Difficult Dialogues

Fall 2012 Symposium Events

The End of Things / death, extinction, renewal

The End of Things Film Series
Thursday September 27 through Tuesday October 30 Screenings and conversations

The Waning of the Modern Age
Monday September 17 Conversation with Morris Berman

Temporal Existence
Friday September 28 through Friday December 14 Photographs by William Steen

Buddhist Perspectives on Self and the World
Monday October 1 Conversation with Mu Soeng

Endangered Languages: Local and Global Perspectives
Thursday October 4 Conversation with David Harrison

The Walking Dead (2011)
Monday October 15 Screening and conversation cafe

The War on Terror and the End of Civil Liberties
Thursday October 25 Conversation with Susan Herman

The End of Things: Post-Apocalyptic States of (Non)Being
Wednesday October 31 Science Fiction Studies Collaborative Faculty Panel

CANCELLED: From Democratic Capitalism to Real Virtualism: Apocalyptic Visions of our Human Future
Thursday November 1 Conversation with Katherine Hayles

Getting Real in the Time of the Anthropocene
Thursday November 8 Conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert and Susi Moser

Decomp Me: A Decompiculture Model for the Postmortem Body
Tuesday November 13 Conversation with Jae Rhim Lee

Monday November 19 Film Screening

The Inner Mandala of the Buddha of Compassion
Friday November 30 through Tuesday December 4 Mandala construction and ceremony with the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen



The End of Things Film Series

The Corporation

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
As an asteroid set to collide with Earth approaches, a lowly insurance salesman finds himself alone when his wife abandons him in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reconnect with his high school sweetheart before it is too late. Tagging along is a quirky neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan. Take a moment to laugh with this comedic interpretation of the end of the world. Hosted by Professor Stéphanie Larrieux (Visual and Performing Arts)
Tuesday September 11 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts

The Road (2009) 
Based on the 2006 Pulitzer-winner novel by Cormac McCarthy, The Road follows a man and his son as they travel across an ash-covered world scourged by an unnamed catastrophe. Dramatizing an environment where all flora and fauna face certain extinction, The Road compels us to consider more deeply than ever the meaning and purpose of life by posing a simple question:  If the world is dead, can the human race go on living? Hosted by Professor Betsy Huang (English)
Tuesday September 25 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts

Le Temps du Loup (Time of the Wolf) (2003)
In the wake of an unspecified disaster, a middle-class French family flees to their country home only to find it occupied by other refugees. When the father of the family is killed, the mother leads her two young children on a harrowing journey of survival through a brutal landscape where the terms of the social contract no longer seem to apply. The film prompts a metaphysical reflection on the tenuous nature of the ties that bind humans to one another as the mother tries to protect her children and sustain a sense of purpose in the absence of the codes that regulate social relations. Hosted by Professor Betsy Huang (English)
Thursday September 27 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts

Melancholia (2011) 
Lars von Trier’s 2011 film follows the relationship between sisters Justine and Claire during the course of two key events — the wedding of Justine and the approach of a mysterious planet, Melancholia, which threatens to collide with Earth. Hosted by Professor Scott Hendricks (Philosophy)
Thursday October 11 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts

Blade Runner (1982) 
Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the film features a group of human-like “replicants” — android laborers with a four-year lifespan — on a quest to prolong their life, and the police detective tasked with finding and destroying them. The replicants’ “more human than human” qualities complicate our taken-for-granted definitions of humanness and compel us to consider to what extent we are already machines. Hosted by Professor Betsy Huang (English)
Tuesday October 23 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts

Children of Men (2006) 
In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible. In a race against time, Theo will risk everything to deliver the miracle the whole world has been waiting for. Hosted by Professor Esther Jones (English)
Tuesday October 30 @ 7 and 10pm
Razzo Hall, Traina Center for the Arts


The Waning of the Modern Ages / Morris Berman

Todd Gitlin

The disintegration of the American empire, which we are currently living through, is actually part of a larger process of disintegration, namely the slow-motion collapse of capitalism as a sociopolitical formation. In America, laissez-faire capitalism succeeded by marginalizing all of the other alternatives for more than 400 years, eventually creating a way of life so lopsided that we are literally tipping over from our own “success”. On a world scale, globalization has left huge swaths of the population awash in economic and spiritual poverty. But it is in the shadow of this failure of capitalism as a world system that, more out of necessity than virtue, alternative ways of living are beginning to emerge.

