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Back with classical quotes: elitism and mass

23 Apr

Les origines de Rome sont donc un imaginaire que nous allons tenter de saisir au premier siècle av. J.-C. Sans privilégier une élite “éclairée” qui sera plus proche de “nous”, plus “évoluée”- les poètes, les philosophes et les grands hommes- aux dépens des classes inférieures qui seraient encore engluées dans les superstitions ancestrales. Cicéron, César, Virgile ou Auguste nous sont a priori aussi incompréhensibles que le paysan qui bine son champ sous le soleil et qui ne voit pas plus loin que le dieu Terme bornant son domaine: ils partagent un même imaginaire. Auguste ou Virgile n’étaient ni en avance sur leur temps, comme on entend souvent dire dans les médias, ni au-dessus des idées vulgaires ou des passions communes, transcendés par leur génie ou leur destin, ni plus proches de notre “raison”. Cet imaginaire commun cependant ne les enferme pas dans une vision du monde unifiée, une Weltanschauung, car ils partagent pas un système de représentations figées mais un ensemble de pratiques de toutes sortes -y compris verbales et esthétiques- grâce auxquelles une communauté vit dans l’espace qui est le sien.
F. Dupont, Rome, la ville sans , 2011, p.20-21.


Classical donuts: that’s it!

9 Giu

Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening! Every day, on social networks, we codify our identity through the description of what we are doing (I’m eating a donut), what we love (I like donuts) and what we are able to do (My skills include eating donuts). In real life, I am not a social media expert nor a pastry-cook but a classical philologist: in short, I study ancient texts in order to reconstruct Greco-roman civilization and I’m sure that the Greeks would have liked to add a line to this table: “Why am I eating a donut?” For the ancient Greeks, to know means to know through causes. By posing the question why, they were able to deeply restructure our world. From here on, I’d like to invite you to share with me an exceptional snack; I shall offer you my classical donuts. Four donuts to represent the four activities at the heart of classical studies: reading, editing, translating, and interpreting. Four activities through which I hope to let you discover four spiritual attitudes indispensable for exploring the question of why in the modern world.

 1) Reading and honesty

Schopenhauer said about the classics: “Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened”. You can imagine my disappointment when, most of the time, after several hours of work on the same text, I feel like…this! Where did I go wrong? In fact, reading the classics initially make us tired, bores us and overloads us. Reading classics teaches us the importance of intellectual honesty. The admission that the classics are not made to be understood at first sight is indispensable for having the satisfaction which pervades us when, after having overcome many obstacles, we finally manage to feel the text. More generally, when, in real life, we find ourselves confronted with something difficult, we should not feel downcast or give ourselves over to false intellectualism. Instead, understanding our limits and in what way the inaccessible is different from us represents the first step toward the conquest of knowledge.

 2) Edition and democratization

Imagine I had accidentally spilled a cup of good Italian coffee on the notes that I prepared for this conference. Now imagine being in another epoch without printers or PDF files and that some people, finding this text, decide to copy it with the purpose of diffusing it. We could have many copies of my text all characterized by a gap corresponding to the coffee stain. Thanks to this gap, a philologist could easily identify this text as a second-hand text, which is then, in principle, less trustworthy. This example teaches us a lot of things about the situation of information nowadays, organized in big macro groups. If one piece of information is omitted by the primary source, we would probably find the same omission in the dependent copies. In order to bring about the democratization of information we don’t need to multiply the sources infinitely. We need instead, as in the field of editing, to engage in the choice of pertinent criteria for selecting and reusing these pieces of information.

 3) Translation and abstraction

The practice of translation has taught me the distinction between the method and the objective of an enquiry. In my field of study, rigorous linguistic analysis is an indispensable tool but it doesn’t coincide with the final goal, with the deep motivation that animates the translator: by this, I mean the reconstruction of the global sense of the text. The balance between method and objective occupies a central place in the current debate on education.

Was education to make students better men and citizens, or to prepare them for the real world? (As if the two goals were different!) V.D.Hanson, J.Heath, Who killed Homer? 1998

The package of essential knowledge transmitted to us by education is a way to access, through an effort of abstraction, a higher goal: constructing our own morality and elaborating our vision of the world. The distinction between method and objective requires us always to make an effort of abstraction, which allows us to place that what we want to do instead of what we can already do at the top of our pyramid of priorities.

