Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shunning Reality, 46 Years Later

11 June 1966
Yesterday, I took a look at my Hiram College yearbook (my senior year, 1966), and this clipping fell out (with a few other things I may write about later).  It's an account in the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier of the commencement speech I heard that June day I graduated.

I had no memory whatsoever of that speech--or who had delivered it.  And this is humbling news since I have spoken a couple of times at WRA's baccalaureate service.  And it was just last year that I discovered--also quite by accident--that the speaker at my own high school baccalaureate had been Mr. Brunelle, my former teacher (he'd retired just the year before), an event I also had absolutely no memory of.  Mr. Brunelle's son Norman later gave me a copy of his father's sermon that day.  I read it, didn't remember a single word.

All of this is rather alarming.  I suppose it should not be surprising, this evanescence of the spoken word.  We don't know what Henry V actually said at Agincourt, but I bet his words didn't much resemble the speech Shakespeare later crafted for him.  And we know what Lincoln said at Gettysburg only because he wrote it down.
But think of all those other words, aswirl in the mists of time, words we will never know, will never read or hear.  We don't know what Shakespeare's voice sounded like.  Or Dickens'--although both of them were actors and must have had compelling presences.  What would you give to hear Jane Austen read some passages--maybe from one of the recent vampire novels spun off from her work?  Now that's an event I would pay to attend!

Or Mary Shelley read from Frankenstein?  Or appear on a talk show to react to Young Frankenstein?  Or that classic film Frankenhooker?

Wouldn't you like to hear Custer expatiate on judgment?  Or Billy the Kid on what it feels like to get shot in the back?  Or Lincoln on what he thought of Our American Cousin before, well, you know ... ?

I recently ordered some recordings of John O'Hara from Penn State Special Collections.  He had a reputation--a reputation he almost cheerily embraced--of being a very bad speaker.  I just listened to O'Hara speaking at the Library of Congress on 14 January 1957 on the topic "The Novel as a Social Document."  Lewis Mumford introduced him and made only a couple of small factual errors.

O'Hara had just published a novella I really like, A Family Party.  But he began by talking about the recent banning of Ten North Frederick in Detroit.  "Almost completely ill at ease on the platform," he described himself that evening.  But it didn't sound that way to me at all.  He was reading a text, but he spoke clearly--stumbled a few times, but who doesn't?  I don't know if he didn't look at the audience.  Though they laughed and applauded and seemed to enjoy themselves--early on.  But as the speech ran along, they seemed to drift away from him as he sort of rambled on about his reading and how he writes, his grumbles about critics, his self-congratulations about his sales and popularity, then more grumbles about critics.  (O'Hara did have an ego issue or two.)  The applause afterwards was generous, not thunderous, but not embarrassing, either.

But still ... before I listened to that  recording, I had read all of O'Hara's work--had "listened" to his voice in a much different, silent, way.  And so I was unaccountably moved to hear him in an actual rather than a metaphorical way.

But as for Dr. Harold Enarson, president (at the time) of Cleveland State, I cannot hear his voice. I cannot remember what he said at my commencement.  And as for shunning reality (his topic for the day), maybe it's not that we shun reality.  Maybe it's that we just plain can't remember it.

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