Forum: November-December 2002

November 30, 2002

 

On Situs

Editors:

I applaud Julia Connors for her heartfelt writings of the Situ family ["Under the Gargoyle," May-June 2002]. I have also been blessed by having the Situs pass through my life, and Julia caught the essence of Kevin and Helen.

Through all the pain that family endured, they remained full of love. The article brought tears of both sadness and joy to my eyes. Kevin was a miraculous child who blessed everyone he met.

Sue Swarter (via e-mail)

Reading the Record

Editors:

In the July-August issue, you say that last summer's reading assignment for the incoming freshmen was "for the first time ever." Not true.

I know from personal experience that the Class of '68 had summer reading--and it was more substantial than the short story, "The Palace Thief," that my freshman son was asked to read. For the summer of 1964, we were assigned the novel All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, plus The Public Philosophy by Walter Lippmann.
Just wanted to set the record straight.

Richard S. Miller '68
The correspondent is the parent of students in the Class of '01 and '06.

 

Remembering Parker

Editors:

The most persistent memory of my Duke experience, now thirty years on, is of the quality of professors I had the good fortune to meet. All practiced their calling with craft, and most were talented artisans. Many taught with verve, but a few were truly sorcerers. Harold Parker had magic.

His magic of teaching was quiet and understated, especially when compared to the art as wielded by his contemporary, Wallace Fowlie of the Romance languages department. Ranging from the commedia dell'arte to Dante, from Voltaire to Valery, Fowlie would take ordinary objects, spin them, invert them, and expose them as masks hiding beauty, wonderment, and the abyss, so that visions of a sewing machine mated to an operating table or of Duke's leading basketball guard walking a lobster on a pink ribbon through the dining halls were hardly cause for comment or surprise.

Professor Parker was different. You heard about his "European Intellectual History" courses as a freshman; and you spent the next three years plotting to be accepted. On the first day, everyone was seated well before the hour; and the atmosphere was hushed, almost reverent. He appeared, smiled, and then lectured brilliantly and without notes, while expecting us to make nearly verbatim transcripts.

As a parting written assignment that first day, we were expected by the next class to analyze the writings of Dilthey, who was described as the "father of modern history." The pattern of lectures and written assignments persisted throughout the semester. That we could interrupt, question, and dispute was a realization that came slowly over some of us. The majority of the papers submitted on Dilthey varied from ten to fifteen pages, and one student's effort, typed single-spaced and bound, was fifty-plus pages. In returning them graded by the next class, Professor Parker mentioned that he had given a few A-/B+'s, a bell curve of B's and C's, and one A+. Parker read the A+ essay; it was no more than five to six sentences. Dismissing the class, he added, "Dilthey was just so much soufflÈ." A number of us were equally deflated.

We realized that the icons of European intellectual history were his props, and the classroom was his theater. In his lectures and digressions, he would hint, wink, and nudge you to the realization that there was a string lying there that would unravel the convoluted writings of one author or a card, if pulled, that would bring tumbling down the philosophical edifice of another. He also showed that if you would judiciously remove the warped lumber and mismatched bricks housing other works, the thoughts, concepts, and reasonings inside were pure diamonds.

I literally hauled my stack of legal notepads and typed assignments around with me for the following decade as baggage in my moves from one country to another. They were finally lost when my apartment in Beirut was broken into during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I found out later that they were used to good effect as kindling during the power outages and fuel shortages that winter.

Parker's comment on that would have been: "Fitting."

And death is but a parenthesis....

Robert G. Atcheson '72
Cairo, Egypt

Wrongful Assessments

Editors:

"Overturning Wrongful Convictions" [July-August 2002] by Georgann Eubanks is a typical, left-wing, one-sided attack on the death penalty in the United States. Eubanks tells us that Henry Baker is innocent because he says he is, that the death penalty is flawed because a group of New York City Marxist law professors says so, and that the phony moratoriums placed on the death penalty by two corr

The fact is that in 1998 there were 15,000 murders in the U.S., and only ninety-eight murderers put to death. The death penalty is fair, effective, and final. It should be used more, not less. We know who speaks for the criminals, but there was not one mention of a single victim in her entire article. This is the outrage that should be addressed.

Ray Gordon
The correspondent is the parent of a Duke senior.