Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tonsor: Catholicism: Integrated Humanities Program


I.


Between the decision to become Catholic and my formal reception into the Church, the ardor that propelled my conversion stalled and my spirits took a nosedive. Insecurity about my career resurfaced. For the previous several years, when I thought about what I ought to do with my life, I visualized myself teaching at a college where I could do some good for the students, the college, and the culture. I thought the best means to that end was graduate study in a good history program since that would maximize my development and opportunities. That's why I ended up at Michigan studying under Stephen Tonsor.

Although I am not the type to wear my religion on my sleeve, I still needed to process how the conversion might alter my work: Should I aim to teach in a secular or Catholic college? What if my only job offer were from an Evangelical college? Would my faith become an issue in graduate research and teaching? Would my conversion put off professors in a position to help my career along?


A voice in me asked: What would you do if you were not afraid?

To allay my concerns, I sought out my Doktorvater and soon-to-be-godfather, Stephen Tonsor. He did not pull punches, and the following dialogue would turn out to be important to my career.


II.

"Okay," I said, finding Tonsor in his office at the appointed hour, "here I am at Michigan, trying to figure out the extent to which my conversion might inform my work, particularly my approach to history."


Tonsor nodded but, uncharacteristically, did not respond right away. 


I then introduced an idea that I thought would give Tonsor and me grist for conversation: "I am looking for models of what I should or should not do next. When I lived in Colorado, a professor told me about the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. I wondered how three professors -- Dennis Quinn, John Senior, and Frank Nelick -- got away with creating a Catholic 'Great Books' program at a public R1 university. They believed that there was such a thing as truth and that the academy should offer students an integrated approach to the search for the truth.[1] But the dean and most of the faculty were skeptical. They accused the program's founders of being part of an 'international conspiracy' that required narrow sectarian teaching, religious indoctrination, brainwashing, and proselytizing.[2] Even Catholics were charging the IHP with providing a safe-house for potentially schismatic Catholics who followed Archbishop Lefebvre who by then was in open defiance of the Pope.[3] All this happened little more than a decade ago and it makes me ask: How self-consciously 'Catholic' can or should a Catholic scholar be?"


Tonsor answered: "You are asking the necessary questions -- I'd worry about you if you didn't -- and regarding the IHP I can certainly argue for the defense. 


"It's true: The Integrated Humanities Program was a political failure. Yet its founders were courageous visionaries willing to stick their necks out[4] at a time when the centrifugal forces in our society were tearing all semblance of coherence in higher education to shreds. Those were years of campus unrest, the Kent State shootings, and radical curricular experimentation.

"So Quinn, Senior, and Nelick came along and had a vision of restoring the humanities on campus. They wrote beautifully of recovering the liberal arts, of inspiring wonder, of pursuing knowledge for its own sake.[5] They were antimodernists and Thomists who challenged the modernists and pluralists at KU. Predictably, the antimodernists and Thomists could not gain the support of the modernists and pluralists.[6] Within ten years, KU's faculty killed the IHP in a democratic vote. That should surprise no one: A democracy killed Socrates, and a majority vote condemned Jesus to death.


John Senior, a Catholic convert and one of the three founders of the Integrated Humanities Program at Kansas.
Image at URL https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/2557-recalling-why-they-resisted-dr-john-senior-s-classic-the-glass-confessional

"It became a national story. Some would charge that KU's dean, a jesting Pilate, was determined to kill the program from the start. Not only did he ask the Thomists, 'What is truth?' He handled the death sentence quite clumsily. A committee scotched the program by bureaucratic maneuvering that would strip IHP faculty of their power of initiative. Asked whether they could accommodate such an arrangement, I recall Dennis Quinn saying, 'I refuse to kiss the hangman'; and John Senior saying, 'I won't participate in my own execution.' Basically KU mandated that the integrated search for truth be disintegrated.[7]


"So, yes, by one measure the program was a political failure; it could not survive in a public R1 university. But by another measure it enjoyed some academic success. During the few years of its existence, students voted with their feet; they flocked to the program by the hundreds.[8] The classical readings, learned discourse, stargazing, and integral view of reality made them alive to a much richer intellectual life than the ordinary fare. It inspired them to wonder about the truth, goodness, and beauty that are revealed in creation. These were Olympian achievements on Mount Oread.[9]
KU is built atop a considerable hill called Mount Oread. Image at URL
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/No._10._State_University_of_Kansas%2C_on_Mount_Oread%2C_Lawrence%2C_Kansas.
_%285569456560%29.jpg

"Perhaps an even greater success occurred in the realm of the spiritual, as evidenced by the number of Catholic conversions and vocations the IHP inspired. The spate of spiritual conversions was a notable outcome[10] -- and it doomed the program. Quinn, Senior, and Nelick were reviled, envied, and feared; victims of their own success. Or should I say martyrs?"

I was eager to jump in: "What does it say about the intellectual ecology of the academy these days that Catholic scholars cannot thrive if they take religion seriously?"


"It's a fallen world filled with struggle," Tonsor said forcefully. "Are you surprised?"


I did not want to come across as naive since Tonsor felt disdain for the Pollyanna type.[11] I decided it was prudent not to continue that line of thought but just to let him keep talking.


"In the modern age," observed Tonsor, "there is a running battle over our most fundamental beliefs. Ours is a society where few men live in the house in which they were born; few live in the landscape which was their homeland. S
cience has transformed the values and technology has transformed the conditions of life. Religion, the essence of changelessness, remains the last redoubt against modernity. Not surprisingly, faith has become a battleground between those who would surrender to transience and those who would defend the permanent things. For the latter, it's a fierce and rearguard battle. As Henry Adams remarked, we have long since entered the era when 'whirl is king.'"[12]


III.

Suddenly Tonsor switched gears: "The IHP appeared at the wrong time and in the wrong place."


I looked at him quizzically. "What do you mean?" After his capable defense of the program, I was now unsure what he actually thought.

"Despite my high regard for Quinn, Senior, and Nelick; despite all their program's attractive strengths; there were legitimate reservations. I'm not talking about the jaundiced critics who accused the IHP of being part of an international conspiracy. That's an old anti-Catholic canard and it is shameful that Ph.D.s trained in the most sophisticated research methods would, without evidence, say such an absurd thing.


