have been meaning to write this letter for about eight years. Like most
I arrived as an undergraduate at
None of this may sound any different from any other introductory lecture in any other university. Yet when I walked out of the room I felt sick. My chest felt empty and hollow. Nothing would ever make it feel whole again. Everything he said was terrible and wonderful and perplexing in the extreme. The experience was utterly strange. And the experience was repeated week after week through four years.
I took every course that Crick taught and then some. When I wasn’t in class I was a fixture in his doorway asking questions. Sometimes I would walk with him through the hallways.
When I needed one more course in order to graduate at the end of my fourth year he gave me a reading course in the living room of his home. We sat in two antique chairs underneath stained glass windows. The sun would shine through the windows as it set at the end of every spring day. Beams of sunlight would cast rainbows across the walls at the far end of the room. I would like to say that we had conversations but really he spoke and I listened. I listened with all the care and deliberation that I could muster feeling that I had been granted a rare opportunity.
Brian Crick secured me a place in the graduate program at Dalhousie twice. He is the only reason I went to graduate school. My dissertation grows out of an argument he made once in the last lecture of a course on the English novel.
He is the only professor I know whose students still attend his lectures years after they have graduated, sometimes taking time from work to do so. Some students come back twenty years after leaving Brock.
Before meeting Professor Crick, I had no critical judgment. I had no understanding of the importance of language and thought. I had never heard of literary criticism. I had no knowledge of English literature. I had no sense of tradition or history. I did not enjoy reading. I could not make an argument. He taught me all of these things.
His courses always exemplified his ideal that real criticism occurs in conversations. His lectures were opportunities for students to overhear the conversations he had with the authors of the books he read and judged to be important. He enabled us to overhear conversations between authors who sometimes lived and wrote hundreds of years apart. Every lecture might have been expanded into several doctoral dissertations. He never gives the same lecture twice; instead he plays on questions and problems as if he were a fine jazz musician. His seminars always exemplified the liberty of thought and discussion that should characterize the university. During his classes the ideal of the university is a reality.
I still have every note I wrote in his classes. They are records of arguments about language and literature that are absolutely distinct. Crick’s lectures could never be mistaken. I have never heard anyone so fearless. Unfortunately my notes capture neither the seriousness nor the humorousness of the lectures. Nor do they convey the dynamic nature of the man as he thought aloud for us to listen.
I have never seen the same level of teaching from any other professor. He was always looking for an argument but we rarely gave him one. He was always thinking about problems but we rarely broke from our habit of thinking there are no problems. We rarely met his standards for critical thought. Very few do.
the advertising campaign slogans for
DiSanto, Michael John. “Editorial.” The New Compass: A Critical Review 2 (December 2003) <http://www.thenewcompass.ca/dec2003/editorial.html>