Baldwin has continued to loom large in reflections on narrative arts’ activating potential, acting recently as an interlocutor to Robert McParland when he discussed Django Unchained, and as an avowed inspiration for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of the most celebrated artists today to engage in both writing and activism. Sixty years after Baldwin’s famous essay, with the veil pulled from the capitalist machinery underlying cultural production and with renewed appreciation for the role stories can play in deciding communal values, what can be said about the narrative arts and the wider world?

We warmly invite (R)MA students and senior BA students of the humanities to send in their 300-word proposals and short bio to acla-studentseminar@uu.nl before January 31st.

Some suggested themes:

 
– Literature, transmedia storytelling and pedagogy

– Cultural production and the nexus between individual and society

– Storytelling for personal and collective empowerment

– Impact

– Capitalism, cultural production and criticism

– Literature, film, critical thinking and politics 

– Authority and moral agency 

– Rereading, revisiting and remediation stories nestled in the collective imagination

– Social novels and the stylistics of social commentary

– Changing media, new publics and changing storytelling

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“Make a parachute, you philosophy majors, and survive the landing”

Why Study Humanities?

parachute smaller

Chelsea King │ akingjay1@gmail.com

This article has had many incarnations. I think I have written at least ten different versions: some leading to nihilism, others to (unrealistic) optimism. Hopefully, this one will be somewhat in the middle. Let’s begin with a story:

“In a new building, we philosophers were now going to see the light…”

In my ‘senior’ year of undergrad (which was actually my 6th year of college: one might have seen that us Humanities majors do not always take the most direct routes to things), my university received a grant from some very wonderful people for a new, glorious Humanities building. The Philosophy Department for many years lived a very shadowy existence, crammed up a small stairwell, in a small hallway of an old building. We Philosophers were now going to see the ‘light’. And so the ‘hobbit’ area got turned over to the unfortunate souls of Economic majors who had been kicked out of their place because the Engineering Department was expanding (I know it doesn’t make sense but I think they just drew the shortest straw).

 “Who are you?”

 “The Philosophy Department”

“Um… Oh yeah, come back in two months…”

The project was completed two months ahead of time. The whole Philosophy Department moved out, boxes in hand, gazing at what would be our new home. The construction workers came out wiping the dust from their hands to greet the crew of pale, disheveled, tweed jacket folks known as Philosophy professors. “Who are you?” one of the workers asks. “The Philosophy Department” was the reply. “Um… Oh yeah, come back in two months”. The Humanities building had forgotten Philosophy (sure, it wasn’t the building’s fault but it is best we place blame there since I don’t want to get in trouble with my university).

Just in the nick of time, with wet paint still on some of the walls, the Philosophy Department had a new home on the top floor. Of course we would never say we are the highest of the Humanities or anything like that, or that we have the best view of things… We would never say that.

“With wet paint still on some of the walls,

the Philosophy Department had a new home on the top floor…”

In previous versions of this article I wanted to make just that analogy. We Humanities majors ‘get’ it: how studying Philosophy is awesome and you become wise (it is the study of wisdom and all). In the end, it all works out. But once I walked down from my ‘ivory’ tower, reality hit. It was more like I was pushed from that fourth floor and I landed hard. Philosophers don’t really ‘fit’ into society anymore. And graduating in the middle of America’s recession and loaded with student loans did not help. (Just for clarification: while studying Philosophy, I also studied Sociology and Criminology to possibly soften my landing, and because I believe the fields are related. Then again, I also believe Philosophy is related to every subject matter.)

“Once I walked down from my ‘ivory’ tower, reality hit.

I was pushed from that fourth floor and I landed hard…”

Call it aversion, call it love for my field, call it just plain craziness, I went on to get my Masters in Euroculture. So, to the question at hand: what are the real benefits of studying Humanities, and say Philosophy specifically. This leads to another similar question: what do you do with a Humanities degree? Yeah… Um. Things are not looking good in this article. But I am going to keep going, hopefully we’ll swerve just before hitting nihilism. The purpose and benefits of studying Philosophy, as mentioned, are gaining wisdom, such as understanding the mind, and what is real. Additionally, learning about knowledge (and its limits), logic and reason. Basically, it is the study of the quintessence of being human. Now, the ‘practicality’ is another matter.

