Arts & Humanities 1020


31st January 2014

This month, we began a new portion of the SASAH course. Under the direction of our new and current professor Dr Kelly Olson, we have been focusing on ideas of modernity in Roman antiquity. In some regards, modernity may not seem like something that can be properly discussed through classical studies. As we have been learning in class, modernity is a relative term. In studying Roman and Greek antiquity, many common themes and threads can be traced from the more contemporary norm of modernity. Arguably, the most important of these is nostalgia. At its base, nostalgia in Roman antiquity involves longing for the return of the Golden Age through Augustan Rome. More broadly, we can think of how nostalgia is defined. When thinking of personal nostalgia, what comes to mind is an all encompassing desire for a moment, a place, a time or even a face that has come to belong to the clutches of the past. Nostalgia is the name given to power that the past comes to have over the present based what we are moved to feel it is lacking. Overarchingly, this is a human concept, making the study of nostalgia a study of the expanse of human emotion and the subconscious. As SASAH students, we look not only to study what this has meant for the greats of ours and past decades, but also what this means for ourselves.


7th December 2013

Descartes’ scepticism, a watershed in European thought, treats the individual self as the only knowable reality. The fall of the Bastille literally pulls down the old worldview, epitomized by the hereditary power of Louis XVI, whose “head” the French Revolution lops off. Romanticism replaces the ancien regime with an ethic and aesthetic that locate the individual at the centre of culture, regardless of social origins: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Confessions revolutionizes centuries of apologetic writing; Beethoven, whose creative “genius” rebels against convention; Kant, who lays down new rules for how we see and know the world. If the Renaissance sought perfect, universal mimesis, Romanticism champions individual vision. But a later nineteenth-century urbanized and urbane industrial humanity begins to contest Romantic liberty: reactionary governments against (would-be) revolutions; academic art against audaciously individual impressionists.

The emergence of modernity has also resulted in carnage, inhumanity, and alienation (around 10  million were killed in WWI; 50-60 million were  killed in WWII). Technological advance has also resulted in the destruction of tradition and familial bonds and persecution for political, ethnic, racial, religious, or sexual affiliation. This requires consideration of the ‘dark’ side of modernity, beginning with De Maupassant, whose works attack daily life head on, but who, in a work such as Le Horla, presents the first portrait of an individual fully conscious of their own madness.



18th October 2013

A brand new blog and a brand new school–as the inaugural class of SASAH, we are breaking new ground and delving into the theme of origins. Being the first of its kind, Arts and Humanities 1020 is looking at several texts that are the first of their kind; ancient manuscripts, primary resources, and works unparalleled at the time. In this new territory, the students and fellows are very excited to share, as well as expand upon, these first steps towards something bigger than all of us.



This course poses (even as it scrutinizes) the question of what the “modern” is and then seeks to move toward an answer through a series of case studies of Western culture. In order to avoid some simplistic notion that would pinpoint “modernity” as beginning and ending at any particular time or as a cycle in which the “new” supplants the “old” in periodic repetition, we will approach “the modern” as a type of orientation toward the world and one that, given the complexity of human cultures, can co-exist alongside or compete with other world views. Precisely in order to avoid the positivistic or Aristotelian chimera of evolution and “progress,” we will not move temporally, either forward or backward.

Our point of departure will be as follows. Let us consider “the modern,” whenever and wherever it occurs, as a world of affiliation whose borders are porous, as opposed to one of filiation, which is more closed.[1] The world of filiation would be one of rituals, of bonds based primarily on family or clan, of identity determined by a vertical axis of genealogy, whereas that of affiliation will be one in which the social world is organized more around common interests and needs and in which one’s identity is determined by a web of horizontal connections through work, play, location, ethnicity, etc. This opposition naturally implies two different conceptions of time as well as two different geographies of interest (rural vs. urban?).

[1] It should be noted that the “a” of “affiliation” comes from the Latin “ad” indicating a motion toward, not from the privative (ablative) Latin “a” meaning a motion from. “Affliliation” is not a rejection of “filiation” so much as a redefinition of, an addition to, even a metaphorizing of what filial bonds shall be. One’s mentor or master may rival or supersede an actual blood bond.


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