The Other Bonhoeffer, Unjust Affirmative Action, and Svetlana Alexievich’s Oral Histories
Let’s kick things off this Wednesday with a few items on higher education. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Glenn Loury talks about race and his early years as a professor at Harvard: “On a Thursday evening in April, Glenn Loury is talking about race, ethics, and affirmative action. And he’s getting emotional. ‘Don’t patronize my people,’ he told an audience at the College of the Holy Cross, in Massachusetts. ‘Don’t judge us by a different standard. Don’t lower the bar! Why are you lowering the bar? What’s going on there? Is that about guilt or pity?’ He let the question hang in silence for a moment. ‘Tell me a pathway to equality that is rooted in either one of those things.’”
In The Atlantic, Alia Wong writes about the closing of Newbury College—which wasn’t “surreal” and shouldn’t have been surprising to students and faculty but apparently was: “During Newbury’s final chapter, the school almost seemed to be in its prime, reminiscent of its heyday in the 1980s, when it was the largest two-year postsecondary institution in the United States. Newbury owed its onetime glory to a relatively obscure entrepreneur named Ed Tassinari, who in the early 1960s had founded Newbury in Boston’s fashionable Back Bay neighborhood, branding it as a business-oriented school. Tassinari over the years rejiggered that model, including converting the school to a four-year institution, and established Newbury—both the main campus and the series of satellite campuses that he subsequently acquired—as a pipeline to jobs throughout the Boston region. In recent years, the school had expanded its NCAA Division III offerings. A brand-new men’s lacrosse program, announced in 2017, had been slated to launch this past spring, with a head coach appointed last year. Many of its existing teams had been getting better and better, some making it to the New England Conference championships. This past school year’s freshman class was one of Newbury’s largest, too; the college had to hire more residence staff and rent land from a nearby college to accommodate the growth. Art exhibits, club posters, and event flyers covered the new student center’s walls. On his blog, Chillo touted Newbury’s new degrees, study-abroad programs, business partnerships, and construction projects.”
Svetlana Alexievich’s emotional histories: “Last Witnesses was the second book by Svetlana Alexievich, originally published in 1985, the same year as her first, The Unwomanly Face of War. Both of them, like the three major works that followed—Zinky Boys (1990), Voices from Chernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013)—could be briefly and superficially described as oral histories. They indeed consist of testimony, recorded and transcribed, by witnesses to major events and periods in the history of the former Soviet Union . . . In 1941 these witnesses ranged in age from zero to fifteen; most lived in villages. There are more women than men. Some can remember the impossibly idyllic world before the war: ‘I remember songs. The women return from the fields singing songs. The sun is setting over the horizon, and from behind the hill, drawn-out singing reaches us.’ But clear memories of the war can go back as far as age three, and they are nightmare images. A four-year-old boy remembers that chicks had just hatched when the bombing started. He was frantically trying to account for all the chicks, then started counting the bombs. ‘That’s how I learned to count.’ In a column of refugees, a seven-year-old girl loses her mother, then loses her name. She can only remember the name a random unknown woman called her once, and does not learn her real name until twenty-five years later—and then doesn’t recognize it. Others don’t remember their parents’ faces or anything about them. They do remember being shot and left for dead, watching the murders of their mothers and fathers and siblings and grandparents, witnessing every kind of atrocity, walking long distances barefoot and barely clothed, starving for extended periods.”
Susannah Hunnewell, publisher of The Paris Review, has died. She was 52.
Dwight Garner reviews Robert Menasse’s satiric novel, The Capital, on the politics of the European Union: “If you tasked an excellent writer with turning a tall stack of recent issues of The Economist into a novel, you might get The Capital. Somehow I mean this as high praise.”
Is Welsh becoming cool? “Welsh speakers are not used to their language and their culture being perceived as interesting or cool. When Welsh does make the headlines, it tends to be in the context of English visitors complaining about restaurant staff and pub clientele speaking it, as though people speaking their own language in their own country were a deliberate act of rudeness. So when Alffa, two teenage rock musicians from rural Gwynedd, north Wales, passed 1m plays on Spotify with a Welsh language song, I’ll admit I was very surprised. We Welsh speakers may live and breathe the language, but many people outside Britain are unaware it even exists. All my life, it has been in crisis – but change is in the air. The number of speakers has surged to 874,700 – up from 726,600 in 2008, according to the Office of National Statistics. The Welsh Assembly has set a goal of one million Welsh speakers by 2050 (the population of Wales is 3.1 million) and it’s off to a good start. But, subtler than that, there seems to have been a cultural shift that Alffa’s achievement embodies: whereby identifying as Welsh is no longer a source of social stigma, nor discouraged in favour of a more homogenous notion of ‘British’.”
Essay of the Day:
In Christianity Today, James R. Edwards writes about the “Bonhoeffer that history overlooked,” the German theologian Ernst Lohmeyer:
“I had never heard of Ernst Lohmeyer until I was in my late 20s. I came across his name in the same way I came across many names at the time—as another scholar whom I needed to consult in doctoral research.
“In the mid-1970s, I was writing my dissertation on the Gospel of Mark in the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A premier commentary on Mark at the time was Ernst Lohmeyer’s Evangelium des Markus (Gospel of Mark), published in the acclaimed Meyer Commentary Series in Germany. Lohmeyer first published the commentary in 1936 when he was professor of New Testament at the University of Greifswald in Germany. The edition I was using, however, was published in 1967 and accompanied by a supplementary booklet. It carried the name Gerhard Sass, was dated 1950, and mentioned ‘how continuously [Lohmeyer had] labored to improve and expand his book, until a higher power carried him off to a still-unresolved fate.’
“The melancholy of Sass’s preface haunted me. Why, after all these years, was the mystery still unsolved? The note about Lohmeyer’s mysterious disappearance stayed with me by the sheer power of its intrigue. But I did not pursue it. I was married at the time. My wife, Jane, and I had two young children, and my work as youth minister at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs was a full-time-plus call. In addition, my PhD work at Fuller entailed flying to Pasadena three times a year to research assiduously in the library for two weeks. I had no leisure to pursue the lead.
“In June 1979, however, his name came up again. I was translating for a Berlin Fellowship team in Greifswald, East Germany. We were in our final meeting, enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen—coffee and cake—in dicke Maria—‘Fat St. Mary’— as the rather squat-looking church was affectionately called. The church basement was filled to capacity with people interested in hearing and talking with American visitors. Those who attended did so at some risk to themselves, for the Stasi—secret police—disapproved of public gatherings that were not controlled by the state. During a pause in the discussion, I suddenly interjected. ‘Is not Greifswald where Ernst Lohmeyer taught? Does anyone know what happened to him?’
“The warmth and conviviality suddenly drained from the gathering. I had no idea why. The pastor of Fat St. Mary, Reinhart Glöckner, brought the meeting to a hasty and awkward conclusion and said to me, ‘Jim, let’s take a walk.’ In a society where listening devices were placed in radios and TVs, in light sockets and under reception counters, where social settings such as this invariably had listening ears, a walk usually guaranteed privacy. We walked along a street called Brüggstrasse to the point where it exited through the old city walls. There we took a right and walked along a gravel path. On our right was the old red-brick city wall, on our left a spacious and inviting bank of trees. I felt anxious as we walked.
“‘Lohmeyer disappeared at the hands of the communists,’ Gloeckner said in veiled exasperation. ‘He was certainly killed by them, although we do not know any details.’”
Photo: Chapelle du Pré de l’Essert
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