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. Between 1982 and 1988 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, and was the first recipient of the annual Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992. In 2000 The Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review. This was the first volume of a trilogy on the American empire, followed by Dark Ages America (2006) and Why America Failed (2011). Other works include a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness: The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000). He recently was honored with the Media Ecology Association’s 2013 Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity. He lives in Mexico.

Monday September 17 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


Temporal Existence / Photographs by William Steen

Melissa Harris-Perry

Even though the skull is a timeless image, William Steen’s interpretation is particular. It captures a time when the West and the East are recognizing each other and discovering themselves through each other and their preconceptions about spirituality and art. Determined to go beyond fixed ideas, Steen’s focus is on the discovery of the essence of things. He appreciated how Tibetan art spilled over in various ways into daily life and how the lineages, stories, and dogmas were blended together like a kind of ceremonious, multimedia, high-mountain blues music.

Steen’s recurring concerns were with a play between the essential and the elusive, and were strongly informed by his experiences of practice in the Tibetan Bön tradition. This exhibition includes a selection of his work related to issues of existence and temporality.

William Steen (1949 – 2008) lived and worked in Houston and New York City. Although he worked in various media, his art is primarily photo based. Selected exhibitions include Fotofest, Houston; The National Center for Contemporary Arts, Moscow, Russia; The Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; and Project Row Houses, Houston.

Friday September 28 through Friday December 14, 2012
Opening reception Monday October 1, 2012 @ 5:30pm

Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


Buddhist Perspectives on Self and the World / Mu Soeng

Arguably nothing is more important than how each human being perceives himself or herself and the world around. Out of this perception flow choices that shape not only the life of the individual but the group and society of which he or she is a part. These choices include how to live, how to die, or even how to create emotional and psychological frameworks about living and dying. This conversation with Mu Soeng will deal with Buddhist perspectives on these human issues and how these perspectives enter (or not) into dialogue with mainstream perspectives about the same issues.

Mu Soeng is resident scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, MA, where he has lived and taught for twenty years. He was ordained for eleven years as a monk in the Korean Zen tradition. His books include: The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra; Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen; Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World, among others.

Monday October 1 @ 4pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


Endangered Languages: Local and Global Perspectives /
David Harrison

David Feinberg

Approximately half of the world’s 7,000 languages are predicted to go extinct in this century. In this talk David Harrison will discuss how language death leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture. He will also detail efforts to sustain, value and revitalize linguistic diversity worldwide and use original field materials and recordings of last speakers to illustrate local perspectives on language endangerment and extinction. Global trends in language diversity will be explored through the use of a new quantitative model “Language Hotspots”. He will be joined in conversation with Clark professor Wes DeMarco (Philosophy).

K. David Harrison is a linguist and leading specialist in the study of endangered languages. He co-leads the Enduring Voices project at National Geographic and is an associate professor at Swarthmore College. Harrison has done extensive fieldwork in Siberia, Mongolia, Bolivia, India, and Native America. In his book, When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (Oxford 2007), Harrison provides a vivid picture of the scientific consequences of language loss. Harrison’s work includes not only scientific descriptions of languages, but also storybooks, translations and digital archives for the use of the native speaker communities. He makes frequent media appearances to promote language diversity, and his research is widely discussed in mainstream media. In 2004 Harrison co-founded the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and documenting and revitalizing small languages.

Thursday October 4 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


The Walking Dead (2011) Screening and Conversation Cafe

David Feinberg

AMC’s critically acclaimed original series, The Walking Dead, focuses on human existence in a post-apocalyptic landscape “shared” by the living and the undead. The premier episode introduces the audience to a newly constructed world where the living must somehow learn to reframe their understanding of love, faith, optimism and the purpose of being alive. As we consider The End of Things throughout the semester, this provocative television series grapples with the uncertainty and frailty of human life.

Jason Zelesky, Associate Dean of Students, will introduce a screening of the first episode of season one, “Days Gone Bye,” and help facilitate a post-viewing conversation café about the questions it raises for us.

Monday October 15 @ 7:30pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


The War on Terror and the End of Civil Liberties / Susan Herman

David Feinberg

Susan Herman’s current book, Taking Liberties, examines how US government anti-terrorism measures adopted since 9/11 have affected the rights and lives of ordinary Americans far more extensively than most people realize. In her talk, she will discuss how we have taken an alarming number of steps down the path to an omniscient and omnipotent government, to limitations on our First Amendment freedoms, and to the erosion of our democracy. Why should you worry if you’re not a terrorist?  Find out.

