Shakespeare for the dramatists
I read with interest in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Bulletin the article by Kay Koeninger '73 ("Shakespeare and the stenographers: English professor Adele Davidson '75 takes on the role of literary gumshoe"), which describes the "veritable miniconference" of Shakespeare scholarship currently going on at the College. But I was rather dismayed that there was no mention made of a recently published book entitled Improvising Shakespeare: Readings for the Stage, which was written by Kenyon Professor of Drama Tom Turgeon. I sincerely hope that the omission was inadvertent, and while Mr. Turgeon certainly doesn't need me to look out for his interests, it concerns me that Ms. Koeninger almost completely overlooked the fact that Shakespeare's plays (no matter who actually wrote them or how they were written down) were created to be performed by living actors in front of a living audience. They were written for the theater.
By saying this, I don't wish to underplay the work that Ms. Davidson and some of her colleagues are achieving, and certainly Shakespeare on film and Shakespeare in cyberspace (zounds!) are interesting and exciting developments, but the fact remains that Shakespeare is still the most produced playwright in the world. This cannot be attributed solely to the popularization of the plays by Hollywood. In my opinion his work reaches its fullest realization on the stage. The plays can make for a great entertainment at the movies, but they make for a great experience in the theater. So for me it was unfortunate that Mr. Turgeon's book--which deals with the live performance of Shakespeare--was not mentioned.
I do commend Ms. Koeninger for her attendance at a live performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream and I encourage her readers to follow her example and not limit their appreciation of Shakespeare to the movie, television, and computer screen. Go see Shakespeare--hell, go see any plays--in the theater. You might just discover that you like it.
David Murray Jaffe '72
Editor's note: For those readers who missed it, Professor of Drama Tom Turgeon's book was reviewed by Associate Professor of English Adele Davidson in the Spring 1997 issue (Volume 19, Number 4) of the Bulletin.
More thoughts on religion at Kenyon
I offer this addition to your treatment of religion at the College in the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin.
I was a student at Kenyon from 1969 to 1973, an exciting time to be in college. We had antiwar activism, social revolution, and much else to keep the juices flowing. After the massacre at Kent State University, we had public town hall meetings in Rosse Hall to discuss what was happening. Those were hot, sweaty, crowded events characterized by authentic thought. For those of us who were there, who could forget the student calling enthusiastically for official College involvement in peaceful protest marches who, when asked from the back of the room whether he would participate in violence if it broke out, stormed out only to return some hours later having changed his mind? Who could forget the erudite Professor of Religion Eugen Kullmann rising to his feet to declare that, based on his experiences in Germany, he was not optimistic about the outcome of street marches? Or the next year's bittersweet concert by the Youngbloods, who sang "Come on people now, smile on your brother; Everybody get together, try to love one another right now . . ." when the warm revolutionary feeling had been replaced by cynical irony.
There was also a small group of conservative Christian students that met every night to pray, read the Bible, and sing Christian songs. I am happy to say I was among them. We did not think of ourselves as conservatives but as Christian believers. Our relationship to Kenyon as a group was unofficial, and there were several people not associated with the College who regularly met with us. We started out in dormitory rooms, then moved to Epworth Methodist Church, whose minister kindly let us use its facilities. Later, when we felt we would like to move our meetings to the Kenyon chapel, Donald Rogan, who was at that time the College chaplain, was open to us (though our beliefs were not exactly his cup of tea), and he gave us permission to meet there with the understanding that we would voluntarily keep him generally aware of what we were doing. We willingly complied with that request. During those years, we did not ask for or receive any Kenyon funds for our activities.
Our approach to Christianity had some of the extreme, all-or-nothing flavor then prevalent. The meetings started at 10:00 every night (seven days a week) and lasted up to two hours. Looking to the Holy Spirit to guide us, we would pray in silence, pray aloud extemporaneously, sing simple Christian songs together accompanied by an ill-played guitar (I can say that because I was one of the guitar players), read portions of the Bible, and talk. Our meetings could be quiet, loud, solemn, or joyful, as the Spirit led us. I think most of us attended either the Harcourt Parish or Epworth Methodist services on Sundays, but we also went to other area churches when invited to sing in their services. For at least a year, we regularly went in to Mount Vernon on Saturday evenings to sing for the folk mass at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church. Starting (I think) in 1972, on Wednesday evenings Rev. Richard Harbour of Harcourt Parish (also then the College chaplain) conducted for us the Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer. Those were very uplifting, beautiful services.
For some of us, the Christian meetings were the focus of our Kenyon experience. Several members of the group are now ordained ministers. Tom Prichard '74 is the director of an evangelical missionary society that operates within the Episcopal Church. I met my wife, Pat Hoak '74, at the meetings, and we have been for the past twenty-five years involved in small churches that conduct their meetings similarly to the way we did back at the College: unstructured and devotional but very committed to the basic truths of the Christian faith. The group itself eventually evolved into the Kenyon Christian Fellowship.
