|table of contents>DEPARTMENTS> LETTERS||< Back|next >|
Just Say “No” to Environmental Studies
What next? Engineering, communications, criminal justice, nursing, business?
When I read about the decision to formally allow students to major in environmental studies [“Environmental Studies Comes to Reed,” Winter 2008], I was disappointed. Reed College is a standard bearer in academia for the teaching of basic academic disciplines. I believe that this is the best way to educate students: not because they will get more jobs, achieve more success, or be happier, but because such training prepares one for becoming a thoughtful intellectual capable of engaging the world in a special way. Liberal arts colleges must resist the trend toward teaching disciplines focused on immediate applicability and practicality. Students at Reed tend to acquire a cultural capital only found in the classics of science and the humanities: hearing the Iliad in Greek, deriving the fundamental theorem of calculus from five axioms, reading Chaucer in Middle English, purifying an enzyme from beef liver. This type of training is becoming more and more rare in higher education. The decision to step away from a pedagogy of classical education, even slowly, erodes one of the core values of our treasured institution.
—JJ Miranda ’01
Back to the beats
Allen Ginsberg at Reed, from the 1967 Griffin
I was surprised by the article about Reed’s recently uncovered recording of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg [“When the Beats Came Back,” Winter 2008]. Surprised, because I stumbled upon a cassette recording of this reading in 2004 and assumed that its existence was common knowledge. Writer John Suiter mentions in the article that there is a missing reel in the box of old tapes that he found in the archives (see “What’s on Tape 1?,” p. 12); I wonder if the recordings on the missing reel are included on the cassette, which, if I’m not mistaken, is available in the library’s Instructional Media Center (IMC) under “Ginsberg.”
—Nicholas Callaway ’07
Editor’s Note: The February 1956 recording of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl” and other poems was indeed properly catalogued, and has been available in the Reed library. The issue is not that the recording was unknown, but rather that its literary significance and importance were not known. Researcherr John Suiter put the recording in its sequential place. The IMC now holds both a tape and a CD of the recording, while the original reel-to-reel tape and CD copies are in the archives.
It was a particular delight to receive the Winter 2008 issue of Reed magazine and to see Philip Whalen ’51, Gary Snyder ’51, and Allen Ginsberg highlighted. I spent many contented hours during my student years at Reed (1965–69) in the basement of the library reading from the filing cabinet of Whalen’s early archives. I was off in reverie reading letters from Snyder, Ginsberg, and many others; early drafts of poems; and “round-robin” poems where Whalen, Snyder, and others would write one after another. I fell in love with poetry sitting on the basement floor. I can’t wait to hear the Ginsberg tape.
It just so happened that the weekend Reed arrived, I was hanging Gary Snyder’s beautiful broadside, “For Philip Whalen d. 26 June 2002, and 33 pine trees that were transported off to the mill,” on my office wall within a grouping of photographs of Snyder, Whalen, and Ginsberg. Also in my office is a set of 10 photographs of the impossibly young Lew Welch ’50, Snyder, and Whalen reading “The Perfumed Garden of Sheikh Nefzawi,” and having a very good time of it.
Snyder, Whalen, and Welch each wrote “Dear Mr. President” broadsides for the poetry read-in held at Reed against the war in Vietnam. The president then was Johnson; the broadsides still tragically relevant with another president 40 years later.
—Bill Cornell ’69
I’m sure that Gary Snyder is a wonderful human being, and I bet that Allen Ginsberg was a swell guy, too. But the idolatry lavished on them in the last issue was truly silly, and a disservice to Reed.
For heaven’s sake—this poetry reading was a minor event, decades ago, that is of vanishingly small literary, historical, or cultural significance, either off Reed’s campus or on it. And it really has very little to do with Reed—Ginsberg was neither a student nor a teacher here. There is something pathetic about the repeated attempts to burnish Reed’s glory by hearkening back to a handful of minor poets and major screw-ups who camped out here one night. Give it a rest, for god’s sake!
Instead of writing about occasions when Reed played incidental host to unaffiliated celebrities, why not write about what Reed really does, which is to educate its students?