Susan N. Herman was elected President of the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2008 after having served on the ACLU Board of Directors, on its Executive Committee, and as General Counsel. As Centennial Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, she teaches courses in Criminal Law and Procedure and Constitutional Law, and seminars on Law and Literature, and Terrorism and Civil Liberties. She writes extensively on constitutional and criminal procedure topics for legal and non-legal publications, ranging from law reviews and books to popular press and on-line publications. Herman has discussed constitutional law issues on radio, including a variety of NPR shows; on television, including programs on PBS, CSPAN, NBC, MSNBC and a series of appearances on the Today in New York show; and in print media including Newsday and the New York Times. In addition, she has been a frequent speaker at academic conferences and continuing legal education events organized by groups such as the Federal Judicial Center and the American Bar Association, lecturing and conducting workshops for various groups of judges and lawyers, and at non-legal events. She has participated in Supreme Court litigation, writing and collaborating on amicus curiae briefs for the ACLU
on a range of constitutional criminal
procedure issues.

Thursday October 25 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons

Co-sponsored by the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise and the Department of Political Science


Science Fiction Studies Collaborative Faculty Panel The End of Things: Post-Apocalyptic States of (Non)Being

The end of things, at least in Judeo-Christian/western narratives of Apocalypse, simultaneously signals the imminence of cataclysmic finality as well as the promise of revelation of new, unknown knowledge.  It suggests if not the total termination of existence, then an epic shift in how humanity is required to think about what it means to be human, to maintain humanity, or to reformulate humanity; what the world might be like with the end of human influence on the world/environment; and what happens to/within/without human systems of social organization to shape the experience of human being-ness. Do these concerns force us to interrogate alternative conceptions of the meaning of “the end of things” beyond the typical imaging of the Apocalyptic terror of death, destruction, and decay? Faculty members from different disciplines will share their considerations of followed by a dialogue amongst both the panel members and the audience.

Wednesday October 31 @ 6pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


From Democratic Capitalism to Real Virtualism:
Apocalyptic Visions of our Human Future Katherine Hayles


As computational devices shrink in size and become more portable, they also become more intimate and more likely to be carried on (or within) the human body. This amounts of a movement from a highly centralized intelligence (whether in the human brain or in the CPU of a desktop computer) to a distributed collective intelligence that connects flexibly through human and nonhuman agents. As a result, human agency is decentered, and new configurations arise to fill the vacuum. Daniel Suarez’s novel Daemon depicts an apocalyptic version of this reconfiguration when a computer game program takes control of events not only in the virtual world but in the real world as well. If democratic capitalism is based on the notion of the liberal humanist subject, what reconfigurations will emerge when the subject is envisioned as an assemblage between virtual and real-world components, human and nonhuman agents?  What larger political, economic and social structures will embody this logic of subjectivity, and what will they portend for our (human) future? 

N. Katherine Hayles is professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Program in Literature at Duke University. She writes and teaches on the relations of science, technology and literature in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Her book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics won the Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literary Theory for 1998-99, and her book Writing Machines won the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship.  Her most recent book is How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis.  Her work has been recognized by a number of fellowships and awards, including two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, a Fellowship at the National Humanities Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Rockfeller Residency Fellowship at Bellagio, among others. 

Thursday November 1 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons


Getting Real in the Time of the Anthropocene / Elizabeth Kolbert and Susi Moser

John Jennings

Elizabeth Kolbert and Susi Moser are each powerful voices toward reckoning with the phenomenon and impacts of climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert is an acclaimed journalist and writer who has focused on issues of climate change for the last decade. Susi Moser is a well-respected consultant on issues of climate and adaptation — a geographer by training (Ph.D. 1997, Clark University) with an interest in how social science can inform society’s responses to this global challenge. Individually and in conversation with us, they will consider where we are and where we are heading in the age of the Anthropocene — this newly designated geological era in which the state of the planet is being shaped by the actions of humankind.

Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1999. She traveled from Alaska to Greenland and visited top scientists, to get to the heart of the debate over global warming, which was published in Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (2006). Kolbert’s stories have also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and Mother Jones, and have been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best American Political Writing.

