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A course of life: my autobiography.

Donald Phillip Verene, he was born at Galesburg in the year 1937 of upright parents. It is a town on the western Illinois prairie, south of Chicago, between the Mississippi and Spoon rivers, the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, who went from there to Chicago, hog butcher for the world, and later in his career to the South, to Flat Rock, North Carolina. From Galesburg toward Spoon River is Lewistown, the town of Edgar Lee Masters, the lawyer-poet schooled in the classics who, by drawing portraits of the people around him, wrote Spoon River Anthology. Further south, toward St. Louis, on the Mississippi, is Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain, with the ghosts of Huck and Tom. What fortune to be born within this literary landscape, with its north and south poles of Chicago and St. Louis. It was the end of the Great Depression and a time of peace, before the beginning of the Second World War. The war was first a distant, then a close reality. The rationing of food, gasoline, and shoes, the paper drives and Victory gardens, the air-raid wardens and blackouts to practice for enemy air raids, either from the Japanese or Germans or both, were facts of life that built themselves into childhood memories. War, like a hawk, was something that could come from the air, even to the towns and rail centers of the prairie. Despite this external danger--this fear of what could be alien in the sky--the prairie, as the Latin word from which it comes suggests (the pratum, the meadow), was an Elysian field in which "Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means." In childhood there is no mind to make time pass.

At the age of seven, while beginning my second year in grade school, I experienced a first break in being. Although I was born in Galesburg, my first years were spent in Knoxville, five miles away. There in a house on Market Street the world was one from morning until night. The contraries, although hardly distinguished, were in harmony, "as in the case of the bow and the lyre." My opposite, Mary Jane, who had for a while a pony in her front yard, to ride whenever she wished, was the beginning of eros. She moved to Denver and was shot many years later by her husband when he surprised her in bed with her lover. She was more like a modern woman than like Juno. It was decided that we would move from Knoxville to Galesburg, leaving the seamless and comprehensible world of my lifetime playmates, my relatives, my yard. Place suddenly gave way to time achieved through motion. Galesburg was Other, a world not counted on, not comprehended in the developing passions of my soul. It was an experience of displacement, of loss. I had descended from the agora of childhood headfirst. I began second grade in Galesburg after the year had already started, at the same school (as, years later, I learned) Carl Sandburg had attended. I did not like it any better than he did. I temporarily lost all ordinary mastery of time and would arrive for school either too early or too late, without the ability to grasp why. Another move before third grade, across to the north side of town, put the world back in order. But I was now possessed of the beginnings of a new temperament, a sense of the ironic and melancholic, and I began to think. With the appearance of mind, the world was a problem.

"Practice was my father, Memory my mother. / The Greeks call me sophia, you call me wisdom [Usus me genuit, mater peperit Memoria / Sophiam vocant me Grai, vos Sapientiam]" (Lucius Afranius, Sella). My parents' families came most immediately from Coal Valley, Cherry Grove, Rio, and Quincy, near Hannibal, and before that, like everyone else, from New York, on my maternal grandmother's side traveling on the Erie Canal and then covered wagon, prairie schooner, to Illinois. My father, Phillip Nelson Verene, originally worked for the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad (that became the Burlington Great Northern), going there during the Depression on the promise of one day's work. He was preceded in such employment by Sandburg's father. My mother, Eleanor Louise Grant, obtained a teaching certificate by examination, preparing for it through a program of self-study. She taught one-room country school, boarding with the families of the district, including Newman School, which is now moved to Knoxville and restored as a museum of that way of life and true education. My father was the artificer, the maker of anything needed or the remaker of it into perfect repair. From such skill anyone could see that ingenium was the basis of method, and far more valuable. He was also the lawgiver. My mother was the narrator of why things were as they were. She read aloud, and could tell the story, and she played the piano and sang. I remember them singing together in the living room. I learned that memory held everything together, including character.

My mother was not only informally one of my first teachers but was formally so, as I was a pupil in a kindergarten she founded in the old post office building in Knoxville. There remains a photograph of me with my classmates in our rhythm band costumes, caps and capes of crepe paper, posing before the school. One of them became the town chief of police. I cannot understand the full basis of my education apart from the influence of my Great-Aunt Ella on my mother's side, who had still a faint memory of the trip by covered wagon to Illinois. Her father was Lewis Roe, a school teacher and man of letters who was present at the Battle of Valverde in New Mexico (February 21, 1862) as a young enlisted man in the regular army and then returned home to Quincy to sign up as a volunteer in the Civil War, keeping a daily journal of his experiences on the "March to the Sea," as he had done in the West. Records suggest that he may have taught a semester at my alma mater, Knox College. Aunt Ella, who never married, was a teacher and a maker of hooked rugs. She taught me to observe nature and to look up words in the dictionary. She also practiced me in pronunciation and oratory, with me standing on the steps of the Knoxville courthouse, with my parents or her as my audience, declaiming my ideas in short pants or snowsuit, depending on the weather. Sometimes I would go up to the outside balcony to stand where Lincoln once stood when he gave a campaign speech.

No Sunday afternoon visit to my Aunt Ella's house would pass without a dispute arising over what a given word could mean. This was with Great-Aunt Minnie, with whom she lived, and the dispute was often joined by my mother's cousin Carrie, another school teacher. It would necessitate finally a trip to the dictionary. They were the three graces of philology. It was my Aunt Ella who taught me how to read what the lines meant in Mark Antony's speech in Julius Caesar when he addresses his "friends, Romans, and countrymen" over the body of Caesar: "For Brutus is an honourable man, / So are they all, all honourable men." Aunt Ella said he would have drawn it out, "hon-ou-ra-ble men," while eyeing the crowd. I now knew what "honourable" meant, as an adjective attached to the men who killed Caesar, and I knew what irony meant. I knew (in what could then have been only a half-thought) that honorable men were not only Caesar's greatest problem; those honorable men were everyone's greatest problem. It was history's nightmare.

On my mother's side were teachers. My father's people were businessmen, purveyors of groceries to the carriage trade, and later, cattle feed--who for a while had a slaughterhouse on the edge of Galesburg, where on one occasion there was a lion butchered, according to my father's memory, presumably from a circus. The men smoked pipes and cigars. They were Swedes, and great readers and owners of books on politics and history, and they were opinionated. A Sunday visit would not involve a trip to the dictionary, but would probably involve a trip to logos and argument. I was raised as an only child but I had a sister, Eleanor Rose, who died a day after birth. Five years later, while I was in my teens, a second sister, Louise Marie, was born. She, following the maternal tradition, is a teacher. In the moral world, Hegel says, "the feminine, in the form of the sister, has the highest awareness of what the ethical is" (Phenomenology of Spirit, VI.A.a). The education of the young is the basis of civilization. As a student I was average and not of particular interest to my teachers. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Higgins, liked me and had the impression I would learn to think. Miss McMasters taught me phonics after school, thus saving me from a future of semi-literacy, that had been carefully planned by the theoreticians of modern language education, who were just coming into their own, following the Second World War. The war had made people begin to believe in social science, psychology, and planning, to believe in the mass.

I encountered this in the form of the standarized test. The teachers seemed almost apologetic about giving them, telling us they were "just to see how we were doing." There was an IQ test and another, from Iowa. By the Kuder Preference test I was determined best suited for vocational education. Because of the fact that I had learned, in my father's home workshop, how to make anything I wanted, my lot was now cast. At such a young age I had entered the myth of Er. There they were, the Fates, the daughters of Necessity, circling around me; Lachesis singing the things that were, Clotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be (Rep. 617C). I had not figured on this. But it was the early years of such practices and the system was not very well organized. No one said anything more about vocational education, and I just went on into junior high and high school, studying general subjects.

One day in the sixth grade my Aunt Ella informed me that if I was not reading James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (I had already made inroads into Mark Twain), I was falling behind. At the next library period, I requested Cooper and Defoe. The librarian summoned my teacher with the words, "Do you know what he is asking for?" I have never known what she meant, whether the books were actually there or not. It was clearly the first time such a request had been lodged. I did not report this to my aunt, and resolved to read them later. I created the same scene, years later, at the Galesburg public library, by requesting D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. Reading material was not always easy to come by.

The honorable men were there, even in grade school, practicing for the future. Someone could be judged completely capriciously by the group, yet the judgment would be acted upon, the threats made for after school. Existence would become uncertain. The certainty was only with the group, an unstable polis of hoi polloi. The most interesting of these meted-out judgments was the phenomenon of "de-pantsing." To lose one's pants in public on the way home was unthinkable, a spectre of humiliation approaching an absolute limit. It happened in fact only once, to Gary S., who had to proceed for blocks through back yards in his underwear, while his pursuers ran along parallel to him, through the front yards, until he was taken in by a kindly neighbor. The importance of clothes, and especially pants, to the presence of the self in the world has never seemed more vital. Vico says that in the earliest state the minds of men "were preoccupied with particulars and incapable of understanding a common good" (New Science 629). The famuli do not practice an art of politics, yet know they may take over the social order when they wish. But they are never sure to what end. Gary S. was hardly a victim of the Ides of March, but he learned the individual's precarious relation to the group. Simply to keep one's pants on requires an art as fine as Machiavelli's.

I never held the group in high regard and never fully understood it. What the cognitive psychologist has never understood is the human logic of the mask. The key to phronesis is the art of appearance. Juan Luis Vives shows this in his Fabula de Homine (1518), in which he takes man as "himself a fable and a play." Man is the archmime (archimimus), who can play all parts of creation, and does so, in an entertainment for the gods arranged by Jupiter for Juno's birthday. The gods, after watching man play his parts in the performance, greet man in "silent wonder," because his roles were so convincing. Vives plays on Aristotle's third and least known definition of man, as an animal who imitates (Poetics 1448b 5-9), instead of the well-known ones of man as rational and as political animal. The image is not only the medium of memory; it is the medium of phronesis, of prodence. There is no virtue in the group; that is the province of the individual and of the polis, when it experiences its best times. As a teenager I saw very early that some way had to be found to live with, but not in terms of, the power of the group. My first success in this I owe to geometry.

In my first year of high school I took plane geometry, and encountered for the first time the idea of axioms, proofs, and figures. The course was taught by Mr. Jones, whom we knew as "Jughead Jones," due to his jug-handle ears and large head. I remember him as an ordinary man, who meant well and taught his subject, but was not theoretically minded. I was average in geometry, but I developed a concern over the parallel postulate. There seemed to me something questionable about it. When we drew one line, and only one, parallel to a line through a point outside a given line, how were we to understand it? Did the lines follow the earth, and were they thus part of a set of circles? Did they go on into infinity, without perspective? Jones assured us they did and that, like railroad tracks, they only seemed to converge. Jones's aim was just to get us to do the problems, to construct the proofs, to go through the texts and get the exercises right. I was not that interested in the exercises, nor particularly good at them. But there was something peculiar about the one and only one line of the parallel postulate that I could not quite put my finger on. So I kept asking questions about the status of what we were doing.

