As I’ve mentioned in various places, Peter got a full four-year scholarship to Caltech, but flunked out after the first quarter. He subsequently attended the University of Washington, but didn’t graduate from there either. (I know very little about his time at UW.) About ten years later, he attended the University of California at Berkeley.
He had expected to graduate from Berkeley at the end of the 1971–1972 school year, but at some point in that school year, he found out that there was an English reading and composition requirement that he hadn’t fulfilled.
And so he wrote the following letter to request an exemption from the requirement. It was eight typewritten pages long. I’ve attempted to preserve some of the formatting (including underlines, even though I normally wouldn’t use those in a web page), but decided not to try to display it in typewriter font or to preserve line breaks. I did preserve Peter’s occasional typos/misspellings (though it’s possible that I’ve also introduced a few new ones of my own). Feel free to skim or skip the long lists of authors.
I don’t know for sure that this request was granted, but Peter did graduate from Berkeley in 1972, so either they granted him an exemption or he ended up completing the requirement after all.
After the letter, I’ll add some notes and comments.
(Peter was about 32 years old when he wrote this. Marcy was about 28, I was 3 or 4, and my brother Jay was 1 or 2.)
"On the Ineluctable
Integral and Rodential
It Shall Come to Pass
We Shall Be Delivered
This Whole Rat-Race
George Peter Hartman
In lieu of eighty pages of inane and sophomoric drivel (esoteric exegeses, simpering obsequies, pompous posturings, and mincing minutiae), I herein forthrightly submit clear and compelling reasons for my exemption from the freshman English reading and composition requirement for graduation from the University of California.
Following the "Instructions Concerning Petition for Waiver of the Reading and Composition Requirement," I submit my qualifications below.
- I was admitted to the College of Letters and Science with 99 units of college credit from California Institute of Technology and University of Washington.
- I took the "Subject A" exemption test and passed it with a score of 98.
- As I recall, I was exempted from the freshman composition and reading requirement at University of Washington by virtue of my score in the English section of the College Entrance Board's examination.
- At University of Washington, I took five upper-division English courses, six philosophy courses, and a Greek classics course: my grades were all A's and B's. These courses required term papers averaging 3000 words in length.
- I took these courses more than ten years ago, and the professors under whom I studied are either retired or deceased, or would not remember me, and I have taken no humanities courses here at University of California, so no faculty member is qualified to write a letter in my behalf.
- At University of Washington, my English courses included several survey courses ("Introduction to Poetry," "Introduction to Literature"), and a James Joyce course (we read "Dubliners," "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," and "Ulysses"). In philosophy, I took such courses as "Philosophy of Art," "Epistemology," and "Advanced Symbolic Logic."
I submit an article I wrote which was recently published in "The Villager," a magazine ("kitchen-rag") published for and by families residing in University Village married students' housing. (My wife, in addition to caring for our two children, has worked as editor of this publication for three quarters.)
I also submit a paper written for a mathematics class, Math 188, Algebraic Theory of Finite-State Automata, conducted by Professor John Rhodes, the famous algebraist. He found this paper very interesting but, not being in a "humanities" department, he could not write a letter supporting this petition.
In addition to school classes, I have done a great deal of prose writing in other capacities. From 1953 to 1956 I was a member of two correspondence organizations (International Science-Fiction Corresponding Club and National Fantasy Fan Federation), and wrote many letters to people all over this country, and also published (and wrote) one issue of a magazine called "Chaos" (fortunately no copies remain extant). I also served as secretary of my high-school Math Club, Science Club, Latin Club (minutes taken in English, not Latin), and of my church's Luther League. In 1959 I served as secretary of the Seattle Youth Committee for Integration, and also helped to compose many polemics and propagandistic leaflets.
Honors I have received which reflect my writing ability include a high-school poetry award, the Bosch and Lomb Science Award, and being a Westinghouse S. T. S. finalist and National Merit Scholar.
- One factor extenuating my error in not understanding this requirement for graduation until this late date is that not one of the four advisors I have spoken with here ever advised me of my deficiency at any time, including this quarter. I had overlooked this on a previous computer statement, believing that my sixty credits in humanities would fulfill the requirement in this area. The math courses I am enrolled in are Intermediate Real Analysis (a department requirement) and two other courses which are offered only once each year, in the spring. (Moreover, the eminent teacher of one of these is retiring at the end of this quarter.) I consider these courses essential to my training as a mathematics teacher (History of Mathematics is a Math-for-Teachers requirement). To drop one or both of these electives in order to make up my English deficiency is to delay my graduation by a year. Furthermore, it is doubtful that I would be able to graduate at all, because
- since I had planned to graduate in June, I did not apply for financial aid for 1972-73;
- while I am currently receiving aid from Alameda County Welfare Department, this stipend will be discontinued in June; and
- the work-study position I now hold (fifteen hours per week) will terminate in June.
These considerations mean that I would have no funds to continue in school during the summer or next fall.
