the johnnie chair

{a student-run blog about life at st. john's college, santa fe and annapolis}

Politics after the Great Books

Posted on April 14, 2015

When I was a high school student, first becoming aware of colleges, I was enthralled by the image of campus protest and political action. At one school, I remembering picking up a community newspaper with a front-page story of a sit-in in the administrative building—of course, I don’t remember what the issue was—and looking at it as a symbol of the brave, wise world that awaited me. Now, as a senior at St. John’s, I find it hard (read: uninteresting, most of the time) to “talk politics”. Often such a talk seems to be a mere venue for educated people to flaunt themselves in a way that is fiery and proud, and frankly, silly-looking. Or other times, even when passions don’t flare, there never seems to be a real dialogue; each participant begins with a dogma, politely denies anything that would threaten the dogma, and then leaves. As pretentious as it may sound, I don’t seem to have the same frustrations while talking about political issues with other Johnnies. I have become so accustomed to the slow, thoughtful conversations I have here, where each idea is considered on its own merit and not on the basis of its speaker, and one is willing to take the risk of thinking in a foreign way, that I always expect a discussion to go like this. And when it doesn’t, I become bored or frustrated (or frustrated and pretending to be bored). Senior Peter Horton captured some of these sentiments particularly well in a recent letter to the Santa Fe campus’s newspaper, The Moon.

In my senior year of high school, I thought an important part of my identity was engagement with national and global political issues—engagement not in the sense of activism, but in the sense of making an effort to be informed and to have an opinion. I worried about peak oil, Israeli settlements, partisan gridlock. After I came to St. John’s, that impassioned-global-citizen mentality became slowly effaced from my mind. I think the main cause of this was a lack of time: as I tried to find ways to do my schoolwork without worsening my sleep debt, I slowly cut back on the amount of time I devoted to reading about the world, until the habit vanished entirely.
Through no design of my own, I’ve found myself becoming more aware of the outside world over the last few months. Perhaps as the beast of graduation begins to show its heads above the sea, with the trumpets sounding dimly in the distance, I’ve been moved to give some thought to the world to come, the so-called “real world” that awaits. Whatever subconscious impulse is to blame, as I sat listlessly in front of my computer during [senior] writing period, waiting for an essay to appear, I returned to the news as a way to feel some semblance of productivity. Coming back from writing period, the Lincoln and Frederick Douglass speeches and the Supreme Court decisions [in seminar] encouraged me to continue thinking about citizenship, being a part of a larger whole.
So I suppose that I’m at a crossroads. Has my period of disengagement been simply an adaptive measure to make it through college—do I want to return to my previous ways? I’m reluctant to say yes to that question, because in some ways I think disengagement has been good. A lot of my desire to be informed came from combativeness and vanity; I wanted to be able to argue about issues that I would never affect and that perhaps didn’t even have an effect on me. I hope that the issues I spend more time worrying about now, the issues of self-knowledge that the program exposes us to, are a less empty pursuit; in the Phaedrus, Socrates says that he ignores certain questions, like whether to explain the myth of Boreas (apparently a debate between science and religion), because he has not yet finished with the command to “know thyself.”
I want, even after leaving this school, to maintain a sort of isolation, a self-sufficiency of thought that makes thinking rewarding even if it doesn’t lead to winning an argument or solving a worldly problem. Yet I also believe a suggestion that has come up again and again in these four years, even in the Phaedrus, that one’s self is inevitably tied to others, and that trying to understand oneself has to involve trying to understand others and live together with them. In light of that, it’s hard to justify giving up on political engagement.

Give us your take in the comments.

Music and the Essay Writing Period

Posted on April 10, 2015

April is here and at St. John’s that means that paper writing season has just finished for all students. Well…I’ll take that back. We don’t stop writing papers. No we don’t stop. No we can’t stop.

 

Okay…you might have picked up on my musical theme here. Oftentimes what makes paper writing more bearable is the music we listen to while we write. With all our essays done, I made a poll and asked students to tell me their essay titles and the music they listened to as they wrote. I wanted to see if there was a correlation.

 

What I found was interesting. Some pairings of music and essay themes made  sense. One student wrote on the Role of Music In Purgatory in Dante’s same-titled work. Throughout her writing process she listened to Gregorian chants which were mentioned in the book. But some connection’s didn’t quite make sense. Another student listened to Beyoncé, while writing on Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s The Symposium. Intense philosophical writing can sometimes come from the most unexpected places.

