Norton Lectures

Boston’s Lecture Scene: Not John Stoddard Anymore

If BSO tickets or the MFA’s new prices are draining your entertainment budget, Boston’s gamut of free lectures, often followed by receptions with free food and even a little free booze, offer engaging and educational relief. The MFA’s Shapiro Celebrity Lecture Series may fetch $30+ for a ticket, but Boston’s universities rarely charge even a nominal sum. Because of their prestige and wealth, institutions like Harvard and MIT attract distinguished speakers on the national and international lecture circuits and play long term host with innumerable writer, artist, faculty, fellow, or scholar in-residence programs, where public lectures are de rigueur.

The Fluxus Manifesto

The Fluxus Manifesto

Tuesday, Alsion Knowles, one of the more indelible names associated with the Fluxus movement, gave a talk at Radcliffe (see here for more Radcliffe events, she speaks again on Nov. 12th at 6:00 p.m. at Harvard’s Carpenter Center). Fluxus begin in New York in the sixties and was immensely influential on performance and mixed media art. It absorbed a lot of John Cage’s ideas about indeterminacy in performance and was really an exciting and iconoclastic thing in the sixties that cemented the careers and styles of many of the young artists associated with it. Although Knowles had some cool slides to show, Fluxus didn’t seem all too radical Tuesday afternoon in the posh setting Radcliffe Gymnasium provides. Maybe I’m just not that hip, but I’ve found reading about Fluxus more exciting than I found it Tuesday, so here’s something to look at if you’re so inclined.

Julia Robinson, “The Sculpture of Indeterminacy: Alison Knowles’s Beans and Variations,” Art Journal (winter 2004): 97-115 (11.5 MB PDF)

Tuesday night the Coolidge showed Victor Fleming’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) as part of their Science on Screen series. Another great freebie for Coolidge members. MIT Museum director John Durant gave a great pre-movie talk about how Victorian medicine, and later Freud, informed the novella and the film adaptations. A perspective drawn from the history of science offers a great context for Jekyll and Hyde–the black market dealings in human cadavers that Robert Louis Stevenson grew up among in Edinburgh, Darwin’s idea of the descent of man from beast, and early psychological theories of the two-sided brain manifesting itself with dual personalities. And later, substantially informing this film, Freud’s theory of the Id. Spencer Tracy’s Hyde chief malignity is his (implied) sexual violence towards Ingrid Bergman, his ‘evil’ unchecked masochistic libido. American Beauty screens December 7th, with a talk by Daniel Gilbert on happiness.

Here are a few upcoming events of note.

John Picker, author of Victorian Soundscapes and an essay on Yankee Doodle and The Star-Spangled Banner in Harvard University Press’ recent tome A New Literary History of America, is delivering something called Transatlantic Acousmatics at MIT. I have no idea, but that only makes it more appealing.
Oct. 22, 5:00-7:00 p.m., MIT Bldg. 4-231

The Norton Lectures by Orhan Pamuk continue through November 3rd.
4:00 p.m., Harvard’s Sanders Theater
Oct. 26, Museum and Novels
Nov. 3, The Center

Shaun Donovan, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will speak at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Oct. 26, 6:00-7:00 p.m., Piper Auditorium

Harvard’s Carpenter Center current exhibition ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987–1993 has a bunch of associated events.

The new exhibition at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center Tobias Putrih & MOS: Without Out opens Oct. 23 and is also accompanied by a number of free talks.

Harvard’s Tanner Lectures by Jonathan Lear:
Lecture 1: Becoming Human Is Not That Easy, Nov. 4, 4:30 p.m., Lowell Lecture Hall
Lecture 2: Ironic Soul, Nov. 5, 4:30 p.m., Lowell Lecture Hall

MIT Communications Forum: Culture Beat and New Media: Arts Journalism in the Internet Era
Nov. 12, 5:00-7:00 p.m., MIT Bldg. 66-110
Boston’s own Bill Marx of Arts Fuse joins Doug McLennan of Arts Journal to discuss the changing face of arts journalism.

For more, keep an eye on The Harvard University Gazette calendar and Suffolk University’s Ford Hall Forum. And check the links in the appendix section of this site.

It all reminds one of the Golden Age of the public lecture:

Six Norton Lectures by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel laureate and critically acclaimed novelist, gave the first of a series of six lectures this past Tuesday to a densely packed crowd at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The Norton lectures were first endowed in 1925 as a yearly lectureship pertaining to poetry, in the broadest sense of the word. Past lectures have been delivered by scholars, poets, novelists, artists, composers, musicologists, architects and conductors. T.S. Eliot, Copland, Robert Frost, Stravinsky, E.E. Cummings, Lionel Trilling, Borges, Harold Bloom, John Cage, Frank Stella, Umberto Eco, and most recently, Daniel Barenboim, have all once stood at the podium the podium that now belongs to Pamuk.

The lectures are usually published by Harvard University Press. In the case of Leonard Bernstein, they have actually been released on video. Pamuk no doubt has some tough acts to follow. On Tuesday he began most humbly with his first lecture, The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist, which, once stripped of its central reference to Schiller’s On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (and this is easily done), was a most sincere testament to the pleasures of reading novels. Helen Epstein of Arts Fuse wrote an excellent review.

I’ll note that, at least from my seat on Tuesday, he isn’t the easiest speaker to hear clearly. He actually has his lectures translated from Turkish into English. Much of what is spoken is read and rather accented. It was a pleasure nonetheless.

The first drew a large crowd, which will likely dwindle in the coming weeks. I’m sure much of the buzz is due simply to the history and prestige behind the lecture series. I arrived about twenty minutes early and, after waiting in line, was one of the first to take a seat in the balcony.

The Lectures continue through November 3rd at 4:00 p.m. at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, are unticketed, free, and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 29: Mr. Pamuk, Did You Really Live All This?
Tuesday, October 13: Character, Time, Plot
Tuesday, October 20: Pictures and Things
Monday, October 26: Museum and Novels
Tuesday, November 3: The Center