Last night I went to Jeffrey Cohen’s lecture entitled “Feeling Stone.” Funny enough during this lecture about rocks my Dad insisted upon texting me about a pile of rocks. Now I tried to explain, ” Dad, I’m in a lecture. Can we talk about this later?” I’m pretty sure he just completely ignored that text all together because he continued to text me throughout the lecture about where he should place the rocks in our backyard (he’s building a…fire…pit…thingy….I don’t know what he’s doing, really). I thought it was totally crazy that during this lecture about rocks a member of my family was hounding me about a pile of rocks. Sitting there I began to think about the agency of the rocks in my own backyard three hours away. They had some sort of pull on my Dad who was determined to get them all set up mind you at or after 7 o’clock at night. These rocks or the aesthetic beauty they would provide to the backyard had a pull on my Dad so much so that after hours in the office he came home and just had to get started on arranging them. To me this is a prime example of the lively power that stone does in fact possess.
One of my favorite parts of the lecture was when Jeffrey Cohen talked about our desire to touch rock simply because it is so true. It’s something I’ve never even thought about. Why do I feel the need to touch a big smooth stone when it presents itself? The fact that we all seem to touch a rock in the same place also fascinates me. This whole lecture fascinated me and I have to say I’m really glad I’m taking Making Matter Matter, an English course that focuses a lot on the vibrancy and agency of “things.” I feel like this talk as well as my other English class has made me think about things I would have never even glimpsed at without this exposure to the ideas of vibrant materialism.
Our reading on culture focused on the dichotomy of high versus low culture, but I think the more gripping dichotomy is that of the American dream versus the American culture. America is called the Melting Pot for a reason, and that reason is the diversity of people who are (supposedly) welcome to come to our country to seek a better life. But any pot must boil to melt, so it seems strange to me to pretend we have something as solid as a culture. Cultures necessitate a unified group of people practicing similar activities over time. Perhaps I am blinded by my current placement in time and space, but I venture to say that 18th century Spain, or ninth century China, or present day Iceland have stronger cultures than America has had at any point in history. This is not to discredit the diverse complexity of any of these places (I hardly have the knowledge required for any insult to bear any real weight, anyway) but America operates in a constant state of turbulent bubbling. It a melting pot, and it is boiling. Always. As a country, we hit the ground running. Other countries that are more historically conquerors or isolated have had more time to develop independently before embarking on engagements with the international world, a world which challenges and inevitably varies the cultural identities. We have sub-cultures and we have at least one unifying characteristic beyond geography, the American Dream, but that is just what it’s called– a dream. I see a strong difference between our shared vision and our shared reality.
I really don’t feel qualified to say with any certainty the things I am trying to say, so I will stop. Consider it more a theoretical musing than a factual opinion.
It’s definitely eerily good timing to have this discussion as Occupy Charleston protests for 99 hours straight a few miles down the road. The difference between the shared vision and the shared reality is being challenged. Of course, the “shared vision” cannot imply a unified, detailed goal of what we want our country to look like or we wouldn’t have these issues, but rather the shared vision of a place where dreams come true and life is just. A real-life Disney world.
That’s the sticks portion of my blog, and as for the stone portion I must say I was fascinated in unexpected ways by Jeffrey Cohen’s talk tonight. The complex diversity of the world is overwhelmingly fascinating– to think there are people (plural!) whose lives revolve around the philosophical implications of stone! I can hardly get over that enough to appreciate how I am now capable of toying with the notion that stones might have a life, be it literally or spiritually. I daresay this is long enough so I’ll cease typing my thoughts here. ‘Twas a thought-provoking week, albeit a short one!
OH AND the food was exquisite!