The Enduring Achievement of Ed Ericson

17Apr08

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into Ed Ericson in the Hiemenga library lobby and quickly pulled him into the conversation I was having with a student I was interviewing. I let her know (while reminding him) that perhaps his greatest claim to fame at Calvin — alongside his ponderous and vital scholarship on Solzhenitsyn — was the fact that he quarterbacked the Faculty Fumblers to victory over the puny Jacques des Chimes for a whole glorious era because he threw a masterful short game. We were soon joined by former chaplain Dale Cooper and had a lovely bit of chat, in the course of which I told Ed I knew that he was on the festival roster to talk about Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, and I promised to come.

Ed Ericson is my former professor in, among other subjects, Russian literature, and he is a friend. And even after looking over the festival roster, deep in celebrity and literary excellence, I found Ed’s presentation of a paper on “The Enduring Achievement of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,” as the sesssion that attracted me the most. It reminded me that the best thing about the Festival of Faith and Writing is its roots in the community here at Calvin, which boasts people like Ed and Dale and students who do things worth writing about. Apparently, others were likeminded, because the Meeter Center lecture hall was packed. “I’m surrounded by former students,” whispered Ed before taking the lectern and delivering this bit of advice to his fellow festival speakers: “Homegrow your audience.”

And then Ed showed the assembled that, though retired, he had not lost even a half-step as a scholar (and who can say ought of his throwing arm?) as he gave a lecture that was thoughtful, forceful and entertaining. Ed knows where to bury the joke, as he did at the end of his poscript when he ruminated that the “last gasp of his career,” a book on Solzhenitsyn soon to be released in Moscow, is written in a language he can’t read.

He spoke of Solzhynitsyn’s suffering and bravery and his lionization as a “one-man-counterforce to the Soviet state” and then of the author’s fall from critical grace, when, following the fall of the Soviet state, when so many of things associated with it — even the opposition — were in decline and subject to ridicule. And he spoke of gradual rediscovery of Solzhenitsyn and his work, and of how the critic who predicted his enduring relevance was looking more and more like a genuine prophet. I left the session thinking about Ed and how great it was to read Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky and Bulgakov and Gogol and Turgenev under his pedagogical eye, of how he spent one class dressed up as Tolstoy, taking questions from young readers. I sit thinking now of how he carefully typed his critical notes on our papers, and how insightful, though blunt, they invariably were. So, even though he never opposed a totalitarian regime, I think there’s something to be said for a professor who continues to turn out fresh relevant scholarship well into retirement — and perhaps more to be said for one who built the kind of relationships with his former students that so many of them were eager to show up to hear him.

~posted by Myrna

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