Archive for the 'Issue 3' Category

Go Find Your Lolita

Logan Rutherford

This semester I took “The Art of Vladimir Nabokov’ with Professor Sergei Davydov. First of all, Dr. Davydov is not only an inspired teacher, but he’s also one of the funniest professors on campus; if you get the chance, take a course with him. Of course, we read Nabokov’s most infamous novel, Lolita, during the course of our studies. So, I thought that seeing as it is the 50th anniversary of the novel being published in the United States, it might be appropriate to exhort people to (re) read Nabokov’s great work.

It seems that most literate people in the English-speaking world are familiar with the “story” of Lolita. My dictionary yields the following definition of a “Lolita:” ‘noun; a sexually precocious young girl.’ The notion of Lolita being nothing more than highbrow pornography is thus reinforced by the definition. However, any reader of the novel owes it to Nabokov to be more honest than that, and to give Lolita its due.

The frame for the story, which any review will more than likely present, is that Humbert Humbert, a European genius with a sexual penchant for “nymphets,” has come to America and houses with Charlotte Haze because, ostensibly, the rent is cheap and the neighborhood quiet. But the truth is that Humbert is primarily concerned with rakish ruminations involving Charlotte’s daughter, Lolita. Humbert marries Charlotte so as to be closer to Lolita. When Charlotte meets an unfortunate death, Humbert becomes Lolita’s sole guardian, or rather, she becomes his captive.

The book’s title is in a sense ironic because we never really get to know Lolita herself. Lolita the novel is really the story of Humbert Humbert, told through the prism of the character Lolita. There are only flashes of the real Lolita, as opposed to Humbert’s solipsized version. The real Lolita is discernible in her graceful tennis matches; one catches a glimpse in her joyful bicycle rides; her sorrow is painfully palpable when she reflectively discusses her battered childhood with Humbert. But this is one of the reasons why people continue to come back to the novel: we search for Lolita, but somehow she’s always out of reach. Lolita is in no way definitively delineated.

Another reason the novel has such staying power is because of the way Nabokov manipulates the reader. Comfort with the novel is never achieved because Humbert’s love is inextricably linked to the ghastly things he resorts to in order to consummate that love. Humbert is such a cunning narrator that it is easy to forget Lolita’s age. At times, particularly for the first time reader, Humbert is practically absolved of guilt because of his self-deprecation and hysterical use of language. A perfect example of Humbert’s humor dissolving his guilt is found when he describes how he had begun to pay Lolita for sex: “O Reader! Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches.” Of course, there is nothing funny about this situation, but Humbert makes it seem that way with his style as he is a master puppeteer.

The prose throughout Lolita is not only funny, at times it is wonderfully poetic: “Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards…” The image of a brush touching things up in mutable memory is both aesthetically inspired and philosophically suggestive: perhaps the most powerful artist of all is Mnemosyne herself. Poetical pearls abound in the novel. The prose poem that is the last paragraph of the novel is wonderful. It is humbling to think that English was not even Nabokov’s mother tongue.

I have now read Lolita six times, and it is always a pleasure. As I continue to evolve as a person, the novel subjectively evolves with me, and there is always something new to be discovered— some unexplored alcove where I find more laughter and even at times, alas, more confusion. Go read this one. Or if not Nabokov, give some other writer unfamiliar to you a fresh chance. In a college environment that leaves us with such little time for free reading, it’s a treat to take a break with an engaging novel. So go ahead and find one.

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Work Hard, Play Hard, Enjoy Neither

Si Rutherford

Apparently, for prospective students, Middlebury is presented as a ‘work hard, play hard’ institution. We know what this means: there is a near-overwhelming amount of reading assigned every week for the majority of classes, and if students are expected to maintain a hold on their studies, they must dedicate a significant amount of time to this pursuit. When the weekend hits, therefore, students let themselves ‘play’ in an equally intense fashion in the short space of time that they are allowed. From a personal perspective, striving for real conversation in an environment that is seemingly not conducive to such a thing has helped me start to develop an understanding of Middlebury College. I want to learn something new from everyone I meet, but most importantly, I want to know whether students here are genuinely happy at Middlebury College – especially with regards to the philosophy of “work hard, play hard.”

