// from the editors //
From the Editors
In this issue you will find a collection of writing by Columbia University students—each piece distinctly reifying the diversity of thought and experience had by these individuals. Rather than prescribe a single approach or through-line for interpreting these pieces, the Editors in Chief offer two possible framing devices to guide your reading. We advance these dialogic comments in lieu of a traditional Editor’s Note to put our principles into practice: to fully privilege the wealth of personal experiences, perspectives, and values that readers and writers bring to every text. As such, we invite you to relish in the distinct voice you find in these words.
At the first editorial board meeting of the Fall 2016 semester—well before November 8th came to politicize our collective consciousness, but a few months after Brexit--The Current made one of our founding traditions our centermost guiding principle this issue. Students and faculty are out-and-out encouraged to submit pieces on any topic they desire, articulating any view they identify with. We refrained from assigning authors and editors prescriptive story ideas or leads. And despite the apparent contradiction of our editorial practice of guiding our authors through each stage, our work as editors was approached with the most concerted effort to retain the voice of the individual, lest we, the editorial board, become a totalizing voice that obfuscates diversity.
By publishing pieces with personal origins and motivations—not those the board had thought addressed the most pressing global concerns—we found our authors chipping away at titanic issues through unique perspectives and unlikely subjects. And so, all article ideas were fair game, whether it be Miriam Lichtenberg and Estie Berkowitz’s reflections on a visit to a most unusual store vending human ribs and megalodon skulls or Hannah Vaitsblit’s rumination on the stigmatization of the female body at a women’s college. Nothing is too banal, too obscure, too stable to be safeguarded from deconstruction and reevaluation. This commitment to controversial, minority, and, too often, suppressed opinions is not new to The Current, and even prompted the themed issue “Read it, Then Decide” in Fall 2014, the first issue I worked on. As with Habermas’ principle of the public sphere, what are we without basic discussion?
But it was not necessarily controversy that propelled our refocused perspective. It was the recognition that constant reappraisal of the mundane might truly prevent dead dogma (proving our readings of Mill in Contemporary Civilization haunt us even after the final exam) and that those articles comprised of personal reflections just might resonate, if not in the black ink, but then in the margins, the paragraph breaks, those words unwritten but universally understood.
And so, this issue—now a physical object concretizing the efforts and ideas of a group of 13 editors and 21 authors—presents an opportunity to fill in those gaps of the unspoken, to make connections between our varied pieces. While the editors of The Current cull and curate these submissions, they ultimately function within networks independent of our publication: reflecting the authors’ immersion in debates surrounding culture, religion, and politics at Columbia and beyond.
We find that the personal can truly engage the universal: a microcosmic example of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the hyper-personal reaching the Omega Point. We see through the lens of others’ stories. In my interview with E. Randol Schoenberg, the famed attorney who won the landmark repatriation case about priceless and precious paintings stolen from a Jewish family under Nazi persecution, we revive the importance of remembering the past—not nostalgically, but in a robust confrontation of fact. Through Schoenberg’s potent statements about the failures of Americans to recognize the realities of the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s, we are urged to resist passivity. Further, in “Lionella’s Florence” we are moved to examine our daily lives in concert with the past, as did Julia Crain after a revelatory conversation with a Holocaust survivor, allowing us to find poignancy in the everyday.
Our authors confront that which we take for granted. See, for example, the cultural credo Matt Landes assigns to that split-second decision to buy the Kim Kardashian app or the clash between personal religious identity and an outsider’s expectations that Tova Kamioner encounters during a cultural cross-examination from a cab driver in Israel. These accounts prompt us to question our subject positions. Benjamin Davidoff’s review of the major Agnes Martin retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum shows that we must also critique the assumptions of the academy; the art history student challenges the validity of the modern art gospel, widely accepted with no more protestation than a resigned shrug or a slight grimace. And sometimes, we even must ask our ontological selves: “Where am I?” Because, as Max Finkel pithily explains in his review of Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, there is great difficulty in precise self-orientation.
We reject the supremacy of the recursive and the doctrinal; in this issue, our lengthiest to date, we prove the students of Columbia University also feel that authorial call to action. A capsule of contemporary culture in itself, this publication resonates a motivation to write and record, to debate and probe.
--Megan Kincaid, CC '17
Editor in Chief
1789, 1848, 1914, 1968. Most students of modern history would agree that these were years of colossal international change. In some time, 2016 might very well join this list. With the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the decision of the British public to leave the European Union, the rise of the far-right in France, an increase in global terrorism, and a host of other tumultuous events, 2016 was a year that defied most expectations.
And yet, these events are hardly the focus of this issue of The Current. In fact, only one piece in this entire journal, Robert Godfried’s “Post-Election Autopsy,” frontally addresses the presidential election at all. Despite the historic political developments of this year, not one person from our staff wanted to write about politics. This felt like sacrilege at our publication, which includes political coverage in its tagline and boasts of an illustrious history of political writing. However, as Thomas Mann famously wrote, “everything is politics.” Our writers’ decision to abstain from writing directly about politics this year was inherently political. It was a rejection of this year’s politics of anger, bigotry, and hatred that rocked our country and dominated the globe.
Disgusted by the politics of the present, many of our writers looked to the past for inspiration. However, unlike a similar move in reactionary politics, this pivot to history was not motivated by nostalgia. From the election of Donald Trump to Brexit, we have witnessed the victory of movements that reject the present in favor of the restoration of an imagined past. Our writers take the opposite approach when it comes to engaging with history. For them, invocation of the past is useless if it does not frame our analysis and experience of the present. Far from a vehicle of retrogression, the past obligates us to ensure that tomorrow is far greater than yesterday and today.
In a piece criticizing France’s Centre Georges Pompidou for whitewashing a celebrated artist’s anti-Semitism, Judith Teboul argues that even cultural institutions must openly engage with the dark spots of history in order to responsibly confront contemporary issues. In my own article, I explore a time in Columbia’s history when the administration was motivated by bigotry and nostalgia, and argue that this record must compel the University to act against similar forces today. Julia Crain’s piece on her semester abroad in Florence is a poignant encapsulation of what it means to live in the present while constantly engaging with the past. In his vivid account of a trip to a baseball game in Coney Island, Aaron Fisher shows us that when viewed through a historical lens, even a sporting event can take on tremendous meaning.
But the articles of this issue are not only concerned with the past. We also include pieces that do what The Current has always done best: provide a nuanced perspective on issues that are of the utmost relevance to college students today. Solomon Wiener provides an in-depth feature on Jewish activism at Columbia; Barbara Kaplan-Marans and Dani Lefkowitz analyze the Jewish dating process in their review of “Soon By You”; Charlotte Rauner explores the interconnectedness of love and religious worship in her poem, “Bible Study”; Lani Allen uncovers the complexities of interpersonal interactions in a cafe; and so much more.
If there is one lesson we can learn from the shocking events of this year, it is that the possibilities for the future are always far more various than we can possibly imagine; that life is so complex that any simplifying model falls short. This is cause for both fear and optimism. In the mean time, The Current will just wait and see.
--Leeza Hirt, CC '18
Editor in Chief
Cover photo by Avi Schwarzchild, SEAS '17 and Photo Editor of The Current.