Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, April 26, 2021

THREE MORE

Sidney Morgenbesser’s classic put down having been quoted, I will reproduce here two great stories from the Sidney legend which I tell in my autobiography, one of which, the second one, is not widely known.

Some months after the Spring of '68, Sidney was called for jury duty, and as luck would have it, he was tapped for a case involving alleged police brutality.  During the voir dire, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to try the case asked Sidney whether he had ever been treated brutally or unfairly by the police.  Sidney thought for a moment and said, "Brutally, yes.  Unfairly, no."  The ADA asked him to explain, and Sidney told the story of the attack by the TPF.  "And you didn't think they were acting unfairly?"  "No," Sidney said, "they were hitting everybody."  Sidney was a genuinely great man.

            While I am telling Sidney stories, let me tell one more that may not have made its way into the blogosphere.  A few words of explanation are required.  One of Columbia's best known professors at that time was the literary scholar Lionel Trilling.  Trilling was a New York Jewish boy who, before spending his entire career at Columbia, actually went to the high school [De Witt Clinton] at which my father taught for a while.  Despite his origins, he affected a cultivated WASP manner that, I imagine, he thought would be appropriate in an Oxford Senior Common Room.  Trilling was one of a number of Columbia professors who chose to focus their energies in the College rather than the Graduate School.  [That was an old rivalry for which I do not have time or space in these memoirs.]  One day, Sidney went to a cocktail party, at which he spotted Trilling holding forth in his best Oxonian style.  Sidney walked up and said, in a loud voice, "Ah, Lionel.  Incognito ergo sum, eh?"

            Now, this was pretty clearly a prepared bon mot.  Sidney, like Samuel Johnson, was not above lying in bed at night crafting a witticism that he would carry about with him until an occasion arose for delivering it.  As an author who does most of his writing in his head, I do not deprecate the practice.  Indeed, my favorite Oscar Wilde line is one that he never actually published, and that has come down to us only because someone present on the occasion had the good sense to record it.  I am referring, of course, to Wilde's immortal judgment on Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop -- "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."

7 comments:

David Zimmerman said...

Who wants to be "First!"?

s. wallerstein said...

Lionel Trillings was the second most pretentious, pompous and boring human being (the champion being my childhood rabbi) I've ever come across.

I had him for a course in modern literature. My freshman room-mate Frank and I used to take turns napping (the other took notes for both of us) while Trilling lectured, often just name-dropping.

I don't recall much he said, but he had a very low opinion of one of your (RPW) favorite poets, Dylan Thomas.

Steve Gerrard said...

Louis Menand's just published _The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War_ has a chapter on Trilling (who was a teacher of Menand).

Jerry Brown said...

I am hoping we are not quite done with Marx and that you will return to that as current events allow. Interspersed of course with various stories and musings about your age which I love- they make me feel young and impatient again.

Anonymous said...

Utility in the context of land rents in the current pandemic circumstances has brought me back to Marx's original writings about weavers and farm workers who worked at home to produce goods for consumption elsewhere. In some ways, in the pandemic era, we are back to that early industrial revolution model just before factories overwhelmed our urban environments.

--Dave F.

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