"A moment ago I argued for the defense. Now I shall argue for the prosecution." In using this method, Tonsor was tipping his hat to the primary method of the liberal arts -- from Socrates to the medieval scholastics to Lord Acton -- to examine all sides of an question. It was high irony on Tonsor's part -- to critique a traditional liberal program by applying the traditional method of the liberal arts -- but it effectively set up the point he was about to make. 

"We must ask: Were the three professors advocating too strongly for Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas?[13] Did they exclude competing views to the detriment of the students' education? I heard that the professors frowned on students asking questions,[14] which is inexplicable because teaching students to ask questions in the dialectical pursuit of truth is the sine qua non of a liberal education. To stifle questions in the humanities is problematic. Students do need to learn the range of debate when it comes to the perennial questions. They do need to know how to engage in rigorous dialectic with their professors and with each other. It's what puts the liberty in a liberal education. The freedom to shape one's informed worldview: that freedom is what keeps one's mind from being servile. 

"Add to these concerns additional ones -- for instance, that the students had 24 semester hours of freshman and sophomore humanities courses with just those three professors who all had the same Thomistic worldview. It's understandable that people of good will had questions. It was not only the pluralists who questioned whether the program served the best interests of the students.

"You see, the syllabus came out of the pressed-flower school of liberal education --" (He paused at my laughter.) "It relied too heavily on a set of premodern 'Great Books' which is not always the best way to initiate students into the modern intellectual problems they will face. Maybe the radio addresses of C. S. Lewis capture the students' imagination more than, say, the summas of Thomas Aquinas.[15] The teacher must be flexible. 

"In addition, the program's ahistorical approach to those 'Great Books,' its failure to give students adequate context, seriously hinders the enjoyment of reading them for the first time. I mean, how can you tackle Virgil's Aeneid or Dante's Inferno without a map, without knowing where to place the historically conditioned worldview of the people threaded through the story? This was also the design flaw in Mortimer Adler's set of 'Great Books of the Western World.'[16] It was ahistorical to a crippling degree, which is why no one reads them; in most houses the volumes just sit on bookshelves like knick-knacks. 

"Also, there was the program's attitude to modernity -- how it taught or, rather, did not teach students to engage modernity. The modern project is exceedingly problematic, but not everything about modernity is morally evil, intellectually misguided, and psychologically alienating. We are called to confront -- not just to reject outright, but to confront -- modernity: to test it and sift it and prove it. It's sometimes the most modern of authors who help us do that. While Goethe did not believe in transcendence the way a thirteenth-century Thomist did, I would defy anyone to do better than Faust for exploring and understanding the tragedy of the modern spirit.

"Now, I do not know John Senior personally, but after he converted to Catholicism in the early 1960s[17] he adopted an extreme position in his rejection of modernity -- rather too extreme, in my view. He apparently has a low opinion of Vatican II and attends Mass at Society of Pius X chapels.[18] His antimodern theology spilled over into the IHP whose assigned readings pretty much stopped at the year 1300 AD.[19] Well, time did not stop in 1300 AD. 

"And that leads to my final point: Not one of the teachers who founded the IHP was professionally trained in history. Their approach was largely literary and philosophical; by their own admission they "taught in the poetical mode";[20] Now, after I returned from the war I was a serious student of poetry and in fact considered becoming a poet.[21] At Illinois I took many philosophy courses and came close to pursing a philosophy Ph.D. I have great respect for my colleagues who are "lovers of wisdom." But poets and philosophers are sometimes tempted to take historical shortcuts. They do not work hard enough to understand the philosopher's cultural context and the development of ideas over time. I look skeptically on the work of people who inadvertently create wrinkles in time because doing so distorts the narrative of what really happened, wie es eigentlich gewesen. Then the danger is that the poet and philosopher are presenting something that looks more like propaganda than history. 


"Being antimodern is romantic and quixotic but it can be misguided if it's the sole exposure college students will have to the humanities. If you do not adequately prepare your students to confront the modern age -- if their minds are not truly engaged when they approach Goethe, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud because the well has already been poisoned -- then you are doing your students a great injustice. It takes courage to confront modernity, but students in the liberal arts have to get a sense of its complexity. They must be taught to test and sift the modernist authors in order to discern the truth, goodness, and beauty in their writing -- or in the debates provoked by their writing. 

"So, as much as I admire the integrity of Quinn, Senior, and Nelick; as much I as prefer to root for Catholics on the home team; I did find problems with the Integrated Humanities Program, serious problems that would have made me reluctant to lend it my unqualified support had I been at Kansas in the 1970s."[22]


As I listened to this pro et contra, I was surprised by how thoroughgoing Tonsor's criticism of the Integrated Humanities Program was. Although a devout Catholic who attended Mass faithfully, he could not support fellow Catholics when he thought their love for the thirteenth century shortchanged students who had to learn to confront modernity. In the years to come, I would learn other surprising things about his view of the Church. He was certainly Catholic -- but not the Catholic of my projections.



IV.

Tonsor wanted to be done with discussing the IHP and go directly to the point I was raising. "You will have to find your own way to come to terms with your conversion and your career. I cannot tell you how to do it.


"But I say this: If you believe that God is ultimately the author of all truth, then you will not be afraid of searching for truth wherever it might be found. Diamonds have been discovered in dunghills. The Catholic humanist knows this to be so and is not afraid to explore places outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. Keep this assurance in mind -- it will always be the bridge between your faith as a Catholic and your work as an historian."


A eureka moment, this. Tonsor's words, which threaded through my mind like lightning in the night sky, supplied a therapeutic shock. His thought reminded me of something he had written in another context, a beautiful passage I had read in Lincoln, Nebraska, back in 1987 when on the journey to Ann Arbor. There he had written that it was important to "conceive of truth as God's own to be cherished and loved for His sake."[23] If I remained focused on pursuing truth, I should never again feel agitated about the relationship between my religion and my work. They would forever be organically connected.


It was a lovely thought -- meditation on which was cut short by a practical consideration: "What about the methodological gatekeepers who guard the ramparts to the profession? They do not speak of God as the ultimate author of truth, and they would roll their eyes if they heard me do so."

"Again, I cannot tell you how to negotiate history's gatekeepers. I could have done a better job myself. You must find your own way.


