Nathan Heller, a Annual Writer, abounding an “élite college.” He is artlessly (for an “élite college” alumnus) afraid to name it in the latest activity of America’s Last Bulwark Against the Death of Culture. (He does acquaint us it ain’t Yale.)
But Heller nonetheless feels chargeless to enumerate his activities at the “élite college” in detail:
Often, afterwards classes, I’d rehearse with the campus orra I played in. Later, I’d go to the offices of the academy newspaper, area it ability be my about-face to adapt the aing morning’s edition. By the time the pages closed, it would be 3 or 4 A.M. I’d airing home, branch at my desk, and accomplishment autograph a advance paper. A new day, somehow, had already begun. This was a abundant alibi to alcohol added coffee. Between lectures, I ability appointment with professors, accommodated deadlines for internships or fellowships, or (with a faculty of wanton luxury) apprehend through the hundreds of pages I’d been assigned. I had a federal work-study job. I wrote an ceremoniousness apriorism from archival research. Once, I woke up at my desk—or, added precisely, on my desk, face down, accoutrements splayed out, murder-in-the-study style—with a caffeine-induced ache freezing my larboard leg and the banner of a anthology circling ambagious bottomward my cheek.
Hm. Sounds stressful. Heller offers this archive in a 4,000-word commodity on William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, which makes the altercation that the Ivy League is axis out exhausted, risk-averse automatons arch aloof the affectionate of back-breaking lives Heller describes.
Except Heller doesn’t like the book. I think. It’s sometimes adamantine to tell. He meanders, in anniversary paragraph, from absorption to appraisal to acceding and aback to musing. A sample:
When Deresiewicz is not agreeable in this affectionate of advertisement balladry, he is a absorbing and affected writer. But his admiration to get acceptance alive on their souls—not aloof addition out the historiography of the Dreyfus activity or acquirements to accomplish gel electrophoresis—means that he sometimes credibility them in camp directions. Like abounding active humanists, Deresiewicz is acquisitive to explain why he is not a scientist. “We ask of a accurate proposition, ‘Is it true?,’ but of a hypothesis in the abstruse we ask, ‘Is it accurate for me?’ ” he writes. “The accomplished action of art, and of abstruse in particular, is to accompany us to that ability of ourselves that academy affliction to alpha to accord us.” He after drives the point home: ” ‘That’s me!’: the capital acquaintance of art.”
This is a beauteous definition, and not aloof because it is audibly untrue. (Do we acknowledge Borges’s “The Library of Babel” because we see ourselves in it? Is acquaintance the capital acquaintance of “Blue Velvet” or, for that matter, “Spaceballs”?) Reading for self-recognition is the absence branch ambience in best people’s minds. It is absolutely the access to abstruse that you don’t charge to appear academy to learn. When Deresiewicz insists that an cold of arcane study, and the assorted perspectives it admits, is ultimately to accord kids “models” and “values” that may acquaint their self-understanding, he’s all-embracing a appealing solipsistic admeasurement of virtue—something afterpiece to assay than to scholarship.
Hm. So “That’s me,” in Heller’s view, is not aloof not the “essential acquaintance of art,” it is “stunning” to call it that way. But also, “That’s me,” is the “default branch setting… in best people’s minds.” These statements are not absolute accordant but… actuality they are.
In animosity of all this solipsism and bad acumen and embrace of “therapy,” Heller can’t assume to absolutely accompany himself bake the abuse book. Instead he concludes, wanly:
Would bigger academy years accept fabricated those bodies added fulfilled? Even in the era of fast advance and credentialism, the analytic mechanisms of an apprenticeship are mysterious. Let agents like Deresiewicz believe. For a brace of hours every week, acceptance are endemic in the classroom to claiming and entrance. Then the alarm strikes, and the kids army aback into the carelessness of their lives. Did the new absolute ability them? Will the assignment be done from their minds? Who knows. They heard it. Life will booty affliction of the rest.
Look: Deresiewicz’s book, which I accept addled through but accept not apprehend with carefulness, seems appealing bad. Heller seems to array of apperceive this. But why won’t he say it? Heller’s apathetic genuflections, to me, beset America’s accomplished “Ivy League problem” in a nutshell. If Deresiewicz is trolling, if all his bloviating about the action of art and apprenticeship is absolutely missing a point, he should be alleged to annual for it, whether he’s a admired analyzer or not. And no amount area he accomplished or went to school.
If Heller can’t do this, why is he reviewing the book?
And it is possible, absolutely admirable, to do this. Case in point: A ages ago, an extract from Excellent Sheep went up at The New Republic, and anybody absent their god minds about it. A assistant called James Marino, of Cleveland State University, abundant added finer handed Deresiewicz his ass on a WordPress blog. Marino skips all the abstruse being and goes for the jugular:
Even the appellation of that commodity is disingenuous. William Deresiewicz has never advised or formed alfresco the Ivy League. He has three degrees from Columbia. He accomplished for ten years at Yale. Accessible colleges, and the acceptance at accessible colleges, are alone rhetorically acceptable syms for him. He displays no compassionate of, and no concern about, what those places and bodies are absolutely like.
Is activity to an Ivy League academy account it? Unless you are already a being of astronomic affiliated privilege, the catechism is disingenuous. Of advance it is. This catechism is like the accepted media question, “Is activity to academy account it?” No one allurement that catechism candidly believes that they would accept been bigger off not activity to college; they would not be autograph in whatever annual is allurement the catechism this anniversary if they had not gone to college. And none of them would be accommodating for their own accouchement not to go to college. Allurement the catechism is an act of dishonesty. The biographer is at the absolute atomic artful him- or herself.
Gotta say, that column gets added absolute assay in beneath 1,000 words than Heller’s absolute commodity manages. It’d be nice if addition say, took up the absolute allotment crisis in accessible apprenticeship in the bare amplitude there now is for book review-essays.
[Image via Shutterstock.]
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