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Saturday, April 25, 2020

THE OLD ORDER PASSETH


Yesterday, I received my copy of Harvard Magazine, the alumni publication Harvard puts out in its endless and very successful effort to raise money [if you manage to get in and show up for at least a week, you are ever after considered a member of the class, even if you promptly drop out – Harvard takes the long view of these matters.]  As has become my custom, I turned immediately to the obituaries at the back of the magazine, and there found two familiar names.

The first was “Stephen Joyce.”  Steve shared a triple in Eliot House with two friends, Paul and Sadri. [that is to say,  a suite with a living room, and bathroom, and three small bedrooms.]  Paul was Paul Matisse, the grandson of Henri Matisse.  Sadri was Saddrudin Aga Khan, grandson of the Aga Khan and nephew, if I have this right, of Rita Hayworth.  Steve was the grandson of James Joyce.  Three less serious students it would have been impossible to find.  I visited their room once [my close friend, Mike Jorrin, knew Steve.]  On Sadri’s desk was a photo of a New York chorus girl in a skimpy outfit.  It was signed, “To Sadri, with all my love, Bubbles.”  Steve was named Joyce’s literary executor, and he created an international scandal in the literary world by carrying out his grandfather’s testamentary instructions to destroy all of the great writer’s personal letters.  Literary scholars never forgave him.

The other name was “Robert Tracy.”  Bob was a big, bluff, good-humored Comparative Literature graduate student who wrote his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Harry Levin.  Levin was an officially Big Deal, but he was hard of hearing and did not pay much attention to his students.  Bob, as I recall, was writing on the performances of Chekhov in England and America.  When he had finished the first half, on the performances in England, he turned it in to Levin and then went to see him for comments and criticism.  As Bob told the story to all of us in the Winthrop House Senior Common Room, Levin had very little to say about what Bob had turned in, but several of his comments made Bob suspect that Levin had forgotten that the project was supposed to deal with England and America, so when Levin said that with a few emendations it was OK, Bob kept his mouth shut, ditched the American half, turned in what he had already written, and got his degree.  Bob spent his career at Berkeley, so I guess it didn’t hurt him any.

16 comments:

Dean said...

Indeed, it appears he had a rich career at Berkeley: https://ies.berkeley.edu/robert-and-rebecca-tracy-lecture-series I'm struck by his wife's achievements. Both of my kids happily attended pre-school in the Early Childhood Education Program.

Tracy's dissertation was titled The Flight of a Seagull: Chekhov's Plays on the English Stage. Here is an interesting recollection he wrote about Seamus Heaney's year at Berkeley: https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2018-01-10/westering-seamus-heaneys-berkeley-year

david said...

and Levin (Lev-IN) as he always would insist, I suspect because he didn't want people to think he was Jewish, was very smart and astonishingly productive: 20 or so books on topics ranging from Marlowe and Shakespeare, to Hawthorne and Melville, to Balzac and Joyce.

Dean said...

Levin was also involved in the ascent of academic career of the notorious and fascinating Paul de Man. In a 1988 article in NYT, James Atlas reports on the then recently discovered wartime journalism/propaganda published by de Man in Belgian newspapers. Atlas sought evidence from de Man's friends and colleagues of subsequent anti-Semitic behavior. None could cite any instances. Per Atlas, "as Harry Levin obliquely put it, 'some of his best friends were non-Aryan.'"

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Yes. The revelations of de Man's writings and of course Heideggar's nazi sympathies produced a real crise de conscience in some literary and philosophical circles.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Dean, thank you for the link to Bob Tracy's remembrance of Heaney. It is lovely.

Dean said...

You're welcome, of course. It is lovely. On Tuesday, April 27, 1982 (one day shy of my mom's birthday, the 93rd of which will arrive next week on Tuesday), I heard Heaney lecture on Joyce and then read at UCLA. I know the details because I retained the announcement of the event in my copy of Heaney's Poems: 1965-1975, which Heaney signed after I loaned it to him so he could read a poem he had not come prepared to read. I don't remember which poem it was. One poem in the collection, "Traditions," is "For Tom Flanagan," whom Tracy mentions in the recollection. "Westering" also appears in the volume.

David Palmeter said...

Dean, I too want to thank you for the link to Heaney. He's my favorite. In February I led a discussion group at OLLI at American University on about 25 of the poems, but not Westering. That might have been a mistake. It was in the book-Opened Ground-but there were so many great poems, it was hard to choose.

As for Stephen Joyce, my impression from the obits is that he was much more concerned with Euros than with literature. He once threatened to sue the city of Dublin for permitting public readings of Ulysses on Bloomsday.

Dean said...

You're welcome, David P. Had you been leading other discussion groups prior to the present circumstances? Other authors? Poets?

David Palmeter said...

Dean,

I've been leading OLLI study groups since 2008. I have to stress, this is not rigorous academics, but a bunch of seniors who like to read books and talk about them. For me, it's a bit like being in a reading group where I always get to pick the book, and among 1,000 or so members, can always find some that share the interest. Our regular Fall and Spring groups run from 8 to 10 90-minute sessions, once per week. In February and July we also do "shorts" which run 3 to 5 consecutive days. Heaney was a short; previously I've done Shdakespeare's Sonnets, Twelfth Night, and Waiting for Godot a couple of times. During the regular semester this year I've been doing groups on the American Revolution. Next year - if there is a next year - I'm planning Herodotus in the Fall, O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy in February, and Thucydides in the Spring. The plan depends on (1) the human race still being alive; (2) my being still alive; (3) my not graduating from being "hard of hearing" totally deaf.

