My friend John Bremer died this past November. He was 88, and lived a remarkable life. I loved him fiercely. When I heard the news from his daughter, I chanted a requiem aeternam, and proceeded to polish off an excellent bottle of red wine. I had just finished a tutoring session when I received the call, and was nearing the end of The Iliad with several students. As I stood at the top of the steps that lead to my front porch, wine glass in hand, I thought about the Rowan (Ash) tree John kept near the center of his backyard in Ludlow, VT. Given John’s great love of Hellenism, and the text I was working with, it thus happened that while looking at the tree in my front yard, I had the bizarre and lingering urge to pour out the glass of wine in my hand as a libation to Apollo. (As I mentioned, John was a staunch Hellenist: he kept a statue of Pan in the corner of his dining room –with little R.A.F. tokens strewn about it– where an icon or a statue of Christ or a saint might be within an Orthodox or Catholic Christian home; I didn’t pour the libation, as my devotion is elsewhere.)
I don’t place emphasis on these religious elements arbitrarily. When I arrived at Cambridge College in 2005, John was one of my first teachers. He was one of several former St. John’s tutors and students there, together with Harvard professors, making my experience effectively a colony of these two schools for the years I attended (most of the faculty in question left shortly after I graduated, one of them to eventually run Kaplan in Oceania). I took at least one, if not two, courses with John every semester after that, for the next three years. I was introduced to John through an Introduction to Philosophy course together with a Classics of Western Civilization course. John had us focus on Plato and Aristotle in the Intro. Phil. course, and during the Classics course, at one point we covered the Peloponnesian War. I can’t remember whether there was something in our sources about the relationship of the gods to the War, or whether a student spontaneously brought up a question about the relationship between divine providence and the course of history. Either way, in response to questions asked in this direction, John said (paraphrasing Napoleon Bonaparte) “God is on the side with the biggest guns.” I was younger, and couldn’t sort his identity, but it seemed to only allow one of two likely resolutions, so I caught him after class, on the way to the elevator, and I asked: “Are you an atheist or a Catholic?” John replied with emphasis: “I am a Hellenist!” John was very iconoclastic in this way. (Though he had the most magical Irish cross next to the side entrance of his home in Vermont.)
It was to this home in Vermont that we took our first trip with our daughter, just a few days shy of one month after she was born. She had barely been out of the house before that. Thinking back together, my wife and I are reasonably sure that she hadn’t even been baptised yet. Our daughter has never known a world without John, whom she always called “JohnBremer”, as though that were his first name (when younger, everyone else was always only a single-word title or a single first name to her). Trips to visit him have been at least semi-annual for her since she was born. She has little trinkets that he gave her, like a big magnifying glass. She never forgot who gave them to her, and would often remind me and my wife “JohnBremer gave this to me!” When we finally told our daughter about his death, over a month after it happened, she was frightened, and sad. For days and days after we told her, she would remind us regularly, with a sad urgency, “do you remember the bad news?”
One of our first trips up was in 2007, before our daughter was born, for John’s 80th birthday party. His daughter, the consummate hostess, entertained; someone bought him an MG. I still remember the small crowds eating and chatting in the house, the sunlight on the lawn and the driveway, John’s grandson grilling food on the porch, the conversation and the banter round about the car, and John’s joy. I should reiterate that it was John’s eightieth birthday. That is to say, I met John about halfway through the winter of his life, when he was “at the threshold”, as Socrates, following a metaphor found in Homer, described the aged Cephalus (Κέφαλος) in The Republic (which John always called by its Greek name, “The Polity” (Ή Πολιτεία). Nonetheless, John had more youthfulness in the winter of his life than nearly any youth I’ve met in his or her springtime. When my wife thinks of youthfulness, she thinks of John. She says that he always felt younger than she. His spirit was (most often) invincible (though he had his moments). This is no surprise; John was enamored with Plato’s Socrates. We usually tie our joy to external circumstances, to the realm of flux and becoming; through the dialogues, however, Socrates has a stable joy, not tied to the realm of becoming, because he loves the beauty of being, which is stable. Aging does not matter so much, apparently, when one is a lover of wisdom, of what is abiding and holds sway. There is a moment at the beginning of The Republic when Socrates asks Cephalus a question — effectively, ‘What is it like to be so old that you’re nearly dead?’ John’s answer to me on this point was, unsurprisingly, far better than Cephalus’ response to Socrates. “When I was young, I fought in a war, and traveled the world, I taught Morris dancing; I expected that I wouldn’t enjoy getting older, but now that I am, I have gone more places in my mind than I ever did with my body,” and he found the horizons opened to his mind to be more enjoyable. When he began to have hip problems, he was worried that he’d never walk or dance again (I believe he never again did the latter, though he walked seemingly fine after a time, and, as he gleefully reported, “without pain”). Before this resolution, however, he took the worrying prospects in good cheer, certainly because of the horizons opened to him in thought.
