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.
I just got back from Jeffrey Cohen’s “Feeling Stone” lecture and, I must say, on my way home, I couldn’t help but looking at every single rock/slab of pavement/ building without wondering just what kind of soul it had and what story it had to tell.
Going into the talk, I was a little weary. I had heard left and right all day about how fun he was to listen to from classes he had spoken in, but, and I say this with kindness, it was about rocks. I couldn’t really think of dull, unfeeling, lifeless rock with any sort of enthusiasm. But that’s just what he honed in on. He was very upfront with the fact that for a long, long time we’ve had a negative, at least in literature, approach to rocks.
One thing that really struck me in his talk though was when he brought up the museum in New York City that had an exhibition on rocks and how everyone wanted to touch them. I attempted to ask him about the science done on human magnetism and if that could play a part in or seemingly inherent inclination to touch stone, but I used touch screens as an example, and I think my question must have been worded in a way so that he thought I was asking if we got the same kind of fulfillment out of touching rock that we do from interacting with a touch screen. His answer was very interesting, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
What I really wanted to talk about is the questioning of is there a real, physical, need to touch rock. Humans all emit a natural magnetic field. It’s what makes touch screens work and is used in numerous technologies. It’s very faint, but present. Considering that he pointed out that people always seems to want to touch stone in the same place as others, I think it would be fascinating to look and see if these places that we’re drawn to have a pocket of Magnetite.
I’m not sure exactly how this would fit into his more philosophical outlook on stones, but I think it’s at least interesting and something that could possibly be explored in the future.
Tonight’s guest speaker was really great. Although I took geology to fulfill my science requirements, I wouldn’t classify myself as a rock fan by any means, but tonight’s lecture was actually very interesting. Like Dr. Seaman mentioned in her opening, Dr. Cohen is magnetic and made his topic of stone engaging and informative. He used many visual examples like Stonehenge and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which made the lecture memorable. Also, the food was excellent! The mushrooms were delectable; I can easily say that that spread was the best food I’ve ever had on campus. Tonight was really great because of the perfect combination of an engaging speaker and tasty appetizers!