In Memory of James A. Berlin Memories of Jim Berlin - JAC Online

In Memory of James A. Berlin Memories of Jim Berlin - JAC Online

In Memory of James A. Berlin Memories of Jim Berlin - JAC Online


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<strong>In</strong> <strong>Memory</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>James</strong> A. <strong>Berlin</strong><br />

<strong>Memories</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong><br />


No single voice can hope to express what <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong> meant to us pr<strong>of</strong>essionally<br />

and personally. We at Purdue were fortunate to have worked with him<br />

closely for seven years, but <strong>Jim</strong> was a colleague, friend, and inspiration to<br />

many others aswell. He shared himself-his time, his support, his ideas-not<br />

only with close friends but also with those in the field whose papers he heard<br />

at conferences or whom he met in bus or plane stations. This piece gathers<br />

together excerpts from tributes <strong>of</strong>fered at the Purdue Faculty Senate and at<br />

the memorial services at Purdue and the ecce.<br />

A Selection from the Memorial Resolution for <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>, Purdue Faculty<br />

Senate<br />

Our colleague <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong> died suddenly <strong>of</strong> a heart attack on February 2, 1994,<br />

after he returned home from his daily jog on the streets <strong>of</strong> West Lafayette.<br />

Surviving immediate family members are his wife Sandy and his sons Chris<br />

and Dan, both <strong>of</strong> whom are students at West Lafayette High School.<br />

<strong>Jim</strong> was a valued member <strong>of</strong> the rhetoric and composition Ph.D. program<br />

within the Department <strong>of</strong> English and a respected figure <strong>of</strong> national<br />

prominence in the field <strong>of</strong> rhetoric and composition. Two published books<br />

helped him build his reputation as a leading rhetoric theorist and historian:<br />

Writing<strong>In</strong>struction in 19th-CenturyAmerican Colleges (Southern Illinois<br />

University Press, 1984) and Rhetoric and Reality: Writing<strong>In</strong>struction in<br />

AmericanColleges,1900-1985(Southern Illinois University Press, 1987). He<br />

published numerous articles in journals such as CollegeEnglishand Pre/Text<br />

and contributed essaysto several major collections. This work, together with<br />

his co-edited book on CulturalStudiesintheEnglishClassroom(Heinemann­<br />

Boynton/Cook, 1993), established him as the primary theorist and leading<br />

spokesperson for the cultural studies movement in composition. He was a<br />

frequent visiting speaker at other universities, known for his intense but<br />

humorous presentations.

584 Joumal<strong>of</strong>AdvancedComposition<br />

<strong>Jim</strong>'s interest in cultural studies arose from his keen sense <strong>of</strong> social<br />

mission, both as a teacher and as a citizen. He had a vision <strong>of</strong> a truly<br />

democratic America, where all citizens would fullyparticipate in civicaffairs<br />

and would share power equally and fairly. He saw the English<br />

curriculum-which influences nearly everybody-as a keyvehicle for accomplishing<br />

this goal. At the time <strong>of</strong> his death, <strong>Jim</strong> was finishing a third major<br />

book-Rhetorics, Poetics,and Cultures:Re-FiguringEnglishStudies (NCTE<br />

Press)-that will be published in 1994 or 1995. <strong>In</strong> this last book <strong>Jim</strong><br />

reconstructs the history <strong>of</strong> English studies, showing how the cultural studies<br />

curriculum can help resolve the century-Old split between "rhetoric" and<br />

"poetics" and how that curriculum can contribute not only to improving<br />

students' writing skills but also to helping them become truly thoughtful and<br />

literate citizens.<br />

<strong>Jim</strong> was born in 1942 in Hamtramck, Michigan. The oldest <strong>of</strong> seven<br />

children, he attended S1. Florian high School in Hamtramck and distinguished<br />

himself there by earning All-State honors in both football and<br />

basketball. He went to Central Michigan University on a football scholarship,<br />

receiving his B.A. and graduating summa cumlaudein 1964. He was an<br />

elementary school teacher in Flint and Detroit before returning to graduate<br />

school in 1969to work on advanced degrees in English. He received both the<br />

M.A. and the Ph.D. from the University <strong>of</strong> Michigan, finishing in 1975. <strong>In</strong><br />

1975 he accepted a position as an assistant pr<strong>of</strong>essor <strong>of</strong> composition at<br />

