The Faculty Forum

SEPTEMBER, 1997 Vol. 9, No. 1

Evans on Academic Entropy

Editorial on FF "Review"

Epistemes for Our Time

Duke Faculty Salaries

The FF Philosophy

The Culture of Sleep

King on Refugee Scholars at Duke

Possum (Passim)

Ferret's Deconstructions: Academic Goulash

Parrot's Declamations: Updike & C.C.

Editorial Policy

Academic Entropy: The Second Law of Acadynamics

--by Lawrence Evans (Physics)

Definitions and introduction.

Here are two widely cited items from physics:

Entropy n, a measure of the disorder in a closed thermodynamic system.

Second Law of Thermodynamics: The entropy of a closed thermodynamic system never decreases.

I will draw analogies between these physical ideas and some trends in American higher education.

In assessing the changes over time in liberal undergraduate education, I propose to use three standards of quality:

1. Clarity of purpose.

2. Integrity and effectiveness.

3. Responsibility to society.

"Clarity of purpose" does not mean that a bachelor's degree from Duke or any liberal arts institution should certify professional skills of any kind. But there ought to be some outcome in mind, some change in the students between matriculation and graduation, that is more specific than that they (sometimes) worked hard, played hard, and got four years older.

"Integrity and effectiveness" means that the institution should be able to claim with a straight face that education of its undergraduates is taken seriously, that they are challenged and tested rigorously, and that their work is evaluated fairly but thoroughly. That is to say, the institution does its part to accomplish the purpose of undergraduate education, whether the students do their part or not.

Finally, "responsibility to society" is something you don't hear faculty talk about very much. But a large segment of our citizens participate in support, directly orindirectly, of the programs of research universities. The graduates of a university should mostly be people of value to the society, and that value should be demonstrably increased by having been through the university's programs.

To establish a historical baseline, Fig. 1 shows a flyer announcing the 1836 course schedule for the University of the City of New York, now known as New York University.

Fig. 1

It has been a long time since the entire set of courses for a university could be printed on one page. Note that classes didn't start until 10 a.m., which is still the earliest time students find acceptable. There were few classes after 2 p.m., indicating that faculty preferences don't change either. The choice of subject matter is interesting, too. I don't think we teach Chaldaic or Syriac at Duke now, and all our courses in Persian are listed as unscheduled. The courses offered by our Religion department now fill 8 pages of fine print in the Bulletin, but there are none on "Evidences of Revealed Religion" as far as I can find.

One might like to ask Rev. Matthews, D.D., the purpose of an education based on these courses. It seems clear that one purpose, perhaps the main one, was creation of more potential D.D.'s. We might not accept this curriculum today as representative of "liberal" education, but it does not lack focus. Assuming that it was indeed carried out with integrity and effectiveness, it must have served its society.

Duke's statements of purpose.

In most university bulletins there is a statement of what the institution hopes its undergraduate educational programs will accomplish. I looked up some of the statements printed over the years in Duke's bulletin for students in Arts and Sciences. Here they are:


Duke University is concerned with developing the whole man. Through the variety of the subject matter, the insistence on a common core of fundamental courses, and an emphasis on a more intensive study of some selected subject, the colleges seek to give their students a knowledge and appreciation of the culture of the Western World and at the same time to provide a foundation for careers in business and the professions.


Same as 1950, except "man" replaced by "person" in the first sentence.


Duke offers its undergraduates the opportunity to study with many internationally recognized authorities in their disciplines and with faculty members who are jointly committed to undergraduate instruction and to the advancement of knowledge. The University recognizes that students learn not only through formal lectures, but also through the interplay of ideas among faculty members and students; thus, it offers undergraduates opportunities to test their ideas against those of their professors and to observe at close range those who have committed their lives to academic careers.


Same as 1980 plus this:

The University, if it does its job properly, is educating citizens of the United States and of the world, not only as individuals aspiring to personal fulfillment. At Duke the men and women who earn degrees are likely to become leaders in industry, government and the professions. They will have influence on and will be influenced by the social fabric of which they are a part. The kind of people they become will matter not only to them and their families, but also to their communities, the United States, and to the countries of the rest of the world as well.

Amidst changing external conditions, the University cannot be sure of what knowledge and what talents will best prepare the citizens of the future for the general welfare. The chances are that the currently most lucrative professions will not remain so as new combinations of knowledge and skill become more useful to the polity which supports us all.


Same as 1990, except last paragraph shortened to:

Amidst changing external conditions, the university must ensure that students acquire the tools and flexibility to prepare them for life-long learning activities.

In 1950 and 1960 the stated purpose was clear and relatively brief. The curriculum of that time embodied the statement, and shared its clarity if not its brevity. This was the curriculum in place when I came to Duke in 1963. It was replaced in 1969 by the "new" curriculum, which had many fewer specific required courses, a lighter course load, and generally much more freedom for the student to make his own course of study and, as we will see, many more opportunities for faculty to create new courses. It is perhaps significant that in 1970 there was no statement of curricular purpose at all.

By 1980 the subject had been changed. Now the student was invited to Duke to study with no suggestion of what with its erudite and world famous faculty. By this time the "new" curriculum had been modified a bit, putting back some specific requirements in languages, natural science, literature, and history of civilization. All of this was swept away in the "reform" of 1986, which gave us essentially what we have now.

The material added to the statement in 1990 promised that Duke graduates would be important and fulfilled people, but completely avoided specification of what kind of education that might require. The clunky writing (mercifully shortened in the most recent version) and unfocused thought suggest an institution that has lost its way.

The evolution of these little manifestos parallels closely what the NAS calls the "dissolution" of general education. Starting from a confident assertion that the purpose of liberal undergraduate education is to gain knowledge and appreciation of one's culture and to prepare for a career in business or the professions , the statements have shriveled over the decades to little more than a vague hope that somehow Duke will "prepare the citizens of the future for the general welfare."

The increase of academic entropy.

Duke's retreat from a clear educational philosophy is unfortunately typical of American universities, as is shown by data from "The Dissolution of General Education: 1914-1993," issued by the National Association of Scholars. The NAS group examined undergraduate bulletins from the 50 top-ranked universities (public and private) according to U.S. News & World Report. The study began in 1989 and collected earlier data from intervals of 25 years: 1914, 1939 and 1964. The work was completed in 1993, which is the final year in their data tables. I will cite the data only for 1964 and 1993, since 1914 was a long time ago and there was little curricular change between 1939 and 1964. Most of the reported data represent averages over the 50 institutions.

We will start with a simple set of data in Fig. 2, giving the total numbers of courses available to undergraduates, by academic division. The number of courses precisely doubled in the humanities, more than doubled in the social sciences, and increased by half in the natural sciences.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 3 shows the number of courses that any student could just walk into, with no prerequisites. This number increased over fourfold in the humanities, by about seven times in the social sciences, and by about three times in the natural sciences.

I suggest that these and similar data indicate a remarkable increase in what I call "academic entropy." The definition and statement of the Second Law given earlier tell what entropy means in physics and why it is a useful concept. The central idea is that an isolated thermodynamic system (such as the ensemble of gas molecules in a closed bottle) has a large and naturally increasing number of possible detailed configurations, each occurring with roughly equal likelihood. Entropy provides a measure of the number of these configurations.

Analogously, the number of courses available to students is an important aspect of academic entropy. More courses means more individual autonomous instructors to teach them, making it more difficult for anyone department chairmen, deans or anyone else to promote and protect clarity of purpose. Given the nearly unrestricted freedom of today's students to use any course as part of their curriculum, the number of likely curricular configurations increases with the number of courses. This constitutes an increase of academic entropy.

