The Philosopher

James T. Farrell

DR. EMERSON DWIGHT quietly bid good night to Peter, the elevator man in the main library building, and walked northward across the campus. The scene was tranquil. The grass was neat and trim. The Gothic buildings, arranged in quadrangles, were gray against the blue sky.

He was a tall, sturdily built man. His face was sharp and distinctive; his hair and beard were gray; he had lively gray-green eyes and a prominent forehead. But he was beginning to walk with a tired gait, and his shoulders were beginning to stoop. He was sixty-nine years old.

He had spent two hours in his office, reading Whitehead's Process and Reality and making notes. When he had finished reading, he had been disappointed in his notes and had torn them up. One of his major disagreements with Whitehead concerned Whitehead's "ingression of eternal objects" into the process of nature. Here was, in reality, the old, old philosophical problem of the One and the Many. Whitehead's "eternal objects" were the One.

Now, walking across the campus, slowly and like an old man, he reflected that Whitehead, with all his brilliance, with all his wealth of speculation and fluidity of thought, was still a traditionalist, a rationalizing myth-maker. And perhaps one key to the understanding of Whitehead was the fact that the man had come late to philosophy. He had begun with mathematics and logic, and then, at a relatively late date, he had turned to philosophy. He revealed the deficiencies of a late starter. He

(24) had had to gobble up large slices of philosophy in haste. He was weak in his historical sense, in his interpretations of the development of ideas from one thinker to another, from one age to the next. He was a mathematician turned philosopher, and this was inherent in the weak side of his thought. And it suggested one reason, probably, why Whitehead had to invent his own language and why he was a traditionalist using the screen of a new language for this traditionalism. He was an interesting figure in the history of modern thought, a genius who was fertile, brilliant, stimulating. A great and original thinker who mingled the most original of modern ideas with a re-expression of traditional ones. Often, his thinking was striking in its lucidity. His respect for Whitehead was enormous. But he could clearly perceive all the holes in White-head's system. The man was a victim of his own over-crystallization. He, himself, had been fighting this danger during his entire intellectual career. He wanted a system of explanations of the world as process without eternal objects. But he often feared he might stamp too much finality upon expression. It was always too easy to defend one's verbalizations. One's ideas hardened. One fell unsuspectingly into the traps which had caught the system-makers. He smiled wistfully. Did it all mean anything? Did it mean anything if Whitehead was, or was not, subtly spiritualizing the universe? Did it mean anything if he himself did not complete his life's work?

Whitehead was subtly spiritualizing the universe, and the universe was not spiritual. The effort of philosophers to spiritualize the universe was unscientific—it was myth-making. And in the end, did it matter?

An overpowering rush of feeling came on him. It did matter. It mattered to the man himself. Intellectual adventure was art. All life was. And life gave to man—consummations. It mattered as consummations. Life was joyful. Through  consummations man lived fully for himself and for his fellow man. It did matter.

He glanced idly about the familiar campus, the familiar campus where he had spent thirty years studying and teaching.

(25) Familiar and yet ever so new. It was a little miniature of life, full of novelty, ever changing. Always there was some new value, some new impression to be gained. Even the grass seemed never quite the same. The sun would always strike it in some new way. There would always be something fresh, as well as something seemingly eternal, in it. Now the sun, dropping in the west, colored the grass with a kind of opulence. The grass, the sunlight on the buildings, the University towers, the long windows, the sounds of birds in the spring, the presence of young men and women, these formed a pattern, became parts of the ever-freshness, the eternal newness of life. The world seemed to be recreating itself anew every minute. The world, nature, was the great improviser. And it was the effort to handle this element of novelty in the world that paralyzed his writing. It cut the nerve of action in him. This explained why he had written so much less than so many of his colleagues. This campus, the rows of small blades of grass before and behind him, these were full of worlds, and they became a focus for the central problem on his mind.

He walked slowly northward across the campus where he would probably eat supper alone. Again his tiring eyes wandered over the grass; it was so refulgent in the sunlight. When he looked at a field of grass, he systematized it, isolated it. He drew upon past impressions. If he looked away and then looked back, the grass did not seem quite the same. Within him, as within every human being, there was a laziness—Proust had written of it beautifully and perceptively in one of his books when he described a railroad journey. And out of this laziness and inertia one tended to rely upon routine, upon systematized impressions. The mind and the spirit of man were hampered by this inertia. The thinker had constantly to struggle against it in himself. Habit, inertia, was always destroying the wonder of the world. He walked on slowly, his shoulders still bent.

