Teacher in America
See also Jacques Barzun’s “Teacher in America”.
Also today: Jack Faber: Poe, Lovecraft, Barzun and Other Preoccupations and Rhyming Equations and Poems that Add Up.
Celebrating Jacques Barzun
«A apresenta uma opinião, enquanto B pensa na que irá injectar logo que possa, de forma decente. Isto é uma troca no sentido em que “trocamos” saudações: oferecemos uma fórmula e é-nos oferecida outra, mas geralmente vamo-nos embora com a nossa.»
J. Barzun, The House of Intelect, p. 63.
Há mais de quatro décadas, Jacques Barzun ocuparia boa parte de um dos capítulos da sua obra The House of Intelect (1959, 2002) lamentando o declínio da conversa como forma privilegiada para o debate de ideias e para o exercício produtivo das nossas capacidades intelectuais. Segundo ele o hábito de conversar intelectualmente desapareceu quase por completo na sociedade ocidental. Em vez de construirmos uma conversa, articulando o nosso raciocínio no dos nossos interlocutores, analisando argumentos, avançando para novas ideias, limitamo-nos a "trocar ideias", no sentido comercial do termo. Toma lá a minha opinião, dá cá a tua, e pronto, já está, ficamos à mesma na nossa e tudo fica na mesma.
A razão para esta situação, segundo Barzun, está naquilo a que chama a ascensão das “maneiras” dos “bons modos” que, a coberto de pretensos ideais democráticos, parece querer a todo o custo evitar os problemas e os confrontos, em busca de um consenso que a ninguém desagrade e a todos satisfaça.
Realmente, embora escrito em 1959, isto retrata a actualidade da nossa vida intelectual e académica de forma atrozmente rigorosa. Ninguém está para pensar sobre o que os outros dizem. Apenas se aceita ou recusa, ponto final, sem mais elaboração. E quando as ideias diferem, o mais habitual é uma de duas soluções, ou ignorar as opiniões adversas ou então atacá-las como ofensivas sem discutir os seus argumentos. Agora discutir ideias, analisá-las, aperfeiçoá-las, modificá-las perante os outros, isso é que não porque parece ser sinal de fraqueza das nossas próprias convicções ou crenças.
Esta atitude traduz-se, na prática, numa crescente esterilidade do que passam por ser os “debates” de ideias no nosso país da vida política à académica mas passando por quase todos os aspectos da nossa vida.
— Paulo Guinote, in Associação de Professores de História, Opinião, Sobre a Decadência do Debate de Ideias
Pendapat tentang Buku How to Read a Book:
“Siapa pun yang peduli pada masa depan budaya bangsanya, perlu membaca buku ini.” (Jacques Barzun)
— Undangan Diskusi Buku How to Read a Book di Perpus Diknas, Sabtu 28 April
Opinion about How to Read a Book:
“Anyone who cares about the future of the nation’s culture must read this book.” (Jacques Barzun)
These four hundred pages are packed full of high matters which no one solicitous of the future American culture can afford to overlook.
— Jacques Barzun
Another book I treasure is The Modern Researcher by my friend Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff. Jacques is the smartest person I’ve ever known. He’s going to be 100 years old in November. Jacques still has all his marbles and I hope I live long enough to go to his birthday party.
— Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes, April 22, 2007
The heart has its reasons that the Reason does not know.
— Pascal, Pensées
You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geology, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus, literature remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures. The sifting of human creations! — nothing less than this is what we ought to mean by the humanities.
— William James, “The Social Value of the College-Bred”
Our task, in lieu of all wishing, is to free ourselves as much as possible from foolish joys and fears and to apply ourselves above all to the understanding of historical development.
— Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments of History and Historians
To my taste, the most natural and fruitful exercise of the mind is conversation. Engaging in it I find sweeter than any other activity in life, which is why if I were forced to choose, I think I would rather agree to lose my eyesight than my hearing or power of speech.
— Montaigne, Essays, III, 8
To make life seem agreeable, disagreeables first.
— L. O. McDuff
The historian Jacques Barzun called New York City’s skyline the ‘most stupendous unbelievable manmade spectacle since the hanging gardens of Babylon.’ Indeed, no city’s architecture is as synonymous with its identity as New York’s. Our residents owe a tremendous debt to the architects who have designed and constructed everything from the magnificent Beaux-Arts façade of Grand Central Terminal to the charming brownstones of Brooklyn and Harlem — and this week, we join all those celebrating the 150th anniversary of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a national organization of certified professionals whose New York Chapter contributes so much to the safety, aesthetics, and social purpose of our city’s architecture.
As I demonstrate each year when I bestow the Art Commission Awards for Excellence in Design, our administration is deeply committed to these very same values. All New Yorkers are grateful for the AIA’s important work with our city’s planning and design agencies and public works community to improve the quality-of-life throughout the five boroughs.
Every day, the AIA demonstrates an incredible commitment to its mission. Throughout the year, this valuable institution sponsors programs exploring the role of architects in everything from urban design to historic preservation, and, to foster the development of the next generation of great builders, the AIA provides scholarship and educational opportunities for students and the general public through its charitable affiliate, the Center for Architecture Foundation.
At its best, architecture is an inspiring testament to humanity’s limitless capacity to imagine, create and achieve. No city exemplifies this vital profession’s spirit as does New York City — and, since 1857, no organization has contributed more to its continued progress than the AIA. We take this opportunity to congratulate the AIA on 150 great years, and look forward to building an even better future together.
Now therefore, I, Michael R. Bloomberg. Mayor of the City of New York, in recognition of this important anniversary, do hereby proclaim April 9th to the 16th in the City of New York: ‘Architecture Week.’
