The Mount Nittany Conservancy’s “Ben Novak Fellowship” provides Penn Staters and Nittany Valley residents an opportunity to encounter the Nittany Valley’s legendary spirit through cultural and environmental experiences meant to enhance appreciation for our distinctive community and encourage friendships for the future. The Mount Nittany Conservancy’s Ben Novak Archives are intended to help new generations encounter the Ben Novak Fellowship’s namesake.
In 1962 Daniel Bell published a book called The End of Ideology, whose major premise was that the age of great men, great beliefs, and great worlds was over. Science had solved all the ancient questions and all that was left was the fine tuning of what we already know to make a society of plenty for all mankind. After all, men only cared about food and comfort, and modern science could fulfill those needs. Every man was to take his place as consumer and producer to fill our appetites. That was all there was, and all that there could be. Ben Novak, a Penn State sophomore in 1962, rebelled against this idea. He recorded his odyssey in a poem.
The End of Ideology
A semi-autobiographical intellectual odyssey
The end of ideology
It came in ’62 for me,
A man named Bell had said, you see,
That everything had come to be.
He went on to elaborate:
All that’s new had all been done.
He set the world before us straight:
Its victories had all been won.
His world stole destiny and fate
By saying no one could be great.
No heroes, prophets, saints or kings
His world denied there were such things.
I could not stand this world of Bell,
I thought it was a living hell,
There is no meaning, he had said,
Produce, consume, and then you’re dead.
It he were right and I were wrong
I thought about that hard and long
I tried his world for all it’s worth
Confirmed my belief it cancelled birth.
There had to be ideals out there,
Ideas to form us into men
There had to be new dreams to share
And faiths we could conceive again.
So I resolved I had to leave
This world I could no longer believe
But where to go? They’d left no place
Where one could run a decent race.
I searched the heavens to escape
Then searched the slime and found a snake.
“Learn good,” it said, “and evil, too,
The way out is inside of you.”
I drank myself and spit me out
I swam in sewers and waterfalls
I fought for what life was about
Then heard the faintly whispering calls:
The calls said words conveyed no truth
Nor did acts, except in youth
Then men grow old and silence speaks
(Deeds disappear when words are weak).
But deeds live on when they are told
In stories to young men by old
Then old dreams take on flesh again
And out of boys are made new men.
When the young have visions and old men dream
The world’s made new and the heavens gleam
Then time is defeated once again:
The future is now, and now was then.
And this is the message the gods will send
When you make up your mind to become a man:
If you want to succeed in the world in the end
Then you had to be there when it all began.
So seize the future that’s here today
The present’s but feelings which pass away
But the future is only the stories told
In the dreams of men before they’re old.
So seek ye out this deeper truth
And do deeds greater than have been done
And build a temple to your youth
And tell the stories to your sons.
The old gods then began to seem
Much wiser than I thought they’d been.
I walked away from today’s ideas
And set my course for the ancient seas.
I liked the gods who came with me
Some fought my lusts, some made me free
One turned life into wine to drink
Another taught me how to think.
I’ve had to give up quite a lot
They’ve taken everything I’ve got
I followed wherever the gods decreed
They let me have no other need.
So here I am, I try to say,
To worlds a world or more away
I scratch across this time and space
I will have been — you saw my face.
And what I’ve learned about my task
I’ll share with you, if you but ask:
This world goes on, forgets us all,
Unless we pass along the call.