October 1, 2001
Ronald Schuchard is Goodrich C. White Professor of English
An exciting University and communal event begins next Sunday afternoon
when the English novelist David Lodge, author of such comic satires on
the academic world as Changing Places and Small World, comes
to Emory to deliver the sixth series of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in
Modern Literature (see
Many of us still feel the formidable intellectual presence of his predecessor
in 1999, English novelist A.S. Byatt, and there are some who recall the
inaugural lecture and stirring voice of Irish poet and Nobel laureate
Seamus Heaney in 1988. Still others know and affirm the lasting impact
of Ellmanns own lectures during the decade he came to Emory annually
from Oxford University before his death in 1987.
Frequently I am asked about Ellmann and the lectures endowed in his name;
the questions come from colleagues in all divisions of the University
who have read and enjoyed his award-winning biographies of Joyce, Yeats
and Wilde. Thus, in anticipation of Lodges arrival, I am grateful
for the opportunity to characterize the Ellmann Lectures in this column
for our whole community.
When Richard Ellmann came to teach at Emory each spring from 1976 (becoming
our first Woodruff Professor in 1982), he brought with him new public
lecturesThe Uses of Decadence, Oscar Wilde at
Oxford, Henry James Among the Aesthetes, Freud
and Literary Biography, James Joyce: Side and Front Views,
W.B. Yeats Second Puberty, Samuel Beckett: Nayman
of Noland and othersthat collectively were a testament to
his extraordinary range as a critic of modern letters.
All of these lectures were soon published separately by the Library of
Congress as models of their kind. The audiences that assembled for those
lectures were unlike other University audiences. People from every academic
department were there; they came because they knew Ellmann addressed the
general reader, illuminated the relation of literature and life, and spoke
with an urbanity, a wry humor and wit, and an elegance and sureness of
language not to be heard elsewhere.
When it became apparent that illness would prevent his annual return,
the University acted at once to preserve the legacy with a lecture series
worthy of his contribution both to Emory and to modern letters. Before
his death, he chose his friend Heaney to give the inaugural series.
From their inception, the Ellmann Lectures aimed to commission major
writers and critics to step outside their creative or scholarly writing
and deliver three original lectures on a topic in modern literature of
abiding importance to them. The creative writers conclude with a reading
from their own work, while the critics invite a major poet of their choosing
to conclude the series. Thus, with the lectures of Denis Donoghue, Helen
Vendler, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., we enjoyed, respectively, the presence
of Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Anthony Hecht and Jorie Graham and Nobel
laureate Wole Soyinka.
The high quality of the lecturers is entrusted to an international selection
committee comprised of Ellmanns former students, colleagues and
friends, all of whom treasure the humanistic tradition of his writing
and lecturing. Removing themselves from academic politics and trends,
they are charged to identify writers and critics who are themselves removed
from the encoded language (or jargon) of academic schools and coteries
and who can speak eloquently of their personal engagement with serious
literature to a general audience. The committee always welcomes nominations
of future lecturers from members of the Emory community.
It is of immense importance to the humanities that some of the great
lectureships are alive and well today, some in their second century: the
Clarendon Lectures at Oxford, the Clark Lectures at Cambridge, the Norton
Lectures at Harvard, the Anderson Lectures at Toronto, the Trilling Lectures
at Columbia, the Bancroft Lectures at Berkeley and a few others.
But even in their young history, the Ellmann Lectures at Emory have quickly joined the ranks of these prominent predecessors; they are all necessary beacons of intellectual excellence, the living voice, the spoken word; they all maintain a vital humanistic tradition in the midst of academic cycles and transformations. They themselves continually generate significant, unexpected developments:
When Heaney donated to Emory all the manuscripts and correspondence related
to his lectures, the Woodruff Library was motivated to develop its unrivaled
archives of contemporary Irish literature during the following decade.
The sustained excellence of the lectures has led to Emorys fruitful
relation with Harvard University Press, which now publishes and distributes
each series to a large number of readers.
In the short aftermath of our national catastrophe, the Ellmann Lectures
invite our gradual return to a rational world and a celebration of imaginative
writing. We have in David Lodge one of the master novelists of our time
to speak to us about Consciousness and the Novel. His three
lectures grow out of several years of intensive research that he undertook
in cognitive science in preparation for his new novel Thinks
Lodges restless, philandering protagonist, Ralph Messenger, director
of the prestigious Center for Cognitive Science at a major research university
and much in demand as a pundit on artificial intelligence and human consciousness,
enters into a series of relationships, events and discoveries that dramatically
underscore the truth of his primary dictum: We can never know for
certain what another person is thinking.
As novelists can learn from cognitive science, Lodge believes, so can cognitive scientists learn from consciousness in novels. Thus, I heartily invite everyone in the Emory community to attend David Lodges Ellmann Lectures and his reading. It will be Classic Lodge. There are many simple reasons for coming; as one woman replied when asked why she flew across the country to come to the last series, I just like to be bathed in the language.