Being Human--Said & Stevens

My fabulous Language & Thinking Class at Bard in August produced this performance by combining language from Edward Said's "Movement & Migrations" from Culture and Imperialism and Wallace Stevens's poem "The Snow Man," (which is quoted by Said along with other poetry including Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Pied Beauty," particularly the line " All things counter original, spare, strange") inter-cut with language from the question that shaped the Language & Thinking program this summer: "What does it mean to be human in the year 2009 on an abundant and fragile planet, with memory and possibility, with people like ourselves and different, with affluence and squalor, hope and despair, with mountains and rivers and trees, with herons and cyborgs, music and noise, with art and TV and infinite space?"

The whole class performed this for the last student reading. Each line was said by a different student and all said the final line together. The piece was put together by John Wood, Molly Ostertag and Sarah Coolidge. Here is their script:

Sarah plays a short tune on her toy trumpet.
Charlie plays a tune on the guitar throughout the piece.

At some point, people begin vocalizing:

What does it mean to be human in the year 2009

One must have a mind of winter

It must surely be the decade of mass uprisings outside the Western Metropolis

To regard the frost and the boughs

Think not about what should be read but how it should be read

On an abundant and fragile planet, with memory and possibility

Of the pine trees crusted with snow

There was a carnivalesque aspect to the milling crowds in Gaza.

With people like ourselves and different

And have been cold a long time

A rebellious people paying a very heavy price for their resistance

To behold the junipers shagged with ice

Amplified and disseminated by a perfect media system

With affluence and squalor, hope and despair

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Provoke administered violence and rapid xenophobia

Of the January sun; and not to think

Is not aggressive but transgressive

Of any misery in the sound of the wind

With mountains and rivers and trees

A search for fresh concepts not yet encompassed by the general pattern

In the sound of a few leaves

Insisting on their separation and distinctiveness

With herons and cyborgs

Which is the sound of the land

Music and urban noise

{Sarah plays ambulance noise on toy trumpet}

Religious fervor seems almost and always too obscure notions of the sacred or divine

Full of the same wind

Obedient service against the empire of evil

That is blowing in the same bare place

The negative advantage of refuge in the émigrés eccentricity

For the listener, who listens in the snow

With art and TV

Commandeered the media to help carry out the operation

and nothing himself beholds

A real alternative to the authority of the state

Nothing that is not there

And infinite space

Nothing that is

What does it mean to be human?

(special thanks to John for salvaging this and sending it to me for posting here.)

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