Saturday, August 1, 2009

Works that helped to form me

I just heard a good interview with Eva Brann in her home in Anapolis. I thought I'd write an entry here on work that has impressed me by persons either of my own parents' generation or, at the youngest, about my own age: Prof. Brann, born in 1929, is only five years older. I'll get my thoughts together and come back to this as soon as possible.
August 4:
The work of Prof. Brann that I've known is the one that she more or less dismissed, the volume on Geometric and Orientalizing (she wouldn't call it Proto-Attic) pottery from the Athenian Agora. It is, as she admitted, a beautiful publication. It was, however, other books, more in the tradition of her later ones, that her interview made me remember.
None of these were assigned textbooks, though one named "An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis" (as I recall) I liked very much, but the author of the current one doesn't ring a bell. Likewise Stephen Pepper's introduction to aesthetics, though it also worried me on some scores.
An evolved newsstand, with clocks showing times around the world over its display of newspapers from around the world, was at the SW corner of Durant and Telegraph; it was called UC Corner. From newspapers and weekly and monthly periodicals (how to learn French: Paris Match), including the Little Magazines, also carried Penguins, color coded conveniently. If an undergraduate didn't know whether an author was Greek or Roman, just look to see whether he was brown or purple. Eventually I owned a hundred or so Penguins of every hue.
But just as I went up to Berkeley (UC is literally up College Avenue from the College of Arts and Crafts) American publishers began their proliferation of quality paperbacks. And UC Corner continued to shelve them by publisher (and persisted in doing so); I wish everyone did. Doubleday, which had been the purveyor of bodice busters to my mother's Dollar Book Club, became my wonderful Doubleday Anchor (or, if religious, Image). Harcourt Brace produced Harvest Books. So The Common Reader was the first Virginia Woolf I read, and the book I nearly memorized, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, as well as Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Scott's Architecture of Humanism, and Elizabeth Holt's Documentary History of Art, all were Anchor Books, and so was Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts, whose final essay jolted me into thinking of our own universities relative to Europe's. I think that Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination was Anchor, too. Harper Torchbooks brought me Panofsky's Studies in Iconology and Ernst Robert Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Second only to Auerbach, Curtius was really formative. This book and Trilling's have been hard to hold onto, and I no longer have the copies I first purchased. They got 'borrowed'. What I want to report, by the way, is that the more than a dozen Anchor books from the 1950s, all more than a half century old, which have been moved and stored and shipped and shelved without much dusting and read over and over, are all intact and their paper almost white—and they weren't even sewn. The Penguins also have lost no pages, but to say that the paper is yellowed is an understatement. Another book of that period that I loved and still enjoy was eventually in paperback, but I read it, checking it out repeatedly, from two university libraries, Berkeley's and Eugene, Oregon's, was Jean Seznec's The Survival of the Pagan Gods. Like the other Torchbooks, it originally was Bollingen; not all Bollingen is Jungian, but all were beautifully published.
Neither paperback nor from those imprints was Hans Reichenbach's The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, then only a couple of years old, published by UC Press. He was UCLA, rather than Berkeley, and he died just as I transferred from art school to university, but he wrote like a born and practiced teacher; in this regard, think of UCLA's Eugen Weber in the justly famous PBS series.
Thus, between Berkeley's core curriculum and the curriculum offered by my favorite publishers in the Telegraph Avenue curriculum offered by UC Corner and the other bookstores on the Avenue and on Bancroft Way, you have the education of what those who were under 30 in the late 1960s called a 'wishy-washy liberal', rendered immune to both the radical left (available at a Maoist book shop on Bancroft Way and the Daily Worker on the corner newsstands—the only 'safe' place for it, since it suffered in comparison with even the Berkeley Gazette, let alone the SF Chronicle) and the radical right (readily available in Oakland and in most of the suburbs over the hills). Personally, I was shocked by the youngsters of about 1965 and later, because even when they liked and supported what I'd have thought were right things it was for the wrong reasons, I thought, and often in wrong ways, by publicly pressuring those who were, I feared, ineducable but likely to get hopping mad. Journalistic dismissal of the determinedly open-minded freethinkers as an 'apathetic generation' likewise seemed thoughtless, sometimes dishonest, perhaps dangerous to real liberality.
The question is, was mine the last cohort to be formed by those whose humanity had survived the pain and confusion of both world wars? By American universities richly salted by Berlin and Vienna, in aesthetics as well as every branch of philosophy? Because, there sat Eva Brann, in her last years of teaching at St. John's, Berlin born, talking just like some of the books I had read when we both were young.