Establishing a reputation, either good or
bad, takes some effort. In antiquity, remembering someone unfavorably
depended, in part, on rhetorical strategies. The posthumous reputation of
Agrippina Minor may be the most instructive case. Even long after her
death, hostile authors delighted in reporting her numerous affairs, including
incestuous relationships with her brother Caligula, uncle Claudius, and son
Nero. Agrippina's political acumen and her alleged influence on both her
husband's and her son's policy garnered her the reputation of being devious and
manipulative. In the imperial world of courtly intrigue, power plays, and
back-door politics that historians like Tacitus and Suetonius describe, what
could be a more effective strategy than a posthumous smear campaign?
The mala memoria, as we might term it, of a supposedly bad woman has proven so tenacious as to be practically irreversible and irresistible even in modern times' an enduring constant of Agrippina's reputation (despite several attempts in antiquity to rehabilitate her character). So it is not surprising that she turns up in a less than positive light in today's popular culture. It seems that Agrippina's poor reputation, whether deserved or not, is secure: a constantia memoriae.
A person’s dream of being chased by a dog could be taken in any number of interpretive directions: the dog is the dreamer’s shadow, the dreamer’s fear, the dreamer’s anxiety, or it symbolizes the dreamer’s mother, the dreamer’s father, or the dreamer’s tenure review; it is a monster from the id or some other kind of repression; it could be something Biblical; or it might be transient brain activity referencing real life dogs experienced in the recent waking past; it could be capricious and meaningless; or it might be something to look up in one of the many self-help dream interpretation reference books; it could be a source of good entertainment the next day over morning coffee; or it could be a warning--all these possibilities without even touching the global varieties of non-Western cultural understandings of dreams and dream interpretation (and of dogs). Yet consider this: However audiences handle the dreamed dog (including how professional dream analysts and researchers handle the dreamed dog), and however the dreamer might be willing to let them handle it (including however the dreamer himself handles it), all will agree that it is, or was, a dog first and foremost in the essential dream. What makes it a dog? “Is a puzzlement!”
This short story collection manuscript, The Curtain-Puller's Understudy, explores creativity as both a basic human need and a survival mechanism. The thematically-linked stories focus on artistic expression, while pushing the boundaries of what is culturally accepted as creativity--from a failed jazz musician who can only find work in a saxophone factory, to a burned-out art professor who paints a mural inside a local bar, to a young boy who meets his vagabond uncle living a life invented on the go. Other stories focus on creative outlets such as backwoods storytelling, denial, and coming of age through a banjo lesson; the manuscript comes together to address the myriad ways creativity can be expressed, as well as the disastrous effects of suppressing creative outlets in order to fit in with accepted social norms.
This Shop Talk will include readings of stories in The Curtain- Puller's Understudy and brief talks about the inspiration for the collection and individual pieces. This can lead into an informal discussion about the place of creativity in higher education, in curriculum and research efforts, as well as other areas.
One of the major lacunae in the ethnography of the African diaspora is our lack of information about the existence, character, and function of the West African secret societies that have, or may have, survived in some form in the New World. Like their African sources, the New World variants are said to entail unusual forms of ancestor worship and manifest seemingly impossible phenomena in their rituals that practitioners must believe for the society to persist and function. This relates to broader theoretical questions of how beliefs are induced or reinforced in ritual performances in general.
In my shop talk, I will describe my eventual entry in January of 1977 into an extraordinary and very little-known African-Brazilian secret society called, O Culto aos Babá Eguns (The Cult to the Deceased Fathers), hidden at that time in the forests of an island off the coast of Bahia (NE Brazil). I then recount my observation of a dramatic ritual performance, filled with “otherworldly” theatricality and marked by a spontaneous and frightening event. The ritual and the spontaneous event draw on an impossible claim. The claim is that the society’s elders could invoke the spirit of an esteemed ancestor in the form of a force or wind. This “spirit-wind” then arose below and filled a sacred cloth, shaping it into an entity, a Babá Egum, that could interact with his descendents, give counsel and heal, or reprimand and punish, as needed. But if you were touched by the cloth of a Babá Egum, you would be “touched by death,” and die. In the frightening event I observed, someone was “touched by death” and physically transformed. Based on these and my subsequent ritual observations and research in 1981, 1991, and particularly in 2009-10, I report some of my findings about the character and functions of the secret society, all of which are contingent on the belief in the reality of the Baba’ Eguns. I then propose a model of how the ritual performances induce belief in their impossible claim about the Babá Eguns.