2) and 3): I do not know any humanities professors, and none know me, which rather dims my prospects for obtaining a letter from one "strongly supporting my petition."
Also, all of the term papers I wrote for the classes listed in 1.b. above were written more than ten years ago: not only are these papers no longer a valid measure of my composition ability, but also I have serious doubts that I will be able to find them, since I have had at least twenty-five addresses since that time, and at one point all of my possessions were stolen, including many personal papers and files. I have asked my mother to look for any papers which might have found their way to my parents' home, but it is very dubious that any can be found.
So, aside from all this picayunish fribble, I feel that the real basis of my petition is that, by no reasonable standard of judgment could I be considered uncultured, uneducated, unread, or illiterate.
I know that, according to C. P. Snow's critique of the "two cultures," scientists are often culturally [word elided by Jed], and non-scientists often grievously, egregiously ignorant of the scientific and mathematical principles underlying our modern technological society. Understanding the importance of integrating all sides of my life ("developing a well-rounded personality"), I have endeavored since childhood to maintain a balance between what Nietzsche (in "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music") describes as the Apollonian (scientific) and the Dionysian (humanistic) tendencies. Thus all the strains of my delvings in the fertile fields of mathematics and science have been but one theme, contrapuntal to the tones of my deep immersions in the cool waters of philosophy, psychology, and religion, and in the hot-springs of poetry, myth, and fiction; and all of my work and play becomes ever more embedded in a larger, unifying Orchestration, performed in the Sun-Light of Life, Love, Beauty, and Truth.
I will not attempt to list the mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, information theory, astronomy, and geology books I have been poking into for the last twenty-five years, but I shall try to list below a major portion of the psychology, religion, poetry, philosophy, and literature books I have explored.
If an author's name is listed without any of his books' titles, it is to be understood that I have read his or her complete works (or very nearly so).
Classics and Mythology
Plato, Heraclitus, Homer; Ovid (in Latin); Bhagavad-Gita, Panchatantra, Dhammapada, Chuang-Tzu, Lao-Tsu; Arabian Nights; Omar Khayyam; Aesop; Joseph Campbell, Philip Slater, Carl Jung.
e. e. cummings, Kenneth Patchen, LeRoi Jones, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder; Aleister Crowley, Gerald Manley Hopkins, William Blake (some), Walt Whitman; Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan; Dylan Thomas, Stephen Vincent Benét (some), Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll; Goethe (some), Shakespeare (sonnets), Rilke, Chaucer (some), Coleridge, Tolkein; T. S. Eliot, John Donne, Robert Service, Rudyard Kipling (some), Vachel Lindsay, E. A. Robinson, Carl Sandberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robinson Jeffers.
Fiction and Drama
Shakespeare (five or six plays), Marlowe, Cervantes; Rabelais, Voltaire (Candide), Swift (A Modest Proposal and Gulliver's Travels); Flaubert (Madame Bovary); Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress); Dickens (Tale of Two Cities); Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker; Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, de Quincy; O. Henry, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, H. Rider Haggard, Saki, Jack London; Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, C.S. Forrester; E. M. Forster (Passage to India); Frank Norris (The Octopus), Thomas Wolfe (Of Time and the River), John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath), Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Faulkner (much), James Farrell (Studs Lonigan trilogy), Nelson Algren; Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man); Hesse (most); Dostoievsky (most), Lermontov (A Hero of Our Own Time); Camus, Sartre (much); Henry Miller (much), Anais Nin (some), D. H. Lawrence (much); Adamov (Ping-Pong), Beckett (much), Celine; Orwell (most); William Burroughs, Kerouac, Patchen; Stendhal (The Red and the Black and Charterhouse of Parma); James Joyce (all but Finnegan's Wake); André Gide (some); Poe, Kafka; T. H. White (The Once and Future King), J.R.R. Tolkein; Jules Verne, James Stevens (Crock of Gold), Wyss (Swiss Family Robinson), L. Frank Baum, Charles Kingsley (Water Babies), Joel Chandler Harris, Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, A.A. Milne; Arthur Miller (The Crucible); Carson McCullers; Knut Hamsun (some); Norman Mailer, Philip Wylie, Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, etc.), Saul Bellow (most); de Sade (much); and much science-fiction--my favorite authors have been: Asimov, Boucher, Clarke, Clement, Conklin, Delany, Dick, Harlan Ellison, Wyman Guin, Gernsback, Heinlein, Herbert, Kornbluth, Kuttner, Lieber, Leinster, Walter Miller, Pohl, Rafferty, Eric Frank Russell, Simac, Sheckley, Spinrad, Sturgeon, Tenn, van Vogt, Vonnegut, Wells, Williamson, Bernard Wolfe, Wyndham, and Poul Anderson, and Olaf Stapledon, Bradbury, Blish, Bretnor, Brown, and Budris, Bester.
Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion
Russell and Whitehead, Wittgenstein; Korzybsky; Wiener and von Neumann; John Newman (History of Mathematics) and E. T. Bell; John Lilly (Programming the Human Biocomputer); Dag Hammarskjöld (Markings); Loren Eiseley; Alan Watts, du Chardin; Aldous Huxley, Laura Huxley, Christmas Humphreys; Aleister Crowley, Paul Foster Case, Dion Fortune, Arthur Fort, Charles Fort; Mircea Eliade (much); Geza Roheim (some), G. Groddeck, Freud (much), Jung (much), Steckel (much), Eric Fromm (much), Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves (some); Carl Rogers, Barry Stevens (some); Norman O. Brown; Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization); Wilhelm Reich; Alexandra David-Neel; Wilson van Dusen, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Das); Buckminster Fuller (most); Boole, de Broglie, Descartes, Dirac, Heisenberg, Peano, Gödel, Carnap; Edward Hall; Idreis Shah, Hazrat Inayat Khan; Takagawa (Vital Points of Go); W. Y. Evans-Wentz; Edward Conze (some); John Holt, R. D. Laing (much), Philip Slater... ... ... .
In view of (a) my sixty credits in college humanities courses, (b) my extensive and intensive reading background, (c) my pressing financial hardship, and (d) my published article and my paper on "The Hamiltonian of Go" (Hamiltonian is a word coined by Leibnitz to mean "the greatest amount of life with the least amount of strife"), I claim that my exigency merits a special dispensation, and I request that the computer's automatous judgment be manually overridden by a compassionate human hand.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Some notes and thoughts from Jed
On the one hand, this letter makes me roll my eyes a bit. It feels overdone to me—it feels like Peter was trying way too hard to show off his erudition, and I suspect that most of this letter was wasted on his audience. It’s also repetitive, and includes a bunch of stuff that I suspect the professors found irrelevant at best.
On the other hand, I recognize myself in this letter. I have written this sort of thing on multiple occasions (including both in college (trying to get around an academic requirement) and earlier this year (when I was upset about something at work)), and so I wince at the overlong self-righteous complaint format while at the same time smiling ruefully and sympathetically at it. (See also Justice tempered with Mercy: a parking-ticket story.)
A few specific comments:
- Eleuthero-Entelechy: I gather that eleuther- has to do with freedom, and entelechy has to do with coming into being, or with something that causes an end. So I’m guessing that Peter intended Eleuthero-Entelechy to mean essentially what he said in the subtitle: “It Shall Come to Pass that We Shall Be Delivered.” Or, to put it another way, he was saying “I hope you’ll grant me freedom.”
- This letter could have used an editor. If you’re trying to show off how good you are at composition, then (for example) it may not be a good idea to leave out the number 1 at the start of your outline (not to mention using both Arabic and Roman numerals at the same level of the outline), nor to finish an alphabetical list of author names and then add several more as afterthoughts, nor to include duplicate names in your lists, nor to use contradictory arguments (he says that old work doesn’t show his current abilities, but cites a lot of his old work as evidence that he should get an exemption). Nor to misspell half a dozen author names. (For one among several examples, I’m pretty sure that by Rafferty he meant R. A. Lafferty.)
- I don’t have the article he wrote for The Villager, nor the math paper he mentions. I do have his “Hamiltonian of Go” paper, which I’ll digitize at some point.
- Apparently at the time, he was planning to become a math teacher. He didn’t do that after graduation, nor for the next couple of decades. But in the 1990s, he went back to school and got a Master’s degree and finally became a math teacher. Until I re-read this letter to post it here, I hadn’t remembered that he had wanted to be a math teacher that long ago.
- Re Apollonian and Dionysian: unlike Peter, I haven’t read Nietzsche’s use of these terms, but I’m surprised to see him say that they refer to the dichotomy between science and the humanities. Wikipedia says: “Apollo is the god of the sun, of rational thinking and order, and appeals to logic, prudence and purity. Dionysus is the god of wine and dance, of irrationality and chaos, and appeals to emotions and instincts.” When, thirty years later, Peter told me that he felt I was too Apollonian and not Dionysian enough, I took him to mean I was too focused on intellectual pursuits and not enough on emotional and physical ones. I took umbrage at that. But if he really just meant that I was doing too much math and not enough English, that’s even weirder.
- I would be very surprised if the people who were considering this exemption request (in 1972) considered the list of 40 science fiction authors to count as evidence of being well-read.
- Similarly, Peter’s inclusion of a bunch of scientists and mathematicians (and a go player) in the Philosophy list feels like grasping for straws, especially after he said that he wasn’t going to list science and math stuff.
- More generally, it feels to me like Peter was trying to overwhelm his audience with sheer quantity. Why would reading Milne and Aesop and Lewis Carroll be evidence of not needing to take a college English class? Likewise with having been secretary of high school clubs 15 years previous? Likewise with having written an article for a neighborhood newsletter edited by his wife?
- Out of the 200 authors he listed here, I think over 90% are white men. It looks like about 4% of the authors are men of color and 4% white women.
- Thanks to KJ for typing up the first couple pages of this letter, a few years ago.