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2010-08-06 19:05:29|  分类: 教育 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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by Neil Postman 尼尔 波斯特曼

      Having sat through two dozen or so graduation speeches, I have naturally wondered why they are so often so bad. One reason, of course, is that the speakers are chosen for their eminence in some field, and not because they are either competent speakers or gifted writers. Another reason is that the audience is eager to be done with all ceremony so that it can proceed to some serious reveling. Thus any speech longer than, say, fifteen minutes will seem tedious, if not entirely pointless. There are other reasons as well, including the difficulty of saying something inspirational without being banal. Here I try my hand at writing a graduation speech, and not merely to discover if I can conquer the form. This is precisely what I would like to say to young people if I had their attention for a few minutes.


      If you think my graduation speech is good, I hereby grant you permission to use it, without further approval from or credit to me, should you be in an appropriate situation.


Members of the faculty, parents, guests, and graduates, have no fear. I am well aware that on a day of such high excitement, what you require, first and foremost, of any speaker is brevity. I shall not fail you in this respect. There are exactly eighty-five sentences in my speech, four of which you have just heard. It will take me about twelve minutes to speak all of them and I must tell you that such economy was not easy for me to arrange, because I have chosen as my topic the complex subject of your ancestors. Not, of course, your biological ancestors, about whom I know nothing, but your spiritual ancestors, about whom I know a little. To be specific, I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.


     The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them-Democritus by name-conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology.

第一个群体在约2500年以前生活在我们现在称作希腊的地方,他们把自己居住的城市称作雅典。虽然我们很想了解他们的起源,但知道的却不多。但对于他们的成就我们却了解得很多。例如,他们是第一个建立了一套完整字母表的民族,所以他们成了地球上第一批真正有文化的人。他们首创了政治民主的思想,其实施民主的热情使我们自愧不如。他们创建了我们所谓的哲学。他们还创立了我们所谓的科学,他们中的一员——德谟克利特——构想了物质的原子理论,而现代科学家在2 300年以后才刚刚有了这种想法。他们创作并演唱史诗,其优美和深刻无与伦比。他们创作和表演的戏剧几乎在3 000年之后仍有让观众大笑和哭泣的感染力。他们甚至还创立了我们今天所谓的奥林匹克运动会,而在他们的价值观中最重要的就是一个人应该在所有方面追求卓越。他们崇尚理智。他们崇尚美。他们崇尚节制。今天我们所知道的生态学这个词及其概念也是由他们首先提出的。

      About 2,000 years ago, the vitality of their culture declined and these people began to disappear. But not what they had created. Their imagination, art, politics, literature, and language spread all over the world so that, today, it is hardly possible to speak on any subject without repeating what some Athenian said on the matter 2,500 years ago.

大约2 000年前,他们文化的活力衰退了,这些人开始消失了。但是他们创造的东西却没有消失。他们的想象、艺术、政治学、文学和语言传遍了全世界,所以如今在谈论任何一个话题时,我们几乎不可能不重复2 500年前一些雅典人对于该事说过的话。

      The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders-ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics.

第二群人居住在我们现在叫作德国的地方,他们活跃于约1 700年前。我们称他们为西哥特人,你们也许还记得你们的六年级或七年级老师提到过他们。他们是极为出色的骑手,这也许是他们在历史上的唯一亮点。他们是些强盗——残酷而野蛮。他们的语言缺乏微妙和深度。他们的艺术粗糙甚至怪异。他们席卷了整个欧洲,每到一处便毁坏一切,他们侵占了罗马帝国。西哥特人最喜欢做的莫过于焚烧书籍、亵渎建筑、或者毁坏艺术品。在西哥特人那儿,我们没有看到诗歌、戏剧、逻辑、科学、具有人性的政治学。

      Like the Athenians, the Visigoths also disappeared, but not before they had ushered in the period known as the Dark Ages. It took Europe almost a thousand years to recover from the Visigoths.


      Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us-in this hall, in this community, in our city-there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

现在,我想说明的一点是,雅典人和西哥特人仍然活着,他们通过我们以及我们的生活方式而活了下来。在我们周围——在这个大厅里、在这个社区里、在我们的城市里——有些人看待世界的方式反映了雅典人的方式,而有些人的方式则是西哥特人的方式。当然,我的意思不是说我们现代的雅典人遐想着漫步于街头,吟诵着诗歌和哲学,或者现代的西哥特人是嗜杀成性者。我的意思是说,做一个雅典人或者西哥特人就是以一套价值观为中心去构筑你的生活。  雅典人是一种观念。  西哥特人是一种观念。让我简单地告诉你们这些观念的构成。

      To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question-these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.


      To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind's most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth's language aspires to nothing higher than the clichés.


      To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday's newspaper.


      To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word "idiot." A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

做一个雅典人就是要关心公共事务和公众行为的改善。  其实,古代雅典人对那些不关心这些事的人还有一个词:这个词就是idiotes(无知的人),我们正是根据这个词才造出了我们的词idiot(白痴)。现代的西哥特人只关心自己的事,根本不知道团体的含义。

    And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

最后,做一个雅典人就是要尊重创造永恒艺术所需要的磨练、技巧和审美力。因此,在接近一件艺术品时,雅典人通过学习和经验准备好了自己的想象力。  对西哥特人而言,除了流行以外,根本就没有衡量优秀艺术作品的尺度。投合大众心意的东西就是好的。  西哥特人不尊重甚至不承认其他标准。

      Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

现在,所有这一切与你的关系就显而易见了。最终,同我们其他人一样,你必须站在一方或另一方。你必定是一个雅典人或西哥特人。当然,做一名雅典人要难得多,因为你必须学会如何做,你必须要付出努力,而从某种意义上说我们都是天生的西哥特人。  这就是为什么西哥特人比雅典人要多得多的原因。我还必须告诉你,仅仅通过上学或者积累几个学位是不会变成雅典人的。  我的岳父是我所知道的最坚定的雅典人之一,他成年之后一直是纽约第七大街上的一名裁缝。  另一方面,我认识的一些医生、律师和工程师却是十足的西哥特人。  我还必须既伤心又羞愧地告诉你,在我们一些名牌大学里,也许甚至就在这一所大学里,有一些教授,我们可以公正地说,是些隐蔽的西哥特人。然而,你决不可怀疑,学校的本质毕竟体现了一种雅典人的观念。  雅典的文化成就和这所大学的教员所从事的工作之间有着一种直接的联系。不难想象,在我们的教室里,柏拉图、亚里士多德或者德谟克利特会感到很自在。西哥特人将只会在墙壁上涂写一些淫秽下流的话。

      And so, whether you were aware of it or not, the purpose of your having been at this university was to give you a glimpse of the Athenian way, to interest you in the Athenian way. We cannot know on this day how many of you will choose that way and how many will not. You are young and it is not given to us to see your future. But I will tell you this, with which I will close: I can wish for you no higher compliment than that in the future it will be reported that among your graduating class the Athenians mightily outnumbered the Visigoths.


      Thank you, and congratulations.


* Neil Postman is a critic, writer, communications theorist, and professor of communication arts and sciences at New York University. Educated at the State University of New York and Columbia University, he holds the Christian Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 1987 was given the George Orwell Award for Clarity in Language by the National Council of Teachers of English. He was for ten years editor of Et Cetera, the journal of general semantics. His sixteen previous books include Amusing Ourselves to Death, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The Soft Revolution, and The Disappearance of Childhood.
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