First of all, let me say this: Middlebury students are brilliant. They are talented, intelligent, healthy, and full of potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely achieved, and it could be argued that the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality is to blame. A conversation I once had with a sharp-minded senior highlighted this issue. I was told how often she has heard students make incredibly insightful and remarkably intellectual comments in class, but then as soon as they leave the classroom environment they talk about lowest-common-denominator issues such as partying.

How many lunch-time conversations have been continuations of a discussion regarding the merits of existentialist philosophies, or environmental challenges? How many new friendships are forged because of stimulating dialogue about the possibilities of social change? The unfortunate fact is that there are few incentives for students to engage in extra-curricular intellectual activity; academic studies are made systematic, time-consuming and unrewarding, and students are pushed to the limit throughout the year. If a Midd Kid has 200 pages of literature coupled with two chapters of biochemistry reading to do for the next morning, it is unsurprising that little intellectual satisfaction is achieved from overcoming such a menacing obstacle. Finishing at 3:30 am only brings relief at the eventual promise of sleep, rather than deep reflections on the previously undiscovered viewpoints that the individual has absorbed. We should be able to enjoy the things we study; we should be appreciating and recognizing the things we are learning.

Middlebury College has some astonishingly sharp minds leading its faculty, so surely this valuable resource should be harnessed for all of its worth. Ultimately, my argument comes down to this: There needs to be more time for free intellectual development – for the sake of the sanity and general humanity of the young adults attending this institution. Perhaps this is just my personal opinion, but I do not think a liberal arts college, or university, or any academic institution should merely be a vehicle for turning each student into a machine.

In actual fact, Middlebury College life in general is very systematic, not only in the educational sphere, but in the social sphere as well. We party like machines when the weekend comes, maximizing the precious time we have by getting as far away from the intense work-oriented week as possible, and we do this the way we are told is best – through alcohol. Whether one supports the party scene or not, it is not difficult to understand it. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous game to be playing, sometimes involving frightening amounts of alcohol use and behavior that could not even be conceived of outside of a college campus. A Middlebury student disappeared – and if the rumors are true, drinking played a hand in the events surrounding it. But has it burst the bubble? Apparently not. We are all safe little creatures that wake and read and nap and eat and consume and forget and do it all over again.

The mechanical nature of on-campus activities can be witnessed in hobbies and interests that lie in between the realms of academic work and partying. This is most obvious within sports, but also seen in other activities such as music groups, theatre, dance, etc. It is difficult to truly enjoy the activities we have chosen to participate in when most conversations will sooner or later involve the phrase “I have so much work to do.” Every night is a consideration of what can be achieved in the hour between the gym and dinner, or before we have to begin the paper that will take us to the early hours of the morning.

Extending the arguments further, it is worth considering the ongoing discussion (largely criticism) of the dating scene on campus, and how the consensus is that it is effectively just a hook-up scene. One could argue that this is just another product of the Midd machine. In between juggling an enormous amount of reading, going to dance rehearsals, attending guest lectures, and finally making it to the Tavern party, how can we possibly fit in time for dating? So we don’t. Dating becomes just another systematized part of the social life; because Midd kids have no time to get to know one another and form the foundations for a meaningful relationship, they hook up when they are drunk on a Friday or Saturday night. Even the sex here is systematic.

Undoubtedly, this is a quintessentially American phenomenon, driven by the ideals of individualism and efficiency. These sentiments inevitably have consequences for the activities that go on within the confines of Middlebury and how the people here experience them. What is clear is that there is an obvious cause and effect on display: work hard = play hard. Of course, this is not a new revelation, but for Middlebury students it has important implications. For these talented, intelligent students, it is a virtually inescapable pattern, and one that cannot lead to a truly fulfilled college experience. It is important to understand, however, that all aspects of campus life are inexorably intertwined. We cannot criticize and wish to change the limited social scene without addressing the demanding realities of academic work. Studying has ceased to be a source of personal development, and is instead a means of achieving the ends (whether that is an A grade or a good career). Time socializing on the weekends is focused more on breaking free of the mechanical schedule, rather than embracing a meaningful and fulfilling interaction with peers. Ironically, getting drunk on a Friday night is in fact just as much part of the machinery of a Midd student as the homework, and this fact bluntly presents an issue worth taking note of: when even the partying is systematic, there is something fundamentally disturbing going on.

