The Faculty Forum

"Reading maketh a full man; writing, an exact man." --Francis Bacon

Vol. 8, No. 7 APRIL 1997


1. Walter Mignolo et. al. on The Relocation of Languages and Cultures

2. DUKE MASTERS: Reynolds Price's poem "Instruction" (on the Redemption of Judas)

3. Joseph DiBona, Letter about Fundraising

4. Myron Wolbarsht, Addendum on the Metric System

5. John Staddon, on A Simpler Method to Reform Grading System

6. A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot

7. Ferret's Crackpots on Parade: Richard Wagner

8. Possum (Passim)

9. Parrot (William James) & Classic Erotica: "Onan's Song"

10. Editorial Board & Policy

Note: Academic Council Minutes for Meeting of March 27, 1997 have been transferred to the following Web File, which contains the minutes for every Council meeting since 1992:

[Editor's Note: The following essay has pre-empted my editorial for this month.]

The relocation of languages and cultures

by Walter Mignolo and Others

Under the title of "The Relocation of Languages and Cultures," a group of Duke faculty, graduate and undergraduate students is organizing an international and interdisciplinary workshop for May 7-10, 1997. The Steering Committee is formed by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from Asian and African Langs. and Lits, Center for international Studies, Cultural Anthropology, English Language Studies for International Students, Fuqua School of Business, Germanic Langs. & Lit., Literature Program, Romance Studies, Slavic Langs. & Lits., and Foreign Langs. & Lits. (NC State).

The increasing process of economic and technological global integration and some of its consequences (massive migrations) are forcing us to rethink the relationships between (national) Ianguages and territories. With states and political systems losing control of their frontiers, the world is becoming one of mixed languages and shifting identities. Although this may always have been the case, the current situation is to be understood against the background of the idea of unified national languages and sedentary national communities. People become polyglots, and their sense of history, nationality and race is as mixed as their language. Border zones, diaspora and post-colonial relations are daily phenomena of our lives. While migration during the nineteenth century followed the direction of colonial expansion and moved from Europe toward Africa, Asia and the Americas, at the close of the twentieth century, migration follows the opposite direction. Thus migratory movements are disarticulating the idea of national languages and indirectly of national literacies and literatures, in Europe as well as in the U.S. On the other hand, the rise of indigenous communities and their participation in the public spheres (such as the recent events in Chiapas or the state cultural politics in Bolivia) complement migratory movements in their challenge to the idea of national languages and of the one-to-one relation between language and territory. The idea of homogeneous national cultures, the consensual transmission of historical and literary traditions and of unadulterated ethnic communities are in the process of profound revisions and redefinitions. We need to think seriously about the processes by which languages and cultures are being relocated.

Until 1500 the world looked more like a cluster of large centers, some of them in contact with each other (Roman Empire, Chinese Kingdom, Islamic World, Inca and Aztec Civilizations), but without one center extending itself to a planetary proportion. Because each of these centers did not have a view of the world and its position in it, a world map like Mercator and Ortelius could not exist until the sixteenth century. Since then, an emerging conglomerate of European States began a process of planetary expansion to which we refer, historically, as colonization, imperialism and globalization. This workshop proposes to explore the emergence and growth of a "double consciousness" (e.g., bilingualism, biculturalism) arising from the consolidation and planetary expansion of Western civilization and its contact with other existing ones. By relocation of languages and cultures we mean both the Western perspective on other civilizations, as well as other civilization perspectives on the West, their responses and accommodations.

Economic globalization and transnationalism are radically changing the configuration and results of cultural contacts and conflicts. To facilitate the organization of panels and topics, the focus will be on three major periods, corresponding to different aspects of Western expansion and cultural contact: the early modern period under Spanish and Portuguese banners when nations were related to empires; enlightenment and industrial revolution, under the banners of England, France and Germany, when nations were linked to states; and, finally, the high technological revolution and transnational capitalism, under the leading role of the U.S. first and Japan lately, when the concept of nation is in a profound state of crisis. Each of these historical periods which cut across the three themes proposed below will be viewed at the intersection of Western expansion and global transformation in the sphere of languages, literacies and literatures. If a word is needed to single out the focus of our enterprise, that word could be "transculturation." We will be looking at different processes of transculturation in the history of Western expansion, and our focus will be an interdisciplinary and comparative conversation on transnationalism, languages, literacies, literatures and cultural analysis. We will concentrate on border areas, multilingualism and migrations in Europe (e.g., France, Spain, Germany) and the U.S.; in British and post-colonial India; in the Arabic world and northern Africa; in China; and in the Andes (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador).

Socio-historic transformations demand disciplinary ones as well. The challenges presented to language and literary scholarship by transnational processes are more serious than ever, for they impinge on the very conception of the Humanities as a site of research and teaching -- particularly when those changes are looked at from the perspective of nations with colonial legacies rather than from the perspective of European modernity. They are altering the commonly held belief that linguistic and literary studies deal only with text and with literary authors; canon formation and transformation; with aesthetic judgments and textual interpretation. Transnational processes are demanding a "cultural philosophy of languages and cultures" to deal with them. The clouding of national frontiers in transnational processes also demands rethinking disciplinary boundaries. In the past ten years, a substantial exchange took place between literary theorists, critics and social scientists, chiefly in the fields of anthropology and history. "Colonial and transnational cultural studies" could be an emerging interdisciplinary space in which issues of globalization since the end of the fifteenth century could be discussed and where linguistic and literary studies are being redefined. Literacy, the missing and complicitous word between languages and literatures, is moving to the front stage.

The trend to global integration threatens the integrity and independence of nation-states, political systems, languages and identities. Indigenous communities are claiming essential links with particular languages, ethnicities and lands; e.g., in Latin America (Chiapas and the Andes), Europe (Ireland and the former Yugoslavia), Africa (Nigeria and Algeria), Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia). These new micro-politics ironically function globally (e.g., long-distance nationalism), and they must be held in tension with the new regional integrations (European Community, Pacific Rim, NAFTA, MERCOSUR). Do multiple and highly differentiated movements enhance or fragment resistance? Do they serve the purposes of those who want global control? Are homogeneous ethno-national cultures and "authentic" literary traditions merely fiction? How were languages and cultures allocated by colonial and imperial discourses (e.g., National Geographics) and how are they being relocated by social movements and all sorts of postcolonial discourses countering and displacing the hegemonic discourse of colonial and imperial modernity? What are the consequences for education, public policy and a drive toward the contribution of scholarly work in the social sciences and the humanities to social and cultural transformation?

Globalization brings a new meaning to the expression "understanding other cultures" or "cross-cultural understanding." The world of the future will require that not just a handful of privileged people will have the chance to travel and exercise cross-cultural understanding. We will live (we are indeed already living) in such a world. This situation demands from the Humanities a new approach to the understanding of languages and cultures; a redefinition of the notion of "foreign language" in a world of dissolving nations and national languages; a transformation of research agendas; a revision of old problems and the formulation of new questions. And more specifically, this situation demands a revision of research agendas in that particular area of the Humanities generally identified as "Foreign Languages and Literatures" and "Area Studies." Duke is in an ideal position to undertake this program due to the strength of the Program in Literature, the various programs and Departments of Foreign Languages, and of Area Studies. This project will bring together, in a fruitful dialogue, faculty and graduate students with similar concerns but without a common space for dialogue and collaboration.

More specifically, the organizers of the workshop are thinking as their goals to explore the roles played by the management or allocation of languages and cultures in the creation of empires and nation-states. Those marginalized or excluded by such allocations of meaning have responded by relocating themselves in economic and cultural domains, by reclaiming their right and redefining their identities. The workshop is aimed at exploring the situation of languages and cultures in the high-tech era within the context of Western Christian and early modern European expansion since the sixteenth century. Early colonists confronted great empires in Asia, Africa and the Americas. They mapped the planet in a radically new way, imposing vernacular Western languages and a colonial discourse that exoticized major and ancient languages and cultures in Asia, Africa and the Americas as outside history. The main thrust of the workshop is to contribute to changing this perspective and by asking how languages, empires and nations look like from China, the Arabic World, the Aymara communities in the Andes or the African Diaspora all over the world, the Latino communities in the United States, or the Creole population and intellectuals in the Caribbean.


Languages & Cultures of Knowledge and Scholarship

This section will explore the broad issue of the relationship(s) between globalization processes and their underlying rationale on the one hand and colonial languages and languages of the newly independent nation-states on the other. Inherent in this topic is the unequal relationship between European and non-European languages and the presumed and/or perceived disparities between colonial and indigenous scholarship as regards their role in the modern technological world.

Panel A: Language and the Formation of Social Sciences and the Humanities

The concept of rationalism in the cultures of scholarship will be the main focus of this panel. Can we truly argue that only European modernity is the precursor of rationality, whatever that may mean? Is the concept of rationality the same in all cultures and languages, or is it culture-specific? Related to this issue is the so-called dichotomy between modern and traditional rationality. Is this a valid dichotomy, and if so what does each category include by way of exploration of the universe, human existence and other metaphysical and epistemological questions? Can religious philosophies be considered as manifestations of traditional rationality? But then they exist in the so-called modernized, industrialized European nations too.

It appears that written languages have become a dominant part of cultures of scholarship, advanced technology and communication processes. However, these are controlled and used by a small, but disproportionately powerful segment of society. Thus, the masses are left out of the new globalization process and development as well as the new scholarship that is being developed. To what extent Creole and pidgin languages, languages with only oral literature and pre-colonial languages are capable of developing technological and scientific knowledge and scholarship is an issue that needs close examination by this panel. This issue is also closely linked to the subject of Panel D in this section.

Panel B: Language as Vehicle (for the Promotion of) Local Identities

Societal multilingualism being virtually the norm the world over, it is unfortunate that we often fail to appreciate its implications for the world's numerous cultural minorities. While, for instance, many in the U.S. appear puzzled by the intensity of continued separatist sentiment in Québec, such puzzlement reflects a lack of awareness of the role of language of humanity's foremost symbolizing system, vehicle par excellence of some of humankind's most cherished values.

It is no surprise, therefore, that in today's increasingly transcultural world, the status of the world's still-numerous linguistic minorities represents a significant key, or impediment, to many people's sense of identity, and to the longer-term political stability/integrity, the overall living standard, and the transnational participation of the communities in which they live.

This panel is focused on the identity/ies of linguistic minorities anywhere. Emphasis lies on the group-internal, minority perspective, while common ground between concerns of different linguistic minority groups will also be explored, in the interest of achieving more universal insights. As such, the panel will be especially concerned with those minority definitions of linguistic identity that, oftentimes consciously, defy mainstream pressures and categories with particular regard for language-revivalist political activity. By implication, the role of a group's definition of ethnicity will be of interest, for a given language and broader culture are frequently associated with a particular ethnic group. Today, as noted by Fishman (1989:6), "ethnicity retreats into a corner of social experience under the impact of international influences (influences whose ethnic origins are unknown or overlooked, and widely accepted across national boundaries), but, precisely therefore, it is often rendered more conscious and is more manipulated as a boundary mobilization mechanism."

Besides minority ethnolinguistic identity itself, then, emphasis will be placed on closely related matters such as: a) minority-language preservation, maintenance or revival (e.g., Aymara in Bolivia, Berber in Algeria, Patwah in Jamaica); b) language rights, or "linguistics human rights"; c) language choice and the lure or impact of colonial and/or world languages (e.g., English in as dazzlingly multilingual a country as India).

Yet the panel is also interested in lesser-posed questions such as:

* gender-specific roles, or patterns, in the maintenance and preservation of linguistic identity;

* links between wars (and other outward inter-group conflicts) and efforts at language maintenance/revival;

* native language preservation as the irrelevant, patronizing pastime of noble-savage minded members of the middle classes;

* preference for international languages, as opposed to dominant national ones, as a means of escaping cultural imposition from others within the state;

* the role of literature, and of its authors, in rallying the forces of local-language maintenance and revival -- i.e., promoting cultural pride, legitimizing local-language identity, standardizing languages and/or bolstering language-political efforts and aspirations;

* correlations between linguistic minority status, education and socio-economic advancement.

