I’ve been reading Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas. So far my favorite part is this:
Historical and theoretical knowledge, which is the kind of knowledge that liberal education disseminates, is knowledge that exposes the contingency of present arrangements. It unearths the a prioris buried in present assumptions; it shows students the man behind the curtain; it provides a glimpse of what is outside the box. It encourages students to think for themselves. Liberal educators know this, but sometimes they make the wrong inference. They think that showing the man behind the curtain subverts the spectacle. But merely revealing the contingency and constructedness of present arrangements does not end the spectacle, and subversiveness is not the point. The spectacle goes on. The goal of teaching students to think for themselves is not an empty sense of self-satisfaction. The goal is to enable students, after they leave college, to make more enlightened contributions to the common good.
I’ll repeat: “But merely revealing the continency and constructedness of present arrangements does not end the spectacle, and subversiveness is not the point.”
Back in September, Charlie Rose had on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who I have decided is my new best friend. Some highlights:
Charlie Rose: Why are things that you read like literature important to a judge?
Stephen Breyer: I told a group of undergraduates here in New York a few weeks ago when I was asked that question. And I said it’s like knowing a foreign language or reading a novel. We only have one life. And we only really know our own. But by reading novels and by reading what other people have written about life, and about different ways of living, you can lead more lives than your own. And you can understand how people could have lived a quite different life. And that’s a wonderful privilege to be able to do that as well as I think a necessity for someone who’s going to affect the lives of other people.
Charlie Rose: So, somebody comes to you and says George Bush was not really elected president. The court simply issued a decree. You would say yes, he was, because the Supreme Court said he was.
Stephen Breyer: I would say better read the decisions, and I would also point out that one of the virtues that we have in this country is accepting decisions even when they’re very important and even when they’re wrong, rather than try to fight with guns to overturn them. And there are a lot of countries where that latter is a real alternative.
And that’s what I see in my office. I said, I’ve said this many times, but I see people of every race, every religion, every point of view. Every point of view and my mother used to say there is no view so crazy there isn’t somebody doesn’t hold it in this country. And these people who have very different points of view, outlook, et cetera, will decide under law. If you are going to decide under law, that means some people called judges will make these decisions. In difficult cases of interpretation, on the borders, all right. They’ll make mistakes sometimes.
So you have to decide you’re going to support an institution that will do things that are sometimes very unpopular. You have to decide that. I have to decide that. Very unpopular. And sometimes the judges will be wrong. And are you prepared to do that? And what I want to show people in this book is why they might be prepared to do it. And that’s – I tell some stories. And I try to explain how these decisions, many of them, current, how they look through my eyes. I can’t say I have the secret. I can say this is how I approach different areas and try to decide them. And I don’t call it politics. And I don’t call it just doing the good. And I certainly don’t call it deciding everything on the basis of some historical fact, you know, history is relevant.
Charlie Rose: You were willing to give the Congress some latitude.
Stephen Breyer: Uh-huh. Well, I put – this is not a real case. But I’m talking about statutes, I found a French railroad man, because there was a story in a French newspaper. And it said a biology – a teacher in a high school was bringing some snails, live snails in a basket on a train to Paris.
Charlie Rose: Yes.
Stephen Breyer: And the conductor came up and said you have to pay for a ticket, buy a ticket for the snails. And he said what? And the – he said read the tariff. It says you cannot bring animals unless you bring them in a basket and if you bring them in a basket, you have to buy a ticket. He said they didn’t mean snails, he said are snails animals? All right. There you have a statutory interpretation question.
Charlie Rose: Yes.
Stephen Breyer: Not so obvious. And why didn’t he make them buy 20 tickets? There were 20 snails. But I mean …
Charlie Rose: It is a way that you would approach that, so let’s assume that decision facing you.
Stephen Breyer: Right.
Charlie Rose: The way you would approach that is you go back and see what legislative intent was.
Stephen Breyer: That’s right, I try to figure out why did they write this into the manual. What was the purpose of this rule. Didn’t it have something to do with insurance? Did the insurance have to do with snails? I mean, didn’t they really mean house pets?
Charlie Rose: Yes.
Stephen Breyer: And who wrote it and what they have in mind.
I think the subtext of the conversation is, spend 16 years on the Supreme Court and you, too, will be able to speak in paragraph form.
Annals of Type
Hrant Papazian and Nina Stössinger have started a new website devoted to Armenian Type called Armenotype. Looks really promising, and the script is really beautiful. From Stössinger’s “Type and Culture”:
Some Government officials in Yerevan call me their «ambassador» as I’ve been trying to raise the profile of the Armenian alphabet in «type circles» - with some success - and the last two issues of Baseline magazine feature my articles on the Armenian alphabet and type design - subjects never contained within this international journal in thirty years. I’ve assisted with some exhibitions in the UK of achievements in this field and was a judge in 2008 for the first «Granshan» international Armenian type design competition, held in Yerevan. This year the third Granshan was held in Dublin at the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) conference - the forum for the world’s type designers and typographers since 1957. There is talk of the 2012 conference being held in Yerevan…
Looking forward to more.