Time to Take Away the Takeaway

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This weekend I bicycled from Szolnok to Szeged–most of it on the first day, and the remaining 2-3 hours on the second. It was a beautiful trip, with long stretches through fields and forests, where I saw farm animals, deer, rabbits, storks, red pheasants (?), and many trees in bloom. I had originally planned to spend the night in Csongrád, but arriving there at 3:00 in the afternoon, I decided it was too soon to stop, and headed onward to Ópusztaszer, along the Tisza. I made a reservation at a guesthouse there. I was bicycling through fields, on dirt roads, at sunset, and arrived in town shortly after dark. When I came to the guesthouse, the owner said that they were full–but when I explained that I had made a reservation and paid for it, he decided to look more closely into the situation. He took me to another nearby guesthouse, where a room was available, and we sat down at the computer together. Eventually we figured out what had happened; I had made the reservation online, but before checking his email, he had subsequently rented the room to someone else. He and the host of the other guesthouse (perhaps a married couple) apologized for the situation and offered me a room there. I happily accepted; it was a lovely, elegant bedroom with all the comfort I needed for the night. We worked this all out in Hungarian, which is nothing unusual for me now, but still rewarding, given that they were strangers and this situation was new for us all. So the takeaway might have been, “They messed up,” but the reality was far different. I was treated not only to a room, but to their helpfulness and kindness, and their willingness to look into an error.

While I was biking, a few momentous things happened in the U.S.: Robert S. Mueller released his report on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign; the investigation also considered whether Trump had obstructed justice. While finding no evidence of collusion or conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Mueller explicitly refrained from drawing conclusions regarding Trump’s possible obstruction of justice.

Later (after I returned to Szolnok), Attorney General William P. Barr delivered his own summary and concluded, on his own authority, that Trump had not obstructed justice. This quickly turned into a takeaway: Trump trumpeting that he had been EXONERATED (in capital letters). This is yet another time to “take away the takeaway”: Mueller’s hesitation to draw a conclusion should not be so quickly translated into a certainty. This is out of my hands; what happens or does not happen from here will have nothing to do with me. I was about to say, “if there were ever a time to take away the takeaway, it is now,” but that is not true; there are other times, other occasions, every day. How many times do we rush to conclusions that favor or disfavor us–that confirm, in some way, what we want to think? How many times do we take a tenuous statement as absolute truth? Takeaways have their place, but they should not have the final say; they need courageous unrolling. I will write about this again soon in relation to Hamlet.

(Take Away the Takeaway was the working title for my second book, which became Mind over Memes. It is still the title of the first chapter–and of my TEDx talk, and of this blog.)

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The first photo is of Ópusztaszer; the second, of a dirt road near Dóc. If you zoom in on the upper part of the second picture, you can see a jackrabbit on the road. Most of the deer and rabbits were much too fast for the camera, but this one hesitated.

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  1. Third Bike Trip to Csongrád | Take Away the Takeaway

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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