"Mr. von Stade, since becoming Dean of Freshmen in 1952, has performed his duties with commendable vitality and notable success." This description, in the new Yearbook 328, is not false; it is simply uninformative and insufficient to give a picture of any man.
The Yearbook pictures the rest of the visible part of Harvard College with the same lack of focus. The euphoric encyclopedism that informs its copy makes me wonder what brainrot plagues the folks at 52 Dunster Street.
"The Academic Year," for example, is a mindless compilation of equally mindless CRIMSON front-page news stories. It lists in perfunctory paragraphs local personalities prominent this year, speakers who visited Harvard, and educational issues mentioned in the CRIMSON.
This information might make working notes for a satisfactory account of the academic year. That it is no such account is indicated most clearly by the first three paragraphs of the article, which end:
. . . words are never more clearly unequal to emotion than in the face of tragedy. The public meaning of the assassination is, by necessity, the one that will go into the histories.
And quickly, before the reader realizes nothing has been said about the assassination of President Kennedy, the details of the Kennedy Library plan wash over the page.
Apparently so little care was devoted to this article that no editor read it all the way through. On page 113 is the story of Gov. Wallace's visit. On page 114 we read: "Two governors visited Harvard: Terry Sanford of North Carolina and Edmund G. (Pat) Brown of California."
"The Academic Year" ought to talk of intellectual endeavor at Harvard. It might, for example, discuss the Faculty booklet on examinations, ignored in the Yearbook as in the CRIMSON. It might try to say why there is a need for the Doty committee; is not General Education hunky-dory? and if not, why not? The constructive possibilities for selection and interpretation are endless. The Yearbook's "Academic Year," while not false, is too inadequate to be a true account.
The same holds for the Yearbook's coverage of every other area of Harvard life with which I am familiar. I recall my freshman year well enough to know that it was more than the permutation of cliches offered in "The Yard." Are Yearbook editors too aged to recall, for example, the exhilirating social liquidity of those first weeks in the Yard, and then the gelling of circles of friends? A vivid picture of even one part of the freshman year would give "The Yard" some life.
The articles on music and drama tickle the ribs of some devilish and urgent problems, then lapse into ticking off performances and productions. The House articles remain at the architecture-and-Christmas-play stage. The article on the CRIMSON, apparently the in-group bile of some disgruntled CRIMSON editor, ignored the effects of increasing academic competition for student's time on the performance of the paper.
Finally, the Faculty caricatures, all but tour of full professors, convey no sense either that Faculty members have anything but papier mache between their ears or that this is what the Harvard student meets in his classes at Harvard. Why doesn't the Yearbook look in detail at a professor or two to show that the life of intellect is worthwhile (or worthless, as the case may be)? Why not a feature on the too-familiar teaching fellow, what his problems are and how he solves them?
The sole exception to the general incoherence of the Yearbook's articles on areas I know is Ellen Lake's discussion of civil rights action in the Harvard and Boston communities, mistitled "The Color of Protest." Miss Lake's essay contained all the narrative material of the usual Yearbook piece, but gave the facts a past and a future.
It was the only article worth the trouble of finding out who wrote it. Perhaps the Yearbook editors ought to require all contributors to sign their work, in the text of the book. The ignominy of identification might frighten them--many, CRIMSON editors--into thinking about what they write.
I have no special competence to judge pictures, but only a few in this book (the lonely freshman crossing the Yard, the Weld boathouse in mist, Aggrey Awori jumping, and the extraordinary portraits of James Baldwin, Joe Russin, and A. Weil) struck me as exceptional. On examination, the nine pictures in the opening section "November 22, 1963" capture the grief of the moment only because of the headlines in two of them; otherwise, they simply show inarticulately a depression that does not point to anything. The rest of the pictures are standard and boring. Perhaps they are our images of Harvard and the ones we ought to bear away; I hope not.
I cannot complain about the layout or production of this 400-page book (except that there did seem to be many defective copies).
It is a sad measure of the quality of this, the last separate Harvard Yearbook that its most interesting section is the raw data at the back: the seniors and their three-line condensations of four years. Perhaps next year the editors will complement the production techniques they use so well with a conception of the Yearbook's message. If that message is that Harvard life is a chaos, Yearbook 329 ought to say so and document its claim. At least the attempt would make 329 a volume of more than commendable vitality and notable success.