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Which is less U of C—“joy” or “unconfirmed”?

To quote Percy Bysshe Shelley, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” The line is from “Ode to the West Wind,” as many of you know off the top of your head. And, as two readers called and wrote to point out, neither Shelley nor his fellow Romantic poet Lord Byron penned these not-so-immortal lines: “On with the dance! Let joy be unconfirmed….” What Byron actually wrote, in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, was: “On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined….” Byron’s words are much more in keeping with the mood of the Chicago Swing Dance
Society. Though the poet’s phrase is inarguably more felicitous—not an inconsiderable consideration when one is writing about joy—I’ve developed a fondness for the accidental quotation. After all—and this may have something to do with the first sightings of robins and crocuses—“unconfirmed” joy seems almost as all-embracing as joy of the unconfined variety. Both offer the hope of spring.

Confirming Beliefs: If Freud is right and there are no slips of the tongue, should I blame incipient spring for the Byronic mistake? Or was “unconfirmed” on my mind for other reasons?

“Unconfirmed” is definitely a word heard at the University of Chicago. It’s a dagger thrust to the heart of an intellectual opponent’s arguments, a hurdle that brings the hell-for-leather rider up short. “Vat is the evidence?” biology professor Anton J. Carlson used to badger his students and his colleagues alike. Where, in other words, is the confirmation? What are the facts?
In this respect, “unconfirmed” is a much more un–University of Chicago word than “joy”—a noun that’s a friend of a friend of what some locals refer to as the F-word: “fun.”

Calling for the facts, like consulting the primary sources, doesn’t necessarily mean unanimity of opinion or interpretation. It would be nice if it did. And easier, too.

If you have been following media and alumni reactions to the news (or, rather, to the re-release of the news) about the University’s plans to expand undergraduate enrollment and the College faculty’s revision of the undergraduate curriculum, you know that both (all?) sides have strong and compelling arguments (a sampling of those arguments is given on pages 14–19).

While frank and open discussion has always been a hallmark of the University’s academic life, it is sometimes accompanied by a reluctance to carry those arguments outside. In a way, it reminds me of my mother’s admonitions—not against family arguments (with five children, the woman, born a pacifist, had long since become a realist)—but rather against conducting family arguments in public. The idea seems to be that “outsiders” won’t understand just how loyal to the institution the loyal opposition really is.
The issues facing the University aren’t easy ones. Again, it would be nice if they were. But not very University of Chicago.

Are some alumni more equal than others? That’s the question raised by Marianne Bell, AB’70, of DeForest, Wisconsin. Bell wrote to express her dismay with a feature introduced last spring in the Magazine’s “Class News” section: “Class High Notes,” a selection of excerpts from the issue’s alumni news reports.

Previously,” Bell noted, “an announcement of something expected and ordinary, like a retirement, ranked right along with a Nobel Prize. Here equality is sacrificed for a value judgment of what you have decided is highly important.”

Perhaps it’s time we renamed the feature, because we began the excerpts for precisely the opposite reason—as a way of enticing readers to read beyond the class notes for their own particular years at Chicago and to see the range of interesting alumni from every era. All class notes are equal.

Credit where credit is due: In “All the World’s a School” (February/99 College Report), we neglected to note that Miao Wang, ’99, took the photograph of the protest in Barcelona. Also in the College Report, we should have reported that Mira Lutgendorf, ’99, one of this year’s Rhodes scholars, is a general studies in the humanities concentrator and an aspiring, but not yet published, novelist.—M.R.Y.
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