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T H E M A G A Z I N E O F T H E N AT I O N A L E N D O W M E N T F O R T H E H U M A N I T I E S
HUMANITIES F A L L 2 016
T H E M A G A Z I N E O F T H E N AT I O N A L E N D O W M E N T F O R T H E H U M A N I T I E S
Here is what I learned from our recent readers’ survey. One, our print readers really like interviews. Even as these pieces have faded from regular rotation in the magazine, people still strongly associate them with HUMANITIES magazine. As it happened, I had an interview, or rather an interview-like conversation, among a group of veterans, already teed up for this issue,
but I can now add that there are more to come.
Poet T. S. Eliot’s life and passions are revealed in an article on page 24.
Two, our print readers want our magazine to be less like what I call an oldspaper. They want more of the new in HUMANITIES magazine. I know it sounds good, but this is a little trickier. On the one hand, our primary area of concern, the humanities, involves much that is past and, by definition, old. History is the one constant in
almost all of the projects funded by NEH. And yet, like the coastal plain,
A quarterly review published by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
where land meets water, there is an area within the humanities where the
Chairman: William D. Adams Editor: David Skinner Managing Editor: Anna Maria Gillis Assistant Editor: Amy Lifson Senior Writer: Meredith Hindley Associate Editor: Steve Moyer Staff Editor: Paula Wasley Interns: Erica Machulak and Alexander Stern Editorial Board: Jane Aikin, Brett Bobley, Wilsonia Cherry, Meg Ferris McReynolds, Nadina Gardner, Karen S. Mittelman, Katja Zelljadt Director of Communications: Theola DeBose
now, but spending more time there could deepen our understanding of
Art Director: Maria Biernik Graphic Designer: Andrea Heiss The opinions expressed in HUMANITIES are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect Endowment policy. Material appearing in this publication, except for that already copyrighted, may be reproduced. Please notify the editor in advance so that appropriate credit can be given. HUMANITIES (ISSN 00187526) is published quarterly by the National Endowment for the Humanities, 400 7th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20506. Telephone: 202/606-8435; fax: 202/208-0774; e-mail: email@example.com; url: www.neh.gov Periodicals postage (USPS #531-230) paid at Washington, D.C., and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to United States Government Publishing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C. 20401. New subscriptions and renewals: U.S. Government Publishing Office, P.O. Box 979050, St. Louis, MO 63197-9000. Annual subscription rate: $25.00 domestic, $35.00 foreign. Two years: $50.00, $70.00. For new orders, 202/512-1800; for current subscriber questions, 202/512-1806.
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new and the old come together. It is still a ways off from the nowiest of the major debates playing out in the world today. On our website we have planted many stories along this border separating today and yesterday: One about the connection between a scholarly project on the Enlightenment and the Panama Papers exposé, another on H. L. Mencken’s role as the dean of political convention journalists in the first half of this century, and so on. And we can provide context to current events in our print magazine as well, as we do so here with a piece by Peter Gibbon about the two most important education thinkers alive today: E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner, who represent not only opposing views on how to teach America’s children but on how to understand American society. In this issue we also celebrate the humanities in its most current form with a special section devoted to the latest recipients of the National Humanities Medal: religion historian Elaine Pagels, Alexander Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, author James McBride, public radio star Terry Gross, and eight others, one of whom is a chef. Still, there is an older kind of story in this issue as well, about the great T. S. Eliot, probably the most important English-language poet of the twentieth century, an incredibly prolific critic, and yet as a person very hard to read. With the ongoing release of his letters and new collections of his poems and prose, we are finally getting a better sense of the inner demons that helped drive this amazing writer.
N at i o n a l E n d o w m e n t
Humanities Fall 2016 Vol. 37 No. 4
8 If Odysseus Started a Book Club A conversation about veterans and the humanities. 10 Twelve of Our Finest A look at the 2015 National Humanities Medalists. Page 8
24 What to Make of T. S. Eliot? He feared and loathed women, colored his face green,
and wore lipstick. Beneath the formal exterior of a banker-scholar beat the heart of a tormented poet. By Garrick Davis
28 One and the Many Should American education treat children as individuals or have the same goals for all students? By Peter Gibbon
Wisconsin revels in the beauty of early beer advertising, and the District of Columbia examines a long history of protest.
23 Noteworthy 32 One-Off The so-called Mask of Agamemnon. By Steve Moyer
34 Executive Function
Wyomingâ€™s Shannon Smith takes on challenging issues in her state. By Tamara Linse
36 Around the Nation
Hawaii shows the works of Japanese artists, and Tennessee holds its 28th annual Southern Festival of Books. More from these and other states. Compiled by Erica Machulak and Alexander Stern
—Lent from MillerCoors archive, courtesy Museum of Wisconsin Art
ART ON TAP
A 1907 LITHOGRAPH OF THE “GIRL IN THE MOON” SHOWS THE MILLER HIGH LIFE ICON IN HER EARLY YEARS.
WISCONSIN ON A DARK NIGHT IN RURAL WISCONSIN, Miller marketing guru A. C. Paul gets lost in the Northwoods. No doubt having sampled his own wares, he staggers through the wilderness, trying in vain to find his way out. Then a beautiful woman appears in the moon and steers him back to civilization. Or so the legend goes. In 1903, the so-called “girl in the moon” became the face of Miller High Life beer. Albeit with a significant makeover, she continues to grace bottle necks to this day. While some say the mysterious girl in the moon was modeled after a daughter of the Miller family, Milwaukee nurse 4 FALL 2016
Linda Hoffman claims her own family ties: She is on a mission to prove that her great uncle, Thomas Wallace Holmes, was the original artist and that he used her grandmother, Ruth Strauss, as his model. Whatever her origins, the girl in the moon helped launch a marketing phenomenon that swept the nation. Mythical creatures like angels, elves, and goats in tuxedos announced the beers of Wisconsin alongside cityscapes, brawny men, and, of course, sultry women. The breweries’ campaigns brought two big changes: They laid the foundation for modern marketing, and they put Wisconsin on the map.
The turn of the twentieth century was a sweet spot for beer advertising. For one, industrial improvements had transformed local breweries from neighborhood watering holes into major operations—places like Milwaukee were producing more beer than even their most devoted constituents could drink, and now they had the railways to ship it. Meanwhile, the technology of lithography had advanced to the point where companies could make bright, new color prints in batches large enough to circulate nationwide. In the years leading up to the start of Prohibition in 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment outlawed the sale of alcohol, these developments helped Wisconsin brewers build a lasting reputation. Milwaukee breweries “had a lot of hurdles to get over when they started trying to get their product and their name out there,” says Erika Petterson, curator of “Art on Tap: Early Wisconsin Brewery Advertising,” an exhibition at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend supported by the Wisconsin Humanities Council. “On the East Coast and in New York people laughed at them: ‘who are you? You’re this little backwater . . . on the edge of nowhere.’” The first step toward a higher profile wasn’t to promote the product, or even the consumer, Petterson says—it was to market the place itself with bird’s-eye views of a glittering industrial metropolis. “We were not these teeny-tiny towns anymore—we were progress.” Once breweries like Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, Potosi, and Miller gained footholds in new markets, they became some of the first companies to solidify the concept of consumer identity, according to the exhibition. John Gund Brewing Co., now defunct but thriving in the days before Prohibition, used the slogan “House Committee on Refreshments” for separate ads showing blue-collar workers hauling a keg into the park and men in suits drinking out of fine glassware. This was the era when Miller coined the epithet “Champagne of Beers” for their High Life—back then, the “Champagne of Bottle Beers.” Pabst, too, came up with a novel gimmick for their Best Select brew: In 1882, they started tying a blue ribbon around the neck of each bottle. The drink of choice for modern-day hipsters, recognizable simply by the initials PBR, was originally marketed as a high-end beverage. An oil painting in the exhibition shows two of these bottles, not only ribbon-bedecked but also topped with gold foil, alongside a stemmed glass and a plate of oysters on the half shell. The still life, commissioned by Pabst circa 1903, was made into a lithograph and became one of the most famous ads of the early twentieth century. Wisconsin breweries courted clientele of all sorts. Just as they do today, they cast a wide net with humor, celebrity, and sex appeal—“pretty ladies have always been advertising beer,” says Petterson. Most out of place to the modern eye, a print of a woman spoon-feeding Pabst to her baby introduces a series of ads for “tonics,” the medicinal beers that helped keep brewers in business through thirteen years of Prohibition. “A Boon to Old and Young,” reads one of the ads, touting its product as a cure-all for exhaustion, mental health, old age, and breastfeeding. The last of these, at least, has stuck, though the many mothers who subscribe to it today tend to use brewer’s yeast instead of the final product. In many households, brewery ads from mailings and magazines took the place of more expensive visual art. “One of the advertising strategies was, the more beautiful the object, the longer they’ll keep it up on their wall,” says Petterson. “It may be a little girl and her dog, and she’s adorable and the colors are pretty, but we’ll put ‘Potosi’ on the top, and
they’ll see that every time they look at it.” The new inks and printing styles used for marketing led to shifts in color theory that extended to more traditional forms of visual art. “It’s not your standard art museum fare,” Petterson says, describing the collection of posters, calendars, tin trays, mugs, and even a towering mint-condition billboard of a racing yacht that make up the exhibition. The items come from a handful of local historical societies, the Potosi National Brewery Museum, the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, and four die-hard collectors of “breweriana.” After the Twenty-first Amendment lifted Prohibition in 1933, beer advertising was never quite the same. This was, in part, because some state legislatures lagged behind the Constitution, and the watershed that could have been was instead more of a trickle. The Federal Alcohol Administration began to limit advertising methods in 1935, and when television took off in the 1940s, breweries struggled to adapt to the new medium. More to the point, Petterson says, the pre-Prohibition cultural moment had passed. “There’s a rarity to it and a uniqueness. Once you get into some of that later stuff, that mass-produced, really commercial stuff . . . it’s not quite the same for me.” You would be hard-pressed to find a Milwaukeean with more than a couple degrees of separation from one of the major breweries. Everyone’s grandfather, it seems, did a stint sorting bottles for Miller, or fermented lager for Schlitz. These ties have helped draw an eclectic crowd. “Beer is so relatable in Wisconsin,” Petterson says, and the topic has attracted “people who haven’t been to an art museum, or haven’t been to this museum.” The three beer tastings hosted at the exhibition haven’t hurt, either. —Erica Machulak Erica Machulak is a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame and was a summer intern for HUMANITIES.
—Albert Francis King, 1903, courtesy Museum of Wisconsin Art
THE ORIGINAL PABST BEER BOTTLES SPORTED THE BLUE RIBBONS IMMORTALIZED ON ITS BEER CAN LABELS TO THIS DAY.
BONUS EXPEDITIONARY FORCE DEMONSTRATES AT THE CAPITOL.
A Tradition of Dissent
media mmer, Wiki
THE 1932 “CINDERELLA STAMP” SUPPORTING THE BONUS ARMY.
THE BONUS ARMY CAMP IN ANACOSTIA, 1932.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. MARCHING ON WASHINGTON MAY SEEM AN OBVIOUS recourse for a national protest movement today, but it wasn’t until more than a century after the District of Columbia’s founding in 1791 that protesters first marched on the Capitol. The Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., is marking the city’s 225th anniversary this year with a series of panel discussions, including one held in August on the history of protest in the district. Panel members included Glenn Marcus, a historian who produced a D.C. Humanities-supported PBS documentary on the Bonus March of 1932; Dorie Ladner, veteran of the civil rights movement in the South, who participated in the 1963 March on Washington; and Parisa Norouzi, cofounder of the advocacy group Empower D.C. In 1893, members of the short-lived Populist Party, led by Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey, demanded government jobs and public investment in response to the hard times of the 1890s. Dubbed Coxey’s Army, they were mocked by the press and struggled to make their way to D.C. Two men were killed in a confrontation with federal marshals after a contingent of Coxeyites commandeered a train in Montana, and, once Coxey arrived from Ohio with 500 men, members of Congress contested the
a Mississippi native, was drawn to the movement as a teenager by the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Her first protest was in 1961 on behalf of the Tougaloo Nine, a group of college students who tried to integrate a public library in Jackson. Police responded with tear gas. In 1963, she protested at the funeral of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, whom she’d eaten dinner with the night he was murdered and who, Ladner said, had “raised [her] level of consciousness as it relates to social justice.” She got herself arrested on purpose at the funeral protest to avoid being bitten by police dogs. After Evers’s funeral, Ladner went north, where she worked in the office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in New York while the March on Washington was being planned. She shared her first day in Washington with a quarter
—Photo by Danny Lyon, Magnum Photos
—From the Theodor Horydczak Collection, ca. 1920–ca.1950, Library of Congress —Harris & Ewing, photographer, Library of Congress
protesters’ very right to air their grievances. Coxey and others were eventually arrested. L. Frank Baum likely drew inspiration from these events for his 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy and company, the Coxeyites reached their goal, but left disappointed and disillusioned. Still, as Lucy Barber argues in her book Marching on Washington (based on her NEH-supported doctoral dissertation), Coxey’s Army drew national attention to its cause and established the idea that the disaffected could come to the seat of the federal government directly to have their grievances heard. When the Bonus Army—a group of World War I veterans out of work during the Depression and demanding early payment of their service bonuses—marched on Washington in the summer of 1932, they received a much better reception, at least initially. Twenty thousand veterans from across the country camped throughout the district and built a shantytown just across the Anacostia River. They marched peacefully on the Capitol and lobbied representatives directly at their offices. But after the Senate voted down the Bonus Bill and the occupation stretched into its second month, federal tolerance began to wane. As Marcus emphasized, both President Hoover and Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur became convinced that Communists had permeated the group. Also alarming was the presence of a significant number of black veterans, who were integrated with their white colleagues in unprecedented fashion. This was perceived as a “tremendous threat,” Marcus said. Finally, after Congress adjourned, the administration moved to have the marchers evicted from their camps by police. Two protesters were shot during an altercation at one of the camps, leading Hoover to call in MacArthur’s troops. The veterans, who, as Marcus pointed out, had endured teargas attacks in the trenches of Europe, were again teargassed, this time by their fellow soldiers. Against Hoover’s orders, MacArthur marched his troops across the bridge into Anacostia and set fire to the marchers’ camp. Despite its horrific ending, the Bonus Army “laid the groundwork” for the massive civil rights and antiwar protests of the second half of the twentieth century, according to Marcus. “It showed that citizens could come and have their voice heard in the spaces around the Capitol,” and established D.C. as a “demonstration space.” The Bonus Bill was eventually passed in 1936 (over Franklin Roosevelt’s veto), and the Bonus Army’s example prompted the drafting of the 1944 GI Bill, which ensured World War II veterans would be better compensated for their service. Government cooperation with protesters reached a new high in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963. President Kennedy’s administration not only tolerated the protest, but worked with organizers to create an event that would mobilize national support for Kennedy’s civil rights bill. The form the march took reflected a changed political environment. The goal was to affect public opinion through a concerted publicity campaign—“the first mass-marketed protest in the history of demonstrations in Washington,” Barber calls it— rather than appeal directly to members of Congress. Indeed, as Barber writes, Kennedy was wary of confrontation and, at a meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and others, warned against creating “an atmosphere of intimidation.” The compromise among civil rights leaders and the administration was very different from the kind of direct action that Dorie Ladner had undertaken in the South. Ladner,
DORIE LADNER, THIRD FROM RIGHT, SINGS WITH FELLOW MEMBERS OF THE STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE DURING THE 1963 MARCH ON WASHINGTON.