"But I have never counseled Catholics to retreat into the comforts and isolation of the Catholic ghetto. No, we Catholics should take our distinctive Catholicism into the WASP world, into the humdrum of the secular world, and engage. We should engage not just for our own sake -- since one cannot be a good Catholic without doing so -- but also for the sake of the world.[24] 

"In coming years you will find yourself trying to integrate two things: becoming a true humanist and a well-formed Catholic. The two are closely related. Our priests, poets, artists, and scholars in the humanities are entrusted in a special way with our patrimony. The humanists are the great conservators in every age. They live from the tradition even when they live against the tradition. They are the historical memory of mankind and because they are, they guarantee to us our humanity. Without the humanists, our culture would shuffle about, aimlessly, like an Alzheimer's patient without memory.[25]


"Unfortunately a disheartening trend has been under way for several years now. Too many humanists are committing treason. Recall the term made famous by the French novelist and philosopher, Julien Benda, who wrote of the 'treason of the intellectual.' The treason of the intellectual, the treason of the humanist, occurs when he refuses to fulfill the role to which he has been called: he trades the contemplative life for the active life.[26] It's a bad deal -- bad for himself and bad for his culture. 


"What's behind this treason, you might ask? It is politics. The intellectual has abandoned his calling because he has been beguiled by politics. In our day some trace the beguilement to the Reagan presidency. After Nixon and the Watergate scandal, good people turned away from politics. But Reagan came onto the scene. He was a charismatic figure and successful leader -- so successful he put the romance back into politics and seduced conservative intellectuals away from their calling. Now the humanist is making political activism and the manipulation of power his calling."[27]


I was taken aback by this charge against the Reagan revolution. I had assumed that Tonsor, a thoroughgoing conservative and stalwart Republican, was a big fan of Reagan's. 


"It is simple arithmetic," he said. "The more humanists abandon the academy, the fewer there remain to teach. It's not just the conservative movement that is damaged when our humanists put on a blue suit and red power tie and go to Washington; it's the culture, the humanities, our universities. But there are other and more important things for the humanists to do. In times like these, perhaps the ivory tower is the best defense against barbarism."[28] 


"But," I countered, "if the academy is becoming hostile to humanists, doesn't it make sense that a lot of them would want to work in a sympathetic administration?" 


"So then what? Do we abandon the field? If there is to be a Catholic intellectual life, then Catholic humanists will have to stand up in the academy; humanists who have the courage to join battle; humanists who are unabashedly, unselfconsciously, unapologetically Catholic.[29]


"The situation is not hopeless. The intellectually formed Catholic already has the makings of the good humanist. That's because Catholicism has a vision of the wholeness of man which is essential to the humanities. If we ought, as Lord Acton cautioned the historian, always to look for the cloven hoof, then we also ought to look in every man for the divine image: a comprehension of body and soul, of the real and the ideal, of nature and grace, of necessity and freedom, of sorrow and joy, of creatureliness and divinity, of all the contradictory and complementary elements which we as men find in our natures. There is no better antidote to ideology than the Catholic vision of the wholeness of man."[30] 


"There's your hermeneutic of dynamic tension again," I said with satisfaction. 


He growled and waved the thought off with irritation. 


"I must also say this: Professors Quinn, Senior, and Nelick got at least one of the fundamentals right: Education must be integral if it is to be successful. Our partial truths cry out for completeness, while our experiences need the confirmation and affirmation which derive from the experiences of others. Truth is always catholic, error always sectarian and subjective. Consequently community is always essential to the discovery and communication of truth. Because this is the case, we must, if we take the question of liberal education seriously, see that our colleges and universities are genuine communities and not simply a congeries of buildings housing atomistic students and alienated professors, each in his own bubble doing his own thing.[31]


"You are a Catholic humanist in formation. You seek what Jacques Maritain called 'integral humanism.' Leave off taking cues from the despairing and decadent culture of our times and with the aid of the Holy Spirit proceed to make all things new -- whatever you encounter -- be it in scholarship, imaginative literature, music, art, architecture. In all such endeavors you have a charge to keep. Doing nothing is not an option. For we will never recover harmony, dignity, clarity, and beauty until we discern once more the wholeness of man.[32]


"So be that person at the seminar table and speaker's podium who resists the ideologues who would reduce man to pure matter like the Marxists or pure spirit like the Gnostics. Be the integral humanist who sees man in all his marvelous and vexing complexity. Ecce homo! Or with Shakespeare say, 'What a piece of work is man!' This is why we study the humanities, to know thyself and our kind. Therein lies the path to becoming more fully human, because when we look into the depths of the human person, we also discover intimations of our God."


V.

It did not seem that Stephen Tonsor was going to show me how to handle the methodological gatekeepers of our profession. It was disappointing, but I did have the other members of my committee to consult.


Perhaps Tonsor was teaching me something more valuable than how to dodge the methodological gatekeepers. On the bus ride back to North Campus, I reflected on his intellectual style. He delighted in keeping his interlocutors off-balance. Whether our conversation was about politics or religion, poetry or intellectual history, I found him sometimes delightfully, sometimes maddeningly, sometimes inscrutably unpredictable. Here I had thought he would endorse the IHP because it was one of the boldest experiments yet in integral humanism in a public university. Yet he had thought through his reservations. He could not be shoehorned into the little box a lot of people tried to put him in (an antimodernist, Catholic, conservative box). I accounted his unpredictability a good thing. It did not arise from the lack of first principles -- au contraire. Tonsor's surprising answers to my questions arose out of his fierce intellectual integrity, his utter resistance to the groupthink of the herd, and his wonderful way of testing and sifting modernity in order to detect truth, goodness, and beauty wherever they could be found, even in modernity.

I realized that
, even after almost three years of study with him, I still did not know this man, Stephen Tonsor. But what a guide for the perplexed he was!

What would I do if I were not afraid?
______________

Notes


[1] Deb Reichmann and Daniel L. Reeder, "In Search of the Good Guys," Kansas Alumni, vol. 77 (April 1979), p. 1; Robert K. Carlson, "What Price Truth? Death by Administration," Crisis Magazine, January 1, 1995; at URL http://www.crisismagazine.com/1995/what-price-truth-death-by-administration


[2] "College Assembly Votes to Do Away with IHP," Kansas Alumni, vol. 77, no. 8 (June 1979): 2-3; Carlson, "What Price Truth?" Crisis; at URL http://www.crisismagazine.com/1995/what-price-truth-death-by-administration. See also the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1973, document titled "Petition Concerning Re-evaluation of PIHP," March 26, 1973; also box 1, folder 1977, document by Dennis B. Quinn, "Education by the Muses," September 13, 1977, p. 1.


[3] Sharon Mielke, "College Program Suspect," United Methodist Reporter, no date found, p. 3. See also John Senior's own writing about "the threat of excommunication hanging over us who attend Mass at Society of Pius X chapels," in John Senior, "Recalling Why They Resisted: Dr. John Senior's Classic 'The Glass Confessional," in The Remnant, June 1, 2016; at URL https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/2557-recalling-why-they-resisted-dr-john-senior-s-classic-the-glass-confessional. 


[4] There have been numerous tributes to the founders of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, especially to John Senior. See, e.g., Philippe Maxence, "John Senior: In Piam Memoriam," Crisis Magazine (April 5, 2012), at URL http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/john-senior-in-piam-memoriam; Dwight Longenecker, "John Senior and the Restoration of Realism," The Imaginative Conservative (April 26, 2017), at URL http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/04/john-senior-restoration-realism-dwight-longenecker.html; and Patrick Martin, "A Tribute to John Senior," originally posted in The Catholic Thing (April 9, 2009), reposted by the Catholic Education Resource Center, at URL http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/education/catholic-contributions/a-tribute-to-john-senior.html. 

[5] See, e.g., University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1977, Dennis B. Quinn, "Education by the Muses," September 13, 1977, pp. 1-6.

[6] Reichmann and Reeder, "Good Guys," Kansas Alumni: 2.


[7] "College Assembly Votes," Kansas Alumni: 3. 


[8] "Old IHP Courses Thrive," Kansas Alumni, vol. 79 (November 1981); Longenecker, "John Senior," at URL http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/04/john-senior-restoration-realism-dwight-longenecker.html. In addition, there are abundant student testimonials in the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folders 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981.


[9] Again, see the abundant student testimonials in the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folders 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981; also see Carlson, "What Price Truth?" Crisis; at URL http://www.crisismagazine.com/1995/what-price-truth-death-by-administration.


[10] See the short biography of one of the program's most accomplished converts, Bishop James Conley, whose academic mentor and Catholic godfather was John Senior, at URL http://www.lincolndiocese.org/bishops/bishop-james-conley/biography. Again, see Longenecker, "John Senior," at URL http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/04/john-senior-restoration-realism-dwight-longenecker.html.


[11] Ann Tonsor Zeddies conversations with GW, East Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 18, 2017, and June 17, 2017; also Caroline Tonsor conversation with GW, Chelsea, Michigan, June 28, 2017.


[12] Stephen J. Tonsor, "The Haunted House of the Human Spirit -- an Editorial," Modern Age (fall 1985): 291.


[13] For KU faculty who were already hostile to the IHS, the final straw would have been John Senior's book, The Death of Christian Culture (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1978). Published when the IHS was on its last legs, the book was an unsparing attack on modernism and a vigorous defense of a medieval scholastic school of philosophy known as Aristotelian-Thomistic Realism.

[14] Stephen J. Tonsor, "Liberal Education: Courses or Questions?" in Tradition and Reform in Education (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974), pp. 94-96.

[15] Tonsor, "Liberal Education," in Tradition and Reform in Educationpp. 94-99.

[16] For the ahistorical approach of the program see p. 2 of "IHP: An Outline," in University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integral Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1980s. The unnamed author -- likely IHP founder Dennis Quinn -- states in the document: "The lectures do not deal with what is commonly called 'background,' historical, anthropological, archaeological, economic, or social. Little attention is given to dating, authorship, or problems of text or translation."

[17] Andrew Senior quotation in the sidebar, in John Senior, "Recalling Why They Resisted: Dr. John Senior's Classic 'The Glass Confessional," in The Remnant, June 1, 2016; at URL https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/2557-recalling-why-they-resisted-dr-john-senior-s-classic-the-glass-confessional.

[18] To see why it is regarded as both extreme and controversial to attend Mass at Society of St. Pius X chapels, see URL http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cedsspx.htm.


[19] Tonsor was exaggerating to make a point, for he was not a big fan of the "Great Books" approach to a college education, most of whose volumes were written in premodern times. Recall that Tonsor's field of expertise was not classical, not medieval, but Modern European Intellectual history. He always wanted his students to grapple with important modern books. In my research on the IHP in the University of Kansas Archives, I found the original syllabus and saw that most of the books assigned were indeed "Great Books" written prior to about 1700 but, in fairness to the founders, there were still numerous selections from the modern age that the students were required to read when the IHP was designed to be a four-year program. See Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder ND, 
"A College of Integrated Studies" (1970), pp. 4-5.

[20] Again, for the ahistorical approach of the program see in the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integral Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1980s, "IHP: An Outline," p. 2. The unnamed author -- likely IHP founder Dennis Quinn -- states in the document: "The lectures do not deal with what is commonly called 'background,' historical, anthropological, archaeological, economic, or social. Little attention is given to dating, authorship, or problems of text or translation." For the passage in which one of the program's founders says they "taught in the poetical mode," see Dennis B. Quinn, "Education by the Muses," September 13, 1977, p. 1, in the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1977.

[21] Caroline Tonsor conversations with GW, Chelsea, MI, June 28, June 30, and July 7, 2017; also Caroline Tonsor email to GW, July 5, 2017. Tonsor's statement was not idle reminiscing. He and his future wife Caroline (nee Maddox) met at the University of Illinois Poetry Club, where the young combat veteran produced a number of fine poems that Caroline later assembled in a chapbook. Much of their courtship revolved around their close reading of modern poets -- Goethe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, and T. S. Eliot. Moreover, after Tonsor finished his undergraduate degree at Illinois, one of his best friends, fellow war veteran Jackson Cope, offered to set Tonsor up in his house in Columbus, Ohio, so that Tonsor could write poetry without worrying about paying the rent. Ann Tonsor Zeddies conversation with GW, East Grand Rapids, MI, April 18, 2017; and phone conversation with GW, July 7, 2017.

[22] For a critique of the IHP by a historian at KU who was in direct confrontation with the IHP founders, see James E. Seaver, "Remarks to the College Assembly," February 20, 1973, in the University of Kansas Archives, Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, series 63/1, box 1, folder 1973.

[23] Stephen J. Tonsor, "Tradition: Use and Misuse," Modern Age (fall 1964): 415.


