Crafting a Paradise on (Im)Possibilities through Collaboration

When Dante enters the Heaven of Jupiter, he encounters the eagle of divine justice and the five souls which form the constellation of the eagle’s brow. These souls are arranged in this particular constellation because they embodied divine justice while on Earth and now, in paradise, finally understand its true nature. Though these souls now bear an intimate understanding of divine justice, they warn Dante that it cannot be fully comprehended by human beings. Despite this impossibility, Dante does learn something about divine justice. Through the eagle’s recounting of the experiences of the souls which constellate its brow, the eagle reveals that human beings can and do participate in divine justice through their expressions of “fervent love” and “living hope” (20.95). Indeed, the eagle claims that  “The Kingdom of Heaven is subject to violence / from fervent love and from living hope” (20. 94-95). These lines are shocking, as violence does not seem to have a place in paradise. However, according to Dr. Ronald Herzman, these lines potentially refer to the work of Aristotle, who defined violence as unnatural motion. Thus, the violence in question does not signify harm, pain, and violation, but rather unnatural motion: unexpected reciprocity through the mediums of hope and love occurring between humankind and the divine. This reciprocity sheds light on one particular, decipherable aspect of divine justice: its participatory nature. Such is further exemplified by the experiences of two souls in the eagle’s brow, Trajan and Rhipeus, who hold a place in Dante’s Christian conception of paradise, though they lack Christian faith. Trajan and Rhipeus’ seats in paradise are secured through human participation in divine justice, specifically, through the love of justice these two souls expressed in their time on Earth. The eagle of justice thus illuminates the allegedly “unnatural” participatory aspect of divine justice.

The eagle also emphasizes the fact that divine justice’s nature is indeterminable during one’s time on Earth. This incomprehensibility creates an opening for interpretation; for human beings to attempt to define divine justice themselves. Additionally, the participatory nature of divine justice allows and encourages individuals to act on their own interpretations of such. While this participatory process could lead to justice and potentially the formation of paradise on Earth, interpretation can also, unfortunately, give way to injustice and destruction, as individuals may interpret divine justice in such a way that creates terrible injustice and great harm for others. Interpretations of divine justice can be extremely dangerous and capable of unleashing injustice upon the world, thereby turning the violence of unnatural motion, that is, the reciprocal exchange of hope and love, into a harmful violence that causes damage and destruction, as is demonstrated in Morrison’s novel, Paradise.

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Love, Collaboration, and Spiritual Improvement in Morrison’s Jazz

By: Rachel Balfoort, Claire Corbeaux, Yadelin Fernandez, Denis Hartnett, Randall Lombardi, Brian Vargas, Quentin Wall

When Dante and Virgil emerge once more to see the stars, they find themselves in Purgatory, a lone island that takes the shape of a mountain. Dante’s Purgatory is first divided into Purgatory Proper and Antepurgatory, which are then further subdivided. Purgatory Proper is divided first into three regions that are defined in terms of love. The regions of Misdirected  Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love are composed of the 7 Terraces of Purgation, where each terrace corresponds to one of the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Dante scholar, Dr. Ronald Herzman, the function of Purgatory is spiritual improvement, which is to say that if an individual scales Mount Purgatory and works through each region and terrace, that individual will undergo and achieve spiritual improvement through this movement. 

The structure and function of Purgatory, as well as its emphasis on love, likely played a large role in the creation of Toni Morrison’s own rendition of purgatory, which takes shape in the island of Manhattan in her novel, Jazz, the second installment in her Dantesque trilogy. Furthermore, the geography of Jazz’s setting, Manhattan, aesthetically looks and functions as Dante’s Purgatorio. Jazz’s characters, many of whom live in Manhattan, are placed in Morrison’s purgatory to undergo spiritual improvement. In particular, Jazz follows the characters of Joe, Violet, and Felice who live and love in Manhattan. They are joined by their respective relationships with Dorcas, a young girl murdered by her lover, Joe, whose deceased body was attacked but whose spirit was loved by Joe’s wife, Violet, and who was allowed to die by her closest friend, Felice. Just as Purgatory is divided into three particular regions, Misdirected Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love, Jazz works through Violet, Felice, and Joe, who correspond respectively to the aforementioned regions. The narrator follows these characters through their own spiritual improvement and in so doing guides the reader through the purgatory that is Manhattan. Thus, just as a sinner scales Purgatory to achieve spiritual improvement, Jazz pushes readers up and around Dorcas’ lovers so that readers may understand the power, danger, and nature of Love and thereby undergo a kind of spiritual improvement through this newfound understanding. 

