Patrick White’s “The Vivisector”

One of the things I had been looking forward to after wrapping up my most recent book was to sink my teeth into a nice long work of fiction. Long-time readers will not be surprised to learn that it was a Patrick White novel that I decided to tick off my long to-read list. Next on that list was his 1970 work – The Vivisector.

I think I’m now about halfway through White’s bibliography and, at this point, I have no hesitation in declaring him my favourite writer of the 20th century. Admittedly, there are some big names from that time period that I haven’t read. I haven’t read Nabokov or Faulkner or Beckett, for example. For many of those names, however, I almost don’t need to read them since I’ve read enough of the literary modernists to know that I won’t like them. Literary modernism seems to me to be about breaking rules for its own sake. Sometimes, as in the case of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, the rules are broken only to be replaced by a gimmick that exactly matches the rule itself. How clever of Joyce to make the last sentence of the book lead back to the first sentence thereby capturing the cyclical nature of reality. Right? Except the Hero’s Journey is already cyclical and, what’s more, it incorporates the idea of transcendence too. What Joyce had really done was to remove transcendence from the story.

This was not an accident, of course, and the trend also occurred outside of literature. To take just one example, one of the main differences between the comparative historians Toynbee and Spengler is that the former allowed for transcendence while the latter argued for the kind of circularity implied by Joyce. In Spengler’s case, this was particularly weird since he had identified the striving towards infinity as the core feature of Faustian culture and yet his circular notion of history is almost a perfect contradiction of this.

What I like about Patrick White is that he does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because he follows the rules most of the time, when he does break them, he makes a point by doing so. That is an interesting feature of human culture that seems to also be a core property of “mind” in the broader sense of the term defined by Gregory Bateson. Rules set up expectations. It’s as if some energy is powering a network of cultural assumptions (collateral energy is one of Bateson’s criteria for “mind”). The failure to meet an expectation is amplified by the collateral energy and this creates meaning. Thus, meaning can be created as much by what you didn’t do as by what you did. But the ability to create such meaning only works if the system of rules is upheld. The whole problem with literary modernism is that it denies the entire system and therefore saws off the branch on which it is sitting. The result is turgid, long-winded and frankly boring; adjectives which are sadly all too true for much of 20th century literature. Thankfully, none of this is true of White’s novels.

Of course, it’s also true that White resonates with me for other reasons. What a synchronicity that I had just finished writing my own book which focuses, among other things, on the archetypal phases of the human lifecycle, and then it turns out that The Vivisector is a story that covers the entire lifespan of the hero: Hurtle Duffield. What’s more, White divides (vivisects!) the story into phases that map almost exactly to the archetypes that I have been using extensively for the past couple of years. The book proceeds in sections, each of which focuses on an archetypal phase of Hurtle’s life. We can summarise the sections as follows:-

 Hurtle Duffield’s Life
ChildBorn into a poor family
OrphanAdopted by a rich family and given an education
Early AdultStruggling artist
Mature AdultSuccessful artist
ElderMentoring a protege
DeathMeeting with God

I can now add The Vivisector to my list of literary works that ground my analysis of the archetypal Orphan, especially because White shows his protagonist as an Orphan earlier in the book and then as an Elder to an Orphan towards the end. More than that, Hurtle’s orphanhood is explicitly symbolised by a dramatic separation from his biological parents. Hurtle’s artistic and intellectual talents are recognised by a rich couple, the Courtneys, who literally buy him from his poor parents who already have too many children anyway and can certainly do with the money they are offered.

It is fitting that the Courtneys are an aristocratic couple since we might metaphorically say that each of us are “adopted” by our society through the auspices of education. Our biological parents must hand us over to the institutions of that society and there is an implied financial element to that since we are expected to take up an economic role in society. Thus, The Vivisector captures all the main archetypal themes that I sketched out in my most recent book and, just as White had done with his earlier novel, Voss, hardwires them into the structure of the story.

Another correspondence with my writing of the last few years is the presence of the Jungian anima character. I noted in my review of White’s Voss that the brilliant trick he played in that story was to make Laura Trevelyan the real hero and thus the book was really about Voss’ anima. In The Vivisector, there are not one but many anima characters. What’s more, these characters all map quite directly to the archetypal progression of the story. There is one anima character for each archetypal phase.

