MY PARENTS WERE REMARKABLY WISE, and one of the
things they tried to teach their foolish son was never to brag.
In the first place, our few noteworthy accomplishments in life are
rarely achieved without the contribution and active support of many
others. Second, bragging is unbecoming to others. But most important,
it annoys the gods who, from what I could understand as a child,
seemed to spend most of their time devising ways to keep mortals
merely mortal. Even here in this earthly paradise called UCLA.
As chair of the country’s largest academic
program in literatures in English, I have come to dread every fall
when my colleagues begin identifying worthy and desirable candidates
for those faculty positions we must fill in order to keep our program
one of the very best in the nation.
This anxiety arises not from any doubts I have that
these search committees have not identified several of the brightest,
most stimulating and innovative literary scholars and teachers in
their canvass of the profession. In this, they never fail, and the
faculty in the department greets these prospective colleagues with
anticipations of intellectual comradery and challenge, the virtues
that keep us all alive in the university. No, my anxiety arises
from the increasing difficulty we face in working out the practical
problems in introducing people to the economic logistics of Los
We have the good weather, the great libraries, the
cultural attractions that justify in larger, social terms the work
we do as humanists. We have emerged, often in ways those of us who
have spent 30, 40 years here don’t always appreciate, a world-class
city, a fascinating, creative, frustrating, challenging environment
that must somehow be mastered in order to understand what human
life in the 21st century is going to mean.
years ago I heard from a colleague at a prestigious university on
the East Coast that it seemed almost everyone he knew in the profession
wanted to come to UCLA, particularly in January and February.