It did not take but a class or two of my questioning until Jones threw me out. I was sent to the associate principal's office with a note stating that I had been uncooperative in class. This had never happened to me; it was almost as though I had lost my pants, but I knew better--I had committed an intellectual crime, not a crime of the body. There I was, almost alone in my apprehension and in fact disgrace, among several others who had thrown things, been disruptive, plagiarized, chewed gum. But then I discovered the process was easy. I was briefly interviewed and I explained that I had some doubts about the parallel postulate. I was fairly quickly presented with a form that I could sign to re-enter class, a sort of contract, that had written in on the blank lines that I would promise not to question the parallel postulate. I signed and went back to the exercises.

Mr. Jones was wary, but kind enough. After school I spent about a week with a book I located that afternoon, an anthology edited by Manning of papers on geometry, specifically on the modern geometry, which explained that there were two types of non-Euclidean geometry, that of Riemann and that of Lobachevski, one of whom thought it was possible to draw no lines parallel to a given line through a point outside that line, and the other thought one could draw an indefinite number of lines parallel to a given line through a point outside that line. I could barely read the book, but I learned that there is more than one geometry. I did not tell Jones. Vico said "he thought the only advantage of having learned how geometricians proceed in their reasoning was that if he ever had occasion to reason in that manner he would know how." I felt the same way.

I did three other things in high school. I read, on my own, the Communist Manifesto and the Prince, and told my world history teacher that they did not say what she had said they said. But I did this in a way that kept me from having to sign any more agreements. I was beginning to learn Vives' truth of the mask. I joined the debate team, and this taught me what it was to do research, to go to the library and find quotations. This notion of evidence coupled with argumentation (which came naturally for me), was what one used to defeat opponents. I do not remember if I won any debates or not, but there were only a few students in debate and I got a sense of what it was to have intellectual friends. We debated the question of free trade pro and con. I discovered recently that the same question is still being debated in high school and college. We were taken to the University of Illinois, where I heard my first professorial lecture, given to the combined debaters of Illinois by a professor of economics, who gave us an account of the division of labor and possibilities of laissez-faire economics, which I found well below anything I had been reading in the New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Commonweal, etc. It was boring and hackneyed. Later I was to realize that it was the basis of higher education.

My best friend in high school was black, Charile W. His father was a housepainter and they lived right on the edge of a white neighborhood. Charlie became an embalmer and funeral director in Indiana. Charile could take the painting truck out at night and we could drive around (we were also in the school band together, where we both played trumpet). One night we were stopped by the police for an alleged improper turn and taken to the police station. Charlie was talked to in a separate room and after a while he emerged and said, "Let's go--everything is all right." I asked "What did you do?" He said he called his father who said to plead guilty (but he was not). It seemed odd to me, and only later did I suddenly realize why Charlie's father had so quickly advised him to say he was guilty. They were Negroes. When one is powerless there is only the power of the word and the ingenuity of the situation. It was an enormous lesson in prudence. Cicero could not have explained it better. The other thing I did in high school was begin to write poetry.

I graduated. But the threshold through which I passed was a sentence spoken by my high-school English teacher, who said to the class that when you began college it was expected that you would have already read most of the standard works of world literature. I believed her because college was another world, the world where the real minds were (and I had not as yet grasped the fact that the economics professor's lecture was part of "college"). I began college at seventeen because my birthday is October 24th (United Nations Day). So that summer I was too young to obtain the factory job that I desired. Instead I became the manager of a movie theatre. There were photographs in the office of the Grove Theatre showing lines going around the block, of patrons waiting to see a Carmen Miranda film. But in the summer of 1955 they were almost out of business. Why else would a seventeen-year-old debater and reader of world literature be the manager? That summer I took the tickets of the several customers who showed up to see movies like Sinbad, and I enjoyed the company of the two girls who worked there. The one who ran the concession counter was in my graduating class and the other was older and had a job during the day with the telephone company.

The theatre was open only in the evenings and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, so during the days I read my way through the great books, beginning with the Iliad and the Odyssey. Some of these I owned, in outmoded translations, in a set of the world's classics I had bought at a yard sale. The set had been owned at one time by a physician, who had marked some passages in pencil. I would have liked to have known a medical man who spent his evenings reading.

I followed a list of 100 great books and others, arranged by period in a little paperback, Good Reading (Mentor, 1954) that discussed the general art of reading. This contained works like Madame Bovary, The Red and the Black, The Education of Henry Adams, and The Conquest of Mexico; the last two I never got to. I did get to the Critique of Pure Reason, in the Max Muller translation. It made little sense, as I could not determine what it was about. Following Aunt Ella's example, I looked up words in the dictionary, such as "ontological" and "cosmological," but the definitions meant nothing either. As I struggled with its distinctions I felt that some damage might be being done to my mind, although I did continue to turn the pages. I concluded that it was a book by an old man for old men, or for those old before their time. I was saved from Kant by reading Faust, including the second part.

I spent my freshman year at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, rooming with one of my high-school friends, who was planning to become an osteopath. In the spring he was elected Valentine King. During the first half of the semester I did not once go into the student union, although I passed by it every day, until one day an upperclassman, my "Big Brother," was dispatched to discuss this with me. He explained that it was not healthy to study all the time; I explained that this was what I thought I had come to college for, but apparently there were other purposes, and I assured him that I would try to go there from time to time, to have coffee.

He was, however, himself more of a biologist than a socialite, as on Parents' Weekend he was found on the second floor of the science building, boiling down the carcass of the college president's dog, which the president's children had buried, with a little ceremony, in their back yard. He was making a display skeleton for the biology laboratory. For all I know it is still there, as an object of study. There were good teachers at Blackburn, most of them learned eccentrics dedicated to the liberal arts and sciences, none of whom can I imagine would receive tenure in today's institutions of higher learning. That is how quickly things have changed. There were interesting students there, too, such as Michael A., who was a real Marxist, if not a communist, from New York City, and who later secured a place on the stock market, and Jerome P., who won the mathematics prize without even going to class, and then left college, later to attend Eastern New Mexico University at Portales, which he selected by throwing a dart at a U.S. map. That spring, without ever taking a philosophy course, I decided to become a philosophy major. I decided to transfer to Knox College, in my hometown of Galesburg, and I met Molly Katherine Black, who, after spending a second year at Blackburn, was also to transfer to Knox.

Blackburn had a course or two in philosophy listed in the catalogue, but there was no department of philosophy. I was not sure in fact what "philosophy" was. I had not, fortunately, associated Kant with philosophy, from my previous summer's reading. Kant was just a surd. I had purchased a paperback in the "College Outline Series" titled Philosophy: An Introduction, by John Herman Randall and Justus Buchler (orig. pub. 1942; rpt. 1952), which described philosophy and its major problems and concerns by going through its various subfields, which appeared on a list on the cover. I had no idea what some of the fields could be: metaphysics, epistemology, and especially axiology. I was looking for an identity, something one could call oneself. If you were in history you could call yourself a historian; if you were in English what did you call yourself? A philosopher was something to be, and it was something first-class, esoteric, something with which only a few could identify. It was Dante's dilettoso monte, there in the distance, over the horizon of the dark wood of error. I was never tempted by science.

I entered Knox College, already a philosophy major, becoming one of two. I had spent the summer working for the CB&Q Railroad, at the Tie Plant, 110 acres of cinders and stone-covered earth, where railroad ties and bridge lumber were treated with hot creosote that turned them black. There were stacks of both treated and untreated ties as far as the eye could see. There were still men there who could load and unload two-hundred-pound railroad ties from boxcars, carrying them on their shoulders, a system that had not changed since the turn of the century. But there were also automated processes to plane and cut lumber, and unloading was done with derricks swinging the ties through the air overhead. Men lost fingers, smashed toes, and were generally in the position of being maimed or crushed. It was outside work, in the sun. We ate our lunches in segregated lunchrooms with separate entrances. The blacks had their own lunch room. The whites ate in another one, and the Mexicans had a corner of it. Some of the Mexicans lived nearby, in the "Mex-Camp." But everyone was friendly, as there was the common denominator of the dangers and effort of the work. For me the Tie Plant was the college of poetry. It was there that I could hear the language of the body, witness the mute language and the language of the passions, that I was later to discover Vico talks about. There language was a song, and there was nothing romantic about it. It was a serious and true song, that allowed one to survive each day. Any cognitive thinker would pitch forward into the machinery.

Knox College and Galesburg took me back into my literary landscape. Edgar Lee Masters went to Knox in the 1890s and was taught classics by my Great-Uncle Henry Read (who later taught my maternal grandmother, Amy Grant). L. Larken, who taught astronomy in the Knox observatory in Master's time, became "Professor Moon," in Spoon River Anthology, "who taught the lore of the stars at Knox college." While teaching at Penn State in the 1970s, I became acquainted with Masters' widow, his second wife, Ellen Coyne Masters, who was living at the State College Hotel. She had not expected to meet someone from the banks of Spoon River in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Carl Sandburg, who went to Lombard College across town (which merged with Knox in 1930), received an honorary doctorate of literature from Knox in 1928, on the occasion of the celebration of the Lincoln-Douglass debate. It had been held on the steps of Old Main in 1858. Galesburg and Knox was a stop on the "Underground Railway" for escaping slaves, on their way to Canada. The literary landscape into which I was born was also Lincoln country. Both Sandburg and Masters wrote works on Lincoln. Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years is one of the great works of Lincoln literature, a vast epic poem. Masters' intent, in his Lincoln: The Man of the People, was to debunk the Lincoln myth, on Jeffersonian principles. Knox had given an honorary doctorate of laws to Lincoln at the commencement of 1858 (the first for Lincoln and the first for Knox).

Sandburg, whose milk route passed Lombard, became interested as a boy when he learned that "you could go in free" (that is, you could go onto the campus). I met Sandburg in 1953 when I was in high school, while he was signing copies of his autobiographical book about Galesburg, Always the Young Strangers, in the O. T. Johnson department store. During his college days, Sandburg's friends called him "the Terrible Swede." He later once described himself as a "migrant roadster." Sandburg said Galesburg "burned" in his memory. He said, "as I look back at it, it was a piece of the American Republic." When I was a student at Knox College I heard him speak at the one-hundredth anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglass debate. he spoke in his Midwestern drawl, just like he read his poetry. He would have pronounced "hon-ou-ra-ble" just like Aunt Ella said Mark Antony would.

When I arrived at Knox, I found that my high-school English teacher's advice to read was echoed by President Sharvey Umbeck, who informed us that we were part of the Knox family and the "great conversation" of the liberal arts. The library, he said, was the heart of the college, and we should read throughout our years at Knox, independently of our assignments. This sentiment had been part of Knox for a long time. Edgar Lee Masters wrote that, during the year he spent at Knox, "I almost read myself blind." President Umbeck died years later, of a heart attack, when coming off stage at a college skit. He was cremated. A relative of mine, who works at the Galesburg post office, himself once a student at Knox, noticed that the box of Umbeck's ashes passed through the post office as an item of regular mail.

