Or, more accurately, vale atque ave. Tomorrow morning, Susie and I leave for South Africa, where I shall be awarded an honorary degree by the University of the Western Cape. Four days on a plane, there and back, and three days actually in Cape Town. Then it is back to teaching, and to blogging. I shall post a report of the trip when I return, and then continue with my thoughts on education.
Let me take this opportunity to reply briefly to several comments I have received, either by email or in the Comments section of the blog.
One of my readers interpreted today's post as a complaint about the unfairness of the way in which research monies are distributed to different segments of the higher educational community. I am afraid I must have failed to make myself clear. I do not think it is unfair for the sciences to receive so much more external funding than the Humanities. I simply think this fact poses a challenge to those of us in the Humanities, one that I shall address later in my series of posts, with some practical suggestions, based in part on my own experience in raising somewhat more than two million dollars for programs run by, and in some cases for the benefit, of Humanities programs.
Another reader [with the handle EnglishJerk] asks: "Is there any inconsistency between the claim that the Conversation serves as a spur to reflection and that it holds out the hope of total gratification? For me, the experience of literature is an experience of affective power necessarily combined with a feeling of perplexity, of bafflement; and my interpretive impulse arises from that combination. The experience of literature thus seems to me rather remote from gratification, not least because the powerful affects involved almost never amount of unalloyed pleasure."
This is, I think, a very good description of the experience many of us have when struggling with great literature, or indeed great philosophy, etc. I did not mean to suggest otherwise. The key to my argument in yesterday's post is Marcuse's phrase "reconciliation is by grace of the oeuvre as form." The seeming effortlessness with which the great artist [or philosopher or political economist or anthropologist or sociologist, for that matter] surmounts the formal constraints of his or her undertaking to produce something of great beauty, while at the same time completely conforming to those constraints, is a model, an instance, a paradigm [in the correct sense of that much misused word] of the infantile desire for instantaneous and effortless gratification that lies repressed but never forgotten in each of us. Perhaps I am relying too heavily on my own experience, but I have no other guide. When Bach composes a perfect fugue that seems to flow free-form from his infinite imagination; when Matisse, with a handful of lines conjures with such ease the face of a young woman; when Kant extracts the validity of the Causal maxim from the elementary unity of subjective consciousness -- it takes my breath away. It may take me years to reach the point at which I can appreciate the fugue, the face, the philosophical argument, but once I do, it is as though I have, by a gift of grace, been vouchsafed a vision of omnipotence. And in that moment, I can, fleetingly, imagine liberation.
Well, off to South Africa.