Welcome to the Athenæum Academy!
Led by outstanding lecturers working at the top of their respective disciplines, these rigorous and engaging series are designed for passionate and dedicated life-long learners. Each series includes four lectures. To ensure an intimate educational experience, space is extremely limited.
We live at a time when fear of the Other stamps much of our politics (and nightmares): the threats of terrorism; the spectacle of old tribal hatreds and suspicions pitting one group against another, along racial and/or religious lines, whether it be Ferguson, Missouri or Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Middle East, or fears that our borders no longer protect us or keep us safe.
We know that History instructs us about such turmoil and dissension throughout the ages. So, too, does Literature. But whereas the historical record makes visible to us what actually happened, the literary depiction often has its sights on the psychological and ideological forces that both underlie and govern so much of our thinking and feeling, often without our being aware of it; art brings this occulted material to visibility, and it therefore both widens and deepens our optic on human behavior. At its most intense and intimate, literature helps us discover who we ourselves are, or might become. Could Othering be a strategic component of Identity itself?
In these four sessions, we will examine a series of texts drawn from the Renaissance to our own time (Shakespeare, Melville, Kafka, Coetzee). Each is the site of conflict, indeed internecine war. Each shines its beam on the roiling forces that seed prejudice and hatred, and each reminds us just how easy it is – and has been throughout history – to ‘exit the Human.’ Exiting the Human is no science fiction concept: it is the elemental – sometimes quotidian, sometimes invisible – violence done to Others when they are deemed no longer ‘human.’
Members: $175. Non-members: $225.*
*Register for both sessions to receive a $50 discount. Members, that means your first session would be completely free!
Saturday, February 4, 10am-12pm
We begin with a general discussion of the text with emphasis on modern concerns, such as city anarchy, racial and sexual violence, and especially Iago’s plot to turn Othello into the beast he becomes, which hinges on Othello’s latent insecurity as Moor-in-Venice – an insecurity Iago brilliantly understands and exploits to the hilt. Desdemona, too often seen as quasi-Victorian maiden, is a feisty woman who will not be trapped by the conventions of her day: she accepts only Othello but also her sexuality and freedom, and she dies for it. The ‘trip from Venice to Cypress’ will be looked at as the key figurative trajectory on show in the exact center of the play, Act III, Scene 3, for it shows us how Iago succeeds in ‘transforming’ Othello and riddling him with self-doubt. Finally, we will consider the question of self-knowledge, traditionally posited as tragic requirement, but arguable here. Does Othello take the measure of his actions? Do we?
Saturday, February 11, 10am-12pm
Melville’s “Benito Cereno”
“Benito Cereno” (1855) is arguably the most brilliant and under-recognized narrative about Race and role-playing in mid 19th century American literature; Melville’s enlists, as is typical of him, ‘innocence’ as his ‘lens’ for telling the who-dunnit story he has in mind (based on a real incident). Written before the Civil War, this story hinges on a view of both Africans and the debate on slavery in 1850s, with reference to other events and figures, including Toussaint l’Ouverture and Nat Turner. Like Moby Dick, “Cereno” is larded with factual, indeed documentary, information, yet it dazzles us even more because of its brilliant notion of ‘play-acting’ as the key to the text. Melville’s loaded triad of American captain, Spanish nobleman, and African slave complicates all notions of easy judgment. In the final analysis, this story is about the workings of power, and it illustrates the modern precept that subjectivity itself is ‘constructed.’
Saturday, February 18, 10am-12pm
Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony”
The first story, about a man transformed into insect, is the canonical version of ‘othering,’ and it speaks to the frightening ease with which one can ‘exit the human’ (as Deleuze and Guattari put it); the myriad ways the story can be read: artist parable, Christ story, schlemiel, etc. We soon realize that there are many metamorphoses in play in this severe yet funny text, and it delivers an unforgettable picture of family relationships. The second story, less well known, is a grim but fascinating parable about the nature not only of justice and penal systems – a topic much on our minds today – but also about language and the body; it will be seen that the story has distinct religious overtones, and that it stages the most elemental drama in human experience: how we understand. Finally, we will recognize in both stories a radical view of knowing as metamorphosis: it is worth considering just how scary such a model might be.
Saturday, February 25, 10am-12pm
It can be argued that Disgrace stands in relation to our time as King Lear does to its time. It contains a veritable Pandora’s box of topical issues: sexual abuse, racial abuse, violence of many stripes, the sins of Colonialism, and the ‘necessity of making friends with Death,’ as Freud memorably said of Lear. One’s view of this bristling text hinges a great deal on one’s age and gender, as anyone who has taught it has come to realize. Yet, the novel reaches even beyond its engagement with the colonialist legacies in Africa; as its title suggests, this story illustrates remarkable views of ‘grace’ and ‘disgrace’; finally, it is worth noting that Coetzee is a passionate ‘animal rights’ person, and that also shows in this spare narrative: borrowing again from Lear, Coetzee also testifies to the reality of ‘bare fork’d animals’ as ground zero, yet he does so in shockingly non-metaphoric ways; here might be the ethical payload of this novel.
