As I was strolling down the Mall on a recent morning, my gaze drifted upward to the sun-soaked leaves hanging outside the Gorman Faculty Lounge. A few birds were chirping from the branches, singing some of the first songs of the day. My reverie was interrupted only when my foot struck a loose brick. I stumbled, red-faced.
Hardly anything appears quite modern about that incident. Loose paving stones are more antiquated than “modern.” At first glance only the comedy of my stumbling could be called modern, but even that sort of slapstick is not unique to the 21st century. I appeal to “The Frogs” as proof.
Nothing at all incidental to this incident was modern. Rather, an attitude made it modern; if this attitude is not essential to The University of Dallas’ beloved Core, it is at least inseparable from it – it is an attitude of lived experience.
When I say lived experience, I mean it in the sense of living life in the moment. Lived experience requires intention and immersion. It requires the sort of gaze that Dante achieved only after he went through Hell and back. Listless and inattentive, he wandered into a dark forest, unable to recall how he got there. Yet upon reaching heaven, his mind was fixed attentively upon the beatific vision.
That intentional gaze, that immersive attention, constitutes lived experience. It is life as it is experienced while it is experienced. It would be a mistake to suppose that the Christian must reserve such attention for eternity, as if the trade-off between this life and the next suggested by The Strumbellas were real. No — Dante gives a lesson for now. That lesson is incarnated at UD, in the very bricks of the Mall on which I tripped.
Small as those details may be, they bear a cosmic significance. Walking through the vineyard at Due Santi, one encounters an aspect both of the Divine and the earthy. The same is true for stumbling down the Mall. Both locations offer the opportunity for care and attention. The point is in the dirt and the bricks themselves. When Odysseus washed up on the shore of the Phaeacians, Homer emphasized the grit and brine and he told us that Odysseus kissed the earth. These details are the foundation of lived experience.
But what makes all this modern? The fact that Edmund Husserl gave this experience a name? Husserl merely identified a trend. This attitude of lived-experience is modern because modernity has embraced it.
Speak to a bartender at any craft-brewery and you will see the paradigm of lived-experience and modernity in one. More often than not that bartender will be adorned with some combination of tattoos and gauges; always he will be able to describe every detail of every brew, the scents of the hops and the heaviness of the malts unique to each. This arises from an attention akin to Dante’s attention to the Beatific Vision, Odysseus’ reverence for the earth, and — I hope — to my own distracted attention to the sunny leaves and singing birds. It arises from an attention taught at the heart of UD.