Literature and the arts have always held a prominent place in helping to define who we are as human beings and in enriching our lives. This is all the more apparent during moments of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Four UC Berkeley professors — scholars of music, art and letters — discussed Wednesday during a live Berkeley Conversations video event what arts and culture can offer worried, lonely souls fearful of an invisible virus.
The group examined music by Ludwig von Beethoven, art by Antoine-Jean Gros and Theodore von Gericault and works of literature by Daniel Defoe, to find moments that might help us better comprehend feelings we’re struggling with today.
Pointing to works by Beethoven that telegraph inner turmoil and triumphant beauty, Anthony Cascardi, dean of arts and humanities, noted that the composer “combines the crisis and the joyous breakthrough moment, the glorious resolution.”
“In fact,” Cascardi added, “if we don’t have a sense of what that hope is like, we really don’t understand what a crisis is. They really have to be understood together. I think that is a very important point to keep in mind as we struggle through a crisis with a very uncertain and unknown end.”
Mark Danner, a professor of English and journalism, reminded the live video audience, which numbered in the hundreds on Facebook and YouTube, to not forget to notice the important moments of connection while sheltered in place, moments that may last beyond the recovery.
During a crisis, “the normal structures of our life which we take to be determined, and necessities, suddenly fall away,” he said. “You find you can live life artistically, you can create a different way to live, you can create yourself. Your life is not path-dependent, the way you thought it was.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, “we see there are other ways to live,” he added. “We understand that communality is a necessity. We can hope that this ability to reshape life will be something that is taken away from this crisis. … We will see new ways of relating to one another that won’t be determined by the crisis, but will be a result of the creativity we can see that is possible in our (new) ways of living.”
Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19 is a live, online series featuring faculty experts from across the Berkeley campus who are sharing what they know, and what they are learning, about the pandemic. All conversations are recorded and available for viewing at any time on the Berkeley Conversations website.