Warren’s Exceptionalism in Flood1 Reply


Part IV of Robert Penn Warren and Southern Exceptionalism

Over the next few days I am posting a paper I delivered at the Conference on the Novel in Salt Lake City last week.   Today, I will wrap up these posts by considering exceptionalism in Warren’s novel Flood: A Romance of our time. 

Warren’s Irony of Loneliness 

Flood’s deeper meaning towards the South has been described in a number of ways: “representative of an obliteration of a relatively homogeneous way of life;” “the microcosmic death of Southern Rural culture;” as a narrative in contrast to the “rootless urbanites continuing desire for a tangible history.”[1]  But Flood represents best a tale of people coming to a “new awareness of the past while accepting a personal responsibility for the present.”  Two physical places mark where this activity happens in the Town of Fiddlersburg – the graveyard, where residents go about disinterring their loved ones (or not) before the flood waters rise; and the penitentiary, which remains outside the flood’s reach.  In both of these places, the vision of Fiddlersburg becomes clearer by understanding certain aspects of southern exceptionalism.

      The graveyard scenes in the novel are primarily premised on Brad Toliver looking for Izzie Goldburg’s grave, so he can eventually disinter his old friend’s remains.  Izzie Goldburg, was remembered fondly by Toliver as

The little tailor – the only Jew in Fiddlersburg, live one I mean, when I was a boy.  He taught me to play chess and never let me win He would look at a sunset or at a man  or a dog in the same way, a way that made the thing seem real.  He was not Fiddlersburg, but he made Fiddlersburg real.

Izzie, like Toliver, was an outsider to Fiddlersburg.  But also like Brad, saw Fiddlersburg as the only place he could be.

      Similarly, the Penitentiary is described by the common Warren referent as being lonesome.  The Warden of the penitentiary says that the reason people end up in the Pen is lonesomeness – “some folks are born lonesome and they can’t stand the lonesomeness out there. It is lonesome in here maybe, but it ain’t as lonesome when you are with folks that knows they are as lonesome as you are.”   Then the Warden describes the punishment of solitary confinement:

“Ever see a man come out of Solitary?  Sometimes, it is like they wanted to lay their head in your lap and cry.  They are so grateful to see you.  Solitary – you can’t run a prison without it. It is the last lonesomeness. It is the kind of lonesomeness man can’t stand, for he can’t stand just being himself.   (Flood 156)

Warren then brings both the graveyard and the penitentiary  (and Izzie and Fiddlersburg) more together more directly in a later scene where Brad Toliver returns to look for Izzie again.   Again ruminating on Izzie, Toliver remarks that Izzie was “alone but not lonesome,” he was “Fiddlersburg and at the same time he was not Fiddlersburg.  He was non-Fiddlersburg and he was anti-Fiddlersburg.”  Then Brad contemplates:

Hell your Philosopher friend [the Warden] was right.  It is the lonesomeness.  The only reason everybody in Fiddlersburg does not get himself in the Pen out of lonesomeness is because Fiddlersburg is kind of a Pen already, and everybody knows already he is with folks who are as lonesome as he is.”

It is here that Brad Toliver / Warren begin to explain the connection of Loneliness to the South and Southern Exceptionalism.

      Hell, the whole south is lonesome.  It is lonesome as coon hunting, which has always been a favorite sport, and it is lonesomer than anything except frog-giging on a dark night in a deep pond and your skiff leaking and some folks prefer it that way.

      Hell the south is the country where a man gets drunk just so he can feel lonsesomer, and then comes to town and picks a fight for companionship.  The confederate states were founded on lonesomeness.  They were all so lonesome, they built a pen around themselves so they could be lonesome together.  The only reason the confederate army held together as long as it did against overwhelming odds was that everybody felt it would just be too damned lonesome to go home and be lonesome by yourself.

      “The South…. Folks say ‘the South’ but the word doesn’t mean a damned thing.  It is a term without a referent.  No – It means something, but it does not mean what people think it means.  It means a profound experience, communally shared – yeah.  But you know what that shared experience is that makes the word South?

      “It is lonesomeness,” Brad said.  “ It is angry lonesomeness.  Angry lonesomeness  makes southerners say the word South like an idiot Tibetan monk turning a broke down prayer wheel on which he has forgotten to hang any prayers.

      “Hell no southerner believes there is any South.  He just believes that if he keeps on saying the word he will lose some of the angry lonesomeness.  The only folks in the South who are not lonesome are the colored folks.  They may be angry but they are not lonesome.

      “That is the heart of the race problem.  It is not guilt.  That is crap.  It is simply that your southerner is deeply and ambiguously disturbed to have folks around him who are not as lonesome as he is….Especially if they are black folks.  Fiddlersburg is a praying town, just like the South is a praying country.  But it is not that they believe in God.  They do not believe in God.  What they believe in is the black hole in the sky God left when he went away. (Flood P. 165)

In Warren’s writings, the concept of lonesomeness is a symptom of a greater problem – the inability to not be lonesome – or to be comfortable with one’s own lonesomeness.  This ability to hold two contradictory moments together – to be both something and not-that-something – reflects Warren’s views on history, self and responsibility.  As in All the King’s Men, where Willie Stark conflates concepts of good and bad into indiscernible motivations – You only have the bad to make the good from and how Jack Burden contemplates the meaning of being alone with oneself and all the many selves that one had – it’d be quite the party he notes — Brad conflates the meaning of belonging and not belonging to an individual’s ability to be lonesome. These three characters find themselves out of place due to a striking self-awareness.  Like Izzie Goldburg, they realize that they walk in tangles of contradiction – which both allows them to feel at home and at the same time out of place with those that don’t share the same sense of irony around them.  The South might know its lonesome, but understanding what its lonesomeness creates is a different story.

Concluding Thoughts

In Warren’s world, law stands as the impartial arbiter of society.   Segregation, he wrote early in his career was not the problem – it was the tendency of white southerners to treat African Americans poorly in Segregation.  Eventually coming around to the view that Segregation too had to end, Warren’s solution for the South remained consistent — treat all men fairly.  Warren’s work presents some rich ironies when considering places.  The Prison remains the only standing structure in Fiddlersburg – the place where law and responsibility meet most directly.  The Graveyard finds itself buried with the town – taking on a second death as it were for the residents that remain interred.  The Schoolhouse built with dirty money (and legally) in All the King’s Men tumbles under faulty workmanship, killing three children and launching Willie Stark’s political career. Willie does legal and not-legal things and is not immune to backroom deals and public projects that favor politically powerful people.  But Warren doesn’t want to confuse good and bad, right and wrong, “legal and illegal.”  Perhaps its best to simply be aware of the irony.


[1] John T. Hiers, Burried Graveyards: Warren’s Flood and Jone’s A Burried Land, 75 Essays in Literature 97 (2007).

 

Robert Penn Warren’s Exceptionalism in All the King’s Men Reply


Part III of Robert Penn Warren and Southern Exceptionalism

Over the next few days I am posting a paper I delivered at the Conference on the Novel in Salt Lake City last week.   Today, I will delve into Warren’s Exceptionalism in his most well known work, All the King’s Men.  

Warren’s Exceptionalism in All the King’s Men

In All the King’s Men, the question of progress and means to progress lie as the animating narrative to reveal the personal characters of Jack Burden and Willie Stark.[1]  The role of progress has been explored in other contexts of the novel, such as Automobiles[2] and gender relationships.[3]  I want to consider how place illustrates the tension of progress against southern exceptionalism in Warren’s Novel.  Specifically I want to focus on two markers on progress on the landscape – namely roads and public schools.[4]

Robert Penn Warren begins his novel in the very first scene with an illustration of progress and social relations.

To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and if you don’t quit staring at that line and don’t take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you’ll hypnotize yourself and you’ll   come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the slab, and you’ll try to jerk her back on but you can’t because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you’ll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive. But you won’t make it, of course. Then a [black worker] [he used a different term] chopping cotton a mile away, he’ll look up and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the vitriolic, arsenical green of the cotton rows, and up against the violent, metallic, throbbing blue of the sky, and he’ll say, “Lawd God, hit’s a-nudder one done done hit!” And the next [black worker] down the next row, he’ll say, “Lawd God,” and the first [black worker] will giggle, and the hoe will lift again and the blade will flash in the sun like a heliograph.[5]

Warren’s first image in the book is a freshly tarred road (an image of technological progress) with black workers in the field (an image of past racial servitude).  In the early twentieth century, Roads were visible markers of economic prosperity and technological advancement.[6] Yet, the South’s lack of paved roads in the early 20th century posed a concern that appeared numerous times in National Geographic magazine. David Janson, in his articleAmerican National Identity and the Progress of the New South in “National Geographic Magazine” writes: “For the First half of the twentieth Century, the South’s roads were a concern for National Geographic writers. “Although the wealthiest counties of the state have their own excellent paved highways, there is no dodging Georgia’s deficiency with respect to many of her roads.” Janson continues that “Roads were clearly important to Economic development which is why a National Geographic writer observed with approval when “rough old roads of sand or clay [had] widened into smooth paved highways.”[7]

Just as Warren’s description of the smooth black top leading to Mason City is highlighted as a triumph of Willie Stark – a candidate whose political messages were populist in their promise to deliver government services to more than just the wealthy – the presence of African Americans in the fields suggests that progress remains illusive for some in the South.   As Stark and his crew travel down the good new blacktop, off to the side Warren’s African American field workers are in the distance – close enough to see the march of progress before them, to chuckle at the irony of tragedy in the face of progress, yet clearly not be in the path of progress.

That exclusion of African Americans from economic progress in the south also impacts Willie Stark.   In chapter two, Jack Burden retells being assigned to cover a School Bond issue in Mason City where Stark served as the elected County treasurer.   The reader is immediately tuned in that things are not on the road to progress in Mason City as Jack Burden drives “with his jaws clamped tight when driving over the road described as a “washboard” leaving dust in his trail.  Jack discovers, talking to people on the street, that the schoolhouse bond has stalled because Stark wants the county to “take the low bid” for the building of the new schoolhouse. It becomes clear very soon that “taking the low bid” means two things in Mason: giving jobs to African Americans and conversely taking jobs away from white folk. Burden reflects on this saying “Yeah, I said to myself, so that is the tale, for Mason County is red-neck country and they don’t like black people, not strange black people anyway, and they haven’t got many of their own.”   The last word from folks on the street, however is that giving jobs to African Americans meant taking jobs from white folk. Dolph Pilsbury, the chairman of the Mason City Commissioners, sees the problem the same way,  saying to Burden when asked if the Winning Bid was low says:

“Now look a-here—” and the shadow passed from Mr. Pills-bury’s face and he sat up in his chair as suddenly as though he had been stuck by a pin—“ you talk like that, and ain’t nuthen done but legal. Ain’t nobody can tell the Board what bid to take. Anybody can come along and put in a little piss-ant bid, but the Board doan have to take it. Naw-sir-ee. The Board takes somebody kin do the work right.”

Later, they refer to Stark as a “lover of [black people]” before telling Burden to “Git out.” Burden walks away from the meeting with Pilsbury and the Sheriff contemplating whether they are “real.”  Their archetype of rural politics seemed too fake and in a strange place.  But then, Burden is able to hold the contradictions together – of course they were real and grew up wading in creeks, and watching sunsets, and having babies and wives and having reasons for why they do what they do.

But these are not the only contradictions relating to the schoolhouse.  The exchange suggests to Burden that the sole reason why the Commissioners preferred the higher bid was because of the racial dimension.  But as we delve deeper into the story we learn that the problem is far more complicated. As Stark tells the story the problem of race was merely bait to turn the locals’ interest away from the fact that two other bids were presented that were also lower than the winning bid.  Dolph Pilsbury had a financial stake in seeing that the bid was awarded to the contractor that prevailed. The fact that African Americans stood to be paid more money (as more skilled laborers) than white workers from Mason City, threw oil on the fire.  As Warren would later argue in The Legacy of the Civil War, once race was implicated, everything in the south became about race, even if it wasn’t.[8]  This tension reflects the complicated relationship that race held with the South and with Warren.

