Frank Moretti: a small, goofy personal memorial

Robbie McClintock retired from Teachers College in 2011; in tribute to him and one of his closest intellectual partners, Frank Moretti, my work buddy Josh and I recorded this parody of the song Frank Mills from the musical Hair. The song used to run through my head, actually, when I went by Frank’s office.

Frank Moretti

Frank Moretti, 1943-2013.

Frank and Robbie team-taught a Teachers College class on theory which, while it was rough sledding, was also an opportunity to watch two brilliant minds work over big ideas together.

We just lost Frank to a long illness. He wasn’t my official advisor — Robbie ended up on my dissertation committee when Frank was sick, and HervĂ© and Chuck were my advisors on paper — but he was the one I looked up to for guidance on unusual career moves (which he seemed to have made successfully, in spades) and on ethical and philosophical concerns about education. I called him my “spiritual advisor.”

Though I feel pretty silly about the video (among other things, I’m singing way out of my range), it still touches on themes I’ll stand by. Galt MacDermot’s melody and Rado/Ragni’s original lyrics captured an interpersonal innocence underlying the political movements of the Sixties, which we so often see in retrospect as massive, tense, ground-shaking fights. Frank and Robbie started to work together on the Columbia campus in those years, and I understand they lived the era in their own idiosyncratic ways.

You can develop a certain kind of bashful, reverent puppy love for professors, if you care deeply about your field, and the song speaks to that. Frank and Robbie radiated the “philos” in “philosophy” — they cared, ardently, about ideas. Josh, also, is more than just the kid with the guitar you see here — he is one of these Unschoolers you meet who have this gleeful visceral drive to wrest understanding from anything they encounter — computer programming, physics, linguistics, art. I miss playing around with Josh’s brain like I miss watching Frank and Robbie playing around with theirs. Frank was the living center of an unimaginable network of minds, constantly suggesting introductions to thinkers and builders. It’s hard to think of missing out on the serendipity Frank offered all of us so generously. (Please let’s stay in touch. Maybe in doing so we can re-create his neural pathways!)

Sic transit academia. We write, we leave documents behind, but the interplay between minds is its own lithe ephemeral life, sometimes done in by distance or retirement, sometimes ground into the battlefield by the juggernaut feet of institutions, sometimes snuffed permanently.

don’t want our tuition back. just Frank.

Comments 2

  1. Andrea wrote:

    hey, saw this as I was looking for a speech Frank gave. It made me cry.
    Frank was the best teacher I ever had.
    Thank you

    Posted 04 Oct 2013 at 3:23 pm
  2. gus wrote:

    Aw, thanks, Andrea :) wondering whether you were one of Frank’s Columbia or Dalton students? if you see this, do stay in touch.

    Posted 07 Nov 2013 at 2:59 pm

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