November 14, 2005


Lack of curiosity is curious ( J. PEDER ZANE, Nov 6, 2005, Triangle Life Magazine)

Over dinner a few weeks ago, the novelist Lawrence Naumoff told a troubling story. He asked students in his introduction to creative writing course at UNC-Chapel Hill if they had read Jack Kerouac. Nobody raised a hand. Then he asked if anyone had ever heard of Jack Kerouac. More blank expressions.

Naumoff began describing the legend of the literary wild man. One student offered that he had a teacher who was just as crazy. Naumoff asked the professor's name. The student said he didn't know. Naumoff then asked this oblivious scholar, "Do you know my name?"

After a long pause, the young man replied, "No."

"I guess I've always known that many students are just taking my course to get a requirement out of the way," Naumoff said. "But it was disheartening to see that some couldn't even go to the trouble of finding out the name of the person teaching the course."

The floodgates were opened and the other UNC professors at the dinner began sharing their own dispiriting stories about the troubling state of curiosity on campus. [...]

In fairness, the assault on high culture and tradition that has transpired since the 1960s has paid great dividends, bringing long overdue attention to marginalized voices.

Unfortunately, this new freedom has sucker punched the notion of the educated person who is esteemed not because of the size of his bank account or the extent of his fame but the depth of his knowledge. Instead of a mainstream reverence for those who produce or appreciate works that represent the summit of human achievement, we have a corporatized and commodified culture that hypes the latest trend, the next new thing.

A fundamental truth about people is that they are shaped by the world around them. In the here and now, get-the-job-done environment of modern America, the knowledge for knowledge's sake ethos that is the foundation of a liberal arts education -- and of a rich and satisfying life -- has been shoved to the margins. Curiously, in a world where everything is worth knowing, nothing is.

Their Literary heroes were men who trashed eveything that came before tem and denounced all values as well. Is it surprising that the undergraduates care nothing for the despoliers of their cultural landscape, which now resembles nothing so much as the dark side of the moon.

Posted by Robert Schwartz at November 14, 2005 8:36 AM

[T]he knowledge for knowledge's sake ethos that is the foundation of a liberal arts education -- and of a rich and satisfying life...

Hold up, Hoss.

That's a pretty big assumption, and one not easily defended.
Knowledge that isn't useful is known as "trivia", and although it can be fun showing off one's command of such, or perhaps making some money with it on a game show, that hardly amounts to a "rich and satisfying life".

Being well-familiar with literary works one enjoys enriches life; being well-familiar with literary works that one does not enjoy is only worthwhile if they help one keep a job.
Or, I suppose, impress a date.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 14, 2005 8:59 AM

People must be entertained and amused because they have no inner life to sustain them.

Posted by: erp at November 14, 2005 9:08 AM

erp: What's entertaining about Jack Kerouac?

In defence of useless knowledge, it's surprising how often it ends up becoming useful.

In defence of reading things you don't think you'll like:

1) one of the most rewarding things you can do in life is to change your mind
2) at the very least, you should know your enemy.

Posted by: Brit at November 14, 2005 9:29 AM


You do Jeremy Bentham proud. We're all utilitarians now, right?


Posted by: Ed Bush at November 14, 2005 10:02 AM

"Or, I suppose, impress a date."

The only reason I ever studied poetry.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 14, 2005 10:03 AM

the really funny part is that, without a hint of irony, Zane bemoans the fact that the otherwise beneficial 'assault on high culture and tradition' leads to the unfortunate consequence of the little college buggers' lack of interest in ... (wait for it..).. Jack Kerouac!