Panel C: Linguistic Rights, Transnationalism and Language Preservation

This panel will explore the impact of migration on subordinate languages and nationalisms, both at "home" and abroad. A central concern will be the link between language maintenance in diasporas and indigenous language preservation movements. Economic and political migrants in initially foreign lands may construct strong cultural nationalisms, emphasizing the use of the mother tongue, creating a vibrant community abroad and reinvigorating languages and cultures under attack at "home." The role of exile intellectuals is often a similar one, bringing local language, history and culture into a new national and international public purview. A related issue to be addressed is the concept of a physical or conceptual "homeland" and whether local identity is dependent on the existence of territorial boundaries. Of special interest is the role of print culture in general, and of London, Paris and New York as global publishing centers.

Panel D: Linguistic Purism and Cultural Resistance

This panel will seek to address the multiplicity of issues raised and confronted by Creole languages across the globe. Examples of Creoles are Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea, Haitian Creole and U.S. Black "English." The formation of these languages, generally in colonial situations, is of interest from both the linguistic and the social perspective. Although explicating the origins of the linguistic structures of the languages will certainly be an aspect of the panel, the focus will be on examining the especial social conditions of the creation and the maintenance of Creole languages. A key linguistically oriented question is whether they should be viewed as imperfect combinations of "pure" languages, or as completely new languages emblematic of New World cultural formation? Further, to what extent can/should these languages be understood to be national, as defined by modernity, or contra-national languages?

The suppression of these, initially oral, languages by the "pure" languages of colonial powers in the realms of print discourse, education and state discourse is also of vital importance to this discussion. One question to be posed is, "what mechanisms are used to reinforce the exclusion of these languages from all but quotation discourse?"

Similarly integral, however, is the resistance mounted by Creole-speaking intellectuals through the inscription of these languages in public academic and popular discourses. They reject the notion that these languages are approximations of "pure" languages and assert the viability of these languages in both print and oral discourses. The question of whether this move endangers the dynamism of the languages by codifying them remains to be answered. Furthermore, this embracing of Creoles may challenge both the notion that a national language must be a "pure" language, and the very concepts of a "pure" language, or modern nation themselves.

Panelists will also speak on the Creole-speaking "masses" relationship with these languages. How have Creole speakers claimed Creoles as their own, and gone on to use them to constitute or affirm national or supra-national identities? The arenas of popular music, radio and theater may be of special relevance.

This panel will also discuss the future of Creole languages. Will globalization result in the proliferation of new Creole languages, the creation of a transworld community of Creole-speakers, as more cultures are brought into contact, or in the death of Creole languages and the dominance of the "pure" language(s) or the new imperialism?


The Politics of Foreign Language Teaching and Research

This workshop will investigate the "managing" of foreign language education by governments, institutions and educators. In the U.S. foreign language education has been affected by the pressures of global capitalism, on the one hand (e.g., government and corporate institutions promoting foreign language study in the interest of national security and/or economic growth), and the various crises of identity in terms of race, class, gender, ethnicity, etc., brought about by socio-historic transformations on the other. How does the history and politics of foreign language teaching and research in the U.S. compare with that in other countries and regions of the world? What can such a comparison yield in our efforts to rethink the nature of our current curricular models, classroom practices and institutional structures? What are the implications for future research agendas?

We envision three panels, focusing on issues of pedagogy, public policy and institutional concerns, respectively, although each of these areas will be reflected in each of the panels.

Panel A: Curricula and Pedagogy: Issues in Teaching Language and Culture

This panel will address the ways in which the global transformations we are studying have affected the way(s) we view and practice "foreign" language education. What does "teaching foreign languages" mean in this country? What are its goals and their implications for pedagogical practices? Is language seen as a skill/tool for pragmatic uses, e.g., communicative competence, and/or as a subject of study promoting critical awareness of how language is both product and process of social practice, shaping identities and maintaining/transforming relationships of power? What is at stake in the teaching of culture (what culture, whose culture, how is it taught)? Do recent attempts in the U.S. to examine critically the boundaries between teaching English/Foreign Languages on the one hand, and Language/Literature/Culture on the other, find parallels in other areas of the world?

Panel B: Language and Public Policy: The Case of Bilingual Education

This panel will deal with issues of language education and public policy and will address in particular the ways in which countries deal with their immigrant and indigenous populations. What are the major issues in public policy debates on language education? What are the explicit and/or implicit goals of bilingual education (e.g., assimilation vs. acculturation)? What kind of bi-languages are being taught? How? Where? To whom? (e.g., U.S., Israel, Germany; Latin America, Spain, India)

Panel C: English Only? Globalization, Colonial Legacies and New Identities

This panel will explore how certain groups (e.g., Peace Corps, peace-keeping forces, missionary groups) and institutions (e.g., USIS, Goethe Institute, Alliance Francais) who go into specific areas for specific purposes and with specific agendas, deal with issues of language and culture, both in terms of the training they receive and the training they deliver. How are the specific agendas and ideologies of such groups reflected in (cultural) content and pedagogical practice? What kind of training in the language and culture of the penetrated populations is provided to those who go there with the expressed intention to educate? What are the real and perceived needs of these populations? How are these addressed, met, subverted, etc.? (This panel could include a historical perspective, e.g., French in Algeria, Dutch in Indonesia, English in India).

Panel D: Imposing Languages

This panel will interrogate the role of language
policies and/or linguistic ideologies in the management of political and cultural domination -- in the schoolroom, the courtroom, the media and other arenas of public life. Possible areas of inquiry include:

(1) the project of nationalist consolidation and the ideology of "one state, one language," which have resulted in the official subordination of minority languages in India, Spain and numerous other nations;

(2) the imposition of colonial languages and the suppression of indigenous ones in the territorial holdings of "classical" empires (French over Arabic and Berber in North Africa, American English over Chicano Spanish in former Northern Mexico), as well as in situations of internal colonialism (Spanish over Amerindian languages in Latin America);

(3) the non-territorial neo-imperial activities of transnational corporations based in the United States and the concomitant rise or super-imposition of (American) English as international currency and global linguistic power.

