Forum Magazine Brings New Perspective, Chance for Dialogue

by Won Joon Choe | 5/16/94 5:00am

Since that memorable August, when I first arrived at Dartmouth and began writing for The Dartmouth Review, the question in my mind has been: Can Dartmouth students, who seem to be so robust in body and indolent in mind, deal with intellectual diversity and depth in a campus publication? The definitive answer may hinge on the future success of a magazine tentatively scheduled to dayview toward the end of this term -- the brainchild of Iason Demos '97.

The new journal will be named "Forum," which Demos says will mean "a place where everybody can write in as long as they submit well-written, interesting and intelligent articles." In other words, the new periodical will be purged of the existing campus publications' primary sin: boring uniformity in ideas and technique.

This lack of diversity is what inspired Greek-born Demos to first conjure up the idea of "Forum." He elaborates: "I was really getting annoyed by the publications that were coming out. For example, publications like The Review, The Beacon and Spare Rib are limited in scope ideologically because they cater to audiences on specific political spectrums. Something like The D, on the other hand, is also limited because it is just a newspaper and something like Gnosis only takes research papers."

Demos has found a cadre of like-minded freshmen: John Honovich, Mayank Keshaviah, Patricia Bailey and Shoko Kambara. In addition, Walter Simons, professor of history, will act as a faculty advisor.

All this is a recipe for a rather ambitious project. Basing the magazine on the model of a similar publication he found at the University of Richmond, Demos says that "Forum" will include viewpoints from all political, social and philosophical outlook. Furthermore, all literary mediums will be represented as well: columns, scholarly papers, poetry and fiction.

Demos and his colleagues are resisting the closing of intellectual dialogue at Dartmouth. Of course, to the nescient eye, this statement appears to be contradictory. Students at Dartmouth now have a bevy of publications to choose from -- an expanding menu to satiate all appetites, whether for extreme right-wing conservatism or lunatic feminism.

But true dialogue is a conversation between two or more people (or ideas) on important topics at hand. Such discussions are resolved on the battlefield of ideas. This constant collision of ideas has been the motor of intellectual progress throughout history, yielding new knowledge and clearer perception of prevailing truths. It has also been the method of inquiry from Plato down to -- in a more attenuated form -- Hegel. It is a process which modern education cannot do without.

Unfortunately for Dartmouth students, however, there is no such written forum for dialogue on campus, save perhaps the editorial pages of The Dartmouth. Not only do most campus publications espouse one particular philosophic system exclusively, but they lack internal dialogue about the differences within those systems as well. The recent efforts by the nomenklatura of The Review to stamp out the more moderate, sober and intellectual elements within the paper is emblematic of this impulse to uniformity.

The end result of this monolithism is that instead of serving as something like Platonic dialogues, campus publications increasingly take on the role of Nietzsche's Zarathustra, preaching their own orthodoxies from the above. The process of intellectual inquiry ends at this point. Monolithic institutions, of course, whether they are governments or journalistic establishments, have been prone to do this.

An obvious consequence of lack of dialogue in campus publications, then, is the debasement of language and, ultimately, the disparagement of the intellect. Demos correctly points out that whenever dialogue is absent, the majesty of reasoning and intellectual argument is gradually discarded. Rather, superficial soundbites and spurious logic becomes the predominant mode of discourse, that is, appeals to the emotion and prejudice rather than to the intellect becomes the norm.

The upcoming "Forum," promising to invigorate intellectual dialogue, could be a litmus test for the intellectual seriousness of Dartmouth students. Its success will be evidence against the commonplace theory that students here are unwilling to confront serious intellectual issues and, hence, only sensationalism and humor will engage their interest.

It should be noted, however, that the greatest responsibility lies in Demos and the other founders of "Forum": They must deliver on their promise.

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