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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Friday, April 16, 2010



Volume Two: A Marriage of True Minds

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Transition from Volume One to Volume Two

With the posting of the final installment of Chapter Six, I have brought to a close the first volume of my Memoirs. Readers who are interested in taking a look at earlier chapters of Volume One may go to the blog post for June 28, 2009, where they will find links to each of the first five chapters of the First Volume.

This Second Volume covers the twenty-four years from 1961 - 1985, which almost exactly coincides with the period of my marriage to Cynthia Griffin. The volume begins with my move from Harvard to the University of Chicago, where I taught for two years. This was followed by a visiting year at Wellesley College [1963-64], then a tenured professorship at Columbia University [1964-71], and finally my relocation to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I taught, first in Philosophy and then in Afro-American Studies, until my retirement in 2008.

A great deal happened to me in the twenty-four years dealt with in Volume Two, in addition to my teaching. My marriage to Cynthia, which was both rewarding and at times extremely painful, gave me two magnificent sons, who have been very much at the center of my emotional life for the past forty-two years. I underwent a full-scale Freudian psychoanalysis, in addition to psychotherapy of various sorts. I wrote or edited eighteen more books after the first book on the Critique, served for four years as the Cubmaster of a Cub Scout pack, and even ran for public office [losing by 12 votes after a recount].

For a variety of personal reasons, I have chosen not to deal in great detail with some aspects of my life with Cynthia, but I will have a good deal to say about our intellectual relationship -- our "marriage of true minds" -- for that was, I believe, the core and the most successful dimension of our complex relationship. As I will try to explain in the chapters to come, I learned a very great deal from Cynthia, and I believe that what I learned has deepened and enriched by work as well as my life. I hope that she has been able to come to the same conclusion.

Chapter One Second City

When I arrived in Chicago, my first job was to find someplace to live. I settled on a ground floor apartment at 5723 South Dorchester, several blocks from the university. The University of Chicago is more or less a rectangle bordered by 55th street on the north, 61st on the south, Cottage Grove Avenue on the west and South Dorchester on the east. My building had, in a former life, been a telephone exchange, back in the days when there really were banks of women wearing headsets and completing calls by inserting jacks into plugs. [Think Bells are Ringing with Judy Holiday.] As a consequence, the walls were solid brick rather than lath and plaster or wallboard. This made hanging pictures or putting up brackets for book shelves very difficult. I discovered the dangers associated with such construction in the middle of one night, when, with a loud crash, the brackets pulled out of the walls from the weight of my books and everything tumbled down. The apartment was pretty bleak, but Toni Palter, wife of historian of science Robert Palter, graciously offered to make me some curtains, which I put up to soften the feel of the place.

Once settled, I reported to my new posting in the Eighth Illinois National Guard Regiment, located on South Giles near 35th street. The Illinois Eighth was an all-Black regiment with a distinguished history, having fought in France in the First World War. It played an important social role in Black Chicago, its officers commanding considerable respect in the community because of their status in the unit. I was one of perhaps half a dozen Whites in the entire regiment. I was assigned to Headquarters Company, and put under the command of Jewell Starks, a Master Sergeant who served as the Regimental photographer. This was decades before digital anything, and way before even Polaroid cameras, so Starks used a large amount of bulky equipment. My job was to carry his gear as he went around the Armory photographing the doings of the men for posterity.

What I am going to say now is rather embarrassing, coming as it does from someone who even then had achieved some sophistication in social theory and ideological critique and was on his way to becoming the best known anarchist in academic American philosophy, but I decided when I began these Memoirs that I would record my memories without self-serving embellishment. To put the matter as baldly as I can, in the two years remaining to my six year National Guard commitment, during the weekday meetings and summer camps, it simply never occurred to me that there might be something even slightly significant in a White University of Chicago Assistant Professor fetching and toting for a Black man in Southside Chicago.

How could I have failed to notice this fact? Well, I had by then achieved the rank of E-4, which was the New Army's way of saying "Corporal." I had a tatty little insignia on my upper left sleeve, and one lonely gold colored stripe, or hash mark, near the cuff, indicating that I had completed a three year stint. Starks had a magnificent Master Sergeant's emblem on his sleeve, and so many hash marks that they marched all the way from his cuff to his elbow. He had been in the Army as long as I had been alive. If there was any toting to be done, of course I was going to be the one to do it.

I never made it above E-4. That first summer, I got married, and cut out of summer camp early to go on my honeymoon. I was busted back to E-2, and barely managed to regain the rank of E-4 before being Honorably Discharged in June of 1963. Just this past year, I stayed in a hotel in Poughkeepsie while giving several lectures at Marist College, and at the breakfast buffet, I fell into casual conversation with a younger man who was waiting for scrambled eggs while I took a cup of coffee. Somehow, the subject of the military came up, and I told a story about my Basic Training days. When he got up to leave some time later, he came by my table and said, "Thank you for your service." That is something that supporters of the troops have taken to saying when they see someone in uniform -- a sort of acknowledgement that America's defense needs are being met by only a tiny segment of the population as a whole. It made me feel really scrimy, as though I had crashed a party where I didn't belong. There was nothing remotely honorable about my time in the military, and what with the jump into the Guard and the hurried transfer from Massachusetts to Illinois, I had done everything I possibly could to avoid actually serving.


NotHobbes said...

Some 20 or so years ago, I was serving in the UK`s merchant fleet as a Junior Deck Officer(Class4).
One day when our vessel was berthed near the Solent, a company representative came aboard asking for volunteers should the government requisition any of our vessels for the forthcoming campaign in Kuwait. Most volunteered, with the promise of an additional $35 per day for entering a war zone being their primary motive, of that I am sure.
There we were, sitting aboard a Bahamian registered vessel, serving in the most rapidly declining maritime support network on earth-our fleet one tenth of it`s former size, and we were chomping at the bit to go to war. Go to war for the very people who had taken a scythe to our future prospects, people who saw "flagging out" as a purely economic decision. Go to war, without thinking, just for a juicy carrot.
Very strange creatures indeed

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I had to google "flagging out" to find out what it means. You learn something new every day.