Monday, April 6, 2009

a sense of place

I've been mystified recently at the growing number of students who drift across the Davis campus with various kinds of buds/headphones in their ears. (Disclaimer 1: I love music; I've got a big, cushy pair of Sennheser HD 450's; i play music in my office all the time; I own an ipod mini.) This is not about listening to ipods in public; different riff, different time. However, I am concerned that there is this growing number on our campus because our campus is seriously postage stamp small. My aim is not great, nor are my arms like Arnold's but I could, almost/ theoretically hit, all of the 8 main buildings with a tennis/racquet ball. This is emphasized merely to draw the point that there's not a lot of walking going on. Disclaimer 2: (Yes, there are commuters who take the bus/taxi/walk/bike.)
It's not the volume, it's not the type of music, it's not your imminent deafness, it's not you trying to talk on your cell phone and listen to one ear bud it's the lack of community that disturbs me.
I understand small schools. Growing up my school was at most 70 kids in the whole school K-12; a twentieth century one room school house ACE style. Went to college at
PBU; not known for its size. I also spent most of my time in the smallest building on campus, the music building.
I understand that seeing the same people day in and day out can be annoying but we cannot attempt to escape one another by creating temporary, small, particular worlds. Community is not about loving people because they are lovable but loving those people who basically next to intolerable. This is something that I struggle with and have been thinking about a lot via reading Wendell Berry.
Also, for me, the slow dragging monotony of the standard greeting of what's up, how's it going; these empty rhetorical questions that don't expect an answer, we might as well all be wearing ear buds. Maybe it is going well or it is good either way let us be genuine.
Wendell Berry talks a lot about place, a sense of rootedness and commitment to a certain physical locale. College typically isn't that place (unless you went to Penn State) and I don't think it should be. It's not particularly healthy to continue to re-live a college experience until death. But that fact is not sufficient to avoid habitual, meaningful contact with others. We live in constant noise as it is and sticking our heads into the parallel of inflatable bubbles that give us tunnel
vision is, I think, the last thing we need.
We are obsessed with the new, the shuffle, the unknown. Learning and knowing, seeing and thinking requiring " a zone of silence" a sense of place and the ability and desire to stop and consider.
I've started reading Sertillanges' work The Intellectual Life and two thoughts from this sum up my thoughts really well.
1) From the foreword by James Schall: "Any sort of learning, in the beginning, will have drudgery connected with it. We need to come to a point where we begin to delight in what we are knowing...Anything that is is fascinating." (xi)
2) "Never ignore, never refuse to see what may be thought against your own thoughts."
Sertillanges quoting Nietzsche. (xxv)
"It's a difficult thing to live with somebody who knows you and stay in that situation....And so I live in this commitment all the time, knowing very well how attractive mobility is. I'd really like to beloved by somebody who doesn't know me-who would be susceptible to charm. I appreciate how fine that would be, but I know it wouldn't last and that I couldn't disguise myself for more than, oh, maybe forty-eight hours....If you're going to sustain anything, you've got to have populations that are totally committed. The idea that you can destroy this place and go to another place is exhausted." (Pp. 34-35 Conversations with Wendell Berry edited by Morris Grubbs)

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