My “Art and Despair” seminar came up on our last unit, on resignation and acceptance, last week with Brahms’ Requiem, and we got into a discussion of immortality as a comfort in the face of death. I provoked them a little with Minsky’s question “Does the soul learn?” from The Society of Mind, and the vacuity of speculating on an eternity from which no-one has ever come back to report. But whatever one wants to think about individual immortality in the conventional sense, we agreed that we had been “meeting” and engaging with Brahms and lots of other dead artists all semester; something a lot like their souls were around and about, diffused through their disciples and audiences, and would be indefinitely. Even the guy who painted the bison on the walls at Lascaux is still with us, and not trivially.
Not just artists; teachers live forever through their students. We get a lot of naches just doing the job, but I love hearing from former students after years (or decades) about what they are up to, and though it took me too long to realize I should be doing the same, I finally sent some thank you’s to former teachers and I’m glad I did. So should you. Do it now (your K-12 teachers are aging fast); at this time of year they will be happy to have an excuse to stop grading papers. Whatever you’re doing, you couldn’t have done it without them. Let them know.