death from a “coiling twisted rope” at dawn’s early light. Before this traumatic conclusion, John’s sister had wondered whether education made “every one unhappy,” and he replied that it did. “And … are you glad you studied?” He said “yes,” to which his sibling confided that she, too, wished to be “unhappy, and and…. I think I am, a little.” Hers was not the first female voice to cry out for knowledge, whatever its costs and pain. Late nineteenthcentury American fiction is filled with women whose minds were as constrained as their bodies were corseted. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s haunting story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a bright, engaged, but troubled woman is confined to bed-rest in a creepy mansion; this cure is what her male doctors, including her husband, believed would restore her to squeaky clean health. When they confiscate her pens and diaries for such things only aggravate her mental skittishness, they mused this mother with a mind slowly goes mad. That books unbalanced women was an old husbands’ tale: in 1645 Massachusetts Governor John *Winthrop wrote sorrowfully of the wife of his Connecticut counterpart, who gave “herself wholly to reading and writing,” and thus lost “her understanding and reason.” Had she only “attended her household affairs and such things as belong to women,” he sighed, she would have “kept her wits.” He felt no such remorse when he reflected on Anne Hutchinson’s antinomian threat to his patriarchal power and ministerial authority she was too smart for his own good. Heavenly retribution came, this Puritan allowed, when in 1638 the crazed woman “was delivered of a monstrous birth”; more gratifying still was her later, and ugly, death at the hands of marauding Indians. What’s the source of this tradition that conceives of education as psychologically bewildering, po litically threatening, and socially tumultuous? The university, of course. But don’t blame this one. At fault are secular priests of the early twelfth century who, when they established academies throughout Europe’s burgeoning cities, overturned the principles of monastic training; instead of a cloistered pursuit of the divine, the clash of human intellect took center stage. Emblematic of the celebrated new scholars was Peter Abelard. Son of a minor noble, he “preferred … the conflicts of disputation [to] the trophies of war.” Among those with whom this Knight Errant of Academe tilted was Anselm of Laon, one of the last, great proponents of monastic scholarship. When this monk attempted to “light the torch of learning,” Abelard laughed, “he only filled the room with smoke.” His enemies were not amused, and twice Abelard was slapped with the charge of heresy. \(Later, he was castrated for sleepwit and shrewd mind continued to draw large numbers of devoted students to his lectures. In them, Abelard pressed his adherents to reason their way through conflicting interpretations of theological texts; providing no solutions, he urged his students to probe the meanings embedded within the sentences they read. Close textual analysis was the only way to understand what one believed and why. That last word why has ever since been at the heart of the human quest, at least as it is understood in western universities and the civilization they have sustained. As a question, “Why?” is as beguiling and dangerous as it is liberating. It’s also a bit scary, for once you ask it, you never know where you’ll end up, as the disparate experiences of Peter Abelard, Anne Hutchinson, and John Jones suggest. The same is even true of the befuddled Benjamin Braddock. Unclear why he is so directionless, he decides to clarify his wife by falling in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine who is already engaged. Ben’s comic pursuit of Elaine builds to the novel’s climax, when he disrupts her wedding, and together they make their getaway in a city bus. “Get it moving!” he shouts, as they stumble down the aisle. “Get this bus moving!” But what its route is, or what their new destination might be, neither of the perplexed pair can say. But then none of us can. Observer contributing writer Char Miller teaches history at Trinity University in San Antonio. He delivered a version of this article during Trinity’s December commencement ceremonies. “Ramsey,” from page 32 ties in the plant’s quarter-century history. Then, in late July, the wire services reported that if President Carter approved production of the controversial neutron bomb, the device would be assembled at Pantex. The neutron bomb is small and ugly. Billed as a defensive weapon, it is designed to bathe enemy soldiers, and presumably civilian bystanders, with streams of radiation able to penetrate walls and tank armor and then rip through organic tissue. However, the bomb would cause little damage to buildings and property beyond the immediate last area…. International debate on the new bomb has created some public relations problems for Pantex officials and chamber-of-commerce-minded newspaper editors. Plant spokesmen have taken to discussing the bomb’s production as calmly as dairy farmers talking about adding new stanchions and milkers to their barns. “There would be nothing different about our activities on this type of system,” plant manager Dunham told the Amarillo Globe-News. The newspaper got into the reassurance act with an August 28 editorial, poohpoohing the “big scare” over the neutron bomb, repeating the story of Pantex’s safety record, and concluding: “The peoples of the Golden Spread have lived without fear for twenty-five years of nuclear weapons manufacturing at Pantex. If we have not been afraid of the work done at Pantex in the past, we have no reason to become afraid now.” Locally, there has been scant protest against the bomb. In Hereford, landowners who think that national publicity will hurt crop sales can sign an anti-bomb petition. Posters in the window of a perpetually locked storefront office standing between two of Amarillo’s hardcore beer halls announce that an organization called “People for Social Sanity” is against the neutron bomb. A petition and a few posters are about all. The strongest private protest I’ve encountered is a pipedream that some miracle bomb that destroys buildings and spares people could be developed, assembled at Pantex and then be accidentally detonated on the spot. JANUARY 16, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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