As another example consider a gas pipeline in which molecules drift in at one end, mill around bumping into the walls and each other, and eventually escape at the other end. I suggest that similarly undergraduates come in at one end of our academic pipeline, mill around interacting with each other and with us in a not very orderly way, drift toward the other end and escape four years later. The natural tendency in both systems is toward higher entropy.

One can reduce entropy in a physical system, but (as the Second Law tells us) it requires external influences. Home air conditioning, for example, decreases the entropy (along with the temperature) of the house's interior. To do this requires use of the external compressor-evaporator machinery, powered by electrical energy. External influences can also be exerted on an acadynamic system. To reduce academic entropy they must inhibit the proliferation of courses and narrow the range of choices available to the students. In the 1960's and earlier the faculty and administrations of universities provided strong external influences along these lines, mandating for the "general education" part of the curriculum numerous specific courses or narrow choices among a few courses.

But Fig. 4 shows what has happened since then.

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

A "cluster" is a small set of courses within which a choice must be made.) In 1964 only a fifth of the general education requirement could be met by courses chosen freely; in 1993 it was three-fourths.

Besides limiting the total number of courses to choose from, the curriculum used to specify fairly closely the content of the general requirement. But that has also changed dramatically. For history and the humanities the change is shown in Fig. 5.

I have a special interest in the science components of undergraduate education, of course, which are shown in Fig. 6.

Fig. 6

A word of explanation about the term Quantitative. In recent years it has become fashionable to replace a strict math requirement by a "Quantitative" requirement. We have such a thing at Duke, called "Quantitative Reasoning." Quantitative Reasoning courses include all math courses, but also courses in computer science and statistics. (It is one of our six "Areas of Knowledge," of which the student must take some courses in five, but may omit the sixth completely; about half our students choose to omit foreign language, and about a fourth each leave out natural science or quantitative reasoning.)

As a final indicator of freedom of choice in courses, Fig. 7 gives the data on the depth of study required in the specified areas of general education.

Fig. 7

In 1964 a student looking for a course without any prerequisites to satisfy, say, a natural science requirement, would on average find only about eight such courses; in 1993 there were three times as many. In the humanities and social sciences the numbers increased between six and seven times.

That's the end of the NAS data. They all show a dramatic trend toward greater academic entropy. But is this really a bad thing or is it in fact a healthy increase in the freedom of the student to make his own educational choices and a laudable enrichment of what the university has to offer?

This question should be considered in the context of the American style of curricular organization. Unlike students in European universities, our students face no comprehensive examinations on a substantial body of academic material. Those examinations, often put together and graded by anonymous committees, serve to focus the course of study of European students. American students, by contrast, deal one by one with between thirty and forty different courses, each with its own exams and grades, usually under the control of an autonomous instructor who may have never met most of the student's other instructors. Within their major subjects our students may be required to maintain a degree of thematic integrity, but in the general education areas nearly anything goes.

As a result, today's students are able, indeed likely, to look for comfortable courses with complaisant instructors to fill out their general education requirements. There is no doubt that course-shopping of this kind is an important part of the Duke experience for many of our students, as some of them tell their faculty advisors quite openly. (Those advisors, on whose shoulders decades of curricular reformers have tried to place responsibility for bringing order into the students' curricula, are largely helpless in the face of the overwhelming number of options and the lack of any discernible curricular purpose outside the major subject.)

As to whether the flood of new courses results in enrichment of the university's offerings, one need only browse the current bulletin and compare the listings with the bulletins of twenty or thirty years ago. Broad surveys of a discipline, formerly prerequisites for further study, have largely disappeared, at least outside the sciences. Most of the new additions are courses dealing with bits and fragments, some reflecting current scholarly interests of the instructors, some consciously designed to appeal to the course-shopper, and nearly all lacking prerequisites.

Completing the current picture is the new importance given to evaluation of instructors by means of student polls taken at the end of courses. Apart from the dubious validity of these snapshot data, their official use erodes the incentives of the faculty to insist on high standards of student performance. A non-tenured instructor, knowing these evaluations will play a role (even if relatively small) in the tenure decision, must think twice about coming across as a demanding teacher. Even tenured professors may believe (true or not) that their annual salary increases depend in part on receiving good evaluations and may adjust their courses to make them less stressful. Giving out high grades is pleasant work all around, and it is easy to rationalize it to oneself as evidence of excellent teaching to excellent students. (Indeed, one of our colleagues has told us in print that an instructor who cannot "elicit" an A from our wonderful students has failed in his job.) Nobody these days seems to be urging the faculty to adopt or maintain strict standards, while the obvious incentives are all in the other direction.

Who loses in this situation? Liberal undergraduate education itself loses. It loses its clarity of purpose, its integrity and effectiveness become questionable, and society has less reason to have confidence in it or to support it.

Fortunately there are still a few external influences in place that tend to keep academic entropy under some control. Probably the most effective is the career choice of the student. Those who know what they want as a career can, with some help from special advisors, lay out a curriculum with a clear purpose. Our premedical students, for example, get a pretty sound education, at least in areas important to medical school admissions committees. The few students planning to be like us and pursue academic careers can get generally good advice from the faculty in their chosen discipline.

But there is a large segment of the student body who receive (or accept) little direction in choosing courses outside their majors. Many of them seem to be at Duke simply to get a degree it matters little in what and to enjoy their college years. They showed enough promise at admission time to get into Duke, and once in nearly everyone graduates somehow. To be honest about it, a Duke degree by itself means little more these days than admission to Duke by itself.

Along with a fair number of my colleagues, I am not satisfied with this state of affairs. Despite having been on the losing side in faculty council battles on these issues in recent years, we remain hopeful that the present hyperentropic state is a temporary slump and that our universities, including Duke, will be given somehow the required leadership to restore clarity of purpose to liberal education.

Meanwhile, those students who hope to have a good time at Duke are seldom disappointed. Duke is now known to high school students all over the country as a great place to party, which I suspect accounts for much of the rise in our applicant pool since the 1970's. Even with tighter on-campus control of alcohol there are lots of ways to have fun at Duke. There would be no reason to worry about that if the Duke degree clearly stood for something.

To close on that note, I will cite a pair of items printed last spring in The Chronicle of Higher Education. First there was a story on initiatives by the new president at Chicago, Dr. Sonnenschein, to raise the university's low standing in polls measuring student enjoyment of their college life. He proposed to build a sports center and to add coffee shops here and there, to let (so to speak) the Sonnenschein in. The Chronicle piece had several quotes from students and alumni who objected to being stripped of their pride in being intellectuals, not partygoers.

A few weeks later a letter on this subject was published, from a professor of history at Smith College, who made an intriguing proposal. Noting that President Keohane at Duke has been trying to accomplish the converse, to turn partygoers into intellectuals, the professor at Smith suggested a simple junior year exchange program between Duke and Chicago. Let the Chicago students learn to guzzle beer and act crazy at basketball games, and let the Dukies breathe the intellectual air of the Midway for a year. Perhaps both would be better for the experience. It would surely be cheaper than building sports centers and coffee shops.

Editorial: The FF Under "Review"

Last May, responding to a surprise motion (not on the agenda), the Academic Council voted to "review" the Faculty Forum. Because a companion motion to suspend publication during the review was hastily withdrawn when it encountered opposition, I have the privilege of explaining herewith the policies that have guided my work as editor. These precepts come in the form of answers to questions submitted to me by the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, which was charged with conducting the review. (See page 4--"The FF Philosophy"--for this exchange.)

