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Presenting the Human Condition

ewashburn's picture

 One of the things this class has really made me think about is what it means to be human. That is to say, what it means to have agency as a human, and how our actions affect the world around us. We've discussed how we as human beings are slowly but surely destroying the world we live in, how we're becoming our own evolutionary forces by developing technologies, how we have agency, how we don't have agency, how it doesn't matter whether we do, how we shape the world around us and how we force our interpretations onto the world. Through these discussions, I've come to realize that I am very much a humanist. I believe strongly in our own agency, and I recognize our enormous capacity both for good and for ill. I admonish the way we've destroyed our planet, but simultaneously am awed by how we are able to do so. I am in awe of the human condition.

So for my presentation, I chose to read a couple of things that I thought reflected interestingly on what it meant to be human, while projecting images of human achievements and human atrocities behind me. The first piece I read was the "what a piece of work is man" speech from Shakespeare's Hamlet. I chose to read this monologue because of its moment of duality. Although most of the monologue praises man's capacity for achievement, the very end of the speech--"yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"--speaks to man's mortality, and the fruitlessness of all of man's achievements. The second piece I read was from Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, a novel I think should be considered for the syllabus next time this class is taught. This book chronicles both a near-future world in which mankind has constructed fantastic and frightening technologies to advance and better their lives, and a post-apocalyptic world in which the sole survivor of mankind struggles to cope with the aftermath of those technologies.  The segment I read detailed games that two of the characters played as young adults, games which reflected on the human condition and on the history of man. 

Although I stumbled over my words in places, and although I'm sure the prose piece needed more context before presentation, I hope I nevertheless stimulated you to think about what it means to be human. If anyone has questions or requires clarification, please let me know in a comment.


tangerines's picture

Great presentation!

I really enjoyed your piece! I actually disagree with you about the second piece needing more context – I think that the way you presented it was the right format, given the themes of the course. We've placed a lot of emphasis in this class on interpretation and "taking meaning" from the things we hear/read/experience. By simply performing each piece as you did, you allowed the rest of the class to appreciate, interpret, and decode it, unbiased by your intention. Not only was this true to the spirit of the course, but I think this also fits well with your humanistic outlook & your contributions to the course. Well done! :)

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