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Got pride in juniper studies?

I am in Prague, Czech Republic right now. I am studying in a New York University abroad program. The only reason this is important is because I'm taking a class here called "The Cultural History of the City in Central Europe: Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Berlin." During our Sept. 26 class we discussed green spaces, and, in particular, the role of juniper bushes in Viennese gardens. These are the first lines of my notes from that day.

"Comments on Landscape in Vienna-A lot about gardens, how he gathered information, Foucault's concept of heterotopia, not unique or temporary, identifiable functions (could have many) this is really just entertainment = education (modern) as entertainment, like, who the f*** gets to care about a juniper bush?"

Ah, yes, good, we're into it now. The year is 2005 and the Cold War has been over for nearly 15 years. This is a good thing because now the Russians or the Americans probably will not kill the world's population 10 times over. For that reason, it's good that Capitalism won and that the Soviet Union dissolved. It's good to live in a time of relative peace and security. I mean, now we've got the pesky terrorist problem or the possibility of some whack job getting a nuke or an anthrax bomb or some other kind of horrible creation and vaporizing, eliminating or laying waste to, say, the entire population of Maryland. Phew, hokay- anyway,-

When did we all start going to college? Well, it was in those great years following the great victory in our last declared war when all the GIs came home from killing Nazis and Japanese people and then went to school to get degrees and settle the suburbs and drive big cars with tail fins and have wives who put their heads in ovens and 2.2 kids and barbeques and you get the picture. Now about half of us go to college.

That's right. We're the big military winners of the 20th century. And now that Jews, Roma, disabled people and homosexuals aren't being shipped to concentration camps and armies aren't mobilizing for a cataclysmic global conflict, we (meaning the young, healthy, somewhat wealthy people) get to go to school to study stuff like the meaning of time and space and of cities and gardens and hip-hop and farmworkers. I have done these things. I have taken three documentary studies courses at Duke, one cultural anthropology, a linguistics, three semesters of Portuguese and a handful of history. I have been encouraged to take whatever courses I wanted to take, to learn, to write, to be circumspect.

Making my last documentary film, interviewing an old Turkish man who was at one point in his life a high-ranking soldier, this guy asks me what I'm doing. I say I'm taking a film class at Duke, and he looks straight into the camera and with the most serious expression says, "That's good." And it is good. It's good to have the luxury of education for a purpose not directly tied to employment, to social control or to warfare. It's good for people to talk about parks and juniper bushes and "all the considerations of meaning, like time, identity, and event" even if it sounds like bull, or even if it is bull.

Then my question is thus. Is my Duke education, or even yours, merely entertainment? Should it be? Should it be a pat on the back to the people before me who lived through extreme violence, strife and the such-a way of saying, "Thanks for the opportunity, guys. Now I'm going to study fun stuff!" Or would they want me to educate myself into a better, more informed, more thoughtful person? A more helpful person? If that's even possible in our world?

So here I am in Prague, Czech Republic, where about 35 years ago Soviet tanks rolled through the city and silenced dissenters, artists, writers and students who realized what the world could be like in the absence of overt violence. And here I am with my military in Iraq, torturing people I don't know but whom I also don't think about too hard.

I'm studying parks.

That is, until the next big war, at least!

Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Tuesday.

 

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