This summer, June ’07, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a little over three weeks in Europe, but it wasn’t a “vacation” by any sense of the word. I, along with fellow RCIDer Jason Helms, took six seminars (yes, 18 hours for each of the six in three weeks) in the ‘Media and Communication Division’ of the European Graduate School (EGS), and I must say it was one of the most intense, enriching educational experiences that I have ever encountered. Where else in the world are you going to get the opportunity to take a seminar on film (thinking/creating in film) with film director Claire Denis (pictured: with Jason Helms) and a seminar with Helene Cixous on Helene Cixous (and her intellectual and personal relationship with Jacques Derrida)?
There were other seminar and instructors of equal fascination: we had a seminar on the works of Jean-Francois Lyotard entitled “Hesitating Thought,” which was taught by RCID Director Victor Vitanza; there was a seminar on Media Art (with an emphasis on rethinking the shape/space inside the body) by renowned installation artist/sculptor Antony Gormley; a seminar on Matrixial Borderspace by Bracha Ettinger; and a seminar on Media Culture and Artificial Life by EGS Director Wolfgang Schirmacher.
Each of these seminars had its own dynamic and process, but the conversations they together ignited amongst us students was an exceptionally fertile ground for sprouting ideas. Whether in seminar, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in the Metro bar (drinking a Cardinal Lager), there was never a moment to not be actively involved (and invested) in a conversation.
Most of our time in Saas Fee, Switzerland, was spent in seminars or EGS related functions—including evening lecture sessions, which were presentations by faculty at EGS as well as guest speakers/presenters like writer Julian Barnes; philosopher Manuel DeLanda; and artist, musician, and theorist Paul Miller [a.k.a. DJ Spooky]). We did have some free time each day after lunch, and some days we decided to watch Denis’ films; other days we took in the sauna and hot tub or went for a hike up (and/or down) the beautiful mountain-side (even taking the lift to the top of “an Alp” [stopping to stand next to a glacier] and hiking the hour and twenty minutes back down to the village). And there were several days where afternoon naps were in order and still others where drinks and conversation were the occurrence of the moment (like chatting with Pierre Alferi or Jean-Luc Nancy [J-L F with Jason & me]).
During our time at EGS, we had two scheduled days off. One was an actual day off, but the other included an all day trip to the Biennale in Venice. We arrived in Venice at 8:00am and left that same night at 11:00pm. This trip began the whirlwind part of our EGS stay as we toured the city of Venice on Thursday–including a fantastic meal that evening in some tiny corridor just across the waterway from the San Marco square. The following morning we had breakfast in the Swiss Alps (back in Saas Fee) and then we headed for Paris, ending our day with a lovely dinner at a little bistro a block from the Eiffel Tower.
The Paris part of our EGS experience was not part of the original plan, but Helene Cixous was unable to come to us; however, rather than cancel on us completely, she gave up her monetary compensation to pay for our class to travel to her for a one day seminar and meal in her apartment, which concluded with a in-depth, behind the scenes look at the renowned Theatre du Soleil (for whom Helene has written several plays).
All told, it was a fascinating experience and I met many engaging individuals whom I hope to continue conversations with through the years to come. This opportunity was so unique and so rewarding that I hope all RCIDers get the chance to take advantage of it in coming summers.
~ Justin Hodgson