Here’s an example. I recently saw an obituary notice for an accomplished philosopher at Chapel Hill named Jay Rosenberg ’63. Prior to seeing the obituary, I had not known that he, too, was a Reed grad. So is my colleague here at Cornell, Sydney Shoemaker ’53, one of the most influential metaphysicians of his generation. So were my colleagues at Yale, Allen ’64 and Rega Clark ’66 Wood, who have since gone to Stanford—Allen is the leading Kant scholar of our age, and Rega is the world’s authority on the medieval philosopher Richard Rufus. Another colleague at Yale, Michael Nelson ’95, who is now out at UC Riverside, turned out to be a Reedie. So is my old classmate Ned Hall ’87, at Harvard, and Jenann Ismael ’90, at Tucson. There is a whole story to be told about Reed’s role in American philosophy—our representation in the discipline is completely disproportionate to our size. Why not write an article about that?
Or you could write about great Reed teachers. Your profile of Bill Childers ’87 in the last issue reminded me of a brilliant class that Gail Berkeley Sherman taught, in which I remember arguing with Bill and Ned Hall, too. Wouldn’t surprise me if she had trained other people who are now in academia. Or David Griffiths: between Hall and Ismael, he has taught physics to at least two of the leading philosophers of science in the country (I still think of his intro physics lectures as the model of how I try to lecture).
You could write about Sydney or Allen or Jay, real Reedies who were famous philosophers. Don’t think philosophy is interesting? Then write about Reed grads doing things you do think are interesting. But, for god’s sake, don’t write about how some minor, unrelated celebrity once ennobled our campus by his presence—it looks desperate. And if you don’t think that any of Reed’s own, homegrown accomplishments are worth writing about—then maybe you’re writing for the wrong magazine?
—Tad Brennan ’87
“When the Beats Came Back,” by John Suiter, immediately grabbed my interest and I read the entire thing. Something in that piece inspires me as a writer and as a person, to look at the very true reasons that inspire one to write. There is something that pulls one to do so, a need and a desire to communicate a thought, idea, or truth—fictional or real.
As I read about the Allen Ginsberg-Gary Snyder road trip in 1956, and Ginsberg’s readings at Reed in Anna Mann Cottage (and his comparisons of that experience to a later more staged and “hyped” reading in Berkeley), truth sank in. I also remembered during my years at Reed attending a reading of Gary Snyder one dark evening in the commons, and listening to his poem relating to the fruit of an avocado. The best part of the avocado is the dark green flesh close to the skin, “don’t miss it,” is the message I remember. That is what life—and writing—is like. Don’t go for the flash, and miss that best dark green part close to the avocado skin.
John Suiter’s fine article helped me to see this from Allen Ginsberg’s own words. And also, it inspired me to remember that myself.
—Tara Meixsell ’83
Footnote to “When the Beats Came Back”: That 1956 visit was one of several Ginsberg made to Portland. My Portland Red Guide (Ooligan Press, 2007) notes (p.189) that Ginsberg spent a few months in Portland during the ’60s, living in Alice Strong’s garden cottage in the West Hills. His Portland State University visit in 1967 caused its president to ban the student paper for running a nude photo of the poet, and his “Portland Coliseum” was written after attending the Beatles concert in Memorial Coliseum in 1965.
—Mike Munk ’56
Remembering Warm Springs
The winter issue of Reed was terrific reading! Rob Moore ’82 [“Listening to Indians”] is a good writer and the articles brought back some great memories of Dave French and several classmates of mine—and I did wonder what they all accomplished at Warm Springs!
—Sheila Bain Jones ’51
The study of David ’39 and Kathrine Story French
I was delighted to receive the latest copy of Reed magazine with Robert Moore’s article on David French’s legacy. It is special to me in several ways. I can’t claim to have been French’s student. He lectured a couple of times in my linguistics courses in the late 1980s, and I spent one long, fascinating afternoon in that famous basement talking about ideas for a possible senior thesis involving library material on Northwest Coast Indians.
It was not nearly as tidy as Dan Kvitka’s photo showed [“Live/Work Space”]. I remember sitting among towering piles of yellowing paper piled on two desks as we sat in comfy chairs between the two desks and talked while David French chain-smoked nearly a pack of cigarettes. He was gracious, eloquent, fascinating, and inspiring after my ego had been bruised by a “conditional pass” of my junior quals, which required I put together a thesis proposal and bibliography before decamping in May.
