Mark Edmundson is a professor of literature who has said some interesting things about the quarrel between philosophy and poetry , as well as the larger cultural implications of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Does he make sense in all of these cases? No. He’s a little too trendy for my tastes. But he nonetheless makes observations with a literary panache and critical acumen that leads a reader like me to think in ways that further inquiry.

But then, that may be too generous given evidence in his recent riff on a lyric of a Bruce Springsteen song, “Hungry Heart.”

He says that our current students lack “hungry hearts.” As Springsteen has it, we’re all hungry.

But this observation as Edmundson wants to make it is simply a shallow permutation of Allan Bloom’s “Souls Without Longing.”

At least Bloom was concerned with that toward which toward souls ought to be longing. Even if Bloom was skeptical regarding the completion to be found in God (or artistic beauty or political justice), Bloom also offered the character of Socrates as exemplary of probity that was even beyond Nietzsche’s redlichheit.

Bloom offered the idea of the “philosopher” who was erotically unattached to anything that was particular other than that which was otherwise considered to be important in the highest sense (noesis noesios?).

Edmundson, on the other hand, offers us the “hungry heart” who goes to college, and who hopes to find some meaning. But this student is still a “hungry heart” a la Bruce Springsteen not St. Augustine.

I agree that without a hungry heart education becomes stale. However praising Springsteen’s hungry heart seems to be praising one aspect of the current problem from which we suffer. I’m not sure that dead beat dads who would rather get drunk in terms of their own freedom is worth celebrating, even if such types tend to be the deepest in terms of human questions (but usually after very painful stories the like that Bruce Springsteen is masterful). This is the reality that Springsteen is singing.

So I am not sure that Edmundson encouraging “hungry hearts” is encouraging the best of education.

After all the Springsteen lyrics say—

“Got a wife and kids in Baltimore jack;
I went for a ride and I never went back . . . ”

This may be true, but it is way too harsh a basis from which one could defend the liberal arts and true longings which transcend ordinary definition. It speaks of the empty transcendence of freedom to be one’s own in such a way that at best one becomes a recluse like Greta Garbo who only wanted to be alone.

I thought Edmundson was worthwhile reading in his other books, but on this one interpretation of the “hungry heart” he is beyond the pale, and I wonder of his sanity.

Surrely there is a better defense of the liberal arts and its freedom of thought than the “dead beat” dad of Springsteen’s song. Springsteen himself knows better than this.

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Articles by John Presnall

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