John ran the Institute of Philosophy. He was always happy to speak and lecture, if he were invited to do so, and he would aim to stimulate people to the Socratic ideal of education when he did, but he really wished to participate in more intimate settings, where there could be a conversation. Following Plato, John’s habits of dialogue almost always appeared to suggest that truth is not the kind of thing that might be had by simply declaiming: the truth is public, but also universal, and requires a collaborative spirit to clarify the questions and by seeing whether the answers had can geometrically apply in all cases. Truth is public, and can be had in common, revealed in true discourse among the lovers of truth. The project has no end, and requires as many generous-spirited and energetically truth-desiring participants as is possible.
It is no surprise, then, that when John would be thinking about any topic, he wanted to share it, to talk about it. He was very communal in that way. A question may begin at any single “where”, and run out to the furthest reaches of being, should it not be interrupted, only to return to the original question with understanding and clarity. This is the exitus-reditus of the world: all things have their beginning in the exit, and all things return to their origin — though ideally, they return with a greater yield, and the “ignorant” single question from which the discussions come and the “unknowing” answer to which they return are not the same kind of ignorance, nor is the single question the same after the dialogue. In June of 2011, he came down to lead a group of us, who had been reading through Late Antique Neoplatonic texts (mostly Pseudo-Dionysius, and Eric Perl) through Plato’s Meno for two days. The last e-mail correspondence I had with John before he died, on the 11th of September, 2015, was also about the Meno. It is fitting, then, that the Meno was also one of the first texts we read together in 2006.
There were clouds that would gather in John at times. At times, he would indicate a kind of sternness in his judgments of others, a severity, that was very much unlike his usual kindness, and which I have often seen –always in far more developed forms– among men who grew up during World War II (John was in the R.A.F.; hence the R.A.F. tokens about the Pan statue) — especially men who had difficult relations with their fathers, as John had (he made several trips to Ireland toward the end of his life — in part to lecture to college students there, but also to reconnect with his deceased grandfather, as a way of circumventing this poor relationship with his father; I took several trips to VT to help him sell books to finance these trips). Usually this sternness of his was expressed in relation to people whom he thought were unteachable, and who not only had caused harm, but had such a character as to continue in persisting to cause harm. These were presumably, like the sophist Thrasymachus, deemed to be unteachable, after John thought that they had proved themselves so (though John was willing to begin a conversation with anyone, and never, so far as I know, wrote anyone off completely — just as Socrates was willing to converse with sophists, and never willingly broke off the conversation unless another had done so, due to their own tyrannical character). As noted, it always seemed to be a severity in evaluation, and never wrath or contempt. This severity could be visited upon people very close to him, leading to cold spells where John would not be heard from, or return calls, for days, weeks, or even months. He was aware of this severity, though, and took aim at it, to be mindful of it, and not let it have its way. In a paper he wrote and sent to me in 2011, he noted that he “suspects” that:
for ordinary folk, [their] character comes [before their intellectual positions]. The most obvious example would be in terms of authority. All children are subject to authority and they learn from the way authority is imposed upon them and from the people (usually parents) who do the imposing. It does not matter whether the imposition is harsh and cruel or gentle and kind for, whatever it is, it is learned by the child and carried into adulthood. If I may cite my own personal history, my family’s exercise of authority (not noted for its toleration) taught me a view that it has taken many years to un-learn. Rationally, I can see its injustice and inappropriateness, but emotionally and in terms of conduct, I can easily follow the age-old family pattern — and against my intent and wish very often. It requires constant vigilance. [“Platonic Interpersonal Relations”]
John was aware of the clouds.