For those unfamiliar with the anima concept, Jung characterised the anima as the soul of a man (it was the male animus in women) with four archetypal phases that each man may potentially go through as follows:-

Anima SymbolMeaning
EveNourishment, love, desire
HelenExternal talents and accomplishments
MaryParagon of virtue
SophiaAbility to perceive negative as well as positive qualities. Wisdom.

Patrick White utilises these anima categories in The Vivisector as follows.

Hurtle Duffield’s LifeAnima FigureAnima Type
ChildMother (Mrs Duffield)Mother (Mary)
Orphan“Mother” (Mrs Courtney)Mother (Mary)
Early AdultNanceEve
Mature AdultHero PavloussiEve
ElderKathy VolkovHelen
DeathRhoda CourtneySophia

Unlike in Voss, which showed a much more direct correspondence of the anima progression in the person of Laura Trevelyan, The Vivisector is more complex as the above table shows. The book begins in the years prior to WW1 with Hurtle living at home with his biological parents. Hurtle is born into a very poor family. His father has no skills and no job. He makes a living collecting bottles in the street. His mother works as a washerwoman in the households of various aristocratic women, which is what brings the young boy to the attention of Mrs Courtney, who later buys (adopts) him.

We can see from this beginning a pattern which holds throughout the book which is that none of the characters represents an inherently positive version of the archetype. We begin with a mother who is prepared to sell her child for money. Not very Mary-like. Meanwhile, the surrogate mother, Mrs Courtney, is prepared to buy a child in order to keep up appearances. Hurtle’s first love is a prostitute. He has affairs with married women and there is even the implication that he sleeps with his protégé later in the book. White uses the archetypes as much in their shadow form as in their positive.

It’s also true that the drama of all this is highly abstract, and this is due to White’s aforementioned habit of breaking conventions and leaving things out. What he leaves out of the story are all of the major turning points in Hurtle Duffield’s life. This absence is all the more telling because the life of Hurtle reads like an over-the-top Dostoevskyan melodrama. We could summarise it as follows.

A precocious boy is born into an impoverished family. He has no prospects in life, but his genius is recognised by a wealthy aristocratic couple who adopt him into their house and provide him the best education money can buy including the development of his artistic talents. In his late teens, he rebels against his adoptive parents and runs off to join the army. He fights in WW1. After the war, he spends several years living in poverty in Europe as a Picasso-like avant-garde artiste. He becomes an artistic genius. He returns to Australia and has a tumultuous love affair with a prostitute while also becoming a successful and well-known painter. His fame brings fortune and access to the upper echelons of society including numerous dinner parties with various luminaries, affairs with exotic women, overseas holidays, worldwide notoriety, awards, meetings with the Prime Minister etc etc.

Any of these plotlines could be a dramatic novel in itself and yet White systematically refuses to detail any of them in his story. They are all referred to only in passing. We learn that Hurtle’s father has died through a letter received from his sister. The whole subject receives about three sentences and then we move on to the next part of the story. The same is true of the death of Hurtle’s first love, Nance. White spends pages and pages describing the intimate details of perfectly banal interactions where “nothing happens” and gives barely a few paragraphs to Nance’s death and the aftermath of it. Again, this is the inversion of the “rules” of storytelling. What in any other book would have been a dramatic turning point in the story is relegated to just another thing that happens almost as if it was no more important than a dreary meeting with one’s agent on a Wednesday afternoon.

Although White does not describe these dramatic events, he nevertheless demarcates the novel based on them. The death of Hurtle’s father, even though barely mentioned, comes at the end of the Orphan phase of life. After that, we fast-forward in time to find Hurtle as a young adult. Meanwhile, the death of Nance, his first love, also comes at the end of the section of the book where he is an impoverished artist. Shortly after, we jump forward into the mature phase of Hurtle’s adulthood where he is now a wealthy and famous artist. White builds the archetypal turning points into the structure of the book. He is not denying their importance, he is implying it. This is the same trick he used in Voss.

Because the archetypal turning points are not highlighted in The Vivisector, some might say it’s a book where “nothing happens”. Nevertheless, it’s the “nothing” which provides the inspiration for Hurtle’s art. Several times we see Hurtle rushing back home to turn the inspiration he has received from some fairly banal everyday interaction into a work of art. Hurtle is an artist who is concerned with everyday life rather than excessively dramatic events. (So, too, is Patrick White).

Here we come to the main theme of the novel. The Vivisector is a book about what it means to be an artist and White makes a connection with the practice of vivisection not just in the title but several times throughout the book.

