Making Friends with Rilke

By: David Kretz, PhD Candidate in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago and BOLLI Lecturer

Great texts, it has been said, read us. What is meant by this, I take it, is that in reading them we do not merely find out something about whatever it is they take as their subject matter. Nor do we merely learn about the texts’ perspectives on their subject matter. We (also) learn something about ourselves. In engaging writing or artworks of the highest quality, we come into contact with ways of looking at the world that are utterly strange to ours and yet compelling in ways quite difficult to pin down. We rarely find ourselves in easy agreement, although agreement can happen, and sometimes we find a line, a thought expressed, that we even want to affirm enthusiastically! Just as often we might find ourselves provoked to voicing loud disagreements. In any case, it is hard to remain neutral or indifferent to what such works express. We feel a need to take the measure of our distances and proximities to the text. It helps to do so in speech, by verbalizing our reactions, and it helps even more if we do not have to do it alone. In the classroom, we can triangulate our own responses with those of others and, when that happens, three elements are at play simultaneously: the text, ourselves, and our interlocutors. A great study group, to my mind, is one in which all three take on heightened saliency at various turns. 

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“What’s Past is Prologue”: Shakespeare, the Supernatural and Political Imagination

By: Miranda Peery, PhD Candidate in the Department of English at Brandeis and BOLLI Lecturer

How far have we really come from the days of witchcraft trials, supernatural authorization for political influence or rulers wielding claims of magic against the people over which they preside? Consider the historical document the Titulus Regius, in which King Richard III of England and his parliament use faith, and contemporary religious beliefs to deauthorize his brother Edward’s heirs, thereby making Richard the next in line to be king. While the particular charge is witchcraft, the underlying message is religious authorization to rule – and its efficacy is well documented. This, and other questions around the connection of the supernatural to political tactics, were the subject of much discussion in the study group I led at BOLLI in the Spring of 2022. 

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