I spent this morning working on a draft of some very brief opening comments for the 2016 North Dakota University System Arts and Humanities Summit. The topic is OUTRAGE. My comments will be very brief and introduce UND’s new president Mark Kennedy.
The first word in Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, is μῆνιν, wrath, and with it begins the Western literary tradition and, in some ways, our current disciplines of humanistic inquiry. The anger of Achilles drives the Iliad through the violence of the Trojan war. Wrath is the subject of the poet’s work.
My specialty is the late antiquity during which many of the the Western world’s social, political, and cultural institutions emerged. This was also a time of barbarian invasions, civil wars, the sack of cities – even Rome – and, perhaps most significantly, violent and vigorous religious disputes. These disputes spurred outrage both among prelates, provincials, and, of course, the Emperor, his court, and his army. As the great bishop Gregory of Nyssa observed “If you ask for your change, someone philosophizes to you on the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you are told, “The Father is greater and the Son inferior.” If you ask, “Is the bath ready?” someone answers, “The Son was created from nothing.”
These most outrageous of times had a lasting impact on Christian theology, political boundaries, and the cultural landscape of Europe and the West and continues to shape conflicts “at the edge of Europe” today.
Closer to home, outrage has a significant role to play in contemporary political and social conversations across the US, in North Dakota, and across the NDUS. In fact, I corresponded a bit with Robert Kibler from Minot State, and he argues that the first Liberal Arts Summit in 2001 originated in a series of tense conversations between various state board members, university presidents, the chancellor, and Kibler who pushed publicly for a liberal arts summit to complement more technology and business oriented research summit convened by the NDUS. Perhaps these tense conversations did not achieve the standard of outrage…
Nevertheless, anger, frustration, and passion are potent creative and generative forces from the dawn of Western literature, the formation of Europe, and the recent foment at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest Camp at Cannoball, among the faculty and students in Music Therapy here at UND, and in the myriad smaller – and certainly less significant events – that cause spasms of outrage to punctuate our daily lives. I can’t help but thinking that without outrage our world would be a far less vibrant place.