The immediate subject of Joanna Williams’s depressing but compellingly written chronicle of the threats to Anglo-American academia over the last several decades is the concerted attack, first by the professors themselves and now by students, against the academic freedom of the title. Academic freedom is the ability of the professorate to express, explore, and teach even those ideas that don’t happen to be cut to this decade’s fashions.
Thus academic freedom and its enemies may seem initially to be a narrow issue, of interest to few outside the now dwindling number of tenured professors who thought they were free to follow truth, and who discover instead that they can be shouted down by colleagues or students who feel that what the professor is saying “supports oppression.” Even worse, in Williams’s view, are those who self-censor to get their writing published and gain advancement while avoiding disapproval.
Greg Ip’s entertaining and thoroughly researched new book explores a paradox: Safety is dangerous and danger safe. One might expect to hear this from an obscure monastic hermit, perhaps, or a hippie with a bumper sticker proclaiming that not all who wander are lost. Instead, it comes from the chief economics columnist for the Wall Street Journal. What gives?
Ip pursues a wide-ranging thesis: “The history of civilization is the history of us trying to foolproof existence, to create safety and stability out of a dangerous and unstable world.”
Hillary Clinton was projected the winner of the Nevada Democratic caucus on Saturday. Fox News and NBC called the race in favor of Clinton at about 2:15 P.M. local time. Clinton was capturing 53 percent of the vote with 85 percent of precincts reporting Saturday afternoon. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) trailed Clinton with 47 percent of the vote among Democratic caucus-goers.
Genius is as genius does, for Ethan Canin in his new novel A Doubter’s Almanac. And that proves a problem, in a book that is essentially about the consequences of extreme intelligence for those with the ill-fortune to grow up in families that possess it—for, if actual prodigies are any guide, genius just doesn’t work the way that Canin thinks it does.
The close miss of the book seems a sadness, for Canin writes brilliantly and has been on the edge of producing a great novel for years. A Harvard-trained doctor who teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he’s published seven well-received books, from the 1985 short-story collection Emperor of the Air to the 2009 novel America America—and now A Doubter’s Almanac.
In the forward to Wait Till I’m Dead—a selection of Allen Ginsberg’s uncollected poems published earlier this month—Rachel Zucker explains why we should read his poetry: He’s “dangerous! So, come and get some!” and he never disappoints. “Years later,” she writes, “after countless readings, his poems still feel hot to me.” In slightly more adult language, he subverts traditional morals and is stunningly original.