Letters to the Editor
True to the Core
I was happily surprised to discover that the reading list for Literature Humanities 2008–09 (September/October) is practically identical to the list for Humanities A for 1945–46, the year in which I took the course. I don’t know whether to say the wheel has come full circle or that great works continue to be great in spite of the vagaries of timely fads. I might add that I have used that list, with minor variations, in great books courses and seminars at undergraduate and graduate levels at the two state universities at which I taught over a 40-year span, and have recently incorporated several of the authors from it (most recently Shakespeare and Montaigne) in a non-credit program offered chiefly for senior citizens in the Dartmouth community. The success of these authors in reaching students of all ages continues to comfort me at a time when little else in our culture seems particularly comforting.
Michael Manheim ’49
My compliments on the current issue of CCT, one of the best in recent years. I particularly enjoyed Shira Boss-Bicak ’93, ’97J, ’98 SIPA’s excellent summary of the Core Curriculum, a fascinating account of the genesis and ongoing development of that famous course. My congratulations to her for this great piece of narrative writing.
Dr. Melvin Hershkowitz ’42
This recent edition made me feel so young and strong again. What wild dreams wait to be fulfilled?!
M.J. Perpich ’77, ’77E, ’84E, ’97E
North Bergen, N.J.
I enjoyed reading about the present Core Curriculum but continue to regret that CC-B has been dropped. An introduction to modern times through core readings in important 20th century social science, it sowed more seeds for further reflection on my part than perhaps any other course I took except Literature Humanities.
Speaking of which, it’s good that even a syllabus based upon canonical works remains flexible. However in looking over the present offerings I was sorry to see both Lucretius and Gargantua and Pantagruel missing. But the absence of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels really surprises me. Just think of Vietnam and Iraq in terms of Lilliput. No works apart from Thucydides’ immortal History and Moby Dick have been of greater assistance to me in understanding them.
In addition to Lit Humanities, my freshman year at Columbia was graced by Mark Van Doren’s final course before retirement. Called “The Narrative Art,” we read The Odyssey (then not included in Humanities), Exodus, Inferno, Don Quixote and Kafka’s The Castle. Of the last work, Van Doren remarked, “It’s one of those rare books that you can’t put down until the end.” I truly believe that this remarkable book would be most fitting as a final work in this course.
And without wishing to stir up any sandstorms, I vastly prefer it to To the Lighthouse.
Jack Eisenberg ’62
Thanks for an excellent issue. I admire Shira Boss-Bicak ’93, ’97J, ’98 SIPA’s great article on the Core Curriculum, and of course also enjoyed the Sha Na Na and Sudhir Venkatesh articles.
Pleasant Hill, Calif.
Frontiers of Science
I wish to draw your attention to the September/October issue, page 21, “Frontiers of Science” section, and to the third paragraph therewith, which begins: “Discussions of including a formal science course in the Core extend back decades.”
They certainly do. I graduated in 1949, 59 years ago, and vividly remember this topic, as I wanted to take a college-level general science course that was not offered. It was a live and not at all innovative topic, as I remember it, and comment seemed to have come from the dean level, then Harry Carman. My speculative thought is that this topic was a live one before I got to Columbia.
I hope that it is not a taboo topic to mention the huge delay in getting this topic off the ground; six decades is too long for an institution that is supposed to like innovation and be relevant to current circumstances.
Basil Shanahan ’49, ’51 GSAS
At the time when your call for letters and comments about the events on campus in 1968 went out, I was not sure what to say. In 1968, I was stationed with COMUSMACV in Saigon, after having previously spent nine months offshore in the South China Sea with the Seventh Fleet.
On page 21 of the September/October issue I found my comment, in this case written by Don Hood, the James F. Bender Professor in Psychology: “It’s our obligation to educate citizens to take their place in a democracy.”
Since Columbia kicked its ROTC units off campus in 1968, Columbia has failed to fully meet this obligation.
