Chicago and free expression

From the Committee on Free Expression:

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.

The Sweatiest of the Liberal Arts

Drew Hyland in The Point -- "Plato understood full well what every athlete learns quickly, that the oft-expressed opposition between play and seriousness makes no sense at all. In an intriguing remark in his dialogue, the Laws, Plato has his lead character, a man simply called “The Athenian Stranger” (perhaps Socrates, returned from the dead) remark to the sober-minded Cretans with whom he is discussing the proper education of youths that “the real opposite of play is neither work nor seriousness, but war.” Especially given the common use of the vocabulary of war to describe athletic experience (the football staff room at Trinity College in Connecticut is referred to as “the war room”), this remark should be at least as thought-provoking to us today as it must have been to the Greeks. What would our play have to become if “the real opposite of play is neither work nor seriousness, but war”? At the end of the passage, Plato has the Stranger conclude that we humans should “spend our lives making our play as noble and beautiful as possible.” What would that mean for an adequate education and a fulfilling life?"

The greatness of Eva Brann

From the Washington Free Beacon: Had the Athenians lost at Salamis, Herodotus’ Histories would never have come to be, not to mention the entire subsequent literary tradition of Athens, or, indeed, America itself, which is a consequence of that tradition. As Brann puts it:

If the Greeks had lost here…[w]hat great and wonderful works would then have come to be in Europe and its America? Probably not these: science and democracy. For the Persian bequest to Europe, the one that would have aborted the Greek legacy we actually live off, would have been the religion, not the science, of nature, and the institution of despotism, not of freedom.

From St. John's College tutor Matthew Linck's recent piece on the position of mathematics and science among the liberal arts: "The study of mathematical physics is inherently interesting in a number of ways: for its conceptual foundations; for the phenomena it both attends to and brings to light; for the rather mysterious fact that physical phenomena can be captured in mathematical expressions; for the insights it offers into the workings of powerful minds; and for the discernment it engenders concerning the power and the limits of modern natural science." [...]

"Taking up science as part of a liberal education means taking it up as something worth doing as its own end. We don’t need to ask what such study is good for. We only need to see that doing it is good."

"...wherefore I regard the book with that peculiar affection which results from sacrifice."

Chapter XII of George Gissing's The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft:
As often as I survey my bookshelves I am reminded of Lamb’s “ragged veterans.”  Not that all my volumes came from the second-hand stall; many of them were neat enough in new covers, some were even stately in fragrant bindings, when they passed into my hands.  But so often have I removed, so rough has been the treatment of my little library at each change of place, and, to tell the truth, so little care have I given to its well-being at normal times (for in all practical matters I am idle and inept), that even the comeliest of my books show the results of unfair usage.  More than one has been foully injured by a great nail driven into a packing-case—this but the extreme instance of the wrongs they have undergone.  Now that I have leisure and peace of mind, I find myself growing more careful—an illustration of the great truth that virtue is made easy by circumstance.  But I confess that, so long as a volume hold together, I am not much troubled as to its outer appearance.

I know men who say they had as lief read any book in a library copy as in one from their own shelf.  To me that is unintelligible.  For one thing, I know every book of mine by its scent, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.  My Gibbon, for example, my well-bound eight-volume Milman edition, which I have read and read and read again for more than thirty years—never do I open it but the scent of the noble page restores to me all the exultant happiness of that moment when I received it as a prize.  Or my Shakespeare, the great Cambridge Shakespeare—it has an odour which carries me yet further back in life; for these volumes belonged to my father, and before I was old enough to read them with understanding, it was often permitted me, as a treat, to take down one of them from the bookcase, and reverently to turn the leaves.  The volumes smell exactly as they did in that old time, and what a strange tenderness comes upon me when I hold one of them in hand.  For that reason I do not often read Shakespeare in this edition.  My eyes being good as ever, I take the Globe volume, which I bought in days when such a purchase was something more than an extravagance; wherefore I regard the book with that peculiar affection which results from sacrifice.

