Thursday, February 11, 2010

Philosopher Kings

Last Tuesday, I finally got around to attending a lecture with the Metaphysical Society (The Metafizz).  I don’t know quite what I was expecting, having been in Dublin too long to expect anything stodgy, but it turned out to be quite the drunken socratic dialogue.

The professor giving the talk is the newly appointed head of the School of Philosophy and Sociology at University College Cork.  He had just moved back to Europe after 40 years teaching in the US, and was more than excited to tell us what he experienced. Actually, I think the verb he used was “weathered”.  I believe that was the first time in my stay in Ireland that I was actually slightly offended by somebody’s views of America. Almost everyone else I have talked to about the US has been quick to seperate their views of our government and their views of Americans, or at least emphasize how much they love Chicago. But this man was relentless in his generalizations of the American public.  Apparently we are ignorant by choice because we can’t handle reality. And I get it. 60% of the American public still believe that Sadaam Hussein was linked to the Taliban. But, sweeping generalizations about millons peoples motivations for being undereducated is just slightly offensive to me. Breathe!

So, the great thing about the Metafizz is, usually the person presenting is using the Society as a means for a dry-run of some material they plan to use elsewhere, be it in their thesis, or in this case the inaugural lecture of his post in Cork - So, he read from some notes, paused to ask us whether this bit or that bit would be better here or there.  And the topic was interesting enough - “How Philosophy Can Save the Earth”.  It was not so much a lecture for us as a workshop for him.

So, to get on with it, the moment this professor walked into the room, he was offered a glass of wine, which he gladly accepted. I characterized this later as a sort of “verbal handshake” in Ireland - the offering and accepting of a drink. The drinking did not let up for a good five and half hours later when we were all at the pub down the street having a laugh about tonic wine made by Benedictine Monks (  

The scene in that pub was probably what many people fantasize about when they come to study at Trinity, or really any big University in Europe - sitting around with a group of classmates and professors, letting your true opinions about democracy come to the fore after your third pint of Guinness (let it be noted that the Professor in question was pacing us kids).  It reminded me of Sarah Lawrence, in that your professors don’t treat you so much as a student, but rather a kind of co-pilot on this academic adventure.  There is a real joy when a professor forty years your senior gets into an argument with you about the nature of democracy, and he actually puts an effort into the discussion.  It's a sign that they believe you to be a worthy adversary.

Now that we were at the pub, as the professor noted, he could reveal his true opinions in this more congenial setting (I think what he meant was if it backfired or offended, he could maintain it was all for a laugh). In lieu of democracy, he advocates the crowning of a Philosopher King, and by the way he nominates himself. Now, it could be assumed (although riskily) that he was joking about the second part, but let it be know that this well-respected Professor of Philsophy advocates a mandatory test for all people who wish to vote.

This is a prime example of the ego of academia, and one of the main reasons, besides not having the brain for it, that I will, at some point, jump the ship from this philosophical undergraduate journey and get a real job.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Galway ( Or In Favor of Slow Travel)

Yesterday, I got home from a four day leg in Galway and the Connemara Mountains. Exhausted from sensory overload and living out of my backpack, I put off any writing or processing of the experience.  Today, as I was feigning alertness in my Ancient Philosophy lecture (who has time to read the Theatetus when there are still pubs to check off the list?), I started to experience a quite distinct feeling of panicky nervousness, seemingly without cause. I soon realized that this didn't have anything to do with the course work I had yet to complete, but rather was solely caused by a fear of losing the experience I had just had if I didn't write it down, if I didn't transfer it somehow into something tangible, pocketable. It was almost as if I felt if I didn't somehow capture the experience in a reliable medium, it would somehow become diluted over time.
However, I soon realized, like I always do when I get this feeling about travel experiences, that one of the main reasons the past weekend had been so full an experience was my complete lack of motivation to document it. My camera wasn't charged when I left fo the bus, so I left it behind. Without a camera, I was free to absorb the city and mountains at my own pace, without being able to hide behind the security of a camera. When I have had a camera on trips, I feel it has almost acted as a security blanket of sorts. I have found myself thinking, I have taken a photograph of it, I have processed it, I have captured this experience, now I am free to move on to the next sight. Its sort of an automatic way to say you have experienced something. But if you are without camera, as I was, it is much more of a process to experience a sight.  A much more rewarding one, too. 
For the leg of the trip that we spent in the Connemara mountains, we traveled with the Galway Tour Company out to our hostel on one of their tours of the Connemara mountains, and then they picked us up the next day and we got to see the rest of the tour. It was a great deal, and also let us see some of the sights, while getting in our hiking time. However, it is tours like these that make the camera-experienced-travel so necessary. In one day, this company shuttles you to maybe ten or twelve various sights of interest, with maybe a ten minute stop at most, and because you dont' want to run around the whole place for ten minutes and attempt to panickily process it, one falls back on their camera to experience the Abbey or old Fairy Fort, and can go back on the bus and look at their pictures while the Connemara Mountains pass by on all sides.
This isn't some sort of unforgiving commentary on the modern tourist. If I were on one of those day-tours I would be inclined to do the exact same thing, because it would be impossible to process all that beauty and history in such a short period of time. When we went on a hike through the hills, I found myself tripping every few minutes because I wouldn't let myself look at the path as I walked because I was so eager to absorb the scenery. It truly was so beautiful that I could not look away without feeling like a wastrel.  Needless to say my boots were covered in their fair share of sheep shit by the time we got back to our hostel.
Galway City in itself also really caters to this kind of slow-fermenting travel. The Galway city "sights" themselves only take up maybe half a day or less, while the real magic of that city is the streetlife. The buskers, trad music, pubs and walking to be done - those are the real attractions of the city. 
A more specific run-down of my trip will come later, as I steal pictures from friends to supplement the various scrapes we entered into over the four days. Just had to rant a bit.
So, Post-Grad plans are:  I'm really going to learn to play the banjo, just so I can go back to Galway and busk with the best of 'em.

Thinking About a Guinness?

Thinking About a Guinness?