Culture

'A lucky life'

"'A lucky life'" Continued...

Issue: "Iraq: The other caucuses," Jan. 31, 2004

I had a cousin named Sherwin Rosen, who was for many years chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Chicago and who, I'm told, was in line for a Nobel Prize in economics. At a memorial dinner for him soon after his death, Gary Becker, who did win a Nobel Prize in economics, spoke about how they came close to bouncing my dear cousin out of the Ph.D. program at Chicago because he wasn't quick in response. Instead, according to Becker, he would brood on questions, then return to show his supposed betters that there were aspects of the question that they had overlooked-often crucial aspects. He worked the same way in his professional life: slowly, broodingly, effectively. Too much education nowadays entails asking the student to supply seven reasons for the Renaissance in less than two minutes.

Educational reform is something I don't feel fit to talk about in even a falsely authoritative way. But I think it might help a lot if they could simply debar junky subjects and books from university curricula: no courses in the movies, none revolving around race, class, and gender, none featuring second- and third-rate books, most of them by living authors. What an advance-a fine step back into the future-that would constitute! No one, of course, has the courage to do anything like it. A misapplied notion of academic freedom has it that university teachers can be as prejudiced and ignorant as they wish.

WORLD: If you were writing your obituary, what would you highlight? When you look back, what would you have spent less time on, what more time on? What was a waste of time? And, what do you think happens after death?

JE: I would be pleased if my obituary made the point that I tried, in my various scribblings, to be amusing and to give pleasure without scamping the essential seriousness of life.

I haven't all that many regrets, which may, I fear, suggest that I have lived an unexamined life. Had I a chance to redo my education, I should like to do it as a classicist, reading almost exclusively about the Greeks and Romans.

Judaism is alarmingly unclear about the afterlife. Certainly, it nowhere suggests those puffy clean clouds in which we shall all, in our togas, smilingly greet one another, in sublimely clement weather with Andre Kostelanetz music playing in the background. The Reverend Sydney Smith, a writer I adore, said that he imagined that in heaven he would be eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets. I haven't, really, a distinct notion of what the afterlife might be like, though I hope there is one and in it I shall be sent to a place where my wife and (eventually) children and grandchildren and all those I love will join me, I shall read and speak every foreign language with complete ease, be able to play all of Mozart, Shubert, Ravel, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin effortlessly and flawlessly on the piano, and there will be absolutely no cell phones whatsoever.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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