 

Below, I have listed essays written by students and the music they listened to. I’ve provided some youtube links of these artists. Expand your own writing music playlists! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essay Title:

Music:

“Natural Crimes and Natural Punishments: Understanding God as a Punisher” The “How to train your

dragon” Soundtrack
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SagTkN19veU

 “The Existence of a Post-Fall Labor Paradigm in Milton’s Pre-Fall Paradise Lost” The Maccabeats – All About

that Neis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wi1H3UnKhk

“The Blessed and The Violent: an exploration of ferocity in Paradise” Soundtrack from “Yoshi’s Island” (A Nintendo Video game)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRxgYC5zrV4
“The Last of Evils: Shame, Love, and Free Will in Paradise Lost”. N.W.A – Straight Out of

Compton

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug8KPpai5Fo

“Lessons Learned from the Interactions of Moses with God and His People” Student wrote: “All Hail the romanticists. Schubert songs about fish and other things were quite helpful.”
 “Interweaving: Learning About Language through Plato’s Sophist” Rin and Len Kagamine – Gemini

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2nhcxPDztA

“Poetry is not just a verb: it’s you looking in the mirror: An examination ofimitation in Plato’s Republic” Kendrick Lamar – i

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aShfolR6w8

“On Hope in Oedipus the King” Laura Marling – Once I Was

An Eagle
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSk839eSWm0

The Part, The Halves, and The Whole:

An Exploration of Aristophanes’ Speech in Plato’s Symposium

Beyonce – Single Ladies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m1EFMoRFvY

Spring Break Kayaking

Posted on April 5, 2015

Which Character from the Program are You?

Posted on April 3, 2015

GreatBooksPoster 200x300 Which Character from the Program are You?

Madeline Kiss (A’16) created a Buzzfeed quiz allowing you to find out which character from the St. John’s College Program you are. The quiz has taken over SJC social media, and now it’s your chance to participate. Are you Julius Ceaser, Machiavelli, Don Quixote, Dante, or Odysseus? Take the quiz and let us know!

You can take the quiz here!

 

 

Spring in Santa Fe

Posted on March 29, 2015

Over my spring break, I finally had some time to browse through the many photos hidden in the depths of my phone. Here are some of the highlights. It’s always hard for me to see the Santa Fe winter go, but then I remember how delightful spring can be—reading outside in the sunshine, cool evening bike rides, and of course, hula hooping. Mouse-over for captions.

Sweet Fulfillment

Posted on March 20, 2015

We treat reading at St. John’s College as a sort of exploration. And perhaps, because of my particular time of life, I found myself wanting to explore in ways other than reading during my spring break.

A senior classmate and I decided to hike the Appalachian trail in Maryland. We started from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and hiked upwards towards the Pennsylvania-Maryland line. In the eyes of the sane, it was probably an unreasonable and silly endeavor. The cold conditions, as well as the ice and snow made it a difficult journey. But, oh, how my adventure needs were met!

 

There is a sort of sweet fulfillment that comes from not only exerting oneself intellectually, but also physically. Exertion is about being whole and I cannot find a better place to do that than in nature.

After the hike, I found myself reading “The Weight of Glory” by C.S Lewis, and he had this to say about nature and our exertion:

“When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.”

Pop the Champagne!

Posted on February 27, 2015

Pop the champagne! The essays are in! As of this past Saturday, the members of the Class of 2015 on both campuses have submitted their Senior Essays! This is a very exciting time not only for the seniors, but for all members of the St. John’s College community. Annapolis’s tradition of inviting the seniors to President Nelson’s house to submit their essays and mingle with the many beloved members of the faculty is now one of my most treasured memories of my time here. The seniors trickle in beginning at 10 pm (I was a little late…10:30) falling somewhere on the spectrum from exhausted to invigorated. I think I was equal parts of both. Despite the 15 hours of sleep I had had over the week prior (a personal record), I could not contain my excitement. Almost four years of reading, writing, discussing, thinking, having existential crises, and pulling all-nighters led up to the moment when I beamingly handed my stack of pristinely printed and bound essays over to Dean Kraus. It was out of my hands, I did it!
After many photo-ops, a few glasses of wine, and halting the clock a couple of times for those last minute straggling seniors, we headed back to campus for the after party. I don’t think I have ever run as fast in heels as I did sprinting with my closest friends up the four flights of stairs in McDowell Hall to complete our rite of passage in ringing the bell. It didn’t matter to any of us that that really meant pressing a small rubber key on a telephone and not pulling with all of our might on a giant rope, that bell still rang, it still congratulated us all. That feeling might only be beat by the feeling we received moments later while standing on the portico facing Pinkney when our cheers and energetic champagne popping were met with the applause of at least a hundred of our fellow Johnnies. To the underclassmen I may or may not have sprayed champagne on… sorry, I’m not sorry. You will find yourself on those steps in your own time, and every drop of that champagne will represent each press of the keys on your keyboard, each hour you didn’t sleep, each cup of coffee you guzzled, each moment you doubted yourself, and there is no way you won’t want to pop that bottle too.
IMG 0118 2 300x300 Pop the Champagne!The Annapolis seniors begin their oral exams today and 22 students will be examined before Spring Break begins on February 27th. I have always loved and admired SJC’s celebration of education, and I think that the public oral exams greatly contribute to our community of learning. At this point in my freshman year I was still reeling from my first semester Don Rag, starting to become stressed about my own annual essay, and mesmerized by the accomplishments of the seniors. Attending some of the orals that year both clarified for me what I could and would accomplish over the four years at SJC, and challenged me to rise to the scholarship of some of my older peers. I encourage all students to attend at least a couple orals this spring, even if you don’t have any senior friends. It is a great chance to glimpse your own future and encourage your academic growth!