He was lonely, and this pervasive loneliness cast its shadows upon his mind. He had given long and patient years to his study, his thought, his teaching, but required many more years to

(26) complete his task. And he would not have these years. He was sixty-nine years old, and his life paradoxically seemed to him to be both long and short. He had the premonition that he would die with his work uncompleted. All men die in a world that moves, and in a world of movement nothing is ever completed. His loneliness seemed to run in an ever-deepening current within him.

His wife was dead. For two months of the academic year now ending, he had gone to the university every day, teaching, working, while she lay dying. He had taught by habit, read by habit, studied by habit, formulated the ideas for his papers and articles by habit. There he had been, alone in his office, writing, tearing up the sheets of paper on which he had written, writing again, again destroying what he had written, struggling intently, sometimes struggling for a whole day or week to express one idea, one formulation, one thought clearly and lucidly, and finding at the end of his effort that there were qualifications he had neglected, so that he had to begin all over again, and still discover that his formulations were not sufficiently precise, not expressed in the proper phraseology. And all that time she had been at home, dying. Each day she had had less strength, less life in her. The process of her dying had gone on before his eyes. The woman he loved, the woman with whom he had lived all the best years of his life, had suffered day after day in a protracted agony of death. And this, too, was a process. For a moment, he thought bitterly of his own philosophical views. Agony, declining strength, death, these, also, were novelties in the process of emergent events. He had seen her die, he had heard the death rattle in her throat, and he had felt her forehead, her hands, after she had died. Something of courage, of scholarly ambition, of interest in life had seemed to leave him, never to return. Before her illness and death he had been much haler, better preserved. He had prided himself in the small and rather excusable vanity that he was something of a marvel on campus, that colleagues younger in years than he were stooped and falling into crochety old age while he remained straight and limber, his beard and hair still partially

(27) red. Until her illness and death, he had ridden his bicycle to campus daily, astounding many colleagues with his vigor. After her fatal illness had developed, he had never done this again. Something had gone out of him. He had turned completely gray. He had begun to stoop. He walked less briskly. Perhaps he, also, was now a dying man. Every day there was less strength in him, less energy. His mind alone seemed to resist this process, to function as well as always.

Because of his loneliness, a cynicism, foreign to his spirit and nature, seemed to be growing in him. A severe break in his life had come on this very day. He had written out the formal statement of his resignation as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, and he had accepted the professorship offered him by a large eastern university. His younger colleagues had resigned with him, almost in a body. Their loyalty had touched him deeply. He had felt tears welling up in his eyes. He had spoken to them, telling them that he had accepted this new post, and his voice had broken, the suggestion of a throb coming into it.

He was leaving the University now after his long dedication and service to it. He would not walk across this campus to an empty home for many more days. When he left the campus, it would be as though he were leaving his life behind him. And yet his life would go on. New classrooms, new students, a new office, a new city, and still that unceasing mental strain and effort to formulate his thought clearly and to put it into lasting shape.

He no longer cared to control his bitterness against the new young president of the University. He had worked for years with and through the thought of many men, great and small. He had traversed and absorbed more fields of knowledge than perhaps any other man in America. He had devoted his life to a study of the basic works of literature and of civilization. He had studiously traced out the history of philosophy and of science. He was at home in the contemplation of the civilizations of Greece and Rome, the middle ages, England, France, Germany, America, and of much of the art and literature of

(28) continental Europe. He was aware of how intellectual and philosophical systems were built, of the patient and humble labor of many thinkers, scientists, and artists that was necessary to construct a philosophy, a philosophy which would then be expressed and developed as one of the peaks of human achievement by some great thinker. This awareness of his had checked in him any undue pride of achievement, any irrelevantly magnified' conception of himself. But still, he was proud. Now he was a very proud man whose pride had been wounded. His lips curled ironically as he walked past the campus tennis courts. He remembered the fanfare and publicity that had greeted the arrival of the miracle-making young president just a year ago. The newspapers had been full of this vain and empty publicity concerning "the boy president."