Whatever its intention, that motion to suspend publication brings to mind the fact that over the past year the FF has featured some strongly controversial discussion of topics like Social Text, Science Studies, and Crackpots on Parade. Inescapably, a motion to suspend or curtail FF publication, or to radically reduce its readership, appears to serve the interests of faculty who may have been angered by those commentaries but found it inconvenient to engage the issues in open debate. The image of the university is vulnerable on this account. One can imagine gleeful headlines attending the news accounts:


So far, this apparent maneuver to favor some faculty interests by suppressing contrary voices (or reducing their audience) has not been offset by the prospect of significant gains. In 1996-1997, at an annual cost under $10,000, the FF put out an issue each month for eight months in the number of 13,500 copies per issue. That potentially large readership has served two valuable purposes. First, it helps entice contributions from faculty membersa selling point that has been strengthened by getting the FF on the Internet (see Forum). And second, it enhances faculty communication with non-faculty members of the Duke community who may have an interest (in both senses) in the free expression of faculty opinionstudents, emeriti, administrators, employees, parents, and alumni. It would not serve the faculty well, in my judgment, to reduce or cut off that audience so as to save a relatively trifling amount of money.

According to its critics, the crucial problem with the FF is lack of interest. Very few faculty members (they say) read it, write for it, or run for editor. These three assertions deserve a reply. On the first point, no one knows how many readers we have: mere assertions one way or another prove nothing. On the second point, I have always had enough material for every edition. My problem as editor has been the lack of response by faculty who disdain (or perhaps resent) what is published but fail to upgrade the FF with their own contributions. Up to now, in fact, no FF critic has sent in any writing of any kind to give me an inkling of what they think a profound or exciting entry might be, thus helping to solve the "lack-of-interest" problem. This intellectual parsimony is a shaky platform from which to launch criticism of colleagues who do contribute to the FF.

The third point, about the paucity of candidates for editor, I will concede. Given the 50-80 hours of my time that each issue requires, it is understandable that few candidates apply for the job. But one candidate is all the job needs if that candidate is competent, and up to now someone has always filled the bill well enough. (My own competence may be in question, but the case has yet to be tried.)

My foregoing concerns are not meant to deny the benefits that the Council's review may produce for the FF and its readers. I shall be grateful if the Academic Council can improve our product, especially by way of helping to solicit contributions from the faculty. Let the review go forward, without suspending publication.

three epistemes for our time


"The ethical problems [of science] arise from three `new ages' flooding over human society like tsunamis. First is the Information Age. . . driven by computers and digital memory. Second is the Biotechnology Age. . . driven by DNA sequencing and genetic engineering. Third is the Neurotechnology Age. . . driven by neural sensors and exposing the inner workings of human emotion and personality to manipulation. These three new technologies are. . . likely to bypass the poor and reward the rich. . . .

[It] should also be self-evident that the abandonment of millions of people in modern societies to unemployment and destitution is a worse defilement of the earth than nuclear power stations. . . . [To] foster the growth of technology that supplies the needs of impoverished humans at a price they can afford. . . is the great task for technology in the coming century. . . . If we are wise, we shall also enlist in the common cause of social justice the enduring power of religion. . . . Religion will remain in the future a force equal to science and equally committed to the long-range improvement of the human condition."

Freeman Dyson, The New York Review of Books 4/10/97 (48-49)


"Even the subtlest historians and social scientists tread the bloody crossroads where cultures meet with the breathless caution of soldiers in a minefield. Many seem almost paralyzed with fear at the possibility of exploiting the colonized or colluding with the colonizers. But even the most careful precautions do not ensure safe passage. Grave scholars. . . [accuse] each other of speaking for the native instead of hearing the native's voice, of making the native too radically Other or too imperialistically the Same. . . .

At its worst, revisionist work takes the form of Big Red Books. . . . More than one of the studies published in the last five years will look as quaint, in a generation or two, as the Social Darwinist beatitudes of the late nineteenth century or the Popular Front verities of the Thirties do now. At its best, however, the new scholarship open windows into lost worlds of thought and experience and restores voices to those long deprived of them."

Anthony Grafton, The New York Review of Books 4/10/97 (58)


". . . the current rage for diversity in the arts is resulting in political homogeneity and intellectual conformity. The theater provides the most telling examples.

. . . As a result, we have been breathing the suffocating atmosphere of total consensus over the past decade or longer. . . . In such a world, all black people are angrily protesting racism; all women are passionately confronting sexual discrimination and sexual harassment; all gays are maintaining an identical nobility, laced with bitchy wit, in the face of desperate battles with homophobia and AIDS; and all white male oppressors are either confessing their guilt or persisting in their wicked ways. Contemporary theater, in short, now features as many stock characters as commedia dell'arte. . . . An art form wholly dependent on the element of surprise is now in the grip of mind-numbing predictability."

Robert Brustein, The New Republic 7/7/97 (27)


We Welcome Fact, Opinion, and Creative Whimsy from across the Wide Range of Arts & Sciences--book reviews (new or reprinted), short to middle sized essays, speeches, serendipitous items from random reading, and voices from the etermal kulturkampf. See Editorial Policy box on page 7 for editor's address (including e-mail) and phone number.


The following figures were taken from Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors (March/April 1997). They represent average salaries for all Duke faculty except clinical medicine.

Professor $95,800

Assoc. Prof. $63,300

Assist. Prof. $52,100



The Dean of Arts and Sciences has released the following figures for the median salaries in Arts and Sciences. They do not include the chaired professorships.

Professor $82,500

Associate Prof. $57,000

Assistant Prof. $46,000


On June 2, my Editorial Board and I met with the Executive Committee of the Academic Council (ECAC) for an hour of discussion. To their previously submitted questions, I gave these answers:

1. ECAC: What in your view should be published in the Faculty Forum?

VS: The FF should be an open forum of ideas and information. The editor should neither obstruct or prescribe what the faculty chooses to submit for publication. (I have never rejected any entry submitted by a faculty member.)

2. ECAC: Based on your experience, what would be an optimal frequency for publication (assuming that publication of the summary of minutes from the Academic Council is not a determining factor)?

VS: I favor the present practice of maintaining one FF per month, and I see no reason why it cannot be timed to suit the publication of Academic Council minutes. We could go to more than one edition per month if the faculty submitted enough material to justify itperhaps under the temporary stimulus of a "hot topic." [Afternote: Our discussion revealed that the premise of the question favored fewer editions, not more. In place of the present four per semester, I agreed to three or four depending on the number of faculty submissions.]

3. ECAC: What attempts have been made to solicit material for publication? Is there an effort to solicit informal professional essays?

VS: I am always eager to obtain material for publication. During the past year, my own front-page solicitations included Nan Keohane's Report to the Faculty, Peter Whitney's long essay on Free Market Reforms in Latin America, and several creative writing samples from Reynolds Price, Deborah Pope, and Frank Lentricchia. Judging from my first year's experience, I believe the FF can do a better job by way of soliciting faculty contributions. We have to be careful, however, to leave open ample space on a month-by-month basis for unsolicited contributions, which must have equal access to publication.

4. ECAC: How has the advisory board [of the FF] been involved with the publication? Are they engaged in soliciting material?