Singing with Equant

Posted on February 13, 2015

Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week freshman year. Wednesdays meant singing, and doing nothing but that for the day. By accident I stumbled upon the St. John’s College Annapolis pop a cappella group on campus, Equant. I was intimidated, stunned, and very amused during the first practice I attended. Everyone was chatting and laughing which was nothing like the bleak and dark classrooms that doubled as choir rooms in elementary, middle and high school.
As everyone settled down, it was announced that we were doing vocal warm ups. The warm up completely threw me off. We started with a basic and familiar vocal exercise, and followed it up with an exercise that started with a growl-like noise and progressed to what seemed like a cross between a yawn and the scream from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In order to warm up, we had to open our mouths very wide for the scream. Being new in the group, I was shy and wanted to refrain from looking like an imbecile. I did not open my mouth wide. This was the first mistake. I was immediately called out by our loud, painfully honest, yet loving senior member. What was my next task? Open my mouth as wide as I could in front of the entire group in the second round of our growling Psycho warm-ups. Needless to say, the ice was broken.Great Hall Singing with Equant
Every year we perform in the college-wide talent show, Collegium. On certain holidays, namely Valentine’s Day, we perform flash mobs. As we practice weekly, there is a push to complete songs, but we have never lost sight of the enjoyment we gain from singing and being in the group. We all realize that we joined to be a part of a singing community, and to have fun. Everyone is a member of Equant because they want to be. It has been with this spirit that we have all grown as confident individuals, as friends and have become more comfortable singing shamelessly. Neighboring tables in the dining hall can attest to our random breakouts in to song.
Together we have had the moxie to agree to attempt certain strenuous compositions, and the perseverance to master other ambitious pieces of music. We are by no means professional singers, nor will we beat Yale’s Whiffenpoofs anytime soon, but we are very much a musical family. All of my most beloved friends are members of Equant. Singing has brought us together in a way that few other activities could bring such a large group together.

Where Else? Crepes from the Faculty

Posted on February 11, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, a few tutors at the Santa Fe campus had a surprise waiting for everyone in the student-run coffee shop, The Cave, after seminar. With french music playing, and adorned in toque and apron, they served up some mighty fine crepes to any student who happened to have a little hunger for Nutella.

20150129 214021 1024x576 Where Else? Crepes from the Faculty

 

 

Thanks again to Ms. Adam and Mr. and Mrs. Stickney. This kind of community is part of what makes St. John’s so great.

Music Led Me to St. John’s College

Posted on February 6, 2015

I have never fancied myself as a musical person, but at St. John’s College, music is an integral part of our curriculum. Freshman year we experience it through freshman chorus, and sophomore year we study music theory. Music has become a part of my life in a way that I never believed it could. All of my friends are musical. I spend a good chunk of my free time singing –sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, always on Tuesday and Friday nights in Equant, the pop a cappella group in Annapolis.

My parents tried so hard to make me musical. I’ve dabbled in the cello, piano, gu zheng (Chinese harp), saxophone, Spanish guitar, and participated in elementary and middle school choirs. I cannot begin to tell you how many sore throats I have feigned to get out of choir practices. I blame it on the macabre renditions of “Imagine” and “Let it be” that my choir spent two months trying to learn. For the longest time I was heartbroken. I still have some scars from those days. Much to the disapproval and the bewilderment of my most musical of friends, I cannot stand the Beatles. They are severely overrated. Alas, my distaste for the Beatles and the many failed attempts to learn an instrument did not keep me from succumbing to the whirlwind romance that would become my marriage to music.

Freshman Chorus 300x200 Music Led Me to St. Johns College
In high school I was a member of a chamber choir. It was then, in the eleventh grade, that I fell in love with music. We sang polyphonies, masses, and chants. William Byrd, Giovani Pierluigi da Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, and Tomás Luis Victoria became my greatest friends. The chant “Ave Verum Corpus” became my favorite song, replacing “Rolling in the Deep”. I became unrecognizable to my friends and family. Instead of hanging out at the mall with my friends, or hanging out at Starbucks, I spent my weekends going to concerts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Performing beautiful music led me to art, which in turn led me to reading. I credit all of this to curiosity. I became curious about music, art, reading, philosophy, the world. Suddenly I had questions I felt no one else was curious in answering, but I read until my eyeballs hurt, and developed my taste in pre- 20th Century music. It was amid all of this frenzy that I found out about St. John’s. When I learned about the reading list, the discussion led classes, and the two year music program built in to the curriculum, I couldn’t get my application in soon enough.