The Irreverence of Teaching

To Reflect On

Olivia J. Hooker

Olivia J Hooker









(we were just small children, and my family had not told me about)

prejudice and hate”

“what you should and should not have”

(they took the hatchets & chopped my sister’s piano, but they didn’t know that it’s the)

sounding board

(in the piano that is important, so they chopped the outside of the piano, and didn’t affect the tone of it)

ZIUA LIMBII ROMANE sarbatorita in Cracovia, vineri, pe 30 august 2013

PosterVinerea aceasta va invit la un atelier de limba romana organizat in Cracovia de Scoala CALITATE, cu care colaborez ca profesor de limba romana, si Institutul Cultural Roman din Varsovia (detalii mai jos). 

Tema discutiei la care invit vorbitorii de limba romana (nivel intermediar si avansat) este uimirea, spiritul mirarii, si modurile sale de exprimare in limba romana. Daca tema vi se pare incitanta, sunteti asteptati in sala 53 a bibliotecii voivodale din Cracovia, de la ora 18.

* * *


30 august 2013
Biblioteca Publică Voievodală din Cracovia, str. Rajska nr. 1

În data de 30 august, la Cracovia, ICR Varşovia vă invită la un eveniment de promovare a învăţării limbii române, marcând totodată festiv Ziua Limbii Române. Împreună cu Şcoala de Limbi Străine „Calitate”, cu sprijinul Asociaţiei de Prietenie Polono-Române şi al Bibliotecii Voievodale din Cracovia, vom organiza ateliere de limba română – pentru începători şi semi-avansaţi, susţinute de lectorii Şcolii de Limbi Străine „Calitate”. Toţi participanţii la ateliere vor primi în dar un Ghid de conversaţie polon-român.

Ateliere de limba română

Atelier pentru începători – ora 18:00, sala 247
Atelier pentru semi-avansaţi – ora. 18:00, sala 53

Înscrierile se fac până la 28 august, prin intermediul unui formular aflat pe pagina
Participarea la ateliere este gratuită.

Pe parcursul întregii zile, toţi doritorii vor putea participa la un concurs de cunoştinţe generale despre limba română. Formularele vor fi accesibile în holul Bibliotecii. Cele mai bune lucrări vor fi premiate cu cărţi, albume şi muzică, toate din România.

Regulament de concurs: 

Participanţii la concurs vor completa formularele cu toate datele de contact solicitate. Formularele cu date incomplete nu vor putea participa la concurs.
Formularele, având forma unui test-grilă, vor fi corectate după un barem unic. Răspunsurile corecte şi lista câştigătorilor vor fi afişate pe site-ul Institutului şi pe cele ale Partenerilor de eveniment începând cu data de 3 septembrie a.c.
În cazul în care numărul testelor rezolvate corect va fi mai mare decât numărul premiilor prevăzute, câştigătorii vor fi desemnaţi prin tragere la sorţi.
Premiile vor putea fi ridicate de la Biblioteca Publică Voievodală din Cracovia, ul. Rajska nr. 1 începând cu data de 4 septembrie până în 30 septembrie a.c.   

Meeting Zadie Smith at the Literature Festival in Krakow

Zadie Smith and Alina Alens (Photo by Tomasz Wiech)

“The language itself can contain your ideas,”


even if you may “feel like a stranger in the act of writing,”

and you won’t meet your old writing self half-way along the page.

You’ll be amazed at the capacities you will discover in the act of writing.


you might not know it yet, but an age of “novel nausea” or the years-of-less-and-less-time for reading might catch up with you sooner than you think…


to be read by strangers – they may turn out to be some of your best readers;


embrace freedom in your way of life and at the same time respect the language you’re writing in – staying true to your language in today’s world is, as you may agree, a “radical act.”


don’t be afraid to be perceived by others as a “friend of failure,”

as long as you are your own true friend… 

Cultural me, cultural you//Tenth Edition//21.11.2010



The “Drum Essentials” Masterclass

straight from India

with Dr. S. Karthick and Atma Anur

When: Sunday, November 21st, 9pm (+1 GMT)

Where: on line, on RadioWid

(click on “Sluchaj teraz” to listen)

Podcast available on request, at the contact address down this page.

Limited Offer!

On the MENU:

extracts from masterclasses at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music,

introducing you to both Carnatic rhythm and modern Western rhythmic understanding for drummers and well-rounded, knowledgeable musicians.


