Posts Tagged ‘Ken Kesey’

MLA’s Rosemary Feal: “Humanities Required?”

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Here’s the story, and it comes from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:

A National Book Award-level Shakespeare scholar was called to give lectures all over the country.  His chauffeur told him that he had heard one of the talks so many times, he himself could deliver it verbatim.

The scholar took him up on the bet.  One black turtleneck and tweed jacket later, the chauffeur was onstage, and the scholar was dressed as the chauffeur in the audience.  The driver delivered the speech perfectly, verbatim.  Then came the question-and-answer period.

Question:  “Could you explain the difference between the ‘self-fashioning’ you describe and the psychoanalytic concept of masquerade?”

The mike went to the tweed-and-turtlenecked chauffeur.  He paused thoughtfully, or perhaps he merely halted in panic.  “That’s a dumb question,” he finally said.  “In fact, that’s the dumbest question I have ever heard. It’s so dumb, I bet my chauffeur can answer it.”

And it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen, as Ken Kesey once said.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, told the story during last Wednesday’s presentation “Humanities Required?”

Feal: Have the Boomers failed us?

It all goes to prove, she said, that the humanities do not just pass on a canon of knowledge or in a vague way teach us how to think – they “also allow us to formulate and debate questions and answers.”

Why the question in her title, then?  According to Feal, the very generation – the Boomers – that had championed the humanities in academia and demanded a greater role for the humanities in the curriculum has now turned the tables.

Boomers are steering their kids towards more utilitarian, career-oriented degrees in law, medicine, business.

What happened? Obviously, the economy has tilted students and parents towards the lucrative degrees that will “pay off.”

However, older students who return to school after careers and family – “Guess what they go study?” she asked. That’s right.  The humanities.

Russell Berman, past president of the MLA, attended the session as Feal’s sidekick (“the chauffeur,” Feal joked) – I interviewed them both for my earlier article here, joined her in noting that language enrollments are up in Arabic and Chinese, as well as the more usual suspects (Spanish, and, surprisingly, Latin) – yet many college language programs have been reduced, closed, or threatened with closure.

Berman: Taking on a hard sell (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Jennifer Summit, an English professor, noted that although the number of English majors is holding steady for the last decade, increasing college enrollments mean that English is dropping as a percentage of all majors. That means the same number of kids to educate with a smaller slice of the resource pie.

Rosemary noted that it’s harder and harder for humanities PhDs to earn a living wage and pay down enormous college loans.

One possible solution: She noted that the M.D. is a four-year-degree; humanities PhDs can take nine years to get the degree.  “It’s not clear why the humanities PhD can’t be a four-year degree.”

“Must the larval monograph be the only form of dissertation?” she asked. New media and collaboration can “revolutionize the whole thing.”

But mostly she and Russell emphasized the need for universal education towards second (or third or fourth) language acquisition.  “It’s a hard sell,” she said, especially in the face of the belief that English is already the universal language all over the world.

Not so, she said, when you travel:  “It’s the boss’ language – not the language of the person you want to talk to.”

Saving Stegner’s studio

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Stegner in his studio

Wallace Stegner lived on the slopes off Page Mill Road, in Los Altos Hills, for 50 years until his death in 1993.  He did much of the carpentry himself on the home he bought in the 1950s, before there was water, electricity, or a road.  He built the studio in the mid-1960s.

“Just about every major book that he wrote was written in that study,” his biographer Jackson Benson says.

Now the bulldozers are headed that way, and the Pulitzer Prizewinning author’s fans are making a last-minute bid to save the studio where he penned Angle of Repose. Don’t bother trying to find the studio on 13456 South Fork Lane: It’s not visible in any readily accessible way.  The only way to get to it would be to wade through poison oak across private property.

In Los Altos Hills...

From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“It sent a bolt of sadness through our hearts because there are so many wonderful memories associated with it,” says Lynn Stegner, wife of Page Stegner, the only child of Wallace and Mary Stegner. “The part that kills me the most is Wally’s study. It’s a separate building with a rare blue oak tree in front of it. I’m hoping they don’t tear it down because he treasured that tree.”

The tree’s fate is not determined, but the studio’s is. It will be scrapped, along with everything else, and that might be the most regrettable loss to the Peninsula’s literary history since Ken Kesey‘s cottage on Perry Lane in Menlo Park met a wrecking ball in the 1960s.

The current owners want to raze all the buildings on the site and construct a new 7,337-square-foot home with a 3,647-square-foot basement and a 240 square foot swimming pool.  But they appear to be open to the idea of moving Wally’s workplace.

According to the San Jose Mercury:

“I think people would appreciate the studio as a place where they could go to remember (Stegner) and be able to look at memorabilia and photographs,” Alice Sakamoto, the author’s longtime neighbor, said in an email. “Also, because he was instrumental in the formation of this town, I think preserving the studio is something we should try to do.”