Here he was, a man who had always emphasized newness, freshness, fluidity in thinking, and he was an old man. But this fluidity of thought he struggled to achieve was a characteristic of youth. And he was actually being pushed out of the University by youth. Fresh blood! He sneered again, and with contempt—a contempt usually foreign to his nature. He was full of contempt for many of his colleagues, professors in other departments of the University, men younger than himself. He was convinced there was a genuine issue involved in the fight he had just lost. The almost wholesale retirement of his department was not merely a personal tribute; it was not mere loyalty to him. This struggle had been a test case concerning who would retain control of the appointments of new members to the faculty—the boy president or the separate departments and their various chairmen. Yes, there had been a clear-cut issue involved. Would those who teach have any voice in university affairs, or would control be completely centered in administrative hands? He and many of the other men, living and dead, had not worked at this University in order to make it the kind of institution the new administration wanted. For if the boy president gained complete control of appointments, the results could be foretold easily. The boy president had al-

(29) ready forced through some appointments, and these appointments were a prophecy. The caliber of the new men, yes, the young men, was low; they were a laughing stock. Perhaps in time they would turn the University into a laughing stock. He recalled having recently heard a graduate student remark:

"All the University needs to do now is to appoint Will Durant to its Philosophy Department to make the president's work complete."

The boy president had a sophomore's view of traditional philosophy, and, on the basis of this view, he was going to reform an educational system and revise an established educational theory. And his reform was what? An abandonment of the democratic theory of education for one based on the idea of authority. His struggle with the boy president involved an intellectual issue as much as it involved University politics. And yet many of his colleagues had hedged at the meeting of the faculty senate. They had strangled the issue in compromises and had protested against the new administrative policy only in the weakest and most cowardly way. Men whom he had known for years, men whom he had respected—they all had revealed a lack of backbone.

As he crossed the street to enter the faculty club, he could not resist a rising tide of anger and contempt.


He sat alone in the club restaurant. He ate slowly, without interest. There was a steady hum of conversation about him. At the next table a colleague in the History Department sat with his wife and children. The girl had recently graduated from the University and was leaving for the Sorbonne. The boy was getting an appointment in the fall as an instructor in history at a Southern university. He directed his contempt at this historian. He recalled the war, for his attitude on the war had been one of his own major and regrettable mistakes. For years now

(30)he had regretted his conduct, even at times stigmatizing himself for it. And this man, this historian, was still preserving the attitudes and even the prejudices of 1918. He had written a book on Woodrow Wilson in which he had shoveled up all the wartime myths. Thanks to his own bitterness, his contempt for the historian was intensified. He smiled a greeting, however, when his eyes met those of the other man. Respect —all, almost all of them, were respectful toward him. Empty respect when they had to face an issue. He did not want that kind of respect. He was, he felt, being driven from this University where he had spent his life. On the other side of the dining room he saw the man who was director of publicity for the University. It would be this man's task to minimize the struggle with the president and to prevent the University from receiving any unfavorable publicity because of it. Here he was, a man who all his life had retained a persistent faith in the principles of democracy and had argued for their application, not only in the broad affairs of government but also in other domains, in university life. He had made contributions to the life, the work, the prestige of the University. And now he was being undemocratically shelved. His bitterness stung him profoundly. Listlessly, he ate a light supper. After eating, he left, and in the hallway he met a colleague from the Department of Sociology.

"Is that new book of yours ready yet?" he asked the colleague, to make conversation.

"No," the colleague answered. "But when it is, Doctor, I'll send you a copy. I'm anxious to know what you'll think of it. You know, Dr. Dwight, I'm profoundly indebted to you for your papers. They've been a great stimulation to me, and they've had a permanent influence on my thinking."

"Bill, I'm indebted to you for your books on statistical method in sociology. They've been very valuable to me."

"Your generosity flatters me. But, say, I was very sorry I couldn't get to that meeting of the faculty senate. I had to go downtown that day. I couldn't get out of an errand. But I

(31) want you to understand that my sympathies are with you. I tell you that he is going to ruin the entire University if he has his way."

"Thanks," Dr. Dwight said curtly to his colleague; the man was a coward. He did not want to hear him talk about the matter now, when it was too late for his voice to have any influence.

