David Marr Oral History Interview


David Marr Oral History Interview
30 August 2016
31 August 2016
8 September 2016
David Marr
Eirik Steinhoff
extracted text
David Marr
Interviewed by Eirik Steinhoff
The Evergreen State College Oral History Project
Interview 1, August 30, 2016

Steinhoff: Today is August 30, and I’m sitting with David Marr and we are going to get under way with
the first chapter of our oral history. The project is to record stories from Evergreen’s history. I’ve just
read your brief, but very useful manual, “What exactly is a project?” One of the beautiful things you say
there is that there is a relationship between questions and inquiries. But I think the way we should begin
is by establishing the topic, which is you, in this case. And then as the topic becomes clearer for both of
us, but particularly for me, then perhaps some questions could emerge that would shape that inquiry.
Marr: All right.
Steinhoff: I think the place to begin is with your beginning. You were born, and then you went to
school, your parents—anything that feels pertinent in that direction.
Marr: Good. Down to about here [points to list of questions given narrators], maybe, before college?
Steinhoff: Sounds great.
Marr: Okay. I was born on September 27, 1943 in Clinton, Iowa, an industrial town on the Mississippi
River. The industrial part is important for a number of reasons. I won’t waste our time with a detailed
history of Clinton, Iowa which is magnificently boring. But the town was a product of the mid-19th
Century. By the 1890s it had become a mill town because at that time the forests of Minnesota were
being logged off. And the logs were strapped together and sent down the Mississippi as log rafts, and
then picked off at the various river towns and milled into boards, and then in our case wooden toys,
sash for windows and things of that kind. And at the same time in the 1890s a different kind of industry
was growing up which bore directly, eventually, on my life. It was a corn processing factory, Clinton


Foods. Trainloads of field corn would come into this plant where the corn would be processed into grain
for hogs and cattle, sugar, syrup, corn starch, and corn oil. This is the factory where my father worked
after he left the farm in the 1920s. He worked in the feed house, where temperatures rose above 100
degrees in the summer, shoveling feed. He was born in Jackson County, which borders on Clinton
County to the north, to a very poor dirt farmer family in 1909. He finished school through the sixth
grade and all his life was a functional illiterate: he could write his name and he could read the
newspaper, though it was hard for him; he read word by word, it seemed, his finger moving across the
page. My mother was born in Clinton, in 1911, worked as a housemaid when she was a teenager, and
finished school through the eleventh grade. They were married in 1929. Their first child, my brother
Stephen, died at six or eight months of age in 1930. I have three sisters, born in 1932, 1935 and 1949.
The corn processing plant, as I said, my father was a laborer. And then, as you may know, with
factory jobs if you’re in a union you can bid on other jobs. And he bid on a rigging job during the late
’30s, early ’40s, and got it, he became a rigger. Which in this place meant, it wasn’t like an oil rigger, if
you were a rigger in this kind of a factory you were semiskilled, that is you were below millwrights,
machinists and electricians, but you were above common laborers. And your job was to move
equipment around. He was very good at this. And by the ’50s he became a foreman, sharing in the
affluence, relative affluence that is, post-war affluence of the ’50s. He actually was able to buy a new car
in 1949, a Pontiac, and build a house in the middle-’50s. Now the big family he came from included one
brother who was a carpenter and another who was a pipefitter , and so the carpenter brother, whose
life he had once saved when they were kids, he and my father and I—I was about 14—and my brotherin-law, an electrician, built this place, built this little house in Clinton, Iowa. So he goes from nothing to
something, even though it’s not much.
And during that time, of course, I’m going to school. I went to kindergarten year in the Lutheran
church school. I went there at the age of four because you couldn’t get into public school until you were


5. And the reason I went there was so my mother could take a job in a garment factory for a short
period of time, it was kind of built-in babysitting. And then when I was about to turn 5 since my birthday
is in September, after school starts, it’s a rule, they made me go to kindergarten all over again. Now, I
didn’t really feel any disgrace in that, but I didn’t want to do it, and neither did my parents. So I had to
test out of kindergarten. I did. [laughing] It was my only big academic accomplishment until I was in
about ninth grade. But, I tested out of kindergarten, went to first grade.
Steinhoff: Do you remember the terms of the test at all?
Marr: No actually I don’t. That’s a very good question. Kindergarten then was nothing like it is now.
Now you’re expected to know your ABC’s by the time you start, but you’re also going to be 5 or 6 when
you start. I don’t remember the test, but I guess I was able enough.
Steinhoff: You also mentioned it was a Lutheran church school, so were there doctrinal inflections that
a 4-year-old was able to pick up? Were you going to church?
Marr: Not a single one. I was just in kindergarten and screwing around with the little girl in front of me.
No, nothing like that, thank goodness because the synod was Missouri so it was one of these no holds
barred, it was the most conservative Lutheran synod.1 Had there been anything doctrinal it would have
been of the worst kind, I mean from my point of view now.
Steinhoff: Exactly. So it sounds like there was an element of convenience, which is what you mentioned
with your mother being able to go to work so that you were occupied.
Marr: I was occupied because I remember it was all day so it was very convenient.
Steinhoff: Sure. And did your family go to a Lutheran church?


Clinton was a town divided down the middle by the historical legacy of the Protestant Reformation: Lutherans vs.
Catholics, who together made up around three-quarters of the population (36,000) when I was growing up. My
minister routinely condemned the Pope as the Anti-Christ, and my Catholic friends said their priests just as
routinely denounced the heretic Martin Luther.


Marr: Yeah. My mother’s side of the family were the church-going ones. My father’s parents were not
as much but he came along and became church-going. My mother’s parents and relatives all went to
the same church.
Steinhoff: For you, did that continue through high school with the family?
Marr: Well, I went to church and I was confirmed, somewhat miraculously, so to speak, because I was
not very, I could not make myself memorize the catechism. But somehow I got through it and I was
confirmed. And after that, I think I was 12 or 13 maybe, I gradually drifted away from the church and I
never went back. It became a sore point for my mother especially. She wanted our children baptized.
Could not understand how we could not do that.
Steinhoff: We’re jumping ahead a little bit, and I’m prying because my grandfather, my father’s father
was a Lutheran minister.
Marr: What synod?
Steinhoff: I’m not absolutely sure, but I do remember legendary discussions about the Missouri Synod.
He ended up being a missionary in south India. Anyway, not to deviate entirely, it’s just to identify
another point in common.
Marr: No, that’s very interesting.
Steinhoff: So, we’ve gotten you into, well, you’ve skipped kindergarten so now you’re in first grade?
Marr: I mean, I did kindergarten in Lutheran school.
Steinhoff: You skipped the public school’s.
Marr: I skipped and I’m in first grade. Would you be interested in memories from first grade?
Steinhoff: I would be.
Marr: Well, when I was in the Writers’ Workshop for a while at the University of Iowa many years later I
was assigned to write a story. And the story I wrote was called “From Kindergarten to First Grade.” And
it’s the story of a little boy who enters the first grade classroom, a day or two late. So all the kids are


there and they all look at me and the teacher made a, you know: “This is little Davey, he’s going to join
us,” and all that kind of stuff. But I remember distinctly one little girl going like this. [makes an ugly face
and gestures with his hands to suggest clawing or scratching, or a spider crawling.] So, that was my
welcome to first grade. Another memory is that we would sit around in little half-moon arrangements of
kids to have reading sessions, or music lessons. And I always got seated next to a girl by the name of
Myrtle Green. Myrtle Green was from an even poorer family than I was, from the other side of the
tracks. And she didn’t bathe, and she always stank. And not only that, maybe she belonged to the
proper name club or something, but in the winter she apparently had a cold all the time and there was a
little bit of green snot that would bubble from her nose when she spoke. I won’t forget that. Poor
Steinhoff: I’m sure.
Marr: Yeah. But, my first grade teacher, by the way— Well, my kindergarten teacher for just a couple,
three days was Miss Devoe, and she was a lovely young woman. My first grade teacher was Miss
Schlecht who was 50, and dour and severe. By the time I got to third grade, though, there was a teacher
that liked me and kind of doted on me, Mrs. Rock. And so she encouraged me. I had her again in fifth
grade. I was lucky to pass fourth grade because I was such a bad kid, screwing around in class and
driving Mrs. Danielson crazy. It was all Ronnie Herd’s fault, of course, not mine.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh. I’m sure. But, Mrs. Rock who in third and fifth grade was able to recognize
something, draw something out, encourage something?
Marr: She was, yeah. She did exactly all of that, and not just with me. She was a very vibrant woman.
She got us to do plays. I don’t know, she was the kind of teacher you should have, at least a lot of kids
should have. She wasn’t fluffy, you learned, but it was a lively place.
Steinhoff: Yeah. So, were your siblings in the same school?


Marr: No, not at the same time. By the time I came along the next oldest sister was eight years old, and
the oldest was eleven. My youngest is six years younger, so I’m kind of a middle child in some ways. Not
strictly, I suppose.
Steinhoff: But because of that distance you weren’t on their coattails.
Marr: No, not at all. And nobody ever said, “Are you the brother of so-and-so?” Maybe once or twice. I
was more likely to be asked if I was Marshall Marr’s son.
Steinhoff: And so then, do I have the sequence right? There would be elementary school, middle
school, high school?
Marr: Well, it was, yeah, elementary school and then junior high school—seven, eight, nine—and then
10, 11, 12 for high school. The biggest development in my life during the years leading into junior high
school was when I was 12 two things happened. My Aunt Lorena, who was the wife of one of my
father’s brothers, she didn’t have any children by choice because she carried the hemophiliac gene. And
so she had two nephews, I was one of them and the other was a little hemophiliac kid by the same name
actually. And she gave us presents at Christmas time and birthdays and so on, nothing lavish. But the
thing that made a difference that I’m talking about was for Christmas when I was 12 she gave me a
chemistry set, one of those that’s in a box like so, a thin box. I didn’t just throw it in a corner and let it
gather dust, I became an amateur chemist. So by the time I was 16 I had probably the fifth largest
chemistry laboratory in my basement in Clinton, Iowa.
Steinhoff: Oh my.
Marr: I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was quite a project, I spent all my time down there. It
was built in the new house I was telling you about. So by the time I went to college, I applied to college, I
was planning to be a chemist and so that’s why I applied to Iowa State, and got in.
The other big thing that happened when I was 12 is that I went to work in the summer for
money. And in those days if you were a kid that wanted to work for money you might get paid 50 cents


an hour, if you were lucky. I got paid a dollar an hour because I was working for this guy across the
street who was a brick layer and a carpenter. And so in two or three summers from that time on I
worked for him and then for another carpenter later on so that by the time we built our house I was
more than just a teenage boy with a strong back, I actually knew how to use some tools. So that was
good for my parents, getting the house built where I could actually do things. I used the money I made
in summer jobs to buy chemicals and laboratory equipment and to buy jazz records through the
Columbia Record Club.
Steinhoff: So, it sounds like the chemistry thing, well it came from outside of school and it allowed you
to cultivate a practice that was extracurricular but then also intersected with scholastic priorities.
Marr: That’s exactly what happened. In our high school the sequence was physics when you’re a junior
and chemistry when you’re a senior. I was a B student in everything [but only occasionally studied]. We
had over 400 students in our sophomore class. Something like 50 of them got pregnant by the time
graduation rolled around. But out of my class I came to be known as the guy who knew chemistry. When
all the other kids were coming up they didn’t know anything about chemistry. Some proved to be really
good in physics and I was okay, or a little bit better than okay in physics, and then came chemistry. Of
course I flew through chemistry. Got to college and we could take two quarters in one and I did that, I
got an A. Then the second quarter came around, which would be the third quarter, and I got a B. And
then the third quarter came around and I got a C. By that time I was disillusioned with science, in a
sense, more lazy than anything else because I had developed a friendship with a guy by the name of
Tom Schuppe who was a fifth year student in the fraternity I was living in. And he was, of all things, an
English major at this engineering and ag. university. And he gave me a book to read called The Catcher in
the Rye. He said, “Read this book and we’ll talk.” So I did. We never talked much but I had the distinct
impression upon reading the book that this was simultaneously absolutely gripping and completely
unfathomable to me. I didn’t have the slightest idea what I thought of it, or how to think about anything


but I was swept up in it. And again, you know, not because I could identify in any social or economic way
with Holden Caulfield, of course, given where he came from and where I came from, but something
about the teenage years and being maybe too self-conscious for my own good, somewhat like Holden,
perhaps, I don’t know.
Steinhoff: Interesting. Can we time stamp the Tom Schuppe recommendation?
Marr: Yeah, it would have been the spring of 1962 because my first year in college was 1961-62.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: In Ames, Iowa.
Steinhoff: Yeah, Iowa State.
Marr: Iowa State. And so I read the book, decided that English was for me, and applied to the University
of Iowa and transferred there and started there in the following fall.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: And at the same time got married.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: Got married that summer.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: Which was also when I was working at the factory where my father worked.
Steinhoff: And so, tell me a little bit about that, the encounter, the marriage.
Marr: Oh, well, Susan. We were in the same high school, she was from the south end of town, I was
from the north. And there were two big factories in that town, one was the corn processing factory
where my father worked, the other one was a DuPont cellophane factory, and her father worked there.
So we got to know each other when we were sophomores. She had a very inferior boyfriend, in my
opinion, at that time. Finally got rid of him and we got together when we were seniors, and got married
that July. July 7, 1962.


Steinhoff: Yeah, okay.
Marr: So, without any money we went— By that time, oh I should say, she was, during my freshman
year she was a college student in Clinton at a Catholic community college. And then [in the winter] she
transferred to Iowa City and took up x-ray training and was in that when we got married, and stayed in it
until, oh, maybe, I don’t know, early spring of ’63 when she got a job as an electroencephalographic
technician at the University of Iowa hospital, which was a big research hospital. She spent most of her
work life in that field.
Steinhoff: Okay. And so it seems like The Catcher in the Rye conversion narrative is significant because
the earlier turning point was Aunt Lorena giving you the chemistry set. So, I guess I’m curious to know
whether there was much in the way of reading in high school, or whether this was something that really
did come to you in college?
Marr: Excellent question, excellent question, really critical question. I was not a reader when I was
young, I read some. But once I started in chemistry what I read was chemistry and tried to figure it out.
But, I did read a few [other] things. But to give you an example of how I wasn’t much of a reader, when I
was in senior English class with Susan, actually, we had the same class, I was already showing signs of
being a fairly good writer. But, because when I was in junior high school—oh, I’ve got to tell you this
When I was in junior high school, in eighth grade, we met the most extraordinary man, my
friends and I in eighth grade English. He had the improbable name of Oakley Ethington, Oakley
Ethington, and he was an ordained minister in one of the reformed sects who had, as he put it, shocking
us, “I dropped that racket to become an English teacher.”
Steinhoff: Uh-huh.
Marr: And he taught us, and I was his best pupil, how to diagram sentences. And it absolutely got under
my skin. It got to the point where he would give us sentences that were just, they were 300 words long, I


mean big paragraph-length sentences with all kinds of dependent clauses and all kinds of other
structures. He’d say, “Well, try that one.” He’d put it on the board, or we would, mainly I did it, and I
diagramed the damn thing and I found it fascinating. I just loved it! I still do it. And because of that, I
think, that tapped into whatever ability I might have when it comes to words.
Steinhoff: Yes. Also, not unrelated, maybe I’m speculating a bit much here, but it’s not unrelated to
chemistry in so far as understanding the relationship between the parts, what happens when you
combine, etc.
Marr: Right. That’s exactly right. And it’s just that I came to discover I had more of knack for doing it
with words than I did with equations.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: I just did. But, upon reflection many years later I realized what was in common there was
basically a little, what we would call informal logic, that was the bond. If you do this, then you get that.
And all the related elements of informal logic. Not formal logic.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: Strictly informal logic, but sophisticated actually.
Steinhoff: Indeed. And so what grade were you in when you built the house with your family?
Marr: It was in the spring and summer, it was the spring of ninth grade.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: And the summer following. I told my father when we were about to begin the work, “The track
coach wants me to be on the track team.” And he said, “Well, if you do that, I’m not going to build a lab
in the house.”
Steinhoff: Wow!
Marr: Well, that was a deal breaker. It was no contest there. I was okay in track, but I wasn’t about to
sacrifice a brand new laboratory for, you know. (laughing)


Steinhoff: And that’s a formal logic.
Marr: (laughing)
Steinhoff: There’s an if/then.
Marr: Is there ever!
Steinhoff: I’m thinking about what you were describing as an informal logic and that early encounter as
an adolescent, whether it’s in the chemistry lab or at the board diagramming a sentence, but then to
also understand how craftsmanship also is organized by logic of that sort, with definite consequences
for getting it wrong.
Marr: That’s very shrewd, yes, I think that’s exactly so. That’s right. When you build something—you
know, Marx said, “The carpenter erects his house in his imagination before he does it in reality.” He
knew that, even though he was the son of a lawyer and probably never lifted a hammer in his life, but
you see the tangible result of whether the damn thing was built square and plumb or not. If it’s
supposed to be square and plumb and level, it either is or it isn’t. And usually isn’t in a perfect sense. So
then you make the judgement of, “Well, can I live with this?”
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: Because that judgment is being made all the time by people who build things. I mean it’s an
illusion to think that something that looks square is square, or is this or is that.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But, yes, there’s a procedural logic to this kind of, to the fabrication process. And your decisions
along the way, as you say, have more or less immediate, but always describable consequences.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: Actual outcomes.
Steinhoff: Yes. So I’m trying to braid these three pieces. So, you’re at the board diagramming. That
sounds collaborative, actually. So, there’s Mr. Ethington, and your classmates too.


Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: So, you’re ganging up on a sentence, and getting the diagram is your objective. Chemistry it
sounds like was by and large a solitary affair.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: Maybe you would impress people with this or that thing, but with the reading and the lab
practice you’re mainly on your own.
Marr: Yes, that’s true.
Steinhoff: And then actually when you participate in composing the house, that again is a collaborative
affair, which I imagine was different from the diagramming of the sentence, where you were sort of the
scribe, possibly even the navigator.
Marr: Mmmhhh.
Steinhoff: With the composition of the house, you were probably the junior partner in the large—
Marr: Oh, definitely. And as junior partner you just did a lot of repetitive work.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: So the carpenter [my uncle] will cut a piece of sub flooring , and my cousin and I would then it
down: nail, nail, nail, nail. Nail, nail, nail, nail. Just like that. We even had these idiotic work songs we’d
do, as used to happen in the cotton fields because that’s what it is, it’s repetitive, there were no nail
guns. Yes.
Steinhoff: Do you remember any of those work songs?
Marr: I only remember one, and it’s a little bit embarrassing. It didn’t actually have anything to do with
easing the work, it was the Alka-Seltzer jingle. I can’t remember exactly how it goes. Something, “down,
down, down,” something like that.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: I hated it actually, I’d rather just hear the hammering.


Steinhoff: Uh-huh.
Marr: But when you get bored doing this kind of stuff you come up with things.
Steinhoff: Well, this is one of the liabilities of working in concert.
Marr: That’s true.
Steinhoff: You end up drifting into various things that perhaps you wouldn’t choose for yourself.
Marr: And you have to put up with people.
Steinhoff: Exactly. And yet—I mean, I don’t want to overbear with the braiding here, but I think there
might be something about that collaborative element as you’ve described it that might be one of these
turning points.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: These feel like interesting threads. You also mentioned, though, I think you said in your
senior English class you were starting to show signs of being a good writer.
Marr: Oh, I forgot to finish that thought, yes.
Steinhoff: Well, you took us to the eighth grade encounter with Mr. Ethington.
Marr: I’m glad you remembered that because coming back from that detour my point was that it had to
do with reading. And we were assigned Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t get through three pages of Pride
and Prejudice without falling asleep. But a test was coming up. And so what I did was I hung out with my
girlfriend who was a very good reader, a very dutiful reader, and she told me the plot. And that’s
basically all I needed to know for the test. We had a very good English teacher, but you know how high
school is, you don’t get into much depth. At least mine didn’t. So I got through the test because of that. I
didn’t have much of a reading life until I got to college.
Steinhoff: Yeah. Okay. And it was on the merits of The Catcher and the Rye that you made the flip from
chemistry, maybe we could just dwell on chemistry for another moment. So this is, you’re converting


from doing it on your own in the lab, your own lab, thriving in the high school setting because you
already knew it all.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And then saying this is my ticket into college.2
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And then you’re in a new setting in so far that it’s college, and there’s the kind of formal
process of introducing you to this discipline.
Marr: Yes, and with the added formal requirement of mathematics.
Steinhoff: Precisely. Okay, the equations.
Marr: Well, we had to learn, obviously if you’re going to be a college chemistry major you have to have
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And I only had gone through, I didn’t get to calculus in high school. I stopped at plane geometry
and trigonometry, and high school algebra.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: Well, that’s not enough. It was enough for a freshman chemistry student, but soon enough
you’ve got to learn everything else. And so math became the washout subject for me.
Steinhoff: Got it.
Marr: I wasn’t interested in it. I mean, many years later I developed a keen interest as a result of
working with Tom Grissom at Evergreen who is a physicist. I still, I didn’t do much with it but he and I
actually have had over the last five, ten years, interesting discussions about mathematics.
Steinhoff: Yeah.


In fact the “ticket into college”—into a state university— in the early 1960’s was a modest high school academic
record such as mine.


Marr: I mean, obviously, they’re very much one sided. But since I didn’t have any formal grasp or formal
instruction in it, my questions were all naïve, and he liked those. So he and I would go back and forth
about what numbers are.
Steinhoff: Yes. And it was probably less about Avogadro’s number and probably less about
Marr: Yeah. And problems, doing calculus problems.
Steinhoff: Exactly.
Marr: To no end, really.
Steinhoff: Yeah. So, now we’re in 19, did I get this right, the fall of ’62 in Ames?
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: You’ve converted to English.
Marr: No, fall of ’61 and it’s the spring in Ames and the fall of ’62 is when I got to Iowa City to the
Steinhoff: Sorry, okay, yes. Fall of ’62 Iowa City to the University of Iowa.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And, what’s there?
Marr: Well, I was a full-fledged sophomore to start the year. I had declared already that I was going to
be an English major and so had to go to advising, English department advising. And what that was, was a
big long line of guys and gals waiting to talk to the advisers so you can get advice on courses and get
your schedule. So I learned about the departmental requirements, I learned what should come before
what, you know. I got that all taken care of.
At that time, as I said, it’s 1962. The University of Iowa English department was, I didn’t know
this, but it was a powerhouse English department. And not just because of the Writers’ Workshop,
which I actually didn’t know a thing about at the time. But all of my professors were, I mean some were


better than others as teachers, but they were accomplished scholars. I mean my main professor, Clark
Griffith, he taught American Literature, he was in line to take a job at Harvard. Almost all my professors
in English and history were Ivy League PhDs or had degrees from Cambridge or Oxford. But, you know,
it was…
Steinhoff: Who else was there?
Marr: Uh, John Gerber, who was a Twain scholar. Let’s see, oh, John McGalliard, who was a medieval
English scholar, he was one of the first editors of the Norton Anthology of English literature. Who else?
Well, in the Writers’ Workshop there was Paul Engle, one of the founders of the workshop in the ’30s.
He was there. Rosalie Colie, who died young, she was a 17th Century scholar, I think.3
Steinhoff: Yes. Renaissance person, sure, I know her name. And so was there somebody else that you
worked with there? Christopher Lasch?
Marr: Yeah, in the history department.
Steinhoff: History, okay.
Marr: I actually got, it wasn’t official, but I got in effect almost a double major in English and history.
Took a lot of history classes. Almost all English and American, I didn’t do any European history, except
for one course in European intellectual history with William Aydelotte. That was a great class in a lot of
ways. I could tell you a story about him, if you’re interested.
Steinhoff: Sure.
Marr: He was a Cambridge-educated, very shy, intellectual historian. He wrote on Dickens, he wrote on
Darwin, I think. He was an American but he studied at Cambridge in the 1930s. And when I and some of
my friends in the class started putting things together, so to speak, the dates and everything, we came
up with a question for him. He was the gentlest, nicest man you would ever want to meet. And we said,
“Professor Aydelotte, did you ever get over to the continent when you were at Cambridge in the ‘30s?”


A few others: Curt Zimansky, Karl Klaus, Joseph Baker, Warner Barnes.


“Did you ever get to Germany?”
“Did you ever go to a Hitler rally?”
And there’s a long pause. He said, “Yes.”
“What was that like? Were you swept up in it?”
Then there was an even longer pause. He was staring into space, like he was in a trance. He said, “Yes.”
With a sense of, “to my shame,” but with a clear message that the power of the Hitler rhetoric, and of
the technology that was used to broadcast it, and the power of the crowd, are not to be trifled with. It’s
exactly what you’ve been told and then some.
Steinhoff: Yeah. So he was teaching a class on European intellectual history?
Marr: 19th Century, mmmhhh.
Steinhoff: Okay, so there was also the potential for reflecting on, analyzing, diagnosing the very thing
you were asking him about.
Marr: And at the same time, this was I think my senior year, or junior year. But, in my sophomore year I
had a class that was extremely formative for me, a yearlong class, it was in the history of ideas, actually.
You could either take Western Civ and just get a Western Civ survey to satisfy that graduation
requirement, or you could take this one which was a history of Western thought basically from the
medieval period on. So I took that, and it was taught by the philosophy department. And I had two
outstanding teachers, Robert Turnbull taught the first half, it was a semester system, so we read
Aquinas and John Locke, Hobbes. And in the second half it was more history of science and taught by
Edwin Allaire, who was a student of Gustav Bergman’s. Bergman had been a member of the Vienna
Circle and later wrote a great book called The Metaphysics of Logical Positivism analyzing the movement


from within. Allaire was his young American protégé. So, we read Kuhn, Russell, can’t remember what
else we read.
Steinhoff: So, what year would that have been? 1960, you said it was your sophomore year?
Marr: Mmmhhh, would be 1962-63.
Steinhoff: So the spring of ’63 you’re reading Structure of Scientific Revolutions?
Marr: No, we’re reading The Copernican Revolution.
Steinhoff: Okay, right, because Structure probably came out in ’62 or something.
Marr: I don’t remember, but I think The Copernican Revolution was the one before that.
Steinhoff: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
End of Interview 1


David Marr
Interviewed by Eirik Steinhoff
The Evergreen State College Oral History Project
Interview 2, August 31, 2016

Steinhoff: I’ve hit record again. So today’s date is August 31, 2016. Once again, we’re in David Marr’s
dining room, in a house that he moved into in 1973. And yesterday in our first chapter of the oral history
we got to 1963.
Marr: [laughing]
Steinhoff: So, we might need to step on the gas, or we might need to let it unfold. I’m going to let you
take us from where we were. If there’s things that came to mind after our conversation yesterday that
you feel like adding, as you wish.
Marr: Good. Well, nothing came to mind that I recall right now having to do with the period up to 1963.
But I thought of a number of things in filling out this sheet. I think it is a good idea to try to pick up the
pace a little bit.
So, where we left it when we were speaking to each other was the question of what have I
been, or something like that. And it occurred to me that just speaking as a professional academic, if
that’s not too pretentious a way of putting it, I realized two or three years ago something that may seem
strange as a realization to come so late in life, and that is that if I had to choose a meaningful label to
attach to myself it would be intellectual historian because it goes so far back, I was one from about the
age of 21 on. I never thought of that in that way before. The graduate programs, and actually the
undergraduate work I did also, were what people who later are called intellectual historians in history
departments do, those are the courses of study they [under]take and so on. Anyway, I like that title,
more or less. And it’s true that all my official degrees were in English [undergraduate] or sponsored

[jointly in graduate school] by the English [and history] departments. [The sources I’ve worked with
have all been texts in philosophy, social thought, literature and criticism.] My dissertation advisor was an
intellectual historian teaching in an English department, her name is Mary G. Land and she was a
student of Henry Nash Smith who was a very influential American [intellectual] historian in the ’50s and
’60s. So, I have—and then of course my professors were, the ones that I learned the most from in this
field were intellectual historians. Stow Persons, first of all. William Aydelotte, the one I mentioned to
you yesterday, the European intellectual historian. Christopher Lasch, when he was at Iowa. And in so
far as the philosophers who taught the history of ideas survey that I took were thinking historically, to
some extent they were [intellectual historians], but I count them too. The kind of philosophy that was
dominant at the time was deeply influenced by logical positivism, [then] by analytic[al] philosophy as
such, and so there wasn’t much attention in the way they thought about things to the historical
development of ideas and [historical] patterns of thought. So, what they would do is treat a text by
Locke or Hobbes or anyone else thoroughly but in isolation from the one that came before in the
syllabus and the one that came after in the syllabus [and in isolation from the social and cultural life in
which it appeared], which was itself organized chronologically, we came to Aquinas before we went to
Locke and so on.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And in a way that was kind of interesting in hindsight because you had to figure out what the
connections might have been because it’s as if they couldn’t care less what [historical connections]
there might be. But when, for instance, you come across Aquinas’ political writings, the idea of the “just
price” for a thing and then you read something in Locke about his understanding of [property coming
from mixing human] labor [with nature.] You know, unless you’re a dimwit you’ll think of something
interesting along those lines even though it doesn’t come up in class.


So, anyway, as an undergraduate and a graduate student I came to, I suppose one of the biggest
turning points in my life in the ’60s was in 1969. Let’s see, how can I explain this? At the time I was in
Pullman, Washington and I was trying to figure out a dissertation topic, and I had much latitude, no one
cared [what topic I chose], there weren’t any barriers. Whatever you come up with is fine. Well, not in
my mind. So my first topic was to write a history of the Partisan Review. And so I immersed myself in the
magazine and the 20th Century history of Marxism and the kind of critical methods that [PR’s founders
and editors] Phillip Rahv and William Phillips and their contributors used. Not that they were all the
same. I was really, deeply influenced by Rahv. I still think he’s an underrated critic. But it was a
courageous move when the Nazi-Soviet pact and the purge trials occurred in the late-‘30s for them to
break with the International Communist Party and to develop their own independent way of going. I
think they produced some very good stuff—Rahv’s work on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Henry James for
I didn’t write my dissertation on that but by the time it was all over I had had enough research
done for two or three dissertations by the standards of the time. And so that didn’t hurt me, it just
hindered me in terms of getting things done. And so 1969 was the turning point for me because that
December the MLA conference in Chicago, I think it was, gave out some very dismal news. And the news
was that the market, the academic market for professors had collapsed. And it just so happened that I
was [also] reading the work of R.P. Blackmur at the time. And he said in a 1954 essay that there is a crisis
in Western intellectual life coming and it will be here by 1970 or earlier if there is a depression. He
described the crisis simply: in the Western world many more educated people are being turned out than
there are meaningful jobs for them to take, whether they’re professors—he was thinking mostly of that
even though he didn’t go to college himself, but he was a full professor of poetry at Princeton. [laughs]
And, you know, just in terms of, you know, how that affected me personally. I was knocked off my chair


[by Blackmur’s prescience] because I was married with kids, no money and no money coming. I needed
a job. And this just hit me between the eyes.
And so what happened was I wrote my dissertation, I decided to write my dissertation on
Blackmur whereupon I immersed myself in all his work.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: And learned about, became a kind of I suppose an authority on the history of the New Criticism.
In [that] movement he was somewhat anomalous both because he was a northerner and because he
took a turn into [the criticism of] prose fiction that none of the other two or three most prominent New
Critics did. The possible exception if you want to include Robert Penn Warren, he certainly went that
way. But not Ransom, not Brooks and so on, certainly not Tate and not a lot of the other really astute
critics of poetry that are closely associated with them even if they’re not technically or conventionally
referred to as New Critics.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: So, Blackmur was my guy. That didn’t work out because I simply couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what
to do with him. I got a command of him but I didn’t know what to do with it.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh.
Marr: And so I ended up writing a dissertation on, the structure of it was a collection of essays and so
Blackmur got one essay and my other essays were on Emerson, Whitman, William James. I think I have
another one, I can’t remember, I thought I had another one. In my book I have more than that.
Steinhoff: That’s right, Joseph Heller.
Marr: Joseph Heller.
Steinhoff: Ralph Ellison comes in.
Marr: Ralph Ellison, yeah, but not in my dissertation. Because I didn’t know at the time that there was
this kind of interesting intellectual line of descent from Emerson to Ellison.


Steinhoff: Mmmhhh.
Marr: And it’s more than just, I mean I would argue, or did argue in my book that it amounts to more
than just what you might think of when you understand that he was named Ralph Waldo Ellison on
account of the fact that his father was so taken with Emerson’s works that he honored him by naming
his son that way. It was more than that, at least I thought there was [more].
So that gets us to, well let’s just jump to February of 1971. I’m teaching at the University of
Idaho in the English department, not enjoying it of course. I was an instructor and had the usual class
load of English composition and survey of American literature. I don’t think I was very good at it at all.
But, my officemate at WSU [1968-70], Rudy Martin, he had landed a job at the new college [in Olympia]
as a member of the planning faculty. And so during the year, of course that was 1970-71, the planning
year, and he was one of 18 people hired as planning faculty members. So then as it happened everybody
hired their friends, I mean Merv Cadwallader hired Byron Youtz, Larry Eickstaedt and Bob Sluss, all three
of whom he had worked with at Old Westbury. 1
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh.
Marr: Okay. So it went like that. Rudy got me hired, at least he got me an interview is how I like to think
of it. I think what happened, I can’t attest to this, but I think what happened [was] there was a kind of
informal understanding amongst the planning faculty and the early deans that each planning faculty
member would get a few hires. Not exactly the same [number] in every case, so if you know somebody,
and you think he’d be right for this new place, let’s take a look. And that’s how it went. So then in
February of ’71, which is about I guess strictly speaking six or seven months into the planning year
because they started in the summer, you know, the previous summer. I got an interview here and was
hired, I got a job offer right away.


From Oregon State University came Beryl Crowe and Sid White, (presumably) trailing Don Humphrey, one of the
three founding deans.


Steinhoff: Do you remember the interview?
Marr: Oh yes, quite a bit of it anyway. The most rigorous part of it was at the hands of one of the
librarians, I’m blocking her name 2 but she didn’t stay here that long. She was quite interested in
interdisciplinary work: “why do you think you can do this, what do you have to offer?” Very friendly but
very perceptive and very dogged. And she really took an interest in me as a future teacher and
colleague. There was a kind of, I didn’t know it at the time but I quickly found out, there was a kind of
real ethos of equality and egalitarianism amongst staff and faculty. And no one, for instance, thought
twice about the fact that I would get an hour interview with her as opposed to another hour interview
with, say, a dean, or a faculty member or something.
And I remember walking into Charlie McCann’s trailer office, I think it was [in] a trailer because
there weren’t any buildings [yet] that could be used for much.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh.
Marr: And telling him, it’s so laughable at this point for me, I said, well, sort of in the spirit of Be
Warned, I see myself as a Marxist. And I see him now kind of suppressing a laugh because, come on,
you’re about as much of a Marxist as my cat is.
Steinhoff: But, it’s what, it’s 1971, so you’re 27, 28?
Marr: 27, will turn 28 later in the year.
Steinhoff: And how many kids do you have at this point?
Marr: Three.
Steinhoff: Three? Wow. So there’s actually quite a lot on the line. And yet it felt like the kind of space in
which it was appropriate, or possible or at least feasible to make that speech act, that declaration.
Marr: That’s right. I mean, what’s laughable about it to me is that, I mean, did I think he was going to
feel threatened? Come on, let’s get serious. And the truth is I knew very little about Marxism, socialism,


Her name was Monica Caulfield.


the history thereof, radical movements, or anything. I simply had sort of gotten a good taste of it and
was interested in it and a lot of it went back to my work on the Partisan Review. So I wasn’t a complete
idiot but there was so much yet to know and to get rigorously introduced to, if not further than just
introduced. But that’s hindsight talking, you know. So I remember that from the interview.
I know that the deal was to assign escorts [to interviewees]. My guy was Willi Unsoeld. He
bagged out for whatever reason I don’t know. So I can’t remember who squired me around actually.
There wasn’t that much to it, but it wasn’t Rudy and it wasn’t Beryl Crowe.
Steinhoff: What did Evergreen seem like as a place to arrive at—as a potential place to live, to move
your family to?
Marr: I was absolutely thrilled for the opportunity. I was head over heels enthusiastic about the very
idea of interdisciplinary study. I said under accomplishments [on the sheet I was asked to fill out], “I
stayed as true as I could to the founding vision of Evergreen as a place for serious learning and teaching.
A vision, at the center of which, is Charles McCann’s watchword, ‘No chicken shit.’” That means,
amongst other things [such as keeping the college administration lean], at least how I took it, it means
no repeating of past performances. Just because you have a lecture in the can doesn’t mean much.
Everything has to be renewed and refreshed all the time. Obviously no rote learning [for students],
everything is going to be dialogic, you know all the interactions [with colleagues] around serious matters
of teaching and learning, but it’s going to be dialogical and cooperative.3


But why? What is there to be said for interdisciplinary teaching and learning? Advocates of interdisciplinarity in
the 1960s treated the question theoretically. Evergreen promised to treat it practically by having teachers from
different academic disciplines teach together in teams. Team-teaching would contribute, we thought, to a better
educational experience for students. Myself, I found this to be true in the main. Much more important to me was
the opportunity afforded teachers from different disciplines teaching together to overcome their own trained
incapacity. In modern times, Blackmur wrote, knowledge has become so specialized that the production, so to
speak, of knowledge yields a surprising new form of ignorance. It is this ignorance, highly specialized knowledge,
this New Illiteracy, to use Blackmur’s term, that I believed team teaching could effectively challenge, to the
personal and professional benefit of the curious teacher and students. The teacher would not unlearn, or throw
over, his or her specialty but relearn it. Bob Sluss, an entomologist and member of the planning faculty, once told
me that teaching in teams with colleagues from across the curriculum made him a better entomologist. He had
never heard of R. P. Blackmur.


Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: And open ended. The old model of teaching was the teacher has a certain amount of knowledge
and he has to pour it into these empty vessels called students. That was not my experience when I was a
student at Iowa, and once it got described that way I could see the wrongness of it [for those whose
experience in college could be accurately described that way]. But I could also see everywhere the
results of it, people for whom that had been their educational experience, they said so, and it was true
and it [sounded] awful [to me]. We have to do better than that. We have to give them [students]
something that we are in a position to give them, if we’re talking about giving them anything, and that is
an opportunity to throw themselves into the great tradition. And it was only much later that the great
tradition got debunked somewhat, but nonetheless it’s, I felt something that each generation owes to
the next. What did I know about Plato, or Aristotle, or Locke or Marx when I was young? I found out
about that later. That’s what education was for me, Shakespeare and all the rest. What did I know about
the past, or how to think historically? Nothing. The new generation deserves the opportunity to learn
these things. We owe that to them, and we need to guide them into it, and through it and see what they
can do with it. That’s basically how I thought about it. And it just seemed to me that’s exactly what
Evergreen styled itself as making possible for people.
Steinhoff: Yeah. And you’d been in Idaho.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: Struggling in the position that was, it sounds like, much more on the normal schedule.
Marr: Very much so, yeah.
Steinhoff: In your application letter or your application essay you identify [yourself] as a student of two
intellectual historians: Christopher Lasch and Mary G. Land.4 And specifically with Mary G. Land you


I regret not having mentioned Stow Persons in my application essay, but today, some fifty-five years since I was
introduced to American intellectual history in his classes, I see how fundamental he was in my education.


identify her vision of a reunification of knowledge. So I can only imagine what’s it’s like to have had that
insight in working with her, having struggled to figure out your dissertation topic and then settling on
something—finding your way through it and then getting a job at Idaho and realizing that you’re just
going to have to hammer this row of nails henceforth, unless something changes.
Marr: Right. Unless something changes, that’s right. The Evergreen job was a great opportunity for me
because before the market collapsed in the academic world, I mean when I got my first job at Bradley
University in the summer of ’67. The future couldn’t have looked brighter for aspiring teachers, I mean
many people got their masters degrees, went off to teach a few years and then they would come back
and do their Ph.D. And you could get a decent job with a master’s degree, you were just going to be an
instructor of course, but by the standards of the time it wasn’t bad.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But what a cruel thing the market is because if you didn’t time it right, and of course you’re
always advised not to time the market, you could be there in your one or two or three years working as
an instructor, and buying a house and paying the bills. And during that period everything could collapse,
and your whole plan of going back for the Ph.D., if you’re going to implement that plan, you’d have to do
it under very severe constraints, unless you’ve got money from home, or something.
Steinhoff: Exactly, some kind of backup.
Marr: You’ve got to have something.
Steinhoff: Yeah, a parachute in your briefcase.
Marr: You’ve got it. And it happened.
Steinhoff: I’m sure. This is the classic bubble.
Marr: The classic bubble, yeah.
Steinhoff: Okay, so, Evergreen sounds like an ideal place. You’re offered the job, you get the job, you
take the job, you move here, but the school hasn’t actually really started yet. It’s telling a story about


itself, and you’ve told a story as well about how, yeah, this is the place to go. So what happens once you
get here? The doors open up and actually those vessels, according to the prior educational model, now
actually are collaborators. I’m just curious, once the students, the customers, the clients, the people
with whom you’re going to work, what happens when they walk in? And all the other faculty who get
Marr: Well, there was a plan for the first year. The whole curriculum consisted of team-taught
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: With a teeny little segment of individual study, I mean like one faculty member [Peter Robinson]
was assigned to that. He sponsored some individual study. Everyone else taught in teams, and I taught in
a team of five—I don’t know if we want to talk about that in any detail. But it was called “The Individual,
the Citizen and the State.” And it was basically a theme-based program that took us through some of the
basic texts of western civilization without much of an historical framework. But the guy from the
planning faculty who was in charge of it—not in charge because that wouldn’t be the right word.
Steinhoff: The coordinator.
Marr: The coordinator. David Hitchens, he was an American historian. And the other four of us were
new that year. Betty Estes, who was an historian of science and mathematics, Kirk Thompson, who was
a political theorist, and Paul Marsh who was a political scientist who had done his work on political
cartoons, and me. And the students were very interesting because the college had drawn—its
reputation was nationwide, curiously enough. You know the word had gotten out that there was this
place. And we had transfer students from Ivy League schools, we had people who had just completed
their two years at a community college in Washington, we had freshmen who had just been in high
school—quite a range. And the few Ivy League refugees were not by any means the stars of the show,
but they brought an interesting bunch of experiences. Some of which had to do with the alienating


experience that they’d had as students at some of these places in the east. I [also] had two certified
schizophrenics in my first class.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: Michael and I can’t remember the other one right off.5 But they were like tag team wrestlers,
when one was crazy the other one was silent, and then they’d flip it and it was very difficult to handle
the group.
Steinhoff: This would have been in your seminar?
Marr: In my seminar. The seminars were [held in] seminar offices.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: So my office was in my [seminar]room.
Steinhoff: I see.
Marr: That whole structure [seminar-offices] went by the board not very many years later. So now you
just have classrooms and you have your own [office]. Everybody smoked.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh
Marr: The few who didn’t, I just in hindsight pity them because, you know, the [air in the] room was
Steinhoff: They were fumigated.
Marr: They were fumigated. One little guy by the name of John Foster, turned out to be one of my best
students. He was asthmatic, [a] brilliant kid, sat in the corner, tried to get a purchase on a part of the
atmosphere that he could handle. [laughing] I had another student who later became a trustee of the
college, she was one of Ted Bundy’s first girlfriends. In hindsight, since we’re looking at it this way, I’m
sure she thought, “I dodged a bullet.”
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh




Marr: And then about halfway through the first quarter, a number of students and I started talking
about having a different seminar, an additional, off-the-books kind of seminar. And it was going to be on
one book, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. So we put together the Marcuse Seminar, and it
met once a week at night [for the rest of the academic year] with its own little reading list and music
because, for instance, we obviously had to listen to some German music since it was Marcuse who said,
“We must revoke the 9th Symphony.” So we had to listen to [Beethoven’s] 9th Symphony to see what all
the talk was about. But we read some Hegel and some Marx. We were also reading Marx in the regular
class, we were reading the early manuscripts and some of the sociological writings. You may be aware of
the Bottomore Collection, it’s a two volume [edition], very well edited.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: So that if you wanted to know what he meant by “labor,” you got enough there to get it, and it
wasn’t just a smattering.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: If you want to know about “alienation” you got enough on that, too [enough to get started].
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And so forth.
Steinhoff: Yeah, you could actually see the shape of the thought as opposed to just this one paragraph.
Marr: Yes. Very well done. And the introduction was good. So off we went with the Marcuse Seminar.
And it was very successful in so far as the discussions [were concerned], everybody was absolutely
dedicated to it, they read and poured over and banged their heads against the wall of One-Dimensional
Man. They came ready and eager every week. That became the core group of something I taught by
myself the second year, called “Studies in History and Culture,” which was the same kind of thing,
basically, history and literature and philosophy.
Steinhoff: Right, but a one-seater as opposed to a five-seater.


Marr: Yeah. And that was somewhat heretical because what about team teaching? Indeed. It wasn’t
simply a given, it was a problem, team-teaching. [“How do we do it?”] So we talked all kinds of nice
stuff before the college began with students, but once it did begin, [some of us asked,] “What have we
done here! What is this?” There’s no “how-to” about it. [We worried,]”Are we doing it right?” “I don’t
know, are we?”
Steinhoff: Right, what are the criteria?
Marr: Yeah, I mean, really. You can say there were none or you can say, whoa, serious intellectual work.
Well that’s just backs up the question a step. What’s that? So… But that became, we actually put
together a little publication of the final papers that the students did.
Steinhoff: This is in the second program?
Marr: This is in the second program, yes. And that should be in the archives somewhere too, the book
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But, you know, a couple of the kids were really something. I mean, John Foster, the little
asthmatic guy I was telling you about, he and Greg Renault, who later changed the pronunciation of his
name to the French pronunciation, went off to graduate school more or less at the same time at York
[University], in Canada, to study, basically to study Marx and neo-Marxism. That was the home base of
Telos, York. John got his Ph.D. there and went on to become, he’s still at the University of Oregon.
Steinhoff: He’s got a middle name that he uses, Bellamy.
Marr: John Bellamy Foster, yes.
Steinhoff: I was going to ask, but I was going to let it emerge.
Marr: No, that’s true.
Steinhoff: He’s got a very provocative analysis of Marx. It’s not even an analysis, it’s more a description,
but it’s an analytical description in which he works on Marx’s understanding of the relationship between


the productivity of land and the productivity of factories. And what happens when you move
populations off the land into factories but you still have to feed them. Does research looking up
whoever it is, Justus von Liebig, who was doing analysis of how to put phosphorous and nitrogen into
the soil. And as a consequence Foster has, I mean you’re probably familiar with this, but an analysis of a
metabolic rift that he derives from Marx’s analysis here. Which actually is really useful when thinking
about climate change.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: That discussion shows up in all kinds of provocative, rich places.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: To this day. And is critiqued in various ways. And I think appropriately so, but it’s a major
contribution in terms of responding to the challenge of the question, “Well, Marx wasn’t really thinking
about the natural world.”
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And the idea of labor as, I think Marx’s definition of labor as the means by which the human
animal controls the metabolism with nature. I think it’s that definition that’s crucial for Foster.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: The metabolic component.
Marr: That’s the core idea I think of his Marx’s Ecology. He told me recently, last 10 years ago I guess,
about how he was helped along his way in his thinking by a colleague there. I think it was at Oregon, it
might have been somewhere else, but in any case it was a woman who was more in the biological
sciences than he was. Of course he wasn’t there at all except in so far as he got there through this idea
of metabolism.
Steinhoff: Yeah, yeah, and so was he a transfer student? Do you remember?
Marr: No, he was a freshman.


Steinhoff: He was a freshman?
Marr: Yeah, his father [owned] a bookstore [in Olympia], Orca Books, his sister now runs Orca Books
Steinhoff: That’s right, a townie.
Marr: Yeah, he’s a townie, that’s right. Just the nicest kid. He wrote his piece for me, not for me, but in
the second year program I was talking about, on [Max] Weber. And he never really, I mean he became
the editor of Monthly Review, he was kind of the heir to the famous editors there 6. But he’s not anything
but a very nimble Marxist thinker. There’s nothing, that I know of anyway, no trace of the kind of cast
iron dogmatism, in the politics of course, or even in the intellectual substance in his thinking. He’s quite
Steinhoff: So maybe when you were saying “I’m a Marxist” to the college’s president as your sort of
parting shot, you were actually saying, “Not only am I a Marxist, but I might make some.”
Marr: [ laughing ] Little did I know.
Steinhoff: If we were to put some pieces together, “I’m going to make some in the model of, the sort of
non-doctrinaire Partisan Review, that kind of capacious, intellectual, critical, reflective, non-doctrinaire
analytical approach.”
Marr: That would be a very charitable interpretation. But, I’ll buy it. And actually by ’73 or ’74
something clicked with me about the neo-Marxist project at Telos. And it was not a good click, and I
threw it over. I thought this is formulaic and question-begging in the worst sense and I’m not going to
have anything to do with it. It’s more and more theoreticism for its own sake and completely removed
from human experience, as far as I could tell. And then of course I realized 15 years later that was being
repeated in literary theory. But, that’s in the future. So I got rid of that and I took up, I had been under
the influence of Hannah Arendt for a long time through my associations with [my Evergreen colleague]
Beryl Crowe and a political theorist at Berkeley by the name of Norman Jacobsen. He came up here for a


Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff.


summer of teaching and he and I taught together in a program on immigrants in America, European
immigrants. Through Norman and Beryl I became interested in Arendt. All throughout the ‘70s I
gradually got my way through all of her work, all of her published work in English anyway.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: Made a big difference. I didn’t realize until much later just how Heidegerrian it was, but
nonetheless it was a massive influence on me, her political theory, her political science.
Steinhoff: And that was something that emerged out of collaboration with faculty.
Marr: Yeah. I didn’t know anything about her before I got here.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: Almost nothing even in the first year, it started in I guess it would have been the third year. So
that was a big deal for me.
Steinhoff: And that came into your own teaching then as well.
Marr: Well, in the sense that I taught her work, two or three times, not much really.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: Arendt influenced how I thought about political things. What is freedom? What is authority?
What is a political act? I found her analysis of such questions provocative and useful. I dove more
deeply into her work during my first paid leave of absence during fall and winter, 1980-81. [Evergreen
had just recently put together a paid leave policy.] During this leave I wrote an essay that I called “What
is Living and What is Dead in the Political Thought of Hannah Arendt,” parts of which I used in my book
American Worlds Since Emerson (1988). It was also during this leave that I discovered the work of J. L.
Austin and so-called ordinary language philosophy, or Oxford philosophy of language. I studied all of
Austin’s work and much of the standard commentary on it. I also discovered Wittgenstein’s
Philosophical Investigations.
Steinhoff: Ok.

Marr: And so that was yet another turn for me. And [these thinkers have] never left me.
Steinhoff: And was there a stimulus into their work?
Marr: I suppose, but I don’t know if I’m right about this. I was also interested in what was going on in
literary theory because the thing about the ’70s at Evergreen is that the humanities faculty were living in
an academic bubble of isolation. They had no idea, not a single one of us had any idea, what had
happened at John Hopkins in 1968 when Derrida [made his debut in the US].7 They just didn’t know [the
significance of the Hopkins conference on structuralism], just like they didn’t know about a whole bunch
of other stuff. Like for instance that the case law regarding tenure was being developed [during
Evergreen’s first decade and a half] and the day would come, we were told by the assistant attorney
general that our policy on [faculty] hiring and renewal lay outside the law, period, and we needed to
figure that out. There was a bubble. We were so busy like beavers, running around trying to get this
place to survive, trying to figure out what the heck we were doing that we didn’t know [any of] this. By
the middle ’70s, maybe ’76 or ’77, slightly later than the middle, my dissertation advisor said something
to me which stumped me. She said, “Dave, I just got back from a conference where I heard yet another
paper on deconstruction.” As if I’m supposed to know what she’s talking about.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: I said, “What?” And she had sounded so world-weary, “Not another one on this stuff.” Well it was
new to me, [if I can modify Miranda’s marveling at “the brave new world” in The Tempest]. So I got into
it. I got into it mainly through, I suppose, I mean got into the ordinary language stuff mushed all up with
this literary [theory] stuff by going through topics that I thought interesting, like what is the logical


Evergreen’s institutional memory has always been fragmentary at best, as befits a radically forward-looking
educational reform project. But “institutional memory” is one of those hoary abstractions that needs to be
dissolved to be of use. It has identifiable parts. One of them is the profound differences in graduate education of
faculty members who came up before, and those who came up during, the Theory Boom of the late 1970s and
after. Possibly the spectacular molecular biology revolution in the late 1980s led to comparable differences in the
graduate education of biologists and chemists. This oral history project promises to discover some of the
consequences for Evergreen and its future of these upheavals in the Higher Learning.


status of the work of art? What does it mean for a poem to mean something? What is representation
and what is its philosophical history? I suspect in the end it was the semiotic theme that kept me going.
When Austin talks about meaning you better listen because he’s got a precision and an acuity that you
weren’t going to find in the standard journal articles published by professors teaching in English
departments. Notwithstanding their own legitimate claim to precision in writing and thinking.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: So, I was kind of doing both at once. Both getting my feet on the ground in what was going on in
literary theory and working on Austin and Wittgenstein, mostly Austin.
Steinhoff: Yeah, but it’s that philosophical model that’s got a slightly different focus. And for Austin the
poem, a speech act in a poem, however he put its using beautiful language, it’s etiolated.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: “Go and fetch a falling star.” It’s for him not the focal point.
Marr: True.
Steinhoff: Okay, so this is great that we’ve got, in terms of your own intellectual development, we’ve
been able to sketch in some key transition points. I also am grateful for the description of a bubble. I
guess I have a couple of different questions, maybe we can hold the bubble thought for a moment and
come back to it. I mean the question there would be, how did you learn about stuff while you were out
here in this mossy place? But, maybe the first question would be what was going on in the mossy place?
Let’s hear more about that beaver activity and the day to day, the full-fledged all hands on deck
Marr: Well, exactly. I think that’s the right thing to do next. From 1971 until [around]1976, it was a free
for all. [The curriculum and faculty teams were new every year.] Programs got designed by faculty
members, it was definitely a ground-up operation. Nobody from the dean’s office said, “Here’s the
program you’re going to teach.” No, the faculty said to the deans, “Here’s the program we’re going to


teach.” So they put together programs. [A few were turned down, including one of mine, called “Darwin,
Marx and Freud”]. In the humanities and social sciences there were several explosions, programs that
just blew up. There was one called “Freud and Jung” and it was put together with great enthusiasm, I
think it was four if not five faculty members. One was a self-styled Jungian, had studied at the Jung
Institute in Switzerland, this is Kirk Thompson, a political theorist. Another one was a self-styled Marxist.
Then there were two or three others who were keenly interested in all of that but not self-styled in
[either] of those ways. It simply blew up. I mean it was close to being physical violence in the seminar
room because of arguments [between the Marxist and Jungian “wings”]. So that blew up, the dean had
to come in, make peace. He ended up saying to one faculty member who was one of the most inflexible
ideologues, “You have to go find something else to do. Now.”
Steinhoff: Fulfill your contract in some other way.
Marr: Yeah. Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that programs are blowing up left and
Steinhoff: No, but that they did is significant.
Marr: Yeah. There were three or four [other exploding programs during the earliest years], and it was
all quite exciting in some ways. Other programs were just humming right along. The program I was in at
the time of the [“Freud and Jung” blow-up in 1973-74] was right down the hall [in the Library Building]—
[it was] called “Power and Personal Vulnerability,” in which I taught with Beryl Crowe, a political
sociologist, Sandra Simon who was in English, and Fred Young who was a mathematician. And we read,
it was a reading [list] that mostly was the handiwork of Beryl, he was one of the most influential faculty
members in my life, in the ’70s anyway. You know, he was a student of [John Schaar, Sheldon Wolin
and] Norman Jacobsen’s at Berkeley 8 so he brought in Hannah Arendt [and Adorno’s] studies of the


The so-called Berkeley School of Wolin, Schaar and Jacobson, in the political science department. Arendt taught
at Berkeley for one year when Beryl was in the political science doctoral program there.


authoritarian personality, all of that kind of interesting—he would give these absolutely
incomprehensible lectures on Talcott Parsons’ pattern variables. I [once] said, “Beryl, I don’t think the
students understand what you’re talking about and I don’t think it’s their fault.” It didn’t matter to him.
[Someday they’ll understand, he’d say.]
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: I gave a lecture that was just an appalling mess once, I don’t even know what it was about— it
was just atrocious. And I said to him, “Beryl, I really let everybody down.” He didn’t say, “there, there,”
he just said, to all the students in the program he said, “You’ll do better next time. You made a couple
mistakes, so what?” Kind of like that, he didn’t say those words, he wasn’t censorious but he was not
also coddling and maudlin. Nothing at all.
Steinhoff: Yeah. How old was he, roughly?
Marr: Well, Beryl was—that’s an interesting question by the way, the thing about age. Beryl in 1973
would have been in his middle 40s.
Steinhoff: Okay. And you were in your early 30s.
Marr: I was just 30.
Steinhoff: You were just 30 in ’73, okay.
Marr: But that’s a very important point you were just asking about because everybody was young.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: The oldest, I mean everybody, the president was in his middle 40s. There were a couple of other
administrators who maybe were 50, but not more than two. The deans were in their middle 30s [to
middle 40s]. So we were all, I was probably the youngest if not—I was the youngest or one of the two
youngest faculty members then. But as the hiring went on in the ’70s there were changes in the pattern
of ages because a lot of refugees would come here, people who had been fired.
Steinhoff: Sure.


Marr: And who were looking for a home. Some were enthusiastic about interdisciplinary studies, some
just said they were enthusiastic because they wanted a job. Because of the collapse in the market that
had occurred and there was no recovery from it. And the atmosphere at the college from about the
middle point of the first year on, certainly by the second year, was one of desperation in a lot of ways
because is the legislature going to shut us down? I mean the first day of class when people who were
living in Olympia got in their cars and went off to campus, I remember this distinctly, there were many
businesses downtown that were boarded up because they thought the hippies had come to town. But
the economic [recession] in the state of Washington hadn’t occurred yet, it was [just] about to. And so
once it did, every year there was a resolution in the legislature to close the place down. And as these
resolutions became more serious in the sense that they were more fleshed out and they weren’t just
[politicians] popping off, playing to their base, but as they became more serious they became more
detailed. “Well, you know, could be a good little police academy. There are other things we could do
with this because the buildings are all done now and they’re building more buildings. We could do
something with that property.” And then also connected to that threat of closure was the problem of
Steinhoff: Yes, exactly, so if a program implodes that’s 4 or 5 faculty, but it’s also a hundred students.
Marr: That’s right. And yes we could absorb that but not in the sense of writing it off. They did do other
things so the students, you know just looking at it as a bean counter would look at it, they did get
served. But there was almost always low enrollment at the college, just like right now, it’s been every
year there’s been—let me put it the other way around. There have been periods of two, or three or four
years when it was not that big of a deal. But the fear that we’re going to be under-enrolled, the budget
is going to be cut, people are going to be laid off, that’s built into the fabric of the college.
Steinhoff: It’s chronic.
Marr: It’s just chronic.


Steinhoff: Yeah, and things do stabilize once a new president rolls in, in terms of this front. And I guess
was that ’76 when Dan Evans?
Marr: Oh, you’ve got me there.
Steinhoff: Somewhere in that period.
Marr: It’s a little later than that, I believe, but not much.
Steinhoff: I want to go back to the generations thing to see if I can draw you out a little bit more
because I think I agree with you that it’s very important that this was a faculty that was predominately in
their 30s and 40s. Some of who would have taught elsewhere so I’m presuming that Beryl Crowe would
have started his career elsewhere and then came to Evergreen. So there’s this element of people who
had been fired elsewhere or who were recruited and attracted. I’m curious to know more about that
dynamic, the youthfulness of your colleagues.
Marr: Yes. How to get at that. You’re quite right, a large number of people, maybe most, had college
teaching experience when they started here. There’s some exceptions because they came from other
walks of life, but by and large. I mean, Byron Youtz, for instance, [had been] the provost [or bull dean] at
Old Westbury, before that he was the acting president at Reed, and before that he was, you know,
teaching physics at Reed.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And Bob Sluss and Larry Eickstaedt, I mean, Larry didn’t [I think] have much in the way of
experience with teaching because he [had] just finished his degree [when he] went to Old Westbury and
[then he] came here right away. But by and large you had, like Rudy had six or seven years of teaching at
a community college in California9, and David Hitchens had taught in Florida10, Betty Estes had taught in


Modesto Junior College.
New College, where Will Humphries (philosophy), a planning faculty member, and Peter Robinson (political
science), hired in 1971, also taught.


New Jersey11. Um, I know there’s a question here that has to do with something important, I’m not sure
what it is. Maybe this will get at it by a back door route. Because we didn’t know what we were doing
but we thought we did. And as the years rolled by in the ’70s there [emerged an unforeseen] problem of
generational continuity from one year to the next amongst faculty. And this problem was tinged by a
kind of envy. The best expression of it came many years later [probably around 1985] when someone
said [a little defensively and enviously], “Well, I wasn’t present at creation, I got hired here in the ’80s.”
So the planning faculty kind of got elevated in the minds [of faculty members hired after the year I was
hired] as some sort of group of wise old heads. And then there’s the first year faculty, and they weren’t
maybe quite as wise, but they had students to work with. And then the people who got hired the second
year, the third year, the fourth year, the fifth year, they would come into a college that was going, it was
a going enterprise but they’d say, “Well, how do you do it here? How do you teach here?” And answer
came there none. You just can’t answer that question in the way that the question wants to be
answered. It’s not the right question. And so the problem with generational continuity rears its head.
And even the absurd expression “the Evergreen tradition” pops up in the ’70s The Evergreen tradition
of what? It’s an empty phrase. Maybe it keeps the noises that go bump in the night from scaring you but
it doesn’t mean anything. So, I didn’t find that any of the people who had more years on them than I did,
and more experience, lorded anything over me. Really was up to me to find my way in conjunction with
the people I wanted to teach with and wanted to teach with me. I think that was pretty widespread.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: I did have one encounter with Willi Unsoeld, which I thought was very unfortunate. I gave a
lecture, there was a lecture duel that was put together between, it was a duel between Pete Sinclair and
myself in the first year because all of these midget Marxists running around with me as their leader put
me up as the standard bearer for our side and Pete emerged as the standard bearer of rugged


Fairleigh Dickinson University.


individualism. And remember The Con III Controversy, remember that one? This was a [popular] book by
a Yale Law professor. It was about [three levels of consciousness, 1,2, and 3, with 3 being the most
socially and politically enlightened]. So we gave lectures [more or less related to the themes in this book
to our two programs, “The Individual, the Citizen and the State”(mine, with about 100 students) and
“The Individual in America” (Pete’s, with about 160 students)], I didn’t understand a word that Pete
Sinclair said, I don’t think anybody understood a word I said, I don’t even know what we were talking
about. Probably the rough idea was [the familiar late-1960s theme of] what comes first, you have to get
your head straight and then you take [political] action? Or you have to take action and then you get your
head straight [through having taken action]? Weighty questions.12 And afterwards Willi Unsoeld, who
was the windbag of windbags, in my opinion, he took me aside and presumed to tell me what I did
wrong in the lecture. That did not sit well with me.
Steinhoff: Mmmhhh And that was your first year?
Marr: That was my first year, yeah.
Steinhoff: Yeah, and he was older.
Marr: He was older. He [had] climbed Mt. Everest, he was on the first American team [to reach the top
of] Mt. Everest.
Steinhoff: Right. And you’re like, “I read the whole Partisan Review, what are you talking about? I also
read all of R. P. Blackmur.”
Marr: That’s right! And he would [have said], “What?” Because he was all about experiential education
and that was one of the cleavages, if you want to put it that way in the early years, experiential
education versus book learning.


Beneath the “dueling” lectures event lay a rarely acknowledged but important tension within Evergreen’s faculty
in the first years, succinctly formulated by Kirk Thompson: Are we organizers or liberators? Organizers, said Kirk. I
agreed, mostly.


Steinhoff: Yeah. When you were mentioning the Evergreen tradition I was hearing maybe an inkling of
something like this. And then also wondering about the name or the category of experiment, which is
kind of close to experiential but also there’s all the other sort of infrastructural elements that could also
answer to the name of an experiment, teaching, etc. But I’m curious to hear more of this cleavage then.
Marr: Well, just that it was kind of an ideological struggle between those who fervently believe that
[first] you have to take action in the world, political reform, social action, [revolution]. And [as a
consequence] your consciousness will change. And those of us who said the opposite. Both sides were
wrong because we didn’t understand the question in any kind of subtle way at all.

[ short break ]

Steinhoff: There’s another medium or channel that we could consider which would be correspondence.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: Where I could poke you with a question. I don’t know what your time is like, but if you felt
like tapping away. I mean, I know you’re a writer, that’s one thing I know for sure having looked at
some, not all, of your portfolios. The first one in particular was quite daunting, all four volumes.
Marr: [ laughs ] Oh, god.
Steinhoff: But it’s filled with material that demonstrates that you’re taking considerable time and care
with language to articulate and try to make sense of what at that time, 1973, was a completely novel
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: And so in so far as I’m recognizing that quality of your character, I just pose it as a possibility
that something happened in correspondence as well, as you see fit.


Marr: I think all of that is fine with me. You’re going to be teaching, and I’m in my twilight years so—I
won’t say I have nothing to do because I have a lot to do, but if you’re up for let’s say a couple more of
say this length, or one of the longer ones, plus some writing by way of email, that’s just fine with me.
Steinhoff: Cool. Because I think one thing that could happen in email would be, I’m just hypothesizing
right now, but plucking out quotes from some of this historical material and saying, “Can you say more
about that?” Or, because included in this historical material are lots of interesting, provocative claims.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: And, so, “Where did that come from” “How did that land?”
Marr: No, that’s great. Because I’m very mindful of the constraints that you’re under as a faculty
member, you have claims on your time.

[ discussion about continuing interviews ]

Marr: You envision then a continuing interest in this beyond what you’re doing in this first step of the
Steinhoff: Oh, absolutely. I mean I think, we were saying this a little bit yesterday, but the college
suffers from a deficit of historical reflection. There’s a lot of mythography.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: And I celebrate a myth, but I think there’s a need for some empirical leavening, or maybe
leavening is the opposite, but a different perspective on the school’s identity historically. And as it’s
turning 50 years old, as there’s a new president who is actually, I think, making consequential decisions
in terms of the placement of priorities. Which I think are for the good, but the more information the
faculty has, the more information the school has about what it was, what it is, helps us better determine
what it could be. It seems like the school is in this constant process of encountering its potential.


Marr: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.
Steinhoff: So this historical bit, sort of the feedback of what has been done, how might that inform
what could be done?
Marr: Yes, right. That sounds great to me.
One final thought about the ’70s, at least today’s work on the ’70s, I said 1976 maybe ’77—that
was the beginning of what were then called “specialty areas.” The faculty and the curriculum were
regularized in these quasi-departments. Because [a] DTF had [been] formed, and had been formed I
think in ’75 or so, big DTF. And the result of that work was adopted as official. Now you had, I think it
was nine specialty areas [along with what were called Basic Programs]. And the faculty would affiliate
with them [the specialty areas], you could affiliate with more than one if you wanted to. Had it not been
for almost—to put it differently, it was just by happenstance as a matter of fact that the humanities
were included [as a specialty area] in the end. They were almost an afterthought because the structure
was devised by [faculty members mainly in] the sciences, and the social sciences and the arts. And it was
at that point that it became unmistakably clear to anybody that the two opposite wings of the
curriculum, the arts on the one end and the hard sciences on the other, were now quasi-departmentally
organized and conceived with the sequencing and repeating programs and so on. And everything
between those two wings was, how can I put it, not as much that way. But the corral had been
developed. The faculty and the curriculum were gradually being more corralled. And before that
happened, from ’71 to ’75, I guess you could say ’76, it was fruit basket upset.
Steinhoff: Yes. And that structure emerges out of a DTF whose job had been, whose task was figure this
stuff out.
Marr: Figure this stuff out, we’ve had enough of the “chaos.” A new dean came in from the outside, no
experience teaching here, [not much] experience teaching anywhere to speak of except maybe as a T.A.
And she became the new sheriff in town.


Steinhoff: What was her name, do you recall?
Marr: Barbara Smith.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: And she was dean from then until, well, [for at least] 15 years.
Steinhoff: And she became a provost too.
Marr: Became a provost too. And so her job was to keep us in line. And she was [both] resented and
appreciated. She was clearly a fan of computers and business, she was kind of tone deaf to the
humanities. But she was dogged and she was strong. I was a dean with her for a while, we weren’t
enemies exactly but we went to different churches [, had different visions of Evergreen]. [laughs] But, I
do admire what she accomplished because it was important to do something, and the leadership for
doing whatever something might be appropriate was not coming from within the faculty and social
sciences themselves, something had to give. [thumping the table]
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: Or the place was simply going to be—
Steinhoff: So in terms of this chapter as we formed it today, there were these early years in which the
college emerges and it sounds like a lot of great stuff was happening. However, in terms of it being a
sustainable model, as you’re describing it there was a need for some kind of transformation, a
transformation was made. And in your analysis, if I’m following you, this was appropriate, good enough,
something to that effect?
Marr: Yeah, I’d say so, yeah. Yeah. We couldn’t go on as we [had been] forever, something had to
happen. It’s just departments have their advantages. They hire, they fire, they’re regular, they’re
dependable, and they’re not [only] oppressive. That’s just simplistic to say so. But, at the same time if
you’re trying to do something that gets away from the academic department as a fiefdom, as it had
become, and do something that’s more structurally conducive to the kind of serious teaching and


learning [to which we committed ourselves at Evergreen] then you’ve got to figure out what that new
way of doing it is.
Steinhoff: Exactly.
Marr: You got to do that. And you just don’t know!
Steinhoff: Yeah, you can’t just keep referring to the other bad old way and say, “We’re doing it this new
way,” without actually articulating what some of the criteria are.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: And this would go to a bit of the, you mentioned Thomas Kuhn yesterday and reading him at
Iowa, the Copernican Revolution. And then the structure of scientific revolution, the beautiful
relationship he poses between a paradigm on the one hand and an anomaly on the other. And
everybody remembers paradigm and paradigm shifts, nobody remembers anomaly.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: But the beautiful relationship there is that the anomaly is visible as such only in relationship
to a grid, a paradigm.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: According to which that anomaly swerves and just can’t be computed. So, there’s a liability if
the school or institution, a social entity, insists on defining itself purely as an anomaly because then it’s
actually parasitical on the previous paradigm.
Marr: Exactly right. And it has no chance in hell at becoming the new paradigm.
Steinhoff: Precisely.
Marr: Yeah, that’s a very good way of putting it.
Steinhoff: Was there much Kuhn in the air at all in those days in terms of conversations among faculty?
Marr: A little. I mean Betty Estes who I taught with the first year said, “You really have to read the
Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” I said, “Okay, I’ll get around to it.” Never did at the time. Some.


Steinhoff: Some, but not much. Were there particular names that rang out as guiding lights?
Marr: Well, I mean there were the pedagogues [and famous educational thinkers], Meiklejohn, you
know, Dewey. Theorists I should say. I’d almost want to say no. I’m not sure about it but the bubble was
real. We brought ourselves to this place and we inhabited a bubble that we didn’t know was a bubble.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: In some sense.
Steinhoff: And so the Jones’ book, Experiment at Evergreen, he’s trying to supply a genealogy. And I
think I’m sure for that founding crew they were, obviously, very aware of the Meiklejohn model and
thinking with Dewey and so forth. But it is interesting that that was not, from your experience, carried
through other than it being somehow baked in structurally. We’re going to do the team-teaching and
the seminars and all that infrastructure, but in terms of an actual, I don’t know, sort of doctrinal
relationship, it was pragmatic rather than doctrinal.
Marr: It was and there were arguments about great books versus democracy for education, that’s what
[education] is for—democracy. There were arguments about that but they never really had great
formative influence. I mean, they were certainly there, they just weren’t tossed off and then forgotten,
but we didn’t really know how to reconcile them or even if it was the right thing to try to do that. 13 I
mean it [the daily life of Evergreen] was way too amorphous for [these thinkers’ ideas] to be treated the
way [they deserved]. It eventually did, you eventually had I think this silly thing of the five foci and the
seven whatever the hell it is.
Steinhoff: Six expectations.


The most formative curricular move came from the science faculty, for whom the coordinated studies model as
defined by Merv Cadwallader and promoted by Richard Jones, was regarded as Procrustean. As early as the mid70s the then-new provost, Ed Kormondy, a biologist from the faculty, remarked in a public meeting that the faculty
seminar, pillar of the model, was a “waste of time.” This skepticism about the first versions of team-teaching was
grounded in experience that was far removed from the theoretical clashes concerning the role of the great books
in liberal education.


Marr: That’s just nonsense in that it doesn’t help. But now you’ve got this reigning ideology of social
justice. If one isn’t careful one might think, “Well, it’s always been here.” No it hasn’t. Not in the way
you’re thinking anyway. It is certainly a product, that idea of academia being the sponsor, one of the
sponsors of social justice in the world, is a product of the ’80s and ’90s.
Steinhoff: Yeah, it’s not as old as the hills, it’s not as old as these trees.
Marr: No, it isn’t.
Steinhoff: It’s some moss that’s grown on more recently.
Marr: Yeah, that’s right.
Steinhoff: Cool, maybe we can hit pause. I like, “the bubble was real.” That’s the name of that chapter.
Marr: That’s the name of that chapter.
End of Interview


David Marr
Interviewed by Eirik Steinhoff
The Evergreen State College Oral History Project
Interview 3, September 8, 2016

Marr: […] just in the sense that it’s the pre-history of Evergreen, the Evergreen that became, the
Evergreen that took shape as a result of specialty areas.
Steinhoff: Okay. This is why I wanted to come back here, exactly.
Marr: So you’ve got the first year classes, 1971-72, and I think the full implementation of specialty areas
in ’77, you can check the date [for specialty areas]. You’ve got five or six years there where we’re kind of
trying to find our way. And as the economists would say, when the specialty areas were installed the
curriculum was rationalized, it was regularized and rationalized to a significant extent. But this piece that
Rudy Martin and I wrote [the “M&M Manifesto: My Snowman is Burning Down”] was—I’m sure you’ve
read it.
Steinhoff: More than once.
Marr: [laughs] I’m not going to repeat anything that’s in it other than to say that it was a big deal.
Steinhoff: This is what I’m curious about.
Marr: As you can remember from the final page, we called for an all campus open meeting, and boy
was there one. Old Lecture Hall 1, I’m not even sure if that space is still there or if it’s been remodeled
out of existence, but it was the largest public space we had that was indoors. And it was packed to the
Steinhoff: Faculty, staff, students?


Marr: Yes. Everybody responded to the call. And Rudy and I were down on the first floor and we just
sort of went over some of this and took questions, we talked it all out, and at the same time as that was
going on, do you remember the Marcuse Seminar that I mentioned?
Steinhoff: Yes. Exactly.
Marr: Well a couple of students from that wrote their own manifestos. I can even remember the title of
one of them, it was called, “The Charter of the Speckled Band.” 1 [Richard Alexander, a planning faculty
member, also wrote a piece at this time and circulated it throughout the campus.]
Steinhoff: Wow.
Marr: And it [“The Charter of the Speckled Band”], like this one [the “M&M”], was a polemic against
Woodstock anti-intellectualism as we called it then, grooving in the grass. It was a plea for serious
intellectual and academic work. Rudy and I, as well as others, worried that Evergreen was becoming a
toy college.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: So the lines were drawn in some ways. And when I say this was a big deal what I mean by that is
that after the meeting and [all through the 70s] and for the next, well, 30 years, I would meet people
who weren’t there but who had heard about it and would say, “Oh, you and Rudy wrote that? I just read
it. That’s got some interesting stuff in it.” So, it lingered on and had a reputation. I mean, I leave it to
smarter people than I am to figure out the significance of all that, but it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Steinhoff: No. And it also, the first one in particular announces itself as responding to a problem and a
malaise that sets in by March of ’72, so middle of Spring quarter of the inaugural year.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: But then coupled with the description of the problem it offers a set of solutions, and there’s
an informative force that they’re carrying. But also there’s an invitation in beautiful language along the


By Andrew Daley et al. Andrew was easy to spot on Red Square, with his red handlebar mustache.


lines of, “We will create Evergreen. If we recognize the situation in its full scope of both the problem and
the terms that organize it, if we adequately recognize it, we will create Evergreen.” “We must clarify the
experiment itself,” Evergreen as an experiment, “We must forge an identity.” And then the last
sentence, “We are eager to join others in creating Evergreen.” So there’s political language there, but
there’s also this kind of, I mean, we’ve introduced Arendt into the conversation,2 there’s [also] a kind of
poiesis, the creation of Evergreen.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And then also this idea of can we think what we are doing?, the charge that she gives to,
well, anybody that wants to participate in the human condition.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: So I can understand kind of the stirring way in which this was received, both defensively but
also excitedly.
Marr: That’s right, it was both defensive and excited. And one element of that in the first one 3 was that
the scientists, and I take a second seat to no one in my admiration for Evergreen scientists over the
years, really didn’t know [many of them, anyway] what the hell to do because they were trained
departmentally and disciplinarily in ways that were far more—I don’t mean intellectually rigorous but
professionally rigid. You know, they simply had, they were formed by their training in ways that made
them think, “Is there a place for us here? How in the world are we just going to have a free-for-all
college and still do serious chemistry, biology, physics and so on?” And they figured it out, they began
quasi-departmentalizing. And I don’t fault them for that if only because I can’t think of another way to
do it either.
Steinhoff: Indeed.


In 1972 I hadn’t yet read Arendt.
The first of two “M&M Manifestos”; the second one was published to the community two years later.


Marr: I would have, I mean in hindsight I would probably use the lexicon of renewal. Same thing,
basically, but if Evergreen is going to be any good as an institution, one of the things, not the only thing,
maybe not even the primary thing, but one of the things that has to happen is this constant renewal.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: How often does it matter for people to think how [to renew the place]? But to get set in our ways
and to think we’ve got it fixed and set and we don’t need to worry about anything from now on. We
just need to keep the power going and keep everything plugged in. I think that’s daft.
Steinhoff: Absolutely, absolutely. It also goes, what you’re describing, not imperative to renewal but an
incentive to renewal in order to maintain that continued encounter with potential. New generations of
faculty, new generations of students, new things break in the world that need attention.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: But, that impulse imperative incentive on the one hand cuts against those or is offset in some
way by something you described last time around the—“Well, I wasn’t in the first planning faculty.”
“Oh, I wasn’t in the class of ’72 but I came in ’74.” So there’s that kind of, “I’m not one of the original
chips.” And so the question becomes renewal on what terms, or also by what authority?
Marr: Oh boy, that’s the truth. Yeah, that’s a very shrewd observation, the “by what authority” part
because it is a floating craps game, the academic authority at Evergreen.
Steinhoff: It is.
Marr: There’s no department chairman, you can be a convener of the humanities specialty area or of
the social science this or that, but it doesn’t mean you have any [or much] power.
Steinhoff: Exactly.
Marr: And probably the chief reason is you don’t have any money.
Steinhoff: Bingo.


Marr: You don’t control the budget. That’s all centrally located in the dean’s office and the vice
president’s office.4
Steinhoff: That’s right. But so the risk, I guess the challenge in articulating this impulse or imperative to
renewal would be how to do that without falling prey to ancestor worship. To just say, “Oh, those guys
did it this way, therefore we must also.”
Marr: Oh boy, but did we hear that.
Steinhoff: Oh, I’m sure.
Marr: We on the receiving end heard that all the time from— Well, to be blunt about it, I didn’t respect
people who said, “This is how it’s done because that’s how they did it then.” I thought, “That’s rather
intellectually timid.”
Steinhoff: Absolutely.
Marr: You know, come on, why are you here?
Steinhoff: There’s not action there.
Marr: I mean it isn’t as if you’re going to insult the founders if you don’t do exactly what you think they
Steinhoff: Exactly.
Marr: But, so, we [Rudy and I] got a lot of that. But, you know, so that’s what this was about, these two
manifestos. The second one of course was—we don’t need to talk about that one very much I don’t
think, unless you have some questions or something. But, the second one occurred in a different
political context.
Steinhoff: I would be curious to know more about it.

But of course the budget-heavy, facilities-rich sciences and arts had institutional links to the budget that the
“pencil and paper” humanities and social sciences lacked.


Marr: The first one, I mean I’ll set it up. The first one had nothing to do with, it in no way challenged the
authority structure, assuming anybody could find it, of the college. It was really just kind of a moral
sermon, basically, to get people to do what we thought we were all supposed to be doing here. But it in
no way contained any attack on deans, or vice presidents, or the president, or the board of trustees or
anything, it had absolutely nothing to do with that. The second one did.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: Because the college’s politics was in disarray. [Washington’s economy was in recession; the
Legislature was making menacing noises].5 One of the original deans was making a bid for power. He
wanted to be president.
Steinhoff: Who was that?
Marr: Merv Cadwallader.
Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: And I’m sure that there will be somebody that says, “No, he wasn’t trying to do that.” But I’m
convinced [and Rudy was as well] he was. And of course the chronic budget problems in the state of
Washington as they affected The Evergreen State College were more pronounced then than they were
in the first year. Specialty areas had not been instituted yet. I can’t give evidence for this, but I’m pretty
sure the idea [for specialty areas], whatever it was named, was gaining momentum because if you just
look at it, you have to have some sort of notion of that in order to constitute a DTF. And the DTF has to
work for a year, you know, it takes time. So that’s the key difference I see between these [two
Steinhoff: Got it. There was more consequence, perhaps, if we’re working with the hypothesis that
these two documents, the first one as a kind of sermon, the second one as a kind of intervention, that

Ever hopeful, Charlie McCann, in a meeting with Rudy and me during these dark days, said: “A college that can
get by one more year, can get by one more year.”


then constitute together the pre-history of the specialty areas as a form of rationalization that would be
adequate to the wish, the experiment of the school.
Marr: Yes. And adequate being the key word there because nobody, I don’t think, wanted to kill the
thing. The old cliché about how you hold a bird, not too tight or you’ll kill it, too loose and it flies away.
They think these things up in psychology class or something. But that was a real belief, that we’ve got to
do something more orderly and more predictable than we’ve been doing, but we can’t fall into the old
ways because we are superior to them, don’t you know it?
Steinhoff: That’s right. And you’re also responding to new circumstances. One of the points of crisis
articulated in the second one is under-enrollment, which you wouldn’t have known to the same extent
when you wrote the first one.
Marr: That’s exactly so. There’s a periodicity about under-enrollment from about that time on. Every
time it reared its head the same kind of response could be heard. “Well, we can’t do anything about this,
we can’t do anything about that, but the one thing we can do something about is the curriculum. And so
let’s give serious thought to beginning a nursing program, [or a program to train] dental hygienists.”
[Let’s make the curriculum more in tune with the real world.]
Steinhoff: Right. Business.
Marr: Business.
Steinhoff: Exactly, this kind of stuff. Cool. So maybe we can put a pin in the two “M&M” manifestos for
now and if things come up we can come back to it.
Marr: Oh, sure.
Steinhoff: I will say, I think I shared this in an email with you that I read out to students right at the end
of the quarter in fall the second page of the second one which is where your aria on, “The Reunification
of Knowledge,” comes out. So I gave them this and they were reading as I was reading and the students
really responded to it. I mean, I’d been doing that program, we read some Thomas Kuhn, but then we

also read some Ibn Khaldoun, so we were looking at these epistemologies of history. And part of the
context was that Rudy Martin had died, which was why I went a googling. I was like, “That name sounds
familiar.” And then I saw your name there too and I was like, “Wait a second, I think that guy emailed
me about something once.” So I was slowly piecing things together and I actually started reading this
and realized, “Holy smokes, this thing has its finger on the pulse right now.” And then in one of those
whimsical moments that doesn’t happen that much at other schools, I said, “I’m going to put this in
front of the students and see what they make of it.” They loved it.
Marr: That’s interesting. [I wrote the passage you’re referring to.]
Steinhoff: They said, “I understand what Evergreen is trying to do now. Why didn’t you say this on the
first day?” And I explained, “Well actually, you know what, I hadn’t read it on the first day.”
Marr: [laughing] That’s wild.
Steinhoff: This is not per se to do with the “M&M” manifestos, but it allows me to ask a question that I
do want to pose, which was what was Rudy Martin like? What was it like to work with him? He was your
guy that brought you in, you knew him from Washington State. It would be nice just to hear a little bit
about this person.
Marr: Well, we were the closest of friends from the first time we met in 1968 [at WSU]. Our families
had a lot to do with each other from then on. We were office mates. I don’t know if you had—I think
that someone told me this, that the memorial service for him was taped, but I think—the tape [is]
Steinhoff: I’ve watched about a third of it.
Marr: Oh, have you? Well there you go.
Steinhoff: I got a sense of just how big a person he was. And in my sort of speculation I recognize him as
a kind of hub.


Marr: Yeah. He was, he was a very good teacher. He was an unusual teacher in the sense that he was
both academically solid and a kind of social worker. He was the kind of teacher that if the kid was in
trouble he’d [try to get to the root of it even if it meant delving into the student’s family life]. You could
call him at night and say, “I’m really having trouble.” So not very many teachers are like that. But in I
guess it would be ’72, the college, we put together a policy on the rotation of deans, it was a novelty.
And the idea was to rotate members of the faculty through the deanship. Well, he was the first dean to
be rotated. He was not the first dean to come from faculty, but he was the first one to come through
under the auspices of the dean rotation policy.
Steinhoff: Got it.
Marr: The first one to come [from the faculty] was Oscar Soule. He became an assistant dean for the
year 1972-73. [Under the rotation policy] the existing deans, the three founding deans, would be
phased out, would rotate out into the faculty, meanwhile the other people would rotate in. It stayed at
that with—it stayed at three deans for maybe two years or something and then it went to four deans.
Steinhoff: Yeah, okay. So initially that wasn’t part of the model, the rotating in?
Marr: No.
Steinhoff: Got it. There was a kind of steady state administration layer and then introducing this
rotation creates this kind of a permeable membrane.
Marr: Yes, yes. Let’s see, what else can I say?
Steinhoff: So this is to say very early on he becomes part of the administration.
Marr: He becomes part of the administration, but it was very unmistakably evident at that time that
although, yes, he’s part of the administration, the faculty own him.
Steinhoff: There you go.
Marr: They have [always, since the rotation of deans policy was put in place, had] a very proprietary
attitude toward their deans.

Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And so, they don’t own him in the sense they control him, it’s just that he’s one of us. That still
lives at Evergreen.
Steinhoff: Yeah, for sure. And so when it was time to compose these manifestos I’m just curious to hear
are you at school when you’re doing it, are you here or are you at his house, at the other house? What’s
the scene of composition?
Marr: That’s basically what it was, yeah, [sitting around a table at his house or my house]. You know, I
don’t think there was anything interesting about how we did it, we just produced drafts, compared
them. [We’d take this from his and this from mine and put the pieces together] and kept shaping it and
shaping it.
Steinhoff: And it’s based on conversations, presumably, that you were having ongoing.
Marr: Oh yes, right. That was the odd [or distinctive] thing about the early years, probably all
throughout the ’70s, certainly in the first year or two, is that you couldn’t walk across campus in 5 or 10
minutes, it was physically impossible. I don’t mean because of the topography, it’s that you’d go from
one conversation to the next. By the time you get to where you wanted to go to begin with maybe an
hour has gone by.
Steinhoff: And you may have even forgotten what you were going for.
Marr: You may have! [laughing] I don’t think that happens anymore very much.
Steinhoff: No. I mean it does, but when it does you know that there’s something crackling, there’s
something that’s up.
Marr: And that’s good too.
Steinhoff: Good, I’m glad that I was able to hear a little bit because it’s, I think you’re aware of this
stimuli for getting this project going was, “Where’s Rudy Martin’s voice?” He’s gone, nobody sat down
and talked through this stuff with him.

Marr: No, that’s true.
Steinhoff: So, a real loss has been palpitated.
Marr: It’s a real loss. And I’m the closest, for whatever it might be worth, for telling you about all this
stuff [having to do with the manifestos and with him as a faculty colleague. In all other ways the
recollections and thoughts of Gail, his wife, are as pertinent as anything I can say]. I mean we were not
of one mind about everything when we wrote these things. I think he was less self-consciously
intellectual than I. He had come [with around ten or twelve years of teaching experience,] a few in high
school, most in junior college. [For my part, I had two years of college teaching experience in addition to
four years as a T.A., and was] a kind of smart-ass intellectual. It would be a gross simplification to say
that I was all head and he was all heart, but there was a kind of head/heart distinction between us. He
was much more social than I was, naturally social. My students once said, “We think you are born at the
front door of Evergreen and you die when you leave [the building]. We wonder how you can go from
one”— That came from the Marcuse Seminar students. Rudy was very friendly and outgoing, I tend to
be shy. So we made a good combination in some ways, but I do think, I said this at the [memorial]
service [April 2, 2016], he was one of the only, I could count them on fewer than five fingers, natural
born academic leaders [we have had].
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: He had leadership ability and it came from within, and was widely acknowledged, people would
look to him as a leader. It probably also matters a great deal [that] there was a kind of a race conflict at
Evergreen [from the beginning].
Steinhoff: I’m interested to hear about this.
Marr: I mean you remember the late ’60s.
Steinhoff: I don’t remember, but I’ve read and heard about them.


Marr: [Those years, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King, bequeathed to America the
specter of the angry young black man.] Rudy was not the angry black guy, he was a friendly black guy.
Very affable, [genuinely] interested in everything about you, and your kids and the wife or husband and
the dog and everything, he was just that way. In white America the angry young black man scared the
pants off most [white] people, just the specter [of it]. [Rudy was naturally and guilelessly not that guy.]
But at Evergreen starting about 1980, with the arrival of Maxine Mimms, I think it was ’80 or ’81, he was
no longer the [most prominent] black guy here. He wasn’t the only one then[, of course,] because one of
the people he helped get hired here the same time I was hired was Willy Parson, he was a microbiologist
from WSU, and later another was Stone Thomas, and a few others who [also] came here through his
Steinhoff: His recruiting.
Marr: Mmmhhh. Still, the race conflict over who is going to be the number one black [person at
Evergreen] started with the advent of Maxine. It was always a quiet conflict, it never really blew up into
anything much. But she undertook the project [to establish an Evergreen program] in Tacoma, in the
inner-city. I once said to her, “Maxine, it’s not the Tacoma campus, there is no Tacoma campus, it’s the
Tacoma program.” [She didn’t like that, nor did her allies,] because even though I was right her idea was
to build it into a Tacoma campus, and in fact she succeeded over the years. But there was at the best
coolness between the two of them [Rudy and Maxine] and there was a kind of a division amongst white
people[, in part, I thought, over whose black authority was weightiest in the affairs of the college.] Rudy
was [a proud bourgeois man] 6 and in some ways a very conventional academic. She was a conventional

Rudy and his brother were the two children of the Rev. S. R. Martin and his wife Primrose. Rev. Martin began his
ministry in a storefront church in Texas. During much of Rudy’s youth his father was a bishop in The Church of God
in Christ, in Monterey, California. When Rudy joined the planning faculty he was one of three “PK’s” (preacher’s
kids); the other two were Byron Youtz and Charles Teske. Though Rudy had long since fallen away from COGIC , his
church roots remained. I took to calling him The Reverend in his later years, and several of my colleagues at the
memorial service remarked that Evergreeners were, to him, his flock. In Evergreen’s public discourse about race


empire builder.7 He was not interested in building any empires. He was just, he had academic
credentials that he was proud of, not because of the pedigree or anything but because he knew [what]
good academic work [was]. The Tacoma [operation, at least at first,] was mixed, there was a lot of
skating , some of us [including Rudy] thought, even though one of the people I admired very much, Willy
Parson, was up there for much of his Evergreen career.
[Recorder shut off.]
Marr: Let’s take a look at the cheat sheet and see what we’ve got.
Steinhoff: Sounds good.
Marr: You asked me earlier if there was any kind of presiding genius or two over the formation of the
college. I think I rather hastily said no, and then backtracked a little bit and said well there were many
references to Meiklejohn and Dewey, [invocations, really], and the [various] great books [programs at
several universities] and all this stuff.8 And that’s basically true, and so I still think that there wasn’t a
presiding genius, but there was I think an emerging, [formative] tension between what I would call for
shorthand purposes the great books approach, and education for democracy. So it’s basically, how
would you want to call that? Hutchins vs. Dewey? I don’t know.
Steinhoff: Sure, I hear that.
Marr: So I don’t think anyone was a rabid adherent of either of these. Depends on what you mean by
rabid, I suppose. Rather, the way the tension played itself out was more like if someone was getting a

over the years Rudy took pains to identify himself as a “western black.” I do not recall any time when he explained
what he meant by this, or recall any of his hearers asking him.
7 Maxine saw at once that Evergreen had failed to attract black students and seemed to have no plan, beyond
hand-wringing, for attracting them to “the college in the woods,” a characterization often heard in campus public
discourse about student recruitment at the time. If black students won’t come to Evergreen, Maxine said,
Evergreen will go to them—in Tacoma. The Tacoma Program was founded in 1982.
8 Sporadic references in faculty discourse about the nature and purpose of education, especially during Evergreen’s
first two decades or so, brought to the fore bits and pieces of the leading ideas associated with the University of
Chicago under Robert Hutchins, St. John’s College, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Strawberry Creek
experiment at Berkeley, and the San Jose Tutorials Program, among others. There was, of course, much overlap
between Meiklejohn and Dewey insofar as the former was keenly interested in the place of the great books in the
education of a democratic citizenry.


little too much onto the great books side they’d get nailed by someone from the other side and vice
Steinhoff: Got it. They were like buffers.
Marr: Yeah. But, I thought that the questions were perfectly good and sound questions. Like, what is an
education for? I mean that’s an important question[at a self-proclaimed alternative college] and don’t
you have to inquire into that question before you can actually take up second-order matters like “Well,
if it’s for that, then how do we implement it?” You know. And I think that’s good. Little by little the
curriculum and the faculty were dividing themselves along the lines of, how can I say this? Here’s one
way of looking at it, shouldn’t the first year programs be foundational in the sense of exposing students
to the great tradition, right? And the answer that came forth was not at all clear. It’s just that curriculum
would be devised in such a way that when you looked at it for next year or for the next two years, there
would be one or more “Great Books,” in quotation marks, programs. One or more socially oriented and
politically activist programs and so on. Then of course there would be the quasi-departmentally
organized science offerings and arts offerings. So that’s kind of how it went in the late ’70s and ’80s.
Steinhoff: Okay, the specialty areas sort of congeal around these kinds of poles.
Marr: The specialty areas were there and you had to affiliate with one or more of them as a faculty
member, you couldn’t not affiliate. And then you’d generate curriculum under the auspices of your
specialty area. The question then emerged right away, “Well, what about first-year [Basic] programs?”
Because specialty area programs sound like just what they are. Then the tussle came over whether the
basic curriculum, the basic programs, which is half the college or something, are they simply going to be
preparations for what happens in the specialty area later on? Are they just [introductions to specialty
areas]? Or what, I mean what are these things? So the little question became the big question of
sequencing and so on. We never really got away from any of that. It kind of just bumbled along,
producing curriculum like that. Always in the end curriculum was to pay its way in terms of enrollment.

There was never any question about that, there was simply not enough money and there wasn’t enough
latitude in the budget to operate any other way. You know, if you’re going to consistently offer
programs that no students want to take sooner or later, usually sooner, you’re not going to be able to
offer those programs.
Steinhoff: And so who is making that intervention?
Marr: The deans. The deans and of course there emerged a counsel of conveners, as they were called
later. We more or less have that now still.
Steinhoff: Right, the so-called planning unit coordinators, yeah, I see. And so, what?— a team would get
together, compose a program, submit it for approval or say this is what we’re doing and then there
would be much push/pull, how would that work?
Marr: Basically, yeah. You’d go to a retreat, say, and I always had the view that good programs
originated as affinity groups of faculty members [rather than through quasi-departmental dictat]. You’d
get together with two or three people you’d like to teach with and you’d say, “What do you think we
should teach?” Or one might say, “I have an idea, who do you think would be interested in this besides
X?” And so I would be there, I’d have X and then someone else would say, “Well, I know someone.”
Before you knew it you had three or four. And then you cook up a proposal, might be only be a few
sentences long, submit it at the first stage of the operation and they’d say, “Oh, we’re going to take this
one.” Then if you get the green light you go ahead and make the full scale plan.
Steinhoff: Got it. What books, what’s the actual da, da, da, da. Got it.
Marr: And catalog copy.
Steinhoff: Exactly. That’s important. So that’s actually a good segue to one of these questions that I can
actually just read verbatim off the sheet. “What have you learned during your years at Evergreen about
subjects other than the ones in which you were trained?” And then my follow-up question would be,
who are the colleagues that you were doing this learning with, and how did that change you?

Marr: These are two of my favorite questions. I just love these questions.
Let’s see, I say, maybe this is just because I’ve been reading this [David] Remnick book [called
Lenin’s Tomb, on the last years of the Soviet empire], I just finished it, that one of the most important
things that occurred to me is I got to read and seriously study some Russian and Soviet history and
culture. And I did this with Tom Rainey in two programs, one and a half programs so to speak. That
mattered a great deal to me at the time because up till then I had studied no Russian history other than
the thumbnail bits you get when you study the history of socialism and Marxism and [the Communist
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: I mean I had read Marx and Engels, but I’d read none of the [nineteenth century] Russian
thinkers. I had read almost none of the Russian novelists. So I was introduced to all of that, and man!
that was hugely important to me.
Steinhoff: So when was that?
Marr: Well, it was pretty late. It was in the early ’90s, so a lot had happened before then but as I
mentioned I just bring that one up because I have had [the Remnick book] on my mind. And what
mattered so much to me and still does is the fact that as an Americanist with basically a Western
European-American focus, I’ve devoted a lot of time to the Protestant Reformation, and to the TudorStuart period, and to the European and English Renaissance [and Scottish Enlightenment]. It’s just part
of what it means to be an Americanist. And then to come across the Russian past where there is no
Protestant Reformation, there is no European Renaissance. What kind of a country is it? And the scales
fell from my eyes and I realized how narrow or blind I had been because I had to try to imagine the last
500 years of history without the Protestant Reformation [the cradle of, among many other things,
Colonial America]. And I’ve always had a keen interest in the history of Christianity so that exposed me
to Orthodox Christianity and tracing the history of the schism and everything.

Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But, it was just a revelation. And then of course when I tied into the [nineteenth century] Russian
thinkers and Russian novelists, I’ve read almost all of the major ones [and return to some of them
Steinhoff: I hear you. This is a confirmation of the premise of co-learning and having your horizons
expanded and a threshold where actually you can’t unlearn that now.
Marr: No, I can’t. And I wouldn’t if I could.
Long before that happened, I suppose, the biggest revelation, the biggest impact [of team
teaching] came when I was studying political theory and political philosophy in the ’70s. And as I said,
once I read Hannah Arendt I was hooked and so I studied all of that [along with the principal works of
the philosophical tradition since Plato which lay behind her].
Steinhoff: Right. That’s when you were working with Beryl Crowe?
Marr: Beryl Crowe primarily, yeah.
When it comes to other parts of philosophy, I’m an autodidact; I didn’t learn anything
particularly about the parts of philosophy that mattered to me from any of the philosophers I have
taught with, it just didn’t happen. I’ve only taught with two. And of course because of the bubble I was
telling you about last time there was no awareness of the revolutions in literary theory [and] literary
thought that happened in the ’70s and ’80s and after. I gradually caught up with that.
Steinhoff: And so you’re reading of Peirce was under the sign of autodidacticism.
Marr: Yes, [mostly], I decided after reading Austin and Wittgenstein in the ’80s, I had a sabbatical
coming up, and that was ’89, so I took two graduate seminars, one on Peirce (with John Boler) and one
on Aristotle (with Marc Cohen).
Steinhoff: Okay, where was that?


Marr: The University of Washington. I commuted. So we read, by that time I had read and taught quite
a bit of Plato in various programs but I had never read any Aristotle to speak of. So we read Aristotle’s
Psychology [and a fair amount of commentary on Aristotle’s thought by twentieth century AngloAmerican philosophers]. And then of course, as you know, there’s a direct link between, as it happens,
Aristotle and Peirce.
Steinhoff: Yes.
Marr: Because Peirce is a [philosophical] realist and he gets his realism from the Medieval thinkers, in
particular Duns Scotus, all of whom were fundamentally influenced by Aristotle. So there was a nice
convergence there.
Steinhoff: Yeah, and it helps to pick up some of the unheard music in Arendt. I mean there’s explicit
Aristotle references but then there is other stuff.
Marr: That’s right. That’s true.
Steinhoff: Even though most of it is tinged with that Heidegger flavor, there’s still very key things that
she’s getting from Aristotle herself.
Marr: Yes, that’s very true.
Steinhoff: So this is stuff that falls under the sign of the kid in the basement with the second or third
biggest chemistry lab—
Marr: Fifth, probably. No, that’s true.
Steinhoff: Then that material trickles down to the students, though, right? I think at one point in our
first email exchange I was teaching that class called “How to do things with words?” And you were like
WTF? Are you reading Austin? I taught him in my career at Evergreen. So students would then get this
material from you, right? Some Peirce, some Austin, is that true?


Marr: Yes. I mean for example, that little piece I wrote about what exactly is a project, that’s directly
influenced by my understanding of Peirce. I mean it’s not a Peirceian piece, it’s just that the logical rigor
[and conceptual clarity] found in his work influenced me. But, I always hung onto my idea of education
as essentially, it has to be dialogical in a lot of ways, rather than the empty vessel needs to be filled up
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: And so this turned up in my individual conferences with students, turned up in learning to be a
better seminar leader than I was. How to make the seminar discussion a real inquiry by all the people
present rather than something that looks like a regular classroom [but is in fact a little lecture class, as I
knew often happened with colleagues], but rather where they’re engaged with each other and involved
in a common inquiry. [That’s what I’d call Peircean.]
Steinhoff: Yeah. So, what’s the secret? How do you do it? What did you come to because part of this
process is to actually hear your reflections as tinged by memory, but that is a piece of the craft.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: The dialogical process, to recruit everyone in the room to the inquiry.
Marr: Well for me it started with close textual analysis. That’s where everything was, that was the
foundation, so I would have students read aloud from the text. Let’s say it’s Shakespeare or Melville or
Nietzsche, and then we’d go over it. I experimented for two or three years with something I called
recitations. And each student was told at the beginning of the term that the seminars would be
organized around recitations. Which meant that if I called on you, you would be up. Of course this
scared the daylights out of many students, and it scared the daylights out of some of my colleagues
because they thought, “Oh, you can’t put people on the spot like that.”
Steinhoff: So are they from memory reciting?


Marr: No, I’d give them a passage to read and then I would ask the student questions about it in a kind
of a Socratic inquiry over what’s going on it.
Steinhoff: Oh, just that it would be the two of you.
Marr: And everybody else is listening and taking notes.
Steinhoff: That’s pretty tough.
Marr: It’s like law school. And then once the student is off the hot seat fellow seminarians can ask the
student questions and [offer] comments.
Steinhoff: Wow.
Marr: Yeah. And I felt a little bit daring in doing that but I was mightily impressed by the law school
method[—and more often than not by students’ performances]. A professor calls on the guy, whatever
his name is, sitting according the seating chart here, and he says, “Okay, now, in Plessy vs. Ferguson
what was going on? Tell us about it.”
Steinhoff: Yeah, what are the four corners of the case?
Marr: That’s right! Exactly. What’s wrong with that? I mean you are on the hot seat, you are under
pressure, some people would rather die than have to go through it, but maybe they shouldn’t be there
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But, I understood the objections to it. And so I would ask students afterwards, in their evaluation
conference, “What did you think of that? Did you think you were just being put on the spot?” And they
said, “Well, it took me a while to get used to it but I realized it was great. I’m glad I did it. And the
objection to it that we were too delicate and can’t handle the pressure, is insulting.”
Steinhoff: Well, that is the counterpoint, isn’t it? They can’t handle it.
Marr: They can’t handle it.
Steinhoff: That chair isn’t ready for you to sit on it, it’s still forming.

Marr: So they thought of it, I didn’t find one who said, “Am I glad that’s over, I wish I’d never gone
through it and I hope I never have to do it again.”
Steinhoff: Sure, but they probably wouldn’t say that to you.
Marr: No.
Steinhoff: But, I hear you. There’s this English poet, Geoffrey Hill, who passed away a few months ago
and the critics would complain, “Your poetry is too difficult.” And he would say, “That’s what makes it
democratic. I respect my reader to understand.”
Marr: I’m with him, I take that view. As my mother would say, “I didn’t lick it off the ground.” I learned
that view from Blackmur, who was very concerned about the insult, the institutionalization of the
contempt for the audience in American life.
Steinhoff: Insulting the students’ intelligence.
Marr: Kind of like playing to their lowest, expecting nothing of them.
Steinhoff: I had a moment teaching in Lecture Hall 1 before it got reconfigured.
Marr: Oh, it did?
Steinhoff: It’s in the process right now. Maybe it’s been reconfigured since the M&M days, when you
were down in the gladiator’s pit. Multiple programs were coming together, it was “Critical and Cultural
Theory,” organized around keywords. Alright, all you guys are talking about ideology or hegemony, do
you know what it is, do you know where it came from? Probably not, we’re going to show you some
ropes here. So everybody would have this keyword assignment, each faculty member. Early on a student
came up to me and another member of the faculty and she said, wasn’t in response to my lecture but
just the sort of general tenor of the thing, she said, “You don’t have to explain anything to us, you can
actually just do the thing, don’t talk down to us.” Then she said, “When I was in high school we had a
teacher who had us read Erasmus and then told us that what they were doing in their class was teaching
up. Don’t teach down, teach up.” That was probably my third week of teaching at Evergreen and I said,

“Damn straight, I can do that. Thanks, Nina.” So it’s in that register of respecting the audience. Not even
just the audience but your interlocutor.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: There’s the further challenge though of maybe the kid can’t read so well.
Marr: I know.
Steinhoff: And because of your under-enrollment crisis you actually just accepted seven students who
are in this seminar and there’s another 18 and they’re pretty good readers, 10 of them topnotch—
they’d be blowing the hats off people at Chicago or Harvard—the other rest of them muddling along just
fine. Then there are those seven who actually are really struggling.
Marr: Yeah they are.
Steinhoff: How did that work? What was your experience that? I’m curious if over time did you see that
become more and more of an issue, has it always been an issue? How did you handle it?
Marr: It’s always an issue at this place, in my experience, it was always an issue. But, I also thought of
my job as by hook or crook teaching these people to read. But, when I say these people I mean all of
them because even the hotshots weren’t that good.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: And it isn’t because they didn’t have some fancy vocabulary that they could manipulate, it’s
because—who was it, one of the great Shakespearean actors, it might have been Gielgud, but I don’t
think so. But anyway, someone from the press corps said to him once, “Well, now that you’ve done Lear
for 40 years, do you see more deeply into the play?” He says, “No, I see more of the play.”
Steinhoff: Huh.
Marr: I mean I suppose you could just say that’s a cute way of—but I don’t think it’s just cute, I think if
you are a strong empiricist, as I tried to be, you’re paying attention to everything, [to what the words
are doing], trying to see more of the play and you’re not trying to play little high school games about

getting [at hidden meanings] beneath the surface. It’s all there. We can go into a philosophical, logical,
and aesthetic analysis of what’s incoherent in talking about something beneath the textual surface, but
we don’t need to do that. We just need to pay attention. So that’s what I tried to do. It worked as well
with the weaker students as I could make it work. I couldn’t do any better, I mean I was very mindful of
the problem all the way along though.
Steinhoff: Yeah, but I think what you’re saying about teaching all the students is an important one
because if you’re trying to reach the full range of the persons in the room, including the ones that
started reading at the age of two, or whatever, and actually arrived having read all of Shakespeare.
Marr: [laughs] Yeah.
Steinhoff: That group in fact at times I’ve seen they suffer from what Veblen calls “trained incapacity.”
They already know it all! You can’t tell me what this sonnet means.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: The other thing is, I suffer from trained incapacity because I’m totally inured to this, I’ve
memorized this poem, I know all the tricks, I know how to make a really cool seminar with this poem,
but actually that’s very boring for me. I know what my job is, I want to make sure you guys learn this
part and this part, but I want to set challenges that actually exist for everybody in the room so that whiz
kid can learn from somebody that’s just actually figured out how a poem works for the first time in their
life. And it’s not just this kind of hierarchy that everybody came into the room already suffering under.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: But, it’s interesting to hear you say it’s always been there as an issue.
Marr: Oh, yes.
Steinhoff: I’d be curious to hear about how conversations with faculty, with colleagues went, what the
institutional response was as best as you can recollect, because if it is there all along, if it’s chronic, that
means it’s part of the conversation, isn’t it?

Marr: Definitely is, yeah. Well, the institutional, I’ll take that part first because that’s the easiest in some
ways, response was to recognize that there are students who need what they [used to] call at Berkeley,
subject A. So what are we going to do about that because they come here and they don’t know how to
read? My response to that always was, “Of course they don’t know how to read. Almost nobody that
young does.” But I got nowhere with that because people were still saying, “Oh sure they do, they got
A’s.” I said, “Come on, where do you think you are? The A that they got doesn’t [necessarily] signify
[proficiency in the kind of close reading required to do college work]. It might signify that, but you can’t
just assume [that it does].”9 You know, the proof of the pudding [is in the eating], and all of that. But the
institutional response was to create a writing center because if they can’t read they can’t write. Actually
the first thing that was talked about was [not the inability to read but] the writing, they can’t write.
Steinhoff: That’s how it shows up, isn’t it?
Marr: Yeah. I said, “Well, I know they can’t write. They can’t read. There’s a connection.” So that got
invented and institutionalized. You find one at every college campus in the United States. But, I wish I
could answer this in an interesting way or a better way, at least, with respect to colleagues and so on.
Steinhoff: Well it’s the kind of thing that would show up in different ways in programs. “Oh my god, I
thought they would have totally understood what Melville was on,” or whatever, something less difficult
than Melville, Kuhn or whoever, but didn’t they see what Plato was trying to say?
Marr: Yes, right. Well, I don’t think I [ever] taught with anybody who had that [silly, benighted]

Perhaps the most risible version of the widely held assumption that students come to college already skilled in
reading and writing consigns the great nineteenth century American literary canon, from Emerson and Melville to
Dickinson and Twain, to the high school English class. It is as though D. H. Lawrence had never written Studies in
Classic American Literature (1923) in which he demolished the myth of American literature as a children’s literature.
“Just childishness, on our part,” he wrote. The fierce irony of that remark simply bounces off college teachers who
are disappointed by the students turned out by American high schools.
10 Richard Alexander, a planning year faculty member, once remarked in a public meeting that students are
ignorant by definition. This elementary truth was met with derision by some colleagues, as though Richard had
impugned students’ human worth or had highhandedly dismissed their life experience.


Steinhoff: Okay.
Marr: I certainly never did. Of course they [students] didn’t, they don’t know Plato [or Melville, or
Shakespeare, or Dickinson, or any other complex thinker].
Steinhoff: Or, the other part would be they didn’t even read it.
Marr: Oh, well, yes.
Steinhoff: It’s clear from the conversation that half of them hadn’t even read it.
Marr: I put a stop to that right away because you [couldn’t] get in the door if you [hadn’t] read it and
[were prepared to] show, prove you [had] read it.
Steinhoff: What’s the proof?
Marr: A piece of writing.
Steinhoff: Got it. How long?
Marr: Towards the end I was having them write for 15 or 20 minutes at the beginning of [the first
seminar for the week].
Steinhoff: Okay. That you would then get?
Marr: Yes, we’d read [aloud two or three of them, volunteered by the authors] in the seminar.
Steinhoff: Well, I was just going to say when you were telling—
Marr: You can’t write that thing if you haven’t read the Kuhn, or whatever it is. It’s just not possible.
Steinhoff: So what would the prompt be to get that writing going?
Marr: I would usually use a piece of text. I would write a little, you know, it looked like this basically.
[Draws on pad] One sheet, here we go.
Steinhoff: Here’s a little block of text.
Marr: Here’s text, and on the same piece of paper, not some other piece of paper, they write [in
response to the question I put].
Steinhoff: Do you have any of these still?

Marr: Oh, yeah.
Steinhoff: I’d love to see some of that.
Marr: There’s nothing to it.
Steinhoff: Oh, I’m sure.
Marr: It’s just the essence of simplicity, but this could just be an exchange between Romeo and Juliet
that takes six lines.
Steinhoff: Sure. What would a question be, for instance?
Marr: Well, [first] I’ll tell you what it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be a factual question or one to which mine
was the only right answer, and it wouldn’t be “comment.” [It would be a question answerable only in
terms of clear reasoning and textual evidence.] I’d isolate a conflict, maybe outline it, one sentence, and
then ask them to examine it.11


In the Addendum I include, at Eirik’s request, examples of these exercises, which I called exams. Here is one:
20 min. No books, notes or computer. Please print or write clearly on this sheet.
Write on 1 or 2:
Lisa says to Alyosha, “Listen, your brother is being tried now for murdering his father and
everyone loves his having killed his father.” She explains: “Yes, loves it, everyone loves it! Everyone says
it’s so awful, but secretly they simply love it. I for one love it.” Alyosha says there’s truth in what she
says. Then Lisa tells Alyosha of her dream about devils in which, though she repels them, she also feels an
urge “to revile God aloud” and does so. Alyosha says he’s had the same dream. After Alyosha leaves, Lisa
slams the door behind him, then reopens it.
[She] put her finger in the crack and slammed the door with all her might, pinching her finger. Ten
seconds afterward, releasing her finger, she walked softly, slowly to her chair, sat up straight in it and
looked intently at her blackened finger and at the blood that oozed from under the nail. Her lips were
quivering and she kept whispering rapidly to herself:
“I am a wretch, wretch, wretch, wretch!”
Why does Lisa love “it”? Why does she smash her finger? If you hypothetically erased this scene with
Alyosha and the finger-smashing (followed by “wretch!”) from The Brothers Karamazov, would anything
of importance to your understanding of the form and content of the novel be lost?
“I am not the real murderer, though I did kill him,” Smerdyakov says to Ivan. “You are the
rightful murderer.” Explain.


Steinhoff: Having gone through the analytical.
Marr: A little bit, yeah. Or it could be, I never liked “comment” very much because it was too open
ended, but like it could be something as devilishly difficult—I’m glad I never was asked this—I’d say,
“This takes place in scene two. How is it prepared for in scene one?”
Steinhoff: Yes. Ha ha.
Marr: Or something like connect.
Steinhoff: Extrapolate the pattern, other parts of the text, or when you’re later in the quarter the
curriculum that we’ve encountered thus far.
Marr: You can work it at any level. So when you do this, and you’ve got 20 students doing this, then
we’d build our discussion [of the text for the day] around that. And so I would give student number one,
I’d just pick somebody or they’d volunteer, and then I’d ask them, “Well, does anybody else see it a
different way? Or, did anyone else come up with something different, and why?” That’s all, basically,
that I did.
Steinhoff: This is the recitation except done on material.
Marr: It is[, though as I said the recitation was centered on the text]. Maybe a little less terrifying.
Steinhoff: A little less terrifying and you get to nail all of them at once. And then would you collect
these at the end?12
Marr: Oh yes, and I’d read them, and I’d comment briefly [in writing]on them.
Steinhoff: That’s the key.
Marr: And when it worked the best, it always worked well I thought, but when it worked the best is
when there would be a toe-to-toe conflict between two people over this thing they have in common. So,
that’s what I did.
Steinhoff: Nice. Is there a name for this?


During the twenty minutes when the students were writing, I would be writing my own answer.


Marr: What did I call it? I should look that up. This is slipping away from me. [I called them exams.]
Steinhoff: I realize I’m grilling you a little bit, this is lovely to hear actually, I’ll ask for that to add to my
Marr: Students’ default conception of the seminar is it’s a bull session [with a college name]. I had one
last night in the dorm room. [But of course A seminar is] not a bull session, and it is not a mere exchange
of opinions or grievances. It’s an exchange of [observations of the text] and [hypotheses and] arguments
[based on that close study]. And the center of an argument is the reasoning and the evidence, and in
this class evidence is in the text. That more or less summarizes it. I don’t care what you think about
what’s going on in Syria, I don’t care what you think about anything, I care what you think about this
[the text, and why you think it] .
Steinhoff: Exactly, this thing we have in common.
Marr: The thing we have in common. Now, if the thing we have in common is some news piece from
something going on in Syria, that’s up to the teacher to figure that out.
Steinhoff: It can be the hottest topic on earth.
Marr: That’s right, it could be red hot.
Steinhoff: But the point is we’re actually going to constrain ourselves. And there could well be reasons
to raise objections. Actually what we’ve constrained ourselves to is including this, but you’re making an
argument about what’s being included or what’s left out.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: It’s the law school piece again where there’s the training around creating a common
grammar or a common form in which to exchange just what it is that you think or can do.


Marr: If in answering the professor’s questions about the case, the [student] says, “And by the way, I
think [the Court’s decision] is bullshit.” The professor is going to say, well, who cares what you think
about it? That’s not part of the deal here. You can tell somebody that out in the hallway if you want to. 13
Steinhoff: Yeah. But it also strikes me that as you’re describing one of the consequences of this, and
also one of the principles of this way of teaching is that in thinking about Evergreen needs a theory of
knowledge which is about unifying, so it’s less about interdisciplinary unification and it’s more about
let’s have a common object of inquiry rather than a sort of fragmented, “I heard on Fox News,” or, “I
heard on NPR,” or whatever. Let’s work on this common object of inquiry, with the tools and the
muscles we’ve been building in this class together.
Marr: Right. And what that helps to do, and I found that it works without exception, is that some
students’ natural proclivity to channel authorities, “Well, Noam Chomsky said . . .,” is [put to the side].
What we’re talking about here is how well you can make an argument and what kind of power of
analysis you can bring to the text.
Steinhoff: Exactly. And maybe there’s a skill that is worth learning which is okay on day one we’re going
to do the Noam Chomsky chunk, and then on day two we’re going to do the Michel Foucault chunk, and
then on day three we’re going to do the crazy thing which is put them in conversation.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: And what are you going to say to Noam and to Michel, and why?
Marr: And why?
Steinhoff: And then on the next day you’re going to have to argue against yourself. That’s the law
school piece.
Marr: I agree.

Unless, that is, it is understood by all to be part of the deal. If it is, then the elucidation of “I think it’s bullshit”
will be part of the recitation.


Steinhoff: But, to be able to do that flexibly.
Marr: You’ve got it. That’s right. One of the beautiful advantages of starting off the year with Plato is
that if you begin with the Meno, the Meno or something like that you can [through Platonic drama]
introduce the distinction between opinion and knowledge [to clear the seminar air of opining, making
room for inquiry] without sacrificing passion.
Steinhoff: Indeed. Order without foreclosure.
Marr: Yes, because you don’t want to kill it of course, but you can’t just let it…
Steinhoff: That free for all, the bull session. That’s actually a waste of everybody’s time.
Marr: It is.14
Steinhoff: This is fascinating. So then, were other people doing things like this that you knew? I’m
curious in terms of, “Marr’s got that trick.” And then somebody picks it up once they see how you do it?
Marr: Not that I know of. I mean I did teach with some people where I would tell them this is what I do
and I think some of them [tried out their own versions].
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: But, I don’t know. It wasn’t something that got, I didn’t advertise it or anything.
Steinhoff: Yeah, this goes to one of the things on the last or second to last page of the second “M&M,”
skills sharing, mentoring. I think to this day that remains something that is needed. Especially as new
generations come in as students still trained in completely different kinds of departmental
configurations, not American studies but cultural studies, not feminism but queer studies. A lot of

I never felt it necessary to say to students the following: “If you have more important things to do than to
prepare for each seminar as thoroughly as you can, then by all means you should do those things. On any given
day each of us could well have more important things to do. But once inside this seminar room, with your
classmates and me, the only thing that matters is our work together. Enter with that understanding.” The
direction at the top of each exam sheet—No books, notes or computer—and the prohibition on the use of cell
phones during seminar discussions distilled key elements of these conditions, which were also set out in the
catalog description of the program, in my summer letter to registered students and in the syllabus.


transformations but still by-and-large subject matter, not how to teach, or if it’s people are learning how
to teach it’s often separated from subject matter.
Marr: I know, it’s maddening. It’s just crazy. And it doesn’t work. I don’t know when we’re going to
learn that it doesn’t work [regarding teaching as a learnable technique isolated from subject matter].
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: How much more evidence do we need?
Steinhoff: I know. I’ll tell you after the academic retreat because I’m going to be doing something with
another member of the faculty as a way of reflecting on what are our tricks, what are our tools? How do
we use them, how can we share them, how can we make sure that students understand just what it is
we’re trying to do? The school has a hard time collecting data, as you’re well aware.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: So the one thing that comes up is students wander off and disappear, and when they get
found again or interviewed they say, “You know what, I couldn’t understand why I was doing all of this
stuff. None of it added up. I didn’t connect the dots.”
Marr: Right. I think one of the big innovators here along these lines was Don Finkel. And his methods
did gain currency [in parts of] the college. He introduced this idea of workshops, you probably know
about this.
Steinhoff: I’ve heard about this but I’m curious to hear your perspective.
Marr: I taught with Don for three years so I know all about workshops [both strengths and weaknesses].
I suppose what I was just describing to you was indebted to some extent to workshops. Basically it works
like this, you describe a problem [that requires you] to find the derivative, and then you produce a series
of leading questions, down to 10, and you ask them to answer these questions about the problem.
Steinhoff: Individually?


Marr: No, you divide them into little groups. Let’s say groups of four, he liked four. And they can be selfselecting, these groups, or they can [be formed by counting] off in the full group [so that you end up
with x number of groups of four]. And you give the groups the worksheet with the problem outlined and
the questions, then you [have them] run off [to] find a place to work, come back in 45 minutes, and then
[return and reform as the full group].
Steinhoff: So each group has these 10 questions?
Marr: Has exactly the same thing. They all come back for the group session and the results from each
group of four are reported out. And then of course there’s an opportunity for discussion. So if you’ve got
five groups of four, you’ve got five reports, each one gets five minutes to report. You can organize it and
it’s very easy to do. This was very good, I thought, in its way. I don’t mean to make a back-handed
compliment by saying it like that, but it was especially good in everything, I thought, but literary texts. It
was really good in math and science. [It was also useful in conceptual analysis, such as getting students]
to understand something about the Freudian concept of ambivalence. [The point of the workshop
would be to enable students to discover the meaning of that concept by working their way through the
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: [Don’s workshops were useful in teaching] subject matters that lend themselves to being thought
of as problems. Where [they didn’t] work, at least I wasn’t been able to make [them]work, and he never
tried to make [them] work apparently because he wasn’t interested, is [in the recognition and
evaluation of] tone, the idea of tone in a literary work. It’s much more likely you could [design a
workshop on the basic architecture of] narrative method.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: If you have a very intricate narrative method on display in a particular novel that you’re reading
you could work up something around that.

Steinhoff: Right, Ulysses, you have the group go off about chapters, separate them out and have the
same questions. That could produce something.
Marr: That could produce, yes.
Steinhoff: But tone, I hear you.
Marr: It’s tough, it’s too subtle or something or too auditory or too aural or something, I don’t know.
Steinhoff: With tone there’s a kind of epistemological consequence to missing it.
Marr: Yeah! (laughs) You’ve got it, you miss [the tone and] you miss everything in a lot of ways. [It’s in
fact unignorable in all writing save, perhaps, technical writing. And sooner than later any analysis of
narrative method in prose fiction takes you to tone since they’re mutually constitutive.]
Steinhoff: Yeah. Interesting. So you say you taught with Don Finkel three times?
Marr: Yeah, middle-’70s [the first time], god I taught with four psychologists, Diana Cushing, Richard
Jones, Don Finkel and me, three psychologists. And then I taught with him again in a program called
“Unmasking the Social World.” Which was basically, well, it was a combination of neo-Marxist theory,
Arendt, and literary works.
Steinhoff: Was Crowe part of that?
Marr: No, it was just Don and I.
Steinhoff: Okay, I think you mentioned Arendt in relation to that last time.
Marr: Yeah, Don had never read any Arendt or Nietzsche and I hadn’t read Freud systematically enough
so I got that from him (along with Dewey’s ideas on education), and he got Arendt and Nietzsche from
Steinhoff: Nice
Marr: And then of course Horkheimer and Adorno.
Steinhoff: Sure.


Marr: That was fun. But he had this thing that he used that no one else used because I don’t think
anyone else could have brought it off, it was called a “self-reflective group.” This was a separate seminar
within the program, or two of them in this case, because there were two of us teaching together, in
addition to the regular seminar each of us led. The self-reflective group had its own reading list. [Don’s
design of the SRG, as we called it,] was somewhat fiendish actually. He and I would sit at the head of the
table and we wouldn’t say anything. And it was a [two-hour] social psychology exercise. And sooner or
later someone wouldn’t be able to stand it any longer and they’d start talking, [usually about the book
for the day, as though out of desperation.] [Don and I] would [continue to say nothing]. The authority
structure was such that of course they wanted us to say something. They wanted to stop the arguments
[over the book or each other] that had broken out. They wanted us to bring order. They wanted us to
tell them what they were doing here. And we would just sit there.
Steinhoff: What year was this now?
Marr: 1982-83, I think it was. But then seemingly at random—and this I’m sure drove some students
crazy—one or the other of us would [suddenly] intervene. We’d just say something that we thought was
penetrating about what had been going on, and then fall silent.
Steinhoff: Wow.
Marr: And this went on for two hours.
Steinhoff: This is that teaching with your mouth shut model, but without the infrastructure.
Marr: Yeah [,one version or aspect of that model]. It was fun, but it was fun in a kind of perverse way. I
mean, for me it was fun. And I think the students picked up on the perversity of it too as [over time]
they developed a kind of loyalty to their group, to each other.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: And a kind of sense of solidarity with them. But to them it was absolutely incomprehensible what
it was all about. We feel this way but what are we feeling this way about? It was weird[ly satisfying].

Steinhoff: I can imagine.
End of Part 1

Beginning of Part 2
Steinhoff: I feel like we’re at cruising altitude. We’ve got a lot of stuff, I mean we already had a lot of
stuff down. I don’t think I realized that you taught that many times with Don Finkel.
Marr: Yeah. Don Finkel, I taught one more time after “Unmasking the Social World,” it was a kind of a
great books program, later. One last thing about the self-reflective group that might tickle you. When it
started, first week or two, it was just a matter of time before someone would come up to us and say,
“What are you writing down?” Because we were always writing notes. They were talking, we were
ignoring them—we weren’t exactly ignoring them, but we weren’t speaking. “What are you writing
there? Can we see what you’re writing?” “No, you can’t see what I’m writing.” Everyone took no for an
answer. Typically there was only one person in the group who would ask that. And the social psychology
principle at stake there, as I understand it, is that he probably speaks for many [in the group by daring to
speak up].
Steinhoff: Right. Interesting. So this is part of that experimental collaborative quality—you wouldn’t
have done this on your own, I take it?
Marr: I’d never heard of it before.
Steinhoff: You were happy to do the recitation, but this isn’t something you weren’t going to do. Who
talked you into it?
Marr: [Don talked me into doing the SRG. The recitations and the exams that I was describing earlier
came much later . . .,] during my last 20-25 years.
Steinhoff: Got it. So there’s another 15 years of building up to this, trying other things.


Marr: Building up to it, yes. So I taught with Don [in three yearlong programs]. And then in between the
second and third times there was a rather large hiring that went on, middle-’80s. And along comes a guy
by the name of Tom Grissom, a physicist. He and I taught together [in three yearlong programs], once
with Don Finkel, [then with Sandie Nisbet, and finally] Tom and I alone.
Steinhoff: I see, so he was a new hire?
Marr: He was a new hire. He was an extraordinary fellow. One of the two or three colleagues from
whom I’ve learned the most. You can actually read his story, it’s a very abbreviated form of it, but in one
of Studs Terkel’s books. Tom had [been] a section leader I think it was called, or division leader, at
Sandia National Laboratory. So he spent his life as a physicist making [thermonuclear] bombs and then
in 1985 he walked away. Only I think two have done so, ever. He’s from [the] Mississippi [delta,] a
Mississippi story-teller. He was quite interested [in literature and philosophy] and he had begun to
develop [his] interest in literature both in his own writing, he wrote poetry and some fiction, and then
[further] in the program he and I taught together [1998-99] called “American Fictions” [nineteenth and
twentieth century American prose fiction]. But we hit it off very well. I don’t know if you have any
special place in your heart for physics and math but I’ve noticed that in the prose style of the great
physicists that I’ve read there is a tradition. When they are writing about something for a popular
audience they are the very definition of lucidity. They are really good. And they all sound alike. Tom
writes like Freeman Dyson, or Freeman Dyson writes like Tom, I don’t know which. But they’re just
uncluttered, unflappable, coherent, lucid. [Our work together made me regard Tom as representing a
significant challenge to C. P. Snow’s] two cultures [thesis].
Steinhoff: Yeah, the C.P. Snow model. So they don’t have, they’re not transmitting tone.
Marr: They respond to it, but they don’t—I don’t know how to put it any better than that. If [Tom
weren’t responding] to it [tone] he wouldn’t have the connection to Dostoyevsky or Melville or the
Greek dramatists that he has.

Steinhoff: Indeed. Was C.P. Snow something that was in the air or that was operative for you—this way
of conceiving that relationship?
Marr: I first came across the C.P. Snow controversy when I was a freshman in college.
Steinhoff: There you go. That was what, ’59?
Marr: No, ’61. I’m sorry, the controversy?
Steinhoff: You were a freshman in ’61 but I think that was first published in ’59.
Marr: I think it was.
Steinhoff: So that was hot news.
Marr: That was hot news [to educated people but not to me], and I didn’t really know what the hell I
was reading when I read it [Snow’s lecture]. But I somehow got [to it in my] freshman English class and I
ended up saying something about it [before the class]. It’s one of those things—I’m sure you’ve had this
experience—you think you understand something, and then 25 years later you say, “I didn’t understand
it at all, but now I do.”
Steinhoff: Oh, sure.
Marr: I maybe should have kept my mouth shut. (laughing)
Steinhoff: Right. As long as it wasn’t being recorded.
Marr: As far as I know.
Steinhoff: Did you teach that?
Marr: No, but if you were to talk about the C.P. Snow controversy in the ‘60s everybody knew basically
what it was. Two Cultures[—the sciences versus humanities].
If I had to make a list of the faculty members that have affected me the most, I know that’s the
spirit of one of the questions, Tom would be one of them.
Steinhoff: Tom.
Marr: Tom, Don Finkel, Beryl Crowe, [Hiro Kawasaki, Judith Espinola, Jeanne Hahn], Tom Rainey.

Steinhoff: He’s [Rainey] a pretty tall guy himself, isn’t he? I met him at graduation for the first time.
Marr: Did you?
Steinhoff: I’m just picturing the two of you, is this the basketball team here? 15
Marr: And of course Sam Schrager.
Steinhoff: Schrager as well.
Marr: Oh yeah.
Steinhoff: Let’s get to him in a moment, I’m curious to hear a little more about Tom Grissom though. So
you taught with him [three times]. Was he the one that you did some math with?
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: This is also another surface area that’s getting expanded and exposed.
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: Math being one of the hurdles you’d encountered with chemistry back in the day.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: Back in the day.
Marr: Well in this program we taught together[in the early ‘90s] called, “And now, the 21st Century.”
That was kind of a great books program but with a science, recent history and modern drama focus. So
he taught the physics. And of course it was non-laboratory physics, it was chaos theory [and non-linear
equations], it was quantum mechanics, it was the Manhattan Project. Stuff that the reasonably curious,
hardworking student could actually understand without having [a science major’s math background] and
would actually get something out of it. We taught with Sandie Nisbet so we had a lot of plays. Some
novels. Just one of those combos that you get at Evergreen.

It was obvious to Evergreeners once classes began in 1971 that there were more jocks on the faculty than among
the students—this, solely on the strength of a couple of touch football game during the first retreat in July and the
conspicuous indifference of the students to athletics.


Steinhoff: Sure. That was going to be one of my questions, did you ever work with a scientist? 16 And
here we’ve got one. Not just a person who professes science but one who is actually engaged in avantgarde, industrial, war-machine making.
Marr: Exactly right.
Steinhoff: Application. So what generation was he?
Marr: Well as I understand it the bomb scientists at Manhattan were generation one, then there’s [the
second] generation, the ones under the guidance of Edward Teller in the ’50s [and early ‘60s].
Steinhoff: H-bomb.
Marr: I think [Tom’s] would be the third generation.
Steinhoff: So is he a little younger than you?
Marr: No, he’s a little older.
Steinhoff: A little older, right, that’s how that works. Of course.
Marr: I think that’s pretty close to the way I would—
Steinhoff: Okay, so he actually had a very—if he started teaching at Evergreen, when, in the ’80s?
Marr: About ’85. He taught here for the better part of 20 years.
Steinhoff: Amazing. Is he still around?
Marr: Oh yeah, he lives in Albuquerque. We stay in touch. He’s quite a guy. He’s an archer, he wrote a
book on archery. When he [retired from] Evergreen he had something like 13 [self-publishing] book
contracts [in the works, fiction and poetry]. I was a dean at the time he was hired, he came in for his
interview and he brought with him this gigantic three-ring binder. It was about this thick [gestures to
indicate a 6 inch-thick binder] of patents, his own patents.
Steinhoff: That’s amazing.

Dave Barry, a biologist and Evergreen’s first Provost, was the other scientist I taught with, in a mid-seventies
program called “Backgrounds of America’s Future,” after Barry had been eased out.


Marr: That was interesting.
Steinhoff: That’s right, you were dean in mid-’80s.
Marr: ’84 to ’87.
Steinhoff: Yeah. How was that?
Marr: I didn’t like it much. I mean I was given two specific assignments and I was interested in both of
them. One of them was the evaluation of Basic programs, and the other was a disproportionate load of
faculty evaluations. So I figured, okay, a deal is a deal, that’s what I will mainly do. But then if you’re a
dean you have all sorts of this other stuff.
Steinhoff: Other things. Dog catcher…
Marr: Oh god, brush fires. My wife might tell you that I’m a little bit rigid. I said I have these two things,
and I’ll do as little of this other as I can get away with, and I did. But three years were enough.
Steinhoff: Were you put up to it? Or did you think this is something I want to try?
Marr: It was something I wanted to try.
Steinhoff: So Basic programs, would that be first year?
Marr: First year, yeah.
Steinhoff: So how did you do with those tasks?
Marr: I think I did all right. I evaluated 60 faculty members in three years.
Steinhoff: That’s a lot of work.
Marr: That’s a lot of work, and I wrote big, long evaluations.
Steinhoff: I was just going to say that your first three-year review comes to four volumes. Anyway, I’m
just curious. That’s a lot of work. Also, you’re loquacious, I mean every word is carefully selected and
therefore purposed, but you’re also a critic. Rigid, but the part I would say was honest. How on earth did
you manage that? I mean in this day and age anyway there’s a really a culture of congratulation in terms
of these evaluations, much more so than—“This part didn’t work very well, this part was very good.” I

can understand for sure why that is, and I’m not sufficiently experienced to be a full skeptic about that,
but there’s something lost in not having all the information in front of us when we’re having that
exchange. I’m curious how you managed that.
Marr: It was a different structure then in several respects. One is that there was the portfolio system.
Faculty members were required to keep portfolios with all the relevant documentation in them [selfand colleague evaluations, deans’ evaluations, evaluations of students, students ‘evaluations of the
faculty member, etc.]. The dean [to whose dean’s group one was assigned] kept a portfolio too, and not
just the portfolio that he or she had [kept as] a faculty member. And in this portfolio would be found the
dean’s evaluation exchanges with other faculty members. [The portfolio system, then, was a portfolio
circulation system.] So faculty members were—they weren’t afraid of being evaluated, but what they
most wanted to read was in the [dean’s] portfolio [which included evaluations by and from the dean and
faculty members].
Steinhoff: Sure. Their colleagues are being evaluated, of course.
Marr: Yeah. And when that went by the boards, that was a big loss at Evergreen [, a loss of social glue].
Steinhoff: Right, because that makes you responsible as the author.
Marr: That’s right. [As dean] I can’t just be a [stand-in for a tyrannical department chairman] but have
to give a fair assessment of what I found and of course that means what I read in the portfolio but also
what I found when I visited their class. It was like the visiting principal. So there was that.
Steinhoff: What’s the evidence for your argument?
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: And also who is the audience? Not just the person who is being evaluated, but other
members of the community.
Marr: And I think that the faculty members who would look at what the dean said about their
colleagues and what other colleagues said about the dean, because there were no punches that were

pulled as far as I could see. You would learn things about teaching, you really would because of the
bubble I was talking about, I’m going to get crazy with this [bubble] metaphor, but it comes in different
kinds. Yes, there was co-teaching, there was team teaching, but rarely did faculty members teach
together in the same room, in the [same] seminar I mean.
Steinhoff: Of course not, you’ve got your flock of 20 and I’ve got mine.
Marr: Yeah, that’s right. So you do get together in big [program] meetings and that’s good, but still
there remains this little encapsulated—who knows what’s going on in that seminar room.
Steinhoff: Silos.
Marr: Silos.
Steinhoff: Or sub-compartments or what have you. This [the portfolio system] is a way to pick up some
news, get some info.
Marr: That’s right. And I did come across some interesting discoveries when I’d visit seminars because I
would always read the book [which was up for discussion on that day]. If I’m going to visit your class for
the purposes of your evaluation it’s not going to be like watching television. If you’re reading Melville
that day, I will read Melville for that day. So part of my work as a dean was to read all of this stuff.
Steinhoff: Participant observation.
Marr: That’s right [,though I never spoke unless asked by the faculty member or a student]. Because
how in the hell am I going to assess your ability as a seminar leader if I don’t know what you’re talking
about? It’s just the visiting principal all over again, and I at least didn’t want that.
Steinhoff: I regret to say that I actually asked the dean that visited me most recently to please read. I
said, you don’t have to but here’s the text by Roman Jakobson that we’re reading.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: We’re talking about the poetic principle and you might find it of interest. I realize you’re a
biologist, however, just FYI, this is what we’re doing.

Marr: Good for you, but I think it should just go without saying that the dean does not step across that
threshold unless he’s as prepared by reading the book, or whatever it is, as anyone else that’s in the
Steinhoff: I think one thing those deans need, for sure, is just more resources. As to what you’re talking
about, the brush fires and all the other things, the gales of pressure and different vectors.
Marr: I know. I’d argue with the other deans. I’d say you have to read the book. And they said, “Oh no,
we don’t have time.”
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: I said, “Well then it’s nonsense.”
Steinhoff: I can see why you were dean but once given how seriously you took the charge. And also the
focus that you brought to the position because it actually seems like a space that demands a
multitasker. Also the other part about you don’t have that much power relative to the funding thing.
Marr: Yeah. And when it came to faculty evaluation—Barbara Smith was one of my fellow deans. One
year two members of a faculty team that had three or four faculty members in it came to us [at the start
of fall quarter] and said, “Okay, is this the year you’re going to do something about Bill Brown?”
And I said, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “You know what we’re talking about. He doesn’t do any work. He’s lazy. And he’s on our
And I said, “If you give me the documentary [evidence of his incompetence] I’ll do it.”
So the school year began, and [when] evaluation time came around they wrote their evaluation
letters that said that we don’t think that this guy should be reappointed because, and they gave their
reasons[—a fully documented case for firing]. I was the dean that received that stuff and so I had to tell
[Bill Brown] we’re not going to recommend that you be reappointed. Barbara Smith, to her credit, she
was involved in this too. She was very good friends with him, but she said, “Yep, this is right.” Well, he

challenged it and that broke the bubble that surrounded us [in isolation] from the outside world of [by
then established] case law on faculty appointments.
Steinhoff: Right, around the tenure thing. I see.
Marr: Because he had been here forever. We went through the formal appeal process within the
college. I wrote that stuff and then got the arbiter and it went to a higher authority. But in the course of
[this process] the assistant attorney general [assigned to Evergreen] told [us], “You guys are out of date.
He may deserve firing but you can’t fire him because he has a stake in his position according to the case
law.” Okay. And that then led to a big DTF that overhauled the whole faculty evaluation process. [The]
system you have now [provides for] various gradations of faculty. All of this kind of faculty portfolio stuff
[appears to have become] less and less relevant. Your faculty portfolio is quite relevant, of course it is.
But the dean’s portfolio, that’s suddenly gone [, and gone with it a vital piece of the social fabric, I’d
Steinhoff: Right, the culture of congratulation emerges. I was going to ask what did Bob Brown teach,
but I guess I should ask what didn’t Bob Brown teach?
Marr: Yeah, Bill Brown. What helped to make it a little bit complicated was that he was black. He was a
geographer, and he was married to the dean of the library, to Jovana Brown. They’re both dead now,
they both died on the same day a couple years ago. So, that’s how that came out.
Steinhoff: Interesting. That sounds like high stakes, high pressure and major consequence actually.
Marr: It was a major consequence, big change at Evergreen.
Steinhoff: One of those formal negations that is no longer operative: “no rank.”
Marr: That’s right. In 1973 Sid White, who was an artist [and art historian], and I started a little
magazine called Evergreen Symposium. And we [invited] Charlie [McCann] and other people write for it.
Well, Charlie only wrote for it once. But, he said in the piece that he wrote—no wait, that’s not true. He
didn’t say it in that piece. He said it in something else he wrote, it was for an outside publication. It was

an article he wrote called, “Academic Administration without Departments at The Evergreen State
College.” And what he said in that was that we know how to hire but we don’t know how to fire.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: Anybody who is a department head or dean outside of Evergreen who read that article would
[have said] well of course you don’t, you don’t have departments. Look at your title, that’s what
departments do, they hire and fire and occasionally the dean intervenes whatever the case may be.
Steinhoff: So I’m curious to hear your broader reflections on this structural issue. It’s a quality control
question and also a responsibility question. In what ways might this structure get abused? That’s putting
it very harshly, but I’m curious to hear your perspective on this question of responsibility.
Marr: Well, I think the old system, the one I outlined, was weak. It was kind of like the Articles of
Confederation, it began with [was founded on] friendship, and friendship above everything. So it’s true,
yes these three-year contracts were supposed to be renewed but the renewals were pro forma, [almost]
no one had gotten fired. So is that right? Is it realistic to think that any institution can make no errors in
hiring? Well, anyway, it was weak and something had to be done. What was done, the merits of what
was actually put in its place I don’t know what to say about that. If you say there’s a culture of
congratulations now I think what it was before was a culture of “I won’t say anything bad about you in
writing. If I have anything to say when our team gets together and we talk it out, if I have anything to
complain [about] that I haven’t already complained about, we’ll deal with it then [in a team meeting].
But we’re not going to put it down in black and white, we’re not stupid.” But I don’t think that obtains
much. I mean that wouldn’t be an accurate description of what goes on now, would it?
Steinhoff: I think it is. Absolutely. The bad stuff isn’t getting written down. But I’m also thinking about
your first three-year portfolio where you actually are critical of yourself. I’m also thinking about some of
the stuff that shows up in the Richard Jones book [Experiment at Evergreen]. Some of it might even be
with you where maybe he’s quoting an evaluation that you’d written of him. He’s got some faculty peer45

to-peer where there is some pretty solid critique being offered. With care and with real investment,
“You’re a good teacher, I’m going to tell you what happened in that lecture. Or why that seminar
collapsed.” Or you’re going to analyze why did my seminar collapse? That seminar imploded and you
were going to actually take the trouble to write seven more paragraphs about it.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: For your dean. That’s not going on now. I can say that for sure. And I made the mistake of
actually doing some evaluating of myself and of some people I was teaching with and realizing, “Oh, I
can’t share this.” Because I’d been reading your stuff. This is not 1972. I also don’t have tenure nor am I
on the tenure track, I’m just going to be a little more strategic here.
Marr: That does worry me. I was just lucky that I came here when I did and it didn’t even cross my mind
not to offend people. [Uppermost in my mind was to work well in a team of colleagues who got along
and were serious about our work.] I’m generally nice enough[, I suppose]; I’m not a pain in the ass as a
rule. I mean I don’t go around [deliberately] offending people, but I didn’t have any fear that I might say
something or piss somebody off and it might come back on me and pretty soon I’ll be out looking for a
job. Absolutely not.
Steinhoff: Right. And that’s in part a consequence of having strong colleagues, good colleagues, being in
a space where you understood that you could be heard.
Marr: Yeah. And there really was a widespread ethos of: “Let’s speak our own minds here. Let’s do it.”
Steinhoff: Right, let’s have that courage of speech.
Marr: Psshh. It’s much more admirable to be courageous at some other place than it would be at
Evergreen. It was just near expected to speak your own mind and not to be thought of as being
courageous in doing so.
Steinhoff: Precisely.


Marr: You just do it. I mean if I were teaching at the University of Minnesota and I wanted to make sure
that I didn’t get turned down for tenure, I have no reason to think I wouldn’t be just as careful as I would
need to be, I mean it just depends.
Steinhoff: This raises a question. Were you ever curious about what else is going on out there, where
else might I teach? Or were you like, oh, thank heavens this place is here because I might have been out
in the woods otherwise.
Marr: Actually the answer is yes to both of those. I often did think of trying to get out and going
somewhere else. But, you know, I didn’t know if the Titanic was going to sink. But I thank the colleagues
that mattered to me the most to leave with me the belief that this is really worth doing. So it really
came down to that.
Steinhoff: Right, I get that. Sure. So there’s an element of just practicality, there’s some kids—
Marr: Oh god yes, that’s for sure.
Steinhoff: And that’s the real responsibility.
Marr: I think too that most of us sensed that you just don’t build a new college overnight, it takes a
while. Even if it doesn’t take 300 years [as] Charlie McCann said it would. Come on, Charlie, not 300, can
you get [it] down to maybe 75? He wouldn’t budge.
Steinhoff: Yeah. You think you built a college? Not you singular, but plurally, what’s your sense at this
point? Here were are [at the] 50th anniversary within the next couple years, it’s going to be talked about,
and what is your sense?
Marr: I have to hedge a little because I’ve been more and more out of touch with what’s [been] going
on [since I retired in 2011]. 17
Steinhoff: Sure.

I retired from full time teaching in 2008, then taught three one-quarter programs (2009-11) on a post-retirement


Marr: When I have gotten back into touch periodically over the last five years, which is maybe three
times or something, I’ve been discouraged. I would have wanted to see more reckless abandon, less selfcongratulation. “We’re doing everything fine. Make sure you tell the new presidential candidates how
wonderful we are.” I [was struck by how widespread that sentiment is and found it] disheartening
because it seemed to signify complacence. It [Evergreen] should be more wild and wooly, whatever that
might mean. I mean, Charlie once said Evergreen was never meant to be an experimental college, it was
meant to be an alternative college. And to him the difference there was very large. Definitely an
alternative [in which, of course, there are experiments of various kinds in teaching styles, curricular
design, administration], hence all the “no’s,” right?
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: But, not experimental in the sense that, I’m not sure what he meant actually, where anything
goes. What I worry about now is that Evergreen may have produced a great number of self-appointed
full professors, with the comparatively light teaching load that goes with that rank. Related to this is the
steady decline, evident for at least twenty years, in team-teaching. That structure has built into it the
vitally important practices of serious self-evaluation and serious colleague evaluation, along with the
faculty seminar. I hope I’m wrong about all this. Because if these things fall away, what remains may or
may not be any good but it is hard for me to know, too see what is “alternative” [about it].
Steinhoff: I think the catchphrase now on the website says “progressive.”
Marr: Yeah, I don’t go with that. I don’t like political terminology being applied to a college. I’m very
much old school in that regard. [I wonder if “Smugly Progressive” would be more honest.]
Steinhoff: I don’t think the marketing team had a political ideology in mind. Although, that’s how I and
folks I’ve spoken with hear it.
Marr: Well, the questions on the sheet repeat the term “social justice” four or five times. I don’t think
that the aim of the college should be to train students to be international change-agents, as a colleague

once recommended. I don’t think so. I don’t think that should be the purpose of it. But if it is to be the
purpose, or one purpose, then something is going to have to be done beforehand overcome the
historical illiteracy of Evergreen graduates bent on such a mission.18
I guess a more specific answer to your question has to do with the [drastic] decline of the
humanities [at Evergreen]. I’ve spent a lot of time, as most people educated in these fields have done,
paying attention to outside-the-bubble events. I know pretty well what the history of the humanities has
been in higher education in the last century. Evergreen has lost a huge number of people in the
humanities over the past twenty years. In the early years, Evergreen arguably had too many faculty
members with graduate humanities degrees, especially in English. And now the opposite [is the case].
This change at Evergreen has taken place against the backdrop of a national decline and simultaneous
transformation of the humanities and the rise to ever greater prominence of STEM fields as well as, of
course, business . What is a liberal arts college today under these conditions? is the [obvious] question.
And that question in turn is not so indirectly connected to graduation requirements and distribution
requirements. And once you take up these questions you’re back into the whole business of what we
mean by “alternative college.”
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: It seems built into Evergreen periodically to hash over this question of institutional identity or
self-definition. But it just seems to me if you look at the faculty roster [and the curriculum], and you
pick out the people who—let’s just take the field of history, how many people with doctorates in history
do we have? And even more precisely, how much of the curriculum is historical—real history, not the
past presented as a melodrama of Victims and Oppressors? And I think the answers will be sobering.

Historical illiteracy, both cause and consequence of the radical presentness and tendentiousness infusing much
of the curriculum, desolates students’ and teachers’ capacity for self-criticism. Serious study in the liberal arts,
especially in history, philosophy and literature, can nourish that capacity.


These are empirical questions that have empirical answers and we can just look at the faculty
composition and the curriculum and find out. And you can do the same for the other mainstays of the
humanities—philosophy and literature, and languages, of course. There’s a present tense orientation in
the curriculum which I find alarming. We, at least in the first 30 years, taught some Plato, and Locke and
Hobbes, within and in addition to the history of the modern world. We should have done much more.
To do even less, as seems to be the case now, only guts the liberal arts core. The excessive emphasis on
recent events is not new as of the last decade or so; it’s been a weakness form the start. At Evergreen
1960 is old. You might as well be studying 1360, and I think that’s bad. I have always thought there
should be more faculty members in the medieval period and the ancient world. And by the way, what
exactly does “social justice” mean in a largely ahistorical context? Nothing, so far as I can see.
Steinhoff: Yeah. Your counterargument might be: Yes, but what’s been added to the curriculum would
be all kinds of faculty who have an expertise in cultures, and modes of expression and etc. That weren’t
present in that first wave, in that opening gambit, when if you lift the lid on the number of faculty that
have English Ph.D.’s it’s four Chaucerians.
Marr: I know. And probably four specialists in the English Romantic and Victorian periods. 19
Steinhoff: But so instead that might be a way of thinking of it as, actually, yes, the job of a college is to
introduce students to “the great tradition” but also maybe there’s a debate about what is that tradition?
Marr: Exactly.
Steinhoff: What has it excluded, and how do we make sure that there’s actually a way for that tradition
to not be this calcified structure but actually to think about the tradition as a thing that is an instrument
of transformation, which can include, then, the transformation of the tradition itself. So suddenly you’re
able to think about not only Locke and Hobbes and company, but also here’s W.E.B. Dubois talking
about reconstruction.


Charles McCann, Sandra Simon, David Powell and Charles Teske.


Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: Or just even The Souls of Black Folk, if we want to go for a specific text that basically is
canonical now, let’s have the freshmen read that. They will benefit from having read Plato as well
because certainly Dubois did. I’m with you entirely on the gap in history both as a discipline as
represented by faculty with those Ph.D.’s, and as a layer in the cake of any given program. That is a real
problem, and you can empirically demonstrate that. But I think another thing you might want to pull in
is what about this other range of cultural expression? I might even argue in keeping with Evergreen
needs a theory of knowledge. And that theory of knowledge is not only that it should be reunified, but
needs to inspect its exclusions.
Marr: Yes. And everything you just said, under the rubric of a counterargument, was going on from the
beginning. It hadn’t been going on enough, though. There never really was a belief that the western
tradition is set in stone and all we have to do is master it, period, shut up about everything else[—
though there was the obligatory tendentious charge concerning the evils of “the white male canon,”
especially during the ’80s and after with the steady rise of campus identity politics]. That was never part
of anyone’s thinking here, and it certainly wasn’t a part of anyone’s practice. And there was always a
movement to bring in, just like you said, other forms of expressions, other traditions, and in fact it
happened. The Souls of Black Folk, along with the history of slavery, was being taught in the second
year, if not also in the first; I know because I did it, as did others in those early years. But as all this was
going on we somehow went from four Chaucerians to no Chaucerians to no Chaucer.
Steinhoff: Bingo.
Marr: And that, I don’t think, is progress.
Steinhoff: It’s a counter exclusion.
Marr: It is kind of a counter… You see, these various discussions like we’re having right now have taken
place at least since the ’70s.

Steinhoff: Oh, I’m sure.
Marr: And the dominant response has been, in so far as you’re looking at consequential responses, to
make Evergreen a small university. It’s a seemingly incorrigible tendency and direct consequence of the
absence of a grounded institutional identity as an alternative liberal arts college. The reasoning goes
like this: You know, “Well we don’t have anybody in China, we don’t have a Chinese historian. Is
somebody going to stand up and tell us that China is not important in the modern world?” No. “India?”
No. And if we can only hire two people this year in our specialty area (which is the only one for which
history hires would be authorized) , and the choice is between hiring somebody in American history and
somebody in Chinese history, isn’t it obvious that we have to go with the Chinese historian because we
don’t have anything there. And besides since we are all Americans we already know our history. Nobody
wants to say that because it would be just too stupid on its face. But whether it is said out loud or only
quietly agreed upon, that, believe it or not, is the reasoning. To be an American is to know (enough)
American history. So it’s been kind of like that.
Steinhoff: I hear you.
Marr: Do you know about the big controversy that happened about 10 years ago surrounding the hire
in British literature?
Steinhoff: No.
Marr: Well this is almost unbelievable but for that very reason may tickle you. The Culture, Text,
Language planning unit was authorized to hire somebody in British literature. Okay, so they conduct a
search. The first thing that the search committee decides is it can’t be British literature, that’s
imperialism. So we can’t have British literature. Well, then what are we going to do? What are we
actually looking for? I mean if you have British literature you’re sanctioning imperialism, aren’t you, and
colonialism? Even as recently as twenty years ago it would never have occurred to anybody to say such
an absurd and historically ignorant thing, much less would this juvenile idea end up as the official stance

of a hiring committee. So what are we going to do, are we going to just camouflage “British Literature”
so we don’t look like we’re hiring from the Rudyard Kipling fan club? Eventually it all kind of got mushed
around in an Evergreen way and the name got changed somehow and Trevor Speller got hired.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: 17th Century.
Steinhoff: British literature.
Marr: But don’t say that. This is dumb and servile. Evergreen should not constantly, compulsively, be
demonstrating it bona fides, forever virtue gesturing, when it comes to its “progressive” identity—it
reminds me of the Beyond the Fringe routine about the Second World War.
“Well, I was against it.”
“I think we all were.”
“But I wrote a letter.”
Steinhoff: Indeed. I hear you on how— At some point in one of the “M&M”pieces there is a discussion
of mobbism. I’m not making an equation here but there is something that can happen when a certain
zeitgeist gets transformed into something as powerful as the invention of a faculty line which then
becomes, especially at a school where you can’t fire anybody, basically, there actually is a real question
about how do you describe the position for lines that you want to fill. I can get it on the one hand, but
then if the consequence is that you’re still just going to hire another white guy that’s just going to teach
a bunch of white guys, which actually isn’t the case. Trevor is an omnivore and he’s a very responsible
member of the faculty in that respect I think. The last class he was teaching before he got ascended into
the deanery was the post-colonial British novel, the one before that was the colonial British novel. He
actually has a track, you know, if students want to do an English major type thing within this larger
context they could have done it. And they weren’t just getting the dead white men to my understanding

So this is a slight tangent to go to a different topic in a way. So as a consequence of case law
being discovered by the state’s attorney general and tenure being more or less muddled in by the back
door, now it’s not tenure but conversion.
Marr: Speaking of the 17th Century.
Steinhoff: Exactly. Which gives a new meaning, or renews the meaning of what covenants were in the
first place. Just don’t go read what Moses did, whatever you do, don’t go back to that text. So there
actually then becomes a two-class system because then you’ve got the folks who’ve got tenure and then
you’ve got the rest of us who actually don’t. But the difference being, as it’s practiced now anyway, the
adjuncts do the role of the deans. The deans say, “Hey, we’ve got an opening over here.” And it’s not
like we’re servants or anything, but more like, “Would you like to co-teach a class on forensics?” “Oh
sure, I’d love to.” As opposed to, oh yeah, I’m just hanging out here and I’m going to meet this person—
where there’s no place to meet anybody—and they’re going to ask me if I want to teach with them. That
does happen sometimes but that two-class system that’s emerged tells the lie to the claim of faculty
autonomy, which is another one of these buzz-buzz things. “Faculty has too much autonomy at
Evergreen that’s why it’s so messed up.”
Marr: Is that common now?
Steinhoff: That’s a thing that’s been said about—
Marr: Because that’s been said [by some deans] for 30 years.
Steinhoff: Of course. I mean, one of the diagnoses is this is an apolitical situation, we don’t have a
definition of the common good and as a consequence there’s a premium placed on rampant
individuality. So it’s the adjunct faculty who are providing the conditions for continuing faculties’
autonomy in so far as the deans can do their tinkering with the curriculum not by telling their regular
faculty what to do, but by inviting adjunct faculty to do this job as a kind of a take it or leave it thing. I
mean, I’m kind of overstating the case, but you get it.

Marr: I do get it, yes.
Steinhoff: So that’s all a big, fat, roundabout lead up to, were you in the mix at all around the union
stuff when that emerged?
Marr: Well, it was coming in just as I was going out. Although, as it happens, there were two other
faculty members and I who tried to start a union in the early-’70s. And we had one, but it fizzled. This
current union is obviously a real union. We wanted to affiliate with the Teamsters. [Laughs] But we
didn’t get that far. So as I say, I’m not up to speed on that at all. But what you described just before you
asked the union question though, I would not say what you said matches my understanding of things. It
was in the ’90s when part-time study, as it was then called, was greatly expanded. I was against it in this
sense, I thought it should be there to provide things that the regular curriculum can’t provide [as well],
but we think are important. For example, foreign language teachers often made the reasonable
argument for teaching foreign languages taught there [in part-time and] low-credit courses, introduction
to French, intermediate French and so on, and maybe a few other things, in math, say, but a small scale
operation. But, no, it got very big, and quickly to help stave off under-enrollment problems.
Evening/weekend came to be the untouchable part of the curriculum in at least two senses, the one you
described about curriculum and teaching and so on, and in terms of the RIF policy. Because when the RIF
policy was originally formulated, and it stayed as such for years, the college was going to survive a RIF
because we could fire the evening and weekend people, the RIF cushion as they were called, and
therefore satisfy the government that way.
Steinhoff: Got it, reduction in force. It’s your stopgap, this is where you’ve got the buffer.
Marr: Yeah, that was our buffer, but when something gets too big to be called a buffer you can’t use it
as a buffer anymore.
Steinhoff: That’s right.


Marr: And that’s what happened. And now, with what I think are deleterious effects that you were
talking about where it becomes a pillar of the two-class structure that you’ve got.
Steinhoff: Yeah. Let me counter-argue myself though, I’ll just put it this way, I’m getting paid $50,000 a
Marr: Because of the union?
Steinhoff: No adjunct gets paid $50,000 a year anywhere.
Marr: No.
Steinhoff: I’m not sure if it’s because of the union, I don’t know what your perspective on this is, but as
so far as I know the faculty voted on something about a point system, said everybody is getting paid the
same, the scientist gets the same amount as the business teacher gets the same amount as the English
major. As opposed to other schools where scientists get paid way more if they’re sexy, the business guy
gets paid even more, and the English teacher, psh, they’ve got no clout.
Marr: Exactly right.
Steinhoff: They’re making $40,000 whereas the scientists are making $100,000. So it’s an equitable pay
scale done on a point system and the adjuncts are making 90 percent of what the regular faculty make
but on the same point system. So my Ph.D. counts, my publications count, my years of experience count
and I get healthcare. So I can say two-class system, mainly it’s just okay your little story about faculty
autonomy is an important one, but it’s insufficient to actually describe the situation. But, I also want to
be clear that it’s a paradise. I can say adjunct to make the first class feel a little bit squeamish, or maybe
to accrue some revolutionary bona fides to myself, but actually I’m in a very stable position relatively
speaking. And my understanding was that that 90 percent on the equal pay scale was a decision that the
faculty made at some point. I don’t know the history there.
Marr: I don’t know anything about that either.
Steinhoff: Yeah.

Marr: And you’re absolutely right, if you’re just about anywhere else, if you’re an adjunct you have four
jobs, or two, whereas you have only one job.
Steinhoff: And [if I’m anywhere else] I’m getting paid three or four thousand bucks a pop, and I’m
driving from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to Oakland.
Marr: For that matter, look at St. Martin’s College.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: My god, even the regular faculty make nothing, the adjuncts make less than nothing. It’s pathetic.
My grandson just graduated from there and he was involved in the union activities so I got a little bit of
a taste of that.
Steinhoff: Another thing that’s come up over the years would be this question of accreditation. Where
the inspector comes around and he’s like, “How on earth am I supposed to inspect these guys?”
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: Every single time a new story has to be told. So there’s something back there in the mist,
maybe not even that long ago, GenEd, these kinds of things. Am I pushing the right buttons?
Marr: It’s all very real. GenEd, god, Sam Schrager and I were involved in that. When it came to the final
decisive vote there were only two votes against GenEd, Sam and me. My argument was—I don’t even
remember this well enough to talk about it for more than a second or two. I said I was not going to vote
for the right thing for the wrong reasons. And if people can’t make a better argument for GenEd than
they have made so far, I’m not going to vote for it.
[I’m not sure what your question about accreditation is.] Patrick Hill who was the provost in the ‘80s
when I was a dean, we were due for an accreditation review. And he said, “Well, these are semi-serious
exercises.” Where the college gets its paperwork in order and prepares for the visit by the accrediting
team. I didn’t quite know what he meant by that because I took it like everyone else, I took it with
dreadful seriousness. So the way it worked then, I don’t know if it’s still this way, but the accrediting

team reads what the institution gives them, a bundle of self-studies prepared by the various units. The
accreditors read the self-studies and say, “Okay, here’s what you say you’re trying to do. And here’s the
documentation as to whether you’ve actually done it. And it looks like you’ve pretty much accomplished
it. Except over here, you could do a little more here.” It’s just at the most a slap on the wrist if you don’t
do so well, otherwise it’s just kind of rubber stamping things. I think that’s more or less how it goes now.
Steinhoff: My understanding was that it was one of these waves, these periodical waves of
accreditation and responding to the inspection, the critique that the Expectations and even the
Academic Statement for that matter as forms that describe what’s expected of the graduates, why the
college is organized the way it is.
Marr: That’s right, and the Statement being the more recent of those.
Steinhoff: It sounds like quite the hot faculty meeting if there’s votes and you and Sam are holding a
certain ground.
Marr: [Well, let’s not confuse the GenEd controversy, which was circa 2000, with accreditation, which
has occurred periodically.] We were in a tight spot because we couldn’t provide an adequate answer to
the question of what is an Evergreen degree beyond 180 credit hours? That in turn brought to mind
Charlie’s, when Charlie was asked about this years and years ago when he was being pressured from all
sides to give in on graduation requirements beyond 180, and he wouldn’t do it. But it provoked him to
say, “Well, just because it’s only 180 and nothing else is spelled out it does not follow that the place is
without academic standards because academic standards obtain in the interaction between the faculty
member and the teacher.” Now if they don’t obtain there, he didn’t say this but he clearly implied it, the
game is over anyway. But he trusted that if you have a competent faculty member working with a
student that’s where the rubber hits the road. You don’t give a laudatory evaluation for crappy work,
you don’t not blow the whistle on people. You do what Rudy Martin did, for instance. A student of his
meets with him in his office and Rudy says, “Okay, here’s the story, you can’t write. And here’s what the

institution provides to help you with that.” Well, the student had never heard that before, the kid, he
went on to graduate from law school because after his meeting with Rudy he eventually learned how to
write and was able to continue with his college work. That’s the kind of thing Charlie meant, it’s not too
hard. Too many people thought that the existence of distribution requirements somehow proves
academic standards have been met. That’s false. The only proof that academic standards have been
met is the say-so of the competent faculty member assessing a student’s work. Absent that, distribution
requirement are meaningless. 20
Steinhoff: It’s a craft mentality.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: As opposed to an industrial one. Where you’re trusting the worker to tell the apprentice
whether they’re using the tool correctly or not.
Marr: That’s right.
Steinhoff: Whether they’ve made the thing or not.
Marr: You don’t want to have very much slippage if you’re making parts for a jet engine. The tolerances
there are severe. I don’t want to push that analogy very far. So those of us that were opposed to the
GenEd thing, I don’t think we did very well but I also don’t think that GenEd, I don’t know what the
results of that were later, the institutional consequences.
Steinhoff: That’s the thing, how do you measure it? You can tell people about your foresight, you can
tell them about your expectations.

Well, I now say in hindsight, not quite meaningless. There’s a worthy justification of distribution requirements
to be made on the grounds of exposing students to a large smorgasbord of what the college has to offer. I don’t
recall this argument having been made. Beneath my own opposition to GenEd lay a strong skepticism that
Evergreen possessed at the time, or could be counted on to acquire in the near future, a sufficiently academically
diverse faculty willing and able to teach the required courses or programs that fall under the heading of
distribution requirements. The severe weakening of the humanities by the time GenEd was being “debated” was
an open secret. Without a vigorous humanities faculty it’s hard for me to see GenEd as anything more substantial
that an effort to align Evergreen with the then-latest academic fad in higher education.


Marr: That’s just crap, I want to know whether they’ll be required to do this, that or the other in order
to get a degree.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: Are we going to talk about requirements or just talk about this vague thing called expectations? It
just seems like blather.
Steinhoff: Yeah. I will say as somebody who got hired two weeks before the first program I taught
started, I mean my partner had been teaching there for years so I got some stuff by osmosis, but oh now
I actually have to crack this case. Being able to find that online for the new timer was hugely helpful.
There was no orientation, retreats, there was no nothing, there was just like there’s 25 kids on this bus,
actually, there’s 30 if you want to ride on it. So you’ve got five overloaded and you just don’t let them in
if you don’t want to, but we need somebody to drive this bus. We’ve got the money for it and we can
help you as much as we can, we trust you, you seem like a good enough Swiss Army knife, you can figure
stuff out on your feet. So for me, actually I had never heard about Evergreen before Miranda applied for
the job.
Marr: You mean we weren’t that important?
Steinhoff: Her cousin had gone here but I still didn’t know what it meant. He just graduated from
whatever, whatever state college, it just didn’t signify a thing. I mean I’d gone to Bard where Peter
Elbow had started the Language and Thinking Program, I’ve taught in the Language and Thinking
Program since 2001 so it turns out there’s some relationship with something of an Evergreen ethos. I’d
been writing criteria sheets instead of giving grades at Bard. But so to be able to actually find online Five
Foci, Six Expectations—for me, that snapped a few things into focus.
Marr: Okay, then. That’s good to hear.
Steinhoff: But it’s as a consequence of there being nothing else.
Marr: Yes.

Steinhoff: I think that there might be a way of describing what those things supply now is a way for
people to organize, especially new people coming in, to organize their own potential in relationship to
what the school says about itself without having to be at the mercy of an oral culture. You know what I
Marr: Oh yes.
Steinhoff: And this is me also trying to think in terms of, well what’s the next 50 years going to be, and
how are we going to do that one? Big question. Maybe I’ll just ask you then, you said of your colleagues
who you were working with from whom you learned the most, there’s one name that’s come up again
around the GenEd stuff, but you said Sam Schrager.
Marr: And before we get to that I’m going to check on something downstairs.
[Recorder turned off]
Steinhoff: So I asked about Sam Schrager, when did you meet that guy?
Marr: It would have been ’97, and then we taught for the first time in ’99, and since then we’ve taught
in five programs together. And as of ’97 he had been here for eight or nine years. One of the things I
objected to in the early years was something I called creeping social science. By which I meant the
reduction of the literary text by way of the heresy of paraphrase, to a statement, kind of a simplistic
reductionism. And when I met Sam it became clear to me that even though he was a social scientist 21 he
was not bent that way, so that was one of the reasons I wanted to teach with him. I didn’t know it fully
at the time that he was [not a creeping social scientist], but I really had that on my mind because—a
reductive approach—was stupid and I had no time for it. So he and I just hit it off very well, we got along
very well and we still do. He’s a rare combination of rigor and gentleness, he’s quite a guy in a lot of
ways. And I think, too, that I learned from him something important about, you talked earlier about the

This is probably wrong, to classify folklore as a social science. My point concerns reductionism, not academic


professional deformation which everybody undergoes, of course. Well as an intellectual historian even
though my training was in the social history of ideas I nevertheless, I think, had a strong tendency
toward a professional deformation of a different kind which was that I didn’t have a strong feeling for
the folk, [for the everyday social part of the social history of ideas]. And he helped me see that
[weakness]. He introduced me to it, though he didn’t know I didn’t have a feel for it. But through our
work together I transformed my understanding of the origins and consequences of the always present
split between intellectual elites and everybody else. Actually I had first explored this tension years
earlier, but working with Sam deepened it for me. When Norm Jacobson and I taught a summer
program on the migration of European immigrants to America (I was the very junior partner in that
teaching team) this problem came up for me for the first time and began to be clarified. Norman once
said, “Well, I am at once an intellectual and a mass man.” When he said that, that really clicked with me,
not least because of my working class origins and somewhat misspent youth. George Santayana once
claimed that the great thing about American life is not the life of the mind, it’s football, jazz bands and
kindness. And if there was anybody who was a non-Emersonian, Brahmin intellectual it would be
Santayana. But he saw this, he saw this thing about America that is true, I think, that even the most selfconscious intellectuals are split, just as the larger culture is. They even refer to watching professional
football as a guilty pleasure, some of them, the dumber ones, as if you needed to do that, to apologize
for mixing it up with the great unwashed, even though they may have come from the great unwashed
themselves. But, when I got to teaching with Sam I learned more fully what this might mean in terms of
understanding America as a historical fact, the fact of America is the fact of the contorted, contradictory
relationships between thinkers and regular people—in intellectual life, politics, law, economic life,
education, war, past and present. So I’m very grateful for him. We went through several programs
where little by little this problem unfolded for me.
Steinhoff: Yeah, and again dialogically, not just with Sam but also with the students.

Marr: Oh yes, very much so.
Steinhoff: And what it also puts on the table, I think, is there’s race, there’s gender and there’s class.
And that third one, class, is usually invisible. So there’s the Stanley Fish essay, “Is there a text in this
class?,” and the questions I sometimes pose are: “Is there class in this class? How would you know?”
Especially given that we all call each other by our first names now, and even the teacher is wearing
ripped jeans.
Marr: That’s right. When I went to Germany, when I went to the Free University of Berlin to give a
paper on William James, I walked into my hotel room where the television set was placed so the first
thing you see when you open the door is the screen, and it said, “Welcome, Professor Doctor David
Marr.” I said, “Holy crap!”
But, no, class is much on my mind. I mean the holy triad of race, class and gender always struck
me as silly. Not the facts of race, class and gender, of course[, but their use as a pretext for ideological
ends on campus and as an academic fad]. It’s the invisibility of class at the same time as the blatant
consequences of it. Like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri a couple years ago. How can anybody
understand that if class is left out of the analysis? I mean you can’t have a 90 percent white police force
policing a 90 percent black community if it weren’t for the comparatively withered historical
development of the black middle class in that area. No sturdy, self-respecting black middle class would
have put up with it for a second, it wouldn’t have come about, it just wouldn’t have. Try to imagine the
tables turned. I’m very much concerned with this problem.
Steinhoff: It also raises a different question, I’m curious now that we’ve put class on the map, you
didn’t come from an intellectual family.
Marr: God no.
Steinhoff: And I’m curious about that then. To make an interview question of it would be, what did your
parents think of what came of you?

Marr: They didn’t understand it. My father was not overbearing, but he was a very strong man and
probably because his schooling ended after sixth grade the only way that he could understand what I
was going to do after I got through the first four years was to use the word education (as in “he’s going
to be a teacher”). That seemed to settle it for him. My mother went to 11th grade and because she read
a little maybe had a feel for what I was up to, but in any case in her eyes I could do no wrong. I suppose
both of my parents saw me wearing a white shirt. 22 If I hadn’t moved out here I don’t know what would
have happened, stayed in the Midwest. Could have gotten a job, I’m sure, but geographical mobility and
class mobility are interconnected, as any pioneer could tell you.
Steinhoff: For sure.
Marr: Especially in a country as big as this.
Steinhoff: Yeah, where you get so far away.
Marr: A little bitty country like England, it’s a different matter.
Steinhoff: And what about your siblings then? Because there is quite a range, right?
Marr: Yes, two older sisters and one younger one and none of them went to college. I come from a
family and a culture where the male-worship was palpable. Not because the women were weak, but just
because that’s the way it was.
Steinhoff: Yeah.
Marr: The women were not weak, and they weren’t pushed around by their men but there’s no
question what they admired most, it was a man. 23

The obligatory blue work shirt for male professors was not yet in vogue.
Garrison Keillor gets at this truth about the Midwest of my youth in the description of his fictional Lake
Woebegone, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above
average.” Male-worship was at once a sign of patriarchy in decline and deference to the man as a good provider.


Steinhoff: What the default setting of the discourse was, yeah. That was a piece of early history at
Evergreen too I imagine, in terms of how many faculty are there who are men and women and like we
were talking about earlier, how many people of color on the faculty?
Marr: Yeah, that was glaring after everybody got together that first year [1970-71], there was one black
guy. In the planning faculty there were no women and one black guy. The next year there were some
women and one more black guy. Rudy saw to it that a couple other non-whites were hired, but they
didn’t last. There was Don Chang, he was an Asian American who was hired the same year as I, but Rudy
was teaching in a program called “Contemporary American Minorities,” he was the black one, there was
one Indian [Darrel Phare, a Lummi 24] and then there was one Hispanic [Medardo Delgado], and neither
one of those guys stayed at Evergreen long. It was very agonizing in terms of how to handle the race and
gender thing.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: And of course what we called the first wave, I guess technically second wave of feminism was
barely underway, but it was getting underway by the early-’70s and that had direct bearing on the hiring
of women.
Steinhoff: Yeah, and I’m sure students were pushing.
Marr: Some, not so much, more on race than sex. Most of the pushing and pulling occurred within the
faculty, with the deans and vice president.
Steinhoff: That would make sense. In an earlier conversation you spoke about how relatively speaking
young the faculty were.
Marr: Yes, boy, that’s like one of those things like class almost, it just disappears[, or is hidden from
view]; it has to be constantly brought back that everybody was so young. That’s really true.


Mary Ellen Hillaire, also of the Lummi tribe, joined the faculty in 1972.


Steinhoff: And so then you also got to watch everybody age together when you work at a place for 40
Marr: I know. And die off. A lot of people I had connections with are dead. Don Finkel died when he was
only 56.
Steinhoff: Not on schedule. That must have been felt by the college as a loss.
Marr: That was an all-campus event. I asked Bill Arney, “Do you think he held out?” Because he had
lymphoma. “Do you think he held out until the faculty got back together in the fall?” And he said,
“You’re damn right he did.” He died shortly after they got together so everybody could be there for the
big memorial service.
The thing we haven’t talked about that is just as important as anything at the college level as
anything having to do with unions or faculty evaluation or [minorities or] anything like that is the
Olander presidency. I think of it as the fundamental turning point in the college. He was president
starting on January 1, ’85 until they finally got rid of him, I don’t remember, ’92, ’91, something like that.
Things changed [under Olander]. It’s hard to describe but there was a toxicity that developed under his
presidency and because of him. Up until then we had the greatest president, Charles McCann, and we
had a couple other stand-ins.
Steinhoff: Dan Evans was in there.
Marr: Dan Evans was in there. And then this guy comes along, takes the college by storm, people were
intensely enthusiastic about him. He turns out to be a kind of—in the end he turns out to be a fraud. He
wanted to make over the college in some sort of image that he had of it. So that included specifically
getting rid of Patrick Hill the provost and bringing in his own provost. Well, he couldn’t get away with
that. He wanted to make his mark on the college, he didn’t want to be just president of a college, he
wanted to change it. In what ways it wasn’t clear, but in any political situation like that he’s going to get


some people to his side. And so, paradise is lost, right? 25 He had some supporters, not many because the
utopianism of the college was still alive and there was a sense, never articulated very clearly, that this
guy doesn’t really fit. He can claim that he was a runner for the mob in New Jersey and use that as a
weapon. He can say that when he comes up to an opponent he can’t defeat he might threaten him with
two broken collar bones. He was given 15 minutes which was the protocol at the time for a faculty
meeting, he wanted to come and address the faculty and the agenda committee said to him, “Okay,
fine, we’re working on our agenda. We’ve got a spot here from 2:15 to 2:30.” He didn’t like it but he
came anyway. When his time was up, Don Finkel who was the chair of the faculty and running the
meeting he said, “Okay, Joe, we’ve got a couple other things on our agenda.” He said, “I’m not done
yet!” And he tore into Finkel, attacked him publicly. All but physically, threatened him, there was no
question about it. It was just a disturbing violation of [Evergreen-style] propriety and decorum. So he
had to go, and that’s when David Hitchens and Craig Carlson got on the case and started researching his
credentials which eventually led to the discovery that he maybe had falsified one of them or
misrepresented one of them, it was a flimsy charge, basically, as these things go. But, it worked and they
got rid of him.
Steinhoff: But it took a while it sounds like.
Marr: It took a while and he succeeded in getting Patrick out of his way. Patrick had two straight years
of paid leave. I once asked him how he was doing on his long sabbatical. He said, “You know, I’ve
concluded that being on sabbatical is the natural condition of man.” I said I believe it.
Steinhoff: And you’d been a dean under him, is that right?
Marr: Yes. One of the first things Olander did is he met with each of his deans, there were four of us,
privately to see where we were. That’s not how he put it of course. But he was feeling out the ground to
see how much support he would have if he wanted to make a move against Patrick. He came away from


Evergreen-as-paradise is lost as a condition of its being invoked.


each of those four meetings empty handed, and he was extremely disappointed. It wasn’t too long after
that then that he burst into a deans’ meeting and he said, “I’m going to make you all associate provosts
starting today.” Barbara Smith said, “Oh no, you’re not going to do that.” (laughing) And so that fizzled.
But it was the same attempted maneuver. So, no, he had to go.
One of the funniest things that happened, I don’t know if you know this story but when David
Hitchens and Craig Carlson were out there, super sleuths, they discovered that a prominent figure from
one of the main mafia families in New York was in a federal prison in Arizona. I can’t remember, it might
have been Joseph Sclafani but it was a well-known name. I have it somewhere written. Don’t ask me
how they did this, but they managed to ask him a question over the phone. And the question was, “Was
Joe Olander a made man?” And all they could hear at the other end of the line was uproarious laughter.
“Are you kidding?” I mean he knew who Hitchens and Carlson were talking about, he knew Joe Olander.
He was a charlatan, an academic charlatan who also could speak Mandarin.
Steinhoff: Right. What about that part?
Marr: He learned it in the Air Force.
Steinhoff: That sounds like a serious crisis.
Marr: It definitely was. We never recovered from it, I don’t think.
Steinhoff: What was some of the damage as you see it?
Marr: I think a loss of that original utopianism, it just got bulldozed. And after all, come on, this isn’t the
’60s forever. [I think many Evergreen faculty suddenly felt licensed to voice that.] The whole late-’60s
atmosphere of educational reform, my god that’s when the State University of New York went crazy,
they founded college after college after college, New Paltz, Old Westbury, I don’t even know what the
other ones were but there was a bunch of them. And then a strange thing in the state of Washington at
Evergreen [and the expansion of the community college system here].
Steinhoff: Yeah, Santa Cruz is in there.

Marr: Right. But whatever lived on in the original Evergreen dream was pretty much defunct, I think, by
Steinhoff: But it’s the charlatan that makes it visible somehow.
Marr: I think so. It certainly helped a lot to do that.
Steinhoff: So would a part of that be that we were so duped that we actually fell for this guy and
thought this was the way to go? Sort of like, this is a bad analogy, but drinking the Kool-Aid type thing.
“Oh boy, we were so bubbled that we thought this was going to be the next step.”
Marr: I think there might be something to that. I hadn’t thought about that. Kind of a shameful
acknowledgment. When he was interviewed there were three finalists. One was a guy by the name of
Stott, and the other one was this young woman from Iowa, I call her the Catholic school girl, she had
that kind of demeanor and she was ho-hum, earnest, dutiful but not very interesting. This other guy
[Stott] comes in from Philadelphia I think it was, somewhere in Pennsylvania, he’s actually got ideas and
seems like a really interesting guy but comes in under a cloud. And then the cloud that he comes in
under is only known about fully later. He [was rumored to have] violated something having to do with
gays on campus [at his university]. Well, that’s sinking. And then Olander came in and he was
charismatic, he was handsome, he was very presidential, I can’t resist the combination here of qualities
for… But, he was quite captivating and he just brought down the house. And when it [his public
presentation during his interview] was all over, I was walking back to my office and to my credit or
discredit I thought he was a fake from the beginning. And I turned to Chuck Nisbet who is an economist,
who was just bubbling over, and I said, “Chuck, what did you think of that guy?” he said, “Oh god, he’s
just wonderful. We are going to be so lucky to have him.” I mean it was quasi-orgasmic in the room. It
didn’t take long before it all just—so, maybe that was a sign of desperation.
Steinhoff: Right.
Marr: Because if there’s one thing Charlie McCann never was, it was flashy. This guy is all flash.

Steinhoff: So then what happens? Is that when Les Purce becomes interim president, is that the
Marr: Well, he becomes a vice president of something under Olander, not provost.
Steinhoff: No, it was the other part, the money stuff.
Marr: I think so. And then he leaves for WSU and is an administrator over there for a while, and then he
comes back as president.
Steinhoff: I think he was interim, I think he was a placeholder for two years or something.
Marr: But he eventually becomes the president here.
Steinhoff: After somebody else.
Marr: Yes, she [Jane Jervis] was [a scholar] in medieval history of science and her husband was a
physicist from New York. She was president for four or five years, and then along comes Purce.
Steinhoff: Yeah. What was your sense of those two, relatively speaking?
Marr: I thought that both of them were competent managers.
Steinhoff: Then there’s also a PR problem, which is you need to make the legislature not shut you
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: For having stepped on that big of a banana peel.
Marr: Yes.
Steinhoff: There’s a board of trustees who are on the hook for that too.
Marr: Oh, yes.
Steinhoff: So that’s a huge deal. Having presidents that can keep the legislature in the pocket, keep
them close.


Marr: You’re exactly right. That’s more and more their job, I mean at a poor state college like this one
that is their job[, more than private] fundraising . If you’re at Ohio State or Chicago or something you
raise [private] money.
Steinhoff: How crucial do you think it was that Dan Evans stepped in for the second presidency?
Marr: I don’t know, I mean, it was okay. He certainly had a way with—he was the darling of Washington
politics, of the Washington Republican Party. He was a patrician white guy from west of the mountains,
had tremendous prestige and everything. But he did get snookered and he was plenty pissed because
some of the right-wing legislators when he was president managed to get through a more serious shutdown measure. And he was mad because he got outfoxed politically. His people hadn’t prevented it, so
he went straight down there [the Legislature] and got rid of that shut-down measure.
Steinhoff: He told a pretty good school story about the school at the new president’s inauguration. Just
in terms of there are all these other great colleges in the United States teaching, using the techniques
and the structures of the 20th century, and the 19th Century, but Evergreen! It was really nice. Just have
that guy do the NPR commercial. It was just a really good, clean, short story.
He had another story about sailing. He was the governor and hadn’t become the president. A
friend had a kid with whom his son had been sailing or whatever, and the kid was really excited because
Evergreen was right here and he could still sail with the dad and go to college and not have to go away.
So the dad calls the kid, “What are you learning in college?” And he said, “Sailing.” And the dad is all
mad because he’s thinking why aren’t they actually learning stuff? Calls Dan Evans and Dan Evans does
some investigating as governor and learns, oh, they’re reading Moby Dick, they’re learning about marine
biology, there’s stuff about the physics of meteorology and they’re building a boat. That’s what’s going
on. The kid can just say sailing, but actually it’s the full package.
Marr: Yes, that’s exactly so, and I know everybody that was involved in that, it [the boat they built] was
the Sea Wulf. In fact my daughter went here for one year and she was [among the students studying

those things while under sail]. He’s right. The damn kid should be taught a lesson, you don’t just say
sailing. Fill it out a little bit.
Steinhoff: That’s the problem with the writing part, the language skills are as yet underdeveloped.
Marr: It’s true. I’m having a good time, I’m sailing.
Steinhoff: Are there other students that come to mind? We’ve talked about two of them, Greg Renault
and John Foster from the early days. I’m also mindful of how for me, I won’t speak for you, I ran into
somebody in one of the stores downtown and she claims to have been a student of mine at Bard five
years ago. And I said, “You have to forgive me, I’m just like an etch-a-sketch. Please remind me.” Then
she told me two or three things and I could immediately figure out the situation. But the first students I
taught at Bard I still remember them vividly, the first students I taught here I still remember vividly. So
I’m aware of that impressionable early wave. But are there other students that come to mind?
Marr: Well, there are. I mean I remember quite a few of my students. I hesitate to mention [only] the
ones that have made a name for themselves because there aren’t that many, and that’s somewhat of a
prejudicial way of looking at the matter. Although Greg Renault did make a name for himself and I
mentioned him.
Steinhoff: I tracked him down, he’s google-able.
Marr: Oh, he is?
Steinhoff: He shows up on that masthead from the archive versions.
Marr: I think he became a social worker, I’m not sure. I mentioned Norman Jacobsen, he had a nephew
going here that was a student of mine by the name of Matt Jacobsen, he’s now a professor at Yale. I
suppose that from the ’80s I would point to Nancy Koppelman, she was a student of mine. Toward the
end of the ’90s there was a guy named Paul Felten, I’m still in touch with him. He’s a screenwriter, he
has a James Franco movie that’s out now. There were some people who made a name for themselves.


And others—Brad Shannon, Stephen Walter, Rita Pougiales, Casie Owen, Alexandra Stupple, Dale Favier,
Vivica Williams.
Steinhoff: You mentioned a vet when we first met.
Marr: He was Lt. William Calley’s “intelligence officer.”26 Chuck Jex.
Steinhoff: He might be working in a National Guard campground up by the base. Somebody said there
is the kindest attendant at the campground, Chuck Jex.
Marr: I’ll be damned. Because Chuck Jex, he can’t be that much younger than I am, maybe 10 years. I
had some students who worked with me during my final years whom I admire and remember well—
Casie Owen, who works at Microsoft, Casey Jaywork [who] writes for one of the magazines in Seattle.
Steinhoff: The Weekly.
Marr: Yes, he writes for that. He has a lot to do with the needle exchange and things like that. I had a
student, not a very good student by her own account [though I saw her differently], named Alexandra
Stupple. She went to law school at CAL and now works for the state of California. It’s kind of fun when
they get back in touch, because who the hell knows where they are.
Steinhoff: There’s the first step where you write me a letter of recommendation.
Marr: There’s always that step, yes.
Steinhoff: Or if the first step is not about a kind of transaction.
Marr: As long as it isn’t, can I borrow some money, I’m fine.
Steinhoff: And actually letters of recommendation are really easy because we’ve already got the
narrative evaluation.

Calley was court-martialed in 1971 and sentenced to life for the My Lai massacre (March 16, 1968) in Vietnam;
his sentence was overturned on appeal in 1974.


Marr: Yeah, they’re not that hard. Especially if you’re not just trying to disguise a form letter, but
actually can speak from a basis of evidence about what the student [has accomplished and] can and
can’t do. I have to believe that counts for something with the graduate schools and law schools.
Steinhoff: Oh, for sure, even if they’re not going to get a G.P.A.
Marr: Right. I mean, the original rap on Evergreen is no one is going to read an Evergreen transcript, all
they want is the grades and the G.P.A. It’s true, some didn’t. There [used to be, maybe still is] a longstanding antipathy between the University of Washington and Evergreen, they wouldn’t condescend to
Steinhoff: It’s where the reputation increases the further you get away.
Marr: That’s true. That was true in New England in the 1840s.
Steinhoff: Ha ha, indeed. The one thing we didn’t really dwell on, this could be something we can return
to perhaps in correspondence. There’s a book you wrote, that’s serious and worthy of just hearing a
little bit about. And then also that piece I found, the library has it as a PDF, “Extravagant Interest,” circa
1982. Both of these, obviously the book is huge, that’s a serious work. As is the “Extravagant Interest”
piece, different scales but just the amount of thought that’s put into that, which I think is ’82. I’m
curious to hear how you found time to do that?
Marr: The “Extravagant Interest” was, god, we were so broke. The college was broke, we didn’t have
any money of course. But somehow or another Barbara Smith managed to rustle up some dough to fund
about six or eight faculty members in the summer for the equivalent of maybe two weeks salary [each of
us] to do something on writing across the curriculum. And so I wrote something which came out as that,
Pete Sinclair wrote something, Mark Levinsky wrote something—I think he did anyway—and maybe a
couple others. I was right coming out of my first full immersion in contemporary literary theory.
Steinhoff: I saw that.


Marr: I don’t think I should have written that. It was clearly an excuse to write about some of that stuff
and not do what I was supposed to be doing which was to write about writing across the curriculum. The
writing exercises that are in it, I never applied them, I mean I never used them, maybe one or two.
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: It was more this is how I would do it, so maybe you could do it if you read this and you’re
interested. And the critical remarks [in “Extravagant Interest”] about Walker Gibson I will take to my
grave and they will still bother me. I sent him that. I’m really quite ashamed of it. Maybe there are some
intellectual aspects of the thing that are worth a second thought, maybe not. But to saddle him with the
criticism that his way of thinking about writing was nothing more than a brief for turning out liberal men
was dumb. It was stupid. He wrote me back and he shouldn’t have, he didn’t owe me anything. His first
words were, “Dear David Marr, Well!” I just felt miserable about it because I quickly changed my mind, I
came to my senses so to speak, and realized that his stuff on writing is the best I’d ever seen as far as
teaching of writing is concerned. I’m sure there are many others who have many worthy points to them
but his little writing and thinking books were gems.
Steinhoff: I can say I read it right before we started the conversations, so a couple weeks ago. I can
describe my experience as a reader. First, Walker Gibson, “This stuff is great! Wow, I love it, this is so
cool. I’m going to use this in my class in the fall or some variation there on.” And then I kept reading and
I was like, “Holy cow, David has some really good points here! Should I not use the Gibson? No, I am
going to use the Gibson and I’m so glad to re-read this part from Moriarty, get this part from
Heidegger.” And then my question was, “Did David give students this? It’s not addressed to students.”
And then I thought, oh, this is that teaching up thing, where you’re going to show them one model and
then you’re going to complicate the model. It’s interesting to hear what you said. So for me, introduced
to Gibson as a practical, here, here’s a tool, or actually a whole sequence to take students through


coupled with here are some blind spots in the sequence that you best be paying attention to. This is not
a silver bullet and you might end up reproducing certain things inadvertently.
Marr: That’s a very generous way of looking at it.
Steinhoff: I was reading it in this very way. But now I’ll offer my critique, it was on the exercises, “I’m
not doing those. Those don’t make any sense.” In general it was more about what I’m up to. There was a
lot of great thinking that I saw there. But the way you just described it, oh these were speculative
exercises, not ones that you’d actually done or tested en masse.
Marr: Yeah.
Steinhoff: I can hear you on the chagrin having flourished this critique to the man himself, I get that for
sure. But I have to say I got instructed by him and by you. So, don’t be too hard in reflecting on that
particular piece.
Marr: I just knew, I don’t know what I was doing. I wanted the money. So, I sent it to my master’s thesis
adviser, Bob Sayre, and he said, “Do you really get students to do this?” I said, “No.”
Steinhoff: What about the book though, that came out of your dissertation.
Marr: Yeah, it’s about 60 percent dissertation and 40 percent other.
Steinhoff: And you’re clearly in conversation with contemporary stuff, I mean, you’ve been keeping up,
it’s clear in your discussions throughout because it was published when, in 1990?
Marr: ’88. [I think back to McCann’s] “Academic Administration without Departments at The Evergreen
State College.” I mean, if you’re not in a department somewhere, at least in those days, you kind of
don’t exist when it comes to the world of scholarship. And I didn’t know that, I just thought well, maybe
I can get this thing published. The University of Massachusetts Press at that time was open to a lot of
left-wing stuff and this was, I guess, sort of left-wing if you had to put a political term on it. It was not
meant to be left-wing, it was meant to be just a little account of this tradition [that begins in Emerson as
idealized privatism and includes Whitman, William James and Ralph Ellison, among others]. But, it was

clear from the reviews that I was not sponsored by anybody and they didn’t quite know what to do with
Steinhoff: Which team is he on? What, he wants us to actually read this stuff?
Marr: Right.
Steinhoff: And engage with its tone, and its ambivalence and its power and its problems?
Marr: Right. But one kind of interesting thing that happened though, notwithstanding everything I just
said, is that the people who ran the little magazines began to get in touch with me about writing reviews
for them. That was kind of fun to do that. The publisher, Richard Martin, was the acquisitions editor at
the University of Massachusetts Press. When he moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago to take up
I guess was a similar position there, or maybe he was the director there, he might have been a director
there. He sent me some manuscripts as a reader. Martin was as disoriented by what was going on in
higher learning in the ’80s and ’90s as the next guy. He was especially interested to see that some of the
old scholars were not going to get completely elbowed out by the new theoreticians and the new
specialists in this kind of study or that kind of study. And one of them was a Shakespeare scholar at Ohio
State, Julian Markels. I don’t know if you’d heard his name. But he was an old-line Marxist of a certain
kind [Althusserian], not a Stalinist but definitely a leftist. He submitted a manuscript to Martin called
Melville and the Politics of Identity: From King Lear to Moby-Dick. And so Martin sent it on to me to
review. And I was fascinated, of course, it’s a very provocative connection Markels is trying to work out
here. It was basically an argument about how the modern capitalist world is prefigured in Lear, and
[how] the old medieval world loses, of course we all know that, but how it is that the capitalist market
economy wins out, and then plays itself out in [the dramatic conflicts in] Moby-Dick. I thought it was a
clouded argument and I just tore into it. I sent him something like 30 pages of commentary on it. I said,
“I do recommend that this be published but I have a few remarks.” So he sent them on to Markels and


Markels was in this deadly fight with various young Shakespeare scholars, including what was the guy?
Oh the New Historicist.
Steinhoff: Sure, Greenblatt and company.
Marr: And I just wanted to say, look, Professor Markels I’m a plain spoken man, I want you to make
your argument in plain English, I insist on it. I didn’t exactly say those words but that’s more or less how
it came out. Because he produced these tortured sentences, just tortured. Not because he was Judith
Butler or somebody who could write their own tortured sentences, but because his thinking wasn’t
clear. It just wasn’t. And so I would do this with him, take it all apart and then say what the hell are you
saying here? That went back to Markels, he made some revisions. I [also] insisted that he read Louis
Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America, I think I was a little too dogmatic about that. He submitted his
[revised] manuscript, it got published and in the acknowledgements page he said, “I wish to thank David
Marr for some stunning criticisms.” He meant it, he meant the ambiguity [double entendre] because I
just nailed his ass on some things fully admitting it could be me, I’m too dumb to get this, but as I read
the English language this sentence makes no sense. So that was the kind of [publisher’s] reader he was
stuck with. I enjoyed doing that kind of work. I did a couple others [along with some books reviews].
Steinhoff: That’s also intermural; you’re out of the bubble.
Marr: Yeah, that’s true.
Steinhoff: And you’re being introduced to scholars who you wouldn’t have necessarily come across
otherwise, or read their work. And you’re also having to put on a wet suit and engage with arguments
that you’re aware of but not necessarily in the depths with.
Marr: That’s absolutely right.
Steinhoff: So that seems really key. So that’s happening in late ’80s, early ’90s?
Marr: Yeah, I’d say ’91, ’92, something like that. That’s when I also wrote my article on Peirce and his
theory of signs that came out of the Peirce seminar.

Steinhoff: Who taught that, by the way, at the UW?
Marr: John Boler. He wrote a book on Peirce, Charles Peirce and Scholastic Realism.
Steinhoff: We can time stamp it contemporaneous with Joe Olander.
Marr: Ah, yes. Joe Olander is making his final good-byes.
Steinhoff: So as things are getting a little bit close you found sources of contact and actually
recognition, they didn’t know how to place you but they read that book. And it wasn’t a fly-by-night
press, that’s a real press, the libraries have that book. Every single library, more or less, all 400 of the big
ones own that book.
Marr: Yeah, and it is still in print. You know how the publishing conditions have changed so much
because of digital this and that, but it used to be before the tax laws were changed, isn’t this true that
they could carry their inventory and write it off on their taxes, and then they got rid of that tax loophole
and then examination copies dried up.
Steinhoff: They certainly have.
Marr: But it has stayed in print . Which I think is just an artifact of that business, not of the quality of the
book. All the other books they had probably stayed in print for 25 years too. And then they made it into
an e-book and I get my little letter each year about how much money I’ve made. One copy of the
hardbound, one e-book, per year.
Steinhoff: Yeah, that’s better than nothing.
Marr: It is?
Steinhoff: But this also raises a question that the [practice of] “publish or perish” didn’t pertain at
Evergreen. So you actually had to go out of your way to write a book of that scale that was able to
circulate to that degree. And that’s abnormal I take it, I mean I know some faculty were very productive.
Different for the scientists, perhaps, difference of publishing cycle.
Marr: And different modes of publication too.

Steinhoff: And different modes, precisely.
Marr: I think mine was the first book that was published.
Steinhoff: Of Evergreen faculty?
Marr: Yeah. And Pete Sinclair said, “You broke the taboo.”
Steinhoff: Interesting.
Marr: I thought, maybe I did. It’s one of those things you don’t know it’s a taboo until it’s broken.
Steinhoff: Yeah, precisely. It’s a gift to those of us coming in now, I have to say. We can both be a
teacher and be in the mix.
Marr: In those days we thumbed our nose at the mix, and I think we paid a price for that. But at the
same time had we not, [even] had there been more than 24 hours in a day, I don’t know how we could
have done what we did. I mean, you can’t reconcile those contradictions, it’s not possible.
Steinhoff: That makes a lot of sense to me. But, it also goes to the thing about the bubble; it’s no longer
sustainable because the kids will puncture it if nothing else does. And there is a whole new generation
of faculty who have started in recent years who are either in the middle of productive careers in
publishing or embarking on them. Elizabeth Williamson is one that comes to mind who published one
book on Shakespeare and his contemporaries, coedited another volume and is now in the midst of
almost finishing a second book, on top of all the other stuff she’s done maintaining her good standing as
a good teacher. I think that’s really important in terms of the next 50 years. Whether it’s publishing on
that normative schedule or not, what looks like a normative schedule, that’s a different question. But
just to be in conversation, in circulation.
Marr: Yeah, and I think what’s interesting to me about that in light of what you said earlier is that
seems to go in conjunction with this culture of self-congratulation. We didn’t have that in early years.
We had the culture of self-importance. That may seem like a fine distinction, but we really thought we
were going to be the cat’s meow in higher education, we really did.

Steinhoff: Yeah, and that’s part of the utopianism too.
Marr: Yeah, and we weren’t doing it right yet but we thought, “Of course we’re going to get it right
sooner or later.” As distinguished from, “We’ve already gotten it right.” Let’s tell each other how much.
Steinhoff: I really hear that. It’s a tricky thing.
Marr: It is tricky. [Around 1986] I went down to Berkeley with a couple colleagues for a conference on
higher education for people over age 25, special conference topic. And I was just laying it on thick about
how we had primary sources, and no textbooks, and seminars, and small student/faculty ratio on the
state dollar. And the dean interrupted me and said, “Oh, and [in] the original Greek too?” And
everybody laughed and I thought, “Oh shit, what an idiot I’ve been. I’ve got to dial it back a little.”
Steinhoff: Or at least get out more.
Marr: Yeah. [Laughing]
Steinhoff: I think we did it, David.
Marr: I hope so.
End of Part 2