Wichita State University. From there, he went to the University <strong>of</strong> Cincinnati,<br />

where he served as Director <strong>of</strong> Freshman English from 1981to 1985. He<br />

held visiting appointments at the University <strong>of</strong> Texas and at Penn State<br />

University before coming to Purdue as pr<strong>of</strong>essor <strong>of</strong> English in 1987. <strong>James</strong><br />

Porter,PurdueUniversity<br />

Tributes from Colleagues, Students, and Former Students<br />

<strong>In</strong> 1978, I directed an NEH seminar at Carnegie Mellon. The focus <strong>of</strong> the<br />

seminar was on rhetorical invention. . .. <strong>Jim</strong> became a member <strong>of</strong> that<br />

seminar along with nine other talented people .... All <strong>of</strong> them began giving<br />

birth to avery unusual journal calledPre/Text.Three <strong>of</strong> that wonderful group<br />

<strong>of</strong> people are no longer with us. That is a great loss to the discipline; it is a<br />

great loss to us. RichardYoung,CarnegieMellon University<br />

JB was catching; his laughter and critiques were catching. <strong>Jim</strong> and I were in<br />

transference together. We perpetually argued about what was needed and<br />

desired to be thought and done in our field <strong>of</strong> rhetoric, especially the history<br />

<strong>of</strong> rhetoric. The argument started between us in 1978when we were NEH<br />

fellows working with Dick Young at Carnegie Mellon. <strong>In</strong> our arguments, I<br />

cannot stress enough, JB was unbelievably supportive <strong>of</strong> me. How to explain<br />

that and now how to live without such support? I have lost over 50 percent<br />

<strong>of</strong> my audience-the time it took working and planning and understanding

<strong>In</strong> <strong>Memory</strong><strong>of</strong><strong>James</strong>A. <strong>Berlin</strong> 585<br />

what I was attempting to talk and write about. He's for me irreplaceable, and<br />

obviously the same to so many <strong>of</strong> us. Without <strong>Jim</strong>, my talking and thinking<br />

and writing will no doubt change. We wanted to change but not this kind <strong>of</strong><br />

change. VictorVitanza,University<strong>of</strong> TexasatArlington<br />

When I heard the news about <strong>Jim</strong> I sent a message on E-mail for people to<br />

communicate with me encounters they had had with <strong>Jim</strong>. I'd like to share just<br />

a couple <strong>of</strong> those with you. . .. One person told me a story about a seminar<br />

in which <strong>Jim</strong> was participating at Texaswhen he was there and <strong>Jim</strong> had been<br />

trying to make a point about social constructionism to some reluctant Texas<br />

graduate students. And this graduate student recounted having asked a<br />

question in frustration: "Well, does rhetoric make airplanes fly?" and <strong>Jim</strong><br />

said: "Yes, damn it!" Another person said: "It's easy to be a hot shot scholar.<br />

It's not so easyto keep one's perspective in the process, to remain personable,<br />

humble, approachable in the bargain." <strong>Jim</strong> was a rare and wonderful<br />

individual. Sharon Crowley,University<strong>of</strong> Iowa<br />

To me, <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>'s life can best be characterized by its intensity. He worked<br />

intensely, he argued intensely, he partied intensely, and he loved his family<br />

and friends intensely. And <strong>Jim</strong>'s intensity was infectious, encouraging all<br />

who knew him to work, argue, party, and love more intensely than we might<br />

have otherwise. The conversations <strong>Jim</strong> and I had about teaching and teacher<br />

preparation and his efforts to define our theoretical positions and the<br />

pedagogies they imply have challenged my thinking and inspired me to the<br />

work I'm most proud <strong>of</strong>. Like many others who worked with <strong>Jim</strong>, who read<br />

his work, who knew him, I find myself influenced by him in countless ways.<br />

Irwin Weiser,PurdueUniversity<br />

I feel very much in need <strong>of</strong> a mourning ritual because I am still having a very<br />

hard time grasping the fact that <strong>Jim</strong> is dead.... I am having trouble coming<br />

to terms with this because I didn't realize how much I relied on his work and<br />

on the example <strong>of</strong> his work, both in its theoretical rigor (I think it gave me<br />

courage to think about things that I might not have ventured without that<br />

work being there) and also in its passionate commitment to social justice,<br />

which I think is something that is easy to make fun <strong>of</strong> or to make fun <strong>of</strong><br />

yourself for feeling. The fact that <strong>Jim</strong> never wavered in that commitment was<br />

very sustaining to me, and 1didn't realize until after he was gone how much<br />

