Thursday, May 28, 2009

Student's Tribute to John Stasny

Tribute to John Stasny:

The first graduate course I took was Professor John Stasny’s seminar on Victorian Humanism. Of the many fine assigned readings, John Ruskin’s essay “Of Kings’ Treasuries” has become, for me, one of the most memorable. After all, Ruskin’s deliciously digressive piece was about what we graduate students assumed we knew how to do: namely, read well. Many of us soon realized that pride in our reading gifts was a bit misplaced. When, for instance, a weary student would occasionally confess that he had not read all of Pater’s Marius the Epicurean, Prof. Stasny would often respond, with avuncular playfulness, that “Graduate students don’t read; they re-read.” Of course, we would mutter to ourselves that only if Prof. Stasny had to read so many freshman essays would he then understand the readerly torpor brought on by meandering Marius. Then, Ruskin’s words on reading rightly would chime in our minds: “No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again.” Prof. Stasny was redeemed again.

Further in “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” Ruskin reminds us of the rewards of close reading, particularly of reducing our personality. Ruskin might as well have been describing Prof. Stasny, as an inspiring “pastor,” or teacher:

“Having then faithfully listened to the great teachers, that you may enter into their Thoughts, you have yet this higher advance to make;--you have to enter into their Hearts. As you go to them first for clear sight, so you must stay with them, that you may share at last their just and mighty Passion.”

I like to think that I have always stayed with my mentor Prof. Stasny, sharing his passion for Victorian literature and teaching. In fact, as I now look up at the top shelf of the bookcase before me in my study, I see several of the “books of all times” that Prof. Stasny assigned in my first seminar 28 years ago. I am reminded that Prof. Stasny remains a vibrant presence in my life, as a just steward of what Ruskin calls the “aristocracy of companionship” of true books. Moreover, when I take down some of these books and observe the underlining, annotating, and other evidence of re-reading, I also recall John Ruskin’s apt eloquence: “Well, whatever bit of a wise man’s work is honestly and benevolently done, that bit is his book or piece of art.” Thus, the signs of careful reading and its delights found on the pages of my books remind me that Prof. Stasny, as co-founding editor or Victorian Poetry, engaged teacher, and gracious community servant, has indeed written a worthy book of life.

contributed by Peter O'Neill

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