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Maria Cosway and Mandbrill-Baboons

October 6, 2010 at 11:46 pm

For a great deal of my life, I’ve perceived my body as a vehicle which transports my head and my body as an organism that tries its hardest to pretend my head doesn’t exist. In high school, when I started rock-climbing upside down, I discovered that the physical component that processes my life experiences was clunky, heavy, and just plain inconvenient. And how often is my head agitated when my back can’t lift me high enough to see the TV or my feet fall asleep by their own accord? (Answer: a lot. And I might be bringing a phone book next time I go to French movie night). Thomas Jefferson may have struggled with his heart and his head, but I have a hard time reconciling my head and everything else--not because of a coquettish artist (who, interestingly, had four siblings killed by a deranged nurse) but by the mere fact that, despite my neck, they seem wholly unconnected.

Until now. Modern Dance I is rocking and shaking and twirling and tilting my world. I was a little hesitant to take this class, not least because I was downgraded in ballet and spent a great deal of my third grade extracurricular life with four-year-olds in tutus (I had an awesome Sea Shepherds [more on this later] shirt and purple bike shorts). But the great thing about all Carleton classes really, and this should be stupendously obvious, is that they teach you how to do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. And I’ve been learning a lot.

My teacher talks about movement in a way I’ve never considered. She tells us that the way we experience the world through motion is part of what we discover as we grow up, a technique for imprinting patterns, a part of our primordial selves. And the (maybe not so) weird thing is that I’m starting to get it. Yes, thoughts create movement, but no matter how hard I concentrate, I can’t raise my right eyebrow. And guess what? I’m breathing right now and I didn’t even think about it until, well, right now (you too?). In class, I’m discovering I can jump in new ways by imagining certain images or ideas, and I’m actually starting to remember I’m minorly symmetric. A week or two ago, my friend Julia and I spent half an hour with our heads connected, and while I might not be able to read her thoughts (yet), I could feel the imprints on her forehead, and the way I moved, the way I thought about moving and the way I just crossed space, totally changed. In class so far, we’ve been starfish and sea creatures, but tomorrow, I’m pretty sure we’re focusing on growing a backbone, and I’m really excited.

A note on the sheer intellectual lunacy of the liberal arts: Calculus 3, no surprises here, is about vectors and planes, spheres and motion and comparing motion and moving through space. Modern dance: motion through space and changing planes, just instead of x, y, and z, they’re sagittal, frontal, and traverse. And then (and here’s, I think, the real kicker): Socrates to Glaucon, on parts of the soul: “…We’d say that they [people] have in them both a straight and a circumference; and with respect to the straight they stand still since they don’t lean in any direction—while with respect to the circumference they move in a circle; and when the straight inclines to the right, the left, forward, or backward at the same time that it’s spinning, then in no way does it stand still” (436d). Motion, planes, circles--as Rafiki proclaims on the mountain top, “it moves us all.” And yes, there are infinitely many planes out there, but, as Samuel Leroy Jackson can probably attest, that doesn’t mean many things can’t be on the same one.

I participated in the Carleton blood drive yesterday, and while I was being preyed upon (kidding, Jason, you were pretty pale, but I don’t think you’re a vampire), a lovely Minnesotan nurse came and asked me why I was in college and what I was planning on for my major. This didn’t exactly help me calm down and, a bit flustered, as the blood drained from my arm, I tried to make my usual joke about declaring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It didn’t go over so well. But, this, here, comme ça, is probably one of my best defenses of the liberal arts. That and a deflector shield generator.


  • October 9 2010 at 2:37 am
    Anonymous '93
    I hope this story will emphasize your demonstration of the mind's extraordinary powers of synthesis when shaped by a liberal arts education. My heart lay in the humanities, and curiousity pulled me to the sciences. So even though I majored in the sciences, I took a good dose of language and art classes. Out of all the "practical" classes I took, Drawing I and II proved to be among the handful of classes that I've found most useful nearly 20 years after my student years! One day in Drawing we were asked to describe the impact we felt toward our classmates' work from that day's lesson. I was far from confident with this exercise, but cobbled something together about the shared trajectory of most of the marks on a certain piece expressing unity. The class turned unnaturally silent and the prof asked me to repeat myself. I was certain I had blundered awfully in this class filled with art majors who knew how to discuss artwork--and thought this was confirmed (to my exquisite discomfort ) with the next question: What's your major? I squeaked my answer: Physics. But the prof went on with a mini-lecture about the unique perspectives that come from mixing disciplines. I stood a wee bit straighter as we filed out of class that day, and my older self appreciates even more the value of a liberal arts education.

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