At the end of year CAS reflection for Grade 11 I had written that I would want to make an origami presentation of an aquarium of sea animals as a part of the Art and Creativity. During the summer holidays, while I juggled my Extended Essay, Summer School Course at SciencesPo, EA preparation and Global Politics Hl script, it was actually therapeutic to be able to sit down in the afternoon and make these beautiful origami pieces. The greatest challenge for me was to find time. Nevertheless, I am proud of what I have accomplished and I think it looks beautiful. I give here four pictures of my aquarium clicked at various stages of development from beginning to end.
Over the summer as a part of my book club, I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A book that is evidently critically acclaimed and full of passages of lyrically vivid descriptions. The visual and auditory imagines are so strong that you can actually experience Ayemenem, in Kerala, India with its myriad of characters that are so realistic that you feel you live with them. But, to be brutally honest I have a grouse against the book and couldn’t agree with its theme. As the title of the book indicates, the novel holds up an alternate reality – a world that is in the protection of the “God of Small Things”. So, there is a mainstream society which lays down the rules and binds the people to their everyday routine lives and there is the alternate society which exists only perhaps in the imagination of some of the characters which allow human beings to be themselves, to do what they are meant to do. But, my grouse is that it is too negative of a portrayal of mainstream society, specifically of Estha and Rahel’s childhood which is meant to be a time of innocence and fulfilment and also its too much of a “halfway story” which does not really tell me if the alternate world really holds out a promise of happiness.
Throughout the book, there is evidence of the two worlds that plague the imagination of Estha and Rahel. Initially, they are too innocent to understand that the society in which they place their trust will eventually let them down. So, in chapter 1 Estha thinks “that if they were killed on a zebra crossing the Government would pay for their funerals”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the society which lays down restrictive laws with the implication that if you follow the laws, you’ll be safe, just like walking on a zebra crossing. Only, unfortunately, the same society does not extend protection to you when something goes wrong. So eventually though society forces you to walk the long straight line, there is no comfort provided if things go wrong. Yet another world that Roy explores is the world of the Church, an important element of life in Kerala for the many Christians who live there. At the time of Sophie’s funeral, the priest says “We entrust into thy hands. Most merciful Father, the soul of this our child departed, and we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Here again, there is the same reference where religion is seen to be a binding force on human beings, something they turn to at the time of trouble and yet it holds out little in terms of comfort or empathy. Thus, Chacko and Margaret not only lose their child but in doing so also lose what they have between them. The same reference to the promise of an illusory happiness is alluded to in the book later when Roy refers to, “Things go better with Coca-Cola”, its the same thing – everything in the past and present of human society, be it religion or powerful western brands, promise happiness, a promise that remains unfulfilled as is evident in the lives of the characters.
In an extension of the theme of appearance vs reality, Roy brings in a slight variation as she indicates that mainstream culture often gives indications of an alternate world and yet never acknowledges it fully. Thus, she refers to childhood nursery rhymes and lullabies like “Rubadub dub, three women in a tub, tarry a while said Slow” and “I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum, I live in a cara-van dum dum, I op-en the door, and fall-on the floor. I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum”. In both the song lyrics the existence of a more passionate, sexual world is hinted at and yet children are taught only the superficial, sugar-coated meaning of it. In a similar reference, she talks about Karna and Kunti from the holiest Indian mythology, Mahabharata. The fact remains that Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas is revered as a virtuous woman and yet what mainstream culture tends to gloss over is that she has an illegitimate son born out of wedlock. What Roy is referring to is this whole idea of glamorising and sanctifying human life and human existence beyond recognition. These are the moral values that society and religion hold out as principles that need to be followed for the good of man and yet all they do is bring unhappiness and unfulfillment. The ideal world doesn’t exist and so, when Estha and Rahel’s family go to watch The Sound of Music it is the time when Estha loses his innocence in the hands of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Thus, what we think are the most perfect experiences of childhood often hold the most scarring of experiences for us.
