He's a doctor now, so I'd like to think that neither my teaching nor his literary aspirations got in the way of what I still consider his misguided aesthetics. He was pre-med back then and a great kid, the kind of kid whose enthusiasm you don't want to dampen.
But his writing voice was off-key, his diction so consistently over-the-top that what he said wasn't just on stilts, it couldn't step off the page.
I tried to be kind, sweet, warm, cheerful, but I couldn't let him write what he was writing because no one would stay with him. No one would catch his drift because he insisted on thirty-dollar words wrenched into miscreant constructions.
"Look," I probably said at the bottom of a paper, "the number one rule, at least according to your prof, is clarity--and you're not getting there." I'm sure I was nice.
But he was confident I was wrong. "That's the way Seerveld writes," he told me, convinced his writing teacher was the apostate.
He had a point.
Last night, I listened to Seerveld once again, Dr. Calvin Seerveld, the philosopher/aesthetician, this sweet student's writing idol. He was wonderful, in part because his deep earnestness remains as endearing and convicting as it was 40 years ago, his brilliance as notable. He was mesmerizing, My mind--given to follow its own nose too often--stayed with him through a lecture pockmarked by the odd usages that student wanted so passionately to emulate.
Seerveld said we should all be "selfhoodedly close to another person," that some art "sybolifies" fallenness, that an image he liked reflected "womanly creaturehood" because it was "normatively creational." He lamented the times we live in because too many believe that "apostate, post-Christian, secularist love is normative." You know, the kind of love imaged in what you see too much of these days--"calisthenized women" whose legs are "playmately open."
I think I've got most of that right. What he wanted to do was exactly what he wanted to do forty years ago--lead us into "a Reformation of our consciousness."
I loved it, loved every minute of it because the deadly aim of his passionate plunge into today's post-Christian secular world (it's catching) was "the gut-bottom truth" that a life lived in love, true "creaturely" love, is really the good life, the life were called to in Jesus Christ.
That paradigm was what I heard and loved a half-century ago. It was unabashedly militant, laced with the very liberation I felt in 1968. It was, therefore, refreshing for two reasons: first, because it was a blast from my own past; and second, because no one speaks that way anymore.
The path winds itself this way: "we Christians have had it wrong for a long, long time"--that's the first point; "but the secular world is a hellish mess we don't want to emulate"--that's the second point; "therefore, we need to do is establish a new way toward true freedom, which is still found only in the kingship of Jesus"--that's the third point.
Those ideas were marching orders for me in the late Sixties. That paradigm made very clear that I didn't have to abandon belief or piety to get along in a world I believed to be far more complex (this is the "late 60s," after all) than my parents ever knew. We had to find a better world by being reformationally busy (there, I used a Seerveldianism myself).
Last night, the philosopher showed us nudity, slide after slide, some of it even from the pages of Playboy. He wanted to demonstrate how art offers commentary on our culture's haughty and anti-normative sexuality. It was fascinating, neither Puritanic or prurient. It was, simply, pure Seerveld. Maybe I should adverbalize--it was Seerveld purely.
Lots of students were there too. I wondered what they thought because those marching orders, so dear to my own pilgrimage, seem as dated as I sometimes feel. Still, what Dr. Calvin Seerveld did last night amid bathhouse of nudes was powerful and deeply, wonderfully pious in every good sense of that word.
And more than occasionally cute, in every good sense of that word too.
On the way home, I told my wife that the two of us should really be more "playfully normative." She giggled. She knows the language.
And if I were still teaching, and if that kid who wanted to be Seerveld was in my class, I'd tell him what Seerveld would, I'm sure; and that is that he can't be Seerveld because he, like all of us, has to find his own way, carve it out of two revelations--what's in the book and what's in the creation He gave us.
That's been our job, I think, and the task of two or three subsequent generations: to find a path through this life, a path that's normative and creational.
That, Seerveld would say, is gut-bottom Truth.