Sunday, November 20, 2011

Info about "What Is Being?" Spring 2012

What Is Being?
Dr. Lori Landay

Ever wonder, "what IS being?"

This course, "What Is Being?" is a special opportunity for Berklee students to explore an age-old question in multiple ways: through reading touchstone texts of philosophy, literature, psychology, and other disciplines; through exploring of how the subtleties of being and seeming play out in performance; and by considering what is being in contemporary culture. It is funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, which pays for the students' books and tickets to plays, among other things. The class size is small (12) and the level of discussion is intense and interesting. We read into things. W look deeply. We keep asking questions and probably never really answer them fully. We'll read whole books and also parts of books, including a few choice sections from thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Erving Goffman, Heidegger, and Jean Baudrillard. You can shape your multimedia projects about topics that interest you. If you think you are interested in taking this course this semester, keep reading.

Course Description

The motto of Berklee College of Music is Esse quam videri, a phrase from Cicero’s essay “On Friendship,” which translates as “to be, rather than to seem.” The course “What is Being?” gives you the opportunity to focus and reflect upon the differences between seeming and being, and think deeply about existence, self, and image. Organized around three interrelated themes: seeming vs. being; performance on stage and in everyday life; and the power of images and illusion in contemporary culture, the seminar requires students to consider realworld issues by exploring in depth the great works of philosophy, literature and psychology. The course includes the reading and discussion of Plato’s Republic, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions grant, “What Is Being?” is a unique opportunity for serious seminar-style exploration of a foundational issue in human thought.

This course requires a commitment from the participants to:

attend class,

read the assigned material,

engage with the questions and ideas in multimedia and written assignments that will be turned in on time

attend at least one play (tickets provided by the NEH grant)

and participate fully in class discussion and activities.

Required Books

(to be provided free to students thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions Grant)

Plato. The Republic.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince

Wu, Ch’eng-en. Monkey: Folk Novel of China

de Cervantes, Miquel. Don Quixote. Campfire Graphic Novel adapted by Lloyd S. Wagner

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet.

Alcott, Louisa Man. Behind a Mask; or, A Woman’s Power

Larsen, Nella. Passing

The Performance Studies Reader (PSR)

NOTE: Readings may change slightly for Spring 2012, and we will read parts of other books than those listed here.

If you would like to sign up for LHUM P433, send a paragraph explaining your interest in the course to llanday at


Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

Right away, this short story reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a strange thought to think that Victor couldn't realize that when he actually arrived to his destination, he didn't think it was real because the computer kept playing him the image in his head of arriving there. Is this kind of like watching a concert DVD and then going to see the band and not being as excited had you not seen the DVD? Tool (one of my favorite bands of all time) refuses to release DVDs because they believe it takes away from the concert experience. I want a Tool DVD soooo bad, but at the same time, I've only been to two of their concerts, and the experience was incredibly surreal. I will go see them again if they ever come around.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"To live is not to have the answers, it's about asking questions"

I think this quote is a great representation of the worry of Herbert Blau the author of "Virtually Yours: Presence, Liveness, Lessness". The concern is that information is too readily available on the internet. "In an age of information virtually everything to be known is out there on the net for the asking...Yet the more we ask, the more demoralized we may be" (541 Virtually Yours). I agree with this because children are "plugging in" more then ever and will continue to do so. The internet is a great tool but it shouldn't be a substitute for things that happen in real life. Also it is dangerous because the media has been moving its focus to the internet as well, ads and pop-ups are all over the place, TV media already impacts every person, now with it spreading to the internet it is nearly impossible to find an answer on the net with out being faced with an ad. Blau says that nearly everything we do has been predicted or facilitated by the media and it will only get worse as the internet situation grows, because it determines the answers we get.

Friday, April 15, 2011


I want to focus this post on Herbert Blau's reference to John Cage in his essay. Blau wrote "The beginning of the end could be said to have occurred in that ur-setting of theatricality, the anechoic chamber at Berkeley, in which, through the absence of other sound, Cage listened to his nerves and heart, then thought of himself listening. out of which came the performance, itself canonical now, of 4'33"-a silence lasting four minutes, thirty-three seconds." I had a pretty hard time understanding the way Blau wrote honestly, but I feel that just because something is a sound does not mean it is music. If his intent was to have each listener experience something different, then he succeeded. If he wanted to create music then I think he failed. To compare this to the beautiful works of classical music is upsetting to me. I hear a slight hum from the speakers I have on right now, and I hear my keyboard typing, but it is NOT music. It is not even close to evoking any emotion from me. By technicality and definition, maybe anything can be considered music, but that is a very idealist approach, and not everything is black and white like that. Especially music and performing arts. I love silence, and I appreciate a lot of things, and I think John Cage seems like a nice man, but when I heard 4'33", it was not music and what I saw was not a performance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Darkness" by Lord Byron