The clouds always seemed to pass, however, and they seemed to pass rather quickly. John laughed often, a great, hearty laugh that came from his chest, the chest of a man who seemed to love the world, and life, and people. Smiling was frequent, and spontaneous. When he was not doing these two things, his eyebrows were often raised, and one could be sure that he was either quite interested in something that he was to inquire about, was about to tell one something interesting, or both. It was the face of one who always wished to seduce others into learning, to put motion in their souls. “It doesn’t really matter how a soul begins to move — it only matters that it does begin to move”, he said to me once, thoughtfully. One might think of the scene of the Allegory of the Cave in Book 7 of Plato’s Republic, where there are motionless, chained slaves –motionless and chained since birth– at the bottom of a cave, chained souls, “like ourselves”, who have no direct contact with one another, and are witness to a shadow puppet show all their lives, mistaking this for reality. ‘What would happen if one of these were released, and compelled to stand upright, and turn around, and look at the light?’ Plato asks of these released souls. They might be compelled to stand up, but they do all this, as the text says, “φύσει” [515c], “by nature” — motion is natural to the soul, moving up out of the cave and to the light is natural (indeed, it’s the only place one has to go once one “stands upright”), whereas immobility, slavery, is unnatural. John wanted to prompt other souls into motion.
He was full of wonder. On one trip to Vermont, John and I were walking across his drive to his garage, to look at or to get something that was out there. I looked up at the night sky, the moon exploding across it with a brightness that seemed augmented by so many silver strands of cloud, which dared not draw too close to her and violate the moon’s sphere. I had been reading Science and Poetry by the fantastic Mary Midgley, and lamented, “isn’t it awful to look up and see, not a goddess, but a rock?” “I’m sorry,” he began with his customary, invitatory beginning, “why should we say that she’s not a goddess, simply because she’s a rock?” John’s sense of wonder always opened up questions, even when the positions that he took seemed like they were simply bait for the kind of motion mentioned above. (John was not simply a polytheist, mind you: once, when we were talking about Zeus in The Iliad –it was likely the same day– he said that these gods lived “within the text”. On another occasion, in class with him years earlier, we were talking about the presocratic text from Thales, cited by Aristotle, “all things are full of gods”, “πάντα πλήρη θεών είναι” [see Kirk, Raven, & Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, Second Edition, p.95]. John mentioned that this meant that everything had a kind of life, and shimmered — not that there were literally spirits or fairies in everything.)
He was also quietly funny, and even the most stock jokes became somehow puckish and charming on his lips. As one might guess by his delight in receiving an MG for his birthday, John loved English nostalgia, even if he preferred the States (after hearing about the death of an actor from the Harry Potter movies, and learning that large knife fights were not unheard of in England, I asked him once about why that might be: “in England, people are not accustomed to governing themselves the same way as they are in the States”, he answered — of course, the question of self-regulation is key to a true understanding of justice in The Republic). It always seemed that the elements of English nostalgia that he delighted in took on a sparkle because of his sense of humor, rather than he being tickled by them. The English tea company PG Tips makes pyramid tea bags; John once mentioned, with an impish grin, that they were sometimes called “PG tits” in the U.K., likely because they could be taken as polygonal, PG-rated versions of, well, tits. Likewise with the common R.A.F. complaint about American soldiers in Europe: “There were three problems with them, we would say: they are over-sexed, over-paid, and over here!” These became endearing when John said them. (It is no surprise that one of the first things he said in that first semester at Cambridge College was about jokes: John was in love with Plato’s Socrates, who is very often quietly funny, and not so much with Aristotle. “There is only one joke in all of Aristotle”, he told me then. I can’t recall the joke, but it was about women.)
This humor was the only reason that he was able to endure overly-loquacious people like me, and, certainly, the reason why he would charm the women he would meet. He was a gentleman. John seemed to magically summon a certain flirtatious twinkle from the women around him, and to enjoy it: it is likely that his great humor was the only reason that so many situations weren’t oppressive for him, and why much of the company he found himself in was tolerable and even enjoyable.
