Soon you’ll be yawningly familiar with the creaky, plush seats of Social Sciences 122, its cranky radiator, and how the dusty slants of light come through the windows just so, blinding visiting faculty members as they struggle hopelessly to get their lecture’s power point presentation running on our sinister and unfamiliar AV equipment . “How can I present my paper ‘Mundane moderns at a glance: the misappropriation and subjugation of the iconic in everyday life’ without a slideshow?” they will cry out. All this will become very near and dear to you. But tomorrow, when you bypass the construction on the quad and make your way to the lecture hall for Hiroshima Mon Amour, you may find yourself wondering why the first thing we do when you arrive is have a film screening and, only then–as your eyes are readjusting to the light and your brain juggling opposing interpretations of the closing shot–only then do we ask that you to go through the delirium of meeting tons of people (this years MAPH class is 118 heads strong, I believe) while gorging yourselves on picnic food.
Well, there are at least three reasons….
First, it’s fun. What’re you kiddin’ me, you don’t like movies, you serious?
Second, very practically, since MAPH draws in students from so many different disciplines, it’s nice to have some common intellectual ground everyone can engage on. Do we really expect you to strut your stuff, and compare notes and all that? Maybe, but not to the point where you’re neglecting your veggie burger because you’re straining to think of secondary sources. The film is a good way to diversify first meetings, push them beyond the usual mumble and nod routine of “Where are you from,” “Where’d you go to undergrad?” (which is still very much okay to talk about!), and to initiate an atmosphere of spirited intellectual discussion.
But beyond all that, we screen the film because graduate work requires independently-driven critical thinking: making connections between theory and aesthetic objects and recognizing a place for these texts or media in your own work, whether you’re drawing from a 100 page reading you were assigned in class, or if the Wonder bread logo you see in the supermarket makes you suddenly reevaluate whether iconography has been desanctified or resanctified in the modern metropolis! This year you’ll be assimilating the intellectual materials around you and applying them to your original work. And, although you have invaluable resources as MAPH students (your preceptors, a great writing advisor, mentors and the office staff), this process is all about imagination and initiative, not to mention a certain openness to the variety of texts, films and lectures you’ll come across as a student. This year there will be countless events where a lecture ends, and students and faculty then ask the speaker questions that take everything from the lecture and see how it could fit into the work they’re doing. Then, just like that, it’s over and everyone books it for the wine and cheese. Consider Sunday’s film the first log on the fire.