The next time I saw David was at a reception for our commencement speaker the following year (1991)—Gary Snyder. My mother, a high school English teacher, was more excited than I was to meet him. Snyder’s speech on baby tigers the next morning was perfect, and I bought the book he published it in, and since then got interested in Beat poets. After a short stint teaching English in Eastern Berlin, I went to Charlottesville for an anthropology Ph.D. with Dell Hymes [’50] (among others), where I was quickly converted to his ethnopoetics approach to oral narratives. Conversations with Dell comparing my research in Kamchatka, Russia, with his experiences in Oregon cemented a belief that indigenous Northeast Asia is closer to America in many respects than the map would indicate. The experiences of indigenous Siberians is also remarkably parallel to that of indigenous people in the capitalist “West.” Thus, decades after the official end of the Warm Springs project, we are continuing to learn important things by listening to the Indians there.
I am now a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, which has a focus on anthropology of the north, including Siberia, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, and Finnoscandia. Since all of my anthropology teachers at Reed (Robert Brightman [’73], Gail Kelly [’55], and James Faubion [’80]) and my second supervisor on my Ph.D. (Dell Hymes) were all students of David French’s, I guess I could claim to be an intellectual grandchild of his. I have some material related to my research in Kamchatka at www.koryaks.net.
—Alex King ’91
Beats, anthropologists, ethno-botanists; the whole shebang.
The recent issue on the confluence of Beat poetry, anthropology, the G.I. Bill, and all that rot was great! However, I recently gave a biology seminar at Reed and found in the bookstore only one volume of Reedie Beat poetry (Whalen—no Snyder or Welch) and no calligraphy nibs. In fact, no calligraphy was evident anywhere on campus. So, while it’s nice to see Lloyd Reynolds pictured with Whalen, it is not without some anxiety that I wonder if the contributions of that generation may soon be lost on the Reed population.
One more note on the anthropology/poetry connection. The contention by Dell Hymes that anthropologists should study language “as it actually is” rather than in idealized sentences is precisely what I heard listening to a tape of a Lew Welch seminar given at Reed sometime in the ’50s (hopefully now in the oral history collection). He railed against “Oh, maiden” poetry because nobody actually uses such high falutin’ language. He championed the line (maybe a Snyder poem?) “with my finger on the throttle and my foot upon the pedal of the clutch” as an example of the poetry of plain speech.
—Joshua Kohn ’79
Reedies and Others Not At War
The article “Reed at War,” by Will Swarts ’92 [Autumn 2007], leaves out one important group: those who opposed the war because of conscience—conscientious objectors (COs). Contrary to the statement by Fred Rosenbaum ’50, there was a small anti-war movement during World War II.
Approximately 6,000 COs were sentenced to prison terms for refusing to cooperate with the conscription act and another 12,000 performed alternative service in the program known as Civilian Public Service (CPS). I know of at least one Reed alumnus, Joe Gunterman ’34, who served in CPS; there may have been others. Their story is less well known.
After the war, the World War II COs were among the leaders of social change movements in the United States. It was COs who formed CORE in Chicago in 1942 and held the first sit-ins to desegregate Chicago restaurants. Bayard Rustin, a Quaker who served time in prison for resisting the draft, was the organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. The distinguished Oregon poet, William Stafford, spent the war in CPS.
I am currently writing a book on the history of one of the CPS camps, CPS #21, which was located at Cascade Locks, Oregon. The men who served there, without pay, and did “work of national importance,” were just as strongly affected by their experiences as those who chose to fight, and they left CPS determined to further the cause of peace and justice. Their contribution to social change in the second half of the 20th century is remarkable and should be better known.
—Jeffrey Kovac ’70
Thanks For a Year of Dance
Orin Bassoff Photography
I admire the beautiful 2008 calendar on the dance department at Reed, and the well-deserved honors of Judy Massee and Pat Wong, who have developed it into what it is today.
I am writing to you because there is considerable history lacking in the presentation.
Shortly after World War II, when the art of dance was in the closet, as it were, Elizabeth Nichols returned to her home in Portland from Red Cross work for the GIs in England. With her Smith College degree, she gained a position as head of women’s P.E. at Reed. In 1946, there was no such thing as a major in dance or an instructor’s position in such a subject. Elizabeth Nichols, whose “subversive” background was in modern dance (inspired by Edith Burnett at Smith College, Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and other pioneers of modern dance), introduced the program Reed has today. She taught technique and composition—often interrupted to dash off and teach a tennis class. She put on student programs of their original compositions. She reached out to the wider community, often luring Portland Heights residents to cross the river to see Eleanor King or Merce Cunningham or others in concert. What you referred to as the Reed College Dance Events Committee was Elizabeth Nichols of the Reed College P.E. department. The Dance Events Committee was a later group to which I belonged, consisting of Portland modern dance teachers and supporters who cooperated in bringing many of the prominent dancers and companies mentioned.