Moreover, the narrator connects not only Jazz’s various characters through the concept of Love but also connects the characters to the reader through their shared journeys towards spiritual improvement. Thus, Jazz represents a collaboration not only between Morrison and Dante, insofar as that Morrison is building on and breaking from Dante’s Purgatorio, but between each character and between all of the characters and the reader, as well. These collaborations, in turn, suggest a possible explanation for the collaboration which created this very project and for the name of Morrison’s novel, as well. Indeed, Jazz‘s collaborations parallel Jazz music in the sense that many different improvisational elements, the characters, are united with a shared structure and function which is spiritual improvement. In all, Morrison, Dante, Jazz as a narrator, and all of Jazz’s characters are brought together in a jazzy collaboration that educates readers not just about the beautiful problem of Love but the path to spiritual improvement, as well.

Recognizing the Destruction of Divine Justice and the Contortion of Contrapasso: The Injustice of Society and How to Fix It

By Micayah Ambriz, Tommy Castronova, Alice Chen, Claire Corbeaux, Kat Johnson, Mya Nazaire, and Emily Zandy.

The Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, describes the poet’s unique and influential vision of Hell. The story begins with the narrator, Dante himself, being lost in a dark wood where he is attacked by three beasts that he cannot escape. He is rescued by the Roman poet, Virgil, and together they begin a journey into the Nine Circles of Hell. While there, Dante perceives Hell as a place that is governed by two concepts: divine justice and its offshoot, contrapasso. The Catholic Dictionary defines Divine justice  as “the constant and unchanging will of God to give everyone what is due him or her.” As defined by Wikipedia, contrapasso is derived from the Latin words contra, meaning against or opposite, and patior, meaning to suffer, so the literal meaning of contrapasso is “to suffer the opposite.” Moreover, contrapasso refers specifically to the punishment of souls in Dante’s Inferno, where punishment is exacted “by a process either resembling or contrasting with the sin itself.” While in Hell, Dante and Virgil encounter many sinners who have committed various crimes. Each sinner appears to be atoning for his misdeed by continuously undergoing his God-given contrapasso

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Crossing Boundaries Once Again

When I first enrolled at SUNY Geneseo, and even when I first registered for this course, I was skeptical, but curious, about the relationship between the sciences and the humanities. A class I took with Dr. McCoy last semester caused me to reconsider my skepticism; however, as I entered this class, The Art of Steve Prince, my vision was still clouded by the assumptions I had previously generated regarding the intersection, or lack thereof, between the sciences and the humanities. Indeed, I had always assumed that science and the humanities were distinctly separate realms with no direct connection or relationship with each other. While I was beginning to warm to the idea that science and literature might be intimately and intrinsically connected, I was not ready to see that there is science in art and art in science. But, as this course draws to a close, I find that my views have shifted tremendously and that I am now incapable of visualizing art without science and science without art. This transformation was made possible by many things, particularly, the work of Steve Prince, the lectures and lessons of the supporting faculty, and the blogging process.

Furthermore, my thinking across barriers with respect to academic disciplines mirrored the thinking that I and my classmates did across cultures, communities, and individuals. This class helped me to see past the exclusionary labels assigned to academic disciplines and unearth their similarities and differences in a way that connects and celebrates each respective discipline. In a similar fashion, this class, and the thinking it inspired, encouraged me to, in the words of Steve Prince, “look more and name less” and recognize that human beings, though each bearing different creeds and cultures, though each occupying different communities and spaces, are essentially united, not in spite of their differences, but in a way, because of such differences, as well as the similarities that lie beneath these differences.

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Look More, Label Less

Throughout the blogging process, I have paid considerable attention to the four horsemen that pop up again and again throughout the body of Steve Prince’s work. When discussing the horsemen in my blog posts, I almost always mentioned their shoes, which are adorned with studs and spikes, wherein the spikes vary in appearance and resemble things like barbed wire, grisly canines, and other such objects that bear traditionally negative connotations.

The presence of these shoes in a work of Prince’s often impacted my interpretation of the piece. For example, in Prince’s “Dirge,” the spiked appearance of the horsemen’s shoes encouraged me to view the horsemen as agents of destruction, as is discussed in my blog post, “Those Who Straddle the Line.”Additionally, the horsemen’s massive, spiked shoes, seen in Prince’s “Second Line I-IV,” acted as elements with which I could juxtapose the horsemen’s dainty posture and accessories. This juxtaposition would become the launchpad for my thought process and ultimate thesis in my blog post, “The Protecting Power of Destruction.”