One of my philosophy professors was Arthur Dibden, who specialized in aesthetics and philosophy of literature, with whom I read Wellek and Warren's Theory of Literature and Maugham's Of Human Bondage. I was taught logic, philosophy of science, and the history of philosophy by Raymond Olson, who had just completed his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University on Hobbes' materialism. He later moved to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and I lost contact with him. Our philosophy of science class met in the spring on a park bench, there being only two students enrolled. I was taught philosophical theology by William Matthews, who was influenced by Tillich and Whitehead, and who was known for offering strange prayers, in his role as college chaplain, to the "unconditioned," the "principle of concretion," the "unmoved mover," and ultimate language such as that. For his course, I wrote on the unlikely topic of Giordano Bruno and the idea of macrocosm and microcosm. It was my first taste of Italian philosophy.

There were other great lights: Proctor Sherwin (literature), Elizabeth Wilson (European literature), John Stipp (American history), "Doc" Adamecz (Greek and Greek literature), Paul Shepard (who taught a course on man and the landscape), Herman Muelder (dean of the college, who taught a seminar on the history of the American midwest), and Isaac Peterson (art history). Knox had a very active program of visitors, and students were put in contact with them; I spent an evening talking with John Ciardi until he, having gotten lower and lower on the sofa, slid under the coffee table. I spent several days walking around Galesburg with Paul Tillich. It was the same week that his picture appeared on the cover of Time. When I met him at his hotel he had just received an invitation to a Sunday School picnic from a local church (after all, he was visiting clergy), but he did not wish to attend. At Knox I also met Charles Hartshorne, who gave a visiting lecture. He was then at Emory. Years later, I had occasion to invite him back to Emory to speak to my students. Hartshorne held one of Emory's first Candler Chairs in Philosophy, a chair that I now hold.

In art history, I developed an interest in Piet Mondrian and his essays on Neo-Plasticism. He believed he was painting Platonic reality. He is still my favorite painter. I also had a great interest in the Dada painters and poets. In their plastic art I especially liked Man Ray's Gift (1921). Tristan Tzara proclaimed a new method for poetry. One produced a Dada poem by selecting a newspaper column, cutting out each word, and placing the words in a bag. Then one drew each word out of the bag and carefully recorded their order. The poem was exactly the same length as the newspaper column. But my notion of poetry remained "imagistic" and lyric, not Dadaist.

I also took anthropology, and read John Collier's Indians of the Americas. Collier, who was at one time U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, had been a visitor at Knox. I wrote a paper on the Ghost Dance religion of the Plains Indians, the messianic cult for the return of their lands. When I was eleven my family took a vacation to see some of the great West, a magical place for all Americans since the discovery of its wonders. Near the Badlands in South Dakota we stopped for souvenirs, and near the store there was an old Indian holding a large, impressive eagle wing with a leather handle. We bought a small drum from him, made out of a piece of tire inner tube stretched over a painted coffee can. My father decided to talk with him more, but he had disappeared behind the store (with which he had no association, and which did not want him around). There in front of a government-built house was his bed, pulled out for him and his wife to sleep under the sky, under the stars. Collier had probably been in charge of the program that built his house.

We went on to Rapid City, where I found a postcard picturing the survivors who had been in the battle of Custer's Last Stand (in the Little Big Horn, 25 June 1876), taken in 1948, at an Indians' reunion of the battle. I had the Budweiser reproduction of the painting of the Last Stand on my wall at home, with Custer in the middle of the scene, bathed in light. I still have it. There was the Indian of that morning, holding the unmistakable eagle wing. The names of each of the chiefs were written along the top of the postcard. His name was Dewey Beard. Had I met, selling coffee-can drums, one of the figures from the most famous event in the history of the West? I had. David Humphreys Miller, in Custer's Fall: The Indian Side of the Story (1957), reports that Dewey Beard was his white name; his Indian name was Iron Hail. He was a Minneconjous Sioux enrolled at Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, and he died in 1955, at the age of ninety-eight. He was the oldest surviving warrior of Custer's Last Stand. I liked the idea that he had taken care of Custer. The Indians were always the heroes for me. Vico says, as an example of his Mental Dictionary (which is first expressed in the mute heroic language of the objects, the "real words," of the civil world) that, "the kings of the American Indians were found to carry a dried snakeskin in place of a scepter." The eagle wing was my first look at one of Vico's "real words" of authority.

I was not accustomed to receiving recognition, and did not bother to attend the dinner for literary awards given at Knox in my senior year. I chose to go to Chicago for the weekend, instead. When I received the poetry prize, Molly was there to accept it from the judge, who was May Sarton. My poetry professor was Samuel Moon, himself a poet. He seemed to me at that time awfully "precise" for a poet, but he is the one professor with whom I have kept in touch. It was Moon who nominated my poems for publication in New Campus Writing No. 3 (Grove Press, Evergreen Books, 1959), which I was to find for sale in San Francisco's North Beach in Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore. Years later I also found my anthology, Sexual Love and Western Morality (Harper and Row, Torchbooks, 1972) for sale there, in the Women's Studies section.

During my time at Knox, Richard Wisan joined the philosophy faculty, after he finished his doctorate on Bertrand Russell at Princeton. He taught contemporary philosophy and it was in his course that I discovered Cassirer while looking for a way to stand outside A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. We also read Russell's lectures on The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, in a mimeographed edition produced and sold by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. And we read Santayana's Scepticism and Animal Faith. I wrote a paper matching Ayer's book against Cassirer's Language and Myth. Here were two books on language, one about logic and the other about myth, logos versus mythos, except that Cassirer had chapters on both and Ayer had ignored mythos. But what really attracted me to the idea of matching up these two books was the way they matched up physically; they were both slim Dover reprints with black background covers. They stood side by side in the Knox bookstore. The Muses had arranged a sight for me to see. That was in my senior year. Also in that year I did a year-long honors project in philosophy on Zen Buddhism and its conception of self. I ordered and read all there was in English on Zen Buddhism, all of Suzuki, Watts, etc. It was a program such as we would now conceive as a B.A./M.A. program, except there was no M.A. involved. One wrote a small monograph and then wrote an examination composed by an outside examiner and sat for an oral defense. My outside examiner was from theology at the University of Chicago. He was moderately pleased.

During my senior year I worked for the Burlington Truck loading dock because the honors credit allowed my time to be flexible. I had started in the summer and I worked from 3 A.M. to 11 A.M. and was a full-fledged member of the Teamsters Union. I had previously been a member of the United Railway and Steamship Clerks Union, and I never understood what that had to do with the manual labor of handling railroad ties. The Teamsters membership made more sense because we unloaded and loaded freight from one truck to another, under the glare of the dock lights. I was a freight "hostler" and had my own Zen Buddhist hand truck. Our setup man, who did a lot of the lifting, was a former professional wrestler, and my companion on the hand truck was a New York Italian named Harry V. He hoped to date Knox girls but never had any luck. Harry and the wrestler were of course poetry in motion. Lunch in this case was not segregated, but it was in a room under the dock where it was necessary to hang your lunch bucket on hooks from the steam pipes or the rats, who were about bucket size, would knock them off the tables and eat everything while you were at work. The lunch room provided a sense of the underworld, and one needed a golden bough to be able to pass into it with the other workers, and back out. This required the art of appearance, the mask, and that mask was language, the language of the body again, the song of ordinary speech born out of the motions of work. We did nothing without profanity.

I graduated from Knox in 1959. While waiting in line at the graduation ceremonies, reading the program, I discovered that I would receive a diploma cum laude. It was a surprise; I had never considered what my grade average was--unthinkable to any of my students today. I had also not much considered what I was prepared for, although I knew with complete clarity that no one had held interviews on campus for poets or philosophers. I had not applied to graduate schools. The notes on the contributors to New Campus Writing No. 3 say that Donald Verene has earned his college tuition by (a long list of odd jobs that I had supplied on the form), that "he was born and has always lived in Galesburg, Illinois, and has no plans for a career except that he will write poetry." This was true; I was more poet than philosopher. And I thought:

There's a lecherous china cat

That looks very much like what a Chiness mummy ought to be:

Sort of tan with sick blue eyes, and

Chipped on one of its smiling ears, with

An enormous green belly that declares,

Souvenir of the Oh Ho Ho County Fair 1937.

The whole thing's like a sixteen-year-old's tattoo,

Made by a pitchman artist at the fair:

A melancholy scratching of one child night,

That takes up roots to stay

And forever adds its faded touch of carnival.

A burnished August night of

Popcorn in those giant, colored paper cones

Or taffy or dustcloth side-show tents, that like

The sawdust myrrh were caught in yellow light and painted sounds,

The harpsichord music of the merry-go-round

Clinked in the air's soft palm and made my soul

Jump like a rubber ball.

My eyes were colored happy as the lights and so

Inside that plaster cat I poured the vapor splendor of the Midway


So I might save a little bit of carnival

To walk my way in the sad, attending parking lot.

(A Bid for Gaiety, 1959)

I was mainly on fire with what was happening in San Francisco, with the Beat Generation. Kerouac had written On the Road, copies of Ginsburg's Howl had been confiscated by the U.S. customs officials at Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore, and they arrested the clerk at the cash register. Rexroth was there, William S. Burroughs, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and others who would become famous. Their latest work was collected in an issue of Evergreen Review on the San Francisco scene, of which I had written a review for the Knox literary magazine, The Siwasher. We arrived in North Beach, San Francisco, Hank F. and Jim S. and I. Hank was a Beat poet from Phoenix who went to Knox College; his father was the rabbi mentioned in Is Paris Burning? Jim was a boyhood friend and veteran of summers of work at the railroad yards. We got a room in the New Rex Hotel (just off Columbus Avenue), which consisted of a handful of rooms on the top floor of the building, supervised by a landlady whose only clothing was a bathrobe. When I visited San Francisco a few years ago, the faded outline of the New Rex sign was still there, over a topless bar.

We spent time at the Coexistence Bagel Shop, where it became known that I had some knowledge of Zen Buddhism, and since Zen was the religion of the Beat Generation this put me in good stead. The Beat movement, unlike the later Haight-Asbury, was a genuine bohemia that had real writers at its center (with the usual amount of hangers-on) that advocated experimentation in arts and letters. Rexroth and Ferlinghetti were reading poetry to jazz at The Cellar. Charlie "Bird" Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were heroes. There were beards and long hair. Everyone wore sandals. There was no special evidence of drugs. It was the Wrold Series and the Summer Olympics all held at the same time. We were on the road. I went to Phoenix with Hank and Jim, where I left them and hitchhiked to Mexico. I was back in Galesburg by the fall. I had read my way through the Lost Generation in college and I had seen the Beat Generation firsthand. I needed a job.

My degree was an A.B. written in Latin, artium baccalaureus. I went to the unemployment office to claim my right to unemployment (I had worked the appropriate number of quarters on the truck dock). In Illinois you could not receive unemployment compensation unless you could prove that you were no longer a student. The office wanted to see the actual diploma. I had to translate it, there at the desk, for the interviewer.

