Seminar with Kim Maxwell: The Unbearable Heaviness of Something Small

Date: 09/20/2014
Time: 1:00 pm-3:00 pm

Attention: Registration is now full. Please call the Norfolk Library at 860.542.5075 to be put on the waiting list.

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A Seminar at the Norfolk Library moderated by Kim Maxwell

World War I erupted from a political assassination on July 28, 1914, that triggered a sequence of events over which no one seemed to have any control. Four years later more than 8 million soldiers were dead, and four empires were shattered. A central reason for the carnage was man’s inability to fully understand his own technology—in this case the machine gun—as well as the political and economic systems he creates, in which something small produces unexpected and hugely disproportionate effects. In the 21st century, the Internet is a technology with the potential to affect our economic and political order in a similar way. With that in mind, the Norfolk Library will offer a series of seminars, conceived of and moderated by Kim Maxwell, to examine the topic idea: “the unbearable heaviness of something small.” This fall participants in the seminar will study World War I as distilled through the medium of literature and art. Meetings will be held on three Saturdays: September 20, October 4, and October 18 from 1:00 to 3:00 at the library. Pre-registration is required, and participants are limited to 12. Kim Maxwell holds a PhD in English literature from Stanford University and has provided the following outline of the seminar:

Over three meetings across four weeks we will read two novels by E. M. Forster: Howards End and A Passage to India. Each narrative may be considered an allegory on the war itself, one written before the war, the other finished after. We will discuss these works in the context of visual art and poetry surrounding the war (Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg) and look at artists and writers who fought (and perhaps died) in the war, worked at the time of the war, or whose work was affected by the war (Futurists and early Abstract Expressionists).

Meetings will last two hours with a fifteen-minute break. The first half of each meeting will be devoted to a work of literature; the second half to that work’s connection to other art forms and the topic question.

The seminar will require a bit of work beyond reading on the theory that we do not understand something until we can express it and that we learn as much by connecting disparate things together as by deep analysis of any one thing. We will have a seminar website on which each participant will post a brief summary of his or her reading of the work of that week relative to how something small created something larger. Participants will select three paintings and one short poem from the seminar website which express or amplify their point and will write as many words as naturally flow explaining the connections among them. These commentaries will be available to all participants. For the last meeting each participant will write whatever he or she feels about the seminar’s topic question. Who knows—perhaps we will create a site with unbearable heaviness of something small.


This event is full.