Lord Byron writes about a world that we believe to be a place that is worse than hell. A place where the sun doesn't shine and where faith is no more. The poem was written in the summer of 1816 during the "Year Without a Summer". This time period was titled after the eruption of Mount Tambora casting enough ash in to the atmosphere to block out the sun and cause abnormal weather across much of northeast America and northern Europe. Lord Byron describes this place that seems to have lost all faith and live in a world of science. Maybe Lord Byron believes there is no G-D at all in this new, dark world. Byron also references a lot of Biblical items as well. He also mixes Biblical language with the apparent realities of science at the time.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gender Constitution

In Judith Butlers essay "Performance Acts and Gender Constitution", she claims that "one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman". I see where she is coming from, but I have a hard time agreeing with her. I have plenty of friends who are male and have many feminine qualities but do not want to be women, and are not considered a woman by my standards. I myself have a few womanly qualities, but it doesn't matter. People should just be themselves, and if that means acting in a way that society thinks your gay because you act like a woman and your a man then who cares? Are there certain instances when you feel you have to act like your gender is supposed to? If your a girl and your watching a romance movie with your girl friends do you feel you have to be emotional and really into the story just because your other friends are? If your a guy watching the football game with your guy friends who are really into it and your really not do you feel compelled to start yelling and screaming too just because they are even though you really don't care about the game?

Identity Crisis: What Constitutes Gender and Identity?

"Gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time -- an identity, instituted through a stylized repetition of acts."-- Judith Butler
In "Performance Acts and Gender Constitution", an essay written by Judith Butler, she attempts to show that gender reality is not dependent on the realization of ones identity but is rather a sign of ones body responding to "historical situations" and is "a manner of doing, dramatizing and reproducing a historical situation." This particular view of gender and identity really threw me off because it is completely outside of thoughts of what I have been taught. I believe that the gender of a person is simple: they are either male or female. It doesn't matter if you "act" more feminine or masculine in your mannerisms, you are what you are. In the dawn of the battle between sexual independence and the manifestation of people desiring to be the determining force of whether they are "male" or "female" (based off of the actions), I would like to pose this question: What Constitutes Your Gender and Identity? Do you feel that it is predicated on actions repeated in history or are you in complete control of who you are and the characteristics of your personality/image?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Behind A Mask

Alcott's thriller raises questions about masks, performance, and everyday life, in particular about gender and class. For Thursday, we'll add in theorist Judith Butler's ideas from "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"She walks in beauty" Lord Byron

In this poem Lord Byron is describing a beautiful woman, not only is she physically beautiful, her mind is rich, yet pure and innocent at the same time. “All that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes”. This is an interesting piece for me because in most poems I’ve read or texts I’ve seen the writer usually compares the woman to the sun and beautiful flowers, not to the night. Byron shows the beauty of night and shows how this woman is special because not only is she beautiful like the day she can be “cloudless” and “starry” just as the night. I take this as a comparison of her innocent side and her curious adventurous side, her ability to be both dark and light or night and day makes her far more appealing, she is a multi dimensional woman. He is taken aback by her beauty he describes how a single shadow or a single ray of sun taken away from her is not ok because the way the light hits her is just right, her thoughts are written on her face and her “pure” and “dear” “dwelling place” aka heart is most likely sitting right on her sleeve. She not only seems to be beautiful but she is, inside and out. It is clear that he is an admirer but I wonder if he had a real relationship with her or for that matter if he even would, or is she just an object of his affection and admiration.

Lord Byron's Darkness

“I had a dream, which was not a dream at all” right from the beginning Lord Byron is telling us that these terrible things he is describing are really happening. The description he gives of the sun extinguished and days that bring no sun reminded me of what I’d heard about “the year with no summer” when Mt. Tambora erupted in 1815. It was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The massive eruption caused dramatic climate changes all over the world; this was the world Byron was writing of. To many this must have seemed like the fire and brimstone of judgment day bearing down on the world. However the newly emerging forms of science had their own, less radical explanations. Maybe Lord Byron is questioning his faith in the face of these new scientific explanations. He uses biblical descriptions of judgment day to describe what he’s seeing, however through his eyes in this land of darkness he no longer sees G-D in nature and the people around him. In lines such as “the meager by the meager were devour’d” and when he speaks of one dog “faithful to a corpse” he is attacking the idea of faith. Then in the last two lines when he writes, “Darkness had no need or aid from them –She was the universe” he is saying there is no G-D, no higher power, only flawed weak people. Maybe the question he is asking is whether in this new world of science and reason there is any room left for faith.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Romanticism Podcast by Lori Landay

This podcast serves two purposes: it informs you about the context for the poetry we are reading this week and also is a model for an enhanced podcast or multimedia project.

