After years in Los Angeles, New York, and, most recently, Monterey-Carmel-Pebble Beach, my wife and I once again packed up and moved across the country—this time to Jacksonville, Florida. Packing always reminds me of my year at AUP: I arrived at JFK for the voyage over with such a preposterous amount of luggage that, by today’s baggage-fee standards, I might just as well have purchased an airplane rather than an airplane ticket. Acting on what was then an apparently air-tight logic that I can no longer recall, I’d decided to pack dozens of books in a gargantuan trunk: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot, Nadeau’s History of Surrealism, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, not just Ulysses, but also Finnegans Wake. . . .
As I loaded book after book into boxes last month, it struck me that it will have been twenty years this March since I received my acceptance letter from AUP. The stereotypical reflections this pending anniversary conjured—“Am I really nearly 40? How did that happen?”—were swiftly followed up by some fantastic news: Students for whom I had written letters of recommendation to AUP were now getting their acceptances. In fact, the first email I received when we finally got our internet service up and running in Jacksonville was from a senior at the private school I’d just left in Pebble Beach ebulliently announcing that she had gotten into AUP.
I can understand her excitement as she considers AUP and the adventure she has ahead. For me, Paris and AUP were the first major steps in what seems to have become a life of exploring different cities, different cultures, and different careers. Indeed, I credit AUP, and the Comparative Literature department in particular, with fostering this desire, willingness and ability to explore, to experiment, to move. Classes such as Dan Gunn’s Eliot, Kafka, and Waugh and Richard Beardsworth’s Postmodernisms—back in the days when Richard was a part of Comp. Lit.—introduced me to and instilled in me passions, lessons, and ways of viewing and approaching the world—the power to see relations across seemingly disparate things, the necessity to recognize and respect difference—that I still carry with me and utilize actively today. Professor Gunn’s course kicked off, among numerous other things, a life-long love of Waugh; I can’t really go two weeks without reading something by him. Professor Beardsworth’s course took me from philosophy and literature and opened paths into architecture, film, and contemporary art. (Professor Burhan in the Art History department was tremendously patient and helpful with my foray into art history. Although my attempts to become an art historian were a resounding failure, I did manage to marry one!) Comp. Lit., AUP, and Paris have, for nearly twenty years now, stood in my mind as an amazing intersection from which one can go anywhere and do anything.
After such a life-altering year in Paris at AUP, the first place I wanted to go after finishing my BA in New York was back to Paris! After another year in Paris, I decided to try Los Angeles, where, when I wasn’t drop-jawed in disbelief at the traffic and preponderance of people “in the industry,” I pursued graduate studies in Comparative Literature at USC and ultimately wrote a doctorate investigating the link between medical conceptions of physical bodies and political conceptions of the social body in 18th century French texts. From there, it was back to New York City and two exciting forays into the publishing world: first, a wonderful five-year stint producing local language editions of Newsweek, helping bring the magazine into China, Poland, Russia, the Middle East, and even, briefly, France; second, working as a reader for The Paris Review in the time after the death of founder George Plimpton. A move back to California was just the chance I’d looked for to try my hand at teaching literature to high school students, and I was very lucky to find The Stevenson School waiting at the edge of a golf course, not far from the Pacific. My four years there were exhilarating and exhausting, and though I never did learn to golf, I discovered how incredible it is to work with eager, intelligent, and creative young people. I found myself teaching courses similar to those I’d once taken at AUP. Readings I’d explored in Professor Gunn’s Shakespeare class now formed the cornerstone of my sophomore classes. I got to introduce a somewhat baffled group of sixteen-year-olds to Waugh through “A House of Gentlefolk” and its unfortunate protagonist, Bats—short for “Bats in the Belfry.” A senior elective began with Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and veered into territory I first scouted in Professor Beardsworth’s class: Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Rossi’s The Architecture of the City, and Lyotard’s “Answering the Question: What is the Postmodern?”. This past December brought with it requests for hundreds of letters of recommendation to colleges for outgoing seniors—many of those letters written to AUP. I was so pleased to learn that loads of my favorite students were considering AUP. As some of them hopefully go off to love Paris and AUP and to work with and get to know the great people I knew there, I too stand poised for my next adventure.
What will I do in Jacksonville? That remains to be seen. Publishing? Teaching? Something new? I’ll certainly start by rallying around my wife, as she takes over the directorship of the contemporary art museum here and we learn the unique charm of the South (As we’re continually told: Jacksonville is not Miami or Orlando. Rather than South Beach and Disney World, Jacksonville channels Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans.). Whatever that next adventure is, I’m looking forward to it, and as I look back twenty years to my time at AUP, I’m not in the least surprised that it still seems so close.
–David Kammerman, 91’-92’