Paul S. Frommer ’57
Be Careful What You Wish For
Your issue concerning the events of 1968 brings to mind how, during my orientation week in spring 1960, speaker after speaker who addressed the incoming class begged, pleaded and exhorted us not to be like the classes of the 1950s, which had a reputation for being self-absorbed, non-political and uninterested in current events and world affairs. The speakers all aspired to having a new student body that was highly involved and active in the events of the day and that fought to change them.
While I wasn’t on campus when it happened, the student protest in ’68, when the student body was highly political, militant and extremely engaged, seemed to be a direct fulfillment of the wishes of all these speakers which, by the way, included deans, professors and probably the university president as well. It just shows the truth of the old expression: Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.
Arthur Goldberg ’64, ’67 GSAS
Apparently my letter in the July/August issue aroused the sensibilities of some who differ from my political philosophy, such as those who continue to propagate the myth that President Bush stole two elections. Sometimes reality can be disturbing if it conflicts with unsubstantiated beliefs. Regardless, a few new facts in response:
The Partisan Review “... began life as the organ of the John Reed Clubs, the literary front for the American Communist Party ... ” (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Guardian, September 20, 2002). Communism has many forms: Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism and various homegrown varieties. The PR was the publication for all the above adherents, depending on what was in vogue at the time. Even devils may disagree, as was the case for communists through the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and later, who published in the PR. As for Mr. [Dwight] MacDonald, labeling him as an “unremarkable fellow traveler” was being kind.
Another writer accused me of invoking the names of Lenin and Fidel “mirroring the red scares of the ’50s.” No, I just referred to the names hooligans had painted on the door to the math department shown in picture No. 6 in the May/June issue.
A final observation. I was a member of the Class of ’51, just not a big campus name (not my nature). But I earned a varsity “C” in track as well as other minor accomplishments. Having served as a Navy carrier pilot (’51–’56, then Ready Reserve to ’67), as you might guess, I am just not a fan of “anarchy.”
Don Beattie ’51
Saint Johns, Fla.
The Glory That Was Grease
The article “Sha Na Na and the Invention of the Fifties” (September/October) was excellent but neglected to mention another major contributor to the remaking of America’s perception of “The Fifties”: American Graffiti. In addition, although the article correctly mentions other images from that decade, such as the Beats, McCarthyism, Cold War duck-and-cover and so forth, there were already in existence plenty of images that fit right in with the Sha Na Na imagery: Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean, Elvis and early rock ’n’ roll. I grant, though, that “greaser” as an image and term very well may have come directly from Sha Na Na.
I remember reading articles from around 1967 that explored and debated the term “hippie.” It’d be a bit ironic if that ’60s term actually predated a (so-called) ’50s term such as “greaser.” But by the same token, “the right stuff” wasn’t a term or concept applied to the 1960s Gemini program until Tom Wolfe coined the phrase in 1979; sometimes we don’t recognize our own history until a historian points it out to us.
I linked to your article through a blog and found it most interesting. However, I wish to take exception to one minor assertion. You mention the provenance of the term “greaser” as evolving out of the term “hoods” in the 1970s.
As a veteran of the hippie generation growing up in Westport, Conn., I can testify to the general use of the term “greaser” in the mid-1960s. For a short time during that period I frequented two drive-in hamburger joints. One, the Crest Drive-In, was frequented by that segment of the teenage community that sported those greased-back hairdos. These were generally the children of the old-time locals of Italian heritage who drove hot rods or large motorcycles and wore leather jackets. They were called, not surprisingly, greasers.
The nascent hippie types were more likely to be the offspring of the newly suburbanized execs, actors and successful commercial artists. They hung out at the newer, more trendy (with better quality meats and shakes) fast food joint known as the Big Top.
Both landmarks are long gone. The Crest was replaced with a record store, which I believe has been replaced by something else. The last time I was in town, the Big Top had morphed into a McDonald’s.
Jonathan E. Schiff