Warren himself early in his career approached the problem of race with the idea that segregation was intractable. In his early essay the Briar Patch, Warren perceived the race problem as one of common respect, but which was not easily resolved by forced desegregation.[9]   Later coming off of that opinion, Warren observed that his view of race was primarily informed by his image of south.  He said “The image of the south I carried in my head was one of massive immobility in all ways, in both its virtues and vices – it was an image of the unchangeable human condition, beautiful, sad, tragic.”[10]  Despite changing his views on segregation, one aspect of Warren’s perception of the race problem did not change – its source.  Much of the angst against African Americans stemmed from poor whites who were afraid that Black Mobility meant diminished economic opportunity for white folks.  Warren saw this challenge as one that led to increased violence by poorer white persons who felt isolated by their wealthy white counterparts and black workers looking to obtain a foothold.  Thus Warren wrote in the Briar Patch, “What the white workman must learn… is that he may respect himself as a white man, but if he fails to concede the negro equal protection, he does not properly respect himself as a man.”[11] In Warren’s South – there is always the them versus us that is prevalent in how choices are made.

When Willie chooses sides (or at least chooses to be different from the southerners of Mason City’s government) it’s merely a confirmation that Willie was never an us, even if he wasn’t a them. Willie’s pseudo color-blind approach reflects Warren’s early views on race and relationships.   The school project was never about the black people for Willie, it was about the fairness of the government process. The black workers are merely on the side of the road, watching the progress pass along the side.  Like the early Warren, the violence against a particular people is largely irrelevant as long as there is fairness in how the violence is doled out.


[1] Progress and the question of Progress – namely industrialization – was a primary focus of the Southern Agrarians in their Work I’ll take my Stand.  Seeking to preserve rural identity of the south as a positive value, only Warren takes up the question of race directly.  See Ealy,supra note 15.

[2] Brian Abel Ragen, ‘We’ve Always Gone West:’ Automobiles, Innocence, and All the King’s Men in Weeks, supra note 7.

[3] Lana K. Payton, Out of the Strong shall come forth Sweetness: Women in All the King’s Men, in Weeks, supra note 7.

[4] An ample discussion could also be had of Willie’s hospital.

[5] Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men 1.

[6] David Janson, American National Identity and the Progress of the New South in “National Geographic Magazine National Geographic Review 93 Geographical Review 359 (2003).

[7] Id.

[8] Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War .

[9] See Simpson, supra note 5

[10] Id.

[11] See Robert Penn Warren, The Briar Patch, in Donaldson, supra note 15.

 

 

 

American Exceptionalism and Southern Exceptionalism Reply


I'll take my stand

Part II of Robert Penn Warren and Southern Exceptionalism

Over the next few days I am posting a paper I delivered at the Conference on the Novel in Salt Lake City last week.   Today, I will delve into the meaning of exceptionalisms and southern exceptionalism.

Exceptionalisms and Southern Exceptionalism 

Exceptionalism is a common term reflecting the uncritical narratives that set one people apart from another.  For example, the idea of American Exceptionalism as framed by Martin Lipset is what he labels the American Creed: “Liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez faire, or what he calls a set of dogmas for a good society.”[1] American narratives often draw on these dogmas as sources of validation, suggesting that the society is good, right-directed, or pursuing valid-goals.  Exceptionalisms often, though highlighting the narratives at work by the majority, leave some with counter narratives for why those dogmas didn’t work for them.[2]  The Southern African American is hard pressed to find that narratives of egalitarianism validate his access to education, politics, or liberty in a society constrained by segregation.[3]   Nevertheless, exceptionalisms help explain why society believes itself different from others.  They also serve to explain the past as a triumph of the social system, rather than a mar on the past.  Thus, a narrative invoking exceptionalisms might choose to appreciate the progressive move out of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation rather than focus on the enduring effects any of those institutions may continue to have.[4]

