January 9th, 2016 was a day of celebration for the IDSVA community. On this day, president George Smith announced IDSVA’s full accreditation, along with the goal of making it a tuition-free institution. On the stage of the Morgan Library in NYC, Holberg Prize winning professor Stephen Greenblatt gave a lecture on the enduring value of the arts and humanities; he began with recollections about his intellectual awakening at Berkeley University within the midst of political turmoil, radical politics, art, and literature. Through images of the cave paintings of Lascaux, Greenblatt spoke of the ongoing collective effort of building the “web of meaning” we inhabit as a species. The talk ended with a passage taken from humanity’s oldest recorded story, Gilgamesh. It is worth noting here.
Siduri, a seaside tavern owner reminds the hero:
“As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
Make merry day and night.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing.
Day and night dance and play!
Let your garments be sparkling fresh,
Your head be washed; bathe in water.
Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand,
Let a spouse delight in your bosom, be content night and day,
keep you hair clean, bathe, be kind to children, and make your lover happy.”
The humanities are our stories, and as Greenblatt reminds us, they are of vital importance; vital because from our stories we derive value, and from our stories we are taught how to live.
Later that evening, during the dinner ceremony at the High Line philosopher Howard Caygill graciously took the stage and gave an impromptu lecture. Howard spoke of the return of the artists after their banishment from Plato’s Republic. He pointed out how the important dialogue on justice in Book I was set in the Piraeus, the port city and not in Athens. Socrates literally had to “step down” to Piraeus from the city-on- high: “I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess; and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing.” Socrates got the sense that the Piraeus was buzzing. The Piraeus, as opposed to Athens’ regulated polis, was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural other place as Foucault would have said. A stage where a multiplicity of voices meet and speak about what is and can be. This, I believe, is what we are doing at IDSVA.