Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ten years ago...

i heard on the radio yesterday that it was ten years ago that the columbine tragedy (i was gonna link to it on wiki, but i can't really bring myself to do so) happened. i have a clear memory of standing in a little studio apt. on the north side of chicago, watching oprah talk about it with tears in her eyes. just as it did then, it feels remote from me now. i can't even relate. it's incomprehensible to me and so far from anything i can imagine. i feel for those people, but i cannot even wrap my head around it.

but what it does make me remember is that ten years ago, i was teaching a course in 20th century russian culture at the U of C. i made the mistake of proposing the course together with a fellow graduate student who was taking his exams that quarter. it was a mistake in the sense that taking your Ph.D. exams at the U of C brings you to the brink of a nervous breakdown. and by to the brink, i mean over the brink into a full blown nervous breakdown that you yourself don't notice, but everyone else does. so i ended up teaching alone, which was ok, it just wasn't what i expected.

since i lived in denmark, i also foolishly accepted my fellow graduate student's offer that i could live with him at his place, since it was only 3 months. but living together with someone who has had a nervous breakdown that he doesn't really notice himself is, to describe it lightly, not healthy, so i got my own temporary apartment on campus.

that turned out to be a good thing, because it was in that little bitty apartment, within a block of The Reg, that i learned to make risotto, which is a skill i still enjoy. tho' it took several tries. i had no t.v., which was also wonderful. i also ate a lot of paté on crackers. because that's what i imagined that a graduate student at the U of C should eat. i still haven't decided if that was true or not, but it was decidedly part of my own engagement in bourdieu's cultural capital (attempting to raise mine, undoubtedly).

as for The Reg, i spent so much time there in my study carrel, that i began to glow in the dark. (that's the standard U of C joke, since The Reg was built over the bit where they did the Manhattan Project.) but seriously, being left alone teaching a course (albeit undergraduate) at the U of C, is no small project. luckily, we had modeled it around matei calinescu's five faces of modernity, which meant that we covered modernism, avant-garde, decadence, kitsch (my fave) and postmodernism (my REAL fave, at least at the time), which was an ingenious idea (even if i do say so myself). but my very, very favorite was sneaking in alcoholism, because of its importance in russian culture. vodka is a diminutive of the word for water, which illustrates its importance as a life force in russia and russian culture, because what is language if not the manifestation of culture?

it was both a great time and a stressful time, and i'm sorry that it took columbine to remind me of it, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. i'm grateful for the opportunity to say i taught at the U of C, it's not everybody who has done that. but i did. and so did obama. he's, of course, done a little better than i have, but i'm cool with that.

9 comments:

Delwyn said...

You REALLY are a clever pixie then...

I have recently read wally lamb's latest "The Hour I first believed" which begins with this terrible tragedy and I have to say I found it hard to get through...

kristina said...

ten years. it doesn't seem that long ago.

who's to say that being president of America is better than being Julie? ;-)

Sandra said...

I don't know, you seem to have a great life and Obama is stuck trying to undo the mess of the past 3 decades. You may have come out ahead on this one.

Pattern and Perspective said...

Colombine was very sad. Leaves one wondering if someone could have turned these boys around and saved innocent lives?

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

Very clever indeed. As for Columbine, it certainly brings questions about the nature of evil and personal responsibility, the randomness of tragedy, whether engagement with technology erodes empathy.

Christina said...

Yes my friend, the good with the bad. Indeed. : )

Bill Stankus said...

We must do the normal things - teach classes, eat crackers, fall in love, travel, talk, learn - and all the things that bind us and keep us from chaos.

But ...

Columbine ... Countless lynchings in the South. The murders of civil rights workers - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The murders of Megar Evers and Malcolm X. Kent State. The Texas Tower sniper. The Hell’s Angels at Altamont. Charlie Manson’s bloody work. The Symbionese Liberation Army affair and their brutal ending. The Oklahoma City tragedy. 9/11. The Westroads Mall shooting. The Amish schoolhouse tragedy. The Virginia Tech murders. The Northern Illinois University murders.

Need I go on?

Our modern history is splashed with too much violence and much too much blood.

Char said...

Columbine is tragic...was tragic...yes, we live...but I often wonder why people are so angry. I never understand - throughout history why such violence perserveres.

viridian said...

I understand U of C and nervous breakdowns that you don't notice. I'm an UC PhD 1988, and also did a post-doc in 92-93.
Keep writing!!