Making Headlines

Stars and Scoops

In Memory of John McCormick   printer  

John McCormick's passing marked the end to what had been—and, given his remarkable influence, what will remain—a seminal and exemplary life in letters and teaching.  Few contributors to the Sewanee Review have demonstrated a more erudite, wide-ranging, and, above all, passionate approach to their work and studies; and for John McCormick that list of studies was indeed extensive: comparative literature, world politics (he spent several years teaching in Cold War Berlin), bull-fighting, psychology, history, and many more.  But as many of his former students have attested to, perhaps what McCormick was most interested in was philosophy and intellectual history.  As one student put it, "he was a philosopher who served as a professor of comparative literature."  This life-long passion for philosophy produced his masterful biography of George Santayana, which is unanimously considered the definitive work on the subject and largely responsible for an intellectual revival in the Spanish philosopher's work (though McCormick would be quick to argue persuasively that Santayana was just as important as a poet, essayist, and novelist).
       Nevertheless McCormick's legacy surely cannot be summarized or reduced to the effort of a single book.  He published eight more and was a prolific essayist whose work for the SR spanned over twenty years.  A brief glance through the subjects of some of his work will perhaps encapsulate his otherwise un-encapsulatable intellectual range:  Philip Larkin, Rene Wellek, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Jose Maria Eca de Quieros, Santayana as novelist, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Spaniards and Nazi Germany, numerous essays on translation—the list becomes vertiginous.  But maybe that was the key to McCormick's success, both as a teacher and an essayist: no matter how unfamiliar with or skeptical about the subject we were, McCormick had an innate ability to pique our interest, to help us realize that, even if we disagreed with it, we still had a responsibility to treat the topic with the appropriate critical attitude.  The SR and the greater republic of letters will surely miss his distinguished voice.

For many wonderful remembrances from notable former students of McCormick, check out this
fascinating dedication page by the College Hill Review.