      If the American experience is explained by exceptional qualities, then the Southern Experience may be described by a different reference to the past: “defeat, humiliation, and impotence in the face of intractable social problems.”[5]  The south eagerly adopted the idea of American exceptionalism for itself, believing the society to be set apart, unique, and validated by moral superiority.  This is best characterized by the collection of essays I’ll Take My Stand, in which Warren, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, argued that the Southern rural life should be preserved in what they apprehended was Northern industrialization.  [6]

But as eminent southern historian C. Vann  Woodward’s The Search for Southern Identity argues, time proved that the real southern experience was characterized by “grinding poverty, political impotency, military defeat, racial conflict, and social guilt.”[7]  Sheldon Hackney has argued that Southerners have had to define themselves in opposition to a presumed American norm.[8]  Similarly, Orville Burton contends that the Southerner remains an “other” or “stranger” in the American narrative.[9] For our purposes, Robert Penn Warren embraced the idea that Southerners found themselves looking backward more than forward so to speak – consistently defining themselves, their environment, and their identity against the backdrop of how the exceptional failed in its promise, and the fact that the war was not won.  This is revealed in Warren’s life experience and works.

Warren himself takes up the mantle of exceptionalism in a number of contexts.  Jewishness and its meaning are pre-eminent constructs in a number of Warren’s novels including Flood and Wilderness.  In both novels, Jewish persons find themselves, like Warren’s southern characters as both out of place and in place.   Warren outside of his literary endeavors also pursued social justice on behalf of Soviet Jews by joining with the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews to urge Soviet writers to take up the mantle of Tolstoy, Dostovsky, Checkov and others to find a place in Soviet society for Jewish persons.  Each of Warren’s suggestions in his letter to the Soviet Writers Conference urges support for physical space allocated to the preservation of Jewish Identity – schools, synagogues, cultural centers and the like.  Similarly, it was primarily because of American Exceptionalism that Warren declined a Chaired Professor at the University of California.  At the time, California law mandated that government employees sign a loyalty oath affirming their allegiance to the country and their disavowal of communist tendencies.

For Warren, the presence of the counter narrative – or the contradiction – and the ability to reconcile the counter narrative is a primary reason the South exists as lonely.  Those contradictions are depicted in the way physical space and the law’s relationship to that space is described in both works.


[1] Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: The Double Edged Sword (1996).

[2] See Nancy Leong, The Open Road and the Traffic Stop: Narratives and Counter-Narratives of the American Dream, 64 Fla. L. Rev. 305 (2001) (describing the tension between the fiction of American equality and race-based profiled stops); David Levering Lewis,Exceptionalisms Exceptions: The Changing American Narrative, 141 Daedelus 101 (2012).

[3] See W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America 1860-1880 (1935) (suggesting that the choice for an American narrative is one between “freedom, intelligence and power for all men; the other was industry for private profit directed by an autocracy determined at any price to amass wealth and power”).

[4] Invoking W.E.B. Dubose’s emphasis on choice, see supra note 12.

[5] David R. Jannson, American Hegemony and the Irony of C. Vann Woodward’s the Irony of Southern History, 44 Southeastern Geographer 90 (2004).

[6] See Donald Davidson et al, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition by Twelve Southerners (1930).  For an analysis of Warren’s contribution, which some of the writers believed was contradictory to the overall message, see Steven Ealy, ‘A Place for the Negro in the Agrarian Scheme’: Robert Penn Warren’s Contribution to I’ll Take My Stand,  30Political Science Reviewer 120 (2001).

[7] Jannson, supra note 14, at 90.

[8] Sheldon Hackney,  The South as Counterculture, 42 American Scholar 283 (1973).

[9] Orville Vernon Burton, The South as “Other,” the Southerner as “Stranger,” 79 J. Southern History 7 (2013).

