My son, Patrick, sent me this link to a 1978 Brian McGee interview with Herbert Marcuse. I just watched it and it is so perfect for my purposes that I will assign it in my course. It was great fun seeing Herbert again. If you read along the text at the bottom of the picture you can see all the places where they get his words wrong, which fits perfectly with the story I will tell of the first time I met him.
Friday, July 29, 2022
I am now almost halfway through One – Dimensional Man and the experience of re-reading it is fascinating for me. It is very dense, rather obscure, quite difficult, and will be an extraordinary challenge for my students. I am not sure when I read it the first time, but I rather think it was shortly after 1964, when it appeared. I can tell us both by the nature of my comments and by the nature of my handwriting which was then very small and very precise. A second set of comments in a much thicker pen and larger handwriting is scattered throughout the book. The first set are skeptical, even mocking, and were clearly written at a time when I was quite unsympathetic to what Marcuse was saying. I am not going to conceal these comments from the students – I am going to read them to the students and then explain how my understanding of Marcuse evolved. What is most striking to me is the difference between the world as it was when he wrote the book and the world as it is now almost 60 years later.
If you include the work of Adam Smith, which I will talk about in my third lecture together with that of David Ricardo, the works and ideas discussed in the course span almost 250 years. This will give me an opportunity to show the students the relationship between what an author think and the way the world is when he or she is writing. This is not, by and large, something that philosophers talk about very much but it is essential in understanding their works and nowhere more so than in the books we shall be reading. (Needless to say, this is true not only of Smith and Ricardo and Marx and Freud and Marcuse but also of me.)
When I thought up this course it was something of a jeu d’esprit but I now realize that I have some very serious things that I want to try to communicate to the students. Will I succeed? That has been a question with which I have wrestled my entire life. I hope so.
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Tomorrow morning, at 3 AM (9 AM Paris time) our Paris apartment will be sold to a tax lawyer and his wife. It has been a wonderful 18 years, and I have countless happy memories of early morning walks around old Paris, of marvelous meals in restaurants on the left bank, of dishes I prepared in our little kitchen and of the friends we made there.
We bought the tiny apartment (330 ft.²) on a lark and it was the best thing we ever did. It only remains to turn now to the next stage in my life.
I have been rereading Herbert Marcuse’s One – Dimensional Man in preparation for teaching it in my upcoming course at UNC Chapel Hill. I have not read it in many decades and had forgotten how difficult it is, how obscure. At the same time, I believe I can see why it was so appealing to young radical students in the late 60s and early 70s. My job is going to be to make it relevant to students some of whose parents had not yet been born when it was published in 1964.
This promises to be a very challenging experience and I am looking forward to it.
Sunday, July 24, 2022
I should like to thank the many commentators who had kind things to say about me in response to my recent post. Perhaps it would be ungracious of me to note that I was speaking wryly, puckishly, self-deprecatingly, I might even dare to say ironically. The web seems well suited to pontification, anger, burlesque, and the more obvious forms of comedy, but not so much to gentler efforts at humor. Perhaps a judicious scattering of appropriate emojis would help.
Friday, July 22, 2022
I am about to start preparing the fourth lecture in the course I will teach this fall, and I am uncertain which of three alternative ways I should choose of introducing students to the opening pages of CAPITAL. I have at one time or another used all three with varying degrees of success.
The first way requires that students be familiar with the novels of Jane Austen and in particular with Pride and Prejudice. The second way requires that students know who Fred Astaire was. And the third way requires that students know what the miracle of transubstantiation in the Catholic mass is.
I am so old and my students are so young but I have not really a clue whether I can count on them to know any of these things, and having to explain them along the way sort of robs the intro of its force.
Perhaps I really have, as they say in the dairy aisle at the supermarket, passed my sell-by date.
Friday, July 15, 2022
I have spent much of today planning my second lecture, to be delivered on August 22. In the lecture I will be discussing the Economic Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and in particular the essay on alienated labor, along with the Communist Manifesto. Although it is not my intention to discuss the historical development of what came to be called Marxism, I do plan to find some way to weave into my lecture an account of John Reed’s report of the 1917 revolution when he was in Russia and was a stringer for the New York socialist newspaper The Call. That report was contained in a 30 page cablegram sent by Reed to The Call, the first report of the revolution by a Western newsman. I shall tell the students that they can see the actual cablegram, as it came into the offices of the newspaper, in the John Reed Archives at Harvard’s Houghton Library. And I will of course point out to them that it was I who donated it to Harvard.
