Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
It is hard not to get the sense, in listening to what follows, that deans and department chairs think they are getting a special favor by being given a cohort hire--that they've hit the lotto, so to speak. But the jackpot is made of money that would normally go to the schools, so departments could hire according to their own priorities. Now it is being withheld, and the provost holds the purse strings.
Tom Holyoke hit the nail on the head.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Since I was unable to attend President Welty’s presentation on the budget (Renaissance Literature, TT 10 to 11:50), I am relying on Chris Henson’s extensive notes, most of which I am quoting verbatim. Thanks, Chris. A video of the speech should be up soon, but is not available yet. When it becomes available, I will edit this blog to include it and make any necessary adjustments in Chris's notes. This is the best we can do at this time. I have a couple of observations at the end. Chris’s notes are in blue:
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Of government the properties to unfold,
Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse;
Since I am put to know that your own science
Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
My strength can give you: then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiency as your Worth is able,
And let them work. The nature of our people,
Our city's institutions, and the terms
For common justice, you're as pregnant in
As art and practise hath enriched any
That we remember. (Duke Vincentio, Measure for Measure)
The Academic Senate is set to go through the annual process of electing 1/3 of its members. At the beginning of this semester, I was afraid the Senate was in a coma. I am happy to say, that I no longer think so; in fact, the faculty owes a debt of gratitude to many hardworking, selfless people in the Senate.
We learned this year how important it is to have dedicated and watchful people as senators and on university committees. Against the ever growing tendency toward administrative centralization and top-down decision making, the Senate is the main body looking out for academic freedom, faculty consultation, and the faculty's function to determine instruction and curriculum.
The faculty needs people in the senate who look after their department's interests and those of the entire faculty. Some people see the Senate as an opportunity to start on an administrative career. From what I've seen, those hopes are usually disappointed. Others are placed in the Senate by their departments for RTP credit--and because no one else wants to do the work. What we need, more than ever, are people without administrative ambition, who have some experience, whose desire is to preserve the faculty's traditional role. One-third of the Senate will be elected soon. I hope departments encourage the best people they have to take on the job.
When I started writing about Fresno State issues this semester, I knew there'd be a time when the main function of "raising the Shire" would be no longer necessary. I think that time has arrived. No one needs to hear from me, at this point, to tell them what facts we have, and more importantly, what facts we don't have. To the Senate, and let them work.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
At the beginning of the 20th century, T. E. Hulme, in his great essay “Romanticism v. Classicism” defined Romanticism as “spilt religion.” It was religion unchanneled by any theology that acknowledged humanity’s proclivity toward evil and its debilitating effects: warped perception and stupidity. Instead, what Romanticism at its worst offered was a perpetual pantheistic liberation of the human spirit that was supposed to end in an epiphany, the individual’s identity with the cosmos at large. Hulme fingered “Lamartine, Hugo, part of Keats, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Swinburne,” as examples, but landed on Hugo as the model of spilt religion in this contrast between “Classicism” and “Romanticism”:
What I mean by the classical in verse, then, is this. That even in the most imaginative flights there is always a holding back, a reservation. The classical poet never forgets this finiteness, this limit of man. He remembers always that he is mixed up with earth. He may jump, but he always returns back; he never flies away into the circumambient gas.In short, Romanticism unhooked English literature from the concept of original sin, which according to G. K. Chesterton, “is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” If challenged on the idea of original sin, I think Chesterton might have said with Joyce, behold history, the nightmare from which mankind is trying to awake. I do not go completely with Hulme about the Romantics. Like C. S. Lewis, I enjoy teaching and reading them, but Lewis also recognized that Romanticism was, in fact, spilt religion. He merely added that the water on the floor might be worth paying attention to. Lewis’s point was that Romanticism expressed a real joy, which was a fundamental part of reality, and that joy was the one thing in life worth pursuing. Lewis’s pursuit, however, was eventually guided by a religion which never lost sight of the inherent human tendency toward moral failure and political nightmare.
You might say if you wished that the whole of the Romantic attitude seems to crystallize in verse round metaphors of flight. Hugo is always flying, flying, over abysses, flying up into the eternal gases. The word infinite in every other line.