1. Raga Bop Trio: Garuda

2. Shakti with John McLaughlin

3. Raga Bop Trio: The Geometry Of Rap

4. Prakesh Bangalore:  A Talk (DVD extract)

5. The Atma Anur Group: Atma’s Fura

6. ALENS: You Are Not Alone (produced by Atma Anur)

7. Vanessa Van Spall: Not Sorry (produced by Atma Anur)

8. Ed DeGenaro: Prayer

9. Raga Bop Trio: Ironically

10. Natalie John: Nothing Else

11. Ed DeGenaro: Outro

Imago Mundi – Part II

Worlds Taken Apart and

Put Together Again

Inspired by Bohumil Hrabal’s

“The Little Town Where Time Stood Still,”

by Radu Jude’s short movie, “Alexandra,”


by the recent event in Polish history (10.04.2010)

In December last year I was handing out an end-of-term assignment to my students based on the short movie “Alexandra,” directed by Radu Jude (2007), and on a fragment (Chapter 3) from “The Little Town Where Time Stood Still” by Bohumil Hrabal. The assignment was an essay writing task, prompted by such questions:

“Alexandra” (2007)

  1. How would you describe the members of this family?
  2. How many broken things can you identify in the short movie?
  3. Does the metaphor of the broken bicycle tell you something about the Romanian society? What about the society we live in, in general?
  4. What is the “oil” that keeps the mechanism of our society running?
  5. Can you think of any situation in which the mechanism of society got broken or came to a halt? Were the damages irreparable?

“The Little Town Where Time Stood Still” (1973)

  1. Have you ever looked for mistakes or flaws in some systems you were using?
  2. Are such mistakes predictable?
  3. How well prepared can we be for unexpected breaches in the systems we count on?
  4. If there are breaches, what keeps it all together?
  5. Are there any things beyond our ability to fix?
  6. Can we be ready to deal with things that we are unable to fix?
  7. What is the fuel that keeps our society moving on and progressing, despite breaches and tragedies?

No one could have predicted the tragic event that occurred only yesterday and left a country without its presidential couple and without an irreplaceable part of the Polish political and social infrastucture. The thoughts that crossed my mind in this context brought back many memories. Among them, the questions above, that I had formulated for the essay writing task thinking about events that break and reunite a society. I believe that the outcome of the tragic event in Smolensk, that we are experiencing in Poland and abroad at this time, is going to be overcome by precisely the kind of fuel that always brings people together in time of  need: human solidarity, love, support and wisdom-driven actions.

Looking back on apparently minor things like this assignment, I am grateful for the inspiring moments that make us think further than we think we can. As usual, when I set a task for others, I set it for myself too. You can read my thoughts on Radu Jude’s short movie and Bohumil Hrabal’s novel below.

For the next seven days I will post on  the English Learners Blog selected papers written by my students, on the same topic: events that breach systems and solutions that make them work again.

For a selection of my students’ papers click on the links below; for an overview in my own words, read on!

DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3 , DAY 4, DAY 5, DAY 6, DAY 7


In a world affected by distrust and divide, even a child’s question can shatter long-held beliefs.

Alexandra is a child who lives with her mother, her grandmother, and her mother’s boyfriend in Bucharest. Just like any child her age, she is asking a lot of questions.

Why is water called “water” and why is her father’s name “Tavi” when daddy (in Romanian “tati”) seemed to have sufficed?

Her innocent childish questions become real threats to her father. They turn into proof of lying, deceit and manipulation in his eyes. His seven-year-old child must have been taught by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend not to call him father (“daddy”/ “tata”) any more. He feels he is gradually losing ground, especially since the divorce. Doubts give rise to suspicion and quarrels are easy to spark. When the “guilty” try to disculpate themselves, their efforts are vain. Tavi is not easy to give up on suspicion, since he is not in control of his daughter’s time any more. The only part of time he can “control” is her Sundays, and he is not going to give up on this scrap of her time without a fight.

It is difficult to make any righteous comments after watching the ten-minute cross-section of this family’s tragedy. Divorce, separation and distrust may affect the world as irreparably as wars or human loss.

How people deal with such tears and scars is a process that transcends nationality, gender and race. Just as these tears and scars, belief, love, hope and faith in the future are also universal. It is only natural for salvation to rest in them too.


We are all children of the Earth, contemplating with marvel the mysteries of its mechanisms.

