“You like to think that as a professor you profess your knowledge. But that’s garbage. What you really do is learn with the students and try to understand the world around you.”
Teaching at Transylvania, according to Tim Soulis, involves constant change and constant learning. “You think that after you get the Ph.D. you know it all, and you don’t. You’ve barely even scratched the surface. The students keep challenging us to be better than we were. And sometimes that’s frustrating. But I think it’s also very humbling and rewarding.”
Soulis enjoys teaching first-year seminar classes, which give him some latitude in the material he chooses for his students. He recently taught a course titled Performing Life that addressed the theatricality of everyday life as seen in politics, religion, games, and sports. He referenced Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which attempts to explain why we do the things we do. It becomes clear that we all play a role in our everyday living—a role guided by a hidden subtext we might not even be aware of.
One of the goals of the first-year seminars is to introduce students to a liberal arts course of study: how to see the relations and connections between disciplines and how to get away from our preconceived notions. In one class, Soulis joined the students in writing a paper where he proposed the idea of water as a “useful way to think of oneself.” It’s a simple conceit that captures the goal of a liberal arts education.
“Water has three phases: gas, water, ice. If you’re ice, you’re frozen into a set of views. You’re unable to thaw or bend. If you’re gas, there’s nothing really there. Everything just dissipates. But if you’re water, you can roll with the punches. You still have a type of container: the shore, the sides of the pool, whatever. But you can flow through life. And that’s the ideal. The aquatic metaphor, I think I called it.”
For many years, Soulis was known for his one-man performance of the Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. He recently played Aegeus in Lexington’s Summerfest performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He also agreed to act in a friend’s new play about the family dynamics surrounding an Alzheimer’s patient, and he is writing a play of his own.
Soulis has also written lyrics and music for shows. In 2010, using a new translation of Euripides’ Bacchae, he turned the 2,000-year-old play into a sort of rock opera, which he called The Bakkhai. Soulis wrote a simple musical schematic based on the melodies provided by the Greek scholar and modern translator Khalli Anna Mossi, and Transylvania students scored the accompanying parts and put together a three-piece band for the performance.
“I think Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is just as important today as it was when it was written. And that’s not because of some Freudian oedipal conflict that some person has, but the individual search for one’s identity that is at the core of that play. And it’s one fine detective story, too.”