So we return to the initial concern: are students at Middlebury College genuinely happy? Obviously, this is not a question easily answered. I just hope that we are not merely undertaking a four year exercise in time management, and that we will emerge at the end as more than mere machines that will fit perfectly into society. We are creative, intellectual beings, and should have more time and space to develop as such. The sooner that Middlebury recognizes this fact, the sooner the College can provide future students with a more desirable and fulfilling college experience.

Practice Rooms and Priorities

Tristan Axelrod

Middlebury deserves a pat on the back for the magnificent party held on March 6 in celebration of the naming of the Center for the Arts. Kudos to them, and kudos to Kevin Mahaney for supporting the arts at Middlebury. The food and music were great. Par for the course for the Administration’s CFA soirees.

I hope I’m not the only one struck by the irony of the situation. Was it a great celebration of the arts? If you’re a fan of Market Zero, sure, but there’s something sad about celebrating the arts in a building with few practical capabilities for teaching, producing, or practicing art. With its 100-ft. high leaky ceilings and handful of angular offices and classrooms, the CFA seems to have been designed less for music, dance, and theater, and more for fundraising.

The college has been expanding the music program, as it should, considering the drastic difference in quality between, for instance, Sound Investment (Middlebury’s music fundraising group) and similar organizations at Williams, Amherst, Harvard, etc. In the past decade several faculty positions have been created (Profs. Hamlin, Hamberlin, and Buettner), with more on the way (Forman, an ethnomusicology chair). Funding for the orchestra and Sound Investment has increased, and opportunities for electronic musical endeavors and on-campus performances have increased as well, due to support from the administration as well as student groups such as MMG and MCAB.

The building simply can’t keep pace. The administration knows this—from the CFA, it learned a lesson on program-oriented construction, and the awesome capabilities of Bicentennial Hall testify to the practical approach later adapted. But now, the college is moving too slowly to accommodate the musical growth it has initiated. There are only eight practice rooms in the CFA, give or take performance spaces and the elevator, that are supposed to suffice for hundreds of orchestra and jazz band members, music students, and the rest of the students, faculty, and staff musicians, all of whom are entitled to the use of college facilities. Due to the number of instrumental lessons, finding practice space between 9 am and 4:30 pm is next to impossible, which means all the people taking lessons must compete for whatever evening practice time they can find, often being forced to choose between music and other activities that tend to go on at the same time. And of course, the noise from all of the badly soundproofed rooms is distracting for students, a fact that deters the study of rock, jazz, and other percussion-based music. But frequently, there’s just nowhere to practice. Can you imagine a member of the varsity hockey team unable to use any of the athletic facilities?

Nobody really disputes the practical deficiencies of the CFA. Unfortunately, it has been built and dedicated and we’re stuck with it. However, the practice room situation could be improved, and doing so would raise Middlebury’s musical program and culture to a level commensurate with its academic status. The process has already started with several rooms from the-building-formerly-known-as-The-Mill being donated for rehearsal space, and it can continue. The Mill is a good start, but it’s very far away and there won’t be room for pianos; plus, with other students living in close proximity, noise will be a problem.

The solution seems simple: why not similarly re-dedicate rooms in more buildings across campus, with well-tuned pianos and as much privacy as possible? Coltrane, Ross, Forest, and the Chateau already have pianos, minus the tuning and the privacy. But there are similar and more secluded rooms in Ross, Gifford, Battell, and elsewhere on campus. If two or three more buildings had at least two practice rooms, students could feel comfortable making the trip to another building fairly certain that they wouldn’t be pre-empted by another group or student musician. As the college recruits more and better musicians who have more time and better circumstances in which to practice, we might see some really high quality music and we’d definitely see a more culturally sophisticated student body that would continue to push the college to reassess its priorities.