In recognition of the phenomenon of overlapping oppressions that increasingly characterizes our world's geopolitical fields, the panel will pay special attention to the complex, dynamic interplay of local and global cultural, political, economic pressures which shape policy decisions, and to the multiple stratified linguistic topographies that result.

This panel is also committed to addressing, as comprehensively and responsibly as time and format allow, the uneven sets of linguistic interdictions (or "choices") that have been imposed on different subaltern populations in the world. To that end, we encourage papers that critically compare the different language policies of different nationalist and/or colonial powers. Do policy asymmetries reflect divergent ideological aims on the part of the colonizers (e.g., the "civilizing mission" of the French vs. the laissez-faire attitude of the British?) To what extent are policy decisions contingent upon the particularities of a subordinated people's linguistic tradition (e.g., oral vs. written, ancient vs. "history-less"?) Are state-sanctioned plurilingualism and official monolingualism two sides of the same coin (the "good cop" and "bad cop" of political oppression)? How have language planners in and outside of the West responded to, or attempted to counteract, the ascendance of American English as the lingua franca of global capital?

This panel will also address and insist on the practical dimension of language policy-making and implementation by inviting government officials and educators to discuss their experiences. For, clearly, these issues outlined here do not belong "merely" to the province of academic analysis: they have profound material consequences in the everyday lives of subjects and citizens all over the world.


Centers of Power and the Shaping of Languages Ideologies and Practices

This section focuses on exploring the diverse pressures and centers of powers, and other forces that shape language ideologies and language practice. Some of the concerns that we would like to cut across panels are the deliberate use of language as a tool in cultural politics versus the pragmatic use of language in situations where the need to communicate pushes toward the standardization of dialects and the internationalization of languages.

Panel A: Language, Technology and Global Capitalism

This panel will examine how changing technologies, markets and audiences are affecting communications processes. A focus will be the tensions between strategic and pragmatic uses of language in development and advertising; how these processes are shaped by transnational forces, local concerns and state policy. An overarching question for this panel will be: How are voice, dialect, slogan and word choice positioning and aligning interlocutors? Some of the areas of interest are international strategies in advertising, how they penetrate global markets; the role of NGO's in shaping language use and language learning; creation of local TV stations and the languages used in programming; the use of media in language pedagogy; technology and translation and language choices in the Internet.

Panel B: Social Movements and the Role of Languages

Religious movements are a force in the organization of communities that operate quite differently from the organization of parties and groups around a political center of power or from the economic power of transnational corporations, and similar economic processes. General questions relevant for this panel would be: How do new technologies affect formation of religious movements communities and the role of national, local and historical languages in this process? What is the role of the new media and the politics of script in places like, for example, Lebanon or Turkey?

Panel C: Globalization, Languages and Cultural Planning

It is certainly old news that in the formation of modern nations, language has always been an important tool for legitimizing community, even though in most instances it must be artificially manipulated to create a semblance of linguistic unity. It would be naive to think that this process has stopped in the late capitalist age of international market expansion. Where, then, do these two powerful movements -- the process of linguistic national myth-building and internationalization of language through capitalist markets -- collide and collude? Can we more closely scrutinize the mechanisms of the national linguistic project and analyze how it ties into recent global capitalist change?

The European Economic Community provides a salient example of these tensions between national cohesion and cross-border economic and linguistic expansion. Another example: why on January 31, 1996, did an article appear on the front page of The New York Times reporting on the Israel Language Institute, which invents new words for imported concepts and things (merchandise in particular; the article's main example was what to do linguistically with a microwave or a toaster oven)? The Institute has been around for decades; this is old news. Why then the sudden push to the front of a linguistic issue so tied to global expansion and the perceived infringement on national culture?

Panel D: Mass Media, Language and Globalization

Much of what we know about the world certainly derives from how we come to know it. In the process of collecting and analyzing data for individual consumption, the evening news broadcast seems to have taken on special importance in the modern technological world, even as its uniqueness as a national coalescing force has weakened. In Israel, for example, when once the evening news broadcast was perhaps the common national cultural experience, competition from international and new domestic news providers as the television market expands, has had a profound effect on this national institution, infecting local custom with international style and taste. We can see similar effects here in America with the dismantling of the traditional news networks and a concomitant move toward news that is more entertaining. With the expansion of international television markets -- the omnipresence of such media entities as CNN, SKY News, etc. -- what effect does the creation of a global news culture have on the local, national and regional news broadcast? What will be the outcome of this capitalization of news and the consolidation of news providers into two or three global, English-language networks? We might also ask in what ways do changes in news broadcasts influence and reflect local and regional cultural change. Can the news show become the litmus test for the introduction of new ideas through language, style of reporting, dress, etc.? How is content affected by change in form?

The question of the language of news could be extended to print media as well. While newspapers seem less likely to change according to the prevailing winds of global style, what changes can be identified in language transformations, especially in view of expanding television markets? Another Israeli example: can we identify a linguistic shift in newspapers to a heavier use of passive constructions coinciding with the commencement of the Intifada, and was this transformation initiated by international television images of west bank settlers shooting at Palestinian children? Does this linguistic change have both political origin and political effect?

Proposal submitted by:

Walter D. Mignolo, Steering Committee Chair; with contributions from Committee members: Mahadev Apte, Benjamin Au, Helmy Baligh, Christina Chia, Leo Ching, Miriam Cooke, Lynn DiPietro, Katherine Ewing, Anna Hahn, Thomas Lahusen, Gregory Meyjes, Ifeoma Nwankwo, Meredith Parker, Bernadette Sosinski, Josefina Tiryakian, Clare Tufts, Teresa Vilarós, Ingeborg Walther, Eric Zakim.