of a million marchers, and stood next to King, overlooking the massive crowd while he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day were, as she described them, the “world’s biggest stage.” The march was broadcast live in the U.S. and in Europe, and attended by blacks and whites from every part of the nation. The marchers’ message was greater than any particular bill or demand. “We were hungry, thirsty for justice and equality,” Ladner said. “My people had been spat upon, abused, lynched, incarcerated, and exploited financially in the fields for generations, so when we came to Washington, that was coming for justice, to seek redress, to say that we’re tired.” Panel participants and audience members also discussed the state of social movements and protest today and the challenges of organization and consciousness-raising in an ever more diffuse and fragmented society. To close, Ladner led the group in a rendition of the spiritual “This Little Light of Mine.” —Alexander Stern Alexander Stern is a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame and was a summer intern for HUMANITIES. HUMANITIES 7
started a Book Club â€”Rachel LaCroix
A CONVERSATION ABOUT RETURNING VETERANS AND THE HUMANITIES 8 FALL 2016
LAST DECEMBER, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES
Chairman William D. Adams traveled to Texas to take part in a celebration of NEH’s fiftieth anniversary at the LBJ Presidential Library. His presence provided an opportunity for Humanities Texas to convene a group of distinguished veterans, all of whom are professionally involved in the humanities, for an engaging roundtable conversation at the Byrne–Reed House in Austin. The panelists included Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy and classics at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), Army Vietnam War veteran, and cofounder of Texas Veterans’ Voices; John Meyer, UT doctoral student, former Army Ranger, and cofounder of Texas Veterans’ Voices; Montgomery Meigs, retired Army four-star general and former Commander of the U.S. Army Europe; Edwin Dorn, professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT and former under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness during the Clinton administration; and Terry Anderson, professor of U.S. history at Texas A&M University and Navy Vietnam War veteran. Humanities Texas’s director of exhibitions and public programs, Melissa J. Huber, moderated the conversation. During the conversation, participants shared their personal experiences and reflected on the importance of humanities-based discussion programs for veterans inspired by NEH’s Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War initiative. MELISSA J. HUBER: Each of you, as a veteran, has had a strong personal experience with a classical text or some other written work. How have those texts influenced you? JOHN MEYER: When it comes to classical texts, I probably had the most recent first
encounter of this group. I was in Iraq, I was 27 years old and I had never read a play, which seems kind of odd. I guess I had skimmed a couple in high school, but nothing too serious. In Iraq, I read Macbeth for the first time. I don’t think I really understood it, but I knew that it was speaking to me. I watched a film version of it—the Ian McKellen and Judi Dench version. That really broke it open for me. For a young airborne infantry noncommissioned officer, the tragedy of action in Macbeth was easy to understand. It’s a contrast with Hamlet, which is often called the tragedy of inaction. In Iraq, we often had to act before we could understand the consequences of what we were doing. It’s not that you lack for choices. You have a lot of choices, a lot of opportunities to do things. And you want to do things. The kind of people who join the military, like myself, do so out of a desire for action. But sometimes the desire for action takes over, and you can see you’re not necessarily doing the right thing, but you do it anyway. Iraq didn’t feel like an act of fate. It felt like we were making a lot of individual choices every day and a lot of those choices were wrong. Macbeth made me feel less alone. The play encouraged me to have sympathy for my fellow soldiers, and for the Iraqis we worked with. I came back from Iraq, and I was looking at going into journalism. But while I was here at the University of Texas, I learned that they have a program called Shakespeare at Winedale, and I participated in that program over the summer of 2009. That really changed a lot of what I was working on. I was interested in studying verse forms, but Shakespeare at Winedale opened up theater for me and taught me what theater meant. In particular, we did Richard III. I played a henchman, a part with not a lot of words. One of the actions I had to do was bring a prisoner onto the stage, right before Richard has the prisoner beheaded. I wasn’t taking it too seriously, but we had to get the guy on stage. When I grabbed the “prisoner,” I sort of put his two hands together behind him. I gripped him hard at the wrists—as if I had put flex cuffs on him—and then I held one hand on his head. Then I kept a low body posture, kept my weight down, got him up on stage, put him down on his knees; we let him say his few words, and then dragged him off. It was only when I got on the stage that I realized that I was using the same method that I had used when we sent guys to Bagram—and then sent them on to Guantanamo; but now people were watching what I was doing. I started reworking a lot of my own writing into stage plays. The same group that I had done Shakespeare in Winedale with started performing other plays that I had written, and that’s how I got deeply involved in modern theater. Then Aquila Theatre —Continued on page 41 HUMANITIES 9
National Humanities Medalists
On September 22, 2016, President Obama bestowed the National Humanities Medal on twelve of our finest thinkers and doers, representing an incredible variety of endeavors. A Chicano novelist who brought Southwestern magical realism into the heart of American literature. A chef-innovator who introduced the delights of Spanish cuisine to America. A poet whose verse ranges from the myths of Greece to the most personal kind of suffering. A radio interviewer who has coaxed from artists and performers the stories behind their greatest works. An essayist and cultural historian who has lit the trail of American ideas from the nineteenth century to today. A jazzman who has rekindled Americansâ€™ romance with their own singular musical idiom. A scholar who has drawn back the curtain on the early history of Christianity. A degree-supporting educational program for convicts that helps prepare them for life after prison. A writer whose memoirs and novels shed light on the African-American experience while teaching about love that transcends race. A historian whose biographies have illuminated the history of American finance and the character of Alexander Hamilton. A celebrated physician who has returned the patient to the center of the medical enterprise and writes about the human drama in memoir and novels. A journalist and author who told the epic story of the Great Migration through the memories of the people who made the trip.
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â€”Medal design by Paul Balan, photo by Maria Biernik
12 of Our Finest
RU DO L FO
A N AYA
By Rigoberto González WHEN RUDOLFO ANAYA WON the Premio Quinto Sol in 1971, the prize was $1,000 and publication of his landmark novel, Bless Me, Ultima. This guaranteed the book would be in readers’ hands just as the Chicano Movement was taking root in the national consciousness. This community of Americans of Mexican descent was working hard to claim political agency and to affirm its unique cultural identity through the cultivation of art, theater, music, and literature that expressed the varied experiences of the Chicano people. Bless Me, Ultima, a novel about a young boy struggling with competing expectations and values in postWorld War II New Mexico, resonated with Chicano readers, who gave it a place of prominence in the Chicano literary canon. Anaya was subsequently anointed the godfather of Chicano literature. Bless Me, Ultima, however, appealed to wider audiences and has since become a best-selling title. Intriguingly, the novel is both a favorite of the educational curricula and, according to the American Library Association, one of the most challenged titles because of its treatment of religion and spirituality. Anaya has made peace with this complicated reception to his book. “I write what I was meant to write,” he says with conviction. “If anything, those attempts to censor my book mean that it’s going to be read. Ultima is unstoppable.” And indeed his beloved faith healer has enjoyed continued attention: In 2010 the book was selected for the NEA’s Big Read program, and in 2013 it was adapted for the screen. The character Ultima was portrayed by the legendary actress Míriam Colón. With more than 40 books to date, Anaya too has had a remarkable journey. Born to a family of cattle ranchers and farmers in 1937 in the rural town of Pastura, New Mexico, he was destined, like Bless Me, Ultima’s child protagonist, to pursue an education. He and his late wife, Patricia, became literacy advocates, establishing educational scholarships for
disadvantaged youth. Additionally, they founded a writer’s residency in their second home in Jemez Springs to support writers who “were not getting invited to those retreats back East. We had to help out any way we could.” The success of Bless Me, Ultima was an auspicious beginning to Anaya’s long career. His next two novels, Heart of Aztlán (1976) and Tortuga (1979), complete the trilogy of narratives about young people at the crossroads of childhood innocence and the heartbreaking reality of adulthood. A series of story collections followed, but Anaya’s next breakthrough came with the publication in 1992 of Alburquerque, a mystery set in the city Anaya has called home since 1952. The novel’s protagonist, the troubled boxer Abrán González, navigates the parallel cultures of New Mexico—the contemporary capitalist arena and the traditionalist old world Nuevo Méjico—in order to discover his true identity and save the city. Arguably, this hometown hero and his ability to reconcile the spirituality of the past with an edgy modern era set the stage for aother of Anaya’s memorable characters, Sonny Baca. The four Sonny Baca murder mysteries (Zia Summer, Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter, and Jemez Spring) highlight the New Mexican landscape and culture, giving particular detail to New Mexico’s unique festivities, foods, and folk beliefs, educating and entertaining readers about how this state became known as “The Land of Enchantment.” Anaya’s distinctive use of magical realism underscores the region’s rich imagery and mythology, honoring the legacy of its Native American, Spanish, and Mexican heritages. “These cultures have a very long history in the Southwest,” he says, “and it’s my responsibility to bring this knowledge to American literature.” Anaya has continued to publish steadily. His most recent title is the novel The Sorrows of Young Alfonso, released earlier this year. “My imagination keeps sparking,” he explains. “Just when I think I’m done, another idea takes hold.” His body of work also includes six plays and no less than a dozen children’s books, including the perennial favorite The Farolitos of Christmas, which spins a touching tale around the New Mexican holiday essential, the paper lantern. “When children see themselves in books, the encounter makes them blossom,” he explains. Among the many awards Anaya has received are two Governor’s Public Service Awards from the state of New Mexico, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, a Kellogg Foundation fellowship, two NEA literature fellowships, and the NEA National Medal of Arts Lifetime Honor in 2001. Speaking to the honor of receiving the National Humanities Medal, Anaya becomes pensive: “I’ve been thinking a lot about what this recognition means, and I’ve decided it’s not just about me, it’s about New Mexico. We may be one of the poorest states in the union but have a wealth of beauty and culture. This award is about the people of New Mexico.”
Rigoberto González is professor of English at Rutgers–Newark, the State University of New Jersey. HUMANITIES 11
—Courtesy José Andrés
J O S É A N D R ÉS By Michael Ruhlman
JOSÉ ANDRÉS KNEW HE WANTED TO BE a cook since the time, as a boy, he helped his father prepare paella in the woods of northern Spain and yearned to be in charge of the fire. “I fell in love with making the fire,” he says. The quality of the fire, he learned, determines the quality of the quintessential Spanish dish. He would take that love of fire and, over the course of decades, transform it into a collection of 22 restaurants, some of them among the most innovative in the United States, and an international reputation as a major culinary influencer. Not only did he create a small restaurant empire, Andrés’s manic energy, curiosity, intelligence, and love of his native Spain have made him one of the great ambassadors of Spanish food and a chef who works to feed the poor. “We [chefs] feed the few,” he said, “but we have the opportunity to change the world.” “I have long suspected José of being a secret agent of Spain,” says chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain. “He is its loudest and most persistent supporter. Chances are, when America is introduced to a hot, new Spanish chef or an exciting Spanish product, José is somehow involved. He is also a ceaselessly working activist on a number of important social issues, a great and important cook, chef innovator, and bringer of enlightenment—and a very, very nice guy.” I’ve known Andrés, peripherally, for a number of years, and what has always struck me about him was his explo 12 FALL 2016
sive energy, which he uses to fuel a perpetual quest for the new. He is the sort of chef who will come across a glass of water and say, What can I do with this glass of water that’s never been done before? Or to use one well-known example from his culinary repertoire, How can I transform my mother’s favorite tapas, Marcona almonds and cheese, into a completely new version of itself? His answer was to make a puree of the almonds with a little water, then freeze a layer of it on the back of a tiny ladle using liquid nitrogen; when removed, this frozen almond puree has become a cup into which he pipes a whipped cheese, and he garnishes it with a drop of passion-fruit syrup. A new, Modernist dish from an ancient idea. Andrés left school at 15, went to a culinary and hospitality school, then had the good fortune to work in a restaurant frequented by Ferran Adrià, the father of Modernist cuisine, which led to a job in Adrià’s legendary restaurant elBulli. When the Spanish navy conscripted Andrés into service as a cook, he was thrilled—he’d get to see the world!—until he learned (perhaps because of his talent) that he’d been assigned to the admiral’s house, and would be going nowhere. He petitioned the navy and was given a spot on a ship, cooking for midshipmen. One of the first ports of call was Pensacola, Florida, where he recalls seeing five flags flying, one of them the Spanish flag. He felt both welcomed and intoxicated. After sailing into New York Harbor, below its grand suspension bridges, past the Statue of Liberty, he knew this was the place he wanted to be. Four years later, with $50 in his pocket, he returned. He’d landed a job as a cook in Manhattan at an outpost of a popular Barcelona restaurant, Eldorado Petit, at 47 West 55th Street. It wasn’t long before he wandered down West 55th into the Quilted Giraffe, a paragon of nouvelle cuisine, where he worked for free for a month between shifts at Eldorado. Not only was this Barry Wine restaurant making innovative food, it taught Andrés more about timing and management. In 1993, he helped open Jaleo in Washington, D.C. Two years later, Andrés was asked to take over Café Atlántico, also in D.C. The restaurateur Richard Melman’s words to him stuck in his head: “You need to throw your anchor and build your future.” The nation’s capital would be that place. He was 25 years old. In 2002, he opened Zaytinya, and the year after that, minibar, a restaurant within a restaurant where his Adriàinspired creativity could thrive. Best chef awards and more restaurants followed, including the James Beard Award for best chef in the country in 2011. In a thorough chronological history on Andrés’s website, there is, in all of the decades covered, a single exclamation point. It’s not for the Beard Award, or for being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. It is for this: “2013: José becomes an American citizen!” “I think we’re all looking for a place to belong,” he told me. I’d say he’s found it.
Michael Ruhlman’s latest book, Groceries: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, will be published in the spring.
CH ER N OW
“WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE American history more exciting,” Ron Chernow tells me from his home in Brooklyn. “It shouldn’t be difficult.” At the very least, Chernow has not found it difficult. He has devoted a career to transforming hefty subjects such as the rise of Wall Street, big business in America, and, more recently, the American founding, into best-sellers that also enjoy enthusiastic approval from critics. In each case, Chernow has employed the writerly device of viewing his theme from the perspective of a pivotal figure or family: for finance, the Morgans, and later the Warburgs; for big business, John D. Rockefeller Sr.; and for the founding, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. One of America’s most influential biographers had spent more than a decade working in New York as a journalist and public policy wonk when he conceived of the idea of writing about the rise of American finance—but he found taking the subject head-on as some sort of “history of Wall Street” to be “tedious.” Published in 1990, The House of Morgan earned a National Book Award—no small accomplishment for any history or finance writer, but compounded in Chernow’s case not only because it was his first attempt, but also because he had no formal training in either history or finance. “Both of my degrees were in English literature, and I never studied history, even though that’s what I ended up writing about,” Chernow says. “I knew from the time I was a freshman in college that I wanted to be a writer, but I imagined that I was going to be a novelist.” He selected his courses of study accordingly. “Even though I wasn’t learning history, I was learning narrative—and narrative is at least as hard to learn as history.” Skillful storytelling, combined with a taste for great themes and for detailed psychological portraiture, have characterized all of his books since. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the artist who famously turned Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton into one of the most successful musicals in American history, said in 2015 that his collaborator “out-Dickens Dickens” in his portrayal of the future Treasury secretary’s scrappy Caribbean upbringing. Earlier that same year, on the evening of Hamilton’s Broadway opening, Miranda entertained the audience waiting in line outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre by reading aloud the opening paragraphs from a worn paperback copy of Chernow’s book. There were moments when he seemed to be on the verge of tears. Despite the fact that Hamilton was “something of a human word machine,” to use Chernow’s formulation, devising such a compelling portrait was not an easy task. Like most of Chernow’s subjects, Hamilton had never been particularly forthcoming about his inner life, and only rarely talked about his youth in the Caribbean. Something about “famously secretive and reserved people” seems to attract Chernow. “I’m always envious of biographer friends whose subjects are writers and intellectuals, who keep intimate diaries and who pour out their thoughts and feelings in letters,” he complains, half in jest.
By Aaron MacLean
Such is obviously not the case for men like Rockefeller or Washington, or for Chernow’s current quarry, Ulysses S. Grant, despite the fact that Grant is the author of one of the most praised autobiographies of any American president. Chernow points out that Grant’s book passes over in near silence the destitution that threatened him before the war. “What my job entails, as a biographer, is to penetrate the silences,” he says, referring to those issues his subjects preferred not to confront during their own lives, and also to the disorganized matter of their early lives, when they were still becoming the historical figures they did not yet know they would be. Such an emphasis on the formation of character can provide readers with insight into their own souls—and Chernow’s emphasis on great themes, not to say great men, can give them insight into their nation’s politics. “We as a country, whenever we face . . . very fundamental choices, those choices have to be informed by an understanding of history and the humanities,” he notes. There is room for academic historians to focus on social “bottomup” history writing, but the very popularity of Chernow’s work demonstrates public hunger for books that provide civic insight and—though he wouldn’t himself necessarily put it this way—a kind of moral instruction that recalls Plutarch. All this, so long as the writer remembers that it is virtually criminal to transform American history into a slog. To make his point, Chernow cites a remark of Gore Vidal’s he once overheard: “‘You know, we’ve had a short history but it’s been so colorful and dramatic, you have to work pretty hard to make American history boring.’ “And I agree with that!”
