THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Fifteen, Number One............Spring 1991

In the Time of the Willies

A Hard Case Brings Tidings
of Comfort and Joy

The final speaker at the conference was sociologist Charles Willie, professor of education at Harvard University, who boldly drew for the participants a picture of the multi-cultural university. Prof. Willie began by saying that calls for increased excellence in American colleges and universities discriminate against minorities, since the criterion of excellence works to exclude minorities from the university. Standardized tests, he said, do likewise, and should be abolished. No matter whether these tests are biased or nor, he argued, they should still be eliminated because they "terrorize" minority students. The university, he said, should not terrorize, but rather "rescue" such people.

WHAT you see above is from "Onward to Adequacy," an academic report, or maybe an academic question, by Glyn Custred in Academic Questions, Summer 1990.

Custred, an anthropologist at the Hayward station of California State University, went to one of those conferences. This one was called "From the Eurocentric University to the Multicultural University: The Faculty's Challenge for the Twenty-First Century." (They always have a colon.) There he heard much that was droll.

He heard one Ronald Takaki, a professor of ethnic studies, (well, of certain ethnic studies), elucidating the plight of women and other minorities groaning under the oppressive weight of Eurocentric Culture and male dominance in literature and other arts. Takaki made quite a good case, too. Vivid and convincing. And why not? He stood, as any thoughtful teacher should and would, on the shoulders of giants. As parables and paradigms of the baleful effects of male Eurocentrism, he climbed on Moby Dick and Shakespeare's Tempest. So that'll show ‘em a thing or two.

Among those listening, and possibly enthralled, to Takaki's ethnic tour de force, was one Ann Reynolds, chancellor of the California University system. She had recently spoken her own piece. It was called, with the obligatory colon, "A New Look at an Old Model: Getting Higher Education out of the Fourteenth Century, and into the Twenty-First." Well, Takaki did manage get out of the Fourteenth Century.

There were many other such diversions, of course, but the star of the confab was surely the Charles Willie named above. He was brave and bold, A plain speaker. It takes a mighty tough-minded man these days to say that "excellence" is just another way of naming elitism, and that "adequacy" is quite good enough for black students, (and for black faculty, too), who could never in any case be expected to match the academic achievements of white or Asian students. Just you try going around talking like that and see what happens to you. Willie, of course, had a bit of an edge in that he was, as Custred puts it, "not white," but he still took a terrible risk in that some day some one not knowing that might read his words and think him a rabid racist. Now that's courage.

Custred's coverage continues: "With this in mind, Willie went on to claim that there are many kinds of ‘intelligences', ‘communication and calculation' constituting only two of them. The other types, he continued, should be taken into account when considering students for admission. One kind of ‘intelligence,' said Willie (and these are his own words) is ‘singing,' and another is ‘dancing,' both of which, he asserted, black people do well. {Oh how hard, how hard it is to refrain from the obvious and sadly facetious! Provide it for yourself, if you must.} Since the job of higher education is to ‘strengthen what the students already know and to teach them what they don't know,' Willie argued that we should teach black students ‘the King's English' and (again in his own words) we should teach white students to ‘sing and dance.'"

One more paragraph from Custred: "Even more startling was Prof. Willie's statement that ‘excellence' should not be the business of the university, since excellence is a matter of personal choice requiring sacrifice. The university should instead be concerned with what Willie defined as ‘adequacy,': that which is ‘sufficient to meet the requirements of the situation.' The university should aim to certify that all those passing through its portals are ‘good enough to help but not bad enough to harm.' Any talk of a master university, he said, smacks of a master race, and remember what Hitler had done with that idea."

Ah, Hitler. Where would we be without him? By what would we conjure without the power of his name? Thank God he didn't do his dirty deeds way back there in the Fourteenth Century where only some poet had thought them worthy of comment, so that he might have been blotted out by social progress.

Well, Willie is surely a juicy fish in the barrel, and we would have a good time with his busted invisible syllogisms and in exploring the entertaining implications of his dizzy definition of "the job of higher education," but we don't want to do that. Practiced readers can do all of that for themselves. But even out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, wisdom is ordained, and there are two startling flashes of pure light in all that nonsense. They shine so brightly that we must look at them.

Plato, in his old age, seems to have despaired. The Laws is, all by itself, a melancholy meditation on the vanity of our wishes for the good life that might be brought about by the work of the mind, and a sad admission that our best hope is that we might yet be made good by some greater force. But even earlier there are hints, Sophocles not withstanding, that maybe the wisdom philosophy brings isn't the parent of happiness, which is not that gloomy a suspicion; after all, if only the wise can be happy, the rest of us are in a bad way indeed.

