Shopping week, for Harvard students, is a time of both great stress and phenomenal opportunity. It's the one week each semester when it's socially acceptable to show up to a class just to hear the professor talk, or to add to your repertoire of date night conversation topics, or (in the case of a daring friend) because you saw your crush walk into a random classroom and recognized the value of a spying opportunity. And then there's, you know, the students who actually want to take the course.
Here are the most interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, profound, and/or cool ideas that came up in each of the seven courses I shopped this week:
1. Sexual Ethics
In the words of Professor Mark Jordan, this painting demonstrates the idea that "we never kiss the other, just the fabric of our own fantasy." And by looking at this artwork (for which race and gender are unable to be determined), the assumptions we make reveal that for many people, erotic fantasy involves white, heterosexual, and cisgender individuals.
On another note, after generations of sexual regulation, American colleges such as Harvard experienced a sexual liberation. Yet many now find themselves needing to create offices and training programs to combat sexual assault and teach about consent.
2. Asian American Literature
Professor Ju Yon Kim was the first young, female instructor of color I've had so far in college, which, first of all, made me so happy to shop this class. After discussing the nuances of the definition of Asian American literature*, I left with a firmer belief in the importance of courses about Asian-American studies and the desire to more actively seek out literature by people of color.
* for example:
- Does the author have to be Asian or does the subject have to be about Asia for a piece to count as Asian-American literature?
- What if the author is mixed? How "Asian" does a mixed individual have to be in order for their work to qualify?
- If the author is Asian but they do not write about Asian-Americans or the Asian-American experience, are they producing Asian-American literature?
- On the other hand, if the subject is about Asia but the author isn't Asian, how much of a connection or understanding does he or she have to have about Asia and/or the Asian-American experience?
3. Tattoos: Histories and Practices
Tattooing is becoming more mainstream and socially accepted in modern times, but obviously it has not always been this way. Tattoos are interesting because they involve social themes such as meaning, aesthetic, expression, bodies, and ownership (e.g. when used to brand prisoners).
Fact: In the past, tattoos were traditionally associated with mobile bodies in particular: sailors, military men, carneys, etc.
Question: What does it mean when someone permanently alters their body with a symbol or image that is not at all related to their culture (such as a Chinese character)?
4. Risk and Intimacy
Upon being asked about her vision for the relationships between students of her class, Professor Tey Meadow shared off-the-cuff life wisdom: "Whenever one person's vision is ascribed to a relationship, in my experience, it never ends up working out." Boom.
5. American Food
In alignment with the current mentality that students are citizens and consumers, college food services offer what they can make and what students will eat. This year, Harvard dining halls have piloted a marinara sauce made with "locally grown tomatoes."
When tomatoes aren't native to North America and these particular tomatoes aren't grown in state, how did it come to be that we consider them "local" to us? When tomato sauce is of Italian origin, how did it come to be that this is what American students are expected to eat, and do so often without thinking twice about why an Italian dish is in their dietary habit?
6. Introduction to Nonfiction Filmmaking
This one kind of doesn't count because it's a yearlong course, half of which I've already taken. BUT we watched two films today that were phenomenal:
- Fabryka (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1970)- a short film with beautiful colors, incredibly strong composition, and no dialogue. Visually stunning and satisfying, using the industrial type of work as a device for pacing. Possibly my personal favorite film of the year...it felt quite indulgent for some reason.
- Quarry (Richard P. Rogers, 1970)- complete credit to a classmate for describing this B&W Bolex film in this way, but here goes: an exploration of the transience of life (due to the historical context of the Vietnam War, and achieved by depicting the quarry seasonally) as young men took "leaps of faith," literally diving off dizzyingly high rock ledges into the water below during a mesmerizing montage of slow-motion shots. Another classmate raised the point that by incorporating voices and conversations beyond wild sound, it makes the experience of a summer day at the quarry more universal, and less about this particular instance. And that names graffitied onto the rocks in one of the final shots represented a sort of epitaph for the young soldiers. So impressed.
7. East Asian Cinema
This class was such a fun, entertaining collision of culture and cinematography. As we glossed through the semester's films (organized thematically), we watched examples of students' creative analyses from previous years. I found myself really impressed and taken aback by the countless ways film can tell a story—and in this case, how film (the students' projects) can also tell the story of another film (the original). It's rare that a Harvard course outside VES or CS, maybe, inspires me to go forth and create, but I left really wanting to try editing shots from an actual movie with a voiceover of my thoughts on the movie in a sort of film essay analysis.
And with that, the shopping part of my shopping week comes to a close. I have until midnight tonight to finalize my course schedule for the semester; but I'm feeling energized by the above classes reaffirming for me that there are so many IDEAS and so much DEPTH to every part of our existence. Looking forward to the rest of sophomore year!