VS: Major solicitations obtained by board members have included Walter Mignolo's "The Relocation of Languages and Cultures" (thanks to Miriam Cooke), Gillian Einstein's essay about her "Exploring the Mind" Focus Program (thanks to Sy Mauskopf), and Myron Wolbarsht's essay on the Metric System (thanks to Howard Clark). Apart from soliciting material for publication, the board has helped me by attending bi-monthly lunches for general discussion. (In effect, we have met after every two issues of the FF.) Individual contributions have also included Buford Jones's help with matters of style and proofreading, and Matt Cartmill's delightful artwork in portraying Ferret, Parrot, and Possum.

5. How does the editor insure that the publication does not become an organ for a subset of special interests?

VS: A "subset of special interests"insofar as we can define that termis as entitled as anyone else to publish in the FF. To offset the potential imbalance of such publishing, I depend on faculty who have contrary interests to openly state their arguments in the FFas I have repeatedly requested in my editorial comments. I whole-heartedly welcome such intellectual engagement, including negative criticism of my own two monthly columnsthe editorial and Ferret-column (Crackpots on Parade). In lamenting the lack of faculty contributions to the FF, I refer primarily to this failure of faculty members to argue against points of view published by other faculty membersespecially concerning such widely publicized and debatable issues as Science Studies, Social Text, and Ideological Correctness.

6. ECAC: Has publication of special issues (thematic issues) been tried?

VS: A special (thematic) issue is a good idea, I think, but hard to execute beyond the limited basis we already employ (for example, with several articles on Academic Freedom in the February issue). For an entire issue to be given over to a single theme will require a special effort at organization that might best be done by a guest editor with many months of lead time. I would be happy to cooperate in such a venture.

7. ECAC: What prompted the change of name to Faculty Forum?

VS: My predecessor, Roger Corless, urged me to change the name from Faculty Newsletter to Faculty Forum, saying he had intended to do so but never got around to it. In our view, the new name implies a heightened sense of intellectual engagement.

8. ECAC: Has there been a period when the Newsletter or Forum was perceived as a particularly vibrant publication?

VS: During my year as editor, I have invested a good many hours every month trying to make the FF a "vibrant" publicationas my predecessors have done before me. Our degree of success has been up to our readers to judge.

ECAC: In addition, we will be interested in any other insights and advice you can provide.

VS: In answer to your request for "other insights and advice," I appreciate this opportunity to register the following judgments:

1. If my service as editor is deemed blameworthy, I would urge the Academic Council to appoint a more suitable editor but not terminate the Faculty Forum. Its open opportunity for intellectual engagement is a defining asset for a first-rate faculty, and we have no other faculty organ at Duke that serves this purpose in so broad a fashion.

2. Although I am all in favor of putting our publication on the web, this move should be ancillary to newsprint publication, not a substitute for it. To limit the FF only to electronic media will effectively kill it, in my judgment, by drastically lowering its readership.


Editor's Note: Aristotle declared that the ability to detect irony is one of the surest signs of intelligence. In that respect, the following e-mail excerpt, sent to my mailbox by John Staddon (Exp. Psychology), poses a challenge to our collective I.Q.: Is this piece a serious discussion or a satire? Any reader responses will be welcome.


by Neil Smith

Sleep has thus far been radically excluded from explorations of a counterhegemonic politics of the everyday. This results presumably from a privileging of consciousness and of conscious human action over other states of being, recalling perhaps the parallel privileging of visuality over other senses. But the centrality of sleep in daily life is not simply a question of quantitative dominancethe fact that sleep consumes perhaps a third of any lifetime. Sleep is more than a biological necessity, and it is much more than a convenient trope on which a fashionable narrative of oppositional practice can be exercised. If Foucault is correct that political opposition oozes from the interstices of unexceptional daily activity, then surely sleep is a vitally unexplored site of oppositional possibility.

Excessively narrowed by the totalizing megadiscourses of economism and historicism, social and political theory has remained innocent of the practical political instantiations embedded in sleep; indeed sleep has been widely ignored in the mistaken assumption that it is a lesser site of human experience. If Marxists especially have undervalued `sleep', Lenin may be a partial exception to this dismal record. If his notion of `false consciousness' at least began to challenge the fetishism of a self-evident consciousness, unproblemati-cally and fully present to itself, nonetheless by equating false consciousness with a kind of uncritical social somnambulance Lenin closed off the possibility for an exploration of counterhegemonic sleep practices, falling back into the familiar `degradation of sleep' narrative. More important, obviously, was Freud for whom the interpretation of dreams bespoke a vital inner life beyond the conscious. More than anyone else Freud understood sleep as a site of difference, a place where not only sleep itself was differentiated from consciousness but where the myriad of social differences were reinvented in sleep. As such he was sensitive and sympathetic to the symbolic social power inherent in sleep. But for all this even Freud tended to see sleep in essentialist and rather passive terms. Sleep for Freud was the place where the `discontents of civilization' may have received a working out, but only very dimly does he perceive the active social agency of sleep. This contradiction is most sharply expressed in Lacan for whom sleep might have become the preeminent site of the political other, the location where the language of political possibility emerges most fully, were it not for his more negative focus on sexual loss.

The extremeness of Lacan's position poses its inherent possibilities in stark fashion. What if this treatment of sleep is stood on its head? What if sleep is retheorized as a site of quintessential social inventiveness, of gain rather than loss, of political creativity rather than simply responsiveness, of active political transgression rather than simply a mire of psychosocial discontent? The boundary between consciousness and sleep, in fact, marks the transterritorial shift from the liminal disempowerment of the body, subject to multiple vectors of social power in space and time, to its transubstantial empowerment. Sleep alone, in fact, facilitates the unfettered exploration of alternative subject positions. The ultimate deterritorialization, it is in some senses the perfect expression of power. Sleep, then, can reasonably be scripted as the major locale of transgressive, counterhegemonic imagining and therefore of political strategy.

The dismal failure of the various political programs of the New Lefta revivified Marxism, feminism, antiracism, and the new social movementshave many diverse and complicated roots. But the exclusion of sleep as a viable political practice surely plays a profound and as yet poorly understood part. With political struggles at such a low ebb, there is surely no better time for a reconsideration of this vital but unexplored category of quotidian existence as a means of remapping a more critical cultural politics.

[Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1996, volume 14, pages 505-506 Copyright 1996 a Pion publication printed in Great Britain]

Refugee scholars at Duke University

[Editor's Note: This essay was published in 1996 in a book entitled They Fled Hitler's Germany and Found Refuge in North Carolina.]

The volume in the records of President William P. Few is marked "Strictly Confidential." It is dated 1936 and titled List of Displaced German Scholars. In content, it consists of more than 1,600 of the briefest of biographical sketches of victims of political persecution in Germany. Specifically the purpose of the compilation was to assist in finding employment for "Jewish scholars; scholars with Jewish antecedents or those connected with Jews by marriage; and non-Jewish scholars whose convictions made them unacceptable to the German Government."

Arranged by academic discipline, one can easily identify 102 psychologists, 104 sociologists or 197 theologians. The list seems to go on and on including the now familiar names of Einstein, Lewin, Barth and Tillich. Each listing represents the uprooting of family and the interruption of teaching and research. Both men and women and established and promising scholars are included.

At least five individuals employed by Duke University are listed in the volume. That Duke would employ so many émigrés is perhaps surprising. Despite obvious academic advantages and humanitarian appeal, the employment of the European émigrés was sometimes controversial and difficult to implement. The organizers of the placement services were concerned about anti-Semitism. Religious prejudice, however, was often less a problem than anti-foreign attitudes which were most often rooted in the hard economic reality of the times. The 1930s were the time of the Great Depression and as salaries were cut and research funds lost, native-born academicians sometimes resented limited funds going to foreign refugees. Prestigious Harvard University was conspicuously slow to join the effort to add German émigrés to its faculty. The South, as a region, was the slowest area to offer assistance.

The eleven states of the old Confederacy were still so poor the region was labeled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the nation's number one economic problem. The rebirth or second era of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and 1930s fed off of poverty and cultivated anti-foreign and anti-Semitic attitudes. The South's mixture of widely dispersed state-supported universities and teachers' colleges and numerous independent private colleges and universities did not lend itself to quick participation in a national effort of any kind. When the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars organized in 1933, it named only one southerner, Chancellor James H. Kirkland of Vanderbilt University, to its twenty-two member general committee of support. The final report of the Emergency Committee in 1945 lists the successful placement of 613 scholars. A partial listing by state reflects the relative emphasis of the efforts of the Committee: 111 in New York state, 27 each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, 26 in Illinois, 10 in Maryland, 7 in North Carolina, 4 in Tennessee and Virginia, and 1 in Louisiana.

The policy of employing German scholars distinguished Duke University compared to other institutions in the region. When the assistant secretary of the Emergency Committee, Edward R. Murrow, sent a mass appeal to college and university presidents on November 2, 1933, President William P. Few replied the next day: "I should be very glad to have. . .a list of available men for consideration." By November 27, Few submitted seven names in order of preference for scholars in psychology, zoology, history, chemistry or physics, law, language and sociology.

Obviously desiring to be of quick assistance in such perilous times for refugee scholars, President Few also was grateful for assistance in building the faculty for the relatively new Duke University. Founded in 1838 as Union Institute in Randolph County, the institution became Trinity College before relocating to Durham in 1892 through the primary support of tobacco entrepreneur, Washington Duke. Duke's son, James B. Duke, a business genius with spectacular success in both tobacco and electric power, greatly expanded the family's commitment to serving the region in 1924 with the creation of the Duke Endowment, a philanthropic organization empowered to aid hospitals, orphanages, and selected institutions of higher education in the two Carolinas and the rural Methodist Church in North Carolina.

James B. Duke's generosity permitted the expansion of Trinity College into a university, and with an additional gift for construction of a new campus, President Few persuaded Duke to permit the expanded, reorganized institution to be named Duke University. Within six years the school was transformed by the construction of two new campuses. A Georgian style campus became the undergraduate college for women, and a Gothic style campus became the site of the expansion of an undergraduate school for men, an engineering school, law school, and graduate school, as well as the site for the addition of new schools in religion, medicine, nursing and forestry. During the decade of the 1930s undergraduate enrollment increased 50 per cent, graduate enrollment 87 per cent, and faculty 34 per cent. The institution profited enormously by the unparalleled opportunity presented by James B, Duke's largesse at a time of economic depression.

In such flush times, however, President Few, early on and alone, concluded that perhaps the school had expanded too rapidly. The opportunity presented by the Emergency Committee offered decided advantages and fortuitously fit Few and the university's needs. Distinguished scholars were available to help in the staffing of new or expanded academic programs. And they were available at no expense, for the New York committee and the Rockefeller Foundation shared in paying all of the émigrés' salaries. Initially no long-term commitment was required of the employing institution. But as events worsened in Europe and the small number of academic refugees swelled dramatically, the Emergency Committee enacted a more restrictive policy. Financial assistance came to be granted for a limited term of three years and then only if the employing institution guaranteed the émigré scholar a permanent position or tenure. This change in policy, however, scarcely gave Few pause because he favored established scholars to bring prestige to the growing graduate and professional schools and he still had time to plan for assuming their total expense.

It is not surprising that Few's first choice for Duke in his initial list for the Emergency Committee was the renowned psychologist William Stern. The Duke psychology department was unusually strong with its chairman William McDougall, a native of England who came to Duke by way of Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, generally acknowledged as one of the top ten psychologists in the world. It is clear that McDougall wanted his German contemporary, Stern, to join a department that consisted of a Swede, Helge Lundholm, and two Harvard- and Berlin-trained Americans, Karl Zener and Don Adams.

Murrow replied immediately to Few's request saying that Stern had not yet been placed, that he could be reached in Amsterdam, Holland, and that the employing institution had to initiate contact with the prospective faculty member. Upon confirmation that the Emergency Committee and the Rockefeller Foundation would share Stern's salary of $6,000, Few promptly wrote Stern. McDougall wrote two letters of welcome, sending one to Holland and one to the New York office of the placement committee in case Stern was already en route.

A confidential addition to the letter from the Emergency Committee to Few described the scholar joining the psychology department. "Stern is," it read, "about 62 years of age, alert, almost boyish in his manner and enthusiasm. His wife is charming and gracious, a woman who has in her own right a first class reputation as a psychologist. They understand English and speak it well enough for conversational purposes, but unfortunately Stern is quite certain that he will lack freedom of intellectual formulation in the English language and must therefore be allowed to lecture in German." The description fit the Sterns perfectly. The couple brought a European gentility to the campus and community that was greatly appreciated, especially by graduate students who were entertained in their house with cakes and ale. One student remembers Stern as enjoying records, especially Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, because he had sung the choral portion.

Stern's expertise in child psychology complemented the Duke department well. Since he taught in German his courses were small, usually averaging fewer than ten graduate students. Often he explained devices he had developed, such as a puzzle box for testing children or a series of pictures of cloud shapes designed to elicit spontaneous remarks from children. Few once reported that at the end of a public lecture Stern received a great ovation and the presentation of flowers. Everyone was pleased, and Stern's employment was renewed annually. But tragically in April, 1938, Stern died suddenly one Sunday morning. Few reported that the whole community had become attached to Stern and was deeply distressed. Funeral rites, conducted by Rabbi Bernard Zigler of Chapel Hill and Professor Alban Widgery of the Duke philosophy department, were held in the Duke chapel.

Walter Kempner arrived in the Duke Medical Center in 1934 through the personal assistance of Frederic M. Hanes, Chairman of the Department of Medicine. Kempner was the son of medical doctors; his mother, whose specialty was bacteriology, is credited as being the first female professor in Prussia. Thirty-one years of age upon his arrival at Duke, Kempner had earned his medical degree at the University of Heidelberg before being associated with the University of Berlin's medical clinic. As associate in medicine and physiology, his research eventually established the reversibility of major disease processes through dietary control. The public knows Kempner as the originator of the "rice diet" which established Durham's reputation as a diet center. Dr. Kempner is still (in 1995) living in Durham.

Herbert von Beckerath arrived in 1935 to assume the unique position of a joint appointment at Duke and the University of North Carolina. Initial contact with von Beckerath was made by Howard Odum, Director of the Institute for Research in Social Science at UNC. The correspondence of President Frank Porter Graham of UNC, reveals that Odum forwarded him outstanding recommendations for von Beckerath, noted a favorable personal impression from published articles and a personal interview, and explained that despite von Beckerath's background in jurisprudence, economics and political science, Odum believed the best students in sociology would profit considerably from his courses in broad-based theory as it is our desire "to get away from narrow disciplinary lines." Apparently financial constraints intruded in the hiring process, for at the last moment when the Rockefeller Foundation agreed to support one-half of his salary, Duke was invited to share one quarter along with Carolina. In 1938 von Beckerath became permanently associated with Duke where he taught graduate level courses in economics and political science until he retired in 1955.

