An Infinity of Shapes

I love it when an open weekend comes along, with time for thinking, resting, and various things that require long focus. The long focus: a Shakespeare video I am working on, a presentation I am giving on Monday (already prepared, but worthy of a run-through), the upcoming issue of Folyosó, and an essay. There are other things too, such as a new story, but I won’t get to them this weekend. The restful things: reading, listening to music, playing music, preparing next Shabbat’s Torah portion, and taking a bike ride or walk.

Another thing I like about this “alone time” is the chance to do and think things without being classified as this or that. Recently someone remarked to me, by email, “You’re such an intellectual! Such a scholar!” I took this as a compliment but was disconcerted, as I don’t put myself in these categories. Yes, I have an intellectual life, but it revolves mostly around literature, which is intellectual, artistic, linguistic, and visceral, all at once. As for being a scholar, no, I don’t think so. Much depends on definitions, but often when people say, “you’re a scholar,” they’re saying, “you speak a language that’s too far removed from the everyday for anyone else to care about it.” I have had book proposals turned down by agents, article pitches turned down by young assistant editors, because they deemed them “too scholarly,” which to me sounds like an excuse.

So it’s great to have some time just to do things on my own terms, without being called “scholarly” or anything else. People sometimes take confort in classifying others. It helps them make sense of the world. So-and-so is a scholar, so-and-so is a creative type, so-and-so is a lazy bum. Sometimes the categories help; sometimes they’re true; sometimes the people being categorized actually want them. But I often find that for me, they’re beside the point; they don’t quite fit, and I’m glad to take them off at the end of a long day, or at any time for that matter.

Not that it’s good to spend all one’s free time alone—and I do not, by any stretch. I have obligations, activities, meetings and am happy about that. Not to mention teaching, which, even online, involves contact with others, day after day, and which brings lots of joy. The stretches of unscheduled time, when they happen, offset and complement the schedule, classes, conversations, deadlines.

This is not just about me by any means. Sympathy and empathy, as well as reading and listening, require resisting the temptation to classify others or their words too hastily. Many others besides me wish to be taken on their own terms, or at least on terms that aren’t limiting and dismissive. Go ahead, categorize if you must, but see beyond and into the category too. A rectangle may be a rectangle (and probably is), but if you look into it, you can see an infinity of shapes.

I took this picture looking into the window of the Galéria restaurant on Szapáry utca. You can see the reflection of the synagogue (now a gallery) across the street.

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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

  • TEDx Talk

    Delivered at TEDx Upper West Side, April 26, 2016.



    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.


    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.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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