The best of such hints is right in the first book of The Republic, where Cephalos (an old man, it is interesting to note) welcomes Socrates warmly, saying how much he has missed the wonderful chats they used to have. As soon as the talk turns to philosophy, however, he excuses himself, explaining the he has to go and make a sacrifice.

Socrates, left with only the young folks, manages from their answers to sketch the good and simple life of hard-working and plain-living people who rise early and go to bed when darkness falls, having dined on lentils and sung the evening hymn of "praise to the god." Right here, the whole discussion of The Republic could have ended, and perhaps would have, had there not been a progressive activist in the crowd.

"That's all very nice, Socrates," says the nimble-minded young Glaucon, "but what about couches?"

"Ah," Socrates answers, "if you want couches, the picture of the good life in the good society will have to be a little bit more complicated." Thus, all the long rest of The Republic. We want couches.

Somewhere else--somebody please find it--he seems to suspect that philosophy is just not going to do the job, and that we might all do better to spend more time in singing and dancing and "praising the god." So, notwithstanding Willie's silly (and surely racist) assertion that white children are just as much in need of remediation in dancing and singing as black children in communication and calculation, we can not disagree with him or reject what he possibly does not know that he means. There is little joyful refreshment of any kind to be found in any of our systems of schooling. In the nearby state mental institution best known to us, Pooh-Bah rules: "That youth, of course, must have its fling, is hard on us, is hard on us, so pardon us, so pardon us, if we decline to dance and sing." In English departments, poetry is cerebrated, not celebrated, and dancing and singing are no more to be countenanced than the fighting in the war-room in Doctor Strangelove. A student who is alert to allusion and assonance, to say nothing of synecdoche and cæsura, will do very well indeed, and the student who has been properly sensitized to the baleful elitism in alertness to all such things will do even better, but no credit is given for being surprised by joy. This is a strange truth: The very raison d'être of all art is the awakening of such things as joy and wonder, and other transcendental glimmerings, all of which are exactly what must be neglected in school.

We remember, distantly and dimly, when the day in school began with song and dance, and when there seemed to be no teacher who could not play the shabby and ill-tuned piano in the corner of every classroom. We welcomed sweet springtime in song, to the tune of Rubenstein with the words of Damrosch, and, even in the darkest winter, she stepped lightly among us. And not even knowing what a muffin was or where Drury Lane might be found, we celebrated the excellent muffin-man who lived there and gave good things to children.

In those days, there were no teachers sufficiently enlightened to tell us that we could not possibly relate to such a person in such a place, so we just sang the song, and we danced the dance, and we felt pretty good. How bad was that? What did it do to us? Did it, perhaps, move us toward that unexciting but surely decent condition that Willie calls "good enough to help but not bad enough to harm"? Was it so meant, or was that just some natural consequence of singing and dancing together?

Here is Alyosha, saying farewell to the little boys in the last chapter of The Brothers Karamazov, a passage that every teacher should read at least once every term and brood on in the still watches of the night:

"My dear children, perhaps you won't understand what I am saying to you, because I often speak very unintelligibly, but you'll remember it all the same and will agree with my words sometime. You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us. Perhaps we may even grow wicked later on, may be unable to refrain from a bad action, may laugh at men's tears and at those people who say as Kolya did just now, ‘I want to suffer for all men,' and may even spitefully jeer at such people. But however bad we may become--which God forbid--yet, when we recall how we buried Ilusha, how we loved him in his last days, and how we have been talking like friends all together, at this stone, the cruelest and most mocking of us--if we do become so--will not dare to laugh inwardly at having been kind and good at this moment."

It is because we do brood on this passage around here that we were brought to unexpected attention by Willie's word--"rescue." Yes. That is the right word. They need to be rescued. Every one of us is born in captivity, utterly surrounded and outnumbered by the beliefs and influences, usually either poisonous or mindless, or both, of the only world in which we can live and grow. They are the chains of Rousseau, perhaps, or the "nurture" of the psycho-prattlers. We swim in this world, and, unhelped, we are as likely to discover the fact of our captivity as the fish are to notice water. The very air had to be discovered. The shapers and counselors who make us what we are neither know nor care that we exist, for they are neither knowers nor carers. They are the invisible influences, the waves that roll as they please and the wind that bloweth where it listeth.

(Here is yet another suggestion in the Prometheus myth. The blindly floundering creatures that once we were, were awakened into the knowledge that they had been blind flounderers. Every individual human life, unless it is to remain mindless forever, which is not at all impossible, must be a private and internal recapitulation of the coming of fire, the awakening of self-knowledge.)