Aaron MacLean is the managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon. HUMANITIES 13
—© Katherine Wolkoff
block. “The minute I started teaching, I started writing. It was a miracle,” she’s said. She is now the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence at Yale University, where she was judge for eight years of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Glück’s poetry draws on writers from the canon—from Homer and Dante to Wallace Stevens—for creative commentary. Dialog between Odysseus and Penelope plays out provocatively in Meadowlands. À la Dante, the collection Vita Nova embarks on a lyric path reigniting her creative spark. The poem “Legend,” in part a grim portrait of her grandfather, “an immigrant / rolling cigars in a cold basement,” echoes “the roller of big cigars” in Stevens’s “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” The casual admission “words fail me” in the opening sentence of an early poem, “The Inlet,” can mislead until the reader realizes words do not, in fact, fail the poet at all: “I saw a blind baby try / To fix its fists in tendrils / Of its mother’s hair, and get air.” As her work took root and blossomed over the decades into its variegated forms, LOU ISE G LÜCK awards and honors rained down steadily on By Steve Moyer Glück. In 1993, she received a Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris. She has also been awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Bollingen Prize, and the National Book Award, among many other distinctions, including having been selected in 2003 as Poet Laureate of IN THE SEARING TONE THAT characterizes much of the Library of Congress. her work, an early poem of Louise Glück’s begins, “There “Louise Glück’s poems are sculptures of belief,” Streckfus is always something to be made of pain.” Another from the noted in his introduction at a Lannan Series reading. Her same period acknowledges, “Birth, not death, is the hard poems can also be viewed as speech-acts, in which the imloss.” From this darkened stance, she continued for four age is less important than the way toward knowing that the decades to create lyric poetry that eludes facile attempts to poem elaborates. The poem, for her, can transform ideas characterize it as confessional or feminist and hews to its own path, which recognizes and discovers a “new species of into facts. Her method is often to argue from the negative: “I, with my inflexible Platonism / my fierce seeing of only thought entirely.” one thing at a time.” Poet and critic Frank Bidart has writLouise Glück was born in New York City in 1943 and ten, “An individual poem’s decisive finality of structure, the grew up on Long Island, attending first Sarah Lawrence accent of fatality characteristic of her lines, testify to seeing College and later Columbia University, where she studied ‘one thing at a time’ so profoundly that common seeing by under the tutelage of poet Stanley Kunitz. “He pushed comparison shrivels.” hard, and he didn’t easily applaud and congratulate. . . . Tone, form, and structure compose the backbone of He kept me working like a love slave, you know, and I liked Glück’s work. Her poems, she feels, are alive for the reader that,” she said by phone. A job as a secretary afforded her, she thought, a chance on the page, more so than when read aloud, and she sees poetry, in comparison with dance, as sequential, meaning to earn her living and write on the side. “I spent a certain for her that it doesn’t require a wide contemporary audiamount of time at the beginning of my career,” she said in an interview with poet Peter Streckfus, “thinking poets ence to survive. Her audience, she says, is theoretical. “It’s shouldn’t teach because I basically thought you had to do Blake and Yeats and Eliot, and they’re in their little clubhouse in Paradise, and I want to think of them poring over everything possible to show the fates, forces, gods, that my words.” your life was consecrated to art, and anything that distracted you from the pure stream of energy that was going to flow into your work was a mistake.” But after the publication of Firstborn in 1968, she became blocked. Surprised by an invitation from the faculty at Goddard College in Vermont to teach there, she accepted and found she loved working on the problems her students were grappling with. Doing so helped her come to some solutions that Steve Moyer is associate editor of HUMANITIES magazine. plagued her in her own writing, and it cured her writer ’s 14 FALL 2016
attack or to result in cute sound bites. “People who have something to say and say it well—that’s what makes a good interview. It’s as simple as that,” says Gross. “But I am not a person who believes that everybody should be on the radio telling their story . . . not everybody has a gift for describing what happened to them, or synthesizing their area of expertise.” Once she and her fellow producers have decided on a guest, Gross begins to prepare. First, she reads the relevant book or books, but it’s not like reading on vacation. She has her “own version of speed reading,” which entails circling everything she wants to remember and dog-earing those pages. She then goes back to all those marked pages and types up notes that will become her “memory bank,” going through everything again right before she goes to sleep. In the shower the next morning, she mentally runs through her notes to figure out what remains, wondering, “What is really there that I care about, that is really worth talking about?” And she does this every day. “I read more than any human being should have to, but at the same time I love learning, so I feel really lucky to know that part of my job is learning new things.” Another secret to her interviews, she says, is that she does them remotely—she’s in Philadelphia and the guest at an NPR affiliate studio elsewhere. In the introduction to her 2004 book, All I Did Was Ask, Gross writes, “If you are a bit of a coward, as I am, it’s easier to ask a challenging question when you’re not looking someone in the eye.” She sometimes dreams of interviewing great American composers, and those interviews would be in person, “seated at the piano, so that they could perform their songs as we talked about them . . . Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, etc. I would not sing along, to spare the sensitivities of our audience.” Born in 1951 in Brooklyn, Gross got her start in 1973, T ER RY G ROSS working on a feminist radio show at WBFO-FM on the By Amy Lifson campus of SUNY–Buffalo, where she had graduated earlier with a major in English literature. After a short, disastrous FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS, Terry Gross has been bringing stint as an eighth grade English teacher, Gross found herself doing temporary work as a typist, mindlessly working on the stories and insights of the world’s top authors, artists, and thinkers to the listening public. Through her daily radio policy manuals while listening to public radio. One of her show, Fresh Air, her probing interviews with people such as roommates encouraged her to approach the producer of the feminist show and offer herself as a volunteer. Gross got novelist John Updike, children’s author Maurice Sendak, hooked. “I fell in love with radio; it was just magic to me. choreographer Bill T. Jones, musician Eric Clapton, actress You actually get to read books and talk to authors, there is Uta Hagen, and filmmaker Mel Brooks constitute a priceless just a touch of theater, a little bit of writing, but not the kind archive of cultural achievement for the last half century. of writing I felt incapable of doing, like writing a novel or In fact, Fresh Air’s host station WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, great poetry.” She went on to host a show there called This with the help of a grant from the Council on Library and Is Radio before being asked to host Fresh Air in 1975. Information Resources, is completing a word-searchable Since then, Gross has interviewed upward of 13,000 digital archive of all its Fresh Air programs. “It means so guests, offering intriguing conversations while keeping a much to me to have these interviews in there, where people dignified perspective. Although Gross does interview curhave spoken personally about their lives and their work,” rent newsmakers, a large portion of her guests fall into the says Gross. The show has won a Peabody, and Gross is the categories of writers or artists. “I think that novelists and recipient of a Gracie Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, comics and screen writers and actors are especially good at a Literarian Award, and an award from the Authors Guild. seeing into human behavior and the human heart. Charles Currently, Fresh Air is broadcast on 624 NPR stations across Laughton once said, ‘People don’t know what they’re like, the country and on World Radio Network, reaching five but I think I can show them.’ That’s what artists do.” million listeners each week. In 2015, it was the number one downloaded podcast on iTunes. What draws the audience is Gross’s skill for eliciting a thoughtful, sometimes surprisingly intimate conversation. Amy Lifson is assistant editor of HUMANITIES magazine. Questions can be difficult, but they are not designed for HUMANITIES 15
Marsalis has drawn on the past while shaping the future of jazz. His trumpet sound combines Clifford Brown’s sterling tone, Louis Armstrong’s Crescent City colors and power, and Miles Davis’s spatial, Harmon-muted melodicism. The intense marketing of his clean-cut image was the spark that ignited the so-called “Young Lions” period of the eighties, when a host of young revivalist jazz musicians opened a hot debate over the tradition and future of jazz. Of course, Marsalis brought much more than an image. He brought an insistence on playing no nonsense, straight-ahead acoustic jazz, instead of the fusion music that was popular then. An evangelist for jazz music, Marsalis co-formed Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1987. It became the world’s largest not-for-profit organization devoted to jazz, founded with esteemed novelist and literary/cultural critic Albert Murray and Murray’s then-protégé, writer and essayist Stanley Crouch. They mentored Marsalis when he came to New York and broadened his knowledge of jazz history, literature, and art. As managing and artistic director, Marsalis leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as they “entertain, enrich and expand a global community for jazz through performance, education and advocacy.” Indeed, ever since he was a senior in high school, Marsalis—like his father—has been teaching music with a dedication that has inspired musicians for a generation, as evidenced by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra bandmates Marsalis taught when they were teenagers. “You have to follow your young leadership, too,” he told Tavis Smiley. “I get so much from having the opportunity to interface with the younger people, and to bring information to them, and to represent our culture and our way of life. And the feeling, and the warmth and the love . . . it’s unbelievable.” An inspiration to others, Marsalis is himself inspired by the act of performing and the tradition he draws on. “The music can teach you how to be a better citizen in the world; to be better to yourself, and how to expand your worldview, in a world that is expanding all the time,” Marsalis told Ebony.com. “The more expanded your worldview is, the more confident you are in your cultural achievements, and in yourself. . . . Through improvisation, jazz teaches you about yourself. And through swing, it teaches you that other people are individuals too. It teaches you how to coordinate with them.”
W Y N TO N
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By Eugene Holley Jr. “JAZZ MUSIC IS AMERICA’S PAST and its potential,
summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-tocome.” The award-winning trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and educator Wynton Marsalis wrote those words in his 2008 book Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. And for the three decades or so since he came on the scene those words have been made manifest by his tireless dedication to spreading the gospel of jazz. By now, the story of his artistic ascension is well known. He grows up in and around New Orleans, a son of Ellis Marsalis, a legendary pianist and educator. Three of his five brothers are also musicians: saxophonist Branford, trombonist/producer Delfeayo, and drummer Jason. Around the age of six, Marsalis takes up the trumpet, later begins playing in funk groups, marching bands, and local orchestras. At twelve, while excelling in the classical idiom, he gets hooked on jazz after listening to John Coltrane. A stellar graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, he wins a scholarship to Juilliard, plays with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and signs an unprecedented deal with Columbia Records. He becomes, in 1983, the first musician to win Grammys in both jazz and classical music in the same year. He records over 80 jazz and classical albums, and is awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his sprawling, 1997, slavethemed jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields. His record output ranges from the Young Lions/neo-bop classic Black Codes (From the Underground) to the spare, sensual swinging J Mood, to the metropolitan ballet Citi Movement. His latest CD, The Abyssinian Mass, brims with the hues and grooves of the black church. “Every recording I make, I look at the whole record as a form,” he told Lolis Elie in the journal Callaloo. “I try to put the tunes together so that each one has a different effect on the listener, and each tune will progress to the next.”
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Eugene Holley Jr. contributes to Publishers Weekly and DownBeat magazines.
—© Chia Messina
African-American experience as about Brown, the story provides a canvas for McBride’s rich and illuminating investigations. McBride’s own story has several storylines. From Oberlin he went to Columbia Journalism School. His reporting career began at Wilmington’s News Journal, where he started as an intern before becoming a full-time reporter in the Newark, Delaware, bureau and winning an award for his writing. With his journalistic career shaping up, McBride quit the news business and went to Africa for a few months, seeking his roots in a mash-up of Alex Haley-typesearching and saxophoneplaying adventure. Returning to the United States, he came back to journalism, working for the Boston Globe and then People magazine, covering Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory Tour nonstop for several months. He also wrote for Us Weekly, Rolling Stone, and the Washington Post. Then he quit journalism again, to work as a full-time musician for about nine years. He played with Little Jimmy Scott, wrote music for Grover Washington Jr., Anita Baker, and Barney the purple dinosaur, but not, he says, the well-known “I Love You” song, though he wishes he had. He also began working on his memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. The chapters alternate between McBride’s memories of growing up poor in a family of 12 children in Brooklyn and Queens and an oral history he took from his mother, Ruth, whose Jewish family came to the United States in the 1920s to escape persecution in Poland. An unhappy child living in segregated Suffolk, Virginia, under the watchful eye of a cruel father, Ruth ran away, married a black man, converted to Christianity, became a widow, married another black man, and became a widow once more. In the struggle to feed her family she left her older children in charge as she worked nights as a typist and in the morning bused her kids all over the city to the best public schools she could find. Amazingly, she found a way to send them all to college. As a boy, McBride was always curious about his mother’s much paler skin color, the object of many odd looks and some offensive remarks the family endured as they went about in public. Ruth put off his questions, insisting that the only things he needed to worry about were school and church. One day he asked a different question: What color is God? Her answer became the title of his book. “We have more in common than we are different as human beings,” says McBride. It was something he learned from his mother. “My work always pushes toward the commonality of man or slash woman.”
JA M ES
B R I DE
By David Skinner JAMES McBRIDE’S WRITING CAREER BEGAN when he was a first-year student at Oberlin College in Ohio, studying jazz with Wendell Logan, the school’s only jazz expert in those days, and getting a liberal arts education at the same time. His spotty academic record had placed McBride in a course for students who were not quite ready for undergraduate work. For a writing assignment, he typed up a story about a man who goes to the bathroom, has a heart attack, and dies. “It was a horrible story,” he says, laughing, and then guffawing, at the memory. But there was something to the writing. “You have a touch for this,” Tom Taylor, his teacher, said. A troubled student in high school, McBride found his way in college as a communications major. “When I went to Oberlin it really changed my perspective on the world. Because I became more socially and politically conscious.” Today McBride is known as the author of several distinguished books, foremost among them The Color of Water, “an instant classic,” in the words of a New York Times reviewer, that has sold more than 2.5 million copies and been translated into 16 languages. His best-selling novel about four Buffalo Soldiers separated from their unit and hiding in an Italian village during World War II, Miracle at St. Anna, became a movie directed by Spike Lee, for whom he later wrote Red Hook Summer. McBride is also the author of The Good Lord Bird, a picaresque rendering of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry as witnessed by a man who, in his youth, lived incognito as a girl, an unlikely concoction that won the National Book Award for fiction in 2013. Linguistically inventive, Good Lord Bird draws, with great brio, on colorful vernacular that McBride knew from people in his own life, from slave narratives, from jazz history, and from the linguistic investigations of Lorenzo Dow Turner. This year McBride published Kill ‘Em and Leave, a book about James Brown that took him into a fever swamp of unreliable sources and the dustup surrounding a contested financial legacy. As much about the music business and the
David Skinner is editor of HUMANITIES magazine. HUMANITIES 17
M EN A N D
By Craig Lambert
THE HARVARD COURSE HUMANITIES 10: “Humanities Colloquia: From Homer to García Márquez and From Joyce to Homer” has some singular features. Limited to 90 students, all freshmen, it covers a different major work each week and so moves through 2,500 years of art and literature at a brisk clip. The course includes intensive writing instruction and is the only Harvard College course that satisfies Harvard’s expository writing requirement other than the dedicated “expos” offerings. Remarkably, tenured faculty members, not graduate students, teach the six sections of 15 students each. These include the course’s founders—Louis Menand, Bass Professor of English, and Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor— alongside other luminaries like anthropologist David Carrasco and historian Jill Lepore. For senior faculty at a large research university to lead these weekly small-group discussions in a lecture course is almost as rare as one of them serving as a staff writer at the New Yorker, though, as it happens, this course boasts not one but two (Menand and Lepore). “We love it,” Menand says. “The texts are fun to teach, and the freshmen are excited by them. It started as a conversation between friends. Steve and I took inspiration from a course on what they called ‘important books’ that Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun offered at Columbia in the 1930s. We made a list of 12 books we felt every educated person should know.” In part, Hum 10 was also a creative response to the general flight from the humanities triggered by the economic collapse of 2008. “Student enrollments started to drop,” Menand explains, “and not just for concentrators, but in 18 FALL 2016
taking humanities courses, period.” Hum 10 has been pulling them back with the magnetism of its teachers’ profound belief in the value of literature, philosophy, history, and the arts. “The humanities are the record of human experience,” says Menand. “It’s the history of our species trying to figure out what it means to be human. For thousands of years, human beings have created these works of art, literature, and philosophy—wouldn’t you want to know what they’ve come up with?” Menand (generally called Luke, a nickname since childhood) is perhaps best known for his essays in the New Yorker, where he has published since 1991; he has been a staff writer since 2001. In recent years he has focused on book reviews, and his pieces explore a spectacular range of subjects. In a lucid, engaging prose style, Menand has probed the likes of Barry Goldwater, self-help books, John Maynard Keynes, Dr. Seuss, the paperback revolution, Maya Lin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, creative-writing programs, the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match, Timothy Leary, the price tag of sports, Norman Mailer, Mark Rothko, Elvis Presley, and Henry James. “He’s an absolutely brilliant intellectual storyteller,” says Greenblatt, author of The Swerve. “That’s what makes his writing in the New Yorker and his books so outstanding. Luke can take very complex material and craft a compelling, vivid narrative. Some writers try to do this, but thin out the material and betray it. With Luke, it’s the opposite: You’re getting closer to the rich complexity, but also following a powerful story.” In Menand’s NEH-supported book The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001), he deftly blends biographical material and historical events, setting both in a social and cultural context. What emerges is an enthralling story that illuminates the history of ideas. The narrative centers on a conversational club that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, and Charles Sanders Peirce formed in 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The club met for only one year, but it was an intellectual crucible that pushed back against European metaphysics and gave birth to the philosophy of pragmatism. The Civil War, along with emergent disciplines like statistics and evolutionary biology, powerfully shaped this philosophical movement. The Metaphysical Club, which took a decade to research and write, received both the Pulitzer Prize in History and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians in 2002. Though a professor of English, Menand is more a cultural historian than a literary critic. He took a degree in creative writing from Pomona College in 1973, where “I was writing pretty bad poetry,” he says. After one year at Harvard Law School, he earned a doctorate in English and comparative literature from Columbia in 1980. Now, he has again devoted a decade of work to the cultural history of a seminal period—this time, the Cold War era of 1945 to 1968. His next book deals with developments like Abstract Expressionism, the Beats, and the spread of American popular culture after 1950. Although some feel that today’s global, digital culture has left the Cold War era behind, Menand is having none of it: “They created the world we live in.” Craig Lambert is the author of Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day.
—Courtesy Elaine Pagels
EL A I N E
By Anna Maria Gillis FOR ELAINE PAGELS, THE HISTORY OF early Christianity is a huge jigsaw puzzle—one where “most of the parts are missing.” Not many manuscripts have survived from the ancient world, she says. Made of papyrus, some disintegrated. Others were destroyed for being heretical. To fill in the gaps, Pagels, a Princeton University professor and MacArthur fellow, has studied the Nag Hammadi Library, a cache of more than 50 texts discovered in 1945 by an Egyptian farmer digging for fertilizer. Written in Coptic, the manuscripts are translations of earlier Greek Christian writings, including gospels believed to have been hidden by monks in the fourth century. “The efforts of the majority to destroy every trace of heretical ‘blasphemy’ proved so successful that, until the discoveries at Nag Hammadi, nearly all our information concerning alternative forms of early Christianity came from the massive orthodox attacks upon them,” Pagels wrote in 1979 in The Gnostic Gospels. Her book, which won both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, introduced the public to unorthodox contemplations by early Christians that questioned, among many things, whether suffering derives from sin or ignorance, whether the resurrection of Christ was symbolic rather than literal, and whether God was both divine Father and Mother. Pagels was raised in a culturally Protestant household, where her father, a research biologist, “had given it all up for Darwin.” As a teenager, she appalled her parents by dabbling in conservative Christianity. “I was brought up to think religion was kind of irrelevant,” she says, but one question stirred her curiosity as a Harvard graduate student: Why was religion still around in the twentieth century?
Her life’s work, Pagels says, has been a “huge detective story” that began in the 1960s when she learned that her professors had copies of “all these secret gospels that I had never heard of.” She and her fellow graduate students spent years translating and editing them. Hoping for insight into a simpler, purer Christianity, Pagels found that study of the suppressed texts made things more complicated. There’s a recognition now, she says, that what has been called the Christian tradition “is a slice, how small is hard to tell, of a much wider and more complex movement.” In Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, published in 2003, Pagels wrote that she had expected the texts to be “garbled, pretentious, and trivial.” But the Thomas gospel, a series of sayings that professed to be the secret teachings of Jesus, delivered some heady ideas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” “Wow, this is an amazing text,” Pagels thought. “It’s not about what you believe; it’s about how you experience reality.” This psychologically modern and somewhat mystical idea was heretical when the early church set its dogma. Had it been embraced, Christianity could have taken a very different course. “The gospel of Thomas suggests that you don’t need Jesus or the church even. You can find your way to God because you are created in the image of God,” says Pagels. To understand how orthodox Christian dogma came to be, Pagels explored the political climate of the times, and then did a remarkable job of humanizing the players for her readers. Among them are John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation; Tertullian, originator of the idea of religious freedom, and Irenaeus, who wrote Against Heresies, the primary resource on unorthodox teachings before the discovery at Nag Hammadi. Irenaeus, a second-century bishop of Lyon, was “living in a world where people he knew were brutally executed for public entertainment,” says Pagels. “He was trying to consolidate the church.” For Christians scattered across the known world, Irenaeus wanted to find points on which they agreed, such as beliefs in one God and the resurrection of Jesus. According to Pagels, the people he called heretics were asking different, less straightforward questions that didn’t lend themselves to church-building. The questions we ask come out of our living, Pagels says. Her book on Adam and Eve arose from an interest in the development of Western ideas about sexuality. The Origin of Satan, which delves into the roots of Christian anti-Semitism, came indirectly from the grief that followed the deaths of Pagels’s six-year-old son and, fifteen months later, her husband. Her losses made her consider how early Christians blamed Satan when calamities befell them. “There is no single ‘real Christianity,’” Pagels wrote in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. The “spiritual dimension in human experience” is what is most important. “This recognition, after all, is what all participants in Christian tradition, however they disagree, share in common.”
