Ode to the mixtape: a review of Eleanor & Park

It starts with a bus ride and a begrudgingly shared seat. Eleanor is the new kid, slightly overweight with unruly red curls who wears hand-me-down clothes, and who is therefore an easy target for bullying. She comes from a family of poverty and a home with an abusive stepfather. Park is the complete opposite. He is a smart kid who tries to stay under the radar but fits right in at school. He comes from a loving family, but he still stands out as the only half-Korean kid in a white neighborhood. Both are misfits who ignore each other at first, but it goes from stealing glances to reading comic books together, from exchanging mixtapes to a hesitant friendship and the possibility of first love. Continue reading “Ode to the mixtape: a review of Eleanor & Park”


Books between the bicycles – Special bookstores of Amsterdam

HHSbooksInspired by Tessel’s article on Ghent’s best bookstores, I planned on writing a similar guide on Berlin’s most scrumptious book deli’s after a recent weekend trip to the German capital. Turns out all the bookstores I wanted to visit were located exactly on the other side of Berlin than the neighbourhood I was staying in and all-encompassing explorations of the city were out of the question because of the immensely cold December weather (not simply sweater weather, but thermal underwear and three layers of socks weather). I actually came across two quite nice bookstores by chance (Hundt Hammer Stein on the Alte Schönhauser Strasse 23-24, which houses an extensive section of English books and offers free tangerines to its customers in a bowl at the door, and Ebert und Weber on Falkensteinstrasse 44, which sells very pretty German language books by lesser-known publishers, a small selection of English books, and lovely notebooks, tote bags and postcards), but didn’t think these two would yield enough material to supply an entire article. I thus decided to write a slightly less exotic piece about the book emporiums of our own bicycle-infested city and hereby hopefully acquaint you bunch of bibliophiles with new book-filled places to roam and empty your wallets at in Amsterdam.


Fenix Books

Fenix Books is probably my very favourite bookstore in this city. Located in the De Pijp-neighbourhood on Frans Halsstraat 88, this shop sells a large selection of second-hand treasures at a reasonable price. Not only do they stock many Dutch classics, poetry, and contemporary novels, they also sell a huge amount of English-language books in a non-discriminatory way: dusty classics and obscure novels by perhaps your new favourite author are crammed between copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and Eat, Pray, Love. If you’re a James Joyce fanatic you’re in luck: Fenix Books has three bookcases devoted to Irish literature and at least two shelves are filled with books by or about the bespectacled novelist.


Sterre der zee

Sterre der zee on Hasebroekstraat 43 is a bookstore in Oud-West that specializes in reasonably-priced second-hand books on spirituality and English literature (and has a very funky website that goes perfectly with that description). As is the case with many other seemingly tiny bookstores, the store is a lot larger on the inside and the shelves run along every available cranny and at times almost seem to defy gravity.


Sterre der zee

Although it’s located on a busy thoroughfare, one can spend hours rummaging the cozy shelves of Het Martyrium in Oud-Zuid without noticing the blaring engines speeding through the Van Baerlestraat. Although the store is mostly known for its range of Dutch poetry and literature, a large collection of cookbooks, books on photography and fashion, newspapers and quality films and TV series is sold here as well. A probably even more interesting fact for our readers is that the store sells one of Amsterdam’s biggest selections of English literature. Despite the fact that Het Martyrium only sells new books, bargain hunters can enjoy themselves at the store’s ‘ramsj’ section, where books are sold for a fraction of their original prices.

Unlike the aforementioned Berlin bookstores, these three shops are only a ten-minute bike ride away from each other. Anyone in the mood to spend some quality time in a few good bookstores in Amsterdam, is sure to have their paper appetite satisfied. If you’re left peckish by your bookshop explorations though, be sure to visit the Simon Meijssen bakery on the next corner from Het Martyrium – they sell the very best chocolate chip cookies in town.



Passionately Curious: Coffee O’Clock

Passionately Curious

I, like most University students, and in fact most people, enjoy a good cup of coffee. When it’s been a long night, and that lecture just can’t quite seem to keep your attention, one dose of the ol’ midnight brew will get you pepped up, alert and awake. Most of us just take it for granted on the basis that it simply always works, but as usual in Passionately Curious, I like to go a step further: how does it work? Continue reading “Passionately Curious: Coffee O’Clock”

Restricted Area: Derogatory Words

Image_Tessel_Source-http---www.hercampus.com-sites-default-files-styles-full_width_embed-public-2014-03-03-tina_2.png-itok=dWq42-WdN.B.: racial slurs and homo-/transphobic slurs are used for demonstration and explanation in this article.