And the wretched children of the wretched poor, surely the ones that Willie has most in mind, need exactly what he says--rescue. And that, after all, is the first meaning of education--a leading forth out of captivity. And he is right in saying that terror will not save them. The frightened learn nothing.

But--oh, what a big but!-- shall we wait until they reach the university before throwing out the lifeline? If we choose to "strengthen what they already know," or, far more likely, what they (or we) suppose that they "know," will we be rescuing them, or teaching them how cleverly and profitably to wear their chains? Why doesn't Willie preach to those better placed for the rescue, to their parents, who have cast them adrift, to their day-carers, who make livings because their charges have been cast adrift and whose jobs would disappear if there were no castaways?

And what will he say to the teachers who see them first, long before they come to the university to be confirmed and cemented in "what they already know," most of which they would probably do much better without, and re-aroused for the umpteenth time over "issues," bringing them a never-ending succession of visions which will make them more forlorn? Will he counsel them to bring tidings of comfort and joy to the lost and wretched? Does he even want them to be comforted and joyful, or would he prefer that they have not one good memory at all, lest they fall away from political correctness and neglect the spiteful jeering which the socially awakened are bound to visit on the goodness, truth, and beauty which happen to have been revealed by the wrong people in the wrong place and time?

Well, no matter. Our time has given us these Willies. Until their time is past, they can not be turned aside. But there is nothing from which we can not learn. To us, this Willie brings tidings of comfort and joy. He and his pals, of course, will prevail. They have already made of schooling a political reeducation camp, and of their calling, a lobby. But the same has happened, after all, in every other age. The Willies are correct in their belief that all schooling is the servant of a political agenda. And they share with all the aggrieved the thirst not for freedom but for the power to aggrieve. They are learning how to do that. In the next age, it will be from them that children will need to be rescued. And--what a lovely irony--the next Willies will have learned that from these Willies.

So be of good cheer, Schooling is just a contraption of convention; education is the natural destiny of human beings. Its very enemies open the gate. It cannot be turned aside, not even by the schools.

 

The Killer Bees

As felicitous an instance of futile classicism as can well be found, outside of the Far East, is the conventional spelling of the English language. A breach of the proprieties in spelling is extremely annoying and will discredit any writer in the eyes of all persons who are possessed of a developed sense of the true and the beautiful. English orthography satisfies all of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection. Therefore it is the first and readiest test of reputability in learning, and conformity to its ritual is indispensable to a blameless academic life.

IT was Thorstein Veblen who left that scrap of prose lying around where we might read it. Indeed, most of us probably have read it, but also forgotten it, long ago. Now, thanks to one of our distant readers, it has come back to mind, and brought, as is usually the case with wisdom, yet more bad news.

We found it in a strange, wonderful little book, A Teacher's Perplexicon, in part written and in part assembled by Peter Wexler, of the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, It is a magnificent compendium of vexing thoughts from great (and occasionally not great) minds, all loosely organized under such heading as Credulity, Obituary, and Zombie.

The unattributed entries, which easily hold their own in the company of Locke and Voltaire, must be Wexler's own. Under Dictionary, we read: "Every time you look up a word in a dictionary you consult an interpreter, and one who has persuaded most people that he isn't there. Every time you open a book you place in some editor or printer more trust than is good for him." Hearing that, you immediately find yourself somehow better equipped.

The passage from Veblen made us think of Jeopardy, the television game show. Successful contestants, we have heard, spent weeks and weeks boning up and amassing tiny fragments of unrelated information, useful only for the answering of questions that might appear on the show. Every child in school does, or could do, exactly the same for the Regents Exams or the SAT's. For the children, however, the reward is but meager. The best they can hope for is the chance to move forward into more of the same. The Jeopardists have at least the chance of picking up some real dough, and we salute them for their industry.

One of the great traditions of American educationism is the annual orgy of spelling, in which little children all over the land bring tears to the eyes of the faithful and astound the judges and the audience by spelling onomatopoeia and syzygy, both of which we just now had to look up, and only one of which was recognized by this computer's expensive spelling checker. Wow, those kids are smart! They could probably soak up and spit out whole pages of telephone directories and bus schedules too. They are put forth every year as great credits to their teachers and their schools. They are living arguments for new programs and increased funding, by virtue of which more children could spit out telephone directories and bus schedules.

(Interesting question: Exactly what has the teacher taught when the student has memorized the price list in the seed catalog, or for that matter, the spelling of onomatopoeia and syzygy? And another: Exactly what, other than the obvious, has been learned by the student?)

