Modernisms at Statnford

<strong>BETWEEN STATES</strong>
BETWEEN STATES

“When we met, Professor Yosal Rogat was living west of the Stanford campus in a modest house and had the reputation, even at a top university, of being exceptionally brilliant as well as far-ranging. [As a grad student] I signed up for his seminar on ‘modernisms,’ a style that he found in social thought (including legal writing) and in poetry and other literature. After the first few meetings, he loaned me his teaching notes for the class and encouraged me to scribble marginalia. I was astonished and flattered when, a week after I had given back the notebook, he mentioned that he’d had the pages retyped with my comments added in. [I guess we’d read somewhat different books]

“Modernism was a style of thought that had ben arising and then strong in the hundred years or so before we were studying it. At first, this style met formidable resistance, but eventually came to seem obvious. In literature, a course on modernism m might include such American and European writers as T.S. Eliot, Andre Gide, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, WYndham Lewis, Robert Musil, Ezra Pound, and Virginia Wolff, or in visual arts George Braque, Paul Cezane, and Pablo Picasso. [For example, much later the subject of modernism, almost wholly in literature, was addressed in a book edited by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane.]

“Stanford then allowed graduate students who wanted to earn an inter-disciplinary doctorate to gather a committee of at least four professors from two or more departments. Yosal agreed to chair my special degree committee, which came also from the English and psychology departments. Under the rubric of ‘social thought and literature,’ the program was about imagination and, more specifically, about the creative play or ‘ludic activity’ of adults.

“Having graduated from UCLA at the age of eighteen, Yosal had the manner of a prodigy. I don't know that he was greatly impressed by raw intelligence, whatever that is, but he cared about integral thinking, which, as his colleagues noted, went wherever it was relevant to go.

“Yosal had suffered a back injury caused by a touch-football game (and worsened, he said, by the initial treatment).When I met him, he could lie down or walk but not sit for long in a chair or stand in one place. He was a passionate cyclist, and later got me to buy a mountain bike, a device that was new then, and ride it from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge to the foot and then to the top of Mount Tamalpais. A long-distance runner at UCLA, Yosal at Stanford went on almost daily bike rides, which might even involve long trips over the hills to the Pacific and back to Palo Alto.

Yosal was a person about whom colleagues gossiped: How much pain was he suffering? What remarkable comment had he made? Would he ever, in the agricultural metaphor common in academic life, not only “break new ground” with his ideas, but harvest a book about them?

Alas, after the injury he was never able to sit still long enough to write anything much longer than an article requested by the New York Review of Books. [One] article was on the neo-conservatives, so-called, and in particular on Irving Kristol. Published in 1972, the article was a sort of early warning radar sighting of a political trend that has given us the war in Iraq and a fundamentalist GOP.

In New York, Yosal had known Hannah Arendt, a German-born [and educated] American political theorist who had escaped Europe during the Holocaust; and he was employed in his early career by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions which sought to bring diverse and progressive intellectual resource to bear on public policy.

Yosal was generous in sharing his thinking, which for his friends was less like fishing in a tranquil lake than like running a white-water river. His sense of humor was ironic, perhaps influenced by his time at New College, Oxford. If he had been raised in the Northeast rather than in the Los Angeles area, I suppose he would have been a New York intellectual. Instead, he could be found dining under big trees in the balmy climate of Palo Alto” [with a joint appointment in the Political Science department and in the Law School].

So far, this is an excerpt from my book, Enlarging Your Comfort Zones. Before his untimely death in 1980, Yosal was best known for his writing on two topics: the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the rule of law, and the decision s and dissents of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Take a look.

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