myblackeyedfire: (Icarus)
Mr. Nuccio passed away last week after a three-year struggle with scleroderma. At the start of his Western Civ. class he told us he meant to change the way we learned, the way we thought, the way we lived our lives. He succeeded. One of the only times I woke up in tears was the night I dreamt I had gotten an A and not an A+ in his course. The grade itself didn't matter since he never awarded anyone less than a C (Nuccio reasoned that to be average is to fail, and graded us this way to encourage a focus on learning and not grade point averages). It was the dread thought that I failed his class by not being wholly excellent and, by extension, failed at living the same way. Virtually nothing could have been worse.

I often think of what I learned from him, not only through classroom readings of Dante's Inferno, the Nichomachean Ethics and various texts, but in the very real ways being a student of his has changed my life. What we called Civisms, You are all in the process of becoming; Never pursue the lesser when you can have the greater; You have to change in order to accomplish an escape to freedom, are how I measure if I am living in a way I can approve.

He taught me to not seek out entertainment over knowledge, to try to better not just myself but those near me, to live in the 'now'. He gave me an opportunity in his class to prove my mettle as well as creating an environment where I felt I could share anything and not be judged. It was the first time I felt someone believed I was capable and gave me a chance to prove it. I learned to lead a team and construct an onager and research Roman culinary texts and watch The Wall as an existentialist criticism of Pink. I learned to recognize and try to steer away from folly instead of praising it, to cultivate a desire to keep going. I learned why Machiavelli was right and why I should still not pursue his methods to rule, to question traditions and habits, and to want to not be a prisoner in the Cave. I learned about what it meant to value strength and honor from watching 'Gladiator'. I learned the significance of everything being connected to everything else as an imperative for humanist action.

He encouraged students to write to him after they graduated. I sent him a few letters but felt ashamed at how little I had to share with him that would have lived up to the standard of arete we both set. Now, with the life-place I'm in, taking classes I love about social justice and with all that I have learned since his class, I think I can truly write him a letter he'd be proud of. I hope to have more to write about over the years and to never cease asking questions. Strength and honor, good sir. Strength and honor.
myblackeyedfire: (Western Civ. Pleasantville colorization)
I began thinking about this from a conversation with [livejournal.com profile] gbiscuit507 yesterday and have concluded that I miss Western Civ. even more than I even realized. I miss it. I really, really do.

I think this is because I feel like I'm just drifting right now. I don't particularly love my classes, or feel like college is this amazing new level of existence. Maybe that's because I'm commuting and not getting the full college experience. Perhaps its because I'm only taking general classes right now. But I still can't help thinking that I'm getting short-changed. Something is missing.

Last year, I tried to come to school every day just to go to Western Civ. Well, going to play badminton with Paige was also a good thing, but it wasn't the "Hallelujah" experience Civ was. It was the reason I woke up so cheerful each morning, why I spent each Tuesday for weeks on end researching and building a catapult, my motive for stitching eleven togas in one day and an all-around inspiration. Or, rather, Mr. Nuccio was, as he taught the class.

Last year on September 20 I had written:
On a decidedly brighter note, I love this year. My English teacher likes my writing, a welcome change from last year's perpetual B's. My Biology teacher and I have fun conversations about Xena, the plausibility of Harry Potter time-travel and art. The Western Civilizations teacher frequently brings up the subject of Alexander the Great and his boyfriends, much to my utter delight. The Supervisor of the school's literary magazine gives me cookies and poetry books in exchange for advertising the magazine and submitting paintings and prose. This is how education is supposed to feel: inviting, comfortable, chocolatey. I want to learn and challenge myself.

That feeling is absolutely gone. I come to class, I take notes, I leave. Biology is perhaps the greatest educational disappointment I could have had. Expository Writing doesn't affect me strongly enough to say that I hate it. Calculus is interesting, yes, but I don't quite love it. I like Latin enough, but it isn't fantastic because we only ever go over grammar and how to structure sentences. I want history and literature and connections, damnit!