For some reason, probably sloth of mind, we have ignored or forgotten all that we once thought we had learned from Veblen in all of these years of consideration of the follies of our American schooling. Now we are rightly rebuked. Conspicuous waste, and its sister, the better known but no more remembered idea of conspicuous consumption, are powerful helps to our understanding. How interesting it would be to make a list of other "skills" and "learnings" to which our schooling must devote millions of hours in every year. The multiplication of four digit numbers by three digit numbers comes at once to mind, for that is an exercise utterly different from the absorption of principles which might come, and in a very short time at that, from some study of geometry. How many times have you done that since you left school? And then there is, of course--and we are delighted to say it--Grammar.

We have, of course, worried more than a little bit about grammar. We do know that the handbooks are full of it, lists and tables and even conjugations beyond counting, rules and exceptions, caveats and paradigms. We know that in every school year, every school child is set to it all of it yet once again, and that, much to the chagrin, but even more to the job-security, of every English teacher, hardly anybody ever learns anything. But, somehow, the students just keep talking anyway. What does it all mean?

Here is Wexler on the subject: "It is no accident, as Stalin might have said, that the shibboleths of grammatical purity (or other tribal qualification) should regularly be trivia like split infinitives or the agreement of past participles--within the capacity of the tiniest-minded pontificator--and also, historically speaking, perfectly arbitrary."

______________

We wish that you could all have copies of Peter Wexler's Perplexicon, especially the teachers among you. Ours was sent to us by the author, and it is clearly published at and by his university. No price appears on it, however, and no address for the publisher. We do have Wexler's address: 18 Church Road, Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex, C07 7AT, England. British addresses are incomprehensible, but try it anyway.

In any case, we intend to keep returning to the marvelous and usually disquieting insights to be found in his work. We will go a step further. Wexler like all the English, presumes in all of us a knowledge of French, so he has left entries in that tongue untranslated. Alas. We will translate them.

Dry Bones in a Dry Season

Psyche Papers--Number One

LUCIUS APULEIUS was born in 125AD. It was his misfortune to live in interesting times, in which he managed, however, to live an unusually varied and productive life. He was born in Carthage, then a Roman province, and educated mostly in Athens, where he picked up a leaning toward what is now called neo-Platonism, and also, apparently, some knowledge of those old Mysteries into which Socrates and his friends had been initiated.

He lived in the best of times, and also in the worst of times. His life began in the reign of Hadrian, one of a brief series of four "good" emperors. After Hadrian came one Antoninus, almost unremembered by us, but good enough to have been called "Pius" by his own people. After the Pius, came Marcus Aurelius, surely the only Roman emperor whose writings are still read. Marcus Aurelius died in 180, in which year Lucius Apuleius would have been only fifty-five. No one knows the death-date of Apuleius, but he may well have had the misfortune to live on for some time in the reign of the next emperor, Commodus. He was not one of the good emperors.

Hadrian and Trajan both have, to this day, walls named after them. The Empire in those days was hard-pressed everywhere by what the Romans would surely have called "lesser breeds without the law." The walls were last ditches. Marcus Aurelius, whom I usually picture meditating to the plash of fountains, tablet and stylus ready to hand, actually may have spent most of his time reading dispatches from the front. In his reign, the barbarians attacked Rome for the first time and did considerable damage to what we now call the infrastructure before they were defeated and driven off by the scholarly Marcus Aurelius.

And then there was pestilence. Roman legionaries returning from the East brought with them the smallpox, and many thousands died. They brought with them also another sort of contagion, of which our knowledge is severely limited by the fact that only its enemies survived to tell us about it. It was the strange worship of a god called Mithras, the divine son of a divine mother.

The most interesting and momentous current flowing through the lifetime of Apuleius was surely religious turmoil. Because we trace our descent from the winners, we think of it as the time in which Christianity was growing into its strength and beginning the march that would end in its official establishment under Constantine. (He himself was not himself willing to convert to that creed, but he saw some good use to which that powerful organization might be put.) Others, including Marcus Aurelius, who did what he could to stamp it out, and probably Apuleius as well, thought it just a plebeian and antisocial conspiracy against all orderly government. But that was only the beginning of the more or less standard Roman distaste for the new belief that was growing so alarmingly quickly. There was also a truly religious objection. It must have been that Christianity, in some deep and not entirely explicable way, just didn't feel right to an educated Roman of the upper class.

The official religion of the Roman Empire was little more than a convenient fiction, much larger in consequence, of course, but theologically of no greater strength than our cult of Santa Claus. In its practice, no one was required, or expected, to believe that the Emperor was a god, and except, perhaps, for idiots and very young children, I think it unlikely that anyone did. And thus one of the lesser but perpetual complaints against the Christians: Just what is wrong with these babies that they won't perform a tiny symbolic act which no one takes seriously anyway? It probably had no more meaning than we intend by sticking a Love stamp on the envelope we send to AT&T. The competition between Christianity and the cult of the emperor may have been religious from the point of view of the Christians, but for the Romans it was social and political.