 4) Interpretation and responsibility

The sense of a text is reconstructed by contextualizing the text’s micro units: every word can potentially influence the overall interpretation. We are like the words of a text, we are bearers of sense. We should stop considering change as an exterior element, imposed on us by society or the latest technological innovation. We should instead internalize the changes and understand that, in spite of ourselves, we constitute fundamental elements for the construction of collective meaning.

 Our snack is now over. Reading, editing, translating and interpreting. Why have I told you all this? I hope to inspire a silent global change. Leaving here, take up the challenge of revolutionizing your personal knowledge. Develop variety, make your objectives clear, verify your sources but above all undertake as a priority the responsibility to feed daily your curiosity, read, structure your vision of the world around your convictions and share it, think hard, think harder, keep searching for the way out of the cave and do so with determination and steadfastness: HOC OPUS, HIC LABOR EST; this is the task, this is the challenge (Virgil, Aeneid, VI.129).

Thank you!

4 donuts for my experience at Tedx Paris Universités

23 Mag

In the last few days I  finally got a break after the intense period spent  preparing my Tedx Talk. The imposed “six-minutes-speech” rule forced me to take on a challenge: give  structure to a huge amount of data on the value of classical culture, which I’ve collected during the last two years. I know it was  time to reorganize coherently some ideas that were already in my mind but in a pretty undefined form. After the Tedx conference I had the same feeling: I was overwhelmed by new information and not really able to grasp my thoughts. Yet this morning I woke up with the need to write down how this experience has significantly changed me.

1) What surprised me and made me happy:

First of all, I was really surprised to have been selected. I want to thank Halim and his team: they were brave to bet on a subject such as classical philology, normally not well represented on the stage of TED’s conferences, and on someone like me who, from the word go, seems to represent radically different opinions  on the use and role of new medias. On the stage,  I somehow felt responsible as a representative not only of  my own thoughts, but as a spokesperson of Latin and Greek’s studies: this feeling of responsibility increased my fear of speaking for the first time in front of 400 hundreds people. I worked on this conference with all my strength and what has made me happy was the impression to be deeply connected with the public, as if they could sympathetically feel how hard I believe in what I was saying. Thanks to everyone who listened to me during these six minutes: your attention was the best reward for my work.

2) What I liked the most and got me thinking: Science and religion by Florian Douam

I loved the speech by Florian Douam on science and religion. For my PHD I’m studying ancient roman religion (in particular the 6th book of the Aeneid of Virgil) and I know how difficult it is to deal with such a subject. I found his talk powerful and well constructed around pertinent examples. His message was clear, without arrogance and therefore  respectful of diversity: we can’t play the game of religion with the rules of science and vice versa because we’re in two different and not comparable domains. What has made me thinking was his capacity to express a good concept through elegant words, gently escaping the danger of  annoying rhetoric of  change (words such as “passion”, “hacker”, “share”, “mates” were in my opinion overused during the  whole day).

3) What I didn’t like and got me thinking even harder: Unishared by Clement Delangue.

I didn’t like the presentation of Unisharedby Clement Delangue and I personally explained to him my initial doubts during one of the coffee breaks.  When I don’t like something I always try to understand why. I’ve nothing against the concept itself: taking notes in a collaborative way can be eventually useful and funny (however I don’t think revolutionary). Why  did the presentation of Clement therefore bother me so deeply? If the content is not the problem, I said to myself, the reason must lie in the form. I read a lot of articles, watched videos about technology and education (thanks to mikiane for this interesting article) and I came up with the following conclusion. Clement started with the example of the Uncollege movement, born in America, which proposes a program of “self-education” opposed to the college education, unavoidable for the majority of the American population. Peter Thiel, CEO of Paypal, who instituted some scholarships to encourage twenty young students to skip college and realize their start-up idea, considered university to be a bubble, something generally overvalued: it costs too much and doesn’t provide the skills to become an entrepreneur. Since Clement started with this example and continued using Thiel’s bubble metaphor, I got the feeling that he wanted to underline the potential of Unishared as an online instrument of “self-education”. Here in Europe we have a different educational system and, in my point of view, self-education  not  opposed to university’s education: we can do both without difficulty. I believe in technology as a way to democratize the contents of education, especially for those who have no real possibility to attend university. I don’t believe in technology as the way of creating a new bubble: an independent system of “self-education” where we try to learn in new loneliness the skills which we require to realize a specific project. I hope that my critics can help Clement and his team to replace their project in a different context of values.