Hurt Feelings, Inflated Egos & General Nonsense

Ann Garcia

In the spirit of this magazine, I’d like to debate debate. Anonymous debate, that is. Much to the dismay of Facebook, the Middlebury study break website of choice changed in late April, as thousands of students browsed and posted anonymous remarks on Middlebury Confessional. Though the web site’s intent, as stated by its creator Shibo Xu, is to promote discussion on “controversial issues, such as race, sexual abuse or any other taboo,” it is by and large a series of slanderous, inflammatory or untruthful threads. In short, I am not a fan, and here is why.

When I graduate, I will treasure my memories of the gorgeous campus, and even those ugly fluorescent shades that the commons like to spend their money on, and other small details. Yet most of all, I will cherish the many conversations that I have had with friends and strangers. I will miss the Middlebury which has taught me to ask that girl across the table what she has put in her pasta because it looks delicious (pesto, cheese and basil), and to explain to someone in an a cappella group why I don’t think it’s right for them to partake in certain traditional initiation ceremonies. I enjoy having these talks and think they are an integral part of our education, but only if we are in full knowledge of who we are conversing with, and not hiding behind our computer screens.

I sincerely believe there is not a single issue one might wish to confront on this campus that they cannot sit down and talk about. Furthermore, the value of the conversation will be much higher than one in which “The Dinosaur” makes five mysterious appearances.

This site will not resolve whatever communication problems we may have on our campus; if anything, it will create hurt feelings, inflated egos, and nonsense. So, sit down and talk about it. I promise that if you have enough time to browse this site, you have enough time to stick around longer for a post-dinner chat. And please, do not post a thread to discuss this article. If you have any remarks, please, just come talk to me. Let’s put a rest to anonymous bashing and return to the old face-to-face approach.

Disclaimer: Sorry, girl on Confessional with that tampon issue, but just to be clear, this is not an invitation for private instruction.

Democratic Idols

Tarsi Dunlop of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

Democracy is not an easy concept; even a definition is hard for many people to agree on. However, the United States is one of the oldest surviving democracies in the world. It is therefore noteworthy that for all our desires to spread democracy, within the US is where voter participation is sorely lacking. Why, then, were we finding so much interest in the 2008 election before party nominees were even selected?

It could be said that democratic participation, for a rational voter, makes little sense. This is very often the reason for low turnout and just one aspect of “Making Democracy Work” that the Roosevelt Institution seeks to address as one of its national challenges during this election year. It is a challenging problem and one not easily solved. Voter apathy is a powerful notion. However, almost six months before we knew who would be running in the general election, the race was already dominating headlines.

Why was this? Perhaps it was because in our own uniquely American way, we have managed to turn democratic elections into our very own American Idol contest. It is now all about the contestants and their personalities. Barack Obama is charismatic and has already become a larger-than-life emblem of liberal “change,” but he is young, and somewhat inexperienced. Hillary Clinton has huge name recognition— and yes, perhaps she does polarize— but then again, she has spent time in the White House. When one wonders who will win between these two, it almost feels like we might as well ask who is the better singer, rather than politician.

John McCain, meanwhile, is a war hero who has been playing the role of “comeback kid” in this race. But will he be able to unite Republicans across the country? Can they find enough to like about him to overcome their doubts about his political stance, will it come down to how much the voters can identify with the man himself? Thus the discussion goes on. However, in the end, news coverage likes conflict and sound bites – as the viewers demand – and thrives on uncertainty. Well, there is certainly plenty of that going around.

Ultimately, perhaps democratic participation is not really about policy as much as the people who claim they will represent us. One might even go as far as to ask them all to sing a few bars, make a brief heartfelt speech to the American public, and then we’ll send people out to vote. Electoral College aside, would more people head out to the polls? This feels like the popularity contests of junior high elections all over again.