The story continues, the family is split up with Rahel being sent away. She is expelled from more than one school and goes through a broken relationship before she comes home again. There is a sense of completion of a circle as she can be together with her twin, Estha. Being together makes them feel whole, a fulfilment that they express through physical intercourse. Obviously they are lost souls who are meant to be together. It is a replication of the Adam and Eve story where God creates a perfect world (like society0 yet also adds a rule which is impossible for Adam and Eve to maintain if they want to be really happy. Thus, Roy creates an alternate universe for Estha and Rahel, (which belongs to the God of Small Things) but, this world that she promotes at the cost of the “real world” as a place of harmony and happiness, is it long-lasting? Is it even real? We will never know because the story stops short of explaining.
Over the course of two weeks, I enrolled in an elective called Social Class: How inequality shapes our lives which was taught by Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez. Through this course, I understood how class shapes our lives in a variety of domains and I was able to recognize misconceptions about class and stratification whenever and wherever I encounter them in political discourse, in the news or on social media. The course began with traditional theories of social class and stratification. We examined how economic inequality has risen to record levels over the past decades and why it matters. The course then moved on to look at the behavioural and relational dimensions of class divisions. We discussed topics such as “Why do people from different class background develop different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving and how does class impact who we choose as friends and lovers?” We also paid close attention to the ways in which social class interlocks with other social divisions, with the focus on race and gender. Finally, the course ended with class stigmatisation in pop culture and asked how class relations play into the big picture of class politics.
In total there were 7 sessions, (1) What is social class? (2) How big is economic inequality? (3) Is class written into our being? (4) What is the impact of class on personal relationships? (5) What about race and gender? (6) What do we believe about social class? (7) Is class politics still relevant? In my opinion, I found these sessions to be very interesting because they were relevant to today’s world and they are also very applicable to the work I am doing in school such as my EA in which I am focusing on social class and migrant workers in Singapore.
After going through all of these sessions, we had a Petit Oral which was assessed. My group and I focused on the question “Should we be sceptical of meritocracy”. This question was interesting for me as we focused on Singapore, a country in which meritocracy is very prevalent. However, through the research for the oral, though apparently it appears to be an equitable distribution of opportunities, its not really a fair playing field for all.
The last masterclass I attended was Populism and Democracy by Nonna Mayer. In this last session, we approached the issue of populism through a variety of readings and presentations. Then we later adopted a more global approach and tried to build a definition of populism, based on the examples given in class.
The terms we were focusing on are, losers to globalization, populist radical right and representative democracy. Through the readings, the topics that we looked at were The Populist Zeitgeist, defining the undefinable, contemporary populism and reactions to the populist challenge. In this session, we concluded that populism is an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’ which in turn argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people.
The third masterclass was on Human Security: The Concept of Human Security and its Application to Building Peace by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh. Through this session, we had to focus on important concepts in international relations and discuss their relevance to the study of contemporary security studies phenomena and peace-building.
The key terms we were focusing on were human security vs national security, liberal peace-building, radicalization, violent extremism, terrorism from the perspective of people, institutions and the state. Through the reading material from this session, we looked at the security of individuals and institutions, more specifically, its definition and parameters, added value to security, development and human rights. We also explored questions such as security of whom, security from what, security by what means and whether the concept of security can legitimize peace-building and state-building.
For this session, I was asked to make a presentation on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) with my partner Gràcia. I spoke about how the concept of the R2P produced the idea that “State sovereignty as a responsibility” and how it confirmed the belief that sovereignty isn’t just protection from outside interference, but instead, it is a matter of states which have responsibility for their population’s welfare.
This session for me was as relevant as the session on Sustainable Development as I (in the future) can incorporate my learning from this session into what I have learned so far in Global Politics in correlation with the GPC (Global Politics Challenge) Security from all of the previous units done in class. Something that I liked about this session is how within human security it also talks about economic, health and social welfare as well as the crossing of boundaries and the position of the government in the context of human security. Likewise, as in sustainable development, I really feel that given the situation of the world now, human security is one of our top priorities and I would also like to pursue this field of study in the future.
The second masterclass was Sustainable Development: Challenges and Opportunities on a finite Planet by Tancrède Voituriez. The aim of the session was to be confronted with the political implications of climate change and sustainable development. Throughout this session, we were asked to work on international events and had to debate on the orientation of climate change policies.
Personally, I thought this was one of the best masterclasses in the entire summer school course. In school, I am currently taking Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) so this session really fuelled my interest in the subject. The concepts that we focused on were sustainable development, planetary boundaries, Anthropocene and tipping points. This session was incredibly relevant to today’s world as we are actually in the geological epoch where there is significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.