January 1997

Note: "Literature" is understood, in this proposal, in a very general sense of verbal cultural production, oral or written, and includes "popular" as well as "artistic" expressions.



[Editor's Note: In our Duke Masters column, we plan to present imaginative writings by faculty colleagues. At this time of year, we think it appropriate to begin the series with the following poem by Reynolds Price, in which the mutation of Judas from hard-boiled cynic to a man capable of guilt ("honor," he calls it) strikes us as an extraordinarily vivid and generous act of imagination.]

Throwing the coins down in the Temple Judas left and going off hanged himself. MATTHEW 27:5


I'm given the time it takes to tell you

Precisely this. Ask no questions.

There was one sighting which

Has not been reported by loyalists.

Peter, John, Mary, James

Have milked tears enough with their

Reunions to farm a fair-sized

Salt-lick in Sodom. I don't grudge them

That. The one not reported, however,

Was to me.

I'd got out of town by Friday

Dawn to miss the dustup I launched

In the garden. The cash was slung in my left

Groin, nudging other privates,

For the seven-mile walk to Emmaus--

The inn. We'd never worked that.

I could sleep the hours it would take to kosher

Him white as veal, the loyalists to note they'd

Failed him equally and scuttle home--

Dried boats, nets, wives,

Mothers-in-law. Then I'd head back

To town for the sinecure they'd thrown in

To sweeten the cash--bookkeeper

At the licensed Temple lamb-and-dove

Purveyance: no one cracked a smile.

I'd start Monday morning, under light

Guard till Friday (they had a week's

Worth of anxiety for me; I'd

Known the eleven through a year on the road

And knew I was safe--they'd growl but

On fast feet: Parthian growls).

I slept

Two days, waking only to think I'd

Never slept better and gnaw

A flat cake I'd hooked on the way

And ask if the rest--alluvial mud--

Wasn't better reward than cash or job

Or memory of Peter's white face

In fireshine, slick with fright:

Blown hog's bladder burst

By boys (the answer was Yes and I'd sleep


Sunday evening I was sated but

Hungry. I skimmed my eyes with cool

Dry fingers, rehung the privates

And went down to eat in the common room--

Loud clutch of Passover pilgrims

Bound north, no face I knew

I'd finished when another three entered

And sat--Klopas, his squat wife, a trim

Tan stranger. The Klopases had bankrolled

Us, steady but stingy, through Galilee.

My legs jerked to leave, then locked me

In. I was legal; I'd make my first

Stand here. But they talked to the stranger

And never ]ooked up. I licked at

My bowl and filled my space--paid-up patron.

The window over them faced due

West, so l fixed on that and bathed

In sunset.

The girl brought their food.

They groveled to bless it. The stranger stood,

Neat as a sprout sucked up in a morning.

It was him, no question--crammed

Down, a little ashy at the gills but

Pleasant and coming toward me.

I tried again to rise in the days

It took him to reach my bench;

Legs refused.

His hands were ruined--

Brown holes, barely dry--

But otherwise fit. I begged not to touch

Them, though I didn't speak.

He kept silent too,

Kept hands at his thighs.

No pause or stare, the smile

Never quit. He bent

To my hair and pressed it once, quite lengthily,

With a mouth that seemed his usual mouth--

No stars or rays, no sizzling brand--

Then walked the breadth of the floor and out.

I had not had to touch him--

Not direct, not skin.

I waited for roars, leaps, laughs

From the room. Klopas and his wife were chewing

In tears, drowned in the gift.

No one else had looked.

I sat till the next gnat

Sapped my heel, then stood as I was--

Freed to stand into honor like rain--

And went through the same door,

Same empty yard.

Halfway back

To town in dark dry as meal, I

Groped out a tree that promised to hold.

Honor had lasted a full three miles.

I lasted a full two minutes

By the neck, longer than planned--my well-oiled belt

(The privates were insufficient ballast).

Nobody claimed body or ballast;

We two were the bachelors.

You may now ask questions.


--Cited from Vital Provisions (1982), copyright by Reynolds Price.


To the Editor:

I am very concerned about a recent letter I (and maybe you as well) received from Duke soliciting donations for various university activities. Normally such routine pressures go unnoticed, but this one was different in that it pin-pointed non-givers who had ignored such requests in the past. The implied warning of "we know who you are" added a sinister shadow to the letter that has not been present in the past. If some care to support such solicitations, all well and good, but please leave the non-givers in peace. They have their reasons for not giving and those are best left alone. Unfortunately, there seems to be pressure building for fuller faculty participation in these fun-faculty loyalty drives. I have been reliably informed that there have even been threats from some fat cats to curtail their own generosity unless the non-giving-faculty (should I read this as disloyal?) cough up at least a token amount.

An even more disturbing aspect of this ill-advised letter is the undue pressure it places on the least secure and most vulnerable members of the faculty -- i.e. those without tenure, security or sufficient resources to contribute. It creates an atmosphere of unfair victimization that unduly shadows many of the more positive aspects of academic life. My effort here is to sensitize our development mavens to the great harm they do by ignoring the implications of their well-meaning projects. Under the circumstances I urge them to write an apology to the group already targeted and not repeat such shoddy actions in the future.

--Joe Di Bona (Education)


[Editor's Note: The following clarification of Professor Wolbarsht's essay (which we published last month) was necessitated by our inability to transcribe certain symbols from the Metric Sytem into our low-tech publishing format.]

Notes on: "Should the US Adopt the Metric System for Everyday Use?"

by Myron L. Wolbarsht (Psychology/Biomed Eng.)