But Christianity also had truly religious opponents beyond counting. My ancient Britannica says that Lucius Apuleius lived in an age of "reaction against a period of scepticism." Scepticism, or, more accurately, I think, a materialistic cynicism, a condition not unlike our own, might well have been an unintended product of the official cult itself, which offered "neither joy, not love, not light, not certitude, not peace, not help for pain." It was no golden branch, but a dry bone in a dry season. But there were some golden branches to be gathered in his time, and at least one of them had long been understood both to offer and provide those very things, all the way from joy to help for pain.

They were what we now call by what I think a deliberately wrong name, and one so chosen to mislead us. What Socrates and his friends referred to simply as mysteries, we have come to call Mystery Religions, in order to make a distinction that was truly not the case. It allows us to say, and to think, that Christianity is one religion and that a Mystery Religion is another, and, therefore, that one might be chosen in place or the other, but this does not usefully describe the difference.

The Greeks may have had religion, but, as we understand the term, they did not have a religion. They had no churches, but only temples, which served many purposes, more of them social and civic than religious. They had no scriptures, no written roots of doctrinal authority invested with holiness in themselves, but only the poets, truthful and beautiful no doubt, but poets all the same, often obscure and ambiguous, suggestive but tantalizing. And, most important of all, they had no clerical class with a vested interest in orthodoxy; their priests and priestesses, all very narrowly specialized in their functions, became such, and often only briefly, sometimes because of family, sometimes by vote, and sometimes by tradition or even by accident. Greek religion had no Creed, no Articles of Religion, no Commandments, no rituals of admission to the role of the faithful, no way at all of testing who was a member and who was an unbeliever or, even worse, a mistaken believer. It was not, like the Church of Rome, or even so amorphous a thing as Protestantism, for instance, a system.

But it was also unlike the Roman Catholic Church, or Protestantism, for that matter, in another way; it was not in some special and dearly bounded compartment separately established and set aside from the rest of life. The Greeks did not go to church; they were always in religion. Some of them were doubtless hypocrites and deceivers for useful purposes best known and kept to themselves, some doubtless serious and credulous, and some suspicious but puzzled by doubt. Of the poets they might well have said, as even Aquinas said of the scriptures, that they are truly the revealed Word, but that, all the same, their meaning was far from clear, and best pursued hesitantly, tentatively, and very slowly, through thought and contemplation, through art at one end of a grand spectrum and rational discourse at the other and even through just plain living and the continual examination of living.

Of all such undertakings we see many examples in the conversations of Socrates and his companions. Even when they are talking about triangles and negative numbers, they are cheerfully engaged in an enterprise which they would have understood as "pious." To us, that seems an inappropriate word, for we want to hear it in terms of a religion, and we are little likely to put it into the company of the word "cheerfully." Our notion of piety wears a straight face, with the eyes turned somewhat upward.

Entry into the mysteries was not like joining a church. It called not so much for the believing of something, but for the learning of something. And that learning was apparently not the sort of mental act that we regularly, and to our disadvantage, call learning. By that, we ordinarily mean the acquisition of information. We say that we "learn" the days of the week and the capitals of the states, and in like manner other "facts" beyond counting. And then, we "know" them.

But such particles of information are not usefully to be called facts, not at all what Wittgenstein must have meant by "that which is the case." That a certain portion of the face of Earth is Arizona, is not the case. Just now, we happen to call it Arizona, and when that day comes when no one calls it Arizona, it will not "be" Arizona. And so it is with almost everything that we suppose that we have learned. But our "knowledge" of such things is strangely misty, and, like the zip codes of our friends and the principal exports of Japan, always subject to change without notice.

The learning of the mysteries seems to have been of a different sort. Socrates often refers to them in metaphor, saying what seems to be the case, that is, that one who would learn the greater would first have to pass through the lesser. This suggests at least one useful way in which we might distinguish between various sorts of learnings. Whether we learn the names of the states before or after we learn the days of the week matters not at all, but with such things as algebra and calculus, that is not so. But Socrates seems not to have meant, although also not necessarily to have excluded, such a pedagogically practical notion. He had in mind, I suspect, the sort of thing that we mean when we say, sometimes contrary to all evidence, that we learn by living and by experience, or, more accurately, as we are reminded when the evidence is contrary, not simply by living and experience but by reflecting on living and experience. Whatever it was that the Greeks "learned" in those mysteries, it must have grown out of reflection.