Anna Maria Gillis is managing editor of HUMANITIES magazine. HUMANITIES 19
—Courtesy of the Prison University Project
prison, Lewen says, PUP’s classes supply the “oxygen” inmates need to imagine a different future. “Their sense of the world at large evolves, what their aspirations are, and they realize what they’re capable of.” Among those who credit PUP with helping them turn their lives around is Pat Mims, who served 20 years behind bars for seconddegree murder. Mims dropped out of ninth grade to run away from home. Life on the streets turned him toward crime, he says. He bounced around California prisons for ten years until transferring to San Quentin, where he enrolled in the college program. Because of the PUP classes, “I could think critically. I could articulate my thoughts,” says Mims. “I started seeing a different way to live.” Mims recalls waking up at 2 and 3 a.m. T to study and write papers in his cell before heading to his job as a clerk within the prison. “During the day I was thinking about the paper I was writing,” he says. “It helped me get away from prison while I was there.” Lewen and Mims say that PUP has helped change the culture within San Quentin, making the prison both safer and more humane. Mims regularly encouraged other inmates to join the program, and after attaining his associate’s degree in 2002, remained involved with PUP as a mentor and tutor to other prisoners. If trouble seemed to be brewing among other prisoners, Mims and his fellow students would try to defuse the situation. “I wanted to go to school; I didn’t want to get in trouble,” says Mims. “We were thinking about our futures.” After being released in 2009, Mims enrolled at San Francisco State University, and was relieved to find that his college preparation was equal to his new peers’. He also began working for Bay Area Women Against Rape, where he developed police protocols for assisting juvenile victims of human trafficking—for which he earned an FBI leadership award. More recently he’s been working for Contra Costa County to manage reentry services for prisoners released on parole. The Prison University Program also helps keep released convicts out of prison. Data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2012 show that 65 percent of prisoners in the California system are reincarcerated within three years of leaving prison. By comparison, the recidivism rate among PUP graduates is 17 percent, and none have returned for violent crimes, says Lewen. At the moment, Prison University Project serves only a fraction of the more than 4,000 prisoners housed at San Quentin, though Lewen hopes it can be expanded and replicated elsewhere. “Ideally we’ll be a model, not just for prison higher education, but for higher education, period,” says Lewen, who contends that PUP demonstrates “what you have to do if you want to include everyone and meet them where they are.”
PR ISO N
U N I V ERSI T Y
By Paula Wasley
AT ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS PRISONS, a
corps of volunteer instructors is teaching inmates about the relationship between knowledge and freedom. The Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison is the only on-site, degree-granting higher education program in California’s prison system. Inside a trailer, inmates take classes taught by professors and graduate students from Bay Area colleges. These students are earning college credits, tuition free. More than 1.5 million people are incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons. Many enter as teenagers without a high school diploma. The San Quentin college program started in 1996 in the wake of new laws barring prisoners from receiving Pell Grants. As prison education programs around the country collapsed, the Prison University Project began with two volunteer instructors, donated textbooks, and no budget, says Jody Lewen, PUP’s executive director. She joined the program as a volunteer herself in 1998 while in graduate school at UC–Berkeley, and a year later found herself in charge. “I ended up taking it over just so it wouldn’t fold,” she said. In 2003, she founded a nonprofit to raise money to administer and grow the program, which is funded entirely through private donations. About 350 San Quentin inmates between the ages of 18 and 75 take classes in humanities, math, and social and physical sciences each semester through the Prison University Project, with many more on a waiting list. Because many are not yet ready for college, 90 percent get up to speed in PUP prep courses. To date, Lewen says, approximately 2,000 prisoners have participated in the program, with 150 receiving associate’s degrees awarded through Oakland-based Patten University. PUP’s team of 130 volunteers from universities like Stanford, UC–Berkeley, and San Francisco State are asked to teach the same way, says Lewen, as they would at their home institutions. Lewen remembers her own early experiences, such as when she asked a question and everyone in the class raised their hands. “I’d never seen that before.” Inside the stultifying and soul-shattering environment of
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Paula Wasley is staff editor for HUMANITIES magazine.
A B R A H A M
V ERG H ESE
By Elizabeth Word Gutting
ABRAHAM VERGHESE WONDERS WHY we make such a singular distinction for physician-writers. We don’t make quite as much of it when writers come from other professions, he points out. And for Verghese, there is not a pronounced separation between his work as a physician and his work as a writer. Medicine, he says, is his “first great love,” and his writing has come directly out of that. Verghese was born in Addis Ababa to expatriate Indian parents. He began medical school in Ethiopia, but his studies were interrupted by the civil war in 1974. By that time his parents had relocated to New Jersey and he joined them there. He became a hospital orderly because he was unable to attend medical school in the United States without first going back to get his bachelor ’s degree. “At the time, it certainly didn’t seem these were good things—in fact, these were all terrible things,” he says of that tumultuous period in his life. But this nontraditional beginning led to Verghese’s brilliant career as both a physician and an author. As an orderly, he was inspired to go back to medical school, and did so in India, where he brought a renewed passion to his schooling and got “wonderful training.” He learned to appreciate the art of the physical exam from his favorite professor—percussing a lung before X-raying the chest, for example, or noting the particular odors given off by a sick patient. He returned to the U.S. for his medical residency at a hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. And then, after moving once again to complete a fellowship in infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital, Verghese
chose to return to Johnson City to settle. It was the mid 1980s and he felt that in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains he’d at last found a permanent home for himself and his family. The AIDS epidemic had taken hold of America’s cities, but it didn’t seem like something that would affect a place like Johnson City. When the epidemic began surfacing in this rural area, Verghese became the local expert. There was little he could do for his patients, mostly gay men who were stigmatized for having the disease. But he aimed to help them die with dignity and whatever comfort possible. Now famous for his presence at the bedside, he expressed supreme empathy and respect for these patients, nearly all of whom faced certain and premature death. He wrote of this experience in his first book, My Own Country, published in 1994 to critical acclaim. He had become increasingly interested in writing, and took a break from medicine to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He graduated in 1991 and then returned to medicine, taking a position as professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in El Paso, Texas. “In every place I’ve lived, I’ve felt as much at home as I can ever feel, but perhaps never more so than in El Paso,” he says, a place where “the prevailing skin color was such that I became unnoticeable. [My skin color] was not something I had ever given much thought to . . . but the beautiful thing about Texas was that I could disappear in America.” As a writer, he believes that this outsider ’s sense can be a strategic advantage, because “you are less susceptible to some of the clichés of observation you don’t even know you’re making. Since you’re naïve, you can make an observation that’s fresh.” Verghese, who is now the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor Vice Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, went on to write more books. Another memoir, The Tennis Partner, is about his friendship with a medical resident and recovering addict. His novel, Cutting for Stone, stayed on the New York Times list of best-sellers for more than two years. The art of paying attention runs, like a theme, through Verghese’s medicine and writing. He is best known in the medical community for “being able to read the body as text.” At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he learned that “‘God is in the details,’” and this, he says, is true both in writing and in medicine. As a TED speaker, he has argued for the importance of the physical exam in this age of advanced tests and scans. At Stanford, he teaches students at patients’ bedsides instead of around a table. He believes that the “burden on the physician-writer is to go beyond just describing—and to find meaning” in the “extraordinary, intimate moments in the lives of others” that physicians so often witness.
Elizabeth Word Gutting is a Washington-based writer and program director for the PEN / Faulkner Foundation. HUMANITIES 21
ISA B EL
W I L K ERSO N
By Rosalind Early
WHILE WORKING ON HER BOOK, The Warmth of Other Suns:
The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson took one of her subjects, Ida Mae Gladney, back to Mississippi. The Warmth of Other Suns is about a period in American history from about World War I until the 1970s when 6 million African Americans left the South to pursue better lives in the North. Gladney left her hometown of Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with her husband in 1937, and they ended up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The two were driving on a quiet road past cotton fields. Gladney’s husband had been a sharecropper; she’d told Wilkerson she had been terrible at picking cotton. But now she wanted to pick some. Wilkerson pulled over, and 80-year-old Gladney, stirred by memories, showed Wilkerson how to pick cotton. Wilkerson has many such stories from working on The Warmth of Other Suns, which weaves together three stories from the Great Migration. Though the protagonists left the South at different times and took different routes, together their stories create an epic picture of the Great Migration and of America’s twentieth century. Wilkerson spent hundreds of hours not only interviewing her protagonists (and two years interviewing 1,200 other individuals in order to find the three stories she would tell), but she also went with them to the casino, to church, to the hospital, to funerals, and wherever else they went. The book took Wilkerson 15 years to complete.
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“Some of these things seem as if it’s a lot of hard work, and it is. But it’s to an end—toward a richer, deeper understanding of a phenomenon that I was seeking to bring to life,” Wilkerson says. “The term narrative comes from Greek for the word knowing. And I think that that’s a powerful message because it means you cannot tell a story until you know the story.” Soon after graduating from Howard University, Wilkerson went to work for the New York Times. She quickly rose in the ranks, becoming Chicago bureau chief before she was 30. But Wilkerson’s journalistic style was focused on taking the time to make her subjects comfortable enough to share all the details—the harrowing, the embarrassing, the mundane, and the memorable—of their stories. “It was as much ethnographic as it was journalistic,” Wilkerson says. Narrative nonfiction “is the closest [readers] will get to being another person. It allows them to be inside the hearts and the minds and the experiences, the emotions, the fear, the anxiety, the triumph, the tragedy of another person’s experience. And to go along with them on the journey.” In 1994, when she was 33, Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on Midwestern floods and the life of a 10-year-old boy who had to take care of his siblings. She was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for individual reporting. Book offers followed, and Wilkerson left the Times in the mid 90s to start work on The Warmth of Other Suns. She had always been interested in the Great Migration, a watershed of American history that brought us everything from A Raisin in the Sun (playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s parents migrated from the South) to Motown (founder Berry Gordy’s dad was from Georgia) to jazz saxophonist John Coltrane (who left North Carolina for Philadelphia). “This Great Migration reshaped the demographics of African Americans in this country. And it did more than that. It unleashed and uncorked a flowering of creativity and talent,” Wilkerson says. “Fleeing opened up the way to pursue dreams that were not possible to even imagine in the caste system of the South.” Wilkerson relied on the humanist approach that she had taken as a journalist to tell the story of this migration, and when the book was published in September 2010, reviewers raved about it. The book won a slew of awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, and the Mark Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities. It has also been included in numerous best-of lists, including President Barack Obama’s own summer reading list in 2011. Wilkerson is still being invited to speak about the book around the world on a full-time basis. All this attention, she thinks, is a credit to the power of the stories her three protagonists told about fleeing oppression and struggling to build a better life. “The Great Migration was the bridge between enslavement and freedom. It was an act of agency on the part of people who had been denied it for most of their time on this soil,” Wilkerson says. “It is absolutely a universal human story.”
Rosalind Early is associate editor of Washington Magazine at Washington University in St. Louis.
The 50th anniversary year of the National Endowment for the Humanities ended in celebration as several thousand people attended the Human/Ties conference from September 14 to 17 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Venues on and off campus hosted panels and talks with writers such as Salman Rushdie and Junot Díaz, journalists Jamelle Bouie and Michele Norris, filmmakers Stanley Nelson and Lynn Novick, and historians Jill Lepore and Ed Ayers. A special presentation from Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington in the original cast of the Tony-winning musical Hamilton, previewed the upcoming PBS documentary Hamilton’s America. The conference culminated in a public summit at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, where prominent historians, descendants of those enslaved at Monticello, cultural leaders, and activists discussed race, freedom, and equality.
Two hundred scholars, archivists, librarians, curators, filmmakers, and others came together for an NEH symposium
on September 30 to discuss the challenges and solutions for preserving our audiovisual cultural heritage. NEH Chairman William D. Adams opened the day’s events, declaring the need for preservation: “The history of the twentieth century—and, indeed the twentyfirst—cannot be written without the crucial evidence provided by recorded sound and moving images. It’s ironic that at this moment in time the sources of information the public values the most are the most endangered. Cuneiform clay tablets are doing just fine, compared with magnetic media.” Keynote speeches were given by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay and Chicago Film Archives executive director Nancy Watrous. Breakout groups discussed topics such as collaboration and community archiving, and a special screening of multiple NEH-supported audiovisual projects finished the day’s activities.
The project America’s Public Bible: Biblical Quotations in U.S. Newspapers is the winner of NEH’s Chronicling America Data Challenge, a national competition held to encourage web-based projects that use the Chronicling America database, a site sponsored by NEH and the Library
of Congress that provides digital access to more than eleven million pages of historic U.S. newspapers. America’s Public Bible, led by George Mason University history professor Lincoln Mullen, allows users to track biblical quotes in American newspapers that printed sermons, Sunday school lessons, and innumerable biblical quotes as part of their reporting and editorials. America’s Public Bible won the firstplace prize of $5,000. Prizes were also awarded to five other projects, including one submitted by the AP American history students at Sunapee High School in New Hampshire. Their project, called Digital APUSH, finds patterns in news coverage applying word frequency analysis to Chronicling America. Two projects tied for the second-place prize—American Lynching: Uncovering a Cultural Narrative from Andrew Bales at the University of Cincinnati and Historical Agricultural News from Amy Giroux at the University of Central Florida. There was also a tie for third place: Chronicling Hoosier from Kristi Palmer at Indiana University– Purdue University and USNewsMap.com from Claudio Saunt at the University of Georgia. Chronicling America expands this year to include digitized newspapers from 1690 to 1963. —AL
—Images by Zach Robbins Photography
CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: JUNOT DÍAZ ONSTAGE, PROGRAMS FOR HUMAN/TIES (PHOTO BY CHRIS FLYNN), JEFFREY BROWN AND MICHELE NORRIS, THE AUDIENCE AT THE PARAMOUNT THEATER, AND A PARTICIPANT IN THE VIRTUAL REALITY WORKSHOP.
WHAT TO MAKE OF
T. S. ELIOT He feared and loathed women, Beneath the formal exterior of a banker-scholar beat the heart o f a tormented POET. 24 FALL 2016
colored his face green, and wore lipstick.
BY GARRICK DAVIS IN 1914, THE PHILOSOPHER BERTRAND RUSSELL
was introduced to a student at Harvard University who greatly impressed him, and who would later become quite famous himself. Russell left behind his first impressions of T. S. Eliot in a letter that possibly inaugurated the nowstandard fiction of the poet as representing a final, repressed branch of the old Boston Brahmans: My pupil Eliot was there—the only one who is civilized, and he is ultra-civilized, knows his classics very well, is familiar with all French literature from Villon to Vildrach, and is altogether impeccable in his taste but has no vigour or life—or enthusiasm. Eliot struck many of his contemporaries as a person not unlike J. Alfred Prufrock, “politic, cautious, and meticulous.” Virginia Woolf mentioned him in a letter to her brother-in-law: “Come to lunch. Eliot will be there in a four-piece suit.” With his fine manners and noble bearing, Eliot was all too restrained by his own sense of decorum and propriety. The novelist Aldous Huxley even called him “the most bank-clerky of all bank clerks” after visiting Eliot at his office at Lloyd’s in London, reporting that he “was not on the ground floor nor even on the floor under that, but in a sub-sub-basement sitting at a desk which was in a row of desks with other bank clerks.” Many years later, the poet was still fostering this bloodless caricature of himself, preferring to pretend that he was just “a mild-mannered man safely entrenched behind his typewriter.” Not everyone believed the story as presented. As early as 1962, the critic Randall Jarrell saw in it a fundamental misunderstanding, which he singled out for an extraordinary comment in his summary of “Fifty Years of American Poetry”: During the last thirty or forty years Eliot has been so much the most famous and influential of American poets that it seems almost absurd to write about him, especially when everybody else already has: when all of you can read me your own articles about Eliot, would it have really been worth while to write you mine? Yet actually the attitude of an age toward its Lord Byron—in this case, a sort of combination of Lord Byron and Dr. Johnson—is always surprisingly different from the attitude of the future. Won’t the future say to us in helpless astonishment: “But did you actually believe that all those things about objective correlatives, classicism, the tradition, applied to his poetry? Surely you must have seen that he was one of the most subjective and daemonic poets who ever lived, the victim and helpless beneficiary of his own inexorable compulsions, obsessions? From a psychoanalytic point of view he was far and away the most interesting poet of your century. But for you, of course, after the first few years, his poetry existed undersea, thousands of feet below the deluge of exegesis, explication, source-listing, scholarship, and
criticism that overwhelmed it. And yet how bravely and personally it survived, its eyes neither coral nor mother-of-pearl but plainly human, full of human anguish! . . .” Today the task before any reader of Eliot’s poetry is to examine the human anguish still buried under the exegesis. That is no easy assignment. For the poet himself very much wanted that anguish, and the sources of it, to remain forever hidden. This concealment was monumentally important to him, and he labored ferociously at it throughout his life. By 1938, Eliot had already directed his then literary executor John Hayward to “suppress everything suppressible,” and that attitude only hardened as time passed, sinking into absurdity when, in 1984, Eliot’s second wife dubiously claimed the copyright even to the papers of Eliot’s first wife. The poet had left behind a will demanding that no biography be written, ever. His estate did its best to comply and prevented anyone from quoting any copyrighted or unpublished material without exception, while it routinely requested exorbitant sums for his work to be reprinted in anthologies. It is hard to think of another writer in the last hundred years (other than J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon) who went to such extraordinary lengths to frustrate not only biographers and scholars but even ordinary readers. Thus it has taken fifty years for any evidence to surface that would justify Jarrell’s premonition that Eliot was more like the scandal-plagued Lord Byron than we could possibly imagine. Still, there were signs along the way, odd visual clues, for those who cared to notice. Virginia Woolf, vexed by the poet’s appearance in 1922, noted in her diary: “I am not sure that he does not paint his lips.” Meanwhile, Osbert Sitwell was “amazed to notice on his cheeks a dusting of green powder—pale but distinctly green, the colour of a forced lily-of-the-valley. I was all the more amazed at this discovery, because any deliberate dramatization of his appearance was so plainly out of keeping with his character, and with his desire never to call attention to himself.” Let us halt for a moment and consider this image: Eliot, the austere banker with a bowler hat, was actually walking around London in the 1920s with his cheeks powdered green and his lips rouged. No wonder that his friends were astonished. Neither Sitwell nor Woolf “could find any way of explaining this extraordinary and fantastical pretence; except on the one basis that the great poet wished to stress his look of strain.” Others came to a different conclusion. Hart Crane was so certain that Eliot was a homosexual like himself that he referred to him, according to Allen Tate, as the “prime ram of our flock.” None of these stories dented Eliot’s cadaverous image for thirty years. The first blow was struck in 1952, when an article in Essays in Criticism written by the scholar John Peter caused a famous scandal with its reading of “The Waste Land” as a homosexual lament for the poet’s dead friend, Jean Verdenal. Rather than ignore the essay, Eliot had his HUMANITIES 25
