Guests on Volume 20
• ELIZABETH FOX-GENOVESE on the benefits of single-sex education, and the confusion of "elite" feminism
• ROBERT D. RICHARDSON, JR., on why the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson continues to attract certain religious seekers
• ROGER LUNDIN on Emerson's assertion of alternatives to Christianity, and how they have seeped under the American cultural skin
• WILFRED MCCLAY on individualism and collectivism in American society
• ANDREW A. TADIE on learning to love and learn from G. K. Chesterton
• ROBERT JENSON on why the life of the mind matters to the Church, and how it should take shape in the world
• TED PRESCOTT on why artists have been attracted to abstraction, and what viewers should look for in abstract art
• TED LIBBEY on Haydn's The Creation
On January 17, 1996, the Supreme Court heard arguments in United States v. the Commonwealth of Virginia. At stake in the case was the question of whether or not the Virginia Military Institute was guilty of violating federal regulations on gender discrimination by maintaining its male-only admission policy. One of the expert witnesses on behalf of the Citadel and Virginia Military Institute was Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, professor of Humanities and History at Emory University. Her 1991 book, Feminism without Illusions, challenges many of the inconsistencies and blind spots of contemporary feminism. A graduate of an all-women's college, she is an ardent advocate of single-sex education for men and women.
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Robert D. Richardson, Jr.
The figure of the sage-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is a commanding presence in American culture. The answers he sketched out to questions of meaning, society, and individual identity continue to inform the American way of life. Those who worry that the nineteenth century figure inaugurated an unprecedented spirit of relativism and self-centeredness remember that it was Emerson who first uttered the maxim, "Do your own thing." Robert Richardson published a masterful study of Emerson's life, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. It is an intellectual biography which examines the way Emerson's ideas germinated, took root, and manifested themselves in his life.
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Roger Lundin is a professor of English at Wheaton College, a cultural historian, and the author of The Culture of Interpretation: Christian Faith and the Postmodern World. One of the chapters in his book looks at the influence of Emerson's ideas on contemporary literary theory and on society at large. Lundin presents an audio essay, a musing on why Emerson's influence lingers in American culture. Specifically, he examines Emerson's assertion of alternatives to Christianity and how they have been adopted by the American people.
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American culture has long struggled with the paradox of radical individualism coexisting with a tendency to institutionalization and bland conformism. The spirit of the 1960s and the spirit of the 1950s are both essentially American. Historian Wilfred McClay's book The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America traces the history of the vacillating fortunes of these two tendencies. On the one hand, the individualism of Emerson, Andrew Jackson, Charles Finney, and the frontier; on the other, the growing consolidation of power in national government and of experience in national culture. His book tells the story of a society that does not know quite what to make of authority.
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One of the most quoted and quotable writers on matters of society and culture is G. K. Chesterton. Dr. Andrew Tadie teaches English at Seattle University and has served as co-editor of two collections of essays concerning Chesterton, the more recent entitled Permanent Things. Tadie talks about his own difficulties with Chesterton as a young man and the way he has attempted to make Chesterton accessible for his students. He gives some critique of The Napoleon of Notting Hill, one of Chesterton's works of fiction, and examines its message about community and neighborhoods.
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Dr. Robert Jenson is a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, and his essay, "On the Renewing of the Mind: Reflections on the Calling of Christian Intellectuals," is part of a new anthology of short pieces called Essays in Theology of Culture. Dr. Jenson suggests that the crisis of modern higher education cannot be explained in terms of funding, politicization, or overspecialization but that the modern university has forgotten from where it came. The present-day university upholds the Enlightenment vision of individual and autonomous reason rather than the original vision of thinkers in communion and conversation.
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Art critic Ted Prescott offers a primer for understanding abstract art. For many people, abstract painting and sculpture is at best a highly specialized and technical interest, and at worst a joke. If, however, one is interested in comprehending the dynamics of twentieth-century culture, it is imperative to have some understanding of the rise of abstraction-how ideas about abstraction have evolved and how numerous social and cultural forces outside the art world influence its development.
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The Creation, written by Haydn in 1796, is a compilation of settings from Genesis, the Psalms, and Milton's Paradise Lost. Much historical evidence exists to suggest that Haydn considered this project one of the most meaningful efforts of his career. The musical style is reminiscent of Handel's oratorios. Haydn had heard a lot of Handel during a visit to London in 1791 and had been very impressed. In The Creation, Haydn uses a great deal of dramatic orchestral coloring to evoke the feeling of various events in the narrative. Music critic Ted Libbey points out that in addition to this obvious musical expression, Haydn used a number of musical devices to make up for not having sets, scenery, or stage action.