Teaching and a Trip to the Gramsci Monument: August in The Bronx

When August 1st arrives, it’s always a shock.  But this August 1st bring something more than shock. It brings recognition: back to reality. Today marks the first day of my last month before sabbatical ends and I return, after a year off, to teaching.  So this blog will be step 1 in my re-entry–a way to merge the semester that’s approaching and the summer that’s fading. My three courses for fall 2013 are:

1.  Introduction to Writing, for beginning composition students at Lehman College, CUNY

2. The Novel, for advanced English majors at Lehman College, CUNY

3. The 1990s: Complexity Science, Cultural Studies, Composition, and A New Humanities for Ph.D. students at The Graduate Center, CUNY

In the past, I’ve structured each class as an idea, often phrased as a question, like “What is Writing?” or “What Does the Novel Mean in an Age of Computers?” This year, I am trying to structure the three classes to work as one. This shift in perspective is thanks to a sabbatical reading about a host of changes that were brewing in the 1990s–in science, technology, ideology, culture.  I see these shifts coming to a head today.  And so I am thinking about my research on the 1990s and my teaching in 2013 as connected to a larger theme, something about the relationship between being at the beginning and being advanced, between introductory ideas and complex systems, between personal identity and social politics.

A complicated relationship between past and present, novelty and the already existing, art and the everyday, is currently on display in an art installation in the Bronx: the Gramsci Monument,  sponsored by the Dia Art Foundation.You don’t need to know much about the Italian political philosopher for whom the monument is built (Antonio Gramsci, who wrote the Prison Notebooks while in jail) to be moved by this project. The artist is Thomas Hirschhorn but construction of the monument was a collaborative affair, worked on in conjunction with the residents of the Forest Houses housing project.  The “piece” (or pieces) of this project,  make up a mini-neighborhood, with an area for an open-mike, for children to do art projects, for the radio station, the newspaper, the library and cafe.

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By visiting, as my family did last week, you participate in its mission.  That mission is laid out by the artist, Thomas Hirschhorn, in four points:

 Establish a new term of monument

 –Provoke encounters

 –Create an event

 –Think Gramsci today

The lessons of this space last well past the initial visit.  In viewing and participating, I became an expert and a beginner, a poseur and an intellectual, an artist and an accidental tourist all at once. The visit also helped me re-frame my return to teaching.  September is not a new beginning but a continuation of a construction project (art monument?) already in progress.

See you in class.

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About Jessica Yood

I am an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY). Composition and Rhetoric is my primary field and research into the history and emerging role of writing in our contemporary culture continues to broaden my definition of this discipline. Work for my book project takes me into the history of literary criticism in America, complexity theories, the culture wars and the intellectual crises of the 1990s, and the enduring complexity of first-year writing and writers.
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