07 December 2011

Well [Spoken] Wednesdays: Dr Whalen edition

Dr. Whalen. What can I say? Not only brilliant but wise; highly academic yet the most personable individual imaginable after-hours; irreverent and devout; simultaneously jolly and strict, which in my opinion, is the best of all possible worlds in a teacher; and a father of multitudes (no really, he has ten kids).

As my friend Carly once observed, "Dr. Whalen could probably make a whole world in his head, then stay there forever because it would be so interesting."

It's difficult to summarize the giant personalities I encountered in the shape of my professors. How can I describe people, especially people of such depth and variety, in a few sentences?

I can't. So I'll just tell you what they said. The marginalia of Dr David Whalen . . . sing hey nonny nonny!


The Worlds of G.K. Chesterton

“Get in touch with your inner Macbeth.”
“Nineteenth century people are much stranger than we think.”
“You don’t get to collect your randomness and package it up to make free will.”
“I cannot compete with leaves, even dead ones.”
"Wonder is what we experience when we realize that we don’t understand.”
“Science tells us what man is, but not who Ted is.”
“The purely rational intellectual has jettisoned many modes of understanding the world.”
“How many dolphins do you play poker with?”
“Put us on Olympus, and we deny the existence of the gods.”
“Reality is shot through with meaning.”
“Why do we all look like sick peacocks?”
“You’ve all perfected the student sigh.”
“Here I thought I was buying a normal house, but AAAH!!!! It’s haunted by the ghosts of twelve year olds saying, ‘Feed me peanut butter and jelly!’”
“Hollywood is all about explosions and heavy breathing.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to monopolize our non-discussion.”
“Whatever happened to household staff?”
“What you guys need to do is gossip more.”
“It is always fascinating when science discovers something we always knew was true.”
“You’re going to a snowman for an anatomy lesson! Don’t do that!”
“I am now modern consciousness incarnate.”
“The whole premise of chivalry is that women aren’t the same as men!”
“How are you going to run a country if you can’t even run a stove?”
“That’s not a joke; it’s too stupid.”
“If you ever have a vision of a supernatural being, just shut up.”
“Up with despotism!”
“You’re all Aristotelian and you can’t help it.”
“Well, I guess that’s fun for people who have no life.” 


