Baldwin’s writing lingers because it is haunted.
His essay on his troubled father kept me up one night. He is describing terribly important things, but Baldwin is one of those gifted and visceral writers. I’m glad to have read him but he does haunt the reader to wrestle with difficult truths.
I’m sad that he never could find compelling resources in Christianity.
Not just professors are rudderless morally. All kinds of people who do all manner of jobs are rudderless. Highlighting the moral vacuity of a professor is not meant to say the whole profession is rudderless. Hardly.
Here first is Harvard’s Louis Menand:
Reading Weinstein and Montás, you might conclude that English professors, having spent their entire lives reading and discussing works of literature, must be the wisest and most humane people on earth. Take my word for it, we are not. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I have read and taught hundreds of books, including most of the books in the Columbia Core. I teach a great-books course now. I like my job, and I think I understand many things that are important to me much better than I did when I was seventeen. But I don’t think I’m a better person.
And here is Alan Jacobs commenting on Menand’s essay:
Menand is so transparently impatient with the arguments of Montás and Weinstein that he gets similarly confused at several points in his essay. For instance, to Montás’s claim that Nietzsche is “Satan’s most acute theologian,” Menand replied that “Nietzsche wanted to free people to embrace life, not to send them to Hell. He didn’t believe in Hell. Or theology” — or, presumably, Satan. But maybe Montás believes in Satan, which would, surely, be the point.
The chief point I’m wanting to make here is simply this: There’s something rather peculiar about a scholar who proudly disavows using professional teaching and study for personal moral formation and then says, as though he’s clinching a point, that his professional teaching and study have not contributed to his personal moral formation.
“When I came to Yale, I had lunch with a senior prof. He suddenly put down his fork, looked at me bewildered & said: ‘The strangest thing about Yale is that no one here talks about the fact that they’ll die.’ 3 weeks later he died. That comment still runs on repeat in my head.”
Jennifer Banks, Sr. Editor at Yale University Press
Tweet, Oct. 5, 2020
There are bad types of curiosity. Roger Shattuck wrote about that type in Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography. Ironically, for all its brilliance, Shattuck’s book should be read selectively, if at all, as it contains things that are defiling and so not worthy of one’s full attention.
As a Christian, I believe there is a godly form of curiosity. I wrote about its importance in my latest book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. I’m afraid too many Christians don’t see the need for developing a godly curiosity about the world, themselves, or even the God who created them. It is the curiosity that wants to engage the world, better understand history, stops to wonder why there are so many colors when no real pragmatic benefit comes from such variety, and much more.
F.H. Buckley has written a marvelous book, Curiosity and its Twelve Rules for Life. Buckley teaches at George Mason’s law school. He has wide-ranging interests, so he models what he is writing about. Buckley also has some wise warnings about dangerous forms of curiosity, but most of the book is dedicated to unpacking what healthy forms of curiosity look like.
I highly recommend this well-written and insightful book!