Vivisection was a medical research technique that became quite widespread in the 19th century. The word comes from the Latin vivus meaning “alive” and so vivisection involved the cutting open of live animals. The anti-vivisection movement was led by the same women who were running the suffragette movement and they did much to put an end to the practice. Hurtle’s second mother in the book, Mrs Courtney is, in fact, an anti-vivisectionist and comes from the aristocratic class of women who led that movement. This aspect of the book is historically accurate. Practically all of the vivisectionists were men and practically all of the opponents of the practice were women, there is an implied gender asymmetry here which maps to Jung’s anima-animus distinction in an interesting way.

What White is saying is that being an artist is like being a vivisector in that it involves severing life into sections by turning it into works of art. Doesn’t one thereby kill the subject just as occurred in vivisection? That is the big question which White explores through the life of Hurtle Duffield. Viewed this way, the lack of attention in the novel to any of the major turning points in Hurtle’s life can be read as a commentary on what it means to be an artist. The artist is so self-absorbed that even the death of loved ones has little impact on him, just as the vivisector needed to be able to detach himself from the live animal he was dissecting. The artist (and possibly also a scientist and a philosopher too, since both of those involve vivisection) is necessarily removed from experiencing everyday life in its fullness. The events of life are either the inspiration for a work of art (or science) or they are nothing.

Whether this is a good or a bad thing is one of the main themes of the novel. On the one hand, we might argue that the artist is selfish, self-absorbed, introspective and not fully present even among those he cares most about. On the other hand, there is the thrill and satisfaction that comes from the creation of one’s own reality through art. This raises a deep metaphysical question: is there ever a reality that we can simply receive and be part of in a passive sense or are we always creating our own reality. If the latter, then the artist is the one who does not shy away from the responsibility. He takes creation seriously. Is that selfishness or is it courage, since the act of self-creation is necessarily isolating and leaves one vulnerable and exposed.

Patrick White knew a thing or two about the subject since he was an artist in the broadest sense of the term. The Vivisector is clearly autobiographical. Patrick White himself spent much time in Europe honing his artistic craft before returning to Australia and starting from scratch. He, too, fought in the war. He, too, took a trip to Greece with a Greek lover just as Hurtle does in the story. White would have have attended many an expensive dinner party thrown by the beautiful and wealthy people of the Sydney north shore. He also received many awards and accolades and even an invitation to meet the Prime Minister. All of these things happen to Hurtle in the story and so it’s quite clear that Hurtle is very much a self-portrait on White’s part.

It’s not a surprise, therefore, that, while White does not hide shy away from the dark sides of artistry, he ultimately comes down on the side of the artist. He does so in a way that ties in with the idea of the artist as prophet or religious practitioner. In the context of the book, this is the idea, possibly blasphemous in some denominations, that God is also a vivisector. What do we read at the beginning of the book of Genesis: God created the heavens and the Earth and all the things in the world. He partitioned the world into parts. To take on the role of artist is to be the microcosm to the macrocosm of God. It is to partition the world into parts in an act of creation.

White hints at this theme throughout the book and then makes it explicit by ending his story in a way that is identical to Goethe’s Faust. Like Faust, Hurtle Duffield goes on creating his reality until the very end. Like Faust, Hurtle reunites with his anima in death. But, unlike Goethe’s story, it is not the Virgin Mary who is there at the end but Hurtle’s hunchback sister, Rhoda.

The Vivisector can thus be read as a gentle satire on not just Faust but also Goethe’s other main work Wilhelm Meister and, indeed, on the romantic movement in general. White removes all the grand symbolic gestures that had become synonymous with romanticism. In doing so, he implies that true artistry involves finding the beauty in the everyday moments of life rather than in romantic escape into abstractions.

The romantic hero had died on the battlefields of the two wars. White knew that from first-hand experience. He also knew that romanticism had been used during the wars as a propaganda tool to bewitch the public. Whatever was left of the romantic movement in art had to be found elsewhere and White suggests we must find it again in the everyday reality in which we live.

In this way, there is a kind of mini-heroism in White’s refusal to throw the baby out with the bathwater as did the other modernists. He carries the torch for true art. It is a muted torch, but it may still the light way where there would otherwise be darkness or, even worse, literary modernism.

