The last time I contributed to the Weekly Round-Up (a week or so ago) I mentioned that I have come to the end of a nearly 50 year career teaching English Literature, 43 at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. It has since occurred to me that the memoir I published last spring (Unsuitable Treasure: An Ex-Jesuit Makes Peace with the Past) was in some ways an extension of that career.
Liberal Arts education, as I understand it, is essentially about increasing self-awareness. The more widely we read, the wider our world is, and the more defined our individual relationships to that world become. We discover ourselves, in other words, in discovering the world. We learn what we value, in my case steady self-possession, and what we abhor, in my case fanaticism—that is, building everything around some single principle: religious, political, economic, whatever. History is loaded with wars, massacres, and shootings originating in some supposedly noble idea. I could never be a revolutionary because I see a need for social stability, but neither do I endorse the status quo because I also see a need for change. Life is too complex for single fixes. Literature has taught me that people are baffling mixtures of good and evil who have to struggle for sensible answers to their problems, and that is what I have tried to teach my students over the years.
That is why I had to resist fitting any of the people I wrote about in my memoir into some consistent pattern of behavior and also why, when I didn't resist that temptation, my portrayal of them was least successful. My father, for example, could be both brutal and generous, and while I felt tenderness for my mother I also felt fury, especially when she played my father’s victim.
I’d like to expand on this connection between my memoir and my educational career in future weekly, or almost weekly, blog posts on this OTP site, just as I’d like to expand on the subject of Memoir and the Effects of Self-Disclosure in future monthly posts in More Than A Review. For the first in the MTAR series click on www.morethanareview.com/memoir-and-self-disclosure. The second will appear there next week and in the first week of each month after that.
Below is a picture of an individualized high school diploma that was given to each member of our graduating class on the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Canisius High School in Buffalo where my literary studies (in Latin, Greek and English) began. The 60th anniversary of our graduation will be celebrated at a reunion this coming June.
See more about my memoir at:http://www.facebook.com/UnsuitableTreasureBook?ref=ts&fref=ts