 

 

 

 

Some Illusions in Hunger Games and Initial thoughts Reply


I spent the last two days reading the Hunger Games — here are some initial thoughts on the book (with an attempt to avoid spoilers).

On the dystopian element…  This book had a lot of elements that reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale:

  • The first person narration;
  • The role of obvious biblical symbolism (more on that in a moment);
  • The tension  between the main character and a person she is not sure she can trust (which happens to also be a romantic interest);
  • The presence of another Romantic character outside the Dystopic environment (but who has also been subjected to the dystopia in a different way);
  • The separation of the main character from both the life and environment she is accustomed to; etc…

I am curious to see if the author continues these elements in the second and third book (to be read this week).

On the Biblical Symbolism… The book is filled with biblical symbolism:

  • The twelve districts — the twelve tribes of Israel — The twelve disciples.
  • Formerly thirteen districts, until one betrayed the Capital — thirteen total disciples in the Bible, including Judas Iscariat, until Judas hangs himself after betraying Jesus;
  • Soooooo many references to fishes and bread as sustenance (the Country is Panem — the Latin word for bread) – Jesus’ greatest miracle the feeding of the 5000 with fishes and loaves of bread;
  • The Character Peeta — sure sounds like Peter;
  • The Character Cato  – a perhaps a reference to the statesman and General Cato the Elder serving under the reign of Nero, a notoriously anti-christian Roman emperor.  These are the obvious ones… (P.S. I am resistant to find the overall theme “Christian” in nature.  Perhaps, I am more likely to find the Biblical story to be dystopic — perhaps I will post on this sometime).  Nevertheless, there is an interesting write up on the Christian themes present here .

On Rhu…  In my opinion, the best character in the book.  She is mysterious, thoughtful, and trusting.

That’s all for now.


Law School Debt: A Frolic of our own or a Leviathan that can be tamed? Reply


Law school debt has been rising for some time.   Students graduating from American Law Schools with ever increasing debt loads, do not seem to match the earning ratio that would make law school debt a wise investment.  Over at Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha reports:

The average indebtedness figures for 2011 law graduates are stunning. Last year, 4 law schools had graduates with average debt exceeding $135,000. This year 17 law schools are above $135,000. Last year the highest average debt among graduates was $145,621 (Cal. Western); this year the highest average debt is $165,178 (John Marshall).

Tamanhana continues:

What’s remarkable is that the majority of graduates from these law schools–with the exception of Northwestern–do not obtain jobs with salaries sufficient to make the monthly loan payments due on the average debt. At some of these schools 90% or more of graduates with debt do not earn enough to make the loan payments on this level of debt (not all indebted students will carry the average debt).

Tamananha reports the twenty schools with the highest average debt per student.  One of the interesting problems raised by Professor Tamananha’s post is the number of California schools on the list.  Of the twenty schools on the list, seven of the schools are California law schools — four of the six lowest ranked schools in the State of California are on the list.   OF course, California is a place where nothing is cheap.

I admit as a Professor in a fourth tier school in California, I worry very much about the debt our students incur.    I began thinking about this problem when the occupy Wall Street protests began.  One of the unifying cries of the occupy Wall Street movement was a very sincere question — why give Wall Street bail outs instead of students.  At the time I thought that while this felt like a  just solution, if carried out, it would merely  place a bandaid over a problem that needed greater attention.   My perception at the time, and still, is we needed to approach the problem in both a macro and micro way — both institutionally and systematically.    We should not consider law school debt as a unique problem in American education – student debt is rising across all educational sectors.   This is not merely a problem of debt  to income ratio — though that is certainly one piece of the puzzle.

But we should not absolve institutions from responsibility either.  The responsibility of the law school to think critically about how it can put its graduates in the best position to obtain meaningful legal employment (besides passing the bar exam) seem integral to the evolving nature of the law school.  Different schools have taken unique approaches.  For example Northeastern has long used a quarter system so that the bulk of its students would be free to take on extern opportunities during normal academic year (instead of the summer when they find themselves competing with top 15 law schools for the same opportunities).  I think this strategy has been successful for Northeastern’s graduates.

