As Time Goes By


We have the firm intention of mixing things up in each issue of the Scholar, and indeed you’ll rarely find an issue that is wall-to-wall poetry or quadratic equations or Abraham Lincoln or handwringing about the state of things. But I’ll give it to you straight, dear reader: this issue has a lot of memoirs in it. The memoir is a deservedly beloved form—at its best, as here, equally loved by writer and reader. We’ll pin our editorial pride on the excellence and variety of the ones we’re offering. In “My Kingdom for a Wave,” the eminent sociologist Amitai Etzioni looks with becoming humility and understandable longing for the days when his big idea, communitarianism, was on the lips of presidents and prime ministers. He warns would-be public intellectuals that the mountaintop is narrow and the path slippery.

“Homeless in the City,” by Theodore Walther, demonstrates that private life can be as slippery as public life. He writes of his years of living on the streets of Santa Monica, California. A former Army paratrooper, he has fought and often lost an ongoing battle with alcoholism, and has struggled with and often met the challenge to retain his dignity in a situation where he had nothing (but, remarkably, a laptop!) and was regarded by the world around him as nothing. A broken mirror helps him maintain that dignity; he holds a mirror up to us, too. We will recognize in it the looks we reserve for the homeless, and what our expressions might reveal when we see Walther’s unwillingness to show gratitude for the support society provides him to survive.

Three literary personages also grace our pages with their remembrances. The poet Maxine Kumin recalls how a weekend getaway—an ancient farm in New Hampshire—became the setting for so much of her family’s own history and fertile ground for a half-century of her poems. The novelist Paul West ventures back to his Oxford days, when sharp and at times wicked portraits of his tutors and classmates were etched into his memory. And the memoirist and novelist André Aciman focuses on a particular evening more than 40 years ago when Eric Rohmer’s film My Night at Maud’s changed his sense of what art is, of what his life was and might be, and even of how the Manhattan streets he walked when leaving the theater looked to him.

We offer a new department in this issue, “Back Talk,” where Ralph Keyes will write regularly about language, fashioning each column as a contest in which you can participate on our website, competing for Ralph’s recognition and for handsome and desirable AMERICAN SCHOLAR tote bags. His article on neologisms in our Autumn issue proved so popular that we knew we needed to have him back, and now he has our back—our back page, that is. Look for him there.  

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Robert Wilson's most recent book is Barnum: An American Life. He was the editor of the Scholar for more than 17 years.


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