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July 12, 2010


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

This was an inspiring post, especially for a Monday morning. It prompted me to read Ellison's remarkable essay, which is as profoundly moving as Miss Harrison's mentoring metaphor. Having spent more time outside the academy than in, I was particularly struck by Ellison's story of his encounter with the "foul-mouthed black workingmen [who] were locked in verbal combat over which of two celebrated Metropolitan Opera divas was the superior soprano!" Indeed these men "were products of both past AND present; were both coal heavers and Met extras; were both workingmen AND opera buffs."

And the conclusion, which invokes what is now often thought to be a timeworn if not tiresome metaphor: "Where there's a melting pot there's smoke, and where there's smoke it is not simply optimistic to expect fire, it's imperative to watch for the phoenix's vernacular, but transcendent rising."

Alfred Brophy

Thanks for the kind words, Patrick. Yes--the vignette about the Opera men was fabulous! Never know where you're going to meet people schooled in a topic, nor know how they acquired that knowledge. And it's a reminder of how many places people can learn about a topic, including law.

Now we just need to figure out the modern equivalents of those men, especially for the legal world. Ellison wrote in "The Perspective of Literature" about JD Randolph (as in Jefferson Davis Randolph), an African American janitor who worked in the law library at the Oklahoma state house. He was knowledgeable about law -- perhaps he's the modern equivalent?

Maybe it's the woman who works in the clerk's office in the Tuscaloosa county courthouse who lawyers go to to ask how to handle title problems. As she modestly phrases it, "I'm just a bootleg lawyer." To which the response is, some form of, "you're the most knowledgeable property lawyer in the county."

But here's something else cool about Ellison's essay -- it first appeared in the American Scholar. Ellison shared a name with Emerson (Ellison's full name was Ralph Waldo Ellison) and followed his thought in some ways, and his essay appeared in a journal whose name was inspired by Emerson's address.

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