Usually at the end of the semester, especially in the spring semester, I dress up in costume, assume a character, and prank students in the corridors during the passing periods. In past years I have appeared as a Viking war-leader recruiting students for a raid on Kingston, Ontario, and as a Star Fleet Inspector-General on an evaluation tour of the satellite facility. My theory is that contemporary college life suffers from a dearth of absurdity. That is – it suffers from a dearth of the right kind of absurdity. I want, naturally, to make up for the lack.
[These remarks formed one part of the total contribution to a panel on “English and Literature Programs” at the 1 November 2003 Pope Center Conference on Academic Standards, held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bonald’s latest post prompted me to revisit the text.]
I would like to begin with two brief preambles. The first one is that I authored what I believe to have been the prototype of what later became a spate of reports on degraded curricula in the state college systems – my Declining Standards at Michigan Public Universities, published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in October of 1996. I mention this to indicate that I well understand the whole range of curricular, administrative, pedagogical, and political criticisms that conservatives and traditionalists characteristically bring against our existing distorted institutions of higher education. The other preamble is that, in my remarks today, I shall be departing in style and content from what I might call the standard technical admonitions – that ninety-nine per cent of humanities professors voted for Bill Clinton, that they have bounced Shakespeare in favor of Toni Morrison, that students now run a four-year gauntlet of tawdry, Marxisant propaganda – in order to take up another, as I insist a prior, issue.
Indeed, sufficiently different from the standard technical admonitions are the remarks I propose to make, that I should give a fair warning in advance. You should be prepared not to believe more than every other word that I utter, although I myself have come to believe it all quite implicitly, and it now informs my entire activity as a college literature teacher. Allow me to urge, then, that if I were you and you were me I should probably take me for a lunatic, and I shall lay no blame should you follow suit in so doing…
This won’t be the last turn of the worm, to be sure; but it is hard to see how he could twist himself up any further than this, without brasting all to flinders.
My wife and I were exploring Sonoma County this last weekend. It is a beautiful, hilly, forested redoubt, a difficult hour and a half north of San Francisco, and so spared the downside of American urban life, while at the same time blessed with abundant good cheeses, markets, restaurants, chocolates, beer, and the like – wines, too, of course, with gorgeous world-class vinyards on every side – and most importantly for yours truly, good coffee. We stopped at my favorite chain, Peets Coffee of Berkeley (Alfred Peet is the fellow who started the North American coffee craze with a little store in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, about forty years ago), with their glorious oaky smoky dark roasts, as dense and roborative as beef. My wife stopped in to the restroom, and returned with this photo:
You will notice that the “hats off in the house” rule is included in the course-syllabus. It is an item in the “Guidelines for Classroom Decorum”:
Hats and head-coverings off during class-time. A college-level humanities lecture is a serious, adult occasion and a civilized, professional activity even quasi-solemn in character. The Instructor therefore institutes the “no hats” rule to help students, especially the hat-wearing ones, make the sometimes-difficult transition from their state of pre-critical high-school-and-popular-culture conformism to that of adult, civilized, intellectual reflexivity and ethical independence. In practice, the “no hats” rule applies mostly to men, but in principle it includes women.
Some time ago when The Orthosphere was novel, Kristor, in addressing the issue of how I might best contribute to the enterprise, suggested to me in private correspondence that not every posting needed to be a fully worked out, objectively couched essay. Shorter, more personal or subjective postings might serve justifiably – postings that reported, say, moments of intellectual clarification, attempts to live in a context of liberal soft tyranny, important formulations discovered in reading, objects of longstanding connoisseurship, or the like. A posting might even be modestly autobiographical or self-explanatory. What follows is an amalgam of all that.
I recently stumbled across a classic piece from a delightfully cantankerous Catholic priest, sternly lecturing an insouciant (and probably made-up) bride-to-be for her frivolity with respect to her coming wedding. (The priest, Father Richard Simon, is presently in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and runs a worthy blog). It’s worth reading.
I’m interested to hear what our readers did to prepare, not for their weddings, but for their marriages.
My girlfriend and I took the trip to the Houston rodeo at Reliant Stadium last weekend. I’d never been to a rodeo before, and I’m still a little bedazzled by the massiveness of the phenomenon. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Picture the county fair, plus a massive concert, plus an arts festival (tenth graders making photorealist paintings — phenomenal!), plus a livestock show, and also, there’s folks riding bulls and racing horses. Cowboy boots and hats and giant belt buckles everywhere.
I have to admit, though, my favorite part of the rodeo was the event called mutton busting. It’s like the rodeo, but for little kids, no more than five or six years old, I’d say. Instead of riding bulls or horses, they ride sheep. It’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen: stressed-out sheep running around with earnest toddlers gripping on, their tiny little hands full of wool. I admired the kids’ pluck and courage. They’ll grow up to be fine men. (And there were a few girls in there, too!)
Anyway, it turns out — surprise! — liberals hate mutton busting. Check out the comments at the Huffington Post or ABC News. It stands to reason. Bonald argued once that liberalism is going so far now that it’s becoming anti-friendship, because friendship, after all, is discriminatory, exclusive, and particularist, and these are things against which liberalism has set its face. Is it possible that liberalism is also now becoming anti-fun? Think about it: all this wholesome fun could be distracting these kids from the important things in life, like sodomizing one another.
Plus, think of the sheep!