Philo$ophy and the Mirror of Nurture
Many years ago, my fiancee attempted to lend me a bit of responsibility by introducing me to my would-be mother-in-law as a future PhD in literature. “From Columbia,” I added, polishing the apple of my prospects. She wasn’t buying it. “A doctor of philosophy,” she said. “What’re you going to do, open an philosophy store?”
— Mark Slouka
So begins Slouka’s essay “Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school,” (Harper’s, September 2009) about the mis- or under-education of the arts in American education, or — as he put more aptly — “[…] the increasing dominance–scratch that, the unqualified triumph–of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value.” That “certain way of seeing” is, specifically, education not for the sake of itself, but rather, for business; of “producing a nation of employees, not citizens.” On the nature vs. nuture debate, he says “what we are taught, generally speaking, is what we become,” and what we’ve become is something more and more unbecoming. I’m reminded of D.F. Wallace’s advice to recent graduates in his Kenyon Commencement speech (now published as This is Water, regrettably marketed as a self-help book) that the most essential thing for modern sanity was to choose what one thinks about. On a bad day, I think his passing potentially negates what he said; on a good day, I love the man like fuck.
Harper’s, and I love them too, are a grumpy bunch I know; and I’d rather have a lobotomy than an epiphany — so those are my thoughts are how important science vs. arts are — but Slouka’s charming anecdote hit a nerve with me, being the low-salary B.A. in freakin’ painting black sheep of the family, members whom are all doctors or married to them.
When my now Radiologist cousin was a medical student living in the same city as I, he was exempt from the mandatory Chinese weekly visitation of one’s grandmother — visitations into the evening which incurred a night on the pull-out bed. I also had to buy her groceries and talk to her in strained Mandurin. I worked 40 hrs a week in an office and painted another 30 hrs (not to mention another ~10 hrs expediting the latter’s logistics). That’s 80 hrs in my book — but it didn’t really count, because I was just a receptionist and made pictures at night. My cousin had real stress, and was never expected to perform as I, a petty hobbyist, was.
Now and then I would sell a painting at the philosophy store, or, as they say, “gallery.” My father, a grim realist and anti-patron, said to me “You’re no Van Gogh,” to which I replied, “I can only hear half of what you’re saying.” (Ear joke people, catch up.) Now and then my cousin does an MRI finds a patient’s treatable cancer. He saves lives, I got high on turpentine. The verdict may be in, that science is more imperitive, but come on, how ’bout a little love for the lit PhuDs out there? Seriously, I respect anyone who reads that much. Or am I preaching to the choir? And if so, doesn’t it seem that our choir is atonal and semi-depressed? The lord has one ear on us and we can’t find the tuning fork. The devil may have found it, cos the song he’s singin’ is so sweet.