Chesterton and Hulme (less so Lewis, who saw it coming) might be surprised that the spilt religion of Romanticism has mainly filled the vial of therapy, and that the therapeutic ideal has invaded every facet of western culture, even the churches. We’ve been sold therapy as a kind of technologized Romanticism.
A quick walk through Barnes and Noble or a glance at the iTunes bookstore reveals very quickly how publishing has been overwhelmed by therapeutic Romanticism. You don’t have to go to the self-help or psychology sections to see it. Fiction is overwhelmed by it: tale after tale is tailor-made for Oprah’s book club, as people free themselves from alcohol, drugs, abusive fathers, abusive husbands, abusive bosses, abusive religions, miserable little towns — all or any combination of the above. Oprah herself, of course, both keyed into this cultural wave and pushed it, making herself the media queen of therapeutic Romanticism and, happily, billions of dollars besides.
A brief glace at Amazon.com’s book section yields the following:
On The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, from The New Yorker:“When a catamaran accident leaves his wife in a coma he [Matthew King] must wake from his own ‘prolonged unconsciousness,’ reacquaint himself with his neglected daughters, and track down his wife’s lover. Meanwhile, his cousins are urging him to sell the family’s vast landholdings for development — to relinquish, in his eyes, the final vestige of their native Hawaiian ancestry. Hemmings channels the voice of her befuddled middle-aged hero with virtuosity, as he teeters between acerbic and sentimental, scoffing at himself even as he grasps for redemption.”
On The Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks: “Inspired by the actual town commemorated as Plague Village because of the events that transpired there in 1665-1666, Brooks tells her harrowing story from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith, a widow with two young sons. Anna works as a maid for vicar Michael Mompellion and his gentle, selfless wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. When bubonic plague arrives in the community, the vicar announces it as a scourge sent by God; obeying his command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world. The vicar behaves nobly as he succors his dwindling flock, and his wife, aided by Anna, uses herbs to alleviate their pain. As deaths mount, however, grief and superstition evoke mob violence against 'witches,' and cults of self-flagellation and devil worship. With the facility of a prose artist, Brooks unflinchingly describes barbaric 17th-century customs and depicts the fabric of life in a poor rural area. If Anna's existential questions about the role of religion and ethical behavior in a world governed by nature seem a bit too sophisticated for her time, Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity. Forecast: Brooks should be a natural on talk shows . . . .” The heroine, Anna Frith, finally liberates herself from male dominance, patriarchal religion, and backwards-European science, by fleeing to the freedom of 17th-century Islamic northern Africa, where she comes under the tutelage of an Arabian physician! Well, Viking knows what sells.
That the purpose of novels is primarily therapeutic is put forward by New Yorker columnist Flora Armetta as one of the principle reasons for reading. It’s cheaper than psychotherapy. Reading becomes
a medical prescription of sorts. According to a post at Scientific American, people who have experienced loss or trauma may find healing if they are able to turn their life stories into a narrative that hangs together and makes sense. Recent research suggests that developing a story from the events in one’s life — not necessarily a story with a happy ending, just a true and “coherent story,” as opposed to a “fragmented” one — can bring real relief from depression and anxiety.James Frey, the man who lied to Oprah, wrote a do-it-yourself therapy novel, creating the perfect Oprah Book club entry, A Million Little Pieces, in which he presented himself as the Byronic hero of addiction, so proud and courageous, he refused to concede personal responsibility for his drug addiction and rebelled against 12-step programs. Of course, Frey’s memoire was shown to be a novel in disguise, and a rather bad one at that. Oprah said she felt “duped.” Oprah, we all should feel duped. We used to produce writers like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Now we produce Romantic therapists who cast themselves as the anti-victims of a victimizing culture.
A psychotherapist (there’s an old-fashioned word for you), assumes that analysis is the best way to achieve this coherent story. This is not surprising, but it’s also not terribly appealing. It strikes me that literature can do a lot of the work for us, and do it much more enjoyably. If “fragmented” is a good way to describe some of the best modernist and postmodern novels (I’m thinking of everything from “Ulysses” to “To the Lighthouse” to “Beloved”), we can also turn to fiction for coherence. Consider the vast body of great writing that is precisely about the process that psychotherapy evidently provides: the attempt to narrate a life story as a means of understanding it.”