As children and teenagers we hear often enough that words do not just have meaning: they can also hurt, although some songs and stories may claim the opposite. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience little of the negative power that words can have and see mostly the good that words can do, but unfortunately there are plenty of people who have experienced, and still will experience that some words hurt. Of course, words don’t necessarily harm or work in a positive way – there are plenty of influential words and plenty of less influential words in the world, as there are plenty of influential and less influential people in the world.

There are certain words and terms among the powerful words with a negative meaning that have been heavily debated over the last decade, or even longer. These forms are derogatory words that have been used to insult people who belong to certain groups or minorities. These words are categorized as racial slurs or homophobic or transphobic slurs, and include words such as “nigger”/”nigga”, “faggot”, “dyke”, “queer”, “tranny”, “slut” and so forth.

The debate mostly involved the discussion of whether these words should be used or avoided, or whether their meaning should be changed, and furthermore, if these slurs can be used – who is allowed to use them. To some people it is obvious that if you belong to a group that has used a slur against another group, you immediately lose the right to use that word ever again – even if you no longer intend to offend with it.

As an example for the arguments used in the debates I will discuss the usage of the n-word. When listening to rap music, there is a large chance that you will hear at least one or two songs in which the rappers use the n-word to describe themselves, their friends or other people around them. Quite some fans of this genre pick up aspects of the language that rappers use, and inherently, they might start using the n-word. The result is a discussion: is using the n-word acceptable or not?

Fact is that there is not just a consensus within these groups on the usage of a word. You will for instance find the opinion of those who agree with talk show host Oprah, who discussed the matter with rapper Jay-Z on her show. In her opinion, people, no matter whether they are black or white, should not use the n-word at all. The colonial history that the word has, the background of oppression the word comes from, makes it a word with so much power that there is no justifying the use of it. Furthermore, using the word, especially as a black person, can give others the idea that it is actually acceptable to use a derogatory form. To quote Tina Fey’s character in the Mean Girls movie on a similar matter: [to the female students] “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Jay-Z disagreed with her. He believed that with eradicating a certain word from a language we do not solve a problem, the problem lies deeper than just the meaning of a word. By claiming the word, however, he says, we strip the power it has been given from it and give it a new, empowering meaning. That does not mean that white people are allowed to use it. As the n-word was/is used by white people as a derogatory slur, and as white people are very privileged compared to black people, white people have lost the privilege to use this very word.

Of course, there are people who do not care who uses the n-word or not. Tyler the Creator, a rapper, shared his view on the use of the n-word in an interview, and he does not really care who uses the word or not. In his opinion, the word has a whole different meaning nowadays, and he does not place so much importance on language and the meaning of language. In the end, he claims, a lot is context-dependent as well. Some people may accept a word such as the n-word, while others may find it funny, and there are people who may find it offensive. Tyler says, however, that he does not have an opinion on the hateful derogatory use, as it has never happened to him.

All three, the ones who want to abolish the word, the ones who want to (re)claim the word and abolish the old, derogatory meaning and the ones who do not really care, make an interesting argument in the discussion that can be applied to many of the words that are considered derogatory.

In the end, I feel like the decision lies mostly with the people against whom the word has been used. As a white person, you cannot really decide what is racist towards a person of colour, as a straight person you cannot decide what is homophobic or transphobic towards a LGBTQ-person, and as a man you cannot decide what is sexist towards a woman. But I do think that all people have at least some emphatic capacities that make them able to estimate what might hurt or offend others, and it may be time to consider the usage of this ability more often.



Header image courtesy of hercampus.com

Less Is More

fireflyWe have all felt the initial pang of sadness when we discover one of our favorite shows’ lifespan is shortened to less seasons than you might have liked to watch. I had such an experience with the two shows Freaks and Geeks and Firefly. Each of these was only given one season—and for both of them that feels far too short.

Freaks and Geeks is a show that centers on teenage protagonist Lindsay Weir and her little brother Sam, who go to the same high school. The setting takes place in a small town in Michigan in the school year 1980–1981. Her friends are notoriously called “freaks” and feature, among others, a young James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Her little brother’s friends are called the “geeks” and both groups experience hilarious and heartstring-pulling situations. As neither Lindsay nor Sam truly fit into these groups (nor any other groups, for that matter), it is easy and a lot of fun to invest into and identify with their characters.

Firefly takes quite a different angle. This show features a crew of misfits and do-gooders alike, working, smuggling and struggling through the vast endlessness of space inside of a Firefly-class spacecraft called “Serenity”. Set up as a Western in outer space, Firefly revolves around the following nine individuals: Mal (the captain, kind of a Han Solo-like character), Zoe (the second in command), Wash (the goofy pilot, married to Zoe), Kaylee (the cute mechanic), Jayne (the nitwit muscle), River (wanted by the government), Simon (a doctor, River’s brother), Book (a shepherd with a dark past), and Inara (a “companion”). The way in which these different characters with their different gimmicks and traits work together, clash with each other and beautifully form a family, makes this one of the most captivating shows I have watched. Luckily, Joss Whedon (the creator) made an additional movie called Serenity.

