where have you been why are you here where are you going
But what my father never managed to get was a sense of who he might become.
You can pound your round peg through the very square hole of medical school, then go off into the profession.
After it was originally published, Oates added the dedication to Bob Dylan for his song Its All Over Now Baby Blue (where the title question occurs), a song she called very beautiful, very disturbing, and which recalled to her the legend of Death and the Maiden. One night after dinner, he and I were sitting in our kitchen at 58 Clewley Road in Medford, Massachusetts, hatching plans about the rest of my life.
My father, Wright Aukenhead Edmundson, Malden High School Class of 1948 (by a hair), knew the score. For somehow your predecessors are more yourself than you are. They shone a light onto the world and what they saw, suddenly I saw, too. Students come to college with the goal of a diploma in mind—what happens in between, especially in classrooms, is often of no deep and determining interest to them. I had no idea what being pre-law was. I don’t mean Freud the aspiring scientist, but the Freud who was a speculative essayist and interpreter of the human condition like Emerson. They’ve given you a sharp and protracted taste of what they feel is good … “Do you want to be a lawyer?” he asked. This question is something that native speakers use a lot, but the answers can be tricky, and they also can be different depending on the person’s situation. They’ve given you a sharp and protracted taste of what they feel is good and bad, right and wrong. I was, you might say, discomfited, and showed up to class for a while with my cellphone jiggered to dial 911 with one touch. The idea that a university education really should have no substantial content, should not be about what John Keats was disposed to call Soul-making, is one that you might think professors and university presidents would be discreet about. If you ask this question to a native speaker, you will get an answer, but if you ask this question to another foreigner, you might get a different type of answer. Your parents and friends, your teachers, your counselors, your priests and rabbis and ministers and imams have all had their say. But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whole and vigorous and we don’t weary. But lo—he has a gift for teaching.
They’ve done a fine job skating on surfaces in high school—the best way to get an across-the-board outstanding record—and now they’re on campus to cut a few more figure eights. The best reason to read them is to see if they may know you better than you know yourself. He knew that none of the descriptions people had for him quite fit. No one, in short, will ask you to use Plato to help you change your life. He wasn’t invited back for decades. When he came to Harvard to talk about religion, he shocked the professors and students by challenging the divinity of Jesus and the truth of his miracles.
Still, this was small potatoes. In a culture where the major and determining values are monetary, what else could you do? No one in this picture is evil; no one is criminally irresponsible. Edmund Burke saw common sense as a loosely made, but often profound, collective work, in which humanity has deposited its hard-earned wisdom—the precipitate of joy and tears—over time. The primary function of Yale University, it’s recently been said, is to create prosperous alumni so as to enrich Yale University.
But the public also senses that because professors don’t pay full-bore attention to teaching they don’t have to work very hard—they’ve created a massive feather bed for themselves and called it a university. Much more I learned from the sage—about character, about loss, about joy, about writing and its secret sources, but Emerson most centrally preaches the gospel of self-reliance and that is what I have tried most to take from him. More than anything else, though, they fear lawsuits. To the Christian, Schopenhauer said, pain was at the center of the understanding of life, and that was just as it should be. Of all Joyce Carol Oatess stories, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
For you risk trying to be someone other than who you are, which, in the long run, is killing. But apparently almost everyone else—students, teachers, and trustees and parents—sees the matter much differently.
What if you arrive at college devoted to pre-med, sure that nothing will make you and your family happier than a life as a physician, only to discover that elementary-school teaching is where your heart is? What they won’t do, for reasons that perplex me, is to ask you if the books contain truths you could live your lives by. He gave me the chance to see what I was all about, and if it proved to be different from him, proved even to be something he didn’t like or entirely comprehend, then he’d deal with it.
The idea that the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd. But all those too have their costs. Schopenhauer, who despised belief in transcendent things, nonetheless thought Christianity to be of inexpressible worth. Families have their wisdom. I was about to go off to college, a feat no one in my family had accomplished in living memory.
You’ll not only question the statistics teacher about what numbers can explain but what they can’t. You may be all that the good people who raised you say you are; you may want all they have shown you is worth wanting; you may be someone who is truly your father’s son or your mother’s daughter. Freud has something challenging and provoking to say about virtually every human aspiration.
Not so. Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play—work you do so easily that it restores you as you go. (Detached analysis has a place—but, in the end, you’ve got to speak from the heart and pose the question of truth.)
The Internet is amok with services selling term papers and those services exist, capitalism being what it is, because people purchase the papers—lots of them. Brodhead, an impressive, articulate man, seems to take as his educational touchstone the Duke of Wellington’s precept that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Never has there been a more shrewd and imaginative cartographer of the psyche. But then interest dwindles and matters go back to normal. Wasn’t I interested in literature? But he did not enjoy the process. The students and the professors have made a deal: Neither of them has to throw himself heart and soul into what happens in the classroom. By the time you come to college, you will have been told who you are numberless times. And, too, you’ve been tested, probed, looked at up and down and through.
I came to college with few resources, but one of them was an understanding, however crude, of how I might use my opportunities there. I learned that if I wanted to affirm any consequential ideal, I had to talk my way past Freud.
So why make trouble? The reason for this is simple. We’re drawn to them because we hunger for absolute authority. He writes an essay about how to teach, then a book—which no one buys. The student will sue your eyes out.
Whatever the case, no one wants to invest too much in them—for life is elsewhere. For students, that end is a good job. This view informed an address that Richard Brodhead gave to the senior class at Yale before he departed to become president of Duke. My father had some experience with lawyers, and with policemen, too; he was not well-disposed toward either.
He had talent: My brother and I each got about half the raw ability he possessed and that’s taken us through life well enough. If universities stopped issuing credentials, half of the clients would be gone by tomorrow morning, with the remainder following fast behind. "Faculty Meeting" (2008) by Mernet LarsenWelcome and congratulations: Getting to the first day of college is a major achievement. Ambitious professors, the ones who, like their students, want to get ahead in America, work furiously. The professor saves his energies for the profession, while the student saves his for friends, social life, volunteer work, making connections, and getting in position to clasp hands on the true grail, the first job.
The students write their abstract, over-intellectualized essays; the professors grade the students for their capacity to be abstract and over-intellectual—and often genuinely smart. Occasionally—for you will need some help in fleshing-out the answers—you may have to prod your professors to see if they take the text at hand—in this case the divine and disturbing Plato—to be true. But he also likes staying around and showing up at school and figuring out how to get this or that little runny-nosed specimen to begin learning how to read. The coach knows what your athletic prospects are, the guidance office has a sheaf of test scores that relegate you to this or that ability quadrant, and your teachers have got you pegged. They have it wrong.
He didn’t get to revise his understanding of himself, figure out what he’d do best that might give the world some profit. “I think I might want to be pre-law,” I told my father. is a frequently anthologized short story written by Joyce Carol Oates.
And—this thought is both more exciting and more dangerous—you may not be the person that you take yourself to be, either. Periodically the public gets exercised about this situation, and there are articles in the national news. He understood that he was always out-of-joint with life as it was.
On the evidence of this talk, no. Here are several: Mail: 2028 E Ben White Blvd, #240-2484, Austin, TX 78741, Pre-Register for the Complete Go Natural English Course. He declares that dreams don’t predict the future and that there’s nothing benevolent about them. He calls it “the overestimation of the erotic object.” He attacks our desire for charismatic popular leaders. You’re to be commended, and not just you, but the parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts who helped get you here. If you ask this question to a native speaker, you will get an answer, but if you ask this question to another foreigner, you might get …
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