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Feeling Like a Refined Man

The dearth of posting in recent weeks may be directly attributable to 1) the fact that I'll be teaching a class as an adjunct at Buffalo State College this spring which requires a little bit more planning than previously anticipated, and 2) I've re-kindled my appetite for reading fiction over the last couple of months, and have been devouring books at a rather intense rate.

One book that I finished this weekend is Sam Lipsyte's The Ask, a darkly comedic romp that follows a college development officer's unraveling career, friendships, and marriage. Set against the backdrop of a bunch of hustlers fundraisers looking for the 'next big give', Lipsyte's biting plot skillfully explores the centripetal forces of old college friendships, re-definitions of marriage and fatherhood in the 21st century, and the utility of art.

And it's an altogether fun read for anybody who follows the politics and economics of higher education.

At any rate, I found the following passage, told by the main character's boss, to be quite amusing. You can just imagine it being told somewhere within the depths of Day Hall as the Theatre Department was being dismembered:

"This is larger than you. This whole game is poised for a gargantuan fall."

"What game?" I said.

"Higher education. Of the liberal arts variety. The fine arts in particular. Times get tough, people want practical. Even the rich start finding us superfluous. Well, they always think we're superfluous, but when you're feeling flush it doesn't matter. You pay a whore to make you feel like a man, you fund a philharmonic to make yourself feel like a refined man. Bit it's a pleasure many don't feel like splurging on these days. Worse is the pain of the tuition payers. They are just small-time enough to really resent the price we charge to fool their children into thinking they have a lucrative future in, say, kinetic sculpture. Fat times it was maybe okay to send your slightly slow middle son to an expensive film program. He'd learn to charge around in his baseball cap, write his violent, derivative screenplay in the coffee shop. Idiotic, right? But ultimately affordable...

It's not looking good. Donors are getting scarce. Everybody's worried. That's really my point. The whole deal's in danger. And maybe it should be."

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on January 23, 2011 (#)

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