Wordsworth: "I wandered lonely as a cloud" (43), "Mutability" (57)
Byron "She walks in beauty" (114)
Keats: "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (218)
Blake, from "America: a Prophecy" (21)

For Thursday, read:
Coleridge: "Kubla Khan" (p. 105), "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," (p. 63)
Shelley: "Ode to the West Wind" (151)
Byron, "Darkness" (127)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"To be, or not to be"

Now we are in the thick of it--of Hamlet, of asking "What Is Being?" For next time, analyze Hamlet's famous speech to discover what "being" means in this particular context.

And here are our three interpretations: Olivier, Tennant, and Hawke:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"these indeed seem,/ For they are actions that a man might play"

Today we continue our exploration of performance as we forge forward in Hamlet, joined by slam poet, performer extraordinaire, and faculty advisor to the Berklee Poetry Club, Caroline Harvey. We'll revisit the idea that all performance involves a consciousness of doubleness (Carlson, 73, summarizing Bauman): "Performance is always performance for someone" (73).


Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. Act 1, Scene 2

at around the 4 minute mark, in this clip from the Royal Shakespeare Company film:


O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

Kenneth Branagh's performance of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 1, scene 2

In this clip, Patrick Stewart discusses setting Shakespeare in a contemporary or historical context, acting for stage and film, and some issues about performance that are central to our discussions.

Monday, February 28, 2011


There is so much in this play--revenge, sanity and insanity, the genre of tragedy, family relationships,
doing and thinking, corruption and decay- but we are going to focus on two themes in particular: performance, and appearance vs. reality.

We are going to watch different film versions of the play, and compare performances, stagings, and interpretations, as well.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Performance, Being & Seeming

What do we mean by "performance?" As "performers" we know what it means to be on stage. We know that an action on stage is "performed" and the very same action offstage is "done." What is the difference?

There have been a lot of people thinking about this, from Shakespeare (and before) in Hamlet (which we turn to next week) to more recent thought including Goffman's ideas about the performance of everyday life, and the interdisciplinary field of "performance studies." Some useful ideas from performance studies that we can toss around include:

the definition of performance as any behavior consciously separated from the person doing it


the idea that all performance involves a consciousness of doubleness, an awareness that the performance is FOR someone.

*Further reading: Marvin Carlson's Performance: A Critical Introduction

NEXT WEEK: Hamlet!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Performance in Everyday Life--& in/of Don Quixote

What does Goffman mean by "performance?" To be "taken in" or "cynical?" By "setting" and "personal front?" To what does Goffman's perspective turn our focus?

As we explore Don Quixote in a range of manifestations--the Cervantes text, art, ballet, musical theater, in popular discourse, and in the documentary about Terry Gilliam's failure to make a film based on Quixote--let's think about how the concept of performance, and of being taken in or being cynical about one's own performance, or mask, connect to one of the famous lines from Cervantes' Don Quixote: “I know who I am, and who I may be, if I choose.”

Web "tour" about Don Quixote I suggest the text-based version.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Monkey King and Youth Appeal

Today we start exploring enduring characters and the questions they ask, ponder, and symbolize in culture(s) at different times and in different media--with Monkey. We've read excerpts from the classic Chinese novel, and we'll see how others have interpreted Monkey since the late 16th century when the novel was published.

The Monkey King and Youth Appeal

MFA 3d animation thesis

BUDDHISM: Dipping our toes into another way of looking at Being

Foundations and Transformations of Buddhism: An Overview
John M. Koller

Central Teachings: The Noble Fourfold Truth and the Noble Eightfold Path

After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha presented the central teaching of Buddhism as the Noble Fourfold Truth. The four parts are:

  • Life as it is usually lived is profoundly unsatisfactory and full of suffering ( duhkha ).
  • The Buddha saw that suffering arises because of ignorance about existence, an existence that is dynamic and ever-changing, consisting of interrelated processes. If the very nature of everything that exists is to be continuously changing and if everything that exists is interrelated and interdependent, then the human craving for permanence, separateness, and independence will be inevitably frustrating.
  • Overcoming the craving for a separate and permanent existence will eliminate suffering.
  • The fourth part offers a way of practice that can eliminate the ignorance and selfish grasping that causes suffering : the Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path consists in wisdom (namely the acquisition of right views and wholesome intentions), virtuous living (right speech, right actions, and right livelihood), and meditative insight achieved by right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Therefore the eight parts are:

  1. Right views
  2. Right or wholesome intentions
  3. Right speech
  4. Right actions
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Timeline: Putting it all together (so far, and then some)

To help you understand what we've been reading/will read and talking about in a historical context, here is a timeline. Some dates are approximates, because we don't know exactly when some of the works were published.

c. 380 B.C. Plato, The Republic
1532 Machiavelli, The Prince
1590s Wu Ch'eng-en, Monkey (also known as Journey to the West)
1605 Cervantes, Don Quixote Part 1
1615 Cervantes, Don Quixote Part 2
1599-1601 Shakespeare, Hamlet

Some other things happening 1500-1600ish (mid-Renaissance into the Baroque period in classical music)

1503-19 Leonardo da Vinci paints Mona Lisa
1522 Magellan's ship circumnavigates world
1536-41 Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel
1543 Copernicus publishes On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, his theory that the earth revolves around the Sun; Andreas Vesalius publishes On the Fabric of the Human Body (considered the start of the "Scientific Revolution")
1558 Queen Elizabeth II's rule begins (until 1603)
1565 St. Augustine established by Spanish in Florida, 1st European town in what becomes United States
1587 Sir Walter Raleigh founds 1st English colony in North America in North Carolina
1590 Galileo Galilei experiments with falling objects
1610 Galileo sees moons of Jupiter through his telescope, confirms Copernicus
1619 First African slaves brought to Jamestown (est. 1606)
1620 Mayflower lands at Plymouth, bearing Pilgrims!
1630 Boston founded
1631 Taj Mahal begins to be built in India
1633 Spanish Inquisition forces Galileo to recant
1644 Descartes publishes Principles of Philosophy
1664 Isaac Newton experiments with gravity

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Case for Seeming Over Being: Machiavelli

Machiavelli's view of goodness in context: "A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good" (63).

Ch. 18: Machiavelli uses the mythic example of Chiron, the centaur, and the animals of the lion and the fox to illustrate some of the ways a prince must act.

Ultimately, and most importantly for our focus, he concludes:

"It is not, therefore, necessary for a prince to have all the above-named qualities, but it is very necessary to seem to have them" (73).

Ch. 23: Echoing Cicero's warning against flatterers, Machiavelli picks up the question, really, of friendship, and to whom a prince should listen to for counsel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Esse quam videri

Esse quam videri: To be, not to seem. Cicero wrote this in his essay, "On Friendship," and it is the Berklee College of Music motto, emblazoned on visually stunning posters we have around. For a long time, I've pondered this phease's meaning, and mynthoughts have led me to more questions than answers. These questions formed the course I proposed for the National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions grant, and now I invite you to explore what it means to be, what it means to be rather than seem in performance-- both on stage and in everyday life--and what being and seeming might mean in our age of media culture and increasing technological illusion. I also invite you to form your own questions, raised when you consider, "What Is Being?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Is Being? LHUM P-410 An "Enduring Questions" Seminar at Berklee College of Music Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

Welcome to the blog for What Is Being? LHUM P-410, an "Enduring Questions" Seminar at Berklee College of Music Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in Spring 2011.

Course Description

The motto of Berklee College of Music is Esse quam videri, a phrase from Cicero’s essay “On Friendship,” which translates as “to be, rather than to seem.” The course “What is Being?” gives you the opportunity to focus and reflect upon the differences between seeming and being, and think deeply about existence, self, and image. Organized around three interrelated themes: seeming vs. being; performance on stage and in everyday life; and the power of images and illusion in contemporary culture, the seminar requires students to consider realworld issues by exploring in depth the great works of philosophy, literature and psychology. The course includes the reading and discussion of Plato’s Republic, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Alcott's Behind A Mask. Funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions grant, “What Is Being?” is a unique opportunity for serious seminar-style exploration of a foundational issue in human thought.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

• synthesize diverse perspectives,
• evaluate a text for its argument and underlying assumptions,
• articulate their own points of view in writing and orally,
• and discuss their ideas in a wider historical and cultural context.

The grant provides books, theater tickets and films for the students, and support for faculty development for the design and teaching of this course.