—Snark / Art Resource, NY
T. S. ELIOT, JACKET BUTTONED, SEATED NEXT TO VIRGINIA WOOLF.
attorneys inform the journal’s editors that a libel suit was assured if the article appeared again. So seriously was this threat taken that most of the issues were swiftly destroyed; libraries were even told to cut out the article if they had a copy already. Naturally, other scholars were wary of pursuing similar theories until 1977 when James E. Miller Jr. (with the help of an NEH grant) published T. S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land, and reignited a discussion that had been silenced 25 years before. Miller’s book suffered a hostile reception, with numerous critics aghast at the author’s impertinence at forwarding such theories. By this time, of course, Eliot was dead, but in his later years he had become a cherished layman of the Church of England and a man of high moral stature. Simply put, Miller’s book was treated as blasphemy, when it wasn’t just ignored or mischaracterized. Expecting such reductive crudity, Miller denounced this tendency to distort his ideas in the early part of his book (“The language ‘homosexual interpretation’ seems deliberately designed to jar the sensibility and provoke negative vibrations”) and at the back of his book (“Such characterizations are not only reductive but destructive, not to say simple-minded”). In spite of his protestations, Miller’s name became synonymous with this interpretation. As recently as 2006, the poet Mark Ford complained in a review that Miller was like “a McCarthy-inspired gumshoe” who just wanted to “persuade his readers that Eliot was gay.” Yet Miller was not interested in “outing” the poet; he was interested in understanding the verse of “the most subjective and daemonic poet” of the last century. Ultimately, the hostility of his 26 FALL 2016
fellow scholars conspired to do a disservice to Miller, and to his 1977 book—which is a neglected classic of criticism, and one of the very few essential works on Eliot’s poetry. What Miller would have made of all the recently released Eliotica is a bittersweet thought, since he passed away in 2010. Valerie Eliot’s excruciatingly slow “editing” (which was actually deliberate delaying) of her husband’s letters came to an end with her death in 2012, after which three volumes appeared in three consecutive years. A sixth volume, appearing in 2016, gives us the poet’s correspondence through 1933, with a mere 32 years left to cover. That should give the reader a sense of how much Eliot we haven’t read, and how much we still don’t know. Just consider his critical prose: Ronald Schuchard and his international team of scholars are halfway through publishing almost 7,000 pages of it in an online-only edition, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Press (among many others). Or take the recent publication of the two-volume Poems of T. S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, and weighing in at a combined 2,032 pages. Though Eliot himself issued his first Collected Poems in 1936, and the definitive-sounding Complete Poems and Plays appeared in 1952 (and let’s not forget the “Centenary Edition” published in 1963), it must be said that Ricks and McCue are the first editors who have been allowed to publish all the verse that Eliot left behind. That is to say that, at the fourth attempt, we have all of Eliot’s poetry together at last. That burden, along with the desire of Ricks and McCue to edit every line a capite ad calcem, has resulted in a table-buster. Volume I of The Poems alone is a massive 1,311 pages—with 877 pages of commentary for 314 pages of poetry. All the verse that Eliot cared to collect in his lifetime, and that generations of poetry lovers have memorized, is finished by page 219. There remain almost 100 pages of uncollected verse for most readers to discover (much of it brought together previously by Ricks in his superb collection of Eliot’s early unpublished work, Inventions of a March Hare). It must be said that Ricks and McCue provide superb notes throughout these volumes. On occasion the revelations are not just striking but comical. Take one example: The learned and fastidious Eliot that we think we know managed to misspell the title of his third book of poems, Ara Vos Prec, on the cover. (One of the 220 copies of Ara Vus Prec can trade for $10,000 in the rare book market.) Eliot explained in a letter, “It only happened to be Vus on the title page because I don’t know Provençal, and I was quoting from an Italian edition of Dante the editor of which apparently did not know Italian either.” That’s quite an admission from the Pope of Russell Square. A more important mistake involves one of Eliot’s most famous poems, “The Hollow Men.” The last lines of section II (as published in 1962) have always read: Not that final meeting In the twilight kingdom Yet it has been discovered that the section, as published originally in The Criterion and The Dial, ended: “With eyes I dare not meet in dreams.” Who made that mistake? Ultimately, it must have been the poet himself who missed it. Eliot was quite a careless copy editor, particularly when it came to his own work.
As for the uncollected verse, there are surprises in abundance for the reader who cares to puzzle his way through these poems. Eliot is renowned for being the first poet to express the world’s romantic horror and disenchantment with itself by writing The Waste Land in 1921. Less known perhaps is that he did so after fleeing his wife for a Lausanne sanitarium. It is therefore rather interesting that the same poet in 1909 stares at a reproduction of Manet’s La Dame au Perroquet in a book and remarks: Among a crowd of tenuous dreams, unknown To us of restless brain and weary feet, Forever hurrying up and down the street, She stands at evening in the room alone. Not like a tranquil goddess carved of stone But evanescent, as if one should meet A pensive lamia in some wood-retreat, An immaterial fancy of one’s own. No meditations glad or ominous Disturb her lips, or move the slender hands; Her dark eyes keep their secrets hid from us, Beyond the circle of our thought she stands. [from “On a Portrait”]
Needless to say, few twenty-year-old men are moved to conjure this much gloom from the image of a fully covered woman standing next to her pet bird. Lest the reader pass over the lamia reference here, Ricks helpfully submits: “OED: a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children.” It is quite remarkable that young Eliot is already turning innocuous women into fabulous monsters in the pages of the Harvard Advocate, already negating the passion of young lovers: Tristan and Isolde And the fatalistic horns The passionate violins And ominous clarinet; And love torturing itself To emotion for all there is in it, Writhing in and out Contorted in paroxysms, Flinging itself at the last Limits of self-expression. We have the tragic? oh no! Life departs with a feeble smile Into the indifferent. These emotional experiences Do not hold good at all, And I feel like the ghost of youth At the undertakers’ ball. [“Opera”] One turns through these pages and finds the same themes again and again: the impotence of living and the fear of the female. It’s rather incredible in hindsight to see that only a few scholars even dared to discuss Eliot in such terms. Not everyone was quite so blind. Thirty-one years before
—Getty / Romano Cagnoni
ELIOT AND HIS YOUNG WIFE, VALERIE, WHO WAS ALMOST THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS HIS JUNIOR AND WORSHIPPED THE GREAT POET.
John Peter’s essay, Ezra Pound sent a letter to Eliot containing a comment-in-verse about his editing duties for The Waste Land: These are the poems of Eliot By the Uranian Muse begot; A Man their Mother was, A Muse their Sire. How did the printed infancies result From Nuptials thus doubly difficult? If you must needs enquire Know diligent Reader That on each Occasion Ezra performed the caesarian Operation.
(from “Sage Homme”)
It was James Miller who first noted in an essay that “Uranian” was a common term for same-sex love in the late nineteenth century. So, Pound seems to be acknowledging —Continued on page 46 HUMANITIES 27
A N D T H E MA NY Should American education treat children as individuals or have the same goals for all students?
By Peter Gibbon
â€”Photo illustration by Andrea Heiss. Images: Shutterstock ÂŠKoraysa and Library of Congress
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“To grasp the words on a page we have to know a lot of information that isn’t set down on the page.” –E. D. Hirsch
is an advocate for facts first, a sequential curriculum, direct instruction, and testing. The other recommends disciplinary understanding, projects, and individualized instruction. One concentrates on reading and the achievement gap; the other focuses on how students think and how they differ. E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner are our two leading contemporary educational philosophers. How are their views on goals and pedagogy different? Is Hirsch a conservative, Gardner a progressive? What are their competing views of human nature? How do their ideas connect to trends in American society? Their differences reflect various and interesting fault lines in our culture and across our intellectual and political classes, but their differences are also profoundly simple, almost reducible to one general question: Should we educate all children in the same manner or treat them all differently?
Hirsch started out as an English professor at Yale, where he studied Wordsworth and Blake and engaged in academic debate about literary theory. He moved to the University of Virginia in the late 1960s and became interested in questions related to reading and composition. When he discovered in 1978 that community college students had difficulty reading a simple passage about the Civil War because they did not recognize the names Grant and Lee, or the name of the courthouse where they met, he became an education reformer. Encouraged by education historian Diane Ravitch, Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, a book published in 1987 that made him famous, in part because of the appendix, which listed 5,000 words, dates, epigrams, authors, inventions, and scientific discoveries he believed every citizen should know. Americans bought hundreds of thousands of copies. Drawing on his research on the reading habits of students and on the incendiary 1983 government report A Nation at Risk, Hirsch asserted in Cultural Literacy that test scores (particularly the SATs) were declining and that American industry lacked a skilled work force. The explanation for poorly performing schools and economic malaise was a lack of shared knowledge among children and adults. Over a 20-year period, Hirsch expanded and elaborated on these ideas in three more books: The Schools We Need (1996), The Knowledge Deficit (2006), and The Making of Americans (2009). The problem with American schools,
“I believe that the purpose of education is to master the fundamental ways of knowing.” –Howard Gardner
according to Hirsch, was not poverty, mediocre teachers, or class size, but a curriculum that was not orderly, that discounted facts and information, and that failed to recognize the connection between background knowledge and fluent reading. The problem was a pedagogy that disdained and was dismissive of testing and placed too much emphasis on small group work, rather than on direct instruction. His remedy: “the right sort of curriculum, particularly in their [students’] early years.” What is the Hirsch vision? Background knowledge, in which Americans are deficient, should be introduced early through an explicitly taught, sequential, interdisciplinary curriculum. Such a program would avoid repetition and allow disadvantaged students a chance to catch up. To implement his vision, Hirsch and his team created nearly 1,000 Core Knowledge Schools with accompanying workbooks in 47 states. Many of these schools are charter schools, and they generally claim that improved test scores validate Hirsch’s sequential curriculum. What does Hirsch have to say generally about education? Facts are fun and essential. Facts precede and accompany critical inquiry. Reading is key. Direct instruction is efficient and effective and should have priority over projects and individualized instruction. Learning is slow and hard. Hirsch believes in the importance not only of background knowledge that enables us to read and think, but also in common knowledge that binds us together. In his most recent book, The Making of Americans, Hirsch champions civic knowledge, assimilation, and Americanization. Invoking Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann, he implies that schools should encourage an informed patriotism. He criticizes contemporary child-centered schools that “train students more for private than public life.” Is Hirsch a conservative? Certainly, a philosophy that favors information, direct instruction, and standardized testing does not sound progressive. Nor do his critiques of child-centered schools and cooperative learning. Stressing Americanization offends many liberals. His unrelenting attacks on the romantic, progressive ideology that Hirsch claims is at the heart of America’s educational failures does not endear Hirsch to professors of education. Like many conservatives, Hirsch favors choice, competition, and charter schools, especially those that opt for the Hirsch Core Knowledge Curriculum. He seems to side with the “no-excuse school” movement—thinkers such as Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, who believe that rightly designed and correctly run schools can eliminate the HUMANITIES 29
achievement gap. In Hirsch’s books, he praises the KIPP Schools with their emphasis on dress codes, character, and a content-rich curriculum. He leans toward the Common Core with its focus on higher standards and nonfiction texts, but criticizes the Common Core’s refusal to require specific information. Yet some of Hirsch’s public statements would seem at home among liberals. Hirsch is focused not only on a knowledge deficit that cripples students but also on an achievement gap that holds back minorities. Explaining his early interest in social justice to a Baltimore Sun reporter, he stated that, as a son of a Memphis cotton broker, he inherited “this load of guilt that Southerners have,” and that he wanted a curriculum that put “all children on common ground, sharing a common body of knowledge. That’s one way to secure civil rights.” Hirsch reminds us that many disadvantaged children neither hear nor read as many words in total as children in the middle class. The gap may be as much as 30 million words, according to researcher Dana Suskind. In Hirsch’s view, schools need to compensate for this deficit to mitigate the correlation between educational achievement and social class. Hirsch ardently believes that starting students early with his reading theory, his fact-filled and orderly K–5 curriculum, and his inclusion of more nonfiction texts can compensate for less educated parents, promote equality, and pave the way for the meritocracy he treasures. He is also no fan of “localism,” or allowing local school districts to do whatever they want. Local autonomy, he believes, diminishes rigor and uniformity and penalizes disadvantaged students who move from district to district. If Hirsch is a social justice conservative, he is also a nuanced conservative. He concedes that progressives have brought kindness to schools, and that projects and small-group instruction have their place. He acknowledges individual differences among students but insists that large-group instruction is inevitable in a nation educating millions of students. Sometimes conciliatory, he states: “Facts and skills are inseparable. There is no insurmountable reason why those who advocate the teaching of higher order skills and those who advocate the teaching of common traditional content should not join forces.” Hirsch is a clear and forceful writer and has mastered an enormous number of educational studies with which he sometimes overwhelms the reader. He can be strident in his attack on schools of education, which he claims indoctrinate teachers with a progressive, anti-content ideology. He criticizes Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey, insisting that romantics write good poetry but produce poor educational philosophy. At the same time, he has created a sophisticated theory of reading that makes a compelling case for background knowledge. He reminds us that reading is essential and complicated, a lifelong task that must start early. Like most reformers, he deplores the achievement gap. It remains a challenging question for Hirsch, however, whether the most detailed, finely tuned curriculum can compensate for poverty and overcome class distinctions and whether that curriculum is more important than a highly trained, effective teacher.
oward Gardner considered becoming a lawyer, and also a pianist, but at Harvard he fell under the spell
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of such giants as psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, sociologist David Riesman, and cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner. Gardner credits these mentors with setting him “on the course of investigating human nature, particularly how humans think.” Today he is a cognitive psychologist who, while teaching at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has written books on leadership, creativity, moral education, work, and social media. Gardner became famous through his theory of multiple intelligences (MI), which was inspired by his work with brain-damaged adults at a veterans hospital and by his work with gifted children. The Project on Human Potential funded his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In the book, Gardner argues that intelligence is not unitary but comes in eight forms, ranging from the linguistic to the logical and mathematical to the interpersonal. In subsequent books, The Unschooled Mind (1991) and The Disciplined Mind (1999), Gardner applied his MI theory to students and accompanied it with a theory of disciplinary expertise. What is Gardner’s vision? Because a classroom includes individuals of differing strengths and skills, the teacher should individualize instruction, appealing to different ways of learning. The aim should be disciplinary or genuine understanding—or learning to think, for example, like a scientist. “The higher cognitive functions”—problem finding, problem solving, and creativity—are the ultimate goals of education. They represent civilization’s highest achievement and are necessary in a twenty-first-century workforce. Gardner does not dismiss information but associates it with lists and uniform schooling—both of which he deplores. If Hirsch’s goal is wrong, so is his pedagogy. Direct instruction and a uniform curriculum ignore diversity and are neither effective nor democratic. Students are intrinsically motivated. Competition, fear, and testing are unnecessary, he believes. Unlike Hirsch, Gardner is not preoccupied with civics or patriotism. He does not see the history instructor as a civics teacher, celebrating America’s founding and encouraging democratic ideals. Cosmopolitan, he is more interested in world citizenship than in American identity. He is opposed to history education that emphasizes coverage, memorization, and facts. Instead, he wants students at all levels to think like historians. Facilitating such understanding in students requires a highly literate teacher, immersed in content. Gardner, unlike Hirsch, prioritizes a transformed teaching force. Gardner finds such teachers in short supply. Though he says his arguments for disciplinary understanding are applicable to elementary school students, it is clear from his examples that he is more focused on adolescents. In fact, a key difference between the two thinkers is that Hirsch is focused on reading, the achievement gap, and elementary schools. Gardner is trying to teach motivated adolescents about Darwin’s finches, for example, and the structure of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Neither Gardner nor Hirsch, a teacher might add, offers advice on classroom management. Gardner favors primary sources and projects. His watchwords are interest, depth, less is more. Skills are more important than facts, performances are better than tests, and museums and apprenticeships are as important as schools.
