By Mary Anne Davis
We pulled into Providence about half past 11 in the morning of a very hot Sunday in mid-July. My husband took me to lunch at a local restaurant before leaving me for a ten-day reunion/sojourn with my fellow travelers on the long and dirty road toward enlightenment. The Brown residency was about to begin for cohort ‘11. Sunday afternoon and some of Monday was taken up with settling the dorms at the Vartan Gregorian Quad — spare but roomy. Shopping for necessities and personal comforts (a clamp on lamp, a photograph of Dorothy’s ruby slippers) occupied and re-bonded us before the heavy lifting of Professor Paul Armstrong’s Methods course began.
As usual, the course was challenging but amazingly mind blowing. We had been girded by the previous three weeks of reading with the intrepid Michael Smith’s facilitated reading course so our foray into the complexities of thought, from the now familiar formalism of Kant, Heidegger and Greenberg through the complexities of the political via Benjamin, Adorno and Jameson finally toward a synthesis in the body through the voice of Freud, Butler and Haraway. These names are just a few of the writers whose work we covered in this lively conversation guided by the ever-thoughtful Professor Armstrong.
That was just the mornings! The afternoons were taken up by presentations of each our ideas thus far as we embark upon the daunting, but thrilling expedition that is/will be the Dissertation. Everyone presented a proposal with five key elements –a clear statement of the problem, our topic statement, an articulation of our argument, the question and finally — what is our answer? George Smith likened the process to launching a fleet of ships or rather guiding those ships into a harbor with the light of our argument as the guide for the armada. Everyone has a strong point of view and I am anticipating quite a profound group of texts that we will review in the coming year together and suss out as best suits each scholar.
An opening at the RISD Museum lured many of us to the streets of downtown Providence for a dinner from the food trucks and an exploration of RISD’s impressive melding of old and new architecture in the guise of its stunning art museum. Exhibitions heralding the local artists’ community as well as a dash of men’s fashion layered with an impressive permanent collection delighted and drew us into the vibe that is RISD.
We shared meals in the cafeteria as well as two collective dinners. The weekend saw the departure of groups to Cape Cod and Newport for a bit of ocean inspiration. Our final dinner was another glorious affair filled with toasts and a collective appreciation for an inspiring residency that left us galvanized if not a little tired. Emily Putnam defended her dissertation and celebrated her birthday before her departure to Ireland. The layering of cohorts is such an enriching way to collectively process so much dense study and for this student I find extremely beneficial.