The large stained glass windows of Conron Hall and the castle-like structure of University College both depict the ambiance of studying the arts and humanities at Western University. Though, in the corner of Weldon Library is a room designated for the members of the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities (SASAH). This room has become a home for the 27 of us; a retreat where we are able to escape the often crowded library.
In order for me to fully describe for you the experience, and since it is my job to give to the reader a “commentary,” I should first dictate the structure or lack-of structure that is a typical Wednesday evening SASAH lecture. When I write “lack-of structure,” I am referring to the fact that our minds are given the chance to explore many angles of literature through our professor, Laurence de Looze. And believe me when I tell you- many angles! In case you’re wondering what I mean, refer to Rousseau’s “The Confessions.” I am remised to imply that it is typical; it is the exact opposite. This is partly because the experience is different than many other first-year courses.
This difference has much to do with the room itself. I have yet to find another classroom on campus in which the walls are surrounded with art from the Macintosh Gallery which, mind you, is likely worth more than the cost of multiple graduate degrees. The grand piano offers a particularly cultured appeal. It is the first thing one views after swiping his or her key card and entering what appears to be much less of a classroom than an erudite-semi-luxury study. Times surely have changed from the days that I would carelessly run my hand under the bottom of a desk only to discover a mine-field of hardened (and sometimes still-soft) chewing gum.
Professor de Looze described for us the meanings of particular paintings by Rembrandt which exemplifies the theme of introspection that occurred throughout the 16th century-just after the Reformation. Just as a painting, de Looze blends together a mix of philosophy, literary theory, architecture, and art as he continues to teach us his material. Examples of the literature we have studied to date include: Njal’s Saga, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, The Death of King Arthur and Lazarillo de Tormes– a picaresque novel depicting the life of the common individual rather than virtue and chivalry. It is as though this entire course is a work of art- yet to be finished, though continuing onward-painted with the brush of Chaucer, Racine, and Kant. Our minds are the canvas and de Looze is the artist; the symphony conductor, if you will.
Before class begins, music from the Renaissance period welcomes us to our seats. Though, as we leave an evening lecture, we step back into the London air from the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica: from the Renaissance and Medieval through the door of post-modernism and into the modern. I then check the date on my cell phone and remind myself how fortunate I am to be a first-year undergraduate student in the inaugural class of the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities. What a truly unique experience. This, in my view, is SASAH so far. I hope you enjoyed my brief summary.
Thank you for reading,