Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Trollope society lecture on the 21st

Trollope Society Annual Winter Reception
Thursday February 21st, 2013
The Grolier Club
47 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022
La Vendée: Trollope’s Early Novel of Counterrevolution and Reform
Speaker: Nicholas Birns, New School
Prof. Birns teaches courses in the history of the novel and related literature
in both the United States and Britain as well as on literary criticism and theory.
“I believe thinking about literature is a critical enterprise that calls
 upon our deepest intellectual reflection and discernment”
Drinks: 6:30     Talk: 7:00
$20  ($10 students or faculty)

RSVP: Midge Fitzgerald
6 Pier Pointe, New Bern NC 28562

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ambassador Barzun and multi-generation intellectuals

The news that former Ambassador to Sweden Matthew Barzun is likely to be appointed the next Ambassador to the UK by President Obama inspired various thoughts. Barzun is well-known as the grandson of the late Jacques Barzun, a distinguished (and long-lived) scholar and intellectual who, though not exactly aligned with me on many polemical issues, nonetheless was an exemplary homme de lettres. His grandson had a successful career in the tech industry before receiving his first diplomatic appointment. As admirable as that is, this stirred a soupçon of regret in me that Matthew had not gone into his grandfather's business. I thought of multi-generational baseball families like the Boones or the Hairstons; why can't there be multi-generation intellectual families? Wouldn't it be great if Matthew had written books in some way in a lineage with his grandfather? There are many families--like my own--where the child goes into academia as his/her parents had--but I cannot think of a single three-generation academic family. Maybe in the sciences...

Part of this, of course, is because academia, even at its most lucrative and rewarding, pays so little. My parents were able to enter academia, and to live lives as, respectively, a bohemian artist and a left-wing activist, because their parents had, for their time, a good deal of money, and this is indeed the sine qua non for many bohemian artists and left-wing activists. Equally, if your parents are such, the asceticism contingent on even the most laureled intellectual's life is no doubt seen as confining, and you want to go into business, make some serious money. One can see one generation sacrificing this urge, but less likely two...

In any event I wish Ambassador Barzun well on his likely next appointment, to the Court of St. James.