From Alma Mater to Edax Mater

Given that I’ve spent much of the last three years writing about the Devouring Mother, I didn’t expect that I had much left to say on the subject, and yet, just this past week, I realised I had missed a key part of the dynamic, one that is incredibly obvious in hindsight. My realisation was triggered by this story that went viral from the recent university protests in the US. A spokesperson for the protesting students at Columbia demanded the university not prevent food and water, which she referred to as “humanitarian aid”, from being given to the students. When questioned, she admitted there had been nobody stopping the students from getting food and water. On the contrary, it turned out the university had offered the students $80 food vouchers as part of the “negotiations” around the protest.

All of this reminded me of the food bribes offered to the general public to get them to take the covid vaccine. Here in Victoria, you could get a free ice cream with every jab. I remember seeing stories from the US of politicians offering burgers, fries, and donuts—all super healthy foods, mind you, guaranteed to provide the vitamin boost needed to get one through a “pandemic”.

Burgers for jabs

Bribing children with junk food to get them to comply is a standard practice among parents, and so, in and of itself, these kinds of offers are indicative of the infantilisation of the public by the government and evidence of the Devouring Mother at work. But there is a more symbolic aspect to the university side of the story that I only just realised.

Coincidentally, Columbia University has a big Alma Mater statue on campus

Most people would have heard universities referred to by the Latin phrase alma mater. In Latin, alma mater means nourishing mother. The phrase seems to have always had a metaphorical usage. In relation to universities, it refers to the spiritual and intellectual nourishment given to students as the institution guides them on the path to graduation and full membership in society.

The idea that students would be the ones demanding things from their alma mater is already an inversion of the whole dynamic and one that never would have been accepted in the early days of the university. It’s fitting that the modern alma mater, who offers very little in the way of spiritual and intellectual nourishment, should turn to offers of actual nourishment (food) to keep her “children” placated.

It’s not a coincidence that the whole notion of student protest belongs to the post-war years, since that time represents a radical change in the nature of the university and one that ties directly in with the larger societal trends that I have captured under the archetypes of the Devouring Mother and the Orphan. We can get a better appreciation of that change by doing a lightning survey of the history of the university. The story is worth telling because the university is a unique institution that appeared simultaneously with the birth of modern Europe in the 11th century.

The very first university was the University of Bologna, which was established in 1088 and bore the name of alma mater. Specifically, it was Alma Mater Studiorum—the mother who nourishes studies. A unique feature of the universities from the beginning was the concept of academic freedom. In those days, this referred to the freedom of travel. Students and their teachers were able to move around Europe, attending whichever university they preferred. Tied in with the Catholic Church’s pan-European reach, the university was a key feature in the unification of Europe and really was a foundational pillar of modern western civilisation by allowing the exchange of ideas across borders.

From the beginning all the way up until the 19th century, the curriculum of the university was founded on the seven “liberal arts” of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. It’s important to understand that the meaning of the word “art” in those days would have been translated into modern usage by the word “skill”. Grammar, logic, rhetoric, and the other disciplines were seen as skilled activities. There were rules to follow, and you were graded on how well you followed them. Universities were not there to foster creativity or critical thinking in the modern sense of those terms, they were there to churn out skilled practitioners who would then be ready to tackle the highest subjects of law, medicine, and theology. Those students who were not gifted enough to become lawyers, doctors, and theologians could still count on getting jobs as clerks and scribes in royal courts or ecclesiastical institutions.

The seven liberal arts had all been taken over directly from antiquity. In fact, Plato had talked about the subjects in his famous work, The Republic. This fits the general pattern of the early Faustian as being heavily influenced by the ancient world, and the university was no exception to the rule. The first major change came during the Renaissance with the addition of what would now be called the humanities. The seven liberal arts were all highly abstract. Even music was not studied as a performative or compositional skill but as a branch of mathematics. This made education incredibly dry. Students were rewarded for precision, not inspiration. The idea of the humanities was to put some life back into education and have students consider what it meant to be a human.

In practice, this added history and literature as major new subjects to the core curriculum. Although a seemingly small change, this was actually quite monumental since neither history nor literature are skills in the way that arithmetic and rhetoric are. An element of subjectivity had been introduced into the equation. This tied in with broader changes in the culture away from the ideals of truth and towards the acceptance of belief. The inherently subjective element in literature and history was more about belief than about truth in a mathematical sense.

Again, this might seem like a small change, but this little crack in the dam wall turned into a flood with the Protestant Reformation and has arguably reached an apotheosis in our time. The ability to choose one’s own gender represents the final ascension of belief over truth. We have gone from a concern with absolute, eternal, and abstract truths to an insistence on subjective belief, which changes with the seasons. It should be no coincidence that the incubator for all this is the schools and universities.

