produced such hasty and benighted decisions… All too often, at the end of the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, we are told that only the child was wise enough to see that the Emperor had nothing on. Yet there’s more to the story than that. The Emperor may have been duped by clever tailors, but the people were right not to laugh. He was still fully clothed. He was wearing naked power nothing more. The Emperor in the story was benign. I fear that the power the three of you yield is malignant. I hope you will prove me wrong by reconsidering your actions before irreparable damage has been done. Sincerely yours, Roger Shattuck Chairman, Department of French and Italian Erwin’s response to Shattuck’s eloquent letter was to slur the scholar’s impeccable reputation by referring to a recent research leave as an indication that Shattuck, like others among Ransom’s faculty elite, “lived in a lucrative playhouse.” When Shattuck resigned from the University five months later, most campus observers felt that the golden Ransom era was finished. Although Erwin remained a regent several more years, his term as chairman ended early the following year. While living in Austin, Shattuck began his life-long studies of Marcel Proust, author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, with his 1963 book Proust’s Binoculars. His other Austin writings included a book of poems, Half Tame, as well as his contributions to The Texas Observer. When Billy Lee Brammer’s novel, The Gay Place, was published in 1961, many readers in Austin and across the country felt that much of the roman a clef aspect of the Austin-set novel were the portraits of thinly disguised Observer staffers. Shattuck was assigned a review of the book for the magazine. Reading it now, the word lofty comes to mind. Except for the ritual opening pages on landscape \(“The country is most barbawrites in a brittle, occasionally slick descriptive style that changes off with uneven dialogue and generally successful interior monologue… But other times Mr. Brammer lets himself fall into a facility and a flipness that begins to sound like a guidebook on how to live in an economy of abundance. Cars, telephones, and phonographs are as much obstacles to life as its vehicles. Nothing lies further from literature than brand names. True, we fill vast portions of our lives with cigarettes and liquor and the eternally playing TV or jukebox. Yet in a work of fiction, smoking or taking another drink \(particularly when accompanied by elaborate instrucradio quickly reveal themselves as narrative fill masquerading as vivid detail. This kind of writing should go. Those who knew Brammer must have been brought up short by Professor Shattuck’s high moral tone. While celebrating the Austin of the fifties and sixties, it’s easy to remember that during much of that time the city was almost totally segregated. Shattuck was at the forefront of local civil rights activities as well as anti-nuclear movements; his quiet demeanor and background as a war pilot added depth to his positions. After Austin, the Shattucks moved to Charlottesville, where he taught for 14 years at the University of Virginia. In 1988 he was re-united with his old friend John Silber, the head of Boston University. Silber made Shattuck a University Professor, just as they had been together in their salad days in Austin. Ironically, by 1988 Silber was perceived as a reactionary in Bostona role not unlike that occupied by his old nemesis Frank Erwin back in Austin. As for his own views, Shattuck would later describe himself as “a political liberal” and a “cultural conservationist.” Labels, however, are hardly adequate to describe his life and work. During his long career, one of Shattuck’s books on Proust won a National Book Award. After writing about a “feral” child discovered in France in 1800 \(Forbidden Experiment: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, interested in Helen Keller and edited new editions of her writings. One of his last books, Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography, is a moral treatise that does not call for censorship but does acknowledge the subversion and power of portrayals of violence and sadistic sex. Profoundly interested in public education, he served four years as a member of the local school board in Lincoln, Vermont. A 1999 interview published in the Burlington Free Press, began with a description of his work routine. Six mornings a week, Roger Shattuck crosses the meadow next to his Lincoln home, which looks out to the rounded summits of Mount Cleveland and Bread Loaf In the winter, he sets out on skis, making tracks to the tiny writing studio he and his wife, Nora, constructed in 1972 from the boards of a defunct sugarhouse. On the coldest days, it takes a halfhour to heat Shattuck’s study with wood and kerosene. Once it warms up, though, it stays that way. When asked about warming the studio during the harsh Vermont winters, Shattuck pointed out that the studio retained heat well. After all, he explained, it was “insulated with books.” Dick Holland is the editor of a forthcoming collection of essays to be titled The Texas Book: Stories From the University. UT Press will publish the book in the fall. WRITE DIALOGUE 307. W 7th Street Austin, TX 78701 [email protected] 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 27, 2006
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.