He sees the teacher as a “guide on the side,” posing questions, rather than as an expert imparting information. In the current climate of tests, standards, direct instruction, and compensatory education for disadvantaged students, Gardner proudly identifies himself as a progressive, even though he acknowledges progressivism is in retreat. Gardner does not believe that charter schools are a panacea and sees little value in competition, either between schools or among students. Of course, as Gardner might point out, the progressive retreat may be temporary—as students and parents rebel against standards and tests, as personalized computer instruction increases, as coopera tive learning flourishes, and as social-emotional instruction returns as an educational goal. Unlike Hirsch, Gardner does not concentrate on the achievement gap. He admits that progressive schools have limits. They work best with motivated, middle class students and require knowledgeable, creative teachers. Bluntly, he concedes, “No one can educate students effectively if most of the students come from homes that are seriously troubled.” Gardner is no fan of traditional education, where the adult is in charge and where the students absorb a canon of knowledge on which they are tested. Still, like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Horace Mann—E. D. Hirsch’s heroes—Gardner does believe in a virtuous education and worries that “the consensus that made a ‘virtue-oriented’ education possible has frayed throughout the world.” With admiration, he quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim, “Character is higher than intellect.” Gardner’s application of cognitive psychology to education is impressive. Critics of MI theory, including Hirsch, question its validity, particularly its inclusion of personal intelligences. Gardner’s goal of disciplinary expertise for all may be too idealistic. Critics question whether it is realistic, achievable for most K–12 students, and capable of closing the achievement gap. Teachers, however, find its assertion—that everyone has a talent and a particular way of knowing—democratic and empowering.
he competing visions of E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner connect to trends in American society that emerged in the 1970s and persist today. Hirsch and Gardner both taught at elite universities that flourished during the period of their research. Both became social critics and reformers. While criticism of American society intensified, Americans turned to experts such as these for answers. In survey after survey, Americans reported a loss of trust in their institutions. The critiques particularly excoriated K–12 schools, which were invidiously compared with American universities, the envy of the world. Urban schools were found especially wanting, and they became scapegoats for society’s shortcomings. Over the years, Hirsch and Gardner have both lamented the slow pace of change in public schools. In his research, Hirsch found declining SAT scores, an achievement gap, and workers without skills. Gardner found schools that refused to individualize instruction. For Hirsch, the schools were too progressive; for Gardner, not progressive enough. E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner created their visions at a time when social science and psychology (indeed, all
of academia) were becoming scientific. Both scholars paid their dues with monographs and specialized studies before becoming reformers. Hirsch backed up his claims by citing myriad experiments on fluent reading and clear writing. Gardner’s MI theory emerged from a decade of cognitive psychology research. The pro-scientific trend was not friendly to all educators, marginalizing classroom teachers such as Rafe Esquith, who wrote inspiring accounts of classroom success but offered only anecdotal insights. Earlier in the century, William James was allowed to be more anecdotal. From science, however, emerged these two thinkers who gradually became generalists, humanists, and public intellectuals. Americans were content to allow academic experts to dominate the debate about the ills of public education. Hirsch and Gardner formulated their ideas during an era preoccupied with race, class, and income inequality. Hirsch’s rigorous sequential curriculum is designed to mitigate each problem and to make America more middle class. Gardner offers no panaceas, but he did suggest that responding to multiple intelligences would enlarge the cohort of successful students and that society should not privilege only those with linguistic and logical intelligence. Each thinker has tried to respond to the information revolution, personal computers, the Internet, and social media. Hirsch concedes that information is more rapidly available, but he argues that it must be internalized if students are to become fluent readers and that traditional classrooms are necessary in a democracy that tries to educate all. Gardner argues that the digital revolution decreases the need for traditional classrooms and the acquisition of facts. Digital devices, he asserts, can both individualize and pluralize instruction as well as encourage collaboration. In his latest book, The App Generation, he worries that social media discourages actual conversations and increases envy and social anxiety among young people unsure of their identity. Both thinkers were influenced by their times—by a hypercritical reformer ethos, by scientific social science, by a democracy plagued by inequality, by a perceived decline in civics and morals, and by the rise of digital technology. And the times left these two philosophers with very different views of human nature. Hirsch describes himself as “a political liberal and an educational conservative, or perhaps more accurately, an educational pragmatist.” He seems more comfortable with Plato and Hobbes. He hints that he has an “Augustinian” view of human nature—that human beings will be lazy and careless, that they often procrastinate and need pressure, deadlines, and maybe even fear. Hirsch seems comfortable with a tough love but kind teacher who is knowledgeable, a “sage on the stage,” who imparts information, encourages discussion, and gives tests and grades to fix attention and ensure accountability. He is at home with adult authority, reluctant to romanticize children, and nostalgic for the certitude of Webster’s speller and McGuffey readers. He sees the need for some kind of national standards and some sort of high-stakes test, as can be found in Great Britain, France, and South Korea. Schools need to provide models, instill habits, and encourage character. Approvingly, Hirsch quotes Plato’s —Continued on page 45 HUMANITIES 31
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by STEVE MOYER
1876, Heinrich Schliemann made an extraordinary announcement. Schliemann was a famous German archaeologist. A short time earlier he had uncovered artifacts near Hisarlık, Turkey, leading to the positive identification of the site of Troy. This time, in Greece, he reported an even greater discovery: the death mask of Agamemnon. It was a funerary mask with a skull underneath. “I have gazed into the eyes of Agamemnon,” Schliemann said afterward with a touch of drama. According to the Iliad, Agamemnon was the king who led the Greeks to victory against the Trojans. The Trojan War took place in the thirteenth century BCE. The mask that Schliemann discovered, however, predated this period by several centuries. Yet it provided valuable evidence about Mycenaean culture, its commerce, and the art of the late Bronze Age. In the same excavation, Schliemann also found the mask shown at left. It, too, belonged to the Mycenaean Age, and struck many as seeming nobler and handsomer. In the press, this one came to be known as the Mask of Agamemnon, a name that stuck. “The Greeks,” an exhibit based on more than 500 artifacts, many of which are on loan from the Museum of Archaeology in Athens, has been touring Canada and the United States for the past two years, and is now in its final port of call, Explorer’s Hall at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
The Greeks, a three-part miniseries from National Geographic Studios, debuted on PBS in June. It was supported by an $800,000 production grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
OPPOSITE: ONE OF ONLY TWO EXISTING REPLICAS OF THE ORIGINAL SO-CALLED MASK OF AGAMEMNON. NOTE THE EYEBROWS AND MOUSTACHE, BOTH UNCHARACTERISTIC OF OTHER MASKS FOUND AT THE SITE, LEADING SOME TO DOUBT FOR A TIME THE MASK’S AUTHENTICITY. SINCE 2005, THOUGH, AFTER RECOVERY OF DETAILED DIARY ENTRIES BY THE GREEK ARCHAEOLOGIST ACCOMPANYING SCHLIEMANN DURING THE DIG, THE MASK IS GENERALLY REGARDED AS HAVING INDEED COME FROM THE GRAVE SITE. —Courtesy National Geographic Society / © National Archaeological Museum, Athens
with shannon smith
BY TAMARA LINSE
Deciding to set a wildly different course changed the trajectory of Shannon Smith’s life. At mid career, the executive director of the Wyoming Humanities Council went back to school to pursue a graduate degree in history and then took a job at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “I had to prepare to teach American history to American Indians,” Smith says. “The whole concept just was very intimidating, and I’m not easily intimidated.” Smith decided to compare the culture and societies of the pre-Columbian Americas with the contemporary cultures in Europe. “We threw out the textbook,” she says, “and it forced me to become much more in tune to living in a different culture, even though it was just 18 miles north of my house.” Smith had grown up around that culture, and her father, Michael V. Smith, had been the prosecutor during the trial of the two men who murdered an Oglala Lakota man, Raymond Yellow Thunder, in 1972. This incident was a factor in the American Indian Movement uprising at Wounded Knee in 1973. “One thing I realized after I moved away and started maturing was that I had Indian friends when I was a little kid in grade school,” she says. “But by the time I was in high school, all my Indian friends had left and gone to the reservation or just quit.”
34 FALL 2016
you have missed: online,
+ the connection between a humanities project on the Enlightenment and the Panama Papers exposé + whether humanities scholars are bad writers + the flying adventures of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince + who said, “Compression is the first grace of style”
After graduation, Smith earned her computer science degree at the University of Nebraska–Kearney and then worked in the technology and business world for 17 years. But that wasn’t enough: “I had this epiphany where I didn’t want my tombstone to say I sold a lot of software.” So she decided to follow her passion—the humanities. It was her history background, including publishing Give Me Eighty Men: Women and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight, combined with her family connection to Wyoming and experience in the technology world that landed her the role of executive director of the council. One of Smith’s mandates upon hiring was to do a technology makeover. She and her staff instituted a new website, a database, and a contact management system. Having accomplished this herculean task, Smith is pursuing her next goal, which is to become an indispensable go-to for Wyoming: “Our idea is to be viewed as the dynamic resource for our state to explore complex issues.” There is a tension between what Wyoming is and what it wants to be, and the world’s impression of the state reflects that tension. “The rest of the world thinks Wyoming is Grand Tetons and Yellowstone—we are landscapes,” Smith says. “What I’d love for them to know is that we also have landscapes of humans, of people who have amazing stories.” “We did this great booklet called Heal Up and Hair Over—the title comes from a ranching idiom about how an animal’s hide recovers from being branded. The idea is that you could have a fight with your neighbor, but you better heal up and hair over because the first person who’s going to come upon you if you’re stuck in a blizzard is that neighbor. So it really does force us to know each other better and be more tolerant of each other.” Wyoming’s council sees itself as an agent of change. “I have a strong and very culturally diverse and intellectually engaged board that wants to challenge this state to think about these important topics,” she says. Take the recent controversy over an Islamic mosque in the town of Gillette, population approximately 30,000. The town’s first mosque opened its doors in late 2015, which prompted several residents to form a Facebook group called Stop Islam in Gillette to protest and to threaten members of the congregation. This controversy has more recently evolved into anti-refugee protests. The controversy prompted an essay by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker titled “Citizen Khan.” This piece explored the life of Zarif Khan, aka Hot Tamale Louie, who was born in the mountainous borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan and settled in Sheridan in 1909. His many descendants live across the state and helped found the Gillette mosque. At the request of Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, the Wyoming Humanities Council has been facilitating conversations on these issues. It has sponsored multiple panel discussions that included Bertine Bahige—a U.S. citizen, an alum of the University of Wyoming, a Gillette math teacher and soccer coach, and a married father of two, who was a child soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Jackson, the council hosted a talk for nearly 300 people by Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who “came out” as an undocumented immigrant and is advocating for undocumented students, many of whom were in the audience. Smith’s new focus is rebranding—the “Wyoming Humanities Council” is becoming “Wyoming Humanities” with the theme and URL of ThinkWY. Smith says, “We’re the organization that helps you think about Wyoming, think about why things are happening, and take a closer look at life through the humanities. It’s a whole new way of framing what we do.” Tamara Linse is a writer, editor, and recovering ranch girl from Wyoming. Find her online at TamaraLinse.com.
Tell me more, Shannon
What event made you decide to become a historian? Reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and thinking, “I want to write like that!" What is your best winterin-Wyoming story? On New Year’s Eve day 2013, my husband and I spent six and a half hours stranded in our car on Interstate 80 during a ground blizzard near the top of Elk Mountain. The most overrated classical virtue? Prudence. Which historical figure would you like to hang out with? George Armstrong Custer. He was a more nuanced character than people give him credit for and enjoyed life to the fullest. What do people from other states not know about Wyoming? There are two escalators in the entire state, and Wyoming’s entire population is slightly less than the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Also, Wyoming gave women full suffrage in 1869—50 years before the United States granted women the right to vote.
+ a look back at
H. L. Mencken’s classic coverage of national political conventions And a whole lot more. neh.gov/humanities
HUMANITIES 35 HUMANITIES 35
Around Nation the
COMPILED BY ERICA MACHULAK AND ALEXANDER STERN
A Roundup of Activities Sponsored by the State Humanities Councils
This fall, as part of their Second Friday @ The Forum series, Alaska Humanities Forum exhibits a mixed-media group youth show, textile and sculpture works by Keren Lowell, and paintings by James Temte. The artists will speak about their work at an opening reception each month, and the collections will remain on view throughout the month. DELAWARE
Nathan Connolly of Johns Hopkins University gives the Joseph P. del Tufo Annual Lecture on Oct. 20 at Arsht Hall in Wilmington. His talk, “Rethinking Jim Crow Segregation,” is free of charge and is followed by a ticketed reception. The Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities are presented at the State Capitol in Atlanta on October 5. Author and environmentalist Janisse Ray gives the keynote address at the Allatoona Book Festival, which runs from Oct. 7 to 9. The Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” is on display in Kingsland, Oct. 1 through Nov. 12, and in Carrollton, Nov. 19 through Dec. 31. The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta celebrates the 25th year of its book festival, Nov. 5–20. More than 10,000 people are expected to enjoy events, including book signings, a community read, panel discussions, and more. Jeffrey Toobin, Henry Winkler, and Jonathan Safran Foer, among others, are scheduled to speak. HAWAII
“Imayō: o Japan’s New Traditionists,” an art exhibit featuring six Japanese artists, is on view at The Art Gallery a at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa from Oct. 2 to Dec. 2, and at the Honolulu Museum of Art from Oct. 13 to Jan. 8, 2017. The artworks combine traditional Japanese art and craft techniques with modern-day influences from anime, manga, and pop culture. 36 FALL 2016
—Courtesy Art Gallery at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
OSUMASHIRUJIRO BY SOMEYA SATOSHI, ONE OF SIX JAPANESE ARTISTS IN AN EXHIBITION IN HAWAII.
The African American Museum of Iowa holds lectures this fall by Damian Phillips, “Up from Slavery” on Oct. 5; Brian Behnken, “Racism in American Popular Media” on Oct. 27; David M. Taylor II, “African Americans and Sci-Fi Writing” on Oct. 28; and Michael Hill, “Words and Sounds of Black America” on Nov. 9. American Legion Hall in Quasqueton hosts “An Afternoon with Frank
Lloyd Wright” on Oct. 15. Jerry Heinzeroth of the Laurent House in Rockford, Illionis, and Mark Tlachac from Florida Southern College, Lakeland, will discuss Wright’s Prairie style and Usonian design. “Confronting Genocides through Cultural Differences,” a symposium, takes place at Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 15. A Holocaust survivor and a panel of
scholars will discuss genocide, cultural diversity, and pluralism.
The Kentucky Humanities Council presents the Kentucky Book Fair on
WEST VIRGINIA CELEBRATES THE CENTENNIAL OF THE BIRTH OF SENATOR ROBERT C. BYRD, SEEN HERE CONFERRING WITH JIMMY CARTER IN 1977.
Nov. 5 at the Frankfort Convention Center. More than 150 local, regional, and national authors will attend. Also taking place at the convention center is Children’s and Young Adult’s Day, Nov. 4. Nineteen children’s authors will present to students in grades 3–8, and Pulitzer Prize winner Maria Henson will conduct a master class on journalism with high school students. Prime Time Family Reading Time, the family literacy program, takes place at the Okolona and Highlands-Shelby Park branches of the Louisville Free Public Library, as well as the libraries of Washington, Anderson, Mercer, Clinton, Nelson, and Logan counties. MARYLAND
—Courtesy Utah Humanities Council
Indiana Humanities and the Arts Council of Indianapolis host “TILT,” a series of lectures mixing arts and humanities topics, on Oct. 11, 18, and 25 at Gallery 924 in Indianapolis. On Oct. 8, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College hosts an open house on its historic campus. Visitors will learn about the buildings’ architectural features and historical backgrounds. “The German Voice in Indiana,” a festival from Oct. 10 to 16 at several locations, celebrates Indiana’s German heritage and the state’s bicentennial. One highlight is “Echoing Speech” taking place at the Indiana History Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 13 and featuring contemporary poetry inspired by German immigrants to Indiana. Indiana historian Jim Madison speaks with Eric Halvorson, who worked with Madison on the WFYI series “Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana,” as part of the INconversation interview series. Their conversation, which takes place Dec. 1 at WFYI, will cover the future of the state and go behind the scenes of their series.
—Courtesy West Virginia Humanities Council
This October, the One Maryland One Book program brings together communities around the state in the shared reading of a single book. This year’s selection is the awardwinning All American Boys. Discussions, film screenings, and other
UTAH HOLDS ITS ANNUAL BOOK FESTIVAL.
programming will take place at libraries, schools, museums, and bookstores across the state. Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Taylor Branch and Isabel Wilkerson speak about the historical context of their work and its contemporary relevance. Their discussion on Dec. 6 at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park will be moderated by the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill. MASSACHUSETTS
The Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge presents The Bakelite Masterpiece, a play about a WWII Vermeer forger on trial, from Oct. 1 through 23. Exploring the theme “Are We Home?” the Cambridge Public Library hosts a conversation about Cambridge’s history of affordable housing, led by Charlie Sullivan, Barry Bluestone, and Corinne Espinoza on Oct. 16. Frieda Garcia, Atul Gawande, and Lia Poorvu receive the Governor’s Award in the Humanities at Boston Public Library on Nov. 6. Before the reception, a panel of historians will discuss President Obama’s legacy. The event, “The Politics of Hope: Four Historians Take on the Obama Presidency,” will be moderated by a WBUR host in the library’s Rabb Auditorium. Exhibitions on display include “Finding Raven: Art and Stories from the Northwest Coast” at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield through Oct. 30 and “Why Deprive the State of her Service? The Nichols Women and Progressive HUMANITIES HUMANITIES 37 37
READERS BROWSE AT TENNESSEE’S SOUTHERN FESTIVAL OF BOOKS.
Era Reform” at the Nichols House Museum in Boston through Nov. 19. MISSISSIPPI
To mark Mississippi’s approaching bicentennial, an exhibit featuring the state’s first constitution and the first U.S. flag to include a star for Mississippi will tour the state through April 2017. The exhibit is set to visit nine local institutions and features interpretive displays, presentations, and children’s activities over a two-day period at each site. The Chickasaw Inkana Celebration hosts a festival at Fair Park in Tupelo on Oct. 27 and 28. The events include cultural demonstrations, scholarly discussions about the tribe’s history and culture, and teacher training for 4th-grade classrooms. The Mississippi Humanities Council partners with Jackson State University to host two lectures followed by panel discussions on Oct. 18. The first, at the JSU Student Center Theater, deals with the historical role of AfricanAmerican newspapers. The second, at JSU’s downtown facility, addresses the present-day work of the black press and the ongoing need for publications dedicated to African-American issues.
part of its yearlong NEH Humanities in the Public Square initiative, “E Pluribus Unum?: Missouri and the Fractured Society.” The same initiative wraps up its series on the Latino experience in the Midwest with a talk by author Rubén Martínez on Oct. 17 and a panel of Latino and African-American leaders from Kansas City communities on Oct. 25, both at the Kansas City Public Library. Concluding the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires initiative, cartoonist Dan Martin delivers the Yeatman Lecture at the St. Louis Mercantile Library on Nov. 4.