The role of the university in these changes cannot be overstated even though they are the exact opposite of the foundational principles of that institution. The universities had always been separate from the local populations where they were located. In fact, the local population was often hostile to the university because the church made them pay for the university’s upkeep. A famous example is a riot at the University of Oxford in 1209 after a student killed a local. The townsfolk captured and hanged several students who were believed to be involved. Many of the other students and teachers fled the area and went off to form the University of Cambridge. The Pope issued a punishment to the local people that included, funnily enough, the provision of meals to students and staff at Oxford.

Not only were the universities independent of their communities, over time they also gained a level of independence from the church too. This may have been a grave error on the part of the Pope since it appears to have opened the way for the rebellion that followed. All of the major players in that Reformation were university men. Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Foxe, Tyndale, and others had been educated at university, with Bible study at the forefront of their work. Since the Bible was supposed to be the word of God, how could there be any errors in it? The discovery of errors in translation from the ancient Greek texts became a major issue, and the blame was placed on the church, not just for using an incorrect translation (the Vulgate) but for misrepresenting the teachings of the Bible to the congregation.

The Church had inherited a version of truth from the ancient world, which was that what was true was absolutely true. There were no shades of grey. No probability entered the equation. The seven liberal arts were founded on the same assumption. They were about eternal truths. The development of the humanities and the emergence of Biblical interpretation and translation from within the universities allowed for subjective truths, which came to undermine the authority of the Church. Since the Pope had proven himself fallible in his interpretation of the Bible, he was no longer the source of authority. Nominally, the source of authority became the Bible itself, but this was always problematic since the original Protestants were themselves doing the translation and asserting that theirs was superior to the Church’s. They could not justify this logically, so they appealed to notions of “grace” and being “chosen by God”. Eventually, this would open out into the world in which we now live, in which belief trumps truth.

All of these monumental changes were incubated in the universities, and so it’s a strange fact that the influence of the universities actually declined in the centuries following the Reformation. The religious sensitivities that had been opened up saw the universities stagnate around the original seven liberal arts, with a smattering of humanities thrown in for good measure.

The next big intellectual movement, which we give the generic name of “science”, would not come from within the university at all. With the persecution of Galileo, the impetus of science shifted to the Protestant north. But it was not channelled through the universities but rather a new kind of private institution, of which the Royal Society in Britain was the paradigm example.

The Royal Society became a focal point for the new science

Universities had been nurtured into existence by the Church. But the various scientific societies and academies were the product of private money, which came partly from allied members of the aristocracy and partly from the nouveau riche of the emerging bourgeoisie. Fittingly, the precursor to the Royal Society was called the Invisible College since the whole idea of doing experimental science was politically dangerous and needed to be carried out in private. Remember that the truths of the Church and the original university were eternal and absolute, which meant they were not proved or disproved by evidence but by reason and logic. The Invisible College needed to be secretive because it still jarred against mainstream religious and theological beliefs.

Louis XIV funded the French Academy

Much like the Reformation had incubated clandestinely inside the institutions of the church and university and then been supported politically by those to whom it was seen as beneficial, so too did empirical science begin in secret and then receive official support when politically convenient. The Royal Society won the official recognition of the king in 1660. A few short years later, Louis XIV would fund the French Academy of the Sciences. There followed numerous other institutions dedicated to the new science. All of this was done outside the university system, which was still dominated by ecclesiastical concerns.

One of the key features of the new scientific societies was their relative openness to the general public. The Royal Society held a public lecture each Friday evening on a hot scientific topic of the day. It was none other than Michael Faraday, who had not attended university at all but done an apprenticeship as a bookbinder, who attended a series of lectures on chemistry at the Royal Society as a member of the general public. Faraday’s note-taking impressed the lecturer so much that he offered him a position as a laboratory assistant. The rest, as they say, is history. What we see during this period is a glimpse at the kind of meritocratic system that the university offered in the early days of modern European civilisation.

It took until the 19th century for the universities to finally break free of the religious ideology that prevented their acceptance of the new science. It was in Prussia that a new paradigm was introduced, not just in the university sector but in the general education of the public, and it’s worth remembering that the Prussian model was an especially strong influence on the US education system. The focus was once again on academic freedom, and it is certainly for this reason that there was a mini-golden age of scholarship, especially in the German-speaking lands.