Having watched and re-watched all the episodes of both these shows more than twice I continue to wonder what it would be like if their plugs hadn’t been pulled. On the one hand, having the pleasure of watching more, and enjoying more of it seems very appealing. Especially because there are so many sides of these one-season long shows that could have been explored to a far greater degree. On the other hand, the compactness and tragedy of their duration does immortalize their awesomeness. As it is now, the shows will not be spoiled with filler episodes, unnecessary plot twists, or general dragging of plot—like it is done with so many other shows, for obvious financial reasons (read: Lost, or How I Met Your Mother, or Two and a Half Men, etc.). No, now I can bittersweetly say that I am happy these shows were this short, because there is no way I will ever forget them.



Header image courtesy of moviepilot.com

Humanities: Rethink, Redefine, Reform

6,6--17,7 Winter, 2010 (Article Ilona)It’s a tough world out there as a humanities scholar. Facing virtuous doctors, renowned mathematicians, and heroic physicists, we are more than often advised to celebrate the wondrous worlds of Raphael’s Stanze, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, whilst occasionally throwing around a Judith Butler text, alone, without claiming their utility. Studying humanities is a way to enrich your life. It underlines our pursuit of knowledge. Its intrinsic value is so prominent and elitist already that there is no need to associate the humanities with other fields of science. Apparently we are just studying a lifestyle. Thus, humanities scholars need to defend themselves in this polemic academic disunity. And we’ve done so poorly.

In the ongoing debate of Profile 2016 and the humanities departments in universities in general we, as humanities scholars, have the tendency to defend a position in which we establish two dichotomies. The first one is a simple one and emphasizes the differences between the humanities and the hard sciences[1]. The second dichotomy refers to the ongoing debate of how we should defend the value of the humanities with the obligation to ‘choose’ between its intrinsic or its instrumental value. However, a number of recently published articles have pointed out that there is a need of philosophy, literature, language, and history in other fields of science, and even in the U.S. Air Force Academy[2] (“Greater emphasis on humanities means more well-rounded decision making”). And it’s in the argumentation of these new discourses that the humanities scholar is to find a new defense.

In May 2014, The Guardian[3] argued that the humanities are necessary because of the enrichment of art and literature in our lives, but are not essential to democracy and therefore their instrumental value is doubtful: “The arts and humanities cannot claim to be essential to democracy, economic success and social wellbeing. Most people do perfectly well without direct engagement with culture.” However, there is one thing we should not ignore in this article: “At their best they [the arts and humanities] can engage us in a continuous search to understand the human condition.” And where The Guardian fails to elaborate, Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination picks it up: “I object to the notion that passion and imagination are superfluous, that the humanities have no practical or pragmatic use or relevance and should thus be subservient to other, more “useful” fields. In fact, imaginative knowledge is pragmatic: it helps shape our attitude to the world and our place in it and influences our capacity to make decisions.[4]

So, if we can take humanities into our world of democracy and even as far as the U.S. Air Force Academy, why do we still establish and emphasize the dichotomy between the humanities and the hard sciences? In its most recent issue of De Gids, Netherlands’ longest established literary and cultural magazine, Bert Keizer in his essay on the medical sciences stresses the importance of philosophy of science, but also acknowledges the difficulties of application[5]. In this, there is a glimmer of hope for the humanities scholar. I’m not saying that we should go around saying we can save lives telling medicine students what to do. However, in the possibilities of reforming departments in universities, we should keep in mind the value of humanities, rethinking and redefining it continually.





[1] For example: http://spunk.nl/blog/we-zijn-geen-betastudenten-dus-we-kunnen-onszelf-beter-weggooien.

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/11/at-the-air-force-academy-stem-education-isnt-enough/382793/.

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/may/29/study-arts-humanites-enrichment.

[4] The Republic of Imagination, p. 11-12.

[5] “ Waar zijn we in terechtgekomen? Midden in het cartesiaans dualisme. Dat is geen filosofische positie, maar een filosofisch probleem.”Read the full article in Dutch on Blendle: https://blendle.nl/i/de-gids/geloven-hopen-en-weten-in-geneeskunde/bnl-degids-20141201-18949_geloven_hopen_en_weten_in_geneeskunde.

Chance Amazement

Oftentimes I go to concerts to be surprised. I primarily go for the headliner, but the supporting act is always a surprise. When I attended a great show by Opeth in the Heineken Music Hall at the beginning of November, that surprise turned out to be astonishing. That evening, the show was opened by the French band Alcest, and they are something special. Continue reading “Chance Amazement”