These stories of Midgley's bad behavior are sickening. Apparently, however, you can still learn a bit from a man who behaves like an ass. Think how much more this student might have learned from one who was less of an ass.Russell Arben Fox says:
January 21, 2021 at 10:42 pm
Chad, thank you very much for sharing this here. I read through the entire interview with Midgley, trying to imagine hearing those words in his voice. But I couldn’t quite do it–partly because my memories are so dated (I think the last time I saw him was 25 years ago, and the last time I took a class from him would have been close to 30), but also partly because the Midgley I remember is very colored by the somewhat contentious environment of BYU in the early 1990s, and thus what comes to my mind is an excitable, inquisitive, often accusatory voice, not the reflective, almost pensive one I hear behind the words in the interview on Manwaring’s site.
I took my first class from Midgley during my freshman year, 1987-1988; I think it was the spring, because I remember telling him about my mission call to South Korea. I’m not sure why I took the class; I think it must be that the philosophy class I took from Chauncey Riddle my first semester must have somehow gotten me to think about political philosophy, and Midgley’s class must have appealed to me. I don’t remember what it was called, but it must have been something to do with political theology–he introduced us all to Paul Tillich, Leo Strauss, Michael Harrington, Carl Schmitt, and more. I didn’t have anything like the chops to understand what he was assigning us, but it a great intellectual adventure all the same. Later I took classes from him on the Federalist Papers, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Hume (I think). He was a delight–his long scarves and hat would make him look like a skinny, older version of Tom Baker’s Dr. Who, and we could easily derail him in class, getting him to talk about his figs, or about New Zealand, or Hugh NIbley, who knows what else. I don’t remember him talking about his memories of Europe and the Army, though, so those stories from this interview were especially interesting.
The controversies from BYU in these days–the firing of Cecilia Konchar-Farr, the September Six excommunications, Signature Books, Elder Oaks’s “alternate voices” sermon, and all the rest–were ones that I remember Midgley gleefully jumping into, often with what seemed to me a kind of vindictive delight. In my memory, he’s snarking crudely about D. Michael Quinn, Lavina Anderson, or the VOICE feminist club on campus, or giggling as he shared with anyone who wanted to listen the latest inside joke or snide attack which he and Dan Peterson managed to work into the pages of the FARMS Review of Books. (The story of the “butthead” acrostic, as I remember it from the time, is that Midgley refused to turn in his preliminary copy to get reprinted once the word came down that such behavior should be beneath FARMS’s dignity, and Noel Reynolds had to break into his office to liberate it.) It embarrasses me today to reflect on how much all that affected my opinion of Midgley and all the great things I’d learned from him. I think the last time I saw him, at least as a student, was a day or two before graduation, at some function in the political science department, and I think I was curt with him. That bothers me, and this interview makes me mourn for the larger man and teacher than I judged on the basis of a few impressions of the moment (though I don’t think those judgments were necessarily wrong).
Anyway, sorry for the long reminiscence. Your questions at the end are good ones–it would be fascinating to get Midgley today into a conversation about Wendell Berry and technology, or put him in dialogue with some of the new generation of Mormon theological thinkers like Joseph Spencer. Maybe the philosophical and generational differences would be too great to make for productive discussions, but it would be wonderful to try.
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