Campus of the Big Ideas
launch of The Chicago Initiative-the University's five-year, $2
billion fund-raising effort-was marked by an April 12 event that
focused on Chicago's intellectual initiatives.
does it mean to be an artist at a university primarily dedicated
to research? How does art contribute to the life of the mind?
panel moderator Bill Brown, master of the Humanities Collegiate
Division and the George M. Pullman professor in English, the "Chicago
caricature" would suggest that mind and senses are entirely
separate. In fact, Brown pointed out, as early as 1934 John Dewey
argued in Art and Experience that we cannot think of art
as distinct from thinking or science as separate from art.
Allen, associate professor in classical languages & literature
and the Committee on Social Thought, demonstrated perhaps most
clearly the falseness of the Cartesian distinction. A scholar
of democracy and political theory, Allen is also the organizer
of "Poem Present," a contemporary poetry series at the
U of C, and a published poet.
the days after 9/11, Allen said, U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins
was asked what poetry could do for the nation-and his answer was
"nothing." "I could not disagree with him more,"
Allen said, reading from W. H. Auden's war poem "September
did Auden's poem circulate so widely after 9/11?" she asked.
"It spoke to our emotions at a time when we needed solace
and resolution." Poetry has another, equally practical purpose,
she said: "Poetry teaches me how to look at politics,"
because "it puts pressure on words." After the attacks,
Allen, like the rest of the nation, was "glued to the television,"
waiting to hear what President Bush and other world leaders would
say. "Words mattered," she said. "Based on words,
the shape of events would change."
panelists spoke of the equally artificial division between creating
art and studying it. At many conservatories, history and analysis
are considered a waste of time, said Philip Gossett, the Robert
W. Reneker distinguished service professor in music; the attitude
is "you should be practicing." Similarly, many universities
have "built barriers to performance. Professors actually
frown on practicing music." Chicago is different: the music
department sponsors student ensembles from gamelan to Middle Eastern
music, as well as two professional groups in residence. "To
write about art," agreed photographer Laura Letinsky, associate
professor in the Committee on Visual Arts, "it's important
to try to make it."
Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin professor in music and a Pulitzer
Prize-winning composer, the lure of on-campus performance groups
proved irresistible when she was asked to join the faculty 30
years ago. "A painter or sculptor can see the work evolving,"
she said, "while a composer sees dots on paper." Performance
groups can fulfill "a composer's dream-hearing one's own
with colleagues in other departments, Ran said, are just as valuable.
Struggling with the writing of her opera, Between Two Worlds
(The Dybbuk), she talked with Michael Fishbane, the
Nathan Cummings professor in the Divinity School and the Center
for Middle Eastern Studies, about a style of ecstatic Hassidic
prayer. His insights, she said, provided "fuel to what was
churning inside me. I'm so grateful to be part of a university
community where we have such fruitful conversations."
the beginning: what do our origins tell us about ourselves?
Homo sapiens: are
we really rational creatures?
physical and biological sciences: what lies ahead?
services, or laws: how do we improve lives?
Clones, genes, and
stem cells: can we find the path to the greatest good?
How will technology change
the way we work and live?
Why do we dig up
Art for art's sake?
In the realm of
the senses: how do we understand what we see, hear, feel, smell,
Can we protect
civil liberties in wartime?