lines composed a few inches above an acid stomach

Charles Bowen
November 7, 1958, Scholastic #6

One of the innumerable blessings of attending a large university like ours is the sophisticating influence of a cosmopolitan society. We are surrounded by individuals of all shades of interest and opinion, and a visit to the dining hall is consequently broadening in more senses than one.

This point was recently brought home to me with more than usual force when I found myself one lunchtime seated at a table occupied otherwise by a group of engineers who had just had a test of some sort or other. (Note to laymen: engineers are always having a test of some sort or other. They deserve little sympathy, however, because of 'an invention called a curve, which somehow arranges things so that the more flunkees there are, the better off everyone is. The curve is very popular among engineers.) Anyhow, I was subjected to the educational influence of the following conversation:

"Whaddaya mean, the increment in Pi over the radical cosine of the x-function'"

"I mean the increment in Pi over the radical cosine of the x-function." (Heavy sarcasm).

"That won't give you anything!"

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah!" (and so on.)

(I don't pretend to have the exact terms correct. If by chance I have solved some famous problem, let me assure you that it was done inadvertently, like the monkey banging on the typewriter who might eventually write the Bible if eternity were long enough. In case I have stumbled on something, there will be a special meeting of math majors immediately in 127 Nieuwland.)

Perhaps it isn't just of me to speak so cavalierly of the engineers. The barriers between science and the humanities are equally discouraging in both directions. The average engineer, if he were dropped (noiselessly) into the midst of a group of English majors, might be treated to something like this:

". . . Yes, he rewrote The Purple Cow seven times before it was published. Changed all the trochees to anapests and then to iambs. Oh, and he added a double caesura."

"Of course, but the most important thing is the thorough reworking of the eye-imagery."

"Gad, yes . . . that's essential."

"Quintessential is the word."


Edifying as this sort of chatter must be to the layman who is privileged to be exposed to it, it might perhaps be argued that there is a minimum of communication between the disciplines. In most cases this is not serious, but there can be dangerous exceptions. A pre-med I know was frightened nearly out of his wits when two GP sophomores sitting nearby started a vicious fistfight over Parmenides' intuition of Being. For this reason I am proposing that the student . . . oops, Student Government . . . set up a body to arbitrate dining-table conversation and reprimand any exclusive group whose conversation exceeds the least common denominator-that is, is too difficult to be understood by anyone who has his six-year molars. I further suggest that the board of appeals be composed of commerce students, whose conversation never, to the best of my knowledge, fails to meet this standard.

South Americans, 'are of course a distinct and separate category. Everyone has heard numerous proposals that they all be required to speak English, get crew cuts, wear Bermuda shorts, etc., (Oh, yes you have. You just haven't been listening, that's all.) I for one am against this. As far as I am concerned, the inexpressible charm of one "Ole!" or "Arriba!" amid a monotonous chorus of yeas, rahs, and go-go-go's at athletic events is ample compensation for the knowledge that this ethnic group is speaking Spanish and carrying on other such un-American activities under our beloved Dome.

AN OPEN LETTER TO JAMES C. TALAGA - Recommended reading: Mr. Talaga's letter to last week's Repercussion.

Ordinarily this sort of thing would be sent to the Repercussion column, but since my professional standing has been implicitly attacked, I do not think I am taking undue advantage in using this column, with its gigantic circulation, in replying. In the first place, Mr. Talaga, I hope you will allow me to state that the formal and material end of this letter is not the perfection of the intellectual virtues, nor even the mere defense of my reputation against a slur which was perhaps unintentional, but sheer scurrility, so I hope I will not be taken to task for attacking you on several points which seem to be otherwise irrelevant. Journalism is at best a sordid profession, and no appeal to the shining ideal of lustitia, which is of course always before the eyes of the aspiring law student, can be expected to have any effect on my cynical heart.

In the first place, you put me in between a pep rally and a golf tournament. Oh, Mr. Talaga, how could you be so grossly unfeeling? But this I could have forgiven you. In the second place, you made specific reference to "the round potato tradition as enumerated by Mr. Bowen," I don't pretend to understand precisely how a tradition is enumerated, but perhaps you merely slipped a little in the course of the fervid torrent of impassioned rhetoric which poured from you in a moment of passion. I can understand, Mr. Talaga. I'm human, too.

But how, how could you be so vicious, so bestial as to say that my articles, along with rallies and tournaments, are "probably important issues at the University?" How could you have had the hardness of heart to represent any little, tiny, miniscule part of my work as important? Here, Mr. Talaga, there can be no forgiveness. You have broken my heart.

I also noticed, in your "rationale," the sentence, "While the statement that the sole end of the University is the perfection of the intellectual virtues is open to debate, that same statement as applied to the Law School is irrefutable." Aren't you a little confused? The object of a law school, as that of a medical school, a seminary, and even to some extent a liberal arts graduate school, is primarily the training of competent workers in a particular field. In this respect, the Law School has a great deal more in common with North Manual Trades High than with an undergraduate liberal arts university.

To wind up with an unjustified bit of sniping (but I warned you) I also find the following:

"As a rule of thumb, for the sake of clarity and brevity (which nonetheless is in my opinion completely valid) I would define the end of a university to be the perfection of the intellectual virtues."

Well, Mr. Talaga, if you would allow me the opportunity, I would like, as a rule of thumb, for the sake of clarity and brevity (which nonetheless is in my opinion completely valid) to point out your above sentence as a prime example of what ought to be avoided, as a rule of thumb, for the sake of clarity and brevity (which nonetheless is in my opinion completely ridiculous.)


Almost half this column is devoted to Bowen's answering of a pompous letter that had appeared in the previous issue.