Although this session introduced fairly new topics, I felt as though I would be able to connect them to concepts in school as we were discussing the risks of a Hothouse Earth Pathway and its effect, Biophysical Feedbacks, Tipping Cascades, Stabilized Earth Pathways, Human Feedbacks in the Earth System and the Building Resilience of in Rapidly Changing Earth Systems.
I really feel that given the situation of the world now, even as we are affected by Covid19 the environment remains to be one of our top priorities and I would like to pursue this field of study in the future.
Here’s another video that I found incredibly interesting.
“Welcome to the Anthropocene”
The first masterclass I attended was based on European Contemporary Challenges. The aim of the session was for students to adopt different standpoints which would help us grasp the diversity of opinions about European integration among political actors and scholars. Through the tutorial session, we focused on the key points of the nation-state, sovereignty and free movement.
The masterclass touched base on terms and concepts such as nationalism, international organizations (IOs), regionalism and regional integration, realism, federalism and federalism to neo-functionalism. We also focused on the perspectives of Jean Monnet, David Mitrany and Ernt Haas. The session helped me to understand the role/involvement of governments, the formation of the European Union and the study of International Relations.
What I found really engrossing about this session is how similar it was to the things I am studying in school for Global Politics, particularly, the concepts of sovereignty, liberalism and realism. I feel as though I can use the material I was given in the session to complement the second case study we studied in class, Power Politics: China and the South China Sea.
Here is a link to an interesting video on the formation of the European Union
Over the summer, I applied to the Paris Institute of Political Studies, also known as SciencesPo and I, fortunately, got admitted! SciencesPo is most well known for political science and international studies in the world and ranks 2nd (2020) globally for these courses, just after Harvard and Oxford. So, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in their Summer School programme. Six of the eight Presidents of the French Fifth Republic have attended Sciences Po Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy (who did not graduate), François Hollande, and Emmanuel Macron. There are also other alumni such as Christian Dior, Roxanne Varza, Pascal Lamy and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The time that I spent at SciencesPo was very enthralling and I was very excited to start the summer course not only because of its reputation but also because of the course choices. I felt as though they were very relevant to today’s world and to what I am learning in school at the moment. After this experience, I feel as though I will be able to make better connections with the subjects I am studying now.
Throughout the course of two weeks, I had to attend four masterclasses, European Contemporary Challenges, Sustainable Development, Human Security and Populism vs Democracy. Before each of these masterclasses, we had a tutorial session which would give us context on what we would be learning and within these tutorials, we would have to give presentations as an extension of our learning. Additionally, we had to select an elective course, I had chosen Social Class: Understanding How Inequalities Shapes Our Lives. My tutorial teacher was Adrien Estève and my elective professor, Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez. Throughout this course, we were not only graded through participation but also through a Petit (small) Oral and a written exam on the last day (the presentation for the tutorial session was also graded).
This weekend I read The Outsider by Albert Camus. While I read the book, the title resonated with me as it reminded me of how people are bounded by the standards and expectations of society, standards that are set by peers and family alike. When people don’t follow certain standards, they are immediately cast aside as ‘outsiders’. The book focuses on the theme of individual vs society, the power struggles between the two for supremacy, a theme that is prevalent in other novels. In my mind, I find the book to be similar to The Great Gatsby where Jay purposely hosts such large parties, just to find Daisy and tempt her to have another life with him – he seems to be courting society not because society is important to him but because he wants to build a life with Daisy away from society. It is also similar to A Clockwork Orange where Alex rapes and kills a woman with his friends without any remorse and refuses to accept the carnal nature of his crimes. His only connection with society or humanity was Beethoven’s music, but eventually, in the psychiatric ward he was placed in, music was taken away from him and that is what devastates him. Another representation of straying away from society’s expectations is Marlow from Heart of Darkness who ventures further into the African heartland towards a more primitive society, where he finally finds himself. However, what is common between all of these characters (except maybe Gatsby) is that by the end of their trials with society, they always find a reason to convince themselves that what they are doing is right – for example, Alex holds onto his music which essentially allows him to think of vulgar deeds just as Meursault at the end consoles himself with the thought, “For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.”
