Sunday, March 26, 2006

Quentin Anderson

QA: I had caught from Jacques Barzun early on a sense that William James was a figure of great importance and attractiveness. That happened when I was an undergraduate. I don’t think that I had read any Henry James at the time that I was a graduate student at Harvard.

. . .

QA: Having been a Columbia undergraduate, I was accustomed to the relatively small classes and relatively intimate sort of instruction that Columbia afforded. Since Harvard threw its graduates and its undergraduates together in many courses, the character of the Harvard courses was far more a matter of a teacher at a lectern in a room of 150 people. I did, of course, have the advantage of the tutorial attention of eminences like Matthiessen and Miller. But for the most part, the instruction, as I say, was in very large classes and had nothing of the sort that I’d experienced at Columbia as an undergradate. I had been an undergraduate in the colloquium on important books which was taught jointly by Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling. That had been the most exciting of my classroom experiences and remains so. Columbia, after all, had given me a sense of a way of pursuing literature.

DT: Can you describe what that sense was?

QA: One didn’t dream for a moment of seeking to detach literature from its cultural matrix, even to the extent that it seemed detached at Harvard.

DT: “Even” to the extent that it seemed detached at Harvard? Didn’t it seem very detached at Harvard?

QA: I thought so.

—Diana Trilling, “The Shape of a Career: A Conversation with Quentin Anderson, January 1984,” in Donadio, Railton, and Seavy, Emerson and His Legacy: Essays in Honor of Quentin Anderson (Carbondale, Southern Illionois UP, 1986).

The volume includes a piece by Jacques Barzun, “Quentin Anderson, Redux,” in which the following appears:

Henry [James], Sr., kept lecturing and writing in the tone of one offering the world manifest truisms, and the world had not a glimmer of what he saw.