Indiana University – Bloomington incorporated career services strategizing as a part of its PR class — forcing students to think about professional responsibility as a development program rather than a requirement for admission to the bar.  It seems that Fourth Tier schools in complex markets need to be similarly creative in thinking about how to maximize opportunities for students.  (This is not to say that the Career services people in various institutions do not work very hard for their students — but institutionally, career services receives, I believe, less attention than it deserves.

One solution might be to require  schools (at all levels) that accept Federal Student Aid to accept 50% of the student loan burden for students that are either not employed or enrolled in a graduate program eighteen months after graduation and until that student is employed and or in graduate school.   This would do a couple of things — first it would force schools to be more selective in the persons that they admit to their programs.   But the down side to this solution is that schools would then become risk adverse in the admissions process – -they would only admit the students that they are certain would be successful in both the job and the bar market.  This might be a harder point to gauge, than say bar success; but as risk averse as institutions tend to be, some metric would become a defining point for determining who is likely to be a “good risk” and who is likely to be a “bad risk.” It perhaps might also increase first year attrition rates, with law schools and other programs increasing class sizes to offset financial losses from lower class sizes in the second and third year.  Perhaps the burden to schools could be reduced by schools demonstrating that they (1) took active measures to enhance the marketability of its graduates at graduation; and (2) continue offering on-going support to graduates in their pursuit of employment opportunities.

Another additional solution would be for the ABA to require long-range reporting of student debt to income burdens of graduates.  Perhaps Jim Chen’s ratio of one-third tuition to first year salary is a starting point.  But then again, I am not sure that average debt ratios at graduation tell us a whole lot about the debt problem.   What we really want to know is what the debt to income ratio is during specific windows of time — one year, three years, and five years after graduation. We might be willing to live with higher debt if there is evidence suggesting a higher return.  That would also allow financial institutions to frame repayment plans in a manner that works for graduates.   Reporting this data and making it publicly available (through U.S. News) would create market pressure on schools.   Additionally, forcing schools to report debt information for all admitted students would again force schools to carefully monitor its admissions offices. Of course, this might also have the same impact as above — perhaps forcing schools to be more careful about its admission decisions, reducing the number of opportunity admits a school makes, or increasing law school attrition after the first year.

I think the most important point here is a broader conversation of all of the potential problems and risk outcomes we are not comfortable with.  While the law school (and educational bubble) points to weaknesses of American education, to craft a solution based only on the bubble would be as foolhardy as ignoring the problems that the bubble creates.

What are your thoughts?

Clearing the Table: Remember to like us on Facebook Reply


A few links of interest this week:

Two Book Reviews Reply


Reflections of a book addict posted a review of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The last man in the known world by Abigail Reynolds. Here is a brief summary from the blog:

We find ourselves following Elizabeth and Darcy immediately after his initial proposal of marriage to her at Rosings Park. We all know of her famous rejection, perhaps the most stinging line in the entire novel, “”I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” It carried all the bubbling resentment that Elizabeth held against Mr. Darcy once she learned of his involvement with Bingley’s abrupt separation from Jane. However, what if she never got to utter those famous words? What if mistaking Elizabeth’s silence for acceptance, Darcy kissed her? What if this kiss was witnessed by Colonel Fitzwilliam? How would their marriage work with a complacent Elizabeth and a deeply in love Darcy? Thanks to the imaginative prose of Ms. Reynolds, we can see just that.

Bookpeople’s Blog posted a review of Jennifer Dubois’s A Partial History of Lost CausesAgain, from the blog:

Aleksandr’s story begins in Leningrad in 1979, where he dreams of becoming a chess champion. Irina initially knows of Aleksandr because her father, an avid chess player, was a fan. We’re with Aleksandr as he moves into the world of Cold War era chess matches, and beyond into underground politics and the dangerous world of Russian politics under the reign of Vladimir Putin.

