Friday, October 12, 2018

History of My Reading: Primary Group

Anderson House. Photo courtesy of Chip Evans, who also lived there.
Apart from my English 103 course, essentially an independent studies to write a paper, I had four actual courses(plus phys ed)  the first semester of my freshman year at Knox College, in the fall of 1964.

 That included an eight o'clock class, the only one I took in those four years. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person.  But I was arising early enough to hear the only program my radio could muster on the local Galesburg station: the Farm Report.  It was not, as I remember, a report on farm techniques and news affecting local crops.  What I recall, washing my face and brushing my teeth at the iron-stained wash basin in my third floor Anderson House room, was a daily drone of stock market prices.  Hog futures featured prominently.

 That and the sound of chainsaws in the distance, felling the last of the diseased elms on and around campus, form my memories of those early mornings.

Prof. John L. Stipp
 I don't recall which course that 8 o'clock was, although judging from my mid-term grades I'd bet on Western Civ with Prof. John Stipp.  Ramrod straight and entering the classroom in something like a cape, professor Stipp reminded me a bit of Bishop Sheen and his inexplicable hit TV show in the 1950s.  Also oddly the model of what I'd imagined a university professor would be. He was formal and well-spoken, dryly humorous, exacting and a bit dramatic.  I didn't know until recently of his work on Nazi Germany.  But in a couple of years from that fall he would be among the faculty leaders in speaking out against the Vietnam war.

I have no memory of what this book looked like in 1964.  Maybe this.
In this course he was rigorous, teaching from a widely used textbook he'd co-authored (and if memory serves, he donated royalties back to the college.)  For some of our classmates who majored in history he was an inspiration.  For the rest of us I suspect he was most famous--or infamous-- for his exams, and his unique multiple choice questions on which event in history happened third.

 I don't remember anything about that textbook, or the form and content of the course. My only actual memory of this course involves another exam question.

It involved choosing the right sequence of parts.  I'd finished the exam and was taking it to the front of the room when another student somehow saw my paper and whispered that the answer was supposed to have three parts, not the five I'd written down (or something like that.)  I took it back to my seat and re-did the answer, then turned it in. As he returned the corrected exams at a subsequent class, Prof. Stipp in his most magisterial tone pronounced the (to me) immortal words: "I am sure I will endear Mr. Kowinski to the rest of you by announcing that he was the only one in the class to answer [that question] correctly."

 Nevertheless, my final grade for the semester was B-. Though an improvement over the C- at midterms, I got a better final grade in PE.

  That first semester I was also taking Spanish 101 (the low-level horror of that experience I described in this earlier post), and Math 121, about which I recall very little.  The young professor Ron Hourston taught it.  I remember he seemed nervous but likable, and clearly very smart.  I did surprisingly well the first half of the semester (I got a B on the only test, and nobody got an A) but in the end I barely passed the course.

Something like these pinstripes in the 1940 film "The Philadelphia Story"
The course I remember best--and the one I enjoyed most at the time--was Sociology 201.  It was taught by a tall young professor, Michael La Sorte.

  I recall him striding in a kind of controlled lope across the front of the room, back and forth in front of the blackboard as he talked, and I especially remember his suits.

  The typical men's suit of the mid-60s can be seen in any photo of President Kennedy: form-fitting, soft shoulder, two-button, short jacket with fairly narrow lapels and uncuffed trousers.  I was fascinated with La Sorte's suits because I hadn't seen anything like them outside of 1940s Hollywood movies:  loose fitting pants with cuffs, oversized long jackets with padded shoulders and wide lapels, often double-breasted.

Once when he was talking about the characteristic dress of certain immigrant subcultures (Latino and Italian) in big cities,  he mentioned the "zoot suit."   As he described it he glanced at himself and added, "I guess that's what this is."  His weren't quite that elaborate but I always had the feeling that his suits were inherited, perhaps from his father, and this was his first teaching job.  (It was in fact his first year at Knox.)
Anyway, the course was interesting, and I learned a lot from its textbook: Society by Ely Chinoy.  It remained so clear in my memory that I immediately recognized a copy when I came upon one more recently: it's the second, 1967 edition (ours was from 1961) but it has the same cover and seems basically familiar.

 It was my academic introduction to such concepts as social stratification, cultures and subcultures.  It pertained to my previous interest in books about the relationships of the individual and society, and political power.  But it also brought me further along in recognizing the role of ethnic and status distinctions, of which I was only vaguely aware, and mostly ignorant.

 That was partly due to my previous education. I was educated in Catholic schools to fix my identity on two things: being Catholic (first and foremost) and being an American.  I'm sure my classmates were smarter about other distinctions, but I literally could not recognize so much as an Irish name (unless it started with Mc), let alone a Jewish one. I didn't even consciously know Polish names (all I knew was that, like my own, they were long and made people uncomfortable) or even Italian names, beyond the Italian American culture I partly grew up in. I guess I had some awareness but in my time and place, Italian American culture was shared by everybody.  Big figures in the culture included Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Graziano, Frank Sinatra.  There were Italian language hit records.  Even Rosemary Clooney sang Italian songs.

 I gradually learned more from Knox classmates.  One of the first I remember meeting outside Anderson House was Neil Gaston.  He told funny stories that also elucidated status assumptions.  I knew nothing about prep schools, or the relative social standing of various Chicago high schools and suburbs.  Or how snobbish pretension could be undermined by a jacket with a Penney's label.

 Early in my freshman year I also met Holly Sue Thompson of Morton Grove and her friend Edie Haptonstahl, who lived with her large family not far from the Knox campus.  Perhaps they were both in my Sociology class, but I'm pretty sure Edie was, because I recall her referring to the three of us as our "primary group," a concept from the Chinoy text, defined as "characterized by intimate face-to-face association and cooperation."  We went around together for those first months.  I got some home-cooked meals at Edie's, to supplement the food service fare.

As for that sociology class, my final paper was about a book, Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry by Robert Blauner, new from University of Chicago Press that year.  Alienation was a hot topic then, though not everyone defined it the same way.  Scholars worried that industrial workers, subject to the tedium of repetitive jobs in noisy and sometimes unhealthy and dangerous workplaces, felt powerless, bored and angry.  That's when industrial jobs were plentiful and seemed like they'd last forever.  Now that many of those jobs are gone, together with their relatively high pay and security, there's nostalgia about them, and their alienating effects forgotten.

Chaplin in "Modern Times" expressed industrial alienation in now iconic images
The book studies workers in 16 industrial job settings.  The most attention is paid to an automated chemical plant, and this is what I remember about the book: that these workers, who had little to do but trouble-shoot the automated machinery, were the least alienated, because they were the most involved in what they were doing, and in the process as a whole. (Automation was another hot topic, leading to much discussion later in the 1960s about the Guaranteed Annual Income as a way to safeguard against the effects of widespread unemployment due to machines taking over human jobs. That discussion, moribund for 40 years or so, is alive again.)

 In my paper I was supposed to summarize and illustrate the data and findings, and offer my judgment. I was skeptical that automation was going to lessen or end worker alienation, or would prove to be more fulfilling.  I felt that the "freedom" it promised was illusory, and fragile at best.

 Since I enjoyed this eye-opening class, I've since wondered why I didn't take another sociology course.  Maybe doing the actual science seemed dull--designing and evaluating questionnaires, etc.  Or more likely, I wanted to keep exploring different fields, and never got back to it.

As for Michael La Sorte, he became part of the Knox "brain drain" of younger professors that was so controversial in later semesters. He wound up at the State University of New York at Brockport, and authored a book I wish I'd known about at the time: La Merica: Images Of Italian Greenhorn Experience, published in 1985, just a month after my The Malling of America (some reviews of which identified me as a "sociologist," which I had never claimed to be.)