This humor is also the reason why he could see all of life as a learning opportunity. Certainly his love of Plato either birthed this in him, or fanned the flame of this native element. John had recently divorced from his third wife (his second wife –so far as I know, his longest marriage– died, sadly). I don’t know the details, but my impressions were that the divorce was ugly. It left John with feelings that he was not accustomed to. “Can you recommend any movies about revenge?” he asked me one day. Rob Roy came to mind. I asked him whether he wished to live a revenge fantasy. “No,” he replied, “I simply have these feelings, and I wish to understand them.” Transitioning from a divorce is difficult, but he treated it as an educational opportunity. Transitions in general are difficult, though, and this is a lesson I learned from John. (For years, I’d seen how Asperger’s children struggle with transitions, but I didn’t understand until I met John how general the difficulties with transitions are.) This he told me once during his brief occupation of the endowed chair set up for him at Cambridge College: “Transitions are a great administrative problem.” I asked him what he meant. “Do you know what frogmen are?” I admitted that I didn’t, and had never heard of them. “They were soldiers trained to infiltrate enemy lines by scuba gear. However, once they reached the shore, they would need to transition from their scuba gear to regular camos, and this left them vulnerable.” He saw an entire group of frogmen, once, get mown down by machine gun fire while they were on a beach, and changing. “So you see, Gregory: transitions are a great administrative problem.”
This humor also gave him the fortitude –some would malign it as stubbornness– to return to the creature he had formed so many years ago, Cambridge College, and to teach there, after experiencing what he once described to me as a revolution, among some of the teachers he had hired, to remove him.
Now that John has passed, I am furiously searching for every artifact of conversation I can find: class notes, e-mail exchanges, drafts of papers, a few unfinished manuscripts, and books and articles he’d given me that I haven’t read. Some of the books and articles are his, and contain much that is explicitly autobiographical. So now that John has come to his end, I return somewhere to his middle. There is something about conversations that are remarkably open-ended in this way. When we covered The Iliad together, John’s first comment to me was that “the goddess could begin anywhere, really; but she was asked to begin here, at this conflict”. There was something about the freedom of the intellect that it could consider things from any angle it chooses, really, and begin inquiry anywhere: this freedom was a key part of our humanity for John. As noted above, in the Platonic dialogues, when someone asks a question –a real question– it is something like the One, unfolding into a Myriad of other questions, and returning to the original — unless the discourse is interrupted. The questions can begin anywhere. They never end. I am not sure I will be done with my conversations with John, ever.
I owed –and owe– John several pieces of writing that I promised him, but never sent him. Eventually I’ll get to writing them, and when I do, I’ll post them here, for
When thou dost purpose aught (within thy power),
Be sure to do it, though it be but small;
Constancy knits the bones, and makes us stowre,
When wanton pleasures beckon us to thrall.
Who breaks his own bond, forfeiteth himself;
What nature made a ship, he makes a shelf.
[George Herbert, The Temple]
In his book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis (a love of John’s; John wrote a book on his poetry) wrote about one of the Greek words for love, philia (φιλία), that it indicated a love of two people side-by-side, looking at the same object. John gave birth to a love of Plato and the Greeks in me that grows powerfully with each passing year; while he was alive, we spent thousands of hours together, side-by-side, looking at things commonly loved. Naturally, then, when I was puzzled about something in Plato’s Republic the other day, I suddenly wanted to call John, trusting that he had an answer. I was flying down Storrow Drive, and realized I could not call him. I started crying –bawling, really– so hard that I could only see for a brief moment every time I would wipe my eyes. Storrow Drive moves very fast; I was worried that I would surely crash. The loss of those we love is great. I believe it was Rahner who said that “in this life, all of our symphonies go unfinished”, and the same is true of our conversations.
The arrest of our conversations does not mean that all of our horizons are cages, however. There was one visit the three of us took up to see John, when he began to have some trouble with his eyesight, the specifics of which I can’t recall (the issue was resolved, and I can’t recall the specifics of that, either). He was sad about the possible loss of vision — it would mean that he could no longer read or write. “I’m not sure I would want to live anymore, if I couldn’t continue my work”, he admitted to my wife and me as we sat down eating at one of the fairs we were attending. My wife and I were very concerned, but John didn’t seem depressed at all, only a bit sad about the prospect of a life without being able to engage with the things that he loved so much. I offered him some kind of exhortation to take heart, and said something about the inherent undesirability of death.
John smiled, looking both surprised at my comment, and almost amused by it. “Oh,” he replied with humor, and a quite optimistic tone, “I’m sorry, but I’m not at all sure that death is the end.”