A public forum hosted by 516 ARTS includes presentations, projections, and tactile demos by three artists in the DECADE exhibition. Photographer/muralist Chip Thomas, choreographer/dancer Lisa Nevada, and new media artist Andrea Polli are all doing projects at two rural sites in Albuquerque—the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in the South Valley and the grounds of Farm & Table Restaurant in the North Valley on Nov. 5. NORTH CAROLINA
Pulitzer NC: The Power of Words continues this fall with events celebrating the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize. On Oct. 12, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar will visit East Carolina University and participate in
The Nebraska Writing Project continues Nebraska Warrior Writers, free writing workshops for veterans and active-duty military personnel, in Omaha and Grand Island throughout October and November. Emmy winner Jarod Tate’s Standing Bear: A Ponca Indian Cantata premieres at the Lied Center’s Johnny Carson Theater in Lincoln on Nov. 4. Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering opens a special exhibit celebrating Western Nebraska Community College’s 90th Anniversary on Oct. 1.
The Missouri Humanities Council hosts a reading from its Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors anthology on Oct. 7 during the First Fridays events at its office in the Crossroads District of Kansas City. The event features poet Gerardo “Tony” Mena, a decorated Iraqi Freedom veteran. The Columbia campus of the University of Missouri presents three free talks on Oct. 5, Oct. 14, and Nov. 10 as
Veterans and current service members gather for “Dialogues on the Experience of War,” a series of reading and discussion groups that combine contemporary literature and the Odyssey to approach subjects such as combat trauma, duty and honor, personal sacrifice, and coming home. Meetings will take place throughout the fall in Hanover, Littleton, Manchester, and Portsmouth.
38 FALL 2016
The Friends of the Plaistow Public Library collaborate with nine southern New Hampshire libraries and Timberlane School District to offer “Community Stories: Soldiers Home and Away.” This variety of film screenings, exhibits, community activities, and other free programming focusing on Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried will run through Nov. 12. Author Jay Parini presents “Steinbeck in California: The Man and the Writer” at St. Anselm College in Manchester on Oct. 27.
WISCONSIN DISPLAYS THE WORK OF 14 ONEIDA ARTISTS DEDICATED TO THE SURVIVAL OF HAUDENOSAUNEE (IROQUOIS) RAISED BEADWORK. —Detail of a dress made by Loretta
Webster, photo by Anne Pryor
YOUNG READERS IN NEBRASKA GATHER FOR PRIME TIME FAMILY READING TIME. —Courtesy Humanities Nebraska
a number of programs for area youth, including a performance of scenes from his 2012 play Disgraced. Faith in Literature: A Festival of Contemporary Writers of the Spirit gathers 11 writers for two days (Oct. 22 and 23) of readings and panel discussions at UNC-Asheville. Krista Tippet will also host two productions of her Peabody Award-winning radio show On Being and interview Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson. NORTH DAKOTA
The first session of “Think Outside,” a program that combines outdoor activities with group discussion, runs from Oct. 28 to 30. The session “Badlands Sense of Place Adventure” will feature daytime hiking or biking along the Maah Daah Hey trail in the Badlands, followed by scholar-led conversations each evening. The exhibition “Do Lord Remember Me: The Black Church in Rhode Island” opens at the First Baptist Church in America in Providence on Oct. 11. It will move to the Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket on Oct. 16, and then to the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14. Two events in the “What is the 21st Century Essay?” Pulitzer series take place: A salon with Akiko Busch at the Providence Athenaeum on Nov. 4 and a collaboration between spokenword poets and the Aurea ensemble at Brown University’s Granoff Center on Nov. 19. SOUTH CAROLINA
The Upcountry History Museum of Greenville hosts “Back Where I Come From: The Upcountry’s Piedmont Blues,” starting Oct. 29. The exhibition showcases the state’s early to mid twentieth century Piedmont Blues movement, a genre that influenced rock ’n’ roll and is characterized by a unique method of guitar fingerpicking. SOUTH DAKOTA
Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, speaks at Black Hills State University in Spearfish on Oct. 5. Composer John Luther Adams visits Sioux Falls, Oct. 6–8, for community and school events and a performance of Become Ocean, featuring himself and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. Both Chabon and Adams are Pulitzer Prize winners, and their
—Library of Congress
THIS PICTURE OF BLUES MUSICIAN JOSH WHITE, 1946, IS PART OF AN EXHIBITION IN SOUTH CAROLINA.
events are part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative. TENNESSEE
Salon@615, an author series designed to nurture and examine the literary life of Nashville, welcomes writers to present and sign their best-selling works. The roster will include Rick Riordan on Oct. 6, Marissa Meyer on Nov. 15, Michael Chabon on Dec. 4, and Robbie Robertson on Dec. 13. The series is an ongoing partnership between Humanities Tennessee, the Nashville Public Library, the Nashville Public Library Foundation, Parnassus Books, and BookPage. More than 200 major authors gather in Nashville for the 28th Annual Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word on Oct. 14 through 16. The Authors in the Round
fundraising dinner, a signature festival event, will take place at the historic War Memorial Auditorium on Oct. 14. TEXAS
The Houston History Alliance hosts “The History of Houston’s Musical Soul,” a public symposium exploring the city’s rich and diverse music history. The University of Houston Center for Public History will host a pop-up museum in conjunction with the symposium. All events take place at the Match Midtown Arts and Theater Center on Oct. 1. Johnson City Public Library displays “Russell Lee Photographs,” an exhibition by the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin from Oct. 3 through Nov. 12. Throughout October, Humanities Texas will host "Pivotal U.S. Elections: HUMANITIES HUMANITIES 39 39
—U.S. specialists treat a young boy in Afghanistan, courtesy U.S. Defense Department
Then and Now," a series of public forums across the state supported by an NEH Humanities in the Public Square grant. At each forum, participants analyze the political forces, issues, and consequences of critical presidential elections in U.S. history and their relevance to current conditions of our national life. The Grace Museum in Abilene presents “Spanish Texas: Legend & Legacy,” an exhibition exploring the Spanish influence on Texas history and culture, from Sept. 24 through Mar. 11. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will host an evening panel featuring photographer Bill Wright and photographer, author, and screenwriter Bill Wittliff on Nov. 17.
—Courtesy Opus Artists
SOLDIERS AND VETERANS DISCUSS THE EXPERIENCE OF WAR IN NEW HAMPSHIRE.
COMPOSER JOHN LUTHER ADAMS PERFORMS BECOME OCEAN IN SOUTH DAKOTA.
Oct. 28; Brandon Little on “The Spanish Armada: Revised Edition” by Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker at Brigham City Library on Nov. 3. Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City holds “The Bee: True Stories from the Hive,” where ten storytellers picked at random have five minutes each to tell a true story on the theme of the night on Dec. 10. WISCONSIN
In honor of National Book Month, the 19th Annual Utah Humanities Book Festival puts on free literary events across the state through the end of October. The Ogden Symphony Ballet Association presents “Music & Mayhem: A Night with Maestro of Mystery Gerald Elias” at the Southwest Library Branch in Roy. Myriad discussions take place statewide: “Ancient Civilizations: Bloodthirsty Warriors or Misunderstood Intellectuals?” at the Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City on Oct. 12; a “Living Landscape Panel” at Spring City Arts on Oct. 22; “Writing About Civil Rights: A Discussion with Young Adult Author Chris Crowe” at Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library in Logan on 40 FALL 2016
The work of 14 Wisconsin Oneida artists dedicated to the survival of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) raised beadwork is on display at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison through Nov. 6. Created in partnership with the Oneida Nation Arts Program, the exhibit includes historical raised beadwork pieces and tells a complex, layered story of cultural resilience and the role of art in defining community. WEST VIRGINIA
The traveling exhibition “Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesman, West Virginian” continues its statewide tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Byrd’s birth. It features more than 100 documents and photographs from the archives at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional Papers Collection. The tour will run from Oct. 3 through Nov. 8 at Concord University in Athens.
The 2016 Peterstown Heritage Festival focuses on Monroe County’s Civil War history. As part of the larger festival, a Civil War reenactment group will present an overnight encampment depicting the daily life of a soldier, at the Peterstown Fire Department on Oct. 7 and 8. The annual McCreight Lecture in the Humanities kicks off the West Virginia Book Festival with a presentation by author and historian Annette Gordon-Reed at the University of Charleston on Oct. 27. Gordon-Reed, a National Humanities Medal recipient, won the Pulitzer Prize in History and the National Book Award for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. The festival will take place at the West Virginia Civic Center in Charleston Oct. 28 and 29. WYOMING
Laramie County Library hosts “Refugee Resettlement, Who, When, Why and How?” in Cheyenne on Oct. 7. The High Plains American Indian Distinguished Lecture will be given at the University of Wyoming’s Union West Ballroom on Oct. 24. The University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie presents “Evening Conversations with Curators: Intersections of Art and Science” on Nov. 1.
—Continued from page 9
Company in New York—with Peter Meineck—was my first visceral experience with the Greeks, and helped me understand how the plays and poems of the ancient Greeks could speak to my experiences overseas. And that sums up my pathway to the humanities. HUBER: Chairman Adams? WILLIAM D. ADAMS: I came back from Vietnam in the late
spring of 1969. It was a very difficult time for the country, as those of us who were around remember. I think it was a particularly difficult time for Vietnam veterans. I went back to the college I had left as an undergraduate in 1966, and one of the first people I discovered there was a contemporary philosopher named Glenn Gray. He had written this beautiful book called The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. He had been an intelligence officer in World War II. He trained as a philosopher at Columbia. He got his PhD the same day he got his draft notice. He went to Europe, and he was in combat intelligence for three years at least, then came home and wrote this beautiful book. I met him right after I enrolled in college, or reenrolled, and I came upon that book. I have to say it completely transformed the way I was thinking about my own experiences, and it gave me a way into philosophy that was very personal. It was enormously helpful as a reflection on the kinds of experiences that I had had, and that we’ve all had, but it also introduced me to the humanities in a very personal and powerful way. That stuck with me. In fact, the way I thought about philosophy, which I went on to study seriously, was pretty deeply influenced by that first encounter, and it still is. Subsequently, I’ve run into lots of people in lots of different kinds of work who do the same kind of thing, but that was my first personal encounter with it, and it was a great one.
PAUL WOODRUFF: Well, Chairman Adams and I were in
the same province. I was in the Tri Ton District of An Giang Province and then in Chau Doc. We missed each other by a month, I think. I went to Vietnam after college, after studying for a few years in Oxford. I had a commission through ROTC. I had a girlfriend, and we were that close to getting married before I went, but—knowing the experience of her parents who separated during World War II and had a rough time reconnecting—we decided to put it off, which was a good thing. When I came back, I was haunted by a number of things: the loss of friends and feeling tainted by being involved in things that I didn’t want to talk about or that I didn’t feel like I could talk about. I realized that my girlfriend didn’t recognize me as the person I was when I left. I wasn’t sure that I recognized her, or that I recognized the place I came back to as home. During that difficult year or so, I read the Robert Fitzgerald translation of the Odyssey about three times. I was fascinated by the ending. Odysseus doesn’t recognize Ithaca when he gets there, and nobody recognizes him, except for the dog, who dies immediately. Thinking about that actually helped me quite a bit, and I began to realize that Ulysses and Penelope, his wife, really have to start fresh. In fact, we did start fresh, my girlfriend and I. We married a few years later and have shared a good life. I’m glad we did, but there was a very difficult transition back to civilian life. I’m sure it was harder for people
who had yet more horrible experiences than I did. Mine weren’t the worst, but they were bad. EDWIN DORN: War is an extreme experience, and, unlike most of the rest of you, I have never been in combat. But what I know is that it affects different people in markedly different ways. Some adjust relatively quickly to a peacetime environment. Some are haunted forever by the experience and never fully recover from it. I teach a defense policy class at the LBJ School, and I always begin that class with videos of a couple of readings that capture those extremes. Both readings are performed by the British actor Kenneth Branagh. One is the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, in which he celebrates the glories of war: “We band of brothers . . .” MONTGOMERY MEIGS: “We few, we happy few . . .” DORN: Right. And the other is Branagh’s reading of Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,” which captures the intense pain and misery and death that is associated with conflict. I hope these give my students a perspective on the subject they are about to study, defense policy, and on combat itself, which has huge consequences for the nation and lifelong consequences for the people who do the fighting. MEIGS: I was thinking about this just last night. If one joins an organization and experiences the extreme pressures of combat as part of the experience, there’s a loss of attachment when you leave. That can be very, very hard to deal with. It can be hard to even recognize. I remember, coming back from Vietnam, I woke up one day and thought, Why am I getting angry for no reason? I didn’t have severe PTSD, but I had these depressions. I thought, What the heck is going on here? Well, I think the answer is that I had been in a very good, cohesive outfit, and I missed that. One of the hardest things that happens in combat is you have somebody you’re really fond of, either a friend or a great leader. Then, when they’re taken off by the helicopter in a plastic bag, that’s a real shocker. So, in combat the unit gets tighter and more cohesive, or less cohesive, which brings a different set of problems. And when you leave, that feeling of belonging can erode like a friendship breaking up. Then where do you find new attachments, somewhere where it seems that you belong and can express yourself and not feel threatened? If serving in combat was, for the veteran, a tremendous growth experience, then it’s especially hard being alone when it’s over. It’s hard to reattach socially. It’s hard to find your place in a new environment and among a new set of peers. Membership in the new environment requires, to some extent, that you shed the rhythms and patterns and disasters of abnormal life in combat. As a society, we ought to be much better at dealing with this problem than we are. Welcoming veterans back can be as simple as seeing a young person sitting in his sharply pressed uniform in an airport. You see his combat patches, and you go up and say, “Hey, Trooper, I see you spent some time down range.” Inclusion can start with a moment of thoughtfulness. One goes on, “Trooper, thank you for your service; I see you served in 1st Armored Division and 1-1 Cavalry. ‘Yes sir, I am starting my second tour in Afghanistan and will redeploy in six months.’ Hard work, Trooper, I commanded HUMANITIES 41
1-1 Cav back in the day; wish I could go with you; be safe.” The emotional jolt between old soldier and new can be electric. The art here involves helping veterans feel wanted so they can reattach more successfully. They need to feel that someone has their back. So they can start to make the effort to reengage. So they can move toward saying, I want to be in the work, I want to be part of this new thing. ADAMS: Was there literature you read that spoke to you
about any of these issues?
MEIGS: Well, Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer was the kind of literature I went after, and usually history. Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves was one, as was the poetry by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Shakespeare was helpful, especially in Henry’s Agincourt speech, “We few, we happy few.” The important thing about that speech is that Henry recognizes and asserts that all of the men who are fighting with him—the overwhelming majority of whom are not aristocrats, in fact not even freed men—are ennobled by the stresses of combat. It’s a phenomenal speech. But you have to really have someone take it apart for you and to allow the idea of ennobling one’s troopers to mature. We do ennoble troopers in today’s Army; it is just a different process. TERRY ANDERSON: I didn’t have that kind of experience in
the Navy. We didn’t have anyone die on our ship. We were shot at on the Saigon River. We were mortared, and I did see the enemy being gunned down on the beach. But I was not in the same type of combat as the others on this panel. Being on a destroyer behind the ship’s walls is much more secure and less traumatizing than being in a jungle foxhole just a few feet away from your enemy. I was a boy. I cannot believe it—I joined when I was 17. I didn’t know anything, and I was a Vietnam vet at 19. We were a very cohesive unit, and I did gunfire control. I fired the five-inch guns, which killed the enemy and kept alive our ground troops, who many times thanked us. We really felt that we were defending the nation. When I came home and went to the University of Minnesota and saw people marching against what I had done, I was just amazed. At first, I thought they were unpatriotic, but I began to question; by the invasion of Cambodia, I was out there joining them, marching against what was going on in that endless and senseless war. My wartime experience got me so interested in the issue of why we entered that war to begin with, that I have studied and written about that pretty much ever since, publishing two histories on the 1960s era, which, of course, concerns the Vietnam War. I also have returned to Vietnam three times, and even lectured to the Vietnamese American Studies group in Hanoi. Why do nations get involved in unnecessary wars? This had a tremendous impact on me, forcing me to think about why this nation does the things that it does that turn out to be mistakes—big mistakes like Vietnam and especially Iraq. And why we do it again and again. MEIGS: One of the answers to that is in a speech Pericles gives in Thucydides. It’s all about pride. National pride, interpreted by the leader. He’s the one who pulls the trigger. Do we Athenians go to war against the Spartans? Do we really want to do that? The answer boils down to an extreme version of national pride and no other good answers 42 FALL 2016
that they’re willing to work with. WOODRUFF: I’m a Thucydides scholar, actually. MEIGS: Boy, am I in trouble now. WOODRUFF: No, Thucydides is a wonderful author, and I wish more people would read him. I offered a seminar on Thucydides in the Classics Department, and only one student signed up. The Greek is the most difficult Greek prose ever written. And what he’s saying about human motivation is very, very complicated. The war actually begins because of the expansion—according to Thucydides—of the Athenian empire, which he attributes to ambition, love of honor, philotimia, pride. This frightened the Spartans so much that the Spartans felt they had to start the war. Now people are talking about Thucydides in East Asia, as you may know. The “Thucydides problem” is being discussed by Chinese and other leaders because in the Far East we have an expanding power, namely China, brushing up against an existing power, namely the United States, with the existing power analogous to Sparta. The danger, of course, is that the existing power may be frightened into starting a war with the expanding power. MEIGS: The same problem with the Russians. WOODRUFF: Right. You could just translate Corcyra as
Ukraine and understand a tremendous amount about what’s going on now.
MEIGS: What is it that is going on cognitively when leaders end up in this “honor or death” mode and stop looking at other options? WOODRUFF: Thucydides says there are three great mo-
tives—fear, greed, and ambition, or love of honor. He thinks the greatest is fear, and I think one of the things that motivates politicians to start a war is fear of what the opposition will say about them if they don’t act more warlike. We certainly see that today.