I submitted some samples to write radio commercials for WGIL but they never called back. I did some months later hear part of one I had submitted, advertising Simmons sofabeds: "If you knew Susie like I know Susie, you'd buy a Simmons sofabed." I was interviewed to be an assistant manager for Montgomery Ward's department store. After all, I was an experienced manager, although limited to the cinema. For two weeks I sold shoes for the Thom McAn shoe store. The logo for the children's shoes we sold was a boy and his dog, Tige. "I'm Buster Brown. I live in a shoe. This is Tige. He lives there too." I sold mostly women's shoes. I believe Tennessee Williams once said he subtracted the years he filled orders for the International Shoe Company in St. Louis from his age. I understood his point. But I was only temporarily in the purgatory of inventories, logos, and jingles. "The world is full of shipping clerks / who have read / the Harvard Classics" (Charles Bukowski, Mocking Bird Wish Me Luck).

One of the largest service industries in Galesburg was a veterans' hospital for survivors of the Second World War that had become a state mental hospital. During the war German prisoners were kept there in a compound, to work in the hospital, and we used to drive by to look at them, behind their barbed wire at one end of the institution grounds. Later I discovered that Hans Freund, my colleague in philosophy at Penn State, was one of the prisoners I had seen there. Now an unemployed liberal arts graduate, I went to the personnel office of the Galesburg State Mental Research Hospital and announced that I was looking for a job. Two ladies in the office asked what kind of position was I looking for, and reeled off the whole list, from kitchen worker to psychiatrist. In the middle were occupational and recreational therapists. I immediately picked both. With some astonishment they said there was in fact on opening in the therapy department. I did not know what such therapy consisted of. I had never seen any inmates of the hospital up close, and I had never taken a course in psychology, not to mention that I had no training in either of the fields I had selected.

I took civil service examinations in both occupational and recreational therapy, including an oral exam, in Springfield, the state capital and birthplace of Vachel Lindsay, the third poet of western Illinois. He called his poetry performances the "higher vaudeville." It was close to my approach to the oral exam; I just tried to be melodic. A month later I received in the mail two wallet-size cards certifying me as a therapist in the state of Illinois in both fields.

I was given a position as recreational therapist, with an office on a ward and a staff of five full-time therapist aides. I soon discovered that it was not professional training or theory that was required, but common sense and decency. The psychiatrists were ultimately responsible for the patients' treatment and release. I had the luxury to be in the middle of the hospital hierarchy, with no hard decisions to make. I was there to talk with them and organize programs to keep them busy. I was back to the problem of language again, to the art of appearance, the language of the body and the image, the language of the passions of the soul. the long, rambling conversations I had with the patients, while escorting them to their various activities, were experiences in the logic of myth, joined with metaphysics, for their problem was reality. That was what they all shared. At the mental hospital I covered all the rest of the humanities curriculum that was not addressed in college--the actual human condition, in its guises.

My patients were in the hospital following various "admission incidents"; most of them classified as schizophrenic, some as manicdepressive and some as paranoid. Some were catatonic and could stand all day long posed as statues. The most interesting classification was "personality defect." I have since found it a useful category outside the hospital. One patient was committed for "bus racing" on Cottage Grove Avenue, on Chicago's south side. He began one day to run foot races from stop to stop with the Chicago bus service. Another was apprehended while taxiing down the runway in a light plane at Alton, Illinois (near St. Louis), on his way to Mars. He continued to practice for the trip by running the length of the ward with his arms outstretched. Another could saw the silhouettes of ducks out of plywood, part of a pattern for a child's pull-toy to which wheels could be attached. He could saw out several a week during his woodshop period. One day I opened a door adjacent to the jigsaw and found a whole room full of duck silhouettes, in precisely stacked rows. None of them had wheels.

Another man, an old Italian, would describe to me, as we were on the way to his bingo game, a great underworld of work going on each night, beneath the floor of his ward. He said he did not know what they were doing but they were there every night, working. He was describing Dante's Inferno. A man from Oquawka, Illinois, a village on the banks of the Mississippi, was committed by the court for conducting self-styled investigations around town. Not long after his arrival, the judge who committed him committed himself. They met, and became friends. There was a mechanic who removed his pants one Sunday morning, on Main Street in Galesburg, in front of the O. T. Johnson department store, and delivered a religious lecture. So close are sex and religion; I felt through him I had understood Freud. Working with the patients, I was reminded of the Greek described by Horace, who spent his days in an empty theatre, watching plays, and became unhappy when his family cured him of this practice (Epistles II.ii, 128-40).

But not all madness is benign. There was the former surgeon, Dr. Cook, who had killed a ward attendant with a chair and now had a prefrontal lobotomy. He had the two large depressions in his forehead. He never tired of spelling out his name and professional address on Sheridan Road, Chicago, with the "Scrabble" letters during recreation. In all this, where was A. J. Ayer? Ayer had mised this part of it in his "truth and logic." We were in the truth of the human other, twenty-four hours a day. Ryle's Concept of Mind, his fallacy of "the ghost in the machine"--what did this mean? These were the broken machines. Cognitive science is based on a gentlemen's agreement about the mind. It was a world of the human condition in every one of its possible aspects writ large, a theatrum mundi, a praise of folly beyond Erasmus. I was on the crew of the Stultifera navis. When, years later, I read Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), it was immediately to my liking. I now knew the difference between Plato's divine madness and what we could call clinical madness. No one there was divinely mad. No one there was a poet, but everyone was poetic and they touched the ear of the poet and the metaphysical eye. I quit, one year to the day I arrived. Several of my co-workers sought me out, to say goodbye and to tell me that they believed quite a number of patients had been released, or become better, as a result of my contact with them. Their judgment was unexpected, and gratifying.

I left to become the Henrietta Heermans Fellow in Philosophy at Washington University, in St. Louis, the south pole of my original literary landscape. There waiting for me was Hegel, brought there in the nineteenth century by the St. Louis Hegelians, who started the first journal of philosophy in America, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. They had been in communication with the Jacksonville, Illinois Platonists (the records of which survive). Beneath the poetic landscape a philosophical one was beginning to emerge. I had applied to graduate schools and I accepted the one that offered me the most money. Before going to graduate school I had attempted to become an officer in the Air Force. I spent a weekend in Rantoul, Illinois, at Chanute A.F.B., passing all the tests, including one on "cultural knowledge," and another, identifying the silhouettes of types of aircraft. I was rejected for nearsightedness. The draft was still in effect from the time of the Korean War. But full-time graduate students were eligible for deferment.

Most patients were in the mental hospital for life; they came and went and came back. The staff had the view that a month out was better than a month in. That was how I regarded graduate school; a semester there was always better than working. Why? Because I was a master of time. One's time was in an important sense one's own. I had observed as an undergraduate that the faculty had summers and all the same holidays I had off, in addition to being able to pass most of their days during the semesters as they wished, within the limits of their duties. They had leisure, that ancient commodity. When I arrived at graduate school I thought that Thoreau or someone like him was the only thinker worthwhile because he combined thought and life. He asked the question, how to live. And having raised it, he did not just take walks in the afternoon in Konigsberg. Abbott reports that Kant's life moved "like the most regular of regular verbs." As I thought of Kant, I thought, "I grow old ... I grow old ... / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." St. Louis, after all, was Eliot's birthplace.

In my first semester of graduate school I read the Critique of Pure Reason and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit simultaneously. In the Kemp Smith translation, and with my greater maturity of mind, Kant went better this time. I had never read anything like Hegel's Phenomenology. I understood very little, but the notion of absolute knowing had poetic appeal, and I investigated its connections with Zen satori. I had just had a poem appear in the Chicago Review (vol. 13, Winter 1959), an issue that included work by Leslie Fiedler, Nathan Scott, Stanley Elkin, and Robert Duncan. Not bad company, I thought, and I mentioned this to A. W. Levi, as I noticed that he had published an essay in another issue of Chicago Review. Levi passed right by my remark in the conversation.

At Washington University there was a small renaissance of writers being assembled--Jarvis Thurston, who edited Perspective, and his wife, Mona Van Dyn, and Stanley Elkin and Donald Finkel. William Gass joined the philosophy faculty after I left graduate school. Leo Litwak had published To the Hanging Gardens (1964) after being in the philosophy department at Washington University, and he included some of the philosophy faculty, barely disguised, as characters in the novel. An issue of the literary magazine, Reflections, included some of my poems in 1961, along with Finkel, Constance Urdang, and Mona Van Dyn, who was this year (1994) named U.S. Poet Laureate. But I was writing less and less poetry and studying philosophical reasoning more and more. I became an absolute idealist, and after studying F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality, I refuted all metaphysical ideas presented to me by the members of the department. Bradley's conception of reducing all partial versions of the real to an unsummable infinite regress was genius. It was the hidden spring of the Absolute. Argument was power. I had first realized this in debate, but there you also needed facts and evidence.

When I went to St. Louis to begin school, Molly, who spent her first post-college year (we graduated from Knox at the same time) in Galesburg working for Household Finance Co., went to Chicago to teach high-school English. She spent weekends on the near North Side. But early in the semester she came to St. Louis, and we were married in the Civil Courts Building by Judge Tammany, who solicited us in the elevator when he saw that we had just come from the office that issued marriage licenses. He could tell by the box of Proctor and Gamble product samples we carried, which was given out to all couples along with their license. The service was only a matter of minutes and later it occurred to us that there were no witnesses. Even according to the Laws of the Twelve Tables one might expect witnesses. It was a modern marriage. We had gotten our blood tests free of charge at the St. Louis public health V.D. Clinic. Within an hour after the ceremony Molly walked into the C. V. Mosby Publishing Co. in midtown with their newspaper ad in her hand, and was hired as copy editor for two medical journals. I waited outside. All this accomplished, we settled down to live in a two-room apartment with shared bath. Vico says "marriage emerged as the first kind of friendship in the world." A year later, Molly moved from C. V. Mosby to become secretary of the philosophy department at Washington University. Lewis Hahn was the chairman. I realized from the start that Molly was Molly Bloom, "a flower of the mountain." She was also Polly Garter, in Under Milk Wood.

Although I worked rapidly toward my degree, my poetry career was not completely over. Gaslight Square, in St. Louis, was developing into an entertainment center, with an underground culture of folk singers, artists, poets, would-be poets and artists, pimps and prostitutes, bartenders, jazz musicians, and vendors. There were no "street people"; everyone had a purpose. I met Joe Fischetti, poet, father of four children, factory worker by day and, at my suggestion, poetry salesman by night. Joe and I, in our beards and sandals, had a business, selling our poetry on the street to the visitors to Gaslight Square, at 25[cts.] a sheet. We printed a new galley-size edition every two weeks. It supplemented my fellowship and Joe's factory wages and it put us in touch with what was happening.

The police were convinced we were making more money than we actually were and now and then called us aside for a shakedown. At those moments on the margins of the lighted world I came to understand rhetoric. Facing the law in person you needed a story, and though it was not really the law you were facing, but its opposite (the inverted world of the law), Quintilian was right, it is not enough to speak truthfully--the speech also has to be plausible. We were always able to convince the police we did not make enough money to qualify for a shakedown. The art of appearance again, the mask--this time in the little oration at the side of the agora. I was back in class on Monday with Bradley.

