Tag Archives: n-word

Faulkner

Nothing exciting enough scientifically to post about this week, so enjoy this. “We have enough neurologists in the Air Force, please resign your commission as you will be assigned to the Army.” This was followed in May 1968 by an Army preference for assignment form so out of date, that if I extended my two year tour to four I could take my family with me to Vietnam. This at a time when we had 500,000 troops over there.

What to do? What I did was residency by day, and Scotch and Faulkner by night, while looking at my widow to be and two orphans to be.

If the world has you down, and if you think your life is hard, it’s time to read about Yoknapatawpha county, and life when it was really hard. It’s practically biblical. I’d start with “The Hamlet”, and continue through the trilogy. Well over half of Faulkner’s work takes place here, so the rest will make sense.

I don’t read novels anymore having seen far more of life as a doc than some pup half my age. Faulkner is different. It has the ring of truth.

He had eyes the color of stagnant water, and other such delights await you.

Trigger warning — the N word appears prominently. Even so after reading him, you’ll never be upset by microaggressions again.

Here’s how Faulkner introduces the place.

“The people .. came from the northeast, through the Tennessee mountains by stages marked by the bearing and raising of a generation of children. They came from the Atlantic seaboard and before that from England and the Scottish and Welsh Marches … They brought no slaves and no Phyfe and Chippendale highboys; indeed, what they did bring most of them could (and did) carry in their hands. They took up land and built one- and two-room cabins and never painted them, and married on another and produced children and added other rooms one by one to the original cabins and did not paint them either, but that was all. Their descendants still planted cotton in the bottom land and corn along the edge of the hills and in the secret coves in the hills made whiskey of the corn and sold what they did not drink. Federal officers went into the country and vanished. … County officers did not bother them at all save in the heel of election years. They supported their own churches and schools, they married committed infrequent adulteries and more frequent homicides among themselves and were their own courts, judges and executioners. They were Protestants and Democrats and prolific; there was not one Negro landowner in the entire section. Strange Negroes would absolutely refuse to pass through it after dark.”

Exactly the way I felt that September driving through Meridian Mississippi with Pennsylvania plates on my car on my way into the Air Force and I’m not Black.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_civil_rights_workers%27_murders

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The Battle for the Soul of Smith College

The following letter to the Smith college newspaper “The Sophian” appeared in the current issue. Disclaimer: our neice went there, I’ve played chamber music with one of the Physics profs there, I’m currently studying a math book with an emeritus Smith prof who wrote it, I’ve audited a course there, I may take piano lessons from a retired music prof there. It’s a great institution with plenty of intelligent articulate undergraduates. Wendy Kaminer is a Smith Alumna. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

Chris Pyle

Mount Holyoke Professor

Thanks to The Sophian for publishing a transcript of what Wendy Kaminer actually said in New York. Now it is perfectly clear she is not a racist, but used the “n-word,” unexpurgated, to make a point about those caring souls who, in their effort to protect the sensibilities of students, violate free speech. The hyperventilating that followed Kaminer’s uncensored prose proves her point conclusively.

Imagine that Mark Twain had been invited to read some of his writings on campus, but that Kaminer’s critics discovered that he had used the “n-word” liberally in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” What should the college do? Disinvite him? Ask him to tone down his remarks because they might traumatize someone? Post “trigger warnings” all over campus?

The Sophian would publish Twain’s speech, but post warnings, like those that preceded the Kaminer transcript, declaring that “This author is guilty of ‘racism/racial slurs, sexist/misogynist slurs,’ and writes about ‘race-based violence.’” Twain’s admirers might be offended by such prissiness, but that’s too bad. The Sophian has a moral duty to give its adult readers early warning of impending isms on it pages. Otherwise they might be shocked, like little children confronted by age-inappropriate messages.

Unnoticed in last month’s kerfuffle was Kaminer’s provocative suggestion: “colleges and universities should . . . fire almost all of the student life administrators.” Why? Because they are the primary source of the patronizing idea that college students, especially women, are psychologically delicate souls, easily wounded by unvarnished prose. It is the duty of student life deans to create “safe spaces” for all students, free from words and ideas that might traumatize them (or anyone else).

These deans are direct descendants of Harriet Bowdler, the Victorian lady who persuaded her brother John, a publisher, to sanitize the great books so that they would be suitable for the fragile sensibilities of women and servants. As a result, it wasn’t until the 1950s that professors could find an unexpurgated edition of Shakespeare’s plays to assign to their students.

Kaminer is not the only critic of these well-meaning deans. The American Association of University Professors rejects the “presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged” is both “infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” The American Library Association, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose content warnings for much the same reason that Smith professors once opposed Joe McCarthy’s censors who, when they weren’t removing books from libraries, stamped them with warning labels.

“When labeling is an attempt to prejudice attitudes,” the AAUP warns, it is a censor’s tool…If ‘The House of Mirth’ or ‘Anna Karenina’ carried a warning about suicide, students might overlook the other questions about wealth, love, deception and existential anxiety that are what those books are actually about.” The AAUP additionally says, “Trigger warnings also signal an expected response to the content (e.g. dismay, distress, disapproval) and eliminate the element of surprise and spontaneity that can enrich the reading experience and provide critical insight.”

When President McCartney’s committee meets, it will struggle over nothing less than the soul of the college. Will Smith continue to be a liberal arts college for strong women, or will it become a therapeutic shelter for the easily offended?

Professor Chris Pyle

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