Living in the Internship Era

Daniel Roberts

The task of finding a summer job rolls around every year, usually by March or April, and it is a burden that weighs heavily on the minds of American college students. Some teens find a job that involves only light work—scoop ice cream down the street from the family beach house, maybe babysit here and there to make pocket cash. Others challenge themselves with a more demanding post, perhaps working construction every day or waiting tables at a fancy restaurant. Still others give up completely and spend the three months watching TV on the couch, lying out at the beach or pool, and generally sponging off Mommy and Daddy for money.

Yet everyone, it seems, shares a general knowledge that at some point down the road, we will have to “get serious,” which, according to general consensus, is code for “find an internship.” Somehow, this was ingrained in us years ago. We have also been trained to understand that the point at which this “getting serious” needs to occur is right around, oh, the summer after junior year.

My summer preference has been, for the past five years, to work as a camp counselor. As far as I can tell, this position affords the best of all worlds. I get to work with kids, spend all day out on the tennis courts (which keeps me fit and tan), live away from home, and still feel like I’m working hard and earning my keep. Of course, as soon as last summer ended I knew the fun was over: my junior year was about to begin, and with it my plans of doing anything enjoyable over the summer would die.

Why the need for an internship? To get a job, of course. An internship is to getting a first job what high school community service hours were to getting into college. You need to get some under your belt in order to nab the prize you actually care about. Companies have bought into this system like never before, prompting many social commentators to call this the “Internship Era” for today’s unlucky college students, and indeed, “unlucky” is exactly what we are to find ourselves in this environment. The competition for internships has never been more grueling, and the percentage of college kids who will complete at least one before graduating has never been higher (that percentage is 78). Clearly, we have all been convinced to participate in this system. We have no choice. But the system is flawed. No, forget “flawed,” it’s downright ridiculous.

First of all, as Peter Vogt has written, “Internships are no longer optional, they’re required.” This fundamentally favors the rich. Think about it this way: let’s agree that an internship is not a “job.” An internship is an “opportunity” that forces a college kid to work his or her ass off, cooped up in some office all summer, scrambling to make photocopies and hoping to God that the adults are impressed and ultimately wooed. The vast majority of these positions are unpaid or offensively low-paying, which is laughable when one considers how hard the interns often work.

By expecting college kids to do summer internships if they have any hope of nabbing a full-time job, companies have established a standard that punishes any students who normally need to make money during the summer. Those who come from wealthy families are fine, because either their spending money during the academic year comes from their parents, or the parents promise to pay them some sort of stipend as a reward for taking an unpaid internship.

Meanwhile, those kids who rely on a legitimate summer job to provide their spending money during the year are forced to either take an unpaid internship and puzzle over how to afford their books in September, or opt out of the internship craze, knowing that it may screw them down the road when they are scrambling for a post-college job.

In addition to favoring the private-schooled, non-financial aid, privileged few, the internship system also undermines some of the most basic tenets of job hunting. It used to be that when a person applied for a job, there would be an interview during which he or she could flex their charm and demonstrate what makes them tick. Whatever it is that makes you want this job— and makes you so sure you deserve it— would come out in a face-to-face sit-down with your potential employer. Now, as soon as those scrutinizing eyes scroll down your resumé and see only one or, god forbid, zero internships listed, they write you off completely.

Where, then, is the drive to learn? To take what you’ve been given from education, to gather up your book smarts and your street smarts and apply them to something, hoping to rise to your potential? What happens if the new system relies solely on a scramble for summer internships, piling them up so as to cash them in later like chips at a casino window?

Something about this system has to change soon, or else investment banks, magazines, publishing houses, fashion design offices, and law firms everywhere are going to be filled only with recent college grads whose daddies were connected enough to get them internships back in college. Meanwhile, businesses will miss out on the overlooked, better-qualified candidates.