Susanne Moser focuses on adaptation to climate change, vulnerability, resilience, climate change communication, social change, decision support and the interaction between scientists, policy-makers and the public. She is Director and Principal Researcher of Susanne Moser Research & Consulting in Santa Cruz, California. She is also a Social Science Research Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University and a Research Associate at the University of California-Santa Cruz Institute for Marine Sciences. She is a contributor to the third US National Climate Assessment, and is frequent advisor to policy-makers and managers at all levels of government. She is a co-editor with Lisa Dilling of a ground-breaking anthology on climate change communication, Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change.

Thursday November 8 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons

Co-sponsored by the Marsh Institute.


Decomp Me: A Decompiculture Model for the Postmortem Body / Jae Rhim Lee


Jae Rhim Lee will discuss her latest work, the Infinity Burial Project. It is a proposal for an alternative postmortem option that features the training of existing edible mushrooms to decompose and remediate toxins in human tissue, the development of a decomposition ‘kit’, burial suits, and a membership society. The project aims to develop an alternative to existing funeral practices, counter western cultural death denial and culture of preservation, and explore the relationship between death denial and environmental degradation. The Infinity Burial Project has been presented internationally and has been featured on CNN, Forbes.com, Wired.co.uk, NewScientist.com, Utne.com, and Boing Boing. The project is funded by the Creative Capital Foundation, the Institüt für Raumexperimente/Universität der Künste Berlin, and the MAK Center for Art + Architecture.

Jae Rhim Lee is a visual artist and designer whose living units, furniture, wearables, and recycling systems propose unorthodox relationships between the mind/body/self and the built and natural environment.  She has been a consultant for the City of New Orleans’ disaster recovery office, a lecturer in visual art at MIT, and has studied art, permaculture, psychology, and the natural sciences.  She has exhibited internationally and has given numerous lectures, talks, and workshops at MIT, the TEDGlobal Conference, Harvard Medical School, and Kampnagel Hamburg, among others. Lee is a recipient of a 2009 Creative Capital Foundation Grant, a 2010 Grant from the Institut fur Raumexperimente/Universitaet der Kunste Berlin, and a 2011 MAK-Schindler Scholarship. Lee is currently a 2011 TED Global Fellow, a Research Affiliate in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, and a Visiting Scholar in the UC Berkeley Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).

Tuesday November 13 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons




Mike Nichols directs Emma Thompson in this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Margaret Edson. Thompson plays Vivian Bearing, a college professor who teaches a course on English poetry. Vivian learns that she has advanced ovarian cancer and only a short time to live, which gives her a sudden and dramatic insight into the importance of kindness and compassion

Monday November 19 @ 7 and 10pm
Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons





The Inner Mandala of Buddhist Compassion


In the Buddhist tradition, mandalas are objects of meditation with a specific purpose: to transform our ordinary perception of the world into a pure perception of the Buddha nature which permeates all phenomena (Matthieu Ricard). The Inner Mandala of the Buddha of Compassion is one of many mandalas created by Tibetan monks and nuns for initiation ceremonies and ritual practices. Only since 1989 have sand mandalas been created outside these settings; since then, Tibetan monks and nuns have constructed sand mandalas throughout the world.
Beginning on Friday November 30, Venerable Tenzin Yignyen will construct a sand mandala at Clark over a five-day period. Everyone is welcome to watch the mandala construction; each day will begin with meditation at 8:30am.
On Tuesday December 4, Lama Tenzin will perform the dismantling ceremony around 11:30am. It will include a short ritual ceremony, placing of blessed sand in containers, and the return of sand to a nearby body of water.

The Venerable Lama Tenzin Yignyen is an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk. He holds a degree of “Master of Sutra and Tantra” studies from the Namgyal Monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. Lama Tenzin taught Tibetan Buddhism, art and language at Namgyal branch monastery in Ithaca, N.Y. for three years. He has created sand mandalas in many museums and educational institutions throughout the United States including the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, the Asia Society in New York City, and Bard College, among others. Lama Tenzin currently lives in Geneva, N.Y. and is a visiting professor for Tibetan Buddhism at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Friday November 30 through Tuesday December 4, 2012
The Inner Mandala of the Buddha of Compassion
Opening meditation and ceremony Friday November 30 @ 8:30am
Mandala construction daily from 9am to 4pm, meditation at 8:30am
Closing ceremony and disassembling of mandala Tuesday December 4 @ 11:30am

All events are at Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons