My Life Without Leonard Cohen
I met Leonard Cohen in 1954 when I was a student in “Great Writings of European literature,” the only undergraduate course at McGill University that satisfied my idea of the intellectual life. Satisfied it, though, to satiety. Whether our teacher, Louis Dudek, wanted to share his enthusiasm for every work he admired, or knew how slight were our chances of being educated by anyone else, he drove us through the modern classics like sheep before a storm. October 7: Candide; October 12: Zadig; October 21: Rameau’s Nephew; October 26: Rousseau’s Confessions; November 2: La Nouvelle Heloise;. . . I stopped attending some of my other classes.
Dudek’s class met in the Arts Building on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5 to 6 P.M., an hour when the regular university day was ending to make way for the apprentice accountants and other extension-school students. About 50 of us filled all the seats, making the tall room, with our coats and books piled along the aisles and walls, almost homey. By late autumn, darkness fell like a blind over the windows, so that if you tried to look out, you saw only your flushed reflection in the glass. I was anyway what you might call intense, and those classes stoked me to great excitement.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).