That's what made Civ. so great. Nuccio would find the craziest connections and when he was done explaining, it all made sense. Absolutely. When learning about Socrates, he pretended to be Socrates and had us ask him questions to determine what the flaw in his reasoning was. His button for that part of class said, "I know."

The grades didn't matter. We weren't learning to get A's. We were learning for the sake of learning, which made it invaluable to me. The A's I earned in his class mean more to me than any other marks. I valued what I was doing and thought it worthwhile. His opinion of me mattered more than anything. It still does. I don't want to be a failure by his standards.

When entering the class, there was always a feeling of purpose. I would come in and knew that whatever we were doing was part of something bigger, all leading me down to the answer to the last question, the one we had as a final exam: what was the meaning and purpose of Civ.? It was a perpetual quest to find an answer. This is missing because I have no idea what I'm going to do or what I really want. There's this blank void whenever I think about my future. I know what I don't want to do (computer programming, business, any sort of desk job) but as far as ideas for a possible career come, I don't have an answer. I'm not scared of not knowing what I want to be but, rather, the feeling that I'm floating right now in this existential jelly where I can't summon the strength to get out. Heh, jelly.

I felt supported. Nuccio denounced the "cult of beauty" around women while defending their right to equality and he proudly called himself a feminist. He argued with everyone in class that challenged him on his views [that SUV's are unsafe and ought to be destroyed, that Disney movies are inaccurate tripe, and the wrongness of current political events]. Just...everything I cared passionately about, he supported. I didn't just agree with what he said - it so happened that what I thought corresponded to what he said. I didn't become a Civ junkie, quoting Sartre and Plato verbatim to sound smart. It turned out that I had very similar worldviews as him, and hearing him was a validation, of sorts.

Nuccio did the impossible: he took my class, of about twenty-four kids, and managed to pretty much have us meld into a team. We worked together, studied together and all felt like we were part of something greater than ourselves, especially when we participated in group activities like shouting "Aaaaah!" during the Inferno classes, because we were in Hell. We all marched together shouting, "Marcus! Tullus! CiceroSucks!" in a campaign against him. We drove John's truck onto the football field with the catapult, all of us dressed in tin-foil armor. We saw "The Wall" and read "The Wall" and talked about laundry rooms and the Basque culture.

He gave anyone that wanted suggestions for further reading, more in-depth studies and analysis, possible films and songs to enhance our understanding of the material. I remember watching 'Le Roi de Coeur' with Paige and feeling this potent mix of emotions that I would now categorize as weepy nostalgia. We looked online for modern interpretations of Dante's Inferno. I researched Roman entertainment and history, and we cooked a fine authentic Roman feast for our class. I drew pictures of Geryon and illustrations from the different Cantos. We (Paige, Nuccio and I) talked about art and humanity. His take on religion and the one day where he told me and Paige about his dead brother is still fresh in my memory. We hung around very often after school, while he coached the Chess Team. Paige and I even made a few sorry attempts at playing against each other, but it all ended when a pawn piece hit her crotch at a great velocity (and by accident!). We felt comfortable calling him a bear, because he was really very hairy. He felt comfortable talking about anything; he encouraged the class to ask him whatever they wanted and promised to answer questions that he knew.

Paige and I would spend *hours* each week talking and exchanging e-mails over assignments and the things we learned each day. I miss that. I miss her. We were are a team. Anderson called us "Trouble 1 and Trouble 2" and Nuccio expected to see us everywhere. All the teachers that knew us gave these almost-unconscious nod-smiles whenever they saw us sitting in the lounge area, like because we were there all was normal in the world. We found beautiful Virgil/Dante slash. I helped her create mix CDs for the topics we were discussing: the Inferno, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Pleasantville, The Wall.

Because of my unfortunate penchant for saying very inappropriate things *right* at the moment a teacher would pass by, and the problem of that teacher very often being Mr. Nuccio, hilarity ensued. Paige called these times 'Hi, Mr. Nuccio!" moments, as that is exactly what I would say after I realized he was nearby, walking in the early hours of the morning with that ubiquitous coffee mug of his, complacently half-asleep.