I read all of Plato, all of Aristotle, more of Hegel, all three Critiques, the rationalists, the empiricists, parts of the medievals, and I took seminars in the various fields of philosophy, philosophy of religion, of literature, of history, of science, symbolic logic, analytic ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology, and on figures such as Dewey, Russell, Whitehead, and movements such as phenomenology. For my French exam I was given a passage from Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive, concerning phrenology. The exams were given together with students from other fields. The man next to me was in sanitary engineering. In German, I translated a page from Jaspers on Du and Ich. My German tutor was the wife of a relative of the Marxist, Karl Kautsky. They had a dog named "Hegel." On the occasion of an impending visit from Herbert Marcuse, they were increasingly apprehensive of how he would view this dog, and they asked my opinion. I said that anyone who liked Hegel would like the dog, and he did.

My first experience with politics and social action was in graduate school. The San Francisco to Moscow Peace Walk arrived in St. Louis and demonstrated in front of the university, not against it, but to gain support. There were only ten or so, who were walking across the country--and later, across Europe, and they were impressive people. They were not aggressive but quiet, and focused on their ideals. They were, I believe, virtuous, rather like Quakers. They were in favor of nuclear disarmament. The possibility that the world could be blown up by the H-bomb was real, and nuclear testing was a menace. There was the Linus Pauling petition to the United Nations, to stop nuclear testing, that began on his visit to Washington University, in May 1957, and was signed by most of the science faculty and, in its subsequent form, by most of the leading scientists of the world. One of the great problems of the time was the elimination of a spread of nuclear weapons to countries who could not build them themselves, with their own resources, and likely did not have stable governments, the so-called "nth country problem." The word, and human conscience, still seemed to mean something.

Molly and I picketed and became part of the peace movement. The Korean was was over and Vietnam was hardly an idea. The U.S. was in the Cold War with Russia. There was also the factor of the political far right, the John Birch Society, and Joe McCarthy, "Tailgunner Joe." He never was a tail gunner. He was a witch hunter. It was a period of pursuing the phantom of American communism, the period of McCarthyism. All sorts of witnesses were subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). To my mind, the best appearance before it was an early one, by Bertold Brecht, on 30 October 1947; he gave friendly but Committee. He had gone to Washington with the reservation for his flight to Europe in his pocket; a few days later he was settling in Switzerland. He had seen these people before.

One day I was told that a photograph from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, of me holding a peace sign, was in the window of a John Birch storefront in suburban St. Louis, with the question written below it: "Is This Student a Communist?" Molly went over to see it. I never had any interest in communism or Marxism nor, in fact, in politics generally. There is no way to combine poetry and politics. I have always found politics dull. My interest in the peace movement was ethical. It let me go to the other side of the street and see things from a new perspective.

In the peace movement I learned what civil disobedience and peaceful protest are, in a democracy. Russell was sitting on a chair in a peace demonstration in the middle of Trafalgar Square and had published Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare (1959). I had moved away intellectually from my interest in Thoreau, but here he was again, this time in my actions. In the peace movement, as in selling poetry, you got to know who the police were. The peace movement led to the civil rights movement for me, and to CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. A graduate student in political science lived in the apartment above ours and through him we became involved in the civil rights sit-ins. He and his wife later spent a year in jail; they were arrested in a demonstration that we accidently missed.

I recall sitting in at lunch counters in suburban St. Louis, which was not officially a segregated city. But in 1961 Molly and I traveled through the South, and saw segregated restrooms in gas stations and bus stations, "Colored" and "White" drinking fountains, all-white restaurants with take-out windows for Negroes. When I first attended the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, which was meeting in Memphis, to present my paper, "Plato's Conception of Philosophy and Poetry," which became my first published paper (The Personalist 44, 1963), there was a notice in the program that "colored" members were to contact a certain person to secure their accommodations. It was 1962. They did not stay at the convention hotel but could come to meetings there during the day.

My greatest personal success with integration was at a sit-in at a bowling alley in St. Louis. To integrate a bowling alley seemed somehow surrealistic, but we filled the seats at all the lanes and waited to bowl. A woman approached me and told me to move over and stop taking up the alley. I told her we were also waiting to bowl, but not until our friends who were Negroes could bowl too. She said "If that is so then I won't bowl here either," and returned her rented shoes and bowling ball and left. These were experiments in the truth as gandhi and King understood them. There was a risk in the truth. I met people who were brain-damaged from being beaten by the police, people who would never be the same again. I was never beaten or arrested. I had learned a great deal. This time it was not through work but through an attempt to discover the truth of virtue.

In the process I re-discovered the face of the group, the honorable men again, and this time they were attempting to preserve their right to blow up the world and serve meals only to whomever they wished. I encountered no professional ethicists at these events. Human dignity, perhaps the greatest theme of Renaissance moral philosophy, as well as of the civil rights movement, has never been a theme of much interest for modern ethics. I have never believed that the study of ethics is ethics.

I was still going to graduate school. I wrote a Masters' thesis in the summer of my first year, on "Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Myth." My interest, that had begun with reading his Language and Myth, combined in my thesis with my interests in poetry and anthropology. I wrote the thesis under Albert William Levi, with whom I also wrote my doctoral dissertation, a continuation of my interest in Cassirer. It was "An Examination of Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms," and concerned some of the fundamental questions about the number and interrelations of the symbolic forms as a system. Cassirer was an "outsider-insider." This was also true of the scholarship on him. Everyone knew something about Casirer, but no one worked on him. I compiled a bibliography, which I later published, showing how little had been done on Cassirer in any language. The second reader on the dissertation was Herbert Spiegelberg, the historian of the phenomenological movement. On the completion of my degree he gave me a small blue vase, one of the items he had saved from the remains of his bombed home when he returned to Alsace-Lorraine, after the war. I, of course, still have it.

Levi was impressive, usually to be seen in a double-breasted suit, white shirt, and tie. On occasion he ate lunch, which he brought from home, in his office, and finished off with a small glass of cognac. He had taken all of European culture for his province. He was from Indiana. Years later, when we had become friends, he told me that although he often went to Europe, he had always been from Indiana. He had published Philosophy and the Modern World (1959). He wrote Literature, Philosophy, and the Imagination (1962) while I was his student. Later he wrote Humanism and Politics (1969) and Philosophy as Social Expression (1974). At his death he left a manuscript on cultural ethics, The Highroad of Humanity: The Seven Ages of Western Man, finished on the day of his death, which was Halloween, 1988.

He took all the great traditions for his subject matter, he believed in literate ideals, and he was a historian, as well as a critic, of the movement of analytic philosophy. He is the author of an important article on Wittgenstein, "Wittgenstein as Dialectician," published in the Journal of Philosophy (1964), and of articles on G. E. Moore, on whom he was an authority. He knew Ryle and disagreed with him. He had mastered philosophical humor and could apply it to the humorless in philosophy. He wrote, about the British analytic philosophers: "Its members, if without the stern doctrinal unity of a minor religious sect (like the followers of Quine and Goodman), are at least possessed of the unconquerable team spirit of a sculling crew on the Isis or the Cam. And it is as such that I constantly see them in my mind's eye -- Strawson, Hampshire, Hare, Paul, Pears, Urmson, Warnock and Flew manfully straining at the oars, with Gilbert Ryle, a portly and slightly outsized coxswain, to be sure, 'stroking' them on to victory!"

In the summer of my fourth year in graduate school, and on into the early fall, I wrote my doctoral dissertation. I handed it to Levi. He kept it several months and handed it back, with minor corrections. We met once or twice, and it was done in time for spring commencement. It was June 1964. The commencement speaker was the poet Richard Wilbur; he spoke on the importance of ceremony. Not everyone there had a good record of studies, some had barely made it, but all were part of the ceremony. Among other things, Wilbur wrote lyrics for the musical Candide, which includes a memorable song satirizing Leibniz: "everything's for the best in this best of all possible worlds ... this best of all possible, possible, possible worlds."

I wrote my dissertation in our second-floor apartment, in a little sunroom that overlooked the street. While I was working on it, several things happened in the world. A woman in the building next door drowned her baby, perhaps by accident, and screamed for most of a day. There was a threatened race riot on our street, and it was cordoned off by police cars. This was due to some Cubans, who were sitting drinking on the porch next door, hurling insults at some blacks walking by. Later in the afternoon, things returned to normal. Our building janitor, who lived in the basement with his wife and two attractive teenage daughters, was stabbed by his daughters' pimp, just outside the door of our apartment. His daughters babysat during the day with Joey and Jeanie, two white children who lived across the hall, whose mother worked as a secretary for the Angelica Uniform Co., and it emerged that they also entertained customers.

The janitor, who seemed more like a businessman, usually doing his outside work in a cashmere overcoat, confronted the pimp in our hallway, and was stabbed in the stomach. He was taken to the hospital by the owner of our building, who complained thereafter of the permanent bloodstains on his car's upholstery. I finished my discussion of Cassirer's theory of concept formation in the natural sciences that day, and turned toward his conception of culture. The janitor liked us, and felt that we and the woman who lived downstairs (whose brother was at one time, it seemed, the U.S. ambassador to Peru) were respectable people. When he recovered, he visited us, in his cashmere coat (he explained that the doctor had told him to keep warm), and asked if we would like to have anyone killed, because he knew persons over on Delmar Boulevard who would do it for $50. We said that at the moment there was no one we could think of. I never knew if the pimp survived the contract that had been put out on his life.

That fall, Lewis Hahn left and Richard Rudner, a philosopher of science and follower of Nelson Goodman, had been hired as chairman. He brought with him various logicians, modern empiricists, analytic philosophers of language, etc. The group had arrived to take over the philosophy department. They were new men, with a new ideal of knowledge. Prudence was the rule and I was looking for the exit door. I thought I had seen some of these people before. Later I was to see them many times again.

Levi was elevated to the David May Distinguished University Professorship in the Humanities and that fall, with Rudner and the president of the university, a relative of T. S. Eliot, introducing him, he gave an inaugural lecture to a full house of students and faculty from various parts of the university. It was "The Philosophy of Culture and the Culture of Philosophy," and it was what might be expected, until he said: "Most of you are doubtless familiar with Franz Kafka's famous story 'Metamorphosis' in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one fine morning to discover that he has become a cockroach. This is bad enough, but imagine how it must be when one wakes up one morning to find that he indeed has remained the same but it is all those others who have turned into cockroaches--extremely logical and linguistic-analytical cockroaches to be sure--but nonetheless philosophical animals of a completely different species. How has this situation come about?" Levi, it seemed, took philosophy seriously. He was an educated man and real philosophy meant something. The text published in the Washington University Magazine, as I recall, omitted that sentence, but years later I discovered it when I was going through Levi's papers to select those which would become part of an archive at the Institute for Vico Studies at Emory.