30 thoughts on “John A. Bremer (1927–2015)”
A fine tribute, vibrant picture of a man. I can relate myself, to what i read here. I thank you and him, for this. -J
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I’m glad you found it so edifying. I wish it could be as edifying as John himself, but for that, one needs a living voice.
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Thank you, Joe!
Thank you for this. It helps to round out some of the impressions I had.
That anecdote about looking at the moon is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Pure philosophy.
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I’m glad that you found it helpful. There are so many more anecdotes that I wanted to include, but these were the ones that seemed to demand that I include them.
Thank you very much for these words on John!
I met him twice in Dublin and, after that, exchanged many e-mails with him.
He seemed to me exactly like you describe him.
Last time I “talked” to him was around September 2015; I sent him a message in December, but he did not reply.
Today I wrote again. When I received the notification that my message had failed to be delivered, I realized that something was wrong.
I am really sad.
José C. Baracat Jr.
Porto Alegre, Brazil
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I’m sorry that you had to find out from an online post, but take comfort in the fact that this post seems to generate decent traffic, meaning that John had, and has, many friends, and that you yourself join something of a company of like-minded people in the motion that John seems to have brought to your soul.
We grieve with you. Happily, although it is no equivalent to speaking with him or exchanging letters with him, you can find many of his books and papers on Amazon.com, so that the exchanges you had with him don’t exactly need to stop where the two of you left them.
Pax et Bonum,
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I met John Bremer in 1975 when the head of the Education Department at Western Washington University noted how impressed I had been with a book assigned in one of my master’s degree courses. “Who is this guy?” I asked. “It’s the most intelligent thing I have read since beginning the program.” Dr. Starbird smiled and said “when things get a bit quiet, I like to stir the pot. I just hired John Bremer as a full professor. He was previously Commissioner of Education in British Columbia. If you like his work, would you like me to sign you up with a couple tutorials with him and a class as well?” I was in a hurry to finish my degree and the classes were part of the summer session so it worked for me.
In the class, John commented that he could imagine nothing more delightful than to spend the summer reading Plato’s Republic. Next day, I met him in his office where we were supposed to be doing a ‘readings on adult education’ tutorial. John, with some amusement in his voice, asked what that meant, and I replied that I would rather take him up on his thought of reading the Republic. Little did I know I could not have picked a better topic. I was not the only one. When I told my classmates what I was doing, five of them asked if they could join in, so we approached John. He proceeded to build a picnic table and invite all of us to join him at his home outside on Saturdays to read Plato. That is how it began.
By the autumn, the picnic table group had grown, and soon dozens of us were meeting, reading Plato and engaging in a level of academic excellence that was something never before seen in Bellingham, Washington. Because most of us were students, we had to meet at 7 a.m. for an hour every morning, the only time everyone was able to avoid scheduling conflicts. There were no grades, no tests, no tuition, no assignments, but the level of academic excellence exceeded anything that was happening on campus. One term we read all of Euclid’s Elements – three a night, presented the next morning in a seconded classroom where we used a chalkboard to demonstrate. We also did a term on Apollonius conic sections. When it came time to do my final Master’s work, John asked if I would like to do a Cambridge (England) examination, and I readily accepted. It was the most fun I ever had in university as it required I synthesise everything I learned in a way that demonstrated I was qualified to be awarded a degree as a “Master” .
Those of us who had finished our degrees did not want the learning to stop, so we continued attending the gatherings. Early morning and weekends worked with our schedules. At one point, I suggested to John that he form an official non-profit, a 501 (c)(3) organisation, which we did, The Institute of Socratic Study. We still followed the pure tradition of scholarship with no fees, tests, grades or transcripts, but we did qualify for summer internship grants. So two of the students in our group were given summer jobs to count every single letter, syllable and word in the Republic. For one of them, Marilyn Troje it was a life changer. She had previously planned to get a job as an airline stewardess. After the Institute years, she went on the get a PhD in biology and last I heard was doing advanced research in Australia. These were pre-computer days, so it was a matter of photocopying the Greek (never mind that the students could not read the words, John instructed them as to how to identify and count the syllables). Later that summer, John sent me off to the Old Bodleian Library in Oxford, with appropriate letters of introduction to examine the oldest surviving manuscript of Plato’s Tetraologies (895 AD) also known as the Clarke manuscript. In those days, the librarian would still bring out the actual bound book. Wearing white gloves, I photographed the pages that showed evidences of partial stoichiometry to take back to John as he pursued the geometrical structure of Plato’s works.
