DePaul University is hosting a twenty-four-hour marathon reading of every book George Saunders has published to precede his lecture titled, “Why the Humanities? Why Art?”
The event, organized by H. Peter Steeves, a professor of Philosophy and Director of the Humanities Center at DePaul, was inspired by the groups that read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” out loud on Bloomsday. As Steeves explains, “Speaking words aloud has something approaching a kind of magic to it, almost like an act of conjuring. We’re all hearing it together, experiencing it together, entering into the same narrative space together, with the same world appearing there for all of us. What better way to celebrate George and remind ourselves of the power of art than to create such a community for a full day?”
In fact, according to Steeves, one of the goals of this event is for it to play a role in the continuing conversation about the worth of the arts in higher education. It is not a great time for the humanities—funding and enrollment are both down. And yet, as Steeves explains, the study of the humanities and the arts remains an essential part of “an education that creates well-rounded community members, conscientious fellow citizens, and individuals poised to lead a life full of self-reflection as well as economic security.”
Furthermore, as Steeves notes, ending this event with the lecture allows for the opportunity to talk about the importance of the arts while also demonstrating it. As George himself explains his lecture will examine “…the question of why a person would want to be involved in the arts and humanities, from the perspective of someone who started out in engineering and moved away from it. To do that, I’m going to investigate what art does (through the lens of what writing does) to the artist and to the consumer of art, by starting with the primary question: What actually happens to us when we read a work of fiction?”
The mission of this reading also reflects the mission of DePaul University. Steeves states: “Our goal is to put DePaul (and Chicago) at the center of this national debate, making the city a beacon of the highest standards and ideals for what it means to receive a well-rounded Liberal Arts education.”
Significance aside, this event is sure to be a highly entertaining one. The list of readers includes Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, the actor Jesse Eisenberg (via remote from NYC), Chicago-based authors Sara Levine and Lindsay Hunter, as well as some friends of George. Steeves believes the attraction to such an event for the readers has to do with understanding and appreciating George’s unique ability to speak “clearly, intelligently, humorously, and honestly to the question of what it means to be a person today.” Lindsay Hunter (who will be reading at 12pm on June 3) also explains what she likes about Saunders: “Saunders, to me, is like a god constructed only of nerve endings. He just oozes empathy, but at a god’s kind of remove. Sort of a benevolent Pan. He’s weird yet authentic, and his work is compulsively readable. It lingers. You think you get it and then weeks later you’re slicing cheese and you’re like OH! Oh, wow.”
Those unable to make the event can rest easy. The New Yorker will be publishing George’s lecture and a video of his reading will be available on the DePaul Humanities Center’s YouTube channel. (Kim Steele)
June 2, 8pm to June 3, 8pm, DePaul Student Center, Room 120, 2250 North Sheffield, (773)325-7346. Free and open to the public.