After Centuries, the Homeric Question is solved!

For those of you who have been struggling with the question of the textualization of the Iliad and Odyssey, you can now relax.  A first edition of Homer has been discovered, which will of course settle all questions about the text, as we can now consult this lovely edition and find out the author’s truest intentions. Can’t wait to see if books 10 of the Iliad and 24 of the Odyssey are there!  We might see some careers ruined based on the outcome here.

The first edition’s existence came to light recently in the best of sources: a Hollywood film—J-Lo’s The Boy Next Door, to be exact. Apparently a teenage student gives this edition to her as a gift, claiming to have purchased it for a dollar at a garage sale. I assume this was a garage sale in Oxyrhyncus, where one can find the oddest things in the city dump. Anyway, you can read all about it in The Guardian.

The result is that there has been a spike in online traffic caused by people trying to get their own first-edition of Homer.  And here I thought only M. L. West had one…

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Another review in LARB

Years ago, I rather liked the essay Adam Phillips wrote on Freud and biography in Darwin’s Worms, which suggested psychoanalysis fundamentally pulls the rug out from the very idea of biography. Imagine my surprise to see Phillips later wrote a short biography of Freud! While it’s a fun read, it really does reveal his ambivalence over the project of life writing. For more you can read the whole review here in the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can decide for yourself whether “bio-riffing” is a valid concept.

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Tamler Sommers—Master Podcaster!

Hey, did you know that Honors College philosophy prof Tamler Sommers has a wonderfully irreverent podcast?  Not only is it stimulating and highly entertaining—it’s also getting a LOT of notice!  As in nearly half a million downloads in little over a year!  Wouldn’t you like to listen to two clever dudes take a witheringly frank look at human morality? They touch upon psychological research, famous philosophers, films, dogs…and in language that, at times, you might not want your grandmother to hear.

It’s called Very Bad Wizards, and features Sommers with psychologist David Pizarro, and often includes guests who are notable philosophers and researchers.

Don’t you want to get in on this before it goes MEGA and EVERYONE knows about it? You still have the hipster edge on this one.

Check it out:

It’s available on iTunes, where it’s ranked among the top 10 philosophy podcasts!

Go check out the Honors College’s very own podcast rock star.  Better yet, take another one of his classes!

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Cremins on Manor of Speaking!

As hinted earlier, our colleague Robert Cremins has indeed reappeared as a talking head to comment on the social and historical background of Downton Abbey (Season 5, episode 1) on KUHT’s Award Winning Manor of Speaking with Ernie Manouse.

He looks quite comfortable on the couch, talking about English social ills (being Irish, he may be experiencing a little Schadenfreude here).  Word has it that another Honors College professor from across the pond will be appearing on Manor of Speaking in the near future…stay tuned!

Great job, Robert!

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The Overtime Theater in San Antonio

If you’re heading over to San Antonio, you might want to check out the Overtime Theater’s productions—voted 5 years running the “best theater company in San Antonio.”

I was there a while back to see The Screen Dreams of Buster Keaton by Rachel Joseph, an amazingly kinetic piece put on by the most passionate company I’ve seen in a while. I reviewed the work for Theatre Journal, and that review is now available here.

They also did a production of Plautus’ Haunted House, adapted by my colleague Tom Jenkins.  It was directed by Kyle Gillette of Trinity U, who did an awesome glam rock version of the Bacchae a few years ago. There’s clearly a “classics with a twist” theme going on over there.

So if you’re wanting to hang out near The Pearl and do something utterly different, make sure to check it out.

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Check out Robert Cremins!

My colleague Robert has given a very nice overview of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for PBS.  It’s quite a well produced short segment—check it out!

When he’s not commenting on TV, he’s busy writing for the LA Review of Books. Here’s his latest piece on the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising.

He’s a great resource on all matters Irish and British—and he might even be commenting on the next season of Downton Abbey. So stay tuned for more Cremins!

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What do we look for in an oral exam?