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The Fern

Though Dr. Yang has moved on to discussing ecology in General Biology II, my favorite unit would have to be the one we began with, wherein I learned about plant species diversity. I (re-)learned that all plants can be classified into four groups: Non-vascular plants, seedless vascular plants, gymnosperms, and angiosperms. One such member of the seedless vascular plants is the fern, an extremely durable, yet dainty plant that is heavily featured within Steve Prince’s “Song for Aya,” as Prince himself pointed out during his “Kitchen Talk” lecture held at SUNY Geneseo.

The fern is most present in the second piece of “Communal Resurrection: Song for Aya” in the earring of the woman who takes the foreground of that section of the piece. Prince, in his talk, explained that the fern motif is one that is carried throughout the entire piece, and demonstrated such by walking over to his projected image and tracing out the leaf patterns with his hands. Once Prince had pointed out the fern’s ubiquitous presence, I could not unsee it. It was clearly present in the singing woman’s earring, but I began to notice it in other places, as well.

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Once Again Addressing Force

Though I am officially no longer a physics major, my life has remained entangled (perhaps quantumly so) with the sciences. It sometimes seems to me as if the sciences refuse to relinquish their hold on me, as this semester I was approached by members of the biology department and asked to serve as a supplemental instructor for General Biology II.

Though I was extremely nervous to start the position, as I am not a biology major, I have grown to love the job, due to the way I am able to make a positive impact on the academic experiences of my peers. Recently, the class has started to learn about muscles and their form and function. During the most recent session, I asked a question regarding typical muscle fiber patterns, which are either pennate or parallel in their arrangement.

Pennate muscle structure is differentiated from parallel in that the muscle fibers are arranged at an angle to the force-generating axis within the muscle, whereas parallel muscle structure involves muscle fibers that exist in parallel with the force-generating axis. As a result of this differentiated architecture, muscles that feature a pennate arrangement are able to produce more force than those that are arranged in parallel; however, muscles that display a pennate structure are quite limited in their movement.

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Seeing Sound Waves (and More)

Last semester, I worked as an undergraduate lab instructor in the physics department for Dr. McLean’s “The Science of Sound” course. I thoroughly enjoyed working in this position and feel that I learned a great deal from it, not only about the science of sound but about myself, as well. While working as a lab instructor for this lab granted me new skills and a passion for instructing, it also, unexpectedly, left me with tools I can now use to enrich my interpretations of Steve Prince’s art.

For example, when I look at Prince’s piece, “Requiem for Brother John,” I am instantly drawn to what I perceive to be sound waves emanating from the trumpet in the background. These waves remind me of my time spent working in the Science of Sound Lab and of the hours I spent grading students’ drawn representations of waves for accuracy (not artistry, though some of the waves were drawn with obvious skill and flair). Notably, the waves appear curved upon their immediate exit from the trumpet and then straighten out when they reach the left-hand corner of work, as waves do upon propagating far enough out.

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Untangling Sustainability

By Liv Binda, Sarah Bracy, Claire Corbeaux, Lindsey Kriaris, Noah Mazer, Sarah-Anne Michel, and Morgan Torre

Sustainability is a frequently used buzzword, defined as “a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal.” Almost every day, efforts are made to conserve resources on a global scale, as well as on local ones. SUNY Geneseo, for example, demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability through initiatives such as composting programs, hosting a campus beautification event, giving out Campus Sustainability Leadership Awards, holding exhibits that feature art that deals with issues of ecological sustainability, and launching a campus sustainability month.

In class recently, we started looking at sustainability from a wider perspective and began investigating and incorporating the three pillars of sustainability: economy, society, and the environment. The United Nations recognizes another pillar that exists outside of, yet interacts with, these canonical pillars. In our estimation, the pillar of cultural sustainability is equally as important as the other three, but is often underrepresented and rarely discussed. Indeed, Geneseo often fails to consider this fourth pillar and the role it plays on-campus: a recent email about the Sustainability Leadership Awards explicitly referred to “the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social, and environmental)”.

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Pushing Back

Where most of my thoughts surrounding Joe Moran’s Interdisciplinarity once centered around the manner in which language defines or informs science and vice versa, a comment from Dr. McCoy in lecture a few weeks ago caused me to look back to the art of Steve Prince and reminded me of the intersection between the humanities and sciences that occurs within many of his works. Dr. McCoy stated that she would like it if someone could explain to her the physics behind the horsemen and their carrying of what appears to be a representation of the city of New Orleans in Prince’s piece entitled, “Dirge.”

29.5″X42″ Graphite Drawing

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