I mean, why not? It is one of a few moments when I brushed up against history and this may well be the last course I ever teach
What a wonderful elaboration of my metaphor! If I should say something like this again (as I am sure to do), I shall include your addition, giving you full credit for it (but omitting the line from Hegel – I am too old to change my ways, alas.)
Thursday, July 14, 2022
I have often observed that when and where one is born, over which one has no control whatsoever, determines the politics of the world in which one lives more than anything that one does or says or hopes or fears. All any of us can do is to fight for what we believe in during the brief few years that we are alive. I uttered my first public protest 71 years ago as a young Harvard sophomore – it was a letter to the student newspaper calling on Harvard’s president to resign because he had stated that he would not hire a communist on the faculty (although, to give him his due, he said he would not fire one if he discovered him or her already on the faculty.) Well, it is 71 years later and things are not looking good in the US of A. I was never inclined to go gentle into that good night anyway, but I had hoped to approach the exit at a time more full of hope.
Among many of those to whom I gravitated on the left, there seemed to be a belief that effective political protest is somewhat like brain surgery, a complex delicate operation in which the slightest mistake can lead to disaster. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that effective political protest is much more like a landslide, in which huge trees, boulders, and great gobs of dirt roll down the hillside accompanied by vast numbers of twigs, leaves, pebbles, and bits of soil. Our attention might be drawn to a huge boulder crashing by, but without all that insignificant detritus accompanying it, the boulder is just an isolated incident, not part of an event that reshapes the mountain so that it is never the same again.
Let me give you a personal example from more than 60 years ago. In February 1960, a group of students from two black colleges – North Carolina A & T and Bennett College – launched a sit-in in the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro that played a large role in energizing the newly emerging civil rights movement in the United States. One of the Bennett College women who took part in that protest was a tiny dynamo of a woman named Esther Terry, who came from the rural North Carolina town of Wise near the Virginia border. Thirty-two years later, that woman, by then the chair of the W. E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, invited me to join the department and in doing so changed my life.
Back in 1960, I was a young instructor at Harvard. At that time there was a Woolworth’s half a block outside of Harvard Square, and a group of us spent some time picketing it in sympathy with the Greensboro sit-in. In the civil rights movement, Esther was a sizable boulder or tree in the landslide that changed America. I and my fellow picketers were pebbles or leaves or bits of dirt, if that. But – and this is the point of this story – we were rolling down the right side of the hill and therefore we, with all of the other pebbles and leaves and twigs and great boulders and big uprooted trees were part of a landslide.
That is really all we can do. Oh, it is easy enough to pontificate about the world and if you are going to pontificate at all you might as well pontificate big. But when it comes to actually changing the world, most of us are pebbles hoping that we end up tumbling down the right side of the hill.
If the truth be told, I have grown weary of pontificating so I will continue to do the little things I can – donating bits of money, making a few local calls for the North Carolina Democratic Party, being sure to get out and vote . Meanwhile, I will prepare once again to teach because that is what I have always loved to do and happily I still have the opportunity to do so.
Monday, July 11, 2022
The combination of Covid and my Parkinson’s has posed certain problems for me as I prepare for the course I shall start teaching August 15. Rather than teaching in Caldwell Hall, where the philosophy department is located, I shall be meeting the class across campus in the Biology building, because Caldwell is utterly handicap inaccessible.
I shall be wearing a mask, whether it is required by the University or not, because the latest variant is extremely contagious and I do not want even a mild case of the disease if I can avoid it. But one of the side effects of my disease is that my voice is somewhat compromised and not as loud as it once was so wearing a mask may make me totally inaudible. The solution is a microphone. I went online to look for one on Amazon and found a great many handheld microphones with built-in speakers – just the thing.
There is only one problem. All of them without exception are described as “karaoke microphones.” I shall explain to the students that if I burst into song from time to time they must be patient with me.
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
I have on several occasions told the story of the time that I sang in the pit chorus in Sanders Theatre when Shirley Jones and her new husband Jack Cassidy showed up in a touring summer stock cast to perform The Beggar’s Opera. Yesterday evening I again watched the old movie The Music Man in which Jones appears with Robert Preston. Curious, I looked her up on Wikipedia and it turns out she is alive and three months younger than I am! So when I signed up sixty-six years ago to earn one dollar per performance in the chorus, as a young 22-year-old graduate student finishing my doctoral dissertation, she was also 22 years old and starring in the show.