ADAMS: I taught Thucydides—not the way you’ve taught
it—but in the course of teaching classical political philosophy, and I also found it extraordinarily revealing and helpful. The other Greek mode that you mentioned is the tragic mode, the drama. A couple of weeks ago, I got to see the Theater of War run a program in Maine, built around a brief segment of Philoctetes with a community discussion afterward. This was with an audience of maybe 125 people. There were probably 30 to 40 veterans in the room. There were students, faculty members, and people from the community. The actors did about 20 or 30 minutes of the play, and then, in a very adroit way, organized this discussion among all of the people in the audience. It struck me that the reason that the play was so powerful and useful is that it gives a little bit of distance to the emotions, to all of these things that you described so well. It gives a little bit of a distance—a mediation—within and among those feelings, which are so powerful and very hard to talk about. I think it’s not only the value of history, but also the value of literature that provides a kind of a mirror where we can see our experiences, but we see them through the
lens of the playwright. That distance is important. I think it works when you’re reading Thucydides. I think it also works when you’re reading the Greeks, Greek drama, and the Odyssey—the greatest coming-home story of all time. It really struck me that that’s one of the ways in which it works. That’s why some of these humanities programs, which we see now all over the country, are so helpful—yet they’re not helpful to everybody. They don’t solve the problems. The problems can’t be solved in a simple way. MEIGS: It’s a start. ADAMS: That’s right. WOODRUFF: These texts often say things that we want to say but can’t say for various reasons. I think that helps. When Johnny and I were putting together our Veterans’ Voices program, we were thinking about bringing in veterans and their family members and using these texts to say things that the veterans themselves probably thought but wouldn’t say out of the fear that none of their family members would understand. DORN: Let’s talk about two disconnects. General Meigs
referred to one, and that has to do with the experience of working closely with a unit, where everyone understands what’s going on, what the purpose is, and then suddenly you’re disconnected from all of that. You find yourself, in a sense, alone, without the support of the group. But there’s another important disconnect, and that is the disconnect of the spirit. Men—historically, they have all been men—who go off to war, go off with a purpose: to find glory, to fight for their country. When they return—particularly when they return from a war that has not turned out as they thought it would—they sometimes return with a very different spirit, a feeling of disillusionment. Perhaps it’s because people are protesting their involvement, or because they themselves simply discover that what they fought for was not worth the lives and limbs of their brothers in arms. My question is, How do people deal with the spiritual ripping that they experience when they discover that it was not worth all of that, that this was not the right cause, or that I was not the right person for it? That has to be spiritually devastating.
MEIGS: There’s the good unit/bad unit problem. “I was in the XYZ Airborne Infantry, and we did this and this, and we were great.” That’s the first level. The second level is: “This unit was so screwed up, and people got killed. It was a horrible . . . I wish I hadn’t . . .” It’s the duty of the leadership never to let a unit be full of lousy men, to never let a unit become a lousy one. What I’m trying to do is sort of tie this together. ADAMS: But even a “good” unit experience can end in this sort of dead end—that’s the way I think of it. Kind of an existential dead end with respect to the question, What did it all mean? Did it mean enough? That’s an extremely difficult thing to deal with. It was so prominent with the Vietnam experience and now, again, I think in the second Iraq experience. It’s a devastating experience. HUBER: Johnny and Paul, you have brought veterans and their families together around great literary texts relating to the experience of war. And you have your participants read
aloud, so everyone is involved in reproducing the text in class. Can you talk about how you’ve witnessed veterans in the group readings coping with some of the things we’ve talked about here? MEYER: We are both at the University of Texas. We wound up participating in the Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives program a few years ago, which was one of Aquila Theatre’s first programs with NEH, I think. Paul and I liked the discussion that was being encouraged by that program, and we wanted to see more of it. But here in Texas what we did was a little bit different. We were interested in training veterans to be discussion leaders, and putting people into reading circles, but without a lot of teaching about the text beforehand. We opened up discussion and let the veterans say what they saw in the readings, without us trying to prompt them. Now we could, of course, add to the discussion if they had questions about a character, the writing, or anything like that. But, for the most part, we found that the discussion takes off and runs until you get kicked out of the building. It works really well, and we did this in a couple of different settings. I believe Paul did the first one out in San Francisco. Isn’t that right? WOODRUFF: I did the first one at the San Francisco VA
MEYER: Then we did another at a community church in Austin. We did several with Humanities Texas at the Byrne– Reed House, which gave people a special place to go. We had different rooms, each with a different discussion leader. WOODRUFF: There was a discussion leader in each circle whom Johnny and I trained, but the actual reading was done by the veterans and their partners and guests, so that they actually got to speak the words. There is a slight downside to that setup, in that, if you’re taking turns, like when you’re reading a play, and you’re focusing on what your next line might be, you may not hear the ones in between. On the other hand, speaking the lines does make them your own, and it does bring the circle together. Everybody going around the circle is saying something. Before the discussion begins, everybody has given voice to something. I think that’s one of the reasons why the discussions worked. Instead of having professional actors, we wanted the people themselves to make the words their own. ADAMS: These were mostly tragedies, the plays? WOODRUFF: All kinds of things. MEYER: We worked in one of two ways. In the first way, we begin with prose and poetry excerpts from the modern era and then moved back into the past. So, ostensibly, the texts get more and more unfamiliar, but the veterans and their families still pick it up pretty quickly. Or we can move the other way, in forward chronological order, or perhaps just a sequence of themes like “going to war,” “rituals,” and “homecoming.” There are usually at least one or two excerpts that are kind of funny. I think, for example, that we had Falstaff ’s discussion of honor from Henry IV juxtaposed with Sophocles’s Ajax. WOODRUFF: They were very short passages. For example, HUMANITIES 43
from Philoctetes, we had just the passage in which the young soldier explains to the older one who has died: All the good ones have died, and the bad ones live on. Then we had the little passage from Ajax in which they complain about the incompetent, arrogant general. Everybody related to that. MEIGS: Been there, done that! WOODRUFF: They tended to be very short, focused passages, and that worked fairly well. We did small excerpts from the end of the Odyssey, which provoked really some heartrending discussions about coming home and not being able to maintain a relationship or even start a new one because you couldn’t talk. MEYER: I know, Terry, at A&M, you bring in authors who
talk about veterans’ experiences. It’s a little bit broader— not broader, but rather, they talk from their particular perspectives, and that is very good at bringing in an audience.
ANDERSON: Yes, I use literature. I’ll give the historical background, and then I’ll have them read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. He is fabulous, and we have a ton of veterans on our campus. Every year we have at least a thousand, maybe twelve hundred veterans. We have a Marine colonel who teaches the survey course, and only veterans are in that class. ADAMS: Survey course on what? ANDERSON: American history. They all bond. Then in my upper-division class, I get some of those who come on to study 1945 to the present, or the Vietnam War. We’ll use literature, and I use Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds when I’m talking about Iraq. Then we have discussion. We have brought O’Brien to campus to give a reading of The Things They Carried, and the students read his book, listen to him read it, and they are just amazed. They get so involved, and so do the veterans, who usually seem eager to discuss war literature. HUBER: Does the group reading format help open up communication between the veterans and civilians in their lives? MEYER: I think the format provides safe avenues for discussion. Oftentimes, families don’t know what the other person is going to say, or what they’re going to bring up. That’s interesting to see. Some people won’t click with a particular reading, whereas other people will. It’s really a shocking, great thing when somebody has a powerful, personal response to something from the Iliad or from Shakespeare. Maybe they didn’t expect it, but now they can process their experience and discuss it further. It’s good for understanding the other people in the circle, and for making it a safe place to explore particular wartime experiences. Our readings allow veterans (and their families) to open up in a public setting—a group which, to some extent, is different from your family, and you’re forming a new kinship group with other veterans right on the spot. Normally, it’s hard to share these kinds of experiences. The family is almost watching this happen. They’re right there with the discussion, and they’re going through it 44 FALL 2016
too, but they’re not right there with you, back in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam, like the other veterans you’re speaking with. There’s always going to be that separation. But these texts and discussions allow family members and veterans to poke each other a little bit, notice this and talk about that. It allows the families, because they’re sitting there reading the text too, to be on equal footing and to be equal participants in the discussion. So, I think that’s really important to me. I like how family members are able to step right in and talk to the veterans. It’s not a veteran holding court. It’s instead everybody equally interrogating what’s going on in our discussion circle. MEIGS: This friction recognizes two facts, one of which is the veteran’s struggle with separation and reattachment, which we’ve already discussed. The other is that the spouse has his or her own scar tissue, often as severe as the veteran’s. If reengagement doesn’t work, you now have two stressed people operating separately. Things can get to the point where neither the service member nor the single spouse is satisfied. The children, too, become isolated and create another source of friction. WOODRUFF: I think it’s really important to pay attention to the experiences of spouses and families, and not enough of the war literature does. We did use Tecmessa in the Ajax. Even more beautiful and wonderful is Deianeira in the Women of Trachis, a very little known play. The first half is all from a woman’s point of view, the woman who is left while her husband goes off to win glory and is terrified of what is going to happen to him and to her. Wonderful speeches there. DORN: Increasingly in this society, talking has become a spectator sport. We can turn on the television at any time and listen to someone talking about their issues. They may be talking about something we are actually interested in, saying what we would like to say but have no practice saying. It is very important in what you and Paul are doing, to pull back from that and turn talking into an activity in which people are actually emotionally invested. You can get stuff out. You don’t have to let someone else say it for you. You can respond to the Greeks, or to Shakespeare, or to a more modern work, but you can use your own words. It’s incredibly important that we get back to talking with one another, and it is especially important to learn to talk about difficult experiences. There are very few experiences more difficult than the experiences that several of you have gone through, the experience of combat. ADAMS: It’s not just that. I like your point about talking
being a spectator sport—it’s also one that’s mediated by technology, increasingly. It strikes me that these conversations go back to the very simple idea of people in the presence of one another—live presence, not distant presence. There’s something about that kind of conversation that’s very difficult to replace because it’s an experience in itself, and it’s lived as an experience. Things happen in those experiences that just can’t happen in any other way. It’s why, I think, that there are a lot of good things to say about distance education and learning, but it can’t create that embodied presence where real emotions are flying around the room in the presence of these texts.
—Image by Rob Schenk / Creative Commons
McGUFFEY READERS, WIDELY USED TEXTBOOKS PUBLISHED IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HAVE COME TO SYMBOLIZE A LOST UNITY IN AMERICAN EDUCATION.
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question: “Shall we allow our children to hear just any casual tales?” At the same time, this social conservative believes in opportunity and justice. Schools should aspire to ameliorate society’s failings through correct reading instruction and a uniform, sequential curriculum. Gardner is harder to pin down. He seems more comfortable with Rousseau and Dewey. Freedom-loving, he does not like authority figures, uniform schooling, formal classrooms, and national standards. Egalitarian, he does not want a cognitive elite running America and given all the rewards. Optimistic about human nature, he believes students can do without standardized tests, competition, and grades. A believer in human potential, he mistrusts the grim conclusions of evolutionary psychology, that by nature human beings are aggressive, violent, hierarchal, and territorial. According to Gardner, students should play, imagine, construct, experiment, explore the arts, follow their interests, cultivate their individual intelligence, and collaborate in groups. Whereas Hirsch leans toward tradition, Gardner praises innovation. A self-described liberal progressive, Gardner simultaneously admires genius and praises unreserved effort and deep understanding. He believes a materialistic, pleasure-loving America should rededicate itself to good works, to truth, beauty, and goodness. Each thinker puts forward valuable reminders and raises important questions that have policy implications for state and federal departments of education, for parents, professors, and pundits—and, most importantly, for teachers.
Are students going to sit in rows or groups? Is direct instruction or cooperative learning more effective? Is the teacher a facilitator or an expert? Should we evaluate students by standardized tests and grades or projects and portfolios? Can the achievement gap be overcome by more money, more choice, and higher expectations? Should America have some sort of national standards (the Common Core) and high-stakes testing, or should we let states and local communities decide what is best for its children? The books and articles by E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner reflect a passionate concern for an appropriate pedagogy for the twenty-first century. Each is a serious scholar and public intellectual. Lucid and eloquent, each offers useful insights that can challenge, validate, and improve current practices in education. The debate between their ideas has perhaps the most potential implications for classroom teachers, who some would say have the most influence on educational achievement. More pluralistic and pragmatic than ideological, teachers must decide how best to borrow from each of these thinkers, what combination of insights suits their temperament and classroom experience, and how best to benefit from the ongoing debate between discipline and discovery. Peter Gibbon is a Senior Research Scholar at the Boston University School of Education and the author of A Call to Heroism: Renewing America’s Vision of Greatness (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002). He has directed four Teaching American History programs and is currently the director of an NEH Summer Seminar, “Philosophers of Education: Major Thinkers from the Enlightenment to the Present.” HUMANITIES 45
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that the poem was authored by one man, after being inspired by another—the fruits of a homosexual union, if you will. But who was the “Muse their Sire?” And why is April “the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire?” Eliot mentioned Verdenal only a few times in print— once in dedicating his first book of poems to his dead friend, and then in this comment from 1934 on his days as a student in Paris: I am willing to admit that my own retrospect is touched by a sentimental sunset, the memory of a friend coming across the Luxembourg Gardens in the late afternoon, waving a branch of lilac, a friend who was later (so far as I could find out) to be mixed with the mud of Gallipoli. The similarities between the opening lines of the poem and this short note are unmistakable, as Miller pointed out. Did Pound know anything about Verdenal? If he didn’t, he nevertheless was certain about the origins of Eliot’s most famous poem. It was Pound, after all, who revised The Waste Land so dramatically as to make some of its meanings opaque. With all the new papers available to us, such speculations would seem a happy hunting ground for future biographies. There are quite a few poems for readers to discover here (those readers, at least, who missed the publication of Inventions of a March Hare as well as the infrequent discoveries of Eliot scholars) that are almost as fine as anything to be found in Eliot’s early published work, such as “Suite Clownesque,” “The Little Passion,” “The Death of the Duchess,” and “Ode.” This last one has an extraordinary note attached to it as well: Writing to his brother in 1920, the poet had decided not to send his third book, Ara Vos Prec, to his mother. “I have not sent this to Mother or told her about it. I thought of cutting out the page on which occurs a poem called Ode and sending the book as if there had been an error and an extra page put in. Will you read through the new poems and give your opinion. The Ode is not in the edition that Knopf is publishing, all the others are. And I suppose she will have to see that book.” Clearly, Eliot felt that he was being too revealing, and was willing to take exceptional steps to hide something that could distress his last living parent. So it is jarring, to say the least, after passing over some minor verse in his Practical Cats style (“The Jim Jum Bears”) and some dedications (“Inscriptions to Sir Geoffrey Faber on the occasion of his knighthood”) to alight on several love poems that Eliot, late in life, wrote for his second wife, Valerie. My arm is round her naked body, My hand is cupping her breast; her nipple Pushes into the very centre of my palm Which quivers with tenderness. (from “Sleeping Together”) It seems possible that Eliot experienced a radical transformation late in life, so much does this marital contentment seem not to be the work of his younger self. The man whom Randall Jarrell once described as capable of writing The Waste Land about the Garden of Eden has vanished. 46 FALL 2016
These few poems were culled from a private notebook that the poet gave to Valerie, and are the principal evidence for concluding that Eliot managed to overcome the torments that had made his first marriage so disastrous. The second volume is a shorter affair, its 667 pages dominated by a “Textual History” of Eliot’s poems in their various drafts and published versions which runs to 359 pages. This history is impressively thorough, and studded with enough rare quotations from the poet to make it worth skimming: Eliot describing himself as “a person who destroys nothing and loses everything” is as much a surprise as finding out that the wealthy American poète maudit Harry Crosby had offered to buy the drafts of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1927. The rest of the contents are a curious miscellany which includes Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Eliot’s translation of St.-John Perse’s Anabase, followed by three sections: “Other Verses” (full of Eliot’s childhood efforts), Noctes Binanianae (light verses written among gentlemen whom Eliot regularly dined with), and “Improper Rhymes” (ribaldry mostly contained in Eliot’s letters to friends). None of these sections were ever intended for publication, but they provide a glimpse of the lighter side of Eliot’s personality, which most will find refreshing. Certain priggish critics have wailed in print recently that they are shocked to find that Eliot could be bawdy (“I know a nice girl named Valeria / Who has a delicious posterior”). Furthermore, they cry that Eliot’s lines could be lewd and full of racial stereotypes (“King Bolo’s big black basstart Queen”). If this sort of thing is truly shocking to you as well, dear reader, then I suggest that you delay your purchase of Volume II to avoid these 43 pages. (You should also avoid Aristophanes, Chaucer, Rabelais, late-night television, and the Internet.) For the rest of the world, any irreverence by Eliot may be welcome as an antidote to the embalmed reverence he preferred to hide behind. There are also marvelous notes provided by Ricks and company to further smudge the cartoon, like the one where Ezra Pound tells Harriet Monroe in 1915: “If you think he lacks vigour merely because he happens to have portrayed Mr. Prufrock the unvigorous, vous vous trompez. His poem of Christopher Columbus is vigorous and male, not to say coarse.” Vous vous trompez—if said gently, it can mean “you are mistaken” but can translate to “you fool yourself.” That’s going to be a common refrain among scholars for some time. With the printing of this edition of Eliot’s poems, alongside his Complete Prose in a gigantic 7,000-page edition online (Project MUSE) as well as the five volumes of his Letters available now, one might say that we are just getting to know the Old Possum properly. Garrick Davis is a poet and the founding editor of the Contemporary Poetry Review. He works at the National Endowment for the Arts. Over the years NEH has funded two dozen projects with T. S. Eliot in their names. In 1974, James E. Miller received a research fellowship to write about the “American Quest for a Supreme Fiction” from Walt Whitman through Eliot and up to Allen Ginsberg. In 1977, Alfred Kazin was awarded a fellowship to research a critical history of the American tradition from Emerson to the young Eliot. In 1992, Christopher Ricks received a fellowship to support his research on the early unpublished poems of T. S. Eliot, which resulted in Inventions of the March Hare.
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Published on Dec 1, 2016
In this issue: The very quirky T.S. Eliot, the difference between how E. D. Hirsch and Howard Gardner see American education, the lush art o...