Fantasy Democracy: Notes on Capital, Politics, and Voting

Louis Menand’s “The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University” (2010) questions why forms of higher education have been so intractable against change. One reason suggested is the surprising conservatism revealed of professors as a group, surprising because professors are often associated with more liberal stances and presumed to understand the connections…

James Joyce on Writing: “write dangerously”

“The important thing is not what we write,” Joyce tells Arthur Power in Conversations with James Joyce, “but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must…

On hasty writing and reading

I was struck by Louis Menand’s comment in his review of Douglas Brinkley’s biography of Walter Cronkite (New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012), that “…’Cronkite’ (HarperCollins), is long and hastily written… (88).” I wasn’t surprised, though, for US culture is Menand’s turf, and his own output, if the measurement means anything, is dwarfed by…

Can Business Rescue the Humanities?

While Plato ruefully proposed to banish the poet from his Republic, today’s Humanities aficionados may seek to bar businesspersons from their club. Yet the Humanities are in crisis, as usual, perhaps for lack of sound business sense, while the sound business sensors, often viewed as eschewing the Humanities, may be nipping in the basement of…

Degrading School

At least as far back as 1965, education researchers knew there existed no correlation between college grades and subsequent career success. In a review of the literature, “The Relationship Between College Grades and Adult Achievement,” published by ACT (the American College Testing Program), Donald P. Hoyt concluded that “…college grades bear little or no relationship…

Honor and Shame: Born Again Off Maggie’s Farm

When Huck decides to help Jim at the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he really does believe he’ll go to hell for his actions. Yet he’s awakening from a cultured sleep; he’s being reborn. First, he’s accepted the responsibility of a decision; he must act: “I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide,…

Memorialized in Memo; or, where what we purpose proposes to parody

Louis Menand, in the September 20 New Yorker, takes the opportunity, with the recent publication of The Oxford Book of Parodies, to briefly discuss the world of parody, a world that currently, it seems, is too much with us, and “we lay waste our powers,” as Wordsworth said, a mother-lode of potential parody, if anyone knows…

Bukowski for President! David Biespiel and Poets for Democracy

Pablo Neruda is perhaps the greatest example of a people’s poet, and he gained popularity through both his poetry and his public service. In the US, Langston Hughes was a people’s poet, writing in a vernacular that spoke to, for, and of democratic values. From his poem “Democracy” (1949): “Democracy will not come / Today, this…

Menand’s Meandering PhDs; UFOs; and Joyce’s Jejune Jesuits

“There are no aliens,” Susan reminded me of Kit’s happy thought number one from Bowfinger (1999), but sensing my disappointment asked to see them – the unidentified flying objects (UFOs) I had just captured on camera. I had snapped them hovering over SE Stark from Flying Pie Pizzeria, where we were celebrating Emily’s birthday. “Maybe…

The Bare Bodkin of the English Major

“To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin,” says Mark Twain’s duke as he prepares to take down the house with an encore of Hamlet’s soliloquy. Where’s an English major when you need one? They were no doubt in short supply in the Mississippi Valley in the early nineteenth century, and their…

How Do Professors Think? More Crisis in the Humanities

At the bottom of her n+1 review of Michele Lamont’s How Professors Think, Amanda Claybaugh laments that Lamont “fails” to answer the promise of her book’s title. Claybaugh appears to buy into the title’s assumption, that professors think differently than others. But why would professors think any differently than anyone else? Indeed, from the professor…

Where jazz and literature get encaged

The 2009 Believer music issue (July/August 09) arrived yesterday, and there’s a perceptive interview with jazz guitarist Pat Martino: “BLVR: What do you think jazz’s place in American culture is today?” “PM: The only thing I can be definitive with is an example. Take the students of jazz in our conservatories and universities. They’re studying…