When he arrived Herbert von Beckerath was forty-nine years old and an acknowledged authority on money market theory and industrial policy and organization. Protestant in religion and educated at the universities of Freiburg, Berlin and Bonn, he took leave from the University of Bonn in protest to growing Nazi authority. It was a leave a colleague said was for the right reasons and one von Beckerath "would be glad to extend." He had traveled widely, spoke several languages fluently, and had published in German and English. Durham colleagues described him as upper class, urbane, quiet, and an excellent conversationalist although he avoided politics in discussion. He had an aristocratic background, being from one of the oldest, most successful Rhineland families which had been quite wealthy before losing everything during World War I and its aftermath. Von Beckerath came to North Carolina by way of a one-year appointment at Bowdoin College in Maine. He married Guelda Elliott of Chapel Hill in 1937. After her death in 1966 he began a journey to return to his homeland. Sadly, while en route he died in his sleep in a hotel room in Washington, D. C.

Staffing the Physics department proved troublesome to President Few in the transition from college to university. Oftentimes he built successful programs around a "star" appointment like William McDougall in Psychology, Charles Ellwood in Sociology, and even Wallace Wade in football. Several attempts to lure "stars" in physics failed, however, until the Emergency Committee assisted in the employment of Hertha Sponer in 1936. Then forty-one years old, she was acknowledged as one of the two most outstanding women physicists in the world. A specialist in molecular spectroscopy she had just published an acclaimed two-volume work, Molecular Spectra and Their Application to Chemical Problems. Highly respected and non-Jewish, she nevertheless wondered about her career given the common belief that Nazi authorities frowned upon women in academic posts. A student believed she left Germany out of sympathy for persecuted academicians and in fear of another war. She came to Duke by way of the University of Oslo. In welcoming a woman Few ignored the advice of Robert A. Millikin of the California Institute of Technology that he would get more for his money if he picked a younger man rather than any woman.

If perchance Few thought he was employing someone who would interact mainly with women undergraduates, he soon discovered otherwise. Sponer was a very serious scientist focused on research, publication, and professional lectures and meetings. Initially her highly specialized upper level courses averaged only four students. In 1946 at age fifty-one she married her former professor in Germany, James Franck. Franck, a Nobel Prize laureate in physics, had emigrated to the United States in 1935. Although Franck never taught at Duke and commuted between Chicago and Durham for awhile, they were a delightful couple to have in the academic community. She also attracted attention locally by raising world champion Doberman Pinschers. Noting how well cared for her dogs were, she once commented that she wished to be her own dog in reincarnation. James Franck died in 1965. Hertha Sponer-Franck retired in 1965 and died in 1968 in Germany, where she had gone to live with relatives.

In April, 1937, Few wrote the Emergency Committee seeking help in securing a theoretical physicist. The committee notified him that Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim was a visiting professor at Purdue University on temporary assignment and that he could switch to Duke if he received a permanent position. Nordheim transferred to Duke for the academic year 1937-38 with some confusion over a permanent position and whether his first year at Purdue counted as part of a three year appointment with shared salary. Not wishing to alienate the Emergency Committee, Few ended the negotiations with a clearly stated appreciation for the Emergency Committee's cooperation in "the protection of scientists and scholars and the protection of science and learning." He commented that he believed Nordheim to be an excellent man who would make a significant contribution in his field.

Born in Munich in 1899, the son of a Jewish medical doctor, Nordheim served briefly in World War I before studying at the universities of Hamburg, Munich, and Gottingen. His research was in quantum mechanics, particularly electron emission and conductivity in metals. When he was dismissed from his German university position in 1933, James Franck helped him obtain temporary positions in France and the Netherlands. In an interview with a student reporter at Duke, Nordheim commented that World War I was thought of as a chemist's war while World War II was a physicist's war. He did his part in the Allied war effort by joining the top secret Manhattan Project in Chicago before becoming director of the physics division of the Oak Ridge laboratories. A man of proven administrative ability, he frequently alternated between the Duke campus and laboratories at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos, New Mexico, during and after World War II. In 1956 he joined the General Atomic Division of General Dynamics Corporation in San Diego, California.

Nordheim's wife, Gertrude, was also a Ph. D. in physics. Although she did not teach at Duke she became popular among graduate students by helping them with experiments. She died tragically in a bicycle accident in 1949 during a postwar visit to her hometown in Germany. Lothar Nordheim's sister came to live with him and helped to raise his son. A dedicated scientist-administrator, Nordheim did not avoid debate on the need for information versus secrecy during the Cold War or on the developing role of atomic energy in the postwar world. He participated in Duke-UNC colloquia, campus forums, statewide speaking tours and Unitarian discussion groups. He also did not hesitate to sign public policy releases by the scientific community from time to time.

In 1938 the last of the German émigrés who spent the remainder of their lives at Duke arrived in Durham. In Fritz London, Duke found the long sought "star" in science, and in reality perhaps one of the brightest stars in the history of the faculty of the university. A modest autobiographical statement in the news bureau clipping file begins as follows: "I was born the 7th of March 1900 in Breslau as a son of Franz London, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Breslau and graduated (Dr. phil.) summa cum laude in 1921 at the University of Munich. I served at the University of Stuttgart and Berlin in the departments of theoretical Physics. . . . I held a Rockefeller Fellowship with Prof. Schroedinger in Zurich 1927 and with Prof. Fermi in Rome 1931. In the summer 1933 I lost my position at the University of Berlin in consequence of the laws which exclude persons of Jewish origin from state appointments."

Fritz London was in Paris when Paul M. Gross, Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Duke, approached him about coming to Durham. He was not employed with any assistance of the Emergency Committee. Reluctant to leave Europe, he came first as a visiting professor before accepting a permanent position. Describing Fritz London's work and contributions is difficult, and often one finds the simple statement "he thinks for a living" quoted by journalists. Known for theories in chemistry and physics, London was a pioneer in modern quantum chemistry, in understanding atomic and molecular structures, and in super conductivity in low temperature physics. As an academician he was absorbed in his work, intense, precise, and an intuitive thinker who usually arrived at a solution first and then worked at proving it. Colleagues remember asking him if he had had a good vacation and getting the reply, "I had a great vacation. I got some good ideas." He worked alone with limited association with graduate students or colleagues. Yet upon the discovery of a solution to a problem a friend said he changed to where sharing the joy of his discovery took over and his enthusiasm became contagious. Personally he was considerate with a delightful sense of humor, and he was an excellent conversationalist. He had close friends at Duke, UNC, and in Durham with whom he enjoyed music and family. His wife Edith, an accomplished artist, and their two children broadened his circle of friends. Fritz London died prematurely at age 54 in 1954.

Today one hears on campus that had London lived he would have won the Nobel Prize for physics. Some may question whether that is institutional pride, but London's receipt of the prestigious Lorentz Medal for scientific achievement, awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science, validates his being in the tradition of Nobel prize winners. Perhaps a biography by Professor Gavroglu which is being released this spring by Cambridge University Press will add more to that aspect of London's life. London in remembered at Duke today with a seminar room named after him and through an award and lecture. The Fritz London Memorial Lecture, begun through joint efforts of the Sigma Xi chapters at Duke and UNC, has brought seventeen Nobel laureates to the Triangle area since Lothar Nordheim gave the first lecture in 1956. In 1973, John Bardeen, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, established an endowment to underwrite the lecture series and initiate a Fritz London Award in low temperature physics. Bardeen acknowledged that his second award, which was for work in superconductivity, was inspired by London's pioneering in the field a generation earlier.