Arnold Louis Weinstein, Ph.D. is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University where he has taught since 1968. He received his B.A. from Princeton University, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University, in addition to studies at the Sorbonne, the Free University of Berlin, and the University of Lyon. He has been a Fulbright professor in Stockholm, and Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. His honors include three fellowships from the NEH, as well as two teaching awards from Brown University. He has written eight books – on American, European, and Scandinavian literature and culture – as well as countless articles, and his work has been nominated for many prizes, including the Pulitzer in nonfiction. He has also delivered some 300 lectures on world literature produced in CD and DVD format at The Teaching Company.
In our inaugural lecture series, distinguished art historians discuss images that reveal slices of life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century society: how artists and their clients perceived natural surroundings, how you could get the best education, dress to seduce, or drink to impress. The slide-based sessions are original topics and complement each other. Based on each speaker’s own research and specialty, the talks are designed to be scholarly, but also accessible and fun.
Members: $50. Non-members: $100.*
*Thanks to the Murphy Family Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation for generously subsidizing our inaugural series for both members and non-members. Register for both sessions to receive a $50 discount. Members, that means your first session would be completely free!
Thursday, November 3, 5:30-7pm
Landscapes of the Dutch Golden Age
Roger Mandle, PhD
As the Dutch reclaimed more and more land from the sea and international trade brought them great prosperity, their love of every meter of their small nation provided opportunities for artists to develop a broad market for land- and seascapes that were avidly collected by Dutch and other Europeans of the time. This lecture will explore the variety of landscape subjects and styles that were developed during the 17th and 18th century that influenced the taste for landscape painting ever after.
Thursday, November 10, 5:30-7pm
Views of the Grand Tour
Suzanne Scanlan, PhD
The eighteenth-century Grand Tour was designed to provide a liberal education to budding British aristocrats by introducing them to continental language, music, art and architecture – and to the sophisticated mores of fashionable society. As our pictorial tour of various views made by, for and about these tourists will show, the story was much more complex and often led unsuspecting travelers down the road to ruin(s)!
Thursday, November 17, 5:30-7pm
The Erotics of Rococo Fashion
Pascale Rihouet, PhD
More than a decorative trend, Rococo dominated the lifestyle of eighteenth-century jet set in France and beyond. Favorite themes in art and literature were flirts, libertines, coquettes, and scenes of toilette. Fashionable attire and accessories established status while entailing erotic undertones that we will decode in this session. Did you know that a titillating body part was…the ankle?
Thursday, December 1, 5:30-7pm
Tea, Coffee, or Chocolate? The Art of Sociability in Pre-Industrial Europe
Pascale Rihouet, PhD
First seen as medicinal, tea, coffee, and chocolate conquered salons and cafés in eighteenth-century Europe. These exotic beverages generated an array of utensils that defined social encounters from serving protocol to good manners and conversation. To understand this language better, we will practice drinking and sociability of the time of Chardin, Boucher, Hogarth, and Liotard.
Roger Mandle, PhD is a widely published scholar on 17th and 18th century Dutch art. He served as President of RISD from 1993-2008. Prior to that, he served as the Deputy Director and Chief Curator for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Recently, Dr. Mandle served as Executive Director and Chief Museums Officer, and then Senior Advisor to the Chair of the Board for the Qatar Museums Authority. Through Roger Mandle Associates LLC, he currently provides strategic planning, program development, crisis management, and core management evaluation services for cultural and institutions of higher education around the world.
Suzanne Scanlan, PhD has served on the faculty of the Department of History of Art at RISD since 2011, where she teaches courses on the visual culture of early modern Europe. She has worked at the RISD Museum assisting the curator of paintings. Her first book entitled Divine and Demonic Bodies: Women, Art and Agency in Pre-Reformation Rome is forthcoming with Amsterdam University Press.
Originally from Paris, Pascale Rihouet holds a joint PHD from Brown University and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in Italian renaissance art. She has been an art history educator for more than 25 years, leading gallery talks in Parisian museums and monuments and self-designed cultural trips. Since 2008, she teaches four courses a year at RISD including glass history, 18th century France, Renaissance and baroque European art. Her research on art and ritual, material culture, and group identity appeared in many academic journals. Her recently-completed manuscript on processions in renaissance Perugia is currently under review.