I close with three thoughts: 1. Not all conservative Christianity is as it appears on TV. Question stereotypes.
2. Firm belief need not be called judgmental or narrow.
3. Does Kenyon's heart still hold a place of love for old Philander Chase's religion?
Michael H. Sampson '73
Chagrin Falls, Ohio
The influence of A. Denis Baly
Without wishing to overindulge in self-promotion, I think it useful to open this letter by noting that I graduated from the College in 1974 with a double major in music theory and English and that I eventually (long story omitted here) found myself at the University of Illinois writing and successfully defending--on a Friday the thirteenth, no less--a Ph.D. dissertation entitled Humanity, Freedom, and Community: A Christian View of Liberal Education. My thesis therein is, briefly, that most advocates of liberal education have framed their arguments in terms of one or more elements of a conceptual trinity comprising the ideas of human nature ("the study of man as man"); human freedom (studies appropriate to a free person or people); and human community (liberal education as concerning that which is in some sense "common" or "general"). Since these concepts are also prominent foci of religious--and specifically Judeo-Christian--concern, the species of liberal education espoused by Kenyon and similar institutions is in a significant sense more profoundly Christian than that which is proffered by many more explicitly "Christian" schools.
Among the acknowledgments prefaced to that dissertation is one to "my first academic advisor, Professor A. Denis Baly [who] called my attention to his own brilliant and unconscionably neglected study, Academic Illusion, which is pivotal in the argument of this thesis." You can imagine, then, how gratified I was at the attention paid to Professor Baly's crucial role in the development of the College's Department of Religion in the articles on "Religion at Kenyon" in the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin. My purpose in writing is to observe that Baly's own view of the relationship between personal faith and academic religious study was unquestionably more complex than the "wall-of-separation" concept of objectivity espoused by some of the writers and interviewees in that issue.
Baly was himself an actively practicing Anglican Christian, and he wrote in Academic Illusion that "for the university or college . . . to ask of those who adhere to [the Judeo-Christian] religions that they keep their religion separate from the work of the laboratory and the classroom is to make of them a request which they cannot in good conscience accept and still remain true to what they believe." Baly gives an extensive list of Judeo-Christian values that are also among the conceptual underpinnings of liberal education--notably that "truth cannot conflict with truth and that if at any time two `truths' should appear to be in opposition, we must strive without ceasing to reconcile them." Elsewhere, he cites the example of Biblical criticism as a "field of academic inquiry in which the most ruthless, and potentially very dangerous, inquest upon illusion has been conducted almost entirely by those to whom the illusions meant most and who held them very dear." This was possible because, in Baly's view, Christianity ultimately subjects all things, itself included, to the final test of God's judgment.
In sum, Baly believed that academic integrity and Christian commitment were mutually reinforcing values, not mutually antagonistic ones. And it is largely owing to his influence that I (and I hope I have some company) continue to cherish the conviction that Kenyon's guiding concept of its academic mission is a logical outgrowth of--not merely an embroidery upon or a progression beyond--its historic religious roots.
James G. Carson '74
Kudos for Joseph Adler
Over the past five decades, I've dutifully read each issue of the Bulletin as it has arrived in my mailbox. Well, I read a sizable part of it. Of late, it's been a happy experience. My reading starts with the obituaries, and I am delighted not to find my name there. In the current issue, I took great pride in reading the kudos bestowed upon Kenyon's Department of Religion before becoming totally immersed in Professor Adler's "Why Study Religion?" I found it to be one of the most riveting pieces I've ever read anywhere, any time, on any subject. In my opinion (I used to say "humble" opinion until my wife observed one day, "John, you have no humble opinions!"), one would have to look hard to find such a compelling statement crafted in so few words. I'd like to be in the forefront of a long line of celebrants attesting to the same.
My engrossment in "Religion at Kenyon" took me quite by surprise, as my lifelong religious pursuits have been rather will-of-the-wisp and structured more by a sense of duty than any sort of real devotion. This condition began as a teenager and provoked assuaging attempts by my mother, who believed the Episcopal Church represented, indeed, a private wire to the Almighty, and by her brother, a Bexley Hall graduate and long-time canon of Pittsburgh's Trinity Cathedral. Both shared equally a hope that young John would come to his ecclesiastical senses at Kenyon and perhaps, voila, become an Anglican priest. So the two of them conspired to "send" him to college, armed with a one-way ticket to PRR's Gambier station. I was not the happiest of travelers.
Early on I discovered that Bexley Hall was at the other end of Kenyon's extended campus, and I got to know quite well over the years most of the young chaps who planned to attend Bexley. Admirable young men, albeit misguided, I thought. So sank my mother's and uncle's hopes for me and, alas, such an outlook pervaded most of my adult life.
