Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Kirsch on Stern

Once in America, Mr. Stern found a new life opening before him. He was still deeply occupied with conditions in Europe, especially once the war began, and writes poignantly of the high-school debates and editorials in which he tried to infect his classmates with enthusiasm for the Allied cause. But America was also a liberation — for one thing, from the medical career that his family traditions pointed toward. Instead, studying at Columbia with professors like Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun opened his eyes to the worlds of literature and history. Remarkably quickly, Mr. Stern would become their colleague, and join them in espousing the civilized liberalism of Cold War Morningside Heights. One of the best later chapters of Mr. Stern's memoir deals with his principled resistance to the student radicals of 1968, whom he recognized as enemies of a hard-won liberal order. He writes proudly that his speech at a crucial meeting helped to defeat a faculty motion in support of the student strike.
— Adam Kirsch, “A Happy life in Difficult Times” (review of Five Germanys I Have Known, by Fritz Stern), The New York Sun, August 23, 2006.

See also Fritz Stern.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gemini Ink

On September 7, 2006, Gemini Ink will honor Jacques Barzun with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

“"This is an extraordinary year for INKstravaganza with Jacques Barzun receiving a laurel for lifetime achievement and Abraham Verghese one for literary excellence,” said Rosemary Catacalos, executive director of Gemini Ink. “We’ve never had two honorees before. We’ve traditionally given the Literary Excellence Award honoring a local writer whose work has achieved national recognition and who also engages in community service. Abraham generously fills that bill.

“But the Lifetime Achievement Award is our first — and perhaps only — such prize. We felt it absolutely imperative to honor Jacques Barzun, a world renowned cultural historian who has lived in San Antonio since 1997. This is a man whose intellectual generosity has inspired generations of readers, writers and thinkers worldwide.”

Express-News Editor Robert Rivard will be master of ceremonies, and senior critic Mike Greenberg will pay special tribute to Barzun.

— Steve Bennett, Gemini Ink fundraiser will honor Verghese, Barzun, San Antonio Express-News, Sept. 2, 2006.

See the video of Jacques Barzun’s acceptance speech, made in his home.

Susan Haack

“Everybody shall produce written research in order to live”; Barzun [in The American University: How It Runs, Where It Is Going, New Yor, 1968] exaggerates, but not much. Everybody aspiring to the tenure-track, tenure, promotion, a raise, a better job, or, of course, academic stardom, had better produce written, published, research. “[A]nd it shall be decreed a knowledge explosion”; again, Barzun exaggerates, but, again, not much. It is pretty much taken for granted that this explosion of publications is a good thing, that it represents a significant contribution to knowledge.
— Susan Haack, “A Preposterous Environment”, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims for the Paranormal, November/December 1997.

The back cover of Susan Haack’s book Defending Science — Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism has this blurb by Jacques Barzun: “I greatly relished reading this book. I very much admire Haack’s comprehensive defense of science; it is appropriately argued without resort to cliché — pleasurable prose.”

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

But is it Poetry?

I do not believe that it is possible to name a set of requirements for poetry. In several languages, mere parallelism of thought is one defining feature — e.g., the Bible. In English the variations of form and substance, from Piers Plowman to Robert Bridges and from Walt Whitman to G. M. Hopkins and William Carlos Williams are enough to defy definition.

Coleridge brushed aside the distinction between verse and prose in order to be able to find poetry wherever his sense of it dictated, and I think that his way is the one followed by most readers as individuals. One says “this is poetry” and another says “not on your life” about the same words. If art is a contrived extension of life, as I believe, this dissensus is to be expected. One person says “life is good” or “life is a vale of soul-making,” and another says “life is bad,”, “life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.”

— Jacques Barzun, “Reader’s Forum”, Aristos: The Journal of Esthetics, December 1988.