"Dr. Dwight, how about a game of pool?"

"No, thanks, Bill. I've got to go home to get some work done."

They parted. Dr. Emerson Dwight, the philosopher, felt the smugness of Bill Randolph. Smugness and hypocrisy, he told himself. He walked home. It was a lovely spring night. A fresh breeze was coming off the lake. There was something invigorating in the very air. And here he was, a stooped old man. Well, he had one consolation. With such a man as the new president of the University, it was better that he was leaving. Far better not to have any further association with him. Far better that way than to have constant fights and disputes. This trouble was distracting him too much from his work. With his resignation, and the new post, the greater part of this time-wasting distraction was ended. At sixty-nine, he couldn't expect to live indefinitely, and he was anxious to leave behind him a finished structure of' work. His students had come to him with the collected papers he had written, and with stenographic notes of classroom lectures, and had proposed that these be published. But he had put them aside on his desk because he had not had the time to work over them and would not have them published in book form without carefully revising and checking them.

The spring night stimulated a sense of his youth in him, of his early days of intellectual struggle, particularly his struggle with and against God and the Absolute. He remembered his student days in Germany and his undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. He remembered that far-off exciting night when he had first opened a book of the great Hegel.

(32) He had traveled a long road intellectually since those days, and yet Hegel's influence on him had been permanent. He was nostalgic, wishful that he could recapture the feeling he had had in those days. He wished he could once again read the works of Hegel for the first time. He had been a clergyman's son, and before Hegel his nonconformity had never amounted to much more than a few Emersonian platitudes. Yes, he had traveled since, those days, and the chilly God of his heritage had been left at the wayside long since. And the transcendentalism he had avowed, the dualism he had espoused, these two also had been dropped along the route. At the same time, a major part of his life had been devoted to the preservation of his heritage. He had tried to develop a body of thought where value, ethics, was set inside the framework of nature as intrinsic factors. This ethics was at the core of his thought. And it was his heritage, also.

But on this spring evening he felt like a stranger in the world. Other men, younger men, had come up. Even though he was resigning because of his principles, he was, withal, resigning. And it was because of the new president—the boy president. The boy president believed there must be new blood in the Philosophy Department. And so the boy president had brought from the East a slick, smart chap named Milgram, who was to be one of the fresh infusions of blood. This chap prated and lisped Aquinas and had only a nervous and superficial intellect. All he really had was a snappy and clever manner of expressing himself which would, of course, appeal to the intelligence of the boy president. Milgram represented new blood. New blood in the Department of Philosophy was not a question of age. It was a question of ideas. Still, he was considered an old fogy, and a lad who came forward with stale, pretentious, and regressive ideas, a lad expressing a new medievalism and a debased conception of Hegelian dialectics, was youth, was the infuser of new and fresh blood in the faculty. He who had all his life struggled within himself in order not to harden and rigidify his ideas, he who had published so little because of his sense of the dangers of overcrystallization—he was now an old fogy.



She was gone. She was a decaying corpse now, and he would never see her again, and she would never see him, not in this or in any other world. He had no hope, no consolation, no belief in any after-life. All that remained of their relationship was its effects in this world. Their children, now grown and living their own lives. The memories he treasured. He had written often on the question of the past. Here, the past affected him in the most intimate sense. And, when he died, the memories he treasured would all be destroyed. When the cerebral cortex in his organism decayed, then all these beloved and precious memories would vanish from this world forever. It was as if worms, maggots would eat these very memories. Worms, maggots would eat the structures and patterns which the associations of these memories had formed in his brain, just as the worms and maggots had eaten the body of the wife he had loved. Nothing else would remain. He quoted the word from Poe's poem . . . Nevermore.

