Archive for June, 2019

Happy 108th birthday, Czesław Miłosz!

Sunday, June 30th, 2019
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“The River Neman, not far from its mouth on the Baltic Sea, is fed by several smaller tributaries flowing from the north, out of the very heart of the peninsula. It was on the banks of one of these tributaries, the Niewiaża, that all my adventures began…”

Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz (6/30/1911–8/14/2004), Native Realm

I had the great good fortune in May to visit Czesław Miłosz’s birthplace in the rural Lithuanian village of  Šeteniai. And yes, it is as idyllic as he said it was. I took this photo with my Droid on the former family estate, overlooking the river. The fishers called out to ask if we had permission to photograph them. Yes, one of us shouted back, there was a journalist in the group. They laughed, thinking it was a joke.


Józef Czapski. Haven’t heard of him? Here’s a chance to learn about one of the 20th century’s greatest men. With a podcast, too!

Friday, June 28th, 2019
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Keith Botsford’s very short “Józef Czapski: A Life in Translation,” in the Cahiers Series

 

 

It’s been quite a year for writer and artist Józef Czapski, thanks to his biographer, the California artist Eric Karpeles. Some time ago, I reviewed four books on or by Czapski for the Wall Street Journal: the review is printed in full below. At the bottom of the page: the Czapski book is now in Polish – and we’re blurbed! And my  interview with Eric Karpeles at San Francisco’s legendary City Lights bookstore last November is linked above (the Q&A begins around 28 minutes, after his short talk): 

In 1917, a Russian imperial cavalry cadet named Józef Czapski faced Bolshevik forces. He informed his commanding officer that he couldn’t kill his fellow man. The idealistic 21-year-old expected to be court-martialed or shot. Instead, his division chief told him, “When I was young, I also wanted to change the world. Go. Try.”

And so he did, for the rest of his 96 years. Czapski (1896-1993) was a writer, an artist, a diplomat, a humanitarian whose life spanned almost the entire 20th century. He was tireless in the fight against totalitarianism, whether of the Nazi or Communist stamp. He left behind more than 270 notebooks, as well as hundreds of paintings and thousands of sketches. As his renown grows, more works surface.

This gentle, tenacious, adamantine figure has been far too little known in the West—until now. New York Review Books recently published a moving and strikingly original biography by Eric Karpeles, Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski; a new translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones of Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941-42; and Mr. Karpeles’s translation of Czapski’s Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp.

Together these books document Czapski’s physical and spiritual survival during a nightmare era, but, more than that, they re-create an overlooked life, one marked by an exemplary measure of modesty, moral clarity and artistic richness. Moreover, Mr. Karpeles, a California-based painter and art critic, has ignited international interest in Czapski’s artwork.

Czapski was a larger-than-life figure (literally so—he was 6-foot-6) who early in life dropped his hereditary title of “count.” He had no fixed nationality: Of aristocratic Austrian, German and Russian heritage, he was born in Prague and reared in what today is Belarus. He chose to identify with his father’s Polish blood—a near-fatal decision, for the Poles had the distinction of losing World War II twice.

Czapski, a member of the Polish Reserve during that war, was among the 22,000 officers taken prisoner by Russia, which had made a secret pact with Nazi Germany. The soldiers were sent to three camps: Starobielsk, Ostashkov and Kozelsk. Czapski and some 395 others were later removed to Gryazovets, the site of a derelict Orthodox monastery. The others vanished without a trace.

The five Lost Time lectures that Czapski gave at Gryazovets in 1940-41 were delivered to a few dozen fellow officers. He had no access to the text, but worked from what he remembered. Proust’s masterpiece is a meditation on memory; Lost Time is one step further removed—a memory of memories.

He lectured in French, then recapped the lectures for two men to transcribe in the monastic refectory “under the watchful eye of a politruk who suspected us of writing something politically treasonous.” It was a way to save his sanity—and a Scheherazade effort to keep his fellow officers alive through a shared experience of literature. The half-starved, lice-ridden soldiers in threadbare rags juxtapose jarringly with Proustian salons; the tension between life and art could not have been greater, yet the chain he forged through time forever links Proust with Gryazovets. Not just for Czapski: for the rest of us, too.

