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T H E   G I V E N   O R D E R
Commencement 2001 

No Right Angles

When you see a flaming nun, you think, "parody." But in the case of the Morse College Literary Magazine, you would be wrong.

The nuns-a-poppin' occur in an excerpt from "Visions of the Night," by Michael Shulman. Shulman's piece, the dramatic tale of a medieval sister who is burnt at the stake for sounding like a guest on "Oprah," is only the most obvious example of a failure of imagination that weakens the entire magazine. Several of the magazine's authors rely on stereotypes, soothing the Yale superiority complex rather than challenging it by forcing us to empathize with and understand people who don't mouth the cliches of the Yale majority.

Shulman's relativist nun offers us such "Chocolat"-coated statements as, "Be yourself, always, and never lose sight of your individuality. Never lose what drives you, however rebellious you might seem." The rebel nun continues, "Perhaps a rebel is one who believes that the pursuit of freedom is not a sin." Yeah, thanks, Sister Platitude. "For chaos breeds new order, and new order will eventually breed chaos. ...Do not fear change, for in fear comes hate." The nun's lines are a cross between Yoda, Whitney Houston, Nietzsche and fortune cookies.

Then lots of nuns catch fire.

This isn't just a problem of bad writing. The scorched sisters are only one element of a magazine that demonstrates one of the key features of received Yale wisdom: not a hatred of what is different, but merely
an inability to understand.

Other stories in the magazine demonstrate this inability as much as Shulman's does. The excerpt from "Mother, Did You Shit Your Pants?", by Ashley Lucas, consists mainly in displaying the enlightened characters' superiority over white hicks who call people "Mexicans" instead of "Chicanos." The same author's "Blinding Sight" describes a type of sadistic Catholic education that no doubt existed in some places--just as there really are some greedy Jews, dumb farmers, and lazy black people. But as with the stereotypes just listed, the stereotype of the Protestant-hating, life-hating, self-hating schoolmarm nun does not expand the reader's imagination or worldview. Such portrayals serve as self-congratulatory reminders that, after all, Yalies are better people than these narrow-minded caricatures.

The Right is often, and often justly, criticized for emphasizing content over form. Liberal, Leftist or proudly "unaffiliated" critics proclaim that the Right will praise any trash as long as it upholds "family values." Similarly, the Right is accused of refusing to recognize literary greatness if it comes with approval of moral choices and philosophical beliefs we don't like.

But the most recent edition of Morse's literary magazine proves how wrongheaded this accusation really is. Many great works of literature--from King Lear to Philip Larkin's "Aubade"--have disagreed with and attempted to refute basic right-wing premises. But these works won recognition for greatness because of the breadth of their imagination. They could force us to enter into the consciousness of people with whom we disagree; they could force us to love those whom we might prefer to revile.

The Morse magazine's stories could have performed the same great aesthetic task. Lucas could have allowed us to see the shouting, self-satisfied nuns as individuals, with reasons for their actions, self-understandings, loves as well as hatreds. Taking the reader inside a worldview he doesn't share is a difficult and honorable task--and one that the Morse writers, for the most part, refused.

Thus the magazine's failing on "conservative" grounds is really a failing on aesthetic grounds. Its authors cannot even imagine that their philosophical opponents lead lives that are complex and human.

 

 
The Yale Free Press is published by students ofYale University. 
Yale University is not responsible for its 
contents. By the same
token, The Yale Free Press is not responsible for the contents of Yale
University.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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