Rudner was not an unpleasant man. he admired Hume, which was a virtue, and disliked Hegel, which was a vice. I owe my first teaching job to him. The philosophy chairman at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, sixty miles west of Chicago, had written him to ask if he could recommend someone to teach philosophy of science. I was the only person finishing for certain that year, so as a good chairman he told them to take a look at me. I do not think he said that I was a philosopher of science. I had not given much thought to a job in philosophy. I had gone into Hahn's office in the spring before and asked whether there were any jobs in philosophy; Hahn had said that for the past few years there had not been many, but the market had changed, and things looked better. I had no idea how one got a job in a university. There was little of the system there is now. But before I knew it, a job was handed me.

I had never been to DeKalb, but it was my home country. My Aunt Ella had once had a hooked rug shop there, on the Lincoln Highway. I drove from St. Louis to DeKalb. I was to telephone Mason Myers, the chairman, when I arrived in town, but the very unusual telephone company in DeKalb County had pay phones into which you were to deposit the coin after the other person answered, rather than before you dialed. You could hear very faintly the person answering, and then when you deposited the coin the volume came up. I did it wrong twice and heard only a faint voice, which was Myers. Then he decided to yell from his end, which worked fairly well. I was able to hear where to meet him.

Myers was from the University of Michigan and had filled the department with analytic philosophers from there. The first question the Dean asked me was if I was from the University of Michigan. He was relieved that I was not. Myers, in his own logical way, was deeply interested in metaphor; he very much liked Turbayne's Myth of Metaphor. I stayed overnight in the Myers' home and spent the evening in the living room talking philosophy with the members of the department. I had had a good deal of analytic epistemology, analytic ethics, and logic, so we could communicate. The next day after lunch Myers offered me the job as he walked me to my car. He said that they had decided to hire the man, not the field, and that they had always done well that way. I said I would think it over and when I arrived in St. Louis I called and accepted the job.

I taught at Northern Illinois University from 1964 until 1971. When I began there were seven members of the philosophy department; when I left there were twenty-one. Northern Illinois was the Yukon--it was the academic gold rush of the early 1960s. No fewer than four new buildings were being built every year, highrises that stood up over the beginning of the Great Plains. My office was finally in one of these, on the sixth floor. I could see for miles, out toward Denver. The fall I arrived, Myers informed me that one of the department members had suddenly left to take a job in California, leaving open a seminar in the new M.A. program, which I might teach. It had been announced as a study of Bergson's Creative Evolution and Whitehead's Process and Reality. Needless to say, the person who left was not from Michigan; he had been a student of Hartshorne. That seminar led to others I taught, on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, the philosophy of culture, and topics of this sort. Kant's analytic-synthetic was still a "pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." Hegel's science of experience still soared in the satori of its absolute. I have taught hegel's Phenomenology more than any other book in the past thirty years of my teaching career. At Northern I also taught introduction to philosophy, logic, ethics, history of philosophy--the usual range of undergraduate courses.

During the years of the Vietnam War we stood in a silent vigil every Saturday morning, on Lincoln Highway, the main street of DeKalb, near where my Aunt Ella had once had her rug shop. The people with whom we stood were mostly ordinary citizens of the community. We experienced fairly regular incidents of abuse. One morning we were fired at, point-blank in our faces, by a man with a pistol. After it went off we realized it was loaded with blanks.

My years at Northern Illinois University were the first of three periods of my development of a mature philosophical position. These correspond generally to the three universities where I have taught. At Northern Illinois, my philosophical interests were dominated by an interest, on the one hand, in the philosophy of culture, and on the other, by an interest in contemporary moral issues, in a fairly conventional sense. I began publishing articles on topics in Cassirer's philosophy of culture and contemplated writing a book about it. Instead I was given a contract with Dell Publishing Co. to prepare an anthology on the philosophy of culture. It was the first time such an anthology had been attempted, to put together selections from various contemporary thinkers such as Croce, Dewey, Cassirer, Collingwood, Whitehead, etc., and show how the field could be understood and how the idea of culture was a common theme running though a number of thinkers.

In searching for the first philosopher of culture, the founder of what could be called the field of philosophy of culture, I discovered Vico. I had known of Vico from a quotation Levi put in his Literature, Philosophy, and the Imagination, but I had no real awareness of Vico's ideas. It became clear to me that Vico's conception of poetic wisdom, with its tree of knowledge of poetic arts and poetic sciences, was the first formulation of a modern conception of culture. Vico is traditionally the founder of the philosophy of history, and in founding it he had founded the philosophy of culture. Basically, I held Cassirer's view that Vico was the first philosopher of the humanities. Cassirer also calls Vico the "real discoverer of the myth" and it is clear that Vico is also the founder of the modern philosophy of mythology.

At about this time I received the first of what, over the years, would become an indefinite number of phone calls from Giorgio Tagliacozzo. He asked me if I had any interest in Vico. He had just read an article of mine on "The Origins of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Kant, Hegel, and Cassirer," in the Journal of the History of Ideas (1969). He hoped I would write a review of the collection of essays he had edited, Giambattista Vico: An International Symposium. I had said nothing of Vico in my article, but from it he sensed I was interested in such ideas. Later I discovered that Tagliacozzo had also come to Vico through Cassirer; hence, perhaps, the source of his hunch. Had it not been for Tagliacozzo's friendship and his early prodding, I would not have gone on to develop my own understanding of Vico as a major philosopher. We have worked together over many years on so many projects, including the Institute for Vico Studies, which he founded, and the annual, New Vico Studies.

My view of Vico at that time was that he was a very interesting but somewhat secondary figure, the founder of the philosophy of culture, outside the usual canon of the history of philosophy. Of course I saw many connections between Vico and Hegel, but not by going through Croce. The anthology, Man and Culture, appeared in 1970 as a Dell Laurel paperback, a mass-market paperback. I saw it for sale on a rack in a bus station.

The other side of my philosophical interests--moral issues--was also tied to the preparation of an anthology. Sexual Love and Western Morality appeared in 1972 as a Harper Torchbook. It was used in various courses but it also appeared on the shelves of commercial bookstores, and it remained in print for twenty years, going out of print when Collins took over Harper and Row. While at Northern Illinois University, I discovered a course listed in the catalogue, called "Contemporary Moral Issues," the name being the title of a textbook by Harry Girvetz, and I learned that no one had ever taught it. I began teaching it as a course dealing with a range of moral issues, including sexual love. It was the beginning if not the zenith of the sexual revolution in the U.S., and I noticed that the sexual revolution was continually seen as a response to the "Puritan" and "Victorian" attitudes toward sex. But questions of sexuality go much deeper than this. They go back to the Greeks, to the Stoics, to Aquinas, Luther, etc. My anthology put together what the great philosophers in the West had said about the subject of sex. In Lawrence Durrell's The Dark Labyrinth, Madame Dubois says: "I think, you know, that you have discovered the south, and you know that the only life for you is one of curiosity--sexual curiosity and metaphysical speculation." I took it as a motto.

In 1968 Molly and I went to Europe. When returning from Venice to Paris, on the Orient Express, we met Wittgenstein's grand-niece Katharina and her husband, Walter Springer. We became friends, and they later visited us in Illinois. Katzi told me some interesting things about the personality of Wittgenstein. In the fall of 1969, Christopher was born. We named him after Christopher Robin, from the stories of Pooh. Hegel speaks of the relationship of the parents as having its "actual existence not in itself but in the child." The child eventually reaches the point where he hears, as in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the mother's wish that "I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels." And Stephen thinks to himself: "Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead." We spent the spring of 1970 at Pennsylvania State University, where I had a visiting appointment. I taught a seminar on the imagination, involving Vico's New Science and Kant's Third Critique.

That spring I also delivered a short commentary at the annual meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America, in Connecticut. Paul Weiss liked my remarks and suggested to the various members of the philosophy department from Northwestern University who were in attendance that they might consider me for the position they were trying to fill. I learned the next day that they were looking for me all evening at the reception, but I hadn't bothered to go to it. I was invited to deliver a paper at Northwestern, at a colloquium, which was held near the campus, as their colloquia were, in and among the counters and shelves of Great Expectations Bookstore. My paper, delivered from behind a stack of books to an audience of torsos sticking up from other stacks of books, was on Hegel's account of war, which was to appear in the collection on Hegel's Political Philosophy, edited by Z. A. Pelczynski.

I was told later that the Northwestern department voted unanimously to offer me the position of associate professor. It was my chance to move to a major department of philosophy. But the Dean never contacted me, the offer never came. The position was in fact not filled that year. There were forces at work behind the scenes, due to some new senior appointment that involved intent to promote contemporary philosophy at Northwestern and release it from the hold that phenomenology, existential philosophy, and metaphysics had had on its development. Northwestern's philosophy department was now to have the opportunity, as was Yale's department later (at that time, the last traditional department in the Ivy League), to move into the twentieth century. Someone who knew Hegel was not going to fit in.

It was providence that the offer never arrived, that I was voted a job I never received. I was now freed from having to consider adjusting my interests to those trends that were on the "cutting edge" of contemporary philosophy (if I would ever have been able in fact to do so). I felt the relief that Vico had felt, on losing the concourse for the "morning chair" of law, through political machinations (it was awarded to one whose only book was later withdrawn from the press for plagiarism). I might have remained confined to what is now called continental philosophy and will likely be called something else in future. When I was an undergradate there were many who called themselves existentialists, counting Heidegger as one of their heroes. When I arrived at graduate school the same people reappeared as phenomenologists, including Heidegger, and when I began teaching they reappeared as hermeneuticists (Heidegger again) and now seem to have dispersed into various tribes of deconstructionists, postmodernists, post-Heideggerians, etc.

I accepted a position at Penn State's philosophy department, which stood openly for traditional, speculative, and non-analytic philosophy. There I could write what I pleased and teach in a doctoral program. I began at Penn State in the fall of 1971. I had received tenure at Northern Illinois rather early and gave it up to take the position at Penn State. At that time the state of Pennsylvania had a ruling that no one could receive tenure on appointment. So I earned tenure twice in my career.

I taught at Penn State until 1982. During that decade I moved from philosophy of culture to the metaphysics of history and the imagination on the one hand and from contemporary moral issues to the critique of technological society on the other. The air of State College was metaphysical and the philosophy of culture is epistemological. The mountain air took me deeper into Vico, and I saw that Vico was more than what Cassirer and I had originally thought. Vico's philosophy is a metaphysics of history, derived from a conception of imagination or fantasia as the basis of all human thought and civil institutions. This understanding of fantasia as a primordial faculty was later to affect my reading of Hegel, if I had not been reading Hegel that way all along.

At the same time that I was teaching and rethinking Vico, I continued teaching my course in contemporary moral issues. I had now come to see that, not only did arguments pro and con about contemporary moral issues require a knowledge of the historical background in Western tradition and thought, but also an understanding of contemporary consciousness as a whole was crucial. One needed a philosophical comprehension of the age. The age was itself a contemporary moral issue. This comprehension was supplied by my discovery of the writings of the French thinker, Jacques Ellul, and especially his Technological Society (French title: La Technique, ou l'enjeu du siecle). I had encountered this book earlier but now it became the course itself, and I began to expand my own lectures on the structure of technological consciousness as modern consciousness, developing a kind of oral book. I began writing essays in this area. They are not philosophy of technology in the ordinary sense but are explorations of how technique is the medium of all contemporary life and thought. Were they to be classified, these would be most properly thought of as experiments in social philosophy.

