Yes, Professor Joseph Gerard Brennan teaches philosophy (Columbia), but don't be scared off: it's genial Joe Brennan from...



Yes, Professor Joseph Gerard Brennan teaches philosophy (Columbia), but don't be scared off: it's genial Joe Brennan from Boston who's doing the reminiscing here, and all ""high-toned talk about the meaning of life"" is gagged until intimations of mortality (prostate trouble) in the final chapters bring on Hume and Chomsky and Wittgenstein. Earlier chapters bring on O'Connell (William Cardinal), Carmichael (Hoagy), and Ambrose (Sister)--titans in a poor-proud Irish Catholic adolescence devoted to arts promotion at Boston College (""It is not a nude woman, Father. . . it's a picture""), Koussevitsky's Symphony, a summer at sea (in the galley), and barroom piano playing. Graduate work at Harvard and cynicism (""I belong more to the clan of the Shifty than to the tribe of Integrity"") made Brennan a fugitive from the ""R.C. philosopher"" label, and it took a WW II navy stint and a good deal of campus-hopping for him to carve out his free-thinking academic identity. But Brennan's thoughts turn everywhere but inward: he remembers students vividly, lovingly (not just the soon-famous ones like Francine du Plessix and Erica Jong), follows their careers, mourns some suicides; he captures the tonalities of Barnard in the Fifties (""So shut up, already!"") and Sarah Lawrence in the Sixties (""Courtney is in serious danger of failing both Flamenco and Yoga""); he salutes Barnard's beleaguered administrators and reveres Thomas Mann, who shook his hand and said: ""You are very humid."" With few exceptions (as when the ""clitoric power"" of Hofstra student Maria Kazantazkis lured him into writing a paper on Joyce for her), Brennan muses on the sidelines--wife and children are shadows, the only home life is chamber music in Levittown. And though one occasionally itches for greater direct involvement (the Columbia student riots), the professor's interest in others quietly defines his own personality: eclectic enough to share Reinhold Niebuhr's fondness for ""Our Miss Brooks,"" literate enough to ease from F. M. Ford to Egon Schiele to Lope de Vega, pedagogic enough to urge books on us--and warm and alive enough to belie his claims to prejudice, shiftiness, and cynicism.

Pub Date: July 1, 1977


Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1977