Delight Springs

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Quite a hitch ahead"

When William James was prepping the lectures that would eventually become his Varieties of Religious Experience, the famous Gifford Lectures in Scotland, he wrote to Mrs. James about a personal episode of quasi-mystical significance, on a starry night in the mountains:  "the Edinboro lectures made quite a hitch ahead.” 

That's what I'm looking to do today too, make a hitch ahead in a couple of scheduled meetings.

First a conference call with a rep of the International Study Abroad organization in Texas. Hoping to move our dream course in Britain a little further down the developmental road.

Then later, getting together with an old Vandy pal who's moved on down the road himself via the west coast, recently returning from several years in paradise (so-Cal version) to take up residence in one of our more conservative, religiously-affiliated local institutions of higher learning. Less of a stretch for him to be there, pragmatic theist that he is, than it would be for me. 

Speaking of church-affiliated schools, I went for a walk the other morning up the road from my friend's new home, on the campus of Belmont U., and was amused to rediscover a building I'm sure was not consecrated to the memory of the late author of God is Not Great. But he'd love the irony of this, there:

Hitch figures prominently in current plans for the Spring semester's next offering of Atheism & Philosophy. We're going to close with him, appropriately I think in a course focused this go-'round on the meaning of atheism, and how the godless face the prospect of personal annihilation without the relieving promise of eternity. Hitch showed us just how to do that with dignity and grace, in Mortality. And in life.

We'll probably use his Portable Atheist, too, unless somebody knows a better anthology. Took a few suggestions from the floor in HAP 101 yesterday. Dan Barker and Carl Sagan were suggested. More nominations? Always makes me happy to contemplate the future.

But back to that conference call. My colleague and I had one of our productive impromptu hallway meetings the other day and I agreed with his proposal that we not bury our course's lead. We should step out boldly with the tag-line "Walking Tour of Britain," and make our search for the roots and branches of American thought the subtitle. 

Why? Because walking is a perfect mirror and metaphor of the kind of thinking philosophers try to achieve: stepping out of familiar and cozy surroundings, strangers in a strange land, open to meeting whoever and whatever may lie over the horizon and up around the bend, over the heath, under the dale etc. 

The pace and rhythm of collaborative perambulation are ideal for encountering, entertaining, perhaps assimilating and appropriating a new thought. Much better than sitting in a room which, in most instances, could be anywhere. A foreign landscape can only be itself, and it requires the visitor to mind the gap between there and home. Mind it, respect it, shrink it if we can.

I begin, btw, to get a glimmer of understanding as to why my colleague and I are both so smitten with baseball: the whole "leaving/circling/returning home" theme is another mirror of our way of thinking and philosophizing.

He's a Yankee, I'm a Card, but I think we're going to make a pretty good travel team.  

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