Early in the period at Penn State I decided to go to New Haven to look at what were said to be Cassirer's papers. I had corresponded with Charles Hendel (who had brought Cassirer to Yale in 1941) about them during the year of my dissertation, and he had assured me that there was nothing in them to concern me particularly at that time. It was good advice, because I could finish my dissertation, but I think Hendel believed that the so-called Cassirer papers, which were in storage in his basement for years after Cassirer's death, were basically manuscripts of what Cassirer had already published, and indeed many of them were. But on gaining access to the papers at Yale (they had traveled a route from Hendel's basement, to Yale University Press, which was their owner, into the Beinecke Rare Book Library), I saw that there were other items. They were in two boxes and a suitcase. They were not catalogued into the library collection. There was only a rough list of the contents, some misidentified, that the Press had commissioned.

Even on my first visit, I saw that there were genuine unpublished papers, especially a number of essays and fully written-out lectures that Cassirer had done to introduce his philosophy to American students and audiences. Most of these from the last decade of Cassirer's life became the volume I edited, Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer 1935-1945 (Yale University Press, 1979). Finding these papers, in a sense discovering them, because no one who really knew the full corpus of Cassirer had ever looked at them, made me decide to create this volume rather than write the book on Cassirer I had once considered. My book would have been an attempt to introduce Cassirer's ideas to American readers, and here was Cassirer, in effect doing his own introduction.

Editing the papers allowed me to enter into Cassirer's mind in a way I had not been able to do before, an interesting experience that perhaps every scholar should have with a major thinker. Among the papers I noted items marked "Philosophy of Symbolic Forms volume IV"! It was too much to go through and reconstruct at that time so I noted its existence in an appendix to my volume. It is now about to be published by Yale and will become, I believe, an unusual event--the appearance of a large, unknown work by a major twentieth-century thinker--fifty years after his death.

In 1976, at the conference in New York on "Vico and Contemporary Thought," Isaiah Berlin volunteered to be a commentator on my paper on "Vico's Philosophy of Imagination." He also gave a paper of his own. I am very indebted to him for confirming that, to his mind, my idea was correct that there were two senses of fantasia operating within Vico's New Science. One sense of fantasia is that which Vico describes as the primordial faculty of the first humans, wherewith they develop the sapienza poetica of their first world of humanity; the other is an implicit fantasia, or what I called "recollective fantasia," wherewith Vico himself and the reader of Vico make the knowledge contained in the New Science itself. Berlin's book, Vico and Herder, was then in press, the Vico half being what he had written and published earlier, now revised.

The question that began to occupy me was, in what did Vico's philosophical originality lie: was Vico a truly original philosophical thinker or was he essentially a minor and obscure but fascinating figure that must remain so? My thesis was that Vico is offering a new solution to the ancient quarrel with the poets in Plato's tenth book of the Republic. His philosophical originality lies in the fact that he joined wisdom with poetry and then reconceived the terms of the quarrel. Vico asked, what if we began philosophy not from the eidos but from the eikon? This was not to give up reason but to reground reason in its roots in mythology, in the fable. Berlin saw, as I did, that Vico's most original idea was the universale fantastico, the imaginative universal. This is more of an original idea than his conception of history as moving in cycles.

In New York in 1976 there was an event that also involved the imaginative universal: at the conference I met Ernesto Grassi, professor of philosophy at the University of Munich and director of the Italian Center for Humanistic and Philosophical Studies. He had corresponded with me briefly about Vico's imaginative universal. A former colleague of Heidegger and an authority on the humanist tradition of the Renaissance, Grassi was at that point rediscovering Vico as the figure who brought together all the major themes of the humanist tradition, and Grassi saw Vico's notion of the luci, the clearings in the great forests, as analogous to Heidegger's notion of the Lichtung. Grassi had split off from heidegger in the 1930s and was still haunted by his ghost. He was attempting to resolve Heidegger's central themes with what he found among many parts of Italian humanism. Grassi was interested in reconceiving rhetoric as a speech of the archai, a form of speech through which the basis of thought was established and upon which reasoning rests. For Grassi, like Vico, it was through the power of rhetoric that the topoi, the beginning points of arguments, were to be found.

In 1980 Grassi dedicated his first American book to me, Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition, with the following statement, which typifies the way he saw thought--as a cooperative venture and, in fact, as an adventure. Reflecting thankfulness and a bond which arises from dedication to a shared concern--the relation of the hidden humanistic tradition which culminates in the thought of Giambattista Vico.

You recall Virgil's Aeneid, 6, 136f.: Aeneas, commanded by the Sybil, must obtain a "golden bough" in order to enter with it into the underworld of the dead. Your "golden bough" is the universale fantastico, the metaphorical image, in whose sign you were the first to have awakened the dead Vico and so have today brought the humanist philosophical tradition to speak again.

Two quotations may here point the way for our further work together. "Rem vero pro re, quod non est alterius quam poete, posuit in aureo ramo quem discerpendum Sibilla monuit antequam {Aeneas} inferos adiret" (Salutati, De laboribus Herculis). "To put one thing in the place of another is possible for no one but a poet, as {when Virgil presents} the golden bough that the Sybil called for Aeneas to break off before entering the underworld."

"On ne se peut ouvrir la region des ombres qu'avec le rameau d'or, et il faut une jeune main pour le cueillir" (Chateaubriand, Memoires d'outre-tombe). "One can enter the realm of the shades only with a golden bough and for this a young hand is necessary."

Until his death in December 1991 we met often, in Switzerland or Germany, and most often in Italy, on the island of Ischia near Naples, where he and his wife, Elena, had built a house. They frequently had various visitors. We would work on the veranda throughout the day, overlooking the water from high up. Everyone would gather in the evening for dinner, to continue talking until sunset. The conversations were mostly in German and Italian.

Grassi was a man of the great Republic of Letters. Like all such persons he was ironic and melancholic. He understood experience in a narrative fashion. One day he said to me that he had "never been a professor." I replied, "Ernesto, don't tell me that; you were a big professor in Munich." And I asked, "What is a professor?" He related that, immediately following the Second World War, he was part of a seminar or institute that Jaspers held in Heidelberg on the topic of, as I recall, humanity or the nature of the human or some such idea, and he noticed that the students were not receiving very good food in the university Mensa. Mensa food is never very good, but this was in need of improvement, especially in need of fresh vegetables and fruit. So Grassi went to Jaspers--he could approach him because he was a younger colleague, not a student--described the situation, and said that if Jaspers would just say a word to the American commandant in charge, he was certain that better food would appear. It would have been an extremely easy thing to do. Jaspers looked at him and said, "Herr Grassi. I write, I write for eternity. I do not have anything to do with such matters." Grassi looked at me and said, "Herr Verene" (our conversation had been in German): "there was a Professor!" He had many narratives about Heidegger and his personality, none of which shall I relate here.

He invited me to join a number of persons, many of whom had known Heidegger: the "Zurcher Gesprache" (Zurich conversations). Its participants were engaged in an experiment in dialogue and intellectual discussion, across disciplines and across national boundaries, on topics of common philosophical and literary interest. One of the regular participants was the psychiatrist, Menard Boss, who had developed "Daseinsanalysis" and done the Zollikon Seminare with Heidegger. I was a participant from 1977 to 1987. Because of Grassi's presence, many of the discussions had relevance for the nature of language and rhetorical speech and knowledge. It was a very fruitful time.

During that period I was also editor of Philosophy and Rhetoric, which I began to edit, originally, to substitute for Henry Johnstone when he took a sabbatical, and then at his invitation I replaced him as permanent editor. At that time, in 1976, while we were sitting at lunch in the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus, Henry asked me if I would edit the journal, and I replied, "But I don't know anything about rhetoric." Henry responded, "But that's your best qualification. Neither do I." It was a Zen-like exchange. I returned the editing of the journal to Henry when he retired from teaching philosophy at Penn State. Vico was a professor of rhetoric, and between Johnstone's project and Grassi's, I was involved in a second doctorate.

Molly, Christopher, and I spent my sabbatical year of 1978-79 in Florence. Molly taught English in an Italian school and Christopher attended the American School in Florence; at the age of eight he gave a short speech in the Uffizi on the virtues of Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano to his teacher and classmates, and to some Japanese tourists. I wrote Vico's Science of Imagination (Cornell University Press, 1981). Rather soon after we returned to Penn State I began to write Hegel's Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1985). I wrote a chapter a week and delivered it as a lecture to my Hegel seminar, while teaching a full load. I did not publish it immediately but revised it after coming to Emory and then published it in Quentin Lauer's series at SUNY Press. I dedicated it to Grassi "in friendship," thinking of Schiller's poem, "Die Freundschaft," on which Hegel plays at the end of the Phenomenology.

In July 1982 we moved to Atlanta and I became chairman of the philosophy department at Emory. It was good to be in the South. I felt at home. I served two three-year terms as chairman and then took a year's sabbatical in 1988-89. We spent the summer in Florence, with a visit to Grassi on Ischia, then went to London and Oxford. I was elected Visiting Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford University for Michaelmas term. I was nominated and hosted by Z. A. Pelczynski. I mentioned earlier that Pelczynski published my first essay on Hegel, and I do not know anyone more pleasant and profitable to talk with about Hegel's political philosophy. I remember many fine dinners at high table and one very nice lunch, with Pelczynski and Isaiah Berlin, during which the conversation ranged through a great number of topics in history and the humane letters. The "great conversation" that had dimmed to a whisper since my undergraduate days was still going on in a normal tone of voice at Pembroke College. I was glad to be back in it.

We left England for Australia, under a bomb threat to the plane, just a few weeks after the explosion, by terrorists, of a PanAm passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. We arrived en route in Singapore, on New Year's Eve. They celebrate all religious holidays in Singapore. Although it is almost on the equator, there were Santa and reindeer displays on top of a number of buildings, and general Christmas decorations. Singapore gave me an opportunity to go into various small neighborhoods and see there, firsthand, some of the local Buddhist and Hindu temples, including some of the ceremonies.

We moved on to Australia for the second half of my sabbatical, where we found an apartment in Sydney. Terra australis, the great southern land, the antipodes. What was the purpose of going to Australia? To think different thoughts; thought is affected by place. The intellectual thread that ran through this sabbatical year was that I was writing my book on Vico's autobiography. I wrote most of it in Italy and London and Oxford, and spent the time in Sydney revising it, looking at the Australian landscape. Vico traveled with me around the world. He was my intellectual suitcase.

