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For David 1: The Great Lie of Ideals

An introduction to David Lenson's lecture at the Commonwealth Honors College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, on February 13, 2013.



Here are only a very few representative samples of the many, many evaluations made by students with regard to David Lenson and his teaching:


One of the most incredible professors that I have ever had.
He will change your perspective on things and shake up your world.
Lenson is absolutely brilliant. His books are messed up, but so interesting.
The man is a genius and has such intelligent things to say.
His class blew my mind, it was super interesting.
The epitome of bad-assery.
His "Brave New World" class redefined the way I will think forever.
Lenson is the man, and I suggest anyone take his class if they want a different perspective on how to think about the world.
This guy honestly changed my life.
Could be the smartest professor on campus, his lectures are always always interesting.
A week ago, he talked about sex for fifty minutes, but it wasn’t gross or disgusting.
A direct quote from Lenson: “I can talk as long as necessary on any subject.”
His lectures don’t completely connect with the current novel, but what he says is so interesting that it doesn’t matter.
Topics range from the Ayatollah, to drug use, to New Jersey.
Hands down the greatest professor ever conceived by this school. Literally whelped from the loins of UMass.
Lenson, you are God in a metaphorical sense.

And so on. David Lenson is the son of the late Michael Lenson, artist and director of the murals project for the Works Progress Administration in New Jersey. His mother, the late June Lenson, was a marketing executive. David attended Princeton University from 1963 to ’71, where received three degrees, and he began teaching at UMass in 1971. He is currently Professor of Comparative Literature and director of the Program. He is the former President of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, which is the faculty union at UMass, and the former editor of the Massachusetts Review. He has published two books in his original field—the theory of tragedy,  Achilles’s Choice, from Princeton University Press, and The Birth of Tragedy, A Commentary—as well as two books of poetry, The Gambler and Ride the Shadow. Here’s a short one from Ride the Shadow. It’s called “Cannibal Love Song.”:

I can imagine you with your arms clasped together,
holding a sprig of parsley in your fingers.

I can imagine you your head thrown back,
 with an apple in your mouth and rings of pineapple around your neck.

I can imagine you with cream and honey in the morning,
a little nutmeg like freckles on your tan skin.

I can imagine you tufted with frost for summer,

fresh from the icebox.

In the October rain I will drink you warm,
with lemon and brown sugar.

I can imagine gnawing on your leg in barbecued sun,
or in salads with green pepper and red tomato
clashing with the orange of fresh carrots.

I can imagine you noshing you over a three-reel movie,
I follow you with my eyes as you move along
because you are a month of gluttony.

I can imagine you served in a three-star restaurant
with a string quartet playing Brahms in the background,
but I love you even with mustard on a roll.

Meanwhile, David Lenson is best known, however, for On Drugs, from the University of Minnesota Press—a one-of-a-kind examination of drugs, drug users, the uses of drugs, and the pervasiveness of drugs in contemporary culture. It’s become a cult book and is shortly coming out in a second edition.

A more or less professional sax player since 1959, he’s played with many blues stars, including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Ed Vadas, and John Lee Hooker, and he currently plays a hundred gigs a year with the Reprobate Blues Band. Find them on YouTube.

And now, without further delay, here he is, to corrupt the youth of Commonwealth Honors College: David Lenson.

Brion Dulac is Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Honors Seminar Series at the Commonwealth Honors College, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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