I just relied on him being there, sort <strong>of</strong> like a nuclear reactor putting out<br />

energy, putting out this solid base <strong>of</strong> energy and commitment that I was<br />

drawing on without really being aware <strong>of</strong> it. I really needed that energy, and<br />

I don't know what I'm going to do now that I don't have it anymore. 1haven't<br />

figured that out yet. This is just a terrible loss. PatriciaBizzell,Holy Cross<br />


586 Journal <strong>of</strong>Advanced Composition<br />

<strong>Jim</strong> and I corresponded frequently. I loved those dashed out, full-<strong>of</strong>-energy,<br />

handwritten letters-rough, rough-yet filled with that wonderful laugh<br />

booming out through his words. One story I remember about <strong>Jim</strong> took place<br />

at the 1988 WPA Summer Conference in Newport, Rhode Island, where all<br />

<strong>of</strong> the robber barons' summer cottages were. Seven <strong>of</strong> us after this conference<br />

rented a fifty-two foot ketch and went out into the bay for the day. <strong>Jim</strong> took<br />

the tiller <strong>of</strong> that yacht and I got pictures <strong>of</strong> him doing that. He was obviously<br />

enjoying himself. I sent him a snapshot <strong>of</strong> himself piloting that yacht, a<br />

Marxist! I told him that was myblackmail picture. He wrote back saying: "If<br />

it ever comes to a showdown, I'm going to explain that that snapshot was<br />

taken at a cardboard set in an amusement park-innocent amusement, not<br />

decadence. I treasure this picture and what fun we had that day sailing.<br />

TheresaEnos, University<strong>of</strong>Arizona<br />

When news <strong>of</strong> <strong>Jim</strong>'s death reached me there was a letter from <strong>Jim</strong> in my<br />

mailbox. It was a letter from me to him and we had spoken a lot in the month<br />

before he died and I thought I'd be talking with him for another twentyyears<br />

because I needed it. I'm not sure if he needed it, but I needed it and I just<br />

assumed that he'd be around me like an oak tree and his disappearance was<br />

a terrible blow. I've grieved terribly for it and have cried a lot and have been<br />

overwhelmed by grief.... <strong>Jim</strong> was a certain kind <strong>of</strong> man that in the Yiddish<br />

tradition we call a mensch and Jewish boys grow up hearing a lot from their<br />

fathers: "Be a mensch, be a mensch." And we keep looking at them for the<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>ile <strong>of</strong> the mensch to figure out how to do it, which is not as easy to see.<br />

But <strong>Jim</strong> was a certain kind <strong>of</strong> a man .... <strong>Jim</strong> was extremely capable and never<br />

made a big deal about it; his accomplishments rested easily on his shoulders,<br />

which meant that it never was a burden on us who dealt with him because he<br />

wasn't throwing weight around. He just carried the weight very graciously<br />

and this is an achievement given how ferociously socialized all <strong>of</strong> us are, but<br />

especially men, becoming competitive careerists in the waywe deal with each<br />

other. Although <strong>Jim</strong> was taller than me, bigger than me, and stronger than<br />

me, when I talked with him I never felt that we were involved in a macho<br />

verbal wrestling match, which was a really wonderful experience about<br />

relating to him as a man in the academy. IraShor,CityUniversity<strong>of</strong>New York<br />

Many people have talked here about him being attacked, but he attacked a lot<br />

as well and we shouldn't forget that. When we are at CCCC, I feel that we<br />

remember <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong> best if we find the courage to speak our deepest<br />

convictions because that is the way that we will change this pr<strong>of</strong>ession and<br />

that is what <strong>Jim</strong> wanted to do. PatriciaSullivan,PurdueUniversity<br />

We all had our different kinds <strong>of</strong> conversations with <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>. With some<br />

he talked mostly theory, with others teaching or sports or the current<br />

squabbles in the pr<strong>of</strong>ession or politics, and with all <strong>of</strong> us he talked about his