I did not meet her, of course. The chorus never made it onto the stage but we watched rehearsals and the performances from the orchestra pit. We were all madly in love with her and thought that Jack Cassidy was the luckiest man alive,
Monday, July 4, 2022
I have on many occasions mentioned here the series of lectures I delivered at UNC Chapel Hill, one on the thought of Karl Marx and another on The Critique of Pure Reason, which were recorded by a graduate student, Alexander Campbell, and then posted on YouTube. But I am not sure that I have been spoken that much about the first series of 10 lectures that I delivered on the subject of Ideological Critique. I recorded these myself, using a little camcorder I purchased at Best Buy along with a lapel mic. I set the camcorder up on my desk in my study at Meadowmont Village, and then deliver the lectures to nobody at all. The first three lectures dealt with Karl Mannheim’s great work, Ideology and Utopia. The next four focused on Edwin Wilmsen’s devastating critique of ethnography, Land Filled with Flies. The eighth and ninth lectures were devoted to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s early and quite impressive work, The Signifying Monkey. All of those, I am quite confident, are worth your attention. But it is the last lecture, the 10th, that is the subject of this post. Rather unexpectedly, it deals with Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, or more precisely, with Edward Said’s construal of that novel as being about slavery. Some words of explanation are called for.
In 1993, Said published a collection of essays about British literature entitled Culture and Imperialism. As one might expect, he devoted chapters to such novelists as Rudyard Kipling, but rather surprisingly, he included an essay on Mansfield Park. In 1999, the Canadian film director Patricia Rozema did a marvelous film of Mansfield Park starring, among others, Nobel laureate Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas. Susie and I saw the movie in a downtown Amherst art theater (if, indeed, one can really speak of “downtown” Amherst.) It was immediately obvious to me that Rozema had been deeply influenced by Said’s essay. Some while later, I was invited by my big sister, Barbara, to speak at a meeting of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, in Washington, DC. I chose as my subject Jane Austen as interpreted by Said and rendered by Rozema. In the course of doing some background research for the talk, I came to the conclusion that Said was in fact quite correct in his reading, even though he seems not to have known the historical details that I dug up. When I gave a series of lectures on Ideological Critique, I decided to include a version of that lecture as a coda.
If you have an interest in ideological critique or in Jane Austen or in Edward Said, or indeed in Patricia Rozema, I recommend the lecture to you. It is only a bit more than 30 minutes long but I think is worth your time.
One word of explanation. I found so disorienting the experience of lecturing to nobody at all that after the first of my 10 lectures I conceived the fiction of inviting to each lecture one of the men or women who had been my students over the decades. By the time I reached the last in the series, I was calling the name (as I learn to say in an Afro-American studies department) of nine of my former students.
You can find the YouTube lecture here.
Sunday, July 3, 2022
The testimony of Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson was a great pleasure to watch. What is not to like about reports of Trump throwing plates of cheeseburgers against the wall of his office so that ketchup drips down and has to be wiped up by aides? But there was one piece of information that caught me completely by surprise and made me realize that I had actually underestimated Trump’s danger to the country.
I had seen replayed several dozen times the clip of Trump’s speech at the ellipse in which he tells the assembled crowd that he will walk down with them to the Capitol. Since I knew he had not done so, I took this as typical Trump bravado. But Hutchinson made it clear that Trump desperately wanted to go to the Capitol and had been stopped from doing so only by his Secret Service detail.
Just try to imagine what would have happened if he had tried to lead that mob into the Capitol. Would the Capitol police have stopped him? I think not. He was, after all, the President of the United States. He would have entered the chamber, accompanied by the mob, and attempted to take control of the opening of the reports of the electors. Right there, the last vestiges of American democracy would have evaporated.
These are genuinely perilous times and I have no confidence in any of the predictions I have read or heard. We must do what we can and hope.
Saturday, July 2, 2022
I have lost track of where we are in this challenge so I have donated my last $200 and declare the challenge completed. Thank you one and all. $3000 is not nothing and it will go some way to helping local candidates win in states around the country. Let us hope many others follow our example.
Now we can go back to talking about the world historical meaning of the universe.