Through the years, like most of the laity, I pledged at church, taught a bit of Sunday school, ushered at services, volunteered to deliver flowers to the sick and to work at fund raisers, and went through several millennia of Sundays--genuflecting and praying ever so many times, oft vacantly like King Claudius--without ever reflecting seriously on the question, "What's it all about?" So it came as a surprise to me one day whilst living for a spell in the Bible Belt to hear Christians grieve that folks of the Jewish faith couldn't get to heaven, with or without roller skates, 'cause they didn't accept Jesus Christ as the son of God. That simple bit of reasoning (or is it simple reasoning?) somehow or other had never entered my mind. Yet it caused me to wonder, for perhaps the first time, "Geez, what kind of place is heaven if that sort of thing goes on? And what would Christian believers think if they found out, upon arrival at the pearly gates, that St. Peter was of the Islamic or Buddhist persuasion?"
About the same time, I noted that a sizable body of Christians were at last finding important, really important, work to be doing: controlling a major political party in America. How the Almighty must smile! And on the occasion of my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I waited patiently while my Arab host stopped five times a day to face eastward, kneel on his rug, and address devotions. I found myself musing, "Hmm, he certainly is motivated about his Creator. Why am I not likewise inspired?" A day later my host took me to a marketplace in Jedda, where I purchased an Iranian prayer rug whose seller made me promise I would never walk upon it. And I never have. To this day it is mounted on my bedroom wall. I asked another Arab to tell me what the calligraphy on the rug was all about. "Oh, it's from the Koran," he replied, "and says something about the Almighty creating the earth and the skies and all the things that inhabit our planet." I thought to myself, "Sounds just like what I first heard while in knee-pants attending Sunday school."
Accolades to ye men and women of Kenyon's Department of Religion. Bravo. So keep up your work of excellence. Who knows, we might some day come to find that there's something more to be prized in a liberal-arts education than our precious study and incessant reading of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Western world writers.
John E. Hartman '47
Another voice for secular humanism
Congratulations to the College and all those connected with the decision to publish Assistant Director of Public Affairs Linda Michaels's editorial on "The Ethical Nature of Atheism" in the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin.
It was a breath of fresh air to be able to read a rational exposition of the secular humanist position--and in an alumni bulletin from a church-connected college, no less.
It gives me hope that reason and science may eventually prevail in a world full of superstition and ignorance.
Thank you for reaffirming my belief in the educational merit of Kenyon College.
Joseph G. Hubbell '55
Whither the Baha'u'llah?
The Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin has many fascinating articles about the present-day impact of "religion" on the Kenyon campus--both academically and individually. I was fascinated and inspired by what is "going on" in terms of the depth and breadth, approach and growth of the religion department, contrasted with the College of my day--which had a one-person "religion department" and a one-person "psychology department"--enough to induce a student to find another, more fulfilling major (which I did, although psychology and religion have always appealed: man's relationship to his fellow beings and to his supreme being).
As a freshman at Kenyon, I became attracted to and intrigued by the Baha'i faith, which has been a chief source of guidance and solace in my life for thirty-five years now. I was sorry that in the coverage of the studies and presentations of the religion faculty, no representation of or reference to the "Baha'u'llah" could be found, particularly as so many in the department so earnestly and energetically study ancient and religious developments around the world.
Richard S. Kochmann '66
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Some thoughts on diversity
As I read through the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin, several things come to mind.
- I sincerely hope that as the College apparently seeks to secure students of various backgrounds, the powers that be (both faculty and administration) will honestly and courageously face the fact that too much diversity will ultimately lead to fragmentation and disunity, something neither a fine college nor a 209-year-old nation needs or should want to have occur.
- I hope Kenyon will (and perhaps does?) realize that our basic world culture and civilization, as it has existed for several hundred years, is a direct product of (some good, some not so good) aspects of Anglo-Saxon, Western European, and Judeo-Christian heritage. This in spite of what might be a lot of faculty teaching of "politically correct" history, which is usually not historically correct history. (Many students, and I'm sure many at Kenyon, know when they are being brainwashed.)
- The article on "Religion at Kenyon" was most interesting and also very encouraging to an old fogey, who is a Christian born and bred and, I hope, a true believer.
Henry A. Kitteredge '45
A few lapses of memory
Other alumni have been quick to point out glitches in my letter about the College's "Golden Years" which was published in the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin. The professor in the 1940s whose research earned him the nickname "Froggy" was Charles W. Thornton. I correctly identified him as a gifted biology professor and then mixed him up with Bayes Norton, who was a gifted chemistry professor in those years. And the name of Norton's senior chemistry colleague was Walter (not William) H. Coolidge. Further, the prize winning short story by Walter Elder '42 that was published by the Kenyon Review appeared after World War II, when he was briefly a member of the Kenyon faculty, and not while he was an undergraduate.
I am sorry to have led the Bulletin into error. The golden memories endure, but the details get a bit tarnished at the edges over the years.
John A. Goldsmith '42
In the Winter/Spring 1998 issue of the Bulletin, David Suggs was incorrectly identified on page 14 as an associate professor of sociology. He is, in fact, an associate professor of anthropology. The editors regret the error.
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