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The Center for Literate Values
Ut pars melior animi vivat--That the soul's better part may live.
Dedicated to friends of the Western tradition, intelligent faith, moral reason, and the imaginative appraisal of life found in fine art and literature.
The Center's ambition is to serve the literate friends of the Western tradition --a heritage whose virtue lies not in being Western or traditional, but in setting a supreme moral power at the center of things and the voice of conscience at the center of every person. We are often politically incorrect--not maliciously, but indignantly, for we do not endorse the ivory-tower Left's academic snobbery of "reprogramming" agendas. We're just as distressed, however, by the lock-step worldview among some of the Right, wherein moral self-discipline and intelligent faith somehow oppose divine grace. The heart of God's nature is His goodness--not His "muscle". (Or we should say, perhaps--after the Socratic tradition which merged with Christianity--that goodness IS muscle: the Furies of a guilty conscience always get their man.) The Western tradition teaches that a respect for this higher being implies a respect for our own rational faculties, which reject the tyranny of selfish impulse and brute force. The true cultural conservative clings to this vision of our soul's better part ruling over various visceral drives which, far from "expressing" our identity, rob us of individuality.
"The weak man how he must, the strong man how he will." "The back will end up paying for the stomach."
We at the Center love all kinds of traditions and, in many cases, have studied the oral heritage reflected in relics like these Irish proverbs. The pre-literate life, however, was heavy with the tragedy of narrow cycles, rigid hierarchies, and neglected potential, as proverbial traditions like this one reveal. Who will speak for a higher authority than political power? Who will inspire the "little guy" toiling daily like a mule to have hope and rule his bodily appetites? Literacy opened the way to a new life--but today's ivory-tower intellectuals speak of no force other than politics and carnal impulse. They have sold their birthright and betrayed their culture.
Helen R. Andretta, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English at York College- CUNY, where she is currently the very able Deputy Chair of her department. She is the author of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde: A Poet’s Response to Ockhamism. Helen is also a proud grandmother. As her contributed essay reveals in Why Boys Shoot: Culturally Conservative Scholars Review Our Crisis in Masculinity with Minimal Statistics and a Classically Christian Sense of Human Nature, she believes that male and female roles are not identical or interchangeable (academic doctrine notwithstanding) and that the traditional family remains indispensable to the rearing of healthy children.
Thomas F. Bertonneau, Ph.D. is well known to many premier academics around the country as the former Executive Secretary of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. Having received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, Tom proceeded to discover an unhappy truth divulged to many of us at that historical moment: that the past we had so attentively studied for so long was now considered irrelevant--even despicable, worthy of suppression only--by educational policy-makers. Also like many of us, Professor Bertonneau accepted a series of positions which allowed him to teach the past and speak the truth, politics notwithstanding; but he did so more courageously than most, and, by the hollow standards which academics use to size one another up, his road has been arduous. In particular, his Declining Standards at Michigan Public Institutions stirred the rancor of teacher's unions for daring to objectify our culture's progressive ignorance.
Yet such baying of the pack has not prevented Dr. Bertonneau from publishing abundantly, winning grants, and attracting the attention of influential figures alarmed at our culture's sloping curve. He has become a familiar name, for instance, around the Kirk Center. He currently teaches English at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Ralph S. Carlson, Ph.D., has enjoyed a long sojourn at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California, where he teaches introductory linguistics, grammar, freshman writing and (for sanity) the poetry course in the department's array of creative writing offerings. He occasionally teaches in the university's accelerated degree program, commuting across Southern California to remote sites for 4-hour night classes once per week in six-week sessions. No doubt, the missionary spirit is in his blood: his father answered the call to serve the Evangelical Covenant church in Alaska, a venue which Ralph well remembers from childhood. Of greater impact upon his poetry, perhaps (at least in terms of sheer volume), was the Vietnam War. Dr. Carlson's work excels at conveying the all-but-nonsensical paradoxes involved in sudden, incendiary death among pastoral villages of gentle farm folk--images which will haunt our culture as long as that generation lives, and as long as its memoirs are read.
Ralph's collection, Was That Someplace You Were?, suffered an indefinite delay in publication and now appears to hang in limbo: we hope to see another house bring it out in the near future. In the meantime, he continues to write prolifically. He has been a steady and favorite contributor to Praesidium since its inception. We should also mention that he has made numerous trips (health and politics permitting) to southeast Asia and China on humanitarian missions.