Altogether, then, in the 1930s Duke employed six émigré scholars, four through the assistance of the Emergency Committee. One other, Raphael Lemkin, taught briefly in the Law School in the early 1940s. A Polish-born lawyer, Lemkin was responsible for the United Nations' outlawing of genocide, a term he introduced and defined as meaning "the purposeful destruction of nations, races or groups."

One must be thankful that Duke acted so quickly to employ so many displaced scholars. It is instructive to identify them and note the contributions they and their families made to the university, community, and world of scholarship. Yet it is impossible to understand the very personal experience of having to leave one's homeland under such trying circumstances. A final illustration of another émigré who frequently visited the Duke campus perhaps helps convey the sense of loss and beginning anew experienced by the displaced scholars. The theologian Paul Tillich first visited Duke when the Sarah P. Duke Gardens were taking on their present shape in the late 1930s. He was taken to see them as was common for any visitor of the time. But he strongly identified with the Gardens in being himself uprooted and planted in a new land and culture. Every time he returned to Duke through the years he asked to have time to revisit the gardens, visits reported by Tommy Langford, former Dean of the Divinity School and University Provost, that seemed to be an almost mystical experience. Tillich seemed to be lost in thought remembering his past and identifying with the growth and maturing of the landscape as it changed through the years. One almost felt like an intruder accompanying him on his visits, says Langford. Today one has somewhat that same sense of intruding in the lives of the émigré scholars in recounting their forced journey to live among us. But it is a significant story worthy of being part of the historical record nevertheless.

A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot
Leaves of Grass
, Walt Whitman called his splendiferous oeuvre. Lumps of Grass-Nourishment will be poor Ferret's portion, assigned to snoop, sniff, and snuffle up unsavory nuggets of academic matter in the transgressive Deconstructionist mode. Parrot will continue her work in the high-minded end of the spectrum, reciting brief but elegant readings in the Noble Thinker's tradition. And Possum, our omnivorous super-scholar, will devote a segment of his Random Readings to a new category, Voices from the Kulturkampf. 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 mailed to Victor Strandberg, 315 Allen Building (90015) or sent by e-mail to Voicemail is 684-3976.

POSSUM (Passim): Divagations



(White Hetero Males: Defeated)

"In spite of energetic attempts by conservative politicians and educationists to impose a single language and a single literary curriculum, United States cultural life is made up of diverse interpenetrating cultural communities speaking and writing in many different languages. These communities cannot easily be reconciled. Their sites are the loci of mutually incompatible goods. These values would be impossible to unify by some overarching idea of universal human `culture.' . . . The traditional single set of values transmitted by aesthetic education is now seen as what it always was: an ideological fabrication made to serve primarily the power of educated white middle- or upper-class heterosexual males."

J. Hillis Miller, Profession 1996 (Modern Languages Association) (9-10)


(Independent Black Men: Triumphant)

"What I believed thenand am even more convinced of now, after decades of research on ethnic groups around the worldis that the internal development of the skills, aptitudes, and orientations necessary for economic advancement (`human capital' as economists call it) was the key and that much of what was being said in the name of civil rights was a fatal distraction from such self-development. . . . When it comes to blacks, the whole orientation of [Nathan] Glazer's book is: What can `we' do for them'? Frederick Douglass answered this question more than a century ago: `I have had but one answer from the beginning: "Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!" . . . It was precisely when blacks began to be treated as mascots of sympathetic whiteswhose `help' included largess, excuses, double standards of performance and behavior, and an undermining of law enforcementthat major retrogressions began in the black community in crime, violence, family disintegration, and moral squalor in general. If only Frederick Douglass' advice had been heeded: Do nothing with us!"

Thomas Sowell, Forbes 6/16/97 (76-78)


(Caucasoid Indians: Nullified)

"Kennewick Man's [9,000-year-old] bones are part of a growing quantity of evidence that the earliest inhabitants of the New World may have been a Caucasoid people. . . . At the least, the new evidence calls into question the standard Beringian Walk theory, which holds that the first human beings to reach the New World were Asians of Mongoloid stock, who crossed from Siberia to Alaska over a land bridge. . . .Among these early skeletons, there are no close resemblances to modern Native Americans. . . . Dennis Stanford, of the Smithsonian, said to me, `For a long time, I've held the theory that the [Caucasoid] Clovis and Folsom were overwhelmed by a migration of Asians over the Bering land bridge. . . . The north Asians may have been carrying diseases that the Folsom and Clovis had no resistance to. . . .'

There is a suspicion among anthropologists that some of the people behind the effort to rebury Kennewick and other ancient skeletons are afraid that the bones could show that the earliest Americans were Caucasoid. . . . Native Americans have already claimed and reburied two of the earliest skeletons, . . . both of which apparently had some Causasoid characteristics. . . . If these early skeletons are all put back in the ground, anthropologists say, much of the history of the peopling of the Americas will be lost."

Douglas Preston, The New Yorker 6/16/97 (72-81)


"In the months immediately after the liberation, more than ten thousand reputed French collaborators were purged in a frenzy of vigilante justice. `I witnessed these summary trials, and then the guys were taken immediately into the woods and executed,' [Claude] Lanzmann [producer of the Holocaust film Shoah] told me, adding, `So there was a purification that was very, very real.' Then General de Gaulle dropped the curtain. He called a halt to the killings and declared, in effect, that France had been a nation of resistance."

Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker 4/28 & 5/5, 1997 (142)


"If $30,000 is set as a minimum middle-class income, fewer than a third of all employed Americans can be considered middle class. Even at $20,000, only about half can. At the very top, with yearly incomes over $1 million, sit some 68,000 of the nation's highest rollers (from whose ranks, [Andrew] Hacker tells us, came one-quarter of all the delegates to the most recent Republican National Convention)."

Robert B. Reich, in a review of Andrew Hacker's Money: Who Has How Much and Why, New York Times Book Review 7/6/97 (11)


[Note: The following item comes from an essay on John Hinckley, President Reagan's would-be assassin.]

"To be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder, an individual must have at least five of the following symptoms. One is a grandiose sense of self-importance. Second, a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance. Third is believing oneself to be special or understood only by other special or high-status people. The fourth is requiring a lot of admirationexcessive admiration, really. The fifth is a sense of entitlement, where one assumes that one's requests should automatically be met, or one should get special privileges or things like that. A sixth is the tendency to be exploitative personally, to use other people to achieve your own ends. A seventh is [to be] lacking in empathy, not really being able to feel the way other people feel, or at least understand what their emotional reaction might involve. An eighth is envy, often feeling envious of others. And, finally, being perceived by others as arrogant or haughty."

Mimi Swartz, The New Yorker 7/7/97 (25)


"Che [Guevara] noted that one of the most powerful treatments for leprosy was a firm handshake: when he sat with the lepers, took their hands confidently, played soccer and ate with them, they saw that he had no fear. `This may seem pointless bravado,' Che wrote to his father, `but the psychological benefit to these poor peopleusually treated like animalsof being treated as normal human beings is incalculable.'"

Patrick Symmes, Harper's 6/97 (58)


"Ed Sullivan was a man who could brighten a room simply by leaving it. . . . Maladroit and malaprop, his faux pas were legion. . . . Irving Berlin, who would outlive Sullivan, was referred to as `the late Irving Berlin'; clarinetest Benny Goodman was a `trumpeter.' . . . A group of Samoans were presented as `Somoans from Samoa,' while a group of native New Zealanders became `the fierce Maori tribe from New England.'