In 1941, Hitler attacked Russia and the Polish prisoners were freed. Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, tortured and barefoot, emerged from the Lubyanka prison to form and lead an independent Polish army. He charged Czapski with finding his 22,000 missing comrades. Inhuman Land is his record of that fruitless search, of wandering the Soviet Union, badgering Soviet officials, and chasing down rumors of mass drownings in the White Sea or Arctic Sea and transports to faraway labor camps. Only in 1943 did he learn the staggering truth: Polish officers were systematically killed with a bullet in the back of the skull, then thrown into pits at Katyń and other sites. These men, his friends, were to have been Poland’s future.

“Inhuman Land” is not an easy read. It is not meant to be. It is an exhaustive 435-page witness to official lies and evasions and the methodical murder of Poland’s ruling class, as well as the spiritual and material degradation Communism had wrought on millions of Soviet denizens. Czapski says he had “more and more precise information about those missing, and less and less hope that the Soviet authorities were willing to take an interest in these people’s fate.” Later, he recounts the multilateral betrayal of Poland by its “allies.” Nevertheless, he finds moral action even in the darkest corners of human history.

Mr. Karpeles foregrounds what Czapski himself would have wished to be his legacy: his painting. Czapski had called it an “apprenticeship of looking.” Like a detective, Mr. Karpeles follows the leads to track down the original works so that he can gauge Czapski’s “mettle as a painter.” He wanders the dark corridors of museums in Warsaw and Kraków, making special requests for viewings, exhuming the neglected paintings in museum storage, and finding others in the homes of Czapski’s descendants—he even tracks down a painting at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.

You can always paint, Czapski maintained, no matter what your mood. And yet he was an artist interruptus, his vocation sidelined by war, illness, imprisonment, grief. Perhaps in that sense he is a patron saint for our own hectic, disrupted lives in virtual space. As our lifespans extend to a century, readers may find Czapski a salutary companion for the road ahead in our era of distraction. But a better reason for his companionship is his conscience and sense of duty, for, in Mr. Karpeles’s phrase, he was a man “constitutionally incapable of not shouldering the burden.”

“How could one fail to love such an Eye?” Keith Botsford writes in his last book, “Józef Czapski: A Life in Translation” (2009)—a scant 41 pages, but it captures something of Czapski’s spirit. Botsford, who met Czapski in the 1960s, calls his little book a “biography from within,” but he begins from without: Czapski was “not just tall, he was elongated . . . enormously wide awake behind his glasses.” “I am setting down a quality of his mind,” Botsford writes, “the way he made connections.” In the hybrid text, Botsford intersperses his own commentary among excerpts from Czapski’s writings and color reproductions of 12 of his paintings. “I can recall no whining,” writes Botsford. “As he’d faced all the alterations of his long life, that Tolstoyan and Catholic streak in him was powerfully directed towards what was actively good, to what could still be celebrated about life.”

Biographer Karpeles

After the war, Czapski moved to the outskirts of Paris to edit and write for the legendary Polish cultural journal Kultura. There, in its offices, he eked out his days in communal life with some of the foremost Polish intellectual émigrés. He continued to paint, sketch and write until he was nearly blind—a late-winter bloom on old gnarled stock.

Once, in his frail final years, a relative found him lying on the floor. He had been unable to get up for hours. She asked how he had occupied himself. “Smiling, he hugged her and tried to calm her agitation. ‘Oh, no need to worry about me,’ he replied. ‘I just lay there, perfectly happy, thinking about Proust.’ ”

He kept writing and painting until he could no longer hold a brush or pencil. At the end, he kept scrawling one word over and over in his diary, in capital letters: KATYŃ . . . KATYŃ . . . KATYŃ . . .

 

International honors for “Women of the Gulag” – and an exclusive podcast from the Stanford screening!

Monday, June 24th, 2019
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It premiered in Hollywood and New York – but on June 11, Women of the Gulag, a documentary film based on Paul Gregory‘s book of the same name, came home to Stanford. It got a big audience at Hoover’s Hauck Auditorium, in the new David & Joan Traitel Building, with a splendid reception afterwards. (We’ve written about the film here and here and here and here.)

The film, directed by Marianna Yarovskaya of MayFilms and produced by Yarovskaya and Gregory, was also shortlisted in the best documentary category in the 2019 Academy Awards competition. It has been named the Best Non-European Independent Documentary in the 2019 European Independent Documentary Film Festival held in Paris. It was also shown at Moscow’s Film Festival. It couldn’t be more timely, as Russia sinks into denial, historical lies, and Stalin-fandom.