Often when he returned home, slowly climbing the stairs to his second-floor apartment, he had the feeling, the illusion, that she would be waiting for him. He had the illusion that when he entered the apartment she would be there and would come to him, kiss him affectionately, and that he would talk with her for a while before he pitched into work for the evening. He had such an illusion now. He felt strongly that he would see her. He found his key, put it in the lock, turned it, opened the door, entered the darkened and lonely apartment. He realized, like a man opening his eyes after having been knocked unconscious by an unexpected blow, that he was entering an empty apartment. He pushed the button to light the entrance. He hung up his hat and topcoat in the closet next to the front door. He went into his large, neat bedroom and study and turned on the light. He stood in the center of the room. He went to the dresser and picked up her picture, a picture taken in her youth. Her hair piled high on her head, her

(34) face fresh and lovely; she stood in a long, lacy white dress. A smile was on her lips, a smile he so well remembered. He set down the picture. He hung up his suit coat, put on a pair of slippers, and went to his desk. Although it was piled with papers and books, it was orderly. He carefully sharpened a pencil. He commenced to write slowly. He wrote several long and carefully phrased sentences. He scratched them out, rewrote them. He became absorbed, lost in work. All the rest of life was closed out, as if a door had been closed in his consciousness. He worked steadily until eleven o'clock, producing four neatly and carefully written pages on the character of scientific and perceptual objects. He was satisfied with what he had written. But he still felt that it would be just as it had been so often before. In the morning when he'd wake up these pages would seem utterly inadequate. Tomorrow evening he would work over them again. Writing was this kind of misery for him. He put the papers into the desk and went to bed, falling asleep quickly.


The next day he continued on his usual daily routine. On his way to a morning class he met the vice-president of the University, a sly, corpulent man with shiny jowls. Dr. Dwight nodded coldly.

"How are you feeling this morning, Dr. Dwight?" the vice-president asked with unctuous cordiality, his manner that of a man trying to make pleasant conversation.

"Very well, thank you. How are you?" he replied, wondering at this unctuousness and preparing himself for what was to come.

"What's this I've been hearing, ah . . . about the little difficulty you've been having?"

"You must know about it fully."

"Well, Dr. Dwight, I've never heard your side of the story. And . . . ah . . . I'd like to. I'm very anxious to see that this difficulty, this misunderstanding is, ah . . . patched up. I've

(35) been hoping I'd meet you so I could arrange for us to have a talk. I was planning to send you a note, but, now that we've met, let's arrange it directly."

"There's little for me to say, sir."

"Come, come, now, Dr. Dwight. We're old friends, colleagues, and we've been here at the University together for years, two decades. We can discuss this matter like friends. I'm sure that you and Al, that is, President Johnson, can come to some understanding. You know, we all have the good of the University at heart, and we have to settle this difficulty in the best interests of the University, for the future that awaits it. After all, Dr. Dwight, this University is your life's work and mine. We're getting on in years. It developed under us, and no man has contributed more to its development than you have. We all know that and pay you great honor for your work. We want to look ahead. Now, what do you say, Dr. Dwight, about our having lunch some day this week? We can have a long talk and go into this matter properly, and in a friendly spirit. I'm free any day this week."

"I am sorry, sir, but I have nothing more to discuss, and I have other engagements for lunch."

"But, Dr. Dwight, you know this is a very unfortunate occurrence. You know what we in the administrative end of the University think of your work, your distinguished career. We hate to be losing a man like you, and we hate to have an unpleasant end even if you are going to a more remunerative post. We hate to allow unfortunate difficulties and disagreements to intrude in our official relationships with you now, after you have had such a brilliant and distinguished career in our midst. And I can assure you, Dr. Dwight, that there's nothing personal in Al's, ah, President Johnson's, feeling toward you. He is acting in terms of what he considers to be best. You know, Dr. Dwight, we all have to see things in a broad light, in terms of the University as a whole instead of one department or one science. He, President Johnson, has to take into consideration policies and plans for the best effect on the University and its future as a whole, whereas you have only to consider the af-

(36) -fairs of your own department. Now, Dr. Dwight, I earnestly believe that if you and I can sit down and thrash over this entire problem calmly, I can clarify certain points on the other side of the argument and act as a go-between to straighten out these unnecessary hard feelings between you and the President. You know, he'll be mortally aggrieved if this difficulty is not straightened out.

"I shall be proud that, following this quarter here, I shall never again have to meet . . . him," Dr. Dwight said heatedly.


"Good day, sir."

He walked on toward the library building, where his first class was scheduled, striving to check and control his anger. A passing student nodded a respectful good morning. He nodded. He took the elevator up to his office before going to the class. There was some correspondence on his desk, and he looked through it hastily. One letter was a formal and curt acceptance of his resignation, signed by President Johnson.