. . . Sullivan, indulging his custom of recognizing distinguished audience members, asked a paraplegic to stand up and take a bow. Somehow most characteristic was Sullivan's urging, `Let's hear it for the Lord's Prayer,' upon forgetting the name of singer Sergio Franchi on the 1965 Christmas show.

`I dreaded being called over,' Connie Francis remembers. . . . `Once, . . . after I sang Mama, he said, "Come on over, young lady, and take a bow. Tell me, Connie, is your mother still dead?"'"

--Nick Tosches, Vanity Fair 7/97 (120)


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have once left a dinner party raving about the man's gift as a conversationalist. `But you did all the talking,' his companion pointed out. `Exactly!' Conan Doyle said."

Stephen Fry, The New Yorker 6/16/97 (87)

Science for Laypersons:

SNIFFING MOLECULES (A Billion Trillion):

"In each breath we take, molecules pass in daunting multitudes. The total population of a sniff is a billion trillion molecules, nearly all of them normally in the mix we call air."

--Philip Morrison, Scientific American 4/97 (113)


"Small `klepto' dung beetles tunnel sideways off the vertical shafts of honest dung beetles' burrows to pilfer their stores. The biggest beetles, certain elephant-dung eaters, can attain three inches in length. These giants sculpt [dung-pies] the size of croquet balls and bury them as deep as eight feet. . . . The more creatures care for their offspring, the smaller the number of offspring they have. Most insects lay. . . hundreds or even thousands of eggs. Some species of dung beetle lay but a single egg in a season."

David C. Holzman, Smithsonian 6/97 (119-120)



Editor's Note: Several campus colleagues have sent Ferret the results of the Bad Writing Contest described below, to which the Associated Press gave world-wide publicity last May. We think it inappropriate to embarrass the contest winners by printing their names, but we do deem it salutary to cite excerpts from the seven winning entries so as to lend support to our campaign against academic goulasha campaign made all the more urgent by the fact that the top three winners are professors of literature. The publishers of these entries were two journals--Social Text and Art Bulletinand four presses: Routledge (twice), the Duke Press, and the Presses of the Universities of Minnesota and California. (The introductory paragraphs below were written by the contest's sponsors.)

Bad Writing Contest Winners of 1997

We are pleased to announce winners of the third Bad Writing Contest, sponsored by the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature (published by the Johns Hopkins University Press) and its internet discussion group, PHILLIT.

The Bad Writing Contest attempts to locate the ugliest, most stylistically awful passage found in a scholarly book or article published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be nonironic, from actual serious academic journals or books. In a field where unintended selfparody is so widespread, deliberate sendups are hardly necessary.

This year's winning passages include prose published by established, successful scholars, experts who have doubtless labored for years to write like this. Obscurity, after all, can be a notable achievement. The fame and influence of writers such as Hegel, Heidegger, or Derrida rests in part on their mysterious impenetrability. On the other hand, as a cynic once remarked, John Stuart Mill never attained Hegel's prestige because people found out what he meant. This is a mistake the authors of our our prizewinning passages seem determined to avoid.
[Excerpts from those prize-winning entries follow:]

1."The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer)."

2. "If such a sublime cyborg would insinuate the future as postFordist subject, his palpably masochistic locations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate need to be decoded as the `now-all-but-unreadable DNA' of a fast deindustrializing Detroit, just as his Robocoplike strategy of carceral negotiation and street control remains the tirelessly American one of inflicting regeneration through violence upon the racially heteroglossic wilds and others of the inner city."

3. "The lure of imaginary totality is momentarily frozen before the dialectic of desire hastens on within symbolic chains."

4. "It thus relativizes discourse not just to formthat familiar perversion of the modernist; nor to authorial intentionthat conceit of the romantics; nor to a foundational world beyond discourse that desperate grasping for a separate reality of the mystic and scientist alike; nor even to history and ideologythose refuges of the hermeneuticist; nor even less to languagethat hypostasized abstraction of the linguist; nor, ultimately, even to discourse--that Nietzschean playground of worldlost signifiers of the structuralist and grammatologist, but to all or none of these, for it is anarchic, though not for the sake of anarchy but because it refuses to become a fetishized object among objectsto be dismantled, compared, classified, and neutered in that parody of scientific scrutiny known as criticism."

5. "Since thought is seen to be `rhizomatic' rather than `arboreal,' the movement of differentiation and becoming is already imbued with its own positive trajectory."

6. "When interpreted from within the ideal space of the mythsymbol school, Americanist masterworks legitimized hegemonic understanding of American history expressively totalized in the metanarrative that had been reconstructed out of (or more accurately read into) these masterworks."

7. "To this end, I must underline the phallicism endemic to the dialectics of penetration routinely deployed in descriptions of pictorial space and the operations of spectatorship."

The next round of the Bad Writing Contest, results to be announced in 1998, is now open with a deadline of December 31, 1997. There is an endless ocean of pretentious, turgid academic prose being added to daily, and we'll continue to celebrate it.

Dr. Denis Dutton, Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Art

Editor, Philosophy and Literature

University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Phones: 6433667001, ext. 8154; 6433487928 (home)

PARROT: Declamations

John Updike and C.C. on the Art of the Ad

A thousand years ago, crucifixes were foci of fervent attention, and for centuries what men knew of the nude male form and of human agony and dignity sought expression through the crucifix carver's hands. ... Now in our own American culture, it seems clear enough where the highest pitch of artistic energy is focused. After trying to watch the heavily hyped Winter Olympics, I have no doubt that the aesthetic marvels of our age, for intensity and lavishness of effort and subtlety of both overt and subliminal effect, are television commercials. With the fanatic care with which Irish monks once ornamented the Book of Kells, glowing images of youthful beauty and athletic prowess, of racial harmony and exalted fellowship, are herein fluidly marshaled and shuffled to persuade us that a certain beer or candy bar, or insurance company or oil-based conglomerate, is, like the crucified Christ... the gateway to the good lift. Skills and techniques developed over nearly a century of filmmaking are here brought to a culmination of artistry that spares no expense or trouble; it has been the accomplishment of television to make every living room a cathedral, and to place within it, every six minutes or so, though it seems oftener, votive objects as luxurious and loving as a crucifixion by Grunewald or a pieta by Michelangelo. Our entire livesour eating, our drinking, our traveling, our conviviality and courtship and family pleasures, our whole magnificent cradle-to-grave consumption, in shortare here compressed upon an ideal iconic plane; one can only marvel, and be grateful, and regret that except within narrow professional circles the artists involved, like Anglo-Saxon poets and Paleocene cave-painters, are unknown by name.

--JOHN UPDIKE, Speech to National Arts Club, 1984

Advertising ministers to the spiritual side of trade. It is a great power that has been entrusted to your keeping which charges you with the high responsibility of inspiring and ennobling the commercial world. It is all part of the greater work of the regeneration and redemption of mankind.

President CALVIN COOLIDGE, Speech to American Association of Advertising Agencies, 1926

--both items cited from Adcult USA: /The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, by James B. Twitichell (1996)


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

Editor Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymoure 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. 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 25th of each month.


1. The 1996-97 Faculty Forum (8 issues, October-May) is now on the Internet at Current issues will be added to this file.

2. The Academic Council Minutes from 1993 to the present are on the Internet at