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the City of New York to be affixed.
Michael R. Bloomberg
The imaginary fanatic of the French Revolution who never said, apropos of Lavoisier, that “the Republic has no need of savants” enunciated a great truth. It applies, of course, not to any factual reality, but to the emotions of democratic republics.
The oldest and mightiest of such republics, the United States, has adhered to the principle with almost painful fidelity. It has resolutely disregarded its great artists, scientists, and critics, proceeding in its salutary neglect from a correct reasoning that they were a free gift from Providence, not a necessity with a place clearly marked out in the present.
That is why we keep “discovering” those free gifts — Melville, Jonathan Edwards, Henry Adams, Willard Gibbs, Henry James, John Jay Chapman, Albert Jay Nock. As the old man said who kept hiding macaroons among his heaped up papers, “It is such a pleasure to come upon them unexpectedly.” And perhaps these artists, critics, men of science, are all the better for being aged in the wood. But surely we are not the better for having missed their contemporary effect. For example, Nock’s book on education in the United States could have saved us endless mistakes had we heeded it during the past half century. Again, why were we so limited in imagination (though ever boastful of “creativity”) that we could not separate Nock’s literal advice about government from the fruitful implications of his libertarianism for manners and the intellectual life? No harm is done if we read his Jefferson as a biography and his Rabelais studies as travel books and compare them with other biographies and studies. But it is harm done to ourselves not to discover in those works an ideal of the complete man and of the moral life. Must we always be moved only by unreadable books in treatise form, which profess to “tell all” with the aid of quotations and references — that is, others’ thoughts pickled in disinfectant scholarship?
Never mind the answer just now. Here is a small book full of Nock’s thoughts, as fresh as they were when first minted.
Do you not realize that the Sunni Arabs simply cannot permit the “Raphidite dogs” or Shi’a of Iraq to control Mesopotamia (as we redolently like to call it — see what Jacques Barzun noted of that word, as pleasing as the word “ratiocination”)
— More on Why We Should Welcome Iraq's Civil War
Cécile, ouvrage de mademoiselle Guichard. Il a publié ce dernier comme simple éditeur, quoiqu'il l'ait retouché”. . . .
Retouched. Just a little “retouched.” By someone who calls himself “un simple editeur.” Avec, no doubt, un coeur simple. Just doing a little retouching. For the final result of such editorial presumption, see what young badly-educated editors do nowadays when they start line-editing a grown-up’s prose, a matter dealt with by Jacques Barzun in A Word or Two Before You Go.
— A Little Retouched
“In Favor of Capital Punishment” has appeared in two important Supreme Court cases: . . .
I just got this terrific email from a fellow Jacques Barzun-admirer who'd stumbled across one of my Barzun posts. . . .
. . . I recently sent a blind letter to Herman Wouk after I discovered that in The Caine Mutiny he had named a destroyer Barzun. Mr. Wouk kindly replied with details of Barzun’s letter to him when the book first came out – “fine raillery about cheeses” – and invitation to lunch at the Century Club. Turns out that JB was his teacher in the Colloquium on Important Books.
Passing . . . from one kind of name to another not only encourages the verbalist in his hopes of achieving science, but by virtue of tables, graphs, and abstract prose in the conclusion, he is also confirmed in the belief that the vague entity to which he gave a generic name does exist as a thing. Soon he sees all of life — all persons and their doings — at once vaguely and generically. In the end, by diffusion through newspapers and other print, the air of common day is colored and thickened by the presence of these supposed entities. The common man soon acquires a vocabulary in excess of his needs, thanks to which he is never at a loss for the wrong word. But meantime he has lost the habit of testing words and ideas by experience and is content to combine them like terms in algebra, without reference to the actual.
— Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect, 1959, p. 228
Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.
A century ago, Gustave Flaubert collected examples of clichéd ideas in France, calling his work The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas (translated for New Directions by Jacques Barzun). The entry for “America,” for instance, reads “If it weren’t for the discovery of America, we should not be suffering from syphilis and phylloxera. Exalt it all the same, especially if you’ve never been there.” And the accepted way to respond to the name “Machiavelli”? – “Though you have not read him, consider him a scoundrel.”
I have been aware of books that are labeled “The Age of Reason”, “The Romantic Age”, “The Atomic Age”, “The Information Age”. Whole book series have been labeled this way. Excellent books. But often one author’s book that discusses a particular “Age” may be in flagrant disagreement with a book by another author. The histories written of such “Ages” are filled with contradictions. I always ended up confused about what the “Age” was supposed to demonstrate about the Human Adventure. Then I read a book by Jacques Barzun, who wrote that it is not the answers that unite and create an “Age”, but the questions. This idea exploded in my mind, and all sorts of half-formed ideas I had came into focus in patterns that were suddenly filled with meaning. I had been so involved with judging the answers, the nature of the questions had not attracted my attention. Now they did. Every few generations, people become aware of a body of questions that cry out to be answered, that demand attention, that search for a path into the future. Often, these questions did not or could not have come up at a different time in history. Alternatively, often the questions have followed us from time immemorial, but the answers that could make sense may only have come into being recently. I became aware of how important it is to consider a particular group of Questions and their body of potential Answers as connected, as creatures of their Time, in a way I had not imagined before.
Dear Jacques Barzun,
You may not remember, but some twenty years ago I had the great pleasure to spend an unforgettable morning at your Manhattan apartment, chatting with you about Cornell Woolrich, and the New York intellectual scene of the Twenties and Thirties. . . .