[24] Stephen J. Tonsor, "The Idea of a Catholic University," in Tradition and Reform in Education (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974), p. 210.


[25] Tonsor, "Haunted House": 292.


[26] Ibid.


[27] Ibid.


[28] Ibid.


[29] Tonsor, "Idea of a Catholic University," p. 210.


[30] Tonsor, "Idea of a Catholic University," p. 212.


[31] Stephen J. Tonsor, "Redefining Liberal Education, Modern Age (summer 1972): 273.


[32] Tonsor, "Idea of a Catholic University," p. 212.



Monday, August 14, 2017

Tonsor: Intellectual History: Goethe II

I. 

As I labored my way back to the bus stop, a grocery bag of books in each arm, I reflected on Tonsor's habit of reading Goethe every morning and his sheer delight in discussing Faust. How had my professor kept such enthusiasm for the same work since the 1940s?[1] How could he wax eloquent about a Dead White European Male in the 1980s when to do so on a college campus was considered bad form? Stanford University's debates over "the core and the canon" had made international news.[2] Goethe was now suspect, as guilty as the next DWEM of racism, sexism, classism, and chauvinism. Some scholars even indicted him for inspiring the Nazis.[3]

If you knew Tonsor you could take it to the bank: He was not going to be cowed by the canon wars. Au contraire: He was the type who would go out of his way to laud DWEMs like Goethe if he thought it would get under the skin of Goethe's leftist critics. 

It was risky behavior. A former student of Tonsor's whom I had met, Bob Houbeck, asked him why the Left had not taken him down. After all, Michigan was a leftist stronghold and Tonsor would have been low-hanging fruit. Tonsor told him, "The Left just never got around to targeting me. Maybe it's because of my guardian angel."[4] 


II.

The historian in Tonsor loved Goethe for the obvious reasons -- his preeminence in the republic of letters; his mastery of a half-dozen languages and a dozen literary genres; his status as the last great classical writer of Western civilization; his brilliance as a polymath; his scientific discoveries; his dazzling conversation and attractive personality. 

The cultural critic in Tonsor appreciated Goethe for the critical reasons we discussed earlier. The Weimar poet grasped as few others did the newly emerging psychological, philosophical, and theological problems presented by modernity. 

The Germanophile in Tonsor loved Goethe for another reason still, one whose motive was less apparent. If you listened to him over a period of time you figured it out: Tonsor felt the burden of modern German history, and Goethe was the rebuke to all that had gone wrong in that history -- from Luther's cleavage of Western Christendom ... to the radical Germanic thought of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud ... to the nation's barbarous behavior in two world wars. In contrast to these evils and errors stood Goethe (and Bach and Mozart and Beethoven and Humboldt and, and, and --), who reminded the nation of the better angels of their nature and who thus represented the great humanistic potential of the German people. For all these reasons Goethe held the lamp that could guide Germans still. So Tonsor, who took such great pride in his German heritage, found much pleasure in spending time with Goethe. And he enjoyed sharing that pleasure with students, colleagues, and friends. Goethe, in fact, was one of the bonds that Tonsor and his Germanophilic friend, Henry Regnery, shared. Regnery, too, was eager to restore German culture to its pride of place in the world.[5]  


III.

In a world that was reevaluating Dead White European Males, it was one thing to cultivate a private admiration for Goethe. It was another to make a public declaration of it. By the 1980s, the postmodern academy was not a particularly accommodating place for a historian like Stephen Tonsor. In his interior life he was a conservative, a Catholic, and an integral humanist. By temperament and education he swam against the postmodern current. Yet his discipline, modern European intellectual history, required him to teach the very progressives, radicals, and postmodern theorists who reviled his most cherished beliefs. To his credit, Tonsor could lecture on the progressives, radicals, and postmodern theorists with the best of them, and generations of students profited from his teaching. Nevertheless, at Michigan when I knew him, he was a stranger in a strange land -- a sojourner through a kingdom ruled not by his beloved Goethe but by that troika of chic Germanic thinkers -- Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. 
Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), explored
the distance between what we say
and what we mean.

What united these three titans of modern thought was their insistence on a radical, even a militant, reading of the great books. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur famously called such a reading the "hermeneutics of suspicion." Literary scholars would call it "critique."[6] Tonsor did not share the radicals' admiration for such a method. He must have asked himself, from the Sixties forward, why the New Left and each successive wave of scholars approached the best-loved books in an increasingly militant manner. He saw first-hand how intellectual history had undergone a dubious "linguistic turn" that explored the degree to which philosophical problems were really linguistic problems. Richard Rorty, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault -- all of them became quite modish and infused intellectual history with a sophistical jargon that Tonsor abhored. It was just Gorgias and Protagoras updated. Must all truth-claims be treated with suspicion and hostility (unless, of course, they came from one's own ideological allies)? Could there not still be space in the academy for what St. John's College tutor Eva Brann called "the principle of charity" when reading and discussing important works?[7] 

The Oxford English professor, Helen Small, would argue years later that methodological balance was needed to restore the humanities: 
"the work of the humanities is frequently descriptive, or appreciative, or imaginative, or provocative, or speculative, more than it is critical."[8] 
Yes.

And the University of Virginia English professor, Rita Felski, would similarly challenge her colleagues: 
"Why is it that critics are so quick off the mark to interrogate, unmask, expose, subvert, unravel, demystify, destabilize, take issue, and take umbrage? What sustains their assurance that a text is withholding something of vital importance, that their task is to ferret out what lies concealed in its recesses and margins? Why is critique so frequently feted as the most serious and scrupulous form of thought? What intellectual and imaginative alternatives does it overshadow, obscure, or overrule? And what are the costs of such ubiquitous criticality?[9]
Yes ... yes! 


IV.