A very exclusive screening with George Schultz

The film tells the compelling stories of six remarkable women – among the last survivors of the Gulag, the brutal system of repression that devastated the Soviet population during the Stalin years. Most stories of the gulag have told of men’s experience. Women of the Gulag is the first account of women in the camps and special settlements.

Women of the Gulag, filmed entirely on location in Russia, turned out to be the last chance to tell the story of women in camps and special settlements. Several of the women featured in the film have died since their interviews.

You can listen to the podcast of the Q&A session from the June 11 screening below – it’s a Book Haven exclusive. Eric Wakin, director of Hoover Library & Aerchives, introduces filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya and author Paul Gregory, who have a short discussion and answer audience questions.

There’s more to come: The film has been cleared for screening on Russian Channel 2 Russiya – with an okay from the highest government levels. The film will also get Russian screenings at Дом Русского Зарубежья (Solzhenitsyn’s house) and Gulag Museum, as well as Tver and other smaller cities. Other European universities have signed on for a screenings, and so has South Korea.

But the most exclusive showing to date is the one that took place the following morning for 98-year-old former State Secretary George Schultz, who had a private screening at the Hoover Tower. He called Women of the Gulag “an outstanding work,” and praised the strength of character of the women it profiled.

Photos by Igor Runov

The BBC “Les Misérables” is fini! Get over it. Now go read the book.

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019
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I can tell that the BBC airing of Les Misérables is tout fini. For a month or so now, the Book Haven ratings have shot up into the thousands each weekend. No more. What were people looking for at the humble Book Haven when they could watch the multi-hour BBC splendor?

They were clicking on our all-time highest-ranking post: “Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight,” illustrated with photos from 16th-century church Église Saint-Merri, where the real-life insurgents staged a desperate last stand, in and around this church at the heart of the district where the fiercest fighting took place. Over the years, the single post has gotten about a million views. It also attracted the record number of comments – 150 – before we had to turn it off because of the relentless spam attacks that defeated even the Stanford techies.

The biggest mistake viewers make: even apparently educated fans refer to this as the French Revolution. Wrong. This is 1832 not 1789. Big difference. Different clothes, different leaders. The biggest difference of all: the revolutionaries won the French Revolution. The insurgents in 1832 lost, big time. Well, read the story here.

With the BBC film, there seems to be a second mistake: Victor Hugo did not write a musical. He wrote a novel. You can read about that here. Please don’t wait for the songs.

But I’m gratified that the long-ago post is still getting attention. And I still get letters, like this one from Doris Reffner last week:

“I wanted to thank you for your excellent article.  It was just what I needed to explain the musical Les Miserables to my twelve-year-old granddaughter.  Even her grandfather mistakenly thought it was about the ‘French Revolution,’ and we saw the musical at least twice as well as concert videos and the movie.  Perhaps we need to read the book.   If I can read a Russian classic novel, I guess I can work my way through a French one.  You provided great information, easily understood.  Thank you.”

Join Doris and go out and get the book. Hurry, before the next remake!

Tired of angst? Here’s a poem about a happy marriage.

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
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A family reunion at Stanford – with jazz scholar Ted Gioia at right.

Dana Gioia, former National Endowment for the Arts chair and former California poet laureate, met Mary Heicke in the staples department of Stanford Bookstore circa 1977. They have been together ever since – a long marriage indeed, and one of the happiest I know. He commemorated their union recently in a poem, “Marriage of Many Years”:

Most of what happens happens beyond words.
The lexicon of lip and fingertip
defies translation into common speech.
I recognize the musk of your dark hair.
It always thrills me, though I can’t describe it.
My finger on your thigh does not touch skin—
it touches your skin warming to my touch.
You are a language I have learned by heart.

This intimate patois will vanish with us,
its only native speakers. Does it matter?
Our tribal chants, our dances round the fire
performed the sorcery we most required.
They bound us in a spell time could not break.
Let the young vaunt their ecstasy. We keep
our tribe of two in sovereign secrecy.
What must be lost was never lost on us.

In an era that celebrates sturm und drang, poets write of abusive relationships, and the anguish of unrequited love, or the torments of triangular love – but how many write of long and happy fidelity? The late great Richard Wilbur, notably, mocks the romantic conventions and instead praises (read the whole thing here) his marriage

… which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.