Something I found fascinating in this book is how absurd society really is. I found it threatening that we think of ourselves as members of our society, yet we cannot live in one that behaves absurdly. We find it difficult to live up to the norms because we create these norms in accordance with social standards that are different from our individual preferences. The society is a collective, a sort of cooperative that cannot accommodate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of each individual. Consequently, there is a distance between the individual and society, much like what happens to Meursault.
Just in the first scene, Meursault finds himself to be unresponsive to his mother’s death, “Mother passed away. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” The same insensitivity is at work during one of his dates with his girlfriend, Marie, ” A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her that it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so. She looked sad.” He appears even more sadistic in the pivotal scene when he shoots the Arab who abused his friend, Raymond’s mistress, “And fired four more times at a lifeless body and bullets sank in without leaving a mark.” The world that Camus portrays is actually our world, where relationships are meaningless, humanity is dead and society doesn’t hold any standards. Where the only positive is the honesty with which Meursault clings onto his insensitivity. That’s the only trait that redeems this character and the society he lives in.
This afternoon I decided to read Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores by Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez. Interestingly, he wrote this when he was 77, obviously at a ripe old age by when he had got to see quite a bit of life. A book of a mere 115 pages, shorter than an anthology of poems, the book really stirred me up. Firstly, it did not traumatize me as I had expected, a book on the relationship between a 91-year-old and a 14-year-old would. I just seemed to get it. Secondly, I felt the book is not at all about the two main characters – the scholar/maestro/narrator and the young girl who he calls Delgadina but, it is his comment about the concept of love and its boundaries. Thirdly, it’s the narrative style which reads almost like a college student’s diary, without the dates but with enough details to explain the chronology. It’s an easy read like maybe a John Green and yet it tells a story that verges on a fantasy. A story of finding love between the ages of 90 and 100, somewhere in strife-torn Columbia.
Very early on in the book, its the narrator’s 90th birthday and he wants to gift himself a night of love with a virgin and sets about looking for a box of treasures and says, “No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure.” The treasure that he refers to is his book full of the names and addresses of the prostitutes he has slept with in his past life. Although I felt I should be shocked, I wasn’t. Instead, I realized that “treasure” could actually refer to anything – a gift, something personal, an expensive inheritance but in this case, it’s a list of whores which means that illicit/paid relationships can also be precious. The narrator is a man who seeks a paid night out as a way to feel the power that he doesn’t have as a low-wage, aged journalist who is obviously at the end of his career and life. This is why Rosa, the brothel manager asks, “What are you trying to prove?”. Frankly, it is slightly pathetic that on his 90th birthday the only thing that appears “magical” to him is the idea of having paid sex with a young virginal girl. And the ironical part of it is, he decides to call her Delgadina which refers to a Mexican folk song about a young lady who disobeys her father’s wish to be his wife, ending with her tragic death. This implies that he is aware of the drastic age difference and the perversion of it all. And yet, he falls inexplicably and obsessively in love with her. But despite his love, does he really get over his solitude? He says on page 71, when they are quite deeply involved in the relationship, “Dear girl, we’re alone in the world.” This could work in both ways – he could be referring to the fact that society would ostracise them for their illicit love but also that despite the love and a relationship, every individual remains alone. Whereas the narrator puts in so much effort into the relationship and takes so much care of Delgadina, she just seems to sleep through it all. Even on the day of her birthday when he visits her, he describes her beauty in sleep. It seems just as the narrator does not want to know her real name, he doesn’t want to get to really know her either. Maybe, he doesn’t want her to lose her innocence and maybe he is more in love with the idea of love than he is with her. By the end of the 10 years though, he is finally ready for death, having experienced love, “It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday”
I liked the book because it cancelled every stereotype that I could think of. While in Lolita which I had read last year, the author Vladimir Nabokov seeks to create a new stereotype of a pedophile with a love interest in his own stepdaughter, in this book, Garcia Márquez is actually destroying every hierarchy and archetype that controls our mind. This includes age boundaries, society’s perception of prostitutes, the whole idea of not living your life till it is too late and the play of power between genders – whereas the narrator is the one with the power as Delgadina’s customer, it is actually she who has the power as he is almost willing to do anything to keep her in his life.