When I started graduate school at Michigan in '87, the very dangers that Tonsor had already stared down now reared up at me. If he had three strikes against him, I had three strikes against me practically before joining the program. By tacking conservative, by becoming a Catholic, and by approaching important books with a humanist's appreciation rather than a radical's suspicion, I too was a stranger in a strange land. I was asking questions that did not align with the postmodern agenda. In contrast to the training of previous generations -- think of Tonsor's in the years after World War II, which tended to be deferential toward the canon -- my generation was being trained "to read against the grain and between the lines" in order to expose the lies, bad faith, and self-delusions that riddled the canon. That in essence is what it means to practice the "hermeneutics of suspicion" or "critique."[10]

Nor was that all. At Michigan it was not just "critique" and the "hermeneutics of suspicion" that were taught. It was also the attitude, or pose, that accompanied the radical methods. In the West's elite programs, Felski has observed, one finds the humanities' methodological gatekeepers "patrolling the boundaries of what counts as serious thought." They foster "the cultivation of an intellectual persona that is highly prized ... suspicious, knowing, self-conscious, hardheaded, tirelessly vigilant." A degree of "arrogance" and "nonchalance" can earn one style points.[11]

I wanted to pursue graduate studies because I loved history. I wanted to understand the past. But I was torn. On the one hand, I had to tolerate the distasteful parts of a graduate education to land a teaching job. On the other hand, to strike a postmodern pose was not for me -- it felt inauthentic. I was not looking to be radical or subversive but to discover the meaning of the past -- more in line with Ricoeur's "hermeneutics of faith" than the "hermeneutics of suspicion." This led me to ask different questions from those of the radical students and professors around me.[12]  

I kept these qualms to myself -- and the irony of such a position was not lost on me. Any presentations I gave, any papers I submitted, deserved to be treated with the very hermeneutics of suspicion I found so distasteful!

What a conundrum I had worked myself into. How did I get there?


V.

My first exposure to critique was at the University of Konstanz in 1984-'85, during my Fulbright year in then-West Germany; Wolfgang Iser and Hans-Robert Jauss were two leaders of reader-response criticism, making Konstanz a pilgrimage for postmodernists during the mid '80s. My next exposure came at a summer course at the University of Oxford in 1985, when I learned about the linguistic turn in intellectual history. Later still I was able to refine my knowledge of critique in an advanced English class at Colorado State University. Although I was intellectually curious about critique during these years, I never felt that it was the approach that I would wholeheartedly adopt. Critique and the hermeneutics of suspicion did not get at the questions I was asking.

Also in the 1980s, I perceived a disconnect between the English and history departments at CSU. The English classes taught by younger faculty were a world apart from the history classes taught by older faculty. My history classes at CSU did not delve into the hermeneutics of suspicion, not in any depth. There was still joy to be had in reading thoughtful, engaging books of history without seeing them through critical theory. As a result, one of the younger English professors accused his colleagues in the history department of running a "suburban book club." Cute, clever even, but not convincing. I approached graduate school with the mistaken impression that I could work toward a Ph.D. in European intellectual history without having to commit to, and defend, the hermeneutics of suspicion.


Thomas Mark (1924-2010)
It turned out I was tragically mistaken. Through no fault of their own, I surmised that I could follow the path blazed by an older generation of professors -- scholars like Tom Mark.[13] A Hungarian-American who had fought the Nazis in World War II, Professor Mark taught me Shakespeare at CSU. He was a character on campus and something of a gadfly. One evening when a famous postmodern literary critic visited the Fort Collins campus, Professor Mark showed up. The visitor was filled with self-importance as he impressed the audience with his display of critique, slashing and burning the literary canon. Most of the younger professors seemed attentive and appreciative. When the time came for Q&A, Professor Mark raised his right hand; he held a pipe in his left hand, close to his mouth. The visiting critic called on him, and Professor Mark asked, slowly, deliberately: 

"Why?" 

He drawled the word out and the sound of his voice hung in the room. Then he went back to puffing his pipe.

"Why?" It was all Tom Mark said. I and a number of other people in the audience started to laugh, quietly at first, and then more conspicuously. The laughter amplified the absurdity of the nihilism expressed by our pompous guest.  

Later, when I got to know Stephen Tonsor, he would sometimes remind me of Tom Mark. These dedicated humanists were two of a kind. But they were a vanishing kind, and I did not know, when I arrived at Michigan in 1987, how close they were to extinction. 

____________________

Notes

[1] Caroline Tonsor conversation with GW, Chelsea, MI, July 7, 2017. She distinctly remembers her husband's well-worn copy of Goethe when they moved to the North Campus of the University of Michigan in 1955. She also conveyed to me that, prior to Ann Arbor, they enjoyed discussing Goethe's poetry when they were in the University of Illinois Poetry Club from 1946-'48, and when Stephen Tonsor studied in Zurich, Switzerland, from 1948-'49. Caroline Tonsor email to GW, July 5, 2017.

[2] For an overview of the conflict at Stanford University within the larger context of the culture wars, see Andrew Hartman, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), esp. pp. 227-30.

[3] See, e.g., Susan Sage Heinzelman, "Johann Wolfgang von Goethe," in Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd ed. (Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses, 2004), pp. 393, 395.

[4] Robert Houbeck conversation with GW, Flint, MI, June 15, 2015.


[5] Alfred Regnery conversation with GW, Washington, DC, May 17, 2017. See also Henry Regnery, Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher (Chicago: Regnery Books, 1985).


[6] Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy (1970), quoted by Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), Introduction.


[7] "The principle of charity" is from a quotation by Eva Brann at URL http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/08/attitude-reader-book-eva-brann.html. 


[8] Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 26; quoted by Felski, Critique, Introduction.

[9] Felski, Critique, Introduction.


[10] Ibid.


[11] Ibid.


[12] Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy (1970); and Felski, Critique, Introduction.


[13] For more on Tom Mark, see URL http://english.colostate.edu/2014/04/announcing-the-dr-thomas-r-mark-assistive-technology-room/.





Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tonsor: Intellectual History: Goethe I

I.

To the chagrin of one who'd spent practically his entire life in America's sunbelt, that first winter in Ann Arbor was brutal: The sun didn't shine. From my neighbors I learned it hardly ever came out in winter. Between Thanksgiving and Easter, Michigan gave residents the experience of exile in northern Siberia.

But this Saturday morning the sun did shine, and feeling extra energy, I decided to go to the Library Book Sale. Tonsor had told me about this venerated local institution held every Saturday morning in the basement of the downtown Ann Arbor library. He suggested it would be an inexpensive way to build up my professional library. Many classics from U of M professors' estates ended up on the shelves, selling at $1 for a hardback, 25 cents for a paperback. 

It was serious business, the Library Book Sale. Patrons including many grad students lined up before the 9 AM starting bell, grocery bags in hand, quivering, ready to do combat with the other patrons to snatch up the books they wanted. The naked displays of bestiality put even my dogs to shame.

