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A Very Modern January

How time flies! Christmas has come and gone, and I have returned to Luther in a new year. January is always a bit of an odd time around here because so many people are studying abroad or completing internships. Many of those who stick around fill the month with a J-term course. Sometimes these are run-of-the-mill classes, but other times students take the opportunity to do something fun and different. For example, I have a friend taking Scandinavian Handcrafts, and I know someone else in Badminton.

Then again, there are people like me. I am spending my time doing research about personal identity as I prepare to write my senior paper in the spring. Maybe this isn’t the most glamorous pastime, but it’s an important task to accomplish. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for an interesting blog post.

I think it will be much more exciting if I spend the next few weeks reflecting on J-terms past. Today I’ll be looking all the way back to the winter of 2015, when I took one of the most important courses of my college career.

To begin, a little background. First-year students at Luther are required to take a seminar course numbered 185 during J-term. Pleasantly, there are many selections available, and the 185 courses are some of the most creative and exciting offerings in the course catalogue. One in particular has always stood out to me: Each student spent the month studying a person involved in the trial of Galileo so that the class could ultimately re-enact it for themselves. Talk about a hands-on approach to history!

As exciting as that would have been, I chose a different seminar: “Is Modernism Dead?” It was taught by a cello professor, Dr. Kutz, and the curriculum was ambitious. In a mere three weeks, we managed to cover not only the music, art, and literature of the modernist movement, but to learn about pre-“modern” works (such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) and post-“modern” endeavors (like Cloud Atlas). The scope of the course was phenomenal, both in consideration of the texts we reviewed and artistic techniques we discussed.

Every class had separate periods devoted to music, art, and literature. Over the course of the month, we read Swann’s Way, watched the ballet The Rite of Spring, listened to the music of Arnold Schoenberg, examined the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, and attended live music performances given by college faculty. (And so much more!) One day, I was introduced to Mark Rothko, an artist I had never heard of before, but who is now my absolute favorite.

There was so much to do every day that this was one of the busiest periods of my life. I attended three hours of class Monday-Friday, and the afternoons and evenings were filled with preparation for the next day. I remember one weekend in particular when I needed to read all 528 pages of Cloud Atlas. I stayed up late into the night, tucked into a corner of the Center for the Arts, reading and reading.

No other class has ever taught me so many skills. I now know how to really look at a painting (Don’t worry, Dr. Kutz; I will always remember that “Lines lead the eye!”), how to listen for the different sections of a Scherzo, and a whole bundle of techniques for literary analysis.

The wonderful thing is that I know my experience was not unique, because I have met many other students whose lives were changed during their first January at Luther. The one draw-back to 185 seminars is that you only ever get to take one!

Eli Bowe

Eli Bowe

Eli Bowe is a senior Philosophy and Classical Studies major from Mondovi, Wisconsin. When he isn't studying in Preus Library, Eli can be found exploring the wilderness of Decorah or playing percussion with the Wind and Percussion Ensemble. Last year, Eli studied in England with Luther's Nottingham Program, so he's glad to be back on campus.

Read more about Eli.

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Mornings can be quiet during J-term
I paid a visit to the classroom where I learned about modernism
We listened to faculty performances in this hall for our class
I'll never forget using this book for my project on "The Rite of Spring"

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  • January 17 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Hi Eli,

    I enjoyed your blog and the detail that went into the post. Even though working on your senior paper isn't the most interesting blog post I still enjoyed the amount of detail you put into this post including reference links to everything you mentioned.


  • January 21 2018 at 8:40 pm

    nice article

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