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Liu Chen

Teacher of the general education course Renaissance Art of Italy at Xinya College

Hello, fellow teachers and students.

I will tell you two stories today. We live in a societyfullof rules. One of the stories I'm going to tell is about establishing rules and the other breaking rules.

I have a friend from Brazil, a philosopher. We often visit art galleries together. You may think that art seems to have no rules, and there is no unified standard fordistinguishinggoodfrom bad works of art, which depends on personal preferences only.For instance, some people love Picassobut some hate him. This friend of mine said something very philosophical, "You should bring two pockets to an art gallery. One is marked with 'art', which has works of Michelangelo in it, and the other with 'non-art'. If you are not sure whether the work in front of you is a work of art or not, you can just think about whether it deserves to be put into the first pocket." I thinkhis words areinteresting becausethey reflect a philosopher's peculiar way of thinking. With this rule, art can't be messed about.

The second story is about another friend of mine who also comes from Brazil. He was invited to attend the annual meeting of a prestigious poetry society of New York on New Year's Day this year, which was a 10-hour marathon performance at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in Lower Manhattan. The church has a history of more than 200 years, and you canpicturethe towering, cave-likeroom and the high rostrum on the altar. There were over 150 performers, who recited poetry, played music in a band, danced, or did cross talk. Eachprogram was given two minutes so that all of them couldbeperformed. The rule mattered.

Halfway through it, everything went well, and then it was my friend's turn. He was a jazz musician and writer, but he had neither an instrument nor a script. He climbed onto the stage and began to talk in front of the mic. He said:

"There is a legal provision in a state in southern Brazil that requires the telephone company to provide fifty percent..."

He paused for a while. People looked up at him and saw that his eyes were wide open and he was shaking.

"Fifty percent..." he repeated. Then he paused again, and no one knew what was going on. Then he popped out another word: "Discount..." The audience began to whisper, wondering if this was some kind of performance art. Then he said, "To the client..." He repeated these words two or three times, and then suddenly he started to speak in Portuguese. Everyone was stunned. He switched back to English, and finally finished the second half of the sentence: " the client with a speech disorder like me."

The audience suddenly understood: this person on stage stuttered. So far he just finished one complete sentence: "There is a legal provision in a state in southern Brazil that requires the telephone company to provide fifty percent discount to the client with a speech disorder like me." And his two minutes ran out. He broke the rule, but no one came onto the stage to stop him. He proceeded: "Such a client shall provide a certificate signed by the speech pathologist. I first saw it from a book that lists the strangest laws in the world. The author of the book is mocking the law, but I saw an attempt concerning 'time availability', especially for people with a speech disorder. So when I was invited to this grand event, I was taken aback by the two-minute limit. Of course, my intuition told me that the rule is to create as fair an environment as possible without hierarchies. While removing one hierarchy, the time rule has introduced another. It assumes that all speakers use time on an equal footing, which is not the case. It's hard to predict when to stutter. I can rehearse it many times, but I'll never know how long it will take me to finish it before getting on the stage."

It cost himsix minutes to finish it, and there were many long or short pauses. Actually, he has a nice voice, magnetic, gentle, and calm. You could feel his efforts to get the speech right and his inner struggle when he paused. The audience was silent as their attention was drawn to him. At last, he concluded: "To deal with different things in the same way is nothingless than discrimination."

My stories are finished. Should we think about how reasonable the rules are either when they are broken or established? What is the relationship between people, society, and rules? You came to Xinya College to receive general education, and part of its core lies actually inhumanistic education. I hope that my students can think like a philosopher and become modern humanists. Thank you all!

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