Tonsor already had a collection of 10,000 books.[1] He went to the Library Book Sale not to expand his professional holdings but to buy picture books for his grandchildren. That was sweet. And sure enough, on this Saturday morning he and Caroline showed up after the initial throng had charged the basement.


Goethe spent virtually his entire
adult life writing Faust.
We hailed each other from a distance but stuck to our work because patrons elbowed their way to the front if you showed any distraction or weakness. After about a half hour of jockeying, I'd managed to fill two grocery bags and queued up to pay. The Tonsors were right behind me. When he saw that I had found a good edition of Goethe's Faust, his eyes lit up through his thick glasses.

"That is a very fine edition, Mr. Whitney. I hope you profit by it as much as I have. Every morning I start my day reading Goethe and the German missal."[2]

Caroline added with a good-natured chuckle: "Yes, Stephen starts his day reading about the Devil in us, then steels himself to do battle with us the rest of the day!" 

"That's true," Tonsor said with a quick gust of laughter. "The Devil is in us all, as is the angelic. As Goethe said, Wo viel Licht ist, ist starker Schatten. Where there is much light, there is stronger shadow."[3]

After we had paid for the books and were walking to the exit, Tonsor lavished praise on his idol: "In his wealth of observations about life, Goethe was 'by far our greatest modern man.' He was also the last great classical writer of European civilization, as Virgil was the last great classical writer of ancient Rome. He was an outstanding humanist, for he grasped the tragedy of the modern mind and perceived the abyss toward which we rush."

I responded inadequately: "I had the opportunity to read a bit of Goethe in my German classes back at Colorado State, but I didn't read him at all when I lived in Germany, which I now regret."

"That is to be regretted," Tonsor said disapprovingly. Caroline's sympathetic instinct kicked in and she frowned at him: "Maybe Gleaves had other things he needed to read!"

"When in Germany, one should read Goethe," Tonsor said firmly, determined to win the point.

"Well, I hope to correct my negligence now," I said. "I'm afraid I'll have to undo some of the instruction I had as an undergraduate. The English professor who assigned our class excerpts of Faust was reputedly one of the last Stalinists in the academy: Dr. Bates presented Goethe's tragedy as a critique of the insatiable desires capitalists stir up to keep the exploitation of the working class going. So his Mephistopheles is a very dapper bourgeois capitalist, nothing at all like the Devil of medieval folklore." 

Tonsor grunted. "Vulgar Marxists -- they are Johnny-one-notes who bleach all the color out of life! To see Goethe's Devil as a glorified robber baron is to miss the entire point. Mephistopheles is not so difficult to understand. Know yourself, know your desires, and you will know Mephistopheles."

"Stephen!" protested Caroline, her frown returning. She looked at me sympathetically.

Tonsor dismissed her: "I don't mean my comment to be taken personally. It's the universal message of Goethe's Faust."

"You'll have to tell me what it means," I said with a forgiving grin.


II.

When we walked out into the sun, the temperature was still below freezing; none of the snow piled on William Street was melting. My professor didn't seem to notice the cold. Now that he had the opportunity to talk about Goethe, he started breathing in little puffs as his mind revved to a white heat. I had been around Tonsor enough to know that he saw his confrontation with modernity through the lens of many authors. That was what informed his intellectual history. Out on an icy Ann Arbor sidewalk, I was about to learn how to see modernity through Goethe's gimlet eye. And one needed to plumb Goethe's confrontation with modernity in order to understand Tonsor's confrontation with modernity. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832),
Germany's greatest humanist and one of Stephen Tonsor's
most important guides to comprehending,
confronting, sifting, and testing the modern world.

"Goethe," Tonsor said -- and once the name escaped his mouth, Caroline saw a lecture coming and retreated into the warmth of the library -- "Goethe is like quicksilver. Just when you think you get him, he slips away. That is the quality of all great poets. As you know, Goethe's Faust was Western civilization's most brilliant poem after Milton's Paradise Lost or Dante's Divine Comedy. Because of this singular achievement, Goethe stands in the same relationship to the modern age as Shakespeare does to the Renaissance, Dante does to the Middle Ages, Virgil does to ancient Rome, and Homer does to ancient Greece. To come to an adequate understanding of modernity, one must at some point retrace the steps along the trail blazed by Germany's greatest poet.

"And what should I look for along that trail?" I asked.

"A form of integral humanism that recognizes the challenge of being a 19th- and 20th-century man. Goethe grasped the modern psyche in all its maddening complexity -- its tangle of complementarities and contradictions, its tensions and frustrations, its desires and aspirations. His humanism challenges the reductionist that one always finds in the ideologue -- whether that ideologue is your Marxist professor who sees man only as a material being; or a Gnostic Albigensian who hates man's very material being.

"Goethe helps modern readers understand that this complexity is both the glory of our humanity and the source of our woe. You see it in Faust, who is ever desiring. Because of his desire to know, he has mastered many branches of knowledge and has tried to learn all the secrets of nature he humanly can, but without ultimate success. His unquenchable desire clashes with his status as an in-between creature, someone who is both an angelic beast and a beastly angel, and therefore limited.

"All of us can identify with Faust's existential frustration. We are not totally at home with the beasts because we have too much reason, too much spiritual aspiration, to live like an animal. And we are not totally at home with the angels because we have a body with a body's desires -- too much earthiness, too much libido dominandi. So we are neither the one thing nor the other but something in between -- now pulled up toward Heaven, now pulled down to the dust. The conflicts between the two cause us considerable dis-ease and misery, to the point that we are inclined to feel alienated even from ourselves. Caught in such a state, we can never find any peace. We want to love, but are smacked down by selfish desires. We want to be altruistic, but once our motives are unmasked we just play for the crowd's applause. We want to possess the light of knowledge, but at every turn encounter the darkness of unfathomable mystery. It goes the other way, too. We go on a binge of buying at the mall, or of sexual debauchery in the bedroom, and before long we have to stop either because of physical exhaustion or because our conscience pricks us to stop. We are constantly reminded that we are an in-between creature who can never settle, never be satisfied, never be happy.[4]

"Man," I said chiming in, "the biped who walks the Earth not with four legs but with two so that he can look up at the stars. It sounds reminiscent of Paul's theology in the New Testament where he writes of the never-ending battle between our animal and spiritual selves --"

"What I do, I do not understand" said Tonsor, "For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate."[5] 

"And that reminds me," I continued, "of a brilliant metaphor that captures man's complexity. I think it was the Catholic humanist E. I. Watkin who pointed out that man's contrary desires are symbolized by the Cross, which is made both of the horizontal crossbeam that points out toward creation as well as the vertical post that points up toward Heaven --"

"And down toward Hell," added Tonsor quickly. 

