The toll of the bells

I read with dismay the report that one of the towers in the new northern colleges may be equipped with bells (“New residential colleges may have bells,” Sept. 24). To the ears of anyone who has tried to teach when the Harkness carillon is blasting away — and to anyone who has sat in class and tried to hear what was going on in the class with such heavy artillery outside — this is most distressing news. Student rooms and Yale classrooms have become much more thought-friendly in the past decade with the replacement of stereo amplifiers blasting on old campus with civilized ipods and headphones; yet the carillon remains a source of public nuisance to anyone who does not want to be forced to listen to that particular tune at that particular time.

Years ago, I remember sitting in an exceptionally intense seminar on Shelley’s poetry by Paul de Man. Just when his argument reached a particularly breathless height, the Harkness carilon intruded with its deafening roar. One of the students asked de Man if he were tempted to revise his master trope of “blindness and insight” to “deafness and insight.” But de Man could only smile benevolently and say, “I’m sure what you just remarked was very clever, but I could not hear you.”

Leslie Brisman

Sept. 24

The writer is the Karl Young Professor of English.