From your inaugural address: “We should require that every student have the experience of producing original research.” Would the benchmark be your senior essay? You couldn’t call it a thesis, that plain vanilla synopsis of Freudian theory. A chapter dealing with the Hegel-Freud connection you borrowed from “Life Against Death,” you said, then labeled the borrowed-from study alternately mysterious and simpleminded.
The good news: you aren’t afflicted with Chutzpah Deficiency Syndrome. The bad news: you’d taken a poke at a classic—a study the literate class has read in Mandarin, Japanese, German, Spanish, French and English. And while you were swerving off-message to run the book down, was thesis advisor Professor Henry Abelove chummily going along for the ride?
The author of “Life Against Death,” Old Wes’s Norman Oliver (Nobby) Brown, can speak for himself. Page 98: “It takes only the capacity to endure unpleasant truths to prefer the bleak pessimism of Civilization and its Discontents to the lullabies of sweetness and light which the neo-Freudians serve up as psychoanalysis.” Page 243: “In spite of the cultural relativists’ busy warfare against all attempts to generalize (i.e., to reach any important conclusion).” Page 312: “The world will find it easier to believe that we are all mad than that the psychoanalysts are not.”
In one of your blogs, you wonder what will become of philosophy after the demise of epistemology. It’s a wonder you don’t wonder what will become of your day job and pay check after the demise of epistemology. And, too, you might well wonder what will become of psychoanalysis: pragmatically speaking, you call for critical studies of all but critical studies and the ostensible benefits of psychoanalysis. Its practitioners who call their method talk therapy. You call it conversation: the more the merrier.
Nobby’s call is more calibrated. Page 151: “Of the effect of orthodox analysis on patients I do not attempt to judge. But the effect of orthodox analysis on the analysts themselves is there for all to judge in their official periodicals. The proportion of mere chatter—verbal gymnastics with Freudian terms with only fugitive relation to reality—bears comparison with the narcissistic overvaluation of words in schizophrenia.”
Michael, don’t you wish that YOUR relentlessly self-absorbed, unconsciousness-raising prose could be so alternately mysterious and simpleminded?
But how could a mind confined to two dimensions NOT be dismissive of Nobby Brown’s dementia? I speak of his third dimension, the realm of originality and depth of mind. I know, I know: You wouldn’t want to go there, you wouldn’t know how to get there, and there would be over your head. I hear you, Michael, but inasmuch as you’ve caught me in a Sisyphean, mulish humor, let me assign you some plumbing. Nothing too difficult, mind you, nothing too deep—no need to hold your nose.
Early last semester, the paper of record (diehards continue to call it) discerned the diversity of dress on High. This diversity is of recent vintage—in the notoriously conformist Fifties (the gray-flannel-suited era), even the Marxists wore conservative suits. Our iron-maidened dates attire was fittingly modest.
Old Wes’s notorious so-called uniformity, like new and improved Wes’s vaunted Diversity, was superficial. I fondly recall the fraternities’ annual singing competition, especially the year the members of John Wesley Club, which boasted the largest contingent of Marxists on campus, marched onto the stage of ’92 Theater to the tune of the proles and peasants fight song, “Avanti Populo!” Had they marched to the tune of “America the Beautiful,” we Eisenhower Republicans would have hooted them off the stage to the tune of “Be yourselves!” They were bomb-throwers, but they were OUR bomb-throwers.
Today, instead of “Be yourselves!” the tune is “DON’T be yourselves!” Frosh Disorientation Week’s force-feeding: Whites are compelled to be blacks and straights are compelled to be gays, and vice versa, till every student’s confessions befit Procrustes University’s bedrock, the bedrock of boring, Orwellian Groupthink (otherwise known as Diversity).
The students’ fashion statement is both rebellion against, and compensation for, the lack of honest-to-goodness (intellectual) diversity: We have to think alike; we don’t have to look alike. And is it surprising to find them demanding more menu choices, given their dearth of choices in food for thought?
Well, let them eat cake. And let them look weird (the students’ term of choice). And let them be required to earn their degree with a burst of originality, latter-day Wesleyan’s landscape being so catalytic: Shanklin’s proposed replacement, a trio of blocks inspired, I spec, by the gaunt, eye-punishing Rock in San Francisco Bay. The trio will harmonize well with Bennet’s Follies: the Zelnick thingy and the wretchedly homely Fauver twins.
Students in need of literary inspiration need look no further than to the Wesleyan logo: The Art and Science of Education Since 1831. That fizzless patent bromide is the best the Bennet Administration’s money could buy. It hadn’t occurred to your predecessor, his one-track mind embedded in social engineering, that a logo not plagued with logorrhea was his for the asking, simply by asking his student body to flex its awesome creative biceps and pecs.
But that would require a body not tied up in thou-shalt-nots, those sweet forget-me-nots implanted in Frosh Week. And if those creepy fleurs du mal don’t strangle the musing buds in their beds, their roots are privileged to spend the next four years immured in soil manured with what Orwell called the smelly little orthodoxies. And out of that fetid loam you’d have 3,000 original flowers bloom. Michael, a hundred was all that Mao had called for!
But who’s to say that The Little Engine That Could could not be gimmick-equipped-and-serviced Choo-Choo Roth?