Mel Pollner wave line
A second service in memory of Melvin Pollner was held on Sunday, March 9, 2008 from 2-4 pm in the Sequoia Room at the UCLA Faculty Center.

Timothy Halkowski

I want to share two memories of Mel. They are ‘bookends’ really - memories of my first meeting with him, and my last exchange with him.

Douglas Maynard assigned a number of Mel’s early papers to us at Wisconsin, and more than anything else we read, those papers by Mel resonated for me. Mel was writing about matters that were simultaneously concrete & deeply philosophical. And he did so in a manner that was rigorous and yet playful, sharing the sheer enjoyment and wonder of those ideas. He became an intellectual hero to me.

It can be dangerous to meet one’s heroes. But any anxiety I had evaporated as Mel warmly greeted me. (Behind Mel in his office, the sight of his inflatable doll of Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’ sent any last fears I had sailing right out of the bay windows behind his desk).

We talked of his dissertation – which I had read avidly upon arriving at UC-Santa Barbara, and was quite possessed by. As I told him this he got up and went to his file cabinet, pulled out a binder-clipped typescript of it, and gave it to me. The graciousness of that simple act will always stay with me. Thereafter, visits to UCLA were not complete without a talk with Mel, about anything and everything; conversations always generously spiced with his wonder and humor.

In the Summer of 2007, at a conference in Exeter, England I heard of Mel’s health problems, so upon my return home I wrote to him. He responded with an appreciative letter – a letter that underscored the manifest nature of the outpouring of concern, support, and love he was receiving from so many. In his letter he said it was a “palpable part of my treatment.”

The philosopher Josef Pieper, writing about teaching and scholarship, said --
“…all knowledge of any depth… begins with amazement. If that is true, then everything depends upon leading the learner to recognize the amazing qualities, the mirandum, the ‘novelty’ of the subject under discussion. If the teacher succeeds in doing this, he has done something more important than and quite different from making knowledge entertaining and interesting. He has, rather, put the learner on the road to genuine questioning.”†

Mel did this for us, with a grace and charm that are irreplaceable.

† Guide to Thomas Aquinas, J. Pieper, (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, CA), pg. 96.