In the time of Lucius Apuleius, the ancient mysteries of the mother goddess were still being taught and celebrated in the little city of Eleusis not far from Athens. It would be very interesting to know what was done there, but we don't. The initiates were sworn to secrecy, and they seem to have kept the secrets. There are hints dropped here and there, but none of them are useful. How those rites and learnings brought so many, as many did indeed claim, into joy and light and help for pain, we do not know. Furthermore, since we ourselves gnaw on dry bones in a dry season, it seems most likely to us that those who had passed through the Eleusinian Mysteries were either lying or deluded, either deceivers or deceived.

Lucius Apuleius may not have passed through those mysteries. His time was in some ways like one through which we have recently passed. It was an age of enthusiasms, of appetite for wonders, and all through the Empire people of all classes were "into" fads and notions, like hippies meditating with incense and chanting mantras. Mithraism had taken hold among the legions, and for a while ran neck and neck with Christianity, itself an exotic Eastern import. Religious curiosities from the East, although not exactly new, were drawing new crowds. The cult of the Great Mother of the Gods had been established in Rome since 204BC, in obedience to a prophecy in the Sybilline books. It held its own until 394AD. But it was to yet another version of the mysteries that Apuleius was drawn, probably in those years that he spent, after his schooling in Athens, wandering and studying in the Eastern provinces. It was the cult of Isis that he chose, and he became not only an initiate of it but even something of an apostle.

All of those Mysteries of the Mother cults were probably much the same. The ancient Mother had countless names, and her history is very long and widely spread about the face of Earth. Stories of her nature and doings are told everywhere and naturally subject to all possible variations in its particulars of time and place. It seems very unlikely that the mysteries could have been in serious competition with one another. They did not, as would seem only natural to us in the case of churches or denominations, generate what we would call "congregations," regulars who could be counted on to put something in the plate every week.

(Nor did the mysteries compete with other religions. Apuleius spent the latter part of his life as an honorable and prosperous citizen in Carthage, where he was elected to priesthood in the imperial cult and found, obviously, no conflict of interest or belief in performing his "sacred" duties. He kept the accounts of the temple funds and superintended the decent and proper management of the games in the amphitheatre.)

Most of those who came to be initiated at Eleusis came from very far away, and there was no duty laid on them ever to return. They were done with that. If they were expected to grow in what they had learned, which seems very probable, then it was obviously up to them to see to it on their own and for themselves, but they were not under orders to return. In fact, they were not permitted to return, for no one could repeat the process. It was obviously seen as a "passage," something like birth or maturation, a complete change through which a person could pass only once, and in only one direction. It was not, as we think in religious terms, a "conversion." It is better named a metamorphosis.

Lucius Apuleius was a philosopher, a rhetorician, a bureaucrat, and an advocate at law, but he is best remembered, where he is remembered at all, as a novelist. He wrote only the one novel, but it is a wonder. Like ever so many other writers until relatively recently times, he simply stole most of his best material. He would not have been annoyed in the least could he have known that others, Boccacio and Cervantes, for examples, would re-steal from him in their time. Until some time well past Shakespeare, originality and novelty were not thought virtues in art and a good story was always thought well worth another telling. So it is that Apuleius' novel bristles with entertaining little tales gathered here and there, but mostly from an earlier work, The Metamorphoses of one Lucius of Patrae, which no one reads anymore. So unashamed of his plagiarism was Apuleius that he did not even look for a new title. His novel is also called Metamorphoses. The name under which we now know it is The Golden Ass, but that name was given it later because of its popularity. It is about an ass, to be sure, but the "golden" is not a description of the ass but a judgment of the book. "Golden" was something like "super," maybe, in the sense that put it into titles, like that of St John Chrysostom, of the golden mouth.

The Golden Ass is a rollicking tale of a young man's misadventures following his richly deserved transformation into an ass. It is, by turns, funny, fantastical, frightening, raunchy, and lyrical. One can easily see in it how this and that story seem to be tied together only by the hero's presence, and how such stories might be just as well told with different sets of particulars. But there is one story, truly the heart of the book, which stands out as somehow not like any of the others. For one thing, it is not something that happens to the ass, whose name also happens to be Lucius. It is a story that he hears, and also a story that he is not supposed to hear. It is a secret.

But it is more than a secret; it is a secret of women. It is told in a darkened cave by a wrinkled crone to a crying virgin. The crone is stirring a kettle, probably, as we would understand it, making a comforting potion of chicken soup. She tells the story for the girl's comfort. The men, the band of robbers who have abducted the girl right out of her wedding, are all away. The women do not know that a man is listening, a man in the form of an ass, to be sure, but still a man, and a man who will one day tell us the tale that he was not meant to hear.