Dining Hall Etiquette 101

Tristan Axelrod

Considering that roughly 2000 people live and eat together here at Middlebury, I would say that the dining halls are run remarkably well. Especially compared to other schools, which for the most part employ companies such as Marriot and Halliburton to cater food on a daily basis, Middlebury provides very high quality meals that accommodate everybody, including vegetarians, athletes, those of us with dietary restrictions, and even the many picky eaters. Although budget cuts have led to an indisputable decrease in quality over the past few years, one has a hard time making the case that Middlebury students are ill-treated. It would behoove us to appreciate our fortune with grace and consideration for each other and those employed to serve us. Here a few problematic issues on which we might improve.

1) Whining. While Middlebury is certainly expensive, our flat rate tuition guarantees more food than almost any other institution in the country. There is a process for registering complaints—the forms at every dining hall entrance—and the dining hall staff are extremely thoughtful and thorough with their responses to all inquiries, complaints, and compliments. Let’s not contribute to the general inanity of student publications by expounding about the lack of juice at dinner.

2) Stealing dishes. I used to wonder who it was that was stealing all the dishes: I was mystified by all the emails and discussion because I couldn’t understand why people would be so inconsiderate. Then earlier this year, living in Forest, I finally saw it: people carrying their Ross dishes to their room, eating by themselves, and leaving the dishes in the bathroom or, far worse, in the stairwell. Why would you do that? You took it, you bring it back. We’re costing the college tens of thousands of dollars every year because we’re lazy assholes. Seriously?

3) Improper use of serving utensils. Serving spoons, ladles, knives, etc. are for one use: transferring food from a large dish to a small one. There are two common misuses of serving utensils that we see all the time.
• The first is spreading or smoothing with a serving knife, e.g. cream cheese, mashed potatoes, etc. When you spread your cream cheese with the serving knife, you force everyone else to wait for you (especially if you stand in front of the bar so nobody can reach the peanut butter, jam, etc.), and you get crumbs all over the knife and, immediately afterwards, the cream cheese bin. This is unsanitary (not to mention unsightly), so the knife has to be cleaned and replaced. If instead you were to scoop some cream cheese on the side of your plate while you wait for your bagel to toast, you could then spread it at the right time (with your own knife) without inconveniencing anyone.
• The second misuse is picking out just the food you want from a large dish. If you don’t want the cherry tomatoes, pick them out with your fork after serving them. You save everyone in line the infuriation of standing hungrily and watching as you perpetrate your pickiness on them, waiting for their portion of a salad now disproportionately loaded with cherry tomatoes. Or, in the opposite case, you could save us from a bowl of wings minus the drumsticks, stir-fry without the chicken, etc. You also spare the cooking staff the insult of your disgust.

4) Lining up at the beverage trough. There is nothing more aggravating than waiting for water while someone loads three nalgenes with pepsi because they’re too cheap and lazy to pay $1.29 for a 2-liter bottle at Shaw’s. Or waiting five minutes for barbeque wings only to watch the last 24 of them disappear onto the plate of the guy in front of you. It’s inconsiderate, not to mention disgusting and usually unhealthy. If only one dish in the entire dining hall appeals to you, chances are you aren’t the only one for whom this is the case, so save some for everyone else. You could even try a strange new dish, try another dining hall, and/or politely inform the staff of your affinity for the wings (or whatever) and displeasure with other dishes.

5) Inappropriate social behavior. We don’t need yet another ‘dining halls are segregated, we should all smile at each other and sit with random strangers all the time’ article; for the most part those are complete crap and we all know it. However, there’s something to be said for being polite to others: more specifically, being kind and considerate to other students and to staff. In the case of the latter, we need to be aware of the difficulties and complexities of working at a dining hall—serving students with varying needs, financial and cultural backgrounds, odd hours, and let’s not forget the obvious class-cultural issues between staff and students—and respect both the efforts of the staff and their appreciation of feedback. As far as students go, there are a number of simple social rules that require more thought in a dining hall situation: respecting personal space and food preferences (i.e. keeping room in the line and not commenting on food choices) and respecting privacy (i.e. not hitting on others or loudly discussing one’s sexual exploits), for starters.

In general, the dining hall experience could be more positive for everyone at the college if we all just take the time to think about our actions and show more concern for staff and students.