School Days

The fiftieth reunion of the Class of Marblehead High School, Marblehead of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, took place and produced these photos.

Just a few posts ago I believe I referred to the Hungarian Communist Party Member Arthur Koestler’s biography of the Founding Father of quantitative cosmology, Johannes Kepler.

Written in the year when his first book was published [1595], when he had undergone a kind of orphic purge and found his final vocation, [this document] is perhaps the most introspective piece of writing of the Renaissance.

Several pages of it describe his relations with colleagues and teachers at the seminary, and later at the University of Tuebingen. Referring to himself in the third person, as he mostly does in this document, the passage begins

From the time of his arrival[at the seminary] some men were his adversaries.

He lists five of them, then continues

I record the most lasting enemies

He lists another seventeen, “and many other such.”

There follows a monotonous and depressing record of those enmities and quarrels; here are samples.

Kolinus did not hate me, rather I hated him. He started a friendship with me, but continually opposed me . . . My love of pleasure and other habits turned Braunbaum from being a friend into an equally great enemy. . . . I willingly incurred the hatred of Seiffer because the rest hated him, too, and I provoked him although he had not harmed me.

Ortholphus hated me as I hated Kolinus, although I on the contrary liked Ortholphus, but the rivalry between us was many-sided. . . .

I have often incensed everyone against me through my own fault: at Adelberg it was my treachery [in denouncing his schoolmates]; at Maulbronn, my defense of Graeter; at Tuebingen, my violent request for silence.

Richard Nixon was no innovator as far as a list of enemies goes — inserted by MM

Lendlinus I alienated by foolish writings, Spangenburg, by my temerity in correcting him when he was my teacher; Kleberus hated me as a rival. . . .

The reputation of my talent annoyed Rebstock, and also my frivolousness. . . . Husalius opposed my progress. . . . With Dauber there was a secret rivalry and jealousy. . .

My friend Jaeger betrayed my trust: he lied to me and squandered much of my money. I turned to hatred and exercised it in angry letters during the course of two years.

And so on. The list of friends turned into enemies ends with the pathetic remark

Lastly, religion divided Crellius from me, but he also broke faith; henceforth I was enraged with him. God decreed that he should be the last. And so the cause was partly in me and partly in fate. On my part anger, intolerance of bores, an excessive love of annoying and of teasing, in short of checking presumptuousness.

Our biographer being a man of some parts, and this being an intellectual product of the middle third of the twentieth century, we are not kept in the dark about the neuroses involved.

How familiar it all is: the bragging, defiant, aggressive pose to hide one’s terrible vulnerability; the lack of self-assurance, the dependence on others, the desperate need for approval, leading to an embarrassing mixture of servility and arrogance

— Gee, how Mr Koestler does run on, eh? I do suspect a certain relish of autobiography taking place here —

the pathetic eagerness for play, for an escape from the loneliness which he carries with him like a portable cage; the vicious circle of accusations and self-accusations; the exaggerated standards applied to one’s own moral conduct which turns life into a long series of Falls into the ninefold inferno of Guilt.

Any way, the following paragraph gives a blunt picture of the author’s diagnosis of his subject.

Kepler belonged to the race of bleeders, the victims of emotional hemophilia, to whom every injury means multiplied danger, and who nevertheless must go on exposing himself to stabs and slashes. But one customary feature is conspicuously absent from his writings: the soothing drug of self-pity, which makes the sufferer spiritually impotent, and prevents his suffering from bearing fruit.

The last image leads our isotropically interested scholar of East European origins into a metaphor which lifts this text considerably above high-school level.

He was a Job who shamed his Lord by making trees grow from his boils. In other words, he had that mysterious knack of finding original outlets for inner pressure, of transforming his torments into creative achievement, as a turbine extracts electric current out of the turbulent stream.

Easy for you to say, Art.

His bad eyesight seems the most perfidious trick that fate could inflict on a stargazer; but how is one to decide whether an inborn affliction will paralyze or galvanize?

That electric current is a galvanic one: just sayin’. Just maybe the image we have just sampled of the sixteenth-century Founder of Cosmology found a certain resonance with the young man who named his first-born son “Kepler” and his second “John” [the translation of “Iohannes’].

A second passage comes to us from a work of fiction, the celebrated novel of 1830, surely the height of Romanticism in France for a host of reasons, not least the eponymous Revolution of that Year. The hero Julien Sorel finds himself enrolled in a seminary, his entry level opportunity for a career of Napoleonic scope in Restoration France. Everyone around him hates him. He supposes this arise from difference, which engenders hatred. In the original

“Ma présomption s’est si souvent applaudie de ce que j’étais différent des autres jeunes paysans ! Eh bien, j’ai assez vécu pour voir que différence engendre haine“, se disait-il un matin.

Cette grande vérité venait de lui être montrée par une de ses plus piquantes irréussites.

Trying to ingratiate himself with one of the others led only to more rejection:

Il avait travaillé huit jours à plaire à un élève qui vivait en odeur de sainteté.

or, more positively put, to a continued failure to communicate:

Il se promenait avec lui dans la cour, écoutant avec soumission des sottises à dormir debout. Tout à coup, le temps tourna à l’orage, le tonnerre gronda, et le saint élève s’écria, le repoussant d’une façon grossière:

— Ècoutez ; chacun pour soi dans ce monde, je ne veux pas être brûlé par le tonnerre : Dieu peut vous foudroyer comme un impie, comme un Voltaire.

Les dents serrées de rage et les yeux ouvertes vers ce ciel sillonné par le foudre : “Je mériterais d’être submergé si je m’endors pendant la tempête!” s’écria Julien.

Just as being struck by lightning on account of a subjective belief is ununderstandable to Julien, so his cry that he ought to drown if he fell asleep during a thunder-storm made no impression on his seminarian fellow pupil.

Now the third passage is an extended riff. The Russian author of philosophically informed works of dramatic fiction, Dostoevsky in 1877 in his own journal, speaking about Serbian orphans, suddenly goes off at such great length about homesickness at boarding school, that most readers find just the same strong evidence of autobiography that we saw in Mr Koestler’s list of what is so familiar.

I think that in terms of tenderheartedness the Serbian villager is very like those children whom, perhaps you also can recall from your childhood: suddenly they find themselves in school, having come from a family or from a household that had suddenly broken up or dispersed. Until then, the boy had lived only at home and knew nothing apart from it, and suddenly, he has about a hundred classmates, new faces, noise, clamor and it’s all eminently different from home. Lord, what torment! At home he may have been cold and hungry, yet they loved him; and even if they didn’t love him, still, it was home; he was on his own there, but here — niot a kind word from his superiors; his teachers are strict; the subjects are so difficult; the corridors are so long; and there are such heartless rapscallions, bullies, and teases; his classmates are merciless:

You’d think they had not heart at all, that they never had a mother and a father!

Until then he’s been told that it’s terrible and disgraceful to lie and insult people, but here everyone lies, deceives, insults, and even worse they laugh when they see he’s shocked.

And then they took a dislike to him because he cries for his own cozy little next and “gives the whole class a black mark.” And so they set to pummeling him mercilessly, the whole class, all the time; and they do it just because they feel like it, not from anger, just for diversion.

We are reminded of the reason Seiffer was taunted by the young Iohannes Kepler.

Those are the associations that come to mind when I see the pictures of the Fiftieth Reunion of the Class of Nineteen Sixty-Four at the Boston Yacht Club.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Education, Friendship, Local government, Marblehead, Mathematics, Permaculture, Seidel, Spiritual life, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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