It’s that time of year when Human Situation students are being assessed in the final oral examination.  Since oral exams are rare and the students are largely freshmen, it’s understandable that they don’t quite know what to expect.  I’m asked fairly often what we’re looking for in the exam, so while it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d post this. It might be helpful for next term if it’s too late for you now.

If you’ve seen the rubric, you can tell that we are looking at the full range of texts in the semester.  At a minimum, you should have something to say about every text we read. We don’t expect total recall of the whole text of say, the Iliad; but it is not unreasonable for us to expect you to remember the names of major characters, the general conflict and outline of the work, as well as some details that were personally significant to you. We dwell on particular scenes in discussion and lecture, and we’d expect those discussions to stick in your memory. If you sound as though all you know could have been taken from Spark Notes, then we’re not that impressed.

In a text like Plato’s Apology of Socrates, we expect you to retain the general outline of the important arguments as well as the outcome of the trial. We might throw a question at you like: if Socrates successfully refutes the charges against him, why does he still get convicted?  Some of us are quite open to your challenging philosophical positions in the exam. For example, you might declare you find Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to be seemingly inconsistent; however, expect immediately to be asked to explain the inconsistencies in detail.  It’s not enough to say, “I just don’t buy the argument.”

If it’s a text from the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, we expect you to have approached the work as a text with an eye to details, arguments, inconsistencies.  Even if you’ve never been exposed to Judaism or Christianity, that much textual work you can do. And if you have been exposed to the Bible before, it’s important for you to realize your denominational education may have taught you to read it in a particular way, one that might not be compatible with what we’ve been doing with it as a text. We are not trying to convert you or subvert your faith. But we do expect you to understand, for example, Paul’s argument about grace in the Letter to the Romans, or just what he means by the law.

That’s the easy stuff, frankly. The exam shouldn’t really be all that much about your memory of texts and arguments. It’s a lot more about your engagement with the reading. So what’s the difference between a B- and a solid A exam?  Here are some observations.

  1. An A exam feels like the examinee has conviction based upon a thoroughly digested reading of the texts.  This means thinking through the arguments, pulling them apart, comparing them, and coming up with new ideas. Hopefully you have done this in your discussion sections and your papers.  All that previous work is fair to use for the oral final; use it, but build on it. Repetition doesn’t get you much.
  2. An A exam is not one where we have to walk you through the connections.  Sometimes the examiner poses a question that immediately draws two texts into play.  Once you see the connection, a lot of things should fall into place. But if the examiner has to map them out for you, then you get a lot less credit for the discussion.
  3. In an A exam, the examinee is often as ready to teach as to learn. While we don’t expect it to happen in every exam, the fun thing for us is that we sometimes learn to see things differently based on what students say in the oral final. This again reflects not just assimilation of information, but a new synthesis and digestion of all this from your perspective.
  4. In an A exam, there is solid textual detail that naturally comes forward.  While we don’t expect you to remember everything we might mention, we do expect some decent kind of recall.  However, when you offer of your own accord some detailed textual analysis, we can’t help but be impressed. That’s why memorizing some parts of texts is always a great fallback, particularly when they are central to your understanding of the text.
  5. In an A exam, the examinee holds her own without bluster.  This means that in the give and take of questioning, she keeps her poise but also allows herself to think, in order to add judicious insight and nuance to her answers.  One common mistake is to think we’ll read bluster and obstinance as conviction and certainty.  You can get marked down for simply riding one hobby horse through all the texts, so remember that this is a conversation, not a debate tournament.  Learning to concede points, to qualify claims, or to reflect on the implications of a line of reasoning are all part of critical thinking. There is more to critical discourse than talking fast. Sometimes taking a moment to ponder and formulate an answer to a good question looks quite respectable.
  6. In terms of the show ChoppedYou need to use all of the ingredients from the basket, but it’s not enough just to toss them on the plate. You need to transform the ingredients and give us a real sense of your cooking skills.

Lastly, these observations are not made as some kind of ideal of what an A exam should be.  These are actual descriptions of what A exams are like, from the point of view of the examiner. There really are people out there getting an A.  It’s not easy to do, but people do succeed at this. And we are very proud of them.  Good luck!


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