McKeon the immoderate
Mr. Obermiller's piece on Richard McKeon ("Will the Real Richard McKeon Please Stand Up?" December/94) stirred many memories. Formally, I was never his student, but even at one remove, teaching the two courses (Humanities 2 and the formidable OII) that clearly bore his mark, I learned a great deal about my own subject of philosophy and how to avoid a simplistic monism in its practice. Rarely has a single faculty member been so influential within his own university and so slightly known elsewhere.
Not that all of my colleagues approved. I recall Henry Rago complaining that "McKeon may be a moderator, but he's an immoderate one," and Eliseo Vivas writing somewhere that McKeon had adopted a classical model, "in this case the Gordian knot."
I remember encountering McKeon on the campus one day when he was on leave and teaching at the University of Arkansas. I asked him how things were going there. "Splendidly," he replied. "The students don't know that they can't understand me."
F. Champion Ward
North Branford, Connecticut
Ward served as dean of the College from 1950 to 1956.-Ed.
McKeon the vanquished
I emerged from the Iowa cornfields in the late spring of 1941 and registered as a graduate student in philosophy for the summer quarter. I was bent on becoming a logician and spent most of my time studying with the renowned Rudolf Carnap, but none with Richard McKeon. Carnap and McKeon were open enemies-and I didn't want to endanger my small standing with Carnap by having much to do with McKeon, nor did I want to risk being slaughtered.
Since the draft was hard after me I determined to pass the candidacy examinations as soon as I possibly could. The test was in five parts. In March, I took them, aced four, but flunked metaphysics. Warner Wick, PhD'41, the secretary of the department, told me unofficially it had been graded by McKeon, who had "never heard of me." The department admitted me to candidacy, but with the proviso that my Ph.D. comprehensives include an extra half-day oral on the history of philosophy and metaphysics.
Six years later, after having been toughened up by the U.S. Army and done some teaching, I appeared for the extra oral before the senior faculty, including Carnap and McKeon. To everyone's embarrassment, most of the session was taken over by the two men pounding the table over interpretation of certain sticking points in Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. I had no idea Carnap knew Aristotle that well, including Greek on hard points, or that he could treat anyone with such bitter disdain.
After the battle, McKeon, visibly shredded, quietly asked me to give a half-hour talk on Scotus' concept of the formal distinction. I delivered 15 minutes on haecceitas, whereby Wick turned me off. McKeon rushed up, shook my hand, said I passed, and left. I never saw him again. Shortly thereafter Carnap left for the University of California, Los Angeles.
Raymond J. Nelson, PhD'49
McKeon the great
Call me myopic or jejune, but Professor McKeon taught an excellent class in Aristotle in the early 1950s. If he was an intellectual bully, browbeating students "with a gleam in his eye," it was over my head: I was too happy learning what he had to share about Aristotle and his obvious love of the Stagirite. McKeon was one of the few great teachers it was my privilege to know in the College, the English Department, and the Committee on Social Thought. (Norman Maclean, PhD'40, and Napier Wilt, AM'21, PhD'23, were the others.) The rest were just teachers.
Paul Carroll, AM'52
Vilas, North Carolina
In concrete terms
In the article on the Downtown Center ("The University Goes Downtown," December/94), you described it as a "limestone-colored concrete building." In building-construction terminology, "concrete building" generally refers to a building whose walls are of concrete that has been poured into forms. The antithesis is a "steel building," suggesting a framework of steel. I seem to recall that the Downtown Center has a steel frame-therefore, referring to it as a concrete building is inaccurate.
As for "limestone-colored," limestone comes in several colors, even red, according to a book on my shelf. Alumni of the "city gray" are likely to assume that all limestone is gray, and the reference to the buff-colored Downtown Center as "limestone-colored" could upset their equanimity.
An accurate-but-prosaic description of the Downtown Center is "steel-framed with a cladding of buff concrete panels conveying the look of limestone."
Joseph D. La Rue, AM'59
Veterans of tuition
I don't go back quite so far as Katharine Mann Byrne, AB'36, AM'43 ("Other Voices," December/94), but I recall a similar situation when I was at the University. I had a scholarship from my high school worth $200 a year for four years. Considering that tuition was $300 per year, it was a fairly adequate sum when combined with my summer earnings and assorted part-time jobs on and off campus. Then the tuition started to rise: By the time I was in my final year, it had climbed to $450-a 50-percent increase within less than four years.
