Thursday, August 14, 2008

***The Intellectuals Or The Jocks?-For Fredda H., Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a letter written by the late American writer, Norman Mailer, and printed in The New York Review Of Books, detailing his choices for "must reads" in the American literary canon. What would your ten choices be? See below for his (and mine with, one exception).

Al Johnson, Class Of 1964, comment

I did not then, nor do I now, know Fredda H. but it was with her in mind that I wrote the following in 2008. I, today, strongly believe that I could have learned a lot from her:

The Intellectuals Or The Jocks?

Originally posted in August 2008.

Now that school is starting back into session here is a germane question.

What group(s) did you hang around with in high school?

This question is meant to be generic and more expansive that the two categories listed in the headline. These were hardly the only social groupings that existed at our high school (or any public high school, then or now, for that matter) but the ones that I am interested in personally for the purpose of this commentary. You, fellow alumni, can feel free to present your own categories. However, for this writer, and perhaps some of you here were the choices? The intellectuals (formerly known as the "smart kids", you know, the ones that your mother was always, usually unfavorably, comparing you to come report card time) or the jocks (you know, mainly, the Goliaths of the gridiron, their hangers-on, wannabes and "slaves")?

Frankly, although I was drawn to both groupings in high school I was, as has been discussed by this writer in other commentaries in this space, mainly a "loner" for reasons that are beyond what I want to discuss here. Nevertheless, in recent perusals of my class yearbook I have been drawn continually to the page where the description of the Great Books Club is presented. I believe that I was hardly aware of this club at the time but, apparently, it met after school and discussed Plato, John Stuart Mill, Max Weber, Karl Marx and others. Hell, that sounded like fun. One of the defining characteristics of my life has been, not always to my benefit, an overweening attachment to books and ideas. So what was the problem? What didn't I hang with that group?

Well, uh..., you know, they were, uh, nerds, dweebs, squares, not cool (although we did not use those exact terms in those days). That, at least, was the public reason, but here are some other more valid possibilities. Coming from my 'shanty' background, where the "hoods" had a certain cachet, I was somewhat afraid of mixing with the "smart kids". I, moreover, feared that I wouldn't measure up, that they seemed more virtuous somehow. I might also add that a little religiously-driven plebeian Irish Catholic anti-intellectualism (you know, be 'street' smart but not too 'book' smart) might have entered into the mix as well.

But, damn, I sure could have used the discussions and fighting for ideas that such groups would have provided. I had to do it the hard way later. As for the jocks one should notice, by the way, that after four paragraphs that I have not mentioned a thing about their virtues. And, in the scheme of things, that is about right. So now you know my choice, except to steal a phrase from an earlier commentary that I posted in this space honoring my senior English teacher, Ms. Rose Enos- "Literature matters. Words matter". I would only add here that ideas matter, as well. Hats Off to the Class of 1964intellectuals!

Norman Mailer

Ten Favorite American Novels

U.S.A. John Dos Passos
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Studs Lonigan James T. Farrell
Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe
The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald-1st A.J.
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
Appointment in Samarra John O'Hara
The Postman Always Rings Twice James M. Cain
Moby-Dick Herman Melville

This would be my list, as well, except instead of Moby Dick I would put Jack Kerouac's On The Road, a bit of a different road trip than old Ahab's, although maybe not so different at that.