The story within the novel is variously named. The worst name is Cupid and Psyche. A cute Cupid won't do. Psyche and Eros is better, since even among us Eros has some power and dignity left, in spite of his diminution into the uniquely sexual. In my own mind, I think of the story simply as Psyche. It is her story.

Such is the quality of that story that we have come to suppose it a myth, one more myth in the great collection known as the Greek Myths, which just happens to have been dropped into the novel along with other diverting tales. But that seems to me not right. Although it uses a few well-known characters out of the Greek myths, it places them, especially Eros, in very uncharacteristic roles; it has no readily identifiable family of versions, and no known source.

I would like to believe, and I intend to behave as though I did believe, that the little story of Psyche is the most audacious and valuable of the many plagiarisms of Lucius Apuleius. Of the story of Psyche, I will say that it either is, or might as well be, one of the secrets that initiates of a mystery cult was supposed to keep. It has all of the necessary attributes.

It is dramatic and engaging, and tells a story at once magical and exotic and also perfectly familiar to all human beings, a story of love, love's dreams, love's losses, love's search, and love's triumph. It has reversals and recognitions, violence and death, treachery and deception, terror and suspense. It would make a great movie. It tells the one great and seemingly perpetual story of the quest, its wanderings, trials, and discoveries, its coming out of the darkness and into the light. It is in one way perfectly clear, in another, it is a puzzle calling for solution. It stays in the mind and impels reflection. And it is just much too good, too well-wrought, to have been thought up even by the learned and sophisticated Lucius Apuleius.

But it is not for the sake of converting myself, or anyone else, to the cult of Isis that I would study this tale. This is not to say that I would turn down the chance to learn of those mysteries, for I am certain that they revealed something not so much about what we now call "a religion," but about something that we might think of as true education, the kind that ought to be capitalized.

As far as I can make out from reading around in Plato and other old works, just as there was no equivalent among the Greeks of churches, there was also no equivalent of what we call "religious education," no Sunday School, a process among us which would often seem to provide the opposite of the liberation implied in the word "education." It was probably from the poets, most particularly from the dramas, that the Greeks learned their "piety," and not from the preachings of licensed pietists.

Furthermore, while Socrates often refers to this or that person as "educated," he clearly means nothing like what we mean, that is, schooled or trained in this or that skill or calling. He does, however, always seem to mean something moral, some practice and power in the task of distinguishing the better from the worse. He seems to be thinking of an education not related to or dependent on any time or place or any set of particulars. It was some inward condition in which a Martian might well be found, and from which Aristotle would not be excluded by his ignorance of the capitals of the states. He was, of course, not unfamiliar with the fact that people could learn to be carpenters or pilots of ships, but he obviously did not think of that as education, or even as a part of it. As a matter of fact, he seems not to have imagined, as we do, that such an inward condition had any parts, but rather that it was one thing.

In our age, we find it very hard not only to understand that ancient idea of education, but even to want to understand it. About one thing, Socrates was perfectly clear: Education is not a condition of the mind, but of the soul. We can, apparently, accept the idea of winning hearts and minds, by which we seem to mean really sentiments and notions, but "soul" is a word that embarrasses us. "Psyche" does not embarrass us, even though it is the word for "soul," because it has been sanitized by the psychological "scientists," who were embarrassed by Freud's habitual use of "die Seele" and wanted to sound more up-to-date and technical. But the story of Psyche is quite simply the story of the soul, its birth, its growth, its trials, and its destiny. And that is to say, the story of an education, plain and simple, and without any admixture of the various things we now take for education, the amorphous collection of skills, information, social graces, and indoctrination that we have to mean by the word.

Furthermore, we find the story of the soul enfolded in another story of education, the story of a man who is turned into an ass. This is a familiar tale; we can all tell it, having lived it. But it is also the story of a man who knows that he is an ass, and who doesn't like it, and who would like to work his way back into being a man. This is a less familiar tale, but a far more important one.

Both tales are the stories of all of us. If they can reveal some secrets of education, it must be of a truly universal education that they reach, an education not of any time or place, but of wherever it is that is permanent and universal in persons. So it must be, alas, that an inquiry into such an education must be called "religious," but not in the usual sense of the word. "Religion," by its stems, means a tying together, a reuniting of what was ­ or seems ­ sundered, the recognition of relationship, perhaps, best of all in these times, a vast and mighty ecological revelation of the kinship of all that is and all that lives. Religion is to "the religions" what education is to the curricular devisings and schemes of the schools. It is too important to be left to the religionists.