Sacrifice—in no drawing-room sense of the word.  Dozens of my books were purchased with money which ought to have been spent upon what are called the necessaries of life.  Many a time I have stood before a stall, or a bookseller’s window, torn by conflict of intellectual desire and bodily need.  At the very hour of dinner, when my stomach clamoured for food, I have been stopped by sight of a volume so long coveted, and marked at so advantageous a price, that I could not let it go; yet to buy it meant pangs of famine.  My Heyne’s Tibullus was grasped at such a moment.  It lay on the stall of the old book-shop in Goodge Street—a stall where now and then one found an excellent thing among quantities of rubbish.  Sixpence was the price—sixpence!  At that time I used to eat my mid-day meal (of course my dinner) at a coffee-shop in Oxford Street, one of the real old coffee-shops, such as now, I suppose, can hardly be found.  Sixpence was all I had—yes, all I had in the world; it would purchase a plate of meat and vegetables.  But I did not dare to hope that the Tibullus would wait until the morrow, when a certain small sum fell due to me.  I paced the pavement, fingering the coppers in my pocket, eyeing the stall, two appetites at combat within me.  The book was bought and I went home with it, and as I made a dinner of bread and butter I gloated over the pages.

In this Tibullus I found pencilled on the last page: “Perlegi, Oct. 4, 1792.”  Who was that possessor of the book, nearly a hundred years ago?  There was no other inscription.  I like to imagine some poor scholar, poor and eager as I myself, who bought the volume with drops of his blood, and enjoyed the reading of it even as I did.  How much that was I could not easily say.  Gentle-hearted Tibullus!—of whom there remains to us a poet’s portrait more delightful, I think, than anything of the kind in Roman literature.

An tacitum silvas inter reptare salubres, Curantem quidquid dignum sapiente bonoque est?

So with many another book on the thronged shelves.  To take them down is to recall, how vividly, a struggle and a triumph.  In those days money represented nothing to me, nothing I cared to think about, but the acquisition of books.  There were books of which I had passionate need, books more necessary to me than bodily nourishment.  I could see them, of course, at the British Museum, but that was not at all the same thing as having and holding them, my own property, on my own shelf.  Now and then I have bought a volume of the raggedest and wretchedest aspect, dishonoured with foolish scribbling, torn, blotted—no matter, I liked better to read out of that than out of a copy that was not mine.  But I was guilty at times of mere self-indulgence; a book tempted me, a book which was not one of those for which I really craved, a luxury which prudence might bid me forego.  As, for instance, my Jung-Stilling.  It caught my eye in Holywell Street; the name was familiar to me in Wahrheit und Dichtung, and curiosity grew as I glanced over the pages.  But that day I resisted; in truth, I could not afford the eighteen-pence, which means that just then I was poor indeed.  Twice again did I pass, each time assuring myself that Jung-Stilling had found no purchaser.  There came a day when I was in funds.  I see myself hastening to Holywell Street (in those days my habitual pace was five miles an hour), I see the little grey old man with whom I transacted my business—what was his name?—the bookseller who had been, I believe, a Catholic priest, and still had a certain priestly dignity about him.  He took the volume, opened it, mused for a moment, then, with a glance at me, said, as if thinking aloud: “Yes, I wish I had time to read it.”

Sometimes I added the labour of a porter to my fasting endured for the sake of books.  At the little shop near Portland Road Station I came upon a first edition of Gibbon, the price an absurdity—I think it was a shilling a volume.  To possess those clean-paged quartos I would have sold my coat.  As it happened, I had not money enough with me, but sufficient at home.  I was living at Islington.  Having spoken with the bookseller, I walked home, took the cash, walked back again, and—carried the tomes from the west end of Euston Road to a street in Islington far beyond the Angel.  I did it in two journeys—this being the only time in my life when I thought of Gibbon in avoirdupois.  Twice—three times, reckoning the walk for the money—did I descend Euston Road and climb Pentonville on that occasion.  Of the season and the weather I have no recollection; my joy in the purchase I had made drove out every other thought.  Except, indeed, of the weight.  I had infinite energy, but not much muscular strength, and the end of the last journey saw me upon a chair, perspiring, flaccid, aching—exultant!

The well-to-do person would hear this story with astonishment.  Why did I not get the bookseller to send me the volumes?  Or, if I could not wait, was there no omnibus along that London highway?  How could I make the well-to-do person understand that I did not feel able to afford, that day, one penny more than I had spent on the book?  No, no, such labour-saving expenditure did not come within my scope; whatever I enjoyed I earned it, literally, by the sweat of my brow.  In those days I hardly knew what it was to travel by omnibus.  I have walked London streets for twelve and fifteen hours together without ever a thought of saving my legs, or my time, by paying for waftage.  Being poor as poor can be, there were certain things I had to renounce, and this was one of them.