 I certainly have responded in recent years to the ethnic stereotyping of Italian Americans as Mafia goons (as in the collection of Italian love songs--which dominated American cultures in the 40s and 50s--as Mob Hits.)  Since retiring, "Mike La Sorte" continues to write about such subjects.

  Outside of course work, I recall a few books I read that first semester, introduced to me by classmates.  Ted Szostkowski, who lived in the room next to mine at Anderson House, recommended A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., a novel spanning centuries concerning the slow rise and abrupt fall again of civilization after a 20th century nuclear holocaust. Perhaps we'd been talking about science fiction, for Miller was an accomplished author of science fiction stories published in the pulp magazines, including the linked stories that he turned into this novel.

An underground cult novel as well as supposed genre fiction at the time I read it, A Canticle For Leibowitz (first published in 1959) has since become one of the most highly praised American science fiction novels and post-atomic novels.

 There weren't courses in science fiction then, at Knox or almost anywhere else, and certainly not doctoral dissertations, but this novel has since been taught and written about extensively. Re-reading it now, I can see why.

 For many readers the world in which the novel takes places is unfamiliar: largely the Roman Catholic Church structure revived out of the ashes of an incinerated civilization and a long Dark Age.  Much of the book takes place in a monastery in the desert Southwest of the "Albertian Order of Leibowitz" which is dedicated to preserving the last fragments of knowledge that survived the destructive frenzy of "the Simplification."  (The desert landscape would become familiar in subsequent apocalyptic novels and movies.)

 However, I was familiar with the traditional structure and vocabulary of the Church that dominates this novel, though even by the mid-1960s this was itself changing rapidly.  Miller's future Church for example used Latin, as was traditional until the early 1960s, when the vernacular languages were becoming the official ones.  Most of my education had been in the traditional Church.  For at that time Catholic school students studied the structure, history and government of the Church and Church doctrine at least as intensely as studying the U.S. government and its founding documents and arguments.

 Miller's use of this language and institutional structure, right down to the logic of degrees of sin, was elaborate and intricate, even if his purpose was ironic: to show that the response to the post-nuclear Dark Age of the Simplification was identical to the response to the first Dark Ages and barbarian invasions, in which ancient knowledge and literacy itself were preserved by monks in European monasteries.

 That humanity managed to start from almost nothing (in the book's first section, the last scraps of technical manuals were completely misunderstood, and turned into holy books) to reinvent science and eventually the nuclear weapons with which it destroys civilization again, did not make me feel my investment in reading the book was immediately rewarded.  Of course this is the essential battle, in science fiction as elsewhere, between the fate of being captive in cycles of self-destruction, and the possibility of learning enough and applying courage to change enough to escape those fatal repetitions.

 The book recognizes this, and the religious imagery adds richness to the insight and the ambiguity.  Especially in the middle section, it bears on the role of science, a discussion opened for us in the "two cultures" debate.  Miller places the proto-scientist in the role of Pontius Pilate, who washes his hands of responsibility, while taking his livelihood and power from the rulers he knows are hell-bent towards societal self-destruction.  (There's also a mischievous suggestion that Lazurus, having been raised from the dead by Christ, stays alive forever.)

Ted recommended another book I read that semester. I must have mentioned John Updike's short stories, or perhaps he saw the two volumes I had, The Same Door and Pigeon Feathers. Plus I was eagerly reading Updike's new stories as they came out in the New Yorker.  I hadn't yet read any of his novels (although there were only three by 1964.  Eventually there would be 22.)

 Ted recommended Updike's latest novel, The Centaur, which by then was in paperback.  It is the story of a central Pennsylvania small town schoolteacher, told through a particular version of the Chiron myth in Greek mythology.  The teacher, Updike said in his Paris Review interview, is based on his father.

 There is a certain magic in the opening scene, in which myth and reality interpenetrate.  There is plenty of the surprising and vivid imagery of everyday life that became associated with Updike.  For instance: "Doc Appleton removed the stethoscope from around his neck and laid it on his desk, where it writhed and then subsided like a slain rubber serpent."  The choice of words and the rhythm of the sentence are part of what made Updike's writing special, and made him a model for me.

 I was not yet ready for this book as a whole--as the length and density of A Canticle for Lebowitz also challenged my reading energies and ability to fend off the hormonal impatience of youth long enough to stay in the pages.  But each attempt and each experience helped make the next easier and more natural, and soon I would be shown tools to help me.

I did move on to Updike's second novel and the one that first made him famous, Rabbit, Run.  It was something new, not only to me but to at least popular literature.

 For the time it was fast-paced, and used pop culture more readily and effectively than other writers.  Though the present tense became a trademark of the 1980s minimalist fictionists, Updike wrote Rabbit, Run that way in 1960.  By the late 60s, Updike would get a never wholly deserved reputation as a conservative stylist.  But he burst on the scene as something of an experimental writer, and in some ways remained one.

 Re-reading Rabbit, Run I was surprised as how tawdry its world and its characters now seemed.  But I do recall that its lovemaking scenes were among the first--if not the very first--that I'd read: somewhat educational and eventually, in part, useful.  As a writer, Updike would continue to be a guidepost for me, especially in the next few years.

I'd also written verse in high school and had been exposed to a range of poets in our literature anthologies.  On my own I had gravitated towards certain poems by Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy I found in my uncle's college anthology.

 I'm not entirely sure this happened in that first semester, but I'm pretty sure it was Holly Thompson who introduced me to the Selected Poems of  D.H. Lawrence.  I'd read some Lawrence short stories, and would read several of his novels, but I knew nothing of his verse.  Some of it was rhymed but other poems--such as "At A Loose End"--are short, astringent and tersely expressed, more like his prose.  I'd never read poems like that.

 Towards the end of that first semester I began seeing Susan Lee Barry. I have fond memories of Sue, as I have of Holly--who were friends with each other and remained so for our allotted four years.  At some point, Sue was the first to explain to me the outline of human evolution--from tiny ground mammals, chased into the trees, and down from the trees again to the savannas.  I remember feeling sad that we ever left the trees.  I feel that even more now.

  Fall had for me an unexpected series of events called Rush.  It was the period in which individual fraternities and sororities harvested first year students as new members.  I knew very little about fraternities, beyond the one Ricky Nelson had belonged to on Ozzie and Harriet.  I saw no reason to join one.

 But in 1964 the Greek system was particularly controversial.  Stories and letters to the editor in the Knox Student leveled serious criticism, and revealed unappealing hostility from the Greek side.  Though nearly every classmate at Anderson House I knew of was eager to join a fraternity (and I recall being questioned as I showered in the second floor bathroom by a  classmate who couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't join), I soon learned that there were students in classes ahead of ours who were against the Greek system generally, and its influence on the campus.  They were known as Independents, or Indies.

Cecil Steed, Gary McCool from Knox 1964-65 yearbook
I absorbed their arguments, and began to meet some of them.  Their arguments made sense to me, but the emotional clincher was learning that the the year before, the climactic weekend of Rush had been held as scheduled, even though it was the weekend that President Kennedy was assassinated, mourned and buried.  All of it together made me consciously an Indie.

It was probably then that I met some of the older students who would remain important to me for the rest of the year, and as long as they were there.  I definitely remember Mary Jacobson and Gary McCool (the intellectual Buddy Holly), George Bookless, Jay Matson and Cecil Steed from my first year.  I would get to know others in subsequent semesters.

 But I'd already met some other older students, particularly women.  This was the aspect of Knox that was like a sudden Wonderland, an unexpected paradise: all of these lovely and intelligent young women, so varied and so new to my experience, all in one place, and with the relative freedom to see them, speak with them, and walk with them.  Without dreary games or too much self-consciousness.

