Upon his retirement from Yale, Donald Kagan considers the future of liberal education in this farewell speech.
Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal (2002), retired in May. In forty-four years at the University, Professor Kagan has served in such varied capacities as Dean of Yale College, Master of Timothy Dwight College, and Director of Athletics. He has been a prolific author as well as a celebrated teacher; his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War is widely considered to be among the twentieth century’s greatest works of classical scholarship. The following essay on liberal education is a revised version of the valedictory lecture he delivered on April 25 to a capacity audience in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, New Haven, Connecticut.
Donald Kagan: My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for? From Cicero’s artes liberales, to the attempts at common curricula in more recent times, to the chaotic cafeteria that passes for a curriculum in most American universities today, the concept has suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction. From the beginning, the champions of a liberal education have thought of it as seeking at least four kinds of goals. One was as an end in itself, or at least as a way of achieving that contemplative life that Aristotle thought was the greatest happiness. Knowledge and the acts of acquiring and considering it were the ends of this education and good in themselves. A second was as a means of shaping the character, the style, the taste of a person—to make him good and better able to fit in well with and take his place in the society of others like him. A third was to prepare him for a useful career in the world, one appropriate to his status as a free man. For Cicero and Quintilian, this meant a career as an orator that would allow a man to protect the private interests of himself and his friends in the law courts and to advance the public interest in the assemblies, senate, and magistracies. The fourth was to contribute to the individual citizen’s freedom in ancient society. Servants were ignorant and parochial, so free men must be learned and cosmopolitan; servants were ruled by others, so free men must take part in their own government; servants specialized to become competent at some specific and limited task, so free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric.
Continue at the New Criterion
Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul:
“All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”
Excerpt from an article written by Eric Naiman at TSL. Continue HERE
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read First Kiss by Clarice Lispector translated from the Portuguese by Rachel Klein.
The two of them murmured more than talked: the relationship had begun just a little while before and they were both giddy, it was love. Love and what comes with it: jealousy.
—It’s fine, I believe you that I’m your first love, this makes me happy. But tell me the truth, only the truth: you never kissed a woman before you kissed me?
It was simple:
—Yes, I’ve kissed a woman before.
—Who was she?, she asked sorrowfully
He tried to tell it crudely, he didn’t know how.
Clarice Lispector was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in Ukraine. To escape the pogroms, her family emigrated to Brazil when she was a baby. She spent her childhood in the northeast city of Recife. Her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, was published when she was 23 years old. She immediately gained a reputation and over time became one of Brazil’s most acclaimed writers. She published novels, stories, and journalism until her death in 1977. This story was first published in Brazil in 1971, in the collection Felicidade Clandestina. This marks its first publication in English. Copyright ©2013 by New Directions Publishing and the Heirs of Clarice Lispector, from the forthcoming Collected Stories. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
Rachel Klein is the author of The Moth Diaries, which was adapted to the screen by director Mary Harron. The novel has been translated into 12 languages.
WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW CLARICE LISPECTOR
KATHERINE BOUTON: Lab lit is not science fiction, and in my opinion it’s not historical fiction about actual scientists (though some fictionalized biographies do appear on the list). Instead, in the Web site’s words, it “depicts realistic scientists as central characters and portrays fairly realistic scientific practice or concepts, typically taking place in a realistic — as opposed to speculative or future — world.”
Continue this New York Times article HERE
On the morning of Friday, September 20, 1985, the first equinoctial storm of the year broke over the city of Rome. I awoke to thunder and lightning; and thought I was, yet again, in World War II. Shortly before noon, a car and driver arrived to take me up the Mediterranean coast to a small town on the sea called Castiglion della Pescáia where, at one o’clock, Italo Calvino, who had died the day before, would be buried in the village cemetery.
Calvino had had a cerebral hemorthage two weeks earlier while sitting in the garden of his house at Pineta di Roccamare, where he had spent the summer working on the Charles Eliot Norton lectures that he planned to give during the fall and winter at Harvard. I last saw him in May. I commended him on his bravery: he planned to give the lectures in English, a language that he read easily but spoke hesitantly, unlike French and Spanish, which he spoke perfectly; but then he had been born in Cuba, son of two Italian agronomists; and had lived for many years in Paris.
It was night. We were on the terrace of my apartment in Rome; an overhead light made his deep-set eyes look even darker than usual. Italo gave me his either-this-or-that frown; then he smiled, and when he smiled, suddenly, the face would become like that of an enormously bright child who has just worked out the unified field theory. “At Harvard, I shall stammer,” he said. “But then I stammer in every language.”