Years after, I sold my first edition of Gibbon for even less than it cost me; it went with a great many other fine books in folio and quarto, which I could not drag about with me in my constant removals; the man who bought them spoke of them as “tomb-stones.”  Why has Gibbon no market value?  Often has my heart ached with regret for those quartos.  The joy of reading the Decline and Fall in that fine type!  The page was appropriate to the dignity of the subject; the mere sight of it tuned one’s mind.  I suppose I could easily get another copy now; but it would not be to me what that other was, with its memory of dust and toil.

On the supposed illiteracy of scientists

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?" (C.P. Snow: "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution")

Unveiling artistic dispositions

"I think you have to work your way through order to allow that order to shed light on what your own inner dispositions are. Sometimes you re-order your dispositions according to the color of that light. I think over the years there were a lot of things which, in earlier times I would be forced to reflect upon quite seriously, which now I say "I've been there, done that; I thought about this one, I know what I think about it, I know how it moves me." I don't need to sit down for a week and think about it again before I write music. Very frequently, I trust myself as an artist, by definition, as being de facto in a situation that, even if I don't discern what is happening at the time, that something meaningful will emerge from my activities. I guess it's just a sort of superior delegation: I delegate a lot more of my serious decision making to areas of my mind to which I don't really have direct access." — From a published interview with Brian Ferneyhough.

A Wagnerian youth

"Taking everything into consideration I could never have survived my youth without Wagnerian music. For I was condemned to the society of Germans. If one wishes to escape from unbearable pressure then one needs hashish. Well, I needed Wagner. Wagner is the antidote to everything essentially German -- the fact that he is a poison too I do not deny. From the moment that Tristan was arranged for the piano -- all honour to you Herr von Bulow! I was a Wagnerian. Wagner’s previous works seemed beneath me -- they were too commonplace, too "German”. But to this day I am still seeking for a work which would be a match to Tristan in dangerous fascination and possess the same gruesome and sweet quality of infinity; I seek among all the arts in vain. All the quaint features of Leonardo da Vinci’s work lose their charm at the sound of the first bar in Tristan. This work is without question Wagner’s non plus ultra; after its creation the composition of the Mastersingers and of the Ring was a relaxation to him. To become healthier—this in a nature like Wagner’s amounts to going backwards. The curiosity of the psychologist is so great in me that I regard it as quite a special privilege to have lived at the right time and to have lived precisely among Germans so as to be ripe for this work. The world must indeed be empty for him who has never been unhealthy enough for this "hellish voluptuousness": it is allowable, even obligatory to employ a mystic formula here. I suppose I know better than anyone the prodigious feats of which Wagner was capable, the fifty worlds of strange delights to which only he had wings to soar; and as I am alive today and strong enough to turn even the most questionable and most dangerous things to my own advantage and thus to grow stronger, I declare Wagner to have been the greatest benefactor of my life. The bond which unites us is the fact that we have suffered greater agony even at each other’s hands than most men are able to bear nowadays and this will always keep our names associated in the minds of men. For just as Wagner is merely a misunderstanding among Germans so in truth am I and ever will be. You lack two centuries of psychological and artistic discipline my dear countrymen! But one can never catch up that amount of lost time." From Ecce Homo: "Why I Am So Clever", section 6.

Tim Parks on reading

From the New York Review of Books: "In the past, having satisfied myself that the postman really had come and gone, the day then presented itself as an undisturbed ocean of potential — for writing (by hand), reading (on paper), and, to pay the bills, translating (on a manual typewriter). It was even possible in those days to see reading as a resource to fill time that hung heavy when rain or asphyxiating heat forced one to stay indoors." Also see Parks's "Reading Upward".

Liberal Arts, Inc.

According to Glen Edward Avery, Barr thought St. John's had grown too large and feared that its land was about to be seized by the U.S. Navy for its own academy. The first such threat had been made in 1940; St. John's was saved only by the direct intervention of President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. A 1946 newspaper story says that "the college's Damocles sword again threatened to drop in 1944, by which time St. John's had lost its two greatest friends in the government." The college's board of trustees was unable to get a definite answer from Congress, then in control of Federal land-taking, on whether St. John's land would be taken, and Barr wanted to secure "a home free of the endless menace of eviction."

Adam Smith and the future of higher education

From the Boston Review: "In contrast, at Scottish universities the salaries were fairly small, and professors depended on course subscriptions for the majority of their income. At Glasgow, students paid tuition to gain access to the university, but they also paid honoraria to their particular professors. The fees were small, but taken together, they provided a substantial part of a professor’s income, giving him a strong incentive to become a superior teacher. Smith saw in this system the institutional secret to Scotland’s success, and he encouraged its export to universities across Europe."