 Even the relative part of that freedom worked to my advantage that year.  This was the era of curfews for women living in dorms, as they were all required to do.  At Knox it was called Women's Hours.  I was among the students who campaigned over the next several years against women's hours, but that year, that semester, they worked to my advantage.

Curfews were staggered, so that on weeknights freshmen women had to be back in Whiting Hall by 11 p.m., sophomores and perhaps juniors had to be in their dorms by 11:30, and seniors by 12.  Or something like that.  So it was possible for me to see three women from different years in a single evening, and walk them each back to their dorm.

 And there were evenings when I did just that. Partly because I was socially and sexually naive and inexperienced,  but mostly because I was fascinated by the opportunity to know these young women without a lot of artificiality,  these exploratory evenings amounted to little more than coffee and conversation in the Gizmo (for instance with classmates Jill Crawford or Kathy Lydigsen, who remained friends in subsequent years), and/or a long walk.

  I especially loved the walks.  The freedom and opportunity to walk with a young woman in the night air, along as yet unfamiliar streets and ways, was itself dazzling, especially combined with the charm and beauty of my companions.

 I remember a moment, walking with Martha Hoagland--she was from some exotic place like Iowa or Nebraska--and the light on her long hair (unusual that year).   I was fascinated by the hazel eyes of Alix Metcalfe that fall, who left Knox the next year I believe, and who may still be a reader of this blog.

 Maybe it was a Knox tradition anyway, since there wasn't a lot to do in Galesburg, but the evening walk became a staple of my social life in later years as well.  I remember walks with Judy Dugan (the wind in the trees in the cemetery), and with Mary Jacobson through Standish Park, and with Sue Werheim on a particularly chilly night, when Mary and Sue were roommates at Williston Hall.

 These walks usually happened during the week, and were mostly not "dating."  But if the dorm we walked back to was Whiting Hall, there was the scene at curfew (especially on weekends) that I suspect would be impossible to believably describe to a student today.  The "passion parlor" exhibition of couples necking and writhing on couches (with at least one foot on the floor, that was the rule) while attendants at the front desk impassively ignored it all until closing time, was a shock to me when I first witnessed it, returning Holly or Sue to Whiting.  It was so ridiculous I vowed I would never participate.  But of course, before the year was out, I did.

 I'm not sure what my fledgling social life has to do with books, except that it influenced me as a person and therefore as a reader. Books after all were among the topics we talked about. My acquaintances and friendships particularly with these older students did propel me into new experiences (and new reading.)  Books and ideas were at least as important as anything else in all these conversations.  "The college world is unbelievably unlike the real world," I wrote in a letter home.  "No one really has time for anything but honesty."

There are a few more notable memories from that first semester.  Early in the term, I was approached near the Gizmo counter by a skinny stranger, Dave Altman, who ambushed me with the demand, "Say WVKC!"  Somehow I understood the test--it was the proper pronunciation of "W."  I passed the test, and wound up with a radio show, then two, then got into the rotation to read the news for one of the two 15 minute news broadcasts.

This involved ripping news stories off the wire service teletype machine, rudely puncturing them on pegs by category, selecting and assembling them in some sort of priority, and either writing a script--though there usually wasn't time--or just reading them on the air, or improvising a combination.

 Eventually I became aware that nobody I knew was actually listening to these broadcasts, and I compensated by doing David Brinkley imitations to amuse myself and the sound engineer.

 In November, I participated in the WVKC election coverage, which went on deep into the night. Unfortunately our wire service reports were considerably behind in reporting returns, so much of our news came via Dave Altman, who stood outside in the rain listening to network news on his transistor radio, and ran back in with their new figures.  By midnight we were improvising wildly, and I remember describing western Pennsylvania politics while Mike Bourgo (silently) simulated playing a trombone in a marching band.

 At Thanksgiving I was scheduled to help take food and clothing to a couple of former Knox students who were part of the (state of) Mississippi Project to register African American voters--this was just after Freedom Summer.  In the end my place was taken by one of these ex-students who'd returned for a brief visit, and was going back.  I think also they all had second thoughts about a freshman going along in what could potentially be a dangerous situation.  All the other students were seniors.  But they returned without incident. There was also a tragedy on campus that fall, but I'll try to put it in a different context in a future post.

Meanwhile I was going to concerts and talks, and seeing foreign films and stage plays for pretty much the first time.  The CFA's new Harbach Theatre finally opened in December with Hamlet, starring Jim Eichelburger, directed by Kim Chase.  Who could forget that cast? Among them were history professor Gabe Jackson as a pedantic Polonius,  Russ Irish and Ric Newman as the supercilious Rosencranz and Gildenstern, and David Axlerod as the chatty gravedigger.

 I was also learning the skills of being on my own for the first time, such as how to use a laundromat, and iron my own shirts (though I blush to recall I took advantage of Holly's good nature and asked her to iron a few for me.  She did a much better job than I did, though, and I pretty much gave it up. Permanent Press to the rescue!)
 
In all of this, I also experienced a fair amount of culture shock. The flat midwestern landscape had me yearning for the hills of home.  The continual buzz of campus life was exciting but also exhausting, and at a certain point it got to me that I never had a reliable hour alone.  I needed some quiet.

A lot that happened was confusing, and despite the constant presence of others and the easy social moments, there were stretches of loneliness.  My feelings towards some back home became more sentimental, and letters were flying back to Pennsylvania, with the replies layering my mail slot outside the bookstore, or dropped on the black table across from the wide first floor stairs at Anderson House.

But I could count on one friendly voice at virtually every meal: a young man in an apron who was sometimes behind the counter serving the food, or who otherwise came around to the tables, and with a hand on my shoulder asked, "How's it going, scholar?"

 His name was Ray Gadke.  His gentle, indiscriminate friendliness was odd but often a comfort. This first semester was in many respects a kind of prologue.  The virtual revolution that constituted my college education began the next semester. For it was that spring that my education took a quantum leap into new worlds--populated with a lot of new books, of course.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Beginning Hour Annex: JFK Books

Before I pack many of these JFK books back in their box (for there is no room on the overflowing shelves) I thought I'd give them their close-ups. These books remind me that at least in my lifetime there has never been as broad and extensive interest in a presidency as there was of JFK in the early 1960s. Consider this as well as an appendix to previous History of My Reading posts, such as this one and this one.
These are books that JFK authored.  Why England Slept was based on his Harvard undergrad dissertation, originally published in 1940, about how and why England failed to prepare for World War II.  He authored Profiles in Courage while a US Senator while recovering from a recurrent back problem.  It profiles 8 Senators in history and their acts of political courage  It was a best-seller and won the 1957 Pulitzer for biography.  JFK acknowledged the role of special assistant and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, though perhaps not the extent of his contribution.  The role of writers such as Sorensen in books by public figures is now assumed.

  A Nation of Immigrants was JFK's statement on immigration policy published in 1958 when he was in the Senate.  The other books are principally collections of speeches: To Turn the Tide covers roughly the first year of the presidency, The Burden and the Glory covers the remainder.  The Strategy of Peace selected Senator Kennedy's statements on foreign policy issues, plus an interview with him.  Published in 1960, it was meant to articulate positions he would advocate in his presidential campaign.  I got my first copy from the Citizens for Kennedy office on Main St. in Greensburg, PA, where I did some campaign work.
Three editions of Profiles in Courage still in my possession.  My first was a paperback written by "Senator John F. Kennedy." It was reissued when he was President, without changing the photo or the cover.  That's the bottom one.  I'm not sure when I got the Inaugural Edition but I got the Memorial Edition as a gift in 1964.  It's physically a little bigger than the Inaugural Edition with a different back cover photo.  The foreword by Robert Kennedy is notable for the sentences: "President Kennedy would have been forty-seven in May of 1964.  At least one half of the days that he spent on this earth were days of intense physical pain."