<strong>In</strong> <strong>Memory</strong> <strong>of</strong><strong>James</strong>A. <strong>Berlin</strong> 587<br />

family. With me <strong>Jim</strong> talked, <strong>of</strong> course, about his family and about the upper<br />

peninsula <strong>of</strong> Michigan, which he loved very much. But mostly with me he<br />

talked about politics; I don't mean party politics, but if you knew him at all<br />

well, you'd know that's the case. When he found out, for example, that I was<br />

trying to bring a faculty union to Michigan Tech, he wrote and called regularly<br />

to tell me how important that work was and to warn me that ifwe didn't win,<br />

it might be bad for me but, accepting that, I should go on. We didn't win and<br />

it hasn't been bad for me. But <strong>Jim</strong>'s warnings were fair and appropriate,<br />

because they were about friendship and institutional reality. <strong>In</strong> the last year,<br />

when we talked politics, <strong>Jim</strong> expressed true frustration that maybe he wasn't<br />

doing enough to really make a difference in a world where people are hungry<br />

and homeless and cold. <strong>In</strong> one <strong>of</strong> our last phone conversations, he talked<br />

about how teaching and talking were just not enough .... When you go home<br />

[from the CCCC], if you will give something <strong>of</strong> yourselves to those organizations<br />

[homeless shelters and food banks and soup kitchens], you will make a<br />

better world for <strong>Jim</strong>'s sons, and you will make a better world for each other.<br />

And that is what <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>'s life meant to me. Diana George,Michigan<br />

TechnologicalUniversity<br />

I always responded to <strong>Jim</strong> as a physical presence; I wanted to be close to him<br />

physically, and I've had the same feeling that Sharon has had walking down<br />

the halls. I'm just sure that I'm seeing him and then he disappears. I'm also<br />

learning about my intellectual debt to him by listening to people. Somebody<br />

asked me about <strong>Jim</strong>, somebody who didn't know <strong>Jim</strong> and what role he played<br />

in my life. I tried to recall a time in my pr<strong>of</strong>essional life when I didn't know<br />

<strong>of</strong> or know about or rely on <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>, and I couldn't think <strong>of</strong> that moment.<br />

The first immediate contact I had with him was at the time I gave my first<br />

paper at RSA in 1986 at Arlington, and, as so many <strong>of</strong> you have recounted,<br />

he came to me after the paper and said how much he enjoyed it and how much<br />

we needed people doing that kind <strong>of</strong> work in our pr<strong>of</strong>ession. What a great<br />

thing to hear just in the beginning .... <strong>Jim</strong> was very blunt and very funny and<br />

he would saythings about people that really cut to the heart <strong>of</strong> the matter. He<br />

did have allegiances; he did have opinions and viewsthat he defended in avery<br />

strong way. . .. <strong>Jim</strong> continued to grow and change as an intellectual and I<br />

remember an image <strong>of</strong> him walking down the hall saying: "Can you imagine<br />

this-I'm forty-five years old and they've kept Marx away from me all this<br />

time. I finally got it; I finally got it." Susan Jarratt, Miami University <strong>of</strong> Ohio<br />

I don't remember which CCCC it was and I don't remember which year it was,<br />

but <strong>Jim</strong> looked at me and said: "I love Composition and Resistance, 1 love<br />

.being part <strong>of</strong> the project, but one <strong>of</strong> the things I regret is how many times I<br />

appear in the transcripts; look, I appear more than anyone else. I can't help .<br />

it. 1just want to get involved. 1just want to talk." And I told him a story that<br />

happened in the graduate seminar I was teaching. We were reading Compo-

588 Journal <strong>of</strong>Advanced Composition<br />

sition and Resistance,and one student pointed out, "Look how many times<br />

<strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong> talks." Then another student said, "But look, eighty percent <strong>of</strong> the<br />

time he speaks, it is to encourage other people to talk." Mark Hurlbert,<br />

<strong>In</strong>diana University<strong>of</strong> Pennsylvania<br />

He opened spaces for me, for my students, for the lives I touched. He didn't<br />

just open spaces; he opened them for critique and revisioning .... He opened<br />

a space for mywork, which did not require a sacrificing <strong>of</strong> my passion. And<br />

he infused the lives<strong>of</strong> his colleagues, his students, his familymembers and his<br />

whole pr<strong>of</strong>ession in the same way,daring us to take our work as labor and to<br />

wear faces that mark us as knowing the pain <strong>of</strong> working through, rather than<br />

always already and repeatedly acting out, the theoretical, pedagogical, practical,<br />

structural, and personal injustices <strong>of</strong> our lives and our world, calling us<br />

(can you hear him?) to open spaces for the possibility <strong>of</strong> one another's<br />

existence as we go. NancyDeJoy,NazarethCollege<br />

When I think <strong>of</strong> <strong>Jim</strong>, I think <strong>of</strong> laughter. But Iwant to talk about another part<br />

