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If you’ve so much as glanced at The Chronicle’s website over the past few weeks, you are guaranteed to have seen a headline about the new residential community model announced this September. Most of them bring up a good point or two about what we still don’t know about QuadEx, or the way other schools like Duke have been doing the residential model for decades. There has been a lot of pushback, especially from first-years who voiced that they felt left out of the process of student input. All of this criticism is fair and warranted, and can only contribute to making QuadEx better for everyone if it’s listened to. Keep it coming.
It is soft and easy to imagine yourself the chief director of your actions and choices, but the environment around you built with brick and asphalt and very specific intentions exerts a control that is jarring when you meet it up close.
While preparing to write this senior column I thought of several different directions to go in, some beyond the framework of archetypes that has been so useful for me this semester. But having considered other forms of reflection, I’ve realized another series of archetypes is exactly how I want to construct this column.
While Duke University is by no means the only institution to claim the title of ‘University in the Forest’ (e.g. Drew University), it has done so since early after the time its indenture was written and has made good on its claim to the title through the prolific work of the School of Forestry (formerly housed in the Reuben-Cooke building, then the Biological Sciences Building, until being formally absorbed into the Nicholas School of the Environment in the 1990s).
The English word ‘individual’ didn’t appear anywhere in the language before the beginning of the seventeenth century, and even after its first uses it didn’t describe a person until the mid-eighteenth. Despite its recent coinage, Enlightenment era thinkers like Locke swept it up into their writings about rights and freedoms and autonomy like it had existed since the fall of the Roman Empire. Their intellectual descendants proliferated the term in myriad literary nooks and crannies, notably the American Constitution and other of our founding legal documents.
One of my favorite performances of campus choreography shows several times a day and requires no ticket or fee to attend, or even to participate. The Bus Stop Passenger Exchange is possibly one of the most diverse junctions students engage with generally, and I am struck every time I do by how many perspectives I get to ride between campuses with. So many pairs of eyes and so many different ways of experiencing the same object, namely the bus itself and riding on it—the event never gets old or mundane for me, but even more elaborately informed the more people and perspectives I meet.
A global pandemic robs our lives of innumerable and diverse things, many of them components of our social correspondence which have understandably been reduced and restricted for the sake of preserving our lives. The whole series of gestures common to a social interaction are now not only much less frequent, but because of masks worn whenever we’re not totally alone, dramatically reduced.
Hold in your head the image of a canvas with a depiction of the real world inside a painted frame that looks incredibly real, inside an actual frame that looks incredibly real, because it is. Kinda like Dos niñas riéndose (Two Laughing Girls), the trompe l’œil painting above by Perré Borel del Caso (1880). Remember that nothing besides the outer frame itself is anything more than a representation—the laughing girls are oils on a stretched canvas reflecting light, and so is the inner frame despite its attempt to deceive the eye.
How many times this week have you questioned the meaning of your work and your life? My count’s gotten to the mid-twenties since Sunday.
Take a close look at the picture above. A serene lake in the lower right side balances the extended fingers of the one in the upper left, bookending the dominating Duke Chapel tower between them. The Chapel itself seems to stare intensely at the bird through whose eyes we are looking, spreading its stone wings of academic and residential cottages in direct challenge to the feathers of our avian proxy.
I don’t know how much you know about academic philosophy, but it’s all I can think about, all the time.