The Gioia marriage has an eyewitness to commemorate it – their son, Mike Gioia – who added it yesterday to his new youtube poetry series, “Blank Verse Films.” (You can subscribe here.)

Dropping acid with Michel Foucault

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
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What is it like to drop acid with Michel Foucault? Now there’s a whole book to tell you about the renowned French theorist’s rendezvous with LSD in 1975. From Los Angeles Review of Books‘ review of Simeon Wade’s Foucault in California (Heyday). The location, of all places, is Death Valley:

After picking up Foucault at the airport, Wade drives to his house, where the philosopher is treated to Tequila Sunrises and a small bowl of hashish. After a light dinner, [Wade’s friend Michael] Stoneman “sat down at the Yamaha grand and gave us a spirited reading of Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata, a work of pure sorcery.” The evening’s activities break the ice, making the French guest feel at home. After a few hours of slumber, the trio rise at dawn in order to reach the high desert before midday.

Wade, who has not yet mentioned the idea of taking LSD, finally decides to broach the delicate subject during the drive: “[W]e brought a powerful elixir, a kind of philosopher’s stone Michael happened upon. We thought you might enjoy a visionary quest in Death Valley.” Given that Foucault was not fluent in English, it is unclear if he really knew what Wade was talking about. Wade’s account of the events leading up to the trip has the air of a “kiss and tell” memoir, but in this case the act described is not sex with a celebrity but taking psychedelic drugs in an exotic locale. Every moment leading up to the hallucinogenic climax is described in lavish detail.

Author and subject.

When the trio finally reach Death Valley, they hike down to the Artists’ Palette, an alluvial fan at the base of a canyon. The moment of truth occurs when Stoneman produces the LSD and Foucault uncharacteristically freaks out: “Foucault appeared troubled and with grim countenance […] walked away.” Wade is forced to admit that his elaborate plan might be ruined; the last thing he and Stoneman wanted was a bad trip under the hot Death Valley sun. “We both knew that the potion taken under any kind of duress can discompose the unwilling. We certainly would not wish to force anything upon Michel.” When Foucault finally returns, he declares “with quizzical eyes that he wishe[s] to take only half as much, since this is his first experience with a potion so powerful.”

This was the response that Wade had feared the most: although Foucault had described the effects of LSD in one of his essays, he had never actually taken the drug. Wade and Stoneman were surprised because Foucault was a follower of Nietzsche who had always expressed a keen interest in all things Dionysian. Perhaps to save face, the philosopher, after a lengthy bout of indecision, asks Stoneman about the proper way of ingesting it. Much to Wade’s delight, the LSD plot is on again.

Read the whole thing here.

#EndowSUP: from crisis to consensus on Stanford University Press

Friday, June 14th, 2019
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More than 200 people attended yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting. (All photos by Ge Wang)

Passions ran high and emotions were raw at yesterday’s Stanford Faculty Senate meeting, which had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate the crowd. One faculty said that the fury around this issue was unlike anything he’d seen at Stanford in more than a decade.

A recap: The university decided to terminate its support of Stanford University Press, which had been given $1.7 million supplements for several years. The amount, as many pointed out at the meeting, is chump change, about .027% of Stanford’s annual operating budget. The move, seeking to make the press “sustainable,” spurred national and international outcry and letters from thirteen Stanford departments, schools, and programs and sixteen letters from national and international learned societies, as well as extensive press coverage (including The Chronicle of Higher Education here). The controversy has been discussed on the Book Haven here and here and here.

In her brief remarks, Provost Persis Drell, claimed that the way her earlier comments had been interpreted was “totally contrary to my intent” and was “truly, deeply regrettable.” She said that she had held “no intention of closing the press.” She said the use of the word “sustainable” was not meant to be a synonym for “profit-making,” but added that the Press had to move “beyond one-year extensions” to its budget.

Thomas Mullaney, professor of Chinese history, who had spoken on KQED about the future of the press, disagreed sharply: “Although some have since tried to downplay or deny the record on this point, it is established fact that dismissive, insulting, and unfounded statements were made about SUP by our administration – not just once, but repeatedly – and that these statements, when coupled with Stanford’s rejection of Stanford University Press’ budgetary request – set off a chain reaction of criticism of the Stanford administration and support for SUP, in equal measure.”