Theodore White's account of the 1960 presidential campaign, from the primaries through the general election contest between JFK and Richard Nixon, was the first of a now-familiar genre.  It just hadn't been done before.  Published in 1961, The Making of the President 1960 was a sensation, at the top of the best-seller list for months.  Teddy White wrote three more in his series, and using the Making of.. title or not, taking an inside view of presidential campaigns has become a publishing tradition ever since.
John Kennedy: A Political Profile was the first JFK biography and for awhile the only one.  Researched by historian and political science professor James MacGregor Burns in 1959 and 1960, it was published in paperback in 1961.    P.T. 109 was the best-selling account of JFK's WWII exploits in the Pacific, leading 11 survivors away from their severed P.T. boat to swim for 4 hours to the nearest small island, JFK towing one injured man by a rope held in his teeth.  There were a number of articles about this incident (notably John Hershey's in Reader's Digest) but this book by a New York Herald reporter published in 1961 became the standard.  The 1963 feature film starring Cliff Robertson as JFK was based on it.
You can gauge the early 60s voracious interest in JFK--generally as well as mine--by the fact that The Kennedy Government, nothing more than bios of JFK's cabinet and White House advisers, was published in mass market paperback in 1961. America's first man in space (Alan Shepard) and first to orbit the earth (John Glenn) were major events of the JFK years, leading to his commitment to land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.  This paperback (First American Into Space) is notable for its author, prominent science fiction writer and anthologist Robert Silverberg.  It was a time for s/f authors to claim some respectability, as the future they'd written about in their fantasies was becoming reality.
In the Kennedy government were authors of books already published, such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., J.K. Galbraith and Robert Kennedy.  Others published during the JFK administration, notably these two.  Point of the Lance was a selection of Sargent Shriver's speeches plus some additions relating directly to the Peace Corps, of which he was the first director.  Many years later I had dinner with Harris Wofford, an associate of Shriver's as well as White House operative in the JFK years, and later Senator from PA.  This book came up in the conversation, and Wofford said that he'd written most of it, completely uncredited. Under his own name he authored Of Kennedys and Kings, an account of the 60s.

  The Quiet Crisis by JFK's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall is a different matter.  It's first of all a real book, not a collection of speeches.  Published in 1963, it is an early argument for government action to save the environment, as well as a historical look at attitudes towards the natural environment in the US, beginning with "The Land Wisdom of the Indians."  Popularizing the great Aldo Leopold's concept of "the land ethic," Udall's book is a conceptual and policy breakthrough for the US and the US government.  President Kennedy wrote the introduction.
The early 1960s were rife with satire and political humor.  The Kennedys were gently spoofed in enormously popular recordings, beginning with The First Family in which comedian Vaughn Meader imitated the unique characteristics of JFK's speech and voice.  There were books of political humor as well, such as the Gerald Gardner series of photos with cartoon dialogue balloons, beginning with Who's in charge here?

Meader and Gardner were witty about JFK, but JFK surprised the country with his dry sense of humor and deadpan delivery.  He was particularly adept at demonstrating it in his press conferences, which were carried live on national television.  Bill Adler selected zingers for his very popular paperbacks such as these two, The Kennedy Wit and More Kennedy Wit.  For example, from a press conference: QUESTION: The Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution saying you were pretty much of a failure.  How do you feel about that? PRESIDENT KENNEDY: I assume it passed unanimously.
Before digital, there was usually about a year between an author finishing a book and its publication.  So many books that were prepared during the JFK administration only came out when it was abruptly and unexpectedly over. Jim Bishop had done a series of "A Day in the Life" books.  He followed the Kennedys for four days in what turned out to be during the final weeks of JFK's life.  It is written in October and November 1963, and JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger was reading it in typescript when he learn of the murder in Dallas. Written in the present tense, and published in 1964 exactly as written (according to Bishop),  there are the inevitable eerie presentiments, especially as JFK spoke fairly often about the possibility of assassination.

Hugh Sidey was the White House correspondent for TIME Magazine, and was granted a lot of access and time with JFK.  His book, he says in the preface, was supposed to be "the beginning of the story."  Instead when it was published, also in 1964, it became the first book about the entire Kennedy presidency.

President Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet on November 22, 1963.

 There were many memorial issues of newspapers and magazines (I still have several) and there were books that were quickly published like this one, compiled by UPI and American Heritage Magazine.  It is mostly photographs covering that indelible weekend from the murder in Dallas on Friday to the funeral and burial at Arlington on Monday.
The official investigation into the Kennedy assassination was headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren.  The Warren Report, widely criticized over the years, was published in 1964.  My copy was a Christmas gift from my mother, which seems weirder now than it was then.

  Death of a President is a long and thorough historical account--more than 700 pages--published in 1967.  It is by historian William Manchester (his two volume set, The Glory and the Dream, has been my Bible on the Roosevelt 30s to 1972.)   Manchester had the cooperation of the Kennedys but Jacqueline Kennedy had strong second thoughts and tried to stop publication.  Deletion of a few paragraphs concerning the assassination was negotiated.  The book was an immediate best-seller but went out of print until 2013, which perhaps makes my crumpled second-hand paperback a rare book.  
These are the first definitive accounts of the Kennedy presidency by insiders who also were adept at objective research and were exceptional writers.   Kennedy by Ted Sorensen was published in 1965.  I wrote a long review of it published in the April 1966 issue of Dialogue, the Knox College magazine.  Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days was published later in 1965, and won both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize.  These are my well-worn, much-used paperbacks.
Then there were the personal memoirs, such as these two, written by Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln (published in 1965; paperback a year later) and another by Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, who had known and worked for JFK since he first ran for Congress.  To suggest the continuing fascination with JFK, this one wasn't published until 1972.
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration was the occasion of another flood of books, including two unique volumes, both essentially transcripts of enclosed audio recordings.

 Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (Hyperion 2012) presents mostly recordings from 1962 and 1963, after JFK installed a hidden taping system in the Oval Office, and took to recording phone conversations.  The technology was comparatively primitive, so transcripts are essential.  (The recordings themselves can also be heard over the Internet from the JFK Library.)

 There are also JFK's private dictations, all meant to create an historical record and probably to aid him in writing his memoirs.  Some of the recordings are stunning--as we hear General Curtis LeMay sounding like Gen. Buck Turgenson in Dr. Strangelove--as well as mundane and vaguely interesting, as in a brief presidential conversation with the teenage Jerry Brown at the end of a call with his father, California Governor Pat Brown.

 More impressive is the 2011 Hyperion volume of Jacqueline Kennedy's reminiscences with Arthur Schlesinger in 1964.  She speaks with clarity and insight about specific events and policies in their historical contexts as well as observations on family, personalities and her own role in the White House.

 Because she never spoke on the record about the White House years, which (her daughter Caroline recalls) she later called the happiest years of her life, her voice and to a great extent her role in that history has been overlooked.  Now it can be heard, in 7 CDs. Again, the recordings are online, as are many others in the Kennedy Library oral history project. Both volumes include forewords by Caroline Kennedy, who was instrumental in releasing these sound recordings and creating these volumes.
These are two of the many new histories published during the 50th anniversary. (I wrote about them in more detail here.)  Though Clarke's book is a straightforward history (making much use of information that has come to light in the past 50 years) and Jeff Greenfield's speculates on what JFK's second term might have been like, based on the same sort of information, they come to remarkably similar conclusions, especially about American participation in the Vietnam War, which both agree JFK would have ended by 1965.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

History of My Reading: The Beginning Hour

Doug Wilson, 1969 Knox Yearbook
Freshman orientation at Knox College transitioned into the school year that late September of 1964 with choosing and registering first semester classes.  My academic advisor officially was Howard Wilson, head of the English department, but actually it was his younger colleague Douglas Wilson (no familial relation.)  I don't remember that first meeting, but I would soon get to know Mr. Wilson, take classes from him, babysit for him and socialize with him, plus drop in for many informal conversations in his Alumni Hall office.  We've kept up a scattered but longstanding correspondence over the years, the only such relationship that remains.

