Knowledge is fleeting, its power possibly illusory; and in the end man is left to live life as best he can.
So concluded Dr. John C. Sutton, Francis Marion University professor emeritus of English, during the 8th annual William C. Moran Address on March 27 in Lowrimore Auditorium on the FMU campus.
The Moran address features a “farewell” lecture by a distinguished FMU professor who is either retired, or in the process of retiring.
Sutton’s address was titled, “Professor’s Progress: The Precarious Path to Ignorance,” and was a spell binding mix of personal narrative and literary commentary from the ages. Sutton cited Hawthorne, the Earl of Rochester and O. Henry, among others, on various aspects of learning and knowledge. But it was the tales from his own life that offered the most poignant commentary and led to his insightful and melancholy conclusion.
In particular, Sutton noted his experiences in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam conflict, in which he was not involved directly in combat, but was “close enough (to the horrors of war) …to look over the edge into the pit.” That experience led Sutton to a final understanding in his long course of study on the particular subject of war.
“There is no absolute truth, carved in stone for all eternity, no matter how much we want it to be so,” Sutton told the Moran audience. “All I know is that when people engage in war (stuff) happens.”
Even more moving than the education of a reluctant warrior was Sutton’s dealings with his father, who suffered both from dementia and sudden blindness at age 70. This unfortunate mix of ailments left the elder Sutton in a peculiar, even pitiable situation.
“For the last 15 years of his life,” his son noted, “(Dad) woke up every day to discover anew that he was blind.”
Faced with a frightening, and at times, bleak existence, Sutton’s father retreated into himself, into his imagination.
That seemed sad to Sutton at the time but it seems less so now. Confronted with his own mortality, a weakening memory and an understanding that a life spent in the pursuit of knowledge should never have been an end unto itself, Sutton said he might follow his father’s path.
“I may be intentionally becoming more like more father by deliberately choosing imagination over reality,” Sutton said. “Who knows? Maybe he did, too. My father, I know you don’t remember me being around here much, but I remember you.”
The Moran lecture is honor of Dr. William C. Moran, former FMU Vice President of Academic Affairs. Members of Dr. Moran’s family attended this year’s address as did former FMU President Dr. Doug Smith, current FMU President Dr. Luther F. Carter, and numerous members of the FMU faculty, past and present.