The other day, I wrote about Harry Stein’s new comic novel Will Tripp: Pissed Off Attorney at Law. It’s an hilarious send-up of the rancid PC establishment that rules the roost at most American colleges and universities. It is, like David Lodge’s Small World or Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, intended as a species of satire. But as I noted in an update to that piece, the absurdist realities of contemporary academia make it very difficult to distinguish reliably between satire and the reality being satirized. Give it a try: Which of the following biographical sketches is satire, which is business as usual?
1. Feminist the First is an “American writer, academic and social activist. Influential in the self-esteem movement in the 1980s. Grabler has penned a number of best sellers, including I Am My Own Father, Mother and Best Friend, Narcissism is Not a Four-Letter Word, and The Romance of Self Adoration. . . . In her recent academic work, she has helped popularize the once widely derided idea that all living things, including single-cell organisms and crops, experience violence as pain. Author of Pain and Anguish, considered the definitive text on the subject, she holds the Phillip J. Donohue Chair for Advanced Oppression Studies at Chester College.”
2. Feminist the Second is being honored for “her many years of dedication to furthering the causes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) communities. Since 1965, when she picketed the White House for Gay rights, and published an article in Sexology Magazine, [her] writings have inspired and fueled second wave feminism, women’s spirituality movements and lesbian activism. . . . Selected works include but are not limited to: A Simple Revolution, Edward the Dyke and Other Poems, Another Mother Tongue, Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World, and Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling.”
Stumped? Really, you should read Harry’s novel to find out, but I won’t keep you in suspense. The author of The Romance of Self-Adoration is true-to-life but fictional while the “spiritualist” who wrote Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World is the real, so-to-speak, McCoy: Professor Judy Grahn, Ph.D. in “Integral Studies, California Institute of Integral Studies,” and “Executive Core Faculty Member” at Sofia University in (but of course) California. (It gets better: Professor Grahn’s dissertation, I learned from the web site, is called Are Goddesses Metaformic Constructs? An Application Of Metaformic Theory To Menarche Celebrations And Goddess Rituals Of Kerala And Contiguous States In South India.)
I revisit this doleful subject by way of prelude to another installment in one of the longest running frauds on the American spirit and pocketbook ever devised, the institution of liberal arts education in its contemproary deformation. As regular readers know, this is a subject I have written about frequently, in these columns, in The New Criterion, and in my books Tenured Radicals and The Rape of the Masters. Like Macbeth, I have “supped full with horrors.”
There are always new and more outlandish Judy Grahns, of course, and they are reliable sources of pitiable comedy. But in a way what’s more alarming than the lunatic fringes of academia are the supposedly sunlit uplands, those institutions, second- and third-tier as well as the Ivies and their Williams-Middlebury-Wesleyan sort of competition, that we’ve entrusted with passing the baton of civilization to the next generation.
I thought about this yesterday when a friend sent me some correspondence he’d had with Providence College, a second-tier liberal arts college in Providence, Rhode Island, that is run by the Dominicans, the order of St. Thomas Aquinas. My friend’s daughter had recently graduated from PC. She profited from her time there and even found her vocation as a Dominican nun there.