Friday, July 30, 2010

He seems a good candidate ...

... to me: Was Cardinal Newman a saint?

The purpose of a university, for Newman, was to ensure that those educated there had “a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind”. This, surely, is still the central aim of preprofessional undergraduate education. Whatever discipline an undergraduate pursues, or majors in, it is not so much the acquisition of that particular body of knowledge that is important, but the acquiring, through that discipline, of a sense of the aims and methods of science and scholarship. It is the function of liberal education to make one aware of the boundaries of the domains of the sciences, and give one a grasp of which questions can and which cannot be settled by science.


  1. Anthony Kenny makes a good argument (via Newman) for what higher education ought to be; however, I am afraid that the reality in the majority of American universities is different. In too many cases, curricula are designed to prepare people for professions, which means there is little room in the curricula to cultivate "intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable dispassionate mind" in a student. Of course, that is simply one working teacher's cynical view in response to Kenny and Newman.

  2. But R.T., isn't that a general problem in higher education, that it's become focused on preparing for profession? We've certainly heard the complaint often enough that there must be some general truth to it. I doubt it's just your one teacher's viewpoint. The problem might in fact be system-wide.

    I sometimes wonder, even, if the whole MFA in creative writing industry isn't just another example of this, being as it is similarly geared towards producing professional teachers/writers. I mean, what else do you DO with an MFA in poetry, but look for an academic teaching job?

    Fifty years ago, before this change occurred in creative programs at the university level, the idea of a "professional poet" was absurd. Now it seems to be the normative assumption. (Leaving aside for the moment all commentary on the quality of the "professional" writing that results.)

  3. Daniel Pritchard links to this essay, for example, about Yale:

    A Letter from Yale.

  4. Pritchard is correct. English PhDs (as well as MAs and MFAs for that matter) are a peculiar species (I am included among them) struggling to justify themselves in a peculiar environment: academia. Pritchard is also correct that life in academia can be dangerous to one's health as a reader of literature because of the emphasis on criticism (based on the need to publish) rather than interpretation and appreciation (based on the aesthetic pleasures available in good literature). A mentor once warned me that an advanced degree in English might destroy my ability to enjoy reading. He was very nearly correct.

  5. Sometimes, I am simply amazed at how smart some of the people who comment on this blog are!

  6. Vis a vis Newman's sexuality:

    Ed Folsom, the preeminent Whitman scholar, corrected me on the same point when I was writing about America's Bard. In the 19th century, there were sexual "acts" but not "sexual orientations." Hence, the attempt to "out" figures from the past imposes modern thinking on people who lived in entirely different ways with wholly different norms.

    So it's lovely that the Victorians "did not see these temptations as in any way defining their personality." It's time that we find bigger definitions for who we are, anyway.

  7. Actually, according to a lot of LGBT and Whitman scholarship I've read, it CAN be argued that there were sexual orientations in the 19th century, albeit they were conceptualized differently, and the ideas around sexuality were constructed differently. The whole "essentilaist" vs. "constructionist" has its roots in those constructions, for example.

    I refer the interested reader to:

    Jonathan Ned Katz, "The Invention of Heterosexuality"

    Vivian R. Pollak, "The Erotic Whitman"

    Gary Schmidgall, "Walt Whitman: A Gay Life"

    Schmidgall has also edited "Leaves of Grass" into a Selected that emphasizes the erotic Whitman from several of the different editions, to trace the history of Whitman's revealed sexuality as well as his later-life self-censorship.

    And Schmidgall's biography is still the first and definitive biography of Whitman from a gay/queer/LGBT perspective. Schmidgall describes in some detail how homosexuality was constructed as a sexual category during Whitman's late life, building on Edward Carpenter and others, including Oscar Wilde, and what led to "homosexuality" becoming a defined category.

    I'm not familiar with Folsom's work on Whitman, but I'd be curious where to look for it.