"And down toward Hell," I duly added. "So, applying Watkin's metaphor, we could say that this in-between creature, man, belongs exclusively to neither the horizontal nor the vertical; that the two principles are hardly ever harmonized; so the resulting tension between them creates constant dissatisfaction, conflict, and misery."

"Yes, Watkin's metaphor captures the reality of our anthropology well," said Tonsor in his definitive way. "The Christian would point out that the horizontal and vertical principles are ultimately reconciled by Christ's death and resurrection: the great consummatum est[6] -- It is accomplished -- which gets us back to Goethe's emphasis on Tätigkeit: activity, doing, exertion, movement, which to Faust is the only remedy to desire.  


III.

"But Goethe's genius was not theological. It was, rather, poetic and psychological and historical. By that I mean Goethe understood modernity's relationship to man's inner conflict. He observed that modernity has dramatically expanded the possibilities of our horizontal experience but not of our vertical existence. The past five hundred years have seen spectacular developments in the horizontal possibilities of our lives, brought about by a succession of world-historical events -- the Age of Exploration, Commercial Revolution, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and French Revolution. Each promised man a more satisfying life on the horizontal plane of his animal existence. Each stokes the flames of his desire -- for more territory, more purchasing power, more command over nature, more self-knowledge, more economic growth, and more self-determination. But where during the past five centuries were the corresponding ethical or spiritual advances? The existential gap between our spectacular material advances on the one hand, and our perceived spiritual stagnation on the other, perfectly frames the modern problem. 


Mephisto, by Mark Antokolski (1884)
"Given man's complex anthropology and the developments of the last five centuries, we can now better appreciate Goethe's Devil, Mephistopheles. He is not like the medieval Devil who is alien to you and me. Rather, Goethe's Devil reminds us of us -- because he is us. Goethe's genius was to pull Mephistopheles out of the breast of his very own readers, that part of ourselves that is lured by the excitement of material possibilities: all the physical sensations, recurring pleasures, and unleashed animal desires. And as the representative of the animal in us, Mephistopheles makes a bargain with God. Mephistopheles wagers that he can get Faust to feel so completely satisfied with his earthly nature, that the good doctor will forget his spiritual nature that connects him to God. Mephistopheles wagers that Faust will busy himself so completely on the horizontal plane that he will neglect, abuse, and forget the vertical plane. Mephistopheles wagers, in other words, that Faust will become thoroughly modern -- and dehumanize himself.

"You will note that the nature of this wager is quite different from that found in the Book of Job. In the Old Testament, Job must lose all things on the horizontal plane in order to gain what is necessary on the vertical plane. By contrast, in Goethe's Faust the protagonist will gain everything he wants materially but lose it all spiritually -- until the very end. At the end it is clear that Faust cannot save himself. It is only God's mercy that saves him, which is the husk of a very Christian message.

"Mephistopheles represents something else that would resonate in a Christian culture. When called upon to explain who he is, he declares, Ich bin der Geist der stets verneint -- I am the everlasting 'No,' the spirit who always denies. My purpose is to undo the work of creation.  

"As we see at the end of the drama, Mephisto is the one who is denied. He fails because he does not fully understand what a man is. No matter how intense are the earthly, sensual desires of a man; no matter how tempting the wealth and power and worldly successes he might achieve; they can never leave a man entirely satisfied. There is always that something in Faust that makes him raise up the earthly thing to the heavenly plane. It's because man, in his maddening in-betweenness, nevertheless has conscience, imagination, and the spark of the divine. He has the capacity to combine his contradictions and make something better of them. So, for instance, Faust cannot just have sex with Gretchen and be content with the physical satisfaction of the act; he has to raise the experience to a higher level and fall in love with her!

"For all these reasons, one can with justification say that Faust defines the modern human being --"[7]

That was the punchline I had been waiting for. The words hit me like a blast of wind. But the circumstances did not allow any time to linger. Caroline, who had checked out her book, was coming out of the library. 

Feeling the game clock running down to zero, Tonsor wasted no time wrapping up: "Make no mistake: Goethe was no orthodox believer -- he did not give his assent to the God of the Christians -- but his Faust teaches us what the loss of Everyman's faith in the transcendent would mean to the Western spirit, much as Nietzsche would do, even more forcefully, several decades later. With the arrival of the modern age -- which supplanted the Age of Faith and along with it medieval scholasticism and Renaissance Platonism -- Western man crossed a threshold that has given him abundance on the horizontal plane of his bestiality, yet poverty on the vertical plane of his spirituality. Grasp this existential fact, and you have the key that unlocks so much that has vexed man during the last five centuries. As the years pass, the distance between modern man's wonder at the horizontal and his memory of the vertical only widens. And that existential gap goes far to explain why modern man in his dissatisfaction chooses to be distracted by his Promethean capabilities -- whether to use the state to extend his power, or to use violence to eliminate the other, or to use ideology to justify his exquisitely refined hypocrisy."


IV.

At this final thought Tonsor offered Caroline his physical support so that she would not slip on the ice -- just as he'd offered me his intellectual support so that I would not slip on ideology. 

As the Tonsors said goodbye, I remained standing on William Street, aware of the cold wind on my face and feeling that Goethe might have correctly diagnosed my poverty and misery. 


_____________________

Notes

[1] Ann Tonsor Zeddies conversation with GW, East Grand Rapids, MI, June 17, 2017.

[2] Caroline Tonsor conversation with GW, Chelsea, MI, July 7, 2017.

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen, Act 1, 1773.

[4] Reminiscent of Tonsor's interpretation of Faust is Rüdiger Safranski, Goethe: Life as a Work of Art, trans. David Dollenmayer (New York: W.W. Norton/Liveright, 2017), ch. 33.

[5] Paul, Romans 7:15, New American Bible translation.

[6] John 19:30, Latin Vulgate translation.

[7] Cf. A. N. Wilson, "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans: They Gave Us Goethe and Bach," Independent, July 12, 2008, at URL http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/a-n-wilson-dont-lets-be-beastly-to-the-germans-they-gave-us-goethe-and-bach-866386.html.