Continuity and Its Conundrums

A great joy came to me yesterday: copies of Volume 7 of Contrariwise arrived in the mail! That this philosophy journal, which I founded with my students at Columbia Secondary School in 2013, still thrives almost a decade later, would be astounding in itself; but even more wondrous is the Contrariwise spirit coursing through it, a combination of probing, humor, beauty, challenge, and whimsy.

I left Columbia Secondary School in June 2016 to write my second book; at the time I had no idea that I would be coming to Hungary a little over a year later. Leaving did not mean breaking all ties; I have stayed in contact regarding Contrariwise, the Orwell project, and more, and have kept in touch (more or less) with certain individuals. What I didn’t know was that going away would actually make for a new connection with the school. Nine of my students at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium have pieces in this issue; the Orwell project, for its part, brought students from both schools together for joint online classes. In other words, a break can allow for an unexpected continuity.

Continuity, on the whole, seems more responsible, more honorable than breaks, but a person needs both (and maybe the situations do too). I have been wondering lately why I feel busier than in past years, even though the past five years have been intensely busy. The reason is that responsibilities and projects accumulate. There’s teaching, and along with it, Folyosó and the Shakespeare festival; there are the synagogue responsibilities; there’s a large translation project; there’s my writing and music; there are associations such as the ALSCW; and then there’s life itself, which deserves a bit more than an afterthought. All of these have been with me for a while, but not necessarily all at once. Last year at this time, I was focused on putting the Pilinszky event together, and after that, on preparing all the details for the trip to the U.S. in October for the conference on “Setting Poetry to Music.” I was so focused on these that the daily preparations seemed like nothing. But they also took over for a while; once they were over, I had some catching up to do in other areas.

Once in a while a person has to drop something: not abruptly, if that can be avoided, but with advance notice and planning. This might disappoint, but there’s no point in living to please others. There is honor in bringing joy to others, fulfilling responsibilities toward others, or best of all, making it possible for them to do something they couldn’t otherwise have done. But pleasing others can lead to the opposite of honor; you become merely an instrument of something others want.

Behind every project, there is a person with thoughts, hopes, health, sickness, dreams, disappointments, meals, travels, sleep. No one knows what lies beneath a seemingly ordinary life; no one knows, either, when this same life will rear up. Everyone has muffled rhythms, ineffable proportions; no one can know another’s, let alone judge them.

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    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 April 2022, Deep Vellum published 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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