Recent studies of Shakespeare’s relationship to classical literature have firmly established the Aeneid as part of the imaginative landscape of The Tempest. Allusions to Vergil’s epic in Shakespeare’s play of exile, dynasty foundation, and the perils of sovereignty have encouraged critics to see The Tempest as an ambivalent response to the Aeneid’s representation of a myth of the translation of empire. This paper takes a different approach to the relationship between The Tempest and Vergilian epic by focusing on the Aeneid’s contribution to the ethics of the play, particularly the problem of mercy. >>
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“Why do you shrink and speak so faintly? Are you superstitious?”
“I am constitutionally nervous. I dislike the discussion of such subjects. I dislike it the more because--”
You believe?” --Charlotte Brontë, Villette
Throughout history, conceptions of the supernatural have permeated art, science, culture, and politics, from the divine right of kings to the practice of illusionists, from transubstantiation to witchcraft, and from the power of political myth to the technological sublime. Conceptions of the supernatural make sense of seemingly irrational forms of knowing the world and experiencing it. They manifest in material ways in the form of religious and mystical experiences, in the “placebo” effect in medicine, in eerie sounds and optical illusions, and in debates about “post-truth” and “alternative” realities.
This lecture series explores the interdisciplinary facets of the supernatural from the symbolic to the spiritual, from the metaphorical to the political: What counts as supernatural in a religious, artistic, scientific or political context? What are the processes and structures around belief in the supernatural and what are the debates around supernatural tenets in traditional or occult religions? What aesthetic or scientific technologies--from gothic narratives to spirit photography--engender illusion and a belief in magic? How and why does the supernatural become productive, political, visible, and experiential--and how does it disappear? How do we understand efforts to obstruct, confront, or even dismantle the supernatural? And what role does the supernatural play in the formation of state-sanctioned ideologies and charismatic personalities? How might conceptions of the supernatural reshape our visions of new secular futures?
The oldest documents in the collection of the Starr East Asian Library at Columbia are Chinese records of divinations done on behalf of the Shang kings during the last centuries of the second millennium BC, inscribed into cattle bones and turtle shells. The core of the collection was acquired by Ernest K. Smith during the early 1930s, while he was a professor of English in Beijing. Several of Smith’s more complex inscriptions are frequently discussed in the scholarly literature. >>
“The state,” James Scott argues, “has always seemed to be the enemy of ‘people who move around.’” At the same time movement—in its very different meanings, attached to different objects, circulating between the metaphoric and the concrete—has been celebrated as a manifestation of freedom. In the 17th century, with Early Modern formulations of the idea that the state can either “be” free or promote freedom, these two modes of conceptualizing movement came to a conflict. >>
Rational cognition, for Aristotle, aims at the truth. This goes especially for beliefs, which seize on falsehoods in a way that scientific knowledge and expertise cannot. When Aristotle says that belief is not “up to us,” he does not mean (as he is usually taken) that we do not control our beliefs or cannot believe “at will.” >>
In post-Mao China, a Buddhist movement inspired by the teachings of Monk Jingkong, a Buddhist teacher based outside the mainland, has displayed more dynamic and potent growth than the Chinese Buddhist establishment, even though it does not enjoy the greater resources and secured state recognition of the latter. How do we account for the rise of the Jingkong Buddhist movement under the restrictive state religious policies? And how do we explain the differentiated growth patterns between the Jingkong movement and the Chinese Buddhist establishment? >>
The literary discourse inaugurated by the Jena Romantics situated music in a place of privilege within the modern system of fine arts. After the Romantics’ aesthetic revolution, instrumental music was perceived to be the medium that superseded language in its capacity to convey a supersensible basis of freedom that remained inaccessible to empirical knowledge. Reframed in a master literary trope, the sensuous pleasures elicited by music came to epitomize the fusion of the prosaic and the sacred that the early Romantics sought to attain. >>
In 1837 Providence, some invalid women turn out, under hypnotic treatment, to have a sixth sense: they can see into the bodies of others to diagnose illness; they can follow unspoken mental commands; and they can read letters sealed in heavy envelopes by pressing the letters against their parietal bones. These events initiate the science of mesmerism, or hypnosis, in the United States, which will blossom into a major national movement (encompassing Spiritualist séances and mediumistic practices in the late century) and will produce a series of compelling socialpsychological theories. The talk offers a genealogy of the “sixth sense” of these early clairvoyants, as a first step toward understanding the subsequent developments. >>
Professors Burnett and Dolven give a talk based on their team-taught graduate course, “Critique and Its Discontents.” Criticism is preoccupied with what is behind the curtain or inside the box: we are a generation of unmaskers, they argue, whose task is to protect ourselves from naïve belief, delusion, and enchantment. The course and the talk ponder the project of critique and its history, but take an equal interest in alternatives, including imitation and forgery; appreciation and praise; observation and description; repetition, performance, memorization, meditation, consumption, and even ingestion. >>
With the help of the cultural-historically oriented classics scholarship of the last fifteen years, in which Imperial Greek politics has been recuperated (mainly from literary texts) through the Foucauldian-influenced examination of power-relations broadly construed, Greek culture in the Roman empire has begun to shake off the enduring label of “depoliticized.” While the new approach has been illuminating and valuable, it has shifted attention away from the actual business of governance at the local level. Aristocratic friendship provides a way to think about nondemocratic forms of Greek politics, which are often overlooked due to Classical Athens’ hold on our idea (and the Imperial Greek elites’ own idea) of what it means to be Greek. Two texts from the Moralia of Plutarch (c. 46–120 CE), How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend and Political Precepts, reveal the centrality of aristocratic friendship to a range of political and ethical questions, in Plutarch’s time and among scholars today. >>