Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The pale faced youth

For the miniscule segment of In the Middle's reading population who delight in the minutiae of the non-disembodied life of its primary author, I offer the following: an excerpt from a piece that my brother is about to publish in the newspaper he edits (Minnesota Lawyer). It touches upon the episode in my misspent childhood that touched off conversations here and here. This is the introduction to a forthcoming editor's column on tort reform and Ireland:
Here we are again in the middle of a sweltering Minnesota July. I could write about judicial elections (the filing period ended last week) or about Ken Lay dying. (Did Lay have it coming? In the words of one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movie lines, “We all have it coming.”)

But I thought this might be a good time to roll back the clock a few months and take you to the rainy wind-swept hills of Ireland, where I stood with my brother last March.

My brother Jeffrey and I were very close growing up. He was always the studious sort. I recall an entire summer that Jeff tucked himself away in his room reading J.R.R. Tolkien books. Not just the “Lord of the Rings” series -- which I also enjoyed -- but more obscure works such as the Silmarillion and various other tomes focusing on the languages of Middle Earth. When he emerged from his self-imposed cocoon, I mockingly called my tan-deprived sibling the “pale-faced youth.”

Little did I know then that Jeff was actually preparing for his future career. He got his Ph.D. in medieval literature from Harvard and is now a medievalist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He written a number of books on such esoteric topics as medieval monsters and masculinity, and recently took over as the chair of GW’s English Department.

Every few years Jeff and I try to take a jaunt together as a way of keeping close and getting away from the hustle and bustle of our jobs and daily lives. After considering a variety of alternatives, we settled on the Emerald Isle for this year’s trip.

"Pale-faced youth," for those of you whose memory of Dickens is not what it once was, is the constant descriptor of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations. Just goes to show that my brother might have had a brilliant career as a literary scholar, if only the gods of jurisprudence, journalism and commerce (he has an MBA as well as JD) had not earned his worship instead.

Look for some humiliating story about my brother Mark to appear in this space soon. It will be sweetened, though, by what he implies in his own familial anecdote: that we have always been and will always be the best of friends.

By the way, I continue to be tan deprived. No one likes a leathery scholar.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Interesting post, Jeffrey. And thanks for the nod that I could have been a literary scholar (I coulda been a contenda'!). However, after reading some of the lengthy discussion on that subject on this blog, I have determines to get myself involved in a more socially useful pursuit, such as providing janitorial services ... ;0)
Kidding! Carry on thy good work ye friends of Chaucer. How can the pursuit of knowledge be a bad thing? Well, off to lunch with my good friend Oedipus and his seeing eye dog.

- Jeffrey's brother, Mark

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Don't get lost.

Anonymous said...

On the pursuit of knowledge, I recall us to Kaushitaku Upanishad 3.8:

It is not speech which we should want to know: we should know the speaker.
It is not things seen which we should want to know: we should know the seer.
It is not sounds which we should want to know: we should know the hearer.
It is not the mind which we should want to know: we should know the thinker.