Nevertheless, it’s also true that much of the great scientific and intellectual work happened outside the university. Alfred Russell Wallace was an autodidact who self-funded his expeditions. Tesla was a university dropout. Darwin, Lavoisier, Marx, and Freud were gentlemen of independent means. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Goethe all did their main work outside of the university. Gregor Mendel was a monk.

Putting all this together, we can ask the question of what has been the importance of the university throughout the history of the modern West. There can be no doubt that the institution was crucial at the beginning. It was the way in which knowledge from the ancient world was imported. The university was the birthplace of Faustian intellectual culture. But if we consider science to be the crowning achievement of that culture, it’s pretty clear that the university was a hindrance and not a help to its emergence.

This brings us to the 20th century, specifically the post-war years, where we have seen an explosion in the size and scale of the university. Has this explosion been accompanied by a golden age of scholarship, innovation, and knowledge? If it has, I must have missed the memo. But the lack of results is arguably not the main problem. The main problem is political and it is this which seems to be coming to a head now.

When resources were scarce, universities were very strict about grading because society could not afford to waste money training people who were not up to the job. Thus, the system was designed so that only the best of the best graduated and went on to study the highest disciplines of law, medicine, and theology.

A rich society has no such concern. In a rich society, just like in a rich household, the challenge is to find things for people to do. This has always been an especial problem for industrial capitalism. The unemployment rates of the Great Depression were the logical outcome of the massive oversupply created by the system, which drove the damaging boom and bust cycles. The rollout of mass education was one of the main ways in which the state stepped in to try and fix the problem of oversupply.

The university sector employs a huge number of people, both directly and indirectly. It also removes a segment of the population from the workforce. In most modern western nations, one third of the population will now go to university, up from single digits in the first half of the 20th century. That’s a whole lot of people who are not looking for work. In all these ways, the modern university helps to smooth out the problem of unemployment.

All of this worked tolerably well in the aftermath of WW2, but there are several trends that have turned the dynamic noticeably toxic in the last few decades. Firstly, a university education has become the pre-requisite for entry into corporate and government work. It is a mandatory stepping stone on the way to most of the high-status positions in society. The university now attracts those looking for status, not those looking for knowledge.

Secondly, corporate and government bureaucracies are zero-sum institutions with a pyramidal organisational structure. While the number of bureaucracies expands, the number of high-status positions grows, and university graduates can take up those positions. What happens when the bureaucracy ceases to grow? You get a classic zero-sum dynamic where competition increases for the scarce resources at the top of the pyramid. This explains the increasingly ideological nature of the university in recent decades. It’s no longer about knowledge but about allegiance to the ever-changing dogma that is used to solve the cutthroat internal politics of zero sum bureaucracies.

It is this combination that gives us the third, and arguably the biggest, problem. The post-war years have seen a huge increase in the number of university students. Clearly, there have been no supply-side constraints on this growth. In a functioning market, we might expect the price of university tuition to actually fall since when there are a greater number of people paying for a service, the fixed cost ratio goes down. Instead, tuition fees have massively outstripped general inflation. Why? Because what is being sold by universities is no longer knowledge but access to high-status jobs. Since the demand for high-status jobs exceeds the supply, the price of tuition has skyrocketed. Here in Australia, we run a similar racket for international students where the product for sale is a permanent residency visa.

All of this has been going on while the internet has all but undermined the historical role of university as a repository of knowledge. The knowledge traditionally imparted by university is now freely available online. This is the same old problem of oversupply that has been happening for more than a century. In a functioning market, the value of a university as the transmitter of knowledge would be almost zero and the price of tuition should reflect that. By definition, the university market is a racket and it is the students who are being forced to pay for that racket in the form of increasingly absurd student loans.

The alma mater is supposed to nourish her children in preparation for the day they will become adults. What do we say about an alma mater who burdens her children with enormous debts? That is not an alma mater at all; that is an edax mater – the Devouring Mother. In fact, it is university students who now “nourish” their alma mater financially through debt obligations while also being bound to the mother through ideological allegiance. This is an inversion of the way it should be.

In short, we’re right back to where we were in the old days when the Church played the role of Devouring Mother to the medieval societies of pre-Reformation Europe. Coincidentally, the decadence of our elites mirrors that of the popes of the 16th century. The time is right for a Reformation. Will the university survive as an institution in the aftermath and what institutions(s) might replace it? Those are interesting questions to ponder.