Posted by: JonofAtlanta at November 14, 2005 10:12 AM

Jon gets it. The Leftist Boomer Profs spent the last 25 years telling people that their "theory" proves that there is no such thing as art, truth or value, and then they are devastated when their students take them seriously.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 14, 2005 10:16 AM

Brit writes:

"1) one of the most rewarding things you can do in life is to change your mind"

I grow weary of the sentiments like this one. (This, and "it is a true sign of intelligence to change your mind." Unless, of course, you change it to disagree with me. Unless, of course, you're David Horowitz. Or Christopher Hitchens. Then you aren't intelligent, you're evil. And, far from it being "rewarding," you are imagined to be miserable... in the grip of psychosis... or a puppet of "the other side.")

Posted by: Brian McKim at November 14, 2005 10:33 AM

I'm still racking my brains trying to figure out when it was that society esteemed poor, unknown know-it-alls.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 14, 2005 10:35 AM

I agree with Truman Capote.

Posted by: ted welter at November 14, 2005 10:52 AM

Most college students today don't have a compelling reason to be there. Going to college is just something you're supposed to do.

Kerouac may be the most misinterpreted author of the past half-century (a bit more, by now, I guess...). Oh well.

Posted by: b at November 14, 2005 11:26 AM


The best and most common pattern is this:

1) you think what your parents think and are conservative
2) when you're old enough, you rebel against your parents and become leftist
3) when you get a bit older than that you rebel against the rebellion and go back to being an even more staunch conservative with a real hatred for leftists
4) finally, you start thinking for yourself about everything and find that you don't really fit neatly into any category.

That's at least three changes of mind. Any less is pitifully unrewarding, and in fact is tantamount to cheating.

Posted by: Brit at November 14, 2005 12:01 PM


Except nowadays, the parents are leftists, so the kids skip start at step 2.

Posted by: Mike Earl at November 14, 2005 12:26 PM

I was too old for Kerouac. Never read him, but was totally amused by Tom Wolfe's account of him. Laughed so hard one time reading Wolfe, I thought I'd get arrested for public drunkenness. They used to do that back then.

Like most people of my age, I started out with comic books, found out about the library, read every I could and am still doing it, only now I can read things on the internet and get immediate feedback from others with the same interests, even authors (if they're still alive).

It's a great life, Iíve never felt lonely or the need to be amused or entertained and don't have a breakdown if the TV goes flooey. When Iím at a party or social gathering (other than with my darling grandchildren), I canít wait to leave and resume my real life behind my bunker away from the babbling crowd.

BTW - Did Griffin get whatever it was he wanted? I hope somebody came through for the poor kid.

Posted by: erp at November 14, 2005 3:11 PM


He's stuck with the Nintendo 64 his cousins gave him and mad at all of you.

Posted by: oj at November 14, 2005 3:34 PM


It ends when you recognize that you don't know anything useful that your great-great-grandfather didn't know. Then you're an adult.

Posted by: oj at November 14, 2005 3:35 PM

oj. Even his grandma let him down? Unheard of. Well maybe Santa will make it up to him. I certainly hope.

Hint to all you potential Santas out there. As Capt. Picard says, Make it happen.

Posted by: erp at November 14, 2005 4:03 PM

I haven't read Kerouac in years, but enjoyed him back in my college days. I find it hard to see how anyone who actually read him could say that he "trashed eveything that came before t[h]em and denounced all values as well." If anything, Kerouac and the other Beats were obsessed with values. True, their values might not match those of mainstream '50s America, but that often meant looking backward to older values (in the radical tradition; radical=root) such as Eastern mysticism and even Catholicism (in Kerouac's case).

I realize that around here there's a tendency for all art and science to be graded according to how well it fits OJ's religious and political views, but Kerouac could be a fine writer and is someone creative writing students should be familiar with.

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 14, 2005 4:36 PM

The prof is assuming that the students should want to know him. Talk about impertinent.

Look, if your class is a prerequisite that students have to take to get the degree, not because they want to be there, do not be surprised if the students only put in the minimum effort. They don't like the prof, they don't like the class - what did you expect from an eighteen/nineteen year old anyway?

Posted by: Mikey at November 16, 2005 11:16 AM