4) What I want to study and made me enthusiastic:

a) I want to study the for me completely new rhetorical discourse linked to the startup world: a mix of coolness, youth, passion, virality, net,metaphorically hacking and dynamism.

b)I want to better understand  the possible interaction between technology and education. I want to spread the idea that a revolution of education doesn’t have to coincide with a massive technologisation of school, but, instead, with the conscious research of a program of study well balanced between technical skills, humanities and liberal arts. Thanks to this TEDx conference, and what I  experienced there, what I liked and disliked, I have been able to  open my mind to a new range of interesting topics.

Keep thinking critically, constanter et non trepide!


Puzzle intellettuale

13 Gen

“Bisogna spingere al limite la decomposizione di ciò che abbiamo in mente per riuscire ad esprimerci in termini semplici”

Traduzione libera da “La Philosophie” (1915) di H. Bergson, p.432.

Smartphone vs humanitas

4 Gen

Il mio soggiorno italiano natalizio ha risvegliato pensieri estivi cinesi a contenuto tecnologico. Quest’estate, accasciata nel vagone di interminabili treni orientali, guardavo stupefatta la massa di viaggiatori che, indipendentemente da sesso, etá e condizione economica, si trastullava gioiosamente con giochi ripetitivi e stupidamente accattivanti sul tablet o cellulare di turno.

La breve esperienza cinese mi ha convinto che nella maggior parte dei casi l’utilizzo delle “nuove tecnologie” ci instupidisce. O meglio, le nuove tecnologie offrono una possibilità di realizzazione continua e concreta alla nostra apatia intellettuale. Ho deciso di tenermi tecnologicamnte aggiornata per ragioni professionali. Lascio però volontariamente questi strumenti fuori dalla mia vita privata, almeno fino a quando non sarò abbastanza intelligente per sfuggire alla tentazione di usarli stupidamente.

Una piccola nota per ricordare a tutti che la comunicazione virtuale scandita dal bip ossessivo di What’s up nuoce gravemente alla comunicazione vis à vis. Concediamoci regolarmente il lusso di una buona conversazione esente da distrazioni.

Regalo post-natalizio ai classicisti

30 Dic

Una lista dei mie blog preferiti su classici e dintorni per rimettersi al lavoro dopo la pausa natalizia:

1) Mi piace per la continua connessione tra attività di ricerca e attività didattica

2) Parlare ironicamente di filosofia antica e moderna attraverso l’esperienza quotidiana.

3) Per tenersi aggiornati sulle novità di settore

4) Su consiglio di un collega, risate a fumetti sulla tesi!

Qualcuno di voi ha altri indirizzi da consigliare?

Pensieri religiosi in cucina

26 Dic

Questo Natale ho deciso di regalare alle mie amiche un viaggio tra i sapori francesi : un atelier di cucina per riproporre i piatti della mia seconda patria. I momenti a tavola con le mie amiche baresi costituiscono un patrimonio di ricordi preziosi: mi piace parlare con loro perché siamo incredibilmente diverse e inspiegabilmente unite. Tra un pezzo di torta e l’altro abbiamo discusso di religione. Non sono credente: la sera di Natale ho finito il libretto di Bertrand Russel Why I am not a Christian e la coincidenza mi ha fatto sorridere. L’argomento della mia tesi di dottorato mi porta a riflettere al ruolo e all’evoluzione della religione tra antichità e modernità. Considero la religione scientificamente come un fenomeno politico e sociale. Mi piace parlare con le mie amiche perché la conoscenza di lunga data ci sottrae al pericolo di giudicarci reciprocamente indossando i paraocchi delle nostre convinzioni ideologiche. Parlando con loro ho riscoperto l’esistenza di un’attitudine intima, riflessiva, interiore del bisogno religioso. Grazie a loro oggi leggo l’Eneide con occhi diversi: tengo a mente la differenza persistente tra necessità religiosa dell’individuo e apparato religioso istituzionale.

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