I was very impressed with Dr. Cohen’s lecture “Feeling Stone,” this past Thursday. Going into the lecture unsure of what to expect—as I feel much of the audience was—I was most pleasantly surprised by the interdisciplinary nature of the talk. While expecting a strong discussion of the “role” of stone in Medieval Literature, maybe some allusions to “the sword in the stone,” or a talk about Stonehenge, I was instead confronted with an eloquent lecture, obviously written by someone familiar with the study of language, that was a meld of mythical, historical, scientific, anthropologic and literary. In fact, I really wondered at restricting this lecture to one of the “English department” the topics were so integral and varied. I think the geology department should have at least gotten an in on it. Cohen himself was endearing and earnestly interested in the research he was presenting us with, and more than once I found myself checking my own established views concerning lithics due to something he had said. After all, what if rocks are only “dead” to us because we do not yet have the capacity to understand the ways in which they are “alive?” If coral is alive, who says granite can’t be? Especially when you consider how much the element of time factors into our preconceived notions of what it means to be “alive.”
The lecture reminded me of our day in class with English teachers working in other specialties, there to talk to us about the possibilities of the English major. Cohen’s work was an absolute tenement to this. The nature of an English major has so many angles, so many broad applications. It was wonderful to see a cohesive and integral study, that so strongly contradicted the stereotype of the English major as only literary, as being a stale recycling of developed ideas and themes of the past, a reciter of obscure old books. Because I am fairly sure only an English major could have given Dr. Cohen’s lecture: while much of the research was technical, the underlying foundation of the lecture was undeniably poetic and human, in a way that a geology professor, an anthropology professor, an art professor, or a science professor, could simply not have expressed. The lecture spanned historic sites of stone, art sculptures of stone, literature on stone, and science experiments on stone, but all of it was so nicely drawn together and synthesized. It really made me consider the level of critical thinking that we all use so casually in the classroom, and realize that this itself is a laudable skill we take away, almost unconsciously, from the broad spectrum of English studies.