Sam Moon 1969 Yearbook


I recall registration as a noisy process of finding the correct folding tables where the appropriate class lists were, and filling out forms under bright lights, probably in the huge Knox gym.  I was registering for my English class when the student seated at the table recognized my name and told me to wait, Mr. Moon wanted to talk to me.

 At that point a thin man in a suit jacket, maybe tweed or corduroy, turned around and took me over to an empty table.  He sat across from me.  Sam Moon wore glasses that themselves might be described as "owlish."  But in fact I'd never met anyone who in all respects reminded me so much of an owl--a very kind owl.  I remember this moment and his face across the table as clearly as 54 years allow.

Sam Moon, probably in the 1950s
He wanted to talk to me because I was at Knox on the Scholastic Magazines Writing Awards Scholarship, and he was the de facto head of the writing program.  He wanted to assure me that even though I was there on a writing scholarship, I was under no obligation to take creative writing courses.  I said immediately that I wanted to, and he seemed delighted, but quietly.  I couldn't do so until sophomore year but he said if I wanted to show him anything I was writing this year, he'd be glad to talk to me about it.  It wasn't long before I took him up on his offer.

 But before going creative I was registered to explore academic writing.  One or another of the tests I took meant I skipped freshman English.  Instead I had what amounted to an independent studies course in which I was to research and write a long paper.  I had mixed feelings about this.  My classmates all seemed to be reading The Education of Henry Adams, which sounded interesting, but I was left out of their discussions.  Still, I had plenty to read, if nobody to talk to about it.  Prof. Davenport supervised me, but as I recall I met with him only a few times over the semester.

This was probably the third long or longish paper I'd ever written for which I'd chosen the topic.

The first was for a college prep course I'd taken the summer between my third and fourth years at the nearest public high school.  Hempfield High was just a few miles down West Newton Road. One of the attractions of taking the course was that I got to drive myself to it, in our very cool 1957 Chevy convertible.  Cool to look at but nerve-wracking to drive on narrow streets because it was so huge--the distance between the windshield and the headlights had to be five feet.

 I must have taken two courses that summer, though from the same teacher, because I recall one of them involved some acting improvs--it was probably a speech course.  The paper however was for Advanced Composition and involved research and reading.  It had the grandiose title of "Victorian England and the Organization Man," which was more of a journalistic-style teaser than an academic description.  All of Victorian England was represented by one author: John Stuart Mill.  The Organization Man represented contemporary America.

 I isolated one Mill idea--that the natural state of society is when "worldly power and moral influence are...exercised by the fittest persons whom the existing state of society affords."  (Darwin already!)  Mill didn't think Victorian England was in a natural state.  And I found plenty of writers who didn't think contemporary American society was either.  I quoted Mill that "the betters" in our society are " not their wisers, or their honesters, but their richers."

Why Mill? It's possible that I found a collection of Mill's work called Essays on Politics and Culture in the new nonfiction arrivals shelves I eagerly scanned on each visit to the Greensburg Public Library, since this edition, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, was no more than a year old.

  But it's also possible that Mill got favorable mention in Arthur Schlesinger's Politics of Hope, published the same year as my essay (1963.)  I know I found that volume among the new arrivals, and pounced on it because I knew of Schlesinger's role in the JFK White House.

  As for Mill, I quickly found his classic work, On Liberty. Including those three, there are 12 books in my bibliography, and they mirror the places I found books before college as I wrote about them in previous posts: six I found in the public library, three or four were on the shelves at home (including in Readers Digest condensed form), and a couple were paperbacks I found on the supermarket or tobacco store/news stand racks.

 The second paper earned me a brief moment of fame in my senior year of high school, the spring of 1964.  It was my final paper for Problems in Democracy class: a history of the first 100 days of the Kennedy administration.  It was 50 pages long. That's what made it famous--no one in my high school could even imagine a 50 page paper.  It was an instant if short-lived legend. ( Of course no one actually read it.  The teacher involved who spread the news of its length also complained about needing to read all those pages.  But she did bump my final grade up from a B to an A.)

The title of the paper was "The Beginning Hour," taken from the poem Robert Frost wrote for JFK's Inauguration but didn't deliver because his eyes were bedazzled by the sun and he couldn't read the pages. The lines extol "A golden age of poetry and power/Of which this noonday's the beginning hour." 

 The paper itself has disappeared but I do have some pages of draft plus a couple of handwritten page of footnotes, numbered 23 through 161.  It begins: "Inaugural morning in Washington was frigid."  This was one of the few sentences that didn't need a footnote: I'd been there.

 There were few books available (professional historians had not yet written on the subject) so most of my sources cited in this paper were periodicals, principally Time and Newsweek.  Once again, I owe this resource to speech club and debate.  That's why I had subscriptions to these and other magazines, why I knew about the periodical Vital Speeches, and had developed habits of capturing information on index cards, as well as hoarding the actual magazines.  I also quoted television documentaries and interviews, partly because I sent away for transcripts.  I used government documents, mostly from the library (including the Congressional Record) but again some I requested by mail.

I did have one book specifically on the subject.  Let Us Begin: The First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration was not a narrative, however.  It was mostly photographs, with a half dozen essays by different authors.  Only two were directly about the actual happenings, and I mined these for facts.  (One essay--by Sidney Hyman and Martin Agronsky--is so interesting to re-read in light of subsequent events that it will be the subject of a separate post.)

 Other books cited tended to be about the presidency itself.  JFK had made the presidency a topic of popular interest, and so I could find paperbacks including Ordeal of Power, Emmet John Hughes' book on the Eisenhower presidency, Decision-Making in the White House by JFK's aide and speechwriter Ted Sorenson,  and especially Presidential Power by political scientist Richard Neustadt, a book that President Kennedy praised and used, as obviously Sorenson did.  Neustadt himself took time off from Columbia to be a Kennedy advisor during the transition from the Eisenhower administration.

My 1964 paperback
Even all these years later Neustadt's Presidential Power (in updated editions) remains a classic work on the presidency and is still taught in political science courses.  It explains both the sources of presidential power and its limitations.  It remains a key work to understanding the office, and therefore national politics in America.  Reading the surviving pages of my paper now I find the writing surprisingly good--better than most of the other high school and early college work that survives.  It's a well-organized historical narrative.

  Which brings me to my first semester freshman year paper for English 103 at Knox.  I submitted a first draft and a final draft. The only comment or critique I remember Prof. Davenport making on the first draft was that the paragraphs were too short.  I attempted to fatten them up, but the only comment I remember about the final draft was that the paragraphs were still too short.  I got an A-.

In any case, sometime that year I saw a notice in the Knox Student that a new faculty-student magazine called Dialogue was soliciting non-fiction manuscripts.  So I slipped my paper into the appropriate mailbox outside the bookstore at Alumni Hall.

 It appeared in the first issue of Dialogue, as "Affluence and Adolescents: The Emergence of the New Breed," in between reviews of Norbert Weiner's God and Golem, Inc. by my math prof Ron Hourston and a brilliant senior named Stephen Baylor, and Rowland K. Chase's Last Lecture on his production of Hamlet, which opened the new Center for the Fine Arts that first semester of 1964-5. That's why I still have a copy.

 (I'm not saying it was the only one, but the only discussion I recall having with classmates about my paper while I was working on it happened in one of the college dining rooms.  I was at a table shared by Barbara Cottral and a companion I judged to be her boyfriend.  I believe she and I shared the same academic advisor, which may be why we got talking.  Anyway when she asked me the subject of my paper and I said "affluence and adolescence" she and her friend looked at me with slightly startled expressions.  I had pronounced "AFF-luence" with emphasis on the first syllable.  Apparently the Iowa--or more broadly the Midwestern--pronunciation was "affLUence." I'm not sure if they were impressed or put off, but I felt it was both.  Which is probably why I remember it.)

In many ways, including the books cited (only 42 footnotes this time), my first college paper was a combination and extension of those previous two high school papers. There were important additions, however.

  On adolescents, the major sources were The Vanishing Adolescent by Edgar Z. Friedenberg, and  Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (with its immortal sentence about how young people saw their future: "During my productive years I will spend eight hours a day doing what is no good." )

  Goodman's book was a best seller so I probably got it as a paperback, but I know for sure that's how I found The Vanishing Adolescent.  Though not as well remembered, it was a popular book at the time. I was more impressed by Friedenberg, and a few years later I heard him speak in what I recall as a large classroom at UC Berkeley, where I also saw and heard Tom Hayden.

first edition without dustcover, as it
would have been in the library, and
as I now own it
On the affluence theme, there was of course The Affluent Society by economist John Kenneth Galbraith. It was famous on its own, but I could also have come to it because of Galbraith's association with the Kennedy administration (he was JFK's ambassador to India.)

 The title entered the language, to be used in ways that had little to do with the book's thesis. It isn't about the evils of affluence, but about the inadequacy of economic theories and policies that don't recognize the marked differences between a society of scarcity and a society of abundance.

  Reading it today precisely 60 years after its first publication, its main point rings true, particularly in view of the same obsolete economics still favored by the Republican party, as well as related points on income inequality and the unmet needs in the public sector.  This book also gave us the perennially useful concept of "the conventional wisdom."

Another title that entered the language is The Organization Man by William H. Whyte, Jr.  It also is used to represent the era (as I did it in my Mill paper.) The book itself is a penetrating, carefully researched and well-written study of early suburbia and the large postwar organizations for which suburbia furnished the family homes.

 As such, when I reread it carefully years later, it became a key background text for me in my own researches and writings, particular for a 1980 article on suburbia that was a cover story in the New York Times Magazine, and more generally for my book The Malling of America.  When I met the author around that time, he was a kind and still curious and enthusiastic scholar who had mostly turned his attention to urban spaces, and was said to have been a mentor to Jane Jacobs and others.

But at the time of my freshman paper, the Organization Man was mostly another symbol of suburban conformity.  Providing something of a psychological counterpart to Whyte's more sociological view was David Riesman.  I got his paperback, Selected Essays from Individualism Reconsidered off the racks, which led me to his classic work (which I'd probably read about in the magazines), The Lonely Crowd.  The popular press particularly noted his concepts of "inner-directed" and "outer-directed" people in terms of where they got their values. Though neither book is cited in any of my papers, my reading and scattered understanding of them contributed to my impression of contemporary society.
Many of these books, as well as magazine articles, portrayed conformity and the repression of difference as endemic to the middle-class ethic.  Clearly my interest was in individual development and self-expression, especially my own. That's a thread that runs through all three papers, beginning with John Stuart Mill's championing of eccentricity.  ("Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded.")

 In that Mill paper I also quoted Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. from Politics of Hope noting that "contemporary society... has little use for the individualist" and asserting "Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself."


When Schlesinger became a JFK aide, his point of view became identified with the Kennedy era. Eric Goldman, in the opening essay of Let Us Begin, notes Schlesinger's view that with quantitative improvements largely achieved in the affluent society, attention "should turn to the 'qualitative' development of the individual."

 And of western "man," Barbara Ward concluded in her essay in this volume, "The fateful question remains whether, while gaining affluence, he may not have lost his vision and his soul."  (Barbara Ward, a distinguished scholar and editor, would in a few years take Buckminister Fuller's term "spaceship earth" as the title of her new book, and thereby help popularize the concept.)

 Looking back, I can see that the repression I recognized and was specifically rebelling against was not so much that of the upwardly mobile middle class organization man (I didn't actually know any.) Its source in my life was primarily the Catholic church and Catholic education at that time.  Still, I was accurately picking up this theme in my reading, and from my limited observations it rang true.

 I also absorbed some ill-informed and readymade judgments of, for example, "the beats" and rejected their "nihilistic" alternative to the Organization Man.  I latched instead on the concept of the New Breed (which I recognized as a "dubious" term) as developed by Andrew Greeley in the pages of America magazine.  It's worth noting that Greeley was a Jesuit, and this was a Jesuit magazine.  It still felt more secure to have some Catholic connection, if not imprimatur.

 Greeley's (and Friedenberg's) new breed of young people were both idealistic and pragmatic, valuing honesty and integrity, but also skill and effectiveness.  It was a reminiscent in some ways of younger versions of JFK, the "idealist without illusions." But more specifically it was based on the young Civil Rights activists, both black and white.  I would come to see these characteristics in some of the older students at Knox.  The New Breed, such as it was, now seems a distinctly early 60s model.
It was that first year at Knox that my connection with the Church became more tenuous.

I recall showing up for the Newman Club (an organization for Catholics) as one of my stops on the orientation tour of clubs and organizations, but I didn't join.  I continued to attend Sunday Mass in Galesburg, however. Until one winter Sunday the thread just broke.

 For some reason I saw a familiar sight with new eyes during that morning's Mass: that all the attendees kept their coats on during the service, as if their presence was partial, and they couldn't wait to leave.

 That evening I went to dinner in the Knox student union, where dozens of students had piled their coats on top of each other on the floor in the hall outside the dining rooms. That sight decided me. That's where I was going to find warmth and involvement, maybe even trust and intimacy, and along with books and studies and curiosity, where I might find meaning.

 For in addition to my solitary work on my English 103 paper, I had other classes with students and teachers that first semester, and a growing life outside classrooms, including for pretty much the first time, something like an actual social life.  I had this new world to explore, and I did. And along the way, I had new books to read.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

History of My Reading: Two Cultures (Part 2)

It was either just before or just after I committed to Knox College that I saw Galesburg, Illinois for the first time, sort of. In our senior year of high school, my debate partner Mike and I won the district debate championship for both the Catholic Forensic League and National Forensic League.  The CFL national finals were in Denver, and along with winners in other categories from our school and the other Catholic high school in the diocese, we went west on trains.

In those pre-Amtrak days, the trip from western Pennsylvania to Chicago was woeful.  The B&O line cared little for passengers, and the train cars were old, stripped nearly bare and were always either too hot or too cold.  But in Chicago that changed.  The eastern trains were limited in height by the tunnels.

 But the western trains were taller and above all, newer.  Passenger service was a dream.  The whole gang of us (plus our chaperone/advisor who thankfully was from the other school-- a young male teacher with a casual manner) had a great time, mostly in the dome car of the Denver Zephyr.  Gliding through Nebraska in a crashing thunderstorm, and watching the lamp on the front of the train swing back and forth across the Colorado range were unforgettable.  (Not to mention the girl I'd met that day who fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.)

I knew that the train would pass through Galesburg, and even stop briefly.  On the way to Denver I nervously awaited Galesburg and tried to see whatever I could.  I didn't see much: a sliver of the CB&Q station that I came to know well, but which is no longer there. Nothing however that looked like a college. Still, this meant that I could travel to college and back by train, which added to the romance.