Dad, as long as we still had the Orion, that dreadful motorbike, which had to go in for general repairs after every ride, used to spend every Saturday stripping it down, but never alone…

(1993, p. 164)

Bohemia is the little spool of a town on which Bohumil Hrabal’s story is wound. Apart from spool-like towns like Bohemia there are, of course, other smaller and bigger spools in the greater universe of lives and stories. However, Bohemians like the father in this story, who sets apart his motorbike without it being broken only to understand its mechanism and prevent future mishaps, who does this always in someone’s company (to ensure a legacy being instituted) and always with the aim of putting it together again a little better each time, always strikes my imagination into motion.

In this stirring of the imagination Bogumil Hrabal had won me over as a reader ever since I read on of his books for the first time – one of my all time favourites, “Too Loud A Solitude.” The force in his writing is remarkable, considering that he wrote several of his books as he was recovering from the grips of illness.

I wrote this Little Town in the early spring of 1973, when illness was in the offing, and I fondly imagined that I alone held the keys to these stories […] So again this text, like The King of England, is written by the spontaneous method of peril in lingering […]

Why, some may ask?

I am putting the bar so high that it vanishes in the glittering azure, because for what I shall be attempting, to join consciousness and unconsciousness, vitality and existentiality, to abolish the object as the outer and inner model, for that leap is required, and only my illness, that university of mine, which I lived through in the hospital on Charles Square, only that may perhaps be able to prepare for me a jumping-off point, from which I shall  jump head first into the gravitational field of emotionality. Up then towards that which as yet is not.

Selected quotations from the author’s Afterword (1993, pp. 300-302)

The temptation of deconstructing, disassembling, and reorganizing the mechanism of a utility such as a motorbike, springs out of a noble desire of improvement known to us all. The frequency with which it occurs in this particular case is what pushes noblesse into the realm of the hilarious. Yes, our character falls prey to the same impetuous desire of disassembling and reassembling the inner mechanism of his bike every single weekend. He also likes to lure into his endeavours at least a witness or follower.

To anyone not in the know Dad, on a Saturday afternoon, would pop the question, “What are we doing then this afternoon?” And anyone unawares would reply honestly that they were doing nothing special[.] And anyone not in the know came along, little suspecting  that Dad was dismantling the big end, and the neighbour would hand him the spanners and dad would delve further and further down towards the rattle in the engine, which was a congenital feature of that engine, a kind of permanent ailment it was, like someone with a hobble on one foot or with a stammer. [Y]oung men and old men alike took the bike apart with Dad, and time marched on towards midnight, and dawn began to rise, and dad decided that now was the time to put the engine together again, what joy awaits us when at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, when the bells begin to ring, let’s have a bet on it, Dad proffers his hand, I kick the starter just the once to try it out and the engine peals into life like the Sunday bells.

(1993, pp. 166 – 167)

Sometimes, however, bets don’t work, the unexpected happens, and plans that seem concrete vanish. Good intentions have to come to a halt, which in this case is as abrupt as time stopping.

…And Dad ran about with the hammer, and being unable to kill [what caused the problem and thwarted his plans], he took out his watch, put it on the little anvil and with one blow shattered it to smithereens, the only way to save himself from smashing in [the invisible head of the problem] instead of the watch…

(1993, pp. 165-166)

This is when the time stands still in the watch that was smashed and in the world of the one who smashed it into stillness. Tragedies make us feel like that, like the Time has stopped or, in any case, has to stop. However, Time itself never stops. It marches on, irrespective of tragedies. It is us who need to take some time, pick up the broken pieces and eventually move on.

Where do we take our strength from?

The hope in other people’s eyes, from helping hands, Chopin, candle flames, and memories.

For everyone the time to recover Time is a personal mystery.

What we can do is join in each other tragedy in support, love, and understanding, and

let our watches tick minutes of Life, Joy, Friendliness and Gratitude

once again!

“Captain, You’re Relieved!”

“Captain, I am here to relieve you!”

“I am glad to be relieved!”

Apart from the dazzle of the effects and the tightness of the event line in the latest Start Trek, it was these two lines of dialogue at the end the movie that has had me gripped on the edge of a thought:

legacy is what survives  each and every one of us.

At this thought I had to stop and take a bow, because indeed, legacy is what matters. Learning to hand down talent, skill, experience and wisdom  is what helps humanity perpetuate greatness from generation to generation. What we gather  from our elders during our lives we are meant to pass on. Knowledge, skill, talent, and sparks of that divine touch are not ours to keep – that is to hold on to for eternity.