“I’ve never witnessed this kind of anger and resentment,” he said, recalling “meetings small and large wherein hands have slammed tabletops, voices have been raised, and in some cases, tears have clearly been held back. And of course, the tone of criticism only gets louder and sharper as one listens to the broader scholarly community across the rest of the United States and the world. Truly, this has been such a self-inflicted wound for Stanford, such an unforced error, that the situation feels largely out of control.  It has been remarked that this PR debacle has probably already cost Stanford more money than it would have cost to endow SUP in perpetuity, let alone agreeing to the more modest 5-year package.”

Stanford Prof. David Palumbo-Liu asked Stanford University Press Director Alan Harvey point blank what would have happened without the resistance, what would have happened if the $1.7 million shortfall in their budget had, in fact, gone down as planned.

“I would have had to lay off half my staff,” Harvey replied in a beat. In turn, that move would have reduced the number of books the press could produce, which would have triggered more layoffs, he said. In short, a death spiral.

The negative impact are already evident in the current atmosphere of uncertainty, he said, with “hesitation on the part of scholars to submit books” for consideration to Stanford University Press. “The number of proposals has gone down,” and he characterized the pool of potential authors as “nervous.” When the university administration is conveying “a message of a lack of faith, people are going to hold off.”

There was much talk about finding a solution to this intractable problem, but the answer seemed pretty obvious. Harvey stated it upfront: “An endowment is the only thing for a long-term sustainable press.” An endowment is the foundation of other major university presses – Harvard University Press, among others, has a large one. To date, the university has not permitted the press to do its own fundraising.

Comments were poignant and sometimes fiery. Notable among them, graduate student Jason Beckman referred to the stress caused by the decision to axe Press funding to support a few graduate scholarships instead: “Do not threaten to impoverish our futures while making overtures of support for our mental health. We see the repeated attempts by the provost and deans to weigh funding for graduate students against funding for the press and categorically reject this logic as a false choice. Make no mistake that we stand firmly with our faculty advisors and the press on this issue, and will not be used as rhetorical human shields for the administration’s myopic stance towards the Press and academic publishing. If this university did in fact value our mental health and well-being, it would consult us in good faith as actual stakeholders on major issues that may profoundly affect the academic fields in which we hope to establish careers.”

He referred to meeting some graduate students had with Provost Drell on May 2, about how to interpret the standing of the humanities and social sciences at Stanford in the wake of her decision to effectively defund the press. He said she discussed on the two types of degrees that she believes will serve our society going forward. “First, social science degrees buttressed by data proficiency and computer science skills, and second, humanities degrees, which are the ‘best equipped’ to deal with post-human concerns in a world of proliferating robotics and artificial intelligence. Far from assuaging our concerns, such a response only reaffirmed that this institution does indeed marginalize the humanities and social sciences—which seem to have value only insofar as they support STEM fields. A university that stands behind and supports all of its scholars and students, and that values scholarship itself, should not position itself as openly hostile or indifferent to certain kinds of scholarship. We find that bias clearly manifest in the Provost’s initial decision to decline the budget request from SUP, a decision that would devastate the press. ” (His comments are included in full on the “Save Stanford University Press” website here.)

The meeting ended by approving a resolution, along with an additional faculty committee that proponents argued will provide additional transparency and an invigorated role for faculty governance in matters pertaining to the Press.

And below: a few samplings from the promised Twitterstorm:

 

Stanford Faculty Senate discusses Stanford University Press on Wednesday – prepare for a Twitterstorm!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019
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The Faculty Senate will discuss Stanford University Press on Thursday afternoon. So many people will be attending the meeting has been moved to a larger venue. PLEASE HELP with our Twitter storm, 3:30 to 5 p.m. PST Thursday. Use the hashtag #SupportSUP.  We’ll be posting the best of the tweets at the Book Haven! (We got a head start on the job with some early arrivals below.)

Crisis at Stanford University Press: What is the answer? We have it in a single graphic!

