To Arete 2015 Applicants:

The class for the inaugural season of the Arete Project, “Built Life and the Written Self” took its point of departure from the following line by Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby: “The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist. This unfinished work of becoming ends only when you do, if then, and the consequences live on. We make ourselves and in so doing are the gods of the small universe of self and the large world of repercussions.”

From this evocation, we spent eight weeks exploring, unsettling, and re-imagining the relationship(s) between the written word and the making of a life. Beginning with Plato’s Phaedrus and ending with Lydia Davis’ recent collection can’t and won’t, our terrain for the summer included works by James Baldwin, Euripides, Emily Dickinson, Iris Murdoch, Simone Weil, Mary Oliver, Audre Lorde, Friedrich Nietzsche, Anne Carson, Junot Díaz, Adrienne Rich, and Virginia Woolf. [For a sketch of the course click here.]

At the closing ritual for the class, I ended with a beginning, a next opening: If we were to continue the class for another eight weeks (imagining hypothetically), we would move from creation and making – to – decreation and unraveling. The class for the 2015 season of the Arete Project will begin from that concluding opening.

It will take its cue from poet Frank Bidart: “Human beings constantly strive to reach the heart of something: when they reach it they find it is only another surface.” Come join me in unraveling the layers of the known to get to the places in-between, to reach for the center we yearn for, to discover whole other surfaces we had never imagined.

This will be an embarkation into unraveling without pre-determined endpoints. The ethos and emphasis will be toward discerning the shapes of personal and communal life that become possible when decreation—whether unbidden or chosen—is attended to as part of life.

A close friend of mine from graduate school and I have discussed at length the priorities and demands of elite higher education in the United States. We have wondered whether and how students arrive at college habituated within a set of ideals and behaviors that have been necessary to get there, but that can actually stymie the kind of educational processes first imagined by Socrates. My friend calls this the culture of “careful curation” – i.e. the individual life has to be meticulously curated just to get through the door of selective universities and colleges. Once in, that emphasis upon unblemished curation continues, with a next set of goals in view.

But life has a way of disrupting such curation. Sometimes things fall apart. Sometimes we can’t make things fit within a single interpretive story. Sometimes we destroy. Or, in the tradition of Socrates, philosophical education is always also a training for death, for the various endings that also constitute who we are. What becomes possible when everything doesn’t have a place in an ordered life, or when we allow notions of order to be relinquished for other life-giving shapes? How to regard un-making—or decreation—as much a part of richly lived life as making? Come discuss, and unravel, together!

– Jennifer Rapp, 2014-15 Arete Seminar Chair

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