Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

Anyone who speaks of anti-intellectualism as a quality in American life must reckon with one of the signal facts of our national experience – our persistent, intense, and sometimes touching faith in the efficacy of popular education. Few observers, past or present, have doubted the pervasiveness or sincerity of this faith. […]

From the beginning, American statesmen had insisted upon the necessity of education in a republic. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, urged the people to promote “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” To the degree that the form of government gave force to public opinion, Washington argued, “it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” The aging Jefferson warned in 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” […] “If the time shall ever come,” wrote a small-town Midwestern editor in 1836,

when this mighty fabric shall totter; when the beacon of joy that now rises in pillar of fire…shall wax dim, the cause will be found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to continue…; if your fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country in her career of glory; if you would have the sun continue to shed his unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then EDUCATE ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE LAND. This alone startles the tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies of an oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up majestic columns of national glory; and this and sound morality alone can prevent their crumbling to ashes.

But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that something very important is missing from the American passion for education. A host of educational problems has arisen from indifference – underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down school buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else – the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the failure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud.


I found this in a used book I bought recently. The bookstore is still around.

Bookmark for Lake Country Booksellers in White Bear Lake Minnesota

(Original series here, with subsequent discoveries here.)


Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (pp 1000–01):

“We will buy it all up,” making the expected arm gesture, “all this country. Money speaks, the land listens, where the Anarchist skulked, where the horse-thief plied his trade, we fishers of Americans will cast our nets of perfect ten-acre mesh, leveled and varmint-proofed, ready to build on. Where alien muckers and jackers went creeping after their miserable communistic dreams, the good lowland townsfolk will come up by the netful into these hills, clean, industrious, Christian, while we, gazing out over their little vacation bungalows, will dwell in top-dollar palazzos befitting our station, which their mortgage money will be paying to build for us. When the scars of these battles have long faded, and the tailings are covered in bunchgrass and wildflowers, and the coming of the snows is no longer the year’s curse but its promise, awaited eagerly for its influx of moneyed seekers after wintertime recreation, when the shining strands of telpherage have subdued every mountainside, and all is festival and wholesome sport and eugenically-chosen stock, who will be left anymore to remember the jabbering Union scum, the frozen corpses whose names, false in any case, have gone forever unrecorded? who will care that once men fought as if an eight-hour day, a few coins more at the end of the week, were everything, were worth the merciless wind beneath the shabby roof, the tears freezing on a woman’s face worn to dark Indian stupor before its time, the whining of children whose maws were never satisfied, whose future, those who survived, was always to toil for us, to fetch and feed and nurse, to ride the far fences of our properties, to stand watch between us and those who would intrude or question?” He might usually have taken a look at Foley, attentive back in the shadows. But Scarsdale did not seek out the eyes of his old faithful sidekick. He seldom did anymore. “Anarchism will pass, its race will degenerate into silence, but money will beget money, grow like the bluebells in the meadow, spread and brighten and gather force, and bring low all before it. It is simple. It is inevitable. It has begun.”


Something I wrote a few years ago:

The Magical Powers of a New Shirt: on The West Wing, 9/11, language, and violence


Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings:

Sam said nothing. The look on Frodo’s face was enough for him; he knew that words of his were useless. And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


We attended a truly joyous concert last night. It was an absolutely perfect program for the opening weekend of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 64th season.


Toni Morrison (via):

We have to stop loving our horror stories. Joyce’s Ulysses was rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not work. Hemingway despaired and could not work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to death, D was blacklisted, E committed suicide. I hate those stories. Great works are written in prisons and holding camps. So are stupid books. The misery does not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work.


Alison Gopnik (via):

But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.


Joseph Brodsky:

When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.


Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History:

…I take notes on four-by-six index cards, reminding myself about once an hour of a rule I read long ago in a research manual, “Never write on the back of anything.” Since copying is a chore and a bore, use of the cards, the smaller the better, forces one to extract the strictly relevant, to distill from the very beginning, to pass the material through the grinder of one’s own mind, so to speak. Eventually, as the cards fall into groups according to subject or person or chronological sequence, the pattern of my story will emerge. Besides, they are convenient, as they can be filed in a shoe box and carried around in a pocketbook. When ready to write I need only to take along a packet of them, representing a chapter, and I am equipped to work anywhere; whereas if one writes surrounded by a pile of books, one is tied to a single place, and furthermore likely to be too much influenced by other authors.