Elizabeth Nichols left full-time teaching when she married Dr. Richard Carter, but continued her advocacy of the arts, especially dance, until her death last summer.
The Reed archives should have some information on the dark days leading to what has been called the “dance explosion.”
Thank you for the wonderful Reed College 2008 calendar. I appreciate Colin Diver’s essay, and am thrilled that dance has become such an important focus at Reed.
I wanted to take a moment to let you know how instrumental Reed College has been in my development as an artist. I attended Reed between 1968 and 1972, officially receiving my B.A. in literature in 1973.
At Reed, I found Judy Massee and modern dance. She inspired me to follow my passion: dance.
After graduation, I continued to dance in Portland and San Francisco. I moved to Los Angeles in the early ’80s, completing my M.A. in choreography and performance at UCLA. Afterwards, I formed R Dance Company, with dance partner Robert Whidbee. Between 1987 and 1994, we presented numerous concerts in Southern California. Jumping forward, from 1999 to 2007, I was producer/choreographer/performer for Marion Scott’s Spirit Dances. This acclaimed series featured established choreographers and performers ranging in age from 40 to 80. I teach choreography at Santa Monica College and dance education at CSULA.
Thank you for your continued support of dance at Reed College.
—Roberta Wolin-Manker ’72
If the T-shirt Motto Still Fits…
I am writing regarding the discussion of Reed’s “Communism, Atheism, and Free Love” motto in the “Letters” section of the winter issue. The people who wrote in about the motto that the college has ironically adopted to sell T-shirts and Nalgenes in recent years made some good points, but failed to take into account the real categories at stake here. Myself and one Mr. Osman Balkan [’05], in 2005 or so, while still attending Reed, decided that the motto was a little off. Not intending to kill an ongoing joke that has the merit of being outrageous in the way that Reed is in its entirety, we decided to take it in further directions. Interestingly enough, it’s telling to expand the motto to two other variations based on degree. The furthest from that at present is “Capitalism, Theism, and Prostitution.” I’m not sure anyone would be happy with that. Our criticism of the present motto was that it consistently failed to account for many of the actual student sentiments we were observing at the time. It often seemed, along with the T-shirt sales, extremely hollow. Hence, we decided to take the middle road and advocate “Socialism, Agnosticism, and Platonic Love.”
—Owen Hawkins ’07
In the Autumn 2007 issue, Mark Paglin refers to communism as intrinsically totalitarian and murderous.
While it’s true that many regimes that label themselves communist have been abominations, I don’t believe communism has ever been tried on a countrywide scale.
Nothing in communist theory prescribes the vicious personality cult of a Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, or Kim Jong Il, or the corrupt elite that evolved in Soviet Russia by crushing any opposition to its grasp on power. Was there any sign in those places of the state withering away to a workers’ democracy? Hardly. And a large portion of the American communists broke off from the party in objection to the non-democratic direction the Russian Revolution had taken.
The idea of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is a beautiful sentiment that is the basis of the family and part of many religions. Unfortunately, religion hasn’t been much better than the corrupt state capitalism of the Soviet Union at living up to its supposed ideals.
Personally, I fear that irrational and greedy human nature is so intrinsically flawed that it is incapable of sustaining a truly healthy egalitarian society. Our own supposedly democratic system isn’t doing so well on that score either, and has a history of bloody imperialism.
Should we give up on the idea of democracy because it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, and may not be sustainable in the long run? I don’t think so. And I don’t think Reed needs to change its T-shirts, either.
…And on another note entirely, any of your readers who picked up a copy of The Woodstock Tales at the 2007 Renn Fayre or Reunions should be aware that a key to the booklet’s obscure references is now available at www.westportcupids.net.
The booklet describes an incident from about 1960 involving an ill-fated trophy called the Westport Cupids. I would love to hear from anyone who remembers the cupids. (If you can provide a photo of them, you’re welcome to spend a week at my home in Hawai’i! You can even bring your grandkids! And your dirty laundry!)
The booklet contains eyewitness accounts by the Doyle Owl and by Brewery, the dog who lived in Anna Mann at the time. (Anyone remember Brewery?)
—Kelly Pomeroy ’61
|table of contents>DEPARTMENTS > LETTERS||< Back|next >|