People use science fiction to illustrate philosophy all the time. From ethical quandaries to the very nature of existence, science fiction’s most famous texts are tailor-made for exploring philosophical ideas. In fact, many college campuses now offer courses in the philosophy of science fiction.
But science fiction doesn’t just illuminate philosophy — in fact, the genre grew out of philosophy, and the earliest works of science fiction were philosophical texts. Here’s why science fiction has its roots in philosophy, and why it’s the genre of thought experiments about the universe.
Science fiction is a genre that uses strange worlds and inventions to illuminate our reality — sort of the opposite of a lot of other writing, which uses the familiar to build a portrait that cumulatively shows how insane our world actually is. People, especially early twenty-first century people, live in a world where strangeness lurks just beyond our frame of vision — but we can’t see it by looking straight at it. When we try to turn and confront the weird and unthinkable that’s always in the corner of our eye, it vanishes. In a sense, science fiction is like a prosthetic sense of peripheral vision.
Excerpt from an article written by Charlie Jane Anders at io9. Continue HERE
What is the ethical power of literature? Can it diminish acts of injuring, and if it can, what aspects of literature deserve the credit?
All these questions, at first, hinge on another: can anything diminish injury? In his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues that, over 50 centuries, many forms of violence have subsided.1 Among the epochs he singles out for special scrutiny is a hundred-year period bridging the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during which an array of brutal acts—executing accused witches, imprisoning debtors, torturing animals, torturing humans, inflicting the death penalty, enslaving fellow human beings—suddenly abated, even if they did not disappear.
Attempting to account for “the sweeping change in everyday sensibilities” toward “the suffering in other living things” and for the protective laws that emerged during the Humanitarian Revolution, Pinker argues that the legal reforms were in some degree a product of increasing literacy. Reforms were immediately preceded by a startling increase in book production (e.g., in England, the number of publications rose from fewer than 500 per decade in 1600 to 2,000 per decade by 1700, and to 7,000 per decade by 1800) and by an equally startling surge in literacy, with the majority of Englishmen literate by the end of the seventeenth century, French by the end of the eighteenth, and Danish, Finnish, German, Icelandic, Scottish, Swedish, and Swiss by the end of the nineteenth century.
Excerpt from an article written by Elaine Scarry, Boston Review. Continue HERE
Beginning in the late eighteenth century, huge circular panoramas presented their audiences with resplendent representations that ranged from historic battles to exotic locations. Such panoramas were immersive but static. There were other panoramas that moved–hundreds, and probably thousands of them. Their history has been largely forgotten. In Illusions in Motion, Erkki Huhtamo excavates this neglected early manifestation of media culture in the making. The moving panorama was a long painting that unscrolled behind a “window” by means of a mechanical cranking system, accompanied by a lecture, music, and sometimes sound and light effects. Showmen exhibited such panoramas in venues that ranged from opera houses to church halls, creating a market for mediated realities in both city and country.
In the first history of this phenomenon, Huhtamo analyzes the moving panorama in all its complexity, investigating its relationship to other media and its role in the culture of its time. In his telling, the panorama becomes a window for observing media in operation. Huhtamo explores such topics as cultural forms that anticipated the moving panorama; theatrical panoramas; the diorama; the “panoramania” of the 1850s and the career of Albert Smith, the most successful showman of that era; competition with magic lantern shows; the final flowering of the panorama in the late nineteenth century; and the panorama’s afterlife as a topos, traced through its evocation in literature, journalism, science, philosophy, and propaganda.
About the Author
Erkki Huhtamo, media historian and pioneering media archaeologist, is Professor in the Department of Design Media Arts at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the coeditor of Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications.
Text and Image via MIT PRESS
In December 1944, Albert Camus, then editor of Combat, the main newspaper of the French Resistance, made Jean-Paul Sartre an offer he couldn’t refuse: the job of American correspondent. Perhaps, in light of the perpetual tension and subsequent acrimonious split between the two men, he was glad to get him out of Paris. What is certain is that Sartre was delighted to go. He’d had enough of the austerities and hypocrisies of post-liberation France and had long fantasized about the United States. Camus himself would make the trip soon after, only to return with a characteristically different set of political, philosophical and personal impressions.
Excerpt from an article written by ANDY MARTIN, NYT. Continue HERE
On visits to Cambridge University late in life, Jorge Luis Borges offered revealing last thoughts about his reading and writing.
By his last years Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) was often seen as a skeptic. Michel Foucault began Les mots et les choses (1966, published in English as The Order of Things) by acclaiming him for having defied certainty and demolished every familiar landmark of knowledge, since everything “bears the stamp of our age and our geography.” Foucault cited something Borges claimed to have found once in an old Chinese encyclopedia, a hilarious taxonomy of animals using the following categories: those belonging to the emperor, those that are embalmed, those that are tame, sucking pigs, sirens, stray dogs, et cetera. That was impressively credulous of Foucault, since Borges (as I once heard him say) often made up his quotations: “One is allowed to change the past.” Among the literal minded, however, his reward was to be thought to have sounded the death knell of all human hopes to know the world or to understand our place in it.