This talk will provide insight into how faculty and students react to stressful situations abroad and the outcomes of such an experience. Can we articulate student expectations for a course that includes the ability to be flexible and manage life under unusual circumstances? What can be learned through such an experience? These questions will be addressed in this session. Not everyone is equipped to facilitate learning when individuals are in a heightened state of stress and anxiety – yet this is the perfect time to reflect on the purpose of a study away course and the perceptions and biases that we all carry with us. In addition, it puts students to the test regarding their own abilities to cope with uncertainty and support each other. Description of this event will provide opportunity for participants to discuss possible ways to prepare students prior to travel in challenging environments and to plan for managing the situation if one such as this arises.
The potential implied by the creative process of reproduction has inspired scientists and artists alike. While scientific research has focused on several, crucial reproductive processes such as the creation of eggs and sperm, courtship, fertilization and fetal development, other crucial “between” processes have remained enigmatic. One area of emerging interest is the fate of sperm cells while retained within the female’s body between copulation and fertilization. With the support of several admired poets, I will describe some of the phenomena affecting sperm fate, how understanding sperm fate helps us address a variety of biological challenges from infertility to cancer, and what we can learn about sperm fate by studying the genetic powerhouse Drosophila melanogaster (aka the fruit fly).
1“The Hollow Men”, TS Eliot, 1925.
Rivers are vital pathways between land and oceans, where human activities on the landscape may have major impacts on downstream water chemistry and ecosystems. One example is the Platte River, flowing from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Missouri River in Nebraska. In the past 150 years, it has lost nearly 70% of its natural water flow to agricultural irrigation. The river is now less able to transport sediment, so vegetation has been able to invade parts of the channel that were historically bare sand. Phragmites australis, a reed native to Europe, has infested over 330 miles of the river since 2002, and in this study we showed that its voracious use of silicon to construct its tall reed structure has effectively reduced the amount of silica flowing down the Platte River. Silica depletion in estuaries and coastal oceans may lead to fishery declines, so understanding where silica is being delayed along its journey from land to sea may be useful as we try to correct those downstream imbalances.
This talk will depart from an article on the texts by the Ugandan-Norwegian poet Bertrand Besigye. Some of the larger questions that this article addresses are: How important is racial identity for Afro-Scandinavian artists in a postmodern cultural climate? How do African-born artists in Scandinavia explicitly and implicitly connect to black literary traditions or discourses of the African diaspora? How do radical artists of minority status construct cultural critique by using and playing with their biography?
Circadian rhythms are internally driven 24-hour cycles that allow anticipation of regular daily environmental changes. In humans, circadian rhythms of body temperature, digestive system workings, and ability to concentrate are a handful of functions that vary with time of day in ways suitable for animals who are active during the day and inactive at night. Disturbances in these rhythms are implicated in many human health issues, including sleep disorders and cancer. How do the clocks driving these rhythms work? Their molecular gears reside within cells, and one, the protein Cryptochrome (CRY), is the focus of research in my lab. This talk will summarize undergraduates’ and my work to understand how CRY proteins keep our clocks running by moving and out of the cell nucleus and associating with themselves and other proteins.
The Shop Talk coordinator (Paul Saulnier) would like to solicit abstracts for the Shop Talk series. These 20-30 minute presentations allow Gustavus scholars to share their original research/art and enthusiasm. A title, brief abstract (electronic format), and A/V requirements should be sent to Paul (PSAUL@GUSTAVUS.EDU). If the current Shop Talk schedule does not have any vacancies do not hesitate to contact Paul to reserve a future date (a waiting list is maintained).