Monday, September 29, 2014

For contrast

Yesterday, in the opening entry I omitted to mention the date of my letter to the Editor of The Oxford Times and of his reply. I wrote the letter on April 20, 1995, the Editor replied on July 17, 1995. The Editor’s letter was associated in my mind with my efforts to obtain permission to present my views on Plato at Oxford University; I was therefore surprised when I yesterday read in my letter: ‘The Sub-faculty of Philosophy has finally agreed to allow me to present my lectures at the Philosophy Centre in Michaelmas Term, but refused to advertise them on the Lecture List or even in the University Gazette.’ I simply could not remember that I held any lectures at the Sub-faculty of Philosophy in 1995.

Then it all came back to me. I did expect that nobody would come to my lectures and was determined to use the time to make progress in my studies, but I was not prepared for the pneumatic drill that with its incessant drilling shook the whole building and deafened my ears. For the next ‘lecture’ I provided myself with good earplugs. The remaining ‘Michaelmas lectures’ reminded me of the electric power-plant in Prague where I worked as a turbine operator for five years, from 1970 to 1975. It was an old power-plant; the turbines were old and noisy. The low pressure turbine had two operators, a man at the top, responsible for the running of the turbine, and a man at the bottom who had very little responsibility. I was the man at the bottom, following orders coming from the top. There, with my ears plugged, I read Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Homer, Sophocles, and Euripides (all in the Oxford University Press editions supplied to me by my German friends, read with the help of Schenkel’s Greek-German dictionary that I bought for peanuts in a second hand bookshop, and with the help of Budé texts of parallel French translations-Greek originals, which I borrowed from the French Library).

My letter to the Editor began as follows: ’I am sending you a copy of my Open Letter to the Members of the Aristotelian Society. It represents a challenge to the established academics by an unemployed philosopher, and as such it concerns a broader public interested in the creation of a space for a healthy academic life. By our joint efforts, unemployment can be transformed into an exciting quest for academic excellence. Would you therefore consider informing your readers about my letter?’ I find these words as relevant today as when I wrote them in 1995, and so I wanted to find the Open Letter. Instead, I stumbled upon Thomas Nagel’s letter to Dr Gustav Husák, president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, published by The New York Review of Books on May 29, 1980 under the title ‘Help Dr. Tomin’. Does it not provide a good contrast to my Oxford experience?

‘We are outraged to hear of the repeated harassment to which our colleague Dr. Julius Tomin has been subjected in recent weeks. It is shocking that his philosophy seminar has been broken up several times by the police, and that he has been arrested on several occasions … We earnestly hope that the Czechoslovak government will put an end to this brutal and senseless repression of philosophical study and discussion.‘
A fund has been set up in Oxford to assist Dr Tomin’s group in its educational efforts … Anyone wishing to help should send a contribution to the Secretary of the Philosophy Subfaculty, 10 Merton Street, Oxford OX1 4JJ, England.

The letter is signed by thirty-one American philosophers, including Arthur Danto, Roderick Firth, Harry Frankfurt, Gilbert Harman, David Lewis, Ruth Marcus, Sidney Morgenbesser, Maurice Natanson, Hilarty Putman, W. V. Quine, John Rawles, and Richard Rorty.
Thomas Nagel
Department of Philosophy

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey“

No comments:

Post a Comment