 

Brief Notes and Things to Come

The seven days of the week will not suffice, no, nor seven months either. Best not too soon make plain how much mortal time must pass over his head while he sits spun round in his spell. Heaven forbid it should be seven years!

WITH this issue, we begin our fifteenth year of publication, or, as we think of it, our third spell of seven years. We must now give you notice that we do not expect that there will come a twenty-second year of publication. Three sevens is quite enough. Indeed, we always find it hard to believe that there will be a next issue.

The third seven will see changes. Our Associate Circulation Manager will now become Full Circulation Manager. And with tenure. There is nothing we can do about that: it's in the constitution. It is also in the constitution that he will write us a book every seven years. In his first term he did Less Than Words Can Say, the simplest and least useful of his books, but also the only one that remains in print for some strange reason. His second term brought The Graves of Academe. We do not give him credit for The Leaning Tower of Babel, for it was not truly a book, but a collection of our own pieces bound in the shape of a book.

He is not a fluent writer. He writes very slowly. He hates writing. He says that he would rather re-tile a bathroom than complete a paragraph, but alas, he has never actually done that. He has chosen to write a new book slowly, and have it appear, piece by piece in issues of THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN In this issue you have already found the first installment of The Psyche Papers. To read it most comfortably and usefully, you may have to do a little homework in the course of the next seven years.

The assigned reading is The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius as translated by Robert Graves. It can be had in a cheap paperback edition. The Psyche Papers will be given mostly to a consideration of the tale of Psyche and Eros which appears within the novel, but it will not be enough to read only that passage. There are connections and echoes.

We seem to have spent our first seven years trying to figure our why so few of those who call themselves "educators" can make sense, and our second looking at the institutional and individual calamities brought on by senseless people who operate our schooling. It looks as though our third seven years ought to be given to a question that readers have often, and often very urgently, asked: Well, then, if that's the way it is, what can we do? Let us try to discover or devise some answers.

This is not, however, to say that we want to suggest some hitherto unimagined "reform." Our "education" is not sick; it is dead. There is no undertaker skillful enough to bring its putrid corpse to life. No matter. It was never truly an education anyway, only another thing using the name. It was never intended as a release from the captivity in which we are all born. We would like to rediscover, if that can be done, the real thing.

ALSO, as you do or should know, permission to quote or to reprint any part or even all of any issue of THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN is invariably granted to anyone for any purpose. One reader write recently to apologize for plagiarism, since he had woven some of our stuff into a speech he had given and made no attribution. Since then we have also had word of a man who wrote, to the editor of some newspaper, a letter that was, in fact, made entirely of our words. The paper caught him, chastised him, and barred him from their letters column forever. Somehow, we feel that something only sort of like justice has been served here. So now we have to add a new rule. Plagiarism is also permitted. Go ahead. Make our day."

THIS issue has been set in an old new typeface. It is Richard Beatty's resurrection of Jenson's Eusibius, the first true Roman letters. It made its first appearance in 1470, and it still looks great. This faithful electronic version is named Mitchell. And we like it. See below for another note of typographical interest.

Fanny Mitchell's Fell Hand

Fanny Mitchell is known to our subscribers as Central Control, i.e., She Who Must Be Obeyed. It is she who writes those utterly illegible postcards and those tiny, and less legible, post-it notes that so many of you, after a few weeks of courteous pondering, send back for translation, only to fall into her fell hand yet again. Be of good cheer. There is remedy in view. Well, maybe.

One of America's most talented designers of typefaces for the computer happens also to be a friend and admirer of Fanny Mitchell--well, that's surely a part of his reason--he has designed Fanny Mitchell, this charming penletter face that you are reading. We are delighted. There are many more Nobel Laureates in this world than there are those for whom type faces have been named. And we do hope, of course, that she may want to use it in her correspondence with you, although we are not counting on it. We, at least, will be using it from time to time in The Underground Grammarian.

We happen to know that some of our readers publish journals and newsletters of their own from their Macintosh computers. There may even be some for whom this sheet is of strictly typographical interest. So, to all readers who use Macintosh computers, we offer the free use of this typeface. Just send us a legible postcard, and we'll send you a disk containing not only Fanny Mitchell but also another old typeface that we made right here for our own use. And if you happen to be looking for someone who can design typefaces, be aware of Richard Beatty, at 110 Carter Avenue, Middle Hope, NY 12550-1223, and of our own typographical subsidiary that sells many of his elegant types and borders.

The Underground
Grammarian

R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028

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Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words do jarre;
nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.


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