Kelly A. Hampton received her B.A. (English) summa cum laude from Union University (Tennessee) and did graduate work at the University of Oregon. As the youngest member of The Center's board, she frequently contributes to Praesidium commentary and reviews about such matters of contemporary interest as science fiction and film. She is especially well versed in the works of Tolkien (including their recent cinematic transformation), in the various incarnations of Star Trek, and in the Star Wars phenomenon. At this writing, she is also hard at work on a novel.
John R. Harris, Ph.D., founded The Center for Literate Values (first christened as The Center for Moral Reason) in 2001. Harris took his BA (English/Latin), MA (Classics), and PhD (Comparative Lit.) at the University of Texas at Austin during the 70s and 80s, where he had occasion to observe our cultural collapse close up. He was particularly appalled by the ravages which sexual liberation and recreational drug use had wrought in his generation's self-esteem. A 15-year career as a college professor did nothing to persuade him that private, ostensibly more conservative institutions had a deeper commitment to the West's beleaguered traditions than his alma mater. Indeed (he opines), the self-styled traditionalist colleges have betrayed Western Christendom as much in their rather cynical courtship of new-gadget consumerism and the accompanying tech-school regimen as the great flagship universities ever did in their surrender to ideology and ethical nihilism.
Among Dr. Harris's scholarly works are Adaptations of Roman Epic in Medieval Ireland (Edwin Mellen, 1998) and Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupéry's Pilot-Hero (Scranton Press, 1999). Lately, he has also written a great deal of fiction, the climax of which is his novel, Footprints in the Snow of the Moon (Mathews, 2003).. Along with this work, he considers his Body Without Breath (Arcturus, 2002), a testament of faith both scholarly and personal, to be his writing career's great achievement. This book is available through The Center upon request.
Michael H. Lythgoe, Lt. Colonel, is retired from the United States Air Force. Like Archilochus of old, Professor Lythgoe has often leaned upon his spear to scrawl some very fine verse. His poems have been published in Christianity and Literature (for which journal he also frequently reviews books), among other places. He was Coordinator of Educational Programs for the Smithsonian Associates until recently. He now lives in Virginia, whose natural beauty has proved highly amenable to his muse.
What It Means, What It Implies
The quarterly Praesidium: A Journal of Literate and Literary Analysis, was first conceived of in the last years of the twentieth century. Its founder, John Harris, received encouragement from such esteemed cultural commentators as Jeffrey Hart, Thomas Molnar, and Christina Hoff Sommers. Praesidium has come to enjoy a small but growing patronage among avid readers with graduate degrees in the Humanities. The journal consistently attempts to handle morally and intellectually complex subjects of the utmost importance to "the good life" (i.e., the life for which human beings were created). Whether in fiction or non-fiction, Praesidium exhibits a higher regard for the truth than for what promises to sell: in fact, the entire operation is non-profit.
So what exactly is a praesidium? It is something which literally "sits before", as in defense of a boundary. The Roman praesidium was a garrison or outpost. The word carries a certain ambivalence, as do all words relating to borders; for if the outpost defends an existing culture from the ebb and flow of barbarity, it is also a lonely island at high tide, cut off from the culture which gives it meaning. Defenders of the literate life's quiet, thoughtful, responsible ways are in just such a position now. We protect a heritage vastly greater than ourselves and our selfish interests--a heritage which, indeed, defines preoccupation with self-interest as barbarity; yet we know that the coastline has shifted, and that little of our culture remains behind us. Our constant solace in this loneliness, however, is the confidence that human beings cannot live and breathe in a slippery chaos of egotism. A great "dry-out" must eventually occur. The only question is whether it will occur through self-annihilation or through the choice of something better.
For the latest issues of Praesidium, the quarterly journal of The Center for Literate Values, click here.
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John and Owen Harris (2001).
Dr. Thomas F. Bertonneau
Owen about to connect for opposite-field hit (note space between hands à la Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins: tradition at its best!)
Dr. Helen R. Andretta, Deputy Chair of English Department at York College (The City University of New York)
Lt. Col. Michael Lythgoe reads one of his poems to an audience more captivated than captive.
It's nice to know that a boy can still love getting a teddy for Christmas.
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