It's Friday, and early Spring in lovely Hartford, CT. How do I know? I hear the spring song of the Song Sparrow and of the Cardinal, and they are telling to me to think about planting some Sugar Snap peas soon. And soon our local Box Turtles will be clomping out of their cosy winter dens in the leaf and mulch piles, in their Wellies, looking for slugs and early shoots in the garden and hoping I will toss them a rotten tomato from the kitchen.
What to do on a dark rainy day like this, besides work? Well, we can reminisce about Fridays of old at Sippican Cottage, while waiting for Dust My Broom's Friday Blues and Beer series.
And we can reminisce about the 20th anniversary of Plato and Shakespeare scholar Allan Blooms' The Closing of the American Mind with R.R. Reno at First Things (h/t, View from 1776). An important book, and a best-seller, somehow. A few quotes from the Reno piece:
Bloom’s book was a real sensation and a surprise bestseller. Looking back, I can see why. The Closing was more than a highbrow attack on contemporary academic careerism (a la Jacques Barzun), a middlebrow defense of great books (a la E. D. Hirsch), or a populist exposé of tenured radicals and puerile campus ideologues (a la David Horowitz). The gist of Bloom’s polemic—and the book was nothing if not a long, erudite, and hyperbolic polemic—was a brief against the cultural revolution of the 1960s. He said out loud what liberal elite culture could only regard as heresy: The supposed idealism of the 1960s was, in fact, a new barbarism. Whatever moral and spiritual seriousness the long tradition of American pragmatism had left intact in university life, the anti-culture of the left destroyed.
The result? Higher education has become, argued Bloom, the professional training of clever and sybaritic animals, who drink, vomit, and fornicate in the dorms by night while they posture critically and ironically by day. Bloom identified moral relativism as dogma that blessed what he called “the civilized reanimalization of man.” He saw a troubling, dangerous, and soulless apathy that pleasured itself prudently with passing satisfactions (“Always use condoms!” says the sign by the dispenser in the bathroom) but was moved by no desire to know good or evil, truth or falsehood, beauty or ugliness.
I remember reading Bloom in 1987, feeling as though he was describing what I was experiencing as a young graduate teaching assistant. Bright, energetic, ambitious Yale students could master material with amazing speed. They could discuss brilliantly. They could write effective, well-researched papers. But they possessed an amazing ability to understand without being moved, to experience without judging, to self-consciously put forward their own convictions as mere opinions. On the whole, they seemed to have interior lives of Jell-O.