Bill Rasch asked me to include words from his letter to his students thanking them for attending and speaking at his retirement celebration in late October. Their presence was a tribute to his teaching; his words tell us why they came:
“I want one more time to thank you all for coming to Bloomington and sending me off in grand style to what awaits me in retirement. As I mentioned Saturday night, I listened carefully to what each of you said and was struck by a common thread, to wit, that I pushed each of you continually to do better, especially when writing your dissertations. I have always harbored the suspicion that I am a soft touch, so believe it or not, I was gratified to hear that your recollections were different than mine. I hope I was never cruel, but a little push, a little pressure, a jab or two at a soft spot in a body of work may have been necessary from time to time. I am happy to have been of service.
A number of you also mentioned that one of my main concerns was not so much that you should choose and be a partisan of this or that theoretical approach, but rather that you view theory or intellectual argument of any sort as an object of study, an object the shape and contours of which are as fascinating as the structure of narrative fiction or poetry or drama. In the final undergraduate class I taught last fall, I tried to impress on the students that it was more important to analyze the structure of an argument than to agree or disagree with it. I didn’t want to hear their opinions, only their analyses. So in this case, I was pleased (and surprised) to hear an echo of that ethos in your talks.
Over the years I have thought about all of you often, along with many other students who worked with me or simply were in a seminar or two. At the risk of sounding like Lou Gehrig, I feel like the luckiest man alive to have been able to teach at Indiana University and have the students like I have had – you and all the rest. I hope your anxiety level at that time was manageable; and I hope you have been able to take what I believe to be the IU spirit with you, namely, that the life of the mind is not a chore, not a task, not something that will necessarily improve anything, but a form of pleasure and creativity that binds a select community – not a snobbery, but an exhilarating activity driven by heart and mind, and not a little humor! As I put it in a talk recently, deliberately echoing Weber, what we do is a calling without a call. Or at least, the call we hear comes from us, and we follow the calling with no necessary reward except the one we receive by simply following our heart and mind to wherever it may lead us.”