Sunday, June 9th, 2019
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We’ve written about the crisis at the Stanford University Press here. The insistence on making the Press “sustainable” is a will-o’-the-wisp – no university press is; they aren’t meant to be. The matter will be discussed further this Thursday, June 13, at Stanford’s Faculty Senate meeting. You can read the story “What Really Happened at Stanford University Press: An Insider’s View” by the Press’s director emeritus Grant Barnes in The Chronicle of Higher Education here.  The problem has been featured in the national media. What is the answer? We have the solution in a single graphic, courtesy Ge Wang, Stanford’s resident genius and associate professor at CCRMA (also co-founder of SMULE and designer of the Ocarina):


 

“Alt-ac” at the MLA? “Things are so desperate that a few academics are even considering change.”

Thursday, June 6th, 2019
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He never looked back … well, almost never.

Stephen Marche, a refugee from academia, went as a sort of tourist to the Modern Language Association convention in Chicago this year, and it was a downer.  “The MLA this year took, as its principal subject, the death of its own significance,” he writes in the current Times Literary SupplementWhat’s happened to the humanities?  The lack of reading – c’mon real reading, like Kafka and Proust and Milton and Dostoevsky – and the omnipresence of the electronic media have “the rug has been pulled out from under a whole scheme of meaning.”

Marche’s particular target is a “neat piece of jargon for these alternatives to academia: the alt-ac track.” He found one alternative himself: the Canadian novelist, essayist, and cultural commentator taught Renaissance drama at CUNY until 2007, when he resigned in order to write full-time. He is now a contributing editor of Esquire. 

He reflected on his former life: “The cloistered interiorizing logic of the system makes life outside seem halfway impossible. From the outside, ‘academic prestige’ as an idea is completely ludicrous. From within, nothing could be more in earnest. Thus the inherent hilarity of the phrase ‘academic superstar’.”

“And this is what the graduate student facing a non-academic job has to confront: They’ve been collecting Disney bucks their whole lives and must now leave the magic kingdom. Alt-ac brings with it stigma and shame as well as terror.”

He maintains “the ostentatious left-wing politics of academia is camouflage for a deeply conservative way of life.” Elsewhere, he writes: “The cloistered interiorizing logic of the system makes life outside seem halfway impossible.”

Things are so desperate that a few academics are even considering change. Peter Kalliney, from the University of Kentucky, proposed a plan he had been imposing on his own department: “Fun, effective courses to non-majors” is “the way to the major”. What if you taught courses, in other words, that people wanted to take? At his department, Kalliney insisted on “a few strategic new courses in growth areas” – creative writing, film, mythology – and insisted, most radically, on senior faculty members teaching the most popular courses. This is the exact opposite of what is typically done, where senior academics toddle around their specialist subject among the upper years, while overworked contract staff slug it out in the trenches with the masses who have to take classes. Instead, why not have the best-paid, most experienced teachers teach students who need to be convinced of the value of literature?

The current state of the humanities can be found in the juxtaposition of these two sessions. First, academics devote their lives to writing things they know that nobody will ever read, then they gnash their teeth about why nobody cares about what they do.

In one of the more desperate pleas for relevance, the MLA introduced a session called “Humanities in Five” at this year’s conference. “Scholars from multiple fields present five-minute descriptions of their work in accessible languages”, the description read. “Chicago journalists serve as judges. The goal is to offer models for sharing work in the humanities with the general public.” The event itself, in a sparsely populated ballroom, had the painful incompetence of people doing stand-up for the first time. The professors reverted to the standard lecture speak and their weird fascinations: the trade in ivory between Zanzibar and Connecticut, the influence of Jewish conversos on early Jesuit writings, applying Bourdieu’s theories to YSL’s India collection from the 1970s. One of the scholars lost the ability to speak for fifteen seconds. Somebody played the blues harmonica, which is never a good sign.

Congratulations, from one angle. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

He recalled a student who told him she feels like she’s betraying her mentors by looking for a non-academic job. “I want to tell her: It’s the professors who betrayed you long ago.”

“It’s not just hurt feelings. The problem is practical. If you are a graduate student, and you want advice on how the world outside academia works, there is nobody worse to ask than an academic. Asking a professor for advice about how to find a job outside academia is about as useful as asking a priest for advice about the wedding night.”

As someone who has tethered her inflatable life-raft to the cruise ship of the university, and tied it to the humanities in particular, I find it tragic that the whole thing is going blub-blub-blub. But at least the TLS and Stephen March are helping us have a last drink and a few laughs as the ship hits the iceberg. And it’s the free online offering this week at the TLS, here.