 After I made my decision and my commitment, I endured the countless School of Hard Knox jokes that spring and summer, and other reactions that wouldn't have been different had I enrolled in the University of Mars. (Though I was grateful for the indifference of my high school's nuns and priests who thereafter considered me a lost cause, if not a lost soul for not choosing a Catholic college.)  Even without such uncomfortable questions and comments, I had my moments of doubt.  If I'd made a big mistake, it seemed irreparable, final, leading to a doomed life.

But in June 1964 a letter arrived from Knox with my first college reading assignment.  It was from Hermann Muelder, Dean of the College.  It was a formal but tidily written letter, saying that incoming freshmen were asked to read two books on the Two Cultures controversy "that has prevailed in scholarly circles on both sides of the Atlantic since 1959."  If we couldn't find these books where we lived--and it was dead certain I couldn't--we could order them from the Knox bookstore, which I promptly did.

 They were The Two Cultures And a Second Look by C.P. Snow, featuring the essay that originally had sparked the debate, and Cultures in Conflict: Perspectives on the Snow-Leavis Controversy, a collection of essays edited by David K. Cornelius and Edwin St. Vincent, which included the first and most famous rejoinder by literary critic F.R. Leavis, and more. There would be a panel discussion by faculty members and group discussions by--us!  Freshmen! during Orientation Week, the letter said.

 "Topics from these readings may, in fact, be used for your examination in Speech and for themes in the English course which you probably will take," the letter added. Though I noted the extra incentive of preparation for an exam and graded course, I was most impressed that I would be introduced to college with a class-wide consideration of ideas based on writings on the subject, and could participate in such a discussion myself, along with classmates and faculty members.  It was exciting, challenging and above all an affirmation of the Knox Idea and therefore of my choice.

Then in September it came time to set sail, or to tie down the boxes, trunk and my new suitcases on the luggage rack of the 1961 Mercury station wagon.

 As the time came nearer, I became fitfully aware of the seeming finality of it all. That day would be a demarcation line in my life. I was going to college some 700 miles away, a bewildering folly that only as the day came nearer my family came to terms with, just as I was having new doubts.

 In a way I owe this propelling away to a couple of slightly older young men whose names I don't remember, and to Sister Cornelia. Sister Cornelia taught religion in my senior year.  Her nasal drone was full of scorn for any attempt to question the textbook version of church history, let alone any nuances of doctrine or morality.  I was her particular target.  I couldn't get far enough away from the likes of her.

 That summer of 1964 I started out working on a painting crew for the county hospital.  It was an education in misery in general, but I noted the two older boys on the crew who were both in local colleges, and obviously unchanged by it.  They were the same brutal, contemptuous, unthinking and unfeeling boys they'd obviously been in high school.  One fantasized about what it would be like to shoot someone.  He was studying to be a doctor.  Again, I couldn't get far enough away from them.

  When the day came to leave however, I suspiciously came down with a cold.  So I started this journey with Corricidin sloshing through my clogged head, as we turned away from the distant overlapping rows of blue mountains to the east, and headed west.  My father drove, my mother in the front seat, my 10 year old sister Debbie in the back seat with me.  My 14 year old sister Kathy didn't come with us.

The day was as cloudy as my head. The drowsy drone of the Pennsylvania Turnpike shortly became the Ohio Turnpike and for awhile the landscape remained basically familiar, as home was left imperceptibly behind.  But on the other side of Indiana the gradually gentler hills began to resolve into a constant flatness.

  By Illinois began the endless fields with the blackest soil I'd ever seen. My mother passed sandwiches back from the front seat along with sweetened tea from a thermos for my cold. My grandmother had sent along a supply of her pastries she called jumbalones.   As we crossed Indiana my mother remarked that she'd never been this far west.  My father hadn't either.

The roads rolled on all day. There was some room left in the back of the station wagon for Debbie to crawl over the seat and play or nap, while I stretched out a bit to doze my cold into submission.

 Then we were in Illinois west of Chicago, which was as far west as I'd been until the previous spring's debate trip to Denver.  I'd gone to Chicago in my 6th grade by train, the result of a contest among paperboys to sell subscriptions.  The gang of us--all boys this time--stayed at the Morrison Hotel and ate at the Forum Cafeteria across the street.  We saw a movie (Hitchcock's Vertigo) and made a brief side trip to the Great Lakes Naval Training Base.  We spent almost as much time on the train to and from Chicago, where I learned to play poker.

 There was no interstate with a Galesburg offramp in those days, as there was when I drove the huge Ryder truck to California almost 22 years ago.  As evening came on, my parents started looking for a motel near a junction to Rt. 150 into Galesburg.  We overshot the mark a bit and wound up near Moline, where we stayed overnight in a wood frame cabin at the Green Acres Modern Motel.

I felt better after a night's sleep, though it may have just been excitement and anxiety that blunted my cold.  It had rained hard during the night and as I would discover later, my mother's fears that the rain would penetrate the canvas covering on top of the luggage rack proved partially justified.  There was a little water stain in one of my new Samsonites, but no real damage to anything.  The stain is still there.

After breakfast at the Green Acres Cafe at the motel, we got onto 150 and, after some worry we were headed in the wrong direction, started seeing the signs for Galesburg.   Once inside the city I saw no sign of a college building, until we passed a very large white frame building with a lot of activity in front of it--especially men and boys carrying suitcases for young women.  It was Whiting Hall, and a few blocks more, there was 261 West Tompkins and Anderson House, my assigned residence.

Pres. Sharvey Umbeck
After checking in (which I described elsewhere), I went off to campus for lunch with my classmates, while the parents lunched with college president Sharvey Umbeck.
Our lunch was a kind of cookout on the Gizmo patio. By then it was sunny, and I could feel my sinuses expanding as I sat eating, probably a burger, although all I remember is potato chips on a paper plate.  From there I got my first view of the Knox campus.

 I returned to what was now my room, took a shower in the facilities at the foot of the stairs on the second floor, and began to unpack in the quiet.  Something I read in a recent Knox Alumni magazine (a new mandolin album from Rick Willy Lindner)  reminded me of a memory: looking out from my third floor turret window to see Rick Lindner below, apparently just arriving, toting at least one black guitar-sized case and a smaller one, which must have been held a mandolin.

 Then my parents and sister returned from a shopping trip in downtown Galesburg with extra items for my room.  While my father affixed a lamp on the wall by my bed, my mother put out a soap dish and toiletries on our small sink with the orange-brown stains from iron in the water.  Debbie gave me a paper bag of candy for my first night of studying.

 They were ready to get back on the road. When my mother was in high school she listened to Notre Dame football games on the radio, and once asked me if I might apply there.  It turned out that South Bend, Indiana wasn't far out of their way, so she was finally going to get to see that campus on their way home.

After helping my father secure the returning empty luggage on top of the Mercury, I stood in front of Anderson House with my mother and sister with the afternoon sun in our eyes, while he snapped a photo. And then they were off, and I was on my own.

 That night we met with senior student advisors, who outlined the rules, put the fear of God into us about the amount of time we needed to study, and warned us against the college health center and its doctor.  In the days after that, a blur of assemblies, events such as the various clubs and organizations presenting themselves, and tests (where we were introduced to Professor Stipp's signature multiple choice exam questions in history: which of the following event happened third?)
Western Civ Prof. John Stipp
But somewhere in there was the promised day of discussions on the Two Cultures books.  This time the two cultures were the sciences and the humanities (or at times, just literature.)  The premise (more or less) was that each misunderstood and disdained the other, and members of each culture did not communicate with members of the other, even in the academic institutions to which they all belonged.