Dean said...

Had to remind myself about O'Casey. I read Juno & the Paycock a very long time ago, and that's pretty much the extent of my connection to him.

If I were programming this sort of thing I'd probably include more modern authors, like Heaney. Not entirely: I've wanted to read Thomas Browne's works and Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta. But I think leading a group reading of Anthony Burgess's Earthly Powers would be marvelous and stimulating. (Confession: I watched a YT video of Dick Cavett interviewing Burgess last night. Burgess was exactly as pompous, self-assured, and to some extent correct as I expected!)

David Palmeter said...

Dean,

The curriculum is totally driven by what SGLs (study group leaders) choose to do. We're unpaid volunteers. There's a curriculum committee that reviews proposals, but proposals are rarely rejected. Members of the committee spend most of their time trying to convince people to become an SGL. We can't fill a hole if someone leaves. The "classic" stuff is popular because many people see this as a chance to read what they never got to read in college (even if they should have read it in college). I started doing Shakespeare a few years ago--the Henriad, the Roman plays--because I was then the chair of the curriculum committee and the SGLs who did Shakespeare died! We had to have Shakespeare in the curriculum, so it fell to me to get up to speed. That was tough because we have a lot of Shakespeare fans, and they know their stuff. That was in contrast to War and Peace, which I did a year ago. I'd read it several times, but nobody else in class had, so I was way ahead of them. Not the case with Shakespeare.

LFC said...

Dean,
I don't think that quote from Atlas's 1988 NYT piece is evidence that Levin was "involved" with P. de Man's academic ascent. All that quote shows, at most, is that Levin was acquainted with de Man. Is there more to it than that? Maybe Levin was one of those who helped de Man get established in the U.S.? (Obviously I'm not taking the time to research this.)

Used to have on my shelf Levin's essay collection _Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times_. Had to move it for space reasons. Still have, I think, the Viking Portable Joyce that Levin edited.

mesnenor said...

The name Tom Flanagan, mentioned above and in the linked article about Seamus Heaney, is familiar to me. I was a student at StonyBrook in the mid 80s, and Flanagan was an English professor there at the time. His annual seminar on Finnegan's Wake was a big deal. At StonyBrook there was a category of courses and seminars that were open to either advanced undergrads or grad students. Flanagan's Finnegan's Wake seminar was one that the hip English majors all wanted to take, but had a hard time getting into, because all the first year English and Comp Lit grad students wanted in as well.

I wasn't a literature student myself, but I heard about Flanagan and his famous seminar from my Literature grad students friends. Flanagan had apparently been recruited from UC as a respected literature professor in the late 70s. It was soon after he arrived at StonyBrook that he became a Very Big Deal, because his first novel (a carefully researched historical novel called The Year of the French) became a surprise best seller, and won prestigious literary awards and whatnot. So, during the 80s he was one of the faculty stars (at a campus where most of the real star names were in the physics department.)

Apparently the routine was that on the first day of the Finnegan's Wake seminar, Flanagan would carry in his copy of that work, and ostentatiously make a show of choosing a page at random. He would then lecture on that randomly selected page for the rest of the semester. Of course he would really lecture on the whole book, using the one page as a lens through which to view the rest of the text, but as theatrical professorial shtick goes, that was some good stuff. I remember about it after all these years, and I didn't even take the course.

Dean said...

LFC, You are correct that Levin figured in de Man's establishment in the American academy. See, e.g., this review of a recent biography of de Man in New Republic by Robert Alter (still at Berkeley):

https://newrepublic.com/article/117020/paul-de-man-was-total-fraud-evelyn-barish-reviewed

For example, "De Man’s other close call at Harvard came in 1954, when he was a member of the prestigious Society of Fellows, an enviable position that Levin and Poggioli had secured for him." I included the Atlas quote because it complemented what david wrote in the comment before mine, and it was an example of de Man's colleagues' response to the discovery of the Belgian journalism.

mesnenor: Great Flanagan (and Finnegan) story. I've been hoping to plow through Finnegans Wake, particularly during the shelter-in-place order, but while I've made progress, frankly I'm too tired and anxious these days to relax, sit back, and read. Still, I mean to complete it. It's glorious.

LFC said...

Dean,
I wrote a longish comment and Blogger just swallowed it, as occasionally happens if one logs in after writing the comment rather than before. I don't have time to rewrite it now, so I'll just say thanks for the reference to the Alter review, which I've read with interest.

LFC said...

Btw, I think the majority of universities these days put out some kind of well-produced alumni publication. And my impression/guess is that a lot of them make an effort to be interesting.

But specifically w.r.t. the opening lines of the OP, Harvard Magazine is only indirectly a fundraising tool for the university. The magazine has to raise money from readers, because its expenses are only partly covered by a contribution or a subsidy or whatever you want to call it from the university. It's also officially editorially independent, which means that while it's not going to publish an article attacking Harvard as a bastion of elitism and iniquity, it can criticize university policies etc in a way that an official organ of the university like The Harvard Gazette cannot.

To return to the money angle, Harvard Magazine actually competes with the Harvard College Fund or the Kennedy School or the Law School or etc etc for contributions from alumni. Any given dollar that alumnus or alumna Smith or Jones or whoever gives to the magazine is a dollar that is not going to the university or one of its branches. (At least for people whose resources for such giving are limited.) In the long run the magazine's existence may well increase overall giving to the university, but in the short view it's a competitor for funds.

Granted, there are probably a significant number of alumni who make no contributions to anything connected with Harvard (on the grounds that there are needier and/or worthier recipients or whatever). But that doesn't alter the point above about competition.