It was finished. His affiliation with the University was formally ended. His anger and hatred turned to weariness. He suddenly became a man sapped of purpose. He sat at his desk, listless. This was like a death. There were many deaths in a man's life, and this was one of the deaths in his life. He envisaged the University under this new guiding hand. He saw new streams of thought introduced, regressive streams of thought. He remembered the University in its early days, recalling the program, the ideas, the early idealism of that period. All this was now eliminated. The entire educational theory on which the University was built would be abandoned. A spirit of failure clogged him. He looked vaguely at the papers in his office. He was sixty-nine years old. That was a long time to have lived, long enough to have taught a man to meet failure with equanimity. Whenever you are distressed and likely to lose your temper, look at the stars: Bertrand Russell speaking. Look at the stars, old fogy! Look at the sky, look at the sun, look at the grass! Look at the world! The world which ever ereates itself anew, the world which is a thousand, is a million,

(37) is an infinitesimal number of acts of recreation and emergence at every second. Look at it! Keep your eyes fixed on it, and not on yourself, not on your sudden inclination to develop a sickness of soul. Look out of yourself, and at the emergent novelty and beauty and ever-recurrent wonder of the world. Value is in process, value is in nature, value is in your own acts, your own doing, and you must go on, you must be and remain a part of the process, you must go on to new scenes, to gain new values. Apply your philosophy, old fogy, apply it!

There was a duality in him, in his formal teaching and thinking, on one hand, and his personal life, on the other. There was now no composure, but neither was there a spirit of adventure in him. He had no adventurous desire to go forth to his new work, the new university, the new surroundings. He wanted to stay here, to go along as he had. While here, he constantly found himself holding the comforting illusion that she was not dead, but just away. As with the character in Proust, dipping the madeleine in a cup of tea, so, with him, many scenes revealed a spread in experience, a spread going back into the past and forming into the future—sights, sounds, scenes touched with memories, and these led him to newness in his memories; they preserved in him an ever more keen and poignant sense of his wife and the life he had lived with her. She often seemed to him not to be dead, only half dead at the most. And to go away, that meant to break off these scenes, these lines of reverie and internal discovery; it meant that all the normal familiar sights, sounds, and stimulations to memory and recollection would be gone from his everyday environment. He would be forced to do abruptly what he had been doing slowly and less sadly—to assimilate the irrevocability of her death.

He was proud of himself for not having surrendered one inch to the new president. And yet, deeper than his pride, there was a biting regret. He felt that henceforth he would go on in life an unhappy man. Henceforth he would go on struggling against time and disappointment in order to finish a life's work and to leave behind him a little of worth, of stimulation, a contribution to the continuing process of understanding

(38) the world and of organizing experience. His personal life was largely over. His ambitions were all centered in his work, his race against time. And his life, which he felt to have had so much richness and fullness, would be a meager and poor thing. The pleasures of intellectual discovery, the joys of intellectual struggle, the anticipation of completion and consummation of this work—these seemed to be but poor and miserable goods.

Other strains in life ran deeper. He was an old man. His beloved wife, companion of decades, was dead. His habits of working in this city and at this institution were to be broken. He had begun his work here, and here he wanted to finish it. The Department of Philosophy in which he had worked, which he had helped to make renowned and famous, was now being ruined, reduced to a kind of degradation by mediocrities. This was a further disappointment, and it had a forceful impact on him. He whose philosophy emphasized notes of hope and was a call to doing was now himself miserably pessimistic. He whose work was perhaps even open to criticism because of its excessive generosity now felt hopeless as well as bitter. He felt almost as if he were beginning to disintegrate within himself. His discipline was relaxing. He was alone now. Was he falling apart?


For the remaining days of the term, Dr. Dwight went his way, struggling harder than ever to retain a hold and a discipline on himself, and adding a page here and there to his work. He spoke to almost no one. He remained within himself. He finished off the work which he had to do as retiring Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. He planned a summer of work in the country, and then a journey east to take up his new post.

Three days after the quarter ended, he was stricken with pneumonia. He lived a week in the hospital, fighting for his life, wanting desperately to live. He died with his life work incomplete.


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