Summers with George Smith

FALL 2020

by Kimberly J. Wade

Cohort ’19

''There is something there that we can’t see not because it’s not there but because we don’t know how to look. We have been trained to look for only what is present.” George Smith, Summer 2019

George’s Manet - Dr. George Smith, with Nandita Baxi Sheth as Olympia, Samantha Jones as Olympia’s cat, and Xenia Hodza as Laure, Olympia’s Maid. Spannocchia, 2019. Image courtesy of the author.
George’s Manet - Dr. George Smith, with Nandita Baxi Sheth as Olympia, Samantha Jones as Olympia’s cat, and Xenia Hodza as Laure, Olympia’s Maid. Spannocchia, 2019. Image courtesy of the author.

Last year, Summer 2019, IDSVA students were on the countryside, together enjoying organic Italian cuisine while acting out Manet’s Olympia painting to develop a possible narrative in the name of hermeneutics (see photo.) After a whirlwind week in Rome, we arrived at Spannocchia, a Medieval castle and farm in the hills near Siena. Spannocchia was a beautiful and trying time for me. I often joke that being there reminded me of being in Army Basic Training, of being pushed to and past points within myself that I didn’t realize were there.

My first summer lecture with Professor George Smith, I didn’t know what the heck he or anyone else was talking about. Even though I had done the readings, every day I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a conversation and all of the words that I knew didn’t mean what I thought they did. While we were supposed to be discussing Plato, Oedipus, Lucretius, and a few others, Professor Smith introduced us to Heidegger, Kant, Hegel, Parmenides, and Bakhtin. I was so dazed and confused and afraid of my confusion, I didn’t realize that the more advanced students’ engagement with George was an example of their development over their first year in the program.

Fast forward to Summer 2020, we were three months into being stuck in our separate home locations, only able to interact through video. Our faces and bodies encapsulated in a square with a backdrop of the book-lined walls of dens, spare and living rooms. In the spirit of honesty, I often suffer from mean doses of self-doubt so I must say I was genuinely stunned in our first session when Professor Smith mentioned Book X of the Republic. I thought “Hey, I know these words and understand their meaning in the current context”. Like last summer, I completed the readings but this summer, I was able to offer insight on the texts we were discussing that made me proud. This summer things made sense. Well, the things from last summer and fall became much clearer. The conversations on art and philosophy didn’t feel foreign or intimidating like they did the summer before.

I have mentioned to George that I started a garden on my deck during this summer that has been shaped by a pandemic. Every time he calls to check on me, he asks about it. I understand that what I have just written every teacher, mentor, parent knows — that understanding and clarity comes over time. But I needed to share what I received from my summers with George Smith. Even though there’s still so much to understand, Summer 2020 revealed seedlings that George sowed a summer earlier.

“Interpretation is when you do the work to go beyond just ‘getting it’” - George Smith, Summer 2019.