"How sometimes, we lose: profoundly and without recourse."
January 12, 2020 4:47 AM Subscribe
In August Stefani Echeverría-Fenn started a homeless encampment called 37MLK [Facebook link] in her neighborhood in Oakland, California. As an article by Vivian Ho in The Guardian recounts, it has been such a success that Oakland city council members have looked to it as a model for temporary housing. Echeverría-Fenn is a classicist who gained prominence after co-founding The Sportula: Micro-grants for Classics Students, which has brought her both positive and negative attention. This fall she was kicked out of her UC Berkeley PhD program. She tells the story of that shock in a powerful personal essay called On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything. Excerpt:
When my apartment burned down freshman year of college, it was a couple weeks before a Latin recitatio assignment in my Virgil class. We got to choose a passage to memorize and recite, and I chose the scene of Aeneas meeting Dido in the underworld. Only a few days earlier, I had received news that our landlord had successfully argued in court that our leases hadn’t been valid and thus we had no right to return after the fire damage abatement. I knew it was bullshit, but didn’t have the money and education yet to prove it, to speak back to him in court. At the recitatio we were given a few minutes to introduce our passage, and tears welled up as I spoke something like the following.
I chose this passage because I always wondered why Dido didn’t just curse him out. But looking at the language I see how for some people, people without power, the harshest indictment is the power to stay silent—to not argue with people who will never care for you, but to remove yourself from them—to disappear. To say you can have your empire, you can have your justifications, but I will not dignify them with a reply. I will not dignify them with my presence. I will not argue back against a fate and a success that was always predicated on my disposability. I will condemn you with the only power I still hold: my silence.