Monday, October 27, 2014

On “the true nature of the University”

Beaver Cleaver speaking:

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a guy could stay in school and hide from the world, like teachers do?”
Beaver asks that question in the Leave It to Beaver episode “The All-Night Party” (May 30, 1963). Wally tells his brother that he is “way off-base.” But then there’s a scene in John Williams’s novel Stoner (1965) in which graduate student and instructor David Masters describes what he calls “the true nature of the University”:
“It is an asylum or — what do they call them now? — a rest home, for the infirm, the aged, the discontent, and the otherwise incompetent. Look at the three of us — we are the University. The stranger would not know that we have so much in common, but we know, don’t we? We know well. . . .

“It’s for us that the University exists, for the dispossessed of the world; not for the students, not for the selfless pursuit of knowledge, not for any of the reasons that you hear.”
I think that the sense of academic life as a refuge, a monastery of sorts, was once real, though it may not have been voiced with David Masters’s frankness. I can think of several professors from my undergraduate experience who would have been lost in the so-called real world. But the sense of refuge, if ever it was real, is long gone. Careerism rules.

Stoner is available as a New York Review Books reprint (2003). It’s an extraordinary novel.

A related post
A teaching thought (From a Williams interview)

comments: 3

JuliaR said...

Hannah Arendt makes the distinction between the public and the private worlds, and academia (philosophy in particular) was of the private world. The public world was the polis but one required the sanctuary of the private world in order to be able to re-enter the public world of politics.

Michael Leddy said...

I’ve seen Arendt’s name so often recently. On her terms, the private world would not be a place where one could hide, would it?

JuliaR said...

I am not an Arendt scholar by any means! I am auditing a seminar on some of her essays on political philosophy. But we are also reading the entire "Eichmann in Jerusalem" which is fascinating.

I would recommend that you browse through the SEP entry on her:
and in particular s. 3 and s. 6.1.
Not to bail on the explanation, sorry!