Nerd Fight! Nerd Fight!: The Bizzaro World Battle of Constitutional Interpretation Reply


Mike Post and Saul Cornell are having a nice round about with each other.  Over at the Faculty Lounge, Saul Cornell critiqued Mike Post’s Constitutional originalism; Post responded in his post Historian Cure Thyself; finally Cornell responded back by referring to the type of scholarship as belonging in the Bizzaro world of Superman Comics.

Cornell wrote:

This is a model of scholarship that belongs in the Bizzaro world of   Superman comics.   Although the amount of   deeply researched and intellectually sophisticated legal scholarship continues to grow and vastly out numbers  this type of  Bizzaro  originalist scholarship, the legal academy is clearly in crisis and Rappaport’s post is a symptom.    Originalism has become a vast scholarly echo chamber.  Originalists cite each other’s work as authority, invite each other to conferences largely dominated by other originalists, publish each other’s papers in their own student edited journals without peer review, and then blog about the paradigm shifting quality of their own work and that of their friends!   I am sorry if my posts have seemed unduly harsh or not collegial, but the system is broken and it will never be fixed unless we acknowledge that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

While I love academic nerd fights as much as the next guy, I am really intrigued by the reference to Bizzaro world as a referent to Post’s scholarship.  (I know, I just upped the nerd ante significantly).   I wonder if Mark White has any thoughts on Bizzaro world as an referent to interpretive principles.

The Most Powerful Women in Literature 3


Flavowire has a list of the ten most powerful female characters in literature.   The list is populated with recent works, which I think is a problem: Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre);  Hermione Granger (Harry Potter); The Wife of Bath (Canterbury Tales); Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games); Hester Prynne (The Scarlett Letter); Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings); Lyra Silvertounge (His Dark Materials); Janie Crawford (Their Eyes were watching God); Hua Mulan (The Ballad of Mullan); and Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo). Some have argued that the character Bella from the Twilight series also should be included.   Obviously, the word powerful is high suggestive and obviously the choices all reflect the various author’s view of power.  Nevertheless,  I wonder why these characters were left off:  Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale); Lady MacBeth (MacBeth); Sofya (Crime and Punishment); or Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)?

So what make’s a female character “powerful.”   Is it her voice in the midst of a context that otherwise would mute her? (Offred)  Is it the conflict that she engages in? (Lady MacBeth) Or, is it adhering to traditional female virtues while having a voice or demonstrating strength?  (Hester Prynne).  The list referred to from Flavowire seems to place the most emphasis on physical strength.   What do you think?   What makes a female character powerful?

Vote for who you think is the most powerful female character in literature.  Post comments below.

Post comments below.

Wrap up from ASLCH in Fort Worth 1


A few notes from this year’s conference.

  • The Association of for the Study of Law, Culture and Humanities Conference ended yesterday with a fury.   Table contributors Mai-Linh Hong from Legal Lacuna, and Marc Roark each presented papers and participated together on a panel titled Global Citizens: Violence and the Transnational Subject.  Mai Linh presented a paper titled Another Vietnam: War, the Archive and the USS Kirk.  Marc presented Re-Entering the Loneliness: Robert Penn Warren and the Exile.   Perhaps they will post a brief write up on their respective papers.
  • The folks at Texas Wesleyan were all incredibly hospitable.  I understand one faculty member bought lunch for several guests on Saturday.  Southern hospitality never gets old.
  • The keynote address was incredible.  Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis discussed their new book Re-Presenting Justice: Visual Narratives of Judgment and the Invention of Democratic Courts.  In the words of Austin Sarat, one of the respondents to the talk, the work represents “an audacious representation” and the “best for what we are attempting to do.”  I wanted to shell out $75.00 immediately.  The book looks incredible.  A Summary of the keynote was tweeted by Mai Linh.
  • If you were not following our TWEETS from the conference, you can access them here and here.  They are a little uneven, due to the depth of different talks.   Nevertheless, several were enjoyable.  I particularly enjoyed David Fisher’s Medea’s Laws: Reading Euripides’ Medea as Law and Literature.
  • This year’s conference was well done. Kudos to Linda Meyer and her organizing committee.  Next year’s conference is in London.