One of the strongest arguments against the Metric System in the United states is the difficulty that I encountered in publishing this article in the last issue of the Faculty Forum. The Greek and other symbols that are an integral part of the Metric System could not be reproduced in type. So much so that, in order to reproduce these comments correctly, they are to be changed into a graphic form or a picture as it were. The problem of Metric System symbol reproduction is not unique to this particular low-tech journal. The usual way to represent a Greek mu m in type is with a "u" to which is then added, by hand, a tail so as to convert it to the Greek form. Indeed, I know of at least one standard for laser safety published by the American National Standards Institute that omitted the m by accident from the typescript sent to the printer because it was to have been drawn in by hand but wasn't. Thus, in the standard as published, the safe exposure level was given as 0.5 W/cm2 instead of 0.5 mW/cm2, an error of 6 orders of magnitude. It was good luck that the error was detected before many copies had been distributed and anyone was injured.

The table in the original article is now shown properly along with the now appropriate comments:

The prefixes of magnitude in decades are indeed a good idea, but unfortunately are poorly put into practice. The currently preferred prefixes are in steps of 1,000 as listed below.

ascending/descending value

k m 1,000

M m 1,000,000

G n l,000,000,000

T p 1,000,000,000,000

P f l,000,000,000,000,000

Note that some of the ascending prefixes are capitalized. In a rational system, the ascending series would be all capitalized and the descending would use the same letters but in lower case. As you can see, that idea really only works in one place with the present list. That is in the Greek alphabet with the m micro and M mega, whereas the Roman m milli matches poorly with the Roman lower case k kilo. Other, similar mismatches are readily apparent.

A Simpler Method?

--by John Staddon (Experimental Psychology)

This article is a slightly rewritten version of comments that were to have been delivered as an introduction to the recently canceled Phi Beta Kappa debate on the Achievement Index

The proposed "Achievement Index" has failed to win acceptance by the Arts and Sciences Council. Some objections -- fulmination against numbers (a sort of numerology in reverse), objections to ranking of any sort -­ bore little relation to the AI itself, and appeared to be attacks on the whole idea of grading. Few of these objections were helpful or illuminating. But one frequent objection will strike any observer as perfectly reasonable: that the AI is almost impossible to explain. To many conscientious students, the AI must seem like the incomprehensible in the service of the unattainable.

But just as the illogicality of many objections to the AI reveals a real frustration, the AI itself is a legitimate effort to correct real flaws in the present ranking system. As I understand it, the AI is based on the following correct assumptions:

An individual achievement index is computed by a complex recursive process that repeatedly adjusts the index number until a stable ordering of students compatible with the assumptions is achieved. Not a pretty sight, to any but devotees of Bayesian statistics. So, is there a simpler system that can achieve essentially the same objective? I believe there may be ­- although some empirical and theoretical work needs to be done, with real grades, to find out for sure.

The system can be explained using the following table, which shows hypothetical grades achieved by four students, A, B, C and D (columns), taking a selection of five courses from a set of nine (rows). This example was cited by Val Johnson in his presentation because it shows that average GPA can give a ranking of students completely opposite to the ranking that would be arrived at by considering the difficulty (as measured by grading standard) of the classes chosen by each student:

Three values are shown for each student: the letter grade in the course, the rank order of the student and the normalized rank, which I explain in a moment. The rank order is computed in the usual way, with the number of ranks equal to the number of letter-grade types: an instructor who gives only As, Bs and Cs, has only three types, so that each student must have a rank in his class of 1, 2 or 3, and so on for other numbers of types. The normalized rank for each student is just the student's rank divided by the lowest rank in the class: thus, if the number of ranks (grade types) is 3, the A students will have a rank of .33 and the B students a rank of .67. The lowest-ranked student will always get a normalized rank of 1. The third column for each of the four students gives the student's normalized rank, computed in this way.

Now consider the rankings of these four students according to GPA, the achievement index (AI) and the average normalized rank (ANR). The three rankings are as follows:


Average Grade 2.78 2.86 2.88 3.00

Average Normal Rank 0.45 0.6 0.75 1

Achievement Index 87 68 32 13

As you can see, the rankings by average grade are exactly opposite to the rankings by AI and ANR:




Indeed, for this dataset, the AI and ANR are almost linearly related, as the following graph shows (GPA is on the righthand axis, ANR on the lefthand axis; AI is on the x-axis).

The ANR has the virtue of simplicity and ease of computation -- the students can figure the ANR out themselves for each class, which is impossible for the AI. The critical question, therefore, is: How similar are the student class ranks from real datasets computed according to these two methods, AI and ANR?

I don't know the answer to this question, but it is probably worth finding out. If indeed the two methods give almost identical results, perhaps we should consider the ANR as a comprehensible alternative to the AI.

A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot

The assignments: Putting to use his late night habit of random reading, POSSUM, our omnivorous scholar, will try to entice the faculty with a few tastibits of general education. FERRET will snoop, sniff, and snuffle out little nuggets of controversial or even slightly scandalous matter. To offset her big advantage over her two accomplices (a voice), PARROT will be limited to repeating what someone has said without editorial comment. (If her column requires commentary Ferret will make it.) Anyone who wishes either to feed the beastie/birdie with new tidbits or to wring its neck may do so with a note, letter, or column sent to Victor Strandberg, 315 Allen Building (90015), or email Voicemail is 684-3976. FAX is (919) 684-4871.


Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

For a bill of particulars, we can do no better than to cite Deems Taylor's classic essay, "The Monster":

"He was a monster of conceit. Never for one minute did he look at the world or at people, except in relation to himself. . . . To hear him talk, he was Shakespeare, and Beethoven, and Plato, rolled into one. And you would have had no difficulty in hearing him talk. . . [about his] one sole topic of conversation: himself. . . .

He had a mania for being in the right. The slightest hint of disagreement, from anyone, on the most trivial point, was enough to set him off on a harangue that might last for hours. . . [so that] in the end his hearer, stunned and defeated, would agree with him, for the sake of peace.

He had a composer's voice. And he would invite eminent vocalists to his house, and sing them his operas, taking all the parts.

He was convinced that the world owed him a living. In support of this belief, he borrowed money from everybody who was good for a loanmen, women, friends, or strangers. . . . [There is] no record of his ever paying or repaying money to anyone who did not have a legal claim upon it.

What money he could lay his hands on he spent like an Indian rajah. On an income that would reduce a more scrupulous man to doing his own laundry, he kept two servants. Without enough money in his pocket to pay the rent, he would have the walls and ceiling of his study lined with pink silk. . . .