One of the traditions was on June 5, we would gather at John’s house and at noon he would turn on a tape recorder and we would begin to listen to a reading of the Republic. It takes 12 hours, and it is most interesting to see how we would sit, stand, lie on the floor, walk over and eat and stay until midnight. It is quite an unusual discipline to listen to a book for 12 hours with no breaks… and then to repeat it once a year for five years.
The program lasted for five years. Early on, John sold his house in Victoria BC, and I helped him pack up 5,000 books that I drove in a truck to Bellingham. There was not a superfluous book in the collection. It even included the original Stephanus edition of Plato’s works. As the house was perched above Foul Bay in Victoria, he named us the Foul Bay Packers, a football pun. Later he bought a second house in Bellingham solely for the books, but I believe he sold many of them when he moved back from Australia to America. When I visited him in Ludlow, the basement was full of books once again.
Eventually, other faculty members became jealous. John did not have a doctorate, but he was given a full professorship. Dr. Starbird, who was department head admonished those who were carping, saying John had published more and done more than all of them combined. At one point there was a faculty lecture series where John gave a talk on Sir Patrick Spens. (http://www.worldandischool.com/public/1992/august/school-resource20008.asp). It was extremely well presented and researched, but what I noted was the response of other faculty members. John had not published this new information. He was tossing it out like it was a pleasant idea, whereas most other scholars would have made sure to have published it before breathing a word. This too intimidated, although that was not John’s intention. The final straw however was the student honours program. Previously, it was a very minor program for the ‘goody-goody’ students. John was asked to take over it, and it merged into the Institute reading. Soon hundreds of students were joining; it became one of the most dynamic things happening at the university. This of course was most embarrassing for other faculty members, because it was demonstrating a form of learning that none of them could deliver. In the end, just as Socrates was given hemlock, John was given walking papers. He took a job with the Australian, and once again, I helped pack up the library, this time to go down under. He had several jobs down there, at one point he and his wife Anne divorced, and later she died.
He returned to America, but I had moved to New Zealand, so I did not see him again until he visited me in Auckland. I last saw him when I visited him in Ludlow in June 2009. It was a busy trip as I also went up to visit Stewart Udall in Sante Fe AZ who had agreed to let me video tape him in what turned out to be his final video (he died 9 months later). I was able to visit John for several days, and the only change was that his daughter, who was hardly a teen when they moved to Australia was now a woman with her own grown children. John was the same as ever, and of course we discussed how we could design villages with school classrooms on the village plazas so that they could learn by interacting with role models. I eventually put both those conversations (John and Stewart’s) in a book I wrote (ISBN 978-0958286824).
I was sad to learn of John’s death, but at such a venerable age, I am sure he was ready to go to that mysterious place described by Er, son of Armenius. John changed the lives of many, and has left seeds that may still bring new life to the loves of his life, education and Plato.
I have done some updating of John’s Wikipedia page, and suggest you may want to make some additions as well (including perhaps better photographs).
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I remember seeing this book of yours (https://www.amazon.com/How-Build-Villagetown-Claude-Lewenz/dp/0958286876/) out proudly on display on one of John’s chests in front of his Shakespeare bookshelf in Ludlow; it was always so fascinating and intriguing to me, John would wax on about the topic of villages with great pleasure to my wife and me, and I remember secretly hoping he had a stash of giveaway copies to send me home with one. I’m glad you gave me the ISBN of your other book, for otherwise I might not have remembered the title of that linked-to book or its author’s name! It’s possible that I have a photograph of your book on said chest somewhere on some Google Drive folder or on some older digital camera flashdrive. If I ever do, I’ll post a link to it here in this thread.
I took many classes with John while I was at Cambridge College, and one of them was on _The Republic_. He had an audio recording of himself narrating the entire work; I can only assume that it was made during one of your several reading sessions, though that might not be the case. I remember that, on those recordings, he sounded so very much younger. I wish they would resurface, so I could transfer them to digital format, and listen to them (and to him). I suppose I could always ask his daughter when next I see her.