“I will be honest…”

I’ll be honest: I do not have a ‘career’; I have two part-time minimum-wage jobs (starting to nose-dive, Abort! Abort!). I was given tools from studying, such as problem-solving, asking questions, thinking outside the box, virtues, morals, logic, the power of aesthetics etc. But I have not used these tools to their full-effect (yet). More on this later.

Philosophy is a grand subject and personally, I believe Humanities would not exist without it. As I said, all subjects connect back to Philosophy one way or another. In an ideal world everyone would have to take a Philosophy class and the world would be a better place.

“In an ideal world everyone would have to take a Philosophy class…”

But the world is not ideal. Philosophy, as with almost all the Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, has a hard time outside of academia. Previous contributors to this column did a nice job in describing the essences of being a Humanities major: being a ‘finicky bunch’, being a ‘generalist’ and understanding ‘different perspectives,’ for example. We are somewhat a lost people: we huddle around, dissecting and creating great ideas and hoping for a better future. But in the meantime we are cold, often poor, and hungry in our bellies and our souls.

Well crap, we nosedived again. I am not going to say one should not take the Humanities, I fully believe in everything the previous contributors said. Society, although not appreciative, needs us. But in a way we also need society (unless the solitary life really appeals to you) and while the constructs of society might be changing, and it might very well be because of us, change is sometimes slow. Sure, there might be great stories told of us later on, but some of us, like myself, would like to lead/have the great story now while I am still alive. The benefits are abstract and we don’t fit (yet). Reality hurts and it hurts bad.

“Society needs us and we also need society”

“Be a part of it, even if it might hurt…

Make a parachute and survive the landing”

If you are going to get pushed out of academia (or perhaps stay and never face ‘reality’), what I can suggest is to make a parachute, something I did not do. We are great minds and we need to be in society so therefore we have to make ourselves fit, which means you need to survive the landing. Borislava Miteva’s comments on this column about concentrating your studies are helpful, but I believe being too specific is just as much of an issue as being too general; you will have to figure out this tight-rope balancing act. Miteva’s other point is on target: you need to be able to show how what you learned is applicable to the job you are applying for. Basically, have a game plan, an idea of what exactly you want to do with your degree (this should be done before you graduate, parachutes work best when they are put on before you jump). Nothing is set in stone, you can have drafts, you can change your mind, but you have to have something ‘on your back’ when you leave academia. Do internships, network(!), and work. Yes, I am going to say it:  almost any job is better than no job. In the end, don’t just talk about society: be a part of it — even if it might hurt. We are Humanities majors after all: strong, daring and resilient. We can take it.

If you want to read previous articles from Why Study Humanities Series, also read

1. The Beast of the field   2. Why Study Humanities? Confessions of a Humanities major

Chelsea King, Copy Editor
chelseaChelsea was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah, with degrees in Philosophy, Sociology and Criminology. After spending a year abroad at Södertörns Högskola, Stockholm, Sweden and University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, knew she had to come back to Europe. She is recent graduate from the Euroculture Program from The University of Göttingen and University of Groningen. She likes traveling, meeting new people and has many pensive moments.

Editorial: Way back home

way back home editorial

The 3rd Edition of The Euroculturer

March – May 2013

Helen was right when she said that it was about time to ask Euroculturers the question: Where is home? Is it possible to feel at home in the city that you will live for only a few months? It sounds difficult to answer until Liga says: Home is where love exists, and you can make anywhere home as long as love follows wherever you go. Sounds like a simple answer except it’s difficult to find… No? What Edith suggests sounds a bit easier: My kitchen is your kitchen! Home is where the kitchen is. Yes, definitely! Mi cocina es tu cocina también! Speaking about kitchens, Maaike wants to tell you about German au pairs who are making pancakes in the kitchen for their Spanish host kids. Don’t say buenas noches, say gute nacht so that the kids can learn German. A Greek girl, Penelope, is also learning German, and very intensively. But she says: Not tonight, because I have to go out with my friends! Yes, she says that the future and even the MA thesis can wait, especially tonight. Paul seems upset by the unfair reception of the EU in the UK, making his point by introducing the English city of Nottingham. If you have only one minute to live, what would you think? Rashid seems to know the answer.

The third edition of The Euroculturer starts with the theme of Home and will continue with a special feature on Asia, and other themes such as Trend, Future, Humanities, and the IP 2013. Don’t miss the chance to read our wonderful articles one by one every few days and have lots of Euroculture fun. Shall we begin?

Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief