Posts Tagged ‘Dan Edelstein’

MOOCs be damned! Antoine Raybaud, and how the best learning takes place.

Sunday, July 5th, 2015
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Monemvasia

Room for three, please. (Photo: Ingo Mehlng)

Online learning and MOOCs are all the rage. Pardon me if I restrain my enthusiasm. Though I have dear friends that swear by the merits of taking classes in front of an Apple screen, for me, that’s not how the best learning takes place.

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Don’t worry. He has better vacations now.

You can learn from books, you can learn from great poetry – those can be done in silence, in one’s own room.  We learn from experience – that’s where what we learned from books burns in; or doesn’t. But a vital catalyst for learning is knowing learned people. The “Aha!” that comes when we realize, “I want to be like that.” Not necessarily that. But something like that. More like that than what I was. It’s a direction rather than goal. That “Aha!” comes from classroom discussions, office hours, reading all the recommended reading and casually mentioned reading. These teachers or mentors model better ways of thinking, better ways of feeling, better ways of being in the world. Sometimes it comes from a grade-school teacher, or an aunt or uncle, or it can happen at any point in one’s life. Poet Dana Gioia has told me about the influence of Elizabeth Bishop when he was at Harvard. Steve Wasserman has written of the influence of Susan Sontag‘s friendship on on him as a young man. I was fortunate to have Joseph Brodsky as a student in Ann Arbor, and much, much later Czeslaw Milosz – and very late in life, René Girard, too. I consider myself very lucky in that regard – but so do the others; anyone, really, would know the difference. Like having a great dinner at Chez Panisse versus looking at photos of food in Gourmet magazine.

That brings me to my friend Dan Edelstein‘s most recent essay in Inside Higher Education. He knows the process of initiation well:

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“Beaked nose, broad smile”

“In the summer of 1996, I spent two weeks driving around Greece with my girlfriend and my undergraduate adviser. We argued all the time: me and my girlfriend; me and my adviser; my girlfriend and my adviser. One stop was particularly memorable for its unenjoyableness. We spent a day and a night at Monemvasia, a fortified Crusader town on a massive rock off the coast. The whole time, my adviser berated me to learn more about the extensive history of the place and turned his nose up at my girlfriend, who wanted to find a nightclub on the island.

“To be fair, my adviser was not actually on the trip. He was in my head, or rather, I had internalized him. I couldn’t have a conversation without hearing him remark on the substance (or lack thereof) of my comments. He haunted my relationships and my thoughts. I carried him everywhere, like Anchises on my shoulders.”

The third party had a name – Antoine Raybaud, 1934-2012. Dan studied with him in Geneva.

brodsky2I didn’t have to take his classes. Still, a tiny group of us kept on coming back. Despite the hardships, Raybaud’s classes were mesmerizing. He interpreted texts like a magician, making meaning appear where we could only see words. The seminars became less painful, as Raybaud slowly warmed to us. But he never relented in his expectations. Every single paper I submitted to him, from my first essay to my final thesis, he made me rewrite. Once, on my way to his office, I bumped into him in the hallway; he glanced at the first few paragraphs of my assignment, then handed it back, saying, “Allez, refaites-moi ça.” (“Do it over.”) I went home and spent hours trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Eventually I rewrote the entire paper; even I could tell that it turned out much better.

Natacha, Bernard and I were his last students; he retired the year we graduated. His last seminars were luxurious: we spent six months, just the four of us, reading “Un Coup de Dés.” During that last seminar, it became clear we were initiates. We had come close to being broken, but had broken through.

This was akin to what the Russian Nobel laureate told his Columbia class, including Harper’s editor James Marcus: assigning a short paper for class, he warned them “Assume that this may be the last thing you write. … Don’t forget, you could get hit by a car after you hand it in. Keep that thought in mind.” While it would have been “grandiose nuttiness” from anyone else, he concluded that Brodsky was extending his own “high seriousness about writing to his students,” few of whom deserved it. (I tell the story in the introduction to my Joseph Brodsky: Conversations.)

You can read about Antoine Raybaud in Geneva, and Dan’s ill-fated trip to the Greek island here.

Eavan Boland, the Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities

Online hero

Postscript on 7/6: One regular reader has chimed in already, and reminded us to temper our language, especially when posting at the end of a long day. From Margaret Watson: “Living in a small town off the coast of Maine, my opportunity for educational experience is minimal. But happily for ten weeks this spring I was involved in a very active group with Eavan Boland and Ten Pre-Modern Women Poets from Stanford (your “place”). I learned an enormous amount not only from her guidance and knowledge but also from the Stegner Fellows at Stanford who introduced us to the “modern” approach to poets as it is happening today. Then we could participate with either an essay or a poem written in the way of the poet of that particular week. Being introduced to these poets of the past is fodder now for a long time to come. No, I couldn’t be there, but in my heart and mind, I was.”

Voilà! The French Revolution online – in an avalanche of archives and images

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
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Way back in 2006, Prof. Dan Edelstein was having dinner with Michel Serres and Sarah Sussman, curator of the French and Italian collections at Stanford Libraries. The prominent French intellectual and member of the Académie française had just given a talk that mentioned digitalization, and so the topic came up later over wine.  Said Dan, “I was working on my book on The Terror, and mentioned how incredibly useful it would be to have the minutes of French revolutionary parliamentary debates – in French known as the Archives parlementaires – available in full-text, searchable form.”  Together, the three fantasized about bringing online the stunning collection of images that the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) had compiled in 1989 – at that point, the images were gathering dust on useless laser disks.

APVoilà!  By dessert, they had decided to pitch a proposal to the BnF. Michel Serres, who served on the BnF board, would deliver it when he returned to Paris. A month or so later, they got an enthusiastic reply from the then-director of the library, Agnès Saal, and the collaboration with Stanford took off. (She went on to become the director of the Pompidou Museum, and the project was subsequently adopted by the current president, Bruno Racine).  It’s featured on the pages of the Smithsonian, here.

To understand what this resource represents, it helps to realize that the Archives parlementaires is a multi-volume collection (102 and counting) of primary source documents, mostly newspapers and official publications, that provide blow-by-blow accounts of the debates that took place in the National Assembly, and then, from September 1792 onward, the National Convention. “They make for gripping reading: not only do you have access to the speeches themselves, but also the shouted interruptions from other deputies, and even a general sense of how the assembly was reacting – applaudissements, murmures, bruits,” said Dan. (The Russian Revolution had its own equivalent – we wrote about it here.)

AP2One problem: the Archives parlementaires is a rather difficult source to use. Who can read it from start to finish to find a passage of interest? “If you’re interested in a particular theme, problem, or law, there’s no obvious way to find all the relevant debates within the hundred and two volumes. So this is why I was so eager to have a digitized version,” said Dan. “Instead of fishing around, somewhat blindly, for interesting passages, keyword searches allow you to jump right in wherever the topic you’re interested in might be addressed. It also enables more sophisticated text mining: for instance, counting the number of times certain names or words are used in different periods; or even, identifying all of the times when deputies cite a passage from Rousseau’s Social Contract.”

And what of us who are unlikely to think of the Archives parlementaires at all?  Dan says all of us “will probably be even more blown away by the amazing work that the BnF did re-digitizing over 14,000 images dating from the time of the French Revolution. These images bring back the baroque and often pornographic flavor of political culture at the end of the 18th century. They reveal the hatreds, hopes, fears, anxieties, and fantasies of French men and women during this ‘heady’ time – no pun intended. Because the BnF marked up the images with a remarkable degree of metadata, it’s fairly easy to find images relating to any individual, revolutionary moment, theme, or place might be interested and, simply by entering a search term.”

So go for it.  The French Revolutionary Digital Archive is here.

(All images from the French Revolutionary Digital Archives.)

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“How to be a public intellectual”? How a t-shirt totally changed my mind. Really.

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
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publicintellectual

It makes a kind of intuitive sense.

When I heard that Stanford was offering a course called “How to Be a Public Intellectual,” I was skeptical, to put it mildly. What presumption!  It reminded me of  all those leadership courses, which conceal the eternal quest for followers. Besides, how do you even begin to train people to be Susan Sontag or Michel Serres?

The t-shirt at right totally changed my mind.  Although I usually don’t go for the wittily self-ironic, this time I fell hard. I saw it and I had to have one. That brought me to the figurative doorstep of Prof. Dan Edelstein and lecturer Ruth Starkman, the powerhouses behind the course.

Dan explained to me the title of the course is meant to be “aspirational” only: “At heart, the goal of the class is to explore ways in which a liberal education can be used not only to pursue scholarly goals, but also to contribute in a knowledgeable fashion to public debates. We read a series of programmatic texts, starting with Montaigne, about what a liberal education should consist of; we also considered institutional factors – how can the University be designed to best deliver said education?” The course includes “reading some examples of public interventions by very well educated writers.”

Like?  Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s Emile, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, Julien Benda‘s Treason of the Intellectuals,  Allan Bloom‘s Closing of the American Mind, Clark Kerr‘s The Uses of the University, with Emerson and Adam Gopnik somewhere in the mix, too.

Here’s what the syllabus says: “Can education impart more than bookish learning? This is the question that critics have posed since the Renaissance. Through their reflections, these critics posited an alternative ideal of education that prepared the student for life outside the academy. Over the centuries, this ideal would evolve into what we would today call an ‘intellectual’ – but this modern concept only captures a part of what earlier writers thought learning could achieve. In this course, we will focus on how education can prepare students to engage in public debates, and the role that the university can play in public learning.”

Class over. Ruth seems pleased with the students: “They were a very interesting group, many first-generation Americans, all of whom want to pursue public policy and write for a larger public on a variety of issues like middle east politics, healthcare, the environment, education, minority outreach,” she said.

You are my inspiration.

You are my inspiration.

Oh, and the inspiration for the t-shirt image?  Dan told me it is the family dog, Teddy; the tiara belonged to his young daughter. “I didn’t had any role in designing the t-shirts, so I’m not sure how a tiara-ed keeshond came to stand for public intellectuals,” he confessed. I dunno. I think it makes an intuitive sort of sense. In any case, he brought Teddy to class a few times, so she’s part of the program. Kind of.

Ruth explained that the course was part of a program called “Education as Self-Fashioning” (I have issues with that title, too…), but what better way to “self-fashion” than, well, fashion. Naturally the students wanted a t-shirt, “so I made them one, but no one could agree which quote from Dan to include or if we should have one from the reading, so they left it a blank white slate. I gave a shirt to my student Rob Fischer, who’s at the New Yorker. We talked a lot about journalists as public intellectuals, which is why it’s an honor to give a literary journalist like you one, too.” I got the very last t-shirt. Size medium.

If Teddy makes the cut, who knows? I already have the t-shirt. Maybe someday I’ll be a public intellectual, too. Sontag, move over.

Hot new social media maybe not so new: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
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10 to 15 letters a day … and he still looks happy.

Remember a few days ago we promised that we’d have a lot more to say about the links between our hotshot social media and the information explosions that rocked previous centuries?

Well, here goes, my article earlier today:

If you feel overwhelmed by social media, you’re hardly the first. An avalanche of new forms of communication similarly challenged Europeans of the 17th and 18th centuries.

“In the 17th century, conversation exploded,” said Anaïs Saint-Jude, director of Stanford’s BiblioTech program. “It was an early modern version of information overload.”

The Copernican Revolution, the invention of the printing press, the exploration of the New World – all needed to be digested over time. There was a lot of catching-up to do. “It was a dynamic, troubling, messy period,” she said.

Public postal systems became the equivalent of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and smartphones. Letters crisscrossed Paris by the thousands daily. Voltaire was writing 10 to 15 letters a day. Dramatist Jean Racine complained that he couldn’t keep up with the aggressive letter writing. His inbox was full, so to speak.

Stanford’s Mapping the Republic of Letters project, which forms part of the context for Saint-Jude’s remarks, shows that 40 percent of Voltaire’s letters were sent to correspondents relatively close by.

What was everyone saying? Not necessarily much. Rather like today’s email. “It was the equivalent of a phone call, inviting someone to tea or saying, ‘OMG, did you know about the Duke?'” said Dan Edelstein, an associate professor of French and the principal investigator for the project. He will be teaching a course in the spring called Social Animals, Social Revolutions and Social Networks.

Clearly, something had changed: Commercial postal services were on the rise. Though their prototypes had existed down through the centuries, they had mostly served government officials, and later (via the Medicis, for example) merchant and banking houses. Suddenly they were carrying private correspondence.

More people were writing, and more people could respond quickly, not only with friends and family, but across far-flung distances with people they had never met, and never would. Rather like some of our Facebook friends.

According to Saint-Jude, it was an era, like ours, of “hyper-writing,” even addictive writing. The aristocratic Madame de Sévigné wrote 1,120 letters to her married daughter in Brittany, beginning in the late 1670s, until her death in 1696. It was important to keep her kid up to date with the goings-on in Paris. Although she is remembered today for her witty epistles, she never intended them to be saved, let alone published.

For a time, the streets of Paris were littered with little bits of papers – les billets – filled with a few words of scabrous and politically defamatory verse that were thrown to the public. Sound like Twitter?

The little bits of paper in your pocket could cause big trouble – Voltaire landed in jail for his verse. Nonetheless, these short, anonymous postings bypassed the government censor. It was also a way of organizing uprisings. Edelstein points out that Egyptian social networks were critical to coordinating demonstrators and drawing large crowds this year.

Indeed, he noted that social networks are key to almost all revolutions. “The Egyptian youth organizers may have excelled at mobilizing people at a moment’s notice, but interestingly it’s another kind of social network that seems to be taking advantage of the post-revolutionary situation – the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

“This network may be less agile, but it has created longer and better sustained bonds between members over time.” Unlike Facebook networks that almost anyone can join, the Brotherhood echoed the older, more exclusive networks that vetted prospective members, such as France’s Jacobin clubs. “Flash mobs quickly splinter into cacophony,” Edelstein told an assembly of incoming freshmen last month.

What is public? What is private? More correspondence meant that letters could fall into the wrong hands. Laclos‘ epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, showed the dangers and disgrace that could befall the writers of wayward correspondence. In our own era, need we mention the fate that befell the indiscreet Rep. Anthony Weiner?

Meanwhile, modern journalism was born, via a precursor of the blog. Nobles, such as Cardinal Mazarin, hired their own “journalists” to report on scandal and sex in the city. These writers set up bureaus around Paris to get the juiciest news, and it was written and copied and distributed to subscribers. Literary reviews and newspapers soon blossomed, along with letters to the editor and a new environment of literary and cultural criticism.

These new networks flexed a new kind of media punch. For example, Edelstein noted that across the ocean in America, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2. The news was published in a newspaper on the legendary 4th. “What we’re really celebrating is not the fact that 56 men signed the declaration, but rather that a new network of people emerged around the published declaration – a network that would ultimately become the United States,” he said.

The poster was invented to invite more and more people to more and more public events – theater, for example, became the dominant art form in the 17th century. Posters mobilized these slow-motion “flash mobs.”

The new spaces we have created are virtual, not physical. But the physical spaces of the 17th century and Enlightenment were just as much of a psychological earthquake – l’Académie française, l’Académie des sciences, the celebrated salons. That large groups of people were getting together to chat about literature, discovery, ideas, revolution, or simply to watch a show, was a change from the carefully manicured guest lists of the court, where the principal order of business was big-time sucking up.

These spaces evoked new questions: How does one conduct oneself? How does one appear to others? Managing your public profile became vital. The result? A new self-consciousness was born, and a new social nervousness. The players had the same questions we have today, said Saint-Jude: “How do you curate all this information?”

“Relax,” said Saint-Jude. “You’re in good company. There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Or, “Ce qui fut sera, Ce qui s’est fait se refera, Et il n’y a rien de nouveau sous le soleil.

Postscript: Hey! We got some pick-up in the New Yorker here.

 

Tomorrow: Meet the authors, and celebrate birthdays with Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Nabokov, and St. George

Friday, April 22nd, 2011
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“Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

Tomorrow, April 23, is William Shakespeare‘s birthday.  It’s also William Wordsworth‘s birthday, and Vladimir Nabokov‘s birthday – and St. George’s Day, to boot.

It’s also the 8th annual “A Company of Authors” celebration at the Stanford Humanities Center, an all-afternoon gig celebrating the variety, richness and importance of the books produced by the Stanford community.  (More on the event here.)

This year’s auspicious date is not entirely a coincidence.  George Orwell biographer Peter Stansky, who founded the event along with the late, lamented Associates of the Stanford University Libraries, was particularly pleased by the possibilities offered by the juxtaposition.

Peter will open the event by reading a poem by George Steiner about the wisdom of choosing one’s birthday – you see, it’s Steiner’s birthday, too.

The event was inspired by the Los Angeles Times Book Fair and the annual Humanities Center Book party.  There’s a difference, however: the books will be available for sale at a 10 percent discount.  The fête kicks off at 1 p.m., and it’s free at the Humanities Center on Santa Teresa, and the company will be excellent, if I do say so myself.

“It is open to all who wish to come and learn more about the authors’ thinking behind their work, would like to chat with the authors in the periods between sessions and have the opportunity to purchase their books,” he said.  It has another purpose – “and that we can all feel that somehow we are in the tradition of Shakespeare!”

Authors include:  Charlotte Jacobs, Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin’s Disease;

Birthday boy

Susan Krieger, Traveling Blind; William Kays, Letters from a Soldier; Gabriella Safran, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator: S. An-sky; Abbas Milani, Myth of the Great Satan and The Shah; Ian Morris, Why the West Rules—For Now; Karen Wigen, A Malleable Map; Elena Danielson, The Ethical Archivist; Jack Rakove, Revolutionaries; Karen Offen, Globalizing Feminisms; Myra Strober,  Interdisciplinary Conversations; Stina Katchadourian, The Lapp King’s Daughter; Dan Edelstein, The Enlightenment: A Genealogy; Herbert Lindenberger, Situating Opera: Period, Genre, Reception; Debra Satz, Why Some Things Shouldn’t Be for Sale.  And you guessed it, Humble Moi – Cynthia Haven for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz.

No RSVP needed

According to Peter, “Most importantly in my view, the books reflect the most important aspect of the University: the life of the mind which sometimes gets forgotten in the many day to day events that take place at Stanford. In my view, this event represents the essence of the University.”

It is also J.M.W. Turner‘s birthday as well as Shirley Temple‘s, which he doesn’t mention.  “Perhaps you can arrange for Shirl ey Temple to come,” he suggested to me.  Do you think?

Postscript:  I know, I know … Shakespeare’s birthday is conjecture, based on his April 26 christening.  Usually, in the 16th century, a birth was followed post haste by a christening in anticipation of instant death.  And, given that he died on April 23, and that April 23 was St. George’s day, and, after all, he did need a birthday – the world fixed on April 23rd.  Good enough for me.  Hope for you, too.  See you tomorrow.

Postscript on 4/23/2013  We mistakenly reported that Alexander Pushkin‘s birthday is on April 23.  Wrong!  It’s June 6, 1799 (what a pleasant way to usher in a new century!)  The error has been corrected.  Thank you, Tatiana Pahlen, for pointing it out to us.

“World within reach”? We think not. Stanford replies to Albany

Saturday, November 20th, 2010
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Safran knocks "disturbing" decision

Yesterday, we excerpted Gregory Petsko‘s  rather scalding letter to George Philip,  the president of the SUNY Albany, who recently announced that the university was cutting its French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts departments.  Then we discovered Stanford’s own letter. Not as much fun, alas; nothing beats sarcasm — but still worth a look.

