Luxury rarely facilitates thought|
From A. Seth Young '96
I recently returned from Morgantown, West Virginia, where I participated in the University of West Virginia's summer seminar in literary and cultural studies. The seminar organizers provided me with a room in "historic" Stalnaker Hall. "Historic" carries inverted commas since this student residence had the effect of making Anna Mann seem a sleazy flop house. Discrepancy between the modern sterility of these lodgings and the messy mental labor of the seminar was the least shocking of my engagements with the WVU campus.
In contrast to Reed, where interesting and secret haunts are revealed to the patient wanderer, WVU gives itself up immediately. The student green turns out to be an expanse of astro-turf; the sound of a vacuum replaces that of a mower. This green doubles as the roof of a parking garage. This student union is a flawless simulacrum of the food court encountered in shopping malls, complete with Taco Bell, Sbarro's, and Wendy's. An enormous television dialed permanently to the Weather Channel drowns out conversation. Coffee is served with a smile.
Initially excited by Reed's plans for architectural renovation and construction, I have become skeptical about such changes after my experience with the WVU campus. Reed's construction initiative manifests, to be sure, an awareness of the intimate links between our work and our structural environment. However, the living conditions of a large number of Reedies prove the maxim that luxury rarely facilitates thought, and in a time when intellectual production is increasingly reified by the academic market, the architectural "improvements" at Reed would appear to be an uncritical concession to the culture of capital. I hope that the spirit of Reed will be able to make something of the new construction--at least through the specter of irony.
It is not surprising that while in Morgantown my most provocative dialogues were on the edge of town, over whiskey, and not with students attending the university. In a dilapidated billiards hall not unlike Reed's old pool room, I discovered the air that the WVU campus lacked in comparison to Reed. And the bar's bathroom was occupied by abundant graffiti.
More on construction, please
From Ron Floyd '59
Thank you for the latest issue of Reed. I found it as inspiring and interesting as it was varied in its content. I read it almost cover to cover. Keep up the wonderful work.
The "Construction Update" was a thoughtful inclusion. But that article, combined with my own observations while wandering across campus last month, have not sufficed to provide me with a clear picture of just what is going on and how the campus is changing (what will be where). Would it be possible, in a future issue of Reed, to provide a sketched map of the campus, showing present and future building locations and their names/uses? I think a lot of your readers would appreciate this. And if one were to get truly ambitious, it might be a worthwhile project to present a historical series of campus maps with dates of construction/destruction for each building, thus providing a graphic overview of the growth and evolution of the physical campus. (I've been watching the changes for over 40 years, and I'm starting to get a little fuzzy on the subject--and stifle the obvious smart cracks!)