I applied for extra tuition help and found that a scholarship was available for World War I veterans and their children. A slight hitch developed when I further discovered that eligibility meant enlisting at least six months before the November 11, 1918, armistice unless the veteran had served overseas. My father's Navy enlistment date was May 15, 1918!
The dean managed to find a half-tuition scholarship from somewhere-I never did know where, nor did I ask. Ironically, at the time I applied for financial aid, my father was on active duty with the Army during World War II, and I don't think that qualified for anything. I always wondered what ever happened to the endowment funds of these severely restricted bequests. How many children of World War I veterans are extant and in college these days?
Charlotte Gordy Glauser, PhB'47, SB'47
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
According to Alicia Reyes, director of College Aid and Graduate Financial Aid, the scholarship in question now goes to direct descendants of WWI veterans, provided the students also demonstrate financial need.-Ed.
Jazzin' at Jimmy's
Apropos of reading Duke Frederick's letter (December/94): The article was about the jazz scene on 55th Street and elsewhere prior to President Kimpton's/Mayor Daley's urban-renewal project. As we all know, Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap was the only tavern to survive that upheaval. And so it is fitting that jazz has reemerged there, at least on Sunday nights from 9 to midnight.
A group headed by Curtis Black, a renowned trumpet player, has played at Jimmy's for the last four years, and is still going strong. Coincidentally, the drummer is none other than Doug Mitchell, AB'65, the McKeon disciple quoted in an article from the same issue. Before he got McKeon, he got jazz, and some things stay around for a long time.
Other players include Jon Cohen, AB'93, a graduate philosophy student and keyboard player who knows all the modes, and your interlocutor, who plays some upright bass. When you get down to it, we are trying to play The Music. Often various important Chicago jazz players come around for the second set. Recommended.
Bob Hodge, AB'66, AM'68
My old colleague Duke Frederick says that he finds it hard to believe that Charlie Parker ever played at the Beehive, on 55th Street. I write to report that, on an unforgettable night in the early 1950s, I heard Parker at that wonderful place. He was not billed but he was very much there, and in rare form.
One other point: That street may have been, as Frederick suggests, "a rather seedy area" in those days. But it was also at the heart of a bustling neighborhood, a long-vanished neighborhood that I and others remember fondly.
Benjamin Lease, AM'43, PhD'48
Look back in anger
I would like to respond to a December/94 letter by Arie Friedman, AB'87, regarding the "pervasive disdain [at the University] for individuals who have chosen to personally participate in the American military." Mr. Friedman says that he is disturbed that those who "sacrifice so much for the defense of freedom find themselves reviled by those who profit most from that sacrifice." Just exactly whose freedom does Mr. Friedman claim to be defending? That of the average American or that of an elite minority (perhaps a small fraction of which ascend from such academies as the University)?
In recent years, when each new presidential election in this country has taken place, one asks the question, "Are you better off now than four years ago?" Shouldn't we be able to apply this same question to the U.S. military over the last 50 years? If one examines those actions since the end of World War II, all military adventures have taken place outside the U.S. and in countries that have not attacked us or posed any direct threat to the American people.
And what then were the results for the peoples of those countries we invaded? How many millions of Vietnamese died at the hands of U.S. personnel so that they could be "free"? Are Grenada and Panama better off now than before the U.S. bombed and invaded them, leaving many civilians dead or without adequate housing? And what about the 100,000-plus civilians dead in Iraq after our "surgical" strikes to preserve the "freedom" of Kuwait?
When one looks at 50 years of military spending by this country, one sees that it is not only those who personally participate in the American military who have made sacrifices. It is all of us whose taxes have been squandered by such incredible military waste, and our children and our children's children, who will have to bear the burdens of the trillions spent on destruction and military hardware and interest to pay for such waste. "Do you feel safer now than 50 years and several trillion dollars ago?" is a more apt question. Do you feel more secure in your job? How do you feel about the education your kids and other people's kids are getting? If you get sick, will there be adequate health care for you and your family? These are the sacrifices we all have made for the American military.
All this by way of explanation for the disdain felt by those in uniform. It is unfortunate that the justifiable anger felt towards the Military (Institution) is often misdirected toward those who have chosen to work for it (either for idealistic or economic reasons).
Mike Perlin, AB'78, SM'80, PhD'83