I’m very happy you wrote. (I also didn’t realize he had divorced Anne before she died.) I look forward to reading some of John’s conversations as you’ve written them down in your book!
Do keep in touch, and supply any other stories you can think of that might be helpful.
P.S.: you wrote your original comment and posted it while I was asleep; I had a dream about John that night, in which there was a book –I thought it was a Shakespeare original Folio or something, but all I can remember is that it was an original of some sort, and valuable– that an older white-haired woman I didn’t recognize was trying to remove from his collection. John had woken up hours after dying specifically to keep this woman from some activities, one of which concerned this book: John addressed me very firmly, stating that the book was to remain with his library. I vaguely recall him saying (or do I _mis_-recall?) that his library was to be public. All the force of his personality was present, and I remember waking feeling so clearly like I had actually talked with him. When I read, upon waking, your mention of the Stephanos edition of Plato, I got chills, and have been only slightly unnerved –but still slightly unnerved– by the coincidence since. Probably “just a dream”, but still I was moved.
It occurs to me that if you will be seeing John’s daughter, it may be worthwhile to propose how his life’s work can be preserved and at some time organized when a PhD student (or St. John’s Master’s student) decides to do a thesis on his life’s work.
The first thought is that services like Lulu and Create Space are free, and appear to be permanent repositories that require no ongoing effort once a book is uploaded. Such books are put into pdf form with a free download price and an at-cost print charge if the idea is solely to make them available. I’ve done that with several books. Alternatively if Anne wants royalties, she sets a higher price and provides a bank account number. It is slightly more complicated for copyright co-owned by someone else (such as Parkway Project), but this probably can be sorted with an email to whoever holds it.
Some of John’s works are not complete, but these too can be published in this same way. When I visited John he was using USB drives to store his work, which is a bit worrisome as they fail regularly. Once uploaded to cloud, they are permanent. Unfinished work is still valuable and the beauty of the internet is that the footprint is small, maintenance not an issue, and cost can be zero.
I did one book that was based on 25 pages of typewritten pages written in the 1940’s (see http://www.lulu.com/shop/ebook/product-17442043.html). I took a digital camera, made a photo of each page, used photoshop to straighten them and then made it into a pdf. It took very little time – as opposed to transcribing the text. I then uploaded it to Lulu where people can either download for free because they just want to read it, or order a printed copy at cost ($6.90), to keep or give as a gift. Once done, I forgot about it, until every so often someone writes to thank me for making it available.
John’s recordings of the Republic are valuable and important. I believe you heard the ones he recorded in the 1970’s when he was about 50 living in Bellingham Washington. As I recall, he may have done several recordings. I agree, they should be converted to digital and then uploaded. It seems that youtube can be used for this now. The key is to upload it to places unlikely to be taken down in the future.
Then someone needs to take over the web site, update it to show that John has died, and then include links to all the print-on-demand publications. This involves paying for the domain name and gaining access to the password. Anne can do this, or perhaps you may want to do it. The web site becomes the pointer to all the different locations of John’s works. Unlike the rest, a domain name does require keeping up. To be safe, set up a duplicate with WIX and Google https://sites.google.com/ both of which are free.
PS: About the dream. I believe John sold the Stephanus edition when he left Australia, but it would be worthwhile talking with Anne about what her plans are… I presume she was his sole heir. If it goes to a public library, the question should be “where?” The challenge is to find a library that won’t sell the books later or toss them. I would suggest talking with St. John’s College in Annapolis, and ask if they have enough room to build a John Bremer wing.
Quick reply before I can sit down to give your comment a proper read: I don’t know what Anne’s plans are, but I do know that she is not the woman in the dream.
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Thanks for this. I knew John Bremer slightly: I was a high school student on the BC Education Commission and so was at a number of meetings and talks with John over the months the commission lasted. He made an indelible impression; as a university professor now, age 64, I still draw on lessons learned from him, both from what he said and from how he said it. We had a very brief correspondence shortly before he died, and it was rewarding and enjoyable. He was a remarkable man, and you captured much of him in this essay.
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Glad you found it so profitable, Mark. What was one memory you have of him that stands out?