British Victorian and Modern Literature*

“This grammar is agitated!”
“You should nod sagely in a timely manner.”
“I will be your surrogate metaphysical foundation, baby.”
“If I could write a poem half that good, I would be intolerably proud.”
“You always get in trouble trying to be profound. Let us be superficial.”
“I hurt, therefore I am.”
“I hope you enjoy being depressed!”
“You walk in an aura of inner luminosity.”
“Be careful where you place your sponge.”
“Babies swallow in both directions.”
“Last time I checked, holding someone upside down by the ankles was not the embrace of affection.”
“You didn’t realize that faith was a set of teeth, did you!”
“Literature is not the same as politics.”
“You know you’re good when every else knows they’re not.”
“If this were a different course, I’d answer that question.”
“I like rolling around on broken glass in the nude, and you like paying to see it. We’re meant for each other!”
“The middle class, as we all know, is a little bovine. So they stay Christians a lot longer.”
“Cultures don’t act like persons.”
“I suppose you could get married in a recreational way.”
“I’m being really orange with you.”
“Don’t you feel your life falling apart already?”
“Forget the prostitute for a minute.”
“Well, you can have two different opinions about opium.”
“A good sentence is like a romance.”
“Release your inner goose!”
“Patterns are how your mind works.”
“If you don’t admire this, you aren’t awake.”
“Dig your claws into this sentence like a mountain lion riding a horse.”
“I owe you the truth, not convenience.”
“Your meat is rhythmical.”
“Marks of a good parent: more is better, and sooner is better.”
“Are you robust this morning?”
“Your experience is a combination of cuticles and infinity.”
“Love is the ultimate greased pig.”
“You see? Economics explains mystical theology!”
“Nihilism is poverty turned into metaphysics.”
“Hemingway would have made a good Franciscan.” 
"Never dance with a chair.”
“Christians are basically geese.”
“I mean, he’s completely mad, but he’s cool.”
“Look, if we wanted to be Italian, we’d stop bathing!”
“There has to be a high level of uselessness in what you learn for us [the Hillsdale faculty] to be proud of it.”
“Child labor and tax deductions: that’s all children are good for.”
“The English will believe anything bad about a Catholic.”
“Christians are the religious fainting goats of the world.”
“Being married is incredibly handy. There’s no end to the use you can get out of a wife.”
“So these aliens come down and suck up all the socks.”
“I’m being very clean.”
“He’s metaphysically naked.”
“Those guys hadn’t even invented deodorant. How could they build good cathedrals?”
“You’re all going to have very good lives because you are so easily amused.”
“It’s not noble. But it’s interesting.”
“What if trees had toenails?”
“He’s a hot dog!”
“Education and romance are actually very similar activities.”
“You’re all lousy little children.”
“Wow, a beautiful dead dame!”
“Now I’m going to say something which will convince you that I’m insane.”
“Something’s going on with your forehead if you have a two-inch growth coming out of it.”
“This is not just a word game, you guys.”
“To effect the effect, do you need the all this?”
“William Shakespeare and Mother Goose are the two pinnacles of English literature.”
“The most important things in the world are inherently un-talkaboutable.”
“You’re allowed to ridicule your dear friends. They’re rather silly.”
“Ahh! Digressions within digressions!”
“You owe your parents respect every though they dress funny.”
“Christmas was not a big huge deal before the Victorian Age.”
“You all know, of course, that ‘epilogue’ means ‘kick the log’ in Greek.”
“And as I keep telling you, things is be different.”
“We are both cynics and stupid.”
“They’re as gay as three-dollar bills!”
“Faith is a lot, by the way.”
“The Victorians are excellent guys. What’s more, they wear interesting hats.”
“Thinking is no less dangerous than emotion.”
“Who cares that Mom died? The sale ends at five!”
“All newborns look like one of two people: Winston Churchill or Mr. Magoo.”
“Tupperware comes from Troy.”
“This is hot fudge romantic love.”
“There are thesis topics floating around like snowflakes!”
“I’m going to be unfair . . . but we don’t have all day.”
“Shall I ruin your lives forever?”
“We’re all homeless now.”
“In those old European towns there’s a church every block. And since the Reformation, there are three.”
"We all know what rank immoralities result from bare table legs.”
"People do have their own minds, drat it.”
“A paper cannot be a mere transcription of what’s in your head.”
“What would it be like to swoon at the sight of an ankle?” 
“That’s probably not just butter-uppery.”
“Think dramatically!”
“The Irish are among history’s greatest losers.”
“If you use semi-colons incorrectly, I promise to haunt you for a hundred years.”
“Literary critics make their money by making what is obvious dubious.”
“If the day starts with vodka on your cornflakes, something is wrong.”
“This is like an antelope cantaloupe.”
“Where do you stand on the great acrylic sock debate?”
“They are fundamentally sane people.”
“No pun is too stupid.”
“I’m being dis-ennobled!”
“The fact that you care will make your life hell.”
“You don’t marry someone to change them.”
“Confront the complicated reality!”
“Oh, the heck with Christianity.”
“It’s almost never an accident.”
“That is a long way of agreeing by means of a digressive excursion into disagreement.”
“You need to learn to enjoy a world of juxtapositions.”
“I’m going to write notes on the wall.”
“There’s no God, so I guess I’ll settle for you, toots.”
“Why are some ways of dying so comical?”
“They are both How I Put Myself Together stories.”
“You are mysteries to me.”
“I know this is going to surprise you, but alcohol has been around for a long time.”
"Things have meaning. Your blasted elbow has meaning!"
“Here’s the essence of modernism: ‘You’re alone, baby.’ And the ‘baby’ part is important.” 
“To be a good liberal arts student, you must be a complete sucker.”
“Forget God for a minute.”
“Vomit is always very funny.”
“An ocean is not a toenail.”
“Horrible things happen at dances: people get engaged.”
“This is the modern period. Belief is not available to you.”
“Gentlemen don’t kill each other from across the room.”
“And you’re all crazy as bats!”
“This is moodfully meaningful.”
“You’re a face, not a people.”
“This is all very whimsical, but it’s completely deadly.”
“I’m having a sense impression! Whee!”
“Killing someone is kind of a big deal.”
“This is like calling a nudist colony the fashion capital of the world.”
“Birds have no sense of civic decency at all.”
“And you thought you were going to get the hubba-hubba!”
“Things can always get worse.” 
"You can’t hide out in art. You can’t hide in reality either.”
“People are stupid.”
“Perk up, it’s the twenty-first century!”
 "Frisbee is the sport of the absurd.”
“This sentence is a great mine field.”
“It’s especially useful to have your wife on your head when it’s raining.”
“Go marry yourself.”
“I’m not being cynical!”
“The system for studying is the same as always: first, sacrifice chickens to the pagan deities of your choice.”
“It’s unusual for me to end a class on a cheerful note.”
“How do you get a poodle to fly a jet?”
“You’re going to be a martyr. Bully for you!”
“Have a good life! Be of good cheer! Sing hey-nonny-nonny!”** 


*It was while sitting in this class that I had two crucial revelations. First, I realized that I was ready to get married. (This was in the spring of 2008, when as we know, a certain person was having similar thoughts). Dr. Whalen didn't contribute to this so much as the fact that everyone sitting in my row that semester was either dating or engaged, causing me to ask myself the question: Would I? And I would.

Second, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I finally made the connection between the classic pursuits of liberal education-- truth, goodness, beauty-- and God Himself. He is the ultimate truth, the ultimate goodness, the ultimate beauty. That's why it makes so much sense to chase after that wonderful trio: because in their purest forms they spring from and sing the glories of the Lord. They are not frivolous, nor even secondary, certainly not worldly distractions. They are elements of God's very nature, and encountered here on earth, are authored directly by Him. This Dr. Whalen did show me, and I'm so grateful.

**This is how Dr. Whalen ends nearly every class.

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