I'd never taken as many notes as I did in Civ ever before. Really. I pretty much transcribed everything as it was said: quotes, questions, verbal sparring, lecture notes. I wrote it all. So, to give anyone interested a small glimpse of the class, I wanted to post some excerpts from my notes. This is what I love.

A sample test question. )

Civisms, or phrases Nuccio said repeatedly. )

Some notes I took in class. )

Excerpts from e-mails exchanged with Paige during last year. )

The quotes and sayings written in class. Most of the time the student quoted was the same person, the worst stereotype of a blonde imaginable. She was everything Nuccio thought was wrong with our society and their interactions are rife with that tension )

"Western Civ is in my heart".

Fairly accurate article from the Star Ledger about him. )

Holiday card based on writing on the blackboard in the class. )

In the immortal words of Victoria, Civ. is my lover!
[livejournal.com profile] heather88, if you get a chance, can you look at his podium and see if there appear to be four or five blocks drawn in with pen, looking like [censored] signs? That's where Victoria wrote that.

I'm not feeling homesick; I'm home right now. I'm feeling heartsick for the one time period, the one class that made me feel like I was constantly on a path somewhere, doing things of value. I'm ashamed I haven't written him a letter yet but each time I sit down to write I realize I'd be just as much of a disappointment to him as I am to myself right now. I'm not taking the greater. I'm not working as a group. I'm trying to piece myself together and get through this semester.

College feels like the cave. It is Dante's Hell. It's Pleasantville. It's the Space Odyssey.

I want to regain my position as an intellectual. [From my notes: one who tries to make a change for the better. Uses mind to consider the world’s problems and tries to solve them. If it’s a human flaw, it can be fixed.]
myblackeyedfire: (My sin - my soul. Lo-lee-ta.)
My mind can't help it. Every time I see a movie I immediately have to give it a grander connection beyond it's existence as an individual work. It's like a subconscious love of circles and continuity and patterns, but made nerdy.

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory twice. After lusting over the creaky purple rubber gloves Willy Wonka wears I really concentrated on how much Existentialism there was in the film. It felt like I was watching something from Western Civ, especially with the monolith/candy bar connection to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Wonka's introduction to the five winners felt like hearing "starshine" in The Wall and back to the Space Cadets from 2001. The uncertainty, and the embrace of the uncertainty was also similar to the attitude of Bud's stepmom in Pleasantville toward the end. Connections everywhere, gah! Though they were not included, I think these lyrics truly should have gone into Mr. Nuccio's Western Civ. CD mix: If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it. Anything you want to - do it. Want to change the world? There's nothing to it. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you'll be free if you truly wish to be. That, again, brought me back to The Wall by Sartre. There is no escape. [livejournal.com profile] catchyerdreams and I fangirled leik woah over this in the theatre, poking each other whenever something was particularly obvious. What started as a joke about Civ being everywhere turned into an incr*edible* experience for both of us. My one fangirl moment came out during Willy Wonka's haircut, though, mostly because within the first few seconds he really looked like Snape.

The problem became obvious once again when I saw Animal House with [livejournal.com profile] _mik3_ today. It should have been a brainless romp through college adventures. It wasn't. I began to compare Bluto to Bacchus, especially the one from The Bacchai by Euripides. Bluto's love for alcohol, nay, his dependence on it was similar to Bacchus's dependence on it not only as a means of controlling his followers, but his powers. He was the god of the vine, after all. The extreme anarchy Bacchus represents in the play is similar to the sort Bluto is used to at the Delta house. His response to being expelled, to strike back with utter chaos, is similar to the havoc Bacchus sets loose when he wasn't acknowledged and worshiped. It can't be normal to think about these links when watching a National Lampoon movie.

The only time I can't do this is with art. Paintings and sculpture enrapture the part of me that goes, "Oooh, pretty!" I'm a little bit embarrassed that I can't analyze or critique art as I can, say, a book. There are no exact lines save for those that are painted. My appreciation is purely aesthetic, a split-second response to painstaking shading and contours and lines and such lush colors and compositions. I'm internally kicking myself for spending so little time in the Hermitage.

So, guys, how exactly am I supposed to look at art? What is the key to understanding it, or the artist's intent? This is true doubly so for photography.

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