Student - October 21, 2009

Arnon seduces you into thinking

Would you feel less of a human being with a pig's heart? Is happiness ultimately the sum of all 'enjoyments'? Ten students subjected themselves, each other and mankind to an intensive investigation in an unprepossessing little classroom behind the Auditorium in Wageningen. They were supervised, stimulated, and possibly even corrupted, by Arnon Grunberg. Barbara Tielemans attended the series of lectures given by the visiting writer.

Arnon Grunberg with students and the rector magnificus Martin Kropff after the final lecture in the Auditorium
Doutzen Wagenaar, a student taking a Master's degree in The Environment, Economics and Policy, had decided after the first lecture that she would not come again. 'I'm not great at debating; actually, I find it quite scary. But I changed my mind after reading the first week's texts. Huxley's Brave New World in particular made an impression. Are we still human beings if we no longer suffer or have any desires?'
Petra Rietberg, a student taking a Master's degree in Soil and Environmental Sciences, found the series of seminars enriching and inspiring. 'A writer is not bound by one discipline. You learn to think more freely because discussions go beyond the usual Wageningen debate, for example where genetic engineering is concerned. This was also due to the invited lecturers, who spoke from the heart and from their own experience.'
Doutzen thinks Arnon really understands people. 'I am reticent by nature, but I was still able to take part in a low-key way and learn an awful lot.' Others were constantly being targeted by Arnon whenever he played devil's advocate. That was no punishment as Arnon knows how to charm you. Seducing you into thinking is his m├ętier.
'Arnon is a man of feeling who deeply distrusts his own feelings', says Joshua van Mullem, a Food Technology Bachelor's student. 'He teaches you not to stick with your initial gut feeling but to lay bare the motives underlying that feeling, and to put yourself in someone else's place without assuming your feelings are superior.'
'The fact that we respected each other meant there was an open atmosphere and no-one was afraid to make a contribution', Doutzen explains. The group laughed a lot, pondered on matters and sometimes shared a group feeling of disgust. 'You may find a text disgusting but that is not a legitimate reason for not fulfilling the assignment', says Grunberg.
 The meetings did not result in any hard and fast truths; the results were often ambiguous, contradictory or both. Which is understandable; after all, they were dealing with 'mankind in all its facets: from dark to frivolous and from the deepest desires to the most superficial idiocies. Unique in everything, human in everything and above all, surprising', says Rien van Wijk, a Biology Master's student, paraphrasing the teacher. /Barbara Tielemans
Box: Freedom
Arnon Grunberg's period as writer in residence lasted from 9 September to 15 October. The opening debate was followed by eleven seminars in which the following topics were discussed: visions of the future, the fate of fools, the tree of good and evil, the will to have power. A quote from the final lecture: 'Freedom is the freedom to be seduced and the freedom to withstand the seduction.'