I remember his gentle insistence at public meetings that the root of the word “education” was more akin to “help emerge” or perhaps “draw out” than “lead.” This distinction made many of his critics furious, as they enjoyed and profited from the lines of authority in the school system. It is a distinction I have held dear and tried to apply ever since. I also remember his equanimity and poise in the face of criticism and his quiet commitment to exploring ideas and attitudes. And at the level trivial encounters, on a plane trip together he noticed the novel I was reading and commented on it, saying he quite liked the movie that had been made of it. It was, in other words, a simple adult conversation between a scholar in his 40s and a high school student, and that too impressed and inspired me.
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I asked you a question I’ve since deleted, Mark, because I am tired and forgot that this was a thread, not a first reply…
BTW, your research areas are fascinating! It is interesting to see how much of John’s emphasis on freedom, which he seems to have acquired through his reading of Plato, and his attention to configurations of corrupt political power, which also seem to come from the same, end up in the priorities of his students.
If I read the comments correctly, you’ve revisited my earlier note about my meeting John as the high school representative on the BC Education Commission he headed. I have always been surprised by John’s appreciation of Plato; my slight acquaintance with Plato’s politics inclined me to see him as rather authoritarian. But John’s anti-authoritarianism has, as you suggest, been a huge influence on my life and work, from the factory floor to the halls of the academy.
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A notice in my inbox of Mark’s comment reminds me of our conversation in December, albeit December 2016, over four years ago. I have not spoken with Anne, John’s daughter since June 2009 when I stayed with John in Ludlow.
Would you consider reaching out to her to ask:
(a) if she has digital copies of John’s books (as I recall, he used USB drives a lot)
(b) would she be open to having them uploaded to Print-on-Demand and listed with Amazon
(c) provide bank details so royalties can be paid to her, or set the price at print cost only, or release into the public domain
(d) and if she does not have copies, would she be open to scanned copies so John’s works are back in publication?
Some books are complicated by having 3rd party copyright holders, but they may be willing to release for print-on-demand.
I have copies of the following:
1. The School Without Walls: Philadelphia’s Parkway Program 1971 John Bremer/Michael von Moschzisker (Copyright Holt, Rinehard and Winston, Inc)
2. A Proposed Graduate Program in Education, March 1971 (2 pages) Phi Delta Kappan (copyright Phi Delta Kappan)
3. Open Education: A Beginning 1972 Anne Bremer/John Bremer (Copyright Holt, Rinehard and Winston, Inc).
4. On Educational Change 1973 John Bremer (Copyright National Association of Elementary School Principals)
5. A Matrix for Modern Education 1975, John Bremer (Copyright John Bremer) Also 2nd edition (Copyright 2003 John Bremer)
6. Education & Community, 1979, John Bremer (No Copyright – published by the International Association of Community Educators -3rd conference Melbourne)
7. On Plato’s Polity, 1984, John Bremer (Copyright John Bremer)
8. Plato’s Ion – Philosophy as Performance, 2005 (Copyright John Bremer)
In the last book, the blurb says “He is the author of seven books…”. The above count excludes 2 and probably 6, so there may be one more book out there.
I am familiar with print-on-demand, having shifted all my books to it.
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Claude, I’m not sure how I missed this.
I haven’t spoken to John’s daughter in nearly two years, mostly because of COVID, and because I haven’t moseyed on up to VT in awhile, but it’s overdue. I like Anne a lot, and will ask her when next I go north. It would be really nice to see her, and the area, which is beautiful. It will be hard to see the area without John, but Anne is such a joy that it will buffer this a lot, if we can connect.
I am very late to this thread. I just pulled out my old dusty copy of The Iliad by Richmond Lattimore and found inside an old mimeographed copy of the syllabus from the September 1977 Honors Class I took with John Bremer while attending Western Washington University in Bellingham. Best “class” I’ve ever taken, the memories of which are still vivid in my much older brain! We met at his house Tuesday nights at 7pm and covered both The Iliad and The Odyssey that quarter. It was an exhilarating couple of hours of learning and building connections with the other students and Professor Bremer. A brilliant man who also cared about people. Very unusual for a prof at a secular college…
R.I.P. , good sir. A life well lived!
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Exciting! Could you share that syllabus with me?
Sure! Do you want me to email it to you?
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Do you want to share your email address?
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I emailed you :-)
Yes, I received it; thanks! Sent a copy of the syllabus a few minutes ago…
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