José Benardete – Memorial Tribute

[Transcribed from tape.]

Well, as you can imagine, it’s really something learning so much about Seth. Even among those who’ve been speaking here, I’m sure that, comparing one’s own thoughts to what others have been saying, there are certain slippages here. It’s not as if we can say that all this is sort of just adding up to one harmonious picture. There are different takes here.

And I thought that, in my own case, the inevitable interest you might have would be not in the part of my life which, after all, extends over these years that you shared with Seth, but the part of Seth’s life that — the early part of Seth’s life. What was Seth like? And in fact, listening to you talk, for me, the question was, “How does all this relate to the Seth I knew when we were five and seven, and eight and ten, and twelve and fourteen?” — I always being two years older! Of course, I never let Seth forget that.

So what was Seth like? Well, I had to think about that! Not just in itself what he was like, but how does that relate to what I’ve been just hearing?

Actually, of course, what I have been hearing fits in very nicely with the Seth I’ve known for — I hate to think how many decades, but what about that early part?

Well, Seth came from a very talkative family. I mean, that’s the key to something, particularly our father, which would be a subject in itself — the old pirate — and tyrant! It wasn’t easy to get him to listen [text inaudible]. I had to fight very, very hard to do this. My mother, also, because we were both progressively [inaudible]. Perhaps the most important thing to say about Seth’s early life: Seth really had no chance to say anything. I mean, really. I mean, I really had to fight with my father, because he was the dictator of the dinner-table.

And my mother would kick me under the table to tell me to shut up. By the end of the evening, he’d be smacking me. And Seth would be there…quiet! I mean, in retrospect, you could say he was storing all this up. That eloquence comes much, much later on. But it always remains — I mean, I think we’ve all seen this in Seth. There was a quietness about Seth, basically.

In fact, it was quite astonishing when I went off to college and when I came back there was a transformed Seth. Maybe he was fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen.

So in looking back, there’s an important gap here that I’m really not in a position to fill. Something happened. It was really a quantum jump. Of course, what helped was, if you can look at it this way, my mother and father were divorced. My father was off, and that sort of left space, you know. And I was off to college. And then something happened. But also, realize that the rest of us were all very verbal, interested in literary things, while we always thought of Seth as being interested with his hands. He was going to become an engineer. That was the picture. Nothing to do with words! Words — no! I mean, he was not only quiet, but that was his thing. He was very skillful with his hands. That was the thing he liked to do. And he went on to Brooklyn Technical High School. My mother had a fancy version of this, a more artistic side of things: Seth would become an architect.

And I can’t help thinking that maybe some of Seth’s talents [tape inaudible]. And those of you who think, you know, that he was a totally realized person — there was a whole side of his life that was not realized in anything that came out here. And in a mythological way, I tend to think that his children — his son, Ethan, the fastidious brain-surgeon, that that leaped over — that that comes from this; and his daughter, either, who’s been studying architecture at MIT: the artistic side. Mother would have been so pleased.

So actually there’s a whole part of Seth’s life — [for] those speaking of this great self-fulfillment in Seth — there’s a whole part of Seth’s life that was not fulfilled in his professional activity, which perhaps is being realized in his children.

When I came back, the immediate sign of a changed Seth was he was writing stories in a kind of super-Henry James style. I mean, he had never done anything literary, and perhaps, if one is really trying to fill this — find the missing link here, the only one I know of you could talk to who could fill that link is Hilail Gildin. They were students together at Brooklyn Technical High School and became close friends. And Hilail Gildin much later on went to Chicago to study with the Committee of Social Thought. So the one who’s really on the spot here is Hilail. I can give you some sense of what happened, and then simply say that there’s a gap here that needs to be filled, and the one to fill it is Hilail Gildin.

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