By Stanley Fish, New York Times, April 23, 2012
Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, in Miami. In the Fall of 2011, he will be Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Senior Fellow and Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke University and the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is the author of 13 books, most recently “How to Write a Sentence,” a celebration of sentence craft and sentence pleasure; “Save the World On Your Own Time”; and “The Fugitive in Flight,” a study of the 1960s TV drama. His piece praises Andrew Delbanco's book, "College: What it was and What it Should Be"
Humanism has always been about imitation and the belief that if the song of virtue is sung well, listeners will be moved to join in. In “An Apology for Poetry” (1595), Philip Sidney asks (rhetorically), “Who readeth Aeneas carrying old Anchises on his back that wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act?” Delbanco recalls the effect the art historian Meyer Schapiro had on students “as he spoke about Cezanne”; they would say, “Whatever he’s smoking, I’ll have some.” I recall the Renaissance scholar Jackson Cope telling me the story of how, just out of the Navy, a street kid from Chicago, he wandered into a class on iconography and emblems taught by the great Don Cameron Allen at the University of Illinois. I didn’t know what he was talking about, Cope said, but, he added, I did know that I wanted some of that.
Fortunately, for many of us, we have been privileged to be in a room where the professor spoke so eloquently and eruditely that "although we did not know what he was talking about, we wanted some of that."
My path, in first, second and final year of undergraduate study offered me the privilege of being a little mind, from a little town, in a classroom with such a professor. In first year, I had no idea what he was talking about for at least six weeks, as he introduced English Literature to his class of some forty or fifty "children" for that is what we were, and at least in my perception, I had finally 'met' Pericles..or at least his Canadian great-grandchild.
John Wichello Graham, a doctoral graduate from the University of Toronto, under the tutelage of Northrup Frye, had written his doctoral thesis on Virginia Wolfe at twenty-four, and fortunately for the University of Western Ontario, had chosen that university to begin, to sustain and to finish his teaching career.
And our paths crossed so many decades ago that, on the calendar, the pages have grown yellow yet in my mind's eye, it was only yesterday that I was so privileged.
His mind, his vocabulary, his breadth of comparisons, his true scholarship walked into the classroom every time he entered; he simply could not restrain those traits, and they were poured out in generous abundance, so committed was his career to the teaching of these young, impressionable and sponge-like minds.
Even twenty-five years later, when I happened back on campus of a summer afternoon, when there was no one around anywhere, and I ventured down those halls of University College, seeking to find his name on a door, and knocked, his voice invited me in to a conversation I could never have dreamed would ever take place.
Nearing the end of his formal career, he still had the passion, and the control and the discipline and the commitment to the pursuit of truth, through everything he read, reflected upon and shared with those of us whose minds he attempted to penetrate and to shape, and his contribution to literature and to learning and to the liberal arts will never fully be measured...reaching as it does the unmeasureable in so many ways.
Thanks, Dr. Graham, for just being who you are, and for sharing that with so many.
Now I know what others mean when they say, " I am honoured and privileged to walk on the shoulders of giants!" Your shoulders have sustained me in so many times and places...as has your model of being human being.