<strong>of</strong> him that has been important to me. Ialso remember his patience. He could<br />

gauge so well when to critique and when to give us space to work through a<br />

problem at our own pace and our own time. I am grateful to <strong>Jim</strong> for that. He<br />

gave us space to think, and I realize now much more than I did in graduate<br />

school how seldom we are given that gift and how important it is. Susan<br />

Carlton,PacificLutheran University<br />

Not only the field but the program at Purdue has an enormous hole that<br />

cannot be filled. <strong>Jim</strong> gave support to those <strong>of</strong> us who did work that was<br />

marginal to the field, that did work where the field has not yet come. Myrna<br />

Harrienger,TexasTech University<br />

<strong>Jim</strong> joined the picket line when our Tippecanoe Environmental Council<br />

protested toxic water pollution and inadequate dump cleanups along the<br />

Wabash River, and he went to our AFfteachers union meetings, too. He had<br />

a strong sense <strong>of</strong> community, championed student rights, and decried individualism.<br />

Probably, he would now want and expect us to link arms and work<br />

as comrades, fighting injustice. KarenGriggs,PurdueUniversity<br />

Purdue graduate students saw a side <strong>of</strong> <strong>Jim</strong> that few others have been<br />

fortunate enough to see. As much as <strong>Jim</strong> roared against the power <strong>of</strong><br />

oppressive hegemony, those who knew <strong>Jim</strong> knew that he loved life. <strong>Jim</strong> was<br />

directing mydissertation when he passed away. His physical presence will be<br />

missed greatly, but his intellectual presence will remain in my work and the<br />

work <strong>of</strong> many <strong>of</strong> his students and colleagues for a long, long time. Bruce<br />


<strong>In</strong> <strong>Memory</strong><strong>of</strong><strong>James</strong>A. <strong>Berlin</strong> 589<br />

His passion made him a powerful teacher and mentor to me. He pushed me<br />

to do my best work, and though we <strong>of</strong>ten disagreed, I always felt like his<br />

colleague as much as his student. He gave me a lot <strong>of</strong> opportunities, a lot <strong>of</strong><br />

space to learn, and a lot <strong>of</strong> advice- from how to write a proposal to how many<br />

glasses <strong>of</strong> wine I'm allowed when I go on campus interviews. LisaLangstraat,<br />

PurdueUniversity<br />

The dialogue that I shared with Dr. <strong>Berlin</strong> was sometimes tense, but always<br />

instructive .... This dialogue, that began the day he invited me to come up<br />

to his <strong>of</strong>fice to discuss certain ideas, continued throughout my studies in his<br />

courses and culminated in the plan for a ecce presentation. Then tragedy<br />

struck. I mourn the loss <strong>of</strong> my teacher, ally, and friend. I miss his physical<br />

presence, but I am also so thankful to have known him. His brilliance and<br />

enduring spirit leave a permanent impression on my soul and serve as a<br />

constant reminder that I should first be consistent and believe in action and,<br />

second, continue to challenge myself and my students with projects that<br />

reflect his image, the relentless critique <strong>of</strong> the material, social and political<br />

influences. Anne MarieMann Simpkins,PurdueUniversity<br />

<strong>James</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong>, thou shalt be sorely missed in our memories for many years to<br />

come. EdwardP.l. Corbett,OhioState University<br />

PurdueUniversity<br />

WestLafayette,<strong>In</strong>diana<br />

To <strong>Jim</strong><br />


I'm finding it hard to say goodbye to someone who was as much a fixture in<br />

my life as <strong>Jim</strong> <strong>Berlin</strong> was. It's not just that I miss <strong>Jim</strong> personally, which I<br />

certainly do. It's that I had come to count on <strong>Jim</strong>, as I know so many other<br />

people did too.<br />

Over the years <strong>of</strong> talk, correspondence, shared work, and joint projects,<br />

I came to understand that <strong>Jim</strong>'s work, for all the trademark intellectual<br />

sophistication that made <strong>Jim</strong> the leading Marxist rhetorician <strong>of</strong> our generation,<br />

grew out <strong>of</strong> a deeply-felt commitment to keep faith with the historic<br />

moral responsibilities <strong>of</strong> the left to fight oppression and exploitation and to<br />

represent the aspirations and lived experience <strong>of</strong> ordinary people and their

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