A few years ago I met Isaak Okanlawon at an Aiesec conference he was chairing. At that time he was undergoing a traineeship at a multinational company in Budapest. I joined him for lunch and found out about his plans for the future. He wanted to learn as much as he could about feasible economic strategies abroad, then return to his home country, Nigeria, run for president, win and drive his country into an era of economic success and development. He had the vision of himself as an old man, on the porch of his house, with a pipe in his hand, and many children around.

“When I get old I’ll start teaching the young.”

“Why then?”

“Because I’ll have enough experience to share.”

To be continued…

From THE ANONYMOUS BOOK OF SAYINGS: JCJ Riddle based on The Sawdust Story by Krzysztof Szczepaniec

How did the sayings we know and use today come down to us?

How did they end up in The Anonymous Book of Sayings?

Histories have been written, linguistic tracks uncovered, hypotheses laid out.

With some Physics students I set out to add some more sayings to the Anonymous Book the day I heard the story of the sawdust.  I invite you to continue reading and add more sayings to the open list.


by Krzysztof Szczepaniec,

4th year Physics student at the Jagiellonian University

Have I ever told you about the time when I was in the army, performing everyday duties?

In the army, every soldier is assigned an area that he has to keep spotlessly clean. This means cleaning it thoroughly every single day. As a soldier, I was, of course, assigned such an area too. It was the corridor of our building. The floor was covered with small yellow tiles. Between these tiles there were  small ridges running all along. The clean tiles looked nice, but keeping them spotless could be a nightmare. We would use brooms, water and soap and clean the floor every day.

Once the floor got so dirty that we couldn’t seem to be able to do anything about it, no matter how much we tried to scrub it clean with water and soap. Then, one of the sergeants came to us, pointed at two of my team mates and said: “You and you! Come with me”.

After a while they returned with a big sack which they then emptied on the floor in the corridor. I was surprised. It was sawdust!

The Corridor in the Sawdust Story

It seemed strange  in the beginning, but we ended up cleaning the floor by rubbing the sawdust off the ridges and tiles. When we finished, the floor was so clean and shiny, we couldn’t believe our eyes! Tiles and ridges both spotlessly clean! That’s how we discovered that the tiles were actually white, not yellow!

Feel free to add your own saying to these!

The Book of Anonymous Sayings


Sergeants know better!

Sawdust can be useful even if you don’t belong to

the rodent family!

Sometimes things must get dirtier before they get clean.

The right quantities depend on the frame of reference.

Sawdust dirty boots are better than bare feet!

Every grain to its floor.

E. JUNGER: JCJ Glass Bees Riddle – A Case of Iconic Irreverence


Ernst Junger


Does it seem possible for someone to make out the greater picture, the universe of a book, after reading only a few fragments from it? Which fragments should these be? The last or the beginning? Whatever the answer, I chose to use The Glass Bees as a testing ground. My idea was to hand out to my students excerpts from the last eight chapters of this book. I limited their “reading-at-first-sight” perspective to a maximum of two chapters and handed out different chapters to four groups of readers. The first task set: summarise the chapters after reading.

In doing this I meant for synthesis to precede analysis, for summarizing to precede indepth thinking.

Did it work? In the very beginning, the readers found the summarising rather challenging. Summarising a fragment from The Glass Bees is not an easy task. In the chapters chosen, the flood of memories washes out the happenings and events of the present and manages to carry characters and readers alike into a realm of implausibility. I made sure, though, to drop a key. It’s nothing more than a man waiting in the garden for a possible employer to finish interviewing him for a job, I told them. The interviewee, Richard, the mighty and mysterious interviewer, Zapparoni.

What is plausible, and what is implausible for you in the chapters you just read? was my second question. It’s not at all easy to discern what is real from what is artificially constructed in this superbly written novel. Cut-off ears, transparent glass bees, surveillance cameras hidden inside tiny, bee-like automatons, thorough descriptions of  feelers quivering or delicate calyces are all confusing and charming the reader.

If you were to use this story for a movie, this movie would be… A science-fiction movie or a thriller with cut-off ears swimming in a bloody pond were the answers from some. For others the answer was silence. We have no problem understanding the words or the plot. The underlying meaning, however, eludes us, they concluded. Bees and glass bees – possibly a symbol for work or a working class… were some of the hypotheses, but the ideas seemed to stop there.

