Thinking of Hayden White in Santa Cruz …


Hayden White at KZSU

Writing from Santa Cruz, where the Pacific is the deliriously blue backdrop to every landscape, and where there’s a great falafel place on Mission Street.

The university  is now the home of the octogenarian thinker Hayden White, who came to UC-Santa Cruz after retiring as a professor of comp lit at Stanford.

His name came to my attention last week, while I was having coffee at the Stanford Bookstore with cultural historian Ewa Domanska, one of the editors of Re-Figuring Hayden White.  Ewa brought White’s The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature, and Theory, 1957-2007 to the table for discussion.

I was aware of the “History of Consciousness” program at UCSC, wasn’t aware he had created it.

Ewa Domanska

In the history of political activism, White is remembered for less scholarly reasons:  as a UCLA professor in 1972, he brought suit against the Los Angeles Police Department for gathering covert intelligence on college campuses.  The case made it to the California Supreme Court, which decided unanimously in his favor.  White, the sole plaintiff, took issue with the illegal expenditure of public funds when police officers registered as UCLA students, took notes on class discussions, and made police reports based on them. Because of the 1975 court decision, police need a reasonable suspicion of a crime for such surveillance.

From Ewa’s essay on White in Postmodernism: The Key Figures:

“No theory, no active thinking,” claims White. But there is good and bad theory: “that which is conducive to morally responsible thought, and that which leads away from it.”  The usefulness of a theory is related to its aim, which is always either political or ethical in character.  For White, the objective is to promote “good theory,” that is, theory which will ultimately serve humankind.”

A radio interview with White at Entitled Opinions here.

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One Response to “Thinking of Hayden White in Santa Cruz …”

  1. Elena Says:

    Thanks for connecting the dots for me on Hayden White’s work. Without your blog, I wouldn’t have made these connections. I wonder who else I’ve missed.