Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel/Edited by Koh Terai

The Weekly Graze: The Core

Books on the Core everyone should read

Here at The Gazelle, we work hard to bring you interesting, informative content that you can enjoy and engage with. This week’s Graze is brought to you by Professor Phillip Mitsis and NYU Abu Dhabi students, and it includes picks for some of the best readings from NYUAD’s Core Curriculum.
Alex Matters Junior
Eating Apes, Dale Peterson
The book introduced me to the shocking realities of the ape meat black market; rather than portraying it as a single evil operation, Dale Peterson presents individuals involved in the trade and their reasons. The tale shows how concerns about justice, culture and poverty can tangle in ways that aren't comfortably resolvable; seeing gorillas in Uganda later in the semester became a more unsettling and reflective experience for me. While it might seem at first that outside activists can and should tackle a simple goal — in this case, stop the poaching in any way possible — the situation is always more complicated. Those close to the issue culturally and socially almost always know better. I think this reality is imperative for any self-proclaimed global citizen to grasp.
Nikolaj Nielsen Junior
Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson
I read this text for Technophilia and its Discontents, a Pathways of World Literature Core. Imagine a literary version of Mr. Robot, set in an unnamed Gulf state that reminds us more than a little bit of the UAE. Superimpose poignant reflections on class, the interplay of traditional Islamic culture with technological modernity and an unlikely cyber-romance as a vehicle for love in a restrictive society, and you begin to see why G. Willow Wilson's novel deserves a closer reading than you might have time for. Final selling point: imagine a book about the Arab Spring, written on the cusp of that exact moment in time. It is a captivating, moving and beautiful work.
Mariam ElZoghbi Senior
One of the most inspiring books I have ever read was required reading in the Core class Autobiographies. Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and when I use the word wrote, I mean it in the broadest of terms. Bauby was the editor-in-chief of the French Elle. Having suffered a stroke, he went into a coma and when he woke, he could not move, speak or communicate, except using his left eye. His body locked him in, and the only way out was to blink. He dictated this book – an account of his life before the stroke, as a rich, vivacious father of two, and after the stroke, as a man experiencing locked-in-syndrome, by simply blinking his left eye.
The beauty of the language and the abundance of detail and description make it so that it would be a wonderful read without knowing the circumstances in which it was written; knowing the circumstances makes it a beautiful miracle. The reader goes through all the emotional stages with Bauby — anger, sadness, nostalgia, hope and desperation. He imagines leaving his body, going somewhere else and experiencing the world; he remembers his life, glitzy and glamorous before his illness; he gives the reader a taste of a thousand different worlds with a blink of an eye.
Phillip Mitsis Alexander S. Onassis Professor of Hellenic Culture and Civilization
Medea, Euripides
When you ask me about the relevance of a great Greek tragedy to students at an elite liberal arts college like NYU Abu Dhabi, I feel rather fortunate to have dodged some much tougher questions, since Euripides' Medea is precisely the kind of text that students can use to explore issues central to living an examined life, which after all is the primary goal of our educational mission here in Abu Dhabi. If these texts were in the depressing business of hiding behind a kind of faux mathiness, while pretending to shoehorn human behavior into a series of insipid artificial boxes, then I might be at a loss to explain why students should bother to give them a look.
At NYU New York, I usually assign Medea as a reading for Valentine's Day — it has a kind of monitory value for the starry-eyed — but here our class is reading it after the Iliad and the Hagakure. Both of those texts are about the value of honor in a male warrior culture, and it is interesting to compare the way that Euripides places Medea's concern for her honor, along with her expression of it, in a corresponding heroic context. When Achilles feels his honor slighted he goes to his mother, who is a goddess, to try to arrange for Zeus to kill all of his fellow Greeks. Medea's honor, on the other hand, only demands the death of her two children and Jason's new bride. So one question that arises is, why do many people leave these two texts thinking of Medea, a woman, as a moral monster and Achilles, a male warrior, as the quintessential hero? It is hard to come up with any moral principles, ancient or modern, that can justify such divergent reactions. Euripides, I think, is on to this and is carefully interrogating notions of honor, shame, self-sacrifice and self-destruction in ways that not only contemporary philosophers like Bernard Williams and Anthony Appiah find crucial for understanding contemporary ethics and politics, but also in a manner that many students who feel the demands of personal or societal honor might find revealing or, at least, unsettling. By the same token, Euripides raises a series of difficult and conflicting questions about Medea's psychology. Is she in control of her actions? Is she manipulating others or merely deceiving herself? Is she self-consciously playing the victim or does she actually believe herself to be a victim, or both? Philosophers from the time of the ancient Stoics have found this particular text one that presents the problems and ambiguities in explaining unboxed human behavior in a particularly subtle and demanding way, and students quickly can come to feel the force of such psychological questions in reading this text. So, Medea, like most Greek tragedies, confronts the audience with a dilemma about its own emotional involvement in the suffering of others. Euripides often presents Medea in a manner calculated to provoke an audience's pity. But how does that particular emotion begin to inflect our moral evaluation of her actions — Plato's and Aristotle's worry — or our view about her own responsibility for the actions — the Stoics' worry?
This is just a small subset of the kinds of questions raised by Euripides' drama in a powerful and memorable way, so I don't think it takes all that much pedagogical imagination or justification to explain why it is a text that pops up in so many different contexts in NYUAD’s Core Curriculum.
Kristina Stankovic is Features Editor. Email her at
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