Let’s meditate on this for a while, shall we? I suggested. But what is the meaning for you, they insisted. I started then by laying out some reference points from the author’s life and the beginning chapters. Junger was a paradoxical personality, a brilliant military man  and a renown entomologist. A man at times on a war path, carrying a gun  while collecting rare flowers and bugs. The character in his book, Richard, is a man who knew and lived in two worlds: the “shining armour” time of  his youth, when he was an atypical soldier in the midst of heroes and foes, and the present time of need – a kind of  belated maturity, when he has to turn his weakness into strength, his defeatism into another kind of victory. The book witnesses the struggle within the character before he turns his weaknesses into the strength  to be harnessed by the responsibilities and tasks of  a certain type of work. This is where I stopped at the time.

I would like this blog to be a continuation of my own meditation on The Glass Bees. Give me a moment. I’ll be right back.

Alright. Thank you!

Two ages are facing each other in the two species of bees. Unlike their natural counterparts, the glass bees are perfect workers. Sexless, they need no sleep, no food, they can work without interruption. Their flight back to the hive which they never enter is a mere reminiscence of  the “homecoming” instinct of most living creatures.  This association is striking. All the more so, considering the fact that their glass, probe-like, tubular tongues collect almost all the pollen during one stop around a flower, leaving none, or close to none, for the rest of the bees. How generous is nature? we may ask. Can “its plan” accommodate the artificial,  man-created automatic bees? Is the honey produced by them as good as the natural honey?  Richard is asking himself similar questions. He mentions that “[b]ees are not just workers in a honey factory. Ignoring their self-sufficiency for a moment, their work – far beyond its tangible utility – plays an important part in the cosmic plan […]”

“As messengers of love, their duty is to pollinate, to fertilize the flowers,” he continues. (p.98)

What is man’s part in the cosmic plan? Is it to “push the developments of these automatons ahead […], manufacturing them in series,” in the manner of Zapparoni? (p. 104) Will man be superseded by his mechanised replica, by his  automatic alter ego?

“I was like a man of a former civilization who stands at a traffic intersection” Richard finds himself thinking. (p. 105)

Just like “the first automobiles which made the horses shy,” the existence of the glass bees marks the beginning of change. “The horses sensed what was in store for them. Since then the world has changed.” (p. 34) At the moment when Richard discovers the glass bees, and later on the cut-off ears floating in the pond, he senses that the world has undergone yet another change. He senses all too well that he does not want to be a part of this changed world. He’d rather stick to his own defeatism, go home to his Teresa, and look for another job. When Zapparoni reveals to him the story behind the cut-off ears, and welcomes him aboard the new establishment as an arbiter of change, he reconsiders his options.

“I might now conclude my story as in those novels where one presses on to a happy ending.

Other principles hold good here. Today, only the person who no longer believes in a happy ending, only he who has consciously renounced it, is able to live. A happy century does not exist; but there are moments of happiness, and there is freedom in the moment. […]

Soon perhaps, I shall describe in detail the consequences which my position as an arbitrator involved, and my experiences within the Zapparoni’s domain. (Until now I had been only in the outer courts.) Only a person who does not know the force of destiny will assume that my evil star faded out. We do not escape our boundaries or our innermost being. We do not change. It is true we may be transformed, but we always walk within our boundaries, within the marked-off circle. […]

There were rooms into which I had never looked before, and there were also great temptations; until finally my evil star triumphed again. Who knows, however, if my evil star might not be my lucky star? Only the end will tell.

But that evening, driving back to the plant in the little underground train, I firmly believed that my bad luck was over. One of the cars which I admired that morning took me back to the city. Fortunately some shops were still open here and there; I could buy myself a new suit. For Teresa I bought a nice summer dress with red stripes, which reminded me of the one in which I had seen her for the first time. It fitted to perfection – I knew her measurements. She had shared many hours with me, mainly the bitter ones.

We went out for dinner; it was one of the day one never forgets. Quite soon the happenings at Zapparoni’s garden began to fade in my memory. There is much that is illusory in techniques. But I never forgot Teresa’s words, and her smile when she spoke. Now she was happy about me. This smile was more powerful than all the automatons – it was a ray of reality.” (last chapter, pp. 148-149)

Can this be made into a thriller, a horror, or a science-fiction movie?

To me it is “a ray of reality.” It is the book or the movie in which man is wandering through the convoluted maze of his thoughts and recollections while being confronted with the genius, the middle- and master-minds of the present.  The fact that he finds his way back home does not exclude the possibilities of getting lost again in the future. However, there is a ray of light that pierces through defeat, loss and disappointment, and this is love. Whoever follows it is led on, safely, home.

In the darkness of today or tomorrow, one only has to follow the light.