Forum: July-August 2009

August 1, 2009

Frank Fournier

Chodikoff and Carolina Blue

As an alum of both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (A.B. '72) and Duke, I was intrigued by the photo spread on pages 44-45 of the most recent Duke Magazine ["Clip Artist," March-April 2009]. Adam Chodikoff '93 is surrounded by four fellow Daily Show writers wearing Carolina garb. Was that a prank or did it just happen?

Later in the issue, Dale Volberg Reed '63 is profiled with her husband, John Shelton Reed, one of my UNC sociology professors. These two examples simply highlight the interconnectedness between the two great universities, despite the legendary, heated sports rivalry.

How disappointing it is to either experience or hear reports of hateful taunting by one school's fans toward the other school's fans! I understand from a Duke friend of mine that this was the case at the Greensboro Coliseum when Duke and Carolina played in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Such bad, classless behavior denigrates both top institutions of higher learning—and everyone associated with them.

May we do all we can to discourage such poor displays of sportsmanship disguised as school loyalty.

Robert Roach M.Div.'75

Hickory, North Carolina

Editors, beware. Did anyone else notice the irony in the caption ["Center of levity: With an encyclopedic mind for facts, Chodikoff provides an objective counterbalance to writers whose comedic talents can blind them to potential bias."]? Maybe more than comedic talents can blind them to bias.

Maybe the fact that every one of these writers in the picture is white, male, youngish, and even tieless might reveal certain blindness to their own biases. Even more curious, maybe Duke Magazine is revealing its own blindness to bias by not noting the obvious. Unless, of course, in true Jon Stewart fashion, the photo and caption were intended as the droll humor of real life.

Gregory Garland '76

Arlington, Virginia

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Seeking Definition

In a recent article [Under the Gargoyle, March-April 2009], N. Katherine Hayles argues that electronic media and digital constructions are transplanting literature into a new medium. However, we cannot allow these emerging forms to be conflated with literature.

Dr. Hayles offers Jim Andrews' "Blue Hyacinth"—scraps of either prose or poetry that change as a mouse moves over the text—as a paragon of the new electronic literature, but this configuration lacks the aesthetic accountability we ascribe to writers. Literature is powerful and lasting precisely because interpretations change around a static text. A program built to arbitrarily scatter and rearrange glib, puzzle-piece phrases cannot impart that feeling of sublimity that comes from appreciating and finding meaning in what has been purposefully created by another. I can rotate a kaleidoscope to find pleasing shapes, but I cannot value amorphous patterns over the insight true artists reveal through years of work.

An appreciation of "Blue Hyacinth" as literature is a rejection of the belief that language can be used to express oneself to another. These hypertexts encourage a user only to find personal pleasure, not to encounter the mind of another. Their most telling feature is their refusal to commit to any meaning, their ability to sycophantically reconfigure themselves to delight every reader. "Blue Hyacinth" is neither literature nor art; it is a solipsistic rejection of the possibility of individual expression and communication.

Literature may have moved into the Internet, but in this movement, it has changed. Dr. Hayles is right—we do need a redefinition of terms. When texts expand beyond language, they become something else. A play, once performed, becomes theater, while the written text of something like "Faith" (if such a text were possible to write) is distinct from the poem's digital performance.

Just as we once divided film from photography, so now we must separate what moves across the screen from what is printed. An entirely new artistic medium is emerging, distinct from—and yet composed of—other modes of expression. To say that these disparate modes are the same thing is to say that they are interchangeable, which they are not. All forms of art are unique in their expressive possibilities. But we must acknowledge that though we are encountering something that is truly new, it is still in its infancy and that, despite its potential, it is not so fully realized as the art that has preceded it.

Michael Goodrich '12

Plantation, Florida

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Town Not So Funky

I enjoyed seeing the Big Funk photo and comments in Duke Magazine. There was an incident which occurred while I was a student at Duke in the late 1960s, which has not been addressed thoroughly.

It was a pleasant early spring day in 1969 as I was enjoying the Duke Gardens in the sunshine, when I heard an unbelievable roar of a crowd coming from the direction of the Main Quad. When I arrived on the scene, there was a full blown battle between Duke students and what looked like a SWAT team.

Their primary purpose was to eradicate a group of African-American students from the administration building, which they had seized as protest over the lack of Black Studies at Duke. As the police riot squad was making its way into the back door of the building, the students involved vacated out the front door.

That should have been the end of the story. What happened next was inexcusable. The police emerged from the front door of Allen Building to face a large crowd of students who were assembled to observe what was happening on their campus. There was some booing, some cat calling I heard, but then the leader of this gang of police thugs said, “Okay boys, let's gas 'em!” The police turned on pepper fog machines to disperse the crowd, and when the students objected to this vociferously, the police started banging heads with night sticks.

I walked into the middle of this melee, and saw numerous friends of mine, male and female alike. All were being beaten, gassed, and brutalized by police for no good reason. It was horrible.

My observations of this vicious attack remain vivid. I believe it was a criminal act for which no consequences were suffered by whichever police entity staged this attack. Call it jealousy, xenophobic hostility to students from other parts of the country, or whatever: There is a latent rage directed toward Duke which I find pathological.

At this point, I would personally settle for an apology from the police for attacking my fellow students and myself on that day. It was a radicalizing moment for many in the Duke community. Formerly apolitical athletes and fraternity and sorority members suddenly became inspired to become political activists. To this day, justice has not been done over that incident. It should not be just a footnote event in the Duke archives.

Richard Lee '71

Batavia, Ohio

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“Case” and Points

It didn't take long after opening the May-June issue of Duke Magazine to see two references to the “lacrosse case” (in Between the Lines and Forum). The controversy was cited again in the “On Our Watch” timeline, years 2006 and 2007. This was a wrenching experience for many that—only two years later—was more than just a “case” in the minds of those most profoundly affected. There are still some strong feelings out there, including some bad ones between some of the schools' supporters.

That's unfortunate, but I am not alone among Duke alums who think that it was a really bad idea to schedule a football game this season with North Carolina Central University—especially a Saturday night homecoming game. Maybe the game was scheduled long ago, and keeping it as scheduled was considered the best option. In any case, on the last page of this issue, Duke Magazine saw fit to reprint president [Terry] Sanford's 1984 admonishment to the student body, which he described as “gaining an unequaled reputation…[as one] that doesn't have a touch of class.”

Let's hope that the decision to play this game was the right one and that efforts are being made to encourage students and supporters of both schools to be on their best behavior that night. There's a lot of potential for things to go wrong. Make us proud, folks!

Phil Clutts '61

Harrisburg, North Carolina