Excerpt of an essay wriiten by George Watson at The American Scholar. Continue HERE
May I call you my morphine?” Robert Browning asked Elizabeth Barrett the month before they married in 1846. Barrett, who had been taking opiates every day since she was fourteen, replied “Can you leave me off without risking your life?”. Jean Cocteau later reversed the trope, describing not the woman as an addiction but the addiction as a woman – “Opium is the woman of destiny, pagodas, lanterns” – while for Baudelaire the solipsism of the opium addict resulted in “an appalling marriage of man to himself”.
You can always rely on an opium-eater for a fancy prose style. Opium also brings out the stylist in doctors: “What”, asked Dr John Jones in The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d (1700), “can cure pain and all its effects better than pleasure?”, and he compared the effect of the drug to “the sight of a dearly-loved Person etc thought to have been lost at Sea”. The Victorian physician Sir William Osler described morphine as “God’s own medicine”, but the sap of the Papaver somniferum was enjoyed long before the worship of Osler’s own God. Fossilized poppy seeds found at the remains of a lakeside village in Zurich suggest that opium was first consumed in the late Stone Age; Egyptian scrolls reveal that Ra recommended opium for headaches; Homer relates how Helen, pitying the dejection of Telemachus at the absence of his father Odysseus, pours an ointment into his wine called “no sorrow” (nepenthe); Sibyl sedates Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog at the gates of Hades, with a soporific, and Galen prescribed opium as an antidote for “confusion” in the elderly. “It is time, poppy, to give up your secrets”, wrote Diocles of Carystus in the fourth century AD, and we are still convinced that opium has something to tell us – that it knows us better than we know ourselves.
Excerpt of an article written by Frances Wilson, TLS. Continue HERE
Image above via flickr
That Other Word is a podcast run jointly by Daniel Medin (Center for Writers and Translators, Paris) and Scott Esposito (Center for the Art of Translation, San Francisco).
Each episode features a discussion between Daniel and Scott on recent noteworthy literature in translation, and then an in-depth interview with writers, translators, editors, and publishers. The podcast hopes to celebrate and explore various and under-appreciated aspects of translation, not only into and out of English, but other languages as well.
There are texts that seem to require a certain craziness of us, a mismeasure of response to match the extravagance of their expression. But can a mismeasure be a match? All we know is that we don’t want to lose or reduce the extravagance but can’t quite fall for it either. An example would be Walter Benjamin’s wonderful remark about missed experiences in Proust:
None of us has time to live the true dramas of the life that we are destined for. This is what ages us – this and nothing else. The wrinkles and creases on our faces are the registration of the great passions, vices, insights that called on us; but we, the masters, were not at home.
Even without the ‘nothing else’ this is a pretty hyperbolic proposition. With the ‘nothing else’ it turns into a form of madness, a suggestion that we shall not grow old at all unless we keep failing to receive the passions, vices and insights that come to see us. This would be a life governed by new necessities, entirely free from the old ones, exempt from time and biology. The sentences are clear enough but don’t read easily as fantasy or figure of speech. Benjamin is asking us to entertain this magical thought for as long as we can, and not to replace it too swiftly by something more sensible.
Excerpt from Proust and His Mother by Michael Wood at London Review. Continue HERE
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .
LOVE AND THEFT
Consider this tale: a cultivated man of middle age looks back on the story of an amour fou, one beginning when, traveling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. The moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a preteen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age, he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator—marked by her forever—remains alone. The name of the girl supplies the title of the story: Lolita.
The author of the story I’ve described, Heinz von Lichberg, published his tale of Lolita in 1916, forty years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. Lichberg later became a prominent journalist in the Nazi era, and his youthful works faded from view. Did Nabokov, who remained in Berlin until 1937, adopt Lichberg’s tale consciously? Or did the earlier tale exist for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory? The history of literature is not without examples of this phenomenon, called cryptomnesia. Another hypothesis is that Nabokov, knowing Lichberg’s tale perfectly well, had set himself to that art of quotation that Thomas Mann, himself a master of it, called “higher cribbing.” Literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast. Little of what we admire in Nabokov’s Lolita is to be found in its predecessor; the former is in no way deducible from the latter. Still: did Nabokov consciously borrow and quote?
An excerpt form an essay written by Jonathan Lethem at Harper’s Magazine. Read it HERE