The 300s room at the library is where I usually go to browse titles in sociology and economics, like Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences or The Anti-Capitalism Reader. I’m saying on an average day I don’t expect to find a lithe woman in a floor-length, flower-petal skirt posing gracefully by the fireplace. But yesterday was not an average day and there was Candice Salyers, not your average performance artist, spinning in slow motion across paper letters on the carpet reading, “absence makes the heart grow fonder, presence makes the heart grow.” I wasn’t sure how Karl Marx or John Maynard Keynes would have felt about all this, but I expect they would have been spellbound like yours truly and everyone else in the room.
Candice was slowly creeping through “Significant Figures,” a work-in-progress performance installation and part of her residency at the Vermont Performance Lab. I mean, what really mesmerized those of us who were gawking at her was how really, really slowly she moved. Candice made a two-toed sloth look like a lemur on caffeine. She made tai chi look like taekwando. Her next act was outside the library, lying on the cement inside a chalk outline surrounded by tiny plastic soldiers. As she slowly rolled and rose, slow as molasses in Siberia, she smudged the chalk and scattered the little men. I’m not sure what it all meant, but the resonance between Candice and the awestruck audience was palpable over the hip-hop music coming from Schrader dorm. We all walked away a little slower and more self-aware.
Did you know that just nine years ago, The Lord of the Rings was burned in Alamagordo, New Mexico, outside the Christ Community Church, along with other “satanic” Tolkein novels? I sure as heck didn’t. How about this, that Orwell’s Animal Farm and 125 other titles were banned in the United Arab Emirates in 2002? That Nabokov’s Lolita was banned in France and England when it was published in the 1950s, and Hemingway’s novels were burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933? Well, okay, I might have guessed the last one, but I didn’t know about any of the others until yesterday, when the library celebrated Constitution Day with a community “read-out” of banned and challenged books.
If anyone happened to be unaware of the event, they were shocked, I mean shocked, into consciousness by politics professor Meg Mott and students on the library balcony—dressed in black justice gowns—hollering passages from the Constitution—especially the First Amendment, of course, everybody around here’s favorite. About 30 valiant souls, including students, faculty and staff, eventually settled down in the reading room to subject themselves to some of the most reviled and controversial examples of classic modern literature. Reference and technology librarian Amber Johnson read a section from Brave New World describing the electro-shocking of babies in the “Delta” class, part of their Pavlovian training to have caste-appropriate thoughts and ambitions. Senior Ryan Stratton read a passage from Joyce’s Ulysses, describing men in the shocking and reprehensible act of urinating, and literature professor T. Wilson read about pedophilia in Lolita.
Each reader had to wear a stylish sash of “caution” tape, giving the overall impression of a beauty pageant in a crime zone. Although the tape was intended to warn all listeners that they were about to fall into a steaming cauldron of hellfire and damnation, on the contrary the readings went off without any sign of eternal torment. Actually, several of those that subjected themselves to the rite of free speech responded favorably, not having been “read to” since the last time they were tucked into bed. It may even be the beginning of a reading-out-loud trend on campus, and there are still many other banned classics to choose from. For more information, see the library’s list of banned and challenged books and the American Library Association’s annotated list describing the checkered past of some of these.
Velocity is everything, when it comes to car accidents—that’s according to biology professor Bob Engel. Basically, the faster I go, the more destructive energy I am likely to unleash upon the nearest tree and the twisted piece of metal I used to call my car. Yes indeed folks, this Wednesday was the first full-agenda Town Meeting of the year, time for Bob’s “shock and awe” offensive on unsafe driving. I don’t know how many lives Bob has saved with this amazing annual pep talk—probably many—but he certainly had yours truly spellbound with as much morbid fascination as if he was prying bones out of a coyote scat, which he has also been known to do. I mean, the steaming mound of nauseating data he gleefully brought to light was enough to make even the most shameless lead-foot a little squeamish about speeding.
Like, who would have guessed that speeding down South Road at 50 miles per hour would save me only 90 seconds? I mean, that’s barely enough time to guzzle down one more dining hall apricot Danish that I don’t need, making it twice as unhealthy. Bob’s unsettling description of how certain ductless glands found below the belt actually poison young brains with hormones, turning a once-rational driver into a libido machine on wheels, seemed to resonate particularly strongly with students. That’s not to mention the impact of alcohol on the brain, essentially reducing it to the brain of a reptile. This was also a sobering thought for anyone who has tried to imagine a snake driving a car, let alone a hormone-crazed snake. I’m guessing that nobody can address this delicate and important subject with quite the same grasp of revolting facts and irreverent humor as Bob, and he will be a tough act to follow. Although this is his last semester teaching biology, I hope we have not seen the last of his “glands on wheels” talk.
Speaking in clay tongues: I’m not kidding, that’s how Martina Lantin had me feeling about ceramics after just a half-hour introductory class last Thursday. No, not like I was possessed or something, but like clay was a language that had a range of dialects and held meaning and intention like any other language. Martina Lantin is the new ceramics professor at Marlboro, and when she talks about how touching clay in different ways will affect how the final work will be “read” it makes the hair stand up on my neck like when I step into South Pond for the first time each April. What I mean to say is that it’s refreshing as hell, and gives me a ton of confidence that Martina will fit snugly into the ol’ liberal arts curriculum here.
In the Ceramics II intro class I visited, Martina said she would encourage students to explore new ideas, push boundaries and take risks. To boldly go where no pinch-pot has gone before. The course is packed with assignments including collecting inspirational images, making sketches and even doing lots of readings, for crying out loud, about the history of the craft and current ceramics theory. The students will do a research project on a chosen artist or region, and then a final project of their own invention. Sounds like a lot of work, but the rewards are great too. Martina says that ceramics is 75 percent tactile expression and 25 percent pyromania, and she looks forward to help from flame-loving students in doing firings throughout the year. She even plans to fire reclaimed scraps of clay and glaze into “vitrified” paving bricks that can be used to turn the weedy courtyard in front of Woodard into a veritable patois patio.
If only one out of every 140 Americans produces the food that we all need to survive, what the heck are the other 139 doing? According to some new Marlboro students who attended Tuesday’s lecture and reading by author Ben Hewitt, they are doing important stuff and can’t be bothered with growing any ol’ leeks and onions. Ben wrote The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, which was read by incoming students and other community members this summer. Okay, it’s probably totally obvious from the title, but Ben is a proponent of the local food movement. Like, he had some pretty scary stuff to say about the current state of industrial agriculture, from billions of salmonella-laced eggs recalled last month to the loss of half of Iowa’s topsoil in the last 50 years. And he even said he was sparing us from the scariest stuff. But what was really cool about Ben was that he wasn’t there to lecture, he was there to really talk, and, in typical Marlboro fashion, so were the students.
I mean, even before he was done talking about the book, students were eagerly raising their hands and challenging Ben to back up his assertions. It was the kind of eagerness that would cause any mortal soul like me to stammer or to clutch the podium with white knuckles. But Ben engaged this unbridled critical thinking with a grace and confidence that I guess comes from running a diversified farm in northern Vermont: I could imagine him as a formidable character when it came to castrating lambs or cutting firewood or weeding. Students were equally formidable, and some appeared to object to his rationale that local food and small-scale, circular farming systems were an improvement over industrialized agriculture. Maybe four years of studying economics, history and systems thinking will alter the opinions of these nimble young minds, and maybe it won’t. All I can say is at least they were not afraid to speak their minds to a man who probably castrates lambs, so their future at Marlboro has got to be bright.
Learn more about The Town That Food Saved, and see what you think.