At a school whose motto is “The world within reach,” the elimination of modern languages other than Spanish indicates a confusion of purpose.  The study of modern languages at a high level offers a gateway to international business, diplomacy, and research in all fields.  The study of literature in foreign languages challenges students to cross cultural boundaries and teaches them how to do so effectively.  By rejecting these programs, SUNY Albany is reducing its students’ intellectual breadth and their competitiveness for a range of professions.  It is moving the world out of reach.

This decision is especially disturbing at a school that trains so many of New York State’s teachers.  Three of the programs cut – French, Italian, and Russian – are significant New York heritage languages, and a large French-speaking population lives right over the border in Quebec.  These are languages that New York K-12 students have motivation to study, and even to master.  By making it impossible for future Albany graduates to teach them, SUNY is reducing not only the education and competitiveness of its own students, but those of the state’s high school students as well.  In the case of Russian, where Albany houses the only major program in the SUNY system, this danger is especially real.

Edelstein signed, too

The elimination of modern language programs at Albany appears to be part of a larger reallocation of state funding.  Even while the university saves some $12 million by cutting these departments, $435 million in state funding is going toward a new Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery and Exploration, which has the stated goal of transforming the Albany region into a high-tech hub like California’s Silicon Valley.  Here at Stanford, located in the real Silicon Valley, it appears especially short-sighted to imagine that the way to foster innovation, investment, and job growth in our increasingly global economy is by rejecting the study of modern languages and cultures.  Rather than firing faculty who are experts in foreign languages, the university should turn to them for help in training students who are able to understand international consumers and investors.  Stanford has engaged its foreign language and literature faculty in creating new administrative structures that can respond effectively to the needs of students at all levels.  We challenge you at SUNY Albany to follow the example of Silicon Valley in deed, not just in words.

Signed by:  Gabriella Safran, Director, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Chair, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; David Palumbo-Liu, Director, Department of Comparative Literature; Carolyn Springer, Director, Department of French and Italian Literatures; Russell Berman, Director, German Studies Department; Jorge Ruffinelli, Director, Iberian and Latin American Cultures Department; Elizabeth Bernhardt, Director, Language Center; Amir Eshel, Graduate Chair, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; Dan Edelstein, Undergraduate Chair, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.

By the by, if you missed Stanley Fish’s column on this subject in the New York Times, it’s here.

Ouch! A scientist’s sharp letter about the Albany massacre

Friday, November 19th, 2010
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Science nerd on the attack

Dan Edelstein brought this letter to my attention — a rather scalding letter to George Philip,  the president of the SUNY Albany, who recently announced that the university was cutting its French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts departments.

The author, Gregory Petsko, a professor of biochemistry and chemistry at Brandeis, started out as a classics major.  Yet he writes, “Of all the courses I took in college and graduate school, the ones that have benefited me the most in my career as a scientist are the courses in classics, art history, sociology, and English literature. These courses didn’t just give me a much better appreciation for my own culture; they taught me how to think, to analyze, and to write clearly. None of my sciences courses did any of that.”

An excerpt:

“I’m sure that relatively few students take classes in these subjects nowadays, just as you say. There wouldn’t have been many in my day, either, if universities hadn’t required students to take a distribution of courses in many different parts of the academy … You see, the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it’s because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs – something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

University prez on the defense

“Young people haven’t, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it’s hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky‘s parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. In the parable, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He performs several miracles but is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor visits Him in his cell to tell Him that the Church no longer needs Him. The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining why. The Inquisitor says that Jesus rejected the three temptations of Satan in the desert in favor of freedom, but he believes that Jesus has misjudged human nature. The Inquisitor says that the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom. In giving humans the freedom to choose, Christ has doomed humanity to a life of suffering.

“That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I’m sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it – if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don’t.

Bye bye, Fyodor

“Then there’s the question of whether the state legislature’s inaction gave you no other choice. I’m sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian – and authoritarian – solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I’m not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing ‘unfortunate’, but pleaded that there was a ‘limited availability of appropriate large venue options.’ I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don’t have much clout at your university.

Ciao

“It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn’t have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn’t want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

“The Inferno is the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There’s so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders – if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don’t.  …” read more here.