The book appeared as The New Art of Autobiography: An Essay on the 'Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself' (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991). No one had treated Vico's autobiography as a part of his philosophical position, but it was my contention that the autobiography was Vico's essential proof of the truth of his philosophy and that he accomplished this by applying the principles of his thought to himself. This book represents the third transformation of my philosophical interests because it places the ancient question of self-knowledge at the center of philosophy. Vico says, in his first oration, his first philosophical statement, that the central question is Temet nosce, "Know thyself." Cassirer says, in the first sentence of An Essay on Man, that self-knowledge is "the highest aim of philosophical inquiry." Hegel's Phenomenology is the great philosophical novel of the self-education of spirit, the Bildungsroman. And Joyce's writing, from A Portrait to Ulysses to Finnegans Wake, is the great discourse of the self with its imagination: "mememormee!"

The only true concerns for the philosopher are virtue and the real. I had moved from philosophy of culture, to the metaphysics of history and imagination, to the ancient and humanist question of self-knowledge. And I had moved from contemporary moral issues, to the critique of modern technological consciousness, to the ancient and humanist conceptions of civil wisdom, prudence, and jurisprudence as a way of reasoning about human problems. The ancient project of phronesis (prudence, practical wisdom) is a way out of the cave of modern ethics, with its principles of the "greatest good for the greatest number" and acting such that "one's actions could become a universal rule"--the modern nonsense of utilitarianism and Kantianism. Modern ethics forgets the point that is at the heart of philosophical pragmatics, that Socrates expresses in the Phaedo (67E 3-4): "hoi orthos philosophountes apothneskein meletosi" -- "those who rightly philosophize are practicing to die."

Ethics cannot be grounded in an intellectual first principle, it must be grounded in the first principle of human mortality itself. Through a rediscovery of the metaphysics of the self, I encountered fully the humanist ideal of the interaction of sapientia, eloquentia, and prudentia, the mutual implications of knowing well, speaking well, and acting well. This led me to the importance of jurisprudence. The assertion of the Roman Digest is right that "jurisprudence is philosophy," a point forgotten by all modern ethicists and philosophers of law.

During my years as department chairman at Emory I had rewritten my Hegel manuscript and published it, and had organized a week-long international conference on Vico and Joyce, held in 1985 in Venice, at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, across the canal from the Piazza San Marco. It resulted in the volume of essays, Vico and Joyce, published on Bloomsday in 1987. My interest in Joyce began in my undergraduate days. I had slowly learned my philosophical method from Joyce, who said, to Jacques Mercanton: "Chance furnishes me what I need. I'm like a man who stumbles: my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I'm in need of." It is the universal method of the humanist thinker and the poet. So far as I can see, it is the only method that will supply any interesting or true thought. It is the only method I endorse.

While I was on sabbatical leave in Florence in 1978-79 I read Finnegans Wake from first to last page, in Joyce's great circle, reading a few pages after the midday meal before falling asleep in my pisolino, and Joyce thus could enter my dreams. Later I realized that attention to the fact that Joyce openly based Finnegans Wake on Vico's Scienza nuova allowed one to exit a view of Joyce's writing (a view I had been suspicious about since my college days)--that it was all stream-of-consciousness writing. The key to Finnegans Wake is Vico's, not Freud's, conception of language. Joyce took as a maxim Vico's statement that: "La memoria e la stessa che la fantasia" (Memory is the same as imagination). Beckett saw this immediately in his early essay, "Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce" (1929). As Joyce said, "My imagination grows when I read Vico as it doesn't when I read Freud or Jung." Not only does Joyce take up Vico's notion of corso e ricorso but he takes up Vico himself, in his figure of H. C. E., Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, the modern family man. As he puts it in Finnegans Wake, "The producer Mr John Baptister Vickar." Vico is the ear wicker, the attendant to the sound of Finnegans fall, the hundred-letter thunder word. Vico saw Homer as the summary poet of the first two ages of his corso, and called Dante the "Tuscan Homer," the summary poet of the divine and heroic ages of the ricorso of Western history. Joyce is the "Gaelic Homer," the summary poet of modernity, of the third, totally human age.

I had the pleasure of discussing some of these unconventional ideas over an occasional lunch with Richard Ellmann, author of James Joyce and my colleague at Emory in the early 1980s. Ellmann's approach was a model of sobriety in comparison to my speculations, but he could produce the unexpected. I recall especially one lunch, because he ordered chili with lots of raw onions on top and a glass of Scotch with lots of ice. That may have been his reaction to living so long in England. The Vico and Joyce volume is dedicated to his memory.

In 1990 I was given an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters by my alma mater, Knox College, for work in German idealism and Italian humanism. These are good summary terms for my professional activity. There are my writings on these subjects, and I was one of the founders of the Hegel Society of America (and was to become its president in 1992), and when I came to Emory I began the Institute for Vico Studies there, which I direct, and which now has its own fine library and offices. But beyond professional philosophy, there is philosophy. The most important thing to be, in philosophy, is a philosopher. I regard philosophy as one of the humanities, as itself an art of memory whose governance is the nine Muses. The philosopher is both the knower and the conscience of the humane world. The philosopher is always one who makes what can be made through the power of the world. Philosophy is an oratorial and literary art or it is nothing.

The occasion of receiving the honorary degree at Knox was festive; back in my hometown, at my alma mater, on a beautiful day, standing where Lincoln and Sandburg had stood for their degrees. After the ceremony a lunch was hosted by the college president, a Chaucer scholar. While my family and I were serving ourselves at the handsome buffet, a voice emerged from among the various officials of the college, the alumni association representatives, and other invited dignitaries. It asked, "Did you ever think we would get off the truck dock?" It was wonderful, a break in being. There was a face barely remembered from the 1950s, someone who had been a beginning student at Knox and had begun working at the dock just as I was leaving. A speech of a god. I replied: "All I can say is, I guess we did, or we wouldn't be here, would we?" Several people took note. Once again my soul was saved from the temptation of professorhood. My soul jumped like a rubber ball. I breathed easier, and took some three-bean salad.

No one enters philosophy who does not want to teach. It is the original activity of philosophy, the activity of Socrates. Vico says that his ideal was always to be wisdom speaking, the humanist ideal of la sapienza che parla. He is certainly right. That is the only ideal, to speak of the whole that is the flower of wisdom, and to speak of it in a total way. After thirty years of walking in and out of modern classrooms, attempting to sing a song that could be heard through the subject matter, I have settled on two tetralogies of pedagogy.

I have three undergraduate lecture courses: the philosophy of culture, Oriental philosophy, and contemporary moral issues. These can be called by different names but they are three speeches I have to give. The first is the speech of the past, the development of Western philosophy out of myth into metaphysics and to its decadence in method, doubt, and suspicion that govern modernity. The second is the speech of the other, of the Oriental world of symbols and insights such as are found in the Secret of the Golden Flower, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the I Ching, the Tao te Ching, and Zen Buddhism, thoughts that require us to go back into the archaic dimensions of the self. The third is a speech of the present, based on an analysis of technological consciousness, of the Cartesian world of science, technology, and gadgets that invade and condition our lives, life lived within the ensemble of means. There is a fourth speech, a seminar for philosophy majors on self-knowledge and prudence (gnothi seauton, phronesis). It is a speech on the heart of philosophy, a speech of eros.

My graduate tetralogy is the study of the four authors I know: Hegel, Cassirer, Vico, and Joyce. I do not know anything else. They are a secular gospel. The basis of these seminars is always the question and the image--the metaphor, which is a fable in brief. The fundamental act of the philosopher is to formulate the question. The metaphor is always the starting point of thought and (usually) its ending. Questions go on inside our images. I can offer no other training.

Of Vico's autobiography, the historian and enemy of Vico, Giannone, said that it was the "most insipid and braggadocian thing one could ever read." When Vico published his New Science, his colleague and gran tormentatore, Nicola Capasso, ran to his physician, claiming to have suffered a stroke after having looked at it. Vico, at the end of his autobiography, said that "Among the caitiff semi-learned or pseudo-learned, the more shameless called him a foo, or in somewhat more courteous terms they said that he was obscure or eccentric and had odd ideas." To speak one's life is to make the braggadocian claim that it has an overall pattern; once its causes both natural and moral and its occasions of fortune are delineated, it could not have been otherwise. The opportunity to confront such providence is rare and precious, a form of self-knowledge that is not psychological and can occur only in the world of the word.

The problem of trying to be a philosophos always involves the confrontation with the barbarian. It never diminishes. As I write these words in April 1994, I am completing my teaching of a semesterlong seminar at the Folger Library, in residence in Washington, D.C., on "Barbarism, Memory, and Rhetoric." Memory and rhetoric are allies against barbarism, for barbarism owns only the present. It is not musical; it has no patience for the Muses' song that connects the present to the past and the future. The barbarism of the intellect finds no passionate response to life.

Vico says that the first passion is fear, the fear the first humans experience as the thundering sky that they name Jove, and every people has its Jove. Jove is the True, the source of virtue and the real. The second passion they feel is shame, as they run into caves out of the sight of Jove, and from this mutual reaction is formed friendship, because they share an absolute. Fear and shame are the passions that humanize. They lead to wisdom and piety. The barbarian of reflection, the modern, literal-minded philosopher, has lost the capacity for these passions. Instead of passions, they've got the fantods. They are nervous and jerky. The university has become a harbor for these famuli, who cannot take the auspices of Jove and who live without friends in the prison-house of their language and profession. It is easy to become fearless and shameless. They are the conditions of the group, of conventionality.

Gellius relates a line of Pacuvius, which his friend, a philosopher Macedo, thought should be written "over the doors of all temples": "I hate base men who preach philosophy" (Ego odi homines ignava opera et philosopha sententia). He said that nothing could be more shameful or insufferable than that such persons should put on the guise of philosophers and "change the character and advantages of philosophy into tricks of the tongue and of words, and, themselves saturated with vices, should assail vice" (Attic Nights, XIII.viii. 4-5).

Sandburg had a similar idea of the poetic establishment. He called these "honorable men" the "abracadabra boys." In a late poem by this title he says, "The abracadabra boys--have they been in the stacks and cloisters? Have they picked up languages for throwing into chow mein poems?" He continues: "They give with passwords. ... 'On an abbadabba, ancient and honorable sire, ever and ever on an abbadabba.'" He concludes: "Pointing at you, at us, at the rabble, they sigh and say, these abracadabra boys, 'They lack the jargons.'" Sandburg was right, the abracadabra boys are everywhere. They've got the jargons and they sometimes have to look at us and sigh and pity us because we are without that most important modern commodity. But haven't I seen them before? Didn't I see them in the beginning, the new people with the new knowledge--weren't they there, practicing for the future, many years ago? These poetasters, these poetuzzi. But then, didn't I also see a second sight, a wonder, a dilettoso monte, a mount of joy? Who can be sure.

yet say this to the Possum: a bang, not a whimper,

with a bang not a whimper.

--Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos LXXIV (1948) Emory University Atlanta, Georgia
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Title Annotation:Donald Phillip Verene, Memory and Imagination: Hegel, Vico, and Cassirer
Author:Verene, Donald Phillip
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Previous Article:Selected writings of Donald Phillip Verene.
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