Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Student Edward Radzivilovskiy Interviews Noam Chomsky and Others

edward_photo.jpg When his interview with Noam Chomsky was brought to our attention, we reached out to Liberal Studies student Edward Radzivilovsky to interview him about his current and upcoming projects. A great example of some of the fascinating things our students are working on. Be sure to visit Edward's website to see his articles, debates, and interviews  

Arts and Science Alumni Relations: When we interview students we always like to hear about some of the things they are working on/studying. Can you talk about your experience at NYU in Paris?  

Edward Radzivilovskiy: My freshman year of college in Paris was a unique experience. I had no prior exposure to the French language or culture, so almost everything I learned was new and exciting. With my studies, the faculty and staff at NYU in Paris were helpful and supportive. Most importantly, both the academic and social components of living in Paris challenged me intellectually. I often reflect on one particular assignment for a writing course I took with Professor Colleen Sharon Pearl. The assignment entailed writing an essay about the social construction of gender and sex, and the consequences of rigidly categorizing them. As part of the assignment, I cross-dressed as a woman on Halloween night in Paris (to my delightful surprise, Paris also celebrates Halloween!). That night, my friends and I paraded down the hip rue d'Oberkampf. I remember that a French man on the opposite side of the street took notice of me and intensely stared. He then ran over to me with an inquisitive gaze, and asked, “Are you doing this for fun, or what? I just need to know.” I was shocked at how this stranger so urgently needed an explanation for a perceived deviation of a social norm, even on a night such as Halloween. The experience provided me with a brief insight into the ongoing discrimination and ostracization of a certain minority group. Since then, I have been motivated to question and deconstruct the persistent dogmatisms found in our social and political environments, which often reinforce various kinds of oppression. 

You've written numerous articles and have conducted some really impressive interviews. Do you have a favorite piece or subject that you have reported on? Do you have a favorite interview that you've conducted?

My favorite article would be the one I wrote for Washington Square News during the recent presidential election. I urged my fellow students to look beyond the main two candidates at what message a third-party vote can send. A staff member from Gary Johnson’s campaign somehow came upon the article and contacted me the next day. She offered me an interview with Johnson’s Vice Presidential Nominee Judge Jim Gray, two days prior to the general election. So it was a pretty lucky and relevant article and thus my favorite. My favorite interview, though, is with world-renowned philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky in January 2012. Chomsky’s erudition seems to have no limits. He analyzed the means and goals of Occupy Wall Street and offered an extensive historical explanation for the build-up of the movement, by comparing and differentiating it with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. I felt humbled and honored when his editors asked my permission to include the interview as a separate chapter, entitled “After Thirty Years of Class War,” in Chomsky’s latest book Occupy. Of course I gave them my permission!  

How do you decide whom you will interview?

The people I choose to interview provide me with a deep insight into the political, economic, and/or social state of affairs and provoke me to see things from a different and sometimes odd perspective. Usually these people are on the side of the oppressed, the losers of the current system. They offer information not typically covered by mainstream news. For example, I decided to interview Carne Ross after I stumbled upon his appearance on the Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. Ross’ personal story—a former high-ranking British diplomat turned anarchist—fascinated me. I decided I would research more into Ross’ ideas, so I listened to his lectures and read his books. I found his call for a new kind of politics, one that is based on participatory and inclusive structures (such as alternative banking) very inspiriting. I developed many specific questions for him. In preparation for an interview, I rigorously draft many possible questions, anticipate the responses, and think about follow-ups. One other strategy that has been effective for me is setting up mock interviews with professors, professionals, or other students who may have some insights into the subject. Sometimes these mock sessions turn into debates, generating a lively intellectual exchange of ideas.

 Are you currently working on any interviews or writing articles?

Yes. In fact, I will be interviewing Professor Chomsky again in February 2013. I would like to hear his take on President Obama’s recent reelection, but primarily I want to discuss with him the purpose of education. I think this a pivotal question to explore, especially in the wake of student protests against rising tuition costs at Cooper Union and the University of California at Berkeley. Arguably, student debt has become a form of indenture, and education is no longer seen as a value in and of itself.  

If you could interview anyone in the world at this moment who would it be and why?

If I could interview anyone in the world at this moment it would be Nelson Mandela. He has been known for almost an entire century. Despite being thrown into jail for almost thirty years, he was able to become president of the country he loves. Mandela, like Gandhi, taught us a vital lesson in social justice: the ends do not justify the means; the means are the ends. He employed non-violent means to achieve nonviolent ends. In this spirit, he successfully struggled against apartheid, although more work remains to be done. If we have any vision of a decent future polity, it would be wise to learn from people like him.  

In addition to being a great writer and interviewer, you are also a skilled debater. What tips would you give to someone who is looking to be a better debater?

Unfortunately, the current debate model for presidential elections gives the pretense that the better debater is the one who makes the most forceful argument, even if that argument lacks real substance. I think debating is an art form, but not a spectacle. I would not advise anyone to pick up good tips from the presidential debates. A good debater lays out the central issues and facts, delivers substantive, rational arguments, and then anticipates the arguments coming from the opposing side. Persuasiveness is important, but it should be primarily accomplished by an appeal to the logos. Additionally, the will to question and occasionally challenge authority captures the spirit of a good debater.  

Do you have an idea of what you want to do professionally?

Though I think it is important to think into future somewhat, for the moment, it is also important to consider what would interest me for the rest of my undergraduate career. Perhaps my interests may evolve over the next two years and shift how I think about my future plans. Some of my interests have already evolved. I will be transitioning to the Gallatin School of Individualized study next year, where I will be able to study politics and philosophy in an interdisciplinary way. My interviews and writings reflect my passion for these interests. So anything I do professionally will somehow incorporate them. One possible avenue to pursue later is law school, which may open up opportunities to affect change more directly. However, I do not want to restrict any other options yet; like I said before, I believe the means are the ends.

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