Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Brouhaha About Truth and Beauty

My daughter started as a freshman at Clemson today. I've been amazed by the brouhaha over the book freshman were assigned to read this summer, Truth and Beauty.

I recently received an email looking for parents who were alarmed. Actually the email was from an organization run by a friend of mine who was a student with me at Clemson too many years ago. The email noted: reviewer Ruth Steinberg (Atlanta) had a good grasp of its content when she wrote that it was reminiscent of a "1950s lesbian pulp novel." Allyson Hamilton (Los Angeles) called it "a memoir of a disturbed woman and her girlfriend." While only suggestive of a homosexual relationship, it is full of gratuitous heterosexual sex on the part of Lucy.
When I moved my daughter into her dorm on Saturday, she had a cable connection for her television. And I'm supposed to be concerned about the gratuitous sex she'll read in a book. Come on. Who are we kidding? There's almost nothing she or her peers are going to learn about sex from a novel.

She complained the book wasn't good literature. "Fine," I told her. "Clemson's not asking you to agree with the lifestyle in the book or even like the book. What they are requiring is that you think and then articulately explain your position."

My friend was concerned that we are "subsidizing more and more things [faithful people will] find repulsive with their tax dollars." But an intellectual discussion on a college campus is not morally repulsive, even if the subject is. If some folks think this author is morally warped, wait until these kids get to Emerson or Thoreau. I remember being the only person in my English class at Clemson writing that Thoreau was in la la land on Walden Pond and defending the Puritan authors we read. My professor was very liberal and was having none of it from me. But I did get an A in the class, and I remember that as one of the most enjoyable, and in retrospect one of the most educational, classes that I had at Clemson.

My daughter's about to get exposed to a bunch of diverse lifestyles, some of which she will find morally repugnant. I appreciate that Clemson is willing to begin her intellectual exploration in a structured setting where first she has to listen to others in the room before she opines. I am proud that she's is willing to express her opinions in a setting where there are likely to be others who strongly disagree with her. I hope the discussion gets frothy. But I also hope that they can go get a pizza together when it is over.

Regardless of what else she has learned, if at the end of four years she has learned to think, her undergraduate experience will have been successful. She's off to a good start.

1 comment:

Margaret Mason Tate said...

Thank you! Thank you so much for this blog. I am a Junior studying poetry at a small liberal arts college. I live in Greenviille but have been overseas for months, and I have only recently been able to obtain this book that caused so much uproar in Tigertown. I expected it to be pretty raunchy, something to be truly be questionable. Well, if I may say so, I read the book cover to cover waiting with baited breath for some gleaning of pornography, some inkling of extreme depravity, know, the good stuff. I truly do not understand the uproar. Did these parents read passages that were not included in my edition?