I still have a copy of the main text, C.P. Snow's lecture that started it all.  I lost the other book somewhere along the way, but I have a similar collection published at about the same time called The Scientist vs. The Humanist (edited by George Levine and Owen Thomas, Norton 1963) which probably has many of the same essays.  (For example, it has the same excerpt from Dickens' Hard Times that I actually have a sense memory of reading in the assigned collection.)

It's difficult to summarize what the debate was actually about.  In his "Second Look," Snow wrote that he'd only wanted to talk about the dominance of the traditional emphasis on literature at the expense of science in British education, by which he really meant Oxford and Cambridge.  He didn't see the same problem in American colleges.

 The anthologies further muddy the waters by presenting essays on a similar theme from the 19th century, when what universities taught in literature and the humanities (classics in Latin and Greek, logic and rhetoric, for example) as well as in science (or natural philosophy) was vastly different than even the most traditional Oxbridge curricula in the early 1960s.

 Jonathan Miller (medical doctor and theatre director, performer and creator of science television) later agreed that it was a rather parochial argument among academics.  But it struck a chord and became about something larger, if harder to define. I read these books with something of an open mind, largely because I didn't have the background to know much of what they were arguing about.  (And I must add that re-reading them is still pretty confusing.)

 So off I went to hear the faculty discussion of these books, probably to the theatre in Alumni Hall that was in its last few months of use as an auditorium.  My remembered impression is that while the speakers were informative (unfortunately I don't have a list of them), it became clear after awhile that the discussion was less about whether there were Two Cultures on campus, and more about whose side are you on.

Or maybe that's just how I heard it. To me it felt like a contest, with the loyalty of members of my class as the prize. I remember the science side as being less than impressive.  I recall a few evenhanded speakers, probably somebody like Gabriel Jackson giving historical perspective.  But the only faculty member I can positively identify as being on that panel was a professor of English, William V. Spanos.

With black hair and beard and a booming voice that made him seem a great deal taller than he was, Spanos was characteristically combative.  He undoubtedly railed about science and technology in the same terms as he wrote about them in his book A Casebook on Existentialism, which he finished the next year:

 Scientific rationalists and the technological society "locate reality in the objective realm of measurable matter, and value in the production and utilization of objects. In so doing, they subordinate man to the tool, consciousness to efficiency, and the individual to the social and productive organizations (including educational institutions.)  By the inescapable logic of this system of valuation, the individual becomes dehumanized.  Defined according to his function and evaluated by the degree of his utility, he is reduced to the status of an object..."

It was a sweeping and even breathtaking argument, especially to innocent first year ears.  While this kind of opposition is implied in the Dickens' Hard Times excerpt (Mr. Gradgrind's insisting on nothing but facts, and forbidding the arts as mere fancy) it goes much farther than Snow or other essayists.   Snow's insistence that the future belongs to the scientist (much is made, for example, by literary critic Lionel Trilling of his assertion that scientists "have the future in their bones") does leave this opening, however.

 Literature and the humanities were feeling beleaguered--as indeed they were, at least in society at large--and undervalued, or even considered irrelevant. Probably someone took up the Dickens thread to declare the importance of the derided faculty of imagination as well as the collection and organization of facts. In those days as I recall the role of imagination in science was not emphasized, or even acknowledged.

I started out equally sympathetic to the science side, thanks largely to my romance with science fiction and its heroic scientists, but I also had a respect for the scientific method and for the accomplishments of science.

But when it came time to pick a side--and that time came when we broke up into discussion groups chaired by one or another of the faculty members on stage--I chose to scamper over to Old Main to hear more from Mr. Spanos.  (As I've mentioned before--in fact several times-- if Paul Shepard had not left the faculty the previous spring, I may have made a different choice.)

 It is interesting by the way that the one place that science and literature meet--namely science fiction--is never mentioned in those books, nor was it likely noted in those Knox discussions, for it was much more academically disreputable at the time.  But several science fiction authors and editors talked about Snow's thesis, and even agreed that literature was dangerously isolated from science and its influence on the future (which remains a valid argument concerning mainstream fiction.) Science fiction not only portrays a future shaped by science and technology, but offers critiques of such societies (present as well as future) partly by placing human characters in that context, which is a chief role and function of literature and more generally the humanities.

Considering these books and this debate today, it's hard not to conclude that science and technology have won, in academia and elsewhere, relegating literature and the humanities to the margins. (Though both at times lose out to finance and economics, not to mention leisure studies.)

A recent survey suggests that in the US humanities majors have dropped even more steeply since the Great Recession of 2009, notably including majors in the elite liberal arts schools whose families were statistically likely to survive and recover from the downturn better than others.

 Yet science today is deeply troubled by previously undervalued complications, flaws and self-inflicted crises of confidence because of sloppy and dishonest work.  That's without some blindness to consequences that has plagued science since at least the Manhattan Project.  The great physicist Richard Feynman who said so many wise things, was wrong to suggest that a philosophy of science is irrelevant.

 The most obvious and damaging problems are in the social sciences, particularly behavioral psychology and economics, which threaten to merge.  They are at once heedless of the possibility that human flaws identified by literature for centuries can infect their sciences, filled as they are with hubris, and clueless that some of their astounding findings about human nature have already been dramatized with more accuracy and irony in the oldest stories known.

 Snow raised a political argument that Trilling in particular wrote about (and then Snow doubled-down on it in his "Second Look.")  Snow basically said that while scientists are committed to using their knowledge to lessen suffering in the world, literary writers are indifferent, if not reactionary.  He cited several modernist writers with racist, totalitarian or other destructive political views.  Even Trilling (Snow said) wrote that the essence of modernism was the individual, with no concern for society, therefore for others.

At this remove, it must sound strange to many that Snow is asserting, in today's terms, that scientists (and by extension, professors of science) are liberal or left while literary types are on the right. As for the needs of the individual vs. the demands of society, modernism indeed did champion the individual.  As Spanos argued, the individual was the subject for existentialist and modernist writing partly because technological, mass society was threatening the humanity and integrity of individuals. (Spanos may not have agreed with that "partly," but he wasn't a fiction writer.)

 But while some views on the subject were extreme (though sometimes mostly for contrast, shock and dramatic effect), a concern for the individual and repugnance for conformity did not necessarily add up to a dearth of care for others and the social welfare.  Snow's socially conscious and caring scientist is equally a caricature. Selfishness and careerism were hardly unknown in the sciences, and literary types were known to join the Peace Corps.

Knox College Alumni Hall as it was
Snow concentrated on modern writers, though modernism was pretty much over in the mid 1960s. But it was pretty much the most recent writing covered in Knox literature courses. The New Criticism of the 40s still dominated there as well.

Whatever the flaws within these categories in the literary world, they were merely a preview. Since then we've had postmodernism, a largely silly category, and the once enlightening but ultimately even more ingrown and incomprehensible deconstruction and semiotics dogmas that throttled literature departments 20 or so years later.

 Trilling's point that students could appreciate the brilliant work without agreeing with the writer's politics or other views is worth re-considering in an age and atmosphere in which current and fast-changing values and behaviors tend to shrink what's acceptable in past literature to an intolerant vanishing point, if the writer has one or more currently defined flawed or repugnant views.

But now as then, it's all too complicated to be reduced to a unreal division into Two Cultures.  It's much too overlapping and complex. But we love to chose up into two sides, and start demonizing the other.  Still, if there was more heat than light in the Two Cultures debate, and less than meets the eye in our two assigned books,  it was stimulating.  And rightly or wrongly, probably useful to first years during orientation, pondering their choice of courses, if not their majors.