Saints & Heroes


Here is Kenneth Burke, genius and author of a number of important books. The one that has heroic status for WCD is Language as Symbolic Action. Burke read about ten languages and  loved Scholastic philosophy -- see St. Thomas Aquinas, just below -- and belonged to the Communist party for a while and knew Shakespeare by heart and had read everything in the world. He invented structuralism before there were structuralists, and symbolic anthropology before there were symbolic anthropologists, and "sociopoetics" before WCD had begun work on sociopoetics He is also to be found on every page (so to speak) of WCD's The Epistolary Moment and Poetry and Ideology in Revolutionary Connecticut.

The saint on the right is Thomas Aquinas. The picture is a very bad reproduction, which is grossly unfair to his friend Carpaccio, who painted it. Carpaccio is a true genius. Carpaccio painted the picture of St. George and the dragon in that little chapel in Venice that WCD can never remember the name of, but which he urges you not to miss the next time you are in Venice.  You just look pious and the man at the door lets  you in. It doesn't hurt to lay a few lira on him while  you are looking pious, however.

St. Thomas was in WCD's estimation one of the great ones, incredibly smart and subtle and also sensible. He was called the Angelic Doctor, because all his writings were dictated to him by the angel whom you may just glimpse in the lower right-hand corner of the picture. He was a bulky saint, doubtless due to his need to stoke up on carbohydrates after a day of subtle scholastic distinctions. When he was a student, the other students called him "the Bull." His teacher, Albertus Magnus, said "Be kind, my young friends. Some day the world will be filled with the roaring of this bull." And so, in a way, it was. 

This is,  you guessed it, Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the major formative influences on WCD's thinking. He is  today looked down on by all WCD's analytic philosopher friends, and too many people are writing novels and making films about him instead of reading the Blue and Brown books, but the wheel goes round and eventually he will be recognized as one of the three major philosophers of the twentieth century. His life was just amazing, and so was his character and personality, but his way of doing philosophy was better than either.

The distinguished person on the right is Paul Ricoeur, in WCD's estimation one of the great philosophers of the 20th century. He absorbed Husserlian phenomenology, the neo-Kantianism of Cassirer and his circle, French structuralism, and Anglo-American analytic philosophy, while proceeding with a single powerful philosophical project that has displayed extraordinary depth and originality over a nearly 50-year period. When French thought was going through its "Maoist" period, with the Tel Quel group sucking up to whomever seemed the gauchist du jour, Ricoeur was virtually ostracized in his own country. Recently, younger French thinkers have rediscovered him, and what one recent account calls "la consecration" of Ricoeur is well under way: "En 1988 sonne l'heure de la consecration lorsque toute une jeune generation intellectuelle decouvre avec ravissment la force et la coherence d'une pensee qui s'est constamment enrichie sans cesser de forer dans la meme direction. Il devient alors pour beaucoup le modele meme de l'intellectual toujours interpelle par l'evenement et essayant d'y repondre non en maitre penseur main en maitre a pense."  The person you see talking to Paul Ricoeur in the picture is the young WCD, sans barbe but full of intellectual earnestness,  for whom daily philosophical discussion with Ricoeur was a life-changing experience.

This is Northrop Frye,  the Toronto literary theorist who was, along with Wimsatt and Brooks at Yale and Poirier and Edwards at Rutgers, the greatest influence on WCD's thinking about literature and literary studies. He is in total disrepute right now, but his theoretical thinking was worth whole shelves worth of the stuff that now passes for "theory" in English departments. He will come back, and when he does the discipline of literary studies will have begun anew.

This caricature is David Levine's wonderful caricature of Northrop Frye as Moses. The occasion was Frye's publication of his last book, The Great Code, which is about the Bible in Western Literature. The book that WCD suggests that his students to start with is The Educated Imagination. It is a "popular" version of Frye's great work The Anatomy of Criticism -- it was originally a series of lectures given over the CBC -- and is a good way to begin to understand what he is doing in the Anatomy.


This is Jean Mayer, Master of Dudley House at Harvard when WCD was a member of its Senior Common Room and administrator of its fellowship program. Mayer led an amazing life, serving on the staff of Charles de Gaulle's Free French in the North African and Italian campaigns, going on to become adistinguished scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, and presiding over Dudley House when it it reached its apogee in the Harvard house system. He went on to become a truly great President of Tufts University. He was a wise, learned, and altogether extraordinary man. He left a deep impression on everyone who knew him.

WCD with Jean Mayer at Dudley House graduation, 1975

And finally, here is Jerrold Katz, who during his indefatigable career as a major philosopher of language marked out new territory with a theory of semantic entailment the importance of which, in WCD's opinion, is still drastically underestimated by those who have not yet seen to the bottom of Quinean holism. Katz'sThe Metaphysics of Meaning inspired WCD's The Senses of the Text, a short bookaiming to ground the theory of determinate meaning in literary interpretation in Katz's work on semantic entailment. "Jerrold Katz: A Personal Memory" was WCD's contribution to a memorial volume put out shortly after Katz's untimely death from an untreatable cancer.