By themselves, these books might be taken as trivialities, cultural straws in the wind. But they represent a deluge that manifests itself in education and politics, where to be enlightened is to believe that everyone deserves the beatific vision, that technologized Romanticism, in the form of therapies of one sort or another, can supply it, and that politics can supply it en mass. The 20th century is a great testimony to the dangers of the toxic mix of nihilism and Romanticism, and we haven’t learned our lesson yet. Si se puede! On to the promised land!
To be out of faith with therapeutic Romanticism is to be a heretic. NPR’s odious Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me makes jokes about the stupidity of people in the Tea Party without spending a moment of satire on the less toilet-trained Occupy Wall Street. The Tea party just doesn’t get it: and what it doesn’t get is the Romantic worldview.
This leads to the paradoxical fact that the therapific vision is elitism for the masses, sainthood and superiority for all, except those small-minded businessmen who vote Republican. To dissent is to be a killjoy, or even worse, “insensitive.” Chesterton understood, way early in the game, the tendency of Romanticism to produce cultural elites. Commenting on Thomas Carlyle’s love of the aristocracy, Chesterton cautioned:
The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or anyone else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.The men who wrote the constitution and debated it in The Federalist Papers had a deep understanding of universal human moral failure. They tried to write a document that would protect us against ourselves. But the moral aristocracy has now grown to include perhaps the majority of voting Americans. Despite tough economic times and an Islamist threat which is still very much alive, we are living in the “circumambient gas.” I don’t think we can stay there forever.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
The Provost Creates His Own Faculty
I expect this to be an issue on which the administration really digs in its heels. On Monday, be prepared for a parade of deans speaking before the Senate to stress how important cohort hiring is to them. (I have heard, and hope this might be confirmed if questions by senators are allowed, that 10 of this year's cohort hires have gone to Social Science. That's probably close to 50%. If this is so, the Senate ought to pursue the rationale supporting this. At any rate, expect Dean Gonzalez to be a big supporter.)
When the rhetorical barrage occurs, I hope that senators consider the following:
1. Deans keep their jobs at the pleasure of the Provost;
2. Some of these deans had napkins tucked under their chins as they contemplated the gobbling up of Science and Mathematics and the amalgamation of Arts and Humanities with Social Science;
3. Not all the deans will be speaking.
4. The Academic Senate is a faculty institution representing the faculty. How does your department want you to vote?
The deans may well have important things to say about searches now in progress, and of course, senators need to rationally consider whatever facts the deans present. But with regard to cohort hiring in general, they are not free from pressure, and the faculty's opinion is better than theirs for that reason alone. Senators, I recommend the following mantra: "I don't care what the deans think. . . I don't care what the deans think."
This is another Academic Senate meeting in which the presence of the faculty is very important. I can't think of anything that affects the culture of a department more than hiring decisions. Professors, if you can possibly make it, come to this meeting. Your presence will speak for itself.
One last thing: THE VOTE ON THIS RESOLUTION MUST BE BY SECRET BALLOT. The reasons are obvious: this is going to be a pressurized meeting. As much pressure should be taken off senators as possible when it comes to the final vote. Senators should not have to worry about incurring the displeasure of a dean or the provost when casting their ballots.
Here is the resolution:
Friday, March 16, 2012
I got a kick out of this joyful quartet of amateurs:
Some Irish fiddlers talk about what they do and where their music comes from, Part 1:
Thursday, March 15, 2012
In Scotland, you can find out how to write "cucumber" or "banana" in Gaelic just by going into a grocery store and looking for the signs. I asked a Scottish cabbie if he knew anyone who spoke Gaelic. He said he ex-wife was from the islands, that she spoke it, and that the other barbarians out there spoke it as well. If you want to read the lyrics to this song, which is about resisting linguistic tyranny (English--not Gaelic, unless you're the cab-driver) go to this link:
Celtic Lyrics Corner