Professor Stuurman

I have written about Douwe Stuurman a few times. He was my MA supervisor at UCSB and later a family friend. He came to Canada in his VW beetle to attend our daughter’s wedding and immediately began making useful suggestions about making changes to our house! He wasn’t just a Rhodes Scholar philosophy and literature prof, but also a man who liked to build things! Shortly after arriving he changed our stairway (for the better) by removing a glass section that opened up the living room.

In a recent post John Richards wrote briefly about Stuurman’s influence on him. He also sent a beautiful and thoughtful gift for me: a book about Stuurman’s time in Europe after the big war. He had collected a treasure of writings from Hitler and other military Naziis that help to remind us that we are capable of all sorts of behaviour as humans. I have almost finished reading that book now and want to share some of it’s content with you over the next few days.

Here is the UCSB library’s entry:

“Douwe Stuurman oral history, 1982Author Online Archive of California Notes As a student at the University of Kiel, Professor Douwe Stuurman recalls his experiences in Nazi Germany and how Hitler’s programs compromised the academic integrity of the university. He describes his military assignments during World War II, which led to his discovery of the Chancellery Papers and Hitler’s personal library. The oral history also covers Stuurman’s academic career at UCSB, including his development of a course on the Bible as Literature. Finished version: A Rhodes Scholar’s View of Nazi Germany. Oral history conducted by David E. Russell, Santa Barbara: Davidson Library Oral History Program, 1982. 300 pages. Interviewer: David E. Russell, [1982?]. Interviewee(s): Douwe Stuurman. Transcript: Several versions. Douwe Stuurman with David E. Russell, A Rhodes Scholar’s View of Nazi Germany (Santa Barbara: Davidson Library Oral History Program, 1982), 300 pages. [don’t actually find a version of this length – latest version seems to be one with pencil edits]. Related materials: David E. Russell, “The World War II Experiences of Douwe Stuurman, Robert Olney Easton, Bob Tannenbaum, and Donald C. Davidson,” Soundings, XXVII, 34 (1997): 36-59.”

And from an earlier post:

After a few years in public schools and four years in the United States Marine Corps (1953-1957), I learned about sex and violence in more direct ways, and stopped reading the Bible until I was in university. When I was discharged from the USMC my new wife, new son, and I moved to Texas where I was going to become an electrical engineer. I studied engineering at the University of Texas until one day my first year English professor told the class that T. S. Eliot was coming to Dallas to give a reading. We were studying his poetry and I decided to go to the reading. It was amazing! Eliot read “The Hallow Men” in a Quonset hut – with rain falling on the tin roof – and I had a conversion experience. It hit me that engineers were building war machines and I did not want to do that. I went home, finished the year of engineering study, and moved to California where I changed majors first to math and then to English. I spent a year at Santa Barbara City College where my love for the humanities grew under the direction of a most impressive professor, Bart Sorensen. After a year at SBCC I received an entrance scholarship to UCSB. I was awarded the BA with Honors in 1961 and, partly because we were in need of money, I took a job as a personnel supervisor with the Boeing Company at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  This was an exciting time – a time of the Cold War, of bomb shelters and missile launches – a time to think about the nature of truth and the nature of good and bad. Boeing moved me to home office in Seattle and I moved engineers around to different projects in Minot, ND and Huntsville, AL. The money was good; the nature of the work began to challenge my sense of right and wrong. I was offered a transfer to Huntsville to work on the Dinosaur project. I turned it down on moral grounds and went back to graduate school.      Who were some of your mentors in university and what did you learn from them?  At the University of California in Santa Barbara I was assigned as a teaching assistant to Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught a course on the Bible. His classes were always full of interesting people. In the front row were the nuns, who, he said, were there to spy on him. Then came the middle-aged students looking for therapy, the literature and philosophy students, and the atheists who sat in the back. I tried to sit in a different part of the room each time. Stuurman had a Freudian, Eastern, Calvinist, Proustian, Existentialist background and the ability to mesmerize an audience. Above all he opened up the text for me. I read it with fresh eyes. These stories were marvelous works of art! Stuurman’s lectures were inspiring (I used to call them “Stuurman on the mount”) and unlike my Lutheran pastor, he asked questions all the time. When not at the university I spent my time cleaning the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara, which meant that I had the opportunity to talk with Lex Crane, who was ministering there then. His background in literature and philosophy was extensive and we used to have long talks about “meaning” while I should have been cleaning the toilets. I flirted with the idea of becoming a Unitarian minister, but never got the “call.”  I did a directed studies course with Dr. Stuurman on Albert Camus. I had another conversion! The Absurd. Made sense to me. I read everything Camus wrote and wrote about his ideas. I studied Shakespeare with Dr. Homer Swander, and poetry with Dr. Donald Pearce and Dr. Hugh Kenner.  Dr. Stuurman had one foot in the English Department and the other in the Philosophy Department. He taught a popular course called “Bible as Literature” as well as “Continental Literature”. Looking back now it is easy to see that I would try to follow in his footsteps. After completing studies for the MA I began my teaching career at Southwestern Oregon Community College, where I taught introductory English courses and Shakespeare.  From Stuurman I learned about continental literature and existentialism. He argued effectively for moral relativism. From Swander I learned the value of close reading of a text. And from others I learned the excitement of poetry. I returned to UCSB in the summer sessions as I worked on my next degree in philosophy.  I became a lover of literature:  The three writers who have most influenced my own take on fiction are Joseph Conrad in his foreword to The Nigger of the Narcissus; E. M. Forster in his little book Aspects of the Novel; and Kenneth Burke. I took an honors seminar with Burke at UCSB in 1965. He was another scholar who was multi-disciplinary in his work. He was also a great teacher. T. S. Eliot died during that year and Burke, who had written critically about Eliot, teared up when talking about his friend. 

I have also learned a great deal from my kids. When our first son was about four he went to play school one day and immediately went over to an easel and stood there holding a brush ready to start painting. The teacher came up behind him and said, “What are you going to paint?”  “God,” he said.  “And do you know what God looks like?” 

“I will when I finish the painting,” he said as he began to paint.

Painting by Siena

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