Listening to Donald Trump's ranting and raving I recall Professor Eugen Rosenstock-Heussy in 1945, tell returned WW II veterans, speech can be used to destroy relationships, make war and lie. Hitler who mesmerized a civilized country by abusing speech showed a nation's capacity for sin and evil. A worldwide possibility for moral failure made more threatening by Hiroshima. As a refugee from Germany, ERH moved to a farm in Norwich Vermont often riding to his Hanover classroom on horseback. As a WW I German cavalry officer, we considered him delightfully eccentric and certainly not one of the 20th century's most innovative minds praised by Martin Buber and W.H. Auden.
Seventy years later I turn the pages of my classroom notes with awe and wonder at my struggle to understand what he was saying. "History exists because we tell it. Speaking creates a before and after as well as a here and now establishing our relationships with others, making peace possible by telling the truth. Speech creates our inner life, our sense of the future and the past. establishing a relationship between our inner selves and the outer world. Speech is where one's interior life meets one's responsibilities drawing strength from one's past as we seek to find a way into a meaningful future."
As one touched by the flame of his thought I celebrate ERH's memory with a blog that will hopefully lead others to a mind speaking about God and Man in a secular way.
We should celebrate the life of Robert Oppenheimer who gave our nation and his students something of greater value to our survival than the atom bomb when he wrote: "I believe that through discipline we can achieve serenity and a certain small but precious measure of freedom.
Through discipline we learn to preserve what is essential to our happiness. Discipline requires the subjugation of our soul to perhaps some minor end, and that end must be real. The need for discipline ought to be greeted with profound gratitude, for only through discipline can we achieve detachment and know peace." And so I go to my desk every morning to discover the relationship between myself and my writing, hoping what is meaningful and alive for me will prove so to others as we travel together ever deeper into human life.
My father was the keeper of the Edddystone light/he slept with a Mermaid one fine night/
the results of the union they were three/a porpoise/a porgy/and the other was me"
Robert Frost loved to recite old English ballads and bawdy limericks. In my 1945 fall semester he entertained aspiring Dartmouth poets with memorable seminars. Robert Frost the Poet was also a delightful performer "barding around the country" lecturing at Amherst and Dartmouth. "I look on a poem as a performance," he said. "I look on a poet as a man of prowess, just like an athlete." Then, after laughter subsided, he became serious, inquisitive, questioning veterans about their war experiences. "Courage is the virtue that counts most" he continued, confessing how he ran away from two colleges, Dartmouth and Harvard, escaping to develop ideas of his own. "My life was a risk I had to take and took." He advised - "refuse to be rushed to the market or forum. Don't come as a product until you have turned yourself under several times. All you have to do to be saved is sneak off and see if you are any good at anything. Can you write? Can you think?"
Robert Frost seemed a lonely man seeking friendships with all kinds of men and students. His constantly active mind was skeptical, joking, probing,and genial fleeing from the "little mindedness" of academia. "High brow, middle brow, low brow, and no brow" was his mocking analysis of our prevalent culture. He believed in "education by poetry. A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom," he explained. "It is one thing to hear the tones in the mind's ear. Another to give them accuracy at the mouth. Still another to implicate them in sentences and on the page."
Poet, farmer, performer, teacher, he filled the room with his presence showing students the possibility of living a positive, productive and creative life. "Money and fame don't impress me much," he said. "About all that impresses me is human kindness and warm relationships with good friends. One of the best things in the world is to be a good human being."
NORMAN WEISSMAN'S BLOG POSTS
As a veteran testifying to understand the world I was returning to, Lewis Mumford's 1945-48 lectures at Dartmouth made my wartime experience more intelligible. In Values for Survival he asked: "What must modern man do to be saved?" Teaching things could get better, that man and society were perfectible, Mumford believed rational civic planning was possible advocating buildings and cities that were more than a collection of towering skyscrapers. Mumford's faith in the possibility of designing civilized communities was never realized. New York's continuous overbuilding and Los Angeles' "tomb of concrete roads and ramps covering the dead corpse of a city" testify to the blind incompetence of our corporate establishment. Lewis Mumford was indeed a voice crying in a wilderness of ignorance and greed.New York's Museum of Modern Art's archives has preserved The City, a 1948 documentary written by Lewis Mumford and produced by Willard Van Dyke,
"I cannot believe God plays dice with the world" wrote Albert Einstein...."The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." This insight into the mystery of life confirmed my belief that creative writing is a form of prayer. An intense striving to understand the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears I contain.
It is living at the most intense level of achievement and failure. I am a voyager on the infinite sea of experience, my destination somewhere beyond the limited horizons of my life.