An endless procession of women marches through his life. His first wife spent twenty years enduring and forgiving his infidelities. His second wife had been the wife of his most devoted friend and admirer, from whom he stole her. . . .

He was completely selfish in his other personal relationships. . . . At the end of his life he had exactly one friend left whom he had known even in middle age."

Other scholars add confirmatory details. Ernest Newman's Wagner as Man and Artist (1937) divines the rationale for Wagner's imperial self-indulgence as follows: "The secret apparently was that he had to indulge himself liberally in order to [thereafter] put into practice his doctrine of renunciation" (134). And Julius Kapp, in The Women in Wagner's Life (1931), cites Wagner's own words to profile an effrontery of superhuman proportions toward the husband he cuckolded during his long dalliance with Mathilde Wesendonk:

"Thus, while he [the husband] was consumed with jealousy, she [the wife, Wagner's lover] was still able to interest him in me to the extent of frequently subsidizing me. When at last it was a question of my wish to have a little house and garden, it was she who, by the most incredible battles, persuaded him to buy for me the fine piece of ground beside his own. Most marvellous of all, I had practically never a suspicion of all this fighting. Her husband had to maintain a perfectly friendly, natural manner with me on her account. There must be no gloomy looks to reveal the situation to me, no ruffling of a single hair of my head." (120)

If these traits do not suffice to merit crackpot status, there is the familiar theme of antiSemitism to put in the hopper. Published in 1937 (in Of Men and Music), Taylor's essay appeared before events like Kristallnacht and the Holocaust would retroactively and perhaps unfairly sully the image of Hitler's favorite composer, but even in the context of his own era Wagner's anti-Jewish ranting had a nutty ring to it. According to Jacob Katz's The Darker Side of Genius: Richard Wagner's Anti-Semitism (1986), Wagner's defamatory Judaism in Music, published anonymously in 1850 and under his name in 1869, arose from purely personal pique over Felix Mendelssohn's and Giacomo Meyerbeer's popularity as contrasted to his own frustrations at the time.

There had to be a Jewish conspiracy against his career to explain this discrepancy, Wagner believed -- a conspiracy of global proportions, according to his autobiography My Life (1935p. 565): "The unparalleled animosity with which. . . I have been pursued by the entire press of Europe can only be understood by. . . [considering] that almost all the newspapers of Europe are in the hands of Jews." Yet this was a man who had solicited -- and received -- major help from this same Meyerbeer with appeals like the following: "My head and my heart no longer belong to me. . . , my master. . . . I have to be your slave in body and soul. . . for I openly confess that I have a slavish nature" (29).

Perhaps it was to compensate for his slavish nature that Wagner revealed a malicious streak to a different audience, as when he observed that Rothschild, instead of "wishing to be the king of the Jews, preferred to remain the Jew of the kings" (34). To his chief sponsor, King Ludwig of Bavaria, Wagner wote, "I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it" (115). And when Wagner at last did reach the pinnacle of acclaim, he had no compunction about demanding that the greatly distinguished conductor, Hermann Levi, be baptized before he would be permitted to perform Parsifal. Moreover, since he did not believe in the clergy, Wagner proposed that he himself would perform the baptism. And yet he had to admit that "on all of my trips Shem and Hebron supply the most receptive and the most generous concert-goers, and what is more, the participation of the non-Semites is completely dependent on theirs" (111-112).

When added to Deems Taylor's list of characteristics, these schizoid attitudes suffice to place Richard Wagner within our loosely framed crackpot category.

But in the end, even with his extreme egomania and fruitcake antiSemitism, it does not matter if Richard Wagner was a crackpot. Hugely overtowering all the other members of our parade, which now includes eminences like Freud, Jung, and Heidegger, Wagner remains an immortal giant of creativity. As Deems Taylor explains, there was compelling reason why it finally did not matter that Wagner was a monster

"Because this . . . disagreeable, fascinating little man was right all the time. The joke was on us. He was one of the world's great dramatists; he was a great thinker; he was one of the most stupendous musical geniuses that, up to now, the world has ever seen. The world did owe him a living. . . .

When you listen to what he wrote, the debts and heartaches that people had to endure from him don't seem much of a price. . . . The women whose hearts he broke are long since dead; and the man who could never love anyone but himself has made them deathless atonement. . . with Tristan und Isolde. . . . [And] a few thousand dollars worth of debts were not too heavy a price to pay for the Ring trilogy.

There is not a line of his music that could have been conceived by a little mind. . . . There is a greatness about his worst mistakes. Listening to his music, one is . . . [struck] dumb with wonder that his poor brain and body didn't burst under the torment of the demon of creative energy that lived inside him. . . tearing, shrieking at him to write the music that was in him. The miracle is that what he did in the little space of seventy years could have been done at all, even by a great genius."

Given this expert testimony, we in the Ferret camp are moved to declare Richard Wagner the greatest crackpot who ever livedemphasis on greatest. What a genius! What a crackpot! We are proud and thrilled to admit so sublime a figure into our grand parade. Indeed, we cannot imagine a more suitable composer to supply the marching music we need -- Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg strikes us perfect for the occasion. Until next month, when another white male will join their number (diversity be damned is our motto), we will leave our septet of marchers to work out their harmony in a Wagnerian chorus of crackpot voices. Freud, Jung, Hemingway, de Man, Heidegger, and Luther, meet your kapellmeister: Richard Wagner, in talent and ego simply the greatest.

POSSUM (Passim): Random Readings of a Near-Sighted Omnivore



"The sounds [of O. J. Simpson's and Paula Barbieri's] lovemaking in Robert Kardashian's house on the night before Nicole's funeral, according to one inside source, woke up the household."

