Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Melville's liberal education

A postscript to my potshots at the high valuation placed on book-learning at an expensive college: For professional and personal reasons I'm reading Moby Dick – and just came upon this passage – Melville's advocacy of learning by doing:
As for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me;...if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.
A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard! By luck, I stumbled upon this picture of Melville in a freshman seminar at Harvard:

Let's write it once more: "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

Mark it well ye applicants to college – and those who wind up paying!



Anonymous said...

It's really about brand durability, isn't it? If you wrote that sentence today, you'd have to cross out "whale-ship" (not too many of those around these days) and change it -- but to what? "A derivatives trading desk was my Yale . . ."? Whatever. The point is that the second part of the sentence still works. "Yale" and "Harvard" still carry the same meaning now that they did 160 years ago. What other brands can you name that have held up that long?

brandsinger said...

Hey - good point. The esteem of Yale and Harvard has stood up since Melville's day.

But I'll take up your challenge - what other brands have stood up that long? Um - the sandwich?

No, seriously, not many. Probably brands like Guinness are still around. Some kinds of English marmalade. The Parthenon? Leviticus?

My brain is fried. -brandsinger

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Anonymous said...

I think the point is that experiencing humanity is more valuable than studying the Humanities. Harvard or Yale, or a trading desk for that matter, are still artificial environments – air-conditioned, peopled with the privileged, and protected from danger. Being on a ship on the high seas requires extreme physical and mental hardships, life-or-death situations, and working with a strange, but stimulating cross-section of humanity. No college, no matter how expensive, can effectively build such a durable basis for future success...

brandsinger said...

Dear Anonymous one -
Man, that's eloquent! Thanks for the aphoristic insight: "Experiencing humanity is more valuable than studying the Humanities" -- that's a line for the ages.

Our work here is done!


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