Dominick Dunne, Esquire 4/97


"During the stopover at New York's Idlewild Airport, [Sir Laurence Olivier] was stopped by a customs officer who inspected his passport and tickets, inquired in a nearly incomprehensible accent about Olivier's recent travels, and promptly informed him that a body search would be required. Hastily shuffled into a nearby cubicle, Olivier was then ordered under threat of police action to strip for a detailed physical examination. He demurred, but the customs officer said he was merely doing the job required by the United States Code: searching for unspecified contraband. After submitting to the indignities of an inspection of every inch and crevice of his body, Olivier was astonished to see the customs officer step back and slowly remove a complex disguise (a dark wig and a heavily powdered latex mask) and there before the naked Olivier stood [his lover] Danny Kaye. They spent the night at the St. Regis Hotel before continuing to California next morning."

--Cited from Donald Spoto, Laurence Olivier: A Biography (New York: 1992), 246



"1996 marked the occasion of the thousandth person jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. At the 500 mark, people vied for the honor. The first to jump was a man who casually handed his coat and vest to an acquaintance and said, 'This is where I get off'and over he went."

--New York Times Book Review 3/2/97 (11)



"At times [during the Dust Bowl] as much as 150,000 tons of dust were suspended in a single square mile above the earth."

New York Review of Books 2/6/97 (33)



"For the postmodernist historian, the idea of a discipline of history is not only illusory because it is unattainable; it is delusory, a calculated effort to lend authority and credibility to a 'hegemonic' view of the past. Thus an increasing number of scholarly works flout the traditional appurtenances of the discipline. More and more often they appear unburdened by footnotes; footnotes, one historian explains, are a 'fetish' that too often interferes with 'careful intellection and rumination.' Another historian protests against the 'fetish of archival research,' primary documents being as problematic, indeterminate, and specious as any other kind of evidence. Still others dismiss a concern with facts as 'facticity,' deriding those who object too strenuously to misquotations or misstatements as 'fact fetishists' who inhibit the 'historical imagination.'"

--Gertrude Himmelfarb, Academic Questions Vol. 9, No. 5 (39)



"[Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, in Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years,] has several pages about Montezuma but no mention of Ferdinand and Isabella. He devotes more space to Juan and Eva Peron than to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt combined. He has more pages on Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung than any other political figures in the book, despite the fact that neither built a Communist regime that survived more than one generation beyond his own death. St. Elizabeth of Hungary gets a mention but Elizabeth I of England gets none. As for Western intellectuals, neither Francis Bacon, John Locke, David Hume, nor Immanuel Kant are [sic] discussed at all. The index does not list the category 'philosophy' but does contain thirteen pages of references to shamans and shamanism. . . . As the year 2000 approaches, Millennium, a generously illustrated book of 816 pages published simultaneously in several translated editions, is the first of what is likely to be a number of its kind."

--Keith Windschuttle, The New Criterion 3/97 (5-6)



"[Karl] Popper's ideas did not only propound an irrationalist view of science: they also helped to license irrationalism for an entire generation. Without the bedrockor, rather, the sandbankof Popper's theories upon which to build, the other philosophers of science. . .Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend could never have developed their own influential permutations of irrationalism. . . . And without the example of these and other such gentlemen, the blase irrationalism that infects the humanities and social sciences today. . . might have never achieved epidemic proportions. Kuhn's famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which in effect denies that there is such a thing as progress in science, has by itself done incalculable intellectual damage to innumerable professors looking for excuses to deny the claims of scientific truth. (By the mid-1980s, Kuhn's was the most frequently cited book in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index; the honor of being the most cited author went to Lenin.)"

--Roger Kimball, The New Criterion 3/97 (26)



"The Catholicism of the sixteenth century paid little heed to social righteousness. Today, to be of some public or private use is also reckoned as a species of divine service. The saints are the great torchbearers of this belief, the tip of the wedge, the clearers of the darkness. The world is not yet with them, so they often seem in the midst of the world's affairs to be preposterous. Yet they are impregnators of the world, vivifiers and animaters of potentialities of goodness which but for them would lie forever dormant. Momentarily considered, the saint may waste his tenderness and be the dupe and victim of his charitable fever, but the general function of his charity in social evolution is vital and essential. If things are ever to move upward, someone must be ready to take the first step, and assume the risk of it. This practical proof that the world's wisdom may be transcended is the saint's magic gift to mankind. He is an effective fermenter of goodness, a slow transmuter of the earthly into a more heavenly order."

--William James, "The Value of Saintliness" in The Varieties of Religious Experience (Mentor Book edition, 1958, condensed from pages 275-278


[Ferret-Note: The theologically disadvantaged among our readers are advised that this poem presumes some acquaintance with Genesis 38 and the Song of Solomon.]

Onan's Song

--by Keith Harrison

O.K. Her body's a

Warm wheatfield, breasts

Little does, something about

Apples, and

So on.

Then there's the steady

Companionship; meals

Punctual, small things


In place.

We go at a quiet pace.


All right, I smell the wheat!

But she's still

And any woman

Is still a

Viscous, demanding





Cited from Western Humanities Review (Summer 1966), 254.

Editorial Policy

The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.

Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Assistant Editor: Sara Cohen (Trinity '97).

Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History), Miriam Cooke (Asian and African Languages and Literature).

The purpose of the Faculty Forum is to provide an opportunity for faculty members to discuss topics of common interest. The FF therefore welcomes, and indeed depends on, contributions by faculty members. Absent ad hominem matter, contributions may be published anonymously, but the editor will need to know the identity of all contributors so as to authenticate the contribution and permit appropriate editing procedures.

The design of this publication figures to take the shape of a sandwich. Somewhere near the middle will be our presentation of the latest Academic Council minutes -- an entry that controls the date of our appearance in print. Working toward this midpoint from Page One will be the contributions we receive from faculty members. Working backward from the last page will be the scribblings of the three helpers who have been assigned the task of filling the space left vacant after the faculty has had its say.

Contributions of every kind should be sent, in both print and (if lengthy) computer disk, to the editor, Victor Strandberg, in 